Open thread on AETV #774 / NPR 11.11

This week:

Correction: 773 was aired last week.  Martin’s open thread on it mislabeled it as 772, which didn’t broadcast.


  1. mike says

    First? I’ve never been first before, now I wish I had something profound to say.

    uh… Great Show!

  2. G.Shelley says

    I guess you don’t have time to respond to everything, but a common fundamentalist response to the “people lived 900 years” before the flood was that there was a layer of water vapour above the earth that protected people from dangerous cosmic and solar rays, so their bodies didn’t decay as quickly. Once that was gone, life expectancy dropped immediately.
    Of course, it is still basically “magic” as they have to ignore all the other consequences their suggestion would have.

  3. says

    That’s the problem with starting with a conclusion and then cherry picking reality to support it – one ends up ignoring or being ignorant about quite bit of conflicting information.

    Whereas, if we look at the evidence and derive what probably happened from that, we have no indication of 900 year old giants.

    Is cancer a recent thing too? It’s typically dementia, accumulation of crap in our cardiovascular systems, and disease which take us out eventually. If the fall of man of Adam/Eve introduced genetic imperfections, shouldn’t cancer have started then?

    At 900 years old, these people should have been walking/talking blobs of cancer with arms and legs.

  4. John Kruger says

    Good work getting NP up on iTunes in a timely fashion. I would suggest knocking it out right after each NP show to avoid the massive buildups, but then again I have no idea what goes in to that process.

    Editing is lame. Keep throwing ’em up there. The podcast is still good even with >50% guests. Good work this week to all involved.

    Now all Kazim needs to do is finish up the “you can’t do that, oh yes I can” argument with a certain overly self congratulatory apologist.

  5. Sonorus says

    I am far less interested in the sound quality than the content. We can listen to or watch slick but pointless programs any time of the day or night. It’s great when the sound quality is better, but it’s not the primary concern of this listener.

  6. says

    Last week’s show still isn’t on YouTube. Once you get settled, is YouTube going up faster? I hate the way screws up widescreen and would like to watch YouTube without waiting until Thursday or so.

  7. Joshua Fisher says

    Regarding the agnosticism guy, It seems to me that the obvious end to that conversation would have been to say, “Until we clearly define what agnosticims is there is really no point in discussing it.”

  8. jacobfromlost says

    I was once given the apologetic that the genes of people “back then” were perfect, which made incest ok until after Noah (apparently that is when “imperfections” in our genes started cropping up, making incest a no-no from then on).

    So if their genes were perfect, then 900 year olds make sense–if, of course, you know absolutely nothing about anything, lol.

  9. Fergus Gallagher says

    Just my 2c on agnostic atheism, etc:

    A/gnostic seems to be about knowledge, often defined as “justified, true belief”. Expanding the two terms as on IronChariots:

    1) agnostic atheism = no “justified, true, belief”, no belief. Agnostic seems redundant since one can’t have knowledge without belief.

    2) gnostic atheism = “justified, true, belief”, no belief. This is plain contradictory,

    3) agnostic theism = no “justified, true, belief”, with belief. Is this a “justfied, false belief” or an “unjustified true belief”?

    4) gnostic theism = “justified, true, belief”, with belief. “Theism” is redundant since knowledge entails belief.

  10. Mr. Lynne says

    I’m very interested that sound levels among participants match in volume (and preferably are reasonably loud). I say this because I tend to save the videos and listen while showering during the week. Also, it sucks to increase the volume so you can hear the ‘softest common denominator’.

    Just my 2 cents as long as we’re making demands. 🙂

    But really – just keep being excellent.

  11. jacobfromlost says

    This depends on how you define “knowledge”, as some people claim to “know” god exists, “know” evolution is false, “know” 9/11 was an inside job.

    If we set that problem aside and examine the positions people hold by their own self-descriptions, I think Matt’s categories are perfectly reasonable descriptions of those positions.

    Gnostic theist: “I know god exists and I believe he does.”
    Agnostic theist: “I don’t know or can’t know if god exists, and I believe he does.”
    Agnostic atheist: “I don’t know or can’t know if a god exists, and I believe he doesn’t.”
    Gnostic atheist: “I know no gods exist and I don’t believe they do.”

    I don’t think many people would say they don’t fall into any of those self-descriptions (by their own various understandings of the terms).

    I’m also not sure that knowledge necessarily entails belief, unless we consider “knowledge” as only “very strong belief (based on good, bad, or no reasons)”. People can be presented with positive evidence of something they don’t believe (five tests show you have cancer, and you don’t believe any of them), and simply mentally reject it–even taking actions as if what they know is not true, as if that will make their belief that it is not true valid. Other people may have “knowledge” of something that is later disconfirmed with other knowledge, forcing them to reject one or the other…and sometimes end up rejecting the less pleasant knowledge for the more pleasant one regardless of the objective facts. In these cases it seems “knowledge as objectively demonstrated facts” becomes unhinged from “very strong belief something is true”.

  12. Andrew EC says

    Russell: Your debate with Stephen Feinstein is going pretty much exactly the way I expected; these presuppositionalists have a script that they think is overly-clever, and when you refuse to play ball, they keep repeating the same nonsensical questions and claim “victory” by default.

    Personally, I start off by securing a definition of what it means to “account for” something. Typically, to justify/account for/explain something means that you have to add content that is not contained in the predicate of your sentence.

