Determining the Attributes and Effects of Gods


So, I was on The Thinking Atheist the last two weeks with Matt. And before going on the final night, the show’s host, Seth Andrews, submitted a very long, well organized e-mail that he’d received from a listener regarding the prior episode. It included a number of questions and concerns about statements made by all of the guests on the program, including me.

Whenever, I receive criticism regarding things I say, from someone willing to put the time in to communicate their concerns clearly and thoroughly, I try to listen. I was especially interested in this, as the topic of the program was “counter-apologetics”—something about which I’m not classically informed. So, I was already prepared for some justified correction, as I was clearly out of my depth. People who hear me on TAE know I’m informal and prefer a conversational style. I’m not out in the world doing formal debates—and, honestly, that’s not a format I suspect I’d enjoy. When I was initially invited on the podcast, I asked why I was included, since it was my view that Matt and AronRa (who was also on) were more than sufficient to cover a “Counter-Apologetics” topic. My inclusion seemed, at the very least, redundant. But it is what it is (to wax tautological). And I agreed to do it.

Out of several comments in the e-mail, only one was directed at me. I don’t know whether to feel flattered or slighted, but I would like to take the opportunity to reply to the author, G, here, starting with his original comment in full:

11:55 Tracie: “People want to talk about the attributes of God or the effects of God before they’ve actually demonstrated a God.”

I found this to be circular. If one doesn’t know at least some of the attributes that a God may have, how does one know when and if the demonstration is successful? Going back to our oak tree, if one knows none of the attributes or effects of an oak tree, how does one know when he is looking at an oak tree? How does one determine that tree X is an oak tree without comparing it to attributes of an oak tree? Must we first demonstrate it is an oak tree before we can talk about the attributes of an oak tree? In the same manner one must talk about the attributes and effects that a god would have in order to determine if that god actually exists.  Luckily, the concept of God does carry with it necessary implications; so, we can look at those and work from there. Various concepts of particular gods carry with them distinct implications, as does the concept of no God at all; by examining all of these implication we may be able to come to some sort of conclusion; but, without knowing any attributes we cannot demonstrate anything at all.

The first thing I noticed was a slight shift in what I’d addressed, versus what he was addressing. That is, he is not actually addressing what I said, but is saying something else. I don’t think this is on purpose. It seems to be an honest error. But let me explain:

11:55 Tracie: “People want to talk about the attributes of God or the effects of God before they’ve actually demonstrated a God.”

I found this to be circular. If one doesn’t know at least some of the attributes that a God may have, how does one know when and if the demonstration is successful?

I have made a comment about “the attributes or the effects of god.”

But note that in G’s response, immediately he adjusts this to “attributes that a God may have.”

This is not a minor shift. In fact, it has some extreme qualitative fallout. G, in his full e-mail gave an example of oak trees growing from acorns, as an attribute of oak trees. I’m fine sticking with his choice of examples.

So, let’s say that you and I go to a local state park that is hosting a class on native trees of Texas. In that class, the instructor asks the class to list some attributes of oak trees. One person notes they grow taller than 10 feet high. Another person notes they are susceptible to oak wilt. I raise my hand and say that they propagate through rhizomes, and at this, the instructor interrupts to inform me that I am mistaken, and that this is not, in fact, an attribute of an oak tree. You then interject that oak trees propagate through acorns, and the instructor notes you are correct.

In this example, both you and I held a concept in our heads about what an oak tree is, and what attributes it possesses. However, the attribute I supplied, while it was an attribute of my concept of an oak tree, was not, in truth, an attribute of an oak tree, any more than “oak trees routinely drive four-door sedans” is an attribute of an oak tree. And the fact I conceived of such an oak tree has no bearing whatsoever on “the attributes of oak trees.”

The attributes of my concept of X are only attributes of X if my concept of X aligns with X. Without the ability to compare my concept of X with X, I cannot call attributes of my concept of X “attributes of X.”

My statement, that was quoted above, was about attributes god has, not attributes god may have. I am not concerned with what attributes any god may have—only which attributes a god has.

But also note G’s next comment concerning how we know if we are, in fact, looking at an oak tree, if we don’t know what attributes oak trees “may have.”

Knowing the attributes an oak “may have” does not help us identify the tree. What allows us to identify an oak is that we have a very good set of known attributes oaks actually have. If we only have attributes an oak may have—then that set of attributes necessarily includes (in all or part), attributes an oak may not have. If I say “it may be blue,” that carries with it the reality it also may not be. Whereas “it is blue” eliminates the potential it’s not blue. Knowing what attributes a thing may have helps us identify it, not at all. On the other hand, knowing what attributes it has, makes all the difference in the world when you need to identify something. It was, ironically, my attempt to identify what god actually was, that led me eventually to become an atheist. And, using G’s example of the oak, it is determined by comparing the claims to the reality of the referent in objective, external, manifesting “oak.”

We label the existent things that manifest to us. And we form a consensus around those labels: “That tall knotty thing with small leaves that is always green and very big and broad and fun to climb on—let’s call that a live oak.” And the rest of us say, “OK.” And the referent becomes the “live oak,” and from that day forward, all claims regarding live oaks are measured against the actual live oak to see if the claims are true or not. And in this way, the nature instructor is able to tell me that I’m wrong about how the trees propagate—and you are right. It’s a very simple and handy system, which works exceedingly well, when applied correctly. Labels point to referents. Referents become the metrics of the truth value of our claims. And here I will insert Sagan’s valuable point about referents to which we lack access, an the impact that has on our claims:

Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder.  What I’m asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.

Here is an example of how this becomes extremely problematic with regard to gods—referents to which we lack access (leaving us with no metrics by which to measure the claims to determine which are accurate):

A Deist would say that god created the universe and then left it to run itself—not involved, unconcerned, perhaps even unaware of what is going on with any of it now. However, a Calvinist would assert that god is not only involved, but directs every aspect and event within the universe—including arbitrarily sending people to damnation. Other theists would say god has varying degrees of involvement in the universe and varying degrees of concern or anger or other attitudes toward many things that go on with Earth.

These claim conflict. They have all been argued for thousands of years. And because we lack a referent in reality, it remains unresolved. Still being argued as hotly as ever by people who believe that within their own century, somehow, it’s suddenly going to resolve.

Going back to our oak tree, if one knows none of the attributes or effects of an oak tree, how does one know when he is looking at an oak tree?

This is actually my point. How can we know we are looking at a god if we don’t know any of god’s actual attributes? I don’t think we can. But that’s not because I’m being circular or difficult. It’s because we lack a referent in reality to allow us to tell the difference between true and untrue claims about attributes of god. This situation, created by theists, who cannot agree on a metric to differentiate true claims from false claims about gods, is not a problem that can be laid at the feet of atheists. When someone asks me “what evidence would convince you?,” they have already invented a situation where it’s all but impossible to answer, because I don’t know what a god is. There are some vague notions, but nothing specific and agreed upon to the point of usefulness. But bring me your external referent, and then start making your claims, and at that point you and I can compare your claims to a real god and make some determinations about their truth values. Without that, though, it’s claims predicated on claims, predicated on more claims, with no way of determining what is true—for thousands of years, as we have already seen.

All of the theistic positions I mentioned previously exist today, and have been argued for centuries—without coming any closer to resolution. This is what happens when you can’t trot out the referent to see who is correct and who is incorrect. You argue for hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of years, without resolution, precisely because, as G says, “if one knows none of the attributes or effects of [a god], how does one know when he is looking at [a god]?” Clearly none of us do know if we are looking at a god because those who assert the attributes of god, are all over the map—giving us not only different descriptions of the attributes, but impossibly inconsistent accounts. And since we lack a referent to appeal to for authority on who is right and who is wrong—we just keep arguing through the centuries, with no end in sight.

How does one determine that tree X is an oak tree without comparing it to attributes of an oak tree?

This is actually backwards. The question should be “how does one determine that what they believe are attributes of an oak tree, are, in fact, attributes of an oak tree, without comparing them to an oak tree?” The oak tree has simply been identified and labeled by a consensus of English speakers. We don’t sit in a dark room dreaming of trees, and then go searching in reality to find the trees of our fantasies. That is not how “live oak” came to be “live oak.” Humans encountered referents, labeled them, and formed group consensus about those labels. And from then on, claims about things with those labels could be compared to the referents to assess the truth value of claims. And, again, as Sagan notes, without that referent, we are endlessly spinning our wheels. And this is demonstrated as true by, literally, thousands of years of unresolved disagreements regarding nearly all the claims about the attributes and effects of nearly all gods.

Must we first demonstrate it is an oak tree before we can talk about the attributes of an oak tree?

The manifesting oak in objective reality is the demonstration, not only that the oak exists, but also of what it possesses as attributes. Again, the process is not to invent the tree as a concept, and then go looking for it. The process is to encounter the tree, label it, and then build a concept of it based on observation and examination of the reality of that thing we just labeled as “live oak.” We learn about live oaks from live oaks directly, not from people inventing concepts of live oaks without ever having had access to one for anyone to observe. Our concepts of live oaks do not dictate to the trees. The live oak dictates to our concept. The oak itself demonstrates the concept is correct or incorrect, not the other way around.

> In the same manner one must talk about the attributes and effects that a god would have in order to determine if that god actually exists.

Actually, that’s backwards. If you were going to invent a god, like a designer might invent a dress, this would be how to do it. You’d dream up a concept and then start building it in reality based on your concept. But if a god exists independently of concepts, like your oak tree example, then you would simply access the manifesting referent in objective reality and observe its attributes. There is no need for me to “talk about the attributes and effects an oak tree would have” in order to determine oaks exist, because their existence is where we derived our labels and our concepts of oak trees. Additionally, upon observing it, I can determine what attributes it has, so that I don’t have to speculate about what attributes it may have, would have, or what my conceptions of it might be while they are divorced from observations. In other words, until you have a referent, I don’t really understand why you’re bothering with trying to build models you can’t vet or test for validity. Again, to quote Sagan, “Really, it’s okay to reserve judgment until the evidence is in.”

Why are theists so hot to talk about god before we have a god to vet their claims? Just wait for the metric to be revealed, and then we can talk in an informed way, rather than out of ignorance. That discussion would be far more interesting to me, because it would be addressing something real, about which we could make valid assessments.

Luckily, the concept of God does carry with it necessary implications; so, we can look at those and work from there.

Unfortunately people can’t agree which implications are necessary. Pantheists claim the universe is god. Panentheists claim the universe is god, but that it has something extra special about it. Some people claim god is unique and singular. Some claim there are many gods. Some claim god has domain over everything. Some claim different gods have different, and defined limits to their domains of authority. Some claim god is asexual. Some claim there are male and female gods. Some claim gods can die or be killed. Some claim gods are immortal. Some claim god is not involved in the universe. Some claim god governs every aspect of it. Some claim god is all loving. Some claim god is vengeful and jealous. Some claim god would command genocide. Some claim god would not.  Some claim god sanctions slavery. Some claim slavery is abhorrent to god. Some claim god wants them to kill those who believe differently. Some claim all religions are acceptable to god. Some claim gods were created from other things. Some claim gods are uncaused. Some claim demigods exist—hybrid gods generated by the unions of gods and other types of beings. Some claim gods are beautiful. Some claim it’s death to even look at one. Some claim gods are trustworthy, while others claim they are deceitful.

So, again—what is it I am looking for?

Various concepts of particular gods carry with them distinct implications, as does the concept of no God at all

This is correct. But we are now, again, back to “concepts of gods.” And that does not help us when it comes to a discussion about actual gods, unless the only actual gods are conceptual? Clearly the concepts of god are everywhere, and nowhere and any place in between. No two people I have met hold to the same concept of god, in fact. Theists can’t agree. And none of them seem able to supply a referent the rest can agree is a god (and these are the believers). It’s no surprise that in thousands of years, those who keep asserting they understand something about the attributes of god cannot agree on any of them. I certainly don’t plan to spend my time devoting myself to fixing their problem for them, unless someone can hand me the referent “god” to make my judgments at all useful. Until one of those theists can point to what, precisely, all these theists are talking about, discussions will be nothing more than continued centuries of spinning wheels. This is what I’d expect from a concept without a referent. It’s not what I’d expect from a concept with a referent that can be observed and examined in order to determine correct from incorrect claims.

 by examining all of these implication we may be able to come to some sort of conclusion;

Actually, as I’ve been explaining, this is how theists have been doing it for…well, since the invention of gods. And it’s failed, and failed, and failed again, heroically. We have no metric. We have no measuring stick. Anytime anyone makes a claim about a god, it’s an attribute about a concept of god that I can’t verify. I would agree that it’s fair to toss out things that clearly conflict with reality or are logically inconsistent. However that still leaves us with a huge bucket of conflicting claims and no referent to lend itself to allowing us to sort out which claims, if any, are accurately aligned to the reality of any god.

but, without knowing any attributes we cannot demonstrate anything at all.

From your keyboard to my monitor. You’ve nailed it.

Comments

  1. ChaosS says

    In the gaming world, a God is a high level boss that you usually fight at the peak of your own power. I’ve often wondered if that particular meme has been subversively making kids into atheists for decades…

    >You are attacked by a rampaging Cthulhu!

    >throw Mjolnir at Cthulhu

    >a rampaging Cthulhu DIES! from a LIGHTNING BOLT!!!

  2. adamah says

    Great post, and your command of common-sense makes you every bit as effective (if not more so) than other trained counter-apologetists.

    I agreed with pretty much everything, but this part:

    I would agree that it’s fair to toss out things that clearly conflict with reality or are logically-inconsistent.

    If only it were so!

    For when presented with evidence of a clear-cut contradiction in their beliefs, believers rely on their infamous “get out of jail free” card, citing how God’s ways are simply beyond our flawed mortal logic. They use this as a cognitive-dissonance-suppression technique, so they don’t have to fret over it and hurt their brains trying to sort it out. It’s a “thought-stopper”, an excuse to put it out of ones’ mind.

    I think he dug his own grave by bringing up oak trees, since that’s a HUGE ‘false equivalency’ due to the lack of a referant (as you pointed out). Instead, he should’ve used an example of something that is suspected of existing but has never been found, eg the ‘Q source’, based on the similarities amongst of the gospels.

    In fact, before they were found in 1945, the gnostic writings constituting the Nag Hammadi library were suspected to exist, based on their being heavily polemicized by the New Testament writers and early Church fathers, where the gnostic beliefs survived in their writings, thanks to criticizing them! So we had a pretty-good idea of what the gnostic writings would say, based upon the attempts of early church leaders (eg Irenaeus) to argue against theist ‘heretical false teachings’ to stamp them out.

    Once the library was discovered, the writings were identified as gnostic, based on how they fit the expected attributes. There were a few surprises, yes, but they fit like a glove (well, not OJs glove).

    But even that example is a faulty comparison (false equivalency), since it doesn’t apply to searching for God: as you say, believers cannot even agree on what attributes to expect God to possess.

    What an utterly useless concept the ‘God hypothesis’ is….

    Adam

  3. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @heicart:

    Why are theists so hot to talk about god before we have a god to vet their claims?

    Did you, when you were a theist?
     
    And if so, can you remember an explicit warrant you had in mind at the time?
    Do you see other hidden assumptions now, looking back?

  4. Narf says

    Interesting thought. I wouldn’t put it exactly that way, but there’s something related to that which is probably helping. I think it has more to do with simple exposure … playing around with god-concepts and not treating them with absolute reverence. Particularly in those sorts of video games, there’s usually a twist, near the end, where something major about those gods turns out to have been a lie, when you come face to face with the god’s minions or the god itself. I think that repeated exposure to the idea might get people to think about their religion with at least a slightly more skeptical eye.

    To put it another way, all of the alarmist insanity from the extreme religious right, about roleplaying games and the liberal media turning teenagers away from God and fundamentalism … well, yeah. I think they’ve got a point. Letting your kids out of their little fundie-religious bubble is going to increase the odds that they become less religious, accept the lies from Satan about Evilution, and perhaps even become atheists and have sex. I just don’t think that’s a particularly bad thing.

    From the perspective of pure exposure, one of the things I partially credit for my sense of disbelief, as early as the age of 5 or 6, was my exposure to Norse and Greek mythology, at a very early age. The concept of gods that no one believes in anymore got me thinking, apparently. Of course I learned later that there are wacky pagans who worship them still, but that’s beside the point.

  5. Narf says

    This is what makes me sometimes wish I had been a believer, at some point. I argued myself out of religious belief before I even had a grasp of formal logic. Subsequent education on the subject of course drove me further from it, since anyone but the most heavily-brainwashed can’t help but poke huge holes in every theistic argument out there, after as little as a Logic 111 or 117 class.

    I can’t truly put my mind in their shoes (because human brains are too big to fit in shoes, unless maybe you’re Shaq), since I rejected all of the brainwashing before it could have any effect.

  6. says

    __If only there were mind shoes of such caliber..

    __I wish I could borrow the mentality of someone who was never a believer and experience their genuine outlooks on religion. When *I* was a Christian, I just *knew* that God was real, the Bible was true– and anyone else who said otherwise was just misled, fallen/evil/”secular”, or “just didn’t know the truth *yet*”.

    __That was the main stance I argued and lived from- “I’m right, people who believe otherwise are wrong.” (not in a haughty, malicious, prideful way— it was just that “God has blessed me with The Truth.”)

  7. says

    __A *great* write-up, Tracie! A very fundamental ‘wait, we need something to work with here’ in relation to god claims.

    __You were very clear with your thoughts and your candid, patient words are the kind that I would borrow when trying to add emphasis or clarity when discussing religion with any theist friends of mine.

    __Keep up the great work- I’ve made an account so I can comment and keep tighter track of future posts! (and hopefully I’ll figure out the commenting system here so my comments will look a little less eyesore-ish)

    __Thanks for the great material!

  8. says

    I’m trying to think about one could soundbite-ize this. It keeps coming up as a topic, and it’s difficult to describe without many paragraphs. If one only had one or two sentences with a theist before their eyes glaze over, how would one describe the problem?

    If this “god” is manifesting somehow in reality, point it out to me, and we can go from there. If not, how do you expect to be able to provide evidence for it?

  9. says

    >>I would agree that it’s fair to toss out things that clearly conflict with reality or are logically-inconsistent.
    >If only it were so!

    It is so. Please note the statement describes what “I” would agree with. And I *would* agree with this.

    >For when presented with evidence of a clear-cut contradiction in their beliefs, believers rely on their infamous “get out of jail free” card, citing how God’s ways are simply beyond our flawed mortal logic. They use this as a cognitive-dissonance-suppression technique, so they don’t have to fret over it and hurt their brains trying to sort it out. It’s a “thought-stopper”, an excuse to put it out of ones’ mind.

    Correct. But we are talking about “concepts of god.” And this cannot be held in the mind as a concept. It is impossible to conceive of a god who can create X he cannot undo, and then can also undo it. A person can say those words, but they cannot actually conceptualize a circle that is not a circle. That is impossible. Simply asserting that the circle I believe in is a square circle, is not sufficient to create a viable “concept.” It’s not a concept. And the fact someone simply fails to actually attempt to conceptualize it, does not negate this. Also, the reality that they respond by saying it’s beyond their ken—in this case, is a statement that they are unable to conceptualize this. And this is because it is impossible to conceptualize.

    >I think he dug his own grave by bringing up oak trees, since that’s a HUGE ‘false equivalency’ due to the lack of a referant (as you pointed out). Instead, he should’ve used an example of something that is suspected of existing but has never been found, eg the ‘Q source’, based on the similarities amongst of the gospels.

    >But even that example is a faulty comparison (false equivalency), since it doesn’t apply to searching for God: as you say, believers cannot even agree on what attributes to expect God to possess.

    Actually there is a larger problem: We have manuscripts. We have stories that have developed in writing that we can refer to, and texts based upon other texts, and translations. In other words, we have other “Q”s to compare in order to derive attributes of any other Q. When it comes to gods, we don’t have *some* gods that can inform us about potential *other gods.* We have no gods and are flying totally blind.

    It’s similar to when a theist attempts to use mysterious particles in physics models:

    First we have other particles. And we have a physical universe from which to derive known, actual, attributes of things with physical properties. There is always more to learn, but even in this case, we have *some* facts to proceed with. But with gods, we cannot declare a single attribute to be a known, actual attribute of any god (except that we can say that some do not/cannot exist).

    Next, the reason that particle physics/quantum physics builds incomplete models (not totally from nothing, as noted above) to account for unexplained effects, is that they have a goal of ultimately finding a method of testing to identify a direct manifestation. That is, the only purpose in talking about “potential” attributes is in order to ultimately get to a point where we have something we can test for. If this is the goal with talking about potential attributes of gods, I can only say it’s been several thousand years, and we’re not any closer to a test, so something is very amiss.

  10. says

    Yes, and I have discussed this in other areas. At this blog, in fact, I addressed something expressed by Alister McGrath, who tried to use the “Big Question” push for god and things attributed to god. It is my belief that most people, in the vast majority of their lives, don’t bother to even think about these things that theists label as “big questions.” They seem, to me, insignificant questions. “Does a god exist?” isn’t really worth worrying about in the grand scheme.

