God

by Chris Bertram on February 11, 2004

I’ve been following a “debate that’s been going on (and off) at Butterflies and Wheels”:http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/notesarchive.php?id=342 over the past few weeks and wondering about a move that my fellow atheist Ophelia Benson makes there. Ophelia quotes Michael Ruse thus:

People like Dawkins, and the Creationists for that matter, make a mistake about the purposes of science and religion. Science tries to tell us about the physical world and how it works. Religion aims at giving a meaning to the world and to our place in it. Science asks immediate questions. Religion asks ultimate questions. There is no conflict here, except when people mistakenly think that questions from one domain demand answers from the other. Science and religion, evolution and Christianity, need not conflict, but only if each knows its place in human affairs—and stays within these boundaries.

To which she replies:

That certainly is a popular argument, or rather assertion, these days, isn’t it. But it isn’t true. Religion does try to tell us about the world – it tells us there’s a supernatural being in charge of it. That is a truth-claim. Religious people do in fact believe in the existence – the real existence, not some fuzzy metaphoric existence – of this supernatural being.

Now this is all way outside my area, but something seems wrong about Ophelia’s reply here. Religions sometimes do make truth-claims (Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead, for example), and to that extent Ruse’s point is weak and Ophelia is right. But if there is a supreme being then that fact doesn’t look to me like an empirical truth about the world, of the kind that is within the domain of science. If such a being exists, then presumably he, she or it exists necessarily, whereas the subject matter of the physical sciences is the contingent features of the world. (And insofar as she, he or it causes the world to exist then she, he or it is something external to and not a part of the world.)

Not that any of that gets the conventionally religious what they want. It is, after all, consistent with conceiving of the creative being as a demiurge.

{ 214 comments }

1

Keith M Ellis 02.11.04 at 5:48 pm

I’m with Ophelia on this one. I think that argument is sort of a platitude.

It’s not at all clear to me that physics concerns that which is “contingent” or, for that matter, that a God is not.

Not only that, but I’m curious about the assertion that science doesn’t ask “ultimate questions”.

Seems to me that this is an example of an artificial conceptual wall designed to help lots of people avoid cognitive dissonance.

2

Matt 02.11.04 at 5:58 pm

Chris Said,
“the subject matter of the physical sciences is the contingent features of the world.”
If one follows the line of Kripke-style metaphysics that’s so popular in New Jersey and the like, this is perhaps not right. Such folks believe that the sciences are finding out necessary truths, even though this is done a posteriori. Personally, I think that’s bunk, and a crazy view of what science is doing, but lots of very smart people seem to think it’s right. What this says about the issue under discussion I’m not totally sure, though.

3

David 02.11.04 at 6:01 pm

An argument like Ruse’s was given previously by Stephen Jay Gould, in his book “Rocks of Ages.”

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345430093/103-9293273-3133407

It was reviewed by H. Allen Orr in the Boston Review:

http://www.bostonreview.net/BR24.5/orr.html

Orr makes some Opheliaesque points.

4

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.11.04 at 6:04 pm

I don’t know if science does not ask ultimate questions, but it certainly is awful at trying to answer them.

The problem Ophelia is having in the debate is that she denies the existance of anything outside of nature. She can’t talk about the supernatural because she doesn’t believe in it. The best she can do is talk about ‘the supernatural’ as something which silly people believe as beyond the actual natural world which she believes is the totality.

(I say ‘problem in the debate’ in the sense that the two sides are having trouble engaging each other at all because their underlying premises are so different.)

If you posit something as beyond the natural world, it would be unsurprising to find that science (the study of the natural world) would be unable to resolve truth claims about the supernatural.

If you were going to persue this debate much further you should probably distinguish between natural but not understood, and supernatural. Probably only God would be truly supernatural in that sense, with all creation falling into the natural realm even if it included odd things that we would call ghosts or angels or demons or whatever.

I guess this is the long way of saying that Ophelia doesn’t accept the premise of her opponents, even for the sake of argument, which is what you are picking up here.

5

jdsm 02.11.04 at 6:05 pm

I’d still like to know by what criteria theists think it’s okay to believe in necessary beings. I mean if they aren’t open to empirical inspection we’re back to using reason and consequently, all of the most tedious arguments in the History of Western Philosophy.

6

des 02.11.04 at 6:05 pm

If all you’ve got is an episteme then everything looks like a truth claim.

How are religious traditions outside of the Big Three Monotheisms accounted for within this framework? Japanese Buddhism and/or Shinto (which are not held to be contradictory by their practioners) for instance?

7

Keith M Ellis 02.11.04 at 6:19 pm

If you posit something as beyond the natural world…“—Sebastian

I just don’t what that could be. Those words don’t make sense to me.

8

chun the unavoidable 02.11.04 at 6:20 pm

There’s to my mind something distinctly uncultured about Dawkins and his acolytes’ militant atheism. It’s reductionist and arrogant.

I prefer a more languid–even decadent–atheism, one which is more informed of what it denies. Come to think of it, this is pretty much my position on “postmodernism” as well.

9

Micha Ghertner 02.11.04 at 6:26 pm

Richard Dawkins had a great article a while back in Forbes magazine about this issue. An excerpt:

    I once asked a distinguished astronomer, a fellow of my college, to explain the big bang theory to me. He did so to the best of his (and my) ability, and I then asked what it was about the fundamental laws of physics that made the spontaneous origin of space and time possible. “Ah,” he smiled, “now we move beyond the realm of science. This is where I have to hand you over to our good friend, the chaplain.” But why the chaplain? Why not the gardener or the chef? Of course chaplains, unlike chefs and gardeners, claim to have some insight into ultimate questions. But what reason have we ever been given for taking their claims seriously? Once again, I suspect that my friend, the professor of astronomy, was using the Einstein/Hawking trick of letting “God” stand for “That which we don’t understand.” It would be a harmless trick if it were not continually misunderstood by those hungry to misunderstand it. In any case, optimists among scientists, of whom I am one, will insist, “That which we don’t understand” means only “That which we don’t yet understand.” Science is still working on the problem. We don’t know where, or even whether, we ultimately shall be brought up short…

    In any case, the belief that religion and science occupy separate magisteria is dishonest. It founders on the undeniable fact that religions still make claims about the world that on analysis turn out to be scientific claims. Moreover, religious apologists try to have it both ways. When talking to intellectuals, they carefully keep off science’s turf, safe inside the separate and invulnerable religious magisterium. But when talking to a nonintellectual mass audience, they make wanton use of miracle stories–which are blatant intrusions into scientific territory.

    The Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the raising of Lazarus, even the Old Testament miracles, all are freely used for religious propaganda, and they are very effective with an audience of unsophisticates and children. Every one of these miracles amounts to a violation of the normal running of the natural world. Theologians should make a choice. You can claim your own magisterium, separate from science’s but still deserving of respect. But in that case, you must renounce miracles. Or you can keep your Lourdes and your miracles and enjoy their huge recruiting potential among the uneducated. But then you must kiss goodbye to separate magisteria and your high-minded aspiration to converge with science.

10

Ophelia Benson 02.11.04 at 6:29 pm

“Now this is all way outside my area,”

Well, see, I’m in the fortunate position of not having an area, so nothing is outside it, because there’s nothing for it to be outside of, or inside either, so I feel free to pronounce on anything and everything. It’s like that old God-definition: a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere. Or is it the other way around.

“An argument like Ruse’s was given previously by Stephen Jay Gould, in his book “Rocks of Ages.””

Indeed it was. I was quite shocked by that book, in a way. It seems to me so utterly unconvincing, and indeed wrong – I just could not figure out what Gould (an atheist, after all) was doing conceding so much ground to religion. Especially conceding it expertise on moral questions – that’s one that really baffles me. An atheist claiming that morality is the preserve of religion – it’s bizarre. As if there were no such thing as secular moral and ethical thought, and as if religion were conspicuously good or well-qualified at it.

11

Keith M Ellis 02.11.04 at 6:30 pm

Can’t say I disagree with Dawkins here. Or, really, anywhere. But one should also read the Orr article linked above, for a similar but different criticism.

12

Matthew 02.11.04 at 6:32 pm

This debate needs many qualifications: which “religion” or sect thereof are we talking about? Because some religions (or rather some of their proponents) are more assertive than other in that respect!
Like pharyngula said (a bit abruptely):

Evolution is compatible with many religions. However, if your religion tells you that the world is six thousand years old, that it was created by fiat over the span of six days, that species are immutable, that all existing species are derived from a select few rescued from a flood in a big boat, and any of a host of other silly stories that are directly contradicted by the world around you, you’re just going to have to accept the fact that the weight of the evidence from physics, geology, and biology all dictates that your religion is wrong. It’s that simple. You are wrong.

[I would not be that brutal].
Einstein thought religion and science perfectly compatible, but he viewed the former as some rather harmless deism with added ethics, which is not the case for creationists and other fundamentalists!

13

Ophelia Benson 02.11.04 at 6:33 pm

Yes, exactly, that Dawkins article Micha linked to. I’ve quoted from that article more than once on this topic – which as Chris says has been on and off at B&W for some time. And specifically from that passage. We just assume the bishops and chaplains have this expertise – but do they? We forget to ask.

14

bob mcmanus 02.11.04 at 6:34 pm

How critical is this? In others words, you accept Lourdes *and* quantum mechanics, and yes you have a contradiction but so what?

Does the neccessarily mean you will not be able to evaluate global warming? Strikes that a whole lot of people are able to survive this problem.

15

Ophelia Benson 02.11.04 at 6:44 pm

“The problem Ophelia is having in the debate is that she denies the existance of anything outside of nature.”

No I don’t. I don’t know what’s outside of nature. I just refuse to take other humans’ word for anything and everything they happen to assert exists outside of nature. How would they know? Any more than I would? They wouldn’t. So why should I believe them? So I don’t.

16

Andrew Brown 02.11.04 at 6:57 pm

The conflict that’s interesting isn’t between religion and naturalism, because there are religious naturalists just as there are religious supernaturalists. It’s between the Dawkins idea that religion, unlike biological species, has an essence, and David Hull’s view that no conceptual system, and a fortiori no religion, has an essence. In this, Gould is on Dawkins’ side (though they would disagree about the essences of both Darwinism and religion). I think that any scrupulous historian of religion, or anyone who takes a thorough-going evolutionary approach to culture, will end up on David Hull’s side. Religion is what people who call themselves religious do and believe.

17

seth edenbaum 02.11.04 at 6:59 pm

“If someone makes a logical argument, and then tries to extend that argument beyond it’s limits, continuing to do so even after the effort is shown to be mistaken, is he not acting in service only to his faith?.”
The answer is ‘yes.’

Plenty of scientists will defend their positions long after they should give up. This desire by any other name. is faith. Gould et al. are silly. Dawkins is illogical.

18

bobcox 02.11.04 at 7:03 pm

One way to think about it is: where does information — negative entropy — come from? (Not blogs.) The Universe is in a very unlikely configuration — has a very large negative entropy. If it was all injected into the Universe at once (Big Bang, Cosmic Inflation), then God is not operating in the Universe any more. Maybe at the very beginning, but it’s hard to say much — we weren’t there.

Most religions operate under the assumption that God is interfering with the natural entropy-increasing course of events — that is, injecting negative entropy (new information) into the system more-or-less continually. These are factual claims, of a sort (e.g., miraculous healing).

In the good old days, virtually everything seemed to be the immediate handiwork of God or some other non-understood agency — good weather, volcanoes, etc. Nowadays, these things seem the working out of natural law — the normal running of the Universe, with no injection from outside. In principle, this is testable. But it has gotten to the point that it is hard to imagine what would count as evidence of such information infusion from a supernatural (infinite and intelligent) source; we’d rather postulate entropy leakage from alternate quantum histories, branes, aliens, you name it. In any case, the evidence for such leakage occurring at the present time is very poor.

19

Chirag Kasbekar 02.11.04 at 7:23 pm

Frankly, I don’t quite get the concept of a ‘supernatural’. If it exists, it would be a part of nature, no? And science should make some attempt to explain it, yes?

I don’t believe in creation. Far, far from it. I don’t believe in a Lord God, The Creator. But my friendship with Gus diZerega has given me some respect for personal spiritual experiences. I’m still a little sceptical, but I’m a lot more open-minded.

Ophelia says:
_”Religious people do in fact believe in the existence – the real existence, not some fuzzy metaphoric existence – of this supernatural being.”_

Gus, who, for most of his life was a sceptic and is someone whose judgement I respect greatly, had some deep spiritual experiences quite some years back that has made him a follower of a form of Paganism.

And the basis of his Neopaganism is a pretty physical experience of a world of spirits (both, good and bad, he says).

He doesn’t believe in creation and believes completely in modern science and evolutionary theory.

But the only thing that I think enables him to make sense of and deal (even manipulate — he’s a trained healer) with his experiences is the Neopagan faith.

20

bill carone 02.11.04 at 8:03 pm

“Science tries to tell us about the physical world and how it works. Religion aims at giving a meaning to the world and to our place in it.”

Science, philosophy and theology all make claims about the material world and sometimes other domains (perhaps an immaterial, but real world; perhaps in the (unreal but objective) realm of ideas; perhaps the (subjective) world of sensations; etc.).

Science deals with making claims supported by “special experience” i.e. experimental observation. A purely scientific position is backed only by observation.

Philosophy deals with making claims supported by “common experience” i.e. experience common to all of us. Philosophers can do their work in armchairs, scientists cannot. A purely philosophical position is backed only by argument.

Sometimes, a philosophical position is contradicted by a scientific position. Every competent philosopher knows that scientific observation trumps philosophical argument. The philosopher must go back and figure out where the argument went wrong.

However, all competent scientists understand that the philosopher can make and support claims that science cannot and may never say anything about.

Theology deals with claims supported by “revealed experience,” usually a text of some sort. Theologians need not observe or argue, simply interpret the revelations (i.e. that which was revealed). A purely theological argument goes something like “If you have faith in this text, then this is what it means.” A purely theological position is backed only by an interpretation of a text.

Sometimes theological positions contradict scientific or philosophical positions. Every compentent theologian knows that both scientific observation and philosophical argument trump theological interpretation. The theologian must go back and figure out where the text was misinterpreted.

However, every competent scientist and philosopher knows that there are claims that can be made by theology that science and philosophy cannot and may never say anything about.

Here is an example.

Questioner: Do angels exist? Angels are, in short, minds without physical bodies.

Scientist: You can’t observe them? They have no physical bodies? Then go away; I make no claims that you should change your beliefs.

Philosopher: We can argue that angels don’t exist; after all, we would expect to see some sort of evidence for them if they did. But we cannot conclude that angels could not possibly exist (just because we can’t see an immaterial world doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist). If they did exist, here are the qualities they would have.

Theologian: If you don’t have faith in any of these texts, go away. I make no claims that you should change your beliefs.

If you have faith in text A, then here on page 21 it says … and that means …

If you have faith in text B, then here on page 21 it says … and that means …

“We just assume the bishops and chaplains have this expertise – but do they?”

I usually don’t see theologians arguing that you should have faith in a text, only what the text means. Theologians are only arguing to people who already have faith in a text.

That is the expertise they have; if you have faith, here is what I think you should believe. If not, okay then, but you might not be able to find these answers anywhere else. Come back to me if you find faith.

Should you have faith in a text? I do not. I have been told that faith is God-given, not something you get via observation or argument. I’m not sure I buy this (I suspect that all sorts of things could happen to me that would make it perfectly rational for me to believe in a God. They just haven’t happened yet. My theologian friends say that this isn’t how it happens.).

21

blueshoe 02.11.04 at 8:09 pm

Re Matthew’s statement, “Einstein thought religion and science perfectly compatible,” along with the idea that he considered religion “as some rather harmless deism with added ethics”:

To a Baptist pastor asking Einstein whether he had considered the relationship of his immortal soul to its Creator:

I do not believe in immortality of the individual, and I consider ethics to be an exclusively human concern with no superhuman authority behind it.

To a correspondent citing an article about Einstein’s religious beliefs:

It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

To a Chicago rabbi preparing a lecture on “The Religious Implications of the Theory of Relativity”:

The religious feeling engendered by experiencing the logical comprehensibility of profound interrelationships is of a somewhat different sort from the feeling that one usually calls religious. It is more a feeling of awe at the scheme that is manifested in the material universe. It does not lead us to take the step of fashioning a god-like being in our own image–a personage who makes demands of us and who takes an interest in us as individuals. There is in this neither a will nor a goal, nor a must, but only sheer being. For this reason, people of our type see in morality a purely human matter, albeit the most important in the human sphere.

Excerpts from “Albert Einstein: The Human Side,” a collection of letters chosen in part by his long-time secretary, Helen Dukas.

22

robbo 02.11.04 at 8:11 pm

Ophelia wrote: “I don’t know what’s outside of nature. I just refuse to take other humans’ word for anything and everything they happen to assert exists outside of nature.”

Like Ophelia, I don’t, and probably can’t, know what’s outside nature. Might someone else — a “holy person” — truly perceive that which is supernatural, or outside of nature? I share Ophelia’s skepticism about this, and it would take quite a lot to convince me to follow a messiah, let alone the admonitions of a garden-variety pastor.

The basic problem, for me, is that the entirety of the universe really does violate our most basic understanding of thermodynamics — that you can’t get something (let alone everything) out of pure nothingness: Either the nothingness isn’t pure (i.e., there’s something supernatural) or we don’t know as much about existence as we sometimes claim.

So I’m left holding both the atheist’s skepticism about “holy people” and the faithful’s belief that there must be “something more” that is beyond our ken. I attempt to resolve these two seemingly contradictory strains of by making “spirituality” a strictly personal venture, informed by others who ponder such unknowables but not led by any one guru or other leader. I believe that my life and my works, in the field of biology, are to some degree infused with whatever “spiritual understanding” I’ve managed to cultivate. Not that my life or works are “touched by God” or some other silly and pompous notion, but that they possess subtle qualities that are superior to what I would be able to achieve operating under a strictly mechanistic — i.e., atheistic — paradigm.

Sure, my position could be pure bullshit, and I expect someone here can explain why in perfectly elegant and logical terms, but I defy anyone to refute my fall-back position: “Whatever gets you through the night, it’s all right.”

23

Ophelia Benson 02.11.04 at 8:11 pm

“However, every competent scientist and philosopher knows that there are claims that can be made by theology that science and philosophy cannot and may never say anything about.”

Of course, claims can be made. No question. But are they true?

“If you don’t have faith in any of these texts, go away. I make no claims that you should change your beliefs.”

Well, that depends on how you define ‘theologian.’ But there are religious people, and lots of them, who do indeed claim that the rest of us should change our beliefs – and sharpish, too.

“Theologians are only arguing to people who already have faith in a text.”

But they’re not. They’re treated as general, public experts. There were ‘religious leaders’ at that Davos conference, for example. Well, why? Why were there religious ‘leaders’ and not, say, philosophers? Why do religious spokespeople – bishops for short – go on tv and radio when ethical issues are under discussion? They’re talking to the audience in general, not a congregation. But why?

24

bill carone 02.11.04 at 8:27 pm

“Frankly, I don’t quite get the concept of a ‘supernatural’. If it exists, it would be a part of nature, no?”

No; real existence does not logically imply materiality.

Real things exist apart from us; if we disappeared tomorrow, my desk would still be here, whereas my toothache would not.

Material things are things that have particular properties (finite, changing over time, etc.).

I’m not sure if we should believe in immaterial, but real, things, but they are not a contradiction in terms.

“And science should make some attempt to explain it, yes?”

Only if it can be explained by observation. If not, science says nothing about it; you need philosophy or theology.

25

Ophelia Benson 02.11.04 at 8:37 pm

But theology doesn’t explain anything, it only claims to. There is such a big difference between claiming to explain something and actually doing it – one that people love to elide.

Remember what Hotspur said of Owen Glendower’s claim that he could summon spirits from the vasty deep – ‘Why so can I, so can any man, but will they come when you do call for them?’

26

Chirag Kasbekar 02.11.04 at 8:55 pm

ME: _“Frankly, I don’t quite get the concept of a ‘supernatural’. If it exists, it would be a part of nature, no?”_

Bill Carone: _No; real existence does not logically imply materiality._

But I didn’t say nature = materiality. If this ‘immateriality’ impacts materiality in any way (or even if doesn’t) shouldn’t it be treated as part of nature?

27

bill carone 02.11.04 at 8:59 pm

Ophelia, thanks for the response.

“Of course, claims can be made [on purely theological grounds]. No question. But are they true?”

If you have faith in the text the claims are based on, then you can judge claims to be true or false interpretations of the text (Note: I’m sure lit crit people have much more to say about this). If you don’t have faith in the text, they simply aren’t talking to you (and if they are, you have no reason to listen).

“But there are religious people, and lots of them, who do indeed claim that the rest of us should change our beliefs – and sharpish, too.”

And they have no intellectual effect on you, right? And they shouldn’t, right?

So, pragmatically, you shouldn’t use theological arguments on people without faith. Perhaps we should chalk this up to “People do dumb things all the time”?

I am saying that theological “arguments” aren’t even meant to be used on people without faith. It’s no wonder they don’t work.

“Why do religious spokespeople – bishops for short – go on tv and radio when ethical issues are under discussion?”

Well, I can put out cynical hypotheses: producers (and most people) don’t understand the difference between religion and ethics, priests are better speakers than philosophers are, a priest has a built in audience, etc.

A person can have faith in a text, but limit themselves to philosophical arguments only. For example, there were priests on the panel of the Fred Friendly “Ethics in America” seminars, and they confined themselves to philosophical positions rather than theological ones.

Perhaps people who study theology also study a lot of ethics? So experts on one tend to be experts on the other. I haven’t seen too many priests on TV or radio discussing ethics, so I can’t tell if they are generally competent in the area of ethics minus faith.

It might be tempting to start into the theological arguments, as you can “prove” much more with them than with philosophy. But as I said before, it is illusory; you can only “prove” to people who already have faith in your text.

A priest might also be at a conference as a representative of people of his/her faith. In other words, “Many people share my faith, and will therefore have this position.” What weight should this have? I’m not sure, but in a “one person, one vote” situation, it might be quite important to hear what positions people with different faiths will have.

28

bill carone 02.11.04 at 9:08 pm

“But I didn’t say nature = materiality.”

Oops; sorry. You clearly did not.

“If this ‘immateriality’ impacts materiality in any way (or even if doesn’t) shouldn’t it be treated as part of nature?”

I don’t have your distinction of “nature”. Perhaps you could explain it more?

I thought that, since you said “If something is part of nature, shouldn’t science try to explain it?” you meant that nature consisted of the real things that science dealt with. This is, I think, identical with the “material” world.

And I then moved on and said that reality might consist of the material plus the immaterial. In other words, there isn’t a contradiction in saying there are real things that aren’t in the material world. Therefore, there could be real things that science shouldn’t try to explain.

So, my distinctions are “material/immaterial” and “real/unreal.” I’m not exactly sure how your distinction “natural/unnatural” fits into those.

“If this ‘immateriality’ impacts materiality in any way (or even if doesn’t) shouldn’t it be treated as part of nature?”

I don’t know.

29

Ophelia Benson 02.11.04 at 9:09 pm

Blueshoe, great Einstein quotations. I thought when I read that Einstein reference, ‘Hm, that’s a canard, he wasn’t religious in the way he’s often portrayed as being.’ But didn’t have time to look for quotations – also don’t remember where I’ve seen them, though I know I have.

Bill,

“Well, I can put out cynical hypotheses: producers (and most people) don’t understand the difference between religion and ethics, priests are better speakers than philosophers are, a priest has a built in audience, etc.”

Right. So that’s why it’s worth pointing out the misconception, isn’t it? I think so anyway.

30

Keith 02.11.04 at 9:11 pm

A point often overlooked is that Ultimate Answers aren’t necesary. Science usually asks opperational questions and usually gets opperational answers (or sometimes may get approximate answers that are more than operational, boardering on ultimate but, due to scientific meathod cannot be 100% confirmed as that requires infinite experiements over an infinite amount of time).

Simply put, the only purpose Ultimate Answers serve is to make us feel comfortable with existance. But since they are unverifiable, they amount to nothing more than comforting lies. This is not science’s goal, to make us feel good about life the universe and everything.

31

fyreflye 02.11.04 at 9:12 pm

The problem *everybody* is having in these debates is that this question has been debated endlessly with no agreement and this debate is as pointless as all the others.
Let people believe whatever their silly minds lead them to believe. The only issue is whether one side attempts to impose its belief on another (‘intelligent design’ in public schools) or dismisses the view of the other side because it doesn’t meet their particular standard for falsifibility. Disagreements over values are are a major source of the world’s problems because everyone’s ego insists on being ‘right.’ Could it be possible for us to admit that none of us can really be sure of half of what we believe so that we may graciously retire to cultivate our own gardens?

32

mc 02.11.04 at 9:15 pm

Maybe, none of them are “wrong”, they’re just looking at something different.

Ruse is talking about an ideal situation, where religion would be purely about spirituality, transcendental beliefs, faith in the most spiritual sense, not faith in authorities and dogmas, so it would not impinge on practical matters that should be decided regardless of religion (science, politics, society, ethics, laws, etc.). Religious leaders would keep out of those fields. And, like hermits or monks, only contemplate and talk about what’s beyond them. Metaphysics. So they wouldn’t even be leaders in the public-authority sense they are today.

Benson instead is talking of the real world as we all know it, where religions constantly try and dictate social and individual behaviour, down to the most private and personal aspects, and often in completely unreasonable terms, relying on unchallenged dogmas, social control, fears and repression.

It’s not just fundamentalists and creationists doing that. Nearly every major religion does it to some extent. You don’t need to be an atheist to acknowledge that.

In that sense, Benson is “right” – because she’s tackling reality, not dreams.

33

bill carone 02.11.04 at 9:20 pm

“But theology doesn’t explain anything, it only claims to.”

Hmmmm….

How about this:

“If you believe there is an elephant outside the door, then you should believe there is an elephant’s trunk outside the door.”

True? You could argue about what “elephant” really meant

“If you believe text A represents a source of truth, then you should believe X, since X is an interpretation of part of text A.”

True? You could argue about what that part of text A really meant.

I think it is in this form that theology attempts to “explain things” or change someone’s belief.

I agree, theologians cannot explain anything to one who doesn’t share their faith. “Real” theologians :-) don’t even try, as they understand exactly the kinds of claims they make.

I have no faith, and I’m not sure anyone should. But I’m also not sure that everyone shouldn’t.

And again, remember that theological interpretation has no power against empirical observation or philosophical argument, so theologians can’t just say whatever they want.

34

Bill Carone 02.11.04 at 9:25 pm

“Right. So that’s why it’s worth pointing out the misconception, isn’t it? I think so anyway.”

If you mean the misconception between religion and ethics, then yes, I agree, conditioned on all the other points I made afterwards.

However, I didn’t think that that was all you were arguing. I thought you were calling into question the idea of truth in religion. In other words, what truth claims theologians do make/can validly make?

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jam 02.11.04 at 9:29 pm

I think Ophelia is right. The key phrase is “in charge.” Which means affecting the world. The moslem says “it’s God’s will.” The christian prays for intercession. I don’t believe there’s a religious person who believes in an impotent god (however they may try to phrase it).

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Pheo 02.11.04 at 9:52 pm

Religion falls outside of the realm of science because it will never be possible to prove or disprove the existence of God. I can see why people do not want this to be so (on both sides of the issue), but any attempted crossover is due to some agenda.

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seth edenbaum 02.11.04 at 9:55 pm

Outside of modern society, where it’s is little more than a hobby, religion is used as a guide for understanding the world and position in it. Gould’s defense succeeds only in emasculating it. It would help here, as usual on CT, to have the input of a historian or two.

That said, the important question is not whether or not religion is right or wrong- it’s not worth arguing with believers- but whether or not religious thought can be elinated. As I argued in my comment on Dawkins (above) it can’t. People, scientists included, tend towards belief.
What I find more dangerous than expressions of honest faith, are purblind condemnations of faith by those who refuse to recognize their own.
I’ll say it again: Scientists who conflate themselves and their position with ‘science’ are the same as cops who conflate themselves with ‘law.’
Dawkins is not science, he’s an arrogant son of a bitch who believes his own ‘logic’ no matter what. History will decide how much of his work is valid or valuable as science and how much of it is simply the result of his taste for cheap determinism.

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jdsm 02.11.04 at 10:00 pm

“Religion falls outside of the realm of science because it will never be possible to prove or disprove the existence of God.”

This is a common mistake. Science cannot prove or disprove anything, it can merely give us enough certainty to be action guiding. Its theory-dependence means it will always be fallible.

Can we be certain enough that God exists to act on that supposition? In my view we could conceivably be. For example, if the Virgin Mary came out of the sky and told us all that God exists and enough people agreed they’d seen the same things, it would be grounds for belief. Not very surprisingly, these kinds of events are rather thin on the ground. We’re told to make do with faith or as it is otherwise known “believing what you like”.

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jdsm 02.11.04 at 10:08 pm

“What I find more dangerous than expressions of honest faith, are purblind condemnations of faith by those who refuse to recognize their own.”

I find this argument a little cheap. It is not correct to argue that everyone has faith in something in the same way that the religious have faith in God. People may believe things they have no justification to believe and Dawkins may be among them, but I am certain that if you pointed out his mistake he would rectify his belief system.

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Chris Bertram 02.11.04 at 10:09 pm

Matt (#2 in this thread): Yes I’d forgotten about the Kripkean line. Negligent of me because there are people in my own department who believe it! (Not just NJ, then).

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Harry Tuttle 02.11.04 at 10:11 pm

Damn you Fyreflye, sensibility has no place in the turgid, never-ending debate between materialism (or physicalism) and dualism!

And woe be unto he that brings up quantum non-locality for he has surely shit in both camps’ messkits.

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Ophelia Benson 02.11.04 at 10:23 pm

“The problem everybody is having in these debates is that this question has been debated endlessly with no agreement and this debate is as pointless as all the others…The only issue is whether one side attempts to impose its belief on another (‘intelligent design’ in public schools) or dismisses the view of the other side because it doesn’t meet their particular standard for falsifibility.”

Well, “pointless”? Depends how you define pointless, doesn’t it. Arguably every discussion on here is pointless in some sense. They don’t butter much bread, put much fish on the table, add to the GDP, etc. But discussions of this kind can serve a lot of useful purposes, it seems to me.

And as for the imposition bit, that is indeed a large part of my point. I wouldn’t be so noisy about all this if the faith-based types weren’t so bossy about their belief system.

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Micha Ghertner 02.11.04 at 10:24 pm

Robbo,

I don’t know of many scientists who claim to know exactly how our world came about. As Dawkins said in the excerpt I quoted earlier in this thread, there is nothing wrong with filing certain issues under the category of “That which we don’t yet understand.”

I defy anyone to refute my fall-back position: “Whatever gets you through the night, it’s all right.”

The Victorian mathematician W.K. Clifford made a pretty good argument against this way of thinking:

    In like manner, if I let myself believe anything on insufficient evidence, there may be no great harm done by the mere belief; it may be true after all, or I may never have occasion to exhibit it in outward acts. But I cannot help doing this great wrong towards Man, that I make myself credulous. The danger to society is not merely that it should believe wrong things, though that is great enough; but that it should become credulous, and lose the habit of testing things and inquiring into them; for then it must sink back into savagery.

Fyreflye,

The problem is that teaching intelligent design in public schools is not the only example of one side attempting to impose its beliefs on another. For the religious person, teaching evolution and not teaching intelligent design in schools which we are all forced to pay for is also an example of one side attempting to impose its belief on another. As long as public schools exist (and I don’t think they should), we will have different groups trying to impose their beliefs on all the others. This is one reason why vouchers are a good idea.

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sd 02.11.04 at 10:31 pm

Ophelia wrote:

“But they’re not. They’re treated as general, public experts. There were ‘religious leaders’ at that Davos conference, for example. Well, why? Why were there religious ‘leaders’ and not, say, philosophers? Why do religious spokespeople – bishops for short – go on tv and radio when ethical issues are under discussion? They’re talking to the audience in general, not a congregation. But why?”

Well, I suppose that there were religious leaders present at Davos and not philosophers because the number of people who more or less trust religious leaders on moral, ethical and metaphysical questions is exceptionally large – a billion Catholics, several hundred million Protestants, a billion Muslims – while the number of people who seriously look to philosophers for guidance in these matters is exceptionally small – just a handful of millions, generally concentrated in atypical demographic groups.

What the Pope says about the relative moral worth of humans and animals “matters” more than what Peter Singer says, because a rather large segment of humanity (Those one billion “children and unsophisticates” that Dawkins laments) chooses to abide by what the Pope says, while very few people choose to abide by what Peter Singer says.

You may think Mr. Singer to be more qualified to speak on these questions than the Pope, or to be a clearer and more rigorous thinker, but you can only do so if you explicitly reject the central claim of Catholic eccelsiaology – namely that the Almighty, All-Knowing and All-Powerful creator of the universe acts through the Pope and the Bishops to spread Truth throughout the world in accordance with a mysterious plan. It is certainly your choice to reject this claim – Billions of Protestant Christians, religionists of other faiths, and atheists do so every day. But suggesting that religious leaders who shape the thinking of hundreds of millions of people have no more of a role to play in public discourse about important questions than, say, academic philosophers whose influence barely extends beyond the circle of other academic philosophers is the suggest either that:

1) The “Betters” in society ought to control public discourse without regard to the wishes or thinking of people who don’t agree with them

OR

2) That taking cues from religious leaders is such an obviously wrong and stupid thing to do that no reasonable, sane and minimally intelligent person would ever do so.

The point was raised earlier on this thread that believeing in a 6000 year old world is so contradictory to the accumulated body of scientific evidense as to be objectively wrong. And on this point, I wholeheartedly agree – it is indeed either ignorant, stupid or dishonest to believe in a 6000 year old world. I’ve seen the evidense, and I concur.

But share, if you have it, the evidense that God does not act through the Pope. Please, to avoid cluttering the thread, only share results from high-n, double blind, controlled experiments demonstrating that God does not act through the Pope with a P value less than .05

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Ophelia Benson 02.11.04 at 10:41 pm

“while the number of people who seriously look to philosophers for guidance in these matters is exceptionally small”

Yes, I know, but I’m an elitist, so I don’t think that’s a drawback.

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jdsm 02.11.04 at 10:51 pm

sd,

I think Ophelia’s point is not about what ignorant people belive or who they listen to, but about who they should listen to if they had any sense. We all know why religious folk are really at Davos, and it’s for just the reasons you mentioned. However, it’s not absurd to argue that religious folk are not qualified to contribute to these debates to the best of our knowledge. After all, those of us who know better would still think it odd for a scientist to get a hearing at a carpentry conference, even if billions of people thought he was an expert.

Your second option is, while a little overblown, essentially correct. As to your parting quip about there being no hard evidence against the idea that God reveals truth through the Pope, the burden of proof is on the believer. If I said there is a dinosaur on Pluto, you wouldn’t think it was a reasonable claim even though it cannot be disproved would you?

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fyreflye 02.11.04 at 11:15 pm

Ms Benson: “I wouldn’t be so noisy about all this if the faith-based types weren’t so bossy about their belief system.”

Reason-based types are equally bossy about their belief system. Guess who I’m thinking of…

Faith-based propagandists hide their egoistic intellectual arrogance behind the excuse that they’re only trying to save our souls. Reason-based proagandists hide their egoistic spiritual arrogance behind the claim that they’re only trying to save our minds.

Personally, I’m sick of both.

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sd 02.11.04 at 11:25 pm

jdsm:

“As to your parting quip about there being no hard evidence against the idea that God reveals truth through the Pope, the burden of proof is on the believer. If I said there is a dinosaur on Pluto, you wouldn’t think it was a reasonable claim even though it cannot be disproved would you?”

I agree that the burden of proof is on the believer. That’s why those who believe that God doesn’t speak through the Pope need to offer hard proof… Oh! wait a minute, that’s not who you had in mind when you said “believer.” Gotcha.

In seriousness though, my point is that saying that God doesn’t speak through the Pope is not something that can be demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt. Its just as much a leap of faith to say “there is no God” as it is to say that “there is a God.” You may prefer to define someone saying the former as some sort of baseline, and someone saying the latter as holding a proposition that must be defended because it varies from that baseline, but I see no systematic reason to think this.

Now, when religious folks say things that are demonstrably false, then you can and should point out that while they may have the “right to be wrong,” we can reasonably ignore what they believe. I’m with you there. Those who maintain that the world is 6000 years old, or that the whole world was once engulfed in a flood, are simply wrong. But most of what religious people say is not similarly falsifiable. Nor is it the case that we “just don’t know enough yet” to falsify these claims.

I myself believe that Jesus rose from the dead. I respect your right not to believe this, but I challenge you to lay out a convincing case as to how my belief can EVER be demonstrated to be wrong. Yes, I understand that this phenomenon is outside the bounds of all observed evidense. Nobody else has risen from the dead, to our knowledge. But my belief isn’t compromised by the failure to find additional examples of this phenomenon. The whole point of my belief is that Jesus rising from the dead was a one-shot deal. Offer me proof that this didn’t happen and I’ll listen, and change my mind if I’m wrong. But unless you can offer me such proof, I’m going to continue believing that Jesus rose from the dead, because that’s what my heart tells me.

Now, you might argue that my heart is an unreliable source of information. True enough. That’s why I’ll doubt what my heart says, if my head offers a good case to the contrary. But I see no such good case, either now or in the forseeable future. And what my heart tells me is also what the hearts of several hundred of millions of other people tell them. Majoritarian consesus doesn’t establish Truth – sure sure – but its not be discounted entirely either, especially when there is no good data contrary to that consensus.

Perhaps you might say that the preponderance of evidense suggests that someone rising from the dead is very unlikely, while mass dillusion is quite common. Perhaps. But that’s a judgement call. It not “scientific.” Its just bet-hedging. If it works for you, great.

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djs 02.11.04 at 11:28 pm

Religion is bunk, but possibly useful bunk.

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dsquared 02.11.04 at 11:28 pm

I’d just add that while it might in principle be possible to organise a process of inquiry into physical reality of the world that didn’t try to explain any questions of ultimate ends, it wouldn’t look very much at all like the human activity that’s being going on under the name of “science” over the last few hundred years.

