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Both parts of my time on the Blind Faith Virus Vaccine Show

I can now show both parts of the discussion between myself (representing atheism) Dr. Ann Gleig from Liverpool (representing Buddhism) and Pastor Joey Jernigan of Liberty University (representing fundamentalist Christian creationism).  The host, Mark Gura is moderating.  It was recorded in October and aired on Atlanta Georgia’s local access television channels in two parts, last month (November) and this weekend.

Part II (below) will be shown at 7:00pm Sunday December 15th 2013 on Comcast Channel 24 in Atlanta Georgia and on Comcast channel 25 in North Fulton County.

Well that was fun.  Let’s see if I ever get invited to do anything like that again.

Comments

  1. Mike UK says

    Was a good show, and fun to watch the Pastor’s face when he was in a dialogue with Aron. He looked almost like he was suffering from a seizure at times. I think the mass amount of factual knowledge was just too much to compute all at once.
    Thank you for making it available to view online.

  2. A Masked Avenger says

    Tso, I’m not surprised–I was too. Her verbal mannerisms are extremely annoying to me. Notably, her tendency to end statements on an uptick, so they sound like questions, and the “strain” in her voice that makes her sound strangely earnest about even minor points. I’m not good at distinguishing Celtic accents, but hers sounds Irish to me.

    It’s also not surprising that the discussion of rebirth is muddy. Theravadan scriptures are contradictory on this point. A large subset of them state pretty directly that no consciousness persists beyond death; that “rebirth” is nothing more than the continued out working of the consequences of the choices you’ve made–I.e., karma. They conceive karma as having a literal existence, apart from the literal chain of causes and effects, so that “karma” can propagate through a sort of karmic ether and produce an effect indirectly in some later time and place. None of this is rigorous, obviously, but it means you might mistreat someone here now, and you will in turn be mistreated back there later, without any need for a tangible series of causes and effects linking the two. If I were helping Aron Ra prep for the debate, I’d have suggested skipping over rebirth and tackling karma head on. Theravadans mostly believe that only karma survives death–not consciousness and not soul. “Not self” or anatta is basically the denial of any soul existing in the first place.

    But I said mostly. The suttas also describe the Buddha remembering past lives and describing them. If you can remember where your karma has been, then there must be an element of consciousness tagging along for the ride. They might dispute that by debating the nature of memory, but in any case this ambiguity colors the whole, so we end up with mass confusion as to whether a person is really surviving death, or whether it’s the case that their karma simply ripples away from their corpse and gets tangled with some new baby. It appears to me as if “scholarly” Buddhists mostly believe the latter, and lay Buddhists tend to believe the former. For both, it’s an article of faith that there is no soul–no nugget of self-contained consciousness that could then leap from body to body.

    Disclaimer: I am not Buddhist, nor even a member of any culture with Buddhist or Hindu roots. The above is the best I’ve been able to puzzle out from reading and talking to them.

    • Mike UK says

      It’s her accent. I think it’s either a Birmingham accent, or Newcastle/Liverpool, or something like that. Yes some accents are annoying. I suppose it can hardly be helped though. We speak the way we speak, and we sound just as annoying to others as some other accents do to us.

      • thebookofdave says

        I wasn’t bothered by her accent, so much as the terrible quality of her voice recording. The acoustics made her sound like she was yelling through a tin can.

        I was most disappointed by her passivity. Instead of offering her opinions and making positive arguments for her beliefs, she spent most of her time modifying or correcting the others’ statements about Buddhism. Most of the discussion was driven by Aron. Though I agree with most of his ideas, I have also heard them in other forums. I think we lost much of the Buddhist perspective and some spirited counterarguments as a result.

      • ashley says

        Definitely a Liverpool accent.
        I noticed that others too were pronouncing Buddhism as ‘Boodhism’ – but maybe that is correct English or at least correct American English :)

    • Codi Johnson says

      That’s not a shallow assessment at all! “I find her accent annoying.” World wide, want to know what the most annoying accent is? American. Ask anyone. Personally, I liked that fact that although she was not primarily involved in the discussion–which was more or less a debate between Aron and the pastor–she provided a conciliatory middle ground without condemning anyone in the process.

  3. Bicarbonate says

    That Gura guy, the host, is not well-spoken at all. Really needs some coaching or a different job.

  4. Bicarbonate says

    Aron is given a lot more time than the other two. It isn’t really fair. Yes, I do hold our side to higher standards.

  5. Bicarbonate says

    Is the first syllable of Aron’s name pronounced “are” or “air”? I always thought Aron and Aaron were pronounced “air” with the accent on that first syllable.

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  7. mobius says

    I was not at all impressed with Dr. Gleig in the first part. I think that she came across much better in part 2. She had seemed stiff and unreasoning to me originally but then began to show a more moderate, reasoned face.

    In part 2, Jernigan struck me as thinking his best argument was to interrupt and talk over Aron. And he definitely did not seem to grasp the subtler points that Aron was making.

    Overall an interesting show, though at the end it became more or less a shouting match between Aron and Jernigan as Jernigan kept trying to break in to the middle of Aron’s dialog. Aron wasn’t completely innocent on that point either, though Jernigan was guilty of it far more times. It became too much of “Is not”, “is too”.

  8. Mornigeshev Visnevskianovski says

    The arrogance and ignorance of Christianity is on full display in these exchanges

  9. mobius says

    @Mornigeshev Visnevskianovski

    The arrogance and ignorance of Christianity is on full display in these exchanges

    So true. But then living in Oklahoma I see this sort of stuff all the time and have become rather desensitized to it. Since OK is just TX’s little brother for the most part, Aron probably knows just how I feel.

  10. mobius says

    @ Aron

    Just to note, there was one point that Jernigan tried to make 3 or 4 times but never went anywhere with, and was usually making while you were talking. That was that billions of humans (80% or more) believe that some sort of god exists…and therefore a real god must exist.

    As you certainly already know, this is known as an argumentum ad populum and is a logical fallacy. Just because a majority of people believe something doesn’t make it true. After all, there was a time that the majority of people thought the world was flat.

    After all, I think you know this. You are very good at debate. But I think you should have briefly addressed it. Just a minor critique. Overall, you done good.

  11. Carl Earl says

    To me Ms Gleig didn’t seem to make any points in favor of her beliefs, she was too busy trying to distinguish herself from both Aron and Mr Jernigan, and to disagree with any statements either of them made. She never offered anything resembling a reasonable argument in her support that I could identify, though I will admit that it is possible that she did and I missed it due to the abominable quality of her audio.

    Mr Jernigan managed to entertain me. I think he managed to dredge up every fallacious argument of apologetics this side of Craig. I was cheering wildly inside when Aron finally had enough and just started ripping into him. Though I don’t think that it did Aron’s arguments any good, it made me warm an fuzzy, the way you feel when you see a rottweiler turn around and rip the arm of some idiot poking him with a stick, then carry it over, set the bloody thing down at your feet, grin, and wait for you to scratch his ears.

  12. Ann says

    Greetings,

    Ann Gleig here. Just to clarify, my role as a scholar of Buddhism was to present an historic view of Buddhism. Although, I do practice Buddhism (I call myself a rogue Buddhist), I was speaking here as a scholar rather than a practitioner and as such had no agenda-to convert or uphold a certain perspective-other than to try and get the ‘facts right.”. That might have made for a less polemic debate but that’s not really my interest. I think I was also a little confused though as to the nature of the show and I think likely having a full on Buddhist would work better for this type of project.