    And we can see this is correct, because the ideologies come with what I have referred to as the “Must act now! Limited time offer!” caveat. In other words, a big question, I would say, is “can I pay my rent?” Many people consider this. For example, I would love to quit my job and look for another in the meanwhile, but I endure a job I am not really that happy in, because “can I pay my rent?” looms like a big black cloud, over my head every day. I am not saying I stress it–but it definitely impacts other decisions I make commonly. “Can I afford this vacation?” Well, I don’t know–if I buy it, can I still pay my rent? That concept comes up a lot–the idea of just “do I have sufficient resources?” That is a HUGE question even in the best of times, but even moreso in the worst of times. Whereas “is there a god?” hardly crosses people’s minds.

    The only reason people care about that question is that we simultaneously threaten them with punishments and entice them with rewards in a *potential* afterlife. That is, we use the unknown, and their fear of it, to put pressure upon them to make this decision NOW! Don’t wait, until it’s too late!!!

    When I was struggling with the question of god’s existence as a teen, it was that pressure that made that question “BIG.” Now that I no longer truck with the idea of an afterlife, I really don’t care. If I found out tomorrow a god exists, the big question for me would continue to be “OK, but can I pay my rent?”

    Here is a video someone made of a 5 1/2 minute talk I made on The Thinking Atheist where I talk about how indoctrination puts pressure on people to answer this question. If it truly were a “Big Question”–we would not have to coerce people to think about it:

  11. Zaphod says

    This lack of a referent in reality could explain. The phenenon of believers putting so much stock in their respective scriptures. Heck, even in the book itself as an object. They have no god to refer to in reality, so all they got in reality is the ink and paper artifact and I’m sure we’ve all heard of people worshipping that as an idol of sorts (I’ve noted a couple presuppositionalists who start at presupposing the BIBLE, not god, is absolutely true, and then use the BIBLE’s claim of a god as proof of it existing). And it makes a kind of sense; you can observe what words are physically written in a book unlike observing a physically manifesting god. It is all they got.

  12. azhael says

    The question should be “how does one determine that what they believe are attributes of an oak tree, are, in fact, attributes of an oak tree, without comparing them to an oak tree?” The oak tree has simply been identified and labeled by a consensus of English speakers. We don’t sit in a dark room dreaming of trees, and then go searching in reality to find the trees of our fantasies. That is not how “live oak” came to be “live oak.” Humans encountered referents, labeled them, and formed group consensus about those labels. And from then on, claims about things with those labels could be compared to the referents to assess the truth value of claims.

    Thank you! As i read G’s comment i inmediately thought “what the fuck? does this fool think that oak trees were first dreamt up by shamans in oak tree free lands?”.
    As i read your response i was desperately hoping you would address this absolutely obvious and damning point, and of course you didn’t disappoint :)

  13. corwyn says

    Not to put a dent in your excellent article, but there are occasionally times when we develop the attributes before finding the referent. One such example is the Higg’s boson. However this is a case of having a strong theory, and the requisite math, which predicts so many other things, so well, (up to 9 decimal places in some instances) that we can make predictions about things we have never observed in reality.

    Of course, we are then confident enough about those predictions to spend Billions of Euros, to build a machine which might be able to discover it. I know of no rich religious organization which is even contemplating building a machine to discover if there is a god. This shows a severe lack of confidence (faith?) in my opinion.

  14. ChaosS says

    I came to my atheism on that same road, I’ve always been fascinated with Greek Mythology, and spent time studying Norse, Egyptian, Celtic, and Native American (north and south continents) mythologies because the subject matter interested me. In that context, monotheism is just another story, an invention of the culture that embraced it.

  15. adamah says

    Corwyn said-

    Of course, we are then confident enough about those predictions to spend Billions of Euros, to build a machine which might be able to discover it. I know of no rich religious organization which is even contemplating building a machine to discover if there is a god. This shows a severe lack of confidence (faith?) in my opinion.

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.

    To the contrary, anyone who knows Xian theology understands it’s the faithless who seek tangible evidence before they will believe: that’s the whole point of Jesus deprecating Doubting Thomas in John, telling him blessed are those who believe based on faith vs those who demand to see evidence with their own eyes.

    In the topsy-turvy World of Xian theology, evidence is the very enemy of faith, and deprives the believer of an opportunity to build their faith. Practically speaking, it’s also a big excuse to do nothing.

  16. says

    And it’s a book of claims, that we cannot compare to any referent. People have been recording claims about god since we have had the concept of gods, and today they still are spewing more and more claims. It’s claims, predicated on claims, predicated on more claims…It’s claims all the way down. And not a referent for comparison. There are claims of referents. But no referent to compare those claims to. As Sagan said–it comes down to just believing on someone’s say-so. But no matter how many people say-so, the lack of a single verified referent, means they’re all still just only claims.

  17. says

    I addressed this above in comments. I didn’t address it in the article, because I worked with the example provided, but it’s really not that different. I will repost here in case it helps:

    >It’s similar to when a theist attempts to use mysterious particles in physics models:

    >First we have other particles. And we have a physical universe from which to derive known, actual, attributes of things with physical properties. There is always more to learn, but even in this case, we have *some* facts to proceed with. But with gods, we cannot declare a single attribute to be a known, actual attribute of any god (except that we can say that some do not/cannot exist).

    >Next, the reason that particle physics/quantum physics builds incomplete models (not totally from nothing, as noted above) to account for unexplained effects, is that they have a goal of ultimately finding a method of testing to identify a direct manifestation. That is, the only purpose in talking about “potential” attributes is in order to ultimately get to a point where we have something we can test for. If this is the goal with talking about potential attributes of gods, I can only say it’s been several thousand years, and we’re not any closer to a test, so something is very amiss.

    ***

    Two other important issues that differentiate the particle claims from the god claims:

    1. No faith is required, since nobody is required to believe in the particles until they have been demonstrated. It’s a hypothesis until it can be robustly tested to qualify as theory. This is very different than the god claims, where people are intended to believe the claims prior to testing–not just entertain the claims as potential, tentative, unverified explanations.

    2. As the author of the e-mail clearly illustrates, the thinking is totally opposite to particle theory thinking: The effects don’t dictate to the conceptual model. The conceptual model dictates to the effects. Their god exists, no matter WHAT the effects are. To them, god is the reality, and reality is just the clay they need to mold to fit the model. They’ve already built their models, and any reality will do to fit some attribute or effect of some god/s.

  18. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    Aside:
    Thank you! I’m glad you pointed out that episode. Not a series I tend to follow, so I would have missed it otherwise. So many cogent statements packed together from all three of you. ^_^
    Such gems tend to be scattered across numerous shows/lectures/clips/posts.
     
    YouTube: The Thinking Atheist 168 (entire episode)
     
     
    I can quote you from there to carry on the conversation with myself…
     
    (35:51, also in the video excerpt):

    When you’re indoctrinated, you’re just progressively torn down to never trust yourself and to think that you can’t think […] You’re thinking, “My entire life will be horrible fear and doubt just like I’m experiencing right now if I don’t believe.”

    The carrot and stick can certainly make someone want to believe, “fake it ’til you make it” (somehow), or lie hoping compliance is enough.
     
    But how does someone, robbed of confidence in their own judgment, go on to become certain of anything?
     
    Especially to the point of blithely gainsaying everyone else – even the holy book itself, or authorities in unrelated secular topics like alt-med – based on personal experience or uninformed incredulity?
     
    (32:47-32:59, immediately before the excerpt):

    When I was confronted by facts that disputed what I believed, of course, I changed my beliefs. I’ve seen people that don’t do that, and I don’t understand that either.

    :(
     
    (36:55-37:44, also in the video):

    Whatever you consider to be a successful outcome is the positive successful outcome of the prayer test. […] And then all that fear just slides away because now you believe in Jesus. […] And then you start doing this thing […] where every single thing that happens is God. God did this for me.

    How does that exercise not feel dishonest or patronizing, leaving the pray-er unsatisfied?
     
    (40:20-40:33):

    It’s like somebody who’s just paranoidly afraid of the house burning down buying insurance. So you have to force yourself to find some way to believe this thing.

    But wouldn’t- [redacted] *disappointed sigh*
    Irrational. Not an alternate reality that has rules of a different sort.
     
    Dawkins once oh so tactfully said to SciAm, “If I tell somebody who believes the world is 6,000 years old that he is ignorant, I am paying him the compliment of assuming that he is not stupid, insane or wicked.”

  19. Perry Robinson says

    Tracy,

    You wrote citing Sagan,

    ” Labels point to referents. Referents become the metrics of the truth value of our claims. And here I will insert Sagan’s valuable point about referents to which we lack access, an the impact that has on our claims:


    Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder. What I’m asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.”

    Do you mean to say that terms that have no empirical referent are meaningless?

  20. says

    From the article:

    >>Various concepts of particular gods carry with them distinct implications, as does the concept of no God at all

    >This is correct.

    So, no, I don’t mean to say they are “meaningless.” Concepts can be coherent concepts, even if they do not exist. For example, unicorns are conceptual. If I showed you a coffee mug and told you “that is a unicorn,” you would know I am wrong, because we are familiar with the concept of a unicorn, and there is no one trying to “prove” the unicorn is a concept tied to an external referent.

    Note how someone can say that unicorns in old tapestries look more like goats than horses, and nobody jumps up to say “that is wrong.” We simply realize it’s a conceptual model, divorced from reality, and because of that, it has a great deal of flexibility. Items that are “concept” only–will always be vague. Consider the age-old arguments that surround such words as “love,” “morality,” “marriage,” and “spirituality.”

    A person who can’t abide their partner, murders them when they try to leave, saying they loved them so much they could not let them go. While another person recoils in horror to say that if you love someone you want them to be happy, even if they’re not with you. Regardless of which person I might lean toward in the dialog, I have to admit that nobody “owns” the definition of “love”–not in the way we can say “live oak” is owned by the live oak tree.

    We have varying concepts of Santa Claus, varying concepts and portrayals of elves. Before I read Tolkien, I thought of elves as tiny. When he portrayed them as strikingly tall, however, I did not balk and say “that’s no elf!?” Because nobody owns “elf.” But a coffee mug, again, is not an elf.

    Concepts can carry meaning–but it’s just vague meaning that cannot be nailed down like a label with a referent.

    So, in the end IF a label has a referent in external reality, I see no point to spending several thousand years arguing about its attributes. I would recommend locating the referent and then assessing the claims. The problem is, with gods, the attributes have been developed for so long by so many that even if there were a referent–would even theists be able to agree on it? And that’s not rhetorical–I honestly don’t know.

  21. Perry Robinson says

    Tracy,

    Thanks for the clarification.

    Do you mean to say that any existent must be a material existent to count as an existential instantiation of a concept?

  22. adamah says

    2.1

    Hi Tracie,

    Thanks for responding. I find the topic interesting, and hopefully you won’t interpret my words as attempting to argue, create agro, etc: that’s not the spirit in which I am writing, honest!

    heicart said-

    It is so. Please note the statement describes what “I” would agree with. And I *would* agree with this.

    Sure, but that’s because you’re a reasonable person. :)

    My point (implied) was good luck getting believers to agree on what would constitute a logical inconsistency, much less get them to recognize when they’re being logically-inconsistent!

    If they valued intellectual honesty, had the ability to examine evidence, and the capacity for self-awareness required to contemplate their motives, they probably wouldn’t be a theist (but hope springs eternal, I guess)!

    (I’m fresh off discussing Bible topics with an evangelist who’s sharper than the typical believer. But when the topic of the Bible comes up, his brain turns into a big ol’ marshmallow; it’s amazing to watch the serotonin kick in whenever he turns on the “feel good” juice by citing a scripture that triggers it’s release.)

    Humans (not just believers) can tell you all day long they’re logical, but turn around and perform some illogical act without blinking; many lack the self-awareness to realize it (Jesus ironically spoke of the phenomenon when he said to take the rafter out of ones’ own eye before pointing out the splinters in the eyes of others).

    Most believers have accepted the supposition that the Bible is ‘perfect’ and contains no contradictions: therefore if someone thinks they’ve found a contradiction, they ascribe it as due to a lack of understanding.

    And if the ‘blame the whistleblower’ approach fails to shut someone down, they resort to claiming humans cannot understand God’s logic: who are we, as puny mortals, to even question God’s wisdom?

    It’s all a MASSIVE ‘appeal to ignorance’ (AKA the entire moral of the story of Job), designed to stop pesky questioners dead in their tracks.

    Correct. But we are talking about “concepts of god.” And this cannot be held in the mind as a concept. It is impossible to conceive of a god who can create X he cannot undo, and then can also undo it. A person can say those words, but they cannot actually conceptualize a circle that is not a circle. That is impossible. Simply asserting that the circle I believe in is a square circle, is not sufficient to create a viable “concept.” It’s not a concept.

    Not only IS it a concept (which needn’t be conceptualized), but it’s a viable concept (ie workable, even successful), since for many it provides a measure of comfort (at least, until it doesn’t, after they ‘lose their religion’).

    They just don’t think about the contradiction any longer, and simply put it out of their mind to protect their paradoxical belief.

    In other words, they’re protecting their belief in ‘circular squares’, despite not being able to actually conceive of such a thing.

    Also, the reality that they respond by saying it’s beyond their ken—in this case, is a statement that they are unable to conceptualize this. And this is because it is impossible to conceptualize.

    You clearly haven’t met my relatives yet, lol!

    If someone accepts a paradoxical incomprehensible and nonsensical statement (such as ‘circular squares’) as an absolute truth, and is told they must defend that concept as an article of their faith, then people not only CAN believe in an illogical concept, they actually DO believe (that’s why we use the term, ‘delusional beliefs’).

    (And note my caution to avoid any confusion over the ‘is vs ought’ distinction: I’m only describing what statistics on # of believer Worldwide tells us; I’m not prescribing.)

    It’s incorrect to think ideas have to be fully-understood and comprehended in order to be believed; unfortunately, humans simply don’t work like that (and I’m relying on definitions used by clinical psychologists, and NOT those of a bunch of wonky egg-headed philosophers who use their scientifically-unfounded definitions for words like ‘belief’ which contradict what neurologists and psychologists find in their actual studies with humans).

    Ask any psychiatrist, and they’ll tell you people sometimes act on completely irrational fears which they themselves cannot begin to explain to others, but nevertheless they seemingly believe and act upon the idea: that’s the very definition of a phobia, an emotionally-driven over-reaction to some stimuli which largely is driven by the reptilian brain-stem, over-riding the more-rational neo-cortex.

    Believers CAN parrot and convince themselves of the truth of paradoxical sayings without being able to form the mental concept in their minds or explain it rationally to others: bith are NOT a requirement.

    In fact, that’s exactly WHY religion relies so heavily on paradoxical sayings: they’re used as ‘thought-stoppers’ to overwhelm worshipers and put them in their place, serving as evidence of how God’s ways are so far beyond our ability to comprehend them, the believer goes into brain freeze due to wonder, amazement, or trying to grasp the ineffable and the incomprehensible.

    That IS the major source from which religion derives it power over people.

    (Some people actually ENJOY the way paradoxical thoughts make them feel, as it seemingly helps them keep their massive (latent) egos in check, where the entire ‘God wants to be your BFF’ is such an appeal to narcissistic egos, it makes me sad for the future of humanity.)

    So when you say YOU cannot do it, sure, I believe you aren’t lying: you cannot personally do so. But are you sure you’re not engaging in some ‘projection’, applying your own values to others?

    You’re an ex-believer: I mean, you once DID believe, right?

    You are far-too-rational of a thinker to remain a believer for long, but I tend to forget not everyone shares MY values, my experiences, or my need to understand how things work so my World makes sense to me.

    Other people are quite content to say “it’s magic!”, and get back to their soap opera and ‘pay the rent’, as you say (ie Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).

    Ultimately we ALL carry models of other material ‘things’ in the World in our minds, merely as proxies, concepts, and mental constructs, and obviously NOT as a tiny version of the ‘real thing’.

    Some of us carry a model of radio waves in our minds, as well, which are completely invisible to the human eye.

    Most of us cannot conceive of an invisible radio wave (most electronics books depict radio waves as sinusoidal patterns, but then clarify they’re invisible), yet surely you’d agree the concept of radio waves serves as a useful mental construct, nevertheless?

    Actually there is a larger problem: We have manuscripts. We have stories that have developed in writing that we can refer to, and texts based upon other texts, and translations. In other words, we have other “Q”s to compare in order to derive attributes of any other Q.

    Point of clarification: you do know I didn’t just make up some random variable and call it ‘Q’?

    I’m referring to the ‘Q source’, a document which has been hypothesized by various NT scholars that accounts for the similarities found amongst the gospels which aren’t explained solely by their dependence on the Markan source (widely acknowledged by Biblical scholars as being the oldest book of the synoptic gospels):

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q_source

    The ‘Q source’ might be one document or many, but it’s the ‘missing link’ writing in Bible scholarship which hasn’t yet been found; without it, the stories common to both Matthew and Luke appear to be an improbable coincidence.

    So even though not found yet, we have an idea what a ‘Q source’ document would look like, based on the attributes such a document would have to possess in order to explain the commonalities found in the other gospels.

    (Of course, believers would say God’s Holy Spirit is the Q source….(insert rollie eyes emoticon here )

    I then offered an example of the Gnostic writings which WERE discovered in 1945 after being hidden in a cave for 1,600 yrs(!), where Bible scholars also had a good idea of their attributes long before they were discovered, partly based on polemics written by the early Church fathers (which is partly how they were identified as what they are: they matched their descriptions).

    The same logical process would be applied to the Q document(s), if any candidates suddenly appeared; they’d have to possess some of the attributes to explain their influence (although a single document doesn’t need to possess ALL these characteristics, since there might be OTHER common sources, too).

    It’s similar to when a theist attempts to use mysterious particles in physics models:

    I see someone posted of Higgs Boson example above; I like to use radio waves.

    But as you pointed out, all examples from science (be it particle physics, radio waves, or botany), involve SOME physical referent, since otherwise it wouldn’t be within the domain of scientific investigation!

    That’s why I offered the example of the Q document as a closer approximation to the ‘seeking God’ situation, since it’s somewhat closer in terms of intangibility (but as I said, it still fails, since the attributes are suspected based on commonalities in the gospels, which, for better or worse, serve as referents: that may have been your point, as well).

    Believers obviously use the traits ascribed to God that appear in the Bible as their referents, but obviously they cannot agree.

    I suppose an even-closer analogy that G. could’ve used would be when a crime is committed and the Police take a description of the suspect from various eyewitnesses to put out an APB, telling all units to be on the lookout for a suspect who matches the physical description (where obviously the referent (aka the criminal who committed the crime) is reluctant to be arrested, and remains at-large.)

    In applying the analogy to the search for God, though, you’d have to include 100 eyewitnesses who cannot agree on the suspect’s description (White? Black? Hispanic? Male? Female? Appearing as a burning bush? In parted clouds? A mortal?), and 3 billion more people who didn’t actually see the suspect, but are quite ready to tell you their concept of what the suspect looks like, in exquisite detail.

    I suspect that analogy would’ve better-served his argument instead of the oak tree, since as we’ve all said, the oak tree analogy is a false equivalency, a non-starter.

    Oh, on this:

    This is correct. But we are now, again, back to “concepts of gods.” And that does not help us when it comes to a discussion about actual gods, unless the only actual gods are conceptual?

    But even there, suppose someone trotted out God to serve as a referent: how would the situation be any different, since everyone’s conception of ANYTHING and EVERYTHING is potentially so wildly-divergent?

    Take our president (BO) as an example: although flesh and blood, to some he’s the devil incarnate, and to others, the messiah. Their attitude and biases will alter their perceptions, and people cannot help but have their thinking influenced by the set they carry (whether they realize it or not).

    Although I do agree with you, I just don’t see much of a difference, eg even after people are told how a trick was done to deceive them, a shockingly large %age won’t accept that they were tricked, and delusionally persist in their prior belief (thanks to denial).

    Adam

  23. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @adamah:

    Not only IS [god] a concept (which needn’t be conceptualized), but [it’s] a viable concept (ie workable, even successful), since for many it provides a measure of comfort (at least, until it doesn’t, after they ‘lose their religion’).

    Article: Wikipedia – Use–Mention Distinction
     
     

    If someone accepts a paradoxical incomprehensible and nonsensical statement (such as ‘circular squares’) as an absolute truth, and is told they must defend that concept as an article of their faith, then people not only CAN believe in an illogical concept, they actually DO believe

    Article: Adèle Mercier – Religious Belief and Self-Deception (Second-Order Belief) (link is a pdf)
     
     

    Instead, he should’ve used an example of something that is suspected of existing but has never been found, eg the ‘Q source’, based on the similarities amongst of the gospels.

    Actually there is a larger problem: We have manuscripts. We have stories that have developed in writing that we can refer to, and texts based upon other texts, and translations. In other words, we have other “Q”s to compare in order to derive attributes of any other Q.

    Point of clarification: you do know I didn’t just make up some random variable and call it ‘Q’?

    *headdesk*
    Whe have other [instances of text fragments of the Q class, mixed into larger documents] to compare in order to derive attributes of any other [instance of a more complete copy of tfotQc].

