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Wait, what? Atheists don’t understand stories?

I get so tired of Christians sanctimoniously declaring what atheists really believe, and going on to tell us how we get it all wrong. They always seem to hector us over stuff we don’t believe and tell us that if we only stopped doing things we don’t do we’d see the value of Jeeesus. And we roll our eyes, and tally up another data point that says that religion turns you into a moron.

The latest exercise in firing 180° away from the target comes from Paul Wallace, who sends an open letter to atheists about believing in Johnny Cash. He really, really likes Johnny Cash, as he explains to us at length; I like Cash too, and I’ve got a few of his songs coming up frequently on my iPod list. His point is that Cash’s songs tell stories, and those stories shed light on the human condition, and that somehow this is something only a Christian can understand while atheists are blind to it.

The only thing I’m blind to, though, is the logic of the case he’s trying to build. It seems to go something like this:

  1. Johnny Cash was a storyteller whose stories had truth in them.

  2. Jesus was a storyteller whose stories had truth in them.

  3. Therefore, Jesus was __________.

I don’t know, fill in the blank. A country western singer? Drug-addicted and angry? He’s supposedly explaining this to atheists, so I think he’d like to convince us that Jesus was the magical son of a sky-god, but nothing in his explanation lends itself to anything religious. Unless, maybe, he’s trying to persuade us to worship Johnny Cash as he does.

But no. His actual point is even dumber and more clueless than that: he thinks “atheists may be ill at ease with stories.”. He thinks we “cannot accept that stories may have something to do with what’s really real”. He gets specific and declares that I don’t believe that stories have any power or anything to do with the truth, and further, that when I use a narrative to explain something, that I deny that I’m using the structure of a story to get a message across, or that truth and story can complement each other. It’s bugshit inane crazy talk, but I guess he’s convinced himself this nonsense is all true.

What I propose is that no one lives, or can live, or has ever lived, within the circle of empirical science. I propose that no matter who we are or what our beliefs might be, we have always had to deal with the question of interpretation. And that question is not whether to interpret, but how. No one fails to interpret. Interpreting is what human beings do.

Put another way, we cannot avoid believing in stories. We can only hope to choose the best ones. How to do this? I propose that good stories are stories that tell the truth, and bad ones are ones that do not.

I fear that I may have lost some of you just now. In particular, most atheists I know would be quite critical of the idea that stories are related in any meaningful way to the bedrock truth about the world. So in the interest of keeping everyone on the bus, let’s back up and assume that the stories we tell are unrelated to anything that could pass as true.

Some atheists take this assumption—that stories are not meaningfully related to the truth—and run with it. But when they do they immediately leave behind the circle of empirical science by making up stories of their own. Here’s a dazzling example, blogger PZ Myers on the metaphor of God the Father:

Christians and Muslims and Jews have been told from their earliest years that God is their father, with all the attendant associations of that argument, and what are we atheists doing? Telling them that no, he is not, and not only that, you don’t even have a heavenly father at all, the imaginary guy you are worshiping is actually a hateful monster and an example of a bad and tyrannical father, and you aren’t even a very special child—you’re a mediocre product of a wasteful and entirely impersonal process.

We’ve done the paternity tests, we’ve traced back the genealogy, we’re doing all kinds of in-depth testing of the human species. We are apes and the descendants of apes, who were the descendants of rat-like primates, who were children of reptiles, who were the spawn of amphibians, who were the terrestrial progeny of fish, who came from worms, who were assembled from single-celled microorganisms, who were the products of chemistry. Your daddy was a film of chemical slime on a Hadean rock, and he didn’t care about you—he was only obeying the laws of thermodynamics.

Now, this is a story just as surely as any other. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t for a moment doubt the basics of evolution and thermodynamics. But Myers was not forced by the facts of nature into these beliefs he so forcefully espouses. Instead, he has done exactly what storytellers do: He has told us a story. That is to say, he has added his own stuff.

The problem is that not that Myers is telling us all a story, but that he insists he is not. “Reality,” he writes, “is harsh.” His story is the story you absolutely must believe if you absolutely insist on not believing in stories.

Back way up, guy. You’re going to have a hard time finding any atheist, let alone me, who denies the human appeal and the educational potential of a good strong story — a narrative description of events. I use stories all the time to get a message across — in fact, right now I’m telling the story of an oblivious nincompoop smugly making up lies about atheists in order to reassure himself that his cockamamie Jebus myth is just as useful as science. I actually think it’s a potent and useful narrative for getting across the message that believers in religion are delusional fools, a deep truth about the human condition. Look, everyone, I’m just like Johnny Cash! And Jesus!

I don’t deny that I told a story. What I did, though, was tell a true story, the very criterion Wallace declares to be the hallmark of the best stories.

My story emphasized the actual facts of common descent, and also the harsh nature of evolutionary processes. It tried to get across the differences between a science-based story, like evolution, and a myth-based story built on wishful thinking, like the religion story. It makes a case that the religion story is not the best one, because it has little relationship to reality, which, by his own words leads me to suggest that maybe he ought not to choose to believe in Christian lies.

Bizarrely, Wallace then chooses to abandon the creation myth of his religion, the “story” his Bible tells about a world designed by a benign god who shepherded each stage of his creation personally into existence. My story he claims contains lots of ‘added stuff’; he doesn’t specify what, nor does he provide an alternative that illuminates our existence better. What exactly does the metaphor of God the father tell us about reality?

Instead, he retreats to the story of the prodigal son, something with no supernatural elements that could be retold as a country western song. Nice story. Interesting message. Says something about the relationship between fathers and sons. So?

If Wallace thinks atheists somehow reject the notion of using stories to illuminate the truth, he’s flailing desperately at a straw man. We’re fine with stories about fathers and sons — those are real. We can even find a good metaphor useful and entertaining. What we find silly are stories about supernatural beings carrying out unnatural acts that clearly never occurred, and that really don’t tell us anything honest about humanity and the universe. You know, the bad stories that don’t tell the truth.

Comments

  1. Brownian says

    Did Paul Wallace ever tell you about the time he tortured a cat to death because it amused him to watch it die?

  2. says

    Teh stoopid. It burns. And goats. And fire. And things.

    I’m beginning to think EVERYTHING on the internet is just made up. Nobody is really stupid enough to seriously come up with that argument, surely? Surely not?

  3. Brownian says

    It’s true because it’s a story?

    Rather, as a story, it’s related to the bedrock truth about the world.

    Some parts are meant to be taken literally. Some parts are metaphors.

  4. says

    Perhaps he should spend some time talking to fundies instead of atheists. Let them know that much of what is in the Bible is stories intended to impart a moral lesson or what have you, and not a literal historical account. That there wasn’t actually a Noah who built a giant boat and stuffed it full of creatures that for some strange reason didn’t engage in such natural behaviours as eating some of their shipmates. Or that Adam and Eve weren’t actual people who ate a forbidden fruit.

  5. John K. says

    What!? Stories can be false or true? And here I was not believing in god because I thought all stories were false.

    Don’t I feel silly.

  6. jose says

    Stories aren’t hard. There’s this story about a seed that fell on a stone and didn’t grow, and then another one fell in the middle of a bush and was exhausted by it and another one fell in a good soil and grew. Obviously an example of the influence of the environment in phenotypical development. No?

  7. Craig says

    Hey, I love stories! I was a GameMaster with a group for four years and I was complimented by my group that I had a knack for telling a good story.

    When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was a copy of Aesop’s Fables my grandfather gave to me in 1978 It’s pretty ratty now, but I still have that book. I cherish it because of the link to my Pop, but also because the stories themselves are valuable, without having to believe they actually happened.

  8. Daniel Schealler says

    If he’s arguing that the Gospels are just stories that gratuitously embellish (or perhaps invent) historic events in order to communicate a theme on the human condition… Then we should object. I thought we were arguing with people who actually believe that the afterlife is real and that Jesus actually was the Son of God.

    If he does believe the afterlife is real and Jesus actually was the Son of God… Then it’s not just a metaphorical story, is it? There’s factual claims in there that are open to criticism.

    Which is it?

  9. claimthehighground says

    What part of, “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die”, plays into the Jesus loves you stuff?

    That sounds a lot more like his dad, the O.T. kill the bastards guy.

  10. Danny Boy says

    The truth I am talking about is not something that can be … falsified.

    So, it’s not truth, then?

  11. says

    One of the Cash songs in my iPod queue is When the Man Comes Around. It’s fascinatingly sung, it’s a creepy story, and it’s utterly insane — it’s the dogma of the Book of Revelation. Is there truth in it? No, not literally. The only truth in it is that people can believe in crazy, hateful shit. Do I still enjoy listening to it? Yes.

  12. delphi_ote says

    “What we find silly are stories about supernatural beings carrying out unnatural acts that clearly never occurred, and that really don’t tell us anything honest about humanity and the universe.”

    Oh, I think the biblical tales tell us QUITE A BIT about humanity… unfortunately for Christians, they say rather more about the authors than anything else.

  13. Dr. Strabismus (WGP) of Utrecht says

    Wasn’t it Wallace who built a Cadillac out of stolen auto parts he had smuggled out of the plant in his lunchbox over the course of 30 years of walking the (assembly) line? The guilt was so overwhelming he named his first-born child Sue (fortunately she was a girl). I love that story.

  14. ChasCPeterson says

    Did you know that ‘Ring of Fire’ was actually a truthful story about the Man in Black’s hemorrhoids?

  15. says

    I get so tired of [atheists] sanctimoniously declaring what [christians] really believe, and going on to tell us how we get it all wrong.

    There. Fixed that for you. ;)

    “I think he’d like to convince us that Jesus was the magical son of a sky-god”

    Point made

  16. Brownian says

    Nobody is really stupid enough to seriously come up with that argument, surely? Surely not?

    I have another story: it’s about a few hundred thousand homeless Americans, and the millions of square feet of underutilised real estate that exists in the skulls of theists like Paul Wallace.

  17. ajb47 says

    My wife is halfway to worshipping Johnny Cash now (which is significantly further along than her stage of worshipping the invisible tribal father in the sky).

    I propose that good stories are stories that tell the truth, and bad ones are ones that do not.

    Someone better tell Shakespeare, and all those English or Literature teachers, the news.

    AJ

  18. Kate Shortfield says

    I wrote a response there but they haven’t posted it. Maybe because in the first sentence I introduced myself as a writer, science geek, and atheist.

    Checking back… nope, still not posted.

  19. says

    Oh? So Christians don’t actually believe in the divinity of Jesus, that there is a creator god, or that belief is the key to an eternal afterlife in paradise? Then please do inform us all what Christians actually believe. This could be interesting.

  20. says

    I get so tired of [atheists] sanctimoniously declaring what [christians] really believe, and going on to tell us how we get it all wrong.

    There. Fixed that for you. ;)

    “I think he’d like to convince us that Jesus was the magical son of a sky-god”

    Point made

    Did you actually read Wallace’s article? Or are you just here to make shit up and see if it sticks?

  21. Mattir-ritated says

    Sometimes I run into atheists who decree that one mustn’t find wisdom and beauty in ancient writings like the bible because . . . some random people decided that they were Dictated By God™ and if we appreciate the bible we’re really True Believers™.

    Then fools like Mr. Wallace show up, to convince me that no matter how much I appreciate the bible, I will never achieve such exalted levels of incoherence and severely impaired reality testing as to be mistaken for a True Believer™.

    It’s particularly ironic that Mr. Wallace’s rant interrupted by effort to find nice translations of the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Ramayana for the Spawn’s study of world history this fall. Will those count as Special Stories™, or are only stories about the Purportedly Magical Jew™ officially sanctioned?

  22. anteprepro says

    Sipech: So, “I think he’d like to convince us that Jesus was the magical son of a sky-god”” is a misrepresentation of Christians’ beliefs, or an inaccurate extrapolation from them?

    “We believe in one God,
    the Father, the Almighty
    maker of heaven and earth,
    of all that is seen and unseen.
    We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
    the only Son of God,
    eternally begotten of the Father,
    God from God, Light from Light,
    true God from true God,
    begotten, not made…
    he came down from heaven
    by the power of the Holy Spirit…
    in fulfillment of the Scriptures;
    he ascended into heaven
    and is seated at the right hand of the Father.”
    -Nicene Creed

    So…what exactly was wrong with what PZ said? Jesus is, like God, magical (making all the seen and unseen, rising from dead, miracles). God is, like Jesus, in “heaven” (the sky). And Jesus was God’s only begotten son, all according to the creed. So, are you just a pedant, or do you just fail Christianity forever?

  23. claimthehighground says

    PZ@15: Revelations are the ramblings of a man, enslaved by Rome to chisel out slabs of marble by hand on the island of Patmos. If you or I were put into such circumstances we might see the same retributions against our captors that John came up with. How this total crap even made it into the short list when the Xian gospel was being voted on is a major abortion (and we know how much the fundies like abortions).

    Yet we now witness the Xian conservatives proposing foreign policy based on this inane gibberish. When will these hateful, all-consumed zombies for the end of days be seen for what they are: a bunch of brain washed, shallow, led-by-the-nose cretins.

    Oh, and have a nice day.

  24. Zinc Avenger says

    I saw the Doctor Who episode “Blink” the other day for the first time, and the previous thread brought it back to the front of my mind. That is one heck of a story. Shame this guy thinks that must make it true. Don’t close your eyes, Paul Wallace! Not even for a second!

  25. says

    Yeah, atheists don’t like stories.

    Gee, why do we have all of this stuff about sci-fi here and at atheist confabs?

    And yes, evolution’s a great story. Sometimes a few add-ons? Big deal, we admit to them.

    Glen Davidson

  26. Mr. Fire says

    Boy I sure hope this thread turns into a discussion on Johnny Cash’s best stuff.

    If it does, I’ll submit Sam Hall to start with.

  27. truthspeaker says

    I also like Johnny Cash. It’s possible to appreciate his music without believing that he literally shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.

    That’s the difference between how an atheist reads a story and how believers read at least some stories.

  28. truthspeaker says

    Yes, Sipech, how dare PZ assume that people who self-identify as Christian would believe the core teachings of Christianity. How dare PZ assume that what pastors preach from the pulpit and what they teach kids in Sunday school is what Christians actually believe.

  29. Matt Bradley says

    Now this is interesting. Wallace has a point here. In order to debunk a METAPHOR of god as a father, you’ve written a story which connects humanity to it’s evolutionary and biological roots. This does not it any way connect to, or have relevance to, that metaphor. Rather it tells a completely different (but not incompatible) account… or story, if you like, of our biological heritage.

    Both “stories” talk at cross purposes, neither being incompatible with the other, and neither addressing any of the assertions of the other.

    Perhaps this is why sceptic atheism will never truly be able to converse with faith. It isn’t possible to argue with something which one fails to understand at such a fundamental level. Trying to debunk a metaphor with scientific fact is no more sane than trying to prove that the colour green is triangular.

  30. charvakan says

    Wow! what a confusing, hard to follow article. Felt like face palming at many occasions reading it… This particular passage stuck me as interesting.

    “I am a Christian. Why? Because I find the stories Jesus tells—his parables—to be compelling. They speak not only to my greatest joys and hopes but to my frailties and fears. They resonate powerfully with what I believe to be my deepest self. But there is more; like Johnny Cash and his songs, there is truth to be found not only in the stories told by Jesus the storyteller but in the story of Jesus the storyteller.”

    So he is a Christian not because it is true, but because he likes the story? If all Christians were like that I think many atheists may not have a problem with it.

  31. Ray Fowler says

    I am a skeptical rationalist; atheist QED.

    Apparently this means that I deterministically view reality as little more than mathematical formulae, defining how matter and energy interact.

    Greetings to all of my fellow matter-energy conglomerations, organized into increasingly complex structures such as atoms, compounds, amino acids, cells, tissue, organs and organisms! According to the pattern of neural synapses firing in my brain, it is enjoyable to ascertain your proximate presence by the patterns of photons bouncing off of your dermal layers and striking my retinas.

    (I think I could get to like this.)

  32. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Your daddy was a film of chemical slime on a Hadean rock,

    I didn’t know PZ had actually met my father.

  33. jaranath says

    “What we find silly are stories about supernatural beings carrying out unnatural acts that clearly never occurred, and that really don’t tell us anything honest about humanity and the universe.”

    It’s the last part that’s key, there. I like stories about supernatural beings carrying out unnatural acts that clearly never occurred. But that’s because I like FICTION. And the supernatural stories I like best are the ones that tell us something honest about humanity and the universe. What I don’t care for are fluff-brained theologians high on pretty stories insisting that their prettiness somehow makes their characters REAL.

    In the end, this is just the same old stuff…an amalgam of the Courtier’s Reply and belief in belief. Been there, done that.

  34. saul says

    Here’s what I posted on his blog as a response to this. Hope he reads it: Wow. I’m an atheist. I’m also a storyteller. I grew up reading and writing, went to film school, and now I tell stories for a living, both in writing and on film. It was reading stories that made me an atheist. As impressionable teenager struggling through the confusion of Catholic school, it was Philip Pullman’s magnificient trilogy “HIs Dark Materials” that helped to persuade me there was no god. Meanwhile, the empirical “facts” of C. S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity” left me cold. To suggest that somehow atheists don’t understand stories is about the most ignorant, arrogant thing I’ve heard in a while. I love stories, and I love finding “truths” about the human condition in them, even when I know they aren’t literally true. I’m not a scientist. I can’t stand math, and I know next to nothing about physics. Do I know enough about scientific facts to justify my atheism? Yes, but that’s not what led me to it in the first place. Stories did. The facts came later.

  35. Mr. Fire says

    Sipech @20, you have reading comprehension fail.

    “I think he’d like to convince us that Jesus was the magical son of a sky-god” was PZ’s protip to Wallace, not an interpretation of what Wallace actually said.

    I’m guessing you read the Bible with about the same level of rigor.

  36. Audley Z. Darkheart OM, purveyor of candy and lies says

    … he’s trying to persuade us to worship Johnny Cash as he does.

    I would consider it. At least Johnny Cash was flawed and (as far as I know) never denied it. Plus, he never committed genocide.

    Does Paul Wallace think that none of us enjoy reading? Fiction or non-fiction, it doesn’t matter. Most of us here enjoy a good book (you know, a story).

  37. truthspeaker says

    “I am a Christian. Why? Because I find the stories Jesus tells—his parables—to be compelling. They speak not only to my greatest joys and hopes but to my frailties and fears. They resonate powerfully with what I believe to be my deepest self. But there is more; like Johnny Cash and his songs, there is truth to be found not only in the stories told by Jesus the storyteller but in the story of Jesus the storyteller.

    So why isn’t he a Johnny Cashian?

    I find lots of stories to be compelling. It does not follow that I worship the main characters of those stories as gods. I don’t go around calling myself a Han Soloist.

  38. thajarin says

    I love Johnny Cash… I don’t need to believe what he does to enjoy a little music or political commentary.

  39. says

    Matt Bradley, as truthspeaker says, the father metaphor you reference has to refer to SOMETHING. For Christians, we thankfully have creeds, dogmas and specifically designated articles of faith. Even the cherry-picking version of biblical interpretation that asserts real divine inspiration was filtered through humans within a historical frame claims a real creator behind these things.

    Most specifically, a creator who has, can and does supposedly interact with our real, measurable universe. (To say otherwise means you don’t actually believe in the god you describe in any real way, because it becomes totally irrelevant to the world.) So when a believer tells us that these beings exist and do x, y and z in our reality, we are free to challenge them based on measurable scientific fact. Because the deity they believe in interacts with reality, and reality is subject to observation.

  40. truthspeaker says

    And given what Paul Wallace says about why he’s a “Christian”, he sounds an awful lot like an atheist.

    There’s nothing quite as funny as a cultural Christian who doesn’t believe God actually exists criticizing other atheists.

  41. CJO says

    Revelations are the ramblings of a man, enslaved by Rome to chisel out slabs of marble by hand on the island of Patmos. If you or I were put into such circumstances we might see the same retributions against our captors that John came up with.

    More likely that John was banished to Patmos precisely for his prophesying than that he picked it up after he was there. He was not likely sentenced to hard labor, just exile. (For instance, Ovid was exiled to Tomis, on the Black Sea, but he wasn’t sent to the mines or anything. Elites banished for political reasons from Rome were not treated like slaves or common criminals.)

    Revelation is widely misunderstood, by believers and nonbelievers, because the background assumptions being made about the impact of celestial events on earthly happenings are just not available to us. It’s an astral prophesy, a genre of ancient astrological prophesy, and the ability to make careful observations of the sky and supposedly to predict events that way was highly valued in antiquity. It comes across as the unhinged ramblings of a madman to us because it’s written in the technical, coded terminology of that genre. As with all soothsaying and prophesy in the service of state power, practitioners were often in a delicate position with the authorites, which is likely how poor John found himself on Patmos. Once there, though, he appears to have turned his supposed gift freelance, and created what is really a priceless text without extant close parallel from antiquity. It is odd that it made it into the New Testament perhaps, given how unlike everything else there it is, but if it had not it would almost certainly been lost.

  42. Audley Z. Darkheart OM, purveyor of candy and lies says

    PZ:

    One of the Cash songs in my iPod queue is When the Man Comes Around.

    Also (since we’re sharing), one of my favorite Johnny Cash songs is a cover of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds: The Mercy Seat. As much as I love Nick Cave, Johnny did a way better job.

  43. coyotenose says

    God these people are dense. I’ve tried explaining to Christheads, calmly and respectfully, that I enjoy fiction about the supernatural, that I even write fiction that is largely about relationships with higher beings, gods even, and that it does not mean I believe in any of it. They really, seriously, do not get the concept that someone could ponder such things and at the same time not think the way they do.

    But hey, they don’t get the concept that actual Biblical scholars don’t have the same lack of understanding about the Bible that they do. The surprise factor should be nonexistent, neh?

  44. madknitter says

    1.Johnny Cash was a storyteller whose stories had truth in them.

    2.Jesus was a storyteller whose stories had truth in them.

    3.Therefore, Jesus was __________.

    Therefore, Jesus was Johnny Cash!

    Or maybe June Carter Cash? That robe he wore looks an awful lot like a dress.

  45. Waffler, Dunwich MA says

    Now this is interesting. Wallace has a point here. In order to debunk a METAPHOR of god as a father, you’ve written a story which connects humanity to it’s evolutionary and biological roots. This does not it any way connect to, or have relevance to, that metaphor. Rather it tells a completely different (but not incompatible) account… or story, if you like, of our biological heritage.

    Matt, you demonstrate that you don’t understand the metaphor of ‘God the Father’. Why is ‘God’ spoken of as ‘the Father’? Because he (supposedly) made us ‘in his image’. It was a personal act of creation. If we debunk that personal act of creation — show that we weren’t ‘created’ any anything’s image, we show that the metaphor is deeply flawed. The evolution narrative dramatically undermines the creation narrative and thus exposes the fact that the ‘God the Father’ metaphor (as most Christians and Muslims have historically understood it) is in fact wrong. You can try to rescue the metaphor somehow — redefine what you mean by God, redefine what you mean by creation — in an attempt to rescue the metaphor. But then you’re abandoning what the metaphor means to most Christians.

  46. jose says

    This is all very fine, but can someone tell me how do people know Jesus is the son of God, creator of the universe?

    After paragraphs of cute writing, will it come down to good old “it’s in the book”?

  47. says

    I haven’t read Wallace’s piece yet, but…

    He really, really likes Johnny Cash, as he explains to us at length; I like Cash too,

    Me, too. I once went to a Billy Graham Crusade — and took a date! — just because Cash was the musical guest (and it was free). We skedaddled after his (far too brief) set, and before Graham began haranguing us about Jebus!

  48. Daniel Schealler says

    @Aaron Pound #26

    Care to put some meat on the bones of that accusation?

    What, in particular, do you think PZ said to misconstrue the arguments made in Paul’s open letter?

    Cite both something from PZ’s article here and something from Paul’s letter. Place both citations in proper context, then show why they are in conflict.

    Until you do so, we can only dismiss your criticism as unfounded.

  49. Moewicus says

    If God is a metaphor, what’s it a metaphor for?

    And if you think this is the case (and here I’m addressing myself to my confirmed atheist readers)—that the only true truth is energy and matter in motion—how did you come to believe that? I’m betting that you came to believe it because you believed in the truth of another story.

    “Matter and energy in motion” are just facts. Only the statement “the whole universe is defined by matter and energy in motion” can be said to be true or false. I suspect the notion of God or Jesus as “truth” (in what sense?) has distorted Wallace’s thinking.

    I am a Christian. Why? Because I find the stories Jesus tells—his parables—to be compelling. They speak not only to my greatest joys and hopes but to my frailties and fears. They resonate powerfully with what I believe to be my deepest self.

    If those are even stories that were told by Jesus. More likely they are stories told about Jesus telling stories which Jesus did not tell. Even ignoring all that, this is a pretty lame reason to believe there’s such a thing as a God or that Jesus is its representative on earth. I would also wonder how the parables would speak to his greatest hopes and fears if he hadn’t grown up in a culture telling him that his greatest hopes and fears ought to be defined by the stories Jesus tells.

    It is not easy, for it is in our bones to pass it off as a sweet heartwarming tale made to comfort us in the darkness of a cold and meaningless universe.

    Actually I like the prodigal son story. Does Wallace think all atheists are constantly bitterly ironic, or what? I guess he does, given how he asks “Is it possible to live happily on a diet of solid irony?” Ironically, the Jesus stories use heavy dollops of irony. God’s son, born in a cattle feeding trough, then executed after he’s rejected by the people he came to talk to. The last shall be first and all that.

    The problem with stories is that we humans don’t think in a manner bound by the rules of the world, but by cartoon logic. We can watch a “coyote” walk off of a “cliff” on television and understand that it does not fall into the canyon below because it doesn’t know it isn’t walking on solid ground–and not be completely confused by that. Same with resurrections, sasquatches and alien abductions. Unfortunately we don’t get to call a story “true” because it resonates with our hopes and fears or some such nonsense: the measure of truth is how much the story corresponds with reality. Jesus’ resurrection and his actions are on shaky ground–there is little to no correspondence there. To paraphrase something Robert M. Price said, when you look into it you find that to believe in the actuality of the resurrection comes to seem like arbitrarily standing a meter in mid-air.

  50. Daniel Schealler says

    @Kate Shortfield #24

    I left a response letter too.

    I think that the site just takes more editorial control. It isn’t a post/comment system. The site isn’t looking for open forum-style discussion.

    They’re being choosy on what they publish on their site – which is actually fair enough as far as I’m concerned.

    If my letter isn’t published there in a few days I’ll just submit it here instead.

  51. Jeff Johnson says

    Moby Dick is a really great story, every word of which is false, and yet it tells truths about human obsession and other aspects of the human mind and experience.

    The Bible contains some great literature, especially the King James version. Psalms and Proverbs contain wisdom and provide uplifting encouragement. Atheists need to admit these things.