    Thus, if I say that grass is green because it contains chlorophyll and absorbs light in certain wavelengths while reflecting others, I’ve explained/accounted for/justified grass being green — even though this is an obviously incomplete explanation.

    But if I answer that grass is green because it has a “green-producing nature,” I have failed to explain/justify/account for grass’s green-ness *even though that statement is technically correct*. Grass DOES have a “green-producing nature,” but it doesn’t *explain* why grass is green to just reiterate that it is. I haven’t added to your knowledge by repeating that.

    You see where this is going: when presuppositionalists claim that logic “reflects God’s nature,” they’re not giving an explanation for anything by the standard of what counts as an explanation. So even if you cannot “account for” the laws of logic, the problem of induction, whatever, their worldview isn’t comparatively better in terms of explaining things because their worldview doesn’t explain anything.

    Anyway, great stuff, and congrats for having more patience than the rest of us would.

  13. Mick from Oz says

    I’m pretty sure that #773 happened (I swear I watched a live episode last week), but #772 did not, just like the archives page says, and the comments in the open thread for “#772” say that the thread title should have been #773.

  14. says

    Thus, if I say that grass is green because it contains chlorophyll and absorbs light in certain wavelengths while reflecting others, I’ve explained/accounted for/justified grass being green — even though this is an obviously incomplete explanation.

    But if I answer that grass is green because it has a “green-producing nature,” I have failed to explain/justify/account for grass’s green-ness *even though that statement is technically correct*.

    I’m stealing that.

    It reminds me of the “we can know something is designed because when we look at it we can tell it’s designed” argument.

  15. Andrew EC says

    Steal away!

    Yeah, the “stuff that looks designed IS designed” argument is one that falls apart under any sort of close inspection. It’s particularly weird because it begins with an analogy — “if you find a watch, you know it’s different than a rock” — and then uses that analogy to argue that God designed everything… including the undesigned-looking rock!

    I always ask anyone making the Paley argument what they think an *undesigned* object is. (“A rock? But don’t you think God made all the rocks, too?”) Since they (generally) think their God designed everything in the universe, you’re usually left with an answer of “nothing,” which means the argument boils down to: “Things that look designed obviously are designed, but things that look undesigned are designed, too, so, ummm.”

  16. Mick from Oz says

    If I can be that really annoying guy for a sec, the edited post now says “Despite what the archive page said”. The archives page was never wrong as far as I know 🙂

    You can delete this post if this also goes through the moderation process (if it doesn’t count as any black mark).

  17. Fergus Gallagher says

    I was just using the most common formal definition (“justified true belief”). Using casual definitions within a formal wiki page doesn’t seem productive,

  18. Fergus Gallagher says

    I’m also not sure that knowledge necessarily entails belief,

    Can you tell me a single thing you know, yet not believe?

    (Aside: the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes “belief” thus:

    “Contemporary analytic philosophers of mind generally use the term “belief” to refer to the attitude we have, roughly, whenever we take something to be the case or regard it as true.”)

  19. Kazim says

    The way I wanted to end the call was “Get the hell off my line before you put me to sleep.” But I didn’t think that was the most gracious way to handle it.

  20. Kazim says

    You’ll notice that in my last message, I spent some time asking Stephen to account for God, and I don’t think he’s specifically answered that request. So obviously I’m already headed in that direction.

    But I will admit I’ve been taking a break from that conversation for a little while, although I do intend to start seriously going over it soon. Generally once I sit down with it it doesn’t take more than a day or two to start sharing out working drafts, and another day or so to incorporate any proofreading.

  21. says

    The problem is he was conflating two situations. Talking about whether God exists in general terms is difficult because lots of things get called God and they have very little in common. I’ve heard lots of people make arguments for gods that do exists, but I wouldn’t call them “god.” I would call them “the universe,” “the laws of physics,” “humanity” or “my cat.”

    Believers don’t generally want to argue that maybe there’s something out here which you could conceivably call God. They have a specific idea of God that you can accept or reject. They may be fuzzy of the details, but they’ll be a lot more specific than “YHWH, Thor, Spinoza’s God, the warm fuzzy feeling you get when you help people or a first cause exists.” He was essentially making the same error as the people he was complaining about and conflating all theistic arguments.

  22. Laura Lou says

    One of the callers asked if you guys had heard any atheist revelation deconversion stories. I have one, and it’s one of the coolest things that ever happened to me in high school.

    In my sophomore biology class we were learning about evolution. This one guy (who I knew was a Christian) seemed unusually interested in this discussion, asking my teacher lots questions. He said, “So, wait, if that’s how humans evolved… where do Adam and Eve come into it?”

    My teacher, an atheist not wanting to overstep his role as a high school educator, just said, “That’s a good question,” leaving the student to think about it.

    The student paused. “Wait. That means the Adam and Eve thing is impossible.”

    My teacher remained silent, letting the mental gears turn.

    “Adam and Eve isn’t real,” he continued to realize. “Shit, I’m gonna have to go home and tell my parents I’m an atheist.

    True story.

    You could argue it’s bad to become an atheist just because you realize one story in the Bible isn’t true, but I think his thought process was something like “Adam and Eve isn’t true, which means the Bible is lying, which means the Bible is not credible, which means there is no reason to believe its God claims.”

  23. troopdawg says

    the first caller, hooooly effing shit!!! i live near salisbury NC, i am really surprised to hear there is another atheist in this area. LOL

    I thought I was lucky enough to find my wife, a fellow atheist, in NC. TWO now… holy cow NC!!! Freakin awesome.

