Comments

  1. TripMaster Monkey says

    TS sez:

    That’s nonsense. Look at the contempt he is showering on the people who dare to disagree with him. He dehumanizes anyone who disagrees with him.

    No, TS, by abandoning reason in favor of superstition and ignorance, they’re doing a fine job of dehumanizing themselves. PZ is just the guy with the flashlight.

  2. Steve_C says

    Hehe. DEMONS! Too funny. I guess if you believe the bible you ahve to believe in all sorts of wacky shit.

    Demons
    Angels
    Archangels
    Leviathans
    Talking Burning Bushes
    Giants
    Arc of the Covenant
    Zombies

    Sounds like a night of TV on the Chiller Channel.

  3. Sastra says

    SDG #344 wrote:

    In our desacrilized society, it is hard to find parallels in common human experience for the notion of sacredness, or for deference to the sacred affinities of others.

    In a sense, the idea of the “sacred” is very common in the secular world. It’s there in dogmas which must not be questioned, questions which must not be asked, ideas which must not be challenged, people who must not be crossed, and irrational claims which must be defended by appeals to rhetoric, fallacy, emotion, misdirection, and violence — instead of by reason.

    I use this analogy as an addition to your reasonable analogy of desecrating the dead, because ‘hurt feelings’ are not the only issue here. PZ seems to be trying to restore a rational perspective to what has just been revered too much by performing an act of irreverence. He is trying to point out the obvious: no one is truly harmed when the sacred is violated. The “hurtful, hateful offense” hurts no one, and the scorn in the act is directed not at the believers, but at the high value put on Belief itself. Beliefs should only be as good as what backs them up.

    There’s a lot of talk about respect for the sensitivities of others, but I sense a form of disrespect lurking under the heartfelt pleas. The idea seems to be that Catholics simply shouldn’t be expected to handle insolence. They can’t reason with secular logic, and think of the Eucharist as a cracker, and both Cook and PZ as minor annoyances. They just can’t be held to the same standards we nonbelievers hold ourselves — either because they’re weak, simpleminded, and have been brainwashed, or because they’re operating on the higher, loftier, more spiritual plane of Faith. Not only atheists, but society itself needs to recognize this, and cordon off certain areas and actions as just too hard for religious people to handle.

    I don’t know. Maybe I have more ‘faith’ in the religious than that. I don’t think we’re really all that different. And if my mother’s remains were not treated with proper deference, I would struggle hard to keep in mind that there are bigger problems, and my automatic reactions are not necessarily reliable. It’s not really my mother. It’s just a frickin’ corpse.

    there is no way we can believe what we do about the Eucharist and not regard something like this as a hurtful, hateful offense

    Ah, but I think you can believe some of what you do about the Eucharist, and regard ‘something like this’ as a minor annoyance at best. As a longterm goal, it might be a good idea. The Catholic Church has already improved a lot.

    Bottom line, the emperor has no clothes, and I still think your sense of outrage needs to be tempered by the recognition that having a convinced faith that the emperor does indeed have clothes is not necessarily a crowning act of moral strength, and will not be recognized as such by others. In fact, it shouldn’t be recognized as such by others. We all need reminders not to take the common ground too lightly, for it’s what we all stand on, religious or not.

    Perhaps it’s a bit of a standoff. If PZ is not exactly behaving with the decorum usually expected of a university professor (which is arguable), then the overwrought handringing and pleas for mercy are not exactly the behavior expected of the heirs of Erasmus, either.

  4. says

    #27 It’s plain to see the joke’s on PZ.

    IIRC, this all started out with PZ saying something like “It’s just a cracker, fer cryin’ out loud”. Plainly it’s not just a cracker.

    No, here is what provoked a lot of angry responses from Catholics…PZ wrote this on July 8, 2008…

    “Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers?” Myers continued by saying, “if any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I’ll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare. I won’t be tempted to hold it hostage (no, not even if I have a choice between returning the Eucharist and watching Bill Donohue kick the pope in the balls, which would apparently be a more humane act than desecrating a goddamned cracker), but will instead treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web.”

    To me, this is playground trash talking, on public funds rather than his own funds. Anyway, the outrage wasn’t sparked by a mere little joke saying the “wafer is just a cracker.”

  5. Rey Fox says

    “If this list represents what happens to people when atheism is adopted”

    It doesn’t. It represents what happens when a multinational religious corporation starts witch hunts because someone misused a cracker and demanding undeserved deference. We get rude.

    “then the church was right to outlaw it (if the church indeed ever did.)”

    Yes, the church tortured and killed an awful lot of people because they were “angry and rude”. Such a shining moral beacon.

    -Brigadier General Arthur P. Jones (Mrs.)

  6. Dave Mueller says

    #489, FYI, I was not brought up in the Catholic Faith but converted in young adulthood (23).

    Anyway, I can affirm Catholic miracles without denying others, as Turzovka has already said. Some are probably genuine, some probably not, but I have no need to investigate them. Miracles are not the primary reason that I believe in Catholicism, though I guess they are a piece of the puzzle, and my belief doesn’t depend upon claiming that ONLY Catholicism can have miracles.

  7. rebelest says

    (For example, while it’s true that my commitment to my family is secondary to my commitment to Jesus, since Jesus is not harmed when the Eucharist is desecrated I can’t say I would rather see my family harmed than the Eucharist desecrated.)

    SDG@#344

    The fact that your commitment to your family is secondary to your commitment to Jesus is one of the many reasons that we atheists consider your religion to be poison/anathema. It also causes me to dismiss most of your pondering (just knowing that a person is a theist causes me to dismiss most of what they proffer as argumentation since they have already demonstrated to my satisfaction that they aren’t capable of reasonable thought)…if you believe in a deity you will believe in anything…your credulity is a profound weakness and should be remedied.

    So: I assert that the idea of “God” implies the abdication of human reason and justice and it (the god idea) is the most decisive negation of human liberty and necessarily ends in the enslavement of humankind both in theory and practice and that those who profess to worship “God” must harbor no childish illusions about the matter but humbly renounce their liberty and humanity.

  8. spurges says

    TS blathered

    “Look at the contempt he is showering on the people who dare to disagree with him.”

    He is showing contempt for people who care more about a cracker than people.

    Get that through your thick skull.

  9. Dave Mueller says

    #489, FYI, I was not brought up in the Catholic Faith but converted in young adulthood (23).

    Anyway, I can affirm Catholic miracles without denying others, as Turzovka has already said. Some of the non-Catholic ones are probably genuine, some probably not, but I have no need to investigate them. Miracles are not the primary reason that I believe in Catholicism, though I guess they are a piece of the puzzle, and my belief doesn’t depend upon claiming that ONLY Catholicism can have miracles.

  10. TS says

    >I’ve only seen contempt against people with unsupportable positions.

    You mean we should dehumanize anyone with unsupportable positions? How is this different from what the religionists do?

    Dehumanization is always illogical, and irrational.

  11. turzovka says

    Devils, yes, too funny hey Steve_C? I love how you are so sure that God is a phony. I thought we could not prove a negative? But you go ahead and laugh at the darkness. No God, hee, hee. Just keep believing that evolution happened all on its own. One day some animal said, JEE it would be nice to grow a liver, I never had one before. And that is how we got a liver. Not to mention a heart, brain, eye, ear, nervous system, lungs, et al. Just because “natural selection” had some inkling it might be neat to have.

  12. Amy says

    TS: Bill Donahue said something to the effect that he couldn’t think of anything more vile than desecrating a communion wafer. Do you agree with that? Out of curiosity…

  13. Steve_C says

    It’s just a cracker. And how exactly were public funds used?
    This was PZ’s response to The Catholic League harrasing the student. The point is that he won’t be bullied and that it is JUST a cracker, despite what Catholics believe.

  14. TS says

    >He is showing contempt for people who care more about a cracker than people.
    > Get that through your thick skull.

    Dehumanization is always illogical, and irrational. Feel free to support dehumanization of others, I won’t join you.

  15. Amy says

    “One day some animal said, JEE it would be nice to grow a liver, I never had one before. And that is how we got a liver. Not to mention a heart, brain, eye, ear, nervous system, lungs, et al. Just because “natural selection” had some inkling it might be neat to have.”

    Ugh. Just stop, alright? You’re making yourself look like a fool. Tell me you don’t believe what you wrote there… please.

  16. kerovon says

    Michael (#504)

    “on public funds”? PZ isn’t being publicly funded to on this blog. Its hosted by Seed magazine. You might have a point if this was hosted by UMM, but the only way you could make that arguement is if you claim that because he eats food that he gets the money for through a public job, everything he does is publicly funded.

  17. Steve_C says

    Hehehe! Turz is a riot!!!

    Demons are real! Evolution is a lie!!!

    Wow you’re a fucktard.

    But keep going, please, pretty please with Holy Water on top.

  18. spurges says

    Dave Mueller

    You have no evidence that god caused any miracles.

    At best you have unexplained healing that you assume were done by god.

  19. Dan L. says

    I want to address those that insist the boy “stole” the host:

    I was raised Catholic. While I don’t think I ever actually believed, I went to a fair many masses and received the eucharist on most of those occasions. Speaking from experience, there are no bouncers at Catholic churches screening for non-believers and heretics. Nor does anyone check that a congregant is a practicing Catholic before that person receives the eucharist. No one tells the congregation that failing to eat the host once it is received constitutes theft (or sacrilege for that matter).

    Now, suppose I were to throw a party and buy food for the guests. Suppose a guest pocketed some of the food and left with it. Would they be guilty of a crime? If I did not make it clear before offering the food that it must be consumed on the premises, then I imagine any court in the US would throw the case out at a preliminary hearing. Now, I understand that the host isn’t merely “food.” However, this argument is merely against the charge that removing the host from a church is “stealing.” It’s not stealing because the rules are not clear at the outset. Guilt is contingent on intent, and it is not clear that anyone who is ignorant of the cracker rules and disobeys them has the intention of stealing.