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fyreflye 02.11.04 at 11:30 pm

Misha Gertner: “As long as public schools exist (and I don’t think they should), we will have different groups trying to impose their beliefs on all the others. This is one reason why vouchers are a good idea.”

So once we abolish public schools and institute a voucher system different groups will stop trying to impose their beliefs on all the others. The wonders of utopian thinking never cease to amaze me. As long as belief systems act to buttress ego gratification people who think they are ‘right’ will attempt to impose ther beliefs on all the others who are’wrong.’ Guess who I’m thinking of…

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Ophelia Benson 02.11.04 at 11:48 pm

“As long as belief systems act to buttress ego gratification people who think they are ‘right’ will attempt to impose ther beliefs on all the others who are’wrong.’ Guess who I’m thinking of…”

Yes we get who you’re thinking of. Very droll. But what’s your point? That no one should ever make an argument for a truth claim? That no one should ever disagree with anyone about anything? That would be a bit of a problem for universities, for example. Not to mention industrial research, research in general, detective work – any arena where people disagree.

To put it another way – is arguing for the truth of one’s position in fact exactly the same thing as attempting to impose one’s beliefs on all the others? Or is that in fact an absurd thing to say.

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Micha Ghertner 02.11.04 at 11:53 pm

So once we abolish public schools and institute a voucher system different groups will stop trying to impose their beliefs on all the others.

There will be one less source of conflict. Consider: if there was one official state church, we would expect various groups to use their political power to control the church. With a separation of church and state, we avoid this issue. So too with a separation of state and education.

As long as belief systems act to buttress ego gratification people who think they are ‘right’ will attempt to impose ther beliefs on all the others who are’wrong.’

Which is exactly why free markets are superior to government control: politics is a zero-sum game, whereas private trade is a positive-sum game.

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jdsm 02.11.04 at 11:55 pm

sd,

I think you’re confusing belief and truth. I cannot prove that Jesus wasn’t the son of God but I can show that you are wrong to believe it. Our criteria for belief are weaker than those of truth. Moreover, simply because I cannot prove something is not true, it does not give me a good reason to believe it is true.

In terms of religious faith I accept that neither of us can prove that Jesus is or is not the son of God. On the other hand I do not accept that a person has grounds to believe he is the son of God. Whatever feeling you have that you call “faith”, does not seem to me to justify belief. The reason is that people have faith about contradictory things. That in itself shows that the experience that people call faith is an unreliable guide to even probable truth.

I’m also a little curious about the content of an emotional experience that gets into specifics, like defining God and saying the Bible is true. I’m ot sure you can get that from an emotional experience – it sounds like there’s a whole lot of interpretation going on as well.

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Andy 02.11.04 at 11:58 pm

Damn, why am I bothering to add anything to this tremendous scroll of comments?

But I just wanted to mention that Chris’s argument is reminiscent of Wittgenstein’s at the end of the Tractatus: any “meaning” of this world must be outside the world. (What Derrida calls “il n’y a pas de hors-texte.”) Somehow, I don’t have my copy here at the law office, or I would gladly quote the passage.

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bob mcmanus 02.12.04 at 12:35 am

“6.432 How things are in the world is a matter of complete indifference for
what is higher. God does not reveal himself in the world.” or

“6.45 To view the world sub specie aeterni is to view it as a whole–a
limited whole. Feeling the world as a limited whole–it is this that is
mystical.”

Project Gutenberg on-line 1 min 30 sec

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Albert Law 02.12.04 at 1:04 am

sd,

“Now, you might argue that my heart is an unreliable source of information. True enough. That’s why I’ll doubt what my heart says, if my head offers a good case to the contrary. But I see no such good case, either now or in the forseeable future.”

Many people believe that Al-Mumit gave all of Palestine to the Muslims. Many people believe that Ha Shem gave all of Eretz Israel to the Jews. Should they both hang on to that belief until it can be falsified?

Domestically, many people think that YHVH is against homosexuality and their belief influences their votes which in turn influences laws. What are we to do in debates until we find evidence that YHVH doesn’t have something against homosexuality?

If you are saying that it’s okay to believe something because the heart says so but that when it comes to actions, reason is required, okely-dokely, as my favourite Christian might say.

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robbo 02.12.04 at 2:16 am

Micha,

I enjoyed your excerpts from Richard Dawkins, but am not sure whence originates your concern about my potential credulity or lack of inquisitiveness. I think my post is fairly clear that I view myself as a skeptic, albeit one who tries to maintain an open mind in the face of life’s enigmas.

Frankly, I think it shows credulity to embrace the notion that there’s only “That which we don’t yet understand,” as to me this implies a theoretical end to philosophical/existential inquiry. I believe — or at least hope — that there are Big Questions to which humans will never find The Answers. But this shouldn’t stop me or anyone else from clear-headed inquiry into the exquisitely complicated workings of nature, or toward a deeper understanding of metaphysics.

In my opinion, experiencing a momentary sliver of “spiritual” insight — a line of thought (and hopefully action) that transcends one’s logical understanding of purely mechanical action and reaction — is preferable to the atheist’s attempts to expose through logic the essential self-delusion taken to lie at the core of “spirituality.” I suppose the atheist could be right, but it’s a bit like spending one’s life endlessly repeating “this exhale may be my last.” You’re proven right at long last, but at what cost?

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Ophelia Benson 02.12.04 at 2:33 am

But acknowledging that there may well be (certainly is, in fact) more than we understand is one thing, and telling everyone what that More is is quite another. Religions don’t just gesture vaguely and say there’s More, and they certainly don’t say they don’t know. Not the religions I’m talking about at least, which are the traditional ones we’re all familiar with – theistic religions. They say specifically and explicitly what there is. There is a god, with a certain nature and attributes. That’s what I challenge the basis for asserting.

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sd 02.12.04 at 3:05 am

albert law wrote:

“Domestically, many people think that YHVH is against homosexuality and their belief influences their votes which in turn influences laws. What are we to do in debates until we find evidence that YHVH doesn’t have something against homosexuality?”

You could try to convince them that truth claims not based on reason and observed fact should not influence public policy debates. That’s fine. But that’s not what’s being debated here. What’s being debated is whether or not we can throw out those truth claims because they’re not “scientific,” where science is conveniently defined as not only what we can prove, but also what we cannot prove but what nonetheless rubs us the wrong way.

If someone says that its irrational to believe the earth is 6000 years old, then I’d say they’re right – there’s lots of evidense that the earth is more than 6000 years old. But if someone who is personally uncomfortable with religious belief says that its irrational to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, well, I suppose that true, just as its also true that its irrational to believe that Jesus is not the Son of God. Which is to say that the question of whether or not Jesus is the Son of God is not answerable using rational means. We cannot conduct controlled experiements on the question, so we are left to decide where we stand on the issue in the absence of firm evidense. To pretend that one decision is more “rational” than the next because its the more religiously minimal isn’t a scientific position – its just a statement of one’s preferences.

Its fine if you choose to believe that Jesus is not the Son of God. Just don’t delude yourself into thinking that your position is any more based on facts than that of the fervent theist.

Just because we can definitively answer certain questions using sciences, doesn’t mean that we can definitively answer all questions using science.

Of course, the idea that its troublesome to let religious conviction influence public policy debates would have come as quite a surprise to say, Martin Luther King, Jr. After all, several decades of secular northeastern liberals disapproving of southern racism didn’t bring an end to the Jim Crow south. Several years of prayer-soaked civil disobediance by people who saw their work as a direct mandate from the God of the Bible did.

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Ophelia Benson 02.12.04 at 3:23 am

“What’s being debated is whether or not we can throw out those truth claims because they’re not “scientific,” where science is conveniently defined as not only what we can prove, but also what we cannot prove but what nonetheless rubs us the wrong way.”

No it’s not. That’s not what I said. Not at all. People always do read these things so carelessly – and they invariably talk about proof when I’ve never so much as mentioned proof. But I didn’t say any of that lot. It’s a waste of time to dispute what no one said.

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Bill carone 02.12.04 at 3:57 am

“They say specifically and explicitly what there is. There is a god, with a certain nature and attributes. That’s what I challenge the basis for asserting”

Sorry for my broken-record-like qualities, but theologians, people who are to religion as high-quality scientists are to science, say something slightly different.

They say “If (and only if) you have faith in this text, then you should believe that there is a god, with this nature and these attributes. The reason you should believe this is that the text says so; more specifically, an interpretation of the text says so.

“If you do not have faith in this text, then I make no claim whatsoever that you should change your beliefs.”

Now there are philosophical arguments for God’s existence and attributes, but that is different, and no argument comes close to suggesting any particular God of any religion.

There aren’t any scientific arguments for God; science concerns itself only with observation of the physical world.

“they certainly don’t say they don’t know.”

The problem is, they do know, but it is knowledge based on faith in a text, and not necessarily observation or argument. This is a form of knowledge that they know (a) not everyone shares, and (b) may not even be a form of knowledge at all.

“Religions don’t just gesture vaguely and say there’s More”

That’s because the “More” has been revealed to them. When you have faith, you treat revelation as a source of knowledge similar to scientific observation and philosophical argument. They can’t just wave their hands; they don’t have vague knowledge, they have faith.

Theologians have a lot of truth to tell, but only premised on faith in a text. If you don’t have faith, they really aren’t talking to you, no matter what you, or they, think.

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djs 02.12.04 at 3:58 am

Here’s a definition that I’ve always liked: God is a set of symbols that define a culture.

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sd 02.12.04 at 4:03 am

ophelia wrote:

“No it’s not. That’s not what I said. Not at all. People always do read these things so carelessly – and they invariably talk about proof when I’ve never so much as mentioned proof. But I didn’t say any of that lot. It’s a waste of time to dispute what no one said.”

Well, for one thing you’re not the only one being debated on this thread. But leaving that aside, you seem to quote approvingly Christopher Hitchens in the item referenced in the original post:

“I have met many brave men and women, morally superior to myself, whose courage in adversity derives from their faith. But whenever they have chosen to speak or write about it, I have found myself appalled by the instant decline of their intellectual and moral standards. They want god on their side and believe they are doing his work – what is this, even at its very best, but an extreme form of solipsism? They proceed from conclusion to evidence; our greatest resource is the mind and the mind is not well-trained by being taught to assume what has to be proved.”

This, it seems to me, is a good summary of a common critique of theism – namely that it is intellectually lazy to take something on faith when in fact we should subject truth claims to rigorous examination. And I suppose I agree, assuming that we recognize when it is and is not possible to subject the truth claims of faith to rigorous examination.

But where it is impossible to resolve a question by rational means (as it quite often is with the sorts of questions raised by religious doctrine), then we are fooling ourselves if we assume that the non-theistic position is somehow more intellectually rigorous, simply because it bears an aesthetic resemblance to science.

Now, I agree with you that the Gould argument is sloppy. After all, both the motion of bodies in the heavens and the bounds of morality (or lack thereof) are features of the world, and to draw boundries around what is and is not the domain of religion or science is arbitrary at best. But the Gould argument comes close to the truth in that:

A) There are claims made by religions that can be demonstrated by science to be objectively untrue. The Bible says that the earth was created in seven days, and we know this to be false.

B) There are claims made by religions that cannot be shown to be true or untrue by science or any other rational means of inquiry. The Bible says that Jesus rose from the dead and was taken up into heaven bodily, and we must decide whether or not to believe this without any hope of ever having any facts to confirm our belief.

You had raised objections to the privledged place given religious leaders in moral and ethical debates. You’re probably right that TV talk show booking agents choose clerics out of laziness or habit. But as I noted before, these religious leaders are trusted on matters of morals because many people believe religious truth claims (neither provable nor disprovable) that would lead one to believe that religious leaders have special authority on these matters that secular philosophers do not.

This may displease you. You may feel that the rigorous academic training given to Ph.D. ethicists makes them more qualified to speak to the desirability of stem cell research than relatively unlettered Catholic priests. But if Jesus was the Son of God and if he established a church in Simon Peter that he intended to guide and direct for all time then in fact the priest is more qualified to speak to these issues than the academic because he acts with the will of God. You ask why you should listen to the priest’s opinions when you are not a believer. Fair enough. But why should the vast majority of people listen to anyone else about moral questions if they are believers?

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fyreflye 02.12.04 at 4:11 am

Ms Benson says: “But what’s your point? That no one should ever make an argument for a truth claim? That no one should ever disagree with anyone about anything? That would be a bit of a problem for universities, for example. Not to mention industrial research, research in general, detective work – any arena where people disagree.”

Of course that’s not my point except in the minds of those more interested in ‘winning’ arguments than considering what those who disagree with them actually say. The fields of research, detective work, etc. all have agreed upon methods of settling disagreements within the field. Universities of course find their life and breath in sophistic argumentation designed to advance the reputation of one proponent over the other. The ever-popular field of disagreement about the scope of science vs. religion has no common method – that’s why the argument has gone on futilely and pointlessly for hundreds of years and remains futilely pointless to this very day.

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Chris Bertram 02.12.04 at 9:27 am

Andy – I didn’t have an argument! Just an observation that the claim that there is a supreme being needn’t be taken as being a claim about the way things are in the empirical world.

On Wittgenstein – I think I’m right in saying that this all comes from Schopenhauer (and, in a sense, from Kant). But my history of German idealism is shakier than it should be.

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Armando 02.12.04 at 10:27 am

All this talk about proving negatives seems a little odd. Its very easy to make a statement for which (almost by definition) there can be no evidence supporting or undermining it and “challenging” people to disprove it.

If you take this approach, you essentially adopt the position that every crazy theory is equally valid.

“Bush has been sent by Satan to exact his EVIL on the world.”

I suppose this is fair enough in some sense, although I’d note that people don’t treat truth claims like this most of the time. And it a curious inversion of the word “Faith” to use it to apply to beliefs that reject fantastical notions – I’m personally a member of that body of FAITH that disbelieves that pink, invisible unicorns assasinated JFK.

Ultimately, one justifies the broad and political influence of religious figures by their popularity. Epìstemelogically this is rather weak but politically it couldn’t be more valid. A group of people get together and try to influence the world through shared beliefs.

I don’t think you can dismiss this without being elitist and essentially saying that one should favour arguments from authority. And that really doesn’t seem any better to me than having a faith position.

So, as an atheist, I can and do argue against religion. I have a lot of time for Dawkins. But, ultimately, people have the right to be irrational. Many have subjectively good reasons for doing so.

I think of the religious as sometimes political (and philosophical) opponents in much the same way as I think of Conservatives. Wrong, in my opinion, but impossible and undesirable to completely dismiss.

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Matthew 02.12.04 at 11:02 am

Thanks Blueshoe, I stand corrected about Einstein atheistic ethics! Don’t know how this got in my head. However he did have a particular view of religion, compatible with science:

A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms–it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves.

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john c. halasz 02.12.04 at 11:04 am

There is a fundamental difference between norms of truth and norms of rightness or justice. They operate in different dimensions and are not reducible to one another, though they are cross-implicated. (In a criminal trial, of course, one wants sufficient factual evidence to reach a verdict, but what constitues a crime is not determined by the evidence, but by the determination of legal norms.) And, yes, truth, cognitive validity, does require sustaining norms and is not simply a matter of asserting the facts of material existence, since not only are generalizations involved beyond the ascertainment of particulars, but the coherence of world-interpretation with respect to different domains of being is also at stake, which science attempts to serially systematize. (The singular “unity of science” is a positivist fiction, oddly enough, a hang-over from traditional metaphysics.) But science is specialized to concern itself with cognitive claims about the natural world and is specifically not equipped to argue or adjudicate claims about normative rightness or justice. (Nor is science merely “action-guiding, as one commenter claimed above. Its claims are meant as “objectively” true; the coherence of its family of theories within an “economy” of being counts as much as its efficacy in technical action; otherwise put, our orientation in and toward the world and not simply our technical mastery of it are at stake in the scientific enterprise of furnishing causal explanations of natural processes.)The normative nature of cogitive truth claims is evinced in the way that criteria for theory formation and evidence change as science “progresses” and is particularly shown forth in disputes between different scientific paradigms, wherein it is not just different interpretations of the facts and different theoretical concepts that are at issue, but meta-theoretical norms as to what constitutes a proper scientific explanation in the relevant domain, such that such disputes, since they reach into the normative basis of the participants’ beliefs- (and beliefs are basically normative commitments rather than merely a deficient, since insufficiently certain, form of knowledge)-, which have been incorporated as an aspect of their identity, take on a peculiarly bitter, polemical, indeed, existential cast.

Now religion- (and I will confine myself to the Judeo-Christian tradition, since, however dimly familiar I am with it, I am completely ignorant of other traditions)- is a much different orientation to the world than science, and I do not dispute that it can and does come into conflict with the scientific world-view. But religion primarily takes place in the (ethical) dimension of norms of rightness or justice rather than that of cognitive claims to truth. (If G-d is absolute and inconceivable justice, then, of course He does not exist, since justice is inherently a counterfactual. But the “existence” of G-d is only a meaningful notion within the attempt to assimilate religion to metaphysics, which certainly plays a large doctrinal role in the inherited tradition, but is not necessarily definitive of religious conceptions.) What is revealed in revealed religion are the commandments; the rest, in Genesis and Exodus, is back-story, though “designed” in accordance with the ethical conception of the commandments. What is at stake is the repudiation of pagan idolatry, wherein the devotee sacrifices himself in mimetic accordance with the mythically deified powers and cycles of nature, whereby the devotee at once propitiates and gains access to such powers, a devotion at once slavish and self-aggrandizing, in favour of an recognition of the primacy of the ethical relation to the other, vouchsafed by a transcendent deity. This opting for the primacy of the ethical amounts to an estrangement from adherence to a merely given natural order, with all its brutalities, and an acceptance of the strangeness of the other. To say that G-d created the world from nothingness, i.e. commanded it into being, is another way of re-enforcing the point. (That man was created in G-d’s image is precisely to the point, since G-d does not have an image; there is an absolute disjunction between the mythical/idolatrous image and the revealing word.) To view the world as G-d’s creation is to view oneself as a finite creature who exists in a world that precedes and far transcends oneself, in which its beings have a complexion independent from one’s wishes or desires, in which one encounters others, similarly situated, whom one, through the overweening tendencies of ones’s nature, inevitably violates in their vulnerability and thus falls into sin, and thus creation becomes a fallen nature, even as it retains the integrity of its created origin, and thus, in the insufficiency of one’s nature and before the injunction to honor the ethical integrity of the other, one stands in need of redemption. The point I am trying to make is that such a view is not simply true or false, rational or irrational; it amounts to a spiritual attitude toward the world and one’s existence in it that one may choose to adopt or not. It is not simply a matter of a derelict form of explanatory schema that necessarily requires the metaphysical postulation of supernatural entities that violate a materialist rigor. Such an account is a misrecognition based on a category mistake. To claim that “faith is the evidence of things unseen and the substance of things hoped for” is to speak in paradoxes and to thereby make the point that faith is precisely not a form of knowledge, with its supposed criterion of self-sufficient certainty. Rather than being an inferior substitute for knowledge, such faith is more like a radical anxiety ventured amongst the moral hazards of this world. (With respect to “creationist science”, the usual reposte is that it is not so much bad science, as not science at all, completely failing to grasp the nature and purpose of scientific explanation, and proffering a mixture of ad hoc scepticism and utter absurdity in its place, for purely dogmatic/apologetic reasons. This is a valid response. Unfortunately, the still stronger reposte is thereby elided: that it is bad theology, treating the biblical account of creation as if it were a species of causal explanation, for purposes of authoritarian/dogmatic self-enclosure, and thereby reverting to the very mythological conception from which it sought to break free, in effect, converting Christianity itself into a form of idolatry.)

I need to get to bed now so I’ll wrap this up without hitting all the points. But I am writing this from the perspective of an atheist, though of a non-dogmatic sort, an indifferentist, if you will- (the world and the dilemmas and impassibilities of human existence in the world are the same for believers and unbelievers alike). The dispute between religious fundamentalism and scientistic fundamentalism I find tedious and of little interest. What interests me in these matters is that, philosophically, I do not believe in a formalist ethics, nor in one that is cognitively grounded. Rather I take the hermeneutic view that our ethical intuitions are dependent upon and drawn from our inherited tradition, which includes, in large measure, religious traditions now long since grown weak in binding force. If one declares oneself a socialist or a radically democratic egalitarian, for example, how much of this is owed to a now disabused Judeo-Christian heritage, rather than from some sort of “mathematical” calculus or a theory of society?

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PaulL 02.12.04 at 2:23 pm

Am I the only one who feels the atheism represented on B&W is as reductionistic as fundamentalism? It is quite embarassing

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Ophelia Benson 02.12.04 at 2:33 pm

““If you do not have faith in this text, then I make no claim whatsoever that you should change your beliefs.””

But 1. I’m not sure it’s true that all theologians do say that, and 2. I’m not particularly talking about theologians. I’m talking about religion, and the social pressure (especially in the US) to believe in it, as well as the social pressure to refrain from criticizing it, or contradicting its claims, or pointing out that its claims are not based on much of anything other than wishes. I’m talking about its weird epistemological status, its weird protected status, its privileged realm where it gets to assert anything and everything and then say ‘Oh but this isn’t a scientific claim, this is a claim in that other, special, non-empirical, non-scientific, infinitely flexible and adaptable realm where we get to claim anything we want to and nobody can contradict us on any grounds whatsoever because we’re in that Special Realm, so anything goes, so there.’

That’s what I’m talking about.

“Well, for one thing you’re not the only one being debated on this thread.”

That’s true. I thought of that after I posted. Oh well.

“And I suppose I agree, assuming that we recognize when it is and is not possible to subject the truth claims of faith to rigorous examination.”

But if truth claims just have a standing exemption from examination, rigorous or even semi-rigorous – from, let’s be honest, any examination at all – then anything goes. Anyone can claim anything. And anyone does. Now, I think that’s a bad situtation, and one that’s worth pointing out and opposing. You’ll notice I’m not advocating arresting anyone, or passing any laws. I’m just doing some examining. I simply fail to see why religion should have this standing exemption.

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Keith M Ellis 02.12.04 at 2:49 pm

Am I the only one who feels the atheism represented on B&W is as reductionistic as fundamentalism? It is quite embarassing“—Paull

An odd and, on my first impression, an incorrect usage of “reductionist”. However, I see that a common usage is as a synonym for “oversimplified”, which arguably applies to both.

I don’t read B&W, but from Ophelia’s comments here I can see where you’d get this impression. She’s strident. But “strident” and “certain” is not equivalent to “oversimplified”.

It’s obvious that many/most people have a strong affinity for Mystery. But that doesn’t by itself suffice as an argument in its defense.

I’m especially disturbed by the strong agnosticism argument, which seems to me to be pretty darn convenient. Looking at various religious traditions, it doesn’t appear that God’s/Gods’ existence used to be so darn unknowable. Seemed to be pretty knowable in the past to me. And won’t all these strong agnostics and people asserting “seperate spheres” be suprised when, say, the Rapture actually happens? God’s existence could be entirely “knowable” in an empirical sense. It’s like claiming that because it seems so very hard to prove the existence of a unicorn, then, hey, I bet that a unicorn’s existence is unprovable, but does exist. That’s handy.

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Ophelia Benson 02.12.04 at 2:51 pm

“Am I the only one who feels the atheism represented on B&W is as reductionistic as fundamentalism?”

No, you’re not; that’s quite a popular view. Mistaken of course, but quite popular.

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Ophelia Benson 02.12.04 at 2:56 pm

(It’s interesting, by the way, that ‘certain’ is a word that I never use of my own truth-claims. And yet people very often read me as claiming, precisely, certainty. I seriously wonder why that is. Something calling for more research, I think.)

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Keith M Ellis 02.12.04 at 2:56 pm

I simply fail to see why religion should have this standing exemption.—Ophelia

Yeah, but it’s not gonna change anytime soon. There’s a whole host of other silly things people commonly believe that are far more amenable to correction than theism. I concentrate my efforts on them.

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Ophelia Benson 02.12.04 at 2:59 pm

“Yeah, but it’s not gonna change anytime soon.”

Well, it’s certainly not if no one ever talks back. I don’t think we can be certain of what will change and what won’t, of what effect argument will have and what it won’t, of whether it will spread or whether it won’t. I don’t see much reason to just abandon the field.

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Ophelia Benson 02.12.04 at 3:00 pm

“Yeah, but it’s not gonna change anytime soon.”

Well, it’s certainly not if no one ever talks back. I don’t think we can be certain of what will change and what won’t, of what effect argument will have and what it won’t, of whether it will spread or whether it won’t. I don’t see much reason to just abandon the field.

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Keith M Ellis 02.12.04 at 3:07 pm

It’s interesting, by the way, that ‘certain’ is a word that I never use of my own truth-claims. And yet people very often read me as claiming, precisely, certainty. I seriously wonder why that is. Something calling for more research, I think.)“—Ophelia

If you’re very rigorous, as I am, then of course you don’t claim “certainty”. But some people seem to assume that anything less than certainty should be equivalent to “indecisive”, which I strongly believe is not the case. If one is decisive about one’s views—that is, if one is, on a day-to-day, practical basis sure of oneself—then people assume one is “certain” in the unqualified sense.

But, to mention Rumsfeld’s quite valid quote, the problem is that we don’t know the extent of what we don’t know and thus an apparent “near certainty” may very well be a false belief. I try to keep this in mind at all times—it doesn’t make me, as a practical matter, less certain when I am certain; but it helps me to not have too great of an emotional investment in a belief such that I’m hindered in my ablility to discover my own ignorance and correct it when possible.

In the context of theism, my sister and I discussed this very recently. She has such confidence in my empiricism and rationality that she is quite sure that when (not if) God decides to make his presence known to me, I’ll instantly become a theist. I’m not quite sure why God, if He exists, hasn’t shown up for any meetings, but I’m open to the possibility. I gently urged her not to be holding her breath, though.

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bob mcmanus 02.12.04 at 3:17 pm

“On Wittgenstein – I think I’m right in saying that this all comes from Schopenhauer (and, in a sense, from Kant). But my history of German idealism is shakier than it should be.”

Although I am sure Wittgenstein was to some degree familiar with German Idealism, as far as I remember, closer sources are Frege and the Philosophy of Mathematics, and Russell/Whitehead Principles of Logic

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Ophelia Benson 02.12.04 at 3:26 pm

It’s interesting about the Wittgenstein-Schopenhauer thing – I just read something about that in Brian Magee’s Confessions of a Philosopher (so that’s why it interests me, she said solipsistically). He is strongly convinced that Schop was indeed a big (and little-acknowledged) influence on Wittgenstein.

Yes, I like Rumsfeld’s quote too. But then it’s just Socrates’ point too – the Delphic Oracle, wisest man thing. He was the wisest man in Athens because he was the only one who knew he didn’t know.

True about confirmation bias, need to keep checking, etc – something I write about quite often at B&W. But all the same – as part of the overall need for clear thinking – it’s as well to distinguish between, say, attempts at clarity and/or decisiveness, and certainty. So when people accuse me of certainty, I contradict them.

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sd 02.12.04 at 3:31 pm

Ophelia wrote:

“But if truth claims just have a standing exemption from examination, rigorous or even semi-rigorous – from, let’s be honest, any examination at all – then anything goes. Anyone can claim anything. And anyone does. Now, I think that’s a bad situtation, and one that’s worth pointing out and opposing. You’ll notice I’m not advocating arresting anyone, or passing any laws. I’m just doing some examining. I simply fail to see why religion should have this standing exemption.”

I’m not suggesting that religious truth claims be exempt from whatever scrutiny can be effectively brought to bear against them. If I claim that prayer is a more effective means of warding off disease than taking antibiotics then my claim can be subjected to disciplined scrutiny with a reasonable hope of coming to an answer, yea or nea, on its validity.

But if I claim that the universe was created by an intelligent and beneficient deity who later took human form in the person of the Son, then, while you might find the claim outlandish, you certainly can’t disprove it. The analytical toolkit that we use to prove that the earth is very old, or that antibiotics are more effective against strep throat than prayer, depends on on our ability to collect evidence in a methodical way. No evidence can be collected about God (If He exists), nor about whether or not Jesus rose from the dead 2000 years ago.

And I suppose my point then is that we must choose what we will believe about these things without hope of ever “settling” the question. You can subject my truth claims to all the scrutiny you want, but you’re very unlikely to convince me that I’m wrong if you have no evidence backing you up.

Now, perhaps in the absence of strong scientific data we can still be good skeptics and subject religious truth claims to scrutiny of a more inductive or intuitive manner. You might argue that, given everything else we know about the universe, it is extremely unlikely that Jesus was a deity and that He rose from the dead and so forth and so on. Fair enough, though again I would argue that you’re making value judgements of your own.

But I could equally argue that, given everything else we know about the universe, it is extremely unlikely that the world was not “created” in some sense by an intelligent, trans-material entity. I have no proof of this, though I think its an entirely defensible position.

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Ophelia Benson 02.12.04 at 3:43 pm

Sigh.

“But if I claim that the universe was created by an intelligent and beneficient deity who later took human form in the person of the Son, then, while you might find the claim outlandish, you certainly can’t disprove it.”

I didn’t say I could. I didn’t say I could. I didn’t say I could.

Can we get that straight? For once? I have nowhere, ever, said that science or anything else could prove or disprove any such thing.

My point is, that inability to disprove something applies to an infinite number of possibilities. You can postulate the existence of anything you like and I can’t disprove it. I can offer evidence against it, but I can’t disprove it. It does not therefore follow that I am required to believe it exists.

I am asking why we should believe something that there’s no good evidence for, not why we should believe something that’s been ‘disproven’.

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Keith M Ellis 02.12.04 at 3:58 pm

But then it’s just Socrates’ point too – the Delphic Oracle, wisest man thing. He was the wisest man in Athens because he was the only one who knew he didn’t know.

What is really, really interesting to me about Socrates is that he quite clearly believed he knew things. But he was extremely rigorous about what he could reason about and what he could not. And the latter wasn’t some wussy sort of “I’m going to make an argument about something which cannot be argued” which is what so many people do. No, he’d just slyly mention something he heard some mystic say. This is what he does in Symposium.

This is what I liked most about Socrates (and I am one of those naive readers who believes he can distinguish between Plato speaking through Socrates and Plato recollecting—ha!—Socrates). He quite simply had no patience with talking about things that couldn’t be talked about. He didn’t necessarily say that those things didn’t exist, he just didn’t try to be rational about them. This is what most bothers the people, I think, that really found they wanted to hit Socrates with a baseball bat when they read Plato.

To them, he seemed coy and a smart-ass. Oh, sure, he said he didn’t know anything; but he sure as well acted like he knew more than anyone. This is a sort of misunderstanding on their part, I think. Socrates did think he “knew” things, because, frankly, it’s impossible to live as if one knows nothing. But he had the intellectual rigor to be very, very careful about how he talked about what is known and knowable.

This differs from the two spheres doctrine in that when it talks about the sphere of religion, it implicitly is rationalizing it and bringing it within the domain of the sphere of science. It talks about that sphere as if it were part of the universe. But it either is, or isn’t. If it is, science can talk about it. If it isn’t, then not only cannot science talk about it, neither can we. Socrates quite rightly deals with this by not attempting to directly talk about it. He doesn’t assert a truth value. He says, “I heard this story…”. People think that Christ’s parables are analogies, but a parable isn’t necessarily an analogy. It’s talking around something, and Socrates did it, too.

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Mario 02.12.04 at 4:01 pm

“I am asking why we should believe something that there’s no good evidence for, not why we should believe something that’s been ‘disproven’.”

A lot of people would claim personal experience as the reason that they believe in God. Their experience is no reason for you to believe, but is it irrational for one to trust their own experiences?

If, for instance, I told you that there is a yellow dragon living in my backyard and eating the neighborhood pets, you would be under no obligation to believe me. However, if this is something I have seen, or at least believe that I have seen, aren’t I obligated to believe?

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Keith M Ellis 02.12.04 at 4:02 pm

No evidence can be collected about God (If He exists), nor about whether or not Jesus rose from the dead 2000 years ago.“—SD

Why the heck not? Isn’t this a pretty bizarre—and suspiciously convenient—thing to assert? Strong agnosticism, though an ancient idea, has never been a majority opinion among theists. I find strong agnosticism to be second in absurdity only to strong atheism (that “certainty” thing). Strong theism, in contrast, seems rather sensible to me.

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Ophelia Benson 02.12.04 at 4:09 pm

“But it either is, or isn’t. If it is, science can talk about it. If it isn’t, then not only cannot science talk about it, neither can we.”

Exactly. That’s what I keep saying. No indeed, science can’t talk about it, but that doesn’t mean religion can! No one can. So no one is under any obligation to accept anyone else’s assertions about the subject. But the argument persists in that form – ‘there is this other realm that science can’t talk about, but religion can.’

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Albert Law 02.12.04 at 4:17 pm

SD,

You say one could convince another individual that faith positions shouldn’t be included in the public debate but then take the example of MLK, so you seem to agree that faith positions should be included in the public debate. How do you apply this to the “Allah gave us this land” and “Ha Shem gave us this land” problem?

Some Creationnists say that the earth is 6000 years old but that it was made to look older, thereby taking the claim of the age of the earth out of the scientific realm. According to your premisses, isn’t your position that the year isn’t 6000 years old equally based on faith then?

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Keith M Ellis 02.12.04 at 4:21 pm

I find strong agnosticism to be second in absurdity only to strong atheism (that “certainty” thing).“—Me

I really do think this, but I wish I had expressed the thought with more tact. Apologies to anyone that may have taken offense.

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Ophelia Benson 02.12.04 at 4:21 pm

Mario

“A lot of people would claim personal experience as the reason that they believe in God. Their experience is no reason for you to believe, but is it irrational for one to trust their own experiences?

If, for instance, I told you that there is a yellow dragon living in my backyard and eating the neighborhood pets, you would be under no obligation to believe me. However, if this is something I have seen, or at least believe that I have seen, aren’t I obligated to believe?”

Obligated? No. Inclined, yes, of course; and you might be right. You might be the first person ever to see such a thing. Gorillas, for example, were only really properly seen in the 19th century – before that they might have been real or they might not.

But you also might not be the first person to see such a thing; you might have had a hallucination. Given that we know hallucinations do happen, that is a possibility that has to be taken into account, it seems to me. Especially when what it is we have seen or heard or felt (or most of all ‘sensed’) is something extraordinary. Remember Hume on miracles. If you’ve seen a dog, no big deal. If you’ve seen a dragon or a unicorn – that’s another matter. Especially if you’re the only one who has seen it.

So, that’s the problem with the personal experience argument, I think. Yes, one can have a powerful experience of that kind. I certainly never have, but so what – many other people have. But the human brain can do a lot of odd things, so that by itself, while it may well be convincing (and often consoling, though also often terrifying), is not really good evidence of the existence of something in the external world. Evidence of that kind has to be universally shareable, has to be capable of being duplicated.

That’s not to say it’s not reasonable to believe one’s own experiences though. I’m not really sure what I think about that. I go back and forth on it. But I do think that even if one does believe them and is reasonable to do so – they have force only for the person who has them. Something Tom Paine pointed out in The Age of Reason.

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Keith M Ellis 02.12.04 at 4:42 pm

But I do think that even if one does believe them and is reasonable to do so – they have force only for the person who has them.“—Ophelia

The thing is, though, that people like my sister have personal experiences that demonstrate the existence of God, in many cases they repeat those experiences, and these folks are part of a significant community of people that report having the same experiences. That’s not an unreasonable foundation for a belief.

I wrote earlier that people’s affinity for the mystical isn’t by itself a sufficient argument for a belief in it. But, really, in the case of theism I am, to some degree, persuaded by the pervasiveness of the belief. That is to say, I accept that their widespread belief is more persuasive than, say, one person believing in the Orange Dragon God. But there’s alternative explanations for a widespread belief that happens to be false. Most people believe in absolute space and time, too. They have good reasons to. They also happen to be wrong.

This is probably why you and I differ on being “activist” atheists. Widespread theism isn’t by itself a sufficient argument for its truth; but it is a strong indication that people people have lots of “good” reasons to be theists. I don’t think those reasons are going to go away.

An example: I think that people have lots of “good” reasons to be tribalistic. Psychological, evolutionary, experience, whatever. I also think that racism is an expression of the tendency towards tribalism. I believe that I can have a significant influence in the world against racism (at the very least, at debunking the presumption of a scientific basis for it) but I don’t think I’m going to have much luck fighting “tribalism”. It’s the same with theism, I think. It runs too deep.

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Ophelia Benson 02.12.04 at 4:56 pm

“these folks are part of a significant community of people that report having the same experiences. That’s not an unreasonable foundation for a belief.”

Yes – there’s a lot in that. That’s one of the few arguments I do find persuasive. Not so much of the reality of – how shall I say – a correspondence between their experience and anything external – but of the reasonableness of the belief. The combination of the mutual experience and the community of believers – that does make a kind of sense.

Then again it’s not a universal phenomenon – it has a very strong cultural component. So I suppose that means it’s more reasonable in some cultures than others.

But if the people who had that shared belief would simply have less missionary zeal about it – would not reproach the rest of us – then I might have less missionary zeal myself.

(Or I might not. Not sure.)

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limberwulf 02.12.04 at 5:13 pm

I need to visit this site more often, its a lot tougher to get in on the comment action when you have to read 80+ posts first. I understand the frustration with the fundamentalist aspect of religions. The greatest irrationality in any belief system is the following of some other person’s beliefs. A personal belief system is, at least by some definitions, your religion. The use of said belief systems to gain power is what has led to the corruption we now have. The idea of blind faith is a misnomer.

Faith is a rational conclusion. Blind-faith, or faith as the term is often defined by the intellectual community, is following of a concept without question simply because a person or a text said so. When I decide to sit in a chair, I do not doubt its ability to hald me up. I do not doubt it because a) I have seen (and personally used)similar structures for the purposes of sitting and they have performed well. b) I know the strength of the design and can observer the materials involved and rationally conclude that the chair will hold me. I can do this without personally testing the chair. That is a retional conclusion. Without the benefit of material observation, my conclusion can not be so certain, but I am still obligated, as a rational being, to look at my options of evidence.

