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Some conversations don’t deserve to be furthered

Oh, christ. It’s the philosopher’s version of the Courtier’s Reply. There’s been some back and forth about Christopher Hitchens on Salon, with the first hack at Hitchens by Curtis White (and a ghastly bafflegab it was), followed by a defense by Dellora, and now Joe Winkler charges in, arguing that Hitchens wasn’t a philosopher.

All right, stipulated. He was not a philosopher. Much as I may respect some philosophy, you know that it’s no insult to state that someone is not a philosopher, and when someone uses philosophy as a clumsy bludgeon as does this Winkler fellow, it’s actually a compliment.

It’s another terrible effort at religious apologetics through confusion. This one paragraph ought to be enough to indict him on charges of sowing doubt and discord through dissembling noise.

Religion itself, especially the avant garde thought of religion, has been grappling with the issue of historicity in an honest manner for decades. What’s worse is that Hitch doesn’t really do justice to the systems of countless of thinkers (Wittgenstein, Jung, Heschel and Niebuhr) who discuss the nature of religious claims and their relationship to truth. At no point does Hitch think to ask himself in this respect, what kind of truth are we talking about, historical truth, experiential truth, or maybe symbolic truth?

Jebus. I throw up my hands and throw up my lunch.

So what is, for instance, the claim of an afterlife? Historical? Nope. No one has died and come back to credibly summarize the event for us. Experiential? Have you died lately? Symbolic? Symbolic of what? We can play this game for every single contrivance of religion — it’s authority in morality, the power of prayer, transubstantiation, salvation, whatever. I don’t give a good god damn what label you give it or whether somebody believes in it fervently — it doesn’t make it true in any reasonable sense of the word.

And I mean true in the good old practical, pragmatic sense of being repeatable or verifiable, having some material evidence for its reality, or having verifiable consequences that cannot be explained by mundane, plausible phenomena.

How about true in the sense of it actually happened, or the process actually works?

You know, in the kinds of masturbatory games some philosophers and theologians play with the truth, they could just as well argue that Harry Potter is “true”, in the same sense as Jesus. Winkler tries to argue that what he calls “polemics”, or what I call cutting through the pretense, are “interesting, enlightening and often compelling, [but] rarely further the conversation.” That’s true, but only because he seems to regard spewing more bullshit as “conversation”. Sometimes the smartest thing you can do is shut down the stupid conversation by tearing apart its counterproductive premises, and simply ending the circle jerk.

Comments

  1. RFW says

    The claim of an afterlife is symbolic of first smoking a very big doobie, sort of dying, and then being resurrected in an altered state.

    Will that do?

  2. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    The claim of an afterlife is symbolic of first smoking a very big doobie, sort of dying, and then being resurrected in an altered state.

    Will that do?

    Nope, unless somebody came by and added a potent hallucinogen to the doobie.

  3. anuran says

    “Special Pleading”
    There. I’ve said everything which needs be said on the topic.

  4. unbound says

    I agree with you completely PZ. I think the reality is that most philosophy at that level is on par with art. It’s fun to look at and may make you feel something, but the philosophers really need to start accepting that much of it is just made-up nonsense to fill a canvas…especially in terms of the religious “truth”.

  5. theignored says

    Religion: The ultimate evolution of the lie.

    That’s my opinion, anyway.

  6. Menyambal --- Ooo, look! A garage sale ... says

    Why would the goal be to “further the conversation”? Is talking his job?

    Yes, yes it is.

  7. Tuppy Glossop says

    Experiential? Have you died lately?

    Well actually I did nine months ago – twice. A heart attack, but I won’t go into the boring details, but suffice to say some nice people helped me get over it, and I’m much better thank you.

    And no, there were no bright lights and the rest. There was absolutely nothing.

  8. raven says

    At no point does Hitch think to ask himself in this respect, what kind of truth are we talking about, historical truth, experiential truth, or maybe symbolic truth?

    It’s Goebbel’s truth. The Big Lie.

    Or maybe Orwell’s 1984 truth. The truth is a lie.

    Or maybe Walt Disney’s truth. Let’s make up something fun and entertaining. Except I’ve seen Fantasia and Tinkerbell. And the bible writers and fans aren’t any Walt Disney class artists.