    As for my accent, I’m a Liverpudlian and despite 10 years in the US and 2 in Asia before that, my accent hasn’t shifted much. I got quite hurt at all the horrible comments about my accent that were posted on You-Tube and on further reflection I realized that it had triggered a lot of class shame (Liverpool is a strong working class city), but all in all I’m proud to be a scholar and working class–I think it’s great to defy expectations.

    FYI: If you are really interested in the middle ground or meeting point between Buddhism and atheism two great authors to look out for are Stephen Batchelor (known as the Buddhist atheist) and Alan Wallace, who does a lot of work with Buddhism and science. The basic argument is that Buddhism is a much more empirically-driven religion that the others, yet also challenges the materialist assumptions of mainstream science. In terms of the later see also the edited collection Irreducible Mind http://www.amazon.com/Irreducible-Mind-Toward-Psychology-Century/dp/1442202068 which applies pressure to the idea that all phenomena is accounted for by a materialist perspective.

    Cheers,
    Ann

    • Automaatje says

      Jimmy Carr made me laughing in tears when he did a sketch about the Liverpoolian accent.
      Don’t be hurt, it’s who you are and where you come from. Everybody has an accent.
      In Liverpool you probably laugh at other people. And you should. Pointing to differences is what identifies as individuals, and what binds us as groups.

        • Ann says

          No-one laughs at Liverpudlians more than Liverpudlians (Ok. well maybe Man United fans) but man, some of the comments were really nasty. I’m used to more civilized responses (at least on the surface) from fellow academics in discussion so I had to get my head around this different audience. Thanks for taking the time to respond.
          Cheers,
          Ann

          • dogmeat says

            Unfortunately in the general population you’ll have individuals who don’t really have the ability to share anything of value so they instead fixate on a perceived weakness of another and make snide/insulting comments. Youtube, Facebook, etc., are notorious for this phenomenon.

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  14. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Aonra, in no particular order:

    You need to drop the bit about “miracles are defined as violations of physics, and thus they are physically impossible”. This is resting on an equivocation of the meaning “physically impossible”. On the one hand, it is true that you can define physics to be the natural order of our shared reality without god intervention, and thus any god intervention is by definition not part of physics, and thus physically impossible. However, it evokes another sense of the term “physically impossible”, which means impossible in our physical reality. You cannot say by definition that miracles are impossible. There could be evidence tomorrow which could convince us beyond all reasonable doubt that there is a very powerful creature with some of the purported powers of the Christian god. I can only imagine that most Christians will understand this to be some sort of half-ass weasel attempt to win the argument by definition. At least, this is what I immediately understand you to mean every time I hear it. Again, it’s a cute bit, but completely unproductive.

    Next, right off the bat, the guy is saying clearly that theism is the position that there is no god. You need to confront this straight up. Don’t talk about the burden of proof at first – that just confuses things. You need to say nearly verbatim: Atheism is not the position that there is no god. I do not accept as true that there is a god. I do not accept as true that there is no god. I do not believe that there is a god. I do not believe that there is no god. I am currently undecided on this proposition. Aka ignorant. Aka agnostic. This has been the position of all famous atheist writers of the last 300 years, and we were here a hundred years before Huxley coined the modern meaning of “agnostic”.

    Then optionally, throw on that while you may be undecided about gods in general, you are quite certain that the god as described in the Christian bible is false, because many events attributed to that god are false, such as all of the Christian biblical books Genesis and Exodus.

    In the same breath, the asshat also said that you have absolute certainty. I would call him out as a liar or an idiot for that. No atheist ever claims certainty beyond all doubt. Nearly all atheists are skeptics and openly admit that future evidence can change their mind on basically anything – although the evidence required to show the Christian god exists would be monumental, akin to overthrowing evolutionary theory, or atomic theory, or the theory of gravity.

    Only after clarifying your actual position, the definition of atheism, and the overwhelmingly common position of most atheists, only after that can you start talking about burden of proof. Otherwise you’ll just be talking past each other.

    And this is just the first 15 minutes.

    • EnlightenmentLiberal says

      “Next, right off the bat, the guy is saying clearly that theism is the position that there is no god.”

      Crap. That’s “atheism”.

      • EnlightenmentLiberal says

        20 minutes later…

        And you’re still arguing past each other because you didn’t explicitly explain your position and the definition of atheism. You really need to say it slowly and beat them over the head with it, using the language I provided. You need to beat them over the head that atheism is and always has been be verbatim: “Those who accept as true that there is no god, and those who are undecided” and also stress this is what “those who do not believe there is a god” means. Emphasize the different between “I do not believe that” and “I believe that it is not”.

        Beat them over the head. Then wait for an acknowledgement of receipt. Repeat beating as necessary. Otherwise you get 20 minutes like that where nothing productive happens for either side.

          • EnlightenmentLiberal says

            I need to go to bed. But seriously Aronra, you really need to drop this “miracles are impossible” by definition nonsense. If it makes you feel better. say that you hold out the possibility that there is a super powerful anthropomorphic creature out there who has seemingly magic powers who occasionally interfered in human affairs. Clarify that it’s a really really unlikely possibility, but you have to admit that it is possible. This is all the pastor wants. And that you repeatedly say otherwise makes you look incredibly foolish and not like a good skeptic. It makes you look dishonest.

    • EnlightenmentLiberal says

      Ugg, in the second part, I hate that theist. He’s a perfect stand-in for everything I despise about Christian “morality”.

      He asks “where does your morality come from?” or “from whom?”. That’s leading us down the wrong direction. That’s begging the wrong question. It presupposes that morality comes from some thing, from someone’s dictates. That’s just bullshit. This is basically might-makes-right mentality or some such. It is only possible from a slave mentality, which is what Christianity is. Christianity teaches you that the only way to achieve happiness is to give away control, to give up responsibility, to become a slave. It’s sickening.

      I’m starting to get a better perspective on this. At the heart of this particular Christian argument is an equivocation. It’s a rather naked equivocation, but you need to be able to step back from the argument, which most people cannot do.

      Language is arbitrary. It’s entirely culturally relative. The entire meaning of language is by convention and no other source. That “dog” means that small yapping animal is in some perspective entirely an accident. There is no deeper meaning that our cultural evolution has happened by chance upon the word “dog” for that small yapping animal. “Frob” works just as well. However, the object and idea backing the word “dog” is not arbitrary. “A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.”

      Consequently, the word “good” is also entirely arbitrary. The sound, spelling, pictograph, etc. of “good” is completely arbitrary. The backing idea is not. The backing idea is an imperative. I would at least argue that an imperative is not itself a material fact. There is no object in our reality which we can look at and say “yep, I shouldn’t murder”. Only by starting with some basic values or basic imperatives can you get anywhere. Any decent human being is going to start with the basic values that human happiness is good, that needless suffering is bad, and the other values of humanism.

      So, the first important idea is that we ought to act to further those values. When we say that these values are “good”, this is not a definitional claim. A definitional claim would be defining some arbitrary word like “frob” to mean “the idea that we should act to promote human happiness, etc.”. With this new word, we can lose all semantic ambiguity that pervades this conversation. Then, with this new word “frob” defined, we can have a conversation about whether it’s an idea that we want to follow, that we should follow, whether it’s a “good” idea, etc.