I believe that the universe was created by something beyond the physically observable realm. I believe this because the only explanations of our existence I have heard so far are evolution and creation. Evolution is dependent on the idea that random chance sparked a beginning (we dont know from what) and that since then the universe has progressed to higher and higher states. Science holds that anything left to itself tend to degenerate or go to a lesser form. Creation is dependent on the idea that the universe is not “left to itself” and that we are here with a little outside help. I have a great deal more reasoning, but there is not room for such in this post, nor is it my primary point. The bottom line is my rational deduction was that creation is more likely, more believable, and less conflicting with science than evolution.

The predominate point of the above (from what I gathered) was that leaders of religion should not be followed without question. This is absolutely true, and applies to far more than simply religious leaders. Personal responsibility, questioning of beliefs, and willingness to change when one is shown to be wrong is of course the proper attitude for people to have. Individual freedom is irrelevent without individual thought. Laziness, fear, and ignorance are ever in opposition to this attitude, and as long as people allow themselves to be blinded by such things, there will be “leaders” exploiting those weaknesses for their own power.

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Keith M Ellis 02.12.04 at 5:37 pm

But if the people who had that shared belief would simply have less missionary zeal about it – would not reproach the rest of us – then I might have less missionary zeal myself.—Ophelia

But I think the situation is asymmetric. From their standpoint, they are attempting to help me have eternal salvation instead of eternal damnation. My atheism has no comparable benefit. The stakes just aren’t nearly as high with my worldview as it is with theirs. Their missionary zeal is completely consistent with their belief system.

As I’ve said, my sister is a minister and a missionary. Our father is agnostic or non-practicing Christian. Or something. Anyway, he really has a big problem with Karli’s missionary work. He thinks that people should believe what they want and keep those beliefs to themselves. I, the atheist, have no problem with her missionary work.

And, anyway, she does it in the right spirit. I don’t know if I told this story here, but last year she went to work in Slovakia in a very poor gypsy village. They did lots of practical things to help them, which is a big deal to my sister. But they also “preached” to the people that wanted to come listen. Karli said that as she was listening to the woman who spoke before her, she watched the crowd and realized that although the woman meant well, her sermon about submitting to God and some other stuff had no real meaning to their lives. When the first woman finished speaking, she asked if there were questions and their were none. Karli could tell that they were just mostly listening politely to this somewhat off-putting American woman. So, she threw out the sermon she was going to give and, instead, talked to them simply about Christ’s love for every human being, rich or poor, saint or sinner, of every nation and every age. She said that the translater began crying, then some of the crowd did, too. And they had many, many questions when she was done.

This story brought tears to my eyes and made me extremely proud of my sister. She’s a theist I can be very proud to know. And, if she’s right, she’s helping to save people’s souls. That’s wonderful.

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sd 02.12.04 at 6:35 pm

Ophelia:

You say that you’ve never said you could prove that this or that theistic claim was false. Fair enough.

But then you say:

“I am asking why we should believe something that there’s no good evidence for, not why we should believe something that’s been ‘disproven’.”

But of course most people who believe in God and the incidents thereof think that they in fact have very good evidence for their beliefs – namely, that they experience a trans-material reality in a very profound and real way, and that that experience is shared by a community of like-minded people.

If you disagree, fine. Make your point in the marketplace of ideas. But to suggest that one intepretation of, for example, who Jesus was, is the acceptable default, while another is a stretch of the truth because there’s “no good evidence” for it, begs the question of why I should take on faith that the claims of Christianity are not true, rather than taking on faith that those claims are true. As unreliable as my conscience and heart are, they’re not completely unsound (I’ve not been committed to an institution yet!). They tell me that certain things are true. This is an experience I share with many people. I’m willing to reconsider if my mind presents a good argument to the contrary, but I see no reason why I should begin from a position of doubt and lay the burden of proof exclusively on the theists.

Because in the absence of any hope for proof (and if my use of the word “proof” troubles you, substitute “evidence,” for the argument remains the same) one way or another, making a decision about whether we will begin from a stance of doubt or a stance of faith is, de facto, making the decision of whether we will in the end believe or not.

I just don’t accept the proposition that, because its methodologically useful to begin from a position of doubt in cases where I can expect to have my initial hypothesis proven or disproven by experiment or observation, that I should also begin from a position of doubt in cases where I cannot expect to have my initial hypothesis proven or disproven. The skepticism of the scientist or the philosopher is simply a useful tool, a way of approaching complex problems in such a way as to make it easier to organize a line of inquiry likely to arrive at the truth. But if there can be no line of inquiry, because the relevant facts needed to make a case one way or another are simply not available, and never will be, then there’s no good reason to be skeptical as a matter of course.

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Ophelia Benson 02.12.04 at 6:55 pm

Well, it’s simple. The person who asserts that something exists is the one who has the burden of proof, not the one who declines to accept the assertion.

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chutney 02.12.04 at 6:59 pm

Theology deals with claims supported by “revealed experience,” usually a text of some sort. Theologians need not observe or argue, simply interpret the revelations (i.e. that which was revealed). A purely theological argument goes something like “If you have faith in this text, then this is what it means.” A purely theological position is backed only by an interpretation of a text.

Says who? Have you even read any theology? The sources theologians understand themselves to be drawing from include, yes, texts, but also reason, experience, tradition, observation, history, and even science. Different theologians place different weight on each. Unless you’re arguing for some expansive definition of “text”, your claim is patently false.

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Keith M Ellis 02.12.04 at 7:18 pm

Says who? Have you even read any theology?—Chutnet

It was Bill Carone you quoted (it took me a while to find it). Anyway, he’s right that many theologians now make this sort of argument. Also, it’s not a new argument. But, historically, it’s distinctly a minority viewpoint.

That’s part of the problem with this whole thing: this “unknowability” of the objects of religious beliefs is, for the most part, contemporary. And, anyway, it’s not even what most contemporary theists themselves believe.

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Jeremy Osner 02.12.04 at 7:27 pm

Ophelia, your “well, it’s simple” response to sd ignores completely his line of argument in the post to which you are replying. He said that putting the burden of proof on the party asserting the existence of some thing, is a useful tool in science but not a worthwhile approach to all of reality. If you disagree with that, as I’m sure you do, you ought to say so in your reply — not to do so is dismissive.

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Keith M Ellis 02.12.04 at 7:34 pm

Jeremy: no, I don’t think that Ophelia needs to elaborate. Existence versus non-existence is asymmetrical. Any given thing is far more likely to be non-existent than existent. The burden of proof necessarily is on the claim for existence.

This is how we freakin’ live our lives.

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seth edenbaum 02.12.04 at 7:38 pm

I’ll say this again in the hope that somebody responds:
Gould had a vested interest in his analysis of data, Dawkins had and has a vested interest in his. That ‘interest’ is not logical but emotional, and the defenses made by each were/are colored by these emotions.

We communicate by way of language, and langusage by its nature is ambiguous. But once one accepts the necessity of interpretation the way is opened to the possibility of otherwise absurd arguments, including those made here.
This debate is going and will go nowhere. I’m bored by the protestations of the faithful. But I’m annoyed by those of Ophelia Benson, who is playing a role that in reference to a different subject would be played by A. Scalia, that of denying the necessity of interpretation.
I’ll be blunt. Don’t ever argue against the existance of delusion unless you’re able to prove you’ll never be subject to it yourself. The most you can do is to argue against specific instances and delusional acts.
O.B. cames close to making an argument against democracy becasue most people are stupid. Well, most people are stupid, but the quite rational defense of democracy is that we need to protect ourselves both from assumptions and from those who make them. The debate about meaning is our protection against the tyranny of the wise. And what tyrant does not think he is wise? [read the god damn newspaper.]

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sd 02.12.04 at 7:48 pm

Ophelia wrote:

“Well, it’s simple. The person who asserts that something exists is the one who has the burden of proof, not the one who declines to accept the assertion.”

I’m not sure why this need be the case. If I hit you over the head with a wooden plank, and you ask me not to do so again, and I reply that in fact I have no wooden plank in my hands, in spite of the fact that you can see the plank and feel a big whelt developing on your head, then is the burden of proof on you?

Or perhaps this example is muddied by the fact that there are only two actors. Say instead that I walk into the room and you’re lying on the floor with a big whelt on your head and you say that someone has just come by and hit you on the head with a wooden plank. And I reply that I don’t think that’s true, that in fact you have been alone the whole time and there is no planksman roaming the building (after all, it seems more likely that you are self-deluded than that random men wielding random planks go around hitting people on the head). It seems to me that neither one of us has an a priori burden of proof. One of us has claimed to have an experience. The other has no evidence to the contrary, but finds it unlikely that this experience is real since it is not a customary experience, given a certain amount of information about the world and how it works.

Now, getting hit on the head by a wooden plank is certainly a rare experience, but not implausibly so. So lets see what happens when we tweak the experience in question. Say instead that you claimed to have been given a hickey by the restless ghost of Lorne Green. This seems pretty silly. You and I would probably agree that the skeptic is right in this case to disbelieve the claim. Say instead that you claim to have been mugged by a passing thug. This seems plausible, and we would probably agree that the skeptic is the one being silly – that without any good reason to doubt the claim, it should probably be accepted as fact if reported.

So what then of religious truth claims? Person A claims to have felt a very real and direct presence of the Almighty. Person B disbelieves. Is this case more like the former or the latter example? It resembles the former in that it relies on some sort of super-natural (or super-material, if you prefer) explanation for the perceived mental picture to be accurate. We know that the world seems to work according to orderly and predictable natural laws, so perhaps its prudent to disbeleieve.

But it resembles the latter in that it is a quite common experience that doesn’t happen to everybody but that does happen to a sufficiently large number of people who are otherwise (seemingly, at least) quite sane and balanced. We know that when we get independent corroboration of something from multiple sources that its probably true. Perhaps then its prudent to believe.

I just don’t see how one side or the other has a natural burden of proof. Its more convenient for your argument if that’s the case, but I see no justification for accepting it as a neccessary premise.

Or do you mean that if I’m trying to convince you to think the way that I think then I need to make the case to you, rather than you needing to make the negative case to me? If so, then as a practical matter I’d say yes that’s true. Though I’m not sure how that matters in the discussion at hand. If anything it seems to suggest that folks in the minority on a particulalr issue have, in the aggregate, more of a burden of proof.

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Keith M Ellis 02.12.04 at 7:57 pm

I’ll be blunt. Don’t ever argue against the existance of delusion unless you’re able to prove you’ll never be subject to it yourself.“—Seth

The “existence of delusion”? What the hell? Who in their right mind would argue against the “existence of delusion”? It’s pretty indusputable. And if that’s not what you meant, well, I’ll be blunt: you’re not making any damn sense.

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Ophelia Benson 02.12.04 at 8:11 pm

Hey, one reason I don’t consider internal experience good evidence of anything external is that I know perfectly well I am subject to delusion. It’s been my experience that it’s people who do believe in religion who think their inner experience is evidence rather than those who don’t.

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bill carone 02.12.04 at 8:15 pm

“Unless you’re arguing for some expansive definition of “text”, your claim is patently false.”

From my post that you quote:
“Theology deals with claims supported by “revealed experience,” usually a text of some sort.”

I included all revealed experience, not just texts. I tend to use the word “text” because the word “revelation” is quite loaded for most people.

My understanding is that most theological interpretation is focused on texts, not other revealed experience; am I wrong?

“The sources theologians understand themselves to be drawing from include, yes, texts, but also reason, experience, tradition, observation, history, and even science.”

Again, from my post that you quoted:
“A _purely_ theological position is backed only by an interpretation of a text.”…” (emphasis added).

I was distinguishing three different ways of gaining knowledge: observation, reason, and revelation. You are trying to muddle them all together.

True, a person can hold a position supported by a combination of all three. However, Ophelia didn’t say there was a problem with observation or reason, only revelation, so I wanted to separate out the different components.

It isn’t that theologians can’t use philosophical arguments or scientific observations to support a position, it’s that they don’t need to use either; they have another way.

Aquinas, for example, used both philosophical argument and interpretation of texts in his writings. But, careful thinker that he was, he clearly distinguished the results that came purely from reason and those that needed to include revelation.

Such mixed questions happen between science and philosophy as well. For example, there are philosophical arguments that say it is impossible for a computer to think. However, every philosopher knows that once a scientist goes out and makes one, the arguments were wrong.

“Anyway, he’s right that many theologians now make this sort of argument. Also, it’s not a new argument. But, historically, it’s distinctly a minority viewpoint.”

I’m not sure about this; I didn’t think that Aquinas was either that modern or in the minority. He was just one of the best there was (perhaps you mean elite rather than minority).

“Says who? Have you even read any theology?”

I have read theologians who overreach, who don’t realize when they’ve moved from observation to argument to interpretation, who don’t understand the difference between the above, who don’t observe well, who don’t argue well, and who don’t interpret well.

I also have read Aquinas, who somehow manages to avoid these pitfalls.

This doesn’t change the basic idea of theology, which is: alongside observation and reason, there is at least one other source of truth, and that is revelation. Revelations aren’t always easy to understand, so they often need to be interpreted.

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Ophelia Benson 02.12.04 at 8:36 pm

“This doesn’t change the basic idea of theology, which is: alongside observation and reason, there is at least one other source of truth, and that is revelation.”

I’m not sure I understand the point of all this. It’s widely understood that religions (and hence theology) rely on what they call revelation. But then what? Non-theists don’t consider revelation a valid form of knowledge.

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seth edenbaum 02.12.04 at 8:47 pm

Delusion exists. IT ALWAYS WILL. Benson seems to think there is a cure.
I was writing in a hurry.
My apologies.

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Jos del Solar 02.12.04 at 8:51 pm

Your quote:

‘If such a being exists, then presumably he, she or it exists necessarily, whereas the subject matter of the physical sciences is the contingent features of the world. (And insofar as she, he or it causes the world to exist then she, he or it is something external to and not a part of the world.)’

Now, how do you define existence again? I can’t for the life of me imagine something that exists outside our universe (or any other of the universes that might be part of the hypothetical multiverse envisioned by some physicists). Not that there is anybody alive who can with any certainty say that they’ve experienced such a thing.
Existence as an idea is so dependent, so indissolubly linked to concepts of time and space as to render it impossible, in my opinion, to talk with any validity about something that “exists” outside of any physical dimensions.

Moreover, how do you know that physics concerns only what is ‘contingent’?

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Jeremy Osner 02.12.04 at 9:01 pm

José — my subjective experience of the world clearly (to me) exists. I have a strong impulse to attribute existence to it. But it does not exist in the universe. I do not find that this fails to make sense.

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Keith M Ellis 02.12.04 at 9:01 pm

I read and studied Summa Theologica in college. But it was a long time ago and I’ve blocked most of it from my mind. I really found Aquinas alternately exasperating and boring. Some people really, really dug him. One guy truly came to life for the first in the Aquinas seminars. It freaked me out a little bit.

But the same year I loved Ptolemaic astronomy, so I have no room to make fun of anyone.

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Jos del Solar 02.12.04 at 9:09 pm

Sebastian Holsclaw’s comment:
“I don’t know if science does not ask ultimate questions, but it certainly is awful at trying to answer them. “

And who said that ultimate questions are always valid? Just because we can ask “Why” questions it doesn’t follow that they make sense. How suspiciously anthropomorphic of us to look for a purpose in the universe or to posit the existence of a God with attributes that mirror ours. If just for the sake of caution, I would be wary of such assumptions…

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bill carone 02.12.04 at 9:11 pm

On “the burden of proof.”

You remember the scientist who, when asked how the universe began, said “That’s not my department, go ask the chaplain”? (I don’t particularly buy this, but take it for what its worth).

Well, a theologian who is asked to prove that his revelation is true should say “That’s not my department, go see a philosopher or scientist.”

Non-overreaching theologians cannot, do not, and should not prove that their text is true; they start with the idea that it is revealed to be true and interpret it.

Now philosophers might figure out arguments for God. Scientists or historians might find physical evidence of God. But that’s not what theology is about.

People without faith have will be given no _reason_ to change their beliefs by theology; theology isn’t about reason, it is about revelation.

I have images in my head of “hard-headed scientists.” These people, usually portrayed as rather grumpy, not only know exactly the limits of their own knowledge, but also know the limits of what science will ever be able to say. They say things like “Don’t ask me about right and wrong or God or angels. It’s a waste of my time; I have no answers.”

Most people think of religious people as vague and hand-wavy, talking about “unknowable truths,” etc. And maybe most religious people are like that. But, just as you shouldn’t judge science based on popular notions of science, you shouldn’t judge religion based on popular notions of religion.

I wonder what a “hard-headed” theologian might be like…

Person 1: “I don’t believe the Bible is a source of truth.”

Theologian: “Uh huh.”

Person 1: (pause) “But you don’t understand; I’m telling you that I have no reason to believe that the Bible is a source of truth.”

Theologian: “No sh*t. I have no _reason_ to believe that either.”

Person 1: “But you believe it is a source of truth?”

Theologian: “Yes.”

Person 1: “Wait a second. (pause) I mean, I could learn from the Bible as literature; it teaches me things the same way, say, reading Dickens does. But it isn’t it’s own source of truth, independent of science and philosophy.”

Theologian: “Go away; you are wasting your time and mine. I have nothing to tell you that should cause you to rationally change your beliefs. I might be able to change your beliefs anyway, using my considerable rhetorical skills, but you aren’t really interested in that, right?”

“Perhaps you might go talk to my friend the Philosopher over there. I warn you, though, you probably won’t get what you want from him. His arguments about God really don’t address the existence of my God, or the truth of the Bible.”

Person 1: “So. I’m leaving now. Without believing in the Bible. Bye. See ya. I’m going …”

Theologian: “Don’t let the door hit your *ss on the way out.”

Person 2: “I do believe the Bible is a source of truth.”

Theologian: “Okay, now we’re talking! Is there something you don’t know based on observation or reason that you think the Bible might help you with? I might be able to provide some information about what truth the Bible gives us.

“For example, let me offer an interpretation of …”

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Ophelia Benson 02.12.04 at 9:18 pm

“You remember the scientist who, when asked how the universe began, said “That’s not my department, go ask the chaplain”? (I don’t particularly buy this, but take it for what its worth).”

It’s worth precisely nothing. That’s the point.

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bill carone 02.12.04 at 9:24 pm

“I’m not sure I understand the point of all this.”

Maybe I’m missing the point; I often do :-)

“It’s widely understood that religions (and hence theology) rely on what they call revelation. But then what? Non-theists don’t consider revelation a valid form of knowledge.”

Theological “arguments” are always of the form “_If and only if you have faith in the truth of this text_, then here is what you should believe.” This statement can be a valid or invalid, even by people who don’t have faith, no?

Science isn’t used to convince people who reject science to believe in science, but it can resolve disagreements between people who accept science.

Theology isn’t here to convince the non-faithful to believe, but it can resolve disagreements among the faithful.

(Note: I am not saying that the belief in science is equivalent to faith, just that there are people who reject faith and people who reject science, and neither theology nor science repectively is trying to convince these people otherwise).

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james 02.12.04 at 9:25 pm

Maybe it is my schooling, but I fail to see the difference between Theologian and Philosopher. From a science prospective, both start with a presupposition and attempt to interpret reality from the standpoint of the supposition. Neither creates tests that are truly valid from a scientific process point of view.

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Jos del Solar 02.12.04 at 9:29 pm

Jeremy:

I am not talking about subjective experiences. My subjective experiences exist for me too but I cannot pretend them to exist for you or any of the people who post in this blog. It seems clear to me that if you reduce God to the category of a subjective experience then we’re comparing apples and oranges. We are specifically referring to something that amounts to more than a simple “subjective experience”. As in something everybody can eventually have access to (in Heaven if you like).
Or perhaps this is exactly how we should be defining God: Nothing more than a subjective experience that has no real relevance to anybody else but to those who experience it. But this would probably be much less than the notion of “existence” than theists would settle for.

In which case it seems like something utterly pointless to discuss.

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bill carone 02.12.04 at 9:32 pm

Ophelia wrote:

““You remember the scientist who, when asked how the universe began, said “That’s not my department, go ask the chaplain”? (I don’t particularly buy this, but take it for what its worth).”

It’s worth precisely nothing. That’s the point.
——
My point was that the so-called joke :-) seems to state that science can’t figure out how the universe began. That’s what I don’t buy.

And yes, you are right. No theological interpretation should be worth anything to you, if you don’t buy revelation as a form of knowledge.

However, to those people who have had revealed experience, who have been given faith, an interpretation might be worth something.

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Jeremy Osner 02.12.04 at 9:33 pm

José: saying that one person’s subjective experience has no relevance for the rest of humanity goes a long way towards dismissing the value of all artistic endeavor.

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bill carone 02.12.04 at 9:43 pm

“Theologian and Philosopher. From a science prospective, both start with a presupposition and attempt to interpret reality from the standpoint of the supposition. Neither creates tests that are truly valid from a scientific process point of view.”

Science is about observations of physical reality, and drawing conclusions from them. It is master of that domain; if philosophy or theology tries to contradict it, it bats their arguments aside like flies.

However, some knowledge isn’t backed by observation, it is backed by rational arguments (for an example, mathematics).

Philosophers try to start with self-evident truths (“A whole is greater than any of its parts”, “You should do what is really good for you.”, “A triangle has no diagonals.” etc.), and use reason, not observation, to get truths unavailable to science. Some conclusions are about physical reality (e.g. “There cannot be thinking computers”) and are vulnerable to scientific take-downs. Some conclusions aren’t about the physical reality, but are still about real things (“God exists”). Some conclusions are about things that don’t exist in reality (ethics, politics, sensations, ideas, truth, goodness, beauty).

Theology makes a tremendous jump and says “We will not start with self-evident truths; we will start with this set of revealed truths. However, we pay a great price for this.

“The truth that scientists and philosophers give will apply to everyone, as it is based on truths everyone must accept. Our arguments will only have force with people who start with our revealed truths. No one else will listen to us, nor should they.”

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Keith M Ellis 02.12.04 at 10:02 pm

Bill: yes, speaking for myself, I understand exactly what you’re trying to get across. But I think that:

* Most theists don’t understand their belief to be this; and,

* The reason they don’t is that such is a very impoverished theology.

…so much so that I think a strong argument can be made, as Orr does, that this position cedes so much to science that there’s really, when you look closely, not much left for religion. And for this reason—that it’s such an impoverished, ineffectual view of religion—I think the only people who are eager to embrace it are those who want their cakes and to eat them, too.

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chutney 02.12.04 at 10:06 pm

This doesn’t change the basic idea of theology, which is: alongside observation and reason, there is at least one other source of truth, and that is revelation.

Naturalist theologians have long rejected revelation as a (meaningful) source of knowledge, and so did most 19th and 20th C theologians.

Theological “arguments” are always of the form “If and only if you have faith in the truth of this text, then here is what you should believe.”

Always? And theology is concerned (chiefly) with belief? It would appear you’ve only read orthodox theology. I’d urge you to read some non-evangelical 19th or 20th C theologians before making further pronouncements like this. Sophomore religion majors know better.

I was distinguishing three different ways of gaining knowledge: observation, reason, and revelation. You are trying to muddle them all together.

The hundreds of academics laboring as theologians would no doubt be delighted to hear that their intricate debates on theological method is mere “muddling.”

I’m curious: who specifically are the other theologians you have read, over reaching or no?

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Jos del Solar 02.12.04 at 10:14 pm

Jeremy:
Picasso’s art was the product of his own subjectivity, but that is not what I value about his art. What I value is my own subjective experience when I look at it. As I would assume you do too.

As a painter myself, I strive to place my own subjectivity behind my work, ignoring as much as I can the subjective experience others can have of it. Otherwise I am just a crowd-pleaser.(Up to a certain point, of course, as we are social animals that long for recognition).

In any case the value of artistic endeavor for me(apart from its possible evolutionary relevance)has to do with the desire to create something meaningful mostly to me… and also to others when I am gone -but this is secondary. In any case, I’m not saying that I want them to relive my own subjective experience: I want them to create theirs.

So for me the value of a work of art depends only in my own experience of it. Not on yours, or anybody else’s. It’s this way how I can dismiss something as dreadful as say, Norman Rockwell and celebrate the work of Wayne Thibaud, for instance.

But really, I’m not dismissing all subjective experience when I say it is only relevant to those who have it. If the subjectivity can be channeled into art, then I definitely consider it important for humankind (although not all of it, as I pointed out). But again, that implies the conversion of subjective experience into something that belongs to the realm of the material universe (a novel, a concert, a painting with x,y,z and t coordinates).

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james 02.12.04 at 10:28 pm

“Philosophers try to start with self-evident truths (“A whole is greater than any of its parts”, “You should do what is really good for you.”, “A triangle has no diagonals.” etc.), and use reason, not observation, to get truths unavailable to science.”

Doesn’t the Philosopher make a decision on what constitutes a “self-evident” truth? Isn’t there debate concerning the statement “You should do what is really good for you.” Some previously self-evident truths have been found to be conditional. For example, the sum of the angles of a triangle is more than 180 degrees when placed on the surface of a sphere. Man is innately good. Is this still considered self-evident? The suppositions a philosopher uses seem to me to be the philosopher’s religion, faith, or belief, not a guaranteed universal truth.

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Albert Law 02.12.04 at 10:44 pm

Bill Carone,

“Note: I am not saying that the belief in science is equivalent to faith”
In what way(s) is it not equivalent?

“The truth that scientists and philosophers give will apply to everyone, as it is based on truths everyone must accept. Our arguments will only have force with people who start with our revealed truths. No one else will listen to us, nor should they.”

Ideally, yes, but is this the habitual way in which religious organisations have functionned and now function? The BJP, most Muslim majority countries, the Orthodox rabbinate, the RCC as well as many Protestant ( especially Evangelical ) organisations want to enshrine their revealed truths into laws that will affect people who believe something else. What about those?

Any idea as to why some people prefer some revealed truths to other revealed truths?

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bill carone 02.12.04 at 10:55 pm

“And theology is concerned (chiefly) with belief?”

Well, that is what the argument was about here, no? Whether or not we should change our beliefs based on what religion says.

So it was what I was concerned with in this thread.

“It would appear you’ve only read orthodox theology.”

Okay.

“I’d urge you to read some non-evangelical 19th or 20th C theologians before making further pronouncements like this. Sophomore religion majors know better.”

Would you teach me? What do you think I should read that would start me on the way to your level?

“The hundreds of academics laboring as theologians would no doubt be delighted to hear that their intricate debates on theological method is mere “muddling.””

I didn’t say that people discussing God couldn’t bring in other forms of knowledge. I said that you were trying to blur the distinctions I was making between observation, reason, and revelation. I may have been wrong; is that what you were trying to do? Or were you not agreeing with my definition of “theology”?

Perhaps I am using a bad definition of “theology,” but I thought it was appropriate in this thread to distinguish it from “religion” which can sometimes be seen as simply a set of practices or rules.

But I do suspect that all of the hundreds of academics you mention understand the difference between the knowledge that comes from observation, that which comes from argument, and that which comes from revelation.

Perhaps everywhere I used the word “scientific” I should use “observation-based” everywhere I used the word “philosophical” I should use “reason-based” and everywhere I used the word “theological” I should have used “revelation-based.” Maybe I would have escaped your wrath :-)

The argument in this thread, I thought, was about the legitimacy of revelation-based knowledge, no? I wanted to give a fair hearing to this form of knowledge, one that I wasn’t hearing.

I don’t think anyone in this thread would have a problem with your e.g. believing in God’s existence if you (a) saw God or (b) found a valid reason-based proof of God’s existence. The problem was with (c), believing in God because the Bible says so. Am I getting this right?

BTW, how would you distiguish theology from philosophy? (What’s in a name? …) For example, take the simple cosmological argument for God’s existence; is that theology or philosophy? What about Paley’s watch-maker arguments for the existence of God?

According to me :-), both of these are trying to prove things about God without reference to the Bible or other revealed experience. Perhaps I am using the wrong words, but I’m fairly sure that philosophers of religion would call this a philosophical argument and not a theological argument. Do you disagree? Theology is separate from the philosophy of God, no?

Same with non-existence arguments, e.g. the problem of evil. I wouldn’t say that these are theological arguments, but philosophical ones. Am I mistaken?

I think there is a big difference between the philosopher’s God (i.e. the one the cosmological argument claims to prove) and the Judeo-Christian God. Do you disagree?

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bill carone 02.12.04 at 11:04 pm

““Note: I am not saying that the belief in science is equivalent to faith”
In what way(s) is it not equivalent?”

I don’t know; I just didn’t want to get pummelled by people who believe otherwise :-) I’m not prepared to argue either way right now.

“Any idea as to why some people prefer some revealed truths to other revealed truths?”

I don’t know why anyone should believe any revealed truths. I have not been given faith.

“want to enshrine their revealed truths into laws that will affect people who believe something else. What about those?”

I don’t like it, but I don’t like democracy much as a way of making laws either :-)

One thing I tried to do in my argument was to separate theology, or the study of revealed truth, from the religious organizations that might do things I don’t like.

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Don P 02.12.04 at 11:05 pm

Gus, who, for most of his life was a sceptic and is someone whose judgement I respect greatly, had some deep spiritual experiences quite some years back that has made him a follower of a form of Paganism. And the basis of his Neopaganism is a pretty physical experience of a world of spirits (both, good and bad, he says). He doesn’t believe in creation and believes completely in modern science and evolutionary theory. But the only thing that I think enables him to make sense of and deal (even manipulate — he’s a trained healer) with his experiences is the Neopagan faith.

Well, I would ask Gus why, if he “believes completely in science,” he favors a supernatural explanation of his “spiritual experiences” rather than a scientific one. Without some description of the nature of these experiences, it’s hard to probe further, but assuming they are the kind of thing usually categorized as religious experiences (divine revelation, encounters with demons, angels, spirits, etc., feelings of oneness with the universe, and so on), I would ask him why he doesn’t believe they are simply hallucinations or some other altered state of consciousness with a purely naturalistic explanation.

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chutney 02.12.04 at 11:40 pm

Tillich’s “Dynamics of Faith” is an excellent place to start with modern theology. It’s widely acclaimed by scholars and laypeople of many faiths. An excellent historical overview is Karen Armstrong’s “History of God.”

I was trying to disagree with your def of theology. At its simplest, theology is just “god-talk.” At the academic level, much of the debate revolves around what constitutes the best sources of theological knowledge and theological method. Questions asked include: what counts as truth? and, who does theology serve? Questions of content are only asked much, much later, in contrast to earlier, more orthodox theologies. It’s a trend seen in other disciplines of the humanities.

My apologies if I’ve been “wrathful.” I accept the distinctions as you’ve remade them.

I am not a theist or atheist, so the revelation vs. reason debate is a sideline issue for me. (My own position comes closest to panentheism, which is also advocated by contemporary theologian Jurgen Moltmann, for another good author.) My “beef” has been what I saw as the misrepresentation of the academic discipline of theology as something that would more accurately characterize fundamentalist or evangelical apologetics, at most a minor branch of theology.

The line between theology and philosophy is sometimes porous, but, yes, there is a great difference between the God of classical philosophy and the God of orthodox Christianity. I’m more interested myself in the problems of philosophy of religion (particularly evil) and the new field of “practical theology.” It is, as you say, correct to draw a distinction between philosophy of religion and more traditional philosophy. But contemporary theology is often not traditionally theistic and is often in deep dialogue with the philosophy of religion, so the distinction can be difficult to make. (You know you’re in trouble when a major contemporary work is called “A/theology.”)

When you’re in neither the theistic or atheistic camp, the reason vs. revelation debate gets old quickly. From where I sit, only rationalists and theists have this debate.

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chutney 02.12.04 at 11:47 pm

don p,

Many neopagans understand their faith to be metaphorical, calling upon Jungian archetypes as an explanation of how they understand their gods and goddesses, for example. It’s often more accurate to characterize their faith as pscyhomystical personal exploration and community building than as what we usually mean by “supernatural.”

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john c. halasz 02.13.04 at 12:02 am

“Woran man nicht sprechen kann, muess man schweigen.” Ophelia Benson takes this in a strongly authoritarian direction, (probably much more so than the original quote intended), all the while, protesting against the authoritarianism of institutionalized religion. I will grant the point about organized religion, the authoritarian tendencies of which I equally deplore and I will grant, as well, that religious beliefs can come into conflict with well-established scientific truths , (though do not necessarily do so.) But my basic objection to her diatribe, (and a forteriori to that of Richard Dawkins, which stands behind it), is that it fails to make any effort to understand the nature and status of that which is the object of its criticism, viz. religious belief, and, though there is a long history and large area of argument on this matter from any number of positions or points of view, sets up a straw man argument, which presumes at once to know and dismiss out of hand the content and status of such beliefs. Yes, indeed, clearly the “truth” claim of such beliefs must be that of cognitive assertions of referential import, as if any utterance or expression taking the syntactical form of a statement must necessarily be interpreted in such a fashion! No, this is an utterly naive or unsophisticated view of the nature of language and meaning and the sorts of claims that can be raised therein. And it is used to authorize what amounts to a positivist metaphysics, (rather than a proper consideration of the nature, operation and limits of scientific knowledge), which imputes that “G-d” “must” be some sort of external entity which, in turn, grounds the causal order of the world. Whereas such a metaphysical conception of G-d has been influential in the inherited tradition, perhaps unfortunately so, it by no means exhausts that tradition, nor does it necessarily define the content of religious beliefs for believers. And the claim that everything can be explained does not amount to an explanation; to the contrary, anything that purports to explain everything, by virtue of that fact, explains nothing- this is one of the main points of the progressive critique of metaphysics, a philosophical project and tradition by now more than 2 centuries old. Explanation is a human activity, something human beings do for purposes of their own, and it is intricated with other human activities and purposes. The operations of the principle of causality, which have mutated considerably since the time of Newton and Kant, do not admit of a totalization, nor are they adequate to address, let alone answer, every rational or reasonable question. That we live in an open universe and that this is entirely in accord with the project of modern science was one of the principle thrusts of Whitehead’s philosophical work.

What is at stake here is whether religious beliefs are at all comprehensible or understandable and whether they can rationally be construed as making some sort of claim to “truth” or just what sort of validity-claim they make. In my view, religious beliefs are neither rational, nor irrational, but simply nonrational. Religious ideas generally contain a normative core of an ethical conception of life inextricably intricated with a surplus of ideas that may well be unconstruable or impassible, though usually tied to ritual or symbolic contents. Wittgenstein compares such impassible contents to analogies or metaphors that can not be fully construed or fulfilled. At one point, he says something to the effect that it is perfectly fine to regard bees as kindly creatures who provide us with honey, but it is a mistake to actually take them that way, else one will probably be stung. To be sure, one can subject such impassible notions to an anthropoligizing, ad hominem criticism as compensatory illusions and substitute gratifications- and I personally think one can go quite far with this procedure, though it would be both cruel and obtuse to ignore the actual sufferings and corruptions of this world, in doing so. But it is by no means vouchsafed that such criticism can entirely reduce the religious point of view to its terms and banish thereby its claims to transcendence. And, of course, something of these impassible religious ideas may make some sense by another route, as goads to the impetus toward transcendence in the practices of believers. But what then of the supposed “truth” content of religious beliefs, if they can neither be rationally construed, nor evaluated? In my view, the only reasonable criterion one can apply to religious beliefs is how they are lived out, which is not a matter of cognitive truth, but rather of their (ethical) authenticity in lived experience. (And such a quasi-behavioral account would also apply, mutatis mutandis, to cognitive truth claims.) To repeat from my prior post on this thread, religion is a matter of adopting a certain spiritual attitude to the world and one’s existence in it, which one can choose to do or not. (“Religion is how a man deals with his privacy”, said Whitehead, which is often misconstrued to mean that religion is a shameful private matter, not fit for public discussion. But, of course, Whitehead was using the word “privacy” in its British sense; the synomyn in American English would be “solitude”.) Of course, one can always take ethical objection to the conduct of another, though the responsibility for doing so falls entirely upon one’s own head, and a cognitive objection to religious belief as simply being untrue really amounts to an ethical objection against religious believers as being untruthful: it amounts to an accusation of bad faith, which can just as easily be reversed, insofar as one fails to attend to the actual nature of the matter and what is at stake in it. On the other hand, as I was at pains to make clear in my previous post, religious beliefs also contain intuitions about ethical norms, which are at least rationally construable and arguable. And, as I argued there, since science is itself dependent on norms for rational cognition that it can not self-sufficiently provide for itself, while it lacks the capacity and authority to provide for ethical norms, the rational recuperation of ethical intuitions from inherited traditions, especially religious ones, is by no means a trivial or dispensable exercise and this point does strongly legitimize the notion of the “two spheres”. In particular, I pointed to the Judaic critique of pagan idolatry in favour of the ethical injunction to justice, which can not be provided for by mere adherence to a pre-given natural order. Would one really want to dispense with the legacy of this critique for rational and critical thought and action in our now largely secularized world? To me, such an option would be the equivalent of joining the flat earth society, for such a rational transcendence of the given, while not reducible, nor subsumable by the scientific spirit, is not with out homology to it. Finally, as a parting shot, I will add that the Judeo-Christian conception of sin, in its relation to the notions of atonement, resposibility and redemption, is a much suppler and subtler ethical conception that anything derivable from formalist or utilitarian ethics, let alone the palaverings of modern-day psychologism.

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Ophelia Benson 02.13.04 at 12:41 am

“Ophelia Benson takes this in a strongly authoritarian direction”

Do I? Maybe because of an ambiguity in the word “can’t”. I don’t mean religion is forbidden to tell us about that of which we cannot speak – only that it’s unable to. The all too familiar formula is that science deals with the natural world and religion deals with – meaning, or values, or what’s beyond the natural world, or ultimate questions, or why questions, or how did it all begin questions. The formula says that science can’t answer those questions but religion can. I say no it can’t – that is, it’s not able to. It’s able to make answers, as any of us are, but they don’t amount to much. They are just assertions.

