Pastor Can’t Grasp Public/Private Distinction

The San Diego Coalition of Reason has put up a billboard in that area that says “Atheism: A personal relationship with reality.” The local ABC station has an article about it entitled “Billboard aimed at recruiting atheists; Local pastor encourages debate.” It should read “Billboard aimed at recruiting atheists; Local pastor proves clueless.”

10News showed the billboard to Pastor Chris Clark of the East Clairemont Southern Baptist Church. He said he welcomed a healthy debate.

“I don’t know that they’re picking a fight necessarily. I think they’re trying to get their message out,” said Clark…

Clark said he supports the group’s freedom of speech. He just wants to make sure there’s no pushback if his church wants a billboard recruiting believers.

“All I’m asking for is equal access. Don’t get upset when there’s a nativity scene on the public square,” said Clark.

Seriously? You don’t understand the difference between a nativity scene on public property and a billboard on private property? A 12 year old could figure out the distinction.

42 comments on this post.
  1. glodson:

    In the news: Pastor blind to Christian Privilege.

  2. Gretchen:

    Clark said he supports the group’s freedom of speech. He just wants to make sure there’s no pushback if his church wants a billboard recruiting believers.

    Gee, I don’t know– might want to check with the pastors of the thousands of other churches across the country who have done precisely that, to see if a single one of them has experienced anything that might remotely be characterized as “pushback.”

    And then talk to the handful of atheist groups who have put up billboards only to find them– seemingly inevitably– vandalized or even destroyed.

    Then get back to me and complain about “equal treatment.”

  3. anubisprime:

    They know the distinction very well…it means nothing and they care less!
    They want their infection to spread, public or private access to the clueless naive, it is all good, they are only spreading the word of their fairy after all!
    They want their tawdry crap smeared all over the town steps…it is what xtians do.

  4. gshelley:

    Perhaps he has never been outside before and hasn’t noticed the dozens, if not hundreds of Christain billboards.

  5. Michael Heath:

    This logical failure is quite common.

    We see it from teachers who demand their religious freedom rights should be protected even in their capacity as teachers who actively seek to deny students their rights to be educated and not be proselytized from their teacher.

    We see it when a county clerk who argues her religious rights should be protected at the expense of a gay couple applying for a marriage license.

    We see it even from popular historians like Jon Meachum, who in his book on church-state issues, American Gospel, continually conflated the distinction between government and private when it came to describing the ‘public square’.

    While there’s whole layers of failure of here, one of the failures which seems to motivate such defective thinking is the unconstitutional sense of privilege and entitlement Christians demand from government. That causes them to avoid or deny the reality that our rights are held individually and ion play even when the right-holder demanding equal protection is not a Christian.

  6. heddle:

    The article you linked to paraphrases then quotes the San Diego Coalition of Reason coordinator Debbie Allen after giving the pastor’s nativity scene comment:

    Allen disagreed, and she said there must be separation of church and state and the billboard’s message isn’t for a church.

    Which makes sense and it doesn’t. It would make sense to point out that the nativity scene question is entirely different and a separation of church and state issue. But the fact that her organizations message “isn’t for a church” is irrelevant.

    Then she is quoted:

    “The pastor that you spoke to is a non-theist, a non-believer when it comes to every other god but his own. We just go one god further,” argued Allen.

    There are certain giveaways that suggest a person is dumb as a stick of salt. One is that they use overused expressions that may have been clever, oh, the first few hundred times it was used. From atheists one such clue-of-cluelessness is the use of babble instead of bible. The other is the “we just believe in one less god that you” gambit. Really? You are going to use that again?

    This article appears to be about two very dumb people. Or maybe it was just a poorly-written mish-mash of disjointed quotes.

  7. Gretchen:

    heddle said:

    There are certain giveaways that suggest a person is dumb as a stick of salt. One is that they use overused expressions that may have been clever, oh, the first few hundred times it was used. From atheists one such clue-of-cluelessness is the use of babble instead of bible. The other is the “we just believe in one less god that you” gambit. Really? You are going to use that again?