    But Christians need to come to grips with the fact that their Bible and it’s stories have a truth status on a par with Moby Dick. It has relevance for human psychological experience, but makes no reference to any objective reality that is outside of the world of mental phantasms we create in our minds.

  52. Brownian says

    Perhaps this is why sceptic atheism will never truly be able to converse with faith.

    As a former person of faith, I’ll tell you why sceptic atheism will never truly be able to converse with faith: it’s because faith is goalpost shifting, not because it points to something that skepticism can’t describe. It’s because faith is true, truer that anything could possibly be when a faitheist wants it to be, and as fleeting and ephemeral as a kiss in a dream when the faitheist needs it to not be.

    There’s nothing quite as funny as a cultural Christian who doesn’t believe God actually exists criticizing other atheists.

    Or as fucking boring and overdone. Paul Wallace and Sipech are about as original of thought and groundbreaking as a couple of FCUK hoodies.

    Metaphorist faitheists remind me of The Smurfs, minus the thoughtfulness of a typical children’s television show.

    @Aaron Pound #26

    Care to put some meat on the bones of that accusation?

    Daniel Schealler, read Aaron’s comment again. He’s quoting Sipech’s contentless comment, and asking pretty much the same thing you are.

  53. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    My sophomore year of college my roommate was a Cash and Haggard fan, so I had a steady diet of conservative country music. BLEAH. Although I must admit I can stand Cash’s Burning Ring of Fire. It was a change of pace from rock music of the time.

  54. Daniel Schealler says

    @Aaron Pound #26, @Brownian #62

    Aha!

    Indeed, I was entirely mistaken.

    Sorry for the misread.

  55. quidam says

    I reckon the Arrogant Worms, Mike McCormick Was a Steel Drivin’ Man beats Cash’s John Henry.

    There once was a time when the country was wild,
    A time before cars, and planes, and mini-vans,
    So to move things from one place to the other, the railway was built.
    But, it didn’t up and build itself, no,
    It was built by the railroad men.

    And among these men was a man among men, among men, among men, among men, among men,
    A man as tall as the sky and a wide as the land,
    A man who could lay track, faster than anyone could run.
    A man with the strength of ten men.

    His name was Jon Henry,
    And I’m not gonna sing about him, no,
    I’m gonna sing about a lesser known digger,
    One who doesn’t deserve a song,
    A man a lazy as a thousand men,
    A man who could barely lift his own body off the ground,
    A man who was barely a man at all.

    His name was Mike McCormick.

    Mike McCormick was a steel drivin’ man
    Who never really gave a damn
    Only thing he worked on was his tan
    Mike McCormick was a steel drivin’ man

    He’d get up in the morning
    To hammer in them spikes
    Unless he’d been up
    Drinking the previous night

    Or if his bones
    Weren’t feeling right
    Or if it looked like
    It was going to rain

    He had a tendency of
    Being late for work
    And everyone around
    Thought he was a jerk

    He’d take long breaks and
    Say his back was hurt
    And then he’d have
    A drink to ease the pain

    Mike McCormick was a steel drivin’ man
    Who never really gave a damn
    Only thing he worked on was his tan
    Mike McCormick was a steel drivin’ man

    His arms were like twigs and
    His legs were like straws
    His hands like a baby’s bum
    They were so soft

    He’d wheeze and moan
    And whine and cough
    Then go home
    And take a little nap

    He never got fired
    Cuz he was the boss’ son
    He just hung around
    And bothered everyone

    Never drove a spike
    Not a single one
    Though every now and then
    He’d give a tap

    Mike McCormick was a steel drivin’ man
    Who never really gave a damn
    Only thing he worked on was his tan
    Mike McCormick was a steel drivin’ man

    So he took his hammer and
    Hammered one time
    (*ting!* Ow!)
    He took his hammer and
    Hammered two times

    (*ting! ting!* Ooh!)
    He took his hammer and
    Hammered three times

    (*ting! ting! ting!* Ohhh!)
    Then he got crushed
    By a meteor and died.

    Mike McCormick was a steel drivin’ man
    Who never really gave a damn
    Only thing he worked on was his tan
    Mike McCormick was a steel drivin’ man

  56. says

    I’m sure I’ve said it somewhere before, but anyway, again:

    … part of this whole thing that’s always sorta amused me is how very deeply convinced believers tend to be of these apparently striking qualities their stories exhibit. Always on about it, repeating this standard claim: ‘Look at these deep truths they contain…’

    Methinks they can’t get out much, can’t have read much else. Or, more probably, they learned this is the pious sentiment they are expected to repeat. Like fans of certain other more contemporary franchises, you get to thinking: these are people so committed to the membership that doth proclaim the deep holiness of canon, they are now utterly incapable of being even halfway honestly critical about the material itself.

    ‘Cos seriously, I’d say most religious canons are kind of embarrassing, dreadful wrecks, from looking at them at all honestly, so much as I’ve read them. As you might expect, pretty much, out of works edited by committees over millennia, and/or initiated at least in part by petty, self-interested, manipulative con men with their petty, gauche, immediate needs…

    Now sure, there’s sometimes bits that sing. But you can say this of so very, very many works…

    … or, as was famously said of Wagner: ‘he has his good moments… And his bad half-hours…’

    (Credited, on and off, to Rossini. And sometimes Debussy. And I dunno, technically, if either is actually true. Another story, and you know how those are.)

    Anyway, no more or less seriously: look hard enough, and sure, you might find bits of something like wisdom in these texts. But in doing so, you should probably be asking yourself: how much of that did you bring in the door with you yourself, and how much was really there in the first place? And let’s not forget the sheer weight of dreck and pablum you probably had to overlook to get to those bits at all…

    I have joked somewhere previously that watching a preacher working his bible for wisdom, finding his nuggets of life guidance therein, you could do this exercise: take an excerpt from Penthouse Letters and find the same ‘deeply wise’ message within that. Seek the wisdom therein, my child! I expect you wouldn’t have to work much harder at it than he did. And he even chose the message.

    (‘I know this is going to sound like a crazy fantasy, but I swear every word is true…’ Here, we are reminded of the remarkable properties of wisdom, how it can surprise you, seem unlikely… ‘And how shall I pay you for this pizza, she asked me, breathlessly, loosening the buttons on her blouse…’ Here we are reminded of the transience of Earthly wealth, its worthlessness against the holy, the eternal, the transcendent. How indeed shall we pay for these pizzas, I ask you, my children…)

    (/Thus endeth the lesson.)

  57. Sastra says

    Paul Wallace is projecting: it’s not atheists who don’t understand stories, it’s theists. A fictional character in a fictional setting performing fictional actions can still reflect profound truths about the human condition: there is no conflict. But the fact that a narrative can mix both fact and fiction doesn’t somehow magically make the fiction into a fact or a kind of fact which needs to be approached like a fiction.

    Consider the story The Little Engine That Could. A talking, thinking, emotionally empathetic train engine doesn’t exist, couldn’t exist — but one can nevertheless find some sort of inspiration or useful lesson from the tale of the spunky little train who managed to get the toys over the mountain despite all the obstacles.

    Wallace is acting like the atheists are dead to metaphor and incredibly annoying at the same time. “How does the train talk?” “Where is the mountain?” “What does the Engine eat?” See? Atheists can’t see the truth of the value of persistence because they get bogged down in a clunky literalism. Atheists are such literalists. They insist on truncating their understanding on petty details and miss the Big Picture of Meaning.

    Bull. It’s the other way around. We have no problem with accepting fiction or whimsy or metaphor as long as we’re supposed to be talking about fiction or whimsy or metaphor. But theists don’t do that. They sliiiiide in some literalism underneath the story. They think the Little Engine That Could is real. Not “real” as in “expresses a truth about human nature” but “real” as in “real.” They trade on the ambiguity in order to make a fact claim which passes for a meaning claim. In which case they are the ones who provoke the obvious questions about what God is and how God works and how the hell we know any of this.

    Another argument for God in the form of “I know you are but what am I.” Wallace’s analysis is shallow.

  58. says

    Audley:

    Does Paul Wallace think that none of us enjoy reading?

    Of course we don’t! My extensive library is simply for, um, um, decoration, yeah, that’s the ticket! :eyeroll:

    “Stories don’t care who takes part in them. All that matters is that the story gets told, that the story repeats. Or, if you prefer to think of it like this: stories are a parasitical life form, warping lives in the service only of the story itself.”

    “It takes a special kind of person to fight back, and become the bicarbonate of history.”

    Witches Abroad, Terry Pratchett

  59. Audley Z. Darkheart OM, purveyor of candy and lies says

    Caine:

    Of course we don’t! My extensive library is simply for, um, um, decoration, yeah, that’s the ticket! :eyeroll:

    :D

    Between Mr Darkheart and I, we have close to a thousand books– and that’s not counting what we have in storage. I don’t know if that means that 1) I’m not really an atheist* (since I can’t possibly find meaning in stories) or 2) I really REALLY enjoy wasting money on things I have no use for.

    *Mr Darkheart isn’t an atheist. More of a wishy-washy deist-y agnostic.

  60. Sastra says

    Damn. A J Milne just beat my Little Engine That Could analogy with an analogy to Penthouse Letters.

    I read the New Testament for the first time as an adult, shortly after I had graduated with a BA in English Lit. I was expecting some deep, profound stuff; it would inspire me, provoke me, challenge me, enthrall me. I’d only read bits and pieces before. Now, I was ready for the entire work — a timeless document which many wise scholars and laymen breathlessly considered the greatest story of all time.

    Jesus Christ, but the thing was overrated. Talk about a let-down. Interesting from a historical perspective, only mildly interesting as literature: people bring the profundity into it. They import it in barrels.

  61. fastlane says

    I’m trying to figure out how to work a ‘true story bro’ into this with the proper level of irony.

  62. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    The problem is that not that Myers is telling us all a story, but that he insists he is not. “Reality,” he writes, “is harsh.” His story is the story you absolutely must believe if you absolutely insist on not believing in stories.

    Myers is telling a story, as he readily admits. The difference between Myers’ story and Wallace’s stories is that Myers’ stories tend to be true. Reality is harsh. You’re responsible for your life, when you die that’ll be it, and The Big Guy In The Sky is a myth, that’s all reality and it’s harsh for some people.

    I like stories. I even like fictional stories. But I can tell the difference between fiction and non-fiction. Reality is non-fiction. TBGITS is fiction. If that’s too harsh for Wallace, that’s too bad. That’s how reality works.

  63. CJO says

    Ironically, the Jesus stories use heavy dollops of irony. God’s son, born in a cattle feeding trough, then executed after he’s rejected by the people he came to talk to. The last shall be first and all that.

    The Gospel of Mark, arguably the invention of the Jesus of Nazareth story, is so dependent on irony as a device that NT scholarship uses the term Markan Irony. It’s all through it, for instance, in chapter 3, Jesus gives his disciple Simon the name Peter (lit. Greek, “rocky”) and then the parable of the sower in the next chapter says “Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.”

    And during the trial narrative, Jesus’ captors are taunting him, striking him and shouting “prophesy! prophesy!” while at the very same moment Peter is outside denying Jesus three times, exactly as he’d prophesied.

    And on the cross, after Jesus says the first line of Psalm 22 (“Eloi, Eloi…” in Aramaic) passerby take him to be calling on Elijah and say “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down,” when the reader is to understand that, in fact, Jesus is going to be taken up (resurrected), pointedly not down.

    So, yeah, what’s wrong with irony again, and just who is it that doesn’t understand the function of a story?

  64. Daniel Schealler says

    @Sastra #71

    As an exercise once, I took the the first half of The Cow from the Qu’ran, then appended The Three Metamorphoses from Thus Spake Zarathustra onto the end of it.

    Specifically, The Cow has a line in it that says something like:

    And if ye are in doubt as to what We have revealed from time to time to Our servant, then produce a Sura like thereunto; and call your witnesses or helpers (If there are any) besides God, if your (doubts) are true.

    If you don’t already know any better, you can read past that and into The Three Metamorphoses without realizing at first… Until, of course, you realize that the text is actually starting to string together a coherent web of symbolism rather than the disconnected weirdness preceding it.

  65. Quotidian Torture says

    Atheists don’t understand stories?

    Has this man ever actually bothered to seek out the religious beliefs of some of the worlds most treasured writers? Didn’t Hemingway say that “All thinking men are atheists”? What about Twain, and his disdain for Christian mythology? McCarthy? Faulkner? Poe? Vonnegut?

    In fact, it seems to me that the best writers understand enough of the human condition to realize that religion is bunk.

  66. truthspeaker says

    Unfortunately we don’t get to call a story “true” because it resonates with our hopes and fears or some such nonsense: the measure of truth is how much the story corresponds with reality.

    Yeah. Exactly. So well said I thought it was worth pulling out of the rest of your long post, which was also good.

    I’ll be watching “Sons of Anarchy” tonight. Does that make me a Jax Tellerist? Or even a John Tellerist – a follower of a character who never appears in the series, but whose writings and ideas are important to most of the characters who do?

    On Thursday when I watch “Futurama”, will I become a Benderist?

  67. Matt says

    Well Mr. Wallace certainly has ME convinced – I’m gonna go out and start a religion that worships Johnny Cash and believes all of his songs are LITERALLY true. Hell, there’s more evidence for that the the Jeebus version… ;)

  68. starstuff91 says

    How did he come to the conclusion that atheists reject all stories? Has he ever met an atheist? Has he ever even read one paragraph written by an atheist? Atheists love using stories to illustrate points. Just pick up any Dawkins book and flip to any chapter and I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll find some kind of metaphor. He understands that metaphors are a form of story telling, right? Everyone uses metaphors! Even us scary atheists.

  69. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    I’m gonna go out and start a religion that worships Johnny Cash and believes all of his songs are LITERALLY true.

    Note to self: Stay out of Reno.

  70. reboho says

    Parables. Stories recorded by writers who were not eyewitnesses after they had been passed down for decades? Stories, some of which were inserted by later writers in order to push orthodoxy, these things convince you to believe in Jesus?
    In other words, don’t bother me with details, literal meanings or history. I like my metaphors nice and fuzzy, tailored to what I think I believe. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

  71. says

    Re #71:

    Waitaminnit. Are you implying Penthouse Letters isn’t literally true?

    (Looks shattered…)

    (/I mean, just as in certain other canons, they always say they are…)

  72. dysperdis says

    I’m pretty sure the problem has more to do with the fact that atheists not only understand stories, but also recognize that stories can take a variety of forms, not all of which are based in reality.

  73. speedweasel says

    More arguments for the off-label use of religion.

    It can’t demonstrate any truths but it can help you understand stories, etc, etc.

  74. Sastra says

    Not long ago I was telling my group of new-agey-spiritual friends that when I was a teenager I had been entranced with fairies: I read fairy stories, collected fairy figurines, drew little pictures of fairies all over my notebooks, etc. One of my friends shook her head and said that was so strange — it was the last thing she would have expected of me. But why, I asked.

    Because I didn’t believe in fairies, she said.

    It’s not just Christians. They seem to have problems with the concept of fiction.

  75. Margaret says

    Paul Wallace is equivocating on the metaphorical “truth about the human condition” vs. the literal truth about reality. And he’s projecting about not understanding metaphors and stories.

  76. brokenSoldier, OM says

    I propose that good stories are stories that tell the truth, and bad ones are ones that do not.

    If whether or not a story “tells the truth” is his line of demarcation between good and bad literature, then his ignorance in the rest of it makes total sense to me. This is the same kind of ignorance that will allow someone to make the above statement, but then when confronted with specific refutation of a specific story in the bible will run straight to the “Oh, it’s a metaphor” canard. It never ceases to amaze me how often these people love their ignorance simmered slowly in hypocrisy, and served with a side of twice-baked superiority.

  77. says

    Feh.

    It’s because I liked stories as a child that led me away from religion. After becoming enamoured of tales of the Arabian Nights and Fairy Tales and Greek & Norse myths, it became obvious to me that the stories in the Bible were the same sort of thing and not real.

  78. says

    I find the stories about mighty cthulhu to be particularly compelling. They point to the idea that there’s a world beyond, but that maybe it not only doesn’t give a shit about it – we’re its lunch.

    I also find the Saga of the Jomsvikings to be enchanting. It has a lot of good advice (told through an allegory no doubt) about what to do if someone is trying to cut your head off with a sword.

    Stories are great! I’m not so fond of the dumb “see spot run, spot can run fast, no gods before me I am jaweh hear me roooar!” kinda stuff. It’s too much like harry potter.

  79. T says

    To paraphrase an excerpt from “A Wise Man’s Fear”:

    A story is like a nut. Only a fool eats the whole thing. Another fool would throw it away, thinking it of little worth. It takes wisdom to find a way to crack the shell and eat the meat inside.

  80. says

    I’m gonna go out and start a religion that worships Johnny Cash and believes all of his songs are LITERALLY true.

    The Ten Commandments of Cash:

    I: Walk the line
    II: Don’t take your guns to town
    III: Get rhythm
    IV: Can you swing a hammer boy?
    V: I’m goin’ to Jackson, I’m gonna mess around, Yeah, I’m goin’ to Jackson, Look out Jackson town.
    VI: I will let you down I will make you hurt
    VII: My name it is Sam Hall an’ I hate you, one and all
    VIII: Son, Always be a good boy, don’t ever play with guns
    IX: This world is rough And if a man’s gonna make it, he’s gotta be tough
    X: God’s gonna cut you down

  81. truthspeaker says

    I think the stories about Jesus may have been compelling to many people in a particular culture at a particular time – namely the culture of the Roman empire around 200 AD.

    Me, I find the stories of Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams, and Sinclair Lewis compelling. I’d probably like Joseph Heller if I read him. But I don’t think it’s a good idea to elevate one collection of work above all others, so much that you identify with a group of people who think aspects of them are literally true and that one of the characters is a god.

    Stories are made by humans, so no single story is going to be relevant forever, or relevant to everyone.

  82. says

    Broken Soldier:

    It never ceases to amaze me how often these people love their ignorance simmered slowly in hypocrisy, and served with a side of twice-baked superiority.

    QFT. and beauty.

  83. Midnight Rambler says

    saul @42:

    As impressionable teenager struggling through the confusion of Catholic school, it was Philip Pullman’s magnificient trilogy “HIs Dark Materials” that helped to persuade me there was no god.

    Could you explain how? Because I managed to struggle through the whole thing a while ago, and if I didn’t know in advance that Pullman was an atheist, I would have though that it was evangelical swill along the lines of the “Left Behind” series. Annoying characters, bad writing, bad plot, all transparently copied from the Book of Revelation. By the end the only character I cared about was the poor wizened old “god” they were keeping alive. Plus, 10 year old boy and girl save the universe by kissing? Ewww. Bizarre and creepy.

  84. petejohn says

    I use stories all the time to get a message across — in fact, right now I’m telling the story of an oblivious nincompoop smugly making up lies about atheists in order to reassure himself that his cockamamie Jebus myth is just as useful as science.

    Is this one of those times to type “pwnd?”

  85. Audley Z. Darkheart OM, purveyor of candy and lies says

    Occam’s Blunt Instrument:

    The Ten Commandments of Cash:
    VI: I will let you down I will make you hurt

    Originally included in the teachings of Trent Reznor.

  86. petejohn says

    @tim, #7

    That there wasn’t actually a Noah who built a giant boat and stuffed it full of creatures that for some strange reason didn’t engage in such natural behaviours as eating some of their shipmates.

    I’ve spent most of my atheistic life finding the idea of a man building a boat big enough to contain most of the species of animals found on this planet so preposterous in and of itself that I never considered what you’ve noted here. The basal creature of the lion-kind would’ve certainly been interested in eating the basal creature of the zebra-kind. (Note: I’m using the inane term kind b/c that’s what those shitslingers like to use) I feel as if I’ve missed something painfully obvious. Silly me.

    @ Daniel, #11

    Which is it?

    Whichever gets us damned atheists to shut up?

    I like stories. I’m an atheist. Your move, Paul Wallace.

  87. Dr. Strabismus (WGP) of Utrecht says

    @95 Midnight Rambler

    Evidently you read a different book than I did. I thought the writing and characters were brilliant. Couldn’t put it down. The plot was inspired by Milton’s Paradise Lost, btw, not Revelations. Better than Tolkien, IMO. But perhaps you don’t like Tolkien either? De gustibus non est dispudandum.

  88. tim rowledge, Ersatz Haderach says

    “Plus, 10 year old boy and girl save the universe by kissing? Ewww. Bizarre and creepy”
    ( I can haz blockquote button on my iPad plz? Kthxbye)
    I recall – as a10yr old boy- kissing a 10yr old girl and it wasn’t at all creepy nor bizarre. More educational and inspiring. Did it save the universe? About the same odds as any other religious belief I guess.
    Since that’s a true story it must be good one, right Mr Wallace?

  89. truthspeaker says

    Yeah, I don’t really think 10-year-olds kissing each other is creepy. Especially in a book geared toward children.

  90. Dr. Strabismus (WGP) of Utrecht says

    “de gustibus non est disputandum” I mean. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne would flay me alive for that solecism!

  91. anteprepro says

    Lyra was 13 at the end of the His Dark Materials series. Not as if that really changes anything, it’s just that the whole “10 year olds kissing” approximation is getting repeated a little too often. And that kissing isn’t unexactly uncharacteristic of early teens.
    Still struck me as creepy when I heard about those last scenes, though (since I also recall something about them being naked, and allusions to Adam and Eve, etc. etc.).

  92. says

    I absolutely love stories and think they can have great meaning. In fact, one of my issues with religion is that, instead of treating holy books as works of literature, people treat them as though all or some of their contents actually literally happened, even if they didn’t happen. Even people who take some parts metaphorically (such as Genesis) still believe literally in others parts (such as Jesus being the Son of God). And even those who take many more parts metaphorically still pretend the characters are paragons of virtue despite their bad actions, because (unlike with other books) believing an interpretation in which a character is actually bad isn’t considered okay, especially if that character is favored by God.

    Greta Christina’s “When Anyone is Watching: Metaphors and the Slipperiness of Religion” and Jen McCreight’s “Skepticism & Fiction” are relevant reading here.

  93. mikmik says

    I’m just a goon that reads stories, not writes them, but from what I can tell, a good story is consistent, and character’s actions arise logically based on their character. The characters are consistent; they don’t arbitrarily act in opposing ways in different situations.
    The story plot must also explain outcomes and changes, not leave major conclusions – essentials to the story – unexplained. And the explanations must be logical, not plot devices and unreasonable assumptions. Noah’s ark comes to mind.
    Everything in the bible comes to mind!
    It fucking fails as a story, on many levels.
    If Steven King, Grisham, any fiction writer… any book I read that has even one inconsistency relevant to the story, I laugh at it. Writers know these things(and more, of course), editors, publishers, and wouldn’t even bother trying to sell such lame trash.
    What gets me is that I’m sure Christians evaluate novels etc. the same way everyone does to decide what makes a god story.
    But the bible is so fucking fucked up, with so many blaring contradictions, not to mention with non sequiters like this genocidal, cruel, jealous, vindictive, and just plain stupid God is all loving and perfect.
    The bible is probably the worst example of a proper story in history, it is so riddled with errors, from a literary standpoint. An analogy(to bible consistency) would be a setting in which it is described as snowing and bitterly cold out, but then describes a character having difficulty with the sun and heat stroke in 110F weather.

    I decided I would read the bible cover to cover, or certain books and gospels complete, and I was so fucking disgusted with the shitty storytelling that I can’t read more than one gospel or section in the New Testament at a time, or more than 3 – 5 pages in the Old without feeling that the author must think His readers are the fucking stupidest morons and He is showing unadultered contempt for them.

    As far as literature goes, the Bible is by fucking far the number one fail in history, number one on the top ten list of most fucked up writing of all time.

    (LMAO! Now my spell checker is mocking me; it says ‘unadultered’ is wrong, it’s ‘unadulterated’!)

  94. truthspeaker says

    I wonder if Paul Wallace understands that a significant majority of the people who call themselves Christians actually believe some of the stories of Jesus – including the supernatural ones – are true? Not true as in emotionally resonant, but true as in factual.

    Could it be that he assumes non-fundamentalist Christians are de facto atheists like he is, reading the stories as fiction?

    Is he an atheist who thinks he’s a Christian, much like Bruce Willis’s character was a ghost who thought he was alive?*

    *That’s a simile that refers to a story, Mr. Wallace.

  95. Ibis3, féministe avec un titre française de fantaisie says

    It’s boggling to me how atheists are so often quick to say how wise and wonderful the bible is as literature (likewise, how wise and moral Jesus was as a teacher). Honestly, it’s rather like trying to uncover a few pieces of pretty mediocre chocolate in a mound of dung. It’s not going to taste very good even if you find them.

    Moby Dick? Far superior a story. The myths of Greece and Rome? Far superior. Arthurian romances? Far superior. Shakespeare? Far superior. The Mahabharata? Far superior. Jane Austen? Far superior. Hell, Star Trek or Doctor Who or Star Wars? Far superior.

    That doesn’t mean I’m going to pray to Ahab, sing hymns to Othello, or worship Captain Kirk.

    I understand Wallace’s sophisticimacated theology: God in the metaphor/story/whateverthefuck. When I practised religion, this is exactly the type of religion I practised–I never said “believed” because I didn’t have faith in any myth as factual, I just looked at myth as Real, if you follow me. Unlike Wallace though, I always had a distaste for the Abrahamic mythos, it being as sexist, cruel, immoral, racist, and anti-animal/anti-environment as it was.

    But anyway, a person doesn’t need to sanctify myth (or “story”)to make it worthwhile. If Wallace wants to play pretend, make believe that Jesus or Santa or a boy named Sue is real so he can feel fulfilled, that’s fine. But he oughtn’t to be insulting those who don’t bother.

  96. mikmik says

    My pet peeve with the Noah’s Ark disaster is, how the fuck did kangaroos get to Australia, and three toed sloths get to the Amazon???

  97. Pierce R. Butler says

    Mr. Fire @ # 28: He uses The Prodigal Son rather than A Boy Named Sue?

    How do you (or any of us) know that the P.S. wasn’t named Sue, “in a far country, wasting his substance with riotous living”* down in the mud and the blood and the beer?

    *Yes, fellow pedants, I know… Smite me!

  98. jose says

    “The problem is that not that Myers is telling us all a story, but that he insists he is not. “Reality,” he writes, “is harsh.” His story is the story you absolutely must believe if you absolutely insist on not believing in stories.”

    In other words: You see, PZ Myers told a story right there and he thinks his story is true; therefore, the story of Jesus is true, too.

    Is that the argument?

  99. says

    It’s boggling to me how atheists are so often quick to say how wise and wonderful the bible is as literature

    I agree. Bits and pieces are poetic. It’s a cultural touchstone. But it’s also 99% crap.