  24. says

    I call it “wordophilia” – where there’s a particular word they’re clinging onto – it’s the word itself that seems to be incredibly important, as opposed to the definition.. and they’ll find anything they can that they can anchor the word to. This happens with “soul” and “spirituality” too.

    It’s bizarre.

  25. Cylis B. says

    Just a little clarification of the “agnostic” caller. He said Richard Dawkins was a bit unkind to agnostics, without being able to sight what Dawkins actually said. I think it was probably in reference to ‘The God Delusion’ (Ch. 2). This is Dawkins’s stance paraphrased in a nutshell:
    There are two types of agnosticism: Temporary Agnosticism in Practice (TAP), and Permanent Agnosticism in Principle (PAP).
    TAP is for when we do not have the needed evidence to answer a question at the current time, yet have a reasonable expectation that relevant evidence is possible/likely in the future, so we hold off on truth-claims until such time. He uses hypotheses on the Permian Extinction as an example of when this is a valid position.
    PAP is for when the evidence necessary to answer a question is just simply impossible to attain at any time or by any means, so no truth-claims may ever be made. He uses the example of “are my experiences of colors exactly the same as yours?” to show when this would be a valid stance.
    Dawkins’s conclusion is that ‘the God question’ belongs in the TAP category, and not PAP one. His derision then is towards PAP agnostics, not agnosticism in totality.
    For my own two cents on the matter, I would agree with Dawkins. I would go even further to state PAP positions should always be viewed as problematic as they inherently contain a truth-claim of their own, that being that evidence on the given matter is, in truth, impossible… a claim that, ironically (and redundantly), should usually be approached from the TAP point of view.

  26. Nicholas says

    With the gnostic label, it’s what you ‘claim’ to know, rather than what you actually know. ‘Claim’ is the keyword there cause in reality, no one actually knows anything when it comes to gods existing. When someone says they’re gnostic about a god existing, they don’t actually possess knowledge, they simply claim to possess knowledge and probably believe they do. If the terms were based on knowledge rather than claims, you could say that there’s no such thing as a gnostic theist/atheist.

  27. ChaosS says

    There are lots of things I know that I do not believe, here’s a short list:

    Harry Potter is a Wizard.
    Unicorns can only be ridden by virgins.
    The dragon Smaug had a soft spot on his belly.

    Our minds collect datum like these and then assigns a level of belief.

  28. extian says

    I spent some time asking Stephen to account for God, and I don’t think he’s specifically answered that request.

    He did account for God: “Contingent beings require necessary beings; therefore God.” Seems like unassailable logic to me 😉

  29. davidrodriguez says

    I dont know if this will get answered by the host or someone associated with the Axp

    For me the hinduism discussion was the most interesting part of this particular episode, when you guys talk off air is there a recording of it somewhere? If so do you ever share them?

  30. says

    Full disclosure: I shamelessly stole the agnostic joke from George H Smith. (yes, *that* GHS. 😉 He lives about a quarter mile from me and comes to our pub nights. Nice guy even if we disagree on libertarianism.)

    I would have attributed it then but I wanted to speed things along…

  31. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    Is cancer a recent thing too?

    Article: Wikipedia – History of Cancer
    It became more noticible once modern medicine got the other more rampant diseases controlled, and as communication improved. As people lived longer to get more varieties of cancer, those would be new though.
    “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer” covers the history of treatment in detail.

  32. Orion3T says

    Agnostic v Atheist… my thoughts.

    In general I think the definitions Matt and the other TAE presenters use are fine for most situations. I’d call myself an agnostic atheist.

    The main problem I see with this is that it leaves little room for people who are genuinely not sure what they believe. Maybe they are theists having a long-term ‘faith crisis’ (as they might call it) or maybe they have never given it a whole lot of thought but, having realised they ought to ‘pick a side’ are starting to take it more seriously and are still trying to make sense of the various arguments.

    I was in this position for quite a few years… probably most of my life in fact, where I considered the most appropriate term for my position to be ‘weak agnostic’. When I was in that situation, I probably would have felt similar to the guy who called in on this show i.e. a bit miffed that the best term I could describe myself with was being hijacked, or belittled (perhaps Dawkins’s comment would come under this). Though ultimately it always means more to explain your opinions/beliefs properly rather than try to label them with a single word.

    I suppose if you describe yourself simply as agnostic but neither theistic nor atheistic, that might still cover it “I don’t know, and I neither believe nor disbelieve”.

    I think the type of agnosticism most atheists have (if they call themselves agnostic) is strong agnosticism i.e. I don’t believe, but we cannot exclude all possible god concepts so technically I don’t ‘know there are no gods’.

    There is also the added complication that people might be gnostic about some god concepts (e.g. those which are logically impossible) and agnostic about others. But essentially that’s still using Matt’s usual definition except being more explicit.

  33. Dark_Monkey_316 says

    I understand your concearn, but isn’t belief pretty much a yes or no question? Even when in flux about an idea it still is a yes or no question. Even if you don’t want to be held down by labels, you can still change the label if you decide that you change your mind about something. It would be the same as me (as I am now) being and agnostic atheist (AA) and then science proving tomorrow that no gods exist. I wouldn’t have to stay AA but change my label cause the situation/information/facts have changed. If someone learns new facts and truths about something they can change their mind about something and then there for change the label to it.