  24. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    Oops, forgot the pdf…
    Article: Adèle Mercier – Religious Belief and Self-Deception (Second-Order Belief) (link is a pdf)

  25. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    * And the “larger problem” of Q was emphasizing the lossy route by which those fragments would have come to appear in the copies of copies of the larger documents available today. So the class based on them would be fuzzy, the excerpted descendents’ words would not be expected in the original verbatim.

  26. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @adamah:

    suppose someone trotted out God to serve as a referent: how would the situation be any different, since everyone’s conception of ANYTHING and EVERYTHING is potentially so wildly-divergent?

    Take our president (BO) as an example: although flesh and blood, to some he’s the devil incarnate, and to others, the messiah. Their attitude and biases will alter their perceptions, and people cannot help but have their thinking influenced by the set they carry (whether they realize it or not).

    Article: Stephen Law – Going Nuclear

  27. says

    Well, one other instance I can think of would be things that can be represented by existence, such as concepts like “open” or “three.” While the labels represent “anything that is open” or “anything that comes in threes,” they are still demonstrable in objective reality so that we can teach them clearly to children on Sesame Street, for example. The laws of logic work this way as well.

    But in a real life example, when I was dating my now-husband, the first time he told me he loved me, my response was “what do you mean by that?” This is what makes the labels of “concept only” items mostly unhelpful to a large degree. Whenever they are used, people often make the error of assuming “this person who used this word means what I mean when I use this word.” And that often is not the case. It means that when such terms are used, we then have to go on to explain or define what we mean by those terms, and if we are going to explain what it is we are labeling with those terms, anyway, why use the labels to begin with? I mean, I suppose after it’s explained, the label becomes a handy method of shorthand for a continued dialog? Which is why I’d call them “mostly unhelpful,” rather than “purely useless.”

    But when the goal is to be describing an external referent, that dictates a concept, if there is nothing to examine, it cannot be differentiated from “nonexistent.” And so, making claims about what we cannot even verify exists becomes an exercise in speculation. And without a primary goal of getting it to manifest so that we can vet the claims, I don’t see much pragmatic use in discussing such things. As Sagan says, if you just enjoy it, then that’s a fun time for you. But I see it as pointless from a personal perspective.

    We also have things like “laws”–and I don’t know if you’re describing something like that? Rules that we adopt to govern society. To me, those rules should also come with explicit goals and be supported by good information that allows us to vet the usefulness of the rules in comparison to the goals–basically a legal ethic. Ethics are invented, and can also be somewhat arbitrary in nature, and yet be explicitly defined. But that is done through codification and consensus (a business ethic that has no consensus, for example, will not do well–which is why people are often asked to agree to specific terms of ethics in order to obtain a license or certification in a specific area of expertise).

    I don’t know if these are the types of things you’re considering, however, as you provide no referents to work with–which, again, illustrates the point. Just asking abstractly, without a concrete example, leaves me foundering for what you might mean. The very problem I’m describing in the post.

  28. says

    Thank you, Sky Captain, for handling this so well. I was, additionally, SMH at the idea of having concepts that needn’t be conceptualized…I imagine that’s like saying that in order to make sense, it doesn’t have to be sensible? Concepts are ideas and notions we hold in the mind. If they cannot be modeled in any mind, they are not concepts. We can say the words, but we cannot image the model–and concepts are mental models.

    Another problem was the goal post move where “impossible concept” became “not fully understood.” Certainly we can believe things without full understanding. But with no understanding, saying we “believe” something becomes *meaningless*. And nobody can understand–on any level–a circle that is not a circle.

    >they’re used as ‘thought-stoppers’

    Yes—exactly. You have to stop thinking at that point—which means that your “concept” manufacturing system has shut down. This is my point: It cannot BE a concept. And someone who claims it is a concept they accept in reality simply does not understand what a concept is, nor what true/believe mean.

  29. adamah says

    Thank you, Sky Captain, for handling this so well. I was, additionally, SMH at the idea of having concepts that needn’t be conceptualized…I imagine that’s like reading a book you’ve never opened?

    Don’t shake your head so fast, since you’re absolutely wrong on this point, per the definitions adopted and used by medical professionals who treat patients with mental illnesses (psychiatrists, psychologists) and who’ve created useful models explaining how humans think and behave.

    I suspect you’re relying on word usage of the philosophers, this being only one example of how philosophy has been left by the side of the road for dead by physicians and clinical scientists who actually bother to do research studies with fMRIs, behavioral studies, clinical trials, etc.

    A ‘concept’ is defined as an abstract idea: there are few better examples of it than the God idea, since it’s undeniably an abstraction, even the textbook example.

    The word ‘abstract’ implies the idea needn’t be fully-formed (ie concrete) or understood in order to qualify; it’s still an idea which can be accepted as truth and used to base decisions (ie a ‘belief’).

    Abstract or even completely nonsensical ideas qualify as beliefs; however, they’re subclassified as delusional beliefs. Nevertheless, they ARE still considered to be beliefs, since the person accepts them to be true and relies on their veracity to base their future actions.

    Question in my mind is, are you denying the consensus opinion of the experts in the field of how humans actually think, the medical professionals?

    I hope not, instead going with the old-fashioned navel-gazing ‘thought- experiment’ approach favored by philosophers and theologians alike.

    That’s keeping one foot in the grave….

    I can say “Moby Dick was the most interesting book I’ve ever read.” But if I’ve never read it–does that statement actually mean anything? It simply points to the reality that I do not understand what it means to “read” a book.

    Excluding alternatives?

    More probable is the commonly-encountered scenario where someone believes they read a book, but then they realize they hadn’t when they hear the storyline described from someone who is correct; the person was confused, perhaps thinking of another maritime-themed work (I dunno, maybe they actually read ’20k leagues under the sea’).

    Nevertheless, they honestly and sincerely believed they HAD read Moby Dick, and would’ve continued to believe they had (and tell others they had), until they were challenged on the point and set straight.

    Another problem was the goal post move where “impossible concept” became “not fully understood.”

    Uh, an ‘impossible to imagine’ concept is by definition ‘not fully understood': that’s no moving goalposts, and that’s arguing a distinction without a significant difference.

    Certainly we can believe things without full understanding. But with no understanding, saying we “believe” something becomes *meaningless*. And nobody can understand–on any level–a circle that is not a circle.

    Again, understanding is NOT a prerequisite for qualification of an idea to be considered as a ‘belief’.

    In fact, not understanding the illogic of the belief actually helps ensure compliance, useful for application of subsequent appeals to authority (do what I say!)

    In fact, that’s part of the “softening up” technique used by religions to put believers in the mindset to accept without questioning, so it’s almost a REQUIREMENT!

    I’ve dealt with many paranoid delusional patients who fully believed eg they’d been implanted with a tracking device behind their eyes that allows others to monitor everything they see; no amount of disconfirmatory evidence I could possibly present (eg dilated examination of their eyes, MRI/CT scan of the globe, etc) will convince them otherwise, since they often simply change their story to dismiss the disconfirmatory evidence and protect their delusional belief.

    Religious beliefs are a milder form of the same phenomena, but actually more tenacious, since it’s socially-acceptable (if not more dangerous to go against societal norms, as the Mubarek example shows).

    Again, I’m explaining what IS, not what OUGHT to be: if I had a magic wand that made people behave differently than they currently do, I’d wave it.

    Alas, I don’t.

    >they’re used as ‘thought-stoppers’

    Yes—exactly. You have to stop thinking at that point—which means that your “concept” manufacturing system has shut down. This is my point: It cannot BE a concept. And someone who claims it is a concept they accept in reality simply does not understand what a concept is, nor what true/believe mean.

    For your own benefit, you and Sky Capt really need to do a bit of research on this topic, since as a practicing member of the profession, I’m telling you you’re both out of step with current thinking of the consensus opinion of medical professionals, eg

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/20731601/

    Adam

  30. Perry Robinson says

    Tracy,

    I guess I am not clear on what exactly you mean by the term “objective reality.” Do you mean to say that you are endorsing the metaphysical claim that the only thing that exists is matter/energy in a time/space context?
    If so, then the answer to my previous question would be “yes.” If not, it would be “no.” If materialism is true, then only material objects could count as instances of concepts. And of course concepts would be have to be material in some way as well, right?

  31. adamah says

    Sky Capt, you DO realize this is a discussion forum? Posting a bunch of links is not an argument.

    If you have a point you’re actually trying to make (eg did you intend to accuse me of ‘going nuclear’, ironically posting a link from an article on a philosopher’s blog?) then you’re going to have to actually state it. I don’t read minds, and I don’t offer links without explaining WHY I’m posting them, since it’s lazy and ambiguous not to do so..

    Adam

  32. adamah says

    And for the one example where you actually offered a semblance of an argument:

    Sky Captain said-

    *headdesk*
    Whe have other [instances of text fragments of the Q class, mixed into larger documents] to compare in order to derive attributes of any other [instance of a more complete copy of tfotQc].

    You should swear off the bad habit of hitting your head against the desk: you risk causing permanent irreversible brain damage. :)

    Read my post again, and you’ll see I was one step ahead of ya’, Pal, as I mentioned the possibility of multiple textual sources to explain similarities, and not just a single “Q source”.

    Are you a NT scholar, or otherwise qualified to speak of the consensus opinion of experts in the field?

    I’m not either, but as far as I know, the issues which led to the development of the Q source hypothesis 200 yrs ago still hasn’t been satisfactory resolved, and the issue remains unanswered and a matter open to debate.

    Adam

  33. G. Brady Lenardos says

                    Hi Tracie,
                    Thanks for the response. I think you missed the point I was trying to make and perhaps that is my fault for relying on examples which were meant to deliver one point and only one point, which you may have misconstrued to be full analogies. I will accept the blame for that. So, now let me be more precise.
                    "11:55 Tracie: “People want to talk about the attributes of God or the effects of God before they’ve actually demonstrated a God.”
                    In the discussion on TTA 168 you call this “putting the cart before the horse.” Correct me if I am wrong, but this suggests that as a methodology you are saying that one must demonstrate that God exists before one can talk about the attributes and effects of God. It is this methodology and only this methodology as a methodology that I a addressing.
                    I may have incorrectly assumed that you are not just special pleading on the issue of God, but that this is a standard methodological principle that you suggest be used with everything. If I am wrong and you and/or some of your friends just made up this special pleading, please say so, and our discussion can end here.
                    Assuming that you are not attempting special pleading, let me continue. The methodology of asking that something be demonstrated before talking about the attributes and effects about said something is not part of any inductive reasoning or deductive reasoning. In fact the opposite is true. In all inductive and deductive arguments the conclusion (or demonstration) comes at the end of the argument and is the result of rationally looking at preconditions, attributes and effects. These are called the premises. Without premises there can be no conclusion (I.E. nothing can be demonstrated). So, the methodology that one must demonstrate X before one can talk about the attributes and effects of X is irrational.
                    Now, I could be wrong, maybe I missed that day in class where my logic professor talked about the methodology where things must be demonstrated prior to talking about its attributes and effects (I.E. where conclusions come prior to examining the premises), but I don’t think so.
                    I hope this clarifies my objection to your position; and again, if I have misunderstood you, I apologize and am open to correction.

  34. Narf says

    __I wish I could borrow the mentality of someone who was never a believer and experience their genuine outlooks on religion. When *I* was a Christian, I just *knew* that God was real, the Bible was true– and anyone else who said otherwise was just misled, fallen/evil/”secular”, or “just didn’t know the truth *yet*”.

    Yeah, it’s a hell of a mental divide. I have a bit of a hybrid background. I was raised religious; I just never was religious.

    My family was the every-Sunday-mass-going sort of Catholic. But from as early as the age of 5 or 6, I doubted. It was some sort of built-in skepticism or something. I dunno. Even back then, when they were telling me stories out of the Gospels, in Sunday school, I kept wondering how they knew all of that happened, since I had seen more amazing things on TV and at magic shows.

    Hell, I saw the lady get sawn clean in half and healed back together good as new. The bit about Lazarus wasn’t nearly as impressive. Maybe Lazarus just fell into a coma or something? Even accepting the assumption that the nonsense in the Bible had some foundation in reality, (rather than being stories passed down for decades and doubtlessly embellished like mad, before being written down) it still didn’t wash.

    When the concept of faith in the myyyyystery of God was explained to me, I thought it was the most stupid idea I had ever heard. I had already had too much science, pre-kindergarten, since my parents had bought a freaking huge set of science books for my older brother, which were one of the main things that I had learned to read on.

  35. Narf says

    And when we begin looking for referents, say with archaeology, we find that reality doesn’t mesh with the contents of the book, in many ways. I’ve been reading a lot of Israel Finklestein, lately. As if raw skepticism wasn’t sufficient, when you start finding massive holes in the history given in the Bible, you’re pretty much done.

  36. Narf says

    Not necessarily. The important distinction is immaterial objects that influence the material. If you could demonstrate something of the sort, that would at least get you a starting point.

    You’re confusing philosophical materialism with methodological materialism to some degree, too. If something doesn’t at least show up in our testing of the material world, it isn’t worth considering. Its actual existence or nonexistence is irrelevant. See scientific falsifiability.

    Take your statement about concepts. Concepts are not physical objects in and of themselves. They are however represented in physical reality as a pattern. They are physical, in that respect, and they’re capable of replicating themselves within physical reality. A pattern is not something that comes from outside of physical reality; it’s just something that matter does.

    To go back to my first paragraph, ‘open’ and ‘three’ are not immaterial objects. They’re states or qualities of material objects, and their expression is a pattern placed upon our brain states and the sound waves in the air, used to spread the pattern to other brains. There’s no reason to think that there’s any immaterial component there.

  37. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @G. Brady Lenardos: Sorry in advance for this wall of text…
     
    There’s an old text adventure game, “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, where you play by typing sentences and getting paragraphs of descriptive feedback. Within the game world, there exists a noun labelled
     
    “Thing That Your Aunt Gave You That You Don’t Know What It Is”.
     
    Thus far, you have a label, and no direct experience with the thing to which it refers (your character hasn’t interacted with it yet). (If you’ve played the game, pretend you haven’t.)
     
    Of what use is this label for proving, much less communicating anything about the thing itself?
     
    Next… I’ll reveal that it is in fact an inventory item. Now, there are conventions to help. In games, inventory items mimic real-world objects: you can take, examine and manipulate them with various verbs.
     

    # look at thing
    Apart from a label on the bottom saying “Made in Ibiza” it furnishes you with no clue as to its purpose, if indeed it has one. You are surprised to see it because you thought you’d thrown it away. Like most gifts from your aunt, you’ve been trying to get rid of it for years.

     
    You know a little more now. Based on using a repeatable procedure to isolate some existing object, interact with it, and observe the response, you can form generalizations about what attributes instances of [that class of thing] might have in common – to refer to when identifying such objects under other circumstances. You can refer to that object with any label you like and restrict your use of the label to objects which fit that class. You can use generalizations about real-world objects you’ve already observed to set tentative expectations for its behavior.
     
    Side note: an object can be a member of multiple classes depending on how broadly you want to categorize (you can build classes to identify “stuffed animals” or “stuffed alligators” or a specific “stuffed alligator with a ‘Made in Ibiza’ label” for example based on common features of one or more instances).
     
    Investigating further, you find the thing is especially mysterious… Attempting to “feel” it yields no information. You are unable to “taste” it (at least not in this game, it says). Try to “eat” it: stuffing it in your mouth would do little to help. It currently makes no sound whenever you “listen”. It “smells” just like a [tyagywydkwii].
     
    However you CAN “put” lots of other objects into it. You can “drop” it. Then it mysteriously reappears on your person a short time later, including the contents. Based on your prior experience with portable containers, you can call upon a more refined, less failure-prone, set of assumptions. Then you can plan your actions, with a better idea of what it is. It can hold a tooth brush, so imagining a thimble is bad (too small) but imagining a solid aluminum bar is even less accurate.
     
    Now, you can go to another player, and without even mentioning the label “[tyagywydkwii]”, you can describe the attributes you’ve determined. Then they can search around for an item that matches that criteria.
     
     
    * As a cheat, I’m only capable of discussing it with you at all because it happens to be unique in-game, and players would encounter it initially under identical conditions. Also the game’s real-world interface, being text-based, represents the thing to players as the “label”, which is tantamount to etching “spoon” on all your spoons. :P
     
    ** Beware the Use-Mention Distinction. Confusing labels for the referents, and levels of abstraction. Technically human players are interacting with a physical computer, which displays various programmed responses. The thing ‘exists’ at that level too, as configurations of matter inside the computer, but for immersion’s sake, we can pretend the game world is objective reality (or inter-subjective reality, if you prefer). Events are scripted, so other players can cross-confirm each others’ experiences just by playing similarly and build consensus.

  38. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    *** Forgot to mention, the repeatable procedure to isolate the thing was looking in your robe pocket. You stumble upon it initially simply by rummaging around.

  39. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    Correction:
    * As a cheat, I’m only capable of discussing it with you at all because it happens to be…

  40. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    Israel Finklestein did a four-part documentary series called “The Bible Unearthed”, available on YouTube (1hr eps).
     
    Apparently there’s a different single-episode version from the History Channel, but I never bothered with that one.

  41. Andres Villarreal says

    I think your whole argument is completely counteracted by distinguishing “god” from “concept of god”.

    I can define god as “an immensely powerful being that created the universe, then got overwhelmed by his own creation and now lives in eternal boredom in Alpha Centauri”. There is not one attribute shared by my god and yours, and even discussing a common frame of reference to start a discussion is impossible.

  42. jdoran says

    You’ve entirely missed Tracie’s point. She’s not talking about logical argumentation, because logical argumentation is not sufficient to demonstrate existence claims. You may have missed that day in your logic class.

    If your claim is that you have a tree in your front yard which has the face of Jesus in it, then you don’t make a logical argument to prove it, you provide evidence for the tree. Allow interested parties to come see it, take photos, etc. In fact, in most situations where you would be asked to provide evidence for the Jesus tree, rejecting conventional methods and attempting to demonstrate its existence via logical argument would be considered highly suspicious.

    Insisting that a god isn’t, can’t be, or shouldn’t be subject to the same requirements that any other existence claim would be is special pleading on the part of theists. Doubly so since god claims have been carefully refined over the centuries so as to be unexaminable by any reliable methodology.

  43. adamah says

    PS a few points of clarification:

    The word ‘concept’ is related to ‘conceived’, not just referring to abstract ideas, but also fully-formed (‘concrete’) ideas that have been fully-potentiated, whether expressed or verified.

    The fact ‘hypotheses’, ‘theories’ and even ‘hunches’ are all considered synonyms for ‘concept’ should tell someone the meaning is rather broad and ambiguous.

    Towards the more-abstract end of the continuum, the word ‘conceived’ is used in biological sciences to refer to the moment when sperm meets egg and a zygote is formed, a point at which some claim life begins (and they’d grant a germinal diploid single-celled organism greater rights than even those afforded to fully-formed viable adults).

    A topic of debate amongst cognitive scientists is whether feelings and emotions are ‘concepts': some assert they are, after the perception of an emotion rises to the level of the person’s conscious awareness, when the person forms a concept of their perception of how they ‘feel’.

    Hence cognitive psychologists will speak of ‘emotion concepts’, even if just a gut feeling that cannot be described or put into words (much less comprehended by the patient); the awareness of these vague feelings is considered a ‘concept’ if the patient is aware of it.

    All that stated, I probably should’ve written something more along the lines of, “concepts don’t need to becomprehended” or even, “properly understood”, or added an adjective, eg “accurately conceptualized”, etc. to avoid creating the appearance of a circular-contradiction, since what I wrote above (“a concept doesn’t need to be conceptualized”) appears to be an example, hinging on whether someone is referring to the process of forming concepts (then yes, it IS), or the ability to form a coherent, clearly-defined mental image of an idea (then NO, it’s not).

    Of course, ALL concepts (even the patently-illogical and incomprehensible ones, such as circular squares) are formed by a process called ‘conceptualization’, a process which clearly doesn’t have any quality-assurance measures for guaranteeing the truth-value of the concept (as attested to by the multiple God claims that exist, or the attempts to define orthodox religious practices at the end of a sword).

    Another point I was attempting to make is that an idea doesn’t need to be conceivable by others to be valid or true: thank God THAT’S the case, since many hypotheses which were poo-poohed and dismissed as inconceivable by the rest of the scientific community (much less the uneducated!) were later vindicated by testing (eg Maxell’s radio waves, heliocentrism, spherical Earth with antipodes, etc were dismissed as sheer lunacy by the critics, who had to eat crow after evidence was produced which validated the ideas).

    Hypothesis-generation is part-and-parcel of the scientific method, since that’s how theories are born; they’re often germinated from concepts that no one else BUT the mind that conceived them can comprehend. The problem is when a hypothesis has been disproven, it should be discarded, not clung to even tighter!

    Point being, the common popular usage of ‘conceptualized’ is as if were a synonym for ‘understood’ or ‘comprehensible’, but it’s not. Hopefully that clears things up?

    Not everything that appears to be a contradiction actually IS, since fortunately knowledge and concepts evolve, but language often lags behind the changes until someone comes up with a new word to fit the new concept (or the meaning adapts to keep up).