      Generally, the word “good” captures the idea of “whatever it [good] is, it’s what we should do”. Consequently, any attempt to define good to mean “god’s nature” or “humanism” or any other value system is a fallacious equivocation. It is a dishonest and invalid argument tactic. You are performing an argument by relying on two distinct meanings of the same word in order to arrive at your conclusion. This is at the heart of almost every Christian argument over morality. They want to define “good” to capture the idea “that which we should do” and also define it as “what god commands / wants / its nature / etc.”.

      There’s a general connotation that I see this argument as well. It tends towards the idea that god is all powerful, and all powerful creatures get to decide what we lowly peons “ought to do”, and thus they get to decide or define what we should do, e.g. what is “good”. However, this is just might-makes-right, which hopefully everyone will recognize as a bullshit moral concept. In short, it is entirely plausible that even if a very powerful creature resembling your god existed, it could be evil, or indifferent, or just selfish like a human. The only response I ever hear to this one is a variant of the ontological argument, which is entirely bullshit for the standard reasons.

      So, this is the part where you force them to decide between following god’s command to rape a child and the god says it’s purely for the god’s amusement, or not. Force the issue by saying that they have already admitted that they are not infallible, and that their Christian god is morally infallible, and thus they cannot rule out the possibility that their god will command them to do something like that. (Furthermore, a reading of the Christian bible will show them that it was purportedly rather common back in those days for god to do stuff like that.) Either they are an infallible judge of morality, or they could be wrong about god not enjoying baby’s being raped at his order purely for its amusement.

      I’ve been writing something like this for years now, but it gets clearer all the time. It’s so nakedly apparent to me now that I feel disgusted whenever I hear someone take the idiotic Christian position. Unfortunately, this hasn’t translated well into conversation.

      • EnlightenmentLiberal says

        Also, fuck the host for his completely idiotic talk in part 2 around 24 min. “If there is a god, we ought to do what it commands, and if there is a spiritual something, then we ought to act towards human happiness et. al., but if neither is true then there is no morality”. Just fuck him. Just… why? If spiritual truths are even remotely something that exist in a concrete observable way in our shared way like our material reality, then this is just a giant appeal to nature fallacy, also known as the naturalistic fallacy. What does spiritual truths have to do with human happiness? It’s a non-sequitur. It makes as much sense to say that the existence of spiritual truths mean we should promote human happiness as it does to say it means we should promote needless human suffering. The purposefully vague spiritual truths have no relation at all to how we should act. Whether there are spiritual truths, and whether there is an unelected eternal celestial tyrant or not – no matter what the factual truth to those claims are – we should treat each other well and work to improve our life here on Earth.

        PS: Every time that someone says that they “look at the trees” and they see a creator, and thus Jesus, it’s a giant Pascal’s Wager. At best, the “look at the trees” argument gets you to some nondescript creator god. Why should it be Jesus? Why couldn’t it be Zeus, or Apollo? Or a god not in any surviving records? Or a god whose actions were never recorded? Or a god who never interacted with humans at all? The “look at the trees, therefore Jesus” argument fails for exactly (one of) the same reason(s) that Pascal’s Wager fails. It favors Christianity over other equally plausible if not moreso plausible god hypotheses for no discernible reason other than the preexisting unjustified biases of the speaker. Because of the nigh infinite number of equally plausible god hypothesis (I can name one for every planet in the observable universe), “look at the trees” is simply a non-sequitur w.r.t. Jesus. This one always annoys the piss out of me because almost no one ever calls out those who make this completely fallacious argument.

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  16. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Man this is video is treasure trove of stupidity. This would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. Everyone is a cliche. You have the moral and epepistomological cultural relativist college professor. You have the divine command theory “bible believing” Christian. And you have the skeptic scientist atheist who is actually in possession of all of the evidence, facts, and truth.

    But seriously, how can anyone say anything as stupid as all knowledge is relative”, something which “Dr.” Ann Gleig said? I mean really? It’s an insult to actual professors to call her “Doctor”. (I once heard someone say that only someone who went to college could ever say something so stupid in reference to something like this.) This is sophistry. This is the part where I would have to ask Ms Gleig: “Is this a chair? Am I sitting on a chair right now? Is this knowledge relative to my culture? Could a reasonable person from another culture come to a different conclusion?” Either you get her to start admitting that in fact at least some knowledge is not relative (and hope you don’t have to deal with “radical translation” [see Quine] along the way), or you walk away from a completely useless conversation with a vapid sophist.

    • Ann says

      can you remind me of the context in which i said “all knowledge is relative” and I’ll be able to clarify. what i suspect i was referring to was the provisionality of scientific knowledge as a way to caution against aron’s absolute pronouncements on the truths of science, or at least, as I understood him to be making. the history of science has shown that science like other fields of knowledge changes and also that it is often framed by specific cultural agendas-for example, the so called science supporting social eugenics. so, even so called objective knowledge like science has a social and cultural component and as culture is relative so are aspects of science. in other words, what i was trying to do by pointing out the relativity of knowledge was breakdown the false dichotomy and polemic opposition between objective science (reason) and relative religion (belief) as I felt was being presented by Aron and the Pastor. Personally, I’m more interested in the in-between, phenomena that undermines both scientific and religious absolutism.

      As for your chair example, yes I agree people from other cultures would recognize you were sitting on a chair if they had the concept of a chair. does a kid know what a chair is before he/she gains entry into language and conceptuality? i’m not sure and actually i don’t really care. my comment was made in the context of the above discussion which was abut science versus religion not about the ontological status of chairs. For the record, though i’m not a sophist. however, there are long-established lineages in philosophy and cultural theory that argue that all knowledge is relative-how they define ‘relative’ of course differs. in your example, are you assuming that a chair exists as an independent objective essence? Because if you are you might want to check out what Madhyamaka Buddhist philosophy would say about that. Or maybe you want to ask Derrida? So by all means disagree with theories of cultural relativity but don’t act as if they don’t have any philosophical currency-because they do.

      Finally,, i don’t appreciate being personally attacked and if you take a minute you might want to check out my academic credentials before insulting my doctorate. do you have any academic qualifications yourself by the way? i doubt it because any decent doctorate program teaches its students how to dialogue with different perspectives rather than just launch a character attack on their proponents. so, if you are going to take the time to respond, please be civilized and adult about it. seriously, i gave up a free day of my time for this program, to do Mark a favor, and I don’t need to deserve to deal with a barrage of insults. play nice.

      • EnlightenmentLiberal says

        If that is you, well, thanks for replying. I’m honored. Allow me to apologize for my tone earlier. I’ll try to be better with my tone in future conversation. I was overly harsh. Again my apologies. Let me find that piece…

        I also want to say that you did make a great many good points, and for the most part annoyed me far less than the Christian pastor and said far fewer wrong and patently wrong things.

        (~20 minutes later)

        Ok. Found it.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfvMh3qBHaM&feature=player_detailpage#t=2895
        It starts about 48 minutes in. Let me see if I can transcribe what’s going on. I’m going to start a little earlier to provide some context.