  100. says

    My pet peeve with the Noah’s Ark disaster is, how the fuck did kangaroos get to Australia, and three toed sloths get to the Amazon???

    My pet peeve with the Noah’s ark disaster is, how the fuck did they catch and cage nastyass honey badger?

  101. Tobinius says

    So I guess this mean that as an atheist, Wallace want’s me to now believe that Johnny Cash was actually indeed a boy named Sue? Or maybe the deeper truth was that Jesus was a boy named Sue? I have to admit that I am open to that latter.

  102. Ing says

    That doesn’t mean I’m going to pray to Ahab, sing hymns to Othello, or worship Captain Kirk.

    The cult of Ahab would be awesome. Everyone wears little jewelry of a severed leg to symbolize their faith and ever lasting rage at the very cruel arbitrary nature of fate!

  103. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    But it’s also 99% crap.

    Now PZ, why are you underestimating the amount of crap in the babble…

  104. says

    Haven’t read all 100+ posts so I don’t know if this has been mentioned, but hasn’t in those I’ve scanned.

    You’re missing a fundamental belief system that is embedded – imprinted, acculturated, inculcated – somehow hammered, nailed, etched, embossed in the brains of most people. I’d venture to guess that it’s a deep part of our evolutionary development.

    The notion that an emotionally resonant narrative *must* be *** somehow or another *** true.

    Isn’t it obvious in all the religious crap? They know that the stories at face value are not true. So they seek any interpretation, no matter how tortuous, no matter how bizarre to find a way to *make* it true.

    My mantra is pretty much “all words are lies”. And so they are, but we are … designed to try and find meaning, and are taught that words convey meaning. So most people, especially when faced with something that moves them emotionally, cannot let go of the notion of such meaning.

    For some of us – actually for everyone, everywhere, but some of us atheists know it: no stories do not have meaning. They are sounds or spots on a screen or paper. *We* may give them meaning … and there’s some pretty good stuff out there, some of it without a speck of literal truth but allegorically or metaphorically important and powerful stuff. But the meaning resides within the reader; truth, only so far as the writer and reader agree on what is being discussed and the reader finds it factual.

    – TWZ

  105. mikmik says

    My pet peeve with the Noah’s Ark disaster is, how the fuck did kangaroos get to Australia, and three toed sloths get to the Amazon???

    My pet peeve with the Noah’s ark disaster is, how the fuck did they catch and cage nastyass honey badger?

    Y’know what? I am going to ask a pastor here exactly that. I want stuff that the apologists haven’t covered as he has books, books I tell you, that refute evolution and all science, all the usual. I will bring wikipedia page about HB. I mean, it can’t be killed with machetes and arrows/spears, and anyways, wouldn’t the Ark be smelly enough without a critter with an anal pouch so overwhelmingly stinky that it puts bees into a stupor?

    I see him Friday morn, can’t wait.

  106. kantalope says

    While I was reading PZ’s interpretation, the thought occurred to me that maybe this was one of those post-modern lit things where words mean something different or their opposite or something but when I tried that with the original, that didn’t work out.

    But then I reread it…well the parts I could stomach – and I think this is one of those newagey “you get to define your own story (reality)” thing.

    Check out this part: “There are small truths and there are big ones. And in my view (it is perhaps more of a hope) all the truths are somehow related to all the others. Somewhere in there, maybe containing them all somehow, is THE truth, whatever it is. This biggest truth is reality. It’s what’s true about us, about God if there is a God, about death, about life. Whatever this bottom-level truth is, I like to think that all lesser truths hold our interest only insofar as they are related to it.”

    Now to most people “The biggest truth is reality.” Means reality is and truth identifies it. I think this guy means the opposite the “truth” however you define it and whatever story you are using to find it defines “reality.” Someone else can identify the object subject confusion here but I think that is what is going on.

    It is just another form of interpreting the fossil/geologic record to find the earth is 6000 years old. Find your conclusions first and build the facts to fit. Same old same old.

  107. John Morales says

    kantalope, the whole thing is playing with labels.

    The only real truths are those which are analytic — and thus they are ineluctably tautological.

    (All else is just belief, with varying degrees of justifiability)

  108. Nobody says

    From my perspectve, the guy seems to be merely complaining that atheists aren’t gullible enough, that we don’t believe quickly enough, for his taste. He’d like us to be less critical when it comes to examining the Bible. He’d like us to take it at Christians’ words.

    Fuck him. I’m going to judge something, find out if a story is an accurate reflection of the world, before I take it on board. That’s the smart, safe, rationalist, atheistic thing to do.

  109. Baktru says

    Atheists don’t get stories? What has that man been smoking? And can I have some?

    I’d say that one of the things that led me onto the path of freedom from religion, was stories. Yes, stories. Reading Science Fiction avidly as an adolescent was definitely part of my deconversion. Why? Because when you absorb enough stories, you start to actually gather which ones are the silliest.

  110. Christopher Booth says

    My pet peeve with the Noah’s Ark disaster is, how the fuck did kangaroos get to Australia, and three toed sloths get to the Amazon???

    My pet peeve with the Noah’s ark disaster is, how the fuck did they catch and cage nastyass honey badger?

    Y’know what? I am going to ask a pastor here exactly that. I want stuff that the apologists haven’t covered as he has books, books I tell you, that refute evolution and all science, all the usual. I will bring wikipedia page about HB. I mean, it can’t be killed with machetes and arrows/spears, and anyways, wouldn’t the Ark be smelly enough without a critter with an anal pouch so overwhelmingly stinky that it puts bees into a stupor?

    I see him Friday morn, can’t wait.

    He can get around it using Hamlet’s logic: The honey badger is “more kind than kin; more kin than kind”. [Hamlet; one of our stories, and better than any of theirs.]

  111. TomF says

    We love stories that have elements of truth in them. We call them “theories”. And the more elements of the truth, the better. But we never forget that they’re fundamentally just stories.

  112. SallyStrange says

    The funny part of this to me is that evolution IS a story, as PZ so clearly lays out.

    It’s a particularly awesome story because it’s the story of every living–indeed, every non-living thing as well!–that I encounter day to day. When I was a kid, my mom would take me on nature walks and we would amuse ourselves by imagining the story of an ancient tree whose roots were wrapped around a giant boulder, whose branches twisted in between the trunks of even older trees. Stories everywhere.

    In any case, if liking a story and feeling deep resonance with its themes is all it takes to make you a believer, then I’m a Vorkosiganist. At least this week. We’ll see what happens when I’m done with my Iain Banks audiobook.

  113. Forbidden Snowflake says

    A rather annoying bit:

    Or might it, if we dwell on it and ask some questions about it, take us to other truths—perhaps bigger, perhaps smaller—about the world? Or is it related only to mere neurons and chemical reactions and so makes us laugh for a time but is ultimately about nothing at all?

    Jebus but I hate the “If neurons, then no meaning” gambit.

    Yes, Mr. Wallace, it’s all mere neurons and chemical reactions. ‘Self’, ‘thoughts’, ‘meaning’ are ultimately stories, in the broad sense, weaving the neurons and chemicals together into a unified, coherent thing. The story of ‘me’ is the most fundamental story we have, the ever-present backdrop to all of our other stories. A dichotomy between ‘neurons and chemicals’ and ‘meaning’ is as silly as a dichotomy between ‘zeros and ones’ and ‘Minesweepeer’.

    For some reason, all of the people I saw not getting this were supernaturalists rejecting the ‘neurons and chemicals’ horn of the dilemma, not naturalists rejecting the ‘meaning’ end, so the snide jab quoted above is just another handful of straw to be filed, as one of the earlier commenters said, under “Atheists aren’t fully human”.

  114. Randomfactor says

    See, we atheists like stories just as well as theists. The difference is, we DON’T like people coming along and telling us what the stories have to mean, on pain of eternal torture at the hands of someone who LOVES us enough to pitch us into unquenchable fire because we don’t agree with his metaphors.

    Apparently the nonexistent god REALLY hates literary critics…

  115. John Morales says

    Forbidden Snowflake,

    A dichotomy between ‘neurons and chemicals’ and ‘meaning’ is as silly as a dichotomy between ‘zeros and ones’ and ‘Minesweepeer’.

    Game, set and match.

    You win the thread.

  116. ichthyic says

    Boy I sure hope this thread turns into a discussion on Johnny Cash’s best stuff.

    Meh.

    I prefer Nick Cave.

  117. otrame says

    The difference is, we DON’T like people coming along and telling us what the stories have to mean, on pain of eternal torture at the hands of someone who LOVES us enough to pitch us into unquenchable fire because we don’t agree with his metaphors.

    Apparently the nonexistent god REALLY hates literary critics…

    QFT and ROTFLMAO

  118. Christopher Booth says

    Atheists don’t understand stories?

    Mark Twain.
    Jorge Amado!
    Douglas Adams.
    Steven Fry.
    Hugh Laurie.
    Robert Graves.
    Grahame Greene.
    Seamus Heaney.
    George Eliot.
    Byron.
    Hemingway.
    Percy Bysshe Shelley.
    Albert Camus.
    Jose Saramago.
    E.M. Forster.
    Robert Louis Stevenson.
    Somerset Maugham.
    Stieg Larsson.
    Stanislaw Lem.
    How about Orwell?
    Samuel Beckett.
    Passolini.
    G.B. Shaw.
    Asimov.
    Clarke.
    Heinlein.
    Lovecraft.
    Bierce.
    H.G. Wells.
    Phillip Pullman.
    Bunuel.
    Guillermo del Toro.
    Peter Greenaway.
    Ridley Scott.
    John Huston.
    George Carlin.
    Tim Minchin.
    Percy Grainger.
    Ferruccio Busoni.
    John Lennon.
    Frank Zappa.
    Sartre.
    Bertrand Russell.
    Sir George Frazer–that guy understood story.
    One can go on and on. So I’ll play the trump card:

    James Joyce.
    Try to say he doesn’t understand story. Pftagh.

    Atheists don’t understand stories? Imbecile, liar, or both.

    [Yup. Sastra was spot-on: its projection.]

  119. mikmik says

    My pet peeve with the Noah’s Ark disaster is, how the fuck did kangaroos get to Australia, and three toed sloths get to the Amazon???

    My pet peeve with the Noah’s ark disaster is, how the fuck did they catch and cage nastyass honey badger?

    Y’know what? I am going to ask a pastor here exactly that. I want stuff that the apologists haven’t covered as he has books, books I tell you, that refute evolution and all science, all the usual. I will bring wikipedia page about HB. I mean, it can’t be killed with machetes and arrows/spears, and anyways, wouldn’t the Ark be smelly enough without a critter with an anal pouch so overwhelmingly stinky that it puts bees into a stupor?
    I see him Friday morn, can’t wait.

    He can get around it using Hamlet’s logic: The honey badger is “more kind than kin; more kin than kind”. [Hamlet; one of our stories, and better than any of theirs.]

    I’ll come back with the Sir Walter Scott array:
    “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive” Not only that:
    “I cannot tell how the truth may be; I say the tale as it was said to me”

  120. Christopher Booth says

    I’ll come back with the Sir Walter Scott array:
    “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive” Not only that:
    “I cannot tell how the truth may be; I say the tale as it was said to me”

    Oooh! Oooh! I know! I know! Scott cribbed that off of Stan Lee!

  121. Gro Martin Gunnarsen says

    I might have a new found respect for my friends, who are christians. I have heard many of them comment on how they love Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The DaVinci Code and so on. And how they all thinks that these are good stories (well you can agree to that or not).

    If that also means that they actually believe that all the stories are true(since good story=true story), then that really takes quite some rearranging of reality in their own minds.

    Believing that there is a sky god, and you can be a wizard, but you need small people with hairy feet to save the world, from the horrors of the the catholic church, or was it it a big eye, or Voldemort? See now I got myself confused. Well no matter, when it all gets filmed, the elven people will come and save the day…

    Just looking right now at my own book collection, and I think I now know why I’m an atheist. This is apparently not, even though I thought so, a rational openminded choice I have made, but really my inability to get to terms with the fact that Discworld from Terry Pratchett, The mordern versions of the Norse gods, from Neil Gaimans American Gods, all the demigods from Rick Riodans Percy Jackson (and all the greek gods) and Richard Dawkins “The greatest show on earth”, really can coexist, if all are equally true.

    So maybe beeing an atheist is really about beeing able to distinguish between true stories and good stories, and knowing that a bad story can be true, while a good story can be blatantly untrue?

  122. David says

    One of the things that caused me to leave Christianity was reading the Dragonlance Chronicles and discovering that humans could write a god that was much more good then the God of the Bible. And somehow I still understood it was a story; I didn’t set up altars to Paladine and Mishakal.

  123. Michael X says

    I have to admit, I simply laughed at the title and didn’t need to read more (But I did, with cat-like curiosity). I’m a stage actor for fuck sake. I, and many of my colleagues, are the embodiment of exactly what Wallace suggests cannot be the case. My life is story.

  124. DLC says

    PZ Myers @15 : When the Man Comes Around. Odd, I was just listening to that on Youtube before I loaded this .
    I agree, it’s insane. Cash obviously dealt with a lot of depression and other personal demons in his day. I also like his cover of NIN’s “Hurt”. ( when the man comes around : http://youtu.be/sFTOznr-_H8 )

    I wonder if we could get William Shatner to read Genesis or Dueteronomy as a beat poem, like he did with Sara Palin’s “I quit” speech.

  125. llewelly says

    Brownian | 13 September 2011 at 3:53 pm

    It’s true because it’s a story?

    Rather, as a story, it’s related to the bedrock truth about the world.

    Some parts are meant to be taken literally. Some parts are metaphors.

    Some parts are fossils hidden there by Satan to deceive you.

  126. Phoenician in a time of Romans says

    One of the Cash songs in my iPod queue is When the Man Comes Around. It’s fascinatingly sung, it’s a creepy story, and it’s utterly insane — it’s the dogma of the Book of Revelation. Is there truth in it? No, not literally.

    Oh, I dunno. It does tell us that when Armageddon comes, there’ll be a hundred million angels singing. And we already know that one exceptional man can wrestle an angel and win.

    We outnumber the smug bastards sixty to one. I say we rush ‘em.

  127. UpAgainstTheRopes says

    @Jem

    Date Christian Girls!” – no thanks Google ads. Nice ironic touch to this page though.

    Christian girls are hot and I like to sin, bring ‘em on…

    Oh and on a serious note I attended a crusade(?) revival(?) a protestant christian gathering at Dodgers stadium over the weekend by LA Harvest. The place was packed. And the message was positive to all faithes regardless of belief but guess who Greg Laurie’s venom spewed towards?

    How did you know? You must be physic.
    Atheists.

    Did you know according to Greg Laurie there are no atheist charities? That Christians are the first to rush in on tragedy? By his own admission to give relief and proselytize.
    I’m not so certain what that means but I think he’s saying that atheists don’t give a shit, that we are social Darwinists like the tea party patriots who cheered the other night at the republican party debate at allowing an uninsured American to die without treatment.

    Is this true? I haven’t found a site that is searchable according to location for atheist or secular charities.

    I know it’s not true, this needs to be corrected how do we do it?

  128. AshPlant says

    Well, I now know of one story that certain atheists don’t seem to understand. They didn’t ‘save the universe by kissing’, for grief’s sake.

  129. UpAgainstTheRopes says

    Ohhhh… and let me add if it wasn’t obvious in the previous post.

    The conclusion I drew from the comments by the pastor were we are a recognized existential threat to belief and morally bankrupt, they are taking the threat seriously and organizing against us.

    How do we respond? A first step, an organized database of local atheist and secular charities.

    we are good without god let’s prove it.

  130. says

    UpAgainstTheRopes:

    we are good without god let’s prove it.

    *shrug* People prove it every day. I’m not in a competition when it comes to charities or “good works”. I’m certainly not interested in coming off as smugly superior, I’ll leave that to the theists.

    There are plenty of secular charities out there, I give what I can, when I can. I make sure to support Planned Parenthood as regularly as possible, however, do you really think any theist would look kindly on that?

    I also support Médecins Sans Frontières whenever possible. I’m sure some of the people involved in that organization are theists, I know many of the recipients of their services are theists. That doesn’t really matter to me. It would matter to many theists, though, whose idea of charity means money must be funneled through a church.

    Those are two examples of aid I support. Why would a theist care? It doesn’t matter how much any atheist gives to charity (and a whole lot of them do), it still wouldn’t matter. We’d be giving to the ‘wrong’ charities, we’d be doing it for the ‘wrong’ reason, etc. Theists excel at moving goalposts, it’s what they do. You won’t change minds by waving donations under their noses.

    If you still think you have something to prove, get a T-shirt.

  131. Paul Durrant says

    I stopped reading after he interprets the song ‘A Boy Named Sue’ as meaning that “Fathers always come to fear their sons.”

    Anyone who can take that away from “A Boy Named Sue” has no clue about stories and people at all.

  132. Valhar2000 says

    Sipech: Well, if Christians don’t actually believe this stuff, would you very much mind informing the followers of James Dobson, Pat Robertson and thousands of other Fundamentalist Christian pastors, as well as the people who attended Rick Perry’s prayerfest, along with all the Americans who claim they believe the Earth is less than 10000 years old, that Noah and the Flood really happened, and that Jesus’ return will happen within their lifetime.

    I’m sure those poor buggers will be very relieved to learn that they do not, in fact, believe the garbage they keep spouting.

  133. McCthulhu jumped over the lazy dog. says

    Has someone ever pointed out to these silly buggers that a huge number of atheists came from the religious/nutcase side of the fence and gave up on it because we couldn’t put up with the violence, crazy, misogyny, disengenuity, paradox, lies, and fifty-thousand other well-founded reasons. Of course they claim to have special insight into Johnny Cash, he played the Grand ol’ Opry which is like Mecca to the Funny Fundies. What they’re really missing out on is getting special insight into Frank Zappa so they can understand, via lyrics, songs, sound effects and sick humor just how insane they really look/are.

  134. Flapjack says

    As an aside, I don’t exactly rate the prodigal son as a yarn to learn from… it has an obvious problem.

  135. Hairy Chris says

    The application of sci-fi and fantasy books at pre & early teens almost certainly (as David at 139 pointed out) helped me, and anyway, the gods and machines in those books often do way cooler stuff then happens in the Bible. In fact I’m pretty sure that this is the real reason why fundies don’t like RPGs too…

    Heck, I think that as atheists most of us have a far better idea of what fiction is – and what we can draw from it – then the “peoples of the book” do.

  136. Midnight Rambler says

    I stopped reading after he interprets the song ‘A Boy Named Sue’ as meaning that “Fathers always come to fear their sons.”

    Anyone who can take that away from “A Boy Named Sue” has no clue about stories and people at all.

    I was just about to mention that. Surprised no one else pointed it out. I mean come on – you’re writing an essay claiming that atheists don’t get stories, and in the example you pick, you get the meaning completely wrong? He sounds like Bush saying the lesson of Vietnam was “we’ll win unless we quit”.

  137. dartigen says

    Stories are great. Really, they are. I enjoy Terry Prachett as much as the next person.

    The difference is that the Bible claims to be a true story. Terry Pratchett doesn’t claim that the Discworld exists. He is well aware that it’s a fictional construct created purely for him to get his own points and ideas across to other people who read his books.

    (And I agree about RPGs. Most RPGs have better and more verifiable (in a fictional universe) backstories than the Bible does. And it tends to make a lot more sense, because nerds are nitpicky buggers who will point out any plot holes or mistakes.
    Not to mention that authors are free to do whatever with fictional universes. A teenage girl who can kill you with her brain? Sure! Faster-than-light space travel? Go for it! Dragons? Done to death, almost.
    But while some novels may have an amazing level of real-world research behind them, none claim to be true stories.)

  138. says

    Wait a minute–science fiction is currently the only form of fiction that can tell tropes both old and new with any freshness. It’s an amazing medium for telling political, social and philosophical allegory. And it is overwhelmingly written by atheists.
    The least these arrogant little whiners could do is a little background research. You know, like actually hanging out with some atheists.

  139. Mark says

    @ChasCPeterson:

    Did you know that ‘Ring of Fire’ was actually a truthful story about the Man in Black’s hemorrhoids?

    Really? I need to listen to the lyrics more carefully. I always thought he’d had a curry the night before.

  140. fauxreal says

    What I propose is that no one lives, or can live, or has ever lived, within the circle of empirical science. I propose that no matter who we are or what our beliefs might be, we have always had to deal with the question of interpretation. And that question is not whether to interpret, but how. No one fails to interpret. Interpreting is what human beings do.

    huh? what does “empirical science” mean? Is there some other kind? The idea of empirical knowledge is that which can be observed by the senses, that which can be described and whose descriptions may be reproduced. that is the most basic idea behind empirical truth or knowledge.

    how does that not involve interpretation? i.e. I bite into a ripe tomato and it tastes like what I think a tomato tastes like. When I do it again, the experience is, more or less, the same. When I bite into an apple, etc… Then I describe or “interpret” what this taste is, my response to it, compare it to other tastes.. this is empiricism. This is also a story about “tomato.”

    The “opposite” of this story of tomato is divine revelation, as opposed to sensory interpretation.

    Even ‘a priori knowledge’ is not possible without some sort of empirical foundation – every story told requires a set of agreements, in abstract, that x will indicate one thing and y another. Without this, stories are impossible to communicate.

    What is storytelling but a sensory experience? Hearing the voice and guitar, a line of melody – how can anyone make an argument that empiricism is not about telling stories? That’s a ridiculous – or, weak, straw-man argument to try to pretend that stories are something other than what they are – which is precisely what this person does.

    Put another way, we cannot avoid believing in stories. We can only hope to choose the best ones. How to do this? I propose that good stories are stories that tell the truth, and bad ones are ones that do not.

    I fear that I may have lost some of you just now. In particular, most atheists I know would be quite critical of the idea that stories are related in any meaningful way to the bedrock truth about the world. So in the interest of keeping everyone on the bus, let’s back up and assume that the stories we tell are unrelated to anything that could pass as true.

    These comments twist meaning beyond comprehension. Empirical knowledge claims to be a bedrock truth about the world in a far more compelling way than a story of a prodigal son does. The bedrock truth is the story of daddy slime. Every time this story is reconstructed, if it is factual, the story is about daddy slime. However, the story of the prodigal son is one with many possible outcomes – unless one chooses to believe that the story of the prodigal son is also the story of a sky daddy and humans – which is the story this author prefers. In order to justify this preference, the author calls his story “truth”and sensory stories “just fact”.

    What the author wants to argue is that the stories he likes to tell have only one outcome and for anyone to have another base of experience that says this is not the truth is offensive because the author wants to reduce all stories and all truths to one. “One true story” – basically – is this person’s desire, and, because it is his desire, he pretends that empiricism is something it is not and that truth is beyond reality.

    He just doesn’t like the story Myers is telling, that’s all.

    He wants to believe there is a sky daddy to comfort him when people like Myers tell other stories and, in order for this to comfort him, Myers cannot be telling a truth – just facts. LOLOLOL.

    What a load of hogwash.

    Some people don’t like old stories because they don’t tell enough of the truth – and thus don’t tell the “one truth” because they refuse to admit to any other experience from people whose stories were excluded in this old ones – or whose stories were misinterpreted by the tellers because the tellers had no experience of being that “other” in the story. If a particular group has had the opportunity to be the subject of a story, over and over, of course they like those stories because those stories privilege their experience (i.e. again, make it the “one true story.”)

    A plurality of stories means that the empirical/sensory knowledge of one person that is different than another’s discounts this desire for one truth, for the certainty that such an idea affords – again, insistence on this “one truth” is a sort of tyranny that cannot be upheld without a plea to extrasensory knowledge that cannot be quantified with the explanation the author chooses to give it.

    What this author seems to be unable to comprehend is that Myers and others can have more than one story that is “true” – both the slime daddy story and the story of humans who find comfort in forgiveness of faults. The two are not exclusive to one another. One deals in the story of change over time in a long, long scale – to the point at which humans can only access certain parts of a story (i.e. cannot actually be slime – well, certain pols excluded) while the other deals with change within human relationships over the course of a few years. However, because this story comes within a particular religious context, it’s not enough for this story to hold meaning for humans in and of itself as a human story for others, because it holds religious truth for the author.

    How absurd to try to even make the point that atheists cannot have a story about the positive experience of forgiveness because they also have stories about mutations over time. How absurd to claim that because someone chooses to believe in something extrasensory, no one can claim this story is simply about human attachment?

    Is this the babble that passes for meaning among non-literalists who hold to a religious creed? Rather defensive, it seems to me. And, honestly, religious belief has nothing to do with such a story – the story is about love and forgiveness – i.e. community, in primary kinship relationships – this is part of the mammalian story. Why does it have to refer to an invisible entity to have meaning – or, rather, why do some people think it loses meaning if it does not refer to an invisible entity?

  141. JJR says

    Wait, so only Christians can fully appreciate Harry Potter? (because they think magic & witchcraft are REAL?)

    *giggle, snort*

  142. Phil says

    Hmmm…I do some writing in my spare time (on hold for now – final year takes priority). So, what would Wallarse say if I said I don’t believe what I write, because it’s bloody FICTION?

  143. Ms. Daisy Cutter says

    The discussion of Wallace’s non-understanding of the concept of fiction reminds me of two fundies, one definitely fictional (the abusive mother in Stephen King’s Carrie) and one supposedly real (the abusive mother in Sybil). Both had banned any fictional books other than the bible from their houses, because fiction described things that didn’t happen and was therefore “lies.”

    I agree with Sastra, Mikmik, Ibis, and PZ about the literary value of the bible overall. The Song of Songs is lovely. Ecclesiastes has some decent advice. Here and there are some decent metaphors or tall tales. But, as you’d expect from a compilation organized by a committee with a political agenda, the quality varies greatly. If it has become a rich mine of metaphor over the centuries for English and other languages, that’s because there were not as many competing stories as we have today, especially where the church stamped out extant pagan myths.

    When “cultural warriors” like Allan Bloom decry our “cultural illiteracy”… well, okay, the case can certainly be made that it’s useful to be acquainted at least somewhat with the myths that helped shape the world we live in today. On the other hand, these stories are no more inherently worthy than the ones in fiction qua fiction, regardless of genre or medium.

    ColonelZen: “All words are lies” is fundie thinking. All words are symbols. Of course, the map isn’t the territory. But words and other symbols are all we have if we’re going to communicate with one another. Disdaining them makes us like emo teenagers wallowing in a self-imposed, romanticized alienation.

    4theist4narchist: I like sf/f just fine, but science fiction supremacy is as tiresome as when the literati look down their noses as “genre fiction.” A good story in any genre is a good story.

  144. truthspeaker says

    Forbidden Snowflake says:
    13 September 2011 at 11:49 pm

    A dichotomy between ‘neurons and chemicals’ and ‘meaning’ is as silly as a dichotomy between ‘zeros and ones’ and ‘Minesweepeer’.