    Adam

  44. Carol Lynn says

    What the heck would that machine to “discover god” do? How does one design a machine to detect something with unclear characteristics? Wouldn’t you first have to have a defined and detailed concept of the god you want to find… and that that kind of definition doesn’t exist is the whole point of the OP.

    In the best case scenario, “God is love”, right? Are you proposing this god finding machine go looking for “love” floating around unattached to anything material? Good luck with funding that.

  45. corwyn says

    What the heck would that machine to “discover god” do?

    It discovers gods, of course.

    Surely, one of the billions of people who ‘knows that they know that they know’ must know a single attribute that makes an impact on the reality we all experience. For example, if their god answers prayers a correlating of all prayers with all unexplained phenomenon will surely show a correlation. Yes?

  46. adamah says

    Can’t the CERN accelerator be inexpensively fitted with something (I dunno: maybe an adapter from Radio Shack that would allow them to discover God)? I mean, they already found a tiny part, right (ie the ‘God particle’)? Just scale up CERN!

    ;)

    Btw, I overheard two Xians talking yesterday, and one told the other he read that recently archaeologists had discovered giant bones of nephilim, “somewhere over in the Middle East”. It took every ounce of self-restraint not to start laughing!

  47. Narf says

    What the heck would that machine to “discover god” do? How does one design a machine to detect something with unclear characteristics?

    Heh, damned if I know. That’s their problem, if they want to be taken seriously and earn the claim to science that they waive around stupidly.

  48. Perry Robinson says

    Narf,

    When you say if I could at least prove the existence of an immaterial object that that would get me started, do you mean to say that you are endorsing metaphysical naturalism or no?

    You also claim I am confusing metaphysical naturalism with methodological naturalism, but you provide no reason to think that I did so and I was only asking a question and not making a claim.

    You assert that if something isn’t testable it isn’t worth considering. Uhm where is the demonstration for the truth of this assertion?

    When you talk about numbers being manifested in reality, do you mean like say mathematical concepts? Like say negative integers? Last I checked formalism in mathematics didn’t take mathematical models to be necessarily grounded in physical objects. But maybe you can explain how to harmonize formalism with your seeming Positivist position?

    You assert that there is no reason to think that there is anything immaterial. Can you provide a premised argument to prove your claim or no?

    In any case, I a asking Tracy if she endorses metaphysical naturalism or not. I am not much interested

  49. Narf says

    When you say if I could at least prove the existence of an immaterial object that that would get me started, do you mean to say that you are endorsing metaphysical naturalism or no?

    You’re getting into shaky ground, when you start talking about “proving” something. That’s why I didn’t use the word. Proof isn’t a scientific concept; it’s a mathematical one. Providing evidence for something that has no apparent physical cause would be a start, but that’s still pretty shaky, since there have been so many times before that a physical cause has been discovered after our instruments improved several orders of magnitude.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I endorse metaphysical naturalism, as much as I find any other position to be useless. Until we discover a way to determine if something is real, which doesn’t require methodological naturalism, anything outside of that scope is left to navel gazing when your mind is cooked on controlled substances.

    Or preachers.

    You also claim I am confusing metaphysical naturalism with methodological naturalism, but you provide no reason to think that I did so and I was only asking a question and not making a claim.

    You don’t have to make a claim to demonstrate such. A question can do the same. When you asked about her endorsement of a metaphysical claim, when she was speaking about methodological matters, that demonstrated your potential confusion on the subject.

    You assert that if something isn’t testable it isn’t worth considering. Uhm where is the demonstration for the truth of this assertion?

    The scientific advances of the past few hundred years, for a start …

    In any case, I a asking Tracy if she endorses metaphysical naturalism or not. I am not much interested

    And I was about to get into the rest of what you said, until I reread your last comment here … so I won’t bother. There wasn’t much point in me writing the first part of this post, was there?

    Incurious, aren’t you?

  50. Perry Robinson says

    Narf,

    I am seeing more assertions but not any reasons to think that they are true. I also can’t see how my “potential confusion” amounts to a reason for supporting your claim of an actual confusion.

    You state that the scientific advances amount to a reason for believing the thesis that if a thesis isn’t testable it isn’t worth considering, is true but I am not seeing how this constitutes an argument for support of that assertion. Again I would need to see an argument. I suppose I need an argument to demonstrate the truth of positivism over say scientific pragmatism or scientific realism. If you could provide such an argument, you’d be very famous.

    In any case, I am interested in Tracy’s answer to my query.

  51. G. Brady Lenardos says

    Thanks for your reply, Sky Capt.,

    This is really much more simple. Can you show me any text book dealing with either inductive logic or deductive logic that states you must come to the conclusion that X exists, prior to looking at the premises?

    Thanks!

  52. G. Brady Lenardos says

    Andreas,

    At this point, this is not about God but a methodology. Please reread my post that you responded to. Do you think it is rational to demand the the conclusion be determine prior to examining the premises? That is all I am commenting on.

    Regards

    G. Brady Lenardos

  53. G. Brady Lenardos says

    jdoran,

    Tracie presented a methodology on TTA 168. I proposed an objection to the form the methodology took. Her methodology was that you must demonstrate that something exists prior to discussing it’s attributes. Yes she used this in reference to God, but I examined in my objection the irrationality of the methodology. In you above example of a tree, you agree with my objection and disagree with Tracie’s methodology. In your example you go and deal with the attributes prior to coming to a conclusion.

    I am sure that this is how Tracie does things too, except when it come to God; then she demands that the existence be demonstrated prior to any evidence or attributes (premises) this works for both induction and deduction. In all rational reasoning the conclusion comes at the end, not at the beginning as Tracie suggests.

    Do you agree with me?

  54. adamah says

    Jdoran said-

    You’ve entirely missed Tracie’s point. She’s not talking about logical argumentation, because logical argumentation is not sufficient to demonstrate existence claims. You may have missed that day in your logic class.

    Easy on the snark, since it appears you missed G Brady Leonard’s quite-valid point:

    What he’s referring to is the methodological process of coming up with a way to test a ‘hypothesis’ (which is exactly what the statement “God exists” is: a hypothesis, an unproven assertion, not supported by any evidence).

    Generating hypotheses is lots of fun, and as easy as sin: all it requires is an unfettered imagination, and a love for wild rampant speculation (which is what rabbis and bishops have been doing for a few millenia, eg quibbling over how many angels can dance on heads of pins, etc).

    Forming hypotheses is the initial creative step in the scientific method, but it’s already been done by formulating the hypothesis of “God exists”.

    The truly-more-difficult step still lies ahead: figuring out a way to TEST the hypothesis to demonstrate it’s true: in science, THIS is what separates the geniuses from the rest of the crowd.

    A crucial step in the process is evaluating the attributes of whatever it is you’re trying to demonstrate, seeing if any differentials in its properties exist that can be exploited.

    eg Aechimedes’ breakthrough that led him to shout “Eureka!” and run naked in the street wasn’t coming up with a hypothesis to test: rather, it was coming up with a method to test a hypothesis, exploiting a differential in the attributes of the ‘unknown’ in his experiment to compare it to ‘knowns’.

    (Archimedes was trying to figure out a non-destructive way to verify the King’s crown was actually made of gold, and wasn’t just gold-plated, with silver inside. He had to think about the known attributes of gold and silver in order to determine whether the unknown material inside the crown was actually gold; his solution was a method of testing its density.)

    So technically-speaking, if Tracie was specifically referring to the step of developing a method in the scientifically-based search for God, she’s incorrect, since a consideration of attributes is REQUIRED.

    That said, it’s pretty safe to assume that if theists have had some 4,000 yrs to prove the hypothesis of God’s existence and have NOTHING to show for it by NOW, it’s not going to happen. When a method to test a hypothesis isn’t developed after say, oh, a few thousand years, it’s probably safe to assume its a worthless hypothesis and should be discarded.

    Darkmatter made a relevant YouTube cartoon on the topic, pointing out how believers will constantly ‘move the goalposts’ further away in the name of protecting their God beliefs, eg Greeks used to believe Zeus lived atop Mt Olympus, but mountain climbers didn’t see him up there.

    Jehovah lived in Heaven above the firmament, but airplanes failed to run into a hard metallic dome covering the Earth (as did spacecraft). So God is always externalized further away into space, always just outside of the range of our most-powerful telescopes. Damn our bad luck!

    :)

    Oh, on this:

    Jdoran said-

    If your claim is that you have a tree in your front yard which has the face of Jesus in it, then you don’t make a logical argument to prove it, you provide evidence for the tree. Allow interested parties to come see it, take photos, etc.

    THAT would be a ‘straw-man’, since no one in the thread has claimed God exists AND they have physical proof.

    So you’re kinda missing the point yourself, since the topic is NOT about proving an existence claim via logical arguments (as you wrongly accused GBL of doing), but rather about devising a testing methodology to demonstrate an existence claim.

    Adam

  55. adamah says

    Oh, before someone crucifies me on the point:

    The truly-more-difficult step still lies ahead: figuring out a way to TEST the hypothesis to demonstrate it’s true:

    Change that to “falsify”.

    :)

    Adam

  56. adamah says

    Nard said-

    If something doesn’t at least show up in our testing of the material world, it isn’t worth considering. Its actual existence or nonexistence is irrelevant. See scientific falsifiability.

    Well, fortunately Maxwell didn’t agree with your statement: he developed his hypotheses of radio waves, based on no more than mathematical formulas, only; the testing apparatus had to be built later to prove the existence of invisible and otherwise undetectable radio waves (a discovery which has had a massive impact on scientific advancement).

    Same could be said for some of Einstein’s work, too.

  57. Narf says

    Those showed up in our testing of the material world, Adam. They were theoretically present in the mathematics that we used to describe what we knew so far of the material world, and they were thus worth pursuing. Totally different story.

    You said, yourself, “… based on no more than mathematical formulas …”

    Let’s see a fundie come up with anything similar for their immaterial god, and we’ll talk.

  58. adamah says

    Narf said-

    Those showed up in our testing of the material world, Adam.

    Nope, not when Maxwell postulated the existence of radio waves (based on math equations). If thg were so, then it wouldn’t have taken some 20 yrs for Hertz to figure out a way to build testing apparatus to demonstrate their existence.

    Much of modern physics (eg quantum physics, string theory, etc) is purely theoretical and in the same boat, where physicists have to spend tons of $$$ to build colliders to be able to demonstrate what theories would predict.

    I find there’s a tendency for some atheists (esp if they’re not trained in the scientific method) to vastly over-state how science actually operates: they’re creating a ‘golden man’ of their own position (the opposite of a straw man) a flattering misrepresentation that they think will be easier to defend. Many cannot deal with the truth of reality yet, or still want something to worship in place of a God.

    Sorry, but better to accept reality on its terms, since such over-reach only drags the debate down, and more importantly, is utterly unnecessary.

    I defended the atheist position by pointing out (as Tracie correctly did) that people have wasted PLENTY of time and effort generating untestable hypotheses and arguing over attributes, with no evidence to show for their work. Although science should not be confined by dogmatic rules, I’d say hypotheses should have “use by” dates, when if the best minds haven’t figured it out after a millennia, the odds are good there’s a good reason!

    The topic recently came up in the reexamination of Newton and Boyle working in alchemy: if you went to school in decades past, the view was alchemy was strictly voodoo, a waste of time. We know should think of it as a necessary step in the process of understanding matter. So although alchemists were attempting something we now know was impossible (turning other metals into gold is a nuclear process, not a chemical one), science often learns more from its failures than its successes.

    Same applies to the search for God: like the alchemists, eventually some will give it up, realizing it’s tilting at windmills.

    (And to be honest, religion is not hurt ONE BIT by the lack of evidence, and NEVER HAS BEEN: as I’ve pointed out before, the power of religion lies in FAITH, a lesson not lost on believers who figured out 3 millenia ago to deal with the issue by deprecating those who demand evidence (John’s character, Doubting Thomas).

    Who would’ve thought religion would’ve survived this long, relying on most people’s willingness to form misconceptions of science and relegating it as the ugly step-child of their faith? Humans are a narcissistic and selfish bunch, and topsy-turvy religious logic has found a way to flourish by giving people a plausible excuse to deny it.)

    Adam

  59. adamah says

    PS, here’s a link to the Maxwell/Hertz radio wave topic:

    http://www.sparkmuseum.com/BOOK_HERTZ.HTM

    It’s shocking to see the number of websites that refer to “Maxwell’s theory” before Hertz actually demonstrated it as valid (ie more than a hypothesis).

    Anyone confused over the terms is encouraged to read Eugenie Scott’s book on evolution vs creation science, even if only the first chapter (which is available free as a downloadable PDF from NCSE’s website:

    http://ncse.com/files/pub/creationism/Evo%20vs.%20Creationism–2nd%20edition–Chapter%201.pdf

    The book is available at my local library, so check for it at yours.

    Adam

  60. Narf says

    Adam, there’s a freaking huge difference between chasing after something that’s indicated by the mathematics that have been developed from other discoveries … and believing in something that’s defined as being completely separate from material reality and not showing up in any tests we would care to run. The former is worth blowing some money on, in the form of pure scientific research, knowing that a great deal of it will get sucked down rabbit holes with no results, as the math was wrong, or the hypothesis was catastrophically flawed to the point of uselessness. It happens.

    The question is which is a better way to go about things. We got lucky with Maxwell, since many of his ideas were mostly on the ball. We’ll get lucky with others, as well.

  61. adamah says

    Narf, you’re now moving the goalpost: I countered what you said above, and now you’re altering your claim.

    Obviously I agree there’s a difference (uh, did you forget I AM an atheist who’s earned a doctorate), but you were over-reaching in your claim above. That doesn’t help anyone, atheist or believer alike, since it only serves as a distraction and a misrepresentation of the actual situation.

    The truth alone should be convincing enough: no ‘writers embellishment’ needed.

  62. Narf says

    No, I didn’t alter a damned thing. The most I did is rephrase it very slightly to try to help you wrap your head around it. I don’t give a damn what level of education you have, when you have such profound difficulties with reading comprehension.

    Suddenly bringing up your doctorate, as if that has the slightest thing to do with anything, just makes you look like an ass.

  63. adamah says

    You didn’t alter a damn thing, you say?

    Narf, you DO realize your words remain visible above, right?

    Are you actually denying saying the following, or dismissing it as only merely “rephrasing”?

    Nard said-

    If something doesn’t at least show up in our testing of the material world, it isn’t worth considering. Its actual existence or nonexistence is irrelevant. See scientific falsifiability.

    And:

    These showed up in our material world, Adam

    Fine.

    And since you’re being such a putz about it, you’ve now earned the honor of getting to explain to everyone how completely invisible and undetectable radio waves “showed up in our material world” based on Maxwell’s mathematical models alone, over 20 yrs before Hertz built the testing apparatus needed to detect them (for the first time in human history).

    As I said initially, it’s good that theoretical scientists (Einstein, Bohr, Maxwell, Hawking, etc) didn’t adopt your approach of waiting for ‘things to show up in the material world’ before considering them, since the scientific advances we enjoy today wouldn’t be here.

    The floor is yours….

    Adam

  64. Narf says

    Let’s take this back to basics, since you’re being so hard of thinking today. You admitted, yourself, that “… he developed his hypotheses of radio waves, based on no more than mathematical formulas, only …”

    If you don’t think that showing up in mathematical models of our current understanding of reality is analogous to showing up in our material world, to the point that it’s worth spending money on experimentation in search of more solid evidence, then I don’t know how to fix your mental malfunction.

    You’re normally a bit of a pompous asshole, but you’ve stepped directly in it, this time. William Lane fucking Craig has a Ph.D. Does that mean that you expect me to take his steaming piles of argumentation more seriously, because of that? I’ve heard some profoundly stupid things come out of the mouths of people who hold a Ph.D.

    The fact that you resorted to that sort of bullshit made me lose what little respect for you I had. What the hell is wrong with you?

  65. corwyn says

    Here is a way to perhaps get an idea about what (I think) Narf is trying to say. If we see things in the material world (that’s use stars as our example), and we develop a theory which describes those things, if that theory does not contain any justification to believe that the stars we see are ALL the stars, one might want to build a machine to discover more stars. This is essentially what Maxwell did.

    It sounds to me like you are saying that every time we build a new more powerful telescope, our hypothesis should be that we will see no new stars.

    The null hypothesis is NOT that we should expect no new things until we see them, but rather that we should expect new things at a level consistent with our current understanding of the world. Assume you are a 17th century explorer looking at a new large island in the distance, you should expect animals on that island, not barrens. Kangaroos should be a shock.

  66. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    You wouldn’t start with “X exists” as a premise.
    There would be axiomatic premises would be about yourself, a world of consistent patterns of experience, fallibilism, etc. Then add premises about a particular constellation of experiences of interest… Then decide if you can conclude those experiences are likely related to each other in a way that warrants being treated as attributes of a distinct noun.
     
    In many cases, you can drink all the liquid from a glass, and it will still be a full glass, depending on how you define full. Or you may decline to recognize the ‘solid’ nature of the glass and treat it as an eddy of atoms in a larger sea of mostly nitrogen and oxygen.
     
    When you ‘demonstrate the existence of X’ to another person, you provide them with relevant experiences to grant soundness to the premises as they evaluate the proposition to decide whether they concur. Then you can share an arbitrary label as a mnemonic and linguistic symbol for future reference.

  67. adamah says

    Yeah, the addition of a few weasel words (‘is analogous to’) didn’t help your case, since it’s NOT analogous: fortunately Narf is not allowed to rewrite the rules by which the scientific community operates.

    Mathematics is a symbolic language, which often is effective at modeling and predicting behavior observed (using one’s perceptive senses) in the physical world. However, math models are often wrong (as are all models), and the model needs to be “tweaked” to fit observed behaviors (something anyone who’s ever calculated a ‘best-fit’ line to fit obtained data should know).

    So get your shit straight before calling others others out next time, starting with learning the BASIC understanding difference between theoretical and experimental science, and the tools used by each.

    http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=316001

    Adam

  68. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    Once existence is established, attributes each person has concluded may be assigned to the noun – based on their interpretation of their own experiences – can be debated as mistaken (through error or disagreement over axioms), and re-examination can settle dispute – or potentially discover something new about the noun.

  69. Matt Gerrans says

    …we are talking about “concepts of god.” And this cannot be held in the mind as a concept. It is impossible to conceive of a god who can create X he cannot undo, and then can also undo it. A person can say those words, but they cannot actually conceptualize a circle that is not a circle. That is impossible…

    This is, incidentally, a refutation of The Ontological Argument. Of course, The Ontological Argument is stupid for a number of reasons, but the at the very core it says that you have to start by “conceiving of god” and that will make god magically spring into existence. Okay, I know that’s my own spin and not precisely what it says, but the point is that it does require conceiving of “God” in all his perfection and multifarious glory, etc. That is impossible. Most of us cannot even properly conceive of something super simple like truncated tetrahedral prism, much less a magical being who is supposed to be the most complex being in the universe (not to mention having all the contradictory attributes you mention above and more).

    Great article, by the way. Very nice takedown of some common apologetic sophistry.

  70. Narf says

    Do you even realize how dishonest you’re being, Adam? You’re shifting contexts more often than a fundie trying to put together an argument for the existence of their god. At no point have I made a scientific statement. Any sentence that refers to science does not automatically become a scientific statement that is held to that standard.

    And so you’ve answered my question. Clearly you’re too stupid to grasp conversational English and basic concepts, despite your much flaunted education. This is where I walk away, because you’re too dense to be worth having a conversation with.

  71. says

    I would often wonder why someone’s god(s) is/are the true and only god(s) when there is a multitude of choices in the present and in history. In other words how do they know that their god(s) is/are the true and only god(s) that exist if their evidence is just as arbitrary and capricious as everyone else’s. Is it too hard to comprehend what evidence there is/was that convinced them to believe in this/these god(s) or are people in general that gullible? It’s sounds like a con-artist paradise to me.

  72. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    Ah, but misinformation can only come from evil liars. And that familiar authority figure in the funny hat is nice. And he says all those other strangers in ivory towers are making things up. Everyone else you’re close to agrees with him. It’s obvious he’s right. Besides you don’t wanna be seen as one of those fringe denialists do you? They pay lip service to weird stories to justify their rotten character.
     
    Ancient people were dumb anyway. Good thing someone really smart gave my ancestors this book.

  73. adamah says

    Corwyn said-

    Here is a way to perhaps get an idea about what (I think) Narf is trying to say.

    Oh, you mean the part where Narf compared me to WLC? Cool, explain away!

    ;)

    If we see things in the material world (let’s use stars as our example), and we develop a theory which describes those things, if that theory does not contain any justification to believe that the stars we see are ALL the stars, one might want to build a machine to discover more stars. This is essentially what Maxwell did.

    Are we talking about the same James Maxwell, the Scottish scientist who proposed radio waves? Have you actually studied the history of radio waves?

    I’m wondering, since your analogy is almost as flawed as the ‘live oak tree’ analogy used in the email to Tracie.

    Using your ‘stars’ analogy, Maxwell didn’t merely propose the existence of MORE ‘stars’ (ie MORE visible light waves perhaps of weaker amplitude, and only detectable by using more-sensitive equipment). For the analogy to be valid, he’d have to propose a previously-unknown class of heavenly bodies that are related to stars, but only detectable by different means (eg black holes).