    As far as disrupting a religious service, no one knew that the service had been “disrupted” until after the fact. It’s not clear to me what it even means to disrupt an event post hoc. The kidnapping charge is ludicrous, but if it must be addressed: Jesus the Christ is legally dead. He has been a missing person for almost 2000 years, so even if some people think he’s still alive, he’s dead in the eyes of the law. Can’t kidnap a dead guy.

    Now, was it right for the young man to remove the host from the church? I certainly don’t think so. But I’m not sure it was clear to him that he was doing anything wrong. And Catholics responded to the event NOT by trying to make it clear that the host is a special cracker for believers only, but instead by bullying and harassing the young man.

    Bottom line is that there is reasonable doubt as to the intent of the boy in taking the host. Since that is the case, I think the Christian thing to do would be give him the benefit of the doubt and make it clear that what he did was wrong. Then if he did it again, there would be no need to bully; the Catholic church would have legal recourse.

  20. turzovka says

    Steve_C and Amy: I am capable of getting a joke, too. For those who think ID is a joke, I find the fact there are those who reject God entirely or any involvement in the evolution process to be even more laughable. At some point a giraffe was nothing more than an amoeba sized animal right? At some point in the evolution game, a liver was formed and an eyball, brain, et al. because that early form of life had none of them. So how did it happen? Why “natural selection” of course which is some inanimate force or sensory world that decides it is more fit to go right than left. So somehow, some non-intelligent “force” or whatever your screwy definition tries to dance around, was the engine that brought about a liver where there once was none. OH, that is SOOOOO CREDIBLE! No ID, just our own little friend, natural selection.

  21. CJO says

    What I said is that PZ’s actions are “just plain incivil, and should be generally recognized by civil people as socially unacceptable.” Is that any clearer?

    It amounts to the same thing, though. In a nominally democratic society, those actions “generally recognized…as socially unacceptable” are recognized as such in the body of law. Most people on that bus in Birrmingham, “civil people” all, no doubt thought Rosa Park’s actions were “just plain incivil.” I’m not trying to make a strong claim as to the necessity or rectitude of those actions versus PZ’s (or Cook’s) in this case, but I would like you to reflect on the idea that in a free society “unacceptable” doesn’t have the force that outraged Catholics want it to have. Offensive and incivil are subjective value judgements. In the eyes of the law, it was just a cracker –an object of negligible value that society has no general interest in protecting. In your eyes Cook did something rude; but that does not, and should not, carry any force, as it is nothing but an opinion with which anyone is free to disagree, as I do.

  22. Dahan says

    Turzovka,

    Sorry for overlooking your post. Easy to do here right now, but I do try not to do it.

    First, you ask “And how do additional miracles bolster the atheist’s argument of No God anyway?”
    Well, I never said they would. You’re the one that claims to believe in them, not me. But I had only heard of you talking about the ones from christian mythology.

    Second, you claim to believe all sorts of supernatural things and state that you’re “not looking for crazy improbable “natural” answers to try to explain them away.. ”

    Hmmm, neither are we. Not crazy ones. Although nature can seem pretty crazy at times. This falls back to the same old saw about extraordinary claims needing extraordinary proof. Time and again, the proof part falls down in the miracle department.

    You speak of faith a lot. As Samuel Clemens once said “Faith is believing in something you know just ain’t true.” Faith is what people ask you to have when they can’t show you any proof of something. The claim of a god’s existence is an extraordinary claim, hard to think of one bigger. So where’s the proof?

    Oh, and as long as you believe in the existence of a devil, you really are bullet-proof to logic. You’ve got two imaginary entities that can be pointed to for anything that goes good or bad. Amazing that people still believe in this sort of thing in the year 2008.

  23. freethinker says

    Chicago #372:

    We don’t have to explain it; it is presented without evidence. A list of people “cured” by magic water is not convincing to anyone that knows how people exaggerate and (yes, it’s true) lie to make a point or for their own profit. The people that run Lourdes (and make a lot of money off of it) are not impartial witnesses. Of course they claim that it can cure people so that gullibles (like you) will use their claims to strengthen their faith and make the pilgramage themselves. Anyone can make these sort of claims about anything – do you know how many people swear that they have seen the Loch Ness monster? Yet there is zero credible proof. The legend continues, though, because it is good for business.

    Incidentally, Lourdes has had about 200 million people (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lourdes) visit it since the magic lady “appeared” and you can only offer 12 “miracles” in the last 50 YEARS? If we assume 50 million visitors in the last 50 years (a gross underestimate) that’s a cure rate of only 0.000024% – I think the placebo effect can easily cover that. And why is your god so stingy with his cures? Are the vast majority of people (many of which, I’m sure, are “good” Catholics) not “worth” curing? And if you really want to convince me, show me ONE amputee that has had his limb grow back after praying fervently at Lourdes (http://whydoesgodhateamputees.com/). Can’t do it, can you? It’s always something that we can’t see or test – convenient, isn’t it?

  24. Amy says

    turzovk: As an evolutionary biologist, all I can tell you is that you do not understand evolutionary theory in the slightest. What you are arguing makes no sense, because the theory makes none of the claims that you are criticizing. You are building a straw man.

  25. freethinker says

    Chicago #372:

    We don’t have to explain it; it is presented without evidence. A list of people “cured” by magic water is not convincing to anyone that knows how people exaggerate and (yes, it’s true) lie to make a point or for their own profit. The people that run Lourdes (and make a lot of money off of it) are not impartial witnesses. Of course they claim that it can cure people so that gullibles (like you) will use their claims to strengthen their faith and make the pilgramage themselves. Anyone can make these sort of claims about anything – do you know how many people swear that they have seen the Loch Ness monster? Yet there is zero credible proof. The legend continues, though, because it is good for business.

    Incidentally, Lourdes has had about 200 million people (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lourdes) visit it since the magic lady “appeared” and you can only offer 12 “miracles” in the last 50 YEARS? If we assume 50 million visitors in the last 50 years (a gross underestimate) that’s a cure rate of only 0.000024% – I think the placebo effect can easily cover that. And why is your god so stingy with his cures? Are the vast majority of people (many of which, I’m sure, are “good” Catholics) not “worth” curing? And if you really want to convince me, show me ONE amputee that has had his limb grow back after praying fervently at Lourdes (http://whydoesgodhateamputees.com/). Can’t do it, can you? It’s always something that we can’t see or test – convenient, isn’t it?

  26. Jon_in_Charlotte says

    *bump*

    It appears that any comment will likely get lost amongst the tidal wave of opinions, but, I hope that there might be a few that read of my experience in the links provided below.

    10 years ago I would have likely found the cracker jokes and the Catholic bashing humorous. As a cradle Catholic who had waded, then swam, and eventually surfed into a secular lifestyle the teachings of the Church seemed foolish and backwards thinking.

    However, my perceptions changed. I didn’t choose for them to be changed nor was I seeking for them to be changed.

    My experiences occurred in 3 parts. Each are short in length and written with an objective mindsight.

    http://personalrevelation.wordpress.com/about-the-pages/awakening-the-soul/

    http://personalrevelation.wordpress.com/about-the-pages/you-are-purified/

    http://personalrevelation.wordpress.com/about-the-pages/abba/

    My reason for my submission and subsequent bumps is to offer a testimony that presents a case that God does indeed exist. Non-believers are always insistent on being provided with proof. I can understand why. Some might see my experiences as a blessing, however, having lived with them I can attest that they are also a curse. The burden of truth carries a great weight on one’s conscience.

  27. gwangung says

    To me, this is playground trash talking, on public funds rather than his own funds.

    Pharyngula is NOT on public funds.

    And this has been said numerous times. And it’s pretty damn obvious.

    If you can’t get THAT straight, why should anyone take anything else you say seriously?

  28. The Adamant Atheist says

    #530–

    I’ve been making that point over and over again

    I want the religious people to use their magic prayer power to regrow a missing leg in controlled conditions.

    They won’t, because they can’t. They are bullshitters who will believe anything that helps comfort them.

  29. says

    rebelest @#507:

    The fact that your commitment to your family is secondary to your commitment to Jesus is one of the many reasons that we atheists consider your religion to be poison/anathema.

    Would you kill a village of innocent people to save yourself and your family?

    Or would you choose to die with your family and allow the village to live?

    Even if you would choose the former, I hope you wouldn’t regard the latter choice as poison and anathema (nice NT word there BTW).

    In any case, perhaps we may say that those who make the latter choice choose good over the life of their family.

    This is the theist’s position, except that for him “good” is not abstract, but concrete. For the theist, good : God :: wet : water. Good, Truth and Beauty are names of divine attributes. My commitment to God is simply my commitment to the Good itself. And my commitment to Jesus is simply my commitment to God/the Good, in human form.

    So: I assert that the idea of “God” implies the abdication of human reason and justice and it (the god idea) is the most decisive negation of human liberty and necessarily ends in the enslavement of humankind both in theory and practice and that those who profess to worship “God” must harbor no childish illusions about the matter but humbly renounce their liberty and humanity.

    While I assert that your ideals of “reason,” “justice” and “liberty” are in fact divine attributes, and to the extent that you align with them, you are inadvertently aligned with what I call God. Beyond that, you’re simply pitting wetness against water, which is a problem. Ultimately you either choose both or reject both. If water sticks in your throat, what will you use to wash it down?

  30. NotAFuckTard says

    Posted by: Jon_in_Charlotte | July 24, 2008 3:10 PM

    Sorry Jon, try again.