    If you stick to the meaning of the words theist, gnostic, an a-, some one should fit in one of the four catigories I would think.

    I hope that helps out a little.

    (sorry for any misspellings)

  34. jacobfromlost says

    Fergus: I was just using the most common formal definition (“justified true belief”). Using casual definitions within a formal wiki page doesn’t seem productive,

    Me: My view is that the formal terms are less productive as there is disagreement among many in the four categories as to what “justified”, “true”, and “belief” means. I’m sure you and I would agree on all those terms, but others would not. Since the terms need to apply to people in *and* out of our group so that we all know where we are coming from, it isn’t helpful to define some people’s self-defined positions out of existence.

    Fergus: Can you tell me a single thing you know, yet not believe?

    Me: I know the sun is 93 million miles away. I say I “believe” that but I can’t even imagine 1 million miles, much less 93 million miles. It’s just really big number to me. So when I say I believe “it”, the “it” is just a definite number that I have no real concept of (other than it’s a number; the DISTANCE is not something I really grasp). Can I really believe something I have no real concept of? I don’t know. (And this example is in addition to basic human denial, perceptual errors, and the fictional elements of stories/myths mentioned by someone else.)

    Fergus: (Aside: the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes “belief” thus:

    “Contemporary analytic philosophers of mind generally use the term “belief” to refer to the attitude we have, roughly, whenever we take something to be the case or regard it as true.”)

    Me: And if everyone agreed on what “true” is, or what it means to “regard something as true”, and how to find it or justify it, you’d have a point. But everyone doesn’t. Defining other people’s personal position regarding what is “true”, “justified”, and “belief” out of existence because they are irrational doesn’t change the fact that it is their personal position. That’s all I’m saying. (And I’m not entirely certain we are saying different things so just take this as my two cents of clarifying my point.)

  35. says

    It reminds me of the “we can know something is designed because when we look at it we can tell it’s designed” argument.

    Which makes me wonder, why don’t they ever claim that a hydrogen molecule requires an intelligent designer? When they focus on extremely complex things like a human eye or a bacterial flagellum as evidence of design, aren’t they implying that there are many things in the universe that don’t require a designer?

  36. says


    This question is directed to either Jeff or Russell as I can’t remember who said it on the show…

    My question is what is their objection to libertarianism? I’ve heard it criticized in a generalized way (ie- it would never work), but never in detail. If Jeff or Russell could expand on that I would greatly appreciate it. I would call & ask, but it seems off topic. Thanks guys & keep up the good work. -Jason

  37. says

    Moreover, what are they using as a frame of reference to distinguish design from non-design? I have never had a creationist explain to me what they think a non-God-designed universe would look like. If they say “Well, it would be totally chaotic with no rules or laws of physics or anything,” my response would be that such a universe could well have been designed by a god who was insane, or just had a Pythonesque sense of humor and was amusing himself. Intelligent design as a concept simply isn’t falsifiable, and that’s why science discredits it.

  38. Cylis B. says

    There are two other directions you could take this.
    1)We can easily imagine a reality/realities which are *more* rational and understandable than our own: such as where life is possible everywhere, or where chaos and quantum theories are not needed to explain things, or where it’s omnipotent creator actively and conclusively makes itself know to all, etc, etc, etc. Which then begs the question: “Why don’t we exist in that reality, as opposed to this one?”
    2)Why do we make the unfounded leap to conclude that in a more chaotic, less rational, reality somehow conscious life is inherently precluded? Consciousness and the ability to make some sense out of such a reality isn’t nullified, it can only be assumed to be more difficult. Heck, if we’re going to play that game, we can even hypothesize that any consciousness that might arise out of such a reality would, by necessity, be *more* equipped to comprehend the reality in which it exists.
    Stated more bluntly: there is no reason to assume that our reality comprises *the only* conditions necessary for conscious life, only that it comprises the conditions necessary for *our* conscious life.

  39. says

    “An agnostic is an atheist with a wife and two kids.”

    Caveat #1–yeah, it’s a sexist joke, where the male is the atheist. Smith’s book Atheism: The Case Against God doesn’t even bother to get around the default presumption that atheists are male.

    I think it’s funny because to me, “agnostics” are most often atheists who don’t want to be confrontational, who have more immediate things on their mind, who have family members who don’t really see what the big deal is, or they’re people who don’t fully believe anymore but are in no hurry to think hard about it in light of the aforementioned priorities.

    If you want to find a representative sample of this, go down to your local Unitarian Universalist church. Grasp deceased feline firmly by caudal extremity, apply angular momentum.

    Classically, agnosticism is the assertion that knowledge of god is impossible. I find this odd, by what evidence have they reached this conclusion?

  40. Orion3T says

    isn’t belief pretty much a yes or no question?

    I really don’t think so. Most people agree there are different levels of belief, from absolute denial, through weak belief, to absolute conviction. Our level of beliefs in an y given claim will almost certainly fluctuate over time. So the exact middle isn’t something anyone will do more than briefly pass across, but they can be close enough that they can’t distinguish for themselves which ‘side’ they are on.

    Firstly it’s possible to be so confused by the arguments that you really can’t make up your mind, or you keep reasoning around in circles never being quite sure whether you believe some of it, all of it, or none of it.