    (I tend to hate analogies, esp in cases where they’re more of a hindrance to understanding than simply explaining the situation directly.)

    And for the record, Maxwell didn’t build ANY apparatus to detect and prove the existence of radio waves (much less build a ‘more powerful apparatus to detect more stars’): the German scientist Heinrich Hertz (who was all of 7 when Maxwell proposed their existence) was the first to experimentally confirm over 20 yrs later (Maxwell died before Hertz did).

    But to your main point:

    The null hypothesis is NOT that we should expect no new things until we see them, but rather that we should expect new things at a level consistent with our current understanding.

    That’s too vague to be helpful: can you rephrase it, or at least clarify what you mean by “new things”, and the “current level of understanding”?

    Anyway, Maxwell (as many other scientists before him) had worked ONLY with visible light to develop his now-famous mathematical equations that explained the behavior of LIGHT (obviously detectable by our sensory organs, the eyes).

    Maxwell’s novel hypothesis was to propose the existence of other forms of energy besides visible light which would demonstrate similiar patterns of behavior and follow the same principles, the only variable being possessing a different wavelength (and all the implications involved in that variable).

    One of the functions of a theory is not only to explain observations, but to PREDICT. However, the predictive value of a theory is limited to predicting behavior within the class it was developed (in this case, visible light).

    Maxwell suspected his theory could accommodate other forms of energy besides visible light, if they were actually discovered; he was correct, but it was hardly a foregone conclusion that 1) such energy existed 2) it would obey his equations.

    Postulating the existence of radio waves was thus a NEW hypothesis, since although he had his fancy equations and theory of light all dressed up with no place to go, there was some question if such beasts as radio waves even existed: just because you can punch a different variable into an equation doesn’t mean nature has to comply!

    That’s the point of referring to mathematics as a MODEL, only, the tool of theoretical physicists. All theories have to actually WORK in the real World.

    Hence Hertz’s validation of Maxwell’s hypothesis was critically important to science, and has allowed its exploitation.

    As I said, this is a fave topic of mine which I’ve studied in-depth, but I brought it up ONLY to counter Nard’s curious assertion (as if a denial of the existence of theoretical science? wtf?) that scientists don’t waste their time on things that don’t exist in the material World, and that once they show up, the studying begins.

    Not only is that incorrect, but thank God Maxwell DIDN’T think like that, since we now know a spectrum of EM energy exists, from visible light rays (300-700nm), radio waves, gamma rays, UV light, x-rays, infrared, etc.

    Btw, UV rays actually DO have a significant impact on human health, now as in the past, being implicated as one cause of skin cancer, cataracts, ARMD. However, tying cause and effect would be impossible, without the discovery of UV, which is known due to investigating something which once wasn’t suspected to exist, until Maxwell suggested the possibility of other species.

    BTW, Maxwell’s Equations are primarily useful for yielding approximations, only; although useful for many garden-variety applications, further study has shown they break-down under special-cases (ie they don’t account for observed phenomena like the photoelectric effect, and completely fail to explain the ‘duality’ properties of light, which displays attributes of both waves AND particles (photons)).

    Obviously that’s not a criticism of Maxwell’s work (no more than Boyle and Newton can be blamed for failing to come up with the theory of relativity by working on alchemy), since science is a process that builds on the work of those who came before.

    Rather, the confirmation of radio waves was a mind-blowing breakthrough which obviously had an enormous impact on humanity, and spurred on further study and investigation.

    BTW, Tracie has already addressed the significant differences between the scientific method and appealing to divine sources, in post 3.2 (iirc?) above: there’s no competition as to which method actually gets stuff done (ironically including getting daily prayers delivered on ones cell phone: that’s not Holy Spirit getting it to ones mobile device, but radio waves).

  74. corwyn says

    Oh, you mean the part where Narf compared me to WLC? Cool, explain away!

    I have no interest in being drawn into a pissing match. Have a nice day.

  75. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    corwyn:

    I have no interest in being drawn into a pissing match. Have a nice day.

    adamah:

    I tend to hate analogies, esp in cases where they’re more of a hindrance to understanding than simply explaining the situation directly.

    Article: Wikipedia – Pissing contest

    a game in which participants compete to see who can urinate the highest, the farthest, or the most accurately. […] often associated with adolescent boys […] used figuratively to characterise ego-driven battling in a pejorative or facetious manner

  76. says

    One of the advantages to biometrics is that the data is not
    easy to replicate. In another work, In Defense of Animals, Singer has been quoted saying
    this: “If it is wrong to take the life of a severely brain-damaged, abandoned human infant, it must be equally wrong to the take the life of a dog or a pig at a comparable mental level” (Singer, Defense 8).
    Maria was pregnant with twins, and an ultrasound made it evident that one of them had a heart defect.

  77. Narf says

    corwyn

    I have no interest in being drawn into a pissing match. Have a nice day.

    Yup, and I’m done with him, too. Thanks for the earlier support, but apparently he’s more interested in being Mr. Big-Prick-with-a-Ph.D., rather than trying to understand what people are saying. He can do that without me, as well.

  78. Narf says

    Or maybe someone who thinks he’s making a real comment that has something to do with this post, and he has serious comprehension issues and suffers from a bit of word-salad generation? Sure makes me want to read his book that he linked through the website-link in his name.

  79. says

    God’s are conceived and not perceived. There is nothing that is tangible about gods or any other supernatural being(s) just as much as there is nothing tangible about supernatural forces which renders the supernatural as being irrelevant to reality. Something that is a coincidence is something that is inconsistent unlike gravity which is an absolute constant which means it can be observed on a consistent basis. The known laws of physics are not only relevant with reality they are also consistent.

  80. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Sir Real (above):

    There is nothing that is tangible about gods or any other supernatural being(s) just as much as there is nothing tangible about supernatural forces which renders the supernatural as being irrelevant to reality.

    This may vary. Zeus was said to be quite capable of getting, ehrm, physical.
     
    Supernatural interventions could in principle could be consistently invited/encountered, but physics would model them as extra rules of reality, like magic, without regard for some unknowable external cause. I guess that’s what you’re getting at: there might be ever-vigilant gravity fairies, whose only effect is to make planets move exactly as they do, but why care?

  81. adamah says

    (I assume you meant ‘relevant’ above, based on the contex.)

    Sir Real said-

    God’s are conceived and not perceived.

    It’s good you’re bringing up such distinctions, since sloppy use of ‘terms of art’ is hugely problematic, and will get people in over their head in a hurry.

    Many researchers reserve the term ‘visualize’ to refer to the process of imagining objects that actually exist, eg banana, car, Möbius strip, etc.

    ‘Conceptualize’ is broader, including both visualization but and thinking of purely-abstract concepts, eg freedom, numbers (which don’t actually exist: they’re CONVENTIONS), math, God, etc, or even the results which arise from creating composite concepts (‘blends’), whether plausible (‘flying cars’ or those which have a unique name, ‘unicorn’) or not (‘circular squares’).

    What happens when someone thinks of a picture, an iconic representation of God, say, DaVinci’s image of God reaching out to give Adam life? DaVinci’s painting can be seen on the Cistine Chapel: it can be touched.

    That should point out that most concepts aren’t just a single idea (God concept), but actually MOSAICS, composed of multiple sources (iconic, eidetic, some abstract) some of which may be contradictory.

    As the old saying goes, contradictions are in the eye of the beholder, which don’t exist until the person recognizes and acknowledges they exist (graveyards are full of people who mistakenly believed they were stepping on the gas vs brake: they’re not immune from the outcome of their confusion).

    Believers quite easily rationalize contradictions in attributes, eg when they say ‘God is love’ after admitting that God ordered genocidal campaigns, invariably citing it as an act of love for the victims, or if they’re that insensitive, claim it was as an act of love for the Israelites who otherwise might be tempted to worship their ‘false Gods’.

    Humans are MASTERS at rationalizing away inconvenient truths: that’s what self-delusion is all about. So we’re back to that road-block.

    So it’s a mistake to think or refer to a singular, since most abstractions are mosiacs comprised of eidetic icons (ie visual memory) with contributions from language memory centers (echoic memory). Even looking at the word ‘God’ written on a piece of paper vs hearing it spoken is going to vary, depending on emotions, immediate experiences, etc and relies on different neural cellular pathways, indicating the existence of multiple pathways used for what most people oversimplify as a single concept existing in the brain.

    The brain just isn’t that simple, and you’d have to ignore mounds of research evidence to offer a model that suggests it IS…

    BTW, even all iconic images needn’t be consistent and non-contradictory, eg as the movie ‘Talledega Nights’ demonstrates, people can conceive of a baby Jesus and a full-grown bearded Jesus (easily explained by life stages).

    BTW, it’s fun to do a Google image search for ‘circular square': while some of the images are iconic versions of the ‘equivocation fallacy’ (relying on the double meaning of a single word, eg ‘square’ can refer to a central large open space in a town where people congregate, which doesn’t have to be any particular shape), a few are more compelling candidates, relying on the significant plasticity in the definition of square and circle, or even the variable of angle of viewing (eg a wide circular tire can appear as a perfect square when viewed with tire standing on its tread facing you, but then appears perfectly circular as it rotates 90 degrees on its axis. To someone lacking stereopsis, it’ll morph from a square to a circle).

    There’s other images which rely on the old ‘figure/ground’ illusion, eg here’s a circular square (or squarish circle) which relies on the figure/ground illusion, that I’m declaring the leading candidate:

    http://cobra-mage.deviantart.com/art/Circular-square-tunnel-7487868

    Now, on to disagreeing with your comment! :)

    God’s are conceived and not perceived.

    If only that were actually so.

    Studies conducted within the past few decades by psychiatrists (MDs) using fMRI have clearly demonstrated that a minority of people not diagnosed with mental illness (non-schizophrenic) have what is essentially ‘crossed wires’ in the brain neural circuitry, such that they misattribute the source as external; nevertheless, their auditory hallucinations are perceived as coming from an external source, and their brain is reacting exactly the same way it does, using the same neural pathways and centers, as if they were listening to someone speaking in the same room who was there.

    So for all practical purposes, they truly believe the voice is real, since they cannot differentiate internally-generated voices from external voices: both are perceived as ‘real’.

    So in fact, some individuals DO perceive that God is communicating with them, and studies have confirmed their perception actually is legitimate, ie they’re not making it up or “acting”.

    Now OBVIOUSLY it should be able to go without saying that it’s nowhere close to proof of God’s existence (I shouldn’t have to say that, but some here seemingly have misattribution issues as well, as well, jumping to extreme conclusions).

    However, it’s important for us atheists to be aware of studies of known-phenomena which may force some in turn to update their dogmatic old-fashioned thinking (if we’re unaware of these studies), since it’s powerful to be able to demonstrate to believers that auditory and visual hallucinations are seemingly a part of the human existence (not just for the mentally-ill, and hence shouldn’t be stigmatized).

    More importantly, these perceptions can be explained by NATURALISTIC explanations without needing to resort to supernatural causation (gods, demons, angels).

    If that means learning and accept new concepts, so be it. If we expect them to change, we should at least be willing to ‘walk the talk’ by studying the scientific evidence and doing the same. You cannot fight dogma with dogma (we, you COULD, but it would be pointless).

    Google ‘auditory hallucinations fMRI’ to learn more, but here’s a good summation of relevant studies for non-scientists:

    http://www.julianjaynes.org/related-articles_neuroimaging.php

    The known laws of physics are not only relevant with reality they are also consistent.

    Generally true, but the history of science is littered with discarded theories (and laws) which needed to change when new evidence came along.

    Btw, the phrase ‘laws of nature’ arguably carries as much theistic baggage as the word ‘creation’ (or ‘creator’) does, but I’ll save that post for the most-recent show, when the topic came up on a call.

    Adam

  82. edmond says

    I am sure that this is how Tracie does things too, except when it come to God; then she demands that the existence be demonstrated prior to any evidence or attributes

    But what are the attributes of God? As Tracy points out, a billion people can give a billion different, conflicting attributes. We can all agree on the attributes of a tree, because trees exist. We can go out collectively and look at an oak tree as a group, and anyone who holds a list of attributes which differ from everyone else’s list can be proven wrong, right then and there. We can’t do this for gods.

    It isn’t that the physicality must come before the attributes. It’s simply that it always does. We make a list of attributes after the fact because we describe the real world things that we’ve already seen.

    Only in very rare cases can the attributes be listed before the physical discovery, as in the Higgs Boson or Darwin’s Congo moth. But in these cases, scientists had very specific qualifications for the attributes that were expected, and this expectation was driven by the consistency of nature. If scientists were all over the map with their attributes for the Higgs Boson, in the way that Christians are about God, they would never have known what to look for, or how to look for it. They certainly wouldn’t have found it.

    In these cases, listing the expected attributes ahead of time (successfully) helped the scientists to find the specific things they were looking for. Could such a practice do the same for God? It hasn’t yet.

    The first problem would be in narrowing down which attributes we know God has, and this first step is nearly impossible because of the lack of consensus. The next step (after the impossible first step) would be to use the list of attributes to identify a method for searching for the item (in this case, God). But once we start compiling those attributes, it will become quickly evident that such a search would be futile. God would be described as invisible, all-powerful, all-knowing, and motivated to preserve human free will by hiding himself. What kind of search can be conducted to find such a being who can elude the search?

    This is an exercise in futility, which would necessarily abandon the methods of proper science. It is hampered by the fact that we’ve never had an evident example of any god. At least in the cases of the Higgs Boson or the Congo moth, we already have other examples of subatomic particles and moths.

    I could make a very specific list of attributes for unicorns, and my list might even agree 100% with the lists of a billion other people. But that wouldn’t mean that we’ve proven unicorns exist. Coming up with attributes is only one part of the equation. Eventually, someone needs to pull a real, live, physical God out of their sleeve and compare it to those attributes.

    Imagine if we did find a unicorn, but it turned out that all of us who had “lion’s tail” on our list of unicorn attributes were wrong. It actually has a peacock tail. This would tell us that our list of attributes was wrong. But we couldn’t know that until we found the actual thing.

  83. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    We make a list of attributes after the fact because we describe the real world things that we’ve already seen.

    Like these critters.
    Tumblr: WTF, Evolution?

  84. Matt Gerrans says

    I think it is important to note another crucial difference in the discovery of things like electric fields, bosons and even Pluto. Observation of existing reality along with mathematical modelling allowed smart people to posit the possibility of each of these things, in some cases specifically to explain existing observed phenomena which at that point had no explanation. Then, when someone posits one of these ideas as possibility, it is tested, or searched for, etc. It does not at that early stage become gospel which must be unquestioningly believed. It is only a hypothesis that can be tested. The testing may reveal that the hypothesis was wrong and at that point it is back to the drawing boards; go see if the math is wrong, or the observed phenomenon is explained by something else, or the instruments are inadequate, etc.

    In religion, you just keep moving the goalposts and playing the dragon in the garage game. That is a big difference.

  85. Robert, not Bob says

    It looks somewhat like an anti-abortion statement, which is odd because nobody was talking about that. ‘Course what it mainly seems like is something posted to the wrong thread (or blog).

  86. johzek says

    A very fine post Tracie but I disagree with how you describe the process of concept formation. You say “the process is to encounter the tree, label it, and then build a concept of it based on observation and examination of the reality of that thing we just labelled…”. I think that a more accurate and informative description would be as follows.

    We perceive distinct objects. Upon noticing similarities of some of these objects to each other these similar objects can then be integrated into a mental unit. This mental unit is the concept. Being mental it is of course an abstraction and it is simply the idea or notion of this class of objects. A name or label is used to refer to the concept and a definition of the concept can subsequently be derived by isolating the essential characteristics of these similar objects. A definition is not a description and it leaves much unsaid. Any particular object subsumed under the concept can be observed and its attributes described in detail.

    This description highlights the utility of concept formation for the human mind. It allows our minds to economize the information that is perceptually available to us and it also allows us to extend our knowledge to that which is not perceptually available, by the use of logical inference. Contained in the concept of oak tree are oak trees that existed in the past and exist no longer, those that exist now, and those that don’t exist now but will in the future. The concept contains young trees as well as old ones and small ones as well as tall ones.

    The process of concept formation and the resulting definition is essentially an inductive one. Particulars are observed leading to a general idea. Whether a newly perceived object fits one concept or another is a deductive one. For a concept to be at all useful it must be based on the objects observed and it certainly is as described by this process. The objects of reality exist independently of our conscious awareness of them, we simply perceive them and then describe their attributes.

    It is important to remember that the label or name of a concept is not the concept itself but just calls to mind the idea of the class of entities which are similar in some way. At one point you say “labels point to referents”, but one needs to be careful in this regard. The label of a concept can be used to refer to a particular object which is subsumed under the concept, but in this case we say this oak tree or that oak tree or those oak trees to indicate that we are referring to particular oak trees and not the concept of oak tree. Particular oak trees can be described in detail but concepts are only defined.

    Strangely enough in a post about concepts you nowhere mention definitions, either their relation to the concept or how the definition is arrived at. Of course, our dictionaries are essentially just collections of definitions of concepts and I wonder given your description of concept formation if you think that this so called consensus that you mention has anything to do with the formulation of a definition.

    If there were a real referent then wouldn’t the God question be moot. You were almost on the right track with your explanation but your faulty idea of concept formation is the reason why it is not quite right. There are referents but they are imagined referents, not real ones. There have been many different ideas of God proposed throughout recorded history, each one of these can be considered an imaginary referent, and by noting the essential characteristics which these ideas share a definition of sorts, albeit a vague one, can then be derived, because after all we are dealing with the imagination. A theist doesn’t dream up a concept first but simply imagines his idea of a God. He imagines something specific and he can describe what he imagines but in the end this is all it amounts to, just imagining.

    It seems to me that it is easy to confuse conceive which is a verb with concept which is a noun. A concept is the idea of a class of entities united by some criterion of similarity whereas one can conceive of particular objects in addition to a lot of other things. I can conceive of a particular oak tree, in other words I can imagine this particular tree but this particular tree I am imagining is not a concept.

    I hope you find these ideas worthy of consideration and I do think they clarify what can at times can seem like a pretty murky topic.

  87. Glen B. Lenardos says

    Sky Capt.,

    You keep wanting to argue with me, but I don’t see where we are disagreeing and where you are agreeing with Tracie. I would start with the premise “X exists,” if I was trying to determine X exists. I, like you would start with other premises (attributes, preconditions, effects) and work from there. Tracie’s methodology is that we must first not only start with “X exists” but must demonstrate that X exists ia the case prior to examining the premises. Is that your opinion too? If not, we are done here. you and I agree.

  88. Glen B. Lenardos says

    Andres,

    You have missed the point here. According to Tracie’s method you can’t talk about the attributes of God, where he is vacationing, and any effects of his existence until you first demonstrate that God exists. In other words, you must come to the conclusion that God exists, prior to examining the premises for God’s existence. Can you point to any logic book dealing with inductive or deductive logic that encourages this sort of nonsense?

  89. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Glen B. Lenardos:
    I’ve already explained the faulty question you’re asking in my comment above.
     
    You don’t start with X exists: not as a premise, nor as a conclusion (whatever that means; you confused the word ‘demonstrate’, then made an absurd demand about logic textbooks). The nonsense you’re complaining about was introduced by yourself, when you misunderstood Tracie. People responding to you aren’t missing the point. They’re trying to correct your misunderstanding, rather than answer your gibberish question.
     
    You start with basic axioms, then premises about having experiences which might be related. (localized patch of color contrasting from background, coinciding with sound from that direction, etc)
     
    Every book on logic will insist a proof must be both valid and sound.
    If you never actually had those experiences, it would only be a hypothetical: “If I experienced those things, I’d agree a thing was there to investigate.”
     
    The times you rely on attributes in advance are when you need to decide which label to apply to a thing that you’re already looking at (or make up a new label), or when you choose relevant methods to detect attributes associated with a particular label, as you sift through multiple candidates.
     
    You first come to the conclusion “to express the relatedness of these phenomena, it is acceptable to regard them as bundled together: attributes of a noun”. Then you decide “Is that thing with those attributes similar to an X, as has been previously described? Is it a Y?”

  90. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I just wanted to stop by and give Tracie some support. I do have some nitpicks which are not important. However, I very much agree with a lot of the overall thrust of the post.

    hats off to Tracie

  91. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @johzek:

    A theist doesn’t dream up a concept first but simply imagines his idea of a God.
    He imagines something specific and he can describe what he imagines

    [citation needed] for modern theists at any rate.
     
    Article: Wikipedia – Apophatic Theology
     

    Particular oak trees can be described in detail but concepts are only defined.
    […]
    A concept is the idea of a class of entities united by some criterion of similarity […]. I can conceive of a particular oak tree, in other words I can imagine this particular tree but this particular tree I am imagining is not a concept.

    The extra-detailed subclass of tree entities similar to that particular tree, at present. If you visit the location later and see differences like growth, you’ll need to decide whether this is the same tree and update your subclass with details about another state later in life.
     
    When you say “definition”, how would that be different than saying “a superclass concept, with features more broadly inclusive of particular instances”.
     

    The label of a concept can be used to refer to a particular object which is subsumed under the concept, but in this case we say this oak tree or that oak tree or those oak trees to indicate that we are referring to particular oak trees and not the concept of oak tree.