  31. Eric says

    J. A. Stuart, I am confused. You decry the abuse of a crack as immoral, but you support the bombing of Iraqi civilians with depleted uranium? You are disconnected from reality if a cracker has more dignity than human life in Iraq.

  32. cicely says

    Mercy! Yet another cracker thread!

    From somewhere up-thread:

    I have yet to hear a convincing argument from any atheist of why it is so culturally universal (and therefore apparently necessary) that humans “created” gods

    Humans want explanations…for natural phenomena, for intangibles, for why we act the way we do. Hence, just-so stories, gods, and scientific procedures. It’s about wanting to understand why.

    Also, humans have a tendancy to anthropomorphize. We tend to attribute human motives and characteristics to every frickin’ thing; trees, the weather, our pets, vans that persistently and maliciously hork up their serpentine belts for no adequately explained reason, sewing machines that deliberately suck fabric down into the bobbin slot and chew it up….but I digress.

    These two things, taken together, seem to me to be good and sufficient explanation for why humans make up gods. But wait, there’s more!

    Also also, humans want to feel secure. We want it to be All Right. We want our boo-boos kissed (or at least we want the promise that, at some point in the future, they will be kissed). We want to think that Everything Works Out For The Best. We want to think that we a Special. We particularly don’t want to have to know that one day, we will each and every one of us be dead and gone, our consciounesses ended, and likewise for everyone and everything we know and love. In short…we don’t want to know that the universe doesn’t care about us, individually or as a species. Lots more where we come from.

    Cold, but true.

    As to whether it’s necessary…I would say, not necessarily. :) Human behavior is a spectrum (more like a series of spectra, but that just doesn’t sing the way ‘spectrum’ does), and I suspect that it’s always been a spectrum….just not necessarily the same spectrum, over time. Thoughts and feelings and behaviors don’t fossilize well (in a physical sense). Further developments will tell us.

  33. Dan L. says

    I want to address those that insist the boy “stole” the host:

    I was raised Catholic. While I don’t think I ever actually believed, I went to a fair many masses and received the eucharist on most of those occasions. Speaking from experience, there are no bouncers at Catholic churches screening for non-believers and heretics. Nor does anyone check that a congregant is a practicing Catholic before that person receives the eucharist. No one tells the congregation that failing to eat the host once it is received constitutes theft (or sacrilege for that matter).

    Now, suppose I were to throw a party and buy food for the guests. Suppose a guest pocketed some of the food and left with it. Would they be guilty of a crime? If I did not make it clear before offering the food that it must be consumed on the premises, then I imagine any court in the US would throw the case out at a preliminary hearing. Now, I understand that the host isn’t merely “food.” However, this argument is merely against the charge that removing the host from a church is “stealing.” It’s not stealing because the rules are not clear at the outset. Guilt is contingent on intent, and it is not clear that anyone who is ignorant of the cracker rules and disobeys them has the intention of stealing.

    As far as disrupting a religious service, no one knew that the service had been “disrupted” until after the fact. It’s not clear to me what it even means to disrupt an event post hoc. The kidnapping charge is ludicrous, but if it must be addressed: Jesus the Christ is legally dead. He has been a missing person for almost 2000 years, so even if some people think he’s still alive, he’s dead in the eyes of the law. Can’t kidnap a dead guy.

    Now, was it right for the young man to remove the host from the church? I certainly don’t think so. But I’m not sure it was clear to him that he was doing anything wrong. And Catholics responded to the event NOT by trying to make it clear that the host is a special cracker for believers only, but instead by bullying and harassing the young man.

    Bottom line is that there is reasonable doubt as to the intent of the boy in taking the host. Since that is the case, I think the Christian thing to do would be give him the benefit of the doubt and make it clear that what he did was wrong. Then if he did it again, there would be no need to bully; the Catholic church would have legal recourse.

  34. Feynmaniac says

    Pete Rooke #29,
    “As I mentioned last night; you’ve had time to mull over my analogies and yet no one as sufficiently countered them. There is a phrase about the impossibility of defending the indefensible. PZ Myers actions are indefensible. And his acolytes appear to be willing partners to his crimes.”

    I’m a bit slow and have to confess I did not understand your point. Please provide another analogy, in graphic detail, for all of us to ponder. Please?

    [Please feel free to use any of the following words: anal pear, chlorophilia (sexual attraction to plants), incest, foot of a corpse, Iron Maiden, interracial cannibalism, and Aztec human sacrifice rituals]

  35. allonym says

    SDG, I failed to respond to something in the now-closed previous thread. I will include the relevant bits here for easy reference:

    SDG (from #266 in closed thread):

    If one imagines Catholicism reconfigured so that no one would be pained by desecration of the Eucharist…in such a world it is hard to imagine PZ working up such enthusiasm for this course of action.

    My reply:

    Aha! This is precisely correct. SDG, I recommend you go back and read the original frackin’ cracker post (not the comments, just PZ’s original text), and re-evaluate your comment in light of what you find there. Your ability to unintentionally cut to the heart of the matter is truly uncanny (and the irony delicious!).

    Your response:

    Um. I was already familiar with PZ’s “frackin’ [sic] cracker” post when I wrote, so I’m not sure what reevaluation you anticipate, or what irony you perceive.

    I didn’t think I’d have to spell it out. What do you think would have been the result when Webster Cook tried to take the cracker back to the pew to show his friend, if this event had transpired in the world you ask us to imagine? It is indeed difficult see P.Z. even being aware of the resultant non-event, let alone taking the time to write about it, or to threaten a bit of food over it.

    The fact that in arguing against P.Z. you unwittingly captured the essence of his point is, if not ironic, at least very amusing to me.

  36. Anton Mates says

    #31,

    Should PZ have solicited consecrated hosts which could only have been taken by people deceptively breaking a private contract? Technically speaking, no.

    But he didn’t. As Dan pointed out at #522, there simply is no contract involved, public or private, written or verbal. We can’t even say there’s a reasonable expectation that participants would know exactly what the clergy expects from them–evidently, both some Catholics and some invited non-Catholics (like my wife) don’t.

    If they gave a sort of orientation or posted a brief description of the ritual on the church door or something, it’d be different.

  37. Cheezits says

    TS: PEOPLE are not being mistreated. Symbols are.

    This all reminds me of a stupid email that was going around last year, that someone made the mistake of forwarding to me. The subject line said something like “If this doesn’t piss you off, nothing will”, and went on to describe the “heart-stopping photos” attached. With all that hype you would think you were about to see people being brutally murdered or tortured or something. But no, it was just pictures of a group of kids staging a protest against US immigration policies. And they were flying a MEXICAN flag, oh no!!!!! And flying a US flag upside down!!!!!11!1!! Apparently I’m supposed to see that as the most vile thing imaginable. Priorities, indeed.

  38. Longstreet63 says

    @478
    Yes, I read about The Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano, wherein a cracker literally became a tiny heart back in the 8th century yet is still miraculously amenable to analysis.

    And you know, I was that close to being convinced when I read this line:

    “The Flesh and the Blood have the same blood-type: AB (Blood-type identical to that which Prof. Baima Bollone uncovered in the Holy Shroud of Turin).”

    Annnnnd…you lost me. Since The Holy Shroud is a medieval forgery with no blood whatsoever on it.

    Too bad the prior claims about the World Health Organization investigating it don’t seem to be mentioned. maybe that was in some chain email you received.

    A Shame. Also a shame that, whatever it is in the little glass case, there’s no proof that it was ever a cracker. I do wonder what a little DNA testing would show, though.

  39. says

    From the Wikipedia:

    Argumentum ad baculum (Latin: argument to the cudgel or appeal to the stick), also known as appeal to force, is an argument where force, coercion, or the threat of force, is given as a justification for a conclusion. It is a specific case of the negative form of an argument to the consequences.

    A fallacious logical argument based on argumentum ad baculum generally has the following argument form:

    If x does not accept P as true, then Q.
    Q is a punishment on x.
    Therefore, P is true.

    […]

    Examples:

    “God exists, because if you don’t believe in Him you will go to Hell.”

    An awful lot of Christians absolutely love using this fallacy, in all kinds of ways.

  40. says

    RJ Chavez writes:

    I am Catholic but am not insulted by your immaturity. Rather, I feel compelled to point out the obvious–that only a life devoid of meaning and things to do could concoct and implement such a childish act.

    Only a life devoid of meaning and things to do could concoct and implement such a childish act as saying mumbo-jumbo words over a cracker and thinking that this will magically change the cracker into flesh. And only a blithering idiot would claim that the cracker is flesh anyway despite the fact that ALL physical evidence, with no exception of any kind, shows that it really is just a cracker. Ironic how Christian disparage themselves with their own rhetoric.

  41. cicely says

    For Puzzled, who hasn’t read any newspaper article concerning the initial incident that started this whole thing (I assume an article from a TV site’s news will do?), and therefore doesn’t believe it happened:

    ‘Body Of Christ’ Snatched From Church, Held Hostage By UCF Student http://www.wftv.com/news/16798008/detail.html

  42. Adobedragon says

    One day some animal said, JEE it would be nice to grow a liver, I never had one before. And that is how we got a liver. Not to mention a heart, brain, eye, ear, nervous system, lungs, et al. Just because “natural selection” had some inkling it might be neat to have.

    Oh my, that’s mind rapingly stupid. Not only does Turdska (whatever) feel the need to personify natural selection, but he/she/it can’t even get the narrative straight. First, it’s the animal that wants to change its anatomy; then natural selection.

    To paraphrase Mr. Universe from Serenity, “P.Z., you always bring us the very best trolls.”