  9. raven says

    At no point does Hitch think to ask himself in this respect, what kind of truth are we talking about, historical truth, experiential truth, or maybe symbolic truth?

    The truth of the religions can be historical, experiential, or symbolic depending on who they are talking to, what day it is, and how badly they are losing an argument.

    And this truth is convertible from one form to another in seconds.

    It’s intellectual jello and can’t be nailed to any wall of reality.

  10. raven says

    At no point does Hitch think to ask himself in this respect, what kind of truth are we talking about, historical truth, experiential truth, or maybe symbolic truth?

    When you hear something like this, you know whoever it is simply spouting gibberish.

    I’m sure Hitchens did ask himself that question and decided a few seconds later, that it was too stupid to bother with.

    There is no way to tell whether a religious truth is historical, experiential, or symbolic. Except to fight a war or burn some heretics at the stake.

    There are ways to determine whether they are false though. All claims of the religions about the supernatural that are capable of being falsified, have been falsified.

  11. says

    Y’know, for all the issues I’ve had with Hitch, a guy like Winkler pretty much makes me appreciate him.

    Oh, and speaking of, about that ‘polemic doesn’t further the argument’ claim, let me answer that with the following deeply technical philosophical ripostes:

    Hooey.

    Bullshit.

    As if.

    The truth is the social practice of religion is to shut down any conversation that might actually advance in any way. These are the rules. You may speak much about it, but let’s not ask inconveniently direct questions like ‘Um, did any of this crap actually happen?’ or ‘Are any of these god things actually there?’, unless the answer to be given has already been agreed upon, and will not upset the boat. Hint: acceptable answers are ‘I feel it in my heart’, ‘Sure, I talk to my deity daily; doing so gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling, a little like you get after drinking warm soda’, and ‘Well, if it works for you’, depending somewhat upon the company.

    So this isn’t a conversation that generally does advance. Until those rude and possibly half-drunk ‘brilliant uncles’ come along to say ‘Hooey’ and ‘Cut the crap’. As has long been long overdue.

    Winkler, reading him here, however, worries me little. For the truth is: wooley wanks like him with his ‘but is it symbolically true?’ dodge, sooner or later, urge every honest sentient being to scream ‘Shut it, ye lukewarm cloud of empty noise, ye are so painfully full of it, and we are so weary of your wankery; move along now, thanks, and please go lie to and bore someone with far more patience for the same; perhaps that potted plant over there.’ And writers like Hitch, whatever their other strengths and weaknesses, have a way of opening that vent, for many suffocating under the convention that says, no, dear, it isn’t cricket to scream that, however much it needs saying…

    So, really, I have to thank Winkler for reminding me that okay, Hitch had his good points, after all. And so vividly, even…

    Seriously: thanks, guy.

  12. Tuppy Glossop says

    @chigau, You have no idea how cool it is to be able to say that I died and some nice people made me well again. I am still coming to terms with is all.

    Evidence based medicine at its best.

  13. dekomitri says

    I’ve given up on Salon a long time ago. They have absolutely no quality control on the articles they publish.

  14. Scaevola says

    I didn’t have a clue as to what those kinds of truth could be describing, but a quick Google Search for ‘experiential truth’ led only to religious apologetics sites. Well, now I know that whenever someone uses that term, they may be a bit of a shill.

    I do think there are different kinds of truth: the truth of a lived experience is different than the truth of a survey, which is also different from the truth reached by physics or biology experiments. Religions fail to be true on all of these accounts, except perhaps the ‘I had an experience of spiritual thinginess, and you can’t say I didn’t have one’ one, and even then, that’s not the kind of truth that allows you to then say that ‘my particular edition of this one book describes historical facts and therefore gay people shouldn’t get married’.

  15. smhll says

    what kind of truth are we talking about, historical truth, experiential truth, or maybe symbolic truth?

    Geez, this leaves out “wishful thinking truth” and “appealing delusion truth”. I’m sure you all can think of even more kinds of truthiness.

  16. Louis says

    Erm, but Harry Potter IS real. I shit you not. I went to British boarding schools, man. I’ve done the time. Okay some of the wizarding stuff was exaggerated a bit. Or a lot. But people in boarding school really are that divorced from reality. I’ve seen it.