    A “label” for the concept of a particular tree vs a “label” for the concept of trees in general.
    I would consider this a confusion from using identically-spelled words in both cases (to be clarified by context), rather than an inappropriate use.

  92. adamah says

    Glen said-

    Tracie’s methodology is that we must first not only start with “X exists” but must demonstrate that X exists ia the case prior to examining the premises.

    Yeah, that’s not founded on any principle used in science, and Sky Capt must furiously tap-dance, instead of actually bearing the ‘burden of proof’ of supporting his claim with actual evidence, since he may have realized he cannot.

    It’s put up or shut up time, Capt, esp when you post this tripe:

    Once existence is established, attributes each person has concluded may be assigned to the noun – based on their interpretation of their own experiences – can be debated as mistaken (through error or disagreement over axioms), and re-examination can settle dispute – or potentially discover something new about the noun.

    Inventing new rules for science so as to artificially exclude the ‘God hypothesis’ is not your job, Sky, and science doesn’t need your “help”: the same ol’ rules work just fine….

    For one, there is no stipulation that the proposed cause of some observed phenomena “must be demonstrated to exist”: as pointed out by both sides, how does one know what you’re looking for without first defining it’s identifying characteristics?

    Further, there’s no rule in science that something has to be demonstrated to exist before considering it’s attributes, since scientists often discuss proposed attributes (properties) which the hypothesized unknown mightpossess, in order to develop a means to exploit such differences in properties in order to confirm their existence.

    (Archimedes used a similar approach when devising a method of non-destructively testing the material used in the crown, relying on the differential in density existing between gold and other metals. He didn’t need to actually know WHAT metal was inside the crown before considering it’s properties (it could’ve been lead, or even filled with air, for all it matters), since his methodology was designed to show it wasn’t made of gold (or more accurately, it may have been filled with an unknown material that possessed the same density as gold, in which case his method would’ve rendered a ‘false negative’).

    Another example would be the proposed (hypothesized) existence of black holes, based on Einstein’s theory of relativity. Even Einstein himself poo-poohed the idea that black holes could exist, even though his own theory indicated they might. Of course, black holes were later were experimentally-verified to be real.

    (Similar examples of the same could be found in Priestly’s discovery of oxygen, or the discovery of gases like helium, nitrogen, etc.)

    That’s why the actual principle of ‘hypothesis generation’ says that a hypothesis should be plausible or reasonable to explain the observed phenomena.

    That’s it.

    There’s no “prove it exists before considering it’s attributes” clause.

    (And the possible flaw with the ‘reasonable’ criteria is that nature often IS counter-intuitive (esp to non-scientist lay people), and nature isn’t confined to operating by principles which make perfect sense to my sister-in-law. Tracie pointed out the same potential pit-fall of intuitive reasoning in her, “But it just makes sense” epilogue.)

    In the domain of science, such unnecessarily restrictive stipulations actually hinder the discovery of new information.

    From where I’m standing, this appears to be applying asymmetric standards, and constitutes ‘special pleading’ (except in reverse, since its in the exclusionary form, ie discrimination).

    Such efforts are not needed, since the question of God’s existence requires no special handling, with different rules used by science to address: the same rules apply to the God hypothesis, just as to all other hypotheses. Hence there’s no need to exclude discussions of proposed attributes,much less to prove existence before doing such attributes are considered.

    Sky Capt, you’ve seem rather skilled at Googling and posting links: I could post numerous links to support the rules of hypothesis generation I’ve paraphrased, so find me ONE credible reference that supports your restriction exists and is accepted within the scientific community (I won’t hold my breath).

    Adam

  93. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    * Third part continued:
    … and vs a “tree” label for the instance in reality.
     
    Though we usually treat the particular-tree concept and the particular instance as synonymous, we’re still generalizing from observations at various angles, lighting, etc., and tracking its history.

  94. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Glen B. Lenardos:

    You keep wanting to argue with me, but I don’t see where we are disagreeing and where you are agreeing with Tracie.

    This is the first feedback you directed to me. Having nothing else to go on, I interpreted your continued comments to others as indicative of incomprehension, so I continued trying to explain, in increasingly basic terms.
     
    Now that I know you don’t disagree with what I was saying (a thing exists, with attributes inferred from observation + there is a class X (if novel and no other classes fit, newly defined based on those inferences), of similar attributes = a thing consistent with that class exists, aka X exists). My task now is to convince you the OP said something similar. I had hoped the explanations would be comprehensive enough for you to go back and recognize that yourself.
     

    Tracie’s methodology is that we must first not only start with “X exists” but must demonstrate that X exists is the case prior to examining the premises.

     
    From the OP:

    The manifesting oak in objective reality is the demonstration, not only that the oak exists, but also of what it possesses as attributes. Again, the process is not to invent the tree as a concept, and then go looking for it. The process is to encounter the tree, label it, and then build a concept of it based on observation and examination of the reality of that thing we just labeled as “live oak.” […] The live oak dictates to our concept. The oak itself demonstrates the concept is correct or incorrect, not the other way around.

    Back to your comment, rephrased given your stated agreement with my explanations:

    If [CA7746’s characterization of the OP is correct], we are done here. [we all] agree.

  95. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @adamah (above):

    so find me ONE credible reference that supports your restriction exists and is accepted within the scientific community

     
    Article: Wikipedia – Type (biology)

    a type is one particular specimen (or in some cases a group of specimens) of an organism to which the scientific name of that organism is formally attached. In other words, a type is an example that serves to anchor or centralize the defining features of that particular taxon.
    […]
    According to a precise set of rules laid down in the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) and the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICN), the scientific name of every taxon is almost always based on one particular specimen, or in some cases specimens.

  96. adamah says

    Well, that explains your problem, right there:

    You (as well as many others, including G, Tracie, etc) seem to be confusing the principles governing the classification of biological organisms via taxonomy with the principles used by theoretical scientists, as if the rules of cataloging what actually IS known to exist applies to those attempting to discover what is only suspected to exist (be it Maxwell’s hypothesized radio waves, proven black holes, spirits, ghosts, or God).

    Scientists often DO ‘tentatively accept hypotheses’ (ever heard that phrase before?) in order to speculate on attributes which may exist, just so as to be able to figure out a method to prove the existence of their unknown.

    If God were PROVEN to exist, then sure, biologists concerned with taxonomy would get to wrestle with the question of where God fits into the taxonomic tree. But as it stands, you seem to be once again getting the cart before the horse, because even you would no doubt agree that God has yet to be proven to exist.

    Adam

  97. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @adamah:

    as if the rules of cataloging what actually IS known to exist applies to those attempting to discover what is only suspected to exist

    QFT   :P
     

    Scientists often DO ‘tentatively accept hypotheses’ […] in order to speculate on attributes which may exist

    The hypotheses about potentially observable phenomena are composed of terms derived from cataloging previously observed phenomena. Taxonomy benefits from that, as does physics.
     
    Maxwell used math to communicate his proposed generalization of characteristics of a narrow range of light, using data available of observations at the time. He saw no compelling reason to expect that range was the end-all-be-all of electromagnetic radiation. Later, his generalization was useful in isolating/manipulating waves of longer/shorter wavelengths. Further, the behavior of those waves also fit his generalization, which served to characterize those phenomena as electromagnetic radiation, and not some other thing roughly like EM produced by the equipment.
     
    From the “Working hypothesis” article:

    Working hypotheses are constructed to facilitate inquiry

    A working hypothesis entirely composed of ineffable terms, unconnected to all previous experience, does not suggest any methodology for testing its true/falsehood. The hypothesis would need terms with some connection to possible test equipment in order for relevant test equipment to be chosen for detection attempts.

  98. jdoran says

    Nope. You and adamah both missed it again, but edmond got it. Existence, which he called “physicality”, is a requirement of having attributes, not an attribute itself.

  99. adamah says

    You’re back-peddling, dude, likely trying to save face over not knowing the BASIC difference between categorizing extant members of species (for taxonomical purposes, so they can be consistanty labelled) vs discovering unknowns that haven’t ‘shown up in the material world’ yet. So complaining over the lack of a tangible referent is is simply ‘begging the question’, restating the very assertion at stake: the lack of a referent.

    I’m ONLY pointing out to you (much like others have tried to do, unsuccessfully so far) that while the demand for a tangible referent is ABSOLUTELY MANDATORY so as to be able to categorize it (based on attributes), such a referent is NOT REQUIRED in order to discover previously-unknown species (in biology) or physical unknowns (in physical sciences). You’re illogically misapplying principles from natural sciences to the physical sciences.

    Which leads to the question: do you even KNOW the difference?

    Get back to me after you’ve gotten straight the fundamental differences between the ‘physical sciences’ and the ‘natural (biological) sciences’, since you seem to be unaware that such a distinction exists and they operate by different rules, and for good reasons.

    Adam

  100. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @adamah:

    You’re illogically misapplying principles from natural sciences to the physical sciences. Which leads to the question: do you even KNOW the difference? […] you seem to be unaware that such a distinction exists and they operate by different rules

    a referent is NOT REQUIRED in order to discover

    You’ve repeatedly asserted a distinction exists, but never articulated such a thing. The closest you came was citing “working models”, but you failed to defend that as well.
    What definition of “discover” are you using, which doesn’t rely on observation?
     

    complaining over the lack of a tangible referent is is simply ‘begging the question’, restating the very assertion at stake: the lack of a referent.

    I was invalidating your counterexample of referent-less ‘discovery’ by pointing out there WERE referents, for varieties of light AND for the vocabulary of statements about EM in the symbolic language of math.
     
    Earlier you said Maxwell “developed his hypotheses of radio waves, based on no more than mathematical formulas, only“. I explained to you here how that was not so.
     

    Get back to me after you’ve gotten straight the fundamental differences between the ‘physical sciences’ and the ‘natural (biological) sciences’, since you seem to be unaware that such a distinction exists

    You’re unwilling to ever articulate that distinction yourself? Good day then.

  101. adamah says

    Sky Capt, a theory only reliably describes and predicts behavior within the limits for which it was developed and validated. Any time a scientist wants to change the scope of applicability of a theory, they’re going to need to formulate a new, slightly-modified hypothesis that describes the new operating conditions, and retest.

    Shifting frequencies from light waves to radio waves is definitively an example of such, esp given the knowledge that existed at the time, ie they didn’t benefit from centuries of hindsight that us moderns enjoy, with everyone carrying around a device which further confirms Maxwell’s idea.

    Maxwell suspected the equations which had been validated for visible light could also be used to describe the behavior of OTHER wavelengths of energy, but that was unknown at the time, i.e. no one even KNEW for sure if such different forms of energy actually existed, much less if his formulas would work outside of range in which they had been validated. No one KNEW visible light (300-700nm) was only a subset of a much-broader EM spectrum.

    All of that is what Hertz later demonstrated and proved.

    Radio waves possess quite-different properties than light, the most obvious being they’re INVISIBLE, so basically Maxwell proposed the existence of ‘invisible light’ (which was a real mind-blower to many non-scientists at the time).

    Later testing revealed light displays particle-like behavior (photons) in addition to wave-like properties (see the dualistic nature of light, which sets it apart from other forms of EM).

    Possessing different attributes justifies issuing a unique new referent, assigning it a unique name: ‘invisible light’ was the new referent.

    One problem for your argument is radio waves still had yet to be proven to exist, since ‘radio waves’ before Hertz came along to validate were in the same boat as God: they were an unproven hypothesis.

    So you now claim visible light served as a referent for the discovery of radio waves, but that strikes me as if you don’t understand or accept the “law of identity”, since EM energy within the range from 400-700nm serves as the visible referent for the term, ‘visible light spectrum’, just as light of 420nm serves as the referent for the word, “violet”. Similarly, EM energy within the range of wavelengths from 1mm to 100km serves as the detectable (by AM radio) referent for the phrase, ‘radio waves’ (similarly sub-categorized).

    If you respect the ‘law of identity’, then you’d no doubt agree while a single referent may have multiple labels attached (i.e. synonyms), dissimilar objects with unique properties shouldn’t share the same name: instead, we should differentiate them by giving each object a unique name of its own.

    Instead, I’d be fully on-board if you had said, “light served as the inspiration for the discovery of a new referent called ‘radio waves”.

    There’s TWO different referents, not one, so no “piggy-backing referents” allowed (esp if one had yet been confirmed to exist).

    On another thread, you mistakenly accepted the existence of the ‘Q source’ document, when none actually has been discovered. It’s ALSO hypothesized to exist, but not yet proven to exist.

    So that makes TWO examples (in this thread alone) where you’ve shown a shocking willingness to accept ideas that are hypotheses, only, all while simultaneously arguing AGAINST the ‘God hypothesis’ due to a lack of a referent? Dude, that’s as hypocritical as all get up.

    Of course, ALL hypotheses should not be accepted until sufficient evidence is presented to accept.

    Shoot yourself in the foot again, and you’ll pull a perfect hat trick!

    Such a willingness to accept the existence of unproven hypotheses sounds an awful lot like the trait of a theist; are you SURE you’re not a theist who’s pranking us, trying to make all atheists appear to be hypocritical doofuses who don’t even understand their own platform?

    Adam

  102. says

    If you have a person who was born blind how would they conceive what the color red would look like? Concepts are nothing but an interpretation of a persons mind, or better known as imagination. I have knowledge of what the color red looks like to me, however how do I know that the color red might look blue to someone else? Subjective opinions are according to how someone feels about something however an objective opinion is according to their knowledge of something. I think it all depends on if a person is convinced on faith verses knowledge.

    P.S. Tracy I think you made an excellent point. Good article.

  103. says

    What I find amazing about this theist who thinks that his kids are going to hell if they don’t get right with god, is can you trust a god who betrayed his own son? How does he know that god might change his mind and decide to send everyone to hell whether their a theist or not? Who would hold this god accountable if they turned out to be an evil god all along. I once had someone tell me I was guilty of sin and that I’m going to burn in Hell and my response was; “So you think I’m guilty because you have a book that says I’m guilty. So does this book actually prove my guilt or does it like yourself, just assumes it?”.

  104. xscd says

    Well, we can only know that for which exists evidence of some kind, and we can only know it to the extent the evidence allows, unless or until there is more evidence to give a more complete picture and understanding of the subject.

    That’s why FAITH is so important! Faith gives us the evidence we need for things we can’t possibly know! If it weren’t for faith, we could not possibly know the loving embrace of our eternal Father. Faith opens our eyes to things unseen and opens our hearts and minds to the reality that our limited physical perception cannot perceive!

    And on that note–

    Evangeli-Glue! You too can do miracles! Evangeli-Glue is the miraculous adherent that brings God’s omnipotent strength to your own fingertips!

    Sticks anything to anything with only the power of PURE FAITH! Odorless, colorless and invisible, Evangeli-Glue adheres to any surface and firmly attaches anything to that surface!

    Disclosures: if something fails to attach unmovably and eternally when using Evangeli-Glue, it simply means that your faith was not strong enough. Evangeli-Glue works by the power of faith, so your faith must be strong for strong results, and absolute for absolute results. Simply have FAITH and Evangeli-Glue can work miracles in your life and amaze your friends!

  105. adamah says

    Anyone who’s interested in learning what the ‘Q source’ controversy actually is all about, here’s a good explanation on PBS’ website (they produced a four-part Frontline series called, “From Jesus to Christ”).

    Historian and NT scholar Elaine Pagels is interviewed, cutting thru the hyperbolic claims and misinformation surrounding the ‘Q source’ with the facility of a weed-whacker:

    “Today there are people who talk about Q as though it’s a gospel. Q, as I see it, is not a gospel, it’s a hypothesis…. Nobody ever has found this source written. We can reconstruct it because we guess that there was such a written source, but nobody has seen it, and it certainly in my mind is not a gospel. It’s a very good and well-founded hypothesis.”

    From:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/story/hypothetical.html

    More info from the producer of the episode, also a scholar:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/story/qthomas.html

    There’s a link to an article in the Atlantic Monthly, and notice the characterization of a “snow job” pulled on the general public by those claiming such an original document exists (or even ‘manuscripts’, ‘fragments’, etc).

    Perhaps some think of the ‘Q source’ as a ‘virtual referent’? There’s a logical contradiction for ya’!

    Granted, scholars and historians HAVE attempted to “recreate” or “reconstruct” what the original Q source document might’ve looked like, based on available evidence, and modern publishers have even given such recreations sensationalistic titles to drive sales (eg “The Lost Gospel”, as one such example).

    However, that’s a FAR CRY from an actual copy of an original Q source document being discovered (ie written from 30-70 CE on papyrus, and not drafted on a computer, like the modern recreations).

    So until ACTUAL compelling evidence is discovered that fulfills the requisite criteria to support the ‘Q hypothesis’, anyone who believes such a document actually exists is seemingly allowing their desired conclusion to get ahead of evidence, since as is explained in the article, there are OTHER hypotheses that explain the similarities without relying on the ‘Q source’.

    Just out of curiosity, I checked a few popular non-scholarly works and ran across Bart Ehrman’s book, “How Jesus Became God”, in which he simply assumes a Q-source existed, and even ‘double-counts’, tallying BOTH the passages of Matt and Luke in the Bible AND the hypothetical Q document, as if a separate source had been found.

    Seems like he’s counting chickens before they’re hatched? Odd, but not surprising, since it’s Ehrman.

    Perhaps some here were influenced by his over-reaching claims and simply assumed what he wrote was true?

    At any rate, demanding a referent be produced before discussing possible attributes of the proposed entity is clearly not used in historical circles, since it’s an unreasonably-high barrier (as demonstrated above; Ehrman even seemingly accepts a ‘Q source’ document as if it’s already a supported and accepted theory! Fortunately, his voice is counter-balanced by the likes of the more level-headed Pagels, who BTW is intimately familiar with the appearances of possible Q-sourced ‘Jesus wisdom sayings’ appearing in gnostic writings she’s studied, a subject on which she’s one of the recognized experts in the World).

    In case I’m not being clear enough, the irony is some here are quite willing to accept the existence of a hypothesized Q source as if it’s a foregone conclusion, even before a tangible referent is demonstrated; but then when discussing God’s existence, they’re now suddenly demanding a tangible referent be produced?

    The primary evidence pointing to its existence of a Q source document is the similarity of Biblical passages; however, this the SAME evidence which believers point to as proof of God’s Holy Spirit at work.

    Anyone see a problem looming in the headlights?

    BOTH hypothesized positions are on shaky footing, as in lieu of actual supportive evidence, both are based on circumstantial evidence, alone (more fruitful is to bring up the far-more-numerous CONTRADICTIONS appearing between the gospels, since why did the Holy Spirit FAIL to prevent those?).

    Granted, common sense suggests common source(s) must’ve existed to explain the similarities, but I’d be reluctant to make the claim that a ‘Q source document’ is the explanation, since I’d then bear the ‘burden of proof’ to back up the claim, needing to pony up with a late-intertestamental Q source.

    It’s also not likely to be an effective strategy as a counter-apologetic, since it boils down to a ‘stale-mate’ between contrasting hypotheses, dependent on whether one accepts the existence of God or not.

    There’s stronger angles to pursue, which is also why I stay away from challenging passages that clearly involve miracle claims, UNLESS approaching by attacking the ‘Achilles Heel’ as I try to do in an article examining why Jesus’ would poo-pooh handwashing before eating foods by hand:

    http://awgue.weebly.com/why-did-jesus-protest-washing-hands-before-eating.html

    Anyway, the rational approach for atheists (and believers too, for that matter) is to demand evidence BEFORE accepting ANY hypothesis: that’s what the rules of rationalism say we should do.

    From where I’m standing, this appears to be applying asymmetric standards, and constitutes ‘special pleading’ (except in reverse form, as exclusionary, ie discrimination), as if trying to rewrite the rules of logic to artificially exclude ‘God concepts’.

    As I’ve explained elsewhere, it’s wholly unnecessary, as if trying to fix a problem that doesn’t even exist.

    Hmmm, isn’t that one attribute of religious theology, telling us we need salvation from WHAT, exactly? A “God of love”?

    Adam

  106. adamah says

    Jdoran said:

    Existence, which he called “physicality”, is a requirement of having attributes, not an attribute itself.

    Hmmm, let’s see how that logic might play out in court.

    Let’s say you copy the likeness of one of Walt Disney’s trademarked characters, Mickey Mouse (with black round ears, etc) and place the image on a t-shirt to sell.

    Then when you eventually get sued by Disney for infringing their intellectual property ownership rights (Disney’s legal team aggressively protects their stuff), as your defense you can tell the judge you’re not guilty of infringement by creating an image with same-exact attributes as Mickey Mouse, since Mickey doesn’t actually exist, and thus he cannot have attributes!

    You’d be lucky if you only lost the case, and the judge didn’t also order you to be locked up for 48 hr. involuntary hold for eval for ‘5150’.