And it is indeed common or garden religion that I’m talking about. I’ve said that many times. Because that’s what interests me – the kind of religion that gets thrown up to us all the time by our leaders (in the US) and increasingly the media.

Mind you, having said that, I don’t believe all the guff about how sophisticated the sophisticated stuff is. I think that’s just a smoke screen. Naturally, it claims to be all that, but then it would, wouldn’t it.

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Don P 02.13.04 at 1:13 am

Right, Ophelia. What questions of meaning, purpose, values, etc. has religion answered? What knowledge has it given us? When two religions give two conflicting answers to the same question, how may we tell which, if either, is correct?

I find chutney’s and John Halasz’s recent posts so mannered and opaque as to be virtually incomprehensible. “Pscyhomystical personal exploration” calling on “Jungian archetypes” as an explanation of God. What’s that when it’s at home?

Tillich seems to me the epitome of postmodern theology, the Derrida of Christianity. His version of Christianity is so vacuous and drained of substance as to be essentially meaningless. I can only agree with Martin Gardner:

“Tillich defended his metaphysics with such infuriating vagueness that it is often inpossible to know exactly what he meant, but I side with those who find it hard to distinguish Tillich’s God from what atheists mean when they talk about all that is. It sounds as if Tillich is saying something deep when he speaks of the “ground of being,” “being-as-such,” and the “transcendant unconditioned,” but what these terms finally come down to mean is simply that which is, taken in its incomprehensible totality. … It is not Tillich’s pantheism that puts me off–after all, it is a respectable metaphysical way to look at things. I am put off by the hypocrisy of parading of such pantheism as the culmination of Protestant theology. There is a point beyond which it seems unfair to go in trying to reform a religious tradition. Better abandon it altogether than struggle to change it so radically that its founders would no longer recognize it as their own. Can you imagine the reaction of Luther or Calvin (or Jesus!) to a concept of God so lacking in the attributes of a person as to be almost identical with Brahman, or the Tao, or the All of Buddhism, or the Absolute of Hegel and the post Hegelian pantheists … If God is merely another name for Being, or an impersonal gound of being, then only terminology distinguishes pantheism from atheism.”

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Ophelia Benson 02.13.04 at 2:22 am

“There is a point beyond which it seems unfair to go in trying to reform a religious tradition.”

Good point. That gets at something I keep wanting to nail down – the way when people like me are saying critical things about religion, then the defenders of same talk as if it’s something entirely different from what I’m talking about – something that makes no truth claims, has no deity with supernatural powers, makes no statements or assertions about how the world is. But do they talk that way among themselves?? I don’t think so! (Tillich may have, I’m talking about the ad hoc defenders in places like this.) It’s a kind of hat trick. Define religion one way for talking to skeptics and a completely different way for talking to believers. Or, reform a religious tradition out of all recognition. If it’s not religion then don’t call it that! If it’s just a worldview, or a hope, then call it that. Religion is something else.

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chutney 02.13.04 at 2:31 am

don p,

Mother will be happy to hear that I’m mannered.

I’m not a neopagan and I don’t pretend to defend neopaganism. However, this is how they seem to understand themselves, which seems a fair starting point for any evaluation. I’m merely suggesting that it’s best to understand the basics of neopaganism before attacking it for its “supernaturalism” and belief in “God”–two beliefs it expressly doesn’t have.

I’m not a Tillichian and find his metaphysics unsatisfying too, and I’ve abandoned Christianity myself. But his academic reputation is unquestioned. At the last meeting of the American Academy of Religion, there seemed to be more sessions on him than any other topic, and this some four decades after his death, not an honor academic usually accord to the “vague.”

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Don P 02.13.04 at 3:23 am

chutney:

I didn’t assume he believed in God in the traditional sense. But your latest description of neopaganism leaves me none the wiser about what adherents of that religion actually believe than your previous impenetrable comments. Really, I have no idea what a “metaphorical” faith “as psychomystical personal exploration” that “calls on” “Jungian Archetypes” to “explain” their gods and goddesses is supposed to mean. This kind of description seems designed to obscure rather than illuminate, and reads like something that Deepak Chopra or Shirley MacLaine or some other New Age guru would write. It is so vague and ambiguous that it could mean almost anything. (And no, I’m not asking for further elaboration. My interest in neopaganism is exhausted for now.)

I have no real respect for the academic religious community (as opposed to social scientists who study religion, whom I do respect). I basically agree with Dawkins that the idea that a Professor of Theology is better equipped to tell us the meaning of life or the nature of God than your local plumber is pretty ridiculous.

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Don P 02.13.04 at 3:48 am

chutney:

Well, I lied. My interest in Neopaganism is not completely exhausted. I couldn’t resist looking up the Neopaganism entry in Wikipedia, which informs me that Neopagans generally worship one or more of a variety of “Divinities” that are “far beyond our human abilities to see, know, or understand,” which would seem to suggest that they do in fact believe in some kinds of supernatural entity. I didn’t see anything about Jung or “psychomysticism.”

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john c. halasz 02.13.04 at 4:31 am

I agree that there is a political problem of rising religious fundamentalism, whether it be the Christian fundmentalist right supporting Bush’s corporatist/imperialist policies, the Muslim fanatics fomenting terrorism, all the crazies in the Palestine/Israel dispute or the scary guys in the BJP in India. Partly, this is an understandable, if deplorable, reaction against the complexity and crisis tendencies of modern societies, partly it is something that is fomented and manipulated by powerful establishments in their own interests and by the persistence failure to redress miserable and oppressive conditions and real grievances. But I hardly think that such political dangers are to be fruitfully addressed, let alone remedied, by dismissing the perspective of religious believers as so much superstitious nonsense and impugning the rationality of religious believers, without making any effort to consider the nature of the religious perspective and the sorts of needs and concerns addressed in it, and without at all adequately differentiating and delimiting different types of validity claims and the “spheres” in which they are properly and plausibly addressed, all on the basis of an equally arbitrary assertion of the omnicompetence of science, which is not so much an appreciation of its rational strengths and limits, as a piece of sheer technocratic ideology. (I actually think it is genuinely religious people who should be most disturbed not just by the politicization of their religion, but, as well, by its politicization in its most bastardized forms.) I hold no personal brief in favor of religion, but I do hold to the rational principle of hermeneutic “charity”- viz. that criticism must be based on the effort to understand the matter being criticized to the fullest extent possible. The dangers and depredations of politicized fundamentalism will not be headed off by a snobbish refusal to engage with its sources and arbitrary dismissal of any appropriate sense of boundaries between spheres of validity. (Science, by the way, is just as problematic, though much differently so, in its relation to the public-political sphere as is religion. Furthermore, as Gadamer pointed out, modern science is just as liable to give rise to superstitions and ideologies as that old-time religion: witness, e.g., behavioralist pychology or much of what passes itself off nowadays as “evolutionary psychology”.) At any rate unlike Ophelia Benson, I am not a self-satisfied elitist and it is not just my personal predelictions that I perceive politicized fundamentalism to threaten.

As for the “higher fatuity”, of course, all major religions produce sophisticated, refined, highly speculative, elite versions of their traditions together with the cruder demotic versions. But to assert that latter-day apologists or explicators of these traditions are merely engaged in self-referential hooey would seem to require some burden of proof and citation of evidence, (though perhaps Tillich may be a case in point). Perhaps some such are engaged in plumbing the needs and concerns expressed in such traditions, which can not be exactly expressed in any other way. And I would point out that there is a world of a difference between expressed and unexpressed need. As a counter-example I would cite the work of the French-Jewish philosopher Emanuel Levinas, who I assert is a thoroughly rational man, though one writing from the horrifying experience of a thoroughly irrational world. Though this is no doubt far afield for those possessed by a positivistic mentality.

By the way, the famous Wittgenstein quote I cited above does not exactly speak to your point. Its point is that from a certain modernistic, if somewhat positivistic, perspective, to state the facts and only the facts, to say only and no more than what one can say, amounts to a form of authenticity. Yet it is precisely this unspeakable dimension, which Wittgenstein explicitly identifies with the ethical, that is what is of most value, which Wittgenstein explicitly declares to be the real, if unspoken, point of the “Tractatus”, whereas the whole logical structure of the work is declared to fall away and be nonsensical, (since, according to its conception, a statement like “a is an object” is nonsensical, since logically non-functional, similar to saying “Socrates is identical”, and the Tractatus” consists entirely of statements of that type.) I do not share “Tractatus” Wittgenstein’s basically Humean view that normative claims can not be articulated, let alone rationally justified or adjudicated, but I think it is important to recognize the difficulty in doing so and that the intuitions on which they are based can not be wholely externalized since they are, after all, by definition, counterfactual. But this is no excuse for blindly refusing to recognize that normative claims and their implications are there.

And, by the way, Don P, I resent being identified with “neo-paganism” and Jungian archetypes. Nothing of what I wrote warrants any such conflation. That is your sloppiness, not mine, though I am perfectly willing to take my lumps, even for my own sloppiness.

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msg 02.13.04 at 4:55 am

…is better equipped to tell us the meaning of life…

Better-equipped meaning more likely to be right, or more likely to tell us something we can use?
There’s a tradition that the unprepared who enter the presence of the Most High get vaporized.
Being told about something is not the same as learning it, understanding it.
In that sense “telling us” has a more complete, a fuller meaning; it’s a transitive action.

What questions of meaning, purpose, values, etc. has religion answered? What knowledge has it given us?

This is risky and completely conjectural, but religion may exist, may be still with us, not at all because of the reasons it gives for its own existence. But like schizophrenia and other seemingly counter-productive and illogical human manifestations, it may periodically be all that gets us through some dark horror. My own family witnessed this, in the adoption of severe religious practice by someone whose personality was essentially deconstructed by intense personal loss of an immediate and violently intense nature. The choice seemed to be religious illogic with a daily ritual of affirmation and communion, or stark raving unbearable anguish and soul-destroying grief.

… in favour of the ethical injunction to justice, which can not be provided for by mere adherence to a pre-given natural order…

The complete absence in the debate of any in locus members of societies living in “adherence to a pre-given natural order” makes it pretty easy to dismiss as an ethical path. However, when you look at all this ethical debate and conflict as biological competition, rather than as a battle for truth and pan-human transcendence; when you see it as self-perpetuating systems that mask themselves as universal and moral, it makes a little more sense. It’s absolutely essential to view the already slaughtered “natural” savages as less ethical; certainly to consider that they might have been more moral, or more accurately moral, would be suicidal.
Judeo-Christian morality, whatever its origins, and however well-intentioned its long tradition of adherence, exists exclusively for the benefit of Judeo-Christians. That the welcome mat is always out, and all are welcome to join, doesn’t change the consistently emphasized and repeatedly documented tenet, that only the elect will be “saved”.
As far as “…the Judeo-Christian conception of sin, in its relation to the notions of atonement, resposibility and redemption…” goes, I have to insist that there has been, over the centuries far too much “sin” with no consequent “atonement” or acknowledgement of “responsibility”, while a concurrent insistence on expected and earned “redemption” contributes to a smug arrogance on the part of adherents whatever their particular denomination.

…common or garden religion …that’s just a smoke screen. Naturally, it claims to be all that, but then it would, wouldn’t it.

The same hiding-behind takes place with science. We want religion to answer for the errors of all religionists, or at least to bear the weight of their wrongs, but when science gets accused then, that’s not science, that’s applied discovery, or unethical research, or some other redefining of what’s essentially the same flawed human incompetence, moral, ethical, and ultimately, animal, that’s mucked up both science and religion.
You can talk about the high aims and the pure intentions of science, but you’ll have to find some way to disavow Joseph Mengele and his legion of anonymous heirs. Heartless science has done more damage than we know, we haven’t seen its totality yet.
By heartless I don’t mean cruel, taking pleasure in causing pain, I mean unfeeling, highly rational, virtually autistic disregard of commonality, whether with the other as race, or as species.

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chutney 02.13.04 at 2:17 pm

I couldn’t resist looking up the Neopaganism entry in Wikipedia, which informs me that Neopagans generally worship one or more of a variety of “Divinities” that are “far beyond our human abilities to see, know, or understand,” which would seem to suggest that they do in fact believe in some kinds of supernatural entity.

Yes, that font of wisdom, the Wikipedia, final arbiter of all things religious.

I have no real respect for the academic religious community (as opposed to social scientists who study religion, whom I do respect).

Then we really have nothing more to talk about, do we? I’m only glad that sociologists of religion are much more respectful than you. They bother to do at least basic research before making pronouncements on things they don’t understand.

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Ophelia Benson 02.13.04 at 2:43 pm

“But I hardly think that such political dangers are to be fruitfully addressed, let alone remedied, by dismissing the perspective of religious believers as so much superstitious nonsense”

One, I never used the words “so much superstitious nonsense” so I’m not sure what the relevance is of saying that. Two, I’m not (in this particular discussion) talking solely or even mainly about the political aspect. That is important, but it’s not all there is to the subject. I’m primarily talking about epistemology.

“without at all adequately differentiating and delimiting different types of validity claims and the “spheres” in which they are properly and plausibly addressed”

One, I think I did “differentiate and delimit” those claims and spheres. Naturally I think I did it adequately for my purpose. Two – properly and plausibly? What does that mean? I’m not talking about propriety, and as for plausibility – that’s the whole problem, isn’t it, confusing putative plausibility with truth. Mind you, I don’t find all the guff about separate spheres a bit plausible, but I realize some people do. But that’s not the question I’m asking; I’m asking whether the guff about separate spheres is accurate and truthful or not. I maintain that in many ways it’s not, and I have in fact said why. Briefly, to be sure, but I think clearly. Brevity sometimes aids clarity.

“all on the basis of an equally arbitrary assertion of the omnicompetence of science”

Again – that’s not what I’ve said. I’ve been talking about evidence. I nowhere said that science is omnicompetent.

“At any rate unlike Ophelia Benson, I am not a self-satisfied elitist”

One, I’m not so sure about that. Two, you did realize the elitist thing was a joke, right?

Etc.

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john c. halasz 02.13.04 at 9:47 pm

Well, I will apologize for my verbosity- it has to do with thinking and typing at the same time, both of which are slow and full of typos. And, yes, I did miss the “elitist” joke, since it did seem consonant with the tone and tenor of your argument.

As for epistemology, I had thought that that was no longer a going philosophical concern, having been definitively critiqued and refuted a while ago, though, of course, that does not mean that epistemic or cognitive issues can not be argued and discussed. As for evidence, it is not clear, outside of science- or differently, a court of law- what evidence would be. At any rate, you effectively framed your terms of debate so as to exclude the sorts of arguments and evidence that would be adduced. You confined the conception of G-d to that of an external entity that “supernaturally” intervenes in causal processes- (and, yes, that is, indeed, superstitious nonsense.) Well, I doubt that there are many religious sophisticates left that believe in or conceive of G-d as an entity. (The progressive critique of metaphysics has not been a wholely secular affair. By this latter, just to be clear, I mean the long-standing and successive philosophical project, usually said to begin with Kant, to purge philosophical reason of its metaphysical/mythological entrapments, which culminates in the critique of epistemology itself.) And as for the “supernatural”, I initially reframed this in terms of transcendence, which, aside from being orthodox, renders, I think, the notion comprehensible. At any rate, all human social existence involves a shared potentiality of being that exceeds the natural. How this surplus is to be construed and dedicated is precisely what is at issue. The horizon of human transcendence may be null, as I personally largely take to be the case, but that is not the same thing as it not being there at all, nor is fulfilled in personal autonomy.

As for the criterion of “proper and plausible”, I was addressing the issue to the public political realm, wherein the rhetorical dimension comes into the fore. But then, the rhetorical dimension is always and inextricably present, as I am sure you are well aware: it has to do with speaking a language. As for your criterion of “truthful and accurate”, that is precisely a criterion of a minimal ethics of truth, so that the issue is not purely cognitive, after all. But as for the cognitive issue, I am not sure how much the notion of “objective truth” can be distinguished from “allowable consensus”: that is why we argue. And while I do not think the truth claims of science are “optional” in the way that I think religious claims are, though they have long since been unsurveyable as a whole, I do think they stand in need of rational justification and delimitation. Otherwise put, science itself is dependent on a broader culture of rationality, without which science is in danger of itself becoming irrational.

But leaving aside religion as a punching bag, as to the issue of whether there are different types of meaningful validity claims and whether one must differentiate between their “spheres” of evaluation and application, on this matter you are flat-out wrong. Jesus F. Christ, one makes such an argument even from a Neo-Kantian position! Is that clear and brief enough for you?

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bill carone 02.13.04 at 10:25 pm

“What questions of meaning, purpose, values, etc. has religion answered? What knowledge has it given us?”

What has revelation taught us?

The “us” that lack faith, nothing. Nor is it trying to tell “us” anything.

The “us” that have faith? Well, for example, once you believe that the Bible reveals the truth, then you get all sorts of knowledge:
– Murder is wrong
– Stealing is wrong
– Lying is wrong

and about seven more come to mind :-)

The knowledge that revelation gives to the faithful is much more (and more complicated) than this, and covers all the areas you mention (physical reality, non-physical reality, ethics, politics, etc.), but I am not a theologian, so I don’t have much useful to say about it.

I suspect you know the three things above, for different reasons. The faithful get it “free” with their faith.

As I have said, I have absolutely no idea how someone gets faith; some theologians I have read say that it is God-given, and so I shouldn’t worry too much about it :-) I know of no arguments or observations that would lead anyone to believe the Bible is a source of revealed truth.

However, if you do, there is tons of real knowledge in there. Some is hard to understand, hard to extract, but that is what the revelation-experts do; they interpret.

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bill carone 02.13.04 at 10:58 pm

“Doesn’t the Philosopher make a decision on what constitutes a “self-evident” truth?”

Note, I did say “try” to use self-evident truths; I’m not sure they always succeed.

They try their hardest, because they want to make sure that their arguments produce truth that is applicable to everyone.

So they try to make them as “self-evident as possible”; they don’t start with “Assume there is an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God,” they start with “Assume the cosmos exists.”

“Man is innately good. Is this still considered self-evident?”

Was it ever?

“The suppositions a philosopher uses seem to me to be the philosopher’s religion, faith, or belief, not a guaranteed universal truth.”

This need not be true.

For example, some self-evident truths are true because of the definitions of the words involved (e.g. “The whole is greater than any of its parts,” “A triangle has no diagonals.”)

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Ophelia Benson 02.14.04 at 1:20 am

“As for epistemology, I had thought that that was no longer a going philosophical concern, having been definitively critiqued and refuted a while ago,”

Eh? Epistemology has been refuted? I don’t even know what that means – and I certainly don’t think it’s true.

“You confined the conception of G-d to that of an external entity that “supernaturally” intervenes in causal processes- (and, yes, that is, indeed, superstitious nonsense.)”

Where did I say that?

“Well, I doubt that there are many religious sophisticates left that believe in or conceive of G-d as an entity.”

As I’ve said many times, I’m not talking about ‘religious sophisticates.’ I don’t find the term awfully meaningful, but in any case I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about common or garden religion, the kind people talk about on the campaign trail, the kind The New Republic urges candidates to have and to talk noisily about. The kind that is always being urged on us (always stipulating the US here) by various pundits and opinion-makers. If you think those people are not talking about an ‘entity’ – about a deity that is a person and intervenes – well then I beg to differ, that’s all. That’s exactly what they’re talking about. It’s also what I’m talking about.

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Jeremy Osner 02.14.04 at 2:22 am

Very weird… Ophelia responds to John’s assertion that she is restricting “God” to “an external entity” by saying, “Where did I say that?” She then goes on to say, “That [a deity that is a person and intervenes]’s exactly what they’re talking about. It’s also what I’m talking about.” In the first instance, then, she is objecting to John making an exactly correct interpretation of her previous argument.

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Ophelia Benson 02.14.04 at 2:35 am

I did, didn’t I. It’s been a long day. It’s a fair cop.

I think I stuck that ‘and intervenes’ bit in because it was still in my head from just having quoted it. When I asked John where I said it (mind you, I didn’t deny having said it, she added casuistically) I didn’t remember having been that specific. And I don’t think I had been, yet (she added casuistically).

Long day, as I said.

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Jeremy Osner 02.14.04 at 4:42 am

>And I don’t think I had been [that specific], yet

But come on, Ophelia! This is why we argue, so that others can help us fill in the implications of what we are saying — if you are going to assert “I mean what I say and only what I say” and tell us not to put words in your mouth, why take part in the conversation?

Making the rule that your interlocutor is not allowed to extract an implication from your premise, until you do so yourself explicitly, is arguing in bad faith — indeed it resembles argument not so much as it does flailing your interlocutor over the head with a few-days-old trout. You are of course free to argue that the implication does not follow from the premise — but saying, “that’s not what I said” and then restating the premise does not do it. Sorry to get hot under the collar but I’ve been getting a bit irritated by your refusal, on this thread, to engage any of several very well thought out challenges to your original post; I am thinking specifically of sd’s, Bill Carone’s, and John Halasz’s posts.

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Ophelia Benson 02.14.04 at 2:18 pm

Well, sorry, Jeremy, but 1. I don’t have infinite time. In fact I have very little, I have an ever-lengthening list of things to do on my own site, and I also have an entire magazine to proofread at the moment. 2. All three of the people you mention write at vast length. I’m sorry but even if I had time I wouldn’t have the inclination to read that much on the subject; not for a blog discussion. I’m a great believer in concision. 3. I don’t find their arguments as well thought out as you do – so I don’t feel much obligation to answer them in detail. 4. I don’t actually have to answer at all, you know. This isn’t my site. I enjoy the discussion, and I do think I’m obliged to be civil, etc, but answer every word of every post, simply because it was a discussion of mine on my (and my colleague’s) site that prompted Chris’ post and this thread? No. 5. Implications. Hmm. Well, maybe. But I do keep feeling that I’m simply being misread, as opposed to having implications drawn out. I could be wrong, of course, but that’s how it strikes me.

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Jeremy Osner 02.14.04 at 2:48 pm

OK. I guess my take on it was, if you were taking the time at all to respond to their posts, might as well take the time to read the posts and respond to the arguments. How do you know you are being misread if you don’t even read their (admittedly lengthy) posts? I would be interested in seeing an argument as to what the misreading was, as the implications they drew seemed pretty plausible to me. But I guess I am not going to see that argument. Oh well.

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Ophelia Benson 02.14.04 at 3:28 pm

Yes, that’s a fair point. But I think it’s also only one way to look at it. Another way is that it’s reasonable to skim, answer salient points, etc. Blogs and especially comments on blogs are inherently informal, for one thing. If my name catches my eye and I think what I say is being misrepresented – well, I feel like pointing that out. I think that’s permissable.

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Don P 02.14.04 at 6:39 pm

Bill Carone:

The “us” that have faith? Well, for example, once you believe that the Bible reveals the truth, then you get all sorts of knowledge:
– Murder is wrong
– Stealing is wrong
– Lying is wrong

How is this, and the other things you mention, knowledge, rather than just guesses, assertions, opinions, passions, etc.? Do you really think they’re the same thing?

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Laon 02.15.04 at 12:01 am

That plank analogy and the burden of proof:

It’s a poor analogy because what’s at isue is whether gods exist, not an allegation about what a god did. So the correct analogy is, “Suppose I claimed that planks exist, then would the burden of proof be on me to show that planks exist?” The answer is, yes, of course, if anyone were to question that planks exist. Fortunately, planks do exist, and you can prove that fact to a sane person by pointing to one.

The plank analogy as given, that someone attacked Ophelia with one, is of course a hostile and slightly creepy form of rhetoric, and Ophelia was generous to let that aspect pass unchallenged. But in its logical form it’s not analogous to a claim that one or more gods exist but instead to a claim that, for example, a god visited me last night and did something, like putting my glass of water on top of the wardrobe _out of my reach_, or told me to go and kill abortionists, or whatever it is that I claim that this god did.

In that case, as with the claim that one was assaulted by a person with a plank, the onus of proof is on the person making that claim. With the plank claim we have quite a well worked out system for testing such claims, in which the accused is given the benefit of the doubt (that is, the person making the claim must prove it beyond reasonable doubt.) Nevertheless, because plank assaults are part of the real world, they are often proved and convictions often occur.

But in the claim that a god did or said some specific thing, the onus of proof is still on the person making the claim, and I’m not aware of such proofs ever having occured.

As a result, it is in general reasonable to take claims about plank assaults more seriously than claims that a god turned up the other day and did or said something.

Cheers!

Laon

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Laon 02.15.04 at 12:34 am

A different point. Bill Carone thinks that the Bible gives one a short-cut to moral values; one could work out these values by other means, but he’s in the lucky position of knowing that lying is wrong because the Bible told him so.

Even leaving aside the supposed other seven moral lessons, presumably a reference to the decalogue (in what sense are “thou shalt have no other gods before me”, or “thou shalt not make any graven image” moral values?), I think there’s a problem with that.

For example the Bible says that one shouldn’t touch pigskin, or tolerate homosexual people. However one should kill people who work on the Sabbath. The first of these injunctions strikes as merely silly, while the second is in itself evil and has been a cause of evil conduct by Bible-believers. The third strikes me as evil except where applied to people with lawn-mowers.

I don’t care whether Bill touches pigskin, but I hope he won’t kill his children if they disrespect him, and that he is not in fact hostile to homosexual people.

If he doesn’t follow these Biblical precepts, he has exercised good judgement. The same sound judgement that made him agree, when he read a Biblical proscription against murder and false witness.

So it’s a matter of taking Biblical moral rulings, and applying your judgement as to which ones you’re going to apply in your life.

That doesn’t strike me, logically, as a shortcut. My shortcut is to apply my moral judgement in the first place (derived from a wide range of sources in my upbringing, my culture’s values, my own judgement of how people can get along best, etc), and leave the ancient text out of it.

That way I don’t have to torture myself coming up with reasons why the anti-homosexual hatred in the Bible, to give just one example, isn’t really there or doesn’t apply today, or whatever. I’m glad that most Christians I know aren’t bigots on issues of sexual orientation; but I’m also glad I don’t have to bother with the process of arguing away the evil stuff in the book they claim as a moral guide.

That’s my short cut.

Cheers!

Laon

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Laon 02.15.04 at 2:55 am

A third point. (Looks like I’ve arrived rather late to this argument, and perhaps it’s all over.)

Jeremy said:
“I’ve been getting a bit irritated by your refusal, on this thread, to engage any of several very well thought out challenges to your original post; I am thinking specifically of sd’s, Bill Carone’s, and John Halasz’s posts.”

I’ve read John Halasz’s posts three times over. For all I know there may be coherent ideas under the thicket of words. But clarity is good, especially in argument. It’s my fault, of course, but I’ve failed, miserably, to work out precisely what John H might be saying, or whether he advanced any arguments in favour of whatever it is he said.

My three guesses as to John’s meaning are:
(1) Gods neither exist nor don’t exist. I’m afraid that isn’t logically one of the options. If John means that gods are an idea that some people have, and so they exist as an idea, then I don’t see why an atheist _would_ argue with that.
(2) The truth of a religion is demonstrated in the lives of the people who believe in that religion. That may pass as rhetoric, but as a claim about truth it’s self-evidently false. People live Hindu, Chistian, atheist, Buddhist, etc, lives, but this does not demonstrate that all of these mutually contradictory worldviews are true, nor any one of them.
(3) Judeo-Christianity is a wonderful collection of moral values and subtle notions of sin, and we couldn’t be moral without it, or not properly. That’s an unsubstantiated “my team is the greatest” claim rather than an argument. So I’m not sure that it required a counter-argument. But on behalf of Hindus, Buddhists, animists, atheists, etc, not to mention various ancient Greeks, Romans, Chinese, etc, I’ll express tolerant disagreement. But I don’t need to substantiate disagreement with an unsubstantiated claim.

So none of those things can be the “well thought out challenges” that Jeremy found in John’s posts. I’m turning to Jeremy for help. Jeremy, since you found the “well thought out challenge” to Ophelia in John’s post, could you explain what John’s point was that you think Ophelia should have responded to?

Thank you.

Laon

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john c. halasz 02.15.04 at 3:00 am

Well, my internet connection went out for 24 hours and I’m surprised to see this thread is still here. So I piously dedicate this last post to the underworld of the internet archive.

Ophelia Benson is not aware that epistemology is not a going philosophical enterprise. Perhaps she missed that stop on the Grand Tour; I myself have only hitchhiked, since I did not get an all-expenses-paid trip. Well, outside the nooks and crannies of academic industry, where anything will be a going concern somewhere, the locus classicus of the critical dissolution of epistemology is in the philosophical work of Wittgenstein and Heidegger, though my preference is for the former and, if one follows out Levinas criticism of Heidegger, it is questionable how well or fully the latter executes this turn. As I said, end of epistemology by no means proscibes or inhibits the discussion, sorting out and evaluation of epistemic claims. To summerize some of the upshot of the end of epistemology baldly: philosophical reason has no special competence or authority by which it can dictate or adjudicate epistemic claims; at most, philosophy as such can elucidate the purport of such claims and what is at stake in them, but they are validated otherwise and elsewhere; there is no such thing as distinctively philosophical knowledge; the criterion of certainty and the abstract generality with which epistemology conducts itself are mistaken-(knowledge is not true belief, which, having attained the level of certainty, disqualifies all other beliefs and claims, nor are knowledge claims necessarily integrated into a singular conceptual whole or unity); higher or greater or newer knowledge does not result in or allow the derivation of a new ethics therefrom- at most, there is the same old ethics, whatever it may be, taking place under new truth-conditions-( this latter point being largely the impetus behind the epistemological project from Kant to Husserl); ethical norms, conceptions of the good, the right, and the just, do not derive from truth claims and change or transformation of them takes place in their own dimension- truth claims refer flatly to what is the case about states-of-affairs in the world and do not necessarily gather and subordinate all other concerns and claims to themselves. As Wittgenstein repeatedly states, everything is in order as it is; hence, our cognitive practices are as they are and how we engage in them. Epistemology effectively results from the failure to take in and understand the range and complexion of these practices; it amounts to an effort, in misperceiving how these practices actually work and conduct their business, to invent a compensatory conceptual fantasy to correct their alledged defect. But the lack of immunity from error is not a defect in our cognitive practices, but a condition of them. (Hence, something to the effect that: ‘One gets the sense that were all the problems of philosophy solved, all the problems of life would remain.”) Ancillary to this critique of the epistemological project, the topic for reflection is openned up as to what is our need for knowledge and what exactly does it get us-(needless to say, this does not amount to a suspension of cognitive validity claims, nor to an authorization of relativism.) Knowledge is not necessarily the supreme justification of existence; the possession of knowledge does not amount to an entry into the fullness of being, whatever that would be; nor does in amount to a unique and continuous command over the real. Since something of this question was asked of religious claims, as if to impugn any possibility of their validity, it seems fair to allow the same sort of question to be asked of cognitive claims. At any rate, these considerations should serve to put into question, if not constrain, the bumptious assertoric certainty of a reductionist hack such as Richard Dawkins.

Ophelia Benson claims that her concern was not political, but “epistemological”. But then she forthwith reverses herself and raises the political issue to the fore once again. She packs her compartments very neatly. I myself am much messier. Tolerance is only a virtue because other people are damn irritating. The encounter with otherness is always disruptive, disconcerting and unpleasant, else it has very likely not occurred or been evaded. But anything like the maintenance and development of an equitable civic order, of which tolerance is an important aspect, must be willing to take challenges to its tolerance seriously and make the attempt to persuade to its value, at which point the differentiation of validity claims and their assignment to different areas of relevant application is very much to the point. Intolerance in the name of tolerance is an old paradox and the enforcement of “tolerance” in a civic order on the basis of the exclusion of some of its members, not based on acts, but on identity and beliefs, is very little likely to produce a peacable and equitable result. Ophelia Benson claims she values clarity and brevity, but what such values seem to tend toward may seem to others to amount to narrowness and intolerance, as well as, a refusal of engagement with what fails to confirm her own sense of identity. As for concision, when combined with thoroughness and substantiveness, it tends to make for steep reading. Attempting to avoid such an outcome, I do tend toward prolixity. (But I have found my concise points get misconstrued.) But concision by itself amount either to superficiality or to the soul of wit. I will leave it to others to judge of her wit.

Finally, as to Dawkins claim that a gardener is just as qualified to pronounce upon matters of meaning, value or religion as a bishop, I’m sure their were plenty Of Protestant Dissenters in 17th century England who would have quite agreed. Is he even aware of the parallel? And is he aware that he is merely exercising his own anchronistic, Victorian sense of authority in a dispute that has long since grown moldy and moved on?

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Laon 02.15.04 at 6:50 am

The “death of epistemology”, so confidently announced by John, is as real as the deaths, respectively, of Superman and Spock. (I didn’t believe for a second that ET had died, either, sitting there dry-eyed in a weeping cinema.)

Epistemology is the philosophical theory of knowledge. It is a fact that epistemology is still part of philosophical work, inside and outside academia.

There are epistemologists who take Wittgenstein’s and Heidegger’s work into account but give it a place in their framework. And there are epistemologists who reject Wittgenstein and Heidegger.

My suspicion, that I couldn’t prove, is that the second category is the larger of the two, and will become larger still with time.

The trouble with arguments from authority is that they only persuade people who already accept that authority. I suggest that the number of people who think that if Wittgenstein or Heidegger said something, then it must be true, is already small and is declining. (And shall we include “Heil Hitler” among the things that Heidegger said, whose intellectual and moral weight we might consider? Heidegger’s Nazism doesn’t refute his logical arguments, but to some extent we’re talking about morality, among other things, and when Heidegger gets cited as an authority anywhere near that context …: yes, let’s not forget Heidegger’s heiling of Hitler.)

Anyway: In “not knowing about the end of epistemology”, Ophelia is in the same category as people who don’t know about the death of rap, or of irony, or the author. She doesn’t know it, and nor do I, because of the simple fact that it just aint so.

(Yes, the onus of proof, that epistemology aint dead, is on me. If anyone wants to challenge, I’d be bored but willing to point out some real live working epistemologists, and their real live current books and articles. When things really do exist, it mostly isn’t very hard to prove it. But to save me from doing that labour for nothing, let’s bet US$10 on it, first.)

The passage on intolerant tolerance etc is irrelevant, isn’t it?

The attempt to suggest that Ophelia is authoritarian is likewise a bit shonky, as far as I can see. To argue, to expose one’s reasoning as clearly as possible, is the clear opposite of authoritarianism. It is both libertarian and egalitarian because it allows others an equal status. There are no claims from authority but only from the quality of the arguments themselves. Any person who sees the arguments can judge, accept or reject them as they please.

I suspect that the reason that Ophelia has taken so much personalisation in this debate, is that (in my observation) she argues better and more clearly than her opponents, and this has annoyed them.

Also, just as epistemology survived its alleged interment by Wittgenstein and Heidegger, Richard Dawkins will no doubt survive being called “a reductionist hack”. That’s certainly concise, but doesn’t pack much weight as an argument.

Cheers!

Laon

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msg 02.15.04 at 7:18 am

Ophelia Benson is fairly witty. And concise. And generally clear as to her point and position. John C. Halasz on the other hand seems to argue by weight. An accusation I’ve entertained about myself more than once or twice.
Laon’s comments are pure inspiration, the living embodiment of Robert’s Rules of Order and The Elements of Style.

An element of all this strife that goes entirely unremarked on, that I believe is central, is that there is nothing about “the truth” that guarantees biological survival in the short run. And since without survival in the short run there is no long run, it’s a pretty crucial point. It’s a dangerous illusion that the truth provides some kind of bulwark against the dark forces of delusion and intentional deceit. We provide that bulwark, in defense of the truth.
The Mormon religion is organized around some of the most endearingly ridiculous nonsense I’ve ever encountered in purported non-fiction, it’s second only to the Book of Piby in that regard. Utter claptrap and yet, by adding to that original gibberish a fierce and uncompromising stance of preparedness and collective material support, the Latter-Day Saints have spread themselves and their “doctrine” around the world, and they own virtually the entire state of Utah.
It doesn’t matter about the intellectual content. Does not matter. It’s whether or not the practice, the pragmatic expression of social cohesion, the living architecture of the group, will stand the test of time.
We all seem to believe there’s something enduring about the truth, when the evidence is all around us that intentional lies and mistaken ideas can last as long as the most fundamental verities.
There’s nothing obviously pertinent about truth, or good, or tolerance or anything else that we generally suppose to be fine and noble, in ourselves and in each other and in our institutions. These qualities, of fairness and moral behavior, were introduced into the continuum of human social evolution, some of them as elaborations of instinct, and some of them as novel discoveries; none of them are necessary to the survival of our genes. Not in the short run. Psychopaths can breed. And now, with the “progress” of genetic manipulation and laboratory reproduction, it’s not even necessary for our genes to be carried by human bodies. Pointing up a fundamental illusion many people still cling to, that it’s our individual lives that are the purpose behind all this biological activity.
My personal belief is that in the very longest run each minute adjustment and deviation and recalibration and change in direction will matter immensely, and that there is a “there” where this all can go, will go in a sense; though I’m old-school enough to feel that some directions are not destinations, but falls into the abyss.

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john c. halasz 02.15.04 at 10:37 am

Well, Laon, cheery one, having taken the trouble of actually having read some basic work and assuming that others would have done so is not argument by authority. Of course, there are people who are paid to teach academic philosophy and must endlessly publish to maintain their berths and their status, so they will academically recycle these matters. But in the progressive history of philosophy, some basic arguments are dispositive. The “end of epistemology” arguments were more recently recycled in academic philosophy by the work of Richard Rorty, which, I take it, has had a wide reception in the anglophone world. I didn’t just make this stuff up. Nor do arguments always start from scratch, based solely on their own clarity, without regard to the prior history of argument and interpretation in which they are inevitably inscribed. Furthermore, I did take the time to spell out its implications. You offered up ten bucks that you could cite current epistemologists. What is that, if not a (purely conventionalistic) appeal to authority? I’ll offer you ten bucks, if you can reasonably answer this question: what does the “philosophical theory of knowledge” add to the reasons and evidences validating cognitive truth claims that is not already actually contained in those reasons and evidences?