    I commend you for being aware to the point of tedium that theists disbelieve in a host of gods in addition to the one or few they do believe in. I think, however, you are a marked exception in this regard. That being the case, it hardly makes a person “dumb as a stick of salt” if they find it a relevant point to mention, particularly someone acting as a spokesperson for an atheist group. Stephen F. Roberts is not dumb as a stick of salt, nor are the people who quote him– at least, not because they quote him.

  8. Jordan Genso:

    heddle,

    You can complain that the “one less god than you” line is cliche, but I would disagree. Even as someone who has visited Ed’s blog for years, I’ve only recently come across that statement, and I’ve never seen it outside of this blog.

    I don’t think the general public has heard that statement that often, and even if it was cliche, that doesn’t change the legitimacy of the statement.

    Do you really think it is a concept that most people have thought about? That they are atheists in regards to so many gods, that it shouldn’t be unreasonable for someone to be an atheist in regards to their god? I don’t think that idea is common enough to raise objections about for over-usage.

  9. Brony:

    I think that it is related to how many (maybe most) theists conceptualize the world versus how non-theists conceptualize the world.

    To a non-theist like me I have to discover what the most basic functional social divisions are in order to interact with society in the most consistent way possible. Its a matter of efficiency and effectiveness.

    To a theist like Pastor Chris Clark he sees the world as being totally owned by his deity. That creates a hubris where you tend to get sloppy with how society is really organized. Used to assuming that his social group is “really in charge” the private/public distinction is more of a piece of minutiae to be easily forgotten or ignored.

  10. Modusoperandi:

    Oh, come on, Ed! You know darn well that being permitted to pay a private company to display a message is exactly the same as exclusive, central, free, access to display a message at City Hall.

  11. DaveL:

    This logical failure is quite common.

    Indeed, but let’s all be thankful that this particular failure to distinguish public from private did not involve the exposure of genitalia.

  12. Michael Heath:

    “The pastor that you spoke to is a non-theist, a non-believer when it comes to every other god but his own. We just go one god further,” argued Allen.

    heddle responds:

    There are certain giveaways that suggest a person is dumb as a stick of salt. One is that they use overused expressions that may have been clever, oh, the first few hundred times it was used.

    This peson doesn’t demonstrate they’re dumb. That’s because this point continues to resonate, which I think is unfortunate.

    This point will continue to resonate as long as believers use a fatally weak standard to assert the truth of their own religious beliefs while disqualifying others’ religious beliefs using a different standard. If believers all used a consistent and successful standard to ascertain objective truth, e.g., scientific methodology, where we saw different results from one religion to another, then perhaps you’d have a point.

  13. Sastra:

    heddle #6 wrote:

    There are certain giveaways that suggest a person is dumb as a stick of salt. One is that they use overused expressions that may have been clever, oh, the first few hundred times it was used.

    The proper expression is “dumb as a bundle of sticks.” Or, alternatively, “dumb as a block of salt.” And yet, see what heddle did here? He took a common expression and he used it in an uncommon way. “Stick of salt.” This was clever.

    From now on, I will no longer play the “we just believe in one less god than you” gambit. It’s overused. Instead, I will strive to go beyond the hackneyed cliche.

    Theists have one fewer god when atheists color their hair bald.

    Not overused. Oh, the first few hundred times now — that’s clever.

  14. heddle:

    Sastra,

    Theists have one fewer god when atheists color their hair bald.

    See, now that works. It has a little je ne sais quoi.

  15. eric:

    The other is the “we just believe in one less god that you” gambit. Really? You are going to use that again?

    Yup. Again, and again, and again, until theists come up with a justification for belief in God A but not B that isn’t a form of exceptionalism.

  16. heddle:

    Yup. Again, and again, and again,

    Well OK, if you don’t mind sounding like losers who can’t think of anything new or clever, then by all means.

    until theists come up with a justification for belief in God A but not B that isn’t a form of exceptionalism.

    That doesn’t follow. The fact that we can’t come up with a satisfying answer doesn’t then demand that you have to be repetitious and boring. But again, your call.

  17. Gretchen:

    heddle, I think the fact that you consider atheists who repeatedly broach a question theists typically find novel and difficult to answer to be boring losers says a lot more about you than them, honestly.

  18. Owlmirror:

    Interesting, heddle.

    All it takes for something to become boring and stupid is for it to be repeated a lot?

    So the Nicene Creed has been stupid and boring since about, oh, 340 or so? Granting the same generous fifteen years of repetition that you have to the line in question.