    Louis

  17. consciousness razor says

    We can play this game for every single contrivance of religion — it’s [sic] authority in morality, the power of prayer, transubstantiation, salvation, whatever.

    Well, we can all easily verify religious people act like authoritarians when it comes to moral issues. So that one’s definitely true… or whatever.

    On the other hand, we can’t do any experiments on 2+2=4, so maybe that one’s not true according to your “good old practical, pragmatic sense” of the word. Is it true in the same sense as Harry Potter perhaps, or is there some other sense? Maybe I shouldn’t ask. Maybe the answer is just “shut up and calculate.”

  18. consciousness razor says

    I didn’t have a clue as to what those kinds of truth could be describing, but a quick Google Search for ‘experiential truth’ led only to religious apologetics sites. Well, now I know that whenever someone uses that term, they may be a bit of a shill.

    That’s kind of depressing. I haven’t been relying on google searches, but I basically just translate “experiential truth” into “empiricism.” Science deals in observations, which are all experiences, right? Of course, it’s probably supposed to mean personal experience, which we’re probably supposed to assume means it’s a revelation directly from the Jebus.

  19. Owen says

    This smells suspiciously similar to newage’s “other ways of knowing”. Also, symbolically true? I guess that’s the bit where they say “Oh, symbolically, it’s the body of Christ”, even though it’s experientially true that it’s cardboard. And then claim that both kinds of true are at once exactly the same even though they’re completely different.
    Maybe I can go to the bank and try to deposit a briefcase full of symbolically true $100 bills. I wonder how far I’ll get?

  20. moarscienceplz says

    I do think there are different kinds of truth

    Ehhh, in my experience when someone starts flinging the word ‘truth’ around, that is usually the dinner gong that announces a big ol’ steaming plate of bull puckey is about to be served.

  21. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    I find anything that, like religious apologetics, focuses on trying to justify how something is not wrong – as opposed to demonstrate how something is right – to be worthy of much suspicion.

  22. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Great Gods of the Hubristic Elites,

    He ***did*** say what type of truth he was investigating. He used the term “historicity” which is a very specific term. he did not avoid all jargon, he specifically used jargon on this precise topic, but the author is so intent on claiming that Hitch failed to use jargon or otherwise clarify the terms and boundaries of the discussion, that he is forced to lie when Hitch does actually do exactly what is demanded.

    Isn’t there a trash heap outside Jerusalem somewhere that is going to run out of fuel without this guy’s writing? He should dump it there quick!

  23. gmacs says

    What’s worse is that Hitch doesn’t really do justice to the systems of countless of thinkers (Wittgenstein, Jung, Heschel and Niebuhr) who discuss the nature of religious claims and their relationship to truth.

    Aaaaaaaaand he’s lost me. I once perused a book that was a collection of letters Jung sent. Jung couldn’t be friends with anyone who did not agree with his exact version of a theory. He sounds like a clique-y middle school kid who refused to consider other people’s views. That’s why he and Freud had a falling out.

  24. mnb0 says

    As soon as a religious deepthinker starts to dwell on truth I’m gone. Science is better off without. Just learn to live without absolute certainties.
    I’m still going to bet that Í won’t fall downward next time I jump off a bridge. I bet the Resurrection didn’t happen as well and that there is no afterlife – for the same science-philosophical reason.

  25. brucegee1962 says

    Symbolic truth = real as Harry Potter
    Experiential truth = real as alien abductions
    Historical truth = real as Napoleon

    This guy is seriously suggesting that Hitchens doesn’t know the difference between these three?

  26. okstop says

    As a philosopher, I’d just like to note that the only people who routinely parse “truth” in that way are philosophers of religion, who want to be able to use the word “true” in relation to their absurd beliefs but realize that they can’t waltz into a room full of people who all took epistemology as grad students and get them to buy it with regards to a bunch of invisible sky wizards. So they come up with bullshit “versions” of “truth.”

    I also must say, in defense of my discipline, that philosophy of religion really is its own thing. Indeed, in the words of one person I know who specializes in it: “We’re playing a different game.” Some of them quite openly acknowledge that rather than trying to find the most reasonable explanations of various things which lie beyond the scope of scientific investigation, they are starting from the assumption of their religious beliefs being rational and then trying to reason backwards to how that could be so. It’s an absurd game, and as well over two-third of philosophers are atheists, I’d say most philosophers know that.