  43. Ken says

    We, as catholics, do not believe that the Holy Eucharist turns into the material flesh as many of you tend to be joking about, rather we believe in the transubstantiation of the host(cracker), whereas it retains the physical properties of the host but is indeed the flesh of Jesus Christ. DNA testing would be useless. The same is true of the wine turning into the precious blood of Jesus.

    And Mr SteveG(#545), it is not a teaching of the catholic church that one goes to hell for not believing in God.

  44. Paul W. says

    Anton Mates:

    Should PZ have solicited consecrated hosts which could only have been taken by people deceptively breaking a private contract? Technically speaking, no.

    But he didn’t. As Dan pointed out at #522, there simply is no contract involved, public or private, written or verbal. We can’t even say there’s a reasonable expectation that participants would know exactly what the clergy expects from them–evidently, both some Catholics and some invited non-Catholics (like my wife) don’t.

    I think Sastra’s right, and that wafernapping is technically (ridiculously) petty theft of a 2 cent cracker.

    There doesn’t have to be a contract; it’s covered under the basic definition of theft, not by contract law.

    Bear with me here…

    Basically, any time you trick somebody out of their property, that’s theft. (In Minnesota, it’s covered under the “swindle” clause of Minnesota Statute 609.52) There doesn’t have to be a custom rule defined by a contract ( implicit or explicit).

    In cases where the terms under which you’re given something are unclear, there’s a gray area as to what constitutes tricking somebody into giving your property. Unfortunately, admitting that you knew they wouldn’t give it to you without your pretending to follow their rules is pretty much an admission of guilt.

    So legally, as I understand it, this sort of theft happens all the time, but it would be very weird to prosecute somebody for theft of a 2-cent cracker. (Or conspiracy to steal a few 2-cent crackers.)

    For more on this, see OMH’s comments (he’s a former prosecutor) and my comments attempting to clarify his opinion in the “Fresh thread. Don’t fill this one up!” thread:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/07/fresh_thread_dont_fill_this_on.php

    Interesingly, by far the biggest thieves of wafers appear to be Catholics themselves. I’d guess they steal wafers and commit sacrilege with them millions of times a week and of course it goes unprosecuted.

    Many Catholics don’t buy all the Catholic dogma, and do NOT confess all their sins to the priest before taking communion. That violates the terms of use for the wafer, and they know it. So any not-entirely-orthodox Catholic who takes communion in a state of sin commits the crime of theft and the sin of sacrilege. (Cracker Jesus really hates being ingested into somebody who’s in a state of sin. The sin—it burns!)

    I myself committed wafer theft and tortured Jesus crackers hundreds of times, when I was a Catholic. No way was I going to tell a priest all my sins, or refrain from communion and have to explain why to my parents. You can bet that millions of “good” but not dogmatic Catholics do the same.

    So it appears that there’s some possibility that PZ could be prosecuted by an overzealous prosecutor—but if he was, the Catholic church would be put in the awkward position of having to explain why they’re so upset about this cracker theft and not the millions of cracker thefts they ignore.

    Much hilarity would ensue, and I’ll bet they don’t want that.

  45. says

    Norman Doering @#421:

    Methinks you want to suffer, else how else would you know if you believed?

    Heh. If I wanted to suffer, I’d be a pretty unhappy guy. My life is just about as suffering-free as it gets. :-)

    CJO @#525:

    It amounts to the same thing, though. In a nominally democratic society, those actions “generally recognized…as socially unacceptable” are recognized as such in the body of law. Most people on that bus in Birrmingham, “civil people” all, no doubt thought Rosa Park’s actions were “just plain incivil.”

    Absolutely false. Illegal, incivil and immoral are all conceptually distinct. For example, many ethnic slurs are nearly universally regarded as incivil, but there is no proscription in law for using them.

    Sastra @#504:

    PZ seems to be trying to restore a rational perspective to what has just been revered too much by performing an act of irreverence. He is trying to point out the obvious: no one is truly harmed when the sacred is violated.

    The latter sentence is in one important sense true (though there is also an important sense in which it isn’t, as your reference to “struggling hard” in the thought experiment with your mother suggests; you wouldn’t have to struggle if it weren’t hard).

    As regards the former sentence, again, no degree of reverence can ever be disproportionate to what we believe the Eucharist to be. This doesn’t excuse every action inspired by reverence combined with poor judgment or bad behavior (e.g., threats of violence), but that’s a separate matter.

    There’s a lot of talk about respect for the sensitivities of others, but I sense a form of disrespect lurking under the heartfelt pleas. The idea seems to be that Catholics simply shouldn’t be expected to handle insolence. They can’t reason with secular logic, and think of the Eucharist as a cracker, and both Cook and PZ as minor annoyances. They just can’t be held to the same standards we nonbelievers hold ourselves — either because they’re weak, simpleminded, and have been brainwashed, or because they’re operating on the higher, loftier, more spiritual plane of Faith. Not only atheists, but society itself needs to recognize this, and cordon off certain areas and actions as just too hard for religious people to handle.

    I don’t know. Maybe I have more ‘faith’ in the religious than that. I don’t think we’re really all that different. And if my mother’s remains were not treated with proper deference, I would struggle hard to keep in mind that there are bigger problems, and my automatic reactions are not necessarily reliable. It’s not really my mother. It’s just a frickin’ corpse.

    I appreciate much of this. There’s no question in my mind that people in general are just way too thin-skinned today, and “sensitivity” is a much overrated “virtue.” The one place I think you’re crashingly wrong is positing this to be some sort of specifically “Catholic” problem, or imagining that there is some very different thick-skinned ethic among “we nonbelievers” or secular society at large.

    Being able to “handle” insolence or disrespect, keeping perspective and bearing in mind that there are bigger problems are all excellent qualities. To borrow the case you posit, if, say, my mother were cremated instead of buried in accordance with our wishes, I would struggle to keep perspective, though I would also probably seek appropriate redress against the individual(s) responsible. Minimally, I would want an apology, even if it were only an accident. Given sufficient deliberate affront, someone might have to be fired.

    Logic and reason are neither secular nor religious, although premises may be. I see no reasonable grounds for expecting Catholics to adopt secular premises and “think of the Eucharist as a cracker.” Seeing PZ as a “minor annoyance” is more plausible, although deliberate desecration is by definition a serious event, not a trivial one. Not a paralyzing crisis, not a crippling emotional blow, but a serious and, I would say, unacceptable affront.

    I still think your sense of outrage needs to be tempered by the recognition that having a convinced faith that the emperor does indeed have clothes is not necessarily a crowning act of moral strength, and will not be recognized as such by others.

    I can’t say I recognize in the notion of “a crowning act of moral strength” anything corresponding to my own outlook on faith.

    Perhaps it’s a bit of a standoff. If PZ is not exactly behaving with the decorum usually expected of a university professor (which is arguable), then the overwrought handringing and pleas for mercy are not exactly the behavior expected of the heirs of Erasmus, either.

    While I agree it may be fair to expect better than “overwrought hand[w]ringing and pleas for mercy” from the “heirs of Erasmus,” and while I’ve tried to do better than that myself, “heirs of Erasmus” would be a pretty lofty standard to hold up for every Joe Catholic in the street.

    I definitely think it’s fair to expect and demand a lot more from a man entrusted by his employer with the instruction of a diverse population of students including Catholics and Muslims.

  46. says

    I would have fed the crack to my pet Octopus. Or maybe just slushed it down the toilet,… after all that what Catholics do it about 24 hours later. Do they use special toiletpaper bless by the Poop to ensure the body of Christ doesn’t suffer from Kilingon?

  47. Paul W. says

    SDG,

    Where is the outrage among the dogmatic Eucharist-adoring Catholics about the millions of Hosts that are stolen and eaten sacrilegiously by less dogmatic Catholics?

    I think the most underreported aspect of this dustup is that the reaction to PZ exposes the hypocrisy of Catholics about the Host.

    Why is it not a pressing problem to root out the millions of heretical Catholics who commit a crime against the Church and a sin against God, all over the world, week in and week out?

    This is all ridiculous. You guys should check out that beam in your own eye—it’s a doozy.

  48. Anton Mates says

    Basically, any time you trick somebody out of their property, that’s theft. (In Minnesota, it’s covered under the “swindle” clause of Minnesota Statute 609.52) There doesn’t have to be a custom rule defined by a contract ( implicit or explicit).

    In cases where the terms under which you’re given something are unclear, there’s a gray area as to what constitutes tricking somebody into giving your property. Unfortunately, admitting that you knew they wouldn’t give it to you without your pretending to follow their rules is pretty much an admission of guilt.

    But who’s making that admission? PZ said his local churches probably won’t give him a cracker willingly…so he’s not taking one. There’s plenty of ways to get a cracker without deceiving the person giving it to you; you simply have to find a priest or a church that doesn’t care much. Dan L. at #523 gave an example of that from his own life. My wife, an open Jewish atheist, has been invited to communion in two different Catholic churches. Take a cracker if you want, eat it if you want, no biggie.

    Many Catholics don’t buy all the Catholic dogma, and do NOT confess all their sins to the priest before taking communion. That violates the terms of use for the wafer, and they know it.

    Well, no, it doesn’t, because the “terms of use” are implicit, and given that priests know that many Catholics take the wafer without confession, and they happily hand it out anyway, there’s no implication that confession is required. If the church wants to write up terms of use and hand them out to all comers, or have a brief verbal announcement before communion, they’re welcome to do so. But until they do, all we can do is see which people are invited to or excluded from communion, and make an inference from that. If your local church doesn’t seem to exclude anybody, nor does it make a fuss about strict adherence to the ritual, so much for terms of use.

    Your position, it seems to me, requires that some subset of Catholics–Bill Donohue and his buddies, or the Vatican, or somebody–gets to decree what the legal terms of use will be for crackers handed out by all Catholics. I just don’t find that legally or morally tenable. If the church you’re attending doesn’t act like they care who takes a cracker or what they privately do with it, more dogmatic Catholics at other churches have no say in the matter.