    Adam

  107. Frank G. Turner says

    I emailed this message to the atheist experience and did not get a response back (I know that you guys get lots of emails and you post on here so I understand). However, I would like some sort of an answer to this and I thought someone on here could help. Feel free anyone to respond if you have info on this.
    .
    I started listening to you all as I was interested in learning about scripture and it seemed that the most knowledgeable people about the Bible are atheists and agnostics. I found that I had been an agnostic most of my life. I never really bought the Adam and Eve story (even BEFORE I understood what evolution was), Noah, most of Exodus, or most of Isaiah, among others, even before I was a scientist. I read the Bible cover to cover long ago but found it confusing and difficult to comprehend.
    .
    A believer told me that I did not really read it or I would not have the attitude that I did. I think what she meant was that if I had read it I would have come to the same conclusions that she did as she seemed oblivious to the idea that someone else could read the same book she had and come to a different conclusion, which is ignorant and gullible but does not completely surprise me given her standard for evidence being as low as it is when it comes to Biblical texts. (She oddly enough read the Quran but felt the Bible had more “proof” behind it, but given what she considered “proof” I think what it did was give her a more smug sense of superiority than the Quran did).
    .
    What I have found by listening to Matt is that reading scripture is not enough. I don’t have the time to become a Hebrew and Greek scholar or a philologist along the way but I am looking for some resources. I like Ironchariots.com but it seems to be missing something. I am a very technical and mechanical person who likes things analyzed in detail without a whole lot of emotion or personal feeling.
    .
    You can quote me on the next part, I have often said that if the Bible had been written for someone with a brain that works the way mine does (i.e.: a scientist interested in physical evidence) it would have sounded less like a series of newspaper articles written by journalists with severe ADD (which is how I feel that it reads) and more like a set of instructions on how to put a couch together that you bought from IKEA.
    .
    I know that that sounds weird but it is the way my mind works. I often ask people to make things less of an art and more of a science, to explain the details and purpose behind things in an ordered, well structured fashion that focuses on ensuring critical facts and the purpose behind those facts are stated clearly and NOT how it makes you feel. Too often people tell me that they are concerned that I will get overwhelmed with information and I often don’t, telling them not to filter out the pasta and give me the hot water (filter out the part that is useful and give me the useless part). I say just give me the whole pot and let me do the filtering for myself. The “hot water” in this analogy behind feelings and emotions as I do NOT want something that elicits an emotional response but something that focuses on technical correctness, which I see as the nourishing “pasta.” I often say I am not interested in “truth,” which can be philosophical, I am interested in fact in the empirical sense (think of Joe Friday)
    .
    Is there a site or resource that examines the Bible one verse (or one paragraph maybe?) at a time siting information about the Hebrew or Greek writing, the Philology, the relationship of the phrase to other mythological writings, etc, maybe in audio or video form (writing is ok)? Maybe something that links to Ironchariots.org? (Maybe this is an idea for something for you to write Matt).
    .
    According to Richard Dawkins in “The God Delusion,” Kurt Wise cut apart the Bible one phrase at a time (a time intensive task) to isolate everything that was contradicted by science that indicated something was not literally correct. If someone did this task someone has to have analyzed the Bible one phrase at a time, not necessarily to debunk it but that could have been the effect. If such a debunking source was created by someone I am thinking it would be someone mechanically minded like myself and I am thinking that you guys might know what that resource is if it exists. I am not interested in this for teaching anyone else I just want to know for myself. Call it an “Anti-Bible” if you wish.
    .
    Anyone have any ideas?

  108. Frank G. Turner says

    Oh and FYI, I do know about the Skeptics Annotated Bible online, that is sort of getting at what I am talking about, but I am thinking that there is more as well.

  109. adamah says

    Jdoran said-

    Likenesses exist and can be copyrighted. Well done for missing the point again.

    Cool, you’ve now torpedoed your own argument, since perhaps you’ve realized that fictional non-existent characters can possess attributes, and such distinctive attributes are even protected by international IP law.

    http://www.ivanhoffman.com/characters.html

    FWIW, you’re clearly not a lawyer, but trademark (not copyright) law primarily would apply to the hypothetical situation I posed of selling knock-off unlicensed Mickey Mouse shirts. It COULD, but that would depend on how the case were actually filed in civil court.

    I remember an allegation made a few decades ago from some lawyer claiming Walt Disney had failed to properly protect his Mickey Mouse character in the cartoon, “Steamboat Willie” with a valid copyright, and if true, Mickey would actually now be in the ‘public domain’. But good luck proving THAT case, since Disney has mucho legal precedent on their side and a team of talented legal eagles that typically dwarfs the resources of any would-be challengers.

    Adam

  110. adamah says

    Hi Frank,

    How about the skeptics annotat… Eh, never mind! :)

    (I’ve found a few of what they claimed as ‘contradictions’ not to be actual examples, but arising from their lack of understanding of basic theology, and easily-countered by many believers).

    As you’ve found, there’s a lack of resources out there, and attempting a scripture-by-scripture refutation is a monumental mind-boggling task, where few possess the requisite skills and experience needed to complete the task. Perhaps in 50 yrs there might be an economic incentive, but it seems like it would be a labor of love, since unlike organized religion, there’s little monetary reward in selling atheism.

    The best-available options are probably the works of reputable Bible scholars and historians who don’t allow their personal ideology to interfere with their objectivity and commitment to finding the truth.

    Check out the link I posted yesterday to a PBS Frontline series, “From Jesus to Christ”, a 4 part-video which barely gets one’s feet wet on the massive topic of how Christianity came to emerge and evolve as a product of its time, where each of the Gospels were written for a specific target audience. It’s a fascinating subject.

    A few of those interviewed have popular books for laypeople, eg Elaine Pagels writes with great clarity about the history of Xianity which you’re not likely to hear from the pulpit during Sunday services).

    You’d likely enjoy reading the usual suspects, ie Ehrman, Finkelstein, Pagels, plus some of the more-scholarly articles cited by the others in their books (Van Seters, etc).

    The only way I can tolerate studying the Bible is to be able to ask WHY it was written as it was, and that’s something you’ll never be allowed to ask from those with a theistic agenda.

    Adam

  111. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Frank G. Turner:

    Is there a site or resource that examines the Bible one verse (or one paragraph maybe?) at a time citing information about the Hebrew or Greek writing, the Philology, the relationship of the phrase to other mythological writings, etc, maybe in audio or video form (writing is ok)?
    […]
    I am not interested in this for teaching anyone else I just want to know for myself. Call it an “Anti-Bible” if you wish.

    I can’t link all these due to comment restrictions, but the rest are googlable.
     
    Lecture: Richard Carrier at ReasonCon 2014 (2:41:38)
    – At 2:09:43 during the Q&A, he gets a request for a reliable translation. Zeba A. Crook’s “Parallel Gospels” was mentioned.
    – At 2:28:21, he returns to the wide variance/conflict among ancient manuscripts and the incompleteness of “critical apparatuses” comparing them.
     
    Some other book recommendations appear during his FtBCon2 appearance.
    Video: Richard Carrier – Taking the Bible Seriously as Fiction, A Read-Along (1.25:06)
     
    Bart Ehrman’s widely praised for books on textural criticism. Carrier’s argued he dropped the ball though when he tried to defend the historicity of Jesus.
     
    There’s a Yale course called “Introduction to the Old Testament” by Christine Hayes, with freely downloadable lectures. And another “Introduction to the New Testament History and Literature” by Dale B. Martin. Many universities offer material online, a trend known as OpenCourseware.
     
    In the “Bible Geek” and “Human Bible” podcasts, Robert Price fields questions about random speculative literary interpretations for fun.
     
    If you want a larger context surrounding the stories, seek Ancient Near East history (bronze age to classical) like “The Ancient World” podcast. Alternatively there’s the later context of church-addled politics afterward with Byzantium.
     
    I can’t recall off-hand any lectures/podcasts specifically about comparative mythology and near eastern syncretism. It’s gets brought up now and then in suggestions above.
     
    sacred-texts.com has an assortment of “texts about religion, mythology, legends and folklore, and occult and esoteric topics”. I occasionally wind up there on fetch-quests for old documents. Never really browsed it myself.

  112. jdoran says

    I’m not a lawyer? Thanks, I’ll take that as a compliment.

    You’ve still continued to miss the point. This will be my final reply on the matter, because at this point you appear to be an argumentative idiot and there’s a saying about how best to interact with you (ie: don’t).

    Fictional characters are conceptual. The concept exists, the actual character does not. We can assign conceptual attributes to the concept. We can assign a likeness to that concept and trademark or copyright the likeness. If we were suddenly to discover a real entity that claimed to be the character, our conceptual attributes would be worthless for the purpose of making any factual statements about the real entity. Any resemblance between the real entity and the conceptual one would be coincidental.

    Imagine that someone has just finished drawing up a map of Atlantis, without bothering with all that pesky “having evidence” stuff. That map is going to be completely useless should it be discovered that there actually is an Atlantis, because it cannot be shown that a reliable method was used to make the map of Atlantis correspond with the reality of Atlantis. In the time between now and Atlantis’s discovery (which may never happen), the map is still completely useless for making reliable statements about the reality of Atlantis.

    People assigning (for example) the attribute of omnibenevolence to a creator deity have no reliable method for determining whether a real creator deity (should one be demonstrated to exist) is actually omnibenevolent.

    This is what Tracie means when she says it’s premature to discuss the attributes of an entity of undemonstrated existence. We have no good method to determine the reliability of the discussion’s results. It’s all needless wheel-spinning that lends the public perception of credence to the arguments of those who claim the entity exists.

  113. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    I can’t remember how this one was, but the episode titles suggest you may be interested in it.
     
    Podcast: Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean

  114. says

    Allow me to clear this up for you Sky Captain. Matthew 17: 20-21 And he said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting. Seeing how faith is the supernatural force that is capable of moving a mountain that is subject to the force of gravity would imply that faith is a force that is greater then gravity.
    All one would need to do to demonstrate this kind of supernatural force is to pray and fast and then say to a mountain to move and it will be done. When is the last time you seen this kind of supernatural force being demonstrated?

  115. adamah says

    Jdoran said-

    You’ve still continued to miss the point. This will be my final reply on the matter, because at this point you appear to be an argumentative idiot and there’s a saying about how best to interact with you (ie: don’t).

    Promise?

    Btw, where’d you get the idea that after your point (‘fictional characters cannot have attributes’) was disemboweled, that you somehow earned some right to spew even more gibberish on a topic you clearly don’t understand, like:

    Fictional characters are conceptual. The concept exists, the actual character does not. We can assign conceptual attributes to the concept. We can assign a likeness to that concept and trademark or copyright the likeness.

    Huh?

    “Assign a likeness to a concept”?

    You have a very curious model of how concepts form in the mind… I’m one step away from calling ‘equivocation fallacy’ on your use of the word, ‘likeness’.

    Anyway, from the legal side, once again you are wrong: you cannot copyright a “concept”. It first must be ‘affixed’, ie placed into writing or recorded (in the US, copyright is automatically attached at the moment an idea is affixed/recorded in tangible form, and NOT at the moment of conception. If this weren’t the case, anyone and everyone could claim they thought of the idea first and sue others for copyright infringement of “their” idea).

    But regardless, cognitive science considers attributes to BE concepts (where attributes are considered as referents), where other broader concepts are defined by their distinct combination of attributes.

    In fact, most concepts are comprised of MOSAICS, possessing many different concepts derived from multiple sources. We don’t create a new ‘God concept’ when looking at DaVinci’s iconic representation of God, and another ‘God concept’ when reading Exodus about Moses speaking to a burning bush, etc. Although contradictory, these and many more sources go under the broad category of our concept of God, which can even be broken out further into categories if the person knows of other Gods (with their own conceptual attributes, eg Mithras, Zeus, Jehovah, Jupiter, Mars, etc all have different attributes which allows us to differentiate).

    The differentiation between fictional and actual living characters is a red-herring, since cognitive science holds that ALL characters, real or imagined, ultimately exist in one’s mind as concepts (read that again until it sinks in).

    So your concept of ‘Abe Lincoln’ is no different practically-speaking from your concept of ‘Zeus’ than compared to your concept of Obama: ALL are merely synaptic models existing inside your brain, a model which is subject to further modification (via adding more information, AKA learning).

    That’s one of the fundamental assumptions of cognitive science, that ALL of the ‘things’ which exist in World are reflected by our personal mental images or models of reality where they exist as concepts, by necessity being colored and filtered through our subjective sensory perceptions.

    It’s accepted as a presupposition in many other human endeavors as well, where it’s effectively embodied into IP law.

    This is what Tracie means when she says it’s premature to discuss the attributes of an entity of undemonstrated existence. We have no good method to determine the reliability of the discussion.

    Do you really think I and others actually missed that point? Talk about begging the question! The discussion is far beyond that now, so try to keep up.

    As explained elsewhere, there’s a WORLD of difference between the methodological approach used by:

    1) biologists analyzing the attributes of an organism that actually EXISTS which they’re holding in their hot-little hands, studying it intently to tfigure out where it should be placed in a ‘taxonomic tree’ (eg when botanists have found a previously-unknown species of the genus Quercus, aka ‘live oak’), vs.

    2) theoretical physicists attempting to DISCOVER something that is HYPOTHESIZED to exist.

    The rules used by physicists attempting to discover a new sub-atomic particle will allow them to POSTULATE (i.e. tentatively-accept as true) that it exists, just so they can speculate on what attributes the unknown particle might possess in order to facilitate demonstrating its existence.

    Whether you like or not, and regardless of how uncomfortable that idea makes you feel, that’s actually HOW the process of scientific discovery works at times, where scientists will often rely on only educated hunches or gut instincts (which often don’t pan out).

    (Although to compare Einstein’s gut instincts with those of some random dude who trims trees for a living would be a HUGE false equivalency: the former has forgotten more about the principles of physics than the latter has even begun to comprehend.)

    The difference between methods used for categorization purposes vs discovery is CRUCIAL, since the latter doesn’t demand something be proven to exist before considering its attributes.

    Another example? How about the theory of superposition from the whacky World of quantum mechanics in physics: by definition, superposition defies ever being experimentally-verified on the macroscopic level, since one implication of the theory is the very act of measuring or observing the fragile effect ‘forces’ quanta to adopt one state or the other (Schrodinger’s dead cat was suggested as a thought-experiment).

    Physicists have long-accepted the theory of superposition, long-before it was experimentally-verified at the atomic or microscopic or level (it still hasn’t been demonstrated on the macroscopic level).

    So yet another example of how it’s an overstatement to say science demands something be proven to exist before postulating attributes.

    So back to the subject of this thread:

    Both sides were over-stating the reality of the situation, both being correct on some points, but both over-reaching on others.

    It’s all needless wheel-spinning that lends the public perception of credence to the arguments of those who claim the entity exists.

    Well, you can play the ‘ends justify the means’ card all day long; perhaps we should bury the actual truth in the name of serving some greater goal? Like the theists who lie in the name of God?

    Good luck with that, since some here actually value TRUTHS, and like John and Russell said on yesterday’s show, prefer to “believe as many true things as possible, and as few false things as possible”.

    That’s why a better approach is to EDUCATE the public, ie point out the flawed analogy and refuse to play along, explaining WHY it’s a flawed analogy.

    The problem was Q offered a fundamentally-flawed live oak analogy (he likely-doesn’t know WHY the analogy doesn’t apply to the God question, just as many educated atheists here didn’t either, and tried to argue against the facts), and Tracie took the bait, also not catching the difference.

    She’s not a scientist so was out of her element, but made an admirable attempt (and to her credit, she got most of the points right).

    Ultimately neither side benefits from continued propagation of ignorance; worse, some here are displaying the ugly phenomenon of ‘arrogance of ignorance’, acting like petulant children who insist they’re right, even in the face of overwhelming counter-evidence.

    As you ironically said above, the only logical thing to do when people are not swayed by actual evidence is to disengage…

    I’d just point out that believers are being perfectly-consistent with THEIR values by believing on FAITH, alone: can some here say they’re being faithful to THEIR claimed belief system and are respecting the principles of the rationalist approach?

    Adam

  116. says

    > In the discussion on TTA 168 you call this “putting the cart before the horse.” Correct me if I am wrong, but this suggests that as a methodology you are saying that one must demonstrate that God exists before one can talk about the attributes and effects of God.

    Correct. Otherwise, how can we determine that any of the claims about god are correct, without a god for comparison?

    >The methodology of asking that something be demonstrated before talking about the attributes and effects about said something is not part of any inductive reasoning or deductive reasoning.

    It’s how reality works. My tribe encounters Thing-X. We label it. And we learn about it. I’m not sure what part of this is outside of reason. Thing-X defines its own attributes to my tribe through manifestation. So, if I claim a cherry tree bites, and you say it does not, we watch the cherry tree, and if it doesn’t seem to bite, then I’m wrong. How is this not how reality operates? In what universe do we simply speculate a cherry tree, then assert it is there, then just start speculating attributes and claiming all this as real, without any effort to identify an actual cherry tree to check out claims against?

    What thing, demonstrated to exist, does not manifest?

    >In all inductive and deductive arguments the conclusion (or demonstration) comes at the end of the argument

    I’m not talking about “arguments.” I’m talking about a claim that something exists. That’s not an argument. The thing either manifests, and can then be observed to exist, or it does not manifest, and cannot be observed to exist. And if it cannot be observed, you have no method to vet your claims about what it is, what it does, and what it’s like. You have to be able to verify—otherwise you are simply claiming “X has these attributes”—and not really demonstrating how you’re correct. “Arguing” you are correct is no different than creating a hypothesis. You can tell me why you think X *may be* there and what you think it *may do* and what you think it “may be” like, but that’s just your reasoning, and we need to test against X to see if your reasoning holds up, otherwise, we can’t verify your “attributes of X” are actual or mistaken. A hypothesis is not a demonstration. It may motivate someone to seek a demonstration, to see if their assumptions are correct, but if they can’t do that, then all they have is an idea they can’t vet.

    >These are called the premises. Without premises there can be no conclusion

    Observing a cherry tree requires no premise. You’re talking about arguments—this is a claim of existence which cannot be demonstrated by any argument while the thing-X has never been observed.

    > nothing can be demonstrated

    Are you just being purposely obtuse? Walk through a wall, and see if the wall does not demonstrate itself and the attribute “impossible to walk through.” My CAT can understand this—do you think my cat is forming logical arguments and considering premises about the wall? Or simply reacting to a reality/observation that cannot be denied?

  117. says

    @Frank G. Turner

    It’s good that you would have questions about the bible and as an atheist I would never try to sway you one way or the other, but just to ask that you have an open mind and be objective about what you read. As an atheist my method is similar to the scientific method because to me it’s the best way at arriving at the truth.
    Decide for yourself and like the scripture in the bible; “See with your ears and hear with your eyes.”, let no one influence your judgment and let reason be your guild in making a choice.

    As an atheist I have decide not to believe until I’ve seen enough evidence to convince me to believe. I reserve judgment and choose discretion.

  118. BluePrint says

    Simplify, simplify, simplify.

    Probably not so elaboately reasoned, but years ago, after realizing that I wonn’t accept any god claim on the merit of supernatural capacity (due to my inability to confirm I’m not being fooled), the only way left for me to acknowledge a deity would be simply to satisfactorily validate it’s existence. Therefore, if a theist would point to a person/animal/object/phenomenon and tell me ”that’s god”, I would accept it.
    Any supernatural claim about said god would have to meet it’s own burden of proof, but the god’s existence would be settled and I would be a theist about that god. Just on their say so.

  119. Frank G. Turner says

    @ Sir Real
    .
    You do realize that by coming on here I realized that I am agnostic right? (What some would call a “soft atheist”). My interest in Biblical studies has to do with learning it for myself. I read it in its entirety a long time ago. I want to read it in an unbiased fashion. Thanks though.

  120. piero says

    Wow! This is truly an amazing article. Thank you! I’ve saved it for future reference.

  121. says

    Reading it in an objective fashion is reading it in an unbiased fashion. My choice to become an atheist was by being objective and impartial when I read the bible. Unlike some theists who want you to see it their way by translation, I would rather someone just read the bible themselves and decide on their own. I just don’t know what you mean by “soft atheist”. Either you believe in gods or you don’t.

  122. says

    @ adamah

    A rebuttal to your rebuttal.

    “So in fact, some individuals DO perceive that God is communicating with them.” The only fact proven here would be that they’re hearing voices that they have assumed is God. Do they perceive it as their god or some other god? People use to perceive that the world was flat, but that doesn’t mean that it is. My source of information about gods being conceived is from Webster’s New World College Dictionary in which there in NO reference about gods as being perceived. So what is your source of information that gods are perceived? I think you need to get your facts straight, unless you are able to prove something.

  123. adamah says

    Adam said-

    “So in fact, some individuals DO perceive that God is communicating with them.”

    Sir Real said-

    The only fact proven here would be that they’re hearing voices that they have assumed is God.

    No shitze? That’s exactly my point….

    I mean, you DO understand I’m an atheist, right?

    I’m trying to imagine how you could possibly be thinking I was suggesting anything else, esp within the context of the discussion and the words of my post?!?

    Do they perceive it as their god or some other god?

    You’d have to ask them, since ‘voice hearers’ report various perceptions.

    People use to perceive that the world was flat, but that doesn’t mean that it is.

    True, and what’s you point?

    My source of information about gods being conceived is from Webster’s New World College Dictionary in which there in NO reference about gods as being perceived.

    No kidding? You don’t say?