    Secondly, even if we could say that ‘belief is binary’ you must then accept that some people would change their minds on a weekly, daily or even hourly basis. To suggest they keep relabelling themselves every time their mood swings is just not practical. So they either avoid labels altogether, or they traditionally used the word ‘agnostic’ without the attachment of theist or atheist.

    Thirdly, you could quite honestly feel you don’t know enough to even comment. Literally no idea. Do you currently ‘believe’ string theory is correct?

    Finally, it could be a communication issue. If you don’t understand the question, you can’t actually say whether your beliefs match the question or not. The only legitimate answer would be ‘I don’t know’. Some people believe in ‘something’ but they might not feel it fits most definitions of god. This is why most conversations about god have to start by defining terms.

    Another example, do you believe there’s presently life on Mars? In the solar system? Most likely you’d answer like me, with some sort of fairly vague probabilistic answer (unlikely, possible, likely, very likely etc). Even planetary life scientists probably wouldn’t dare to use anything more precise than that when evaluating e.g. the probability of life in underground oceans of Enceladus. Those are technically all provable, factual, yes/no questions (assuming ‘life’ is properly defined), but I don’t think we could reaonably eliminate ‘I’m really not sure’ as an answer.

    I could tell you ‘what I think’ about those things but I couldn’t possibly declare belief or non-belief, just like for years I’d have been happy to discuss ‘my thoughts’ on god without knowing whether I actually believed or not. But I couldn’t have whittled the probability down to a point where I could be sure which ‘side’ my own beliefs actually fell on.

    I am now, but I can understand why people who are in that position today wouldn’t like the way the term agnostic is generally used by the atheist community.

  41. Cylis B. says

    I fully agree, but just in the atheist community’s defense, I think it ultimately boils down to the imperfection of language, not disrespect for agnostics in total.
    The word “agnostic” is just simply too broad of a term to be used in a way that doesn’t occasionally pigeon-hole some people into a contextual definition they don’t completely agree with. Yet when the basic concept is so inherently tied to theistic discourse, just as a matter of ease and brevity, it is quite often used as a general, openly vague, place-holder of thought to denote ‘somewhere’ in the sliding scale of full agnosticism you so concisely articulated (honestly, incredibly well stated). Which is all fine and dandy, as far as I’m concerned, provided a more in depth definition of “agnostic” isn’t germane to the discussion in question.
    That being said, I don’t want to detract from, or imply that in depth discussions on agnosticism (ie. the bulk of this thread) are not important and valid. I just want to say that in other topics where it’s not the main thrust of the matter, concerns over exact definitions can generally be neglected.
    Finally (in a shameless reference to an earlier post by yours truly, item #12, if you’re interested), I really do like Richard Dawkins’ (Dawkins’s? I can never remember if you add the “s” to a singular possessive that ends in an “s”) general delineation of agnosticism… TAP and PAP, as described in “The God Delusion.” Given that I think atheists usually only have a beef with PAP agnosticism, I think it’s a handy distinction to have in mind.

  42. AZGeo says

    While we’re waiting for their reply I’ll jump in with my own brief take on Libertarianism, just because I can. 😉

    Libertarianism (we are talking about the American version here, not the European version which is a form of stateless / weak state socialism) puts emphasis on the individual’s rights to own and acquire property, practically to the exclusion of all other rights. It places the right of a factory owner to set working conditions over the rights of workers not to be exposed to a dangerous work environment. It places the individual’s right to hold onto all of their earnings as being more important than any rights to healthcare, education, public safety, or any other service provided by the government.

    Libertarians constantly talk about freedom, but they open the doors for individuals to acquire huge stockpiles of wealth, which is then used to subjugate the majority of the population. If you’re working in dismal conditions for subsistance wages because all the means of production is tied up by a small cadre of wealthy bastards, how free are you really?

    Libertarianism only guarantees the so-called “passive rights”, which are essentially permissions to do something (free speech, gun ownership, accumulation of wealth) while ignoring active rights completely. Active rights are things like the right to have an education, the right to food when you’re starving, the right to protection from crime and fire, etc. the difference is that passive rights are simply granted while active rights actually have to be provided for by someone. In most political philosophies active rights are provided by the society, either through the mechanism of the state or through communal organizations in a stateless model. In Libertarianism, active rights are either provided for through the rather dubious means of charity organizations, or more typically not at all. Libertarians may think that they’re making people more free by removing the small restrictions we place on passive rights, but they are completely destroying active rights in the process, rendering most of the populace far less free. The simple truth is that if you are spending the vast majority of your effort in acquiring for yourself basic necessities that are no longer guaranteed your passive rights might as well not exist, as you haven’t the time to use them. Also, a powerful employer who no longer faces restrictions from the state may fire you at will if you displease him by utilizing your free speech rights.

    Libertarians claim that their philosophy would improve the say that individuals have in their lives by reducing how much sway governments have over people. In actuallity, Libertarianism reduces the say that individuals have. This is because whenever you remove a power to make decisions from the state (which is at least theoretically responsible to the people) you automatically assign them to the rich and powerful. Labor law helps to regulate working conditions, and is created by the state with influence from the masses. In a Libertarian world, the employers would dictate the working conditions, and the populace would have no say.

    Finally, I think that Libertarianism is a system which could not last long in the real world. The less restraint one puts on capitalism, the more the wealth becomes concentrated in the hands of a few. The more concentrated the wealth, the more effectively the rich can squeeze the poor for cheaper and cheaper labor. The poor quickly recognize that they have in fact been deprived of their rights and revolt against the system. At this point the poor either succeed in toppling the rich and retaking the wealth, or they are put down with force. Either way the Libertarian system vanishes. This is a pattern of events that have happened time and time again throughout history, in Chile, the USA’s Gilded Age, etc.