  49. says

    I will go back to the Fátima business, I´m still trying to find some references in english to a (very) skeptical witnesses of the so called «miracle» of Fátima, the photographer sent there by the newspaper Século and his nephew (I have the live report of the grandfather of a friend of mine that lived nearby and saw absolutely nothing, not even freak meterological conditions…).

    But the thing about the propalled miracles of Lourdes remembered me of something I wrote about two years ago, the despair of Jacques Perrier, Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes and the most senior cleric at the Catholic shrine, about the scarcity of “miracles” taking place there and the indignity of some of them. No spectacular cures only supposed cures of rheumatic disorders and the like. Between 1858 and 2006, only 57 “miracles” took place and 4 only between 1978 and 2006.

    Even though that’s no big news to the Catholic Church that has been «forced» to make new saints with things like the one behind the beatification of the last emperor of Austria, Karl I, an alleged alcoholic adulterer who sprayed poison gas on enemy soldiers in World War I. The Pontiff argued that Karl had fulfilled the saintly criteria by suffering for his beliefs and “performing a miracle”, in this case curing a Brazilian woman of pesky varicose veins.

    And some of them are really irksome like the portuguese that regained miraculously the use of her legs, with the “scientific” evidence provided by the Vatican and three portuguese doctors (father, mother and daughter, all of them devoted catholics). She died shortly after, completely cured, and the miraculous cure of Maria Emília Santos was enough for the beatification in 2000 of the two little sheperds that died shortly after the sun danced in Cova da Iria.

    But it was very bothersome for the bishop that was loosing clients, as the Time wrote back then «with the church facing stiff competition from evangelists, apparently less picky when it comes to proclaiming miraculous cures, Perrier wants the guidelines to be changed so that news of an unexplained cure can be announced as soon as it happens. Cures could be categorised as “unexpected” or “exceptional” — a sort of sub-miracle category».

    Now using the Guardian report on the case «The bishop said he had been inspired by two healings in the past 15 years that in his view were miraculous but were not recognised».

    But recent reports from the french police suggest that the inspiration may had been miraculous but in a different sense :)

    At least that’s what I thought when I read that the Roman Catholic shrine of Lourdes «a href=”http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jul/13/catholicism.france”>is at the centre of a major and very mundane fraud investigation. Father Raymond Zambelli, the 65-year-old Treasurer and Rector of the pilgrimage site, is suspected of embezzling hundreds of thousands of pounds.

    Much of the money was raised for the sick and the dying who visit the shrine but ended up in the priest bank account, probably due to…a miracle?»

  50. CJO says

    It amounts to the same thing, though. In a nominally democratic society, those actions “generally recognized…as socially unacceptable” are recognized as such in the body of law. Most people on that bus in Birrmingham, “civil people” all, no doubt thought Rosa Park’s actions were “just plain incivil.”

    Absolutely false. Illegal, incivil and immoral are all conceptually distinct. For example, many ethnic slurs are nearly universally regarded as incivil, but there is no proscription in law for using them.

    I see your point, and I think where we’re talking past each other is “unacceptable.” In the case of racial slurs, we, as a society have come to the position that they must be accepted, because the right to free expression in effect supercedes any legislation limiting pure speech. However, when used to intimidate or harass an individual, speech may be proscribed. So, “incivil” does not equate to “socially unacceptable,” intimidation and harrassment are unacceptable; incivility is acceptable. By taking measures in the secular realm against Cook (impeachment from the student senate at UCF and possible expulsion from the university), Catholics and their sympathizers signal that they believe their rules regarding civility should have force in society at large. Furthermore, in intimidating and harassing individuals (Cook and PZ), individual Catholics are engaging in the only actually “socially unacceptable” behavior on display in this whole sorry incident –in the sense of ‘behavior that society will not accept as a provision of law.’

  51. Colin Principe says

    What a class act PZ is.

    I wonder if he goes to the houses of vegetarians bearing steaks or stands outside NOW and shouts “Nice tits baby!”

  52. says

    Where is the outrage among the dogmatic Eucharist-adoring Catholics about the millions of Hosts that are stolen and eaten sacrilegiously by less dogmatic Catholics?

    Assuming you’re asking because you’re genuinely unfamiliar with Catholic thought on this point, the answer is simple.

    Perfect theology is not a prerequisite, first of all, so “less dogmatic” is a red herring. The big question is not theology, but whether the recipient is in the state of grace, which is a question ultimately known only to God and best judged by the person himself or herself.

    A Catholic in the state of grace, even if he or she is “less dogmatic” or even (materially) “heretical,” does not commit sacrilege in receiving communion. Even a Catholic not in the state of grace who sincerely believes he is does not commit the sin of sacrilege. If he is knowingly in mortal sin, he commits sacrilege, but that again is known to him and to God, and in general people have no business judging one another’s souls.

    Even then, at least the host is being consumed, which is what is meant to be done with it. Taking the host “for a profane purpose,” or otherwise deliberately profaning a host, is an issue on another order of magnitude.

    Capice?

  53. says

    CJO: I agree that the main issue now appears to be semantic. FWIW, I wouldn’t say that “In the case of racial slurs, we, as a society have come to the position that they must be accepted.” They may be protected, legally, but they don’t have to be accepted, either socially or, e.g., institutionally. You can’t be prosecuted for using the n-word, but you can be socially ostracized and you can lose your job, depending on circumstances.

  54. Maria says

    Please join me in praying for this Professor and his family and all those posting here who do not believe, do not adore, and do not love God. These people esp. this Professor need our prayers. They do not know realize what they are doing!!

    I especially recommend praying the rosary for this Professor’s conversion.

    ****************************************************

    My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love you. I ask forgiveness for those who do not adore, do not hope, and do not love you.

    Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I adore you profoundly. I offer you the most precious body, blood, soul, and divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference with which he is offended. Through the infinite merits of his most Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of you the conversion of poor sinners.

    O my Jesus, I offer all my personal sacrifices, pains and suffers, and penances up for love of you, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for sins committed against the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

  55. says

    J. A. Stuart
    Commander, United States Navy

    Wow, I don’t know how it is in the US services, but here in Canada, I’d have been disciplined for signing my rank on a non-military message board post. In fact, I’m pretty certain someone doing that would be disciplined now.

    Of course, I was only a two-ringer back in the day. Maybe times have changed.

  56. says

    Cynthia Heimsoth: “I have yet to hear a convincing argument from any atheist of why it is so culturally universal (and therefore apparently necessary) that humans “created” gods, whereas with a little bit of research I could probably formulate a sound theory of why it is so necessary that Homo sapiens modernis should reject the existence of God as a threat to his belief that he is the very peak of the Darwinian pyramid.”

    Pascal Boyer’s _Religion Explained_ covers it pretty well. So, I’ve heard but not read myself, does Stewart Guthrie’s _Faces in the Clouds_ and Daniel Dennett’s _Breaking the Spell_.

  57. CortxVortx says

    Re: #256

    Craig, you’re on track to beat yesterday’s record:
    58 posts over 7 hours, averaging 1 post every 7 minutes 21 seconds
    (MAJeff is not far behind at 1 post every 9 minutes 43 seconds, for 6.5 hours)

    Best of all: No truth machine!

  58. articulett says

    Rock on Craig.

    You sure have a way of making the theists show their ugly side while they imagine themselves moral and humble.

    As for the inane lie promotes by theists, that atheism kills, 2 words: Malleus Maleficarum

    Learn it and be ashamed. You Catholics (an affliction I once shared)have much more to answer for than pedophilia, spread of AID through misinformation, supporting Hitler, atheist bigotry, lies proffered as divine truths, overpopulation, and cracker issues. Malleus Maleficarum

    Atheism is a lack of belief. It can no more lead to killing than a-demonism or a-scientology or a-astrology. A lack of belief in your god is the same as all the crazy shit you don’t believe in. Does that inspire you to do anything? People act on the ideals that unite them (like sacred crackers)– not on infinity of things they don’t believe in! Moreover, your sacred beliefs have resulted in the torture and death of millions– I bet that makes that zombie cracker extra scrumptious, eh?

    Your magic story and beliefs about crackers deserve no more respect then Mormon magic underwear or Scientology “clearing”. Big deal– all religious people thinks that others that believe as they do are more moral than everyone else–including those belonging to the religions you find “evil” or crazy. Lots of believers doesn’t make it more true, you know. Consider all the people who believed the earth was the center of the Universe (including your church and your magic book inspired by your invisible friend.) Your church’s history of lies, torture, and abuse upon humanity that you have blinded yourself deserve all the scorn it can get. It has furthered no real knowledge. PZ has furthered real and useful information.

    From my viewpoint, theists are posting here to continue to keep their delusion alive– while the smart folk giggle– glad that they escaped the “breathtaking inanity”.

    You have lost sight of things that actually matter –and distracted yourselves with rants that make a stink over silly magical rituals that mean nothing. And you’ve posted it all here for us to shake our heads and go– “wow, the faithful sure are blind to their own hypocrisy.”

    I hope one day you are smart enough and rational enough to be embarrassed for what you theists and apologists have posted here. You defended a magical ritual while threatening real people, spreading bigotry, and ignoring the FACT that faith is not a way to know anything true at all. Your spread of atheist lies is particularly offensive to me.

    Learn what true humility is. PZ, Craig, et. al. have something to be humble about– they are honest, they tell the truth, they are rational… they work hard to break down silly superstitions and engage critical thinking. They can teach you real and valuable information if you weren’t so damn sure you knew everything all ready. Your humility is based on an illusion just like your god and crackers and imagined superior morality. There is no such thing as “divine truths”. You have been deluded and you are passing on the lie just as Muslims and Mormons and Moonies are doing.