    Y’all are overwhelming me with awesome quotes.

  145. savoy47 says

    I look at, “the story”, as one of the greatest human constructs. It was the first long term memory storage device. A story about a great hunter that was assigned all the attributes and skills the tribe had learned over time is an example.

    A good story teller causes a reaction in the listeners. Hormones flood the brain which results in an imprint that reinforces the memory. This story is a meme that passes the stored memory on to the following generations of hunters. Compare that to remembering a list of things to do or to avoid.

  146. Lord Shplanington, Not A Frenchman says

    @Ichthyic #133

    I am literally terrified of Nick Cave. I’m absolutely 100% certain that he is going to find and murder me because I pirated the last Grinderman album.

    He knows, man. HE KNOWS

  147. says

    @Ms. Daisy Cutter: Amazing that I live in a world where saying how awesome science fiction is is “science fiction supremacy.” Uh no, saying something is a great thing isn’t saying it’s the best and only thing.

  148. David Marjanović, OM says

    ( I can haz blockquote button on my iPad plz? Kthxbye)

    Button? Why don’t you simply type <blockquote> out like the rest of us who don’t have a fancy Firefox toolbar?

    I recall – as a10yr old boy- kissing a 10yr old girl

    You developed unusually quickly, then.

    kissing isn’t unexactly uncharacteristic of early teens

    Of 10-year-olds, it is.

    “no atheists in comic book stores”

    Thread won.

    We outnumber the smug bastards sixty to one. I say we rush ‘em.

    :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D

    Seventy. Not sixty. Seventy.

    How did you know? You must be physic.

    Full of win.

    Is this true? I haven’t found a site that is searchable according to location for atheist or secular charities.

    You’re looking at this from completely the wrong direction. A secular charity is just a charity. It’s a charity without added religion on top.

  149. truthspeaker says

    It’s not just the fundies who take parts of the Bible literally. Non-fundy mainstream denominations still believe in a God and that Jesus is his son. Most of them still believe in the resurrection and Catholics still believe in the virgin birth. The vast majority of Christians think some of the stories – including the supernatural elements – are factual.

  150. Butch Kitties says

    Some stories do a better job of conveying morality if we admit from the beginning that the story is a work of fiction. If the story is meant as literal truth, then the forest gets lost for the veins of the leaves.

    If we start with the premise the The Boy Who Cried Wolf is just a story, something that probably never actually happened, and is meant only to illustrate the potential dangers of lying, then it’s useful. Imagine if we tried to interpret The Boy Who Cried Wolf the same way a fundamentalist Christian interprets Genesis. All of a sudden the details take on an absurd importance. The moral stops being the simple, adaptable message “lying could come back to bite you” that everyone understands. Splinter groups start forming, each with their own interpretation. Each equally convinced they have the One True Interpretation.

    Group A: “It’s wrong for one person to lie to a group.”
    Group B: “It’s only wrong to lie about the presence of wolves. The story doesn’t say anything about other types of lies.”
    Group C: “It’s pedantry to assume it’s only wrong to lie about wolves. There’s obviously a bigger message: It’s wrong to lie about any predator.”
    Group D: “No, the story actually means that it’s forgivable to lie about the same thing twice, but lying thrice is wrong.”
    Group E: “No, the story actually means that lying is always wrong, and if someone lies about the same thing three times, then it’s okay to leave him to die.”

  151. Dan L. says

    I like sf/f just fine, but science fiction supremacy is as tiresome as when the literati look down their noses as “genre fiction.” A good story in any genre is a good story.

    The distinction is entirely arbitrary. A story can take place in the future and feature a lot of futuristic technologies and still be literature.

    The problem for non-sci fi literature is that in the U.S.A and Europe, most adult people carry tiny computers in their pockets that give them access to a world-wide communication network. That is, the world we live in is what I would have thought of 15 years ago as “science fiction.” I remember being in high school FTPing mp3′s from my cousin’s college network and wishing I had a portable bit of electronics to play them on while I was out and about. Now I can skip FTP entirely and just stream music through my iPhone.

    What I’m driving at is that any literature that’s actually relevant to the world we live in has to take into account things like social media, the internet, and the consequences of ubiquitous digital information. In other words, “real” literature needs to start looking a whole lot like sci fi to be relevant — to discuss the important tensions and contradictions in modern society.

    Vonnegut is a good example of this for industrial society, BTW — straddling the “line” between sci fi and literature and examining the impact of mechanization on what it means to be human in the 20th century. We need Vonneguts for digital society now.

  152. says

    Some stories do a better job of conveying morality if we admit from the beginning that the story is a work of fiction.

    I think you might be on to something there. To take a biblical example: the story of the ten plagues. If we take it as pure metaphor, then the lesson is that holding slaves is wrong and you’ll be punished for it. Or maybe that if a country has a bad ruler, everyone will suffer.
    If we take it literally, the story is that the creator of the universe is a sadistic, little shit who is perfectly willing to sacrifice innocent children in order to show how fucking powerful he is.

    Shit, if all the new testament was about was telling us a story about a guy who’s willing to suffer for the sake of love, the I’m sure we’d all be aboard.
    However, as soon as it’s about some schizophrenic deity who’s punishing his own son for the sole purpose of not having to admit that his original rules were stupid…
    you know, the more I think about it, the more I think that you’re spot the fuck on.

  153. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    [meta] I have no time to engage, but I just wanted to say that this thread has been hella interesting to read. Shit. I have to go.[/meta]

  154. Ms. Daisy Cutter says

    4t4n: You said:

    science fiction is currently the only form of fiction that can tell tropes both old and new with any freshness.

    Dan L.: You’re moving the goalposts. Just because a device would have been science fiction 15 years ago doesn’t make it so now. People becoming inured to it removes that sense of novelty and wonder. Would a story set in, say, Illinois in the 1960s and featuring a car be science fiction just because cars didn’t exist 115 years ago?

    Also, historical fiction can be quite relevant to the world we live in, because human beings are still the same species we were 100, 500, or 1,000 (or more) years ago.

  155. anteprepro says

    David M : “kissing isn’t unexactly uncharacteristic of early teens

    Of 10-year-olds, it is.”

    David, did you miss the part where I said that those characters were 13, and not 10? Because I totally fucking did.

  156. Judy L. says

    My name is SUE, how do you do? Johnny Cash is one of the Celebrity Saints that, as an athiest, I worship.

  157. UpAgainstTheRopes says

    @Caine, Fleur du Mal

    The point is not to thumb my nose at christians but to have an easy way for secular non-believers to find charities that mirror their ideas. I know I volunteer and sometimes my volunteer work has gone through churches(mind you churches that didn’t include a speech as a precursor to a hot meal) because the actions are more important to me. And I know there are secular organizations out there, I think the only remotely religious thing about the Red Cross is the symbol they use, but when I went to do search on-line I couldn’t find a database or an easy way to search for secular and/or atheist volunteer organizations in my community on-line. In this age where words don’t necessarily mean what one would think they should where if a nation has democratic people’s within the name you can rest assured it is neither or a place called the discovery institute that describes itself as conducting research on science and technology when we know that it only cares about either in advancing it’s own unscientific agenda. Every time I see “discovery” in a groups name I take pause and look a little bite closer and I think it would be a step in the direction of positive atheism and nifty to have an easier way to bypass all the double speak and separate the meaty wheat from the ideological chafe so to speak.

    Unless of course you know something that I don’t and can point me in the direction of such a source.

    And if my emotional plea drew your ire as to miss my point allow me to retract it and give you a high and hearty: go fuck yourself you condescending cynical twit. All better? Ok great, group hug. Group side hug.

  158. Dan L. says

    Dan L.: You’re moving the goalposts. Just because a device would have been science fiction 15 years ago doesn’t make it so now. People becoming inured to it removes that sense of novelty and wonder. Would a story set in, say, Illinois in the 1960s and featuring a car be science fiction just because cars didn’t exist 115 years ago?

    Umm, that’s not quite an argument against what I’m trying to say. First of all, since it was the first thing I said to you I wasn’t (couldn’t have been) shifting the goal posts.

    What I’m trying to say is that what once distinguished “real” literature from science fiction is that science fiction was fantastical, not real, took place in a world that is not this one.

    I’m claiming that technological change has disrupted that distinction. That the world we live in now is so crazy and fast-paced that it’s difficult to distinguish the fantastical from the mundane. If you can remember how useless early wireless systems were and compare that to the current situation where you can get wifi almost anywhere (if not on the street, duck into Starbucks for a $2 coffee and wireless connection to broadband internet) it’s quite striking.

    The world we live in is one where the idea of a teenager genetically engineering a deadly virus in her basement within the next 20 years is not quite beyond the pale.

    I’m not saying everything has to be science fiction because it needs gadgets to reflect the real world, I’m saying the accelerated pace of technological change has fundamentally changed the relationship between humans and technology in a way that can’t be conveyed by “a story set in, say, Illinois in the 1960s and featuring a car.” We’re not just trying to tell stories with gadgets in them, we’re trying to tell stories about how those gadgets make us who we are — a problem that is relatively new, at least at the scale we’re currently experiencing it.

    I’m not arguing for sci fi supremacy, I’m saying the distinction of literature from sci fi doesn’t make sense in the world we live in.

    Also, historical fiction can be quite relevant to the world we live in, because human beings are still the same species we were 100, 500, or 1,000 (or more) years ago.

    I’ve always found historical fiction to be more misleading than illuminating. You can’t understand a period in time by trying to put your modern worldview back into that world. I’ve had better luck trying to put my worldview aside by reading things by people from that time period.

    I’m also fairly well convinced that almost all the variation in human behavior over the last 10,000 years or so is cultural rather than genetic, and given the scope of the variation, the fact that we’re biologically approximately the same as we were a few hundred years ago is meaningless compared the cultural gap between humans now and then.

  159. Ms. Daisy Cutter says

    Dan, maybe “shifting the goalposts” wasn’t the right term, but I considered you to be playing fast and loose with the notion of what constitutes “science fiction.”

    I do take your point that the pace of technological change has thrown a monkey wrench into our ability to distinguish “realistic” from “fantastical” in fiction. I’m not sure how new this is. Motor cars, airplanes, and other advances in decades gone by likely struck people the same way. But you’re correct in that our current technology is reordering our relationships and self-concept much more dramatically than any of those inventions have done.

    I take your point also w/r/t historical fiction, but, again, they’re not supposed to be literal, entirely factual histories; they’re reimaginings of past times that are supposed to speak to modern readers. Cultural change might make us far more different from the Caesars than the Caesars were from the earliest peoples of the Fertile Crescent, but there are still any number of constants in how people think, act, and speak, and one can see those in actual histories as well as in historical fiction.

  160. CJO says

    You can’t understand a period in time by trying to put your modern worldview back into that world. I’ve had better luck trying to put my worldview aside by reading things by people from that time period.

    Which is, of course, what good historical novelists do and then try to present the understanding so gained into a fictional reconstruction of past events. It’s no different in principle from the activity of an academic historian. Or do you think historians are trying to “understand a period in time by trying to put [their] modern worldview back into that world” too?

    A modern worldview is a hindrance to doing history in the same way various cognitive biases are a hindrance to doing empirical research and cultural biases are a hindrance to a field anthroplogist. We cannot have a completely worldview or bias free picture of anything. But by being aware of and taking steps to suppress our biases, we can come to greater understanding. I fail to see how that’s different for understanding the past versus understanding the present.

  161. Wandered In says

    Above, someone said that Cash’s version of Nick Cave’s the Mercy Seat is better. This is outright falsehood. You monster.
    Cash’s version lacks all the frenetic energy, all the tightly-coiled madness of Cave’s original. It’s an alright song, but it’s no longer the mad, religious justifications of a man going to death; it’s a sorrowful descent towards death, a somewhat hopeful dirge. Plus, it changes the meaning of the story, with a tiny but vitally important edit: Cave says “a crime for which I am nearly wholely innocent, you know” where Cash changes this to”a crime for which I am totally innocent, you know.” It’s just not the same song, and I think it lost what made it great, becoming less interesting.

  162. lurkeressa says

    “Atheologies”?
    As in, a theist explaining atheists?
    Bit like a man explaining women, or hetero explaining gays…

  163. RustD says

    @68
    “Audley Z. Darkheart OM, purveyor of candy and lies says:
    13 September 2011 at 7:18 pm
    Occam’s Blunt Instrument:
    The Ten Commandments of Cash:
    VI: I will let you down I will make you hurt
    Originally included in the teachings of Trent Reznor.”

    Another great teaching from NIN is “Terrible Lie”.

  164. Dan L. says

    Ms. Daisy Cutter:

    Sounds like we’re mostly on the same page. And I probably do have a somewhat non-standard notion of science fiction. I think of most Jules Verne as futurism rather than sci fi, for example. (One reason is that he seemed to be trying to really predict the future, which I don’t think is the point of most sci fi.)

    Love your ‘nym BTW.

  165. tim rowledge, Ersatz Haderach says

    ( I can haz blockquote button on my iPad plz? Kthxbye)

    Button? Why don’t you simply type

    out like the rest of us who don’t have a fancy Firefox toolbar?

    Well, I often do but it’s a royal pain on the default iPad keyboard. An internet commenting specialised one would be nice and quite practical.

    Buttons have the virtue that (assuming the idiot implementer spells things correctly) the tag is correct and closed properly. Various web forum software packages do provide such buttons and other affordances. They have the further benefit of making it unneccessary to parse the input text since you just refuse to accept any characters as html; also no ability to sneak in bad code. Instead of a list of allowed tags, why not a list of buttons that produce the tags, probably wrapped around any selected text. I like it when computers at least try to make life easier.

    I recall – as a10yr old boy- kissing a 10yr old girl

    You developed unusually quickly, then.

    kissing isn’t unexactly uncharacteristic of early teens

    Of 10-year-olds, it is.

    Didn’t seem like it in the milieu of my youth, late 60′s UK. Actual sex wasn’t common before mid-teens but serious snogging was definitely on the agenda by 10/11-ish. Gosh, we got actual sex education/instruction starting around 8-9y.o.

  166. truthspeaker says

    I wasn’t kissing or having sex when I was 11-years-old but I sure thought about it a lot.

  167. Johnny Cash's Ghost says

    Did you know that ‘Ring of Fire’ was actually a truthful story about the Man in Black’s hemorrhoids?

    Wrong! It’s about the circle of empirical science.

  168. says

    IR to Ms Daisy Cutter @ 163:

    ColonelZen: “All words are lies” is fundie thinking.

    “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

    Um, I don’t think so, to either above assertion.

    All words are symbols. Of course, the map isn’t the territory. But words and other symbols are all we have if we’re going to communicate with one another.

    Agreed, but you are still are missing the point. It is indisputably true that we each individually create the meaning of what we read/hear in our heads. There is no other connection to the reality. We *must* think in symbols (we have no way to grasp any noumenal reality) so words slip in pretending to be the reality, rather than the casual, negotiable and frequently ill conceived and rather vague and arbitrary pointers to things, kinds of things, ideas about things, abstractions, and relations, abstractons about relations, relations as things and relations about things that may or may not be real relations between real or abstract things that they pretend to be – or rather that we pretend they are.

    All we have is the rather dubious notion that someone who spoke or wrote words is 1) honest, and 2) knows what he’s talking about. Even if we know that either or both of 1 and 2 don’t hold our brains will stupidly *try* to find some relationships to “value” in those words.

    That superficiality of words, their shallowness and fluidity, is – for me – what makes science the supreme of all human undertakings. It’s careful and detailed epistemology provides the best, and in many fields often the only, foundation for *real* communication about the real world that we have.

    Without that careful epistemology and semantics derived together with it, all our words are little more than dog barks and ape grunts. We might be able to communicate like and dislike for one another, but very little else.

    Disdaining them makes us like emo teenagers wallowing in a self-imposed, romanticized alienation.

    Goody! If I happen to run across such, can I tell them about the futility of their attempts to communicate?

    (I’m an evil old bastard, who considers at least run-of-the-mill teenage angst usefully educational. “Hey, you! You know that feeling of worthlessness, and meaninglessness, that nobody else is ever going to know or care about the ‘real’ you? I have good news! It’s all true! Have a nice day!”)

    – TWZ

  169. Daniel Schealler says

    @ColonelZen #190

    *jumps up and down excitedly*

    Excellent! Someone has used the term ‘noumenal’ in a real-world discussion!

    A while back I stumbled over the term ‘noumenal’ as a contrasting term to ‘phenomenal’. I tried to have a go at understanding what the term meant and how to use it correctly in conversation – which mainly involved Googling for essays involving the term.

    Blergh.

    What I found to read was mostly essays written by or about Kant. This made my brain hurt, and not much else.

    Could you try to explain the term for me a bit here using this exact concrete example, please?

    The bit that specifically confuses me is that I’m not sure what noumenal actually means.

    My intuitive understanding to the term is that ‘noumenal’ refers to the universe as it actually is, whereas ‘phenomenal’ refers to how the universe appears in terms of our senses. This appears to be how you’re using it here, which is what has me all excited.

    The reason this is confusing to me is that I had picked up the impression that my intuitive understanding of the term was wrong. I got the feeling that ‘noumenal’ meant something else – a sort of mingling of the concepts of a priori knowledge, platonic forms and observable fact… And I couldn’t make the vague association between these ideas click into a coherent concept that I could understand.

    Which annoys the hell out of me.

    Any extra time you care to spend explaining your usage of the term here in this exact context would be very much appreciated.

  170. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Daniel, you’ve got it pretty much correct; noumenon, phenomenon, epiphenomenon are categories often used in philosophy.

    My intuitive understanding to the term is that ‘noumenal’ refers to the universe as it actually is, whereas ‘phenomenal’ refers to how the universe appears in terms of our senses.

    Think of it as noumenon being the thing-in-itself (source); phenomenon as that which is perceived of the noumenon (result), and epiphenomenon as that which results from the phenomenon (implication).

    (Recursive conceptualisations, I admit)

  171. says

    IR Daniel Schealler @ 191

    Once I wrote something similar to – You’ve never seen a sunset, never heard music, and never felt a lover’s touch. Meanwhile your brain has been telling you huge whoppers about your date the other night.

    It should be rather obvious that there’s no light, little if any sound, and none of your sensitive skin inside your skull. But that is where “you” really live. All of the things you “see”, “hear”, “smell” etc, are representations, instantiated in and as complex partitioned chemistry among billions of cells and trillions to quadrillions of synapses.

    Now I have my own ideas how the phenomenal gap is bridged – disagreed with by almost all others, building almost wholly on Dennett’s work from 20 years ago. You can wander over to http://www.the-brights.net/forums/forum and browse the dungeon (advanced discussion) for “The Philosopher’s Brain” and earlier similar threads if you want a whole lot of painful tedium. But it should be obvious that what we “see” is not real. It’s a staged show.

    The phenomenal is what you “see” in your head. But we *know* that what’s really in your head is chemistry. Even when you are actually looking at something (never mind imagining) it isn’t the light that hits your eyes that you “see”. It is chemistry, through a long chain correlated to that light … and there are reasons to suspect that much of that correlation is an artifact.

    The noumenal is the presumptive reality. Because induction works, because we can establish commonalities and comparisions that work, we can be reasonably certain that there *is* an outside world, that works pretty much as science says it does.

    Now the phenomenal must track the noumenal reasonably well … well enough to have kept our ancestors alive long enough to breed, and us to have lived to our present age. But there is no denial that it is NOT the reality. Bats and dolphins have sonar, bees see UV etc, some creatures sense magnetic and electric fields, most animals have vastly superior sense of smell than we.

    Even for our main senses, there is no question that what we see is not reality. How many illusions have you seen? Can you “see” the spinning ballerina silhouette as a changing black blob on a page? One psychologist says he’s studied the McGurk effect for 25 years and still cannot avoid hearing the illusion.

    Even some who should know better argue that appearance is an attribute of the object rather than the artifact I maintain it to be. I proceed to list the elements that affect appearance, color and intensity of incident light, color and quantity of surrounding objects, distance to the object shape of the lens, shape of the receiving medium, properties of the receiving medium and about a half dozen more. Then for the coup-de-gras I ask him about pictures of the subject (do they have its appearance or not).

    But it’s really deeper. The phenomenal is the one and only “reality” you (or I or anyone) *can* know. But we *know* it is not the reality. (Once again, science is the only “bridge” we have that isn’t a rickety, ad hoc structure).

    All words are lies, so don’t trust what I’m saying too far. If it’s important to you for some reason, do some reading (Gah, a lot. Philosophy isn’t like science; there are no settled certainties so there is no definitive source to point you at). I only know this because as a programmer mildly interested in the AI problem, I’ve gotten sucked into discussions on consciousness and mind, became interested enough to follow up over the past couple years with some reading. Dan Dennett is my hero (though he’s wrong here and there, qualia being his largest stumbling).

    But I should point out though it may have been Kant who coined “noumenal” and “phenomenal”, that the conundrum of perception versus reality goes back in philosophy at least as far as Plato (the cave).

    – TWZ

  172. says

    “I get so tired of Christians sanctimoniously declaring what atheists really believe, and going on to tell us how we get it all wrong. They always seem to hector us over stuff we don’t believe”

    Some of us feel the same way about you guys, Prof Myers!

  173. Ing says

    Some of us feel the same way about you guys, Prof Myers!

    Do you or do you not associate with a church that promotes divine punishment or salvation?

  174. says

    Calum:

    Some of us feel the same way about you guys, Prof Myers!

    Hey, now. It’s a little harder to pin a Christian down on what they believe. There are as many different forms of Christianity as there are Christians. Some claims which are valid against one form of Christianity might not be valid against another.

    So, do you have specifics? Both of these lists were specific. Give us examples of misconceptions about Christianity that atheists get wrong.

  175. Ing says

    Also a bit of a difference between “You are not human” (Christian on Atheists) and “Hey don’t you believe this stuff that you never freaking shut up about?” (Atheists on Christians)

  176. CJO says

    ColonelZen:
    there is no question that what we see is not reality.

    Nor do we see a representation, as you seem to want to assert. Rather, seeing is representing. By seeing we form a representation of reality. Claiming another step in which some other neural/cognitive process does the seeing of an internal representation is to enter Dennett’s Cartesian Theater. If you care to reply, I’d also be interested to know why you think Dennett is wrong on qualia. Have you read Quining Qualia?

  177. David Marjanović, OM says

    David, did you miss the part where I said that those characters were 13, and not 10? Because I totally fucking did.

    Oops. Sorry.

    Didn’t seem like it in the milieu of my youth, late 60′s UK. Actual sex wasn’t common before mid-teens but serious snogging was definitely on the agenda by 10/11-ish. Gosh, we got actual sex education/instruction starting around 8-9y.o.

    In early 1990s Austria, it started at 12 or 13 (at parties to which I was never invited). Sex education, stupidly, started no sooner than 13, when everyone already knew most of what we were going to learn (and some we weren’t), even though they didn’t have firsthand experience yet.

  178. says

    Some of us feel the same way about you guys, Prof Myers!

    So explain. Many of us were Christians once — I went through communion classes, and had priests and lay assistants in the church carefully explain to me what their faith meant. Are you saying they lied, and the Nicene creed has nothing whatsoever to do with Christian belief? That you don’t believe in a trinity, or that Jesus is your personal lord and savior, or that when you die you face a judgment that will determine whether you spend eternity in heaven or hell?

  179. Waffler, Dunwich MA says

    So explain.

    Betting that Calum will not do so. He’ll stick with his substance-free IKYABWAI instead of any honest engagement.

  180. says

    Sorry about newbie-ness; haven’t got the hang of citing or anything yet. Bear with me:

    Ing: “Do you or do you not associate with a church that promotes divine punishment or salvation?”

    Depends what you mean by promote (and also whether you mean local church or universal church): my local church teaches salvation, divine punishment less so.

    nigelTheBold, Tester of Satan’s Underwear: “Hey, now. It’s a little harder to pin a Christian down on what they believe. There are as many different forms of Christianity as there are Christians. Some claims which are valid against one form of Christianity might not be valid against another.

    So, do you have specifics? Both of these lists were specific. Give us examples of misconceptions about Christianity that atheists get wrong.”

    I’m not saying that all atheists get stuff wrong; some/many are very considerate, well thought out and unprejudiced. My claim was intended as a parallel to PZ’s in that, as he gets frustrated when many Christians do that to him, so I get frustrated when many atheists do it to me. As for specific claims: assuming that I believe in an immaterial soul as an ontologically distinct entity from the body, assuming that I believe that everyone who isn’t a Christian goes to hell, and so on.

    Ing: “Also a bit of a difference between “You are not human” (Christian on Atheists) and “Hey don’t you believe this stuff that you never freaking shut up about?” (Atheists on Christians)”

    Indeed, though I’ve heard similar things from both camps yesterday. As for believing stuff that we never shut up about, again, it’s to do with individual Christians. I wouldn’t assume that all atheists say the same thing and so I wouldn’t say to any given atheist: “but you atheists are always going on about X, you must believe it!”; similarly, I would hope that the same wasn’t done to me.

    PZ: “So explain. Many of us were Christians once — I went through communion classes, and had priests and lay assistants in the church carefully explain to me what their faith meant. Are you saying they lied, and the Nicene creed has nothing whatsoever to do with Christian belief? That you don’t believe in a trinity, or that Jesus is your personal lord and savior, or that when you die you face a judgment that will determine whether you spend eternity in heaven or hell?”

    Thanks for your response, PZ. I’d first offer my sympathies and consensus that many Christians do indeed do what you’ve accused some of them of – it frustrates me too!

    I’m not suggesting that the Nicene Creed has nothing to do with Christian belief, or any of the rest (though I would dispute that we face a judgement which will determine whether we spend eternity in heaven or hell). I have no problem with atheists assuming Christians believe in some of the things which are very much foundational to Christian belief (e.g. that Jesus was raised from the dead) – indeed, it’s useful to have the atheist critique alongside the conservative Christian critique when in dialogue with liberals who might dispute some of the key teachings. And, of course, there is enormous debate to be had over what constitutes a foundational, essential teaching of Christianity (I’ve been referred to both as a dangerously heretical liberal and a murder-inciting fundamentalist, from people who identify as Christians!). But my main problem is when atheists (again, not all of them) assume things about Christians for which I don’t think a plausible case can be made that those particular affirmations are essential to Christian belief. Examples, as I gave to Nigel above, would include belief in an immaterial soul as an ontologically distinct entity from the body, and belief in soteriological exclusivism.

    Hope that answers, and feel free to ask any more.

    Calum

  181. says

    Waffler: “Betting that Calum will not do so. He’ll stick with his substance-free IKYABWAI instead of any honest engagement.”