    Anyways, that’s my two cents. I’m sure I left some things out and poorly worded others, as it is currently 5:00AM here and I haven’t slept in ~20 hours, and I’m too tired to proofreed. I’ll be happy to expand upon or clarify anything I’ve written later, but for now I’m going to bed….

  43. Cylis B. says

    “…I’m too tired to proofreed.”
    God, I hope that wasn’t intentional… classic!

    Kidding aside, an amazing synopsis of Libertarianism, sleep deprived or not.
    For people not fully versed in it’s precepts though, I would just like to add that, like with any ideology, few Libertarians actually adhere to that description completely. Each individual will of course have their own slight to wild variations on that theme.
    Still though, an incredibly complete critique on the inherent dangers within the Libertarian dogma… you’d almost think pointing out inherent dangers within dogmas is something atheists are used to.

  44. Orion3T says


    I’m not objecting to the word being used in the way it’s generally used on TAE, or in the atheist community in general. For in-depth discussions I think it’s the best definition to use.

    My point is simply that I don’t think it’s a good idea to deride or belittle ‘agnosticism’ as a label for belief, or to try to exclude it as a position in its own right. That could alienate, or at least unnecessarily offend, those who genuinely don’t feel they can adequately describe themselves as anything else.

    I could be wrong, but I think that’s how that caller felt. He considered himself agnostic, and took offence at Dawkins apparently belittling or criticising his position (even though his position probably wasn’t what Dawkins was actually criticising).

    I think Russell and Jeff dealt with it well, I’m just offering this up for discussion because I think there are genuine people (usually on their way towards atheism anyway) who feel it’s the best label for them, and we shouldn’t ignore them, belittle them or tell them they can’t use the term, when it’s really the only term they have.

  45. Orion3T says

    Sorry – I just read your post #12 and realised I should have read it first.

    I agree, the TAP stance would be exactly what I’m referring to.

    I would also agree that the PAP stance effectively renders a question pointless. Claims to which that applies can generally be dismissed by applying Occam’s razor as the claim is non-falsifiable, inconsequential, or both.

  46. says

    feel it’s the best label for them, and we shouldn’t ignore them, belittle them or tell them they can’t use the term, when it’s really the only term they have.

    I don’t understand. It’s not he only term they have.

    “Atheist” is valid too. Those who typically label themselves “agnostic” are actually atheists.

    The ire they draw is because many of them dismiss atheism as being a dogmatic position, and they’re supposedly holding a logical and reasonable position – unlike atheists. All the while, they are atheists.

    That’s the point of contention.

  47. Cylis B. says

    “The ire they draw is because many of them dismiss atheism as being a dogmatic position, and they’re supposedly holding a logical and reasonable position – unlike atheists. All the while, they are atheists.”
    Granted, its bloody frickin’ annoying to encounter people like this. But it’s more a critique on individual agnostics, not agnosticism as a whole (which I think is the core of this discussion). To be fair though, since that’s the type of agnostic most likely to be verbal in and around the atheist community, I don’t think we should feel “bad” if the word tends to put us slightly on the defensive.
    Again, I agree, but in relation to what I said above, atheists are not just in the position of explaining our stance and helping others understand (many agnostics), but also defending our position from detractors (usually theists, but many other agnostics as well). Unfortunately, yes, sometimes the lines get crossed and we deride people for the wrong reasons… I think that’s why discussions about it are so important.

  48. Sonorus says

    I don’t find my position on that list.

    If there were gods, then it should be possible to prove that claim. Since no one has so far been able to do so, and not for lack of trying, I think it is safe to say that none exist.

    I do believe it would be possible to know, if it were true. But I don’t believe. So I would think that would make me a gnostic atheist, but I am not foolish enough to claim that I can prove that not gods exist, nor can anyone else. But the lack of proof, is proof.

    Or am I getting part of this wrong. Please correct me without flames since I never took a philosophy class.

  49. Cylis B. says

    Let me preface by saying that I don’t want to put words into your mouth, and that there is every I chance I’m wrong on this.
    I think technically what you are describing is a form of *agnostic* atheism (please, correct me if I’m wrong in my paraphrasing of your stance here).

    -Evidence for god/s existence/nonexistence is possible, but not currently available (agnosticism). Yet you believe no gods exist (atheism).

    The real bitch of the entire situation is that to be entirely accurate in our descriptions, they get incredibly complicated. For example, you’re stance would probably be best delineated as such (again, correct me if I’m wrong):

    -Evidence for god/s (gnostic in “concept” of god/s) existence/nonexistence is possible (gnostic in potential evidence), but is not currently available (agnostic in existent evidence). But you believe no gods exist (thankfully this one is still fairly simple).

    Now the debate becomes even more muddled. Since gnosticism is more prevalent in the first part (3 instances out of 4), does that qualify the stance as gnostic… or does the one instance of agnosticism move the entire stance to agnostic by default? In that, I’m almost relived to say, I have no frickin’ idea.
    Ultimately, definitions are open and valid for debate, but your choice of a label for yourself is exactly that, your choice.

  50. Orion3T says

    “Atheist” is valid too. Those who typically label themselves “agnostic” are actually atheists.