    All of the Christian prayers and creeds have a fifteen year lifespan, and then they are all stupid and boring?

    Does that also apply to science? Are your physics classes stupid and boring for all science more than fifteen years old?

  19. Owlmirror:

    Incidentally, heddle, I’ve been pondering something which is, I think, quite possibly entirely novel, if you’re interested in tackling the question.

    If you’ve seen something like it before, I’d like to know where.

  20. eric:

    The fact that we can’t come up with a satisfying answer doesn’t then demand that you have to be repetitious and boring.

    Congrats Heddle, I think you just invented a new logical fallacy! What should we call it when a person responds to an argument they can’t refute by calling it boring?

    If you’re calling me boring, that would be an ad hom. But to call the argument boring…that’s a new one for me.
    Think of the potential uses. Problem of evil? Ho hum. Zzzzzzz.

  21. Dan J:

    Heddle says,

    “Well OK, if you don’t mind sounding like losers who can’t think of anything new or clever, then by all means.”

    Imagine that. Professor Heddle now describes anyone using one particular argument (or portion of an argument) as losers who can’t think of anything new or clever. And here I was starting to think he was better than that. Shame on me for being so stupid.

  22. heddle:

    eric,

    “You only disbelieve in one fewer god..” is not an argument, it’s a quip. As such,and like all humor, the listener desensitizes rapidly. Jokes are never as good the second time, right? By the 500th time they are, no matter how clever, boring. Since it is not an argument, my calling it boring is not a logical fallacy. But thanks for reminding me how quickly some atheists charge “logical fallacy.” It’s their one-size-fits-all rebuttal.

    owlmirror,

    Bad comparison for the same reason. If the purpose of the Nicene Creed was to make you giggle, of if for some reason it makes you chuckle, and that’s the end of it, the effect would indeed wear off soon and it would be come quite boring. But for Christians, at least some, the creed has lasting value in its content. There is no content in “You only disbelieve in one fewer god..” As a statement, it is kind of “duh.” As a quip it worked very well–the first time you hear it. Humor, in particular, has a shelf-life. A short one.

    Incidentally, heddle, I’ve been pondering something which is, I think, quite possibly entirely novel, if you’re interested in tackling the question.

    I can’t say if I would be interested in attempting to tackle it or if I have any particular qualifications to tackle it until I hear it.

  23. Owlmirror:

    “You only disbelieve in one fewer god..” is not an argument, it’s a quip.

    Ah, there’s the problem. It’s not just a quip; it’s an aphorism. It’s not supposed to just make you laugh; it’s supposed to make you think; to encourage metacognition about beliefs.

    Did it ever make you laugh?

    Do you really think that Debbie Allen was trying to make a joke at the end there, or trying to seriously encourage people to think about what they believed?

    I am sorry, though, that in all the many times you read it/heard it, it never made you think.

    Since it is not an argument, my calling it boring is not a logical fallacy.

    Yet calling it boring and stupid is an example of egocentric bias.

    Remember, you didn’t just say it was boring. You called Ms. Allen “dumb as a stick of salt” for somehow not realizing that you would be reading the article, and that you had seen the aphorism many times before, and thought it was originally supposed to be a funny quip but did not find it so.

    Just because you’ve read and/or heard it a lot does not mean that most of the audience for the interview heard and/or read it, and a little thought on your part should have made you realize that said audience wouldn’t have had your experience with the aphorism. So it was dismissive, terribly rude and horribly biased, and utterly thoughtless on your part.

  24. heddle:

    owlmirror,

    Did it ever make you laugh?

    No, but I probably smiled in appreciation.

    Made me think? As in taking it serious as an argument? No. I doubt it has made anyone think seriously. Do you suppose anyone who is, say , a Christian, is unaware that there are a gazillion other gods? Do you really think that they will stop and say–hmm, I am almost an atheist, they just disbelieve in one more god– now I wonder why I didn’t think of that!”

    Remember, you didn’t just say it was boring. You called Ms. Allen “dumb as a stick of salt” for somehow not realizing that you would be reading the article

    No, not just for that, but, if as reported, she said “there must be separation of church and state and the billboard’s message isn’t for a church.” That is dumb. Whether or not the billboard has a message for a church is unrelated to separation of church and state–but she links them, if the report is accurate.