    Well there was a nice little piece of prejudice! On what grounds did you say that? Or was it a (commendable) piece of irony based on what I was saying in my post? ;)

  182. Waffler, Dunwich MA says

    Well there was a nice little piece of prejudice! On what grounds did you say that? Or was it a (commendable) piece of irony based on what I was saying in my post? ;)

    Well, it wasn’t prejudice: you started out with a substance free ‘I know you are but what am I’, didn’t you? You weren’t saying anything else than that in your post. And I wasn’t saying anything about the behavior of all Christians in mine, so there wouldn’t be any irony. BUT I will admit you didn’t stick with the ‘IKYABWAI’ response, so that part of my prediction was incorrect.

    But I think criticizing atheists for not carefully stating that there may be some Christians that don’t believe in hell, or in an afterlife, or in miracles, or the power of prayer, etc., every time they criticize Christian beliefs is a bit much: these are the dominant beliefs, held by the majority of Christians. Whereas the typical accusations from Christians about atheists are remarkably ignorant of the actual attitudes of most atheists.

  183. says

    Waffler: “Well, it wasn’t prejudice: you started out with a substance free ‘I know you are but what am I’, didn’t you? You weren’t saying anything else than that in your post. And I wasn’t saying anything about the behavior of all Christians in mine, so there wouldn’t be any irony. BUT I will admit you didn’t stick with the ‘IKYABWAI’ response, so that part of my prediction was incorrect.
    But I think criticizing atheists for not carefully stating that there may be some Christians that don’t believe in hell, or in an afterlife, or in miracles, or the power of prayer, etc., every time they criticize Christian beliefs is a bit much: these are the dominant beliefs, held by the majority of Christians. Whereas the typical accusations from Christians about atheists are remarkably ignorant of the actual attitudes of most atheists.”

    It was as insubstantial as the opening part of PZ’s post – it said the same thing (I hope), only reversing the culprit and victim. If you want to hold that his opening section is insubstantial, then mine is too. That’s fine. Although if you do happen to hold that PZ’s wasn’t insubstantial and that mine was, I think that will need more justification.

    As for the second part, that is fair. That said, the comment below yours (as one example) went further as to insist, by implication, that Christians necessarily believe the things that I don’t. I think that’s more than “not carefully stating that there may be some Christians that don’t believe in hell, or in an afterlife, or in miracles, or the power of prayer, etc”. And that is the kind of thing which I take issue with. Gentle assumptions about a given person from a particular demographic having a particular attribute or belief because a large proportion of that demographic do are fair enough. But, I hope you’ll agree, it is problematic when there is an insistence that that person must believe that particular thing, or that that person is not a real Christian for not believing it (in the absence of substantial argument for why it is an essential Christian belief). Is this a fair analysis?

  184. says

    Oh, yeah, that’s a real problem: all those mean ignorant atheists accusing Christians of believing in the immaterial soul as an ontologically distinct entity from the body, or soteriological exclusivism. No True Christian believes in immortal souls or that there are rules for salvation in an afterlife.

    I’ll try to stop suggesting that Christians might believe in any such outlandish notions.

  185. Waffler, Dunwich MA says

    It was as insubstantial as the opening part of PZ’s post – it said the same thing (I hope), only reversing the culprit and victim. If you want to hold that his opening section is insubstantial, then mine is too. That’s fine. Although if you do happen to hold that PZ’s wasn’t insubstantial and that mine was, I think that will need more justification.

    Yes, you are right! If you read only the first couple sentences of a 10 paragraph post by PZ, it seems insubstantial! Another experiment might be to remove all the polysyllabic words from the post — I bet then it would seem incoherent! If you remove all the vowels, it becomes unintelligible!

    But what PZ, interestingly, went on to do (in addition to keeping all the polysyllabic words and vowels) was to provide a specific example of what he was talking about, so everybody could discuss and understand where he was coming from.

  186. says

    “Oh, yeah, that’s a real problem: all those mean ignorant atheists accusing Christians of believing in the immaterial soul as an ontologically distinct entity from the body, or soteriological exclusivism. No True Christian believes in immortal souls or that there are rules for salvation in an afterlife.

    I’ll try to stop suggesting that Christians might believe in any such outlandish notions.”

    With all due respect, PZ, I don’t think you have understood what I am saying. At no point did I say that atheists are mean, or that they ignorant (though *some* are both, as with Christians). Nor did I say that no true Christian believes in those things. And again, nor did I say anything to which “suggesting that Christians might believe in such outlandish notions” is the contrary. If you think that I *did* say anything which implies any of those, however, please explain which part of what I said implies it, and how so.

    What I *did* say is this:
    “But my main problem is when atheists (again, not all of them) assume things about Christians for which I don’t think a plausible case can be made that those particular affirmations are essential to Christian belief. Examples, as I gave to Nigel above, would include belief in an immaterial soul as an ontologically distinct entity from the body, and belief in soteriological exclusivism.”

    That is, my main problem is when (some) atheists assume things about *individual* Christians *in those circumstances where* a plausible case cannot be made that those things are essential to Christian belief. None of this is contrary to what you’ve responded with, and I would affirm now, that many “True Christian[s]” do believe in those things which I don’t. My point is to do with assuming that particular Christians necessarily believe in things which are not *NECESSARY* (though they are *compatible*) to Christian faith.

    I hope that clarifies my position.

    Calum

  187. Daniel Schealler says

    @Waffler, Dunwich MA #209

    But what PZ, interestingly, went on to do (in addition to keeping all the polysyllabic words and vowels) was to provide a specific example of what he was talking about, so everybody could discuss and understand where he was coming from.

    How very unsophisticated!

    No wonder they say we need to learn from sophisticated theologians. We would never catch one of them doing something so crude.

  188. says

    Waffler: “Yes, you are right! If you read only the first couple sentences of a 10 paragraph post by PZ, it seems insubstantial! Another experiment might be to remove all the polysyllabic words from the post — I bet then it would seem incoherent! If you remove all the vowels, it becomes unintelligible!

    But what PZ, interestingly, went on to do (in addition to keeping all the polysyllabic words and vowels) was to provide a specific example of what he was talking about, so everybody could discuss and understand where he was coming from.”

    Fair enough – in that case, I hope my latter response added some substance!

  189. says

    So we’re not supposed to assume that Christians believe in souls or salvation? This is insane. These are fundamental doctrines of every Christian faith out there: Christians have had wars and executed people over variations in their interpretations of those doctrines.

    Yes, you can find individual oddballs — fringe christians — but so what. There are some things we can take for granted as part of mainstream belief.

    What next? Christians who don’t believe in Jesus? I know they exist, but they aren’t a significant part of the religion.

  190. Waffler, Dunwich MA says

    Fair enough – in that case, I hope my latter response added some substance!

    It was more substantial, but I believe misguided. PZ presents a good case (here and in many other posts) that Christians in general, and apologists and evangelists in particular, have a strong tendency to make weird assumptions about how atheists think, about what they believe. He’s complaining about that, and pointing it out.

    For you to make a similar counter-case, you’d have to point to a general problem of atheists (in particular!) not understanding what the majority of Christians believe.

  191. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Fair enough – in that case, I hope my latter response added some substance!

    Nope, you engaged in the no true Xian problem. It seems nobody is a true xian but you. Gee, where have we heard that one before? From say the fundies. For poor little me, nothing but a scientist, I just take their religion to be what they say at face value. You appear to be a more liberal Xian, but you have the fundies in you camp and can’t say they aren’t true Xians, or, at least in the USA, not present as a significant force. Whereas atheists say both you and the fundies are delusional fools, believing without solid and conclusive physical evidence in imaginary deities and mythical/fictional holy books.

  192. Waffler, Dunwich MA says

    So we’re not supposed to assume that Christians believe in souls or salvation?

    Not souls, PZ, souls “as an ontologically distinct entity from the body”. This is the sophisticated theology.

  193. says

    “So we’re not supposed to assume that Christians believe in souls or salvation? This is insane. These are fundamental doctrines of every Christian faith out there: Christians have had wars and executed people over variations in their interpretations of those doctrines.

    Yes, you can find individual oddballs — fringe christians — but so what. There are some things we can take for granted as part of mainstream belief.

    What next? Christians who don’t believe in Jesus? I know they exist, but they aren’t a significant part of the religion.”

    I think we’re allowed to say that the probability of any given Christian believing X is, for example, P(B) where P(B) = the proportion of Christians that believe X (though some statistical evidence to substantiate this is always welcome). This will, of course, be modified depending on any additional evidence that comes up. In the UK, for example, the chance that any given Christian will be a Young Earth Creationist is far lower than in the US.

    This is all fair enough, as I said to Waffler. Gentle assumptions about individual Christians based on probability are fine. The problems come when atheists (I’m not saying you have, but many do) say that some things are true of *all* Christians (when this is demonstrably not the case), or when they insist that either I personally must believe X, or that real Christians necessarily believe X. Unless, of course, they give substantial arguments for why X forms a basic, essential part of Christianity.

    PZ and Waffler, I hope this makes clearer my point. My point, now that we’ve all clarified our positions, is slightly different to yours. You two seem (correct me if I’m wrong) to be taking issue with Christians assuming that things are true of the majority of atheists, which are not. I am taking issue, in short, with the insistence that all Christians necessarily believe something which they don’t. This is a related point, but not precisely the same. Fair?

  194. says

    And re: souls being a “fundamental doctrine”, as Waffler pointed out, it depends on what you mean by a ‘soul’. It is not *fundamental* Christian doctrine to believe in an immaterial soul which is ontologically distinct from the body, despite a lot of Christians believing that we do have such a soul.

  195. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    It is not *fundamental* Christian doctrine to believe in an immaterial soul which is ontologically distinct from the body, despite a lot of Christians believing that we do have such a soul.

    Citation needed. I smell a pile of manure…

  196. says

    What kind of citation would that be? Surely the burden of justification should lie with someone who says that it *is* a fundamental Christian doctrine? What about the idea that Jesus never asserted the doctrine, nor did the very early church, nor do any of the major defining creeds of Christianity? And the idea that many modern Biblical scholars attest to the notion that the idea of an immaterial, Platonic/Cartesian soul is a later idea introduced into Christianity by the Gnostics’ Hellenistic Philosophy, and that Hebraic anthropology very much had an emphasis on psychosomatic unity?

  197. Ing says

    Depends what you mean by promote (and also whether you mean local church or universal church): my local church teaches salvation, divine punishment less so.

    You haven’t thought this through…salvation from what?

    Either it’s an empty platitude that makes the doctrine worthless (it’s basically a corporate motto)) or it has to equally promote something that you need salvation from

  198. Waffler, Dunwich MA says

    Few, if any people who comment here care at all about arguing what, or what isn’t, a fundamental Christian doctrine. What’s important is what Christians actually do, by and large, believe. Splitting hairs about whether a soul is immaterial, distinct from the body, or somehow connected to the body (yet not destroyed, somehow, when the body is destroyed!) is really not important to atheists, since we believe in neither bodily resurrection nor spiritual immortality.

    You’re the only one arguing about what ‘fundamental Christian doctrine’ is. The burden of proof is on you to show that it is even relevant to this conversation.

  199. says

    Oh wait…I see.

    He’s a Jehovah’s Witness or Adventist or one along those lines.

    No immortal soul, God will resurrect you bodily at judgement day and the unsaved just die (or at least in many of them God will actually resurrect you tell you why you suck and then set you on fire).

    Why didn’t you just say you were of that sort of fringe rather than Orthodoxy?

  200. says

    Ing: “You haven’t thought this through…salvation from what?

    Either it’s an empty platitude that makes the doctrine worthless (it’s basically a corporate motto)) or it has to equally promote something that you need salvation from”

    How on earth would you know whether I’ve thought this through or not?

    Waffler: “Few, if any people who comment here care at all about arguing what, or what isn’t, a fundamental Christian doctrine. What’s important is what Christians actually do, by and large, believe. Splitting hairs about whether a soul is immaterial, distinct from the body, or somehow connected to the body (yet not destroyed, somehow, when the body is destroyed!) is really not important to atheists, since we believe in neither bodily resurrection nor spiritual immortality.

    You’re the only one arguing about what ‘fundamental Christian doctrine’ is. The burden of proof is on you to show that it is even relevant to this conversation.”

    It’s relevant because PZ was talking about Christians sanctimoniously declaring what atheists really believe, and hectoring atheists over stuff they don’t believe. I was sharing my experience of atheists doing similar things in asserting that some things are fundamental to Christianity, and therefore that I necessarily believe them, when I do not.

    Ing: Od Wet Rust: “Oh wait…I see.

    He’s a Jehovah’s Witness or Adventist or one along those lines.

    No immortal soul, God will resurrect you bodily at judgement day and the unsaved just die (or at least in many of them God will actually resurrect you tell you why you suck and then set you on fire).

    Why didn’t you just say you were of that sort of fringe rather than Orthodoxy?”

    If by “one along those lines” you mean orthodox Protestant Evangelical, sure…

  201. Waffler, Dunwich MA says

    I was sharing my experience of atheists doing similar things in asserting that some things are fundamental to Christianity, and therefore that I necessarily believe them, when I do not.

    No, you weren’t. PZ shared his experience by linking to, and quoting from, something actually written by a Christian apologist. You were hand waving about vaguely described experiences you claim are similar.

    orthodox Protestant Evangelical

    No such thing.

  202. says

    No, you weren’t. PZ shared his experience by linking to, and quoting from, something actually written by a Christian apologist. You were hand waving about vaguely described experiences you claim are similar.

    Are they not similar?

    No such thing.

    Why not?

    Calum please learn how to use blockquote for fuck sake.

    I did say in my second comment: “Sorry about newbie-ness; haven’t got the hang of citing or anything yet. Bear with me”. But sorry if my way of quoting isn’t to your viewing pleasure. Perhaps in future you should take courtesy of explaining to someone how to do it rather than firing imperatives and swearing at people. There are ways to civilised discussions, you know.

  203. Sastra says

    Calum Miller #226 wrote:

    It’s relevant because PZ was talking about Christians sanctimoniously declaring what atheists really believe, and hectoring atheists over stuff they don’t believe. I was sharing my experience of atheists doing similar things in asserting that some things are fundamental to Christianity, and therefore that I necessarily believe them, when I do not.

    But in this post PZ wasn’t so much talking about Christians sanctimoniously declaring what atheists really believe when it comes to doctrine or issues — he was mostly pointing to someone who was claiming that atheists lack certain human capacities of feeling and depth, including an ability to understand that stories can be “true” in one sense even if not “true” in a more literal sense.

    That’s not really equivalent to an atheist saying that “all Christians believe that non-Christians go to Hell” or something similar. It would be more like an atheist saying that Christians believe in God because they are all missing an ability to feel empathy for others. Which is untrue in a different, more dangerous way than simply making a mistake about dogma.

  204. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    Perhaps in future you should take courtesy of explaining to someone how to do it rather than firing imperatives and swearing at people.

    Well you seemed to figure it out just by, OH MY, trying, didn’t you?

    Shame you couldn’t have done that sooner and with less pearl clutching when called on it.

    There are ways to civilised discussions, you know.

    Oh good grief.

  205. says

    How on earth would you know whether I’ve thought this through or not?

    ….*AAAAAAAAAND* the explanation for “Salvation from what”?

    I’m waiting. You know…the thing you’d have to explain to show you’ve thought it through?

    orthodox Protestant Evangelical

    Which would be a faith through grace, spiritual if not literal truth of the bible, and an eternal hell.

  206. says

    But in this post PZ wasn’t so much talking about Christians sanctimoniously declaring what atheists really believe when it comes to doctrine or issues — he was mostly pointing to someone who was claiming that atheists lack certain human capacities of feeling and depth, including an ability to understand that stories can be “true” in one sense even if not “true” in a more literal sense.

    That’s not really equivalent to an atheist saying that “all Christians believe that non-Christians go to Hell” or something similar. It would be more like an atheist saying that Christians believe in God because they are all missing an ability to feel empathy for others. Which is untrue in a different, more dangerous way than simply making a mistake about dogma.

    That’s a fair response, Sastra. Though it does seem as if I’m being attacked (though that’s perhaps a bit dramatic) for not providing an exactly analogical example to the entirety of PZ’s post, when this was never my main intention. I was responding primarily to the first part of PZ’s post, which was about Christians declaring what atheists really believe, telling us how we get it all wrong, and hectoring us over things we don’t believe. And, insofar as I was responding to that and that only (which was my intention, hence quoting only that part), I don’t see why my remarks aren’t justified. Some atheists do do that, and I get tired of it too. I’m not sure why I’m expected to provide examples of atheists doing something the exact same as PZ’s whole post (mutatis mutandis) says of Christians, when I was quite explicitly only referring to PZ’s opening lines, which do apply to many atheists.

    That’s not to say your response is not appreciated – you raise a much more interesting issue in the different kinds of mistakes atheists and Christians make. That is a proper subject of study and one which is worth discussing. I hope you’ll appreciate, though, that my aims were not to apply the whole of PZ’s post to atheists.

    Well you seemed to figure it out just by, OH MY, trying, didn’t you?

    Shame you couldn’t have done that sooner and with less pearl clutching when called on it.

    Actually, I didn’t figure it out the first time I tried. The reason I managed to get it later on was because the formatting symbols came through on the notification e-mail I got. But thanks for taking the time to explain, anyway.

  207. says

    ….*AAAAAAAAAND* the explanation for “Salvation from what”?

    I’m waiting. You know…the thing you’d have to explain to show you’ve thought it through?

    I’m waiting to see why it’s relevant. I’m happy to discuss it some other time, but I personally get annoyed when online discussions go onto an almost entirely irrelevant topic, whether to avoid the real issue or by accident. If you can explain how my answer to your question would lead to some conclusion on whether my original post was justified, true, or whatever, then I’m happy to answer. Until then, I’m happy not to get sidetracked.

    Which would be a faith through grace, spiritual if not literal truth of the bible, and an eternal hell.

    I’m not sure what you mean by those, but from what I can interpret, then I don’t evangelicalism necessitates those, no.

  208. Waffler, Dunwich MA says

    Are they not similar?

    Are what similar? The experiences you have vaguely alluded to versus the concrete example in PZ’s post? Hard to compare. I’d say, even if you could actually provide something concrete, no, for reasons mentioned above:

    Also a bit of a difference between “You are not human” (Christian on Atheists) and “Hey don’t you believe this stuff that you never freaking shut up about?” (Atheists on Christians)

    On orthodox protestant evangelicals:

    Why not?

    Because evangelical protestants consist of pretty much *any* non-Catholic, non-Greek/Russian/etc. Orthodox, non-Coptic, non-’sect-that-predates-the-reformation’ Christian who believes it is important to proselytize. A diverse bunch, at with respect to the ridiculous hair-splitting over idiotic points of doctrine like whether the soul is “ontologically distinct from the body”.

  209. says

    Because evangelical protestants consist of pretty much *any* non-Catholic, non-Greek/Russian/etc. Orthodox, non-Coptic, non-’sect-that-predates-the-reformation’ Christian who believes it is important to proselytize. A diverse bunch, at with respect to the ridiculous hair-splitting over idiotic points of doctrine like whether the soul is “ontologically distinct from the body”.

    Even if that were true, that wouldn’t mean there were no such thing. Indeed, your suggestion that ‘evangelical protestants consist of’ something pre-supposes that evangelical protestants exist. And, so long as there are evangelical protestants who happen to also be orthodox (as opposed to heterodox, not as opposed to the Western Church), then clearly there is ‘such a thing’. But I wouldn’t agree that it does consist of any Christian who fits those criteria. Cf., for example, McGrath’s Christian Theology: An Introduction, which provides criteria generally and historically recognised as being those which constitute evangelicalism.

    As for the soul: I don’t hold my views on the soul to be a part of doctrine. While it often is, your assumption that my quibble is a doctrinal issue of whether souls are “ontologically distinct from the body” is a category error. I don’t believe that there is an immaterial soul at all, for that matter.

  210. Sastra says

    Calum Miller #235 wrote:

    … you raise a much more interesting issue in the different kinds of mistakes atheists and Christians make. That is a proper subject of study and one which is worth discussing.

    Yes.
    I think the distinction in the kind of mistakes made about atheists vs. the kind of mistakes made about Christians has a great deal to do with the nature of ‘faith’ — and the problems transcend specific sects such as Christianity and apply to any system of beliefs which rest on subjective evidence and a willingness to believe. The faithful do not arrive at provisional conclusions: they accept truth through a leap of hope, or an intuitive sensitivity, or a heart open to love. The common ground is removed, and non-believers are not so much making errors in judgement and reasoning as showing character deficiencies or emotional blocks.

    This is a problem. In most secular areas — science, politics, history — dissent doesn’t tell you much about the type of person you’re dealing with. Instead, you can assume that the disagreement rests on ignorance — either yours, or that of the other person. Evidence will — or ought to, persuade.

    But spiritual truths claim to be knowable only through an act of willing faith. “For those who believe, no evidence is necessary; for those who don’t believe, no evidence is possible.” There’s a lack of what’s sometimes called the ‘good faith assumption’ — that the other person in the debate is interested in truth.

    So apologists like Paul Wallace are left trying to explain atheism by reference to the atheist’s basic nature: they’re dead to poetry; they lack empathy; they cannot feel deeply; or, worst of all, they are perverse. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.” Or, as the preacher says, “It is not intelligence, or a lack thereof, that leads a person to reject belief in God. It is a lack of morals that leads a person to reject belief in God.” If the preacher is a liberal one, the atheist don’t have a problem with rebellion against morality … they have a problem with being able to love.

    Oh, dear. That is a problem. It’s worse than just being wrong.

    And I think it is worse than someone misascribing a position on the ontology of the soul or soteriological exclusivism.

  211. Waffler, Dunwich MA says

    And, so long as there are evangelical protestants who happen to also be orthodox

    But orthodoxy is a claim. It’s a claim to having the right opinion on matters of doctrine. That’s what it means to be orthodox. Every Christian thinks they have the right opinion on matters of doctrine, to the extent that they have an opinion at all. Sure, the Cathars knew they were heterodox with respect to Roman Catholicism, but they thought they had the right opinion with respect to what it meant to be a Christian. They were orthodox Christians, or nobody’s orthodox, or all that matters with respect to talking about Christians is what most believe, which is the only sane tack for a non-Christian.

    While it often is, your assumption that my quibble is a doctrinal issue of whether souls are “ontologically distinct from the body” is a category error.

    I make no assumptions about your quibbles, nor do I really care about what they are (let alone who they might be with).

    I don’t believe that there is an immaterial soul at all, for that matter.

    Your views on the soul are immaterial to me. You, for some reason, want to discuss theology with atheists.

  212. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Colum, I don’t give a shit about your doctrine. To me, you are a delusional fool because you believe in things without positive evidence. Believe your imaginary deity exists, and believe your babble is anything other than a book of mythology/fiction. These you share with almost every other Xian who has posted here. I’ll leave your inane doctrinal disputes between you delusional fools, such as whether your soul exists of not. From my perspective, it doesn’t matter one way or the other. It may add another delusion to the list, but doesn’t change the major two.

  213. says

    IR CJO @199

    ColonelZen:
    there is no question that what we see is not reality.

    Nor do we see a representation, as you seem to want to assert. Rather, seeing is representing. By seeing we form a representation of reality. Claiming another step in which some other neural/cognitive process does the seeing of an internal representation is to enter Dennett’s Cartesian Theater.

    It is a Cartesian Theater, not a Dennettian theater, and I quite agree with Dennett that such does not exist … but I can explain why it is almost inevitable that introspectively that is what we “see”.

    The “we” who sees the representations of the outside world is a blind automaton, the pure physical processes of our brain. But part of the process it undertakes is to take abstractions (representations) of the outside world from the senses and later (order of half a second) then re-present them in context of another purely synthetic representation …. of itself (and back to itself), which we call “self”. This is an ongoing *iterative* (not recursive!) loop.

    Purely computational mechanics can synthesize, manipulate and evaluate representation – with intentionality yet. My Linux box has a /proc filesystem (actually in memory) which are representations of its own processing recent history and state which it maintains and updates. And it uses that information to determine its own disposition towards ongoing and new tasks, ergo it has intentionality for those representations. Yes I am saying that my Linux box has (albeit very limited, narrow, and shallow) consciousness.

    Of course for my computer and like things, that “representation” is only such from the outside. On the inside it is incredibly long chains of fully deterministically caused physicality … just as I much suspect it is for us in the three pounds of rubbery meat in the skull (though I suspect a great deal of chaos – pure random noise without any meaning – in our processes rather than the extreme purity of determinism in electronics; a huge amount of the complexity of our brains is, I suspect, mechanism for overcoming that chaos sufficiently to achieve some logical coherence). But as with all extended processes exhibiting any degree of reentrancy, its degeneracy and computational opacity render abstraction effectively impossible except in terms of similarly abstract entities: information, i. e. representation.

    If you care to reply, I’d also be interested to know why you think Dennett is wrong on qualia. Have you read Quining Qualia?

    Yes. In that paper, Dennett is not so much wrong, (in CE he was foundering badly) as selectively choosing the least defensible definition of “quale” and demolishing it. It is not quite a strawman, because some philosophers do assert those specific properties for qualia in defense of non-materialistic theses, but that is not the only way that “qualia” is used. I can think of at least four semantically distinguishable definitions for qualia that would fit the way the word is used – and still be completely compatible with a materialist view of mind – not to mention the possibilities of those who disagree with materialism.

    In essence the word “qualia” is a declaration that a full on, take no prisoner’s game of philosophical Calvinball is now underway.

  214. Sastra says

    I don’t believe that there is an immaterial soul at all, for that matter.

    Well ok, it’s off-topic, maybe, but I confess this puzzles me a bit. Define ‘soul.’ Is the soul material? Made of energy? Made of “energy?” Is God soul-less? What about immaterial minds? Spirits?

    Exploring what and how people think… I wonder what level of detail and description is possible here.

  215. says

    Sastra, I agree with you for the most part. My only disagreement would be with the understanding of faith. Do correct me if I’ve misunderstood, but you seem to be saying that Christians are only knowable through faith, or through immediate personal experience, and so on. This is definitely not true for all Christians – I think most people would have to accept, unless they think that all the following Christians are outright liars, that many Christians at least *think* they have evidence, even if they are mistaken about what they cite as evidence being so. That is, many Christians have a broadly evidentialist epistemology, as opposed to fideism or whatever else. And, of course, depending on where one lives, I wouldn’t even admit that *most* Christians (perhaps only in my parochial university world) had such an understanding of faith and evidence. As I said, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think ‘faith’ is often mischaracterised by atheists. Could I ask: how do you think Christians, on the whole, define faith?

    But orthodoxy is a claim. It’s a claim to having the right opinion on matters of doctrine. That’s what it means to be orthodox. Every Christian thinks they have the right opinion on matters of doctrine, to the extent that they have an opinion at all. Sure, the Cathars knew they were heterodox with respect to Roman Catholicism, but they thought they had the right opinion with respect to what it meant to be a Christian. They were orthodox Christians, or nobody’s orthodox, or all that matters with respect to talking about Christians is what most believe, which is the only sane tack for a non-Christian.