    I am proud to be on the Team Rational. It is true my “sides” seems extra brilliant in comparison to the daftness of the believers– but damn, we write so much better and funnier and logically then the self important believers and assorted apologists posting here. I’m sure lots of people are learning… even thought I doubt it’s what the theists imagine it is.

  59. TSS says

    Jesus Christ on a cracker….it’s a damn cracker!! No real live people were hurt, it’s a cracker. Do you seriously think that your god is so weak he has the strength of a cracker and would allow himself to be taken advantage of?? Invent a stronger god and don’t make him a cracker.

  60. puzzled says

    Bobc., I am an atheist.

    Thanks for all the kind words….being called an asshole and twat really, really convince me that, my oh my, all these other atheists–in the cult of PZ–must be correct and have all the answers!

    Still no death threats, sorry, folks; read carefully what webster cook states and what he reveals….a nun grabbed his arm……..interestingly, many of you stated that such “physical assault” would be enough to enrage everyone to desecration…….yet, remember, that’s not what the master, PZ, told everyone…..he was basing his whole set of moral righteousnous (check his original posts) on the DEATH THREATS! made to webster cook….now cook is saying oh, really, some people just told me I’m going to hell. . .

    if it is cracker (or host, or wafer or whatever: me not calling it what you like, bobc, does not make me a liar but again, your extreme anger is palpable…guess I hit some nerves, huh?) vs. human, sure, I say that is silly and let the human win and be vindicated…but cracker vs. nun grabbing my arm? puhleaze………

    still no text of any “death threat” from webster cook….many of you PZ-ophytes have acknolwedged none exist and therefore, and ohmygosh, suddenly, it doesn’t matter anyway! pz is still angry cause those nuns were mean to webster!

    bobc: certainly go ahead and call me names if it makes you feel better…..just, again proves my point about the high drama–and attendant drama-queens–spinning around here in the absence of any logic or facts.

    have a good night all….

  61. articulett says

    Damn… I wish I could edit for typos..

    Ah well. My applause to Craig and PZ and the many funny, rational and eloquent posters. I hope to be more like you.

    (At least as a skeptic, I can learn from my mistakes… I think the theists posting here have convinced themselves that they are immune from making them.)

    I’m voting for PZ to desecrate sacred Mormon Underwear next.

  62. Ktesibios says

    Quoth Turzovka:

    Hindu glass cows exuding milk. I believe it, and I believe it is supernatural. Another one drinking milk. I believe it to be supernatural. Other supernatural manifestations from the Islam or Buddhist faiths. I believe them that they are supernatural. I am not looking for crazy improbable “natural” answers to try to explain them away..

    Indeed, you don’t look for any answers at all, save a reflexive “It’s supernatural!”, and that is the very essence of your problem.

    You also appear to be unaware that clever mechanical frauds have been a part of priestcraft at least since Hellenistic times, when Heron Ktesibiou (he of the aeolipile), was devising a way to use the heat from a sacrificial fire to “miraculously” open a temple door and a coin-operated holy water dispenser.

  63. says

    Your position, it seems to me, requires that some subset of Catholics–Bill Donohue and his buddies, or the Vatican, or somebody–gets to decree what the legal terms of use will be for crackers handed out by all Catholics. I just don’t find that legally or morally tenable.

    FWIW, the “terms of use” are (a) set forth in canon law and (b) printed in missalettes that can be found in virtually every parish church in the United States. A statement of terms can also be found at the website of the US bishops here. Since the bishop has responsibility for every parish in the diocese and the priest exercises his ministry only under the local bishop, the rules apply in every parish.

    That’s not to deny that innocently ignorant people may violate the terms without incurring guilt, or that lax priests may abet such abuses. But the rules are what they are.

    Incidentally, it is not correct that Catholics must confess all their sins before receiving communions. Confession of venial sins is voluntary; only confession of known mortal sin is obligatory. (If anyone needs clarification on the distinction between mortal sin and grave matter, I’d be happy to oblige. :-)

  64. says

    (At least as a skeptic, I can learn from my mistakes… I think the theists posting here have convinced themselves that they are immune from making them.)

    Don’t know many theists, huh? :-)

  65. JoJo says

    Many of the Catholics posting here appear convinced that papal infallibility extends to them. Fr.J, Sandi, and SDG come immediately to mind.

  66. says

    Many of the Catholics posting here appear convinced that papal infallibility extends to them.

    What’s really strange is, so do many of the atheists. :-)

    I have found some openness of mind here, from one or two posters. I’ve tried to bring some myself. I have some small hope that my efforts haven’t been as wholly lost on everyone here as they evidently have on you, JoJo. Peace.

  67. Arnosium Upinarum says

    SDG says, “That’s not to deny that innocently ignorant people may violate the terms without incurring guilt, or that lax priests may abet such abuses. But the rules are what they are.”

    Well, evidently, the “what they are” rules seem pretty good at ignoring (if not cultivating) the violations and abuses.

    Or, perhaps the effectiveness of the rules just ain’t “what they are”? Or, perhaps (dare I raise the possibility?) that the interpretation or execution of the rules are subject to personal judgement? Say, largely on a case-by-case basis primarily governed by the overpowering tendency to cover one’s ass?

    As rules EVERYWHERE are typically observed?

    BTW, your “small hope that [your] efforts haven’t been…wholly lost on everyone here” is MAGNIFICENTLY unimpressive and forgettable. No, don’t blush – I really believe it. It really IS that magnificent.

  68. Arnosium Upinarum says

    Maria # 561: Do you know that prayer is infinitely more effective if you practice it privately? Prayers are far more effective if performed in a quiet setting with all electronic devices turned off, especially when reciting them in long repetitive chains as long as one can remain awake. The increased effectiveness that comes about because our loving Father in Heaven can better hear us. I’m serious! Try it.

  69. Vickie says

    Eternal Father, I offer you the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of your dearly beloved Son our Lord Jesus Christ in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.

    For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

    Holy God, Holy mighty one, Holy Immortal one. Have mercy on us and on the whole world.

    Jesus I trust in You.

  70. marty says

    hey,
    looks like you’re just another hypocritical windbag. you didn’t deny the holocaust happened, so you do hold something sacred. as an atheist, when you die, you will just go 6 feet under, to become fertilizer. perhaps you can request being fed to the pirahnas.
    i almost sent a cracker to you, but mine would say”squeal like a paig”. too late now.
    looks like you didn’t take me up on the exorcism offer either.
    toodles
    marty

  71. j.e.madden says

    It seems respect for anyone or anything is a hard thing to come by nowadays, from the religous, AND the anti-religous. So you don’t believe, okay whatever, do you really have to pull a stunt like this? Seems like a petty cry for attention… easy to understand though, since shock value is quite the rage these days. Still, as a Catholic convert I would just like to say that I respect anyone with a different opinion, I would just ask the same respect for something that we hold sacred.

  72. Anton Mates says

    FWIW, the “terms of use” are (a) set forth in canon law and (b) printed in missalettes that can be found in virtually every parish church in the United States. A statement of terms can also be found at the website of the US bishops here. Since the bishop has responsibility for every parish in the diocese and the priest exercises his ministry only under the local bishop, the rules apply in every parish.

    But canon law has no relevance here. We were discussing whether someone taking a cracker could be guilty of theft under, for instance, Minnesota law. The secular judicial system is not concerned with whether one bunch of Catholics behave properly according to the rules laid down by another bunch of Catholics.

    In churches such as the ones I and Dan mentioned, the terms of use clearly are not those printed in the standard instructional missals or on the website you provide. That’s the church’s problem; the rest of us aren’t obligated to figure out what conditions good Catholics should enforce.

  73. Cracker Jack says

    The Big Bang theory that the universe originated in an extremely dense and hot space and expanded was developed by a Belgian priest. It’s interesting to note that those people, the first scientists, were all monks, they were all clerics!

    People today aren’t even aware of this fact!

    Here are some examples of scientists who were Catholic clergy:

    1. Mendel, a monk, first established the laws of heredity, which gave the final blow to the theory of natural selection.
    2. Copernicus, a priest, expounded the Copernican system.
    3. Steensen, a Bishop, was the father of geology.
    4. Regiomontanus, a Bishop and Papal astronomer; was the father of modern astronomy.
    5. Theodoric, a Bishop, discovered anesthesia in the 13th century.
    6. Kircher, a priest, made the first definite statement of the germ theory of disease.
    7. Cassiodorus, a priest, invented the watch.
    8. Picard, a priest, was the first to measure accurately a degree of the meridian.

    The conflict between evolutionary science and creationism in the United States comes from the Protestant tradition, not the Catholic one, he said.

    American Catholicism is in a Protestant culture,” he said. “We borrow a lot of our attitudes, along with a lot of our hymns, and not always the best of either.

    Unfortunate, but true.

    List of Catholic Scientists

    Algue, a priest, invented the barocyclonometer, to detect approach of cyclones.

    Ampere was founder of the science of electrodynamics, and investigator of the laws of electro-magnetism.

    Becquerel, Antoine Cesar, was the founder of electro-chemistry.

    Becquerel, Antoine Henri, was the discoverer of radio-activity.

    Binet, mathematician and astronomer, set forth the principle, “Binet’s Theorem.”

    Braille invented the Braille system for the blind.

    Buffon wrote the first work on natural history.

    Carrell, Nobel prize winner in medicine and physiology, is renowned for his work in surgical technique.

    Caesalpinus, a Papal physician, was the first to construct a system of botany.

    Cassiodorus, a priest, invented the watch.

    Columbo discovered the pulmonary circulation of the blood.