    So it was dismissive, terribly rude and horribly biased, and utterly thoughtless on your part.

    Perhaps. Now if a someone who denies evolution says “what good is half an eye?” do you give them the benefit of the doubt, or do you say: “what a moron, does he think we haven’t heard that before?”

  25. Owlmirror:

    @heddle:

    OK, this will be a bit convoluted, but:

    I had this idea about substance dualism in the back of my mind during that long conversation in 2011 about the supernatural. As I recall, you never answered the question as to whether you were a dualist. However, I was thinking about Sean Carroll’s claim that “the laws of physics underlying everyday life are completely understood,” (and I’d be interested in seeing what you think about that).

    As I understand his point (note that one of the links in that post is to “Physics and the Immortality of the Soul”), what that means is that if there were some immaterial substance that was the immortal soul and/or spirit, this substance, in interacting with our brains, would be an energy source and/or sink, and this would be detectable in studying energy flow in our brains. Would you agree that this would be the case, and if not, why not?

    The further point to this, though, was in pondering the above in the light of a putative omniscient and omnipotent God.

    If we posit that, on the one hand, all of the universe that we can perceive is physical, and that everything about our own cognition and consciousness is completely physical, and on the other hand, that God knows (supernaturally) everything about the physical universe, then is substance dualism even necessary? An omnipotent and omniscient God could save everything known about you at the moment of your death, and recreate it in some putative physical heaven.

    Perhaps better yet, God could run a perfect simulation of your mind, providing all inputs necessary for you to perceive a perfect simulation of heaven. So the physical universe could exist exactly as naturalistic and monistic as it so far appears to be, less the occasional miracle/revelation/regeneration, and everything posited as being supernatural — souls, spirits, heaven, and presumably hell — would be aspects of God.

    Substance dualism, other than positing God, would thus be unneccessary, and even redundant.

    I guess my question is, am I missing something theologically relevant in the above? And if not, do you think it is reasonable, for a theist informed about physics, to therefore be comfortable with substance monism, other than the posited God?

  26. Sastra:

    The Stephen Roberts quote is longer:

    “I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

    As you can see, it is an argument. This is more explicit when you see the entire quote. The atheist is appealing to a shared value — consistency — by accusing the theist of special pleading. And it’s not a bad point. It can be made in different ways, such as philosopher Loftus’ Outsider Test.

    I think heddle underestimates his own sophistication and downplays his amount of experience. Billboards are dealing with the general public. The general public is … well, the general public. I think most theists aren’t really familiar with familiar atheist apologetics — at least, not as put forth by atheists themselves. They have their faith and they guess atheists must have theirs.

  27. Owlmirror:

    Made me think? As in taking it serious as an argument? No. I doubt it has made anyone think seriously.

    Well, there’s that egocentric bias again — it hasn’t made you think seriously, therefore, it won’t make anyone think seriously.

    The original form (linked above @#7) is perhaps a bit more encouraging of thought:

    “I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
       …Stephen F Roberts

    No, not just for that, but, if as reported, she said “there must be separation of church and state and the billboard’s message isn’t for a church.”

    Um, if you read that carefully, you’ll see that that’s a paraphrase of what she said. I watched the video; again, it’s a summary stated by the male reporter, not a direct quote.

    You’re accusing her of being dumb because of a perhaps sloppy and infelicitous summation of what she said by a third party?

    Now if a someone who denies evolution says “what good is half an eye?” do you give them the benefit of the doubt, or do you say: “what a moron, does he think we haven’t heard that before?”

    But it’s not just that we have heard that before; it’s that it shows profound igorance of evolution, given that Darwin himself addressed that very point!

    Does the aphorism show profound ignorance of belief formation?

  28. Sastra:

    Owlmirror #25 wrote:

    Substance dualism, other than positing God, would thus be unneccessary, and even redundant.
    I guess my question is, am I missing something theologically relevant in the above? And if not, do you think it is reasonable, for a theist informed about physics, to therefore be comfortable with substance monism, other than the posited God?