Yes, Heidegger was a Nazi. How very observant and original of you. And Wittgenstein was a very queer fellow and Levinas was a Jew who could not get over surviving the Holocaust. Are you making any point? And as for your quantitative assessment, are you suggesting that polling settle all questions of validity. I do not like Heidegger. I much prefer Walter Benjamin and would sooner recommend his student Gadamer, from whom part of my argumentative line was derived. But historically that was where the issue was engaged, and Heidegger remains a powerful, if troubling, philosophical figure, at least from the point of view of sorting out lines of development. As for Richard Dawkins, I did once read one of his books. I was informed that animals were basically robots for transmitting sets of genes. While this had the great merit of being counter-intuitive, since we all know that all great science is counter-intuitive, it did not strike me as a remotely plausible, nor interesting account of biological reality. I am not conversant with the technical merits of the gene-selection theorem, so I will not argue any specific case. I did not read Gould’s book on the “two majesteriums”, since this is precisely the bloviating side of Gould I would like to avoid, but, at least, Gould, in some of his popular writings, has the merit of conveying something of the wonder and complexity of biological reality. In general, I consider reductionism a valid research strategy and one that is often the best that scientists can do at any given time, but, as a doctrine, it is lamentable. At any rate, I’m sure Richard Dawkins will survive my salacious slur and cash his royalties heartily.

You claim to have read my posts 3 times and I don’t know why. Though I may, indeed, be a poor and unclear writer, on the evidence you presented, your reading/interpreting skills are still poorer. If I argue from heaviness, then perhaps it is because there is weight in the world, even beyond any consideration of the burden of proof. Perhaps those who argue from lightness are blinded by their own light.

msg:

I did not address your post previously. I was not defending religious fundamentalism, but to the contrary, arguing against the reduction of religion to fundamentalism, by religious and non-religious alike. I find the Mormons just as weird as you do. And I am by no means unfamiliar with the critique of ideology and the unmasking of motives. Further, nothing I said could be construed as endorsing the persecution of indigenous peoples in the name of “true religion”, or anything else for that matter. Some of what you said would be allowable interpretations in my book, among others. But they are not the allowable interpretations of a complex and variable history. And some of this deep ecology rhetoric is a bit much; in particular the reduction of human societies and their cultures to biological populations is a quarter-truth, at best.

The invocation of Robert’s Rules of Order and sweetness and light in this context is a bit rich. Ophelia Benson may be a charming and witty person in her own right- I don’t know her-, but, in this case, she merely repeated the terms of her own argument, asseverated in lieu of response, flip-flopped a bit and altogether demonstrated a Lord Hutton-like sense of inquiry.

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Ophelia Benson 02.15.04 at 2:58 pm

Well said, Laon. (Well I would say that, wouldn’t I.) This discussion doesn’t seem to be dead yet after all.

“Gould, in some of his popular writings, has the merit of conveying something of the wonder and complexity of biological reality.”

J.H., you said you’d read one book by Dawkins – I take it you haven’t read Unweaving the Rainbow then.

You disagree with me about the value of concision (as well as everything else, of course). But surely you fail to take into account the nature of a discussion like this. Or perhaps you overestimate the value of your own writing. It strikes me as a kind of arrogance to write at such enormous length and then actually expect people to read all of it, on a computer screen.

As for how very dead epistemology is – well, I’ve just reviewed a book about it, I know a lot of people who work on it, it’s basic to what the site I edit is all about, it’s central to a great many (perhaps all) of the conflicts and controversies that roil the public realm – but, whatever.

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laon 02.15.04 at 3:07 pm

A couple of points.

First, John said:
“having taken the trouble of actually having read some basic work and assuming that others would have done so is not argument by authority.”

John, you claimed that epistemology is dead, and indicated that Ophelia must be pretty stupid if she didn’t “know” that. But the only argument you advanced in support of that claim is that Wittgenstein and Heidegger had said so.

That is an example of argument by authority. The distinguishing feature of argument by authority is not “actually having read some basic work”. Instead, the distinguishing feature is a failure to provide arguments on the claim at issue, providing generalised name citation instead.

A second point is that it may be an error, when someone protests that you have argued only by authority, to respond only by saying that the other person has not read any “basic work”. That follows an argument by authority with an argument ad hominem, doesn’t it? While still failing to present any arguments?

Related to that, de haut en bas assumptions about other people’s libraries and their use of them, are wankery even when they are accurate, so I guess they must be worse if they’re not.

I have a friend who, if they found that they’d typed the words “having taken the trouble of actually having read some basic work and assuming that others would have done so”, would have hit “Delete” rather than “Post”. There are various purely self-interested reasons for this.

Now, my disproof of the claim that epistemology is dead is the fact that in the real world, today, philosophers do epistemology. Some do epistemology taking Wittgenstein and Heidegger into account, and some do epistemology while rejecting Wittgenstein and Heidegger. But it is an empirical fact that the discipline of epistemology is alive and active, with a current history, issues, publications.

To point out this empirical fact is not actually an argument by authority. It’s a proof by evidence.

You asked, “what does the ‘philosophical theory of knowledge’ add to the reasons and evidences validating cognitive truth claims that is not already actually contained in those reasons and evidences”?

Epistemology is “the philosophical theory of knowledge”, so for this answer I’ll use the word epistemology rather than that definitional phrase. Now, epistemology concerns itself with such things as the reasons and evidences validating cognitive [and other] truth claims. Anything that is reasoned concerning the reasons and evidences validating cognitive and other truth claims is in the field of epistemology.

So the form of your question asks, essentially, “what epistemology adds to the subject of epistemology”. Logically, epistemology adds nothing to itself, as it already is itself, so the correct answer to your question is, “nothing”.

You responded to my observation that Heidegger was a Nazi by suggesting that the point is analogous to saying that Wittgenstein was queer and Levinas was Jewish. No, being a Nazi isn’t actually the same kind of thing as being queer or Jewish. Heidegger’s Nazism is a real problem in terms of his philosophy, while being homosexual (I don’t think Wittgenstein would have used the term “queer”, though I may be wrong on this) or being Jewish is not. I don’t think you really needed that explained to you. I think you were just trying something on, rhetorically.

Finally, you said: “Though I may, indeed, be a poor and unclear writer, on the evidence you presented, your reading/interpreting skills are still poorer”.

So each of my guesses as to what meanings there may have been in your earlier posts must have been mistaken. But I made an honest attempt to find something meaningful in there, based on specific words that you wrote. I said the fault was no doubt mine, and no doubt it still is. If enough other people admire and follow what you write, then of course you don’t need to try to write intelligibly, as you must already be doing so.

Cheers!

Laon

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Keith M Ellis 02.15.04 at 6:48 pm

While sometimes eloquent and occasionally soundly argued, there’s far more posturing than earnestness in this thread of late. It’s the poorer for it. Serious intellectual discourse should not be a virtual tennis match, even more so on this subject.

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Laon 02.15.04 at 8:48 pm

Well, it’s all off the edge of the world now, but I don’t think the debate lacked earnestness. And though there was a dogfight between John and myself, the nub, a claim that epistemology is dead, is important, on-topic, and something I feel earnest about.

Regards,

Laon

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bill carone 02.15.04 at 8:49 pm

Don P. (thanks for responding))
“How is this, and the other things you mention, knowledge, rather than just guesses, assertions, opinions, passions, etc.? Do you really think they’re the same thing?”

First, I think that all those other things are much better sources of knowledge than faith. I don’t have faith and don’t understand those who do.

Here is proposition, that I think you would agree is a true or false statement, not just meaningless drivel:

“If you believe that the Bible is a source of truth, then you should believe that murder is wrong.”

This is the type of knowledge a revelation-expert produces. You can imagine agreeing or diagreeing with it, based on different interpretations of the Bible.

The revelation-expert isn’t asserting that murder is wrong, only that the Bible says it is. If you believe in the Bible, then your beliefs should be affected if you agree with the proposition. If you don’t, then they shouldn’t.

Laon (thanks for responding)
“Bill Carone …[is] in the lucky position of knowing that lying is wrong because the Bible told him so.”

I don’t blame you at all for missing my previous posts, but I have repeatedly said that 1) I have no faith and 2) I don’t understand why anyone should have it. However, if you do, then you have the “shortcuts” (and the difficulties you mention as well; no one said faith would be easy :-)

“If he doesn’t follow these Biblical precepts, he has exercised good judgement.”

I assume that “good judgment” means reasoned argument.

If a reasoned argument about what is right and wrong contradicts a revelatory one, then all revelation-experts know that that the reasoned one is right and they must go back and figure out what they did wrong. Reason and observation trump revelation; no revelation can produce knowledge that contradicts observation or reason.

“My shortcut is to apply my moral judgement in the first place (derived from a wide range of sources in my upbringing, my culture’s values, my own judgement of how people can get along best, etc), and leave the ancient text out of it.”

Mine too, except that I tend to focus more on what the philosophers say about it (those are ancient texts as well, but based on reason, not revelation).

As for your interpretation of what the Bible means, be careful; you aren’t an expert. An interpretation of the Bible might be like the interpretation of the Constitution, one that it takes experts to really understand. For example, which statements made by people in the Bible are truth and which are just rhetoric? Which are rules of a particular group and which should apply to all who have faith? Which are meant for ancient times only, and which are meant for all time?

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john c. halasz 02.16.04 at 1:19 am

Let us all make our ritual ablutions and libations to Hades!

Well, Laon, cheery one, I’m sure you’ll recognize that your defense of epistemology is tautological and empty. Further, it simply restates the second point I made about the upshot of the end of epistemology. So much for the omni-competence of logic. (Logic is basically just a subset of operations of semantic inference and implication. “Making sense” is more fundamental than logic and not all the operations by which we make sense are semantic in nature- some are context-bound and illocutionary. Formalized or specialized artificial languages derive from our capacities as natural language users. Furthermore, outside the purely formal realm of mathematics, I do not think that anything can be definitively and irrevocably proven; neither did Plato. The 17th century obsession with absolute proof, which grew up in philosophy along side the development of modern science and mathematics, as well as containing something of pre-modern excessiveness, had something to do with doubt and anxiety about salvation; the Greeks were untroubled by such a concern.)

Post-epistemological philosophy has to do with understanding rather than “truth”, with the elucidation, analysis and interpretation of meaning and the explication of norms. It lacks the force even to recommend norms on its own authority; this would be an extra-philosophical, existential commitment and can only be persuaded to, not “proven”. Whereas philosophy can serve as a placeholder and mediator in rational discussion and an upholder of the value of reason, if a philosopher wishes to know anything, he must do the same leg-work as everyone else. Rational justification is to be achieved, if at all, not through grounding in some aboriginal metaphysical necessity, nor through deduction from some abstract logical structure, but simply through the role a given claim or complex of ideas plays in the warp and woof of our form of life, together with the practices activities, relationships and experiences that accompany it. Take, e.g., algebra: what would our achieved form of life be like if we abolished algebra, what could we no longer do, conceive, recognize or perceive without algebra, what would we lose and what present needs could we no longer fulfill, or perhaps even feel? But a form of life can not be judged as a whole, from without, as it were, or “transcendentally”- (the end of epistemology is the de-transcendentalizing of philosophy). This goes even for our most universalizing conceptions or practices: when there is a conflict within or between achieved forms of life, there is no other remedy but reasonable dialogue. Such rational justification is, of course, riddled with contingency; such contingency is unavoidable, and philosophy is only deluded, if it thinks otherwise. I made a similar argument for our cultural heritage from religious traditions, even for us secular, unbelieving folk. I made no claim that “Judeo-Christia morality”- (is there any such singular entity?)- is necessarily superior to any other morality, nor that religion makes one a better person. I explicitly confined myself to the broadly Judeo-Christian tradition because that is the only one I dimly know anything about; anything I would say about other traditions or moralities would be mere solecism. (It was because of gross misreadings of the letter of my text, such as this, that I saw no need to respond to your readings.) I merely asked, in the light of the failure or inadequacy of a formalized ethics, deduced from a meta-ethical theory, whether we did not still draw something of our ethical intuitions and critical thinking from such resources. What would we lose without such historical anamnesis? Perhaps we simply become less capable of recognizing our own moral failures and less capable of recognizing, articulating, and justifying what ethical intuitions we do have, which can never gotten at by an objectifying, entirely externally oriented type of thinking. If such a conception of philosophy, surrendering its much vaunted and cherished autonomy, is traumatizing, so be it: be traumatized. But there are probably much better things to waste one’s anxiety on. But it is not an “arrogant” conception; to the contrary, it is quite “modest.”

Philosophy is a peculiar endeavor, at once highly personal and entirely impersonal. As such, personal considerations can not be excluded from its interpretation, but they are not dispositive and philosophy can not be reduced to their ambit. Didn’t Nietzsche once write something to the effect that all philosophies are unwritten autobiographies? Did he mean to imply that at least it is better to do philosophy than to be so vain as to write one’s autobiography? That was the point I was making about Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and Levinas, not some rhetorical dress-up. (It was late and I had just gotten back from an overnight shift at work, so perhaps I did not make the point clear.) As for Wittgenstein being “queer”, that did not mean homosexual- (I thought of changing the word to “odd” to avoid such misunderstanding, but, no, queer was the right word.) Homosexuality was the least of his “queerness”, according to biographies and the testimony of his friends. He was highly ascetic, moralistic, abrupt and overbearing, prone to a sense of abjection, constantly out-of-sorts, and often scarcely in human contact, fleeing to cabins by the sea in Norway and Ireland. Some of his friends think that at times he was verging in and out of madness. And yet he saw himself through and achieved his original philosophical work. By all accounts, it was a tormented and miserable life, yet when he was on his death-bed surrounded by his friends- (he died of inoperable prostrate cancer in his fifties)-, he told them that he had lived a happy life. How very Socratic.

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bill carone 02.16.04 at 1:21 am

Ophelia,

I appreciate the time you take to respond, and I understand there is a limit to how much time and effort you should spend on my education :-)

One problem with your conclusions is that you keep switching back and forth between things like
– “Low-level religious believers, not the experts, think and do irrational, strange, and overall bad things sometimes”
– “I, Ophelia, don’t have faith”
– “No one has any reason to have faith”

and

– “Theology doesn’t produce knowledge.”

I think you have argued masterfully for the first set, and (literally) don’t know what you are talking about on the second.

Now, if I were being concise, I’d stop there. Everyone who already agreed with me would still agree, and everyone who didn’t, wouldn’t.

But I want to provide arguments for my conclusions, think through their implications, look at it from the other side, provide analogies, examples, and terminology to help people think clearly about the complicated issues raised.

You seem to share three misunderstandings about revelation that most people have.

1. Your first misunderstanding is to equate revelation-experts with non-expert religious people.

If all you mean is that some religious people’s pronouncements are wrong and wrong-headed, then it isn’t that newsworthy; you can find lots of similar examples in science and philosophy (“Repeatedly falsified apocalyptic predictions have made many a fundamentalist preacher into a laughingstock; they made Stanford University eco-alarmist Paul Ehrlich into a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant winner.” – Edward Feser). It doesn’t invalidate science or philosophy, and it doesn’t invalidate theology.

Sometimes you claim only to be talking about the wrong-headed people, but you immediately slip into making statements like the following.

– You said, “theology doesn’t explain anything, it only claims to.”
– You said “I don’t mean religion is forbidden to tell us about that of which we cannot speak – only that it’s unable to. The formula says that science can’t answer those questions but religion can. I say no it can’t – that is, it’s not able to. It’s able to make answers, as any of us are, but they don’t amount to much. They are just assertions.”

With these statements, you _are_ explicitly claiming that observation and reason are the only ways to “explain” anything, even though you try to deny it (your many “not trying to disprove” comments). This is a strong claim to defend, and you haven’t come close.

Now, revelation will not be able to change _your_ beliefs, since you do not have faith; however, as we will see below, it isn’t trying to.

2. Your second misunderstanding is that revelation-experts think they can claim that they can defy science and reason. They do not. They understand that reason and observation always trump revelation.

Here are the things you say that make me believe you have misunderstanding number 2.
– You said that ethics is not the sole property of religion, which is too obvious to mention if you understand revelation.

– You said that religion has a “privileged realm where it gets to assert anything and everything.”
– You said, “But if [religious] truth claims just have a standing exemption from examination, rigorous or even semi-rigorous – from, let’s be honest, any examination at all – then anything goes.”

No such exemption exists; revelation is trumped by reason and observation every time, and can be contradicted by other interpretation of the same text.

3. Your third misunderstanding is the nature of revelatory-truth claims. They are always of the form “If you have faith, then you should believe X.” These statements are perfectly “valid” for the faithful and the non-faithful alike; we can talk about them, agree or disagree. However, they will affect the beliefs only of the faithful.

Here are the things you say that make me believe you have misunderstanding number 3.
– You said, “Non-theists don’t consider revelation a valid form of knowledge.”

False; non-theists who understand the arguments revelation-experts make consider them valid. Both the faithful and the non-faithful know that the arguments do not apply to the non-faithful, only the faithful.

– You said “I just refuse to take other humans’ word for [what] exists outside of nature. How would they know? … why should I believe them?”

If they only know through revelation, then there is no reason for you to believe them. This is, in fact, exactly what you said about it in the “yellow dragon” example: “if one does believe them … they have force only for the person who has them”

– You said, “So no one is under any obligation to accept anyone else’s assertions about the subject. But the argument persists in that form – ‘there is this other realm that science can’t talk about, but religion can.'”

There is no contradiction here; religion can produce knowledge in one (faithful) person that another (non-faithful) person would have no obligation to accept.

– You said “I wouldn’t be so noisy about all this if the faith-based types weren’t so bossy about their belief system.”

They aren’t trying to change your beliefs; you are trying to change theirs. Who is being bossy?

So, you don’t seem to know what claims the revelation-experts are making, yet you claim that they are all nonsense. Before you can say anything, you need to understand what you are talking about.

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msg 02.16.04 at 4:58 am

Keith Ellis makes a plea for serious discourse without posturing and Laon won’t stop with that increasingly aggressive exclamation point!
Though statements like,“I suspect that the reason that Ophelia has taken so much personalisation in this debate, is that (in my observation) she argues better and more clearly than her opponents, and this has annoyed them.” ameliorate that greatly.
John C. Halasz weighs in with, (paraphrasistically) while Wittgenstein was queer it wasn’t as important as that he was odd. A peculiar idea but one I like a lot. Bill Carone writes from somewhere I’ve never been, where the rules of discourse, if any, seem impossibly alien, and difficult to learn.
The points I feel personally responsible for, in John’s terms “deep ecology rhetoric” and “reduction of human societies to the biological”, are getting sidetracked by an urgent sense that I need to use the word “epistemology” quickly and assertively or just stop writing altogether. But, so, anyway.
The dismissal of anything to do with ecological or environmental attitudes as trivial in any serious context, is something you, John, inherited from the academic world you trained in, and the mediated world you live in. I promise you within a couple of years these terms will not seem at all tangential to your life, as they must evidently now.
That human societies are only biological entities seems clearer to me every day. Nothing but. Big ones, sure, and bad as can be, but nothing other than that. Insisting that human societies are biological entities is not a “reduction” of the human. That scale of value, with adult male human at the top, and a hierchical descent down through woman to the lower races and then the animal, is as baseless now as it ever was, and yet it still gets used to justify bigotries of all stripes. Including the prejudicial treatment of the “natural”.
Anti-biology. Man against nature. Taming the wilderness. The difference between valiant self-assertion and sadistic degradation of the other seems to have been lost along the way.
We are biology. First and last. The illusion of the exclusive primacy, the virtual sanctity, of the individual for the sake of individuality alone, is a scam that’s been run for thousands of years, facilitated by organized religion.
It’s very seductive. “You’re important.” “God wants you to be happy.” The idea that you’re nothing more than a vehicle for your genes to get through time and into the next carrier is abhorrent, even to me, at times, but I can’t see anything to refute it, except the lingering vestiges of the magical thinking I was raised on.
That it’s quite possible that our conception of what “biological” truly connotes is profoundly diminished, that what our genes actually are may be substantially more than a collection of linked proteins, comforts me to imagine.

Sweetness and light, I don’t know; Laon is pretty entertaining, and rigorously precise. Introducing Lord Hutton seems pretty vindictive and inapt as far as Ophelia Benson goes. She gives no quarter, granted, but she has never, in my reading, let her exasperation slip toward the personal attack – more than can be said for some of her opponents. That she takes on a potentially dangerous role willingly and comports herself with aplomb is greatly to her credit.
The rhetoric thing – I know, but it’s fun. I like it. I’m better at street talk dialect and slang really, but I enjoy the edge of floridity. My apologies to anyone who’s offended by it.

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bill carone 02.16.04 at 3:49 pm

Msg, (thanks for responding)

“Bill Carone writes from somewhere I’ve never been, where the rules of discourse, if any, seem impossibly alien, and difficult to learn.”

Please say more about this; I don’t understand. Where am I :-)

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bill carone 02.16.04 at 5:38 pm

“non-theists who understand the arguments revelation-experts make consider them valid. Both the faithful and the non-faithful know that the arguments do not apply to the non-faithful, only the faithful.”

This didn’t make much sense on re-reading, so let me give an example.

Three propositions:

A. There is an elephant outside my front door.
B. There is elephant DNA outside my front door.
C. If there is an elephant outside my front door, then there is elephant DNA outside my fron door.

I consider C true, even though I consider A and B false.

If I also believed A as well as C, then I should also believe B, right?

Fact is, I don’t believe A is true, so C has no effect on my beliefs about elephant DNA.

The fact that I don’t believe A has no relation to the validity of C.

I think this is Logic 001, no?

So, let’s move that to talking about revelation.

A. The Bible is a source of revealed truth.
B. Murder is wrong.
C. If you believe the Bible is a source of revealed truth, then you should believe murder is wrong.

I, a non-theist, believe C is true, although I am not an expert. I suspect that many of you non-theists think this as well; you certainly can take a position on it, true or false.

Fact is, I do not believe A, so the fact that C is true isn’t that important to me; it has no effect on my beliefs about murder.

The fact that you don’t believe A has no relation to the validity of C. In other words, the fact that you don’t have faith has no relation to the validity of the statements made by revelation-experts.

Theologians (revelation-experts) only make arguments that are similar in form to C. They produce propositions (like C) which may be true or false. They have no effect on the beliefs of the non-faithful, simply due to their structure.

That is what I meant when I said non-theists do not automatically believe that theology cannot produce knowledge; it is knowledge irrelevant to the non-faithful, but relevant to the fatihful.

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msg 02.16.04 at 9:08 pm

Before you can say anything, you need to understand what you are talking about.

There it is Bill.
That’s at the end of a comment you addressed to Ophelia. In a social situation the assumption of superiority inherent in that language and tone would be considered at least mildly threatening. It’s odd, but aggressive; two qualities that people generally get uneasy with, when they come in combination like that.
Kind of like Bush up there, waggling his rocket and jumping up and down, and barely speaking sensible english. It’s not a comforting sight.
I can only suggest that you take your own admonishment to heart. Though there is a way to speak of things you don’t quite understand, in fact it’s my favorite type of dialog. Humility and an open mind, honest motives, and loyalty to things outside the self are the only requirements.

As far as elephants go, I think the general idea was that there may or may not be an elephant already in the living room, that the front door may still be wide open, that the (possibly real) elephant is making it difficult for some of us to get anything done, and that a lot of otherwise sensible people are insisting:
A. there is no elephant here, because elephants don’t belong in living rooms
B. elephant feces are good for you and necessary for moral living
while others insist:
C. epistemology is still here, and possibly viable, but it’s under the elephant and we can’t get to it until everybody agrees that there is in fact an elephant here with us, in the living room, and it needs to be moved.

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Ophelia Benson 02.16.04 at 9:20 pm

Gosh, this is still going on; I didn’t realize.

Bill,

Well I do my best to answer anyway!

“You said, “theology doesn’t explain anything, it only claims to.”
– You said “I don’t mean religion is forbidden to tell us about that of which we cannot speak – only that it’s unable to. The formula says that science can’t answer those questions but religion can. I say no it can’t – that is, it’s not able to. It’s able to make answers, as any of us are, but they don’t amount to much. They are just assertions.”

With these statements, you are explicitly claiming that observation and reason are the only ways to “explain” anything, even though you try to deny it (your many “not trying to disprove” comments).”

No I’m not. I’m saying religion can’t explain, not that any other entity can. Saying ‘religion cannot explain X’ by no means entails saying that ‘therefore Y can explain X.’ That’s a separate statement, surely. And one that I’m not making. In fact that’s the whole point. This ‘two spheres’ argument depends on the idea that science says how things are and religion explains why. I’m saying that religion doesn’t explain why but rather (as I said) claims to do so. But I think ‘why’ is just an unanswerable question.

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Ophelia Benson 02.16.04 at 9:25 pm

“Introducing Lord Hutton seems pretty vindictive and inapt as far as Ophelia Benson goes. She gives no quarter, granted, but she has never, in my reading, let her exasperation slip toward the personal attack – more than can be said for some of her opponents.”

[plaintively] Thanks, msg!

I’ve been thinking much the same thing myself. I don’t think I do attack people personally. It would be nice if…ah well.

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bill carone 02.16.04 at 9:35 pm

“Before you can say anything, you need to understand what you are talking about.

There it is Bill.
That’s at the end of a comment you addressed to Ophelia. In a social situation the assumption of superiority inherent in that language and tone would be considered at least mildly threatening. It’s odd, but aggressive; two qualities that people generally get”

It is exactly what I was arguing in the whole post, though, right? It was the conclusion of the argument.

Now I may be wrong; I often am. I should have said “You don’t seem to know what the structure of theological arguments are, yet you judge them.”

I find myself in the same place when discussing things with theists and non-theists alike.

I also have never been compared to Bush; this is a first :-)

“Humility and an open mind, honest motives, and loyalty to things outside the self”

Say more, say more …

Where have I shown myself to lack these things? How can I improve myself?

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bill carone 02.16.04 at 9:57 pm

“Gosh, this is still going on; I didn’t realize.”

I think I can learn from what you say, so I’m happy you are still posting.

“I don’t think I do attack people personally. It would be nice if…ah well.”

I don’t think I do either; I thought we were discussing people’s ideas, not people. I apologize if I have, especially in the last long post, as Msg points out.

“No I’m not. I’m saying religion can’t explain, not that any other entity can. Saying ‘religion cannot explain X’ by no means entails saying that ‘therefore Y can explain X.’ That’s a separate statement, surely.”

Yep, it is… I shouldn’t have put that into my argument (And I’m sure some of you are saying “what argument?” :-).

I should have said:
– You are explicitly claiming that theology can’t explain anything.
– I didn’t find any argument for this in your posts, except ones that talk about science and “proof” i.e. reason/philosophy.
– So, it seems that you are judging theology only be norms of science and reason.
– This seems wrong, no? Unless you are assuming that science and reason are the only ways to explain things.

Where have I gone wrong?

“This ‘two spheres’ argument depends on the idea that science says how things are and religion explains why.”

I agree with you, but so do most expert theologians; they aren’t dealing with only “why” questions.

However, you may be arguing about not just how vs. why, but denying that theology can deal with issues that science cannot (indeed, that it can deal with issues at all).

I repeat: theology arguments say nothing to the non-faithful, but say something to the faithful. Therefore, it gives real knowledge unaccessible to science and philosophy to the faithful. Where have I gone wrong here?

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john c. halasz 02.16.04 at 10:50 pm

weel, briefly since I have to go to work.

No, “Lord Hutton-like” was not vindictive, but simply malicious and well-warranted. I did try to explain to you, yes, at some length, why the terms of your argument were simplistic and narrow-minded. Simply reiterating those terms is not responsive, i.e. not making an argument. And then when I convey the “news” to you that “epistemology” lacks the sort of credentials you attribute to it, not only am I accused of being authoritarian for citing as evidence a complex body of textual work for what is after all a textual matter, (as if “argument” were solely a matter of clearly ordering and spelling out deductions from apodictic premises)-, inspite of the fact that, I think, I did explain clearly and simply the points at issue, but, in response, the assertion is made that, to the contrary, epistemology is fine and dandy and of central importance in adjudicating public issues- (in the light of the desperately irrational level of public politics here in the U.S.A. and perhaps elsewhere nowadays, who’s sense of external reality is lacking here? Do you really think such “higher knowledge” and such brisk certainty will haul much weight in dealing with the traffic?)- and that you and all your friends are doing epistemology. Well, “all my friends are doing it” is something that adolescents say and if you would step outside of your academic cocoon, perhaps you would realize that. The role of both science and religion with respect to politics and civil society are complex and problematic matters and their difficulties and dangers should not be underestimated, especially in these increasingly darkening times. What is at stake among other things, is the caprrying-capacity of peoples’ belief structures in a complex, crisis-ridden modern world, where people are constantly dislocated and stressed from living inside a perpetual motion machine, governed by overweening power-complexes over which people have very little control. So, you see, the situation is not all that different for secularized unbeliever as for religious believers, and I don’t think the dividing line between rational and justifiable beliefs and practices and gathering irrationalism fruitfully runs exactly there where you would wish to put it. So do you see why one might reasonably characterize you argumentative procedure as “Hutton-like”?

As for there being no answers to “why” questions, this is overstated and silly. why do you think there exists the word “why”? This is to confuse and overgeneralize atelic norms for causal explanation operative in science, with questions about reasons and purposes, which, of course, are not pre-inscribed in the world- (and it is true that this fact is what seems to upset many people about Darwinism)-, but nonetheless are of concern and relevance to human beings. But perhaps matters concerning anything so vague, undefinable and dubious in its existence as human identity are not worthy of proper epistemological consideration.

I mean no offence other than that which is deliberate and warranted, but if you take it upon yourself to impugn others’ beliefs, you must be prepared to have your own beliefs impgned as well. Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander.

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graywyvern 02.17.04 at 1:32 am

ordinarily i would relish a retro argument like Science Vs Religion; i could put on my vintage clothes & use correct grammar & everything. but you know, people, thse days more often than not i feel like civilization is hanging by a thread, a very thin thread indeed; & it makes me a lot less willing to humor THE BLATHERINGS OF IDIOTS. if the barbarians are going to win, i am going to call them what they are, & not pretend there is the least bit of REALITY to their tedious, immature, grotesquely inadequate excuse for a world view. and if the barbarians are not going to win, i hope it will be because a few more people like me are not afraid of seeming IMPOLITE.

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Ophelia Benson 02.17.04 at 2:40 am

John Halasz

You call that briefly? Jeez, I’d hate to see your idea of long then. It would probably put CT out of business.

Who on earth is that long post addressed to? It seems to be addressed to someone in particular, but it’s chaotic. You quote from several different people and run everything together, but your addresse appears to be singular. I gather that most of the snottiness is addressed to me, but since you have such a muddled idea of who said what and who thinks what, I won’t take it personally.

I also won’t read it carefully or answer it. It’s confused, too long, unclear, boring, pompous, self-righteous, and bad-tempered.

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msg 02.17.04 at 2:41 am

Bill-
Pay attention. Stifle your need to get attention. Listen.

John C.-
The stayed hand, the undelivered-though-warranted offense, esp. if you can imply its quiescent presence, that’s polite discourse.
Otherwise it’s guns and ammo, let God sort ’em out, devil take the hindmost; and that pretty much undercuts the raisonnette for this thread, eh?
My take is Ophelia is capable of substantially more venom than you might suspect. I know I am.

Which segues nicely into graywyvern-
That was a pretty fair rip there. Only from the paragraph as posted it’s impossible to say which idiots exactly you’re being impolite to, any or all, or one, or what.
Correct grammar and spelling aren’t anal vestiges of some bygone time of tea and slavery and old bound books in an Edwardian library.
They’re the protocols of construction for the only bridge between us, language; a fragile shape-shifting thing, but all we have to connect with.
You can type naked if you want, I generally type barefoot and in old jeans, but if your writing isn’t coherent and readable, why? Be impolite, have at it, but remember that somewhere in here the dividing line is regard for the other, whether it’s compassion or empathy or simple mundane etiquette. Hypocrisy needs busting wherever it shows its two-faced head, but good manners help people cooperate; whether it’s passing out complimentary champagne or digging through the rubble of the aftermath, being polite makes it easier to get things done.

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Ophelia Benson 02.17.04 at 2:43 am

Oh and Bill Carone, I thought I’d already said this but perhaps not. We’re talking at cross-purposes: you’re talking about theology (and you also say I’m talking about theology, but that’s an error), but I’m not, I’m talking about religion. I have nothing to say about theology. My comment that Chris was addressing was about religion, not theology.

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Ophelia Benson 02.17.04 at 2:49 am

Cackle!

We simul-posted, msg.

Well said.

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bill carone 02.17.04 at 4:09 am

“Bill-
Pay attention. Stifle your need to get attention. Listen.”

Again, show me please. Show me evidence in my posts where I didn’t do these things, and I can work to change.

I think I have paid attention and listened (and I don’t see why you think I didn’t). I don’t see that I have a need to get attention (and I don’t see how you figured out that I do).

I’m here to learn, to see where I am getting things wrong, and I do so by challenging people when I think they are wrong.

“I thought I’d already said this but perhaps not.”

Or maybe I didn’t listen :-)

“My comment that Chris was addressing was about religion, not theology.”

So what do you think the difference is? I am using the terms fairly interchangeably (religion is often used to describe a set of rules or practices, so I try to avoid the word).

You have said “theology doesn’t explain anything, it only claims to.” in past posts; it might have just been in response to my use of the term. It actually is one of the main types of thing you have said that I disagree with, and wanted to figure out what exactly you meant.

If all you are saying is that low-level, non-expert religious people say and think things that are harmful and clearly wrong, then I agree. Is this what you are saying? You seemed to be saying more.

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bill carone 02.17.04 at 4:28 am

For an example of what a high-level religious leader thinks about all this, here is a quote from Pope John Paul II (I believe).

“There exist two realms of knowledge, one which has its source in Revelation and one which reason can discover by its own power. To the latter belong especially the experimental sciences and philosophy. … _The two realms are not altogether foreign to each other, they have points of contact_.”

“It is a duty for theologians to keep themselves regularly informed of scientific advances in order to examine if such be necessary, whether or not there are reasons for taking them into account in their reflection or for _introducing changes in their teaching_.”

Ophelia, where do you disagree with the above? He seems to be saying many of the things you are, no?

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enthymeme 02.17.04 at 9:23 am

Chris Bertram writes:

On Wittgenstein – I think I’m right in saying that this all comes from Schopenhauer (and, in a sense, from Kant). But my history of German idealism is shakier than it should be.

Bob McManus responds:

Although I am sure Wittgenstein was to some degree familiar with German Idealism, as far as I remember, closer sources are Frege and the Philosophy of Mathematics, and Russell/Whitehead Principles of Logic

Ophelia Benson adds:

It’s interesting about the Wittgenstein-Schopenhauer thing – I just read something about that in Brian [sic] Magee’s Confessions of a Philosopher (so that’s why it interests me, she said solipsistically). He is strongly convinced that Schop was indeed a big (and little-acknowledged) influence on Wittgenstein.

Professor Bertram is closer to the mark, of course – the metaphysical framework of the Tractatus is Kantian-Schopenhauerian. Except that where Schopenhauer speculates about the nature of the-thing-in-itself/the noumenon/will, Wittgenstein maintains a disciplined, Fregean, silence.

It is also true that, as Magee states, Wittgenstein’s Schopenhauerian leanings are little-acknowledged relative to the vast canon of Wittgenstein scholarship (in contrast, Schopenhauer scholarship is not quite as tardy – Christopher Janaway and Julian Young, among others, have made the connection). How important this omission is to a rigorous study of the early Wittgenstein I cannot say – but it seems to me that such an omission could be very glaring indeed – a whole, misguided school of positivism arose from just this failure to grasp Wittgenstein’s (unsaid) metaphysics.

Check out John Holbo’s very well-written dissertation on Wittgenstein’s Tractatus – Chapters 12 to 15 contain a helpful summary of the strands of influence that come together in the early Wittgenstein. It is also suggestive that Wittgenstein hints (albeit obliquely) that the philosophy of the Tractatus is unoriginal, and that he makes no claim to novelty. What is unique though, is his amalgation of Frege’s logical austerity with an idealist metaphysics. But there is a wealth of other hints besides (inexplicably, for someone who is forthcoming about the influence of Russell and Frege, Wittgenstein exhibits a stubborn reluctance when it comes to acknowledging the man who gave him his philosophical backbone) – the ladder metaphor, the image of the eye and the visual field, “The world is all that is the case” (cf. “The world is my representation”), “The limits of my language means the limits of my world” (cf. “the world is my will and representation”), and so on.

Some are found in his notebooks, others in the Tractatus. The fact that Wittgenstein copied/reproduced Schopenhauer almost wholesale in his notebooks (which were not intended for publication), together with his expression of indifference as to whether any one else (surely he was alluding to Schopenhauer!) has articulated the same thoughts as he did suggests to me that he was not one to acknowledge his intellectual debts readily. But that’s not the end of it. Stylistically (at least with regards to the employment of aphoristic metaphors), Wittgenstein borrowed from Schopenhauer too. The difference is that, where Schopenhauer is the paragon of clarity, Wittgenstein is cryptic.

Christopher Janaway is rightly scathing in his assessment of the early Wittgenstein. From his Self and World in Schopenhauer’s Philosophy:

. . . the influence of Schopenhauer on Wittgenstein was considerable and systematic, and . . . reading him against this background gives a degree of overall coherence to parts of his early work which are otherwise all but inexplicable. However, it has also been apparent that Wittgenstein was neither very original, nor very clear headed, in the way in which he took over terminology, images, and arguments from Schopenhauer, nor very eager to reveal his sources.

So much for inarticulable metaphysical frameworks.

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enthymeme 02.17.04 at 9:40 am

Ophelia Benson writes:

Well, it’s simple. The person who asserts that something exists is the one who has the burden of proof, not the one who declines to accept the assertion.

sd responds:

I’m not sure why this need be the case.

Well, Keith M. Ellis has given one argument for why this has to be the case. Another one (also a variant of the argument from asymmetry) would be that an unrestricted (unrestricted in space and time, that is) existential claim is, as a matter of logic, impossible to disprove. In other words, negative, unrestricted existential claims are unprovable. No amount of scouring the universe will falsify the claim that “God exists and sits on a throne somewhere, sometime”. Hence, given that disproof of unrestricted claims to existence is logically impossible, the burden falls on the theist, for which proof is at least a logical possibility.