    Regardless of whether this is true, could spell out, in logical terms, how this supports your conclusion that there is no such thing as an orthodox Protestant Evangelical?

    I make no assumptions about your quibbles, nor do I really care about what they are (let alone who they might be with).

    Well, you implied (though feel free to correct me if you did not mean to imply this about me in particular) that I engage in “ridiculous hair-splitting over idiotic points of doctrine like whether the soul is “ontologically distinct from the body”. So either this is an assumption, or you can back up the claim that I see this as a doctrinal issue. Which is it?

    Your views on the soul are immaterial to me. You, for some reason, want to discuss theology with atheists.

    I’ve discussed issues which are discussed in theology, sure, but I don’t believe I’ve made an argument which is to the effect that “God is X” or “God does X”, etc., and so I’m not sure what, for you, constitutes “discuss[ing] theology”.

    Colum, I don’t give a shit about your doctrine. To me, you are a delusional fool because you believe in things without positive evidence. Believe your imaginary deity exists, and believe your babble is anything other than a book of mythology/fiction. These you share with almost every other Xian who has posted here. I’ll leave your inane doctrinal disputes between you delusional fools, such as whether your soul exists of not. From my perspective, it doesn’t matter one way or the other. It may add another delusion to the list, but doesn’t change the major two.

    Thanks for your bare assertions, ad hominems and general anger. Forgive me if I neglect to dialogue with you when there are far more thoughtful, intelligent and pleasant people on here to talk with.

  216. says

    Well ok, it’s off-topic, maybe, but I confess this puzzles me a bit. Define ‘soul.’ Is the soul material? Made of energy? Made of “energy?” Is God soul-less? What about immaterial minds? Spirits?

    Exploring what and how people think… I wonder what level of detail and description is possible here.

    No worries! Insofar as the soul means anything to me at all, I think it would have to take on the definition the Old and New Testament writers gave it (whether we agree with them about the soul is, of course, is a different matter). There are subtle differences between the two which make it harder, but I’ll try to give some contours:

    Old Testament: The Hebrew ‘nephesh’ is the word primarily used for ‘soul’, and is used of humans, animals, plants, and everything living. It’s primarily intended to connote the idea of something being a ‘living creature’ (that’s how it’s also translated), though this takes on metaphorical meanings of ‘life’ as well: invigoration, really being ‘alive’ in the truest snese of the word, and so on.

    New Testament: This is more complex as ψυχη, the word which most closely resembles the Hebrew ‘nephesh’, also has some different definitions and implications from the use of the word in Greek Philosophy (cf. for example, the differences between Plato’s use of it and Aristotle’s use of it). But that said, I don’t think the New Testament itself takes on the Platonic dualism which suggests that we are composed of a body AND a soul – rather, I think the New Testament stays more in line with the psychosomatic unity of the Old, suggesting that we are souls (though there is some sloppy usage of it in the NT, to be fair).

    Given the insistence in various different Biblical documents that we are physical, then, I don’t see what we might mean by an ‘immaterial soul’. That seems to have arisen much more from Platonic and Gnostic philosophy, and which became even more confusing with Descartes’ equivocation of the soul with the mind. All that I think needs to be said, though, is that I’m not convinced Descartes was massively in line with the New Testament understanding of the soul.

    As for mind, that’s a totally different matter. Obviously it’s somehow grounded in the physical ‘stuff’ of the brain and entirely dependent on it, but then I’m not absolutely convinced that there is no top-down causation either: I’m tempted to suggest that higher (e.g. psychology) efficacious causal systems can emerge from lower processes (e.g. neurophysiology), but the whole thing is a subject of huge contention in the philosophy of mind, a subject with which I’m only just beginning to get to grips! What do you think?

  217. Sastra says

    Calum Miller #244 wrote:

    Do correct me if I’ve misunderstood, but you seem to be saying that Christians are only knowable through faith, or through immediate personal experience, and so on.

    No; with the exception of fideists, most Christians (most theists/ most supernaturalists) believe their beliefs are backed up by evidence — strong evidence, in some cases. But they also believe there is a significant element of faith required, a psychological element missing when it comes to knowing or understanding secular matters. You have to be “open.”

    Could I ask: how do you think Christians, on the whole, define faith?

    “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

    Or perhaps Lewis’ “assent to a proposition which we think so overwhelmingly probable that there is a psychological exclusive of doubt although not a logical exclusion of dispute.”

    However, I think Christians, on the whole, tend to maximize the strength of the evidence and minimize the emotional factor in their description, in order to compare it to the secularized versions of ‘faith’ (trust, confidence, hope.) Religious faith involves a sense of personal commitment, in that one relates to an idea or belief as if one was standing by a friend, or exercizing an act of discipline. You are motivated to find support: changing your mind is considered a loss or betrayal.

  218. says

    Thanks, Sastra. Again, I’d agree on the whole. Refreshing to talk to someone who doesn’t insist that Christians all take virtue in believing with lack of evidence/despite evidence (and take ‘faith’ to mean this), even if they do happen to do so!

  219. Sastra says

    Calum Miller #245 wrote:

    As for mind, that’s a totally different matter. Obviously it’s somehow grounded in the physical ‘stuff’ of the brain and entirely dependent on it, but then I’m not absolutely convinced that there is no top-down causation either: I’m tempted to suggest that higher (e.g. psychology) efficacious causal systems can emerge from lower processes (e.g. neurophysiology), but the whole thing is a subject of huge contention in the philosophy of mind, a subject with which I’m only just beginning to get to grips! What do you think?

    I think that a belief that “higher efficacious causal systems can emerge from lower processes” in understanding the mind is going to run you into serious problems when you get to God.

  220. says

    Oh, Nerd!
    re: #244
    Whatever will you do?

    Probably take it as a compliment and move on. You?

    I think that a belief that “higher efficacious causal systems can emerge from lower processes” in understanding the mind is going to run you into serious problems when you get to God.

    How so?

  221. Sastra says

    Calum Miller #250 wrote:

    How so?

    God cannot be without mind or mind-like aspects — and God cannot be reducible to the non-mental, the result of mindless material processes. Without some basic form of mind/body dualism (or Idealism,) I think religion turns into sacred poetry and God becomes a metaphor.

  222. says

    God cannot be without mind or mind-like aspects — and God cannot be reducible to the non-mental, the result of mindless material processes. Without some basic form of mind/body dualism (or Idealism,) I think religion turns into sacred poetry and God becomes a metaphor.

    Thought that might be it. I don’t think it’s logically incoherent to suppose that mind can exist without a body, though, even if all human minds are dependent on a body. That is, the Christian can be an anthropological monist while still asserting that some mind could logically exist without a body, even if that is not the case with humans.

  223. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Forgive me if I neglect to dialogue with you when there are far more thoughtful, intelligent and pleasant people on here to talk with.

    Well, that leaves you out too, which is typical of such folks. You think you are polite. Then you say “I’ll pray for you”, the equivalent of “fuck you” to an atheist. And you never acknowledged your main delusions like a rational person would, of an imaginary deity and mythical/fictional babble. Makes talking with Xians difficult, as they think it means something. It doesn’t.

  224. SallyStrange says

    Sorry, Calum, if you call yourself a Christian then get used to people assuming that you believe in souls, heaven, Jesus as the literal son of god, virgin birth, etc.

    I call myself a feminist. I do get upset when people accuse me of therefore wanting to cut all men’s penises off. That’s not reasonable. However, when they assume that I’m against pornography (which is inaccurate in my case), I don’t get upset because it’s a reasonable assumption. A great many feminists have and still do oppose pornography for various reasons.

    Get over your damn self. Find a different label if “Christian” doesn’t suit you. If you find yourself in these sorts of arguments, where you try to explain your extra-special version of Christianity to people over and over again, then perhaps you’re doing it wrong. Perhaps you should stop calling yourself a Christian, there’s an idea.

  225. says

    Well, that leaves you out too, which is typical of such folks. You think you are polite. Then you say “I’ll pray for you”, the equivalent of “fuck you” to an atheist. And you never acknowledged your main delusions like a rational person would, of an imaginary deity and mythical/fictional babble. Makes talking with Xians difficult, as they think it means something. It doesn’t.

    Again, I’m happy to leave you making baseless assertions with no discernible line of argument. I don’t think I’m especially polite, no, but I’m willing to extend courtesy, politeness and a listening ear to people prepared to do the same for me. You are also welcome to your belief that I’m stupid and irrational; my examiners and academic peers generally disagree, but when one points to evidence of one’s own intellect it inevitably comes off as supercilious and arrogant. Not that I’d deny being supercilious and arrogant, but if we’re looking at evidence for whether I’m intelligent or not, I’m not too worried of being demonstrably wrong.

    Get over your damn self. Find a different label if “Christian” doesn’t suit you. If you find yourself in these sorts of arguments, where you try to explain your extra-special version of Christianity to people over and over again, then perhaps you’re doing it wrong. Perhaps you should stop calling yourself a Christian, there’s an idea.

    As I’ve said multiple times, Sally, I’m happy for them to make gentle assumptions as long as they don’t insist on them when corrected, as often happens. It is the latter difficulty which I find troubling, and I am sure you’d be similarly dismayed if I said, “no, you MUST be against pornography!” Or, for example, “perhaps you’re doing it wrong. Perhaps you should stop calling yourself a Feminist, there’s an idea.”

    That said, I have considered dropping the label “Christian” and going for something else. The problems are: a) I can’t think of many better phrases, b) I *am* a Christian, c) Dropping the label might imply an air of superiority over other Christians, as if I was unwilling to concede that I’m just as arrogant and screwed up as the rest of us Christians, and d) Most of the other names, like “Jesus-follower”, make most people cringe.

  226. Sastra says

    Calum Miller #252 wrote:

    I don’t think it’s logically incoherent to suppose that mind can exist without a body, though, even if all human minds are dependent on a body. That is, the Christian can be an anthropological monist while still asserting that some mind could logically exist without a body, even if that is not the case with humans.

    True, special pleading is not logically ruled out, but without evidence for mind/body dualism — and with the explanation for mind/body dualism turned scientifically incoherent — “God” no longer seems as plausible, or as familiar, as it seemed when we took it for granted that our own mind was independent from our flesh.

    The Ghost in the Universe looks very much like the Ghost in the Machine. Too much, I think, to survive honestly without it.

    As you pointed out, belief in God is not originally grounded in whim, but in evidence. At the most basic level, I believe it’s grounded in the evidence of our own experience with our own minds. Before the discoveries of modern science, it was simply seen as self-evident that mind was a completely different kind of thing than the physical world — higher, immaterial, of finer substance. We are natural-born dualists. We learned otherwise, and it comes hard.

    Neuroscience undermines God: combine it with evolution (and the evolution of the brain) and God isn’t just an unnecessary hypothesis, it’s inconsistent. Sure, you could accept — and understand — material monism while carving out a special exception for God. But it will feel like backtracking I think. You could only stand the inconsistency if you managed to persuade yourself that treating God like a hypothesis was simply Not the Sort of Thing One Does.

  227. SallyStrange says

    That said, I have considered dropping the label “Christian” and going for something else. The problems are: a) I can’t think of many better phrases, b) I *am* a Christian, c) Dropping the label might imply an air of superiority over other Christians, as if I was unwilling to concede that I’m just as arrogant and screwed up as the rest of us Christians, and d) Most of the other names, like “Jesus-follower”, make most people cringe.

    I’m just going to go with “overly self-impressed, fairytale-believing moron.”

  228. says

    Sastra, I’m not sure we should so readily imply a sort of ad hoc-ness or “special pleading” – perhaps we should for those who originally believed in dualism and who then turned to monism on the evidence, making an exception for God.

    My grounds are this: neither I, nor my tradition (that is, the Judeo-Christian), originally believed in mind-body dualism. If the Biblical witness was to mind-body dualism, or if I had earlier in life believed in it, then perhaps we could make accusations of special pleading. But if neither of these are the case, and that the Biblical witness, prior to developments in modern neuroscience or the philosophical zeitgeist leading to the development of the ‘Cerebral Subject’ (cf. Fernando Vida’;s work on this), emphasised both psychosomatic unity *and* that God is not primarily embodied in the same way that we are, it does not seem to me appropriate to accuse it of “special pleading”. This, of course, with the added consideration that we have often made too much of a meal of God being, primarily, pure mind (thanks to Cartesian thinking rather than anything in the early Christian tradition), dissuades me from putting neuroscience in conflict with Christianity. That said, being a Christian involved in active neuroscience research makes me pretty biased! ;)

  229. says

    I’m just going to go with “overly self-impressed, fairytale-believing moron.”

    Probably not too far off, but there we go. It saddens me that discussions with atheists so often lead to insults and bare assertions with no substantial supporting evidence. C’est la vie.

  230. SallyStrange says

    It saddens me that discussions with atheists so often lead to insults and bare assertions with no substantial supporting evidence.

    On the contrary, you’ve provided plenty of evidence that you are an overly self-impressed moron who believes in fairy tales.

  231. says

    On the contrary, you’ve provided plenty of evidence that you are an overly self-impressed moron who believes in fairy tales.

    Do you have anything to offer other than name-calling? If not, I’ll continue my more constructive discussion with Sastra (if she Sastra sees worth in continuing with such a moron like me) and leave it there.

  232. SallyStrange says

    Do you have anything to offer other than name-calling? If not, I’ll continue my more constructive discussion with Sastra (if she Sastra sees worth in continuing with such a moron like me) and leave it there.

    First of all, I think calling you names is very constructive.

    But no, I don’t really have anything else to offer. Why? Because I’m totally uninterested in the nuances of Christianity. Sastra knows a lot more about the bible and the Christian god than I do. I was raised without religion, so your posts just look like a bunch of babble to me.

    I’m not interested in debating the ins and outs of whether dualism is necessary for Christianity. Dualism is a false belief. Christianity is a false belief. They often go together, but not always. Certainly dualists who are not Christians are far more common than Christians who are not dualists, but whatever. I don’t see the point of trying to sift one set of false beliefs from another set of false beliefs. They’re all false.

  233. Sastra says

    Calum Miller #258 wrote:

    My grounds are this: neither I, nor my tradition (that is, the Judeo-Christian), originally believed in mind-body dualism.

    I disagree: while details were not specifically spelled out, it’s very clear in the Judeo-Christian Biblical tradition that God both 1.) has (or is) a Mind and 2.) Is not “embodied in the way we are.” Even “psychosomatic unity” unites spirit with body and wouldn’t apply to God.

    If we then get into the concept of “spirit” (“God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”), then we’re still going to run afoul of neuroscience (and physics.) What is spirit — and what evidence supports it? Without evidence, you’re left with fideism.

    Describe God for me: not what “He” is like psychologically, but what it is. I don’t see how you will be able to do so without it sounding suspiciously like a Disembodied Mind.

  234. says

    First of all, I think calling you names is very constructive.

    I suppose we must be from different cultures!

    But no, I don’t really have anything else to offer.

    In that case, I bid you good night and best wishes.

  235. Sastra says

    Actually, I need to get to bed. Will bookmark and check in later though.

    I was also raised without religion; I’m an ex-Transcendentalist. Whatever the heck that means. It was spiritual, not religious. ;)

  236. says

    I disagree: while details were not specifically spelled out, it’s very clear in the Judeo-Christian Biblical tradition that God both 1.) has (or is) a Mind and 2.) Is not “embodied in the way we are.” Even “psychosomatic unity” unites spirit with body and wouldn’t apply to God.

    Oh, I didn’t mean to imply that God didn’t have something resembling a mind, only that it is not the main feature of God, as a Cartesian outlook might have supposed. My last post to you was saying that God was not embodied in the way we are (well, it was saying that that was the Biblical tradition). And I didn’t mean to imply that the idea of a psychosomatic unity applied to God, either!

    If we then get into the concept of “spirit” (“God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”), then we’re still going to run afoul of neuroscience (and physics.) What is spirit — and what evidence supports it? Without evidence, you’re left with fideism.

    I’m not sure I’d be so comfortable in asserting that God is “made of” spirit in the same kind of way that we are “made of” matter. I’m not sure that’s what the idea of ‘spirit’ is primarily intended to convey: I suspect that the Westminster Confession was a bit too influenced by the Platonic/Gnostic tradition in this respect, as if matter and spirit were the two different ‘substances’ which things could be ‘made of’. To speak of spirit as conveying what something is made of (or as an ontological category, whichever phraseology you prefer) would seem to me to be a category error.

    Describe God for me: not what “He” is like psychologically, but what it is. I don’t see how you will be able to do so without it sounding suspiciously like a Disembodied Mind.

    Forgive me for having to ask to clarify, but I’m still not entirely sure what you mean. Do you mean, how is God defined (i.e. what characteristics of something would be sufficient to make it ‘God’), or what God is “made of” (though I warn you you may not get much of answer if this is what you mean), or something else?

    I have to head off to sleep now – it’s late over here. But I’ve enjoyed thinking through some of these things with you and will respond tomorrow if I remember! Take care, C.

  237. SallyStrange says

    Ah, see Sastra, your encyclopedic knowledge had me convinced that you were an ex-Christian. I shouldn’t have made the assumption.

    About the name-calling: I don’t engage with people who are advancing transparently false beliefs. I don’t ask them to explicate their transparently false beliefs. I just point out how false their beliefs are. It’s mostly for the benefit of the audience, not the person with the false beliefs.

    For example, I don’t engage with people who sincerely believe that black people are prone to criminal behavior because they are lazy, less moral, and less intelligent than white people. I just mock them. It’s a good thing because then it’s apparent that such views are beyond the pale, that people who hold them don’t deserve the courtesy of being taken seriously.

    I view taking the Bible seriously and believing in god/gods as being on par with that level of stupidity. And possibly just as destructive.

  238. says

    My apologies, Sally. In my culture (albeit terribly pretentious and full of people who are far too up themselves because of academia), we try to decide what’s true or not on the basis of reasoned discussion and logical arguments. I don’t mean that pejoratively – you seem to be proud of engaging in name-calling and judging what’s true on the basis of assertion, intuition or something else which science has violated at some point, and so I trust that you won’t take it as an insult (it is not meant that way).

    You may find that name-calling and calling things “transparently false” leads to an awful lot of boring debates consisting mainly of each side calling the other stupid and patently false – if that turns out to be the case, I hope that you find it interesting and don’t end up finding it too repetitive or corrosive to your wellbeing. Good luck, and best wishes.

  239. brokenSoldier, OM says

    Calum:

    Do correct me if I’ve misunderstood, but you seem to be saying that Christians are only knowable through faith, or through immediate personal experience, and so on. This is definitely not true for all Christians – I think most people would have to accept, unless they think that all the following Christians are outright liars, that many Christians at least *think* they have evidence…

    First of all, Christians are only knowable through faith because they identify as a group specifically because they harbor faith in Christ. (i.e. CHRISTIAN). And second, thinking that you have evidence is different than ignoring contradictory evidence because you think your evidence is sacred and thus unimpeachable, which is what most Christians do when confronted with empirical evidence against their theistic position.

    And as far as your insistence on asserting that PZ has somehow made an error in ascribing to you beliefs of other Christians in error, you must recognize that even though you may not believe 100% of the Christian beliefs that are out there, this does not invalidate his claim, for the simple fact that religious belief is based – by definition – upon dogmatic doctrine. Just because you may not subscribe to every bit of published doctrine does not invalidate PZ’s claim – it actually makes you the outlier among your own community of believers. You are the exception to the rule, and thus PZ’s claim is perfectly applicable, and you are the No True Christian in that equation – not the other way around, as your objection to PZ’s claim implies.

  240. SallyStrange says

    My apologies, Sally.

    I really don’t understand why you’re apologizing. You’ve been nothing but polite, haven’t you? Weird.

    In my culture (albeit terribly pretentious and full of people who are far too up themselves because of academia), we try to decide what’s true or not on the basis of reasoned discussion and logical arguments.

    No you don’t. Your arguments are not logical. They’re based on false premises. How can you have reasoned arguments when your premises are false?

    I don’t mean that pejoratively –

    But the effect is the same whether you meant it that way or not. At least I’m open about being hostile and contemptuous when that’s the way I’m feeling.

    you seem to be proud of engaging in name-calling

    Of people who promote transparently false belief systems and expect to be taken seriously, yes.

    and judging what’s true on the basis of assertion, intuition or something else which science has violated at some point,

    Say what now? This doesn’t even make any sense. Assertion, intuition, or something else which science has violated at some point? What are you even talking about? No, I judge things the way you claim to judge them: on the basis of facts and reasoning. I judge the content of your posts to be inane and worthless because they are based on false premises. You’re picking apart a work of fiction, pretending like it’s not fiction. I don’t respect that. You’ve failed to convince me why I should.

    and so I trust that you won’t take it as an insult (it is not meant that way).

    Oh please. “My culture values logic, evidence and reasonable discussion–yours appears to value insults and assertions! Don’t take it as an insult though!” Of course it’s an insult. But then, you’re wrong about pretty much everything in that paragraph, so that lessens the sting. First, I too have been a part of academia, as are many commenters here currently, so I can tell you that the values you enumerated aren’t exclusive to that culture. Second, while you claim to value rationality and logic and such, you don’t demonstrate that you hold those values–you continue holding religious beliefs. Third, you’ve mis-characterized whatever it is you think is “my culture,” (the Pharyngula commentariat perhaps, or something else?). I regard creative and well-applied insultery as an art, evidenceless assertions not so much.

    You may find that name-calling and calling things “transparently false” leads to an awful lot of boring debates consisting mainly of each side calling the other stupid and patently false –

    Seriously, what the fuck are you talking about? This, right here, is plenty amusing. Much more interesting than reading your labored explications of how YOUR version of Christianity’s silliness is so much more sophisticated than those other ones. Now you’re on the defensive, trying to show that you’re ever so logical and reasonable, while dancing around the obvious fact that you believe in faeries and ghosties and whatever it is that you’ve included in your spayshul version of Christianity. Your beliefs may be unusual and idiosyncratic, but they’re still not based on evidence. As long as that’s the case, I don’t need to do anything besides continue to point out the lack of evidence behind your beliefs in order to contribute meaningfully to the conversation. Doing it in an insulting way is just a service to our lurkers.

    if that turns out to be the case, I hope that you find it interesting and don’t end up finding it too repetitive or corrosive to your wellbeing. Good luck, and best wishes.

    Corrosive to my well-being? You are overly self-impressed, aren’t you? I don’t really wish you the best, except in that I think that abandoning false belief systems is generally in everyone’s best interest.

  241. Therrin says

    In my culture (albeit terribly pretentious and full of people who are far too up themselves because of academia), we try to decide what’s true or not on the basis of reasoned discussion and logical arguments.

    What a terrible idea. Have you voted on global warming yet?

  242. brokenSoldier, OM says

    Calum:

    I don’t mean that pejoratively – you seem to be proud of engaging in name-calling and judging what’s true on the basis of assertion, intuition or something else which science has violated at some point, and so I trust that you won’t take it as an insult (it is not meant that way).

    And you seem to have a fondness for passive-aggression coupled with a condescending sense of superiority. And by the way…

    In my culture (albeit terribly pretentious and full of people who are far too up themselves because of academia)…

    Your implied exclusion of yourself from that pretension is quite erroneous.

  243. SallyStrange says

    Haha. Good catch, Therrin – I inserted the word “evidence” where Callum did not include it. A clear example of my own bias in associating valuing things like reasoned discussion and logical arguments with also valuing evidence and facts.

    If your premises are false, it doesn’t matter how reasoned and logical your arguments are. They are still wrong.

  244. Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne says

    Calum Miller wrote:

    In my culture (albeit terribly pretentious and full of people who are far too up themselves because of academia), we try to decide what’s true or not on the basis of reasoned discussion and logical arguments.

    Since there aren’t any rational reasons or logical arguments for being a Christian (that we’ve ever heard, at least; you could, of course, give us your best shot and see how it goes) you can’t have tried too hard.

  245. says

    And as far as your insistence on asserting that PZ has somehow made an error in ascribing to you beliefs of other Christians in error, you must recognize that even though you may not believe 100% of the Christian beliefs that are out there, this does not invalidate his claim, for the simple fact that religious belief is based – by definition – upon dogmatic doctrine. Just because you may not subscribe to every bit of published doctrine does not invalidate PZ’s claim – it actually makes you the outlier among your own community of believers. You are the exception to the rule, and thus PZ’s claim is perfectly applicable, and you are the No True Christian in that equation – not the other way around, as your objection to PZ’s claim implies.

    No, I said to PZ that I get tired of atheists doing similar things to Christians, and my insistence was not that PZ keeps doing it to me – if you think that’s the case, you have misunderstood my objection. The objection I had after PZ responded the first time was that he had misunderstood my original objection.

    I really don’t understand why you’re apologizing. You’ve been nothing but polite, haven’t you? Weird.

    For assuming that you came from a culture with the same kind of rules for discussion and debate as mine.

    No you don’t. Your arguments are not logical. They’re based on false premises. How can you have reasoned arguments when your premises are false?

    Sorry, where have I attempted to give an argument? (And even if the premises of an argument are false, that does not make the argument illogical).

    But the effect is the same whether you meant it that way or not. At least I’m open about being hostile and contemptuous when that’s the way I’m feeling.

    What effect is that?

    Say what now? This doesn’t even make any sense. Assertion, intuition, or something else which science has violated at some point? What are you even talking about? No, I judge things the way you claim to judge them: on the basis of facts and reasoning. I judge the content of your posts to be inane and worthless because they are based on false premises. You’re picking apart a work of fiction, pretending like it’s not fiction. I don’t respect that. You’ve failed to convince me why I should.

    Yes, it does make sense. Assertion (by someone else or by sheer will of your own) and intuition are two (bad) ways of knowing, but which are the only discernible sources in your argument. My point is that science does violence to both of these – i.e. it tells us things which go against our intuition, etc. If you judge things on the basis of facts and reasoning, why do you not use these in discussion in order to persuade and resort to name-calling instead? I’m not sure what you mean by me picking apart a work of fiction – my primary conclusion here has been to do with whether or not atheists do things similar to what PZ has accused some Christians of doing here – that is quite a different subject to whether the Bible is true, has any authority, or anything else. To say that I haven’t convinced you of anything relating to the Bible suggests that you have misunderstood my intentions.

    Oh please. “My culture values logic, evidence and reasonable discussion–yours appears to value insults and assertions! Don’t take it as an insult though!” Of course it’s an insult. But then, you’re wrong about pretty much everything in that paragraph, so that lessens the sting. First, I too have been a part of academia, as are many commenters here currently, so I can tell you that the values you enumerated aren’t exclusive to that culture. Second, while you claim to value rationality and logic and such, you don’t demonstrate that you hold those values–you continue holding religious beliefs. Third, you’ve mis-characterized whatever it is you think is “my culture,” (the Pharyngula commentariat perhaps, or something else?). I regard creative and well-applied insultery as an art, evidenceless assertions not so much.