    Copernicus, a priest, expounded the Copernican system.

    Coulomb established the fundamental laws of static electricity.

    De Chauliac, a Papal physician, was the father of modern surgery and hospitals.

    De Vico, a priest, discovered six comets. Descartes founded analytical geometry.

    Dumas invented a method of ascertaining vapor densities.

    Endlicher, botanist and historian, established a new system of classifying plants.

    Eustachius, for whom the Eustachian tube was named, was one of the founders of modern anatomy.

    Fabricius discovered the valvular system of the veins.

    Fallopius, for whom the Fallopian tube was named, was an eminent physiologist.

    Fizeau was the first to determine experimentally the velocity of light.

    Foucault invented the first practical electric arc lamp; he refuted the corpuscular theory of light; he invented the gyroscope.

    Fraunhofer was initiator of spectrum analysis; he established laws of diffraction.

    Fresnel contributed more to the science of optics than any other man.

    Galilei, a great astronomer, is the father of experimental science.

    Galvani, one of the pioneers of electricity, was also an anatomist and physiologist.

    Gioja, father of scientific navigation, invented the mariner’s compass.

    Gramme invented the Gramme dynamo.

    Guttenberg invented printing.

    Herzog discovered a cure for infantile paralysis.

    Holland invented the first practical sub marine.

    Kircher, a priest, made the first definite statement of the germ theory of disease.

    Laennec invented the stethoscope.

    Lancist, a Papal physician, was the father of clinical medicine.

    Latreille was pioneer in entomology.

    Lavoisier is called Father of Modern Chemistry.

    Leverrier discovered the planet Neptune.

    Lully is said to have been the first to employ chemical symbols.

    Malpighi, a Papal physician, was a botanist, and the father of comparative physiology.

    Marconi’s place in radio is unsurpassed. Mariotte discovered Mariotte’s law of gases.

    Mendel, a monk, first established the laws of heredity, which gave the final blow to the theory of natural selection.

    Morgagni, founder of modern pathology; made important studies in aneurisms.

    Muller was the greatest biologist of the 19th century, founder of modern physiology.

    Pashcal demonstrated practically that a column of air has weight.

    Pasteur, called the “Father of Bacteriology,” and inventor of bio-therapeutics, was the leading scientist of the 19th century.

    Picard, a priest, was the first to measure accurately a degree of the meridian.

    Regiomontanus, a Bishop and Papal astronomer; was the father of modern astronomy.

    Scheiner, a priest, invented the pantograph, and made a telescope that permitted the first systematic investigation of sun spots.

    Secchi invented the meteorograph. Steensen, a Bishop, was the father of geology.

    Theodoric, a Bishop, discovered anesthesia in the 13th century.

    Torricelli invented the barometer.

    Vesalius was the founder of modern anatomical science.

    Volta invented the first; complete galvanic battery; the “volt” is named after him.

    Other scientists: Agricola, Albertus Magnus, Bacon, Bartholomeus, Bayma, Beccaria, Behalm, Bernard, Biondo, Biot, Bolzano, Borrus, Boscovitch, Bosio, Bourgeois, Branly, Caldani, Cambou, Camel, Cardan, Carnoy, Cassini, Cauchy, Cavaliere, Caxton, Champollion, Chevreul, Clavius, De Rossi, Divisch, Dulong, Dwight, Eckhel, Epee, Fabre, Fabri, Faye, Ferrari, Gassendi, Gay-Lussac, Gordon, Grimaldi, Hauy, Heis, Helmont, Hengler, Heude, Hilgard, Jussieu, Kelly, Lamarck, Laplace, Linacre, Malus, Mersenne, Monge, Muller, Murphy, Murray, Nelston, Nieuwland, Nobili, Nollet, Ortelius, Ozaman, Pelouze, Piazzi, Pitra, Plumier, Pouget, Provancher, Regnault, Riccioli, Sahagun, Santorini, Schwann, Schwarz, Secchi, Semmelweis, Spallanzani, Takamine, Tieffentaller, Toscanelli, Tulasne, Valentine, Vernier, Vieta, Da Vinci, Waldseemuller, Wincklemann, Windle, and a host of others, too many to mention.

  74. jparenti says

    #580: So what? Lots of people throughout history were religious. That’s like saying some of the notable creative people in history were suicidal, so suicide is indicative of creativity. Observe Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Cobain, Alan Turing, Sigmund Freud, etc. Of course, this is a ridiculous line of reasoning, because you can tie two things together all day to get meaning out of it.
    The problem isn’t always evolution and intelligent design being debated. While science could benefit from the dissolution of superstition, it’s not the only victim. Observe the casual denial of critical thinking imposed by religion. Don’t think, just read the Bible. Don’t study science, just observe Genesis. Don’t question prejudice, just follow the ancient book that tells us slavery is acceptable and homosexuality is a sin. The problem is that religion poisons the well for everyone, not just scienists.
    Please, please, please, to all atheists: Desecrate something. Speak up. Argue with a friend about his Pentecostal upbringing. Ask a preacher about a particularly nasty Bible verse. We’ll never be rid of this nonsense unless we all take some action, alone or in droves if possible.

  75. MarkW says

    #580

    Before the industrial revolution, the clergy was the major class of people with any time on their hands to actually do science.

    Before the reformation, it was virtually impossible not to be a catholic.

    Rather neatly demolishes your talking point there Cracker Jack.

  76. says

    In churches such as the ones I and Dan mentioned, the terms of use clearly are not those printed in the standard instructional missals or on the website you provide.

    That is not “clearly” true and is in fact likely false. It is entirely possible that visitors didn’t flip open the missalette cover and read the guidelines, but the missalettes themselves are nearly ubiquitous.

  77. Turzovka says

    I, for one, have argued with atheists, agnostics and pagans for years on trying to establish the credibility of God and the divinity of Jesus Christ. By and large I would say it has been futile. But Scripture does point out that most are “called” by the Holy Spirit so does that mean our efforts are not warranted? I think not because Jesus also made clear to go to all corners of the world announcing the good news. So that leaves God’s final judgment on each and every soul a great mystery.

    I will say this. I am convinced to utter certainty of the existence of heaven, hell and purgatory. I am totally certain the Christian faith is the one, true faith established by Jesus Christ the only Son of God and even if Muslims, Buddhists, pagans and atheists are to be saved, it is only through Jesus this can ever be.

    So I see no point in trying to point out the absurdity of evolution without God or the irrefutable evidence of the supernatural in thousands of miracles, apparitions, and divine manifestations. After all, it is the skeptic who has zero use for faith, he demands empirical evidence for God. So you supply such evidence in these supernatural manifestations and they respond with the most absurd, improbable possibilities as to what else might explain the event or apparition, etc. So it becomes a dead end, unfortunately, because to explain Christianity in terms of historical documentation, in terms of Scriptural prophecies, in terms of the blood of the martyrs and early eye witnesses to the resurrection, in terms of the lives and revelations of the saints, in terms of the incalculable amounts of charity and kindness bestowed upon the poor, oppressed, sick, the bold witness to hostile nations, in terms of how Christianity brought civilization, government and order to barbaric world, in terms of the undeniable plight of the Jews who were used by God to manifest Himself to the world, to explain Christianity in any terms —- it does not impress the skeptic. Why?

    Because most do not want to know God. They do not want to be accountable for their sins or their lifestyle to God, if there is one. They do not want to be judged, they want to plead ignorance at the end of their days. Oh, there are many other reasons for rejecting God’s message, but most are found to be wanting. I do find it interesting that God is so much closer to the poor, the sick, the oppressed and impoverished, and those who are without hope for this life. As the Virgin Mary said to Pachi, a visionary in Ecuador, “Most come to know God only on bended knees.”

    That is not so hard to believe. But it is tragic. If Christianity is correct, then eternal life is just that —- forever. And there is eternal reward and eternal suffering. Don’t rail against God and say how could he be so punishing to some? God’s ways are not our ways, He has revealed enough to us to trust Him. He has promised us eternal life and happiness, and we are to call Him unfair with that gift of love? Those whose fate may be in hell are only there because they have chosen so. They willingly and knowingly have rejected God’s love and mercy for reasons of pride, hate, anger, selfishness, or whatever. I do believe anyone who truly wants to know God and be forgiven, they will not end up in hell, but may very well spend centuries in purgatory being purified. It seems apparent almost everyone who ends up in heaven will be in purgatory for some period. That is God’s mercy overcoming His justice. What a gift!

    So when someone responds to this in terms of “you have no way of knowing anything, why should I care” I will not be surprised. But what have they to gain by remaining a critic without any certainty of their own what lies beyond the grave? What good is their cursing the darkness? What hope to they bring to the down trodden and the destitute? What merit is there in mocking Christ by putting a Darwinian fish on their bumper sticker? What merit is there in denying heaven and hell and just living out one’s days in total uncertainty? As I have stated, there are countless miracles associated with the saints and others that demand a verdict. To ignore them is to make a choice as to what you care about in this life. To me it sounds very much like the great sin of pride — the very sin that brought God’s most beautiful angel, Lucifer, to his demise. One had better be certain that Jesus Christ is not true or the answer to the world before one curses Him.

  78. spurge says

    “I, for one, have argued with atheists, agnostics and pagans for years on trying to establish the credibility of God and the divinity of Jesus Christ. By and large I would say it has been futile.”

    Judging from the crap you post here it is easy to see why.

  79. turzovka says

    To Spurge:

    Yes, and your responses to my “crap” are so filled with intellectual arguments or opposing documentation. NOT. More just the “your a jerk” kind of comments which must make you feel all puffed up and confident around your friends. “You really told him off buddy!”

  80. SEF says

    #68

    Fatima is thee miracle that skeptics cannot explain away.