        Ann:
        [...]
        The second thing I want to point out out is – within Christianity itself, there is a tremendous amount of different interpretations. So I think that you really need to qualify your belief as an interpretation of the bible as one interpretation [???]. Certainly there is a lot of Christians I know – progressive Christians, gay Christians – who I’m sure wouldn’t agree with your reading. So I think that – you know – I’ve noticed that you’ve really been kind of targeting Aron for being arrogant, but I think that you’re also been really displaying a kind of rigidity and certainty – that – the same that you’re accusing him of, so I think – really you need to claim your position as one amongst many possible religious choices, and also as one amongst – you know – many possible readings of Christianity.

        [Ann and the Christian pastor talking over each other for a few seconds]

        Pastor:
        I think that – that’s probably the one place that Aron and I will agree is that we’re rigid on our positions.

        Ann:
        Yeah, you’re both really rigid on your positions, and I don’t think that’s the kind of reflexus[?] of where we are in the culture right now. We’re living in a pluralistic postmodern age [???] is that all knowledge is relative and conditional and needs to be contextualized. So I think you know – I encourage you both to kind of think about how the postmodern kind of world view affects your particular position.

        I am with you completely on the first part (minus one thing). I’m glad you tried to ask the pastor why he favors the Christian bible over any other religious text or tradition. Good work there.

        The second part is the troubling part. I see a few ways you can contort what you’ve said to avoid my complaints, but I think that would be somewhat dishonest of you if you tried to do so. Let me put forward my understanding of what you said, argue that this is the only sensible reading, and argue that it is sophistry.

        Postmodernist epistemology. You seem think that this is a good thing. Now, you are an expert on this topic (right?), and I am not, and so if I am not accurately portraying your position, please stop me and point out where. I believe the following link adequately captures what I understand postmodernist epistemology to be.
        http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var2=281

        1. Postmodern epistemology continues to fasten on the finite “I”-or, more corporately, on the finite group, the “we.” But it draws very different inferences from this axiom than modern epistemology did. Because all human knowers-or groups of knowers-are finite, they think and reason out of a specific and limited cultural framework, some specific “interpretive community.” I am a white, middle-aged, European Canadian, with a reasonable amount of Western education behind me, and a white-collar job. Surely it is not surprising if I look at things differently than, say, a sub-Saharan African scholar or a twelve-year-old illiterate street prostitute in Bangkok.

        2. Reflect deeply on the first point, postmodernism insists, and absolute certainty will no longer be assumed to be possible. To be frank, it is mere illusion, the product of disreputable arrogance. Moreover, absolute certainty is not even desirable. It engenders a narrow outlook and cascading self-righteousness. Surely it is better, postmoderns tell us, to encourage insights that flow from many different perspectives, including different religions and diverse moral codes.

        3. Because the “foundations” that we erect are produced by finite human thought, we should abandon the comfortable illusion that they are secure. Postmodernism is profoundly anti-foundationalist.

        4. Similarly, as finite human beings we invent our methods, which are themselves shaped by particular languages and cultures and social groupings. Consequently, no method has any deeper significance than the preference or convenience of some particular group. To hold, as modernists did, that to build on a firm foundation with rigorous methods would enable us to uncover truth was self-delusion, for neither our foundations nor our methods transcend our limitations.

        5. From these first four points we must infer that whatever “truth” we discover cannot possibly enjoy “ahistorical universality.” It will be true for one culture, but not another; it will be true in one language, but not in another; it will be true for this social grouping, but not for that one. Even in the scientific domain, it is argued, we are learning that large theories are not infrequently overthrown by later theories, that Western medicine has its triumphs and failures while Chinese medicine can make similar claims, and so on. Any claim to have achieved “ahistorical universality” is just one more form of modernist hubris.

        6. Many postmodern voices still speak out of the assumptions of philosophical naturalism that are common among late modernist thinkers. Yet substantial numbers of postmoderns are now convinced that there are many, many ways to “knowledge” and “truth”-i.e., to “knowledge” and “truth” that are helpful to you or your “interpretive community.” They will happily applaud traditional science, while anticipating the breakthroughs that will come by “feeling” rather than thinking (“Feel, Luke, feel!”). They accept both astrology and religious claims because they do not take them to be different in kind. Anecdotal evidence is as persuasive to such people as controlled, double-blind scientific experiments. Consequently, many postmoderns think of themselves as more “spiritual” and less “naturalistic” than their modernist forebears.

        Is this a fair description of what you mean by postmodernism in this context of that piece of discussion in the video which was on epistemology? Here, I will argue that this is the only reasonable reading that your audience could take from what you said.

        If not – if you want to say this is not descriptive of your position, then you are free to do so. However, I would note that you really ought to have known better, and you ought to have chosen different language when you should have known that this is the meaning that a great many people would get from what you said.

        If yes – if you mean to embrace postmodernist epistemology as defined above, then I have problems. All of it is wrong. It is explicitly an abandonment of truth and knowledge independent of language and culture. Explicitly so. Expressly so. Thus, I cannot even claim the universal truth that I am sitting on a chair. (And hence why I was worried we might have to descend into a conversation on radical translation, and how the strong version of radical translation is just factually wrong.)

        This interpretation is further bolstered by your implicit attack on any rigidly held belief. It seems that to you, anything sort of strong confidence or certainty of a belief is a bad thing, which further supports my reading of your position as the classic postmodernist epistemology. It is also bolstered when in the first part of the above quote, you called Aron “arrogant”, presumably because he says that there is a universal truth on some matters, and that he has very strong evidence in his favor of what that universal truth is.

        In short, the above quoted descriptive of postmodernist epistemology is sophistry, and can be dispensed with without any further comment. I hold postmodernist epistemology in contempt.

        I fail to see how you can salvage your position

        PS:

        Note – I do agree with Kuhn’s work on how the scientific world progresses in radical paradigm shifts. However, it would be false to say that Kuhn’s work is postmodernist epistemology. Kuhn himself was rather clear in a postscript to a later edition of his work (if I recall correctly), where he said that he very much believed in a general forward progress of scientific knowledge, and further that there are reasonably objective ways to compare the truthfulness of an old paradigm vs a new paradigm. To the extent that sometimes knowledge advances in Kuhn paradigm shifts, I agree.

        Furthermore, I agree with Kuhn(?) where he argues that naive Popper falsification is a bad model of how science is actually done and can be done. (At least, this is Kuhn who argued this, right?) Kuhn argues(?) that any analysis of an experiment is always done with a certain background knowledge which can color and affect your perception and analysis of the experiment. Also related is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis which hypothesizes that what language you use affects which concepts you are more easily able to formulate, which affects how you are going to analyze experiments.

        However, Kuhn argues(?) correctly that these biases are not fatal to the endeavor. While they will influence results, and occasionally lead us done the wrong path, invariably if our beliefs get out of accord with reality, we will notice it. Perhaps we might form the wrong model which will persist for a long, long time, but eventually some experiment – reality itself – will not conform to the model, and then we can work on a better model.

        To the extent that language and culture affects how we analyze experiments, and that we should be very careful to be aware of those influences to counter them, I agree. To the extent that these biases can affect, diminish, and lead astray, scientific progress, I agree. However, I disagree when you claim that this makes scientific progress an impossible task.

        Finally, I disagree with Aronra and possibly with you on one minor point. I critiqued Aronra already on it above. Any proper epistemology is skepticism. That means that we could be wrong about evolution. We could be wrong about gravity. We could be wrong and the Christian god as described in the Christian bible does exist. However, to overturn any of those hypotheses is almost unthinkable because of the amazing amount of evidence we have behind it. However, tomorrow, you might wake up to find yourself in the Truman Show as the star, and find out that all of the evidence which you thought you had was wrong. You have to remain open to the possibility. (However, being open does not mean taking it into consideration when acting now. It is so farfetched that of course you should summarily dismiss it when deciding what policy to choose to achieve your desired ends.)