    Err… did you actually read my other posts leading up to this one?

    I thought I had already explained and quite clearly justified why I have said what I said. I understand what you’re saying, and I understand that this may often be the case. But I already explained how I know there are people who can only honestly describe themselves as ‘agnostic’.

    @Cyclis B

    I think we’re on the same wavelength. For me the important thing is how do we respond when someone tells us they are ‘agnostic’ ?

    My contention is that we shouldn’t tell them that actually means they are atheists, and they are simply being cowardly in not admitting it. Or that they just haven’t thought about it enough yet. Because this is exactly what theists will tell them too. Derision can be useful, but probably not in those cases where someone’s beliefs are already closely aligned with ours, but they haven’t quite taken that last step.

    It’s my contention we should ask ‘What is it you’re not sure about?’ and take the conversation from there. Assume it means they aren’t sure what they believe, and if it quickly turns out they actually are just afraid of the term atheist (which is not an unreasonable fear over there in the States) then just by being more reasonable from the get-go you stand a better chance of them accepting atheism for what it really is.

  51. Cylis B. says

    We are the same wavelength, I agree fully. Agnostics who approach atheists out of earnest inquiry (or anybody doing so, for that matter) shouldn’t be met with any sort of derision.
    Its just the flip-side to the coin is that any agnostic who comes to an atheist blog with the intent of trying to show the superiority of their brand of agnosticism, or that atheism is silly, should expect some confrontation. The derisiveness of the exchange, I think, is best just left to be handled by the participants, and the over-arching judgement of the moderators. Rules of fair-play, in those circumstances, I think are really not needed.

  52. AZGeo says

    That was quite good, much better than my sleep deprived scrawl. Bookmarked for future reference!

  53. John Kruger says

    I am fairly sure the contention is that god created the rock, not so much that he designed it. A carpenter often creates wood shavings without really designing them, and so it would be with the rock.

    Not that this rescues ID in any way. The hallmark of design is really simplicity, not complexity. Moreover, the rest is an argument form ignorance that makes no testable predictions. I expect we are all familiar here with the many other problems ID has.

  54. Orion3T says

    any agnostic who comes to an atheist blog with the intent of trying to show the superiority of their brand of agnosticism, or that atheism is silly, should expect some confrontation.

    Aha! Yes I agree with you in this case.

    This may not be exactly the position you mean, but I find the ‘it’s impossible to prove or disprove so you should be agnostic’ argument to be essentially admitting defeat, and only 1 argument away from atheism; i.e. A god which doesn’t manifest in the physical world in any way is indistinguishable from one who doesn’t exist, and according to Occam’s razor is not worth taking seriously.

    I have no problem with ‘agnostics’ playing devil’s advocate though, again providing they do it honestly. Playing an honest devil’s advocate is actually a good way to get a good feel for which arguments are actually defensible. If you constantly find arguing one side to be much easier than the other, it’s a good indicator of which side is right.

    Genuine agnostic ‘seekers’ are ‘useful’ in that sense, because if they are seen as being neutral by both sides then their arguments are less likely to fall on deaf ears.

  55. mentaljewelry says

    Can someone explain to me like I’m a small child why contingent beings require necessary beings? What does that even mean? I have no philosophy background, and it just seems like woo. Sure, the universe got here somehow, but why is it contingent on anything?

    Also, I must be missing something in Stephen’s argument, because even if there must be a necessary being that caused the contingent being, how does he then get to go “and that cause is deliberate design, and further, that designer is the Christian God” and get away with it? What does any of this have to do with Christ?

  56. mentaljewelry says

    This is very similar to what happened to me when I was six years old. I had asked a bunch of questions about nonbelievers and people who didn’t know about Christianity going to hell, and I didn’t think the answers made a bit of sense. So this God created people knowing they would be going to hell? Why? There’s no way that’s true. I concluded that hell couldn’t be real, and so the rest of it didn’t make sense either. Atheist at six. What confused me, and still confuses me, is that everyone else didn’t come to the same conclusion.

  57. says

    You essentially have the general gist of it. This really doesn’t have to take a lot of brain power to figure out. The issue is with logic, everything has to be completely explicit. So you end up with really long-winded proofs of things the English language can tackle in about 2 sentences. The reasoning is that language allows you to get to the point, but it isn’t entirely descriptive. So, much like mathematical proofs, you have to spell out every little step.

  58. Chris says

    In essence (and I hope this is correct), contingent things, such as you and me, or a rock, a tree, a lion, a planet, etc., cannot ’cause’ themselves, i.e., they cannot bring themselves into existence. Something else brings them into existence – their parents, geological forces, gravity, etc. But there also cannot be an infinite series of causes, there must a terminus to all causation. The Big Bang, for example, can’t be the ‘First Cause’, because the Big Bang presumably also had a cause. The universe itself, having had a beginning in the Big Bang is also contingent, so it cannot have caused itself to exist, and therefore cannot be used as a ‘bare fact’, i.e., an axiomatic truth that we accept without explanation.

    I’m vague on the rest, but there are a variety of philosophical arguments that show that the only possible terminus to causation is a Necessary Being, who MUST exist (since he/it is necessary – you can’t have a Necessary Being that does not exist, since it wouldn’t be ‘necessary’ then). This Necessary Being is also, by definition (though this ‘definition’ is not simply a declaration, but the result of other arguments), itself uncaused (a Necessary Being cannot have a cause, otherwise it would be contingent, and so require an explanation). This argumentation is what Feinstein is relying on – he isn’t merely asserting that there is or must be a Necessary Being, he is using the long history of this argumentation as his principal weapon.