This is why, by default, we don’t believe in every and any claim to existence for some entity. If that were so, we would be compelled by the logical situation to admit every and any such claim unless we were able to disprove it (and we cannot).

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enthymeme 02.17.04 at 10:39 am

Jon C. Halasz writes:

As for epistemology, I had thought that that was no longer a going philosophical concern, having been definitively critiqued and refuted a while ago, though, of course, that does not mean that epistemic or cognitive issues can not be argued and discussed.

Has it really? “Refuted” in what sense?

A bit later, Jon adds in characteristically looping style:

Ophelia Benson is not aware that epistemology is not a going philosophical enterprise. Perhaps she missed that stop on the Grand Tour; I myself have only hitchhiked, since I did not get an all-expenses-paid trip. Well, outside the nooks and crannies of academic industry, where anything will be a going concern somewhere, the locus classicus of the critical dissolution of epistemology is in the philosophical work of Wittgenstein and Heidegger, though my preference is for the former and, if one follows out Levinas criticism of Heidegger, it is questionable how well or fully the latter executes this turn. As I said, end of epistemology by no means proscibes or inhibits the discussion, sorting out and evaluation of epistemic claims. To summerize some of the upshot of the end of epistemology baldly: philosophical reason has no special competence or authority by which it can dictate or adjudicate epistemic claims; at most, philosophy as such can elucidate the purport of such claims and what is at stake in them, but they are validated otherwise and elsewhere; there is no such thing as distinctively philosophical knowledge; the criterion of certainty and the abstract generality with which epistemology conducts itself are mistaken-(knowledge is not true belief, which, having attained the level of certainty, disqualifies all other beliefs and claims, nor are knowledge claims necessarily integrated into a singular conceptual whole or unity); higher or greater or newer knowledge does not result in or allow the derivation of a new ethics therefrom- at most, there is the same old ethics, whatever it may be, taking place under new truth-conditions-( this latter point being largely the impetus behind the epistemological project from Kant to Husserl); ethical norms, conceptions of the good, the right, and the just, do not derive from truth claims and change or transformation of them takes place in their own dimension- truth claims refer flatly to what is the case about states-of-affairs in the world and do not necessarily gather and subordinate all other concerns and claims to themselves.

First, the caveat “outside of . . . academic industry”. Gee, Jon, one would have thought, given that epistemology (or the theory of knowledge) is by and large a philosophical enterprise, and given that most – if not all – philosophy nowadays is academic philosophy, then of course excluding academia would mean that epistemology is no longer “a going philosophical enterprise” (outside of academic philosophy). You might as well say that outside of water, swimming is not a going physical enterprise.

Next, you claim Wittgenstein heralded the dissolution of epistemology. I don’t agree, but suppose that I grant you that – OK? OK. But that would presuppose that he was right, no? Ever countenanced the possibility, Jon, that he was, perhaps, wrong? I mean, there are so many competing traditions and approaches and accounts to a theory of knowledge. What makes you think the particular tradition you subscribe to is correct? No argument (or, none that I can discern).

You then claim that philosophy has no monopoly on epistemic claims, and that there is no such thing as “distinctively philosophical knowledge”. Fair enough, if I read you charitably. But if I do read you charitably, your claim has no relevance whatsoever. (Sure, scientific knowledge is scientific, just as religious knowledge is religious. So what?) So you must mean the uncharitable reading – namely that epistemic claims cannot be evaluated by a theory of knowledge rather than the charitable reading: i.e., that epistemic claims (that is, knowledge claims) are NOT ONLY philosophical in nature.

Does the former reading make any sense to you? According to you, since philosophy (epistemology) has no monopoly on knowledge claims, ergo epistemic claims about religion cannot be evaluated by some epistemological criteria. Sorry, but that argument is lame. It’s obvious – at least to me – that any evaluation of epistemic claims is an evaluation based on some theory of knowledge – some epistemology.

It seems to me that you are just equivocating between the latter, uncontroversial claim: that not all knowledge claims are philosophical – and the former, patently false claim: that not all knowledge claims are evaluable according to some epistemological criterion. Either way, your arguments don’t make any sense.

The rest of the passage I quoted is just a long-winded way of stating the fact-value dichotomy, a meandering mish-mesh of Gettier problems, Quine’s holism, and god knows what else. And most of it not even accurate as a characterization of some philosophical traditions in epistemology. Yes, some. There are epistemologies that do not concern themselves with “criterions of certainty” or “true belief”, you know.

As for the rest, I can make neither head nor tail of it. Maybe it’s incoherent. Maybe it’s just me. Oh well.

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john c. halasz 02.17.04 at 10:42 am

Actually, I was surprised that anyone would think that Shopenhauer’s influence on Wittgenstein was not widely known. Shopenhauer’s currency in Vienna of that time was wide-spread, as reported in Stephen Toulmin’s “Wittgenstein’s Vienna”- (there is a co-author whom I can’t remember.) And in Wittgenstein’s nachlass there are several lists he makes of his influences, so the claim that he did not acknowledge his influences, strikes me as odd. The one that I think is not acknowledged or understood in the anglophone reception is Karl Kraus. Wittgenstein was from beginning to end a disciple of Karl Kraus. Also, more speculatively,- and which, of course, appears nowhere in the literature, since he himself would not have know of it,- the last influence on all his lists is Piero Sraffa, who was a close personal friend of Antonio Gramsci. There is a significant homology between Gramsci’s notion of “common sense” and his conception of philosophy as raising common sense to good sense and the later Wittgenstein’s resort to and treatment of natural language and his later conception of philosophy in the affirmative sense, which he nowhere spells out, but which I think could be called a de-reifying and thereby transformative activity. There is perhaps a minor academic dissertation in there somewhere.

Now back to the old stuff.

Yes, Ophelia Benson, that last hurried post was directed toward you, by way of our deep ecology rapper friend’s labelling of “Lord-Hutton-like” as vindictive. It was in belated response to what you posted in response to my remark the epistemology was outmoded, as follows: “As for how very dead epistemology is- well, I’ve just reviewed a book about it, I know a lot of people who work on it, it’s basic to what the website I edit is all about, it’s central to a great many (perhaps all) of the conflicts and controversies that roil the public realm- but, whatever.” A very large claim and a large investment and commitment, as well. Not to mention a tad grandious and perhaps presumptuous. And thoroughly conventionalistic, as well. Do you really think that when youstep out amongst the stoa with your lantern held high that your dressing up your specific claims in the alleged prestige and authority of epistemology will cut the mustard? Do you not realize how utterly and even laughably such dressing up would be impugned, damaged, even torn to shreds- and not for all the wrong reasons. (Diogenes himself, Cynic that he was, would perhaps have been the one who was most amused.) Your argument was “Hutton-like” because, for all your proper p’s and q’s and i’s and t’s, it amounted to a piece of conceptual gerrymandering, and when objections were raised- and I do not think I was the only one- that, hey, wait a minute, that’s not what and how religious believers necessarily understand their beliefs and think about things, you merely reiterated the same narrow terms of your argument, without deepening them or taking in and responding to the objections. And thereby you evade any consideration of the stakes involved and their larger relevance. Yes, very Lord Hutton-like, very like a whale. Your “critical” intervention into the issues of religion, science and the public sphere amounts to a complete botch.

And now you resort amidst calls for decorum and your no doubt much practiced studied retreat into superficiality so as to reconfirm your own prejudices, to name-calling about what an unpleasant fellow I am- though- correct me if I’m wrong- I don’t recall having exactly called you any names, except for “positivist”, which may or may not be accurate. Perhaps this just serves to bring out the ad hominem nature of your basic argument, for all its “epistemological” costuming.

Typing in comments in a blog is putting a message in a bottle. I don’t expect many people to actually read me remarks since they are, as you tirelessly complain, over-long. Occasionally, I get a response, perhaps a put-down, rarely a complement, such as the half-compliment of Jeremy Osner above or the link to my first post on the blog of a Mrs. Tilton, a progressive Christian blogger. But I do like occasionally to objectify my thoughts, subblogging, if you will. If my posts are overly long, comsuming precious byte-space, or otherwise inappropriate, then the proprietors of CT are within their tutulary rights to delete them. You may e-mail them at your discretion.

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john c. halasz 02.17.04 at 10:43 am

Actually, I was surprised that anyone would think that Shopenhauer’s influence on Wittgenstein was not widely known. Shopenhauer’s currency in Vienna of that time was wide-spread, as reported in Stephen Toulmin’s “Wittgenstein’s Vienna”- (there is a co-author whom I can’t remember.) And in Wittgenstein’s nachlass there are several lists he makes of his influences, so the claim that he did not acknowledge his influences, strikes me as odd. The one that I think is not acknowledged or understood in the anglophone reception is Karl Kraus. Wittgenstein was from beginning to end a disciple of Karl Kraus. Also, more speculatively,- and which, of course, appears nowhere in the literature, since he himself would not have know of it,- the last influence on all his lists is Piero Sraffa, who was a close personal friend of Antonio Gramsci. There is a significant homology between Gramsci’s notion of “common sense” and his conception of philosophy as raising common sense to good sense and the later Wittgenstein’s resort to and treatment of natural language and his later conception of philosophy in the affirmative sense, which he nowhere spells out, but which I think could be called a de-reifying and thereby transformative activity. There is perhaps a minor academic dissertation in there somewhere.

Now back to the old stuff.

Yes, Ophelia Benson, that last hurried post was directed toward you, by way of our deep ecology rapper friend’s labelling of “Lord-Hutton-like” as vindictive. It was in belated response to what you posted in response to my remark the epistemology was outmoded, as follows: “As for how very dead epistemology is- well, I’ve just reviewed a book about it, I know a lot of people who work on it, it’s basic to what the website I edit is all about, it’s central to a great many (perhaps all) of the conflicts and controversies that roil the public realm- but, whatever.” A very large claim and a large investment and commitment, as well. Not to mention a tad grandious and perhaps presumptuous. And thoroughly conventionalistic, as well. Do you really think that when youstep out amongst the stoa with your lantern held high that your dressing up your specific claims in the alleged prestige and authority of epistemology will cut the mustard? Do you not realize how utterly and even laughably such dressing up would be impugned, damaged, even torn to shreds- and not for all the wrong reasons. (Diogenes himself, Cynic that he was, would perhaps have been the one who was most amused.) Your argument was “Hutton-like” because, for all your proper p’s and q’s and i’s and t’s, it amounted to a piece of conceptual gerrymandering, and when objections were raised- and I do not think I was the only one- that, hey, wait a minute, that’s not what and how religious believers necessarily understand their beliefs and think about things, you merely reiterated the same narrow terms of your argument, without deepening them or taking in and responding to the objections. And thereby you evade any consideration of the stakes involved and their larger relevance. Yes, very Lord Hutton-like, very like a whale. Your “critical” intervention into the issues of religion, science and the public sphere amounts to a complete botch.

And now you resort amidst calls for decorum and your no doubt much practiced studied retreat into superficiality so as to reconfirm your own prejudices, to name-calling about what an unpleasant fellow I am- though- correct me if I’m wrong- I don’t recall having exactly called you any names, except for “positivist”, which may or may not be accurate. Perhaps this just serves to bring out the ad hominem nature of your basic argument, for all its “epistemological” costuming.

Typing in comments in a blog is putting a message in a bottle. I don’t expect many people to actually read me remarks since they are, as you tirelessly complain, over-long. Occasionally, I get a response, perhaps a put-down, rarely a complement, such as the half-compliment of Jeremy Osner above or the link to my first post on the blog of a Mrs. Tilton, a progressive Christian blogger. But I do like occasionally to objectify my thoughts, subblogging, if you will. If my posts are overly long, comsuming precious byte-space, or otherwise inappropriate, then the proprietors of CT are within their tutulary rights to delete them. You may e-mail them at your discretion.

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enthymeme 02.17.04 at 11:20 am

John C. Halasz writes:

Actually, I was surprised that anyone would think that Shopenhauer’s [sic] influence on Wittgenstein was not widely known. Shopenhauer’s currency in Vienna of that time was wide-spread, as reported in Stephen Toulmin’s “Wittgenstein’s Vienna”- (there is a co-author whom I can’t remember.)

Allan Janik.

And in Wittgenstein’s nachlass there are several lists he makes of his influences, so the claim that he did not acknowledge his influences, strikes me as odd.

The claim, dude, was that Wittgenstein did not acknowledge Schopenhauer as intellectual progenitor. Not that “he did not acknowledge his influences”. Indeed, I stated that he was open about Frege’s and Russell’s influence on the Tractatus.

The one that I think is not acknowledged or understood in the anglophone reception is Karl Kraus. Wittgenstein was from beginning to end a disciple of Karl Kraus. Also, more speculatively,- and which, of course, appears nowhere in the literature, since he himself would not have know of it,- the last influence on all his lists is Piero Sraffa . . .

Uh, on the contrary . . .

Schopenhauer was one of the list of luminaries whose trains of thought Wittgenstein said that he passionately seized for his own purposes. He himself, he said, was `merely reproductive’ in his thinking (CV: 16). Others on the list were Boltzmann, Hertz, Frege, Russell, Kraus, Loos, Weininger, Spengler and Sraffa. . . .

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Keith M Ellis 02.17.04 at 3:40 pm

I was perhaps not as clear as I should have been. Mine wasn’t a call for “decorum”, although decorum certainly is a Good Thing(tm).

I find that I rarely learn anything from a debate. Debate is interpersonal hierarchy negotiation behind a façade of discourse. Productive discourse occurs when people are actually interested in learning from each other. This is what I meant by “earnestness”.

Is there substance in Mr. Halasz’s comments? Indeed, there is. But my strong impression is that what substance there is, is mostly a feint. His real strategy is one of intimidation through displays of erudition. Likewise, I sense that Ms. Benson’s participation in this discussion is really an attempt at an imposition. Her strategy is pithy where Mr. Halasz’s is verbose and is overtly hostile where Mr. Halasz’s is covert. Both dearly would like to demonstrate that the other party is, essentially, an idiot. They mostly differ stylistically.

And while there seems to have been some friction between Mr. Carone and others, my overall impression of him is that he is, in fact, earnest. And certainly MSG is earnest.

The fact of the matter is that very reasonable, very intelligent people can and do differ on the essential issue of discussion in this thread. If one takes the belligerent stance that the contrary position is prima facie absurd, I cannot see how anything productive can result. As much as either Ms. Benson or Mr. Halasz may believe so, I can assure everyone involved that neither is Socrates to the other’s Meno. It very well may be the case that this conversation could be productive. But it won’t be until those involved hope to learn something and not to “win”. Even then, it may not be productive. But it certainly would be less tiresome to read.

I recognize that this note of mine could be misconstrued as a sort of dominance strategy of my own. But it’s not. Firstly, I am no saint when it comes to the vices I’m criticizing here. Secondly, my true motivation is simply that I would quite enjoy seeing the intellects and erudition on display here (and this applies to pretty much everyone who’s participated heavily) accomplishing something cooperatively and constructively, especially on this matter. I think it’s possible. But egos and prejudices would have to largely be set aside.

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Ophelia Benson 02.17.04 at 4:52 pm

John Halasz

“It was in belated response to what you posted in response to my remark the epistemology was outmoded, as follows: “As for how very dead epistemology is- well, I’ve just reviewed a book about it, I know a lot of people who work on it, it’s basic to what the website I edit is all about, it’s central to a great many (perhaps all) of the conflicts and controversies that roil the public realm- but, whatever.” A very large claim and a large investment and commitment, as well. Not to mention a tad grandious and perhaps presumptuous. And thoroughly conventionalistic, as well. Do you really think that when youstep out amongst the stoa with your lantern held high that your dressing up your specific claims in the alleged prestige and authority of epistemology will cut the mustard? Do you not realize how utterly and even laughably such dressing up would be impugned, damaged, even torn to shreds- and not for all the wrong reasons.”

But that’s just an absurd misreading of what I said. I understood you to be saying that epistemology was dead, dead in the sense of being a dead issue, something no one anywhere ever thought about. I don’t much blame myself for thinking that, either, because – well because that’s pretty much what you said. I wasn’t making a prestige argument, for chrissake, I was just saying it’s a live issue, it’s in play, people do still think about it. I was simply making a factual claim, not a boast. So that torrent of abuse is beside the point.

And by the way, one of the many reasons I couldn’t tell whether you were addressing me or someone or everyone else in that long post is because you said something about my academic cocoon. I’m not an academic! I could hardly be less of one – not if I dug ditches with my bare hands for a living.

(Also by the way, just by way of example of your hasty reading, you also claimed that I said I and all my friends were doing epistemology. What I in fact said was that I know a lot of people who do epistemology. You do see a difference between ‘all my friends’ and ‘I know a lot of people who’ – don’t you?)

The bit about straining CT’s capacity was, of course, a joke. I do realize they can tell you if it’s a problem. You don’t seem to have a very good ear for jokes or sarcasm. Maybe if you wrote a bit less and read or listened a bit more…

Enthymeme, sorry about misspelling Bryan. Thought perhaps I had at the time, but was too lazy to check.

(Really – would an academic get her notions of Wittgenstein and Schopenhauer from Bryan Magee’s autobiography?? And then say as much? I hardly think so!)

Keith M Ellis

True enough about the battling and posturing. But I’m pretty sure that at the beginning I wasn’t doing that, that I was trying to take part in a real discussion (and with some success). But once people start getting personal, I get personal back. So it goes.

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bill carone 02.17.04 at 5:29 pm

“No amount of scouring the universe will falsify the claim that “God exists and sits on a throne somewhere, sometime” “

Heh. True. And even if we did, the claim will actually be “God exists and is no-where, and in no-time.” :-)

However, things might be true but unprovable. So I’m not sure what the “burden of proof” is in cases like these.

As an analogy, say I flip a coin, see the coin landed “heads”, then put it in my pocket. I have knowledge (the coin landed “heads”), but I can’t prove it to you, since you have not shared my “observed experience.” The only reason you would believe me is if you trusted me and I didn’t say anything too improbable.

Now think about the case of revelation. I might say “I know X to be true as a result of revealed experience; I have no scientific or rational basis for this belief.” Again, there is no way for me to prove to you that I am right, since you have not shared my “revealed experience.” The only reason you would believe me is if you trusted me and I didn’t say anything too improbable.

You wouldn’t say, if I actually saw the coin land “heads” in the first example, that the burden of proof is on me to prove that it landed heads, right? In other words, the truth is that it landed heads, even though I cannot prove it. I cannot ask you to change your beliefs, desires, or actions based on my knowledge, but you wouldn’t deny that it is knowledge, right?

Why is it not similar with the second case?

Once someone says to you “You should believe that Jesus rose from the dead,” or “You should do this because the Bible says you should,” then the burden of proof is on them; they have taken the burden by trying to change your beliefs or by advising your actions.

But they don’t have to take the burden if all they say is “This has been revealed to me; I have no way of convincing you that this is true, and I will not try, but I know it to be true.”

The burden is always taken voluntarily; it isn’t about knowledge, it is about convincing others. It isn’t “on” anyone by default, but it can be taken up.

Is this right? I am not a philosopher of knowledge, so I don’t know if ground like this has been covered many times before.

Most religious people do not try to prove their beliefs; they know it is impossible to do so. So they are not trying to convince you of anything; but you can’t claim therefore they have no knowledge just because they haven’t satisfied a “burden of proof.”

Note: I am not arguing that everyone who claims to have revealed experience possesses true knowledge (Unless I’m wrong, there are many contradictions between faiths, so they can’t all be true). I am just saying that the “burden of proof” idea isn’t the way we should think about who has true knowledge, only whether or not we should believe them.

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msg 02.17.04 at 5:50 pm

Bravo Keith M. Ellis.
Kudos Enthymeme.
Double-dribble for John C. Halasz.
Bill Carone, Bill Carone, in some way points toward the original post. Or past it; near it; toward its general vicinity.

Ruse-“Science asks immediate questions. Religion asks ultimate questions. There is no conflict here, except when people mistakenly think that questions from one domain demand answers from the other.”

Benson-“…it isn’t true. Religion does try to tell us about the world – it tells us there’s a supernatural being in charge of it. That is a truth-claim.”

Bertram-“If such a being exists, then presumably he, she or it exists necessarily, whereas the subject matter of the physical sciences is the contingent features of the world.”

It’s a little like democracy init? We’re(democratic participants) all gathered loosely together to iron out our differences and make something work, and amongst us move a sub-group of people whose participation is only a result of their having been persecuted and driven off everywhere else – lip service as opposed to real participation.
So they play at being democratic; until they become a powerful enough minority they can begin to subvert democratic principles and goals to their own “higher” agenda.
It’s nearly inevitable, and there were, some of us still recall, anxieties in this regard among the founders.
To expect true believers to willingly separate Church from State is naive and verges on magical thinking.

Other than wanting Ophelia Benson to admit she’s wrong in substance, stance, and intent, I’m not sure what John C Halasz’ position is, still, now, after all those thick paragraphs. Someone else needs to explain to him that the fact that he never “called her names” is not quite the exonerating move he asseverates. Asserts. Says it is.

The ideas at the heart of this discussion are absolutely contemporary and politically and socially vital.
What I took to be the esssence of it all was the resentment, not of atheists, but of non-theists, specifically non- Judeo-Christian-theists, at the intrusion of theists into the public sphere to a degree that makes accusations of attempted theocracy seem pretty darn apropos.
Bogging the interchange down in procedural concerns seems neurotic to me.
An insistence on motive to “learn” looks good on the page but there’s no stigma in wanting to advance neglected truths, or there shouldn’t be. Personally, my only requirement for protocol and/or form is that I now be referred to as that “thoroughly conventionalistic deep ecology rapper”.

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msg 02.17.04 at 6:13 pm

Always refresh the page before you post.

This “knowledge” thing – what is that? Is it concern for what’s in the mind of the believer, or what’s in his or her hand?
Someone who wants to believe, who has to believe, who’s been shown in unmistakable glory and grace an irrefutable truth anything, fantastic, mundane, or silly – that’s ok, I have no complaint.
Someone who says it’s ok to take someone else’s land because they, unlike the “chosen”, believe trees have souls, and birds can speak to human beings who listen carefully – I have a problem with that.
I have a huge problem with people who choose to believe great volumes of “spiritual” nonsense that can be distilled into biological privilege and election, and then, key phrase, act on it.
Tolerance of the intolerant leads to a paradox.
It seems the solution is to not tolerate the intolerant. But then, correct me if I’ve missed something, that would make us…intolerant?
The real-world application is loose at the edges and humanly imprecise; a workable answer is possible; democracy is ok, not as good as a benevolent monarch maybe, but far better than a malevolent one. The thing that makes all this crucial and not idle speculation is we’re headed right for some kind of large discriminatory separation. Thus my insistence on the biological aspects of this metaphysical question. And its relative urgency.

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enthymeme 02.17.04 at 6:46 pm

Ms Benson,

Enthymeme, sorry about misspelling Bryan. Thought perhaps I had at the time, but was too lazy to check.

Haha! Nah it’s ok – lots of people seem to think Brian for some reason or other. I was just dicking about with the sics.

Really – would an academic get her notions of Wittgenstein and Schopenhauer from Bryan Magee’s autobiography?? And then say as much? I hardly think so!

Because it’s not sufficiently academic a resource? True, true. But it’s academics who have a problem, not Magee. At any event, Magee, though no longer a professional philosopher, is quite an authority on Schopenhauer at least in the English speaking world. His The Philosophy of Schopenhauer is the best (and only?) explication of its kind in English. There you have a thorough-going exegesis of the Schopenhauer-Wittgenstein connection which is eminently citable.

But once people start getting personal, I get personal back. So it goes.

Yep, completely understandable.

Mr Carone,

As an analogy, say I flip a coin, see the coin landed “heads”, then put it in my pocket. I have knowledge (the coin landed “heads”), but I can’t prove it to you, since you have not shared my “observed experience.”

Right. But this is a restricted existential claim – restricted in space and time – a one off event. Claims that a (Judeo-Christian?) God exists is an unrestricted existential claim – it is claimed that he exists – and I would think, exists for all time? And could have a physical presence anywhere in the universe should He so choose?

That is the reason why the burden of proof is on the theist. Now, I understand that revelation and Christ doing a Lazarus is one off and all – but those restricted existential claims weren’t what I was looking to the theist to prove. Rather, I was looking at the unrestricted existential claims that theists make.

Is this right? I am not a philosopher of knowledge, so I don’t know if ground like this has been covered many times before.

Yes you are right . . . just that I was examining a type of claim different from one off (historical) events.

But, let me also add that even if revelation is inter-subjectively observable, sceptics may still quite justifiable sneer and ask “how do you know you and I aren’t being deceived by a clever demon?” etc. Given the fact that not everyone has revelatory experiences, that doubt is all the more exacerbated.

Most religious people do not try to prove their beliefs; they know it is impossible to do so. So they are not trying to convince you of anything; but you can’t claim therefore they have no knowledge just because they haven’t satisfied a “burden of proof.”

The problem is that revelatory experiences do not necessarily entail the claims that religious people make. They may be deceived, they may have been hallucinatory . . . so the sceptic who has no access to these experiences can claim, I think, that one doesn’t really know EVEN when one has had such experiences.

Mr MSG,

Kudos Enthymeme.

Thank you sir.

193

bill carone 02.17.04 at 7:05 pm

“thoroughly conventionalistic deep ecology rapper” says:

Note first that my post was only about the “burden of proof” claims people were making, and how I didn’t quite understand them.

“This “knowledge” thing – what is that? Is it concern for what’s in the mind of the believer, or what’s in his or her hand?”

I don’t know; I suspect the philosophers of knowledge think that “knowledge” is objective. In other words, beliefs are subjective, existing only in the minds of each believer, while knowledge is not just in the mind of a believer but … well, I am not a philosopher. It certainly isn’t real (“in his or her hand”).

“Someone who wants to believe, who has to believe, who’s been shown in unmistakable glory and grace an irrefutable truth anything, fantastic, mundane, or silly – that’s ok, I have no complaint.”

Note that almost no real theological arguments claim irrefutable truth.

“Someone who says it’s ok to take someone else’s land because they, unlike the “chosen”, believe trees have souls, and birds can speak to human beings who listen carefully – I have a problem with that.”

Let me push on this a little.

How about if people living in a powerful democratic nation have faith, perhaps a majority who share a single faith. This isn’t a corrupt set of people, “subverting democracy”; it is just a bunch of people voting what they believe. Do you have a problem with them voting based on their faith?

BTW I don’t think people should be able to vote to take my land away; however, lots of people do think so.

194

bill carone 02.17.04 at 8:06 pm

“The problem is that revelatory experiences do not necessarily entail the claims that religious people make. They may be deceived, they may have been hallucinatory . . . so the sceptic who has no access to these experiences can claim, I think, that one doesn’t really know EVEN when one has had such experiences.”

I agree; I don’t understand how anyone can come to have faith when hallucination/indoctrination/deception/etc. all are much more plausible that revelation (which makes it different from science and philsophy, where hallucination et. al. are much less likely).

My claim was not that revelation works, it is that you can’t base arguments against it on “You have to be able to prove it, or else it isn’t _real_ knowledge like we do.”

I gave an example where something clearly was knowledge, and yet couldn’t be proved or disproved.

I concluded that you only have the burden of proof when you try to transmit knowledge to someone else, change their beliefs, advise their actions. This works equally both ways: theist to non-theist, and non-theist to theist. The one doing the convincing has the burden of proof. You then say,

“Claims that a (Judeo-Christian?) God exists is an unrestricted existential claim – it is claimed that he exists – and I would think, exists for all time? And could have a physical presence anywhere in the universe should He so choose?”

I don’t understand; which part of this defines “unrestricted existential claim”? Just that something exists, that something exists for all time, or that something exists for all time covering all of space?

BTW, the philosopher’s God is immaterial (outside space), eternal (outside time), and infinite, which is slightly different that what you say (I don’t know if it is relevant to your argument). I don’t know about the Judeo-Christian God, but I suspect it is the same.

“That is the reason why the burden of proof is on the theist. “

Under any of the above definitions, I don’t see why my burden of proof argument fails; can you walk me through it a little? Perhaps give me an example where the “burden” crushes the theist more obviously? :-)

“those restricted existential claims weren’t what I was looking to the theist to prove.”

So you wouldn’t ask a theist to prove these, only the bigger “God exists” kind of claims? I think if you believe the Bible is a source of revelaed experience, then “an immaterial, eternal, infinite God exists” isn’t that much of a stretch, is it?

For example, is God’s creation of the universe a “one-off”? If so, then God must be immaterial (no material existed :-). So revelation implies the existence of an immaterial God, and you wouldn’t ask the faithful to prove this, right? Am I just really, really confused?

195

bill carone 02.17.04 at 8:06 pm

“The problem is that revelatory experiences do not necessarily entail the claims that religious people make. They may be deceived, they may have been hallucinatory . . . so the sceptic who has no access to these experiences can claim, I think, that one doesn’t really know EVEN when one has had such experiences.”

I agree; I don’t understand how anyone can come to have faith when hallucination/indoctrination/deception/etc. all are much more plausible that revelation (which makes it different from science and philsophy, where hallucination et. al. are much less likely).

My claim was not that revelation works, it is that you can’t base arguments against it on “You have to be able to prove it, or else it isn’t _real_ knowledge like we do.”

I gave an example where something clearly was knowledge, and yet couldn’t be proved or disproved.

I concluded that you only have the burden of proof when you try to transmit knowledge to someone else, change their beliefs, advise their actions. This works equally both ways: theist to non-theist, and non-theist to theist. The one doing the convincing has the burden of proof. You then say,

“Claims that a (Judeo-Christian?) God exists is an unrestricted existential claim – it is claimed that he exists – and I would think, exists for all time? And could have a physical presence anywhere in the universe should He so choose?”

I don’t understand; which part of this defines “unrestricted existential claim”? Just that something exists, that something exists for all time, or that something exists for all time covering all of space?

BTW, the philosopher’s God is immaterial (outside space), eternal (outside time), and infinite, which is slightly different that what you say (I don’t know if it is relevant to your argument). I don’t know about the Judeo-Christian God, but I suspect it is the same.

“That is the reason why the burden of proof is on the theist. “

Under any of the above definitions, I don’t see why my burden of proof argument fails; can you walk me through it a little? Perhaps give me an example where the “burden” crushes the theist more obviously? :-)

“those restricted existential claims weren’t what I was looking to the theist to prove.”

So you wouldn’t ask a theist to prove these, only the bigger “God exists” kind of claims? I think if you believe the Bible is a source of revelaed experience, then “an immaterial, eternal, infinite God exists” isn’t that much of a stretch, is it?

For example, is God’s creation of the universe a “one-off”? If so, then God must be immaterial (no material existed :-). So revelation implies the existence of an immaterial God, and you wouldn’t ask the faithful to prove this, right? Am I just really, really confused?

196

bill carone 02.17.04 at 8:07 pm

“The problem is that revelatory experiences do not necessarily entail the claims that religious people make. They may be deceived, they may have been hallucinatory . . . so the sceptic who has no access to these experiences can claim, I think, that one doesn’t really know EVEN when one has had such experiences.”

I agree; I don’t understand how anyone can come to have faith when hallucination/indoctrination/deception/etc. all are much more plausible that revelation (which makes it different from science and philsophy, where hallucination et. al. are much less likely).

My claim was not that revelation works, it is that you can’t base arguments against it on “You have to be able to prove it, or else it isn’t _real_ knowledge like we do.”

I gave an example where something clearly was knowledge, and yet couldn’t be proved or disproved.

I concluded that you only have the burden of proof when you try to transmit knowledge to someone else, change their beliefs, advise their actions. This works equally both ways: theist to non-theist, and non-theist to theist. The one doing the convincing has the burden of proof. You then say,

“Claims that a (Judeo-Christian?) God exists is an unrestricted existential claim – it is claimed that he exists – and I would think, exists for all time? And could have a physical presence anywhere in the universe should He so choose?”

I don’t understand; which part of this defines “unrestricted existential claim”? Just that something exists, that something exists for all time, or that something exists for all time covering all of space?

BTW, the philosopher’s God is immaterial (outside space), eternal (outside time), and infinite, which is slightly different that what you say (I don’t know if it is relevant to your argument). I don’t know about the Judeo-Christian God, but I suspect it is the same.

“That is the reason why the burden of proof is on the theist. “

Under any of the above definitions, I don’t see why my burden of proof argument fails; can you walk me through it a little? Perhaps give me an example where the “burden” crushes the theist more obviously? :-)

“those restricted existential claims weren’t what I was looking to the theist to prove.”

So you wouldn’t ask a theist to prove these, only the bigger “God exists” kind of claims? I think if you believe the Bible is a source of revelaed experience, then “an immaterial, eternal, infinite God exists” isn’t that much of a stretch, is it?

For example, is God’s creation of the universe a “one-off”? If so, then God must be immaterial (no material existed :-). So revelation implies the existence of an immaterial God, and you wouldn’t ask the faithful to prove this, right? Am I just really, really confused?

197

Keith M Ellis 02.17.04 at 8:11 pm

I suspect the philosophers of knowledge think that “knowledge” is objective. In other words, beliefs are subjective, existing only in the minds of each believer, while knowledge is not just in the mind of a believer but … well, I am not a philosopher.“—Bill Carone

Some do, some don’t. Probably not many nowadays. Plato asserted the above view. A contemporary scientist would assert the above view. (See the discussion I participated in the comments thread for Mumbo Jumbo.) I doubt many contemporary philosophers would assert this view. This conflict of worldviews is implicit in this conversation.

Even assuming the posturing and such weren’t extent in this thread, it would still be very difficult for anything productive to come from it. It’s because there are too many ideas in play. The waters are very muddy. And, if you go to the intellectually rarefied heights that this conversation has meandered through, you go somewhere such that it no longer has relevance to almost anyone. The appropriate context for this discussion is not epistemology, as much as it would seem that it is.

Here are the questions I’d like to ask and discuss:

* Is Gould’s “Non-Overlapping Magisteria” the dominant view among contemporary western theists? If it’s the majority view, I submit that it would necessarily be a practical position and should therefore be discussed in that context. If it is a minority view, then we might ask who it is that hold to this view and what it is that they have in common.

* If this is a practical view, what is it, exactly, that’s being practiced? That is, do people who hold this view consistently apply it across all their activities and beliefs? If they do not, then is it possible that this belief serves some practical purpose other than what it seems?

* There is clear conflict and hard-feelings among many when attempting to engage in this discussion. Why? What do people have emotionally at stake; and, more importantly, are they falsely assuming that everyone else’s stake in this matter is similar? I don’t ask this question because I think this is group therapy; I ask it because I think it is essential to identify this dynamic in order to move beyond it.

* What is the historical context for Gould’s “NOMA”?

Now, allow me to digress for a moment. Epistemology is for me a vital concern because I, for one, do not think its questions have been sufficiently answered. It is also, for me, a practical matter because my epistemology is, in a sense, deeply pragmatic. I claim that we can only say meaningful things about something at “an appropriate level of description for a given purpose”. I regret that I have not worked through Gödel’s “On Formally Undecidable Propositions” myself (per Mr. Lapite’s criticism of me), but I have followed its outline and read quite a few commentaries on it. So I will use it as an example. There is in most people’s minds a presumption of the possibility of Knowledge, a “God’s eye” view. Gödel’s Theorem is sort of an example: various people assert that our supposed ability to recognize the truth of the Gödel statement is this sort of transcendent comprehension. I say not. There is a level (or levels) of description at which we can understand the statement as true, and a level (or levels) of description at which we cannot. Everywhere we try to completely reconcile holism with reductionism there is paradox. I suggest we stop trying to do this. There is a similar hubristic yearning for omniscience present in most of the views in this thread. People are trying to ask and answer questions that are just too big to be meaningful.

For this reason, and for the sake of simple practicality, I make my plea to restrict this conversation to a relatively narrow context in which shared comprehension and shared points of reference are possible, and work from there. At a hundred-odd messages, it may be too late for this. But maybe not.

198

Keith M Ellis 02.17.04 at 8:12 pm

I suspect the philosophers of knowledge think that “knowledge” is objective. In other words, beliefs are subjective, existing only in the minds of each believer, while knowledge is not just in the mind of a believer but … well, I am not a philosopher.“—Bill Carone

Some do, some don’t. Probably not many nowadays. Plato asserted the above view. A contemporary scientist would assert the above view. (See the discussion I participated in the comments thread for Mumbo Jumbo.) I doubt many contemporary philosophers would assert this view. This conflict of worldviews is implicit in this conversation.

Even assuming the posturing and such weren’t extent in this thread, it would still be very difficult for anything productive to come from it. It’s because there are too many ideas in play. The waters are very muddy. And, if you go to the intellectually rarefied heights that this conversation has meandered through, you go somewhere such that it no longer has relevance to almost anyone. The appropriate context for this discussion is not epistemology, as much as it would seem that it is.

Here are the questions I’d like to ask and discuss:

* Is Gould’s “Non-Overlapping Magisteria” the dominant view among contemporary western theists? If it’s the majority view, I submit that it would necessarily be a practical position and should therefore be discussed in that context. If it is a minority view, then we might ask who it is that hold to this view and what it is that they have in common.

* If this is a practical view, what is it, exactly, that’s being practiced? That is, do people who hold this view consistently apply it across all their activities and beliefs? If they do not, then is it possible that this belief serves some practical purpose other than what it seems?

* There is clear conflict and hard-feelings among many when attempting to engage in this discussion. Why? What do people have emotionally at stake; and, more importantly, are they falsely assuming that everyone else’s stake in this matter is similar? I don’t ask this question because I think this is group therapy; I ask it because I think it is essential to identify this dynamic in order to move beyond it.

* What is the historical context for Gould’s “NOMA”?