    Please don’t indict an entire field on the prattlings of one dope… and more than we can blame mathematics for Ken Ham.

  27. Dr Pepper says

    Deep Truths. Eternal Truths. Profound Truths. Truths abouts the Human Condition. Note: prounounce the word “truths” with a soft TH and a Z, not a hard TH and an S, when saying it, That way it sound more portentious. These prhases are used to describe religious narratives. And The Odyssey. And Shakespeare. And Hemmingway. And Zelazny, or maybe that’s just me. Thing is, these truuuthzzz want to be taken seriously. I say, ok, fine. I am off to the local school board to give them my alternative understanding of the origin of the universe, which involved a unicorn, a hunchback dwarf, and a pack of cards.

  28. Akira MacKenzie says

    …and now Joe Winkler charges in, arguing that Hitchens wasn’t a philosopher.

    That sounds familiar!

  29. enki23 says

    Experiential truth = “I think it’s true.”
    Symbolic truth = “This reminds me of something I think is true.”

    Ontological truth = “This shit is so awesome it literally has to be true.”
    Cosmological truth = “Well, something has to be true. I like this one. It’s this one. Shut up.”
    Spiritual truth = “This shit is definitely true in some other reality.”
    Hagiographical truth = “Somebody really awesome said this was true.”
    Demographic truth = “People like me think this thing is true.”
    Phrenological truth = “This obvious bullshit makes people think about other things that may be true.”
    Dermatological truth = “I got this shit tattooed on me, so I’m committed to it.”

  30. chigau (違う) says

    enki23
    Good game!
    Democratic truth = “Most people think this is true, so there must be something to it.”
    Homeopathic truth = “Hardly anyone thinks this is true, so there must be something to it.”

  31. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    It’s intellectual jello and can’t be nailed to any wall of reality.

    Sure it can. It just takes longer, and more nails.

  32. Holms says

    Yes, I find that the demand for truth rather ends the conversation on religion. That Winkler only wants the conversation to continue regardless of truth is telling.

  33. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Narcissistic truth = “I came up with this very original and brilliant idea all on my own. I am a smart person, as evidenced by my ability to come up with original and brilliant ideas. Smart people are smart because they accurately perceive truth. Therefore, it must be true!”

    Freudian truth = “If you think the opposite is true, that’s just proof that you’re wrong & I’m right about what’s true!”

    Jungian truth = “You exceptions are not contained within my archetype. Let me provide you with a new archetype so this one can stay true!”

    Astrological truth = “People who believed the earth was the center of the universe came up with this idea, and this is at least as true as geocentrism!”

    Matrix truth (with Ghostbusters corollary) = “There is no truth. (There is only Zul!)”

  34. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    On the other hand, we can’t do any experiments on 2+2=4, so maybe that one’s not true according to your “good old practical, pragmatic sense” of the word. Is it true in the same sense as Harry Potter perhaps, or is there some other sense? Maybe I shouldn’t ask. Maybe the answer is just “shut up and calculate.”

    Sure we can.

    Step 1: Define the words and concepts of “two” and “four.”
    Step 2: Distribute fruit of your choice.
    Step 3: Observe that the definitions we have imply that when “two” and “two” of a thing are both added to a box with none of those things in it, there are now four things in that box.

    Step 4: Develop formal mathematics and the possibility of defining artificial and either unrealizable or imprecise sets of definitions of “two” and “four” for which the axiom is not true. Develop concept of “garbage” and thus “garbage in, garbage out.”

    Step 5: Develop altruism, thus ensuring that the sort of people who respond to this by asking “but is two really TWO? Can we really be certain that two plus two equals four just because our definitions mandate it and our experience confirms it?” get fed, and taken out for walks once in a while.

  35. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Also, symbolically true?

    “Symbolic truth” == “Mathematica says so.”

  36. Hakan Koseoglu says

    This reminds me of a CIF event in Oxford some years ago, where two intelligent people argued about various things civilly and then opened the platform to questions and one of the fellow listeners stated very loudly “All you have been talking is irrelevant, you can’t even explain what ‘Truth’ is”. I was very disappointed.

    In my engineering mind, certain things are very clear and all of that philosophy talk is mostly hot air. You cannot argue with physical laws and reality.