    Well, since you seemed proud of name-calling and mockery rather than actually using those tools to persuade, I had actually not intended it as an insult – rather, differences in the way we do things which you seemed quite happy with. If evidenceless assertions are not an art, then, would you like to substantiate your assertions that a) religion is wrong, and b) God does not exist, with some evidence?

    Seriously, what the fuck are you talking about? This, right here, is plenty amusing. Much more interesting than reading your labored explications of how YOUR version of Christianity’s silliness is so much more sophisticated than those other ones. Now you’re on the defensive, trying to show that you’re ever so logical and reasonable, while dancing around the obvious fact that you believe in faeries and ghosties and whatever it is that you’ve included in your spayshul version of Christianity. Your beliefs may be unusual and idiosyncratic, but they’re still not based on evidence. As long as that’s the case, I don’t need to do anything besides continue to point out the lack of evidence behind your beliefs in order to contribute meaningfully to the conversation. Doing it in an insulting way is just a service to our lurkers.

    No fairies or ghosts, sorry. And how would you know they’re not based on evidence? Could you provide a sound logical argument to that conclusion? And again, the suggestion that my primary aim here is to show that religion/the Bible is true or that God exists is a misunderstanding of my intentions. I haven’t argued for those propositions at all, which is probably why there’s been a lack of evidence given.

    Corrosive to my well-being? You are overly self-impressed, aren’t you?

    Probably, yes.

    What a terrible idea. Have you voted on global warming yet?

    I’m pretty sure the overwhelming majority of us believe in it and are in some sense against it, sure.

    And you seem to have a fondness for passive-aggression coupled with a condescending sense of superiority. And by the way…

    Passive-aggressive, how?

    Your implied exclusion of yourself from that pretension is quite erroneous.

    To the contrary, it was more a bad attempt at humility. I’m incredibly pretentious and up myself, for clarity’s sake. That said, the best way to challenge most claims is by reasoned argument with evidence. If I’m called stupid and want to present evidence to the contrary, it’s pretty hard not to appear up myself. Of course, I’ve gone further in my condescension than objectively present evidence that I’m intelligent – though I hope you would concede that even that would have come across as somewhat pretentious.

    Since there aren’t any rational reasons or logical arguments for being a Christian (that we’ve ever heard, at least; you could, of course, give us your best shot and see how it goes) you can’t have tried too hard.

    There are plenty of logical arguments, the question is just whether there are sound ones. The bracketed part of your post is telling – it does not follow from your lack of hearing a reasoned arguments that therefore none exist. Are there any sound logical arguments to the conclusion that there is no evidence/no good arguments for Christianity? If so, I’d love to hear it!

  246. says

    Calum Miller:

    Well, since you seemed proud of name-calling and mockery rather than actually using those tools to persuade, I had actually not intended it as an insult – rather, differences in the way we do things which you seemed quite happy with.

    You spend a LOT of time dismissing many people who disagree with you — you are effectively one of the most industrious name-callers in this thread. That you don’t even recognize that you are doing something incredibly common among Christians is undercutting your own arguments. It also causes a lot of frustration, because we don’t know whether you’re a hypocrite or just plain stupid.

    You’re lucky you’ve got a few people trying to wade through your prolix deposits here, because I don’t find you at all interesting. You’re unfortunate in that the people who are politely responding to you are shredding you, and you don’t even know it yet.

  247. John Morales says

    Calum:

    There are plenty of logical arguments [for being a Christian], the question is just whether there are sound ones.

    The more you mob lose the power to victimise those who don’t share your delusion, the fewer such remain.

    (The Inquisition is rather etiolated, these days)

  248. says

    You spend a LOT of time dismissing many people who disagree with you — you are effectively one of the most industrious name-callers in this thread. That you don’t even recognize that you are doing something incredibly common among Christians is undercutting your own arguments. It also causes a lot of frustration, because we don’t know whether you’re a hypocrite or just plain stupid.

    Probably a hypocrite, PZ. I wouldn’t mind being called one, since I’m fairly sure I am one. I’ve tried not to name-call though, even if I have been condescending and impolite.

    You’re lucky you’ve got a few people trying to wade through your prolix deposits here, because I don’t find you at all interesting. You’re unfortunate in that the people who are politely responding to you are shredding you, and you don’t even know it yet.

    I’m not too concerned about how interesting you personally find me, PZ, nor that the majority of people on an atheist forum think that the Christian is getting “shredded”. Such is the norm. If you want to provide a sound logical argument for my being shredded, I’d be more interested.

  249. Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne says

    Calum Miller wrote:

    There are plenty of logical arguments, the question is just whether there are sound ones. The bracketed part of your post is telling – it does not follow from your lack of hearing a reasoned arguments that therefore none exist. Are there any sound logical arguments to the conclusion that there is no evidence/no good arguments for Christianity? If so, I’d love to hear it!

    I’ve been reading atheist websites and blogs for years. At no point in that time has anyone presented anything that came even close to being a compelling argument in support of Christianity – despite the fact that hundreds, if not thousands, of Christians were exhorted to do so.

    But I’m happy to say I could be wrong and will be shown to be incorrect; you, of course, could have taken this opportunity to, instead of bleating about my sentence structure, provide one or more of these supposedly reasoned arguments – but you didn’t.

    Why is that? Could it be because you know that, deep down, reason plays no part whatsoever in your adherence to your faith?

  250. Sastra says

    Calum Miller #266 wrote:

    Oh, I didn’t mean to imply that God didn’t have something resembling a mind, only that it is not the main feature of God, as a Cartesian outlook might have supposed.

    Mind is not the “main feature” of God? Perhaps I need to clarify what I mean by “mind.” I’m using the term as a broad category that includes aspects such as: consciousness, awareness, thought, intelligence, emotions, values, intentions, creativity, goals, feelings.

    If you take all that out of the concept of God — what exactly is left?

    To speak of spirit as conveying what something is made of (or as an ontological category, whichever phraseology you prefer) would seem to me to be a category error.

    Imo, theology is category error made into an art form.

    Describe spirit. If it is not a type of substance (or ‘energy’), is it an abstraction? A concept? A power? An attribute? A quality? A possibility? An essence? I suspect that, if you think about it in depth, you really don’t and can’t think about it in depth.

    Forgive me for having to ask to clarify, but I’m still not entirely sure what you mean. Do you mean, how is God defined (i.e. what characteristics of something would be sufficient to make it ‘God’), or what God is “made of” (though I warn you you may not get much of answer if this is what you mean), or something else?

    No; I want us to explore what, exactly, you think God IS — when you consider the question. If it’s not made of anything, then say it’s not made of anything and give some relevant analogies: God is not made of anything just like the number ’5′ is not made of anything. It’s not made of anything just like a thought is not made of anything. Or — what? If God is not ‘made of’ spirit, then is it a spirit? If spirit is not some sort of refined ‘substance’ (like light or air or fire — only purer) then what IS it?

    Take the question seriously: that may be the hardest thing to do, because when the ideas break apart into incoherence and obscurity religion/spirituality has apparently trained its adherents to shut down their curiosity and go into the mode of acceptance a small child has for ‘complicated grownup stuff that’s too hard for small minds to understand.’ Don’t go there. Don’t put yourself into a story or social situation. Focus and get analytical. If you “don’t know” at all, then WHY aren’t you more than a tad concerned about that? How can you worship ignorance?

    Three things kill faith: curiosity; clarity; and consistency. Those are the virtues of science and reason. They are only vices for an impertinent child being reminded of their place.

  251. says

    I’ve been reading atheist websites and blogs for years. At no point in that time has anyone presented anything that came even close to being a compelling argument in support of Christianity – despite the fact that hundreds, if not thousands, of Christians were exhorted to do so.

    But I’m happy to say I could be wrong and will be shown to be incorrect; you, of course, could have taken this opportunity to, instead of bleating about my sentence structure, provide one or more of these supposedly reasoned arguments – but you didn’t.

    Why is that? Could it be because you know that, deep down, reason plays no part whatsoever in your adherence to your faith?

    I suspect not, but the point remains is this. You are the one who has claimed that there are no rational or compelling arguments for Christianity. I have not claimed that there are. I’m just as entitled, if not more so, given these, to ask you for a sound logical argument to the conclusion that no such arguments exist. It will not do to simply say, “Well, I’ve been reading forums for years, and I’ve never heard one” or even, “Go on then, give me one”. The lack of you hearing such an argument does not entail that none exist. Similarly, my lack of presenting one does not entail that none exist. If you want to back up the conclusion you’ve made, you’ll have to do so with a logical argument, not simply trying to shift the onus on me – I’m not the one who has argued primarily that Christianity is true.

  252. says

    Mind is not the “main feature” of God? Perhaps I need to clarify what I mean by “mind.” I’m using the term as a broad category that includes aspects such as: consciousness, awareness, thought, intelligence, emotions, values, intentions, creativity, goals, feelings.

    If you take all that out of the concept of God — what exactly is left?

    I don’t know exactly what’s left, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t much left. But either way, if we assume minds to have no causal efficacy and yet hold that God, if he existed, would have causal efficacy, then presumably there is a lot more to God. Or would you agree that minds do have causal efficacy?

    Imo, theology is category error made into an art form.

    That may be true, but it’s not especially relevant to the particular point of contention.

    Describe spirit. If it is not a type of substance (or ‘energy’), is it an abstraction? A concept? A power? An attribute? A quality? A possibility? An essence? I suspect that, if you think about it in depth, you really don’t and can’t think about it in depth.

    I think that spiritual describes something which is becoming fully alive by God’s action. I’m not sure what that would make spirit, perhaps a Platonic form or a power. The etymology would suggest that it’s the same kind of thing as a breath, or as wind. That’s not to say exactly that it is a movement of the constituent molecules of air, but that it is the same kind of thing – perhaps a power? That said, I would never have claimed to be able to think about it in depth. But I’m not sure what conclusions we can rationally infer from the fact that we can’t think about it in depth.

    No; I want us to explore what, exactly, you think God IS — when you consider the question. If it’s not made of anything, then say it’s not made of anything and give some relevant analogies: God is not made of anything just like the number ’5′ is not made of anything. It’s not made of anything just like a thought is not made of anything. Or — what? If God is not ‘made of’ spirit, then is it a spirit? If spirit is not some sort of refined ‘substance’ (like light or air or fire — only purer) then what IS it?

    Clearly we can only do this if we accept that anything is, at the very most, an analogy. After all, one of the primary insistences of theism is usually that God is entirely different to the universe. I would say that God is not “made of” anything material (here meaning our kind of materiality, that is, with protons and neutrons and so on), though it may be that he is “made of” (though I’m not sure what that would mean) something else. I suspect that abstractions and powers do provide some analogical use, too, in that they demonstrate that it is coherent to think that X might “exist” without thereby implying that “what is X made of?” is a sensible question. Again, these only work by analogy (since I doubt that God would be just an abstraction), and I think that that is the best we can hope for. Some things we have to admit we don’t know, and try our best at finding out. But if this isn’t satisfactory (as I suspect), perhaps you could guide me with what you mean some more: could you describe what you think matter IS?

    Take the question seriously: that may be the hardest thing to do, because when the ideas break apart into incoherence and obscurity religion/spirituality has apparently trained its adherents to shut down their curiosity and go into the mode of acceptance a small child has for ‘complicated grownup stuff that’s too hard for small minds to understand.’ Don’t go there. Don’t put yourself into a story or social situation. Focus and get analytical. If you “don’t know” at all, then WHY aren’t you more than a tad concerned about that? How can you worship ignorance?

    There is a difference, though, between curiosity to find out things which we can find out, and a blindly optimistic assumption that nothing is too incomprehensible for us to properly grasp. We evolved to be medium-sized mammals adapted to manipulate medium-sized objects and navigate a medium-sized world – we are going to find some things hard to comprehend, others impossible but for vague analogies. This is not a lack of curiosity – I would love to find out – but recognising that we should not necessarily expect to have all the answers yet. Note here that I’m not saying we don’t know at all, but that the most I know is by way of analogy.

  253. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Calum Miller #282

    You are the one who has claimed that there are no rational or compelling arguments for Christianity. I have not claimed that there are. I’m just as entitled, if not more so, given these, to ask you for a sound logical argument to the conclusion that no such arguments exist.

    Christopher Hitchens said: “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”

    You’re a Jesusite. There’s a lot of contradictions in Jesusism. For instance, most Jesusites claim their pet deity is omnibenevolent. Yet the propaganda shows this isn’t so.

    Your religion teaches that if you do not accept Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior you are destined to spend eternity in Hell. This is regardless of whether or not you are a good person. You can be devout in another cult of goddism but you’re still going to Hell. However, according to certain flavors of Jesusism, as long as you believe you’re going to Heaven. You could be a concentration camp guard but as long as you’re a fervent Jesusite, you’re good to go for eternity. Other flavors of Jesusism, for instance Catholicism, say you can be as evil as you like but if you confess your sins and have the right mantra said at you by a guy wearing a dress, then you’re still good to go. Either way, do the right mumbo-jumbo and it’s harp lessons for you in the hereafter. Don’t do the right mumbo-jumbo and don’t bother to pack an overcoat for when you die.

    The problem with this is the religion you have as an adult is hugely dependent on the time and place of your birth. If God chose to have you born today to a poor family in India, your chances of converting to Jesusism are near zero. If you were born in pre-Columbian South America, you didn’t hear about Jesus*. In essence, God chooses certain people to burn for eternity and they have no say in the matter. Real nice guy, your “all loving” god.

    *The Mormons have other ideas about pre-Columbian America, but they’re not proper Jesusites, so we can ignore them for the sake of this argument.

  254. says

    Christopher Hitchens said: “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”

    Indeed he did. What, then, is the evidence for the truth of this maxim?

    That said, it’s a pretty ambiguous statement. Does the latter “can” mean “can rationally”, “can logically” or “can physically”? Does “dismiss” mean to retain a lack of belief in, or to actively say that it is not the case?

    Again, this turns back on you. I have not said, as a main conclusion (I will have only said it, if at all, because of sidetracking), that Christianity is true or that God exists. It is Wowbagger who has said that there are/is no compelling reasons/evidence for Christianity. He has not provided any evidence for that claim. I am not arguing that Christianity is true, only that we, on the basis of your maxim, can dismiss his claim that there are/is no such reasons/evidence.

  255. Waffler, Dunwich MA says

    Regardless of whether this is true, could spell out, in logical terms, how this supports your conclusion that there is no such thing as an orthodox Protestant Evangelical?

    The burden of proof is on you. Find me an evangelical protestant who every other self-described evangelical protestant agrees with on points of doctrine. Failing that, prove that this particular evangelical protestant’s views on Christian doctrine are the only correct views for an evangelical protestant. Failing that, point to a central authority (something very specific, like the LCMS) and say that’s what you mean by orthodox – and get them to change their name to the Protestant Evangelical Church.

  256. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Reading my post #284, I see I failed to do what Calum Miller asked in #282. I gave a reason not to accept Christianity but he wanted a logical argument for the non-existence of “rational or compelling arguments for Christianity.”

    There are two major ideas about god(s). One posits there are interventionist god(s) who meddle in human affairs. The other idea concerns the deist “philosophical” god(s) who sort of got things going 14.5 billion years ago and faded into the background, never to be seen or otherwise detected again.

    The second idea is identical to the argument about non-existent gods. A god who doesn’t do anything, doesn’t make itself manifest in any way, has no interaction with the universe, is indistinguishable from no god at all.*

    Since Calum is a Jesusite goddist, I’ll consider his particular gods.** Most if not all Jesusites believe in Gawd Da Fadder, an older gentleman with a long white beard*** who occasionally answers prayers and is deeply concerned with peoples’s sexual habits. According to the propaganda this god manifests himself in the world, determining which high school football team will win “the big game” and curing acne with the help of Clearasil®. Yet no matter how carefully and subtly these manifestations are examined, the so-called “hand of God” appears notably absent. There are no miracles which can’t be explained by something else. It’s almost like the Jesusite gods don’t actually manifest themselves in reality.

    So we have three choices: (1) deist god(s) who are effectively non-existent; (b) manifesting god(s) who don’t appear to manifest themselves no matter how hard one looks; and (iii) god(s) who do manifest themselves but manage to keep themselves so well hidden it’s like they’re not actually manifesting themselves. Each of these choices appears to be identical with no god at all.

    *I’m reminded of the Hughes Mearns poem:

    Yesterday upon the stair
    I met a man who wasn’t there
    He wasn’t there again today
    Oh, how I wish he’d go away

    **Jesusites claim to be monotheists. This is absurd. They believe in at least three gods: Daddy, JC and The Spook. In Catholicism Mary is a goddess. For many Jesusites Satan is at least a demi-god (Manichaeism is not completely gone in various Jesusite cults). Plus there’s a slew of minor gods, usually called “saints” or “angels.”

    ***Michelangelo’s portrait on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is the archetype.

  257. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Christopher Hitchens said: “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”

    Indeed he did. What, then, is the evidence for the truth of this maxim?

    It’s very simple. If someone makes an assertion without giving any evidence to support it, then someone else can dismiss the assertion without giving evidence to support the dismissal. If you claim: “There are human beings presently living on Venus!” My immediate response would be: “Don’t be silly.” Considering the ambient temperature on Venus is 464°C (867°F), a fact I was aware of before the claim was made, then I can dismiss a claim made without evidence because evidence for dismissal is already known to me. I just haven’t articulated it.

    Likewise, if you claim there’s Jesusite gods yet fail to provide any evidence then I can dismiss the claim because I know there’s no evidence you can give (and I suspect you know there’s no such evidence). So if you say: “Jesus is man’s redemptor” I can respond: “Don’t be silly.” Since the evidence for humans living on Venus and the existence of Jesus are identical, then both claims can be dismissed in exactly the same way.

  258. Sastra says

    Calum Miller #283 wrote:

    I don’t know exactly what’s left, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t much left.

    Answer this: if someone offered up some sort of ‘being’ and called it “God” — and it was not conscious, was aware of nothing, could not think, had no intelligence, felt no emotions, made no distinctions between ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ felt no pain or sensations of any kind, cared for nothing, intended nothing, willed nothing, and related to no one including itself — would you say “wow, that’s really a different kind of God than I had expected?”
    Or would you say “that’s not God.”

    But either way, if we assume minds to have no causal efficacy and yet hold that God, if he existed, would have causal efficacy, then presumably there is a lot more to God. Or would you agree that minds do have causal efficacy?

    If God causes things to happen through an ‘act of willpower’ then we’ve got an example of mind having a special, separate type of causal efficacy. Mindpower. ESP, PK. If God causes things mindlessly, without any desire or intention on its part but with the same cause-and-effect relationship as gravity acting on a rock — then that’s not “God.” Otherwise, we’d worship gravity and consider Dark Energy and superstrings to be supernatural. We don’t. They’re missing the mind-like aspect. It’s critical.

    That may be true, but it’s not especially relevant to the particular point of contention.

    Yes it is, if “God” comes down to a reified abstraction.

    That said, I would never have claimed to be able to think about it in depth. But I’m not sure what conclusions we can rationally infer from the fact that we can’t think about it in depth.

    If we can’t think about it in depth because it rests on superficial resemblances and analogies, then I think we ought to consider whether what we are thinking about is anything but an idea based on superficial resemblances and analogies — and primitive misunderstandings of how the mind works.

    Is God a science hypothesis? No? Why the hell not?

    If science found God, would you dismiss it?

    After all, one of the primary insistences of theism is usually that God is entirely different to the universe.

    No: what is obvious about the God concept is not how different and foreign it is to the world of our experience, but how familiar it is. God is clearly made in the image of our own minds, and moves and acts in the atmosphere of human social situations and psychology. God communicates through ESP. It moves and creates the physical world through psychokenetic powers. Mind operating by magic and sympathy, as we once thought. It punishes and reward and teaches and learns. It’s a person. This is not just an analogy to the real idea. It is the real idea.

    The numinous, mysterious, beyond-our-experience aspect is simply chucked in whenever people start to think too carefully about God. It’s handwaving and dismissal designed to distract. You don’t worship ignorance: you worship something that is very like a person. Only “infinitely” grander.

    You have to be vague or you’ll sound like a New Ager babbling pseudoscience, won’t you? That is not a feature; it’s a bug.

    I suspect that abstractions and powers do provide some analogical use, too, in that they demonstrate that it is coherent to think that X might “exist” without thereby implying that “what is X made of?” is a sensible question. Again, these only work by analogy (since I doubt that God would be just an abstraction), and I think that that is the best we can hope for.

    Analogies don’t work for you; they work against you — because every analogy is a category error the minute you add in a mindlike aspect. Unless, of course, you are talking about the Mind itself, and arguing for a mind/body substance dualism which wasn’t arrived at through your neuroscience, but through intuitions and instincts and ‘common sense.’

    Beware common sense. Belief in God is “just common sense.” It’s not counterintuitive. It’s anthropomorphism and egocentrism and a small child can grasp it easily. Again, not a feature: a bug.

    There is a difference, though, between curiosity to find out things which we can find out, and a blindly optimistic assumption that nothing is too incomprehensible for us to properly grasp.

    There is a difference between carefully approaching a concept with the curiosity to find out whether the hypothesis is true or likely — and a blind assumption that if a hypothesis is unsupported then it’s probably because it’s just too incomprehensible for us to properly grasp.

    Occam’s Razor doesn’t keep the universe simple enough for us to understand: it keeps us from making leaps which can’t be checked. It shaves off human arrogance; if God drops off, then that’s what it rested on — a refusal to discover that the hypothesis might be wrong after all.

    If God does not exist and has never existed, what would have to happen to persuade you of this?

  259. Waffler, Dunwich MA says

    Answer this: if someone offered up some sort of ‘being’ and called it “God” — and it was not conscious, was aware of nothing, could not think, had no intelligence, felt no emotions, made no distinctions between ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ felt no pain or sensations of any kind, cared for nothing, intended nothing, willed nothing, and related to no one including itself — would you say “wow, that’s really a different kind of God than I had expected?”

    I’d say “I think that’s Azathoth, no?”.

  260. Sastra says

    Waffler #290 wrote:

    I’d say “I think that’s Azathoth, no?”.

    “[O]utside the ordered universe [is] that amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity—the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time and space amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes.”

    Um … no. It seems to be … conscious. Or sentient. It would find us tasty. That’s a goal. A vile, foul, hideous goal — from the humanist perspective. I wouldn’t bet on a Calvinist perspective, though.

  261. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    It seems to be … conscious. Or sentient. It would find us tasty. That’s a goal. A vile, foul, hideous goal — from the humanist perspective.

    Sastra, may you be eaten first.

  262. Sally Strange, OM says

    I have not said, as a main conclusion (I will have only said it, if at all, because of sidetracking), that Christianity is true or that God exists.

    Who cares whether it is your main conclusion, secondary conclusion, or starting premise? The fact is that you have said it, or at least strongly implied it. Deliberately identifying yourself as a Christian strongly implies that you find at least part of Christianity to be true. You have devoted a great deal of mental energy to discussing what God is, or might be made of–which strongly implies that you think such a being exists. Unless you are a cultural Christian who is discussing these things as a Star Trek fan might discuss the floor plan of the Enterprise, in full knowledge that the Enterprise does not actually exist. Which seems unlikely. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to expect you to offer support for this idea, which seems to undergird, as a starting premise, a great deal of your conversation.

    It is Wowbagger who has said that there are/is no compelling reasons/evidence for Christianity. He has not provided any evidence for that claim. I am not arguing that Christianity is true, only that we, on the basis of your maxim, can dismiss his claim that there are/is no such reasons/evidence.

    Lazy, and silly. You can’t dismiss Wowbagger’s claim for lack of evidence. His claim IS the lack of evidence. If you want to dismiss a claim of lack of evidence, then you must produce evidence. QED.

  263. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    If you want to dismiss a claim of lack of evidence, then you must produce evidence.

    SallyStrange for the win!

  264. Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne says

    Heh. Why am I not surprised Calum couldn’t come up with any compelling arguments for Christianity?

  265. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Heh. Why am I not surprised Calum couldn’t come up with any compelling arguments for Christianity?

    Because all he could hope for was us trying to prove the negative, that his imaginary deity doesn’t exist. The gnu atheists us the Null Hypothesis to make all stoopernatural and unevidenced things as non-existence, which puts the burden of proof on poor Colum to show his imaginary deity exists with positive and conclusive evidence. He doesn’t appear to have an eternally burning bush in his back pocket, as expected…

  266. KG says

    I missed Calum Miller, but maybe he’ll be back. If so, I predict that he will continue in exactly the same vein, fishing up endless semantic quibbles to avoid committing himself to what he does believe about his god, Jesus, souls, the efterlife, etc. – as opposed to what he doesn’t. He thinks this is intellectual sophistication, and shows by contrast how coarse the texture of atheist thought and discourse are; I think it’s intellectual cowardice.

  267. ichthyic says

    I am literally terrified of Nick Cave. I’m absolutely 100% certain that he is going to find and murder me because I pirated the last Grinderman album.

    He knows, man. HE KNOWS

    It’s that Red Right Hand.

  268. says

    I’m only scan/following this while looking to see if anyone has asked any questions or pointed out anything interesting to the postings I made of peripheral relationship to the direct topic. But I see a buzzing fly has landed and even brought his own dinner.

    Once upon a time I tried to be Christian, and I might have been able to keep up – even well aware that it was there – the dissonance and suspension of critical judgement at least on “spiritual” ideas indefinitely (at least at my level of ignorance then). What totally screwed the pooch as far as my willingness to work at maintaining the belief in the possibility was exactly this kind of putrescent, lying, sanctimoniously hypocritical dishonesty:

    Similarly, my lack of presenting one does not entail that none exist. If you want to back up the conclusion you’ve made, you’ll have to do so with a logical argument, not simply trying to shift the onus on me – I’m not the one who has argued primarily that Christianity is true.

    It’s a blatant, lie and it’s nauseating.

    Our disputant understands quite well that Christianity is a positive claim and that atheism is not. He may as well claim there are flying turtles at the center of the earth because nobody has presented evidence otherwise. He’s trolling – lying – pure and simple, and we’ve all seen it ‘illions of times on various boards.

    (Not to mention that I’m sure he’s aware of theodicies and Euthyphro on the moral side and Gödel and Heisenberg on the abstract side all of which mitigate against the kinds of abstract perfection and idealism attributed to any god being even “coherent”, much less plausible).

    These kinds of lies on the internet – trolling for the zombie, as sparring among adults – are harmless enough. But by now it’s practically a trademark of how the religious (evangelicals, commanded to proselytize) deal with the internet. It’s the only way they *can* deal with medium where information debunking their fables is available at a click.