Now, allow me to digress for a moment. Epistemology is for me a vital concern because I, for one, do not think its questions have been sufficiently answered. It is also, for me, a practical matter because my epistemology is, in a sense, deeply pragmatic. I claim that we can only say meaningful things about something at “an appropriate level of description for a given purpose”. I regret that I have not worked through Gödel’s “On Formally Undecidable Propositions” myself (per Mr. Lapite’s criticism of me), but I have followed its outline and read quite a few commentaries on it. So I will use it as an example. There is in most people’s minds a presumption of the possibility of Knowledge, a “God’s eye” view. Gödel’s Theorem is sort of an example: various people assert that our supposed ability to recognize the truth of the Gödel statement is this sort of transcendent comprehension. I say not. There is a level (or levels) of description at which we can understand the statement as true, and a level (or levels) of description at which we cannot. Everywhere we try to completely reconcile holism with reductionism there is paradox. I suggest we stop trying to do this. There is a similar hubristic yearning for omniscience present in most of the views in this thread. People are trying to ask and answer questions that are just too big to be meaningful.

For this reason, and for the sake of simple practicality, I make my plea to restrict this conversation to a relatively narrow context in which shared comprehension and shared points of reference are possible, and work from there. At a hundred-odd messages, it may be too late for this. But maybe not.

199

bill carone 02.17.04 at 9:02 pm

“The problem is that revelatory experiences do not necessarily entail the claims that religious people make. They may be deceived, they may have been hallucinatory . . . so the sceptic who has no access to these experiences can claim, I think, that one doesn’t really know EVEN when one has had such experiences.”

I agree; I don’t understand how anyone can come to have faith when hallucination / indoctrination / deception / etc. all are much more plausible that revelation (which makes it different from science and philsophy, where hallucination et. al. are much less likely).

My claim was not that revelation works, it is that you can’t base arguments against it on “You have to be able to prove it, or else it isn’t _real_ knowledge like we have.”

I gave an example where something clearly was knowledge, and yet couldn’t be proved or disproved.

I concluded that you only have the burden of proof when you try to transmit knowledge to someone else, change their beliefs, advise their actions. This works equally both ways: theist to non-theist, and non-theist to theist. The one doing the convincing has the burden of proof. You then say,

“Claims that a (Judeo-Christian?) God exists is an unrestricted existential claim – it is claimed that he exists – and I would think, exists for all time? And could have a physical presence anywhere in the universe should He so choose?”

I don’t understand; which part of this defines “unrestricted existential claim”? Just that something exists, that something exists for all time, or that something exists for all time covering all of space?

BTW, the philosopher’s God is immaterial (outside space), eternal (outside time), and infinite, which is slightly different that what you say (I don’t know if it is relevant to your argument). I don’t know about the Judeo-Christian God, but I suspect it is the same.

“That is the reason why the burden of proof is on the theist. “

Under any of the above definitions, I don’t see why my burden of proof argument fails; can you walk me through it a little? Perhaps give me an example where the “burden” crushes the theist more obviously? :-)

“those restricted existential claims weren’t what I was looking to the theist to prove.”

So you wouldn’t ask a theist to prove these, only the bigger “God exists” kind of claims? I think if you believe the Bible is a source of revealed experience, then “an immaterial, eternal, infinite God exists” isn’t that much of a stretch, is it?

For example, is God’s creation of the universe a “one-off”? If so, then God must be immaterial (no material existed :-). So revelation implies the existence of an immaterial God, and you wouldn’t ask the faithful to prove this, right? Am I just really, really confused?

200

enthymeme 02.17.04 at 10:05 pm

Mr Ellis,

I find that I rarely learn anything from a debate.

I sometimes learn that I am wrong.

201

bill carone 02.17.04 at 10:09 pm

“The problem is that revelatory experiences do not necessarily entail the claims that religious people make. They may be deceived, they may have been hallucinatory . . . so the sceptic who has no access to these experiences can claim, I think, that one doesn’t really know EVEN when one has had such experiences.”

I agree; I don’t understand how anyone can come to have faith when hallucination / indoctrination / deception / etc. all are much more plausible that revelation (which makes it different from science and philsophy, where hallucination et. al. are much less likely).

My claim was not that revelation works, it is that you can’t base arguments against it on “You have to be able to prove it, or else it isn’t _real_ knowledge like we have.”

I gave an example where something clearly was knowledge, and yet couldn’t be proved or disproved.

I concluded that you only have the burden of proof when you try to transmit knowledge to someone else, change their beliefs, advise their actions. This works equally both ways: theist to non-theist, and non-theist to theist. The one doing the convincing has the burden of proof. You then say,

“Claims that a (Judeo-Christian?) God exists is an unrestricted existential claim – it is claimed that he exists – and I would think, exists for all time? And could have a physical presence anywhere in the universe should He so choose?”

I don’t understand; which part of this defines “unrestricted existential claim”? Just that something exists, that something exists for all time, or that something exists for all time covering all of space?

BTW, the philosopher’s God is immaterial (outside space), eternal (outside time), and infinite, which is slightly different that what you say (I don’t know if it is relevant to your argument). I don’t know about the Judeo-Christian God, but I suspect it is the same.

“That is the reason why the burden of proof is on the theist. “

Under any of the above definitions, I don’t see why my burden of proof argument fails; can you walk me through it a little? Perhaps give me an example where the “burden” crushes the theist more obviously? :-)

“those restricted existential claims weren’t what I was looking to the theist to prove.”

So you wouldn’t ask a theist to prove these, only the bigger “God exists” kind of claims? I think if you believe the Bible is a source of revealed experience, then “an immaterial, eternal, infinite God exists” isn’t that much of a stretch, is it?

For example, is God’s creation of the universe a “one-off”? If so, then God must be immaterial (no material existed :-). So revelation implies the existence of an immaterial God, and you wouldn’t ask the faithful to prove this, right? Am I just really, really confused?

202

Keith M Ellis 02.17.04 at 10:48 pm

I suspect the philosophers of knowledge think that “knowledge” is objective. In other words, beliefs are subjective, existing only in the minds of each believer, while knowledge is not just in the mind of a believer but … well, I am not a philosopher.“—Bill Carone

Some do, some don’t. Probably not many nowadays. Plato asserted the above view. A contemporary scientist would assert the above view. (See the discussion I participated in the comments thread for Mumbo Jumbo.) I doubt many contemporary philosophers would assert this view. This conflict of worldviews is implicit in this conversation.

Even assuming the posturing and such weren’t extent in this thread, it would still be very difficult for anything productive to come from it. It’s because there are too many ideas in play. The waters are very muddy. And, if you go to the intellectually rarefied heights that this conversation has meandered through, you go somewhere such that it no longer has relevance to almost anyone. The appropriate context for this discussion is not epistemology, as much as it would seem that it is.

Here are the questions I’d like to ask and discuss:

* Is Gould’s “Non-Overlapping Magisteria” the dominant view among contemporary western theists? If it’s the majority view, I submit that it would necessarily be a practical position and should therefore be discussed in that context. If it is a minority view, then we might ask who it is that hold to this view and what it is that they have in common.

* If this is a practical view, what is it, exactly, that’s being practiced? That is, do people who hold this view consistently apply it across all their activities and beliefs? If they do not, then is it possible that this belief serves some practical purpose other than what it seems?

* There is clear conflict and hard-feelings among many when attempting to engage in this discussion. Why? What do people have emotionally at stake; and, more importantly, are they falsely assuming that everyone else’s stake in this matter is similar? I don’t ask this question because I think this is group therapy; I ask it because I think it is essential to identify this dynamic in order to move beyond it.

* What is the historical context for Gould’s “NOMA”?

Now, allow me to digress for a moment. Epistemology is for me a vital concern because I, for one, do not think its questions have been sufficiently answered. It is also, for me, a practical matter because my epistemology is, in a sense, deeply pragmatic. I claim that we can only say meaningful things about something at “an appropriate level of description for a given purpose”. I regret that I have not worked through Gödel’s “On Formally Undecidable Propositions” myself (per Mr. Lapite’s criticism of me), but I have followed its outline and read quite a few commentaries on it. So I will use it as an example. There is in most people’s minds a presumption of the possibility of Knowledge, a “God’s eye” view. Gödel’s Theorem is sort of an example: various people assert that our supposed ability to recognize the truth of the Gödel statement is this sort of transcendent comprehension. I say not. There is a level (or levels) of description at which we can understand the statement as true, and a level (or levels) of description at which we cannot. Everywhere we try to completely reconcile holism with reductionism there is paradox. I suggest we stop trying to do this. There is a similar hubristic yearning for omniscience present in most of the views in this thread. People are trying to ask and answer questions that are just too big to be meaningful.

For this reason, and for the sake of simple practicality, I make my plea to restrict this conversation to a relatively narrow context in which shared comprehension and shared points of reference are possible, and work from there. At a hundred-odd messages, it may be too late for this. But maybe not.

203

Keith M Ellis 02.17.04 at 10:51 pm

I suspect the philosophers of knowledge think that “knowledge” is objective. In other words, beliefs are subjective, existing only in the minds of each believer, while knowledge is not just in the mind of a believer but … well, I am not a philosopher.“—Bill Carone

Some do, some don’t. Probably not many nowadays. Plato asserted the above view. A contemporary scientist would assert the above view. (See the discussion I participated in the comments thread for Mumbo Jumbo.) I doubt many contemporary philosophers would assert this view. This conflict of worldviews is implicit in this conversation.

Even assuming the posturing and such weren’t extent in this thread, it would still be very difficult for anything productive to come from it. It’s because there are too many ideas in play. The waters are very muddy. And, if you go to the intellectually rarefied heights that this conversation has meandered through, you go somewhere such that it no longer has relevance to almost anyone. The appropriate context for this discussion is not epistemology, as much as it would seem that it is.

Here are the questions I’d like to ask and discuss:

* Is Gould’s “Non-Overlapping Magisteria” the dominant view among contemporary western theists? If it’s the majority view, I submit that it would necessarily be a practical position and should therefore be discussed in that context. If it is a minority view, then we might ask who it is that hold to this view and what it is that they have in common.

* If this is a practical view, what is it, exactly, that’s being practiced? That is, do people who hold this view consistently apply it across all their activities and beliefs? If they do not, then is it possible that this belief serves some practical purpose other than what it seems?

* There is clear conflict and hard-feelings among many when attempting to engage in this discussion. Why? What do people have emotionally at stake; and, more importantly, are they falsely assuming that everyone else’s stake in this matter is similar? I don’t ask this question because I think this is group therapy; I ask it because I think it is essential to identify this dynamic in order to move beyond it.

* What is the historical context for Gould’s “NOMA”?

Now, allow me to digress for a moment. Epistemology is for me a vital concern because I, for one, do not think its questions have been sufficiently answered. It is also, for me, a practical matter because my epistemology is, in a sense, deeply pragmatic. I claim that we can only say meaningful things about something at “an appropriate level of description for a given purpose”. I regret that I have not worked through Gödel’s “On Formally Undecidable Propositions” myself (per Mr. Lapite’s criticism of me), but I have followed its outline and read quite a few commentaries on it. So I will use it as an example. There is in most people’s minds a presumption of the possibility of Knowledge, a “God’s eye” view. Gödel’s Theorem is sort of an example: various people assert that our supposed ability to recognize the truth of the Gödel statement is this sort of transcendent comprehension. I say not. There is a level (or levels) of description at which we can understand the statement as true, and a level (or levels) of description at which we cannot. Everywhere we try to completely reconcile holism with reductionism there is paradox. I suggest we stop trying to do this. There is a similar hubristic yearning for omniscience present in most of the views in this thread. People are trying to ask and answer questions that are just too big to be meaningful.

For this reason, and for the sake of simple practicality, I make my plea to restrict this conversation to a relatively narrow context in which shared comprehension and shared points of reference are possible, and work from there. At a hundred-odd messages, it may be too late for this. But maybe not.

204

john c. halasz 02.18.04 at 1:22 am

Well, the bad boy is awake again and returns to the underworld.

I will admit that flat Enlightenment, positivistic, militant atheism has always just bugged me, and I myself am more or less an atheist. I put myself in the odd position of defending the point of view of beliefs I personally do not hold, which is almost, but not quite, a deliberate assumption of bad faith. And I am surrounded on this thread by unbelievers, some of whom seem to take offense at religious matters- (“Blessed is he who taketh not offence in me”)- and others who are blythely ignorant of them. (I had thought initially Mr. Carone was writing from a religious believer’s perpsective, but was soon disabused of the notion; at any rate, to some extent I agreed with what he persisted in posting and any demurrals did not rate a dissent.) In my first post, I sought to make plain to the imaginative, semantic and rhetorical understanding of anyone who would bother to read it something of the nature and complexion of the point of view of religious believers, not as a matter of mere empathy, though religious believers are my fellow creatures as well as my fellow citizens, but as a matter of doing hermeneutic justice to the matter and its discussion, a maximal rather than a minimal ethics of “truth”. And I did this out of a sense of growing disturbance at the rise and currency of religious fundamentalism in politics and the public sphere,-(though religious fundamentalism is not the only reigning kind of fundamentalism)- and the damage it inflicts on any hope for a rational, progressive politics, however dim, which I believe to be in the interests of believers and unbelievers alike, with many of the former, I would take it, to be allies in such a project. (Unlike many on the secular left, I do have more of a communitarian than individualist bent, but that is a whole other tangle of issues. Being a communitarian on the internet is a bit like being a spider who constructs his web above a manure heap: one just sits there and collects far more libertarian flies than one could possibly digest.) Perhaps a citation of the moneylenders in the temple would be a propos here. (As I put it in a post that got destroyed by my computer freezing up last night- Ms. Benson sighs with relief and glee-: “Not only does religion need to be de-mythologized, as some purveyors of self-referential hooey put it, but it needs to be stripped of its ideological functionality, for the sake of religious believers, as well as the rest of us.”) I actually sensed that there was a latent consensus about the dangers and damages of religious fundamentalism and its politico-economic instrumentalization among the contributors to this thread and it is in this context that I took issue with Ms. Benson’s argument/intervention in the matter as injudicious, obtuse and wrong-headed. Positivistic militant atheism of the kind that Richard Dawkins routinely peddles partakes of the very literalism it attacks. (It is a bit like the dispute between Northern capitalists and Southern slave-owners over the Civil War: both were right about the other and wrong about themselves.) Recycling this sterile and outmoded polemic merely re-enforces the battle-lines, with all the attendant collateral casualties among the innocent between them, and compounds the problem rather than seeking out a dialogue aimed at reaching a real accomodation and modus vivendi between science and religion within the civic order and public-political realm, to which both have something of value to contribute and, at any rate, in which both will inevitably persist and intervene in that realm with their tangled and problematic relationship to it. It was perhaps because he sensed this that Gould chose to devote some of his little remaining time to writing a book intervening in the matter, however wanting its rhetoric and argument may be, though I haven’t read it. (Hannah Arendt once wrote a peculiarly wrong-headed essay about the Arkansas school crisis, in which she wondered why school children were being used as proxies in this fight- a foreigner’s misunderstanding-, but in which she made the fundamental point that any genuine politics involves “plurality”, which means that there will be opposed postions with a complexion and “integrity” of their own, which can not simply be suppressed by violent or coercive means, which would be, in her book, anti-politics). Religion and science are two profoundly different, perhaps incommensurable, modes of constructing being-in-the-world within the minds and immaginations of human communities and of exercising care and vigilance for that world and its human communities. They can and historically have come into conflict, but they do not of necessity do so. This is not fudging the issue, but rather recognizing the reality of the matter, without claiming to having a monopoly on the understanding of “reality”. Carefully distinguishing different types of validity claims and their spheres of applicability within an order of political and social rights is very much germane to the issue and is work that needs doing with respect to mediating and resolving such conflicts in both their valid and invalid manifestations. Why should religion have unique authority over matters of meaning and value? Well, the obvious answer is that it shouldn’t and doesn’t, but that questions of meaning are fundamental, questions of value are not negligible and that science itself has no competence per se on questions of value and only limited and specialized competence on questions of meaning. But certainly, conflicts over these matters can not be resolved by suppressing, de-legitimating or disqualifying the perspectives of religious believers from their social and political rights to participation in the public realm simply because their prejudices fail to accord with the prejudices of some others, which could only be inflammatory and counter-productive. It is a matter of establishing the boundary conditions of those rights and criticizing and adjudicating the usurpation of those boundary conditions, not quite an “epistemological” matter. (if anyone would wish to proffer a more specific and practical proposal on this matter, I would welcome it.) So, yes, Gould, whatever his inadequacies, is basically right and Dawkins is wrong-headed and foolish. Ms. Benson’s argument struck me as obtuse, because it rested on two basic category mistakes. The first one was noted in the original CT post: that G-D is not an empirical “entity” and no one involved in the matter takes it so, so arguments about unicorns are a bit beside the point. To take G-d as an empirical entity would, after all, amount to a regression to animism, not the sort of stuff believers are wont to fancy. (As for why the physical universe is contingent, well, events are contingent and, as a first order of approximation, we take in the statistical regularities of distributions of events, on which the so-called laws of nature are, in turn, based, where locally, e.g. on earth, or universally, as far as we can detect background radiation. As for G-d being a necessary “entity”, if this is not a causal or metaphysical claim, I am not sure off hand what the word “necessary” would mean. I think religious believers view G-d as needful and as a Being to which they somehow relate.) The second category mistake was a failure to recognize any differentiation between types of validity claims, privileging solely that of cognitive truth, and the damaging and counterproductive effort, (from the standpoint of elucidating and understanding the matter and its stakes), to apply norms and criteria from one type of validity claim in the domain of completely different sorts of claims, which I was at pains to spell out, but which Ms. Benson refused to take up. At which point she claimed that the basis of her argumentative claim was epistemology, so that the ground shifted to the status, validity and authority of “epistemology”. So it emerged that her claim that religious perspectives, expressions and claims were essentially empty and nonsensical rested on the alleged authority of epistemology. Now understanding the limits of validity claims and thus understanding the basis of that validity precisely from its limits is basic to the fundamental intention of Kant, who seminally got this whole enterprise rolling, though perhaps something of this is a much older and more basic philosophical thought. But it turns out that one does not need to construct the whole conceptual apparatus of epistemology to accomplish this understanding: the constraints of human language and human finitude suffice to sustain such an understanding. This is where Wittgenstein supervenes upon and sublates Kant. Of course, one can choose to view religion as empty and nonsensical and I do not begrudge anyone such a choice, but there is no “necessity”, no “necessarily so”, in the matter- it is simply a choice for which one is responsible before the differing choices of others. Making plain that religion is a free existential choice, available to some, indifferent to others, without necessarily puffing up the matter of human choice in all the pretensions to human autonomy, is, I think, at the crux of the matter. This is what religious people need to be made to understand in their dealings with us secular folk and the secularized world, and perhaps vice versa.

Iknow this screed needs to be paragraphed, but I need to go out and fetch me some dinner now, so I will resume later.

205

john c. halasz 02.18.04 at 1:23 am

Well, the bad boy is awake again and returns to the underworld.

I will admit that flat Enlightenment, positivistic, militant atheism has always just bugged me, and I myself am more or less an atheist. I put myself in the odd position of defending the point of view of beliefs I personally do not hold, which is almost, but not quite, a deliberate assumption of bad faith. And I am surrounded on this thread by unbelievers, some of whom seem to take offense at religious matters- (“Blessed is he who taketh not offence in me”)- and others who are blythely ignorant of them. (I had thought initially Mr. Carone was writing from a religious believer’s perpsective, but was soon disabused of the notion; at any rate, to some extent I agreed with what he persisted in posting and any demurrals did not rate a dissent.) In my first post, I sought to make plain to the imaginative, semantic and rhetorical understanding of anyone who would bother to read it something of the nature and complexion of the point of view of religious believers, not as a matter of mere empathy, though religious believers are my fellow creatures as well as my fellow citizens, but as a matter of doing hermeneutic justice to the matter and its discussion, a maximal rather than a minimal ethics of “truth”. And I did this out of a sense of growing disturbance at the rise and currency of religious fundamentalism in politics and the public sphere,-(though religious fundamentalism is not the only reigning kind of fundamentalism)- and the damage it inflicts on any hope for a rational, progressive politics, however dim, which I believe to be in the interests of believers and unbelievers alike, with many of the former, I would take it, to be allies in such a project. (Unlike many on the secular left, I do have more of a communitarian than individualist bent, but that is a whole other tangle of issues. Being a communitarian on the internet is a bit like being a spider who constructs his web above a manure heap: one just sits there and collects far more libertarian flies than one could possibly digest.) Perhaps a citation of the moneylenders in the temple would be a propos here. (As I put it in a post that got destroyed by my computer freezing up last night- Ms. Benson sighs with relief and glee-: “Not only does religion need to be de-mythologized, as some purveyors of self-referential hooey put it, but it needs to be stripped of its ideological functionality, for the sake of religious believers, as well as the rest of us.”) I actually sensed that there was a latent consensus about the dangers and damages of religious fundamentalism and its politico-economic instrumentalization among the contributors to this thread and it is in this context that I took issue with Ms. Benson’s argument/intervention in the matter as injudicious, obtuse and wrong-headed. Positivistic militant atheism of the kind that Richard Dawkins routinely peddles partakes of the very literalism it attacks. (It is a bit like the dispute between Northern capitalists and Southern slave-owners over the Civil War: both were right about the other and wrong about themselves.) Recycling this sterile and outmoded polemic merely re-enforces the battle-lines, with all the attendant collateral casualties among the innocent between them, and compounds the problem rather than seeking out a dialogue aimed at reaching a real accomodation and modus vivendi between science and religion within the civic order and public-political realm, to which both have something of value to contribute and, at any rate, in which both will inevitably persist and intervene in that realm with their tangled and problematic relationship to it. It was perhaps because he sensed this that Gould chose to devote some of his little remaining time to writing a book intervening in the matter, however wanting its rhetoric and argument may be, though I haven’t read it. (Hannah Arendt once wrote a peculiarly wrong-headed essay about the Arkansas school crisis, in which she wondered why school children were being used as proxies in this fight- a foreigner’s misunderstanding-, but in which she made the fundamental point that any genuine politics involves “plurality”, which means that there will be opposed postions with a complexion and “integrity” of their own, which can not simply be suppressed by violent or coercive means, which would be, in her book, anti-politics). Religion and science are two profoundly different, perhaps incommensurable, modes of constructing being-in-the-world within the minds and immaginations of human communities and of exercising care and vigilance for that world and its human communities. They can and historically have come into conflict, but they do not of necessity do so. This is not fudging the issue, but rather recognizing the reality of the matter, without claiming to having a monopoly on the understanding of “reality”. Carefully distinguishing different types of validity claims and their spheres of applicability within an order of political and social rights is very much germane to the issue and is work that needs doing with respect to mediating and resolving such conflicts in both their valid and invalid manifestations. Why should religion have unique authority over matters of meaning and value? Well, the obvious answer is that it shouldn’t and doesn’t, but that questions of meaning are fundamental, questions of value are not negligible and that science itself has no competence per se on questions of value and only limited and specialized competence on questions of meaning. But certainly, conflicts over these matters can not be resolved by suppressing, de-legitimating or disqualifying the perspectives of religious believers from their social and political rights to participation in the public realm simply because their prejudices fail to accord with the prejudices of some others, which could only be inflammatory and counter-productive. It is a matter of establishing the boundary conditions of those rights and criticizing and adjudicating the usurpation of those boundary conditions, not quite an “epistemological” matter. (if anyone would wish to proffer a more specific and practical proposal on this matter, I would welcome it.) So, yes, Gould, whatever his inadequacies, is basically right and Dawkins is wrong-headed and foolish. Ms. Benson’s argument struck me as obtuse, because it rested on two basic category mistakes. The first one was noted in the original CT post: that G-D is not an empirical “entity” and no one involved in the matter takes it so, so arguments about unicorns are a bit beside the point. To take G-d as an empirical entity would, after all, amount to a regression to animism, not the sort of stuff believers are wont to fancy. (As for why the physical universe is contingent, well, events are contingent and, as a first order of approximation, we take in the statistical regularities of distributions of events, on which the so-called laws of nature are, in turn, based, where locally, e.g. on earth, or universally, as far as we can detect background radiation. As for G-d being a necessary “entity”, if this is not a causal or metaphysical claim, I am not sure off hand what the word “necessary” would mean. I think religious believers view G-d as needful and as a Being to which they somehow relate.) The second category mistake was a failure to recognize any differentiation between types of validity claims, privileging solely that of cognitive truth, and the damaging and counterproductive effort, (from the standpoint of elucidating and understanding the matter and its stakes), to apply norms and criteria from one type of validity claim in the domain of completely different sorts of claims, which I was at pains to spell out, but which Ms. Benson refused to take up. At which point she claimed that the basis of her argumentative claim was epistemology, so that the ground shifted to the status, validity and authority of “epistemology”. So it emerged that her claim that religious perspectives, expressions and claims were essentially empty and nonsensical rested on the alleged authority of epistemology. Now understanding the limits of validity claims and thus understanding the basis of that validity precisely from its limits is basic to the fundamental intention of Kant, who seminally got this whole enterprise rolling, though perhaps something of this is a much older and more basic philosophical thought. But it turns out that one does not need to construct the whole conceptual apparatus of epistemology to accomplish this understanding: the constraints of human language and human finitude suffice to sustain such an understanding. This is where Wittgenstein supervenes upon and sublates Kant. Of course, one can choose to view religion as empty and nonsensical and I do not begrudge anyone such a choice, but there is no “necessity”, no “necessarily so”, in the matter- it is simply a choice for which one is responsible before the differing choices of others. Making plain that religion is a free existential choice, available to some, indifferent to others, without necessarily puffing up the matter of human choice in all the pretensions to human autonomy, is, I think, at the crux of the matter. This is what religious people need to be made to understand in their dealings with us secular folk and the secularized world, and perhaps vice versa.

Iknow this screed needs to be paragraphed, but I need to go out and fetch me some dinner now, so I will resume later.

206

john c. halasz 02.18.04 at 1:25 am

Well, the bad boy is awake again and returns to the underworld.

I will admit that flat Enlightenment, positivistic, militant atheism has always just bugged me, and I myself am more or less an atheist. I put myself in the odd position of defending the point of view of beliefs I personally do not hold, which is almost, but not quite, a deliberate assumption of bad faith. And I am surrounded on this thread by unbelievers, some of whom seem to take offense at religious matters- (“Blessed is he who taketh not offence in me”)- and others who are blythely ignorant of them. (I had thought initially Mr. Carone was writing from a religious believer’s perpsective, but was soon disabused of the notion; at any rate, to some extent I agreed with what he persisted in posting and any demurrals did not rate a dissent.) In my first post, I sought to make plain to the imaginative, semantic and rhetorical understanding of anyone who would bother to read it something of the nature and complexion of the point of view of religious believers, not as a matter of mere empathy, though religious believers are my fellow creatures as well as my fellow citizens, but as a matter of doing hermeneutic justice to the matter and its discussion, a maximal rather than a minimal ethics of “truth”. And I did this out of a sense of growing disturbance at the rise and currency of religious fundamentalism in politics and the public sphere,-(though religious fundamentalism is not the only reigning kind of fundamentalism)- and the damage it inflicts on any hope for a rational, progressive politics, however dim, which I believe to be in the interests of believers and unbelievers alike, with many of the former, I would take it, to be allies in such a project. (Unlike many on the secular left, I do have more of a communitarian than individualist bent, but that is a whole other tangle of issues. Being a communitarian on the internet is a bit like being a spider who constructs his web above a manure heap: one just sits there and collects far more libertarian flies than one could possibly digest.) Perhaps a citation of the moneylenders in the temple would be a propos here. (As I put it in a post that got destroyed by my computer freezing up last night- Ms. Benson sighs with relief and glee-: “Not only does religion need to be de-mythologized, as some purveyors of self-referential hooey put it, but it needs to be stripped of its ideological functionality, for the sake of religious believers, as well as the rest of us.”) I actually sensed that there was a latent consensus about the dangers and damages of religious fundamentalism and its politico-economic instrumentalization among the contributors to this thread and it is in this context that I took issue with Ms. Benson’s argument/intervention in the matter as injudicious, obtuse and wrong-headed. Positivistic militant atheism of the kind that Richard Dawkins routinely peddles partakes of the very literalism it attacks. (It is a bit like the dispute between Northern capitalists and Southern slave-owners over the Civil War: both were right about the other and wrong about themselves.) Recycling this sterile and outmoded polemic merely re-enforces the battle-lines, with all the attendant collateral casualties among the innocent between them, and compounds the problem rather than seeking out a dialogue aimed at reaching a real accomodation and modus vivendi between science and religion within the civic order and public-political realm, to which both have something of value to contribute and, at any rate, in which both will inevitably persist and intervene in that realm with their tangled and problematic relationship to it. It was perhaps because he sensed this that Gould chose to devote some of his little remaining time to writing a book intervening in the matter, however wanting its rhetoric and argument may be, though I haven’t read it. (Hannah Arendt once wrote a peculiarly wrong-headed essay about the Arkansas school crisis, in which she wondered why school children were being used as proxies in this fight- a foreigner’s misunderstanding-, but in which she made the fundamental point that any genuine politics involves “plurality”, which means that there will be opposed postions with a complexion and “integrity” of their own, which can not simply be suppressed by violent or coercive means, which would be, in her book, anti-politics). Religion and science are two profoundly different, perhaps incommensurable, modes of constructing being-in-the-world within the minds and immaginations of human communities and of exercising care and vigilance for that world and its human communities. They can and historically have come into conflict, but they do not of necessity do so. This is not fudging the issue, but rather recognizing the reality of the matter, without claiming to having a monopoly on the understanding of “reality”. Carefully distinguishing different types of validity claims and their spheres of applicability within an order of political and social rights is very much germane to the issue and is work that needs doing with respect to mediating and resolving such conflicts in both their valid and invalid manifestations. Why should religion have unique authority over matters of meaning and value? Well, the obvious answer is that it shouldn’t and doesn’t, but that questions of meaning are fundamental, questions of value are not negligible and that science itself has no competence per se on questions of value and only limited and specialized competence on questions of meaning. But certainly, conflicts over these matters can not be resolved by suppressing, de-legitimating or disqualifying the perspectives of religious believers from their social and political rights to participation in the public realm simply because their prejudices fail to accord with the prejudices of some others, which could only be inflammatory and counter-productive. It is a matter of establishing the boundary conditions of those rights and criticizing and adjudicating the usurpation of those boundary conditions, not quite an “epistemological” matter. (if anyone would wish to proffer a more specific and practical proposal on this matter, I would welcome it.) So, yes, Gould, whatever his inadequacies, is basically right and Dawkins is wrong-headed and foolish. Ms. Benson’s argument struck me as obtuse, because it rested on two basic category mistakes. The first one was noted in the original CT post: that G-D is not an empirical “entity” and no one involved in the matter takes it so, so arguments about unicorns are a bit beside the point. To take G-d as an empirical entity would, after all, amount to a regression to animism, not the sort of stuff believers are wont to fancy. (As for why the physical universe is contingent, well, events are contingent and, as a first order of approximation, we take in the statistical regularities of distributions of events, on which the so-called laws of nature are, in turn, based, where locally, e.g. on earth, or universally, as far as we can detect background radiation. As for G-d being a necessary “entity”, if this is not a causal or metaphysical claim, I am not sure off hand what the word “necessary” would mean. I think religious believers view G-d as needful and as a Being to which they somehow relate.) The second category mistake was a failure to recognize any differentiation between types of validity claims, privileging solely that of cognitive truth, and the damaging and counterproductive effort, (from the standpoint of elucidating and understanding the matter and its stakes), to apply norms and criteria from one type of validity claim in the domain of completely different sorts of claims, which I was at pains to spell out, but which Ms. Benson refused to take up. At which point she claimed that the basis of her argumentative claim was epistemology, so that the ground shifted to the status, validity and authority of “epistemology”. So it emerged that her claim that religious perspectives, expressions and claims were essentially empty and nonsensical rested on the alleged authority of epistemology. Now understanding the limits of validity claims and thus understanding the basis of that validity precisely from its limits is basic to the fundamental intention of Kant, who seminally got this whole enterprise rolling, though perhaps something of this is a much older and more basic philosophical thought. But it turns out that one does not need to construct the whole conceptual apparatus of epistemology to accomplish this understanding: the constraints of human language and human finitude suffice to sustain such an understanding. This is where Wittgenstein supervenes upon and sublates Kant. Of course, one can choose to view religion as empty and nonsensical and I do not begrudge anyone such a choice, but there is no “necessity”, no “necessarily so”, in the matter- it is simply a choice for which one is responsible before the differing choices of others. Making plain that religion is a free existential choice, available to some, indifferent to others, without necessarily puffing up the matter of human choice in all the pretensions to human autonomy, is, I think, at the crux of the matter. This is what religious people need to be made to understand in their dealings with us secular folk and the secularized world, and perhaps vice versa.

Iknow this screed needs to be paragraphed, but I need to go out and fetch me some dinner now, so I will resume later.

207

john c. halasz 02.18.04 at 1:38 am

Well, the bad boy is awake again and returns to the underworld.

I will admit that flat Enlightenment, positivistic, militant atheism has always just bugged me, and I myself am more or less an atheist. I put myself in the odd position of defending the point of view of beliefs I personally do not hold, which is almost, but not quite, a deliberate assumption of bad faith. And I am surrounded on this thread by unbelievers, some of whom seem to take offense at religious matters- (“Blessed is he who taketh not offence in me”)- and others who are blythely ignorant of them. (I had thought initially Mr. Carone was writing from a religious believer’s perpsective, but was soon disabused of the notion; at any rate, to some extent I agreed with what he persisted in posting and any demurrals did not rate a dissent.) In my first post, I sought to make plain to the imaginative, semantic and rhetorical understanding of anyone who would bother to read it something of the nature and complexion of the point of view of religious believers, not as a matter of mere empathy, though religious believers are my fellow creatures as well as my fellow citizens, but as a matter of doing hermeneutic justice to the matter and its discussion, a maximal rather than a minimal ethics of “truth”. And I did this out of a sense of growing disturbance at the rise and currency of religious fundamentalism in politics and the public sphere,-(though religious fundamentalism is not the only reigning kind of fundamentalism)- and the damage it inflicts on any hope for a rational, progressive politics, however dim, which I believe to be in the interests of believers and unbelievers alike, with many of the former, I would take it, to be allies in such a project. (Unlike many on the secular left, I do have more of a communitarian than individualist bent, but that is a whole other tangle of issues. Being a communitarian on the internet is a bit like being a spider who constructs his web above a manure heap: one just sits there and collects far more libertarian flies than one could possibly digest.) Perhaps a citation of the moneylenders in the temple would be a propos here. (As I put it in a post that got destroyed by my computer freezing up last night- Ms. Benson sighs with relief and glee-: “Not only does religion need to be de-mythologized, as some purveyors of self-referential hooey put it, but it needs to be stripped of its ideological functionality, for the sake of religious believers, as well as the rest of us.”) I actually sensed that there was a latent consensus about the dangers and damages of religious fundamentalism and its politico-economic instrumentalization among the contributors to this thread and it is in this context that I took issue with Ms. Benson’s argument/intervention in the matter as injudicious, obtuse and wrong-headed. Positivistic militant atheism of the kind that Richard Dawkins routinely peddles partakes of the very literalism it attacks. (It is a bit like the dispute between Northern capitalists and Southern slave-owners over the Civil War: both were right about the other and wrong about themselves.) Recycling this sterile and outmoded polemic merely re-enforces the battle-lines, with all the attendant collateral casualties among the innocent between them, and compounds the problem rather than seeking out a dialogue aimed at reaching a real accomodation and modus vivendi between science and religion within the civic order and public-political realm, to which both have something of value to contribute and, at any rate, in which both will inevitably persist and intervene in that realm with their tangled and problematic relationship to it. It was perhaps because he sensed this that Gould chose to devote some of his little remaining time to writing a book intervening in the matter, however wanting its rhetoric and argument may be, though I haven’t read it. (Hannah Arendt once wrote a peculiarly wrong-headed essay about the Arkansas school crisis, in which she wondered why school children were being used as proxies in this fight- a foreigner’s misunderstanding-, but in which she made the fundamental point that any genuine politics involves “plurality”, which means that there will be opposed postions with a complexion and “integrity” of their own, which can not simply be suppressed by violent or coercive means, which would be, in her book, anti-politics). Religion and science are two profoundly different, perhaps incommensurable, modes of constructing being-in-the-world within the minds and immaginations of human communities and of exercising care and vigilance for that world and its human communities. They can and historically have come into conflict, but they do not of necessity do so. This is not fudging the issue, but rather recognizing the reality of the matter, without claiming to having a monopoly on the understanding of “reality”. Carefully distinguishing different types of validity claims and their spheres of applicability within an order of political and social rights is very much germane to the issue and is work that needs doing with respect to mediating and resolving such conflicts in both their valid and invalid manifestations. Why should religion have unique authority over matters of meaning and value? Well, the obvious answer is that it shouldn’t and doesn’t, but that questions of meaning are fundamental, questions of value are not negligible and that science itself has no competence per se on questions of value and only limited and specialized competence on questions of meaning. But certainly, conflicts over these matters can not be resolved by suppressing, de-legitimating or disqualifying the perspectives of religious believers from their social and political rights to participation in the public realm simply because their prejudices fail to accord with the prejudices of some others, which could only be inflammatory and counter-productive. It is a matter of establishing the boundary conditions of those rights and criticizing and adjudicating the usurpation of those boundary conditions, not quite an “epistemological” matter. (if anyone would wish to proffer a more specific and practical proposal on this matter, I would welcome it.) So, yes, Gould, whatever his inadequacies, is basically right and Dawkins is wrong-headed and foolish. Ms. Benson’s argument struck me as obtuse, because it rested on two basic category mistakes. The first one was noted in the original CT post: that G-D is not an empirical “entity” and no one involved in the matter takes it so, so arguments about unicorns are a bit beside the point. To take G-d as an empirical entity would, after all, amount to a regression to animism, not the sort of stuff believers are wont to fancy. (As for why the physical universe is contingent, well, events are contingent and, as a first order of approximation, we take in the statistical regularities of distributions of events, on which the so-called laws of nature are, in turn, based, where locally, e.g. on earth, or universally, as far as we can detect background radiation. As for G-d being a necessary “entity”, if this is not a causal or metaphysical claim, I am not sure off hand what the word “necessary” would mean. I think religious believers view G-d as needful and as a Being to which they somehow relate.) The second category mistake was a failure to recognize any differentiation between types of validity claims, privileging solely that of cognitive truth, and the damaging and counterproductive effort, (from the standpoint of elucidating and understanding the matter and its stakes), to apply norms and criteria from one type of validity claim in the domain of completely different sorts of claims, which I was at pains to spell out, but which Ms. Benson refused to take up. At which point she claimed that the basis of her argumentative claim was epistemology, so that the ground shifted to the status, validity and authority of “epistemology”. So it emerged that her claim that religious perspectives, expressions and claims were essentially empty and nonsensical rested on the alleged authority of epistemology. Now understanding the limits of validity claims and thus understanding the basis of that validity precisely from its limits is basic to the fundamental intention of Kant, who seminally got this whole enterprise rolling, though perhaps something of this is a much older and more basic philosophical thought. But it turns out that one does not need to construct the whole conceptual apparatus of epistemology to accomplish this understanding: the constraints of human language and human finitude suffice to sustain such an understanding. This is where Wittgenstein supervenes upon and sublates Kant. Of course, one can choose to view religion as empty and nonsensical and I do not begrudge anyone such a choice, but there is no “necessity”, no “necessarily so”, in the matter- it is simply a choice for which one is responsible before the differing choices of others. Making plain that religion is a free existential choice, available to some, indifferent to others, without necessarily puffing up the matter of human choice in all the pretensions to human autonomy, is, I think, at the crux of the matter. This is what religious people need to be made to understand in their dealings with us secular folk and the secularized world, and perhaps vice versa.