        PPS: Knowledge and belief are not separate things. Knowledge is merely belief held to a very strong degree of certainty. Any definition of knowledge which separates it from belief is nonsensical. Any definition of knowledge which requires absolute certainty or which requires that knowledge can never be shown wrong and later corrected is unworkable and not how anyone who claims to have knowledge uses the word “knowledge”.

        • EnlightenmentLiberal says

          I have a full response pending moderation. (I accidentally included two links in it, which means automatically goes to moderation.) Because I’m eager, I’ll just split it up now to bypass the filter, and hope that Aronra or whoever just deletes the one in moderation.

          If that is you, well, thanks for replying. I’m honored. Allow me to apologize for my tone earlier. I’ll try to be better with my tone in future conversation. I was overly harsh. Again my apologies. My tone was inappropriate, although I think I stand behind all of the substantive points made.

          Where did you say that all knowledge is relative? Let me find that piece…

          I also want to say that you did make a great many good points, and for the most part annoyed me far less than the Christian pastor and said far fewer wrong and patently wrong things.

          (~20 minutes later)

          Ok. Found it.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfvMh3qBHaM&feature=player_detailpage#t=2895
          It starts about 48 minutes in. Let me see if I can transcribe what’s going on. I’m going to start a little earlier to provide some context.

          Ann:
          [...]
          The second thing I want to point out out is – within Christianity itself, there is a tremendous amount of different interpretations. So I think that you really need to qualify your belief as an interpretation of the bible as one interpretation [???]. Certainly there is a lot of Christians I know – progressive Christians, gay Christians – who I’m sure wouldn’t agree with your reading. So I think that – you know – I’ve noticed that you’ve really been kind of targeting Aron for being arrogant, but I think that you’re also been really displaying a kind of rigidity and certainty – that – the same that you’re accusing him of, so I think – really you need to claim your position as one amongst many possible religious choices, and also as one amongst – you know – many possible readings of Christianity.

          [Ann and the Christian pastor talking over each other for a few seconds]

          Pastor:
          I think that – that’s probably the one place that Aron and I will agree is that we’re rigid on our positions.

          Ann:
          Yeah, you’re both really rigid on your positions, and I don’t think that’s the kind of reflexus[?] of where we are in the culture right now. We’re living in a pluralistic postmodern age [???] is that all knowledge is relative and conditional and needs to be contextualized. So I think you know – I encourage you both to kind of think about how the postmodern kind of world view affects your particular position.

          To be continued next post.

        • EnlightenmentLiberal says

          In the above quote, I am with you completely on the first part (minus one thing). I’m glad you asked the pastor why he favors the Christian bible over any other religious text or tradition. Good work there.

          The second part is the troubling part. I see a few ways you can contort what you’ve said to avoid my complaints, but I think that would be somewhat dishonest of you if you tried to do so. Let me put forward my understanding of what you said, argue that this is the only sensible reading, and argue that it is sophistry.

          Postmodernist epistemology. You seem think that this is a good thing. Now, you are an expert on this topic (right?), and I am not, and so if I am not accurately portraying your position, please stop me and point out where.

          I believe the following link adequately captures what most people – including myself – understand postmodernist epistemology to be.
          http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var2=281

          1. Postmodern epistemology continues to fasten on the finite “I”-or, more corporately, on the finite group, the “we.” But it draws very different inferences from this axiom than modern epistemology did. Because all human knowers-or groups of knowers-are finite, they think and reason out of a specific and limited cultural framework, some specific “interpretive community.” I am a white, middle-aged, European Canadian, with a reasonable amount of Western education behind me, and a white-collar job. Surely it is not surprising if I look at things differently than, say, a sub-Saharan African scholar or a twelve-year-old illiterate street prostitute in Bangkok.

          2. Reflect deeply on the first point, postmodernism insists, and absolute certainty will no longer be assumed to be possible. To be frank, it is mere illusion, the product of disreputable arrogance. Moreover, absolute certainty is not even desirable. It engenders a narrow outlook and cascading self-righteousness. Surely it is better, postmoderns tell us, to encourage insights that flow from many different perspectives, including different religions and diverse moral codes.

          3. Because the “foundations” that we erect are produced by finite human thought, we should abandon the comfortable illusion that they are secure. Postmodernism is profoundly anti-foundationalist.

          4. Similarly, as finite human beings we invent our methods, which are themselves shaped by particular languages and cultures and social groupings. Consequently, no method has any deeper significance than the preference or convenience of some particular group. To hold, as modernists did, that to build on a firm foundation with rigorous methods would enable us to uncover truth was self-delusion, for neither our foundations nor our methods transcend our limitations.

          5. From these first four points we must infer that whatever “truth” we discover cannot possibly enjoy “ahistorical universality.” It will be true for one culture, but not another; it will be true in one language, but not in another; it will be true for this social grouping, but not for that one. Even in the scientific domain, it is argued, we are learning that large theories are not infrequently overthrown by later theories, that Western medicine has its triumphs and failures while Chinese medicine can make similar claims, and so on. Any claim to have achieved “ahistorical universality” is just one more form of modernist hubris.

          6. Many postmodern voices still speak out of the assumptions of philosophical naturalism that are common among late modernist thinkers. Yet substantial numbers of postmoderns are now convinced that there are many, many ways to “knowledge” and “truth”-i.e., to “knowledge” and “truth” that are helpful to you or your “interpretive community.” They will happily applaud traditional science, while anticipating the breakthroughs that will come by “feeling” rather than thinking (“Feel, Luke, feel!”). They accept both astrology and religious claims because they do not take them to be different in kind. Anecdotal evidence is as persuasive to such people as controlled, double-blind scientific experiments. Consequently, many postmoderns think of themselves as more “spiritual” and less “naturalistic” than their modernist forebears.

          Is this a fair description of what you mean by postmodernism in the context of the video link and the discussion therein at the listed time? Here, I will argue that this is the only reasonable reading that your audience could take from what you said, although I’m curious if you disagree.

          If you disagree – if you want to say this is not descriptive of your position, then you are free to do so. However, I would note that you really ought to have known better, and you ought to have chosen different language when you should have known that this is the meaning that most reasonable listeners would have taken away.

          If you agree – if you mean to embrace postmodernist epistemology as defined above, then I have problems. All of it is wrong. It is explicitly an abandonment of truth and knowledge independent of language and culture. Explicitly so. Expressly so. Thus, I cannot even claim the universal truth that I am sitting on a chair. (And hence why I was worried we might have to descend into a conversation on Quine’s radical translation, and how the strong version of radical translation is just factually wrong.)

          This interpretation is further bolstered by your implicit attack on any rigidly held belief. It seems that to you, any sort of strong confidence or certainty of a belief is a bad thing, which further supports my reading of your position as the classic postmodernist epistemology. It is also bolstered when in the first part of the above quote, you called Aron “arrogant”, presumably because he says that there is a universal truth on some matters, and that he has very strong evidence in his favor of what that universal truth is.