    But listening to a minister and deacons (in a church attended by a lot of well educated professionals) do the sophisticated theology dance … and then week after week walk down the hall to the coat room and pass the children’s bible classes and hear the David and Goliath, Joshua, and Samson stories and the preposterously silly afterlife and judgement stories, all of which *directly* contradict the “sophisticated” religion the minister claims her (“our” then) sect believes, was just too much.

    So tell us Callum, what does your “sophicated”” sect teach in bible school?

    By and large on the surface, most Christians seem to be pretty decent and nice people. I’d even say most of them *want* to be good, kind and decent human beings. But down where the rubber meets the road, in matters of life and death, good and evil, mind and matter, freedom and choice – the stuff where religion is really supposed to “mean” something, and particularly as taught to children – any fifty dollar whore is more honest and honorable than any Christian I’ve ever met.

    Lying for Jesus is still lying Callum. And we don’t believe in your god to have commanded it to make it right. It’s a lie, and it’s wrong. Not because god, but because you are intent upon deceits which will cripple people from making better and more valid choices for themselves and others down the road.

    – TWZ

  269. says

    NB: It doesn’t seem like this is going anywhere, since most of you are trying to get me to engage with you in debate on topics which make no difference to whether my original point of contention was true. I’m not going to allow myself to get sidetracked, and unless you want to debate the actual point of contention, namely, the position I outlined in my first few posts, then there is no point me continuing. The only remotely constructive conversation I had was with Sastra, which has helped me to think through a few more things I hadn’t necessarily thought through before. Thanks for that, Sastra.
    I’m not going to check the responses to this post, because almost the entirety of the post was spent discussing issues which were irrelevant to my original point. If you do want me to outline my position on anything else, or discuss anything else (or even the original motion for debate), then feel free to e-mail me. My e-mail address can be found on my website, and I will endeavour to find time to respond to any e-mails you might want to send. Take care y’all,

    Calum

    The burden of proof is on you. Find me an evangelical protestant who every other self-described evangelical protestant agrees with on points of doctrine. Failing that, prove that this particular evangelical protestant’s views on Christian doctrine are the only correct views for an evangelical protestant. Failing that, point to a central authority (something very specific, like the LCMS) and say that’s what you mean by orthodox – and get them to change their name to the Protestant Evangelical Church.

    It seems we were talking across each other – by orthodox I didn’t mean orthodox by evangelical standards, as though evangelicals all agreed with each other, but orthodox by historical/Creedal standards.

    So we have three choices: (1) deist god(s) who are effectively non-existent; (b) manifesting god(s) who don’t appear to manifest themselves no matter how hard one looks; and (iii) god(s) who do manifest themselves but manage to keep themselves so well hidden it’s like they’re not actually manifesting themselves. Each of these choices appears to be identical with no god at all.

    Again, this is not a logical argument to the conclusion that there is no compelling evidence/rational arguments for God’s existence. I’m talking about a nice, concise, logically valid argument to that precise conclusion, not a discussion of how and conclusion that all gods would be identical with no god at all.

    Answer this: if someone offered up some sort of ‘being’ and called it “God” — and it was not conscious, was aware of nothing, could not think, had no intelligence, felt no emotions, made no distinctions between ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ felt no pain or sensations of any kind, cared for nothing, intended nothing, willed nothing, and related to no one including itself — would you say “wow, that’s really a different kind of God than I had expected?”
    Or would you say “that’s not God.”

    I would say it wasn’t God if it had nothing like those characteristics, though that’s not to say he would have the same kind of intelligence and so on that we would.

    Yes it is, if “God” comes down to a reified abstraction.

    Well, sure, but unless you’re actually going to pursue that line of reasoning then…

    If we can’t think about it in depth because it rests on superficial resemblances and analogies, then I think we ought to consider whether what we are thinking about is anything but an idea based on superficial resemblances and analogies — and primitive misunderstandings of how the mind works.

    We can consider it, sure.

    Is God a science hypothesis? No? Why the hell not?
    If science found God, would you dismiss it?

    It depends what you mean by ‘science’. By the normal domain of science, I don’t think so. But if science includes all evidential reasoning, then yes, I think so.

    No: what is obvious about the God concept is not how different and foreign it is to the world of our experience, but how familiar it is. God is clearly made in the image of our own minds, and moves and acts in the atmosphere of human social situations and psychology. God communicates through ESP. It moves and creates the physical world through psychokenetic powers. Mind operating by magic and sympathy, as we once thought. It punishes and reward and teaches and learns. It’s a person. This is not just an analogy to the real idea. Itis the real idea.

    It depends on whether you’re going to insist that God has always held to be fully anthropomorphic or whether you’re going to also allow for the insistence that God is entirely “other”, with only vague analogies available to describe him/her/it.

    The numinous, mysterious, beyond-our-experience aspect is simply chucked in whenever people start to think too carefully about God. It’s handwaving and dismissal designed to distract. You don’t worship ignorance: you worship something that is very like a person. Only “infinitely” grander.

    Sure, very like a person compared to other things we know. That is, God is much more like a person than he is a tree. But that does not mean that God is very like a person in absolute terms.

    Analogies don’t work for you; they work against you — because every analogy is a category error the minute you add in a mindlike aspect.

    How so?

    If God does not exist and has never existed, what would have to happen to persuade you of this?

    I think the world would be a very different place (if it existed at all) – but that doesn’t mean that anything could happen in the future to demonstrate it. This is because most of the things that would differentiate a world with a God from a world without one, I think, have happened in the past, and so are not really changeable.

    Who cares whether it is your main conclusion, secondary conclusion, or starting premise? The fact is that you have said it, or at least strongly implied it. Deliberately identifying yourself as a Christian strongly implies that you find at least part of Christianity to be true. You have devoted a great deal of mental energy to discussing what God is, or might be made of–which strongly implies that you think such a being exists. Unless you are a cultural Christian who is discussing these things as a Star Trek fan might discuss the floor plan of the Enterprise, in full knowledge that the Enterprise does not actually exist. Which seems unlikely. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to expect you to offer support for this idea, which seems to undergird, as a starting premise, a great deal of your conversation.

    It is not unreasonable to expect me to offer support at some point in my life or in some discussion at some point. But that does not mean that it is appropriate to take that enormous sidetrack in any conversation mildly related to God. Nor has my theism been presupposed in what I am trying to argue (and yet am continually misrepresented in), viz. that atheists often insist that Christians must believe in X where X is something that is not a fundamental Christian belief. The truth of that proposition doesn’t seem to me to change drastically whether God exists or not, and so I’m not convinced at all that my theism has been presupposed. If you have been taking me to argue a point other than this, then you have misunderstood my intention.

    Lazy, and silly. You can’t dismiss Wowbagger’s claim for lack of evidence. His claim IS the lack of evidence. If you want to dismiss a claim of lack of evidence, then you must produce evidence. QED.

    To the contrary, I was taking seriously Wowbagger’s axiom that “what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence”, rather than using it as a rhetorical tool that only applies when it fits my purposes, and resorting to special pleading in cases of self-reference. If the axiom is true, then it applies to everything: including assertions that there is a lack of evidence. I will repeat again: it does not follow from an apparent lack of compelling arguments or evidence presented by theists that therefore no evidence exists. To make that claim, one has to provide one’s own logical argument to the conclusion. If you do not, then you are making just as baseless an assertion as theists are.

    Heh. Why am I not surprised Calum couldn’t come up with any compelling arguments for Christianity?

    Presumably, Wowbagger, because I have not intended to. As I have repeatedly said, I get tired of interlocutors changing the subject entirely from the original point of contention, and don’t wish to enter a debate on a completely different topic from my original claims here. We can discuss it elsewhere if you like, but I’m not going to give in to your persistent efforts to change the topic.

  270. Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne says

    [reads through Calum's post at #300, [finds nothing resembling even an attempt at a compelling argument to support Christianity]
    [laughs]

    You’re the worst, most contemptible kind of coward, Calum. You keep oozing that intellectual dishonesty you’d better watch out – it’s slippery stuff; you might fall and hurt yourself.

  271. John Morales says

    Calum, you don’t define what you refer to by the label ‘God’, nor do you specify what constitutes a Christian. And when we address what other self-identified Christians claim about such, you contend that’s not what you believe.

    Bah.

    I’m not going to allow myself to get sidetracked, and unless you want to debate the actual point of contention, namely, the position I outlined in my first few posts, then there is no point me continuing.

    Your point, such as it was, was silly.

    I quote the entirety of your first comment:
    Some of us feel the same way about you guys, Prof Myers!

    We atheists don’t declare what you mob believe, we address what you claim to believe. Big difference, right there, and it blows away your putative equivalence.

  272. says

    It depends what you mean by ‘science’. By the normal domain of science, I don’t think so. But if science includes all evidential reasoning, then yes, I think so.

    I agree with this. An interventionist deity is an empirical hypothesis by definition; one cannot get to God through reason alone without making massive leaps in logic. For example, take the cosmological argument, even if there was a first cause and that first cause was an intelligent agent, there’s no reason to suppose that such an agent is one that came down to earth in mangod form to die on the cross in order to appease itself for a talking snake tricking the first humans into eating metaphysically-poisoned fruit. Indeed, most claims of knowing God come from personal revelation and through stories of miracles.

    Whether or not that’s a sufficient foundation (I’d argue not) it’s making an empirical case, and should be judged on such. That people persist with a priori arguments is beyond me.

  273. ichthyic says

    I’m not going to allow myself to get sidetracked

    *looks at half-page post that follows*

    liar.

  274. ichthyic says

    That is, God is much more like a person than he is a tree.

    I would like to see the formal proof for that hypothesis.

    show your work.

  275. ichthyic says

    I say god is much more like living fire than either a human or a tree.

    burning bush, column of fire, several other biblical references in support.

    I’m already winning this argument in my own mind.

    Much like I’m sure Calum feels about his hypothesis.

  276. says

    I would like to see the formal proof for that hypothesis.

    When people talk of God as a being like a person, I think there’s sufficient evidence that God doesn’t exist because we have overwhelming empirical evidence that humans often anthropomorphise things. As soon as people start talking about God in terms of personhood, it’s really sets a high burden of proof that it’s not them projecting their own mind onto God.

  277. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    I’m not going to check the responses to this post, because almost the entirety of the post was spent discussing issues which were irrelevant to my original point.

    Make sure you stick the flounce, Calum. Points get deducted for missing the landing.

    If you do want me to outline my position on anything else, or discuss anything else (or even the original motion for debate), then feel free to e-mail me.

    Why bother? If you want to discuss anything then this is the place to do so. We hang out here. The only reason I would email someone to continue a discussion started at a blog would be because private information would be involved. Whether or not you accept the null hypothesis for the existence of god(s) is hardly private.

    You and Sastra were having a conversation about whether your god has a mind or not. That’s nice. I enjoyed reading it, especially Sastra’s ever so polite thrashing of your opinions. But that’s not a topic I’m particularly interested in. I made a couple of posts and you airily dismissed them without any evidence as to why they should be dismissed! I’d much rather you ignore my posts entirely than hand-wave them away.

    I hope you do stick the flounce. I’m annoyed at you for your unwarranted condescension. I suspect if you showed up again I’d become rude, crude and socially unacceptable.

  278. says

    Also, I don’t get the “I’m willing to debate this topic, but not here”. Part of Pharyngula is that comment threads go off on tangents, when there’s venue for communication that people are already communicating on, what good does it do to change the venue?

  279. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Kel,

    Also, I don’t get the “I’m willing to debate this topic, but not here”.

    What’s to get? Coward is cowardly.

    Shorter Calum: ‘I came here to whine, but I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition!
    I find I have no stomach for this and I shall now run, run away, blustering all the way’.

  280. Sally Strange, OM says

    Yes, Calum oozes intellectual dishonesty. He gives off the distinct air of someone who thinks he is oh-so-clever.

    To the contrary, I was taking seriously Wowbagger’s axiom that “what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence”, rather than using it as a rhetorical tool that only applies when it fits my purposes, and resorting to special pleading in cases of self-reference.

    No, you are evidently not taking seriously the axiom that “that which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” You’re pretending as if noting a lack of evidence for X is the same thing as asserting the existence of X. I note the lack of evidence for flying pigs. Logically, the only way for ME to substantiate my “assertion” that there is no evidence for the existence of flying pigs is for me personally to examine every bit of data that exists in the world that references either pigs or flying and verify that not a single bit indicates that there might be pigs who can fly. There aren’t enough computers in the world to accomplish that task within a reasonable timeframe. Even then, there might be data I’m missing. This is why you often hear people say, “You can’t prove a negative.” Because it’s true.

    However, if you are going to contest my claim that there is a lack of data supporting the existence of flying pigs, the task suddenly becomes much simpler: you have only to identify ONE piece of data that indicates flying pigs. That’s why assertion of X is different from assertion of lack of evidence for X. You were not trying to honor the spirit of the axiom, you were trying to weasel out of definitively stating what it is you ARE trying to assert, and put the burden of proof on your interlocutor to disprove his own observation. And I do mean weasel. You are a slippery character. Your academic culture, such as it is, must be rotten. This is not reasonable discussion nor logical argument.

    If the axiom is true, then it applies to everything: including assertions that there is a lack of evidence.

    No, it doesn’t, for the reasons I’ve explained above. If you disagree then you must detail the reasons why you disagree.

    I will repeat again: it does not follow from an apparent lack of compelling arguments or evidence presented by theists that therefore no evidence exists. To make that claim, one has to provide one’s own logical argument to the conclusion. If you do not, then you are making just as baseless an assertion as theists are.

    Russell’s orbiting teapot, dude. It’s elementary. You’re not as stupid as you’re acting right now.

  281. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Colum, discussion about your imaginary deity start with solid and conclusive physical evidence. Evidence that will pass muster with scientists, magicians, and professional debunkers, as being of divine, and not natural (scientifically explained), origin. Without a deity, your babble is mythology fiction. Meaningless, unless one is looking at historical tales.

    So Colum, if you are a person of honor and integrity, either show (don’t talk) us the equivalent of the eternally burning bush, or shut the fuck up about your imaginary deity. Because those who can’t put up, and can’t shut up, are by definition liars and bullshitters, and you are definitely in that area at the moment…

  282. says

    Shorter Calum: ‘I came here to whine, but I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition!

    To be fair, no-one expects the Spanish Inquisition.

  283. ichthyic says

    really sets a high burden of proof that it’s not them projecting their own mind onto God.

    good point.

  284. Sally Strange, OM says

    We atheists don’t declare what you mob believe, we address what you claim to believe. Big difference, right there, and it blows away your putative equivalence.

    Indeed. This explains why Calum is so reluctant to state and defend what it is he believes. The only way he can continue to maintain his false equivalence is by keeping what he believes a mystery, thereby forcing us to guess what it is he believes, which of course isn’t quite what he believes, therefore look! Mean atheists are doing the same thing they are complaining about! Telling poor Calum what it is he believes!

    Cheap emotional manipulation–that is something Christians seem to excel at, more than reasonable discussion and logical argumentation.

  285. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Was #300 a missed flounce within a comment?

    I doubt it. He was making his grand departure, sneering at the unwashed lumpen commentariat. It’s usually when making a valediction to bid adieu at the end, but there’s no reason why he shouldn’t announce the flounce at the beginning of the leave-taking.

  286. ichthyic says

    You’re not as stupid as you’re acting right now.

    that’s what religion does to the brain:

    forces it to make nonsensical post-hoc rationalizations in order to maintain coherence while supporting extreme cognitive dissonance at the same time.

    like constantly trying to prop up a house of cards.

  287. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    A tankard of seven-day-old grog says Colum can’t stick the flounce.
    *sets fuming tankard at the end of the bar*

  288. ichthyic says

    there’s no reason why he shouldn’t announce the flounce at the beginning of the leave-taking.

    ahhh, so THAT’S why so many flouncers appear to fail the flounce to me.

    I was just mistaken that a good flounce required sticking the landing.

    Instead, what I interpreted as the landing can instead just be the lead up!

    learn something new every day.

    ;)

  289. ichthyic says

    To be fair, no-one expects the Spanish Inquisition.

    yeah, but Calum whinged at the soft cushion stage!

    We hadn’t even got around to the bare mention of the comfy chair yet.

  290. chigau (...---...) says

    I was just mistaken that a good flounce required sticking the landing.
    Instead, what I interpreted as the landing can instead just be the lead up!

    OK this just does NOT work any more as a metaphor for gymnastics.

  291. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    To be fair, no-one expects the Spanish Inquisition.

    Our chief weapon is surprise, fear and surprise; our two chief weapons, fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency! Er, among our chief weapons are: fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, and near fanatical devotion to the Pope!

  292. says

    I will repeat again: it does not follow from an apparent lack of compelling arguments or evidence presented by theists that therefore no evidence exists. To make that claim, one has to provide one’s own logical argument to the conclusion. If you do not, then you are making just as baseless an assertion as theists are.

    There are two factors at work here.

    Firstly, if there are no compelling arguments of evidence, when what reason do we have to even consider it? Take the statement that “aliens walk among us”. Now if someone says that yet provides no evidence or arguments in favour of the proposition, and says “well, you don’t have reason to suppose they don’t walk among us”, then what’s the difference between someone who hasn’t considered the question and someone who has heard the question but with no supporting evidence? It’s a question of epistemology, of what is reasonable for us to hold as true.

    Secondly, you are right that just because there’s no a case being made that there isn’t a case at all. Think of evolutionary theory; evolution happened but it wasn’t until 1859 that a serious case began to be made for the idea. To use the above example, there may be aliens indeed walking among us even if we have no reason to assume there is. That’s where taking a conceptual analysis and thinking through what the proposition means. For the alien example, reasons to think that there are no aliens among us stem from our knowledge of interstellar distances, that aliens can be explained in terms of mythology and folklore, and that despite searching for aliens we have found no evidence to suppose the existence of aliens; let alone that they are here on earth.

    In short, what’s reasonable for us to believe and what there is are related – but not identical questions. It wouldn’t be reasonable for us to believe in God if we don’t have a case for God; and that would be true irrespective of whether God exists. But if we really want to tackle the ontological question, then we need to look at how we could go about establishing the ontological case. There’s a very good case to be put forward that God is a creation of our minds, and that is a good reason to think that God doesn’t exist. But not every atheist makes that claim; instead choosing the weaker contention that God hasn’t been established. If there’s no good case, then why believe? If there is a good case, then why not present it? If the case against is overwhelming, then it’s a good reason to dismiss it. The first two questions are compatible with weak atheism, and the third is for strong atheism.

  293. Sastra says

    No, I am the (dish)rack.

    It looks like Calum has quit. But he wrote a response to my post right after he quit so I’ll answer some of it on the off chance he’s still reading (and because I can’t help myself.)

    Calum Miller #300 wrote:

    It depends on whether you’re going to insist that God has always held to be fully anthropomorphic or whether you’re going to also allow for the insistence that God is entirely “other”, with only vague analogies available to describe him/her/it.

    At no point did I insist that God was “fully” anthropomorphic (He has a beard, He sits on a throne, He speaks in a big, deep, booming voice, etc.) Instead, I am insisting on the mind-like aspect of God: it can’t be removed and God remain “God.” The description of God as “entirely ‘other’” — and the claim that it is only by “vague analogy” that God can be said to be conscious, aware, intentional, value-laden, etc — is a deceptive bit of theological handwaving.

    ” Analogies don’t work for you; they work against you — because every analogy is a category error the minute you add in a mindlike aspect.”
    How so?

    Consider the fact that God has (or is) a kind of unembodied Mind — and then consider the kinds of things to which one might compare God in order to “demonstrate that it is coherent to think that X might ‘exist’ without thereby implying that ‘what is X made of?’ is a sensible question.

    God is a personal Being which exists in the same way as

    A number.
    An abstraction.
    A thought.
    A quality.
    A power.
    An attribute.
    A possibility.
    An action.
    An essence.
    A concept.

    On the one hand, we do not ask what the above are made of. Right. On the other hand, however, assigning personhood or mind to any of the above is what I’d call a category error. Numbers don’t make choices, for example. The analogy to God breaks down because from your perspective God really can’t exist in the same way that numbers might be said to exist, or like an attribute exists, or like anything else on that list. If you’re just using them as examples of things which aren’t made of anything in order to demonstrate that it’s perfectly coherent to say that God isn’t made of anything, then the analogies don’t work.

    I think the world would be a very different place (if it existed at all) – but that doesn’t mean that anything could happen in the future to demonstrate it. This is because most of the things that would differentiate a world with a God from a world without one, I think, have happened in the past, and so are not really changeable.

    This doesn’t answer my question. My hypothetical assumes that all the things which you currently attribute to God exist as they are — but have another explanation. A natural explanation. I’m asking then how you could discover that your supernatural explanation was inadequate. Or mistaken.

    How could you find out you were wrong?

    Using “God” as an explanation has an up side which is also a down side: it can “explain” anything at all. That’s not a feature. It’s a (you guessed it) bug. Our belief confirms itself and can’t be wrong despite the fact that we can be wrong.

    In addition, God explanations are only “explanations.” We get reason from a Reason Force. We get morals from a Moral Source. We get life from a Life Power. We get love from a Love Source, which is made of Love because it is Love itself which is not made of anything except Love Essence. This all takes place due to the mechanism of embuing. Or sometimes imparting, with elements of granting.

    That’s just pathetic. Really. It’s like saying that a car engine moves the car because the Locomotion Force gives it Movement due to its power of Locomotion. There’s no explanation there, no information, no understanding. It’s just shifting the question around so that it looks like an answer.

    I get tired of interlocutors changing the subject entirely from the original point of contention…

    There are dozens (if not hundreds or thousands) of versions of Christianity. When atheists get the “standard” dogma wrong, there is going to be some group thinking that no, they got it exactly right.

    When Christians misattribute beliefs to atheists, however, the problems tend to be about attitudes and orientations that no atheist — in some cases, no human being — actually holds. Consider the essay referred to in the post: atheists don’t understand that stories can be mostly fictional but still true in some metaphorical sense. That’s not only wrong, but the writer has it backwards. It’s the atheists who are saying it’s more metaphor than not, and the theists who insist that it’s metaphor, but only a bit.

  294. says

    I should add to my #326 that it also depends on what is meant by God, since the term is used differently by different people. If one “God hypothesis” has some problematic or contradictory aspect, it can always be rejected in favour of another “God hypothesis”. It’s for that reason there needs to be a focus on what’s being put forward as the “God hypothesis”, for how can we have a positive argument against all possible conceptions in a great family of possible “God hypothesises”.

    One example of this in action is how creationists redefine creationism. For example, the young earth creationist and old earth creationist have separate accounts of the age of the earth, so demonstrating the earth is old is going to satisfy one but not the other. And the theistic-evolutionists differ from OECs by believing that life has descended from a common ancestor – it’s just that God played a role in that process. If someone believes God had a hand in evolution, it’s going to be no good in showing that the earth is old. But creationists can jump back and forth between creationisms if one is falsified. The order of fossils might be good evidence against day-age creationism, but not against old earth creationism.

    And that’s largely the problem with positive atheism, most cases for positive atheism can be met with a redefinition of God such that it falls outside the boundaries of the argument. It’s common to hear “that’s not the God I believe in” as an objection to arguments in favour of there being no God. Some arguments are more blanket than others, some arguments are more meta than others, but they are limited nonetheless. A case for strong atheism against every conception of God is impossible in principle; rather a more limited case for strong atheism against certain families of God is more realistic. The point being that we can’t expect someone to argue against any and all things that come under the term “God”, and again why it’s so important to put forward a positive conception and a positive case.

    God can be defined in such a way as to be unknowable, beyond all realm of human reason and intellect, to which someone can only be a strong agnostic towards. But what good does making such a case do when one is trying to establish an interventionist deity – or more specifically, the interventionist deity who matches their dogma? It’s why a case for strong atheism is provisional to the “God hypothesis” or family of “God hypothesises” in question. It just can’t be any other way. Nor can it be any other way that one can have any confidence in the existence of God without having a good epistemological case for that God – one would have to take an irrational leap of faith without, which makes one a fideist.

  295. ichthyic says

    God can be defined in such a way as to be unknowable, beyond all realm of human reason and intellect, to which someone can only be a strong agnostic towards.

    I’d like to add here, as an aside not directed towards anyone here, that this makes agnosticism towards such a deity no less (or more) a silly position to maintain than agnosticism towards flying unicorns.

    just to make this clear, since I’ve grown weary over the years of agnostics claiming to have the “reasonable” position on things, as opposed to atheists.

    claiming to be an agnostic towards imaginary constructs is vacuous.

  296. says

    just to make this clear, since I’ve grown weary over the years of agnostics claiming to have the “reasonable” position on things, as opposed to atheists.

    I did try to point out that was a case for strong agnosticism – rather than weak agnosticism (how people normally use agnosticism).

    claiming to be an agnostic towards imaginary constructs is vacuous.

    Guess it depends how God is defined. But at that point, it’s a long long long way away from what people usually define as God that in most cases such a supposition is a disingenuous attempt to sneak traditional theism in through the chink opened up in the case for atheism.

  297. ichthyic says

    no, I literally mean that claiming agnosticism towards imaginary constructs, of any kind, is vacuous.

    If I say:

    “I have just imagined a purple flying turtle!”

    and you say:

    “I’m agnostic towards the existence of purple flying turtles”

    you have engaged in an entirely pointless exercise that shorthand I would define as vacuous.

    that said, I see no material or philosophical difference between saying:

    flying purple turtle

    or

    bearded sky daddy who burns things and then pisses floods.

    the evidence for both is non existent, so saying one is agnostic towards one or the other is a pointless exercise.

    we need a better term than “agnostic” to describe such situations, I think.

    situations where there is not only no evidence, but no reasonable expectation OF any evidence.

    atheism is a conclusion, so that doesn’t apply.

    got a better term than “agnostic”?

  298. says

    got a better term than “agnostic”?

    I don’t, but then again I’m really uninterested in trying to find the right word. “Incompehensibles”, maybe? The notion that there are certain logically-consistent conceptions that by their nature put them beyond the realms of human comprehensibility.

  299. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I got the impression he was trying to tell a story, but I [he] couldn’t understand it.

    That is closer to the truth.

  300. Daniel Schealler says

    @Calum

    Christopher Hitchens said: “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”

    Indeed he did. What, then, is the evidence for the truth of this maxim?

    Others have commented here, but I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring as well:

    Consider the set of all possible assertions that take the form:

    We assert X without evidence.

    To my reading, Hitchen’s contention is that if this form of assertion is to be considered valid and convincing for x then it must also be considered valid and convincing if we substitute ¬x instead, simply because the structure of the logical argument is functionally identical.

    If you want to show that for a particular x the form is valid but that it is invalid for ¬x… Well, then you’re probably going to have to present some evidence for x in that justification and thus render the original form itself moot.

    That’s how I always understood it anyway.

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  302. Myrl Trollope says

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