    You’re asking heddle, but I just read this and will respond anyway. There are many theists (including Christians) who claim to reject substance dualism. They follow natural theology: God works through nature and does not supernaturally intervene — nor does God need to. They accept evolution and reject the paranormal. They draw a line around God as so significantly distinct from everything else that there is no inconsistency between being a scientific rational skeptic in virtually every conceivable way AND believing in God.

    They are substance monists with one teeny tiny itsy bitsy wee small little exception: the foundation of reality. That’s where they draw the line. And they draw it there as a matter of reason (it sure doesn’t look like substance duality is true) and faith (it sure seems like God has to exist.)

    I call special pleading on this one. And a completely arbitrary dividing line.

    The natural/supernatural divide ultimately comes down I think to the answer to this question: does mind come from matter — or does matter come from mind? Or, as Demski put it: “Is reality fundamentally mindful and purposive or mindless and material?” Once you’re opting for the latter, all bets are off on what it now becomes “reasonable” to believe in. The existence of God is a hypothesis like others: it does not get to be evaluated by completely different standards.

  29. Sastra:

    Once you’re opting for the latter, all bets are off on what it now becomes “reasonable” to believe in.

    Ach, the questions are not parallel in construction. So if you’re applying this sentence to the Demski quote, change the word “latter” to “former.” Sorry.

  30. heddle:

    About Sean Carroll’s claim, I would say I agree with it. Although “understood” is a loaded term. Take the Higgs mechanism, for example. On the one hand it is understood. On the other hand (as in, what is the source of the Higgs field?) it isn’t.

    As for the rest– I have to ponder it.

    I don’t know if I am a dualist or not. I believe in the supernatural and that God can intervene in the world in a way that is observable and recordable in scientific instruments–if you happen to be there when he does it. (Jesus strolling on the water.) My theology tells me that he does not do that any more. But I still believe God intervenes supernaturally when, for example, he regenerates. And I believe there is a soul/spirit. I do not agree that this is necessarily detectable, in that I have no model for the mechanism of how the soul interacts with or through the brain. It could require impossible technology–that is to predict the future state of a brain from the universe’s differential equation, and then see if it deviates.

    Again, I need to ponder what you wrote.

  31. Owlmirror:

    About Sean Carroll’s claim, I would say I agree with it. Although “understood” is a loaded term. Take the Higgs mechanism, for example. On the one hand it is understood. On the other hand (as in, what is the source of the Higgs field?) it isn’t.

    Sure. I understand him to mean, not that everything about the physical laws is understood, but that the set of physical laws that operate on the physical world at our level (“everyday experience”), and their low-level effects and implications (not necessarily all of their higher-level implications, or lowest-level natures), are all known and understood.

    Maybe another way of putting it is that if physicalism were not true, we would be seeing physical effects that were not explained at all by the laws as we currently have them.

    I don’t know if I am a dualist or not. [...] And I believe there is a soul/spirit.

    These sentences appear to be inconsistent with each other. Isn’t soul/spirit another, supernatural, substance? Do you think they are somehow physical?

    There is a physicalist conception of “soul”, but as I understand it, that just refers to the brain, body, and mind, all working together via biology; physiology and brain activity in action. Not immortal, and not what is usually meant when religious people refer to an immortal soul.

    I believe in the supernatural and that God can intervene in the world in a way that is observable and recordable in scientific instruments-if you happen to be there when he does it.

    Sure; I tried to imply that posited intermittent effects are granted in the hypothesized scenario.

    Speaking of the supernatural, I am wondering if you have reconsidered your stance on the definition of the supernatural, given the questions you didn’t answer in our original conversation.

    I do not agree that this is necessarily detectable, in that I have no model for the mechanism of how the soul interacts with or through the brain.

    The only thing I could come up with for an undetectable mechanism was something like a sort of magic (or supernatural) mirroring system (as in, disk mirroring). That is, just as a disk mirror has circuitry and logic for writing to two (or more) disks, so too is brain activity mirrored in this soul/spirit. But… if there’s nothing physically detectable, no energy is being transferred from brain to soul/spirit (or vice-versa). So what does the mirroring? The only thing that I could think of was the mind of God itself, detecting neural changes and “writing” them to the associated soul/spirit.

    Of course, it isn’t really like a disk mirror, when I think about it, since when a primary disk crashes or has other problems, the secondary is supposed to come online (becomes the new primary), and once the original primary is replaced, is supposed to generate a new copy on the new secondary (the replacement drive).