          In short, the above quoted descriptive of postmodernist epistemology is sophistry, and can be dispensed with without any further comment. I hold postmodernist epistemology in contempt. And thus my rather strong reaction to you in the post to which you replied.

          I stand by my statement that if this is what you believe, you do not deserve the title of “Doctor”, and that I hold in contempt everything you do to the extent that your postmodernist epistemology affects your work.

          I fail to see how you can salvage your position.

          PS:

          Note – I do agree with Kuhn’s work on how the scientific world progresses in radical paradigm shifts. However, it would be false to say that Kuhn’s work is postmodernist epistemology. Kuhn himself was rather clear in a postscript to a later edition of his work (if I recall correctly), where he said that he very much believed in a general forward progress of scientific knowledge, and further that there are reasonably objective ways to compare the truthfulness of an old paradigm vs a new paradigm. To the extent that sometimes knowledge advances in Kuhn paradigm shifts, I agree.

          Furthermore, I agree with Kuhn(?) where he argues that naive Popper falsification is a bad model of how science is actually done and can be done. (At least, this is Kuhn who argued this, right?) Kuhn argues(?) that any analysis of an experiment is always done with a certain background knowledge which can color and affect your perception and analysis of the experiment. Also related is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis which hypothesizes that what language you use affects which concepts you are more easily able to formulate, which affects how you are going to analyze experiments.

          However, Kuhn argues(?) correctly that these biases are not fatal to the endeavor of scientific progress. While they will influence results, and occasionally lead us done the wrong path, invariably if our beliefs get out of accord with reality, we will notice it. Perhaps we might form the wrong model which will persist for a long, long time, but eventually some experiment – reality itself – will not conform to the model, and then we can work on a better model.

          To the extent that language and culture affects how we analyze experiments, and that we should be very careful to be aware of those influences to counter them, I agree. To the extent that these biases can affect, diminish, and lead astray, scientific progress, I agree. However, I disagree when you claim that this makes scientific progress an impossible task.

          To the extent that two cultures use entirely different models to describe our reality, either one (or both) of the models are wrong, or the models are equivalent. Using some theory of computation language, the two models are algorithms. They can be said to be form methods computation. If both models are right, there would exist a formal computational reduction between the two. (I have no attempted to demonstrate this here, but I believe that a compelling argument can be made. Ask if you want me to make it.) To the extent that two different cultures use entirely different but equivalent models, I do not care. That is just a difference of language, not truth. Maybe they don’t understand the English “I’m sitting on a chair”, or perhaps they have such radically different grammar and ways of thinking about things so that they disagree, but if they are correct, their models of reality when run will return an answer which informs their expectations of future sensory experience, and they will have an expectation of seeing me sitting on a wooden object with four legs, a back, a flat seat, etc., which I call a “chair”.

          I disagree with Aronra and possibly agree with you on one minor point. I critiqued Aronra already on it above. Any proper epistemology is skepticism. That means that we could be wrong about evolution. We could be wrong about gravity. We could be wrong and the Christian god as described in the Christian bible does exist. However, to overturn any of those hypotheses is almost unthinkable because of the amazing amount of evidence we have behind it. However, tomorrow, you might wake up to find yourself in the Truman Show as the star, and find out that all of the evidence which you thought you had was wrong. You have to remain open to the possibility. (However, being open does not mean taking it into consideration when acting now. It is so farfetched that of course you should summarily dismiss it when deciding what policy to choose to achieve your desired ends.)

          PPS: Knowledge and belief are not separate things. Knowledge is merely belief held to a very strong degree of certainty. Any definition of knowledge which separates it from belief is nonsensical. Any definition of knowledge which requires absolute certainty or which requires that knowledge can never be shown wrong and later corrected is unworkable and not how anyone who claims to have knowledge uses the word “knowledge”.

      • EnlightenmentLiberal says

        A couple other odds and ends.

        Quoting Ann

        As for your chair example, yes I agree people from other cultures would recognize you were sitting on a chair if they had the concept of a chair. does a kid know what a chair is before he/she gains entry into language and conceptuality?

        in your example, are you assuming that a chair exists as an independent objective essence? Because if you are you might want to check out what Madhyamaka Buddhist philosophy would say about that. Or maybe you want to ask Derrida?

        So, yes, you are going the distance.

        One of the requirements for me to have a conversation is to agree upon the existence of this physical object on which I’m sitting, which I usually describe as “chair”. Furthermore, we have to agree that I am sitting on this physical object in our shared reality. Furthermore, we have to agree that any sane, rational human being will have sufficiently similar sensory experience to allow eventual agreement that I am sitting on a chair – Quine’s radical translation problems not withstanding. Anything other than that is sophistry, and I end the conversation until such time as the other side repents. I believe we have reached that point.

        What if they don’t know the word “chair”? They’ll still have sufficiently similar sensory experience and sufficiently similar reasoning and language capabilities that we can overcome radical translation and come to an agreement. What if they don’t have sufficient reasoning and language capabilities? Then they are a very young child, or someone who is clinically insane, and we need not concern ourselves with non-adults or people who promote Time Cube.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_Cube

        Quoting Ann

        So by all means disagree with theories of cultural relativity but don’t act as if they don’t have any philosophical currency-because they do.

        I care as much for ideas like yours which deny that we exist in a shared reality as much as I do for the conventional Christian’s beliefs – e.g. not at all. Actually, I can at least respect the conventional Christian’s beliefs because they purport to care about truth. They do accept that we have a shared reality where the word truth has meaning apart from human convention. They accept that no matter how much I want it to be otherwise, no matter how hard I try to fool myself, I am still going to be sitting on a physical object which some of us happen to call “chair”.

        I give credence to reasoned arguments based on evidence. I do not care if it’s fashionable in academic circles to deny a shared reality and to deny scientific progress. That is what we call a fallacious argument from popularity, and maybe a fallacious argument from authority. The usual recourse is to provide evidence and reasoned argument – but oh wait – you already denied the primacy of that. I have no clue how people like you can say the shit you do. Christians like the pastor from the video make far more sense than you do.

        “Truth is not a popularity contest.”

        Quoting Ann

        For the record, though i’m not a sophist.

        Yes, you are. You are the textbook definition of a sophist. Come back to me when you’re willing to admit that no reasonable person, after having been taught our language, and having been a fair amount of time to examine me sitting on this chair, can come to a conclusion other than that I am sitting on a chair. Come back to me when you’re willing to admit that any sane person who sees me right now has the sensory experience of me sitting with my torso up straight, leaning against the back of the chair, with my legs out in front of me, with my knees bent down, and my feet on the ground.

        PS: If you at least consent to the sensory experience part, I am willing to have a conversation about Quine’s radical translation problems. I will indulge you that far.

      • EnlightenmentLiberal says

        One last thing that’s been gnawing at me. I’m afraid you will misunderstand, so let me be very clear.

        in your example, are you assuming that a chair exists as an independent objective essence?

        Under your probable meaning of terms, I don’t know what you mean. I am not a logical positivist, but I do think that the logical positivists and post-positivists got this much right: When you want to talk about the existence of something in our shared reality, when you want to make claims about things which material causal power, the only way I understand such claims is how they might influence my direct sensory experience, or the direct sensory experience of some hypothetical human-like observer.

        I do not know what it means for a chair to “exist as an independent objective essence”. What kind of experiment could I do which could differentiate between a yes answer and a no answer? There is no such experiment or observation, but it purports to be talking about material facts of our shared reality, and thus it is “cognitively meaningless”. I do not know what you are talking about.