Iknow this screed needs to be paragraphed, but I need to go out and fetch me some dinner now, so I will resume later.

208

john c. halasz 02.18.04 at 1:39 am

Well, the bad boy is awake again and returns to the underworld.

I will admit that flat Enlightenment, positivistic, militant atheism has always just bugged me, and I myself am more or less an atheist. I put myself in the odd position of defending the point of view of beliefs I personally do not hold, which is almost, but not quite, a deliberate assumption of bad faith. And I am surrounded on this thread by unbelievers, some of whom seem to take offense at religious matters- (“Blessed is he who taketh not offence in me”)- and others who are blythely ignorant of them. (I had thought initially Mr. Carone was writing from a religious believer’s perpsective, but was soon disabused of the notion; at any rate, to some extent I agreed with what he persisted in posting and any demurrals did not rate a dissent.) In my first post, I sought to make plain to the imaginative, semantic and rhetorical understanding of anyone who would bother to read it something of the nature and complexion of the point of view of religious believers, not as a matter of mere empathy, though religious believers are my fellow creatures as well as my fellow citizens, but as a matter of doing hermeneutic justice to the matter and its discussion, a maximal rather than a minimal ethics of “truth”. And I did this out of a sense of growing disturbance at the rise and currency of religious fundamentalism in politics and the public sphere,-(though religious fundamentalism is not the only reigning kind of fundamentalism)- and the damage it inflicts on any hope for a rational, progressive politics, however dim, which I believe to be in the interests of believers and unbelievers alike, with many of the former, I would take it, to be allies in such a project. (Unlike many on the secular left, I do have more of a communitarian than individualist bent, but that is a whole other tangle of issues. Being a communitarian on the internet is a bit like being a spider who constructs his web above a manure heap: one just sits there and collects far more libertarian flies than one could possibly digest.) Perhaps a citation of the moneylenders in the temple would be a propos here. (As I put it in a post that got destroyed by my computer freezing up last night- Ms. Benson sighs with relief and glee-: “Not only does religion need to be de-mythologized, as some purveyors of self-referential hooey put it, but it needs to be stripped of its ideological functionality, for the sake of religious believers, as well as the rest of us.”) I actually sensed that there was a latent consensus about the dangers and damages of religious fundamentalism and its politico-economic instrumentalization among the contributors to this thread and it is in this context that I took issue with Ms. Benson’s argument/intervention in the matter as injudicious, obtuse and wrong-headed. Positivistic militant atheism of the kind that Richard Dawkins routinely peddles partakes of the very literalism it attacks. (It is a bit like the dispute between Northern capitalists and Southern slave-owners over the Civil War: both were right about the other and wrong about themselves.) Recycling this sterile and outmoded polemic merely re-enforces the battle-lines, with all the attendant collateral casualties among the innocent between them, and compounds the problem rather than seeking out a dialogue aimed at reaching a real accomodation and modus vivendi between science and religion within the civic order and public-political realm, to which both have something of value to contribute and, at any rate, in which both will inevitably persist and intervene in that realm with their tangled and problematic relationship to it. It was perhaps because he sensed this that Gould chose to devote some of his little remaining time to writing a book intervening in the matter, however wanting its rhetoric and argument may be, though I haven’t read it. (Hannah Arendt once wrote a peculiarly wrong-headed essay about the Arkansas school crisis, in which she wondered why school children were being used as proxies in this fight- a foreigner’s misunderstanding-, but in which she made the fundamental point that any genuine politics involves “plurality”, which means that there will be opposed postions with a complexion and “integrity” of their own, which can not simply be suppressed by violent or coercive means, which would be, in her book, anti-politics). Religion and science are two profoundly different, perhaps incommensurable, modes of constructing being-in-the-world within the minds and immaginations of human communities and of exercising care and vigilance for that world and its human communities. They can and historically have come into conflict, but they do not of necessity do so. This is not fudging the issue, but rather recognizing the reality of the matter, without claiming to having a monopoly on the understanding of “reality”. Carefully distinguishing different types of validity claims and their spheres of applicability within an order of political and social rights is very much germane to the issue and is work that needs doing with respect to mediating and resolving such conflicts in both their valid and invalid manifestations. Why should religion have unique authority over matters of meaning and value? Well, the obvious answer is that it shouldn’t and doesn’t, but that questions of meaning are fundamental, questions of value are not negligible and that science itself has no competence per se on questions of value and only limited and specialized competence on questions of meaning. But certainly, conflicts over these matters can not be resolved by suppressing, de-legitimating or disqualifying the perspectives of religious believers from their social and political rights to participation in the public realm simply because their prejudices fail to accord with the prejudices of some others, which could only be inflammatory and counter-productive. It is a matter of establishing the boundary conditions of those rights and criticizing and adjudicating the usurpation of those boundary conditions, not quite an “epistemological” matter. (if anyone would wish to proffer a more specific and practical proposal on this matter, I would welcome it.) So, yes, Gould, whatever his inadequacies, is basically right and Dawkins is wrong-headed and foolish. Ms. Benson’s argument struck me as obtuse, because it rested on two basic category mistakes. The first one was noted in the original CT post: that G-D is not an empirical “entity” and no one involved in the matter takes it so, so arguments about unicorns are a bit beside the point. To take G-d as an empirical entity would, after all, amount to a regression to animism, not the sort of stuff believers are wont to fancy. (As for why the physical universe is contingent, well, events are contingent and, as a first order of approximation, we take in the statistical regularities of distributions of events, on which the so-called laws of nature are, in turn, based, where locally, e.g. on earth, or universally, as far as we can detect background radiation. As for G-d being a necessary “entity”, if this is not a causal or metaphysical claim, I am not sure off hand what the word “necessary” would mean. I think religious believers view G-d as needful and as a Being to which they somehow relate.) The second category mistake was a failure to recognize any differentiation between types of validity claims, privileging solely that of cognitive truth, and the damaging and counterproductive effort, (from the standpoint of elucidating and understanding the matter and its stakes), to apply norms and criteria from one type of validity claim in the domain of completely different sorts of claims, which I was at pains to spell out, but which Ms. Benson refused to take up. At which point she claimed that the basis of her argumentative claim was epistemology, so that the ground shifted to the status, validity and authority of “epistemology”. So it emerged that her claim that religious perspectives, expressions and claims were essentially empty and nonsensical rested on the alleged authority of epistemology. Now understanding the limits of validity claims and thus understanding the basis of that validity precisely from its limits is basic to the fundamental intention of Kant, who seminally got this whole enterprise rolling, though perhaps something of this is a much older and more basic philosophical thought. But it turns out that one does not need to construct the whole conceptual apparatus of epistemology to accomplish this understanding: the constraints of human language and human finitude suffice to sustain such an understanding. This is where Wittgenstein supervenes upon and sublates Kant. Of course, one can choose to view religion as empty and nonsensical and I do not begrudge anyone such a choice, but there is no “necessity”, no “necessarily so”, in the matter- it is simply a choice for which one is responsible before the differing choices of others. Making plain that religion is a free existential choice, available to some, indifferent to others, without necessarily puffing up the matter of human choice in all the pretensions to human autonomy, is, I think, at the crux of the matter. This is what religious people need to be made to understand in their dealings with us secular folk and the secularized world, and perhaps vice versa.

Iknow this screed needs to be paragraphed, but I need to go out and fetch me some dinner now, so I will resume later.

209

john c. halasz 02.18.04 at 2:03 am

Well, the bad boy is awake again and returns to the underworld.

I will admit that flat Enlightenment, positivistic, militant atheism has always just bugged me, and I myself am more or less an atheist. I put myself in the odd position of defending the point of view of beliefs I personally do not hold, which is almost, but not quite, a deliberate assumption of bad faith. And I am surrounded on this thread by unbelievers, some of whom seem to take offense at religious matters- (“Blessed is he who taketh not offence in me”)- and others who are blythely ignorant of them. (I had thought initially Mr. Carone was writing from a religious believer’s perpsective, but was soon disabused of the notion; at any rate, to some extent I agreed with what he persisted in posting and any demurrals did not rate a dissent.) In my first post, I sought to make plain to the imaginative, semantic and rhetorical understanding of anyone who would bother to read it something of the nature and complexion of the point of view of religious believers, not as a matter of mere empathy, though religious believers are my fellow creatures as well as my fellow citizens, but as a matter of doing hermeneutic justice to the matter and its discussion, a maximal rather than a minimal ethics of “truth”. And I did this out of a sense of growing disturbance at the rise and currency of religious fundamentalism in politics and the public sphere,-(though religious fundamentalism is not the only reigning kind of fundamentalism)- and the damage it inflicts on any hope for a rational, progressive politics, however dim, which I believe to be in the interests of believers and unbelievers alike, with many of the former, I would take it, to be allies in such a project. (Unlike many on the secular left, I do have more of a communitarian than individualist bent, but that is a whole other tangle of issues. Being a communitarian on the internet is a bit like being a spider who constructs his web above a manure heap: one just sits there and collects far more libertarian flies than one could possibly digest.) Perhaps a citation of the moneylenders in the temple would be a propos here. (As I put it in a post that got destroyed by my computer freezing up last night- Ms. Benson sighs with relief and glee-: “Not only does religion need to be de-mythologized, as some purveyors of self-referential hooey put it, but it needs to be stripped of its ideological functionality, for the sake of religious believers, as well as the rest of us.”) I actually sensed that there was a latent consensus about the dangers and damages of religious fundamentalism and its politico-economic instrumentalization among the contributors to this thread and it is in this context that I took issue with Ms. Benson’s argument/intervention in the matter as injudicious, obtuse and wrong-headed. Positivistic militant atheism of the kind that Richard Dawkins routinely peddles partakes of the very literalism it attacks. (It is a bit like the dispute between Northern capitalists and Southern slave-owners over the Civil War: both were right about the other and wrong about themselves.) Recycling this sterile and outmoded polemic merely re-enforces the battle-lines, with all the attendant collateral casualties among the innocent between them, and compounds the problem rather than seeking out a dialogue aimed at reaching a real accomodation and modus vivendi between science and religion within the civic order and public-political realm, to which both have something of value to contribute and, at any rate, in which both will inevitably persist and intervene in that realm with their tangled and problematic relationship to it. It was perhaps because he sensed this that Gould chose to devote some of his little remaining time to writing a book intervening in the matter, however wanting its rhetoric and argument may be, though I haven’t read it. (Hannah Arendt once wrote a peculiarly wrong-headed essay about the Arkansas school crisis, in which she wondered why school children were being used as proxies in this fight- a foreigner’s misunderstanding-, but in which she made the fundamental point that any genuine politics involves “plurality”, which means that there will be opposed postions with a complexion and “integrity” of their own, which can not simply be suppressed by violent or coercive means, which would be, in her book, anti-politics). Religion and science are two profoundly different, perhaps incommensurable, modes of constructing being-in-the-world within the minds and immaginations of human communities and of exercising care and vigilance for that world and its human communities. They can and historically have come into conflict, but they do not of necessity do so. This is not fudging the issue, but rather recognizing the reality of the matter, without claiming to having a monopoly on the understanding of “reality”. Carefully distinguishing different types of validity claims and their spheres of applicability within an order of political and social rights is very much germane to the issue and is work that needs doing with respect to mediating and resolving such conflicts in both their valid and invalid manifestations. Why should religion have unique authority over matters of meaning and value? Well, the obvious answer is that it shouldn’t and doesn’t, but that questions of meaning are fundamental, questions of value are not negligible and that science itself has no competence per se on questions of value and only limited and specialized competence on questions of meaning. But certainly, conflicts over these matters can not be resolved by suppressing, de-legitimating or disqualifying the perspectives of religious believers from their social and political rights to participation in the public realm simply because their prejudices fail to accord with the prejudices of some others, which could only be inflammatory and counter-productive. It is a matter of establishing the boundary conditions of those rights and criticizing and adjudicating the usurpation of those boundary conditions, not quite an “epistemological” matter. (if anyone would wish to proffer a more specific and practical proposal on this matter, I would welcome it.) So, yes, Gould, whatever his inadequacies, is basically right and Dawkins is wrong-headed and foolish. Ms. Benson’s argument struck me as obtuse, because it rested on two basic category mistakes. The first one was noted in the original CT post: that G-D is not an empirical “entity” and no one involved in the matter takes it so, so arguments about unicorns are a bit beside the point. To take G-d as an empirical entity would, after all, amount to a regression to animism, not the sort of stuff believers are wont to fancy. (As for why the physical universe is contingent, well, events are contingent and, as a first order of approximation, we take in the statistical regularities of distributions of events, on which the so-called laws of nature are, in turn, based, where locally, e.g. on earth, or universally, as far as we can detect background radiation. As for G-d being a necessary “entity”, if this is not a causal or metaphysical claim, I am not sure off hand what the word “necessary” would mean. I think religious believers view G-d as needful and as a Being to which they somehow relate.) The second category mistake was a failure to recognize any differentiation between types of validity claims, privileging solely that of cognitive truth, and the damaging and counterproductive effort, (from the standpoint of elucidating and understanding the matter and its stakes), to apply norms and criteria from one type of validity claim in the domain of completely different sorts of claims, which I was at pains to spell out, but which Ms. Benson refused to take up. At which point she claimed that the basis of her argumentative claim was epistemology, so that the ground shifted to the status, validity and authority of “epistemology”. So it emerged that her claim that religious perspectives, expressions and claims were essentially empty and nonsensical rested on the alleged authority of epistemology. Now understanding the limits of validity claims and thus understanding the basis of that validity precisely from its limits is basic to the fundamental intention of Kant, who seminally got this whole enterprise rolling, though perhaps something of this is a much older and more basic philosophical thought. But it turns out that one does not need to construct the whole conceptual apparatus of epistemology to accomplish this understanding: the constraints of human language and human finitude suffice to sustain such an understanding. This is where Wittgenstein supervenes upon and sublates Kant. Of course, one can choose to view religion as empty and nonsensical and I do not begrudge anyone such a choice, but there is no “necessity”, no “necessarily so”, in the matter- it is simply a choice for which one is responsible before the differing choices of others. Making plain that religion is a free existential choice, available to some, indifferent to others, without necessarily puffing up the matter of human choice in all the pretensions to human autonomy, is, I think, at the crux of the matter. This is what religious people need to be made to understand in their dealings with us secular folk and the secularized world, and perhaps vice versa.

Iknow this screed needs to be paragraphed, but I need to go out and fetch me some dinner now, so I will resume later.

210

john c. halasz 02.18.04 at 2:17 am

Well, the bad boy is awake again and returns to the underworld.

I will admit that flat Enlightenment, positivistic, militant atheism has always just bugged me, and I myself am more or less an atheist. I put myself in the odd position of defending the point of view of beliefs I personally do not hold, which is almost, but not quite, a deliberate assumption of bad faith. And I am surrounded on this thread by unbelievers, some of whom seem to take offense at religious matters- (“Blessed is he who taketh not offence in me”)- and others who are blythely ignorant of them. (I had thought initially Mr. Carone was writing from a religious believer’s perpsective, but was soon disabused of the notion; at any rate, to some extent I agreed with what he persisted in posting and any demurrals did not rate a dissent.) In my first post, I sought to make plain to the imaginative, semantic and rhetorical understanding of anyone who would bother to read it something of the nature and complexion of the point of view of religious believers, not as a matter of mere empathy, though religious believers are my fellow creatures as well as my fellow citizens, but as a matter of doing hermeneutic justice to the matter and its discussion, a maximal rather than a minimal ethics of “truth”. And I did this out of a sense of growing disturbance at the rise and currency of religious fundamentalism in politics and the public sphere,-(though religious fundamentalism is not the only reigning kind of fundamentalism)- and the damage it inflicts on any hope for a rational, progressive politics, however dim, which I believe to be in the interests of believers and unbelievers alike, with many of the former, I would take it, to be allies in such a project. (Unlike many on the secular left, I do have more of a communitarian than individualist bent, but that is a whole other tangle of issues. Being a communitarian on the internet is a bit like being a spider who constructs his web above a manure heap: one just sits there and collects far more libertarian flies than one could possibly digest.) Perhaps a citation of the moneylenders in the temple would be a propos here. (As I put it in a post that got destroyed by my computer freezing up last night- Ms. Benson sighs with relief and glee-: “Not only does religion need to be de-mythologized, as some purveyors of self-referential hooey put it, but it needs to be stripped of its ideological functionality, for the sake of religious believers, as well as the rest of us.”) I actually sensed that there was a latent consensus about the dangers and damages of religious fundamentalism and its politico-economic instrumentalization among the contributors to this thread and it is in this context that I took issue with Ms. Benson’s argument/intervention in the matter as injudicious, obtuse and wrong-headed. Positivistic militant atheism of the kind that Richard Dawkins routinely peddles partakes of the very literalism it attacks. (It is a bit like the dispute between Northern capitalists and Southern slave-owners over the Civil War: both were right about the other and wrong about themselves.) Recycling this sterile and outmoded polemic merely re-enforces the battle-lines, with all the attendant collateral casualties among the innocent between them, and compounds the problem rather than seeking out a dialogue aimed at reaching a real accomodation and modus vivendi between science and religion within the civic order and public-political realm, to which both have something of value to contribute and, at any rate, in which both will inevitably persist and intervene in that realm with their tangled and problematic relationship to it. It was perhaps because he sensed this that Gould chose to devote some of his little remaining time to writing a book intervening in the matter, however wanting its rhetoric and argument may be, though I haven’t read it. (Hannah Arendt once wrote a peculiarly wrong-headed essay about the Arkansas school crisis, in which she wondered why school children were being used as proxies in this fight- a foreigner’s misunderstanding-, but in which she made the fundamental point that any genuine politics involves “plurality”, which means that there will be opposed postions with a complexion and “integrity” of their own, which can not simply be suppressed by violent or coercive means, which would be, in her book, anti-politics). Religion and science are two profoundly different, perhaps incommensurable, modes of constructing being-in-the-world within the minds and immaginations of human communities and of exercising care and vigilance for that world and its human communities. They can and historically have come into conflict, but they do not of necessity do so. This is not fudging the issue, but rather recognizing the reality of the matter, without claiming to having a monopoly on the understanding of “reality”. Carefully distinguishing different types of validity claims and their spheres of applicability within an order of political and social rights is very much germane to the issue and is work that needs doing with respect to mediating and resolving such conflicts in both their valid and invalid manifestations. Why should religion have unique authority over matters of meaning and value? Well, the obvious answer is that it shouldn’t and doesn’t, but that questions of meaning are fundamental, questions of value are not negligible and that science itself has no competence per se on questions of value and only limited and specialized competence on questions of meaning. But certainly, conflicts over these matters can not be resolved by suppressing, de-legitimating or disqualifying the perspectives of religious believers from their social and political rights to participation in the public realm simply because their prejudices fail to accord with the prejudices of some others, which could only be inflammatory and counter-productive. It is a matter of establishing the boundary conditions of those rights and criticizing and adjudicating the usurpation of those boundary conditions, not quite an “epistemological” matter. (if anyone would wish to proffer a more specific and practical proposal on this matter, I would welcome it.) So, yes, Gould, whatever his inadequacies, is basically right and Dawkins is wrong-headed and foolish. Ms. Benson’s argument struck me as obtuse, because it rested on two basic category mistakes. The first one was noted in the original CT post: that G-D is not an empirical “entity” and no one involved in the matter takes it so, so arguments about unicorns are a bit beside the point. To take G-d as an empirical entity would, after all, amount to a regression to animism, not the sort of stuff believers are wont to fancy. (As for why the physical universe is contingent, well, events are contingent and, as a first order of approximation, we take in the statistical regularities of distributions of events, on which the so-called laws of nature are, in turn, based, where locally, e.g. on earth, or universally, as far as we can detect background radiation. As for G-d being a necessary “entity”, if this is not a causal or metaphysical claim, I am not sure off hand what the word “necessary” would mean. I think religious believers view G-d as needful and as a Being to which they somehow relate.) The second category mistake was a failure to recognize any differentiation between types of validity claims, privileging solely that of cognitive truth, and the damaging and counterproductive effort, (from the standpoint of elucidating and understanding the matter and its stakes), to apply norms and criteria from one type of validity claim in the domain of completely different sorts of claims, which I was at pains to spell out, but which Ms. Benson refused to take up. At which point she claimed that the basis of her argumentative claim was epistemology, so that the ground shifted to the status, validity and authority of “epistemology”. So it emerged that her claim that religious perspectives, expressions and claims were essentially empty and nonsensical rested on the alleged authority of epistemology. Now understanding the limits of validity claims and thus understanding the basis of that validity precisely from its limits is basic to the fundamental intention of Kant, who seminally got this whole enterprise rolling, though perhaps something of this is a much older and more basic philosophical thought. But it turns out that one does not need to construct the whole conceptual apparatus of epistemology to accomplish this understanding: the constraints of human language and human finitude suffice to sustain such an understanding. This is where Wittgenstein supervenes upon and sublates Kant. Of course, one can choose to view religion as empty and nonsensical and I do not begrudge anyone such a choice, but there is no “necessity”, no “necessarily so”, in the matter- it is simply a choice for which one is responsible before the differing choices of others. Making plain that religion is a free existential choice, available to some, indifferent to others, without necessarily puffing up the matter of human choice in all the pretensions to human autonomy, is, I think, at the crux of the matter. This is what religious people need to be made to understand in their dealings with us secular folk and the secularized world, and perhaps vice versa.

Iknow this screed needs to be paragraphed, but I need to go out and fetch me some dinner now, so I will resume later.

211

john c. halasz 02.18.04 at 2:17 am

Well, the bad boy is awake again and returns to the underworld.

I will admit that flat Enlightenment, positivistic, militant atheism has always just bugged me, and I myself am more or less an atheist. I put myself in the odd position of defending the point of view of beliefs I personally do not hold, which is almost, but not quite, a deliberate assumption of bad faith. And I am surrounded on this thread by unbelievers, some of whom seem to take offense at religious matters- (“Blessed is he who taketh not offence in me”)- and others who are blythely ignorant of them. (I had thought initially Mr. Carone was writing from a religious believer’s perpsective, but was soon disabused of the notion; at any rate, to some extent I agreed with what he persisted in posting and any demurrals did not rate a dissent.) In my first post, I sought to make plain to the imaginative, semantic and rhetorical understanding of anyone who would bother to read it something of the nature and complexion of the point of view of religious believers, not as a matter of mere empathy, though religious believers are my fellow creatures as well as my fellow citizens, but as a matter of doing hermeneutic justice to the matter and its discussion, a maximal rather than a minimal ethics of “truth”. And I did this out of a sense of growing disturbance at the rise and currency of religious fundamentalism in politics and the public sphere,-(though religious fundamentalism is not the only reigning kind of fundamentalism)- and the damage it inflicts on any hope for a rational, progressive politics, however dim, which I believe to be in the interests of believers and unbelievers alike, with many of the former, I would take it, to be allies in such a project. (Unlike many on the secular left, I do have more of a communitarian than individualist bent, but that is a whole other tangle of issues. Being a communitarian on the internet is a bit like being a spider who constructs his web above a manure heap: one just sits there and collects far more libertarian flies than one could possibly digest.) Perhaps a citation of the moneylenders in the temple would be a propos here. (As I put it in a post that got destroyed by my computer freezing up last night- Ms. Benson sighs with relief and glee-: “Not only does religion need to be de-mythologized, as some purveyors of self-referential hooey put it, but it needs to be stripped of its ideological functionality, for the sake of religious believers, as well as the rest of us.”) I actually sensed that there was a latent consensus about the dangers and damages of religious fundamentalism and its politico-economic instrumentalization among the contributors to this thread and it is in this context that I took issue with Ms. Benson’s argument/intervention in the matter as injudicious, obtuse and wrong-headed. Positivistic militant atheism of the kind that Richard Dawkins routinely peddles partakes of the very literalism it attacks. (It is a bit like the dispute between Northern capitalists and Southern slave-owners over the Civil War: both were right about the other and wrong about themselves.) Recycling this sterile and outmoded polemic merely re-enforces the battle-lines, with all the attendant collateral casualties among the innocent between them, and compounds the problem rather than seeking out a dialogue aimed at reaching a real accomodation and modus vivendi between science and religion within the civic order and public-political realm, to which both have something of value to contribute and, at any rate, in which both will inevitably persist and intervene in that realm with their tangled and problematic relationship to it. It was perhaps because he sensed this that Gould chose to devote some of his little remaining time to writing a book intervening in the matter, however wanting its rhetoric and argument may be, though I haven’t read it. (Hannah Arendt once wrote a peculiarly wrong-headed essay about the Arkansas school crisis, in which she wondered why school children were being used as proxies in this fight- a foreigner’s misunderstanding-, but in which she made the fundamental point that any genuine politics involves “plurality”, which means that there will be opposed postions with a complexion and “integrity” of their own, which can not simply be suppressed by violent or coercive means, which would be, in her book, anti-politics). Religion and science are two profoundly different, perhaps incommensurable, modes of constructing being-in-the-world within the minds and immaginations of human communities and of exercising care and vigilance for that world and its human communities. They can and historically have come into conflict, but they do not of necessity do so. This is not fudging the issue, but rather recognizing the reality of the matter, without claiming to having a monopoly on the understanding of “reality”. Carefully distinguishing different types of validity claims and their spheres of applicability within an order of political and social rights is very much germane to the issue and is work that needs doing with respect to mediating and resolving such conflicts in both their valid and invalid manifestations. Why should religion have unique authority over matters of meaning and value? Well, the obvious answer is that it shouldn’t and doesn’t, but that questions of meaning are fundamental, questions of value are not negligible and that science itself has no competence per se on questions of value and only limited and specialized competence on questions of meaning. But certainly, conflicts over these matters can not be resolved by suppressing, de-legitimating or disqualifying the perspectives of religious believers from their social and political rights to participation in the public realm simply because their prejudices fail to accord with the prejudices of some others, which could only be inflammatory and counter-productive. It is a matter of establishing the boundary conditions of those rights and criticizing and adjudicating the usurpation of those boundary conditions, not quite an “epistemological” matter. (if anyone would wish to proffer a more specific and practical proposal on this matter, I would welcome it.) So, yes, Gould, whatever his inadequacies, is basically right and Dawkins is wrong-headed and foolish. Ms. Benson’s argument struck me as obtuse, because it rested on two basic category mistakes. The first one was noted in the original CT post: that G-D is not an empirical “entity” and no one involved in the matter takes it so, so arguments about unicorns are a bit beside the point. To take G-d as an empirical entity would, after all, amount to a regression to animism, not the sort of stuff believers are wont to fancy. (As for why the physical universe is contingent, well, events are contingent and, as a first order of approximation, we take in the statistical regularities of distributions of events, on which the so-called laws of nature are, in turn, based, where locally, e.g. on earth, or universally, as far as we can detect background radiation. As for G-d being a necessary “entity”, if this is not a causal or metaphysical claim, I am not sure off hand what the word “necessary” would mean. I think religious believers view G-d as needful and as a Being to which they somehow relate.) The second category mistake was a failure to recognize any differentiation between types of validity claims, privileging solely that of cognitive truth, and the damaging and counterproductive effort, (from the standpoint of elucidating and understanding the matter and its stakes), to apply norms and criteria from one type of validity claim in the domain of completely different sorts of claims, which I was at pains to spell out, but which Ms. Benson refused to take up. At which point she claimed that the basis of her argumentative claim was epistemology, so that the ground shifted to the status, validity and authority of “epistemology”. So it emerged that her claim that religious perspectives, expressions and claims were essentially empty and nonsensical rested on the alleged authority of epistemology. Now understanding the limits of validity claims and thus understanding the basis of that validity precisely from its limits is basic to the fundamental intention of Kant, who seminally got this whole enterprise rolling, though perhaps something of this is a much older and more basic philosophical thought. But it turns out that one does not need to construct the whole conceptual apparatus of epistemology to accomplish this understanding: the constraints of human language and human finitude suffice to sustain such an understanding. This is where Wittgenstein supervenes upon and sublates Kant. Of course, one can choose to view religion as empty and nonsensical and I do not begrudge anyone such a choice, but there is no “necessity”, no “necessarily so”, in the matter- it is simply a choice for which one is responsible before the differing choices of others. Making plain that religion is a free existential choice, available to some, indifferent to others, without necessarily puffing up the matter of human choice in all the pretensions to human autonomy, is, I think, at the crux of the matter. This is what religious people need to be made to understand in their dealings with us secular folk and the secularized world, and perhaps vice versa.

Iknow this screed needs to be paragraphed, but I need to go out and fetch me some dinner now, so I will resume later.

212

Keith M Ellis 02.18.04 at 4:03 am

that G-D is not an empirical “entity” and no one involved in the matter takes it so, so arguments about unicorns are a bit beside the point. To take G-d as an empirical entity would, after all, amount to a regression to animism, not the sort of stuff believers are wont to fancy.—John Halasz

This is simply false. If you think that to the average theist God is necessarily not an “empirical entity”, you are wildly, remarkably out of touch with what believers actually believe.

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john c. halasz 02.18.04 at 10:09 am

Well, I’ll be damned, literally! I posted hours ago and got back a series of “template error” messages, gave up, transferred the post to MS Word, found the cut and paste option was precluded, had to delete some hundreds of messages, and just checked back to see someone else’s wording, and now I find out I’ve posted by accident multiple times. Apologies for that.

Well, as to that last comment by Keith M. Ellis, I do not “know” what the “average” “theist” believes. I do not know any average people, only mediocre ones, amongst which I count myself one. I was supposed to have been brought up Roman Catholic, but it didn’t take with any of us 4 kids and I was the youngest, so it was collapsed almost before it could be taken in. To this day, I don’t know what Daddy believes or believed, except that it was highly split, expert only in calling others’ beliefs into question, as per the Church Militant, and largely a matter of narcissistic defense, bad faith, in other words. But actually, I come from 3/4 Calvinist ancestry and I tend in that direction, as may be at times evinced. So I perhaps lack exactly your antecdotal basis and and its contact with “in touch” reality. But I do dimly and inexpertly know that that is what Christian believers are doctrinally enjoined to believe- hence the animism comment. These traditions, after all, emerged and developed centuries ago amidst millenial conflicts of flesh and soul and spirit and, however nonrational they may seem to us secularized moderns, they do have a complexion and coherence of their own. As for actual, empirical “beliefs” nowdays, its an Emersonian free-for-all and nightmare. There are people who “believe” in astrology, or UFO abductions or Saddam’s WMD. For the sake of a basis in reasonable discussion, let alone sanity, I think it best to confine ourselves to at least broadly warranted beliefs, however merely conventionalistic such a criterion may end up being.

Actually, I did post a while back on St. Anselm’s proof, saying that it was intended more in a hortatory and heuristic sense, differentiating and relating levels and kinds of belief, rather than as logically dispositive. I think I began the post: “Well, I’ll be a talking parrot.” But it got lost when my computer froze up just after I hit “preview”. I also made some comments about Searles. I think you and I have locked antlers once or twice before and clearly we do not think alike, but there are no hard feelings on my part. So I think that accusation of “simply false”, as per your own declared epistemology is in need of some amendment. (And who is being emotional now?)

Actually, I think on this thread there has been some degree of latent paranoia, inspite of its avowedly rationalistic veneer, about religious believers and their beliefs, together with a refusal on the part of some to distinguish between genuine and reasonably intelligent believers, (who do struggle with their received or imposed orthodoxies and its impassibilities, though for many such there are better things to waste their anxieties upon)- admittedly a speculative proposition amongst us unbelievers- and the fear of the unruly mob- a classic bourgeois fear. Certainly, most all believers transact their affairs in a real, material world and raise ordinary cognitive validity claims in transacting their affairs very much as the rest of us do. And there is a large capacity, as Bill Carone has oddly been at pains to spell out, for extending such an acknowledgement of physical and material reality quite far afield, under the guise of “Christian Realism”. How else would Christian tradition have survived unto the present day, inspite of its impasses and atrocities? And do we really think that present-day religion is even more decadent than everything else? To be sure, in some fundamentalist manifestations, especially when politically mobilized, there is a level of resentment and malice that no religion can cure, least of all their own. But, lapsed Calvinist that I am, I ask, is anyone entirely immune from such aboriginal iniquity? Is such blessedness possible or is that equally an imaginary belief? And how do you all propose to allieviate this burden that is, if we are to be at all “authentic”, upon us?

Now I want to finish off my last self-perceived item of business with Ophelia Benson:

Yes, in that hurried, unfortunate post I did use the word “friends” for “lots of people” you know, whom you work with and edit, your milieu. I was drawing on memory rather than directly quoting, a lesson in technical procedure for me. But is the assumption that you would draw your friends, at least in part and in the loose American usage of the word, from your milieu all that much of a stretch? You live and work amongst like-minded souls, no? (So much for ditch-digging.) But the quote I did back track to find involved the claims that “epistomology” is central to your work- hence personal investment- and that it was central to most, if not all, issues embroiling the public realm, a large claim, indeed. This is not a matter of mere fact and in your last response you simply backtracked and evaded the issue. Now I am not familiar with the work of your colleagues, not “friends”, but, from my vantage point either they are doing epistemology as an antiquarian academic exercize, similarly to continuing to do scholastic theology,- and I know that academia provides opportunities for such, especially academic analytic philosophy- or they are doing the philosophy and history of science, a valid, valuable and informative ongoing enterprise, at least, in the hands of some of its practioners, or they are engaging in “cognitive science”, much of which, in my view, would largely amount to aself-referentially scientistic continuation of epistemology by other means. I simply put to you the same question I put to Laon: what do your special epistemological reasons add to your cognitive validity claims that is not already contained in the reasons and evidences by which you actually hold them? If you can not reasonably answer this question, then I would submit to you that “epistemology” is simply a name for a deflated, if historically influential, pretence.

Back to Keith:

I am not a pragmatist. In fact, I am something of a partisan of the lost Aristotelean distinction between theoretical and practical reason and I think that matters of religion are primarily to be argued on the level of practical reason. Since you did Great Books at St. John’s, I trust you know something of this. But in regard to your epistemological comment, I would quickly ask two questions. Do you really think that language can be so operationalized so as to meet the requirements of your proposal, since any language, no matter how formalized- (and at the far reaches of science this is excruciatingly difficult)- must meet requirements of translatability so as to be understood. And secondly, doesn’t your pre-occupation with epistemology contain something of a speculative hankering that no established body of knowledge, nor any epistemological theory could fulfill?

Enthymeme:

No, religious people do not have, nor necessarily experience, a burden of proof about their unrestrictedly existential belief in G-d. For them it is a matter of faith. The injunction upon them is to bear witness, to testify. It is how they sometimes do this that is the trouble with them.

Msg:

thoroughly conventionalistic deep ecology rapper friend:

I do not understand your point about the biological imperative for human society. Are you proposing a return to the wild? Is this some sort of Schopenhauerian denial of the will, retracting the principle of individuation? Is this a referencing of Foucaultian “bio-power”? I am aware of the gathering threat of ecological catastrophe, the probability of which is ever increased by capitalist industrialism and militarism, since there effectively is no longer any other kind, and the burgeoning global population of mostly impoverished people. And I know as well as the next person that human identity is a contigent, fragile and limited affair with a vast reality beyond itself or anyone else. But how, pray tell, is such catastrophe to be averted, remedied or allieviated without recourse to the political and economic structures of human society, with the discursive culture that attends them, through programs for collective action which must inevitably be mediated through the dubious identities of social agents? If you have an answer to this question, other than declamations of florid rhetoric, I would be sincerely interested in hearing about it.

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msg 02.18.04 at 9:10 pm

Biology is what’s at work in the most esoteric metaphysics around; biology drives religious intolerance and tolerance both. The moral codes of theistic dogma and humanist rationality are both only biological strategies. The presence of “spirits” is a biological phenomenon of perception regardless of the “origins” of those incorporate beings.
The eradication of indigenous people was and is a biological triumph for the assaultive dominant culture.
There’s nothing here but meat. Talking to itself, rubbing itself, running aghast from the mirror and its grotesque reflections.

I’ve never read Foucault or Schopenhauer so I can’t reply to that.

Identifying the causes, and the settings for those causes, of “imminent catastrophe” or the chronic attrition of the “natural” and its steady replacement with vicious artifice, would go some way toward “mediating” the “remediation” if not “ameliorating” or “averting” the catastrophe we agree seems imminent.
There is guilt here, but it’s being shifted villainously onto the backs of the common people, where it does not belong.

Florid rhetoric doesn’t have a patch on concision and brevity, I’ll give you that, but it’s cathartic. And catharsis is sometimes all that will relieve a constipated mind. I recommend it.

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