    We don’t see this happening. Brain damage is largely irreversable. Alzheimer’s sufferers, and those with brain damage, do not get their brains restored from their soul/spirit. There are sometimes weird recoveries, but would you argue that those are from the soul, rather than from neuroplasticity?

    So it’s more like a write-only disk backup system. The mirror is only “read from” after death.

    But this brings me back to the original point above. The mind of God is handling this posited backup, and presumably contains both the state of the brain, and the state of the soul/spirit (is there any reason why these would not be identical?). So there are four copies of the same information/state — one “live” (the brain), and three “permanent copies” (the spirit/soul, God’s knowledge of the brain, and God’s knowledge of the spirit/soul).

    Which just brings me back to the point that two of those copies (spirit/soul, God’s knowledge of spirit/soul) are unnecessary. Why would God need more than one permanent copy, inside his own mind?

    I suppose one might argue that the spirit/soul is necessary precisely because it is not identical to the brain, but what difference could there possibly be?

  32. heddle:

    owlmirror:

    My definition of supernatural has always been: Something that cannot be explained by science, ever, even in principle.

    It says nothing about detection.

    Some supernatural events, if they actually exist, should certainly be detectable. The disciples saw Jesus walking on water, so the photons entered their eyes. But I don’t thinks that means all supernatural events register on detectors. Maybe, but I don’t know. Maybe some just manifest themselves as instantaneous state changes that possibly violate conservation laws. Violating conservation of energy, if that’s what it takes, seems like a small miracle compared to creating a universe.

    I don’t know what to say about your model. It just seems like speculation. I never understood why the possibility of brain damage had any bearing whatsoever on the question of a soul.

  33. Sastra:

    heddle #32 wrote:

    My definition of supernatural has always been: Something that cannot be explained by science, ever, even in principle.

    I think I have some big problems with this definition — but first I should probably try to understand what you mean by it.

    When you say that science can’t “explain” the supernatural (even in principle) do you mean that science can’t reduce it to non-supernatural, material components of matter and energy? Do you mean that supernatural phenomenon have no regularities in how they work or don’t work, so that no predictions whatsoever could be made about them? Given what else you write here, presumably you do think science could in theory identify the supernatural. Or don’t you? Combinations?

    And if science can’t explain the supernatural — would that entail that God could not choose to reveal explanations for the supernatural in a way which scientists could observe, study, test, and come to conclusions on? If so, is God limited by logic — or by your definition?

    I’m not asking what you know about God; I’m just trying to figure out how you’re thinking about it.

  34. heddle:

    Sastra,

    I am saying that if you were around when Jesus walked on water you could measure it and analyze it as much as you wanted. But what you could never do, if it was supernatural as opposed to a trick, is explain it. It would defy scientific explanation

  35. Sastra:

    heddle #34 wrote:

    But what you could never do, if it was supernatural as opposed to a trick, is explain it. It would defy scientific explanation.

    It might need to defy reductionist natural explanation, but wouldn’t “it was supernatural” be a scientific explanation itself? And if enough different supernatural phenomenon were observed, measured, and analyzed, couldn’t some patterns start to emerge? Different situations, different causes, different results.

    I’m trying to imagine some sort of science of the supernatural. In theory, I don’t think this would be logically impossible. Do you?

  36. Owlmirror:

    My definition of supernatural has always been: Something that cannot be explained by science, ever, even in principle.

    You modified it in 2011 to be, phenomena that cannot be explained (etc).

    Although in that case, is God not supernatural? Or is God a phenomenon rather than a being? Or do you just mean “some thing or phenomena that cannot (etc)”

    I faintly recall asking you, some years ago (2008? 2007?) if your conception of God was of some sort of ineffable apophatic and/or pantheistic abstraction, and you said, no, your conception of God was a personal creator.

    The thing is, the above definition you offer is purely apophatic. So how about going back to what you positively state about God?

    Is God not a person?

    By defining God as a person, are you not positing that something absolutely fundamental about reality has the same basic characteristics of a person, or in other words, a mind, or something mindlike, uncaused by anything that is not mindlike?

    If that’s the case, why do you reject the definition of the supernatural as in that thread?