        I reject “realism” as meaningless.

        For example, maybe we’re in The Matrix. Who cares? I don’t. I’m still going to have the experience of hunger tomorrow, and I will still need to navigate this “virtual world construct” in order to acquire “virtual food” in order to sate my very real hunger.

        I need you to agree with the following. These other creature we call humans have a mind like yours. You are not a special snowflake, and that everyone else has a mind just like you have a mind.

        Furthermore, there is a shared reality in which we exist. Maybe it’s “physicalism” (whatever that means). Maybe it’s The Matrix. I don’t care. What I do care about is that I have the sensory experience of sitting on a chair, and every other human being will have nearly identical / equivalent / isomorphic sensory experience which I would describe with the language “they see me sitting on a chair”.

        Finally, we need to agree that this shared reality is not just some construct of human minds. Whether I am sitting on a chair is true whether or not 90% of the population professes to disagree. Also, I cannot change this chair through willpower alone. I don’t have telekinesis or psionic powers. Also, no matter how hard I may try to delude myself, 99%+ of all people are going to have the same sensory experience of seeing me sitting on a chair when I am sitting on this chair, even if I have deluded myself otherwise.

        Finally, the scientific method. If you do the same action over and over again, and get the same result (as informed by your sensory experience) every time, then the only rational and sane thing to expect is that if you do the that action then you will get the same result. This is what we call the scientific method in a general sense. This is simply using evidence and inductive reasoning to inform your expectations of future sensory experience.

        Finally, we have to axiomatically deny Last Thursdayism.

        This is the bare minimum I need you to agree to in order to have a conversation. Anyone who disagrees on any of these points I will happily label as a textbook sophist.

      • EnlightenmentLiberal says

        Ann? Not going to reply? I was curious if you were going to continue digging your epistemological hole. I was also looking forward to the absurd things that you would have to say to defend postmodern epistemology, such as it’s culturally relative whether taking away 2 apples from 4 apples leaves 2 apples. Maybe in one culture it only leaves one apple? (lol) This is the position that you have publicly advocated, and I hope that you are endlessly mocked for such brazen stupidity, in order that you might realize your mistakes and change for the better. And of course I hope you are publicly mocked so that other people are less likely to fall into your intellectual trap. “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions.”

        I only wish that anyone on the video panel picked up on this in time to ask in the video something like “Wait? You’re saying that the knowledge that ‘2 apples plus 2 apples is 4 apples’ is culturally relative?” That’s all that needs to be said to dismantle your entire position.

          • Narf says

            Ah, did you include two or more links? That always trips the moderation. They should get it fairly quickly.

          • Ann says

            btw, i think your representation of postmodern epistemology is quite absurd and basically just setting up a straw man that you can trounce. it’s actually similar to what aron did with his example of someone who believed that some monster or alien had appeared in his living room. it’s just a really easy and lazy target to go after and show off with your own position.

            postmodernists don’t target mathematics, rather they target the grand narratives of modernity-one of which is that science is going to provide all of the answers and show all forms of religion and spirituality to be defunct and illusory. what i keep trying to say is that there is a lot of phenomena that doesn’t fit with either traditional religious beliefs (that are clearly historically false) nor with scientific materialism and that is what i’m interested in.

            so yes, i can say not all knowledge is relative. 2 and 2 = 4 in all cultures, yes. you are right. i should have qualified my claim at the end to say that certain forms of knowledge have validity across cultures. however, the forms of knowledge claims i’m interested in are not mathematics, which is why i’m a humanities scholar and not a mathematician. and, i don’t find either religious or scientific absolutism as convincing explanations for what it means to be human, which is why i cautioned both aron and the pastor to think about pluralism and cultural relativity.

          • EnlightenmentLiberal says

            You’re confused. I am not talking about mathematics. I am talking about the material truth that 2 apples put next to 2 apples make 4 apples. It’s a kind of conversation of the number of apples. While this might be a mathematical truth, it is also a scientific truth. It is a scientific fact that apples do not come out of thin air. Apples are a conserved element of nature (to the first degree of approximation). Any reasonable person of any culture would have to come to this conclusion that apples do not come out of thin air.

            For example, this might not be the case. In concrete terms, I can show that mass is not conserved. While the experiment is much more involved, I can show that certain reactions do not conserve mass. It’s like taking 2 apples and 2 apples, but only getting 3 apples at the end.

            I don’t know what “spiritual” means. In its general use, it is a nonsense word no better than the usual utterances of Deepok Chopra. I such “word taboo” on the word “spiritual”.
            http://lesswrong.com/lw/nu/taboo_your_words/
            Wherever you feel the need to use the word “spiritual”, instead try to choose other words which convey your meaning.

            As for religion, yes science does destroy that. If you accept that apples are conserved – if you accept that the kind of reasoning which shows that “apples are conserved” is a universal truth which is discoverable by all people of all cultures, and undeniable by all people of all cultures, then you have lost. It is exactly this kind of reasoning which shows that the Christian god does not exist. I could walk you through the steps – it would be a long and arduous process, but as soon as you accepted the bit about the apples, you had lost.

            PS: My earlier lengthy quotation on the definition of postmodernism is IMHO the well understood meaning of postmodernism in the context of epistemology. If you have some other understanding, time to speak up. I’m still waiting. Furthermore, I believe you already knew this, and now you are being dishonest. Surely you are capable of typing out a simple paragraph of what you believe and why.

            PPS: Also, now I think I’m getting trolled, because you don’t seem to be able to find the “shift” key. Are you really the professor in the video? You talk the talk, but I am unimpressed with your lack of typing ability and the ability to form coherent arguments. Instead, I’m getting dismissed out of hand by being told to “read a book” (from your earlier post above). At least give me a page number where I will find a definition of your understanding of postmodernism in the context of epistemology.

          • EnlightenmentLiberal says

            @Narf

            Speaking of which, she would know this already if she read everything I wrote.

            I have a full response pending moderation. (I accidentally included two links in it, which means automatically goes to moderation.) Because I’m eager, I’ll just split it up now to bypass the filter, and hope that Aronra or whoever just deletes the one in moderation.

            It’s worse than I thought. She’s not even going to read what I write. She’s just going to tell me to read a book. This conversation did not even start, and it probably will never begin.

          • EnlightenmentLiberal says

            I really need to comment on one more thing in particular.

            Ann:

            i don’t find either religious or scientific absolutism as convincing explanations for what it means to be human, which is why i cautioned both aron and the pastor to think about pluralism and cultural relativity.

            This is just nonsensical.

            I believe Penn and Teller said this one best.
            From the Bulllshit! creationism episode, about 10:24 in.
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-5g4Ju-x64&feature=player_detailpage#t=624

            In short: no matter what your personal preference, your personal opinion, or what your culture happens to say about rabbit sex, it does not change the sex of that particular rabbit. The rabbit is female, and it doesn’t matter if you believe it is male (or Prince). It does not matter if you have a strong cultural tradition that the rabbit is male (or Prince). The rabbit is female, and no amount of force of will can change this material fact. “The truth is not democratic.”

            I do not know what the hell you might mean when you say “convincing explanations for what it means to be human”. Without a lot more context, that’s just word salad. I hear stuff like this from everyone who espouse sDennett’s “belief in belief”. It’s meaningless gobbly-goop.