    How shocking that “Webster’s New World College Dictionary” wouldn’t contain information that say, a professional journal published for members of the psychiatric profession, would?

    So what is your source of information that gods are perceived?

    Here ya’ go, here’s a list of articles published in professional journals of studies conducted by psychiatrists and cognitive researchers looking at brain activity in pts experiencing auditory hallucinations, confirming these subjects actually are perceiving voices in their heads (which many will misattribute to any number of supernatural sources, including Jesus, God(s), the devil, deceased relatives, etc):

    http://www.julianjaynes.org/related-articles_neuroimaging.php

    I think you need to get your facts straight, unless you are able to prove something

    I think you need to get your facts straight before calling others out (or at least, consider asking questions just so you don’t look foolish by demonstrating a strong tendency to jump to hasty conclusions).

    Adam

  124. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @adamah:

    @Sir Real:

    So what is your source of information that gods are perceived?

    here’s a list of articles published in professional journals of studies conducted by psychiatrists and cognitive researchers looking at brain activity in pts experiencing auditory hallucinations, confirming these subjects actually are perceiving voices in their heads

    People can experience auditory hallucinations.
    This is not newsworthy.
     
    Sir Real was saying they are not perceiving gods, entities outside their brains, however convincing it may seem to them. He is using the “perceive” definition: to become aware of, through the senses; not the other definition: regard as being such. The former is true only for the hallucination itself, false for mistaken external attributions. The latter is always true by personal fiat (and not useful in discussions of epistemology).
     
     
    BTW, the site you linked is dedicated to the bicameralism hypothesis. If you did that deliberately, you may be using a very different definition of “god” that is irrelevant to discussions everyone else has been having here.
     
    Article: Wikipedia – Bicameralism

    Jaynes asserted that, until roughly the times written about in Homer’s Iliad, humans did not generally have the self-awareness characteristic of consciousness as most people experience it today. Rather, the bicameral individual was [a schizophrenic zombie] guided by mental commands believed to be issued by external “gods” – commands which were recorded in ancient myths, legends and historical accounts. […] For example, in the Iliad and sections of the Old Testament no mention is made of any kind of cognitive processes such as introspection, and there is no apparent indication that the writers were self-aware.

  125. Narf says

    It’s the difference between “I don’t believe in gods,” and “I believe that there are no gods.” Hard atheism is the addition of the positive claim.

  126. says

    My point to all of this is that these voices that these people hear are not actual voices that can be recorded they are voices or sounds that are in their minds. You do realize that I too am an atheist and that I do require something that can be tested other then just something that someone is just hearing in their head? Something that someone else could hear as well. The same could have been said about The Great Fear of 1789 when people would hallucinate from eating grains that were infested with ergot. This isn’t a god who is actually speaking to someone, the FACT is it’s still something that still is conceived as being a god(s). Webster’s Dictionary is a source of information and if god’s where perceived as well as conceived don’t you think that it would have mentioned that as well? Or do you know something that Webster’s Dictionary doesn’t? To me perceive means that something is witnessed and that an opinion is formed after it has been witnessed by one or more of the five senses. I’m sorry but I can’t hear what’s going on in someone else’s mind and I would need something more tangible. I can understand people who perceived the world as being flat because the world is something that can be seen by others, however a hallucination is not something that others can witness and it’s still just in their mind like imagination. I’m sorry Adam but to me this doesn’t prove that god(s) exist it just proves that someone is hearing something in their head and associating it with their god(s). I’m still not convinced that god’s are perceived. Proving me wrong would also prove Webster’s Dictionary is wrong and that it has omitted a fact. Can these voices or sounds be recorded? Are these voices/sounds audible so that others can hear them, or is it like someone else imagination just in their head?

  127. adamah says

    Sky Capt said-

    Sir Real was saying they are not perceiving gods, entities outside their brains, however convincing it may seem to them. He is using the “perceive” definition: to become aware of, through the senses; not the other definition: regard as being such.

    Yeah, I know what he was saying, but it doesn’t matter.

    You’re both wrong, and here’s the “newsworthy” reason why:

    The definitions of words used in the scientific community are determined by consensus opinion (aka ‘by convention’) and by actual usage of scientists, not the general public.

    In the context of this discussion, the scientific definition is the relevant one, not the layperson’s usage, since the topic now is hallucinations.

    In the case of ‘perception”, the definition has been the same as long as I can remember, as determined by those who actually conduct research on the brain.

    Pts experiencing auditory hallucinations (AH) ARE in fact “perceiving through their senses”, since the convention used in perception is that we don’t actually “see” inside the eyeballs, or “hear” inside the cochlear nerve of the ear (ie the sensory organs), but that sensory ‘perception’ occurs in the corresponding parts of the BRAIN (eg the visual contrices of the occipital lobes, in the case of visual stimuli).

    That’s basic “Intro to Perception” stuff, even covered in some undergrad introductory gen. psych courses.

    That’s exactly why I mentioned it.

    BTW, there’s all kinds of possibilities for crossed wiring occurring in the brain, where some pts experience ‘synesthesia’, perceiving sounds as colors, etc.

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesthesia

    The former is true only for the hallucination itself, false for mistaken external attributions. The latter is always true by personal fiat (and not useful in discussions of epistemology).

    Yet another example that highlights how definitions used in philosophy are hopelessly outdated and useless to those who use scientific methodology to advance human knowledge.

    (How long had it been since epistemology and ‘thought experiments’ conducted via navel-gazing have produced anything useful, anyway?).

    ;)

    Here’s the title of a recent journal article which succinctly sums up the consensus usage for the word ‘perception’ as accepted within the general scientific community:

    “Mechanisms Underlying Auditory Hallucinations—Understanding Perception without Stimulus”

    http://www.mdpi.com/2076-3425/3/2/642

    Hallucinations are perceived.

    The definition of ‘perception’ used in the medical/psych field also assumes it’s a subjective experience, since practically speaking, that’s all that’s available: we ALL experience reality, NOT directly or objectively, but by being filtered through our sensory organs.

    Patients experiencing AH undeniably perceive internally-generated sensory input, but they misattribute it as coming from an external source; i.e. they’re not simply fantasizing about hearing voices, or lying about it. They truly perceive a voice.

    And even if you more-accurately qualify it by calling their experience a “false perception” (or ‘self-generated perception’), note the word ‘perception’ is still there; it’s nevertheless considered a form of “perception”.

    From:

    http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/schizophrenia/auditory-hallucinations-psychiatric-illness

    Auditory hallucinations are false perceptions of sound. They have been described as the experience of internal words or noises that have no real origin in the outside world and are perceived to be separate from the person’s mental processes.

    Auditory hallucinations have veridical perceptual qualities in the sense that individuals are often convinced of the objective reality of the experience. In most cases, auditory hallucinations are unintentional, intrusive, and unwanted. Affected individuals may or may not have insight into the hallucinations. A person with insight will acknowledge that the experience is abnormal and will report less interference with daily activities than a person with no insight.

    But even setting aside the issue of who decides what terms mean, apparently you’re not a big fan of the concept that it’s fundamentally wrong to deny another person their perceptions, EVEN AFTER they’ve been scientifically-validated to be perceptions?

    I don’t suppose you were the type of child who hit others, then told them to quit crying like a baby, since it didn’t hurt?

    Anyway, it’s probably better for you to just accept that perception is ALWAYS accepted as being subjective in any scientific endeavor, since few would ignore scientific conventions in favor of continuing to display bigotry and ignorance by automatically dismissing those who hear voices as ‘mentally-ill’ and ‘insane’ (I still see a lot of that kind of thinking on atheist forums, and SHM at the ignorance of those who are neither as sharp as they think, or as rational as they tell themselves they are).

    A moment’s thought SHOULD make one understand immediately that studies like these are actually potent weapons AGAINST religiosity: we’re tracking down the neurological underpinnings that explains religious beliefs in the burgeoning sub-discipline of psychology called ‘neurotheology’.

    So instead of being threatened by it, you should be grasping it.

    Plus, we can actually help these pts by telling them they’re not necessarily mentally-ill, when religious organizations typically dismiss them as ‘insane’ and send them out the door when they become too much to handle.

    (JWs are notorious for DFing those who hear voices, claiming they’re demonized, and kicking them when they’re down with massive social rejection of shunning as a parting gift after they fail to be cured by exorcism.)

    Atheists can do better than that, since we’re the ones supposedly committed to advancement via scientific endeavors, right? We’re supposed to be the smart ones, right?

    BTW, the site you linked is dedicated to the bicameralism hypothesis. If you did that deliberately, you may be using a very different definition of “god” that is irrelevant to discussions everyone else has been having here.

    And I presume you’re up to speed with the work of researchers who’ve carried on Jayne’s work, much less that you’ve actually read his work and/or books targeted for lay persons?

    (This may come as somewhat of a surprise to you, but simply reading a Wikipedia page on a topic hardly qualifies someone as an expert on a subject.)

    I’m sure you know as much about current controversies in the subject, and competing hypotheses to explain the emergence of consciousness in humans, certainly more than you knew about, oh, I dunno: the relationship between empathy and self-awareness?

    ;)

    Jayne’s bicameralism model is accepted as theory within the scientific community; it’s been repeatedly confirmed by multiple studies and is frequently cited (although it’s been modified, as all theories are, including Einstein’s and Maxwell’s, with subsequent studies).

    So lemme get this straight:

    Once again, are you actually questioning the consensus opinion of medical/psych professionals who work in the field?

    Isn’t the failure to accept science something we jump all over the theists for doing, for being “science deniers”?

    Adam

  128. adamah says

    Sir Real said-

    My point to all of this is that these voices that these people hear are not actual voices that can be recorded they are voices or sounds that are in their minds. You do realize that I too am an atheist and that I do require something that can be tested other then just something that someone is just hearing in their head?

    You’re talking about needing an external stimulus that can be experienced by others (or as Tracie said, a referent, a perceivable object that can be used by us all so we can ‘calibrate’ our perceptions of it via use of language.)

    Believe me, as someone who spent a career studying, working, and teaching the subject of human perception, I understand the topic, and understand the difference in meaning between the words, ‘conceived’ and ‘perceived’.

    Here’s the source of your error:

    Webster’s Dictionary is a source of information and if god’s where perceived as well as conceived don’t you think that it would have mentioned that as well? Or do you know something that Webster’s Dictionary doesn’t?

    Yes, I do in fact know something you don’t, since you seemingly mistakenly believe that researchers in science (specifically the field of highly-trained scientists that studies human perception) are going to look up their definitions in WEBSTERS?

    Websters reflects definitions in common usage; it’s NOT offering definitions used in technical fields, or specialized areas of expertise, since they’re free to use definitions that facilitate their needs, based on usage AS DETERMINED BY CONSENSUS OPINION OF THOSE PRACTICING IN THE FIELD.

    Fortunately, science is not held back by layperson’s thinking on scientific subjects (as if relying on appeals to popular opinion): if that were the case, we’d be still in the Dark Ages (scientists would have to think of mass and weight as synonyms, etc).

    To me perceive means that something is witnessed and that an opinion is formed after it has been witnessed by one or more of the five senses.

    Yeah, well that’s great, but who gives a flyin’ flip what you or Websters think ‘perception’ means?

    Rephrased, terms used in science are defined by the consensus usage of recognized members of the scientific community, and NOT by Joe Schmoe, the traveling shoe salesman.

    Like many hosts on the AXP show commonly say (including Tracie), are you actually doubting the consensus opinion and actual definitional usage by the actual authorities on the subject?

    We blast theists for doing exactly that same thing when they dismiss evolution in favor of “God Dun It!”, and now you’ve ended up doing exactly the same thing.

    In the context of THIS discussion, the definition used by science, whether in the physical or life sciences, applies. The original analogy was referring to botanical taxonomy, as have all of the others discussions, including this one on AH.

    I’m sorry but I can’t hear what’s going on in someone else’s mind and I would need something more tangible. I can understand people who perceived the world as being flat because the world is something that can be seen by others, however a hallucination is not something that others can witness and it’s still just in their mind like imagination.

    Did you miss that point, as well?

    We’ve actually scientifically-VERIFIED their perceptions as REAL: they DO perceive voices (ie they’re not lying, or making it all up or faking their symptomology, AKA malingering).

    Are you going to continue to deny a confirmed scientific finding?

    If so, you’re welcome to falsify the many studies by coming up with a study of your own, but until you DO, you’re going against findings of published studies that have been cited by others (for over a decade, too: are you falling behind in your journal reading?).

    Congrats, as you now may be a science-denier.

    I’m sorry Adam but to me this doesn’t prove that god(s) exist it just proves that someone is hearing something in their head and associating it with their god(s).

    Once again, I didn’t SAY it’s “proof of God”. NOT ONCE, so please stop putting words into my mouth.

    It’s proof voice hearers aren’t lying about hearing voices, and many who do so don’t have accompanying mental-illnesses to easily explain the phenomenon. Hence, anyone who reports a symptom of hearing voices cannot automatically assumed to be mentally-ill, since it’s much more prevalent than previously thought, even found in those without other signs of mental illness.

    The reason it’s important for atheists in particular to be aware of the phenomena (and to promote public education on the findings) should be obvious: we NOW have a NATURALISTIC EXPLANATION for what previously was chalked up to Holy Spirit, and hearing the ‘voice of God’.

    We now KNOW HOW it happens, WHY it happens, and can even validate WHEN it’s occurring, and here’s a hint: it AIN’T God doing it.

    I’m still not convinced that god’s are perceived. Proving me wrong would also prove Webster’s Dictionary is wrong and that it has omitted a fact. Can these voices or sounds be recorded? Are these voices/sounds audible so that others can hear them, or is it like someone else imagination just in their head

    If you’ve been
    ….

    Adam

  129. Frank G. Turner says

    @ adamah
    Isn’t the failure to accept science something we jump all over the theists for doing, for being “science deniers”?
    .
    I am presuming in the context of what you are saying that you assume that the science that is “being denied” is, in fact, honest science that is backed up by demonstration correct?
    .
    I ask because of the misperceived notion that science is correct by authority when it is not. Claims must stand on their own merit and have demonstrable evidence ot back them up and if Tyson claimed that the moon were made of green cheese, despite his expertise I would ask for something to back up that claim. I personally have no major problem with believers who are at least somewhat rational (Kenneth MIller is a personal favorite), even if some beliefs have to be compartmentalized.
    .
    I was concerned about the context of what you were stating given that the previous statement was, Once again, are you actually questioning the consensus opinion of medical/psych professionals who work in the field?
    .
    My answer would be, yes I do question and challenge the consensus opinion of professionals in the field as I expect them to have the integrity to back up what they say with at least some evidence (don’t get me wrong, Jayne does a very good job of backing it up). Questioning and challenging a view does not necessarily mean that I doubt it, it often means that I expect the person to be able to answer that challenge as I believe them to have professionalism and integrity. It is the answer to that challenge that strengthens my belief that the person has integrity, but that does not mean that I subsequently take what they have to say at face value, I might ALWAYS want to challenge their opinion and expect it to be backed up with evidence (with a few exceptions).
    .
    I don’t take religious views at face value and I don’t take scientific views at face value either, regardless of the authority of the person stating them. I would expect that the person’s professional expertise and background would indicate that they ARE capable of giving me solid evidence behind what they state.
    .
    It seems to me that THIS is the real issue when dealing with theists. They don’t seem to understand HOW physical evidence is actually backing up a claim, often because they accept something as evidence that is not really evidence, like the opinion of an authority figure (Jesus, God, the Pope, their Minister, the President, etc) or very strong emotions. And furthermore, they may not understand how physical evidence can contradict what they have falsely accepted as evidence and outweigh it in terms of validity. I have met Priest – Chemists who have taught me much of my profession and their authority as a Priest or as a scientist is not what led me to trust what they had to say. Practical usage and demonstration of what they taught me is what led me to trust what they had to say, about science.
    .
    If the ID creationist nut-jobs could actually perform real, unbiased laboratory studies that led ot some practical application for what they said and some sort of independent verifiability by an outside source, I would give what they had to say respect. Their authority as proponents of ID – creationism would have nothing to do with whether I gave their ideas merit under those conditions. I don’t think their brains are wired correctly to understand scientific principles though which is why they don’t understand how medical and scientific professionals HAVE come up with hard physical evidence.

  130. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @adamah:

    BTW, the site you linked is dedicated to the bicameralism hypothesis. If you did that deliberately […]

    This may come as somewhat of a surprise to you, but simply reading a Wikipedia page on a topic hardly qualifies someone as an expert on a subject.

    I was pointing you to the article, and helpfully blockquoting it since you find it burdensome to click links and read for yourself. My background is more than sufficient for that. Why would you even insist–
     

    are you actually questioning the consensus opinion of medical/psych professionals who work in the field?

    Oh right, more silencing rhetoric.
    And a consensus bluff, for an ambiguous field.
     
    Article: The FAQ on the site you linked, dedicated to bicameralism

    Q: Are there any doctoral graduate programs in psychology, philosophy, anthropology, etc. where I can study Jaynes’s theory?
    A: While we don’t know of any professors at this time that have both a strong interest in Jaynes’s theory and are currently associated with a university program accepting Ph.D. students, there are a few options to consider. The first is to find a professor in a mainstream graduate program that is researching a related topic, even if they are not directly interested in (or familiar with) Jaynes’s theory. […] The second option is to pursue your degree from a smaller private university. They tend to be less rigid and more open to controversial theories and topics such as consciousness studies.

  131. adamah says

    Yeah, no kidding, Sky, which is precisely why I made a reference to other researchers who have carried on work in cognitive science, taking the work of Jaynes and many others in directions they couldn’t have anticipated (much like Maxwell likely never dreamed of the widespread applications of radio waves). That’s how science operates: taking it new directions and standing on the shoulders of those who came before.

    Jayne’s influence is seen in those studies, such as auditory hallucinations being detected by fMRI; these studies have repeatedly been verified and cited by other researchers in their articles, who come up with interesting work that expands knowledge. One important metric for confirming consensus opinion is how often a study is cited by one’s colleagues.

    I won’t bother to ask if you’ve actually read his book: I’m assuming you haven’t. You should: it’s directly pertinent to neurotheology.

    Adam

  132. Sir Real says

    @ Adam,
    I remember a time when I was in church and the preacher said; “I feel the presence of God amongst us.”, and I wonder if he had perceived this as actually feeling god or is it just his imagination. Could he make that distinction between his reality and mine? As a lay person it is not my responsibility to prove my reality because he is the one who has burden of proof. For all practical purposes it wouldn’t be prudent to have an MRI scan on his brain to see if his sensation was real or just his imagination. I’m only concerned about if he can prove his claim because I don’t have the burden of proof. It’s not that I am denying science, which is just your assumption, it’s just that I don’t believe that definition of perceive can be proven because how could anyone including science make that distinction like recognition as in voice recognition? Being able to prove that the voice(s) are real is one thing, however being able to prove WHOSE voice it is (voice recognition) is another. That definition of perceive also includes discerning in which how could anyone justify this claim? Did you forget Adam that this is an atheist forum and that if someone makes a claim whether it’s their imagination or not they would still have burden of proof. Atheism is about being skeptical and expecting others to prove their claim, it’s not about proving to others how well educated you are and to use that as an excuse to be condescending. I don’t like being patronized by someone who thinks they’re omniscient.

    “Are you going to deny a confirmed scientific find?
    “If so, you’re welcome to falsify the many studies by coming up with a study of your own, but until you DO, you’re going against finding of published studies that have been cited by others (for over a decade, too: are you falling behind in your journal reading?).”
    “Congrats, as you now may be a science-denier.”
    So now you have to attack my character by forming a personal opinion about me? If the only thing you’re going to prove is how prejudice you are then the only thing you’re proving is your ignorance.

    “Websters reflects definition in common usage; it’s NOT offering definitions used in technical fields, or specialized areas of expertise, since they’re free to use definitions that facilitate their needs, based on usage AS DETERMINED BY CONSENSUS OPINION OF THOSE PRACTICING IN THE FIELD.” (An unreasonably biased opinion)
    Are you trying to tell me Adam that science is now doing studies and research in the SUPERNATURAL? Aren’t gods defined as SUPERNATURAL and isn’t that the premise of my initial statement? Besides doesn’t the word definition mean DEFINITIVE as in accurate and complete? If so then stop contradicting yourself unless you enjoy being a hypocrite. I have no reason to believe that Webster’s is going to engage in any fraudulent activity like omitting certain facts (omission of truth) in which they are responsible for, not free to use just to facilitate their own needs. If you’re going to assume Webster’s guilt then the least you could do is to PROVE IT. So it would appear that your source of information has no more credibility then mine, and that even experts working in the field of science would have to rely on their own opinions as well, that is unless they have actually proven the SUPERNATURAL.

    As an atheist I would never validate someone’s supernatural beliefs with scientific confirmation, I would expect them to prove their claim. It doesn’t seem reasonable to reciprocate burden of proof as opposed to just letting someone to prove their claim because then you’re contradicting yourself as an atheist by proving the possible and expecting the other to prove the impossible. That’s expecting more out of others then you do yourself, which is hypocrisy.

    “If the mind was so simple we could understand it, we would be so simple we couldn’t.”
    Lyall Watson

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>