    Hence, I propose a general rule that covers all and thus distinguishes naturalism from supernaturalism: If naturalism is true, everything mental is caused by the nonmental, whereas if supernaturalism is true, at least one thing is not.

  37. Owlmirror:

    I never understood why the possibility of brain damage had any bearing whatsoever on the question of a soul.

    Really?

    Huh.

    Let’s say someone takes severe damage to their Broca’s area, and becomes aphasic; no speech understanding or ability to talk.

    So is it actually the case that they are “really” aphasic? Or is there, in a putative soul somewhere, the ability to understand and generate speech that just can’t connect to the brain and body?

    Or say someone takes severe damage to the hippocampus, and can form no new long-term memories. They are stuck forever in the past. Is a putative soul actually recording those memories, and the brain just cannot access them?

    If souls exist, what exactly do they do?

  38. unemployedphilosopher:

    I know I am late to the party, but, as much as I dislike defending a Calvinist, there is a good reason to believe that substance dualism, or at least something along those lines, is true. Consider Leibniz’s Law. Are there things which are true? Are those things which are true mere collections of neural activity? Does it even make sense to call collections of neural activity true? If so, how? Seriously, there’s a Nobel in there somewhere.

    That brain damage impairs the mind’s connection to the body is predicted by both physicalism and dualism. It doesn’t give any evidence for either view. (And yes, I know that Descartes thought it was all in the pineal gland, well done.)

  39. Sastra:

    unemployedphilosopher #38 wrote:

    Consider Leibniz’s Law. Are there things which are true? Are those things which are true mere collections of neural activity? Does it even make sense to call collections of neural activity true? If so, how? Seriously, there’s a Nobel in there somewhere.

    I think you are engaging in category errors and mixing up moral evaluations with what is doing the evaluating. Substance dualism is not the same as pointing out the difference between the subjective vs. objective or mind and matter. It’s a hypothesis regarding origins and relationships and it is open to scientific examination.

    That brain damage impairs the mind’s connection to the body is predicted by both physicalism and dualism. It doesn’t give any evidence for either view.

    No; it predicted only by physicalism (or one of its variations.) Dualism can be fitted into these results after the fact. That is not the same as a prediction.

    But there are things which dualism predicts: ESP, PK, OBE, and so forth. Physicalism could not be retroactively fitted around positive results in these areas. It would be falsified.

    Situations where the brain is severely damaged but the mind unimpaired would count against physicalism. That this does not happen is evidence for one view and against the contrary view. I think heddle knows this, if you do not.

  40. Owlmirror:

    there is a good reason to believe that substance dualism, or at least something along those lines,

    I don’t think you’re using the term substance dualism in a sense that is actually useful for religion.

    Are there things which are true?

    Are you trying to suggest that abstractions — truths about logic; mathematics; geometry — are actually a substance? Platonic things are substantial?

    That brain damage impairs the mind’s connection to the body is predicted by both physicalism and dualism.

    Is this other (presumably nonphysical) substance something like a mind? Does it have (or is it) self-awareness; intelligence; perceptions; consciousness; intent; emotions; memory; desires?

    If your answer is “no”, that’s not a substance that is useful for religion, and it’s certainly not how I am using the term.

  41. unemployedphilosopher:

    Sastra, your recognition of the category error is precisely correct. I was a bit hasty in composing my original comment. I’m using “substance” in the Quinean sense: to be is to be the value of a bound variable. The substance dualism I advocate is, as you note, not particularly helpful for religious apologetic, but it is nonetheless dualism.

    owlmirror, note the conditional. If you think that there are things that are true, then you must either explain how “truth” is a predicate that can be applied to electrical events in brains, or you must accept some version of substance dualism — not, unfortunately for the professor, a robust one, but some version nonetheless.

  42. unemployedphilosopher:

    Look, I’m not arguing for the existence of gods, or goblins, or ghosts. I’m just asserting the uncontroversial claim that there are things about the universe we do not yet know, and the controversial claim that the best explanation for those things is a weak-sauce substance dualism.

    I will also happily assert that Jaegwon Kim, the father of supervenience theory, is now, as of Physicalism, or Something Near Enough, basically a dualist. And that the eliminativist position argued by the Churchlands (lovely people, really) is deeply mistaken.

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