    So to ‘win’ this discussion, Russell must find a way to defeat this argumentation, which isn’t easy, since its defenders have been answering rebuttals for centuries. Since the arguments themselves are highly logical, trying to rebut them often puts the would-be rebutter in the unintentional position of denying logic itself – a bad position to be in, obviously – or of advocating for uncaused events (usually by referring to quantum mechanics or the multiverse, although none of this is new to the defenders – they have answers), and an uncaused event is quite difficult to wrap your brain around, and there is nothing in quantum mechanics that is •definitively• uncaused (we simply don’t know if particle creation has a cause or not, at best), and the multiverse, long story short, also requires an explanation, so there isn’t any evidence that can be pointed to to dismiss the Necessary Being. Only a metaphysical argument can do that.

    Now, how any of this leads to the Christian god expelling man from paradise, ordering the massacre of the Canaanites, or incarnating himself into Jesus – well, I’d love to hear THAT explanation.

  59. mentaljewelry says

    If the only possible termination of causation is a Necessary being, that’s fine. It doesn’t make atheism impossible, though. We’re not going around saying the Big Bang is uncaused; we’re just saying the Christian God isn’t likely to be that cause. What’s illogical about that?

  60. troopdawg says

    About Jonathan and others like him,

    Callers who ask all these questions to get the hosts to walk into a verbal trap so they can say “GOTCHA, HERES GOD” are happening too frequently.

    I appreciate that Russel hung up on him when Jeff said call was over. It’s annoying to listen to hosts meekly respond because you have NO IDEA what direction the caller will spin your words.

    That is my QQ.

  61. Cylis B. says

    I think a stronger, and much more direct line of contention could be something like this:
    -If contingent things lead us back to a logical first, uncaused, cause; by what logic and reason is this asserted to be a “being”?
    It’s been years since I took philosophy courses, so my terminology and use is really rusty now, but to assert that this “Necessary First Cause” is so complex as to be described as an “immaterial, transcendent, omnipotent, omniscient, conscious, entity” requires a heck of a lot more justification than Pastor Feinstein has presented… especially if he simultaneously asserts the first cause possesses these attributes by further necessity. What makes those attributes “necessary” within a first cause?
    A much more logical conclusion is the first cause – by necessity – is incredibly *simple* in nature and attributes, and that the resultant complexity of reality isn’t a result of a complex start, but of the accumulation of cause and effect since that point.
    That’s my layman, armchair-philosopher’s, take on it. I fully expect to hear I’m embarrassingly off on this somewhere… but that’s why I loved philosophy when I was in it.

  62. jdog says

    The problem with the first cause argument (or the Necessary Being argument, the cosmological argument, etc) is that when we go far enough back, we reach a point where we’re fairly certain many of the current physical laws of the universe (such as general relativity and everything dependent upon it) simply didn’t apply. Since causality is necessarily dependent on time (which didn’t apply then), first cause advocates have no evidence for their arguments.

    Most resort to saying “there must have been some sort of causality, even if it’s not the same kind we have now” and hope that if they repeat it often enough, you’ll buy it.

  63. Chris says

    I think the argument runs that it must be a being because a thing or object cannot create, or maybe cannot create from nothing. And the ‘God of Classical Theism’, which is this necessary being, is supposed to be simple, because he/it doesn’t have attributes as we think of them, he – or as a classical theist would write it – He just •is• his goodness, etc. – these things are all part of his essence (because Being is good, for example, and as Pure Being, he is goodness itself, etc.) It’s all very convoluted and I can’t say I’ve done much learning about it except for blog reading.

    Also, because they are metaphysical arguments, they do not depend on scientific evidence but instead on pure logic. So I’m not sure how well the causation-tied-to-space-and-time (which I agree with) will work. (But maybe.) I’m pretty sure that quantum mechanics and the multiverse will not work if Mr. Feinstein is an able-enough defender. He certainly seems to think he is.

  64. jdog says

    However, Feinstein is (allegedly*) trying to prove atheism is incorrect. You can’t prove existence by logic alone, nor can you provide scientific evidence for a metaphysical claim under any common definition of “metaphysical”.

    *Personally, I think he just wants to get some name-recognition to try and make money from the book he mentioned in his third post.

  65. Cylis B. says

    I think what I’m getting at (the rust is slowly coming off the wheels) are metaphysical questions, not ones predicated on space-time cause and effect.
    -By what reason and logic is “goodness” or “being” (both in the ‘conscious thing,’ meaning and the simple ‘existence’ one), or any other necessary essence of a creator/causer known to be axiomatically necessary as opposed to derivative?
    -Why must traits observed in the created/caused correlate to basic aspects of their creator/causer?
    -Why *must* this creator/causer encompass anything more than: “Existence” and “The function of creation and causation”?
    Basically, I’m not presenting these as arguments, just questions I would like answered. If I’m going to make anything approaching a “claim” or “argument” it is that getting from “necessary first cause” to “claims as to it’s nature” require the most justification.
    I’m not saying Pastor Feinstein doesn’t/can’t have justification for these claims. I’m just saying: a)If/when he presents such justification, this is where he should be the most thorough, and b)Its about bloody time he gets around to it!… instead of going on and on about how AWESOME it will be when he finally does.