  37. Tyrant says

    How odd, this piece reminds me so much of a conversation
    I had when I went to buy a used car not too long ago.
    It went something like this:

    Me: This Porsche one over there seems surprisingly reasonably priced,
    can I have a look at it?

    Used Car Salesman: Great choice, Sir, and oh wow! It is your lucky day, Sir,
    I asked my assistant to double the price yesterday, and the idiot obviously
    forgot! Well, you can have it as advertised, that’s my policy. My “as advertised,
    no nonsense” policy.

    Me: Wonderful! Can we pop the hood and have a look?

    UCS: But of course, let me… one second… There! As you see, it’s a state of the
    art V8 Engine with 800 HP and the mileage is a dream, it’s basically a Prius for real men, eh?

    Me: Sir, I can’t help noticing that there is no motor in the back…

    UCS: Oh, I think I know what you mean, that’s a very understandable beginner’s mistake.
    You have failed to consider the full range of the philosophical discourse on in-there-ness, what is a motor, and what is a car.

    Me: Are you joking? There is no MOTOR in there, I want a car that works!

    UCS: “a car that works”, what a crude phrase. You cannot just impose classifications
    like that, that is so 17th century. We have long advanced beyond this simplistic
    understanding of engineering.
    Also, as Adorno says, you cannot appreciate a working car if
    you lead the wrong life. You don’t have to apologize, all is forgiven and forgotten,
    now if you just sign here and here…

    Me: How do you even think I’m suposed to get off your lot in a car without a motor in it?

    UCS: Nietzsche has already understood something you obviously do not grasp: That it
    is the Will to Power that drives everything. Makes the World go round the sun. Makes
    the birdies sing their beautiful song in the morning. Makes a fucking car go. Capice? The Übermensch does not have any need for motors and such piffle. And you do not want to be the Untermensch, do you?

    Me: Well… I guess not. But I’m really not sure if this isn’t a big mistake.

    UCS: Nonsense! Don’t let your lack of philosophical prowess fool you. Here,
    I tell you what: you pay now, and I give you this complementary reading material on
    post-modernist mechanics, and until you are a bit more acquainted with contemporary
    philosophy of cars, you can leave it here *for free*! Is that a great deal or what!

    Me: Well, wow, I don’t know how to thank you…

    UCS: It’s ok. That’s just how I am, helping the unsophisticated whenever I can.

  38. bad Jim says

    To most people, narrative is more convincing than argument, and the story that God loves us and has a special purpose for our lives is particularly persuasive. Since everything happens for a reason, it turns out that I’m the hero of my life story!

    The alternative that we’re peddling, that each of us is the temporary and perishable result of an ancient chain of improbable accidents, is not only unsatisfying but something that takes actual work to understand. It’s no wonder that it’s unpopular.

  39. Tyrant says

    is not only unsatisfying but something that takes actual work to understand. It’s no wonder that it’s unpopular.

    To quote Futurama’s Leela: “And the lines are short because it’s educational!”

  40. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    At no point does Hitch think to ask himself in this respect, what kind of truth are we talking about, historical truth, experiential truth, or maybe symbolic truth?

    I, like most people I imagine, assume he means “true” in the normal, everyday, operative sense of the word. As in, “not false”. You know, the sense of “true” that everyone uses every damn day when they say the word true. There is absolutely no need to fuck about with all this esoteric “well what definition is he using?!” nonsense when it is perfectly clear to any rational person that what Hitch was asking is “Is that actually the case in reality?”.

    There are many times in this world where it is entirely necessary to pin down which definition of a certain word is in use for that word to be of any use to the conversation being had. This is not one of those times. Fucking philosophers, man.

  41. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    @wowbagger #23

    I find anything that, like religious apologetics, focuses on trying to justify how something is not wrong… to be worthy of much suspicion.

    … But that’s exactly how science operates.

  42. Muz says

    Just an aside: The ads have taken a turn today. Fox news commentator Allen West and his fight against the “radical left” (since it’s the US that’s probably slightly to the Right) and “Earn your bible degree online!”

  43. Tyrant says

    Nah, Thumper, I know what you mean because it’s similar, but I disagree.

    With Apologetics, the evidence is basically in (or absent in principle) and it is then argued why the proposition is nevertheless true. With science, the proponent goes out of her way to find ways to shoot it down, and when she succeeds, that was that.