            Science is the only way to understand the world around us. It is the only reliable method for discovering universal truths of the material world around us, of our shared objective reality. I embrace this scientific absolutism. Religion has no place in such discussions. To quote the esteemed Aronra, “Science doesn’t know everything. Religion doesn’t know anything.”

            Religions tend to make claims about our shared world apart from evidence, and quite often in spite of evidence. There is very compelling and IMHO incontrovertible that Christianity is a fiction to the same extent that Spider-Man comic book series is a fiction.

            You’re concerned with this thing you call “what it means to be human”. Great. You’re welcome to stay in the humanities department and continue to pontificate on problems of your own invention. As to whether there is a god, and whether the Christian god exists, this is not a humanities question. This is a question of the material existence of something in our shared reality, and thus evidence – and science – have the supreme and sole authority here. “What it means to be human”, and “the proper way to live one’s life”, and other similar questions are non-sequiturs as to whether the Christian god exists, to exactly the same extent that 2 apples put next to 2 apples makes 4 apples. Anything else is willful delusion, and I will have none of that.

            Furthermore, how we should live our life has right and wrong answers. Life is generally preferable to death. Happiness is generally preferable to sadness. And so on. To be a decent human being, you have to hold these values. With those values, science can inform us in objective and unambiguous fashion which plans are best for promoting those values. There are right and wrong answers how to live your life, how to structure government, and so on. I suggest reading Sam Harris’s work “The Moral Landscape”.

            Thus, there is no space left for you who rejects truth. I’m pretty sure that I understand your position quite well, and that I’m taking it to the logical and only plausible conclusions. Consequently, I can only hold contempt for your position. Your position is the one devoid of empathy. You do not care about the actual human suffering in the world right now as a consequence of “all cultural traditions are equal”. What about the Taliban and the subjection of woman as chattel? The biggest losers in this game is not me who lucked out on the birth lottery. It is the poor miserable people living in wretched material and social conditions around the world, such as in all Muslim countries, in the hellhole that is North Korea, and so on. You can hold your postmodernism only in a state of profound ignorance or a despicable lack of basic human decency and empathy.

  17. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    “It is inconsistent to have an ethical system when life has truly no meaning”
    “Inconsistent”
    “You keep using that word, but I do not think you know what it means.”

    To be a Christian apologist, in 5 easy steps:
    * Identify goal: Atheists cannot have an ethical system.
    * Rephrase goal: Atheists believe that life truly has no meaning or value.
    * Create an argument which is a naked circular begging-the-question: Atheists cannot have an ethical system because they believe that life has no meaning or value.
    * Inappropriately use fancy words: It is inconsistent for atheists to have an ethical system when they believe that life has no meaning or value.
    * Change a false attribution of belief (aka a strawman) into a purported logical deduction: It is inconsistent for atheists to have an ethical system when their beliefs about reality imply that life has no meaning or value.

    Result? An argument which contains a strawman, which is a circular argument, which is begging the question, which uses technical words like “inconsistent” in a completely haphazard and incorrect way, and finally which portrays you as a complete idiot.

    You as the Christian think that a life which ends has no meaning or value. We atheists fundamentally disagree. Yes – it’s all the same result in the end (at the eventual heat death of our universe), but that’s a radically different claim than it doesn’t matter in the end. This is a leap from a factual claim to a moral or value claim. This is just another appeal to nature fallacy (sometimes called the naturalistic fallacy), a kind of non-sequitur. What does the same end state have to do with how we should value how we got there, and the experience of us getting there? One has absolutely nothing to do with the other. It’s a non-sequitur.

    We atheists simply hold different values. We may like a life which is a lot longer, but we’re going to work with what we have, and make the best use of it that we can, before it ends. Do you value seeing a movie in a theater any less knowing that it’s going to end in a few hours? Why should our short life be any different?

    (I think every single argument in religious/atheism debates is brought up here. Ok – I lie. Throw in abortion and I think we’ve touched them all. Entire good books have been written on things mentioned in passing in this video.)

  18. Phea says

    In the 2nd episode about 20 minutes in, I liked the way you cut to the chase and got down to the basics of our existence, (as animals), and the foundation of our cultural moral, and ethical code. Causing unnecessary pain and suffering is bad, causing happiness and greater well being is good. I believe Sam Harris said almost the exact same thing.

    I’ fully believe this, to me, it’s self evident. When we die, we will have left the world a worse, or better place. It seems obvious that if you leave the world a bit better, if you caused more pleasure than pain, more laughter than tears, more good than evil, than you lived a positive, beautiful life, (and that’s your “reward”). If on the other hand, you’ve left the world a worse place… then you’ve lived a worse than meaningless life, you’ve lived an ugly, evil life.

    The bottom line is, you can attempt to either be a, ” + “, or a, ” – “. As an atheist, I believe the only “Personal Savior” that can save me from becoming a minus, is ME! Personally, I think it’s high time to trim the bottoms off all those crosses and turn them into plus signs, to remind us of this, but I suppose that’s just wishful thinking.

    Thank you so much Aaron, for what you do. I quote from, and post your videos on Reddit frequently, as you have an eloquent way of explaining complicated things, that people can understand, without talking down to them. As an old man, (62), with just a HS education, I’ve learned a lot from you.

  19. Rain says

    He made his religious choice based on interdependent studies totally not influenced by other stuff. BWA HA HA. Funny guy lol.

  20. Athywren says

    I know he thinks I hold to a reprehensible worldview in which all meaning is stripped away and morality is an inconsistent joke which stands only to prove that his position is right and mine foolish, but I can’t help but feel bad for Pastor Jernigan. The look on his face when Aron was being mean about pointing out the lack of evidence for Jesus, god, and the validity of the bible was just heart-rending. I wanted to give him a hug. (Then maybe strap him into one of those Clockwork Orange machines to teach him about logic… *does not know how that machine works – is assuming less pleasant matrixy things* “I know weird slang and kick-fu… woah… ow, my corneas!”)

    I do think Aron should try to avoid using phrases like “keep them out of the gene pool” though only because that can easily be quote-mined and twisted into “Youtube athiest(sic) AronRa supports Nazi eugenics programs!”
    Aside from that, and the annoying matter of people continually steamrollering over most of Dr. Gleig’s attempts to contribute (though, in fairness, they were steamrollering over each other too, and it’s hard to hush up when you’ve got your teeth dug in) I think my only major criticism is that, despite being, to the best of my knowledge, quite intellectually flexible, Aron did come across as very rigid. I know that’s a side effect of pointing out that the facts we can show stand in contradiction to the assertions made in scriptures, but I think we do need to find a way to say, “you’re fucking wrong, here’s the evidence, but, by the way, we can, will, and have changed our minds when evidence shows us that we must. But that doesn’t mean that there is evidence for your god that’s just waiting to be found, nor does it make it reasonable to believe it before such evidence, if it did exist, came to light.”

  21. iplon says

    Really wish you had gone to town on the misuse of evidence after you had given a good definition. When Dr. Gleig said something along the lines of her evidence of reincarnation was that it was said it existed by Buddha.

    This would have been an excellent opportunity to say that isn’t evidence, that is merely a claim/proclamation/pronouncement of reincarnation being real. It’s also quite an unreasonable way to believe something. “Person A was right about thing A, therefore they are right about claim B.” It’s almost a subset of an argument from authority.