    Apologetics: Make Proposition. Then try to justify why proposition is not wrong despite absence of evidence or evidence to the contrary

    Science a la Popper: Make Proposition, than explain what would be evidence that the proposition is wrong. If successful, abandon Proposition.

  44. John Morales says

    Thumper, as Tyrant notes, something is true when it’s not false only in two-valued logic systems.

    (The normal understanding of ‘truth’ is that its proposition is veridical, leaving aside degenerate cases such as tautologies and analytic truths)

  45. says

    Sometimes the smartest thing you can do is shut down the stupid conversation by tearing apart its counterproductive premises, and simply ending the circle jerk.

    And put thousands of hardworking liars, propagandists, religious apologists*, mindwankers and neighborhood trolls out of work? I thought you socialist poopyheads were FOR Keyensian job-creation programs.

    _________________________________
    * A strange word for people who do so little actual apologizing for the bullshit they spew, innit?

  46. Tyrant says

    A strange word for people who do so little actual apologizing for the bullshit they spew, innit?

    Well, you see, Jesus died for them, and now they apologize for Him. It’s very sophisticated.

  47. Dr Pepper says

    Ap = “from or out of”
    Logos = “word, statement, or idea”

    Apology = “explanation”

    Remember Ben Franklin’s “An Apology for Printers”? It’s an explanation for his policy of ignoring complaints about the content of his output. He says that while their are jobs he won’t take because he finds them personally offensive, he will not refrain from printing what someone else may be offended by. But he does not ever say he’s sorry for offending, he is merely the conduit for the words of others.

    Today the word “apology” is mostly used in that limited sense of being sorry, and often has very little actual explanation. Hence evangelicals often use a different form: “apologetic” to avoid confusion. They are not sorry for being christians, they are explaining why they are christians and why they think we should be too.

  48. okstop says

    I don’t believe anyone was confused on the issue, but apologetics is still an absurd field. It holds the truth or falsity of the central claim beyond consideration, engaging in an explanation of how it could possibly be true in face of what else is known, without ever dealing with the question of whether the “apology” or explanation given is, on balance, more costly than simply rejecting the central claim.

  49. aziraphale says

    Winkler is just full of good things. Like this:

    “The world, even the atheistic world, has only recently come around to embracing same-sex marriage”

    Yeah, those bigoted atheists! Of course the implacable opposition of the major Christian churches wouldn’t have anything to do with that.

  50. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Where, precisely, is his data that a majority of atheists only recently ‘came around to embracing same sex marriage’?

    Is there really good polling data on this – anywhere? from anywhen?

    Or does he merely assume facts not in evidence? Ooops! I think we have a winner.

  51. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Another Winkler quote:

    Even if some of that religion calls for violence, there always has been progress and development of religion, just as there is development and progress of society.

    Really? Please explain how change = progress. How is Christianity more developed than Sikhism? Or how is it less developed than Buddhism? Or is it that the “newer” a religion is, the more developed it is, rather than the longer it’s been existing the more it’s had a chance to develop? Then we would have to ask how much “development” Christianity lacks that is contained in the B’hai faith, and how much it has that is absent from the indigenous faith traditions of Australia.

    Is there some theogenetic depth here that I should be measuring?

  52. Vicki says

    Some conversations, the best you can do is say–as I did to a friend a while ago–that we both know that we disagree, and that I doubt that I am aware of any atheist arguments she hasn’t already heard, so we may as well talk about something else. But that requires mutual respect, rather than the sort of believer who would counter by being sure that there are pro-theistic arguments that I haven’t heard. At that point we are furthering conversation, but it’s different conversations: in this case, those include conversations about feminism and art and friendship and books and sexual harassment and medical stuff, and she is not going to call on God instead of the Mayo Clinic.

    Those conversations seem to only happen one-on-one: nobody gets paid a good salary for that sort of “this works for me, but I can’t prove it and don’t expect you to agree with me.”

  53. says

    Scaevola, @15

    I followed your lead and also got nowhere. Some sites seemed to be citing as the sort “It works for me so my theory must be right” fallacy one finds all over quack health sites and they were warning us to think deeper, by which they meant be continue to be religious even when it’s obvious that nothing is happening there. And some were saying that the warm fuzzy feeling that you get when you think about God is the best way to make your choices about religion. In other words, they use exactly the opposite argument to get to the same conclusion.

    Symbolic truth made me think of symbolic logic, but apparently it’s parables, which IMHO isn’t truth at all, it’s just symbolism. Likewise historical truth just seems to be an accurate description of historical events, i.e. history. I guess it gets a special call-out because the Bible has a great deal of folk legend scrambled up with the actual history. In other words, the wrong is not historically true, but it is symbolically true. Conclusion? The Bible is true, even when it’s false.

  54. says

    Thumper, as Tyrant notes, something is true when it’s not false only in two-valued logic systems.

    (The normal understanding of ‘truth’ is that its proposition is veridical, leaving aside degenerate cases such as tautologies and analytic truths)

    My brother has a BA in philosophy. (He’s currently back in school, taking CS courses. Apparently all those ‘If p, then q’ variations he’s read make it easier for him to understand and design programs.) He recently mentioned that he was asked by the college staff near graduation what he thinks is the biggest benefit he got from being a philosophy major. He told them that he’s gotten a much more sensitive bullshit detector. To me, he mentioned that the most influential philosophy book he read was On Bullshit, which proposed a third category of truth, outside of true and false: Bullshit. Or as many people like to call it around here, “not even wrong.”

    I like it because it seems to me that if your hypothesis is unfalsifiable or incoherent, it’s bullshit, since there’s no way to prove it’s in the true or false category.

  55. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    In my engineering mind, certain things are very clear and all of that philosophy talk is mostly hot air. You cannot argue with physical laws and reality.

    Not intelligently, anyway, but determination of what the physical laws and state of reality actually are depends on inductive reasoning, and one of the pet stupidities of certain breeds of philosopher is apparently that inductive reasoning must be rejected a priori.

  56. moarscienceplz says

    a third category of truth, outside of true and false: Bullshit.

    That’s one way to define it. Myself, I think of bullshit as anything that is spewed by someone who doesn’t really care about whether something is real or not. For example, Rush Limbaugh is a bullshitter. Occasionally, he may say something that is actually true, but it is purely an accident. He just keeps vomiting forth whatever bubbles up to the surface of his septic tank mind without the slightest bit of effort to keep to the facts.

  57. consciousness razor says

    Sure we can.

    Step 1: Define the words and concepts of “two” and “four.”
    Step 2: Distribute fruit of your choice.

    Ah… I see. So that’s why numbers are physical, observable phenomena. I just needed to have some fruit. My mistake.

  58. consciousness razor says

    Obtuse? I just don’t think everything which is true or false is so by virtue of some physical interaction, or can be known to be because of some observation or another. Do you agree with that or not?

  59. David Marjanović says

    I want the different kinds of truth on a T-shirt!!!

    Erm, but Harry Potter IS real. I shit you not. I went to British boarding schools, man. I’ve done the time. Okay some of the wizarding stuff was exaggerated a bit. Or a lot. But people in boarding school really are that divorced from reality. I’ve seen it.

    Thread won.

    Matrix truth (with Ghostbusters corollary) = “There is no truth. (There is only Zul!)”

    That would be bad.

    Total protonic reversal.

    Democratic truth = “Most people think this is true, so there must be something to it.”
    Homeopathic truth = “Hardly anyone thinks this is true, so there must be something to it.”

    That, too!!!

    How odd, this piece reminds me so much of a conversation
    I had when I went to buy a used car not too long ago.
    It went something like this:

    Awesome. Too bad the will to power is a bad translation of something for which no good translation is possible. The original, der Wille zur Macht, refers to political power, power over people, never to physical force. Macht, related to “might”, was also used to translate the Star Wars Force, because it is power over matter and energy.

    The normal understanding of ‘truth’ is that its proposition is veridical

    Translation: something is true if it’s true.

    Really? Please explain how change = progress. How is Christianity more developed than Sikhism? Or how is it less developed than Buddhism?

    No, the idea is that there’s change within religions – 21st-century Catholicism isn’t 11th-century Catholicism or 19th-century Catholicism.

    To me, he mentioned that the most influential philosophy book he read was On Bullshit, which proposed a third category of truth, outside of true and false: Bullshit. Or as many people like to call it around here, “not even wrong.”

    …Uh, no. Wikipedia sez this book is in line with comment 61: bullshitters don’t care whether what they say is true, they only care what impact their bullshit will have on their audience. Liars, in contrast, know full well that what they say isn’t true, and actively avoid the truth. Bullshitters don’t give a shit.

    Many trolls are bullshitters: they say whatever will upset the audience, no matter if the troll thinks it’s true or false or has ever considered the very question.

    determination of what the physical laws and state of reality actually are depends on inductive reasoning

    Show me.

    Ah… I see. So that’s why numbers are physical, observable phenomena.

    Numbers are abstractions of physical, observable phenomena. Math is an abstraction of reality, and logic an abstraction of math.

  60. David Marjanović says

    That, too!!!

    …is part of what I want on a T-shirt. *sigh* Wanted to edit this out, but forgot.

  61. Nick Gotts says

    Translation: something is true if it’s true. – David Marjanović

    It’s an approximation to Tarski’s semantic definition of truth, which in more-or-less everyday language is:

    A sentence is true if and only if what that sentence asserts is in fact the case.

    or in a more formal (and updated) version:

    An atomic sentence F(x1,…,xn) is true (relative to an assignment of values to the variables x1, …, xn)) if the corresponding values of variables bear the relation expressed by the predicate F.

    It may look trivial, but consider those who think “Truth with a capital T” is some kind of entity, and those who think truth is just internal consistency, and those who think there’s no difference between truth and falsehood, and those that think something can be “true for me but not for you”, etc. Or indeed, those who think there’s such a thing as “symbolic truth”.

  62. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @David Marjonovic

    the idea is that there’s change within religions – 21st-century Catholicism isn’t 11th-century Catholicism or 19th-century Catholicism.

    But how can you tell if 21st century Catholicism has progressed or regressed from 11th century Catholicism? What measuring stick do you use? And why couldn’t, in principle, that measuring stick be used to compare developmentally unrelated belief systems when it can (presumably) compare drastically different belief systems that share a name and some history? We can compare 13th century Islam with 3rd century Christianity, presumably, because the former evolved from the latter. We can compare 21st century Catholicism to 3rd century Christianity, since the former evolved from the latter. Why not Christianity to Islam? What about Sufism? What about Sikhism? If we can compare Sikhism to Islam, why not Christianity to Sikhism (since you objected to that comparison in particular)?

    What is the comparison being made? How can we tell progress from regress? Why, in principle, shouldn’t we be able to compare whether Catholicism or Sikhism is more “advanced” or “progressive” or at least “progressed”?

    Why is animism a “more primitive” religion than Catholicism (as Dawkins asserts)? Isn’t the god of Catholicism far more abstracted from things for which we have actual evidence than the gods and spirits of Animism?

    You say that this is about comparisons within a religion, but such comparisons between religions are made all the time by theologians as well as atheists & agnostics.

    I want to know what possible justification there could be for such claims and what possible measure would be used.

  63. Dr Pepper says

    Religious Development refers to the observation that some time after society at large has recognized that some traditional practice (such as slavery) is reprehensible, or that some group of people (such as negroes, women, homosexuals, or republicans) really are people and deserve the same rights as everyone else, religious leaders suddenly discover that that’s what God was saying all along.

  64. aziraphale says

    That’s very fine, Dr Pepper @70. Worthy of Mark Twain.

    “..or republicans” is the icing on the cake.

  65. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    @Tyrant #47

    I meant that a good scientist will never try to “prove something true”. They will try to prove it wrong, and if they fail it is assumed to be true, to all intents and purposes.

  66. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    @John Morales

    The normal understanding of ‘truth’ is that its proposition is veridical

    You just said exactly what I said, but with bigger words. I’m sensing strong parallels with the dihydrogen monoxide joke.

  67. John Morales says

    Thumper, I was addressing one of your claims which presumed two-valued logic:

    I, like most people I imagine, assume he means “true” in the normal, everyday, operative sense of the word. As in, “not false”.

    Is it true or is it false that it will rain in your locale seventy-three days hence?

    (Allow me to introduce you to Kleene logic)

  68. David Marjanović says

    But how can you tell if 21st century Catholicism has progressed or regressed from 11th century Catholicism?

    I sort of overlooked the “progress” part of the quote. Also, comment 70.