    Untrue. It was probably an example of an air lens, where a piece of one air mass gets trapped inside another and acts as a lens, focusing the sun’s light and heat such that it seems closer while the surrounding sky from which the light was taken becomes darker (as per the dark band between primary and secondary rainbow). The swirling distortion fits and at the edge of the air lens passing over, the last glimpse could easily appear red (as per other examples of lenses and solar phenomena). Mountaineers have occasionally reported being under air lenses – with it suddenly getting very hot and bright.

  81. turzovka says

    So the whole world is a liar, is that is SEF (#587)?

    If you were not there to see it for yourself, then 70,000 who were there had to be liars. If you want to deal in facts then go read the anti-clerical, communist Lisbon newspaper account from October 15th. They were enemies of the church, they had every reason to want to discredit this event. Go check the weather reports for Lisbon and Fatima on October 13, 1917. You will note it was rainy for several days including that one. The newspaper article and all the witnesses report of the soggy clothes and soaked, muddy ground turning to bone dry after 12 minutes of this solar phenomenon. Lies? And do you science folks deal in probabilities? What is the probability that 3 young children could predict the exact day this solar phenonmenon would occur three months in advance? What is the probability this sun would burst onto the scene through a dark, rainy sky almost on command and do its thing? Finally, what is the probability that those who so-do-not want to believe in this God will reach for any straw to try to explain it away? Your answer sounds so desperate and agenda driven I cannot take it seriously.

  82. says

    @Colin Principe #558
    What a class act PZ is.

    Yes, he is. Certainly compared to scum like Bill Donohue and his legions of trolls.

    I wonder if he goes to the houses of vegetarians bearing steaks or stands outside NOW and shouts “Nice tits baby!”

    Well, those are interesting suggestions. Let’s compare them to the situation and see if they are in any way relevant!

    First off, are these hypothetical vegetarians bothering someone else? Do they have an arrogant hate-mongering media-whore spokesman who sets himself up as the voice of all TRUE vegetarians? Do they support an organization that has a long-standing policy of harboring and protecting child molesters? Have they issued death threats, veiled or otherwise? Have they sent legions of trolls to storm the blog of a rational man to demand that he respect irrational beliefs in the supernatural?

    No? No to ALL of these things? Wow! So, in other words, that example has nothing to do with anything!

    Let’s look at the second example. Are the members of NOW bothering someone else (other than, merely by existing, bothering insecure conservatives who think uppity women need to be kept down)? Do they have an arrogant hate-mongering media-whore spokeswoman who sets herself up as the voice of all TRUE women? Do they support an organization that has a long-standing policy of harboring and protecting child molesters? Have they issued death threats, veiled or otherwise (no; refusing to wash your socks and cook your dinner does not count)? Have they sent legions of trolls to storm the blog of a rational man to demand that he respect irrational beliefs in the supernatural?

    Gosh, the answer to all of those is also a resounding NO!
    There’s no comparison at all! Thanks for providing this handy illustration of exactly what morally empty shithead you are? And now, please feel free to fuck the fucking fuck off.

  83. gathererofknowledge says

    Yes I’m a Catholic but no u won’t be hearing the usual from me:

    I recently read a book by Terry Pratchett entitled The Last Hero where there is talk of a group of people who worships a piece of bread. That got me thinking: do we Catholics worship a piece of bread? Not really. We don’t worship the Eucharist (your cracker) like we don’t worship statues and crucifixes. Now I don’t think ur interested in what we Catholics actually worship so I’m going to continue on.
    If I as a Catholic worship a piece of bread then I would be offended by what u did 2 ur cracker. But I don’t. So I’m not. And don’t worry about ur soul being condemned to hell and all that (which I’m very sure ur not)- that is between u and Jesus. IMHO he’s probably smirking at how u and ur fans (both those who love u and those who don’t) are making a big deal out of this whole business. But that’s just me.

  84. turzovka says

    Steve C (#589), I am not a troll. What is a troll anyway?
    I am your conscience. I am gentle exhortations representing Christ as a servant of his. There is no easy way to prick your heart. Surely if I said “Jesus loves you, won’t you share in his message?” that would not do anything for you. It seems to me, the more militant opponents of the faith like to tell us Christians to be kind as your Lord would have you — is that so we can be more easily ignored? Or I would be remiss if I did not mention your all time favorite “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” That one is misused more than any other Scripture I know of. What it does not mean is to keep quiet. It does not mean to let others mock and plunder. It means do not dare suggest what final fate awaits any man. But do not be afraid to call sin a sin. Not that I’m pefect, mind you. :)

  85. gathererofknowledge says

    Here’s my two bits on why atheists are atheists. Please feel free to comment (not that this makes any difference):
    Atheists are atheists because they don’t see enough proof of the existence of God and they are deeply suspicious of the people trying to force them to believe in God.
    Now for my response:
    I don’t see much proof for the existence of God and yet I believe in Him (the Catholic version). I remain doubtful about all the experiences I have of Jesus and the Holy Spirit- they could be products of self-delusion and mass suggestion. People forcing others to believe in this, that or the other is definitely wrong- that’s why the reason I’m Catholic is because I chose to be. Yes, I chose to remain self-deluded, massly-suggested and yoked to an organization commonly referred to as the Whore of Babylon. And I dare anyone to force me to choose otherwise. Cause that definitely wouldn’t be sporting.
    Therefore I remained convinced that the difference between atheists, agnostics, lapsed religionists, moderate religionists and fanatical religionists is this one: you are who you are because of who or what you have experienced.

  86. Donovan says

    *giddy with laughter*

    I know this isn’t the right thread, but PZ closed it before I could post. I’m referring to his “Great Desecration.” One of the Catholics referred to “Myers and Co.” HA! Someone gave us credit for supporting his sacrilege. Prof. Myers, I am glad to have been condemned by your side. Granted, I was thrown (quite literally, by the collar of my Sunday best) from the Catholic Church (St. Peters, NH) while in the second grade for blasphemy. I had accused the priest of “kissy, kissy” in his private confessional. I was indeed a monstrous child and I do owe my current education to the nuns of a Catholic school, but that tumble down cement stairs into the New England icy snow was the best thing that could have happened to me. Ravage the crackers!!!

  87. MAJeff, OM says

    I am your conscience. I am gentle exhortations representing Christ as a servant of his. There is no easy way to prick your heart. Surely if I said “Jesus loves you, won’t you share in his message?” that would not do anything for you. It seems to me, the more militant opponents of the faith like to tell us Christians to be kind as your Lord would have you — is that so we can be more easily ignored? Or I would be remiss if I did not mention your all time favorite “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” That one is misused more than any other Scripture I know of. What it does not mean is to keep quiet. It does not mean to let others mock and plunder. It means do not dare suggest what final fate awaits any man. But do not be afraid to call sin a sin. Not that I’m pefect, mind you. :)

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!

  88. gathererofknowledge says

    You know, I also wonder why God doesn’t create any miracle that is so obvious that people would fall down in awe and worship Him. I.e. proving once and for all that He’s the Almighty.
    My ultimate answer is: I have no idea so why don’t we all ask Him instead of others who also have no idea. My penultimate answer is that He doesn’t want everyone to believe in Him. It’s that simple. You may argue that if God is so loving He would want everyone to love Him so He can share His love with everyone. But you are not God. No human being is God. And that kind of thinking is that of a human being. All we know of God is what He deigned to tell us. And this is not done directly, but through other human beings. And you ask why this God doesn’t do something so awesome that you simply cannot deny the fact that he is God. If he is that kind of God, do you think He would reveal Himself through other human beings?

  89. Nick Gotts says

    Turzovka,
    You boast that your god is a torturer, and will torture people forever. So do you worship evil out of fear – in which case, that is forgiveable, but be assured no such psychopathic monster as you imagine is at all likely to exist; or because you enjoy the thought of the torture that will be meted out to those who disagree with you?

  90. gathererofknowledge says

    Should any religionists care if atheists are going to hell, especially when those atheists don’t believe there is a hell in the first place? As to why they are going to hell or are they actually going to Hell, don’t ask me. Cause I’m not God.
    Why should we Catholics care if anyone desecrate the Eucharist? It’s not as if tolerating it means we are bad Catholics (at least not in my opinion). After all Jesus has been hurt so much from the start of His ministry till this very moment, so what’s some extra wounds? And desecrating the Eucharist doesn’t make Jesus any less God or Man or Redeemer or what have you.

  91. Nick Gotts says

    gatherofknowledge@597,
    Does it not occur to you that there is a much less convoluted answer to your puzzlement: “God” does not create obvious miracles, because “God” does not exist.

  92. turzovka says

    Nick (#597), I am not convinced God will torture anyone forever. And torture is not the right word, but leave that aside for the moment. I am convinced that God is giving us the proper message for all souls on earth to learn, know, serve and obey. I am convinced of eternal life and happiness in heaven. What ultimately happens to those who reject God with contempt I do not dare say for certain. They may be blotted out of existence. They may be given another chance to live by trial eons from now. They may be blotted out of our consciences in heaven as well. So perhaps God is just telling us it will be eternal punishment, because it some ways it truly is, but in more sublime, godly ways of thinking it does not necessarily apply. Irrespective, it is what God wants us to understand for our own good and salvation.

  93. MAJeff, OM says

    After all Jesus has been hurt so much from the start of His ministry till this very moment, so what’s some extra wounds?

    Again with the torture and mortification fetishism.

  94. Steve_C says

    I think we are who we are by choosing how rational we want to be. Choosing to believe in gods. for which there is no evidence, and has never been evidence for. is irrational.

    The world appears to need no supernatural deity to be exactly as it is. So what’s the point? Fear of death is probably the strongest instinct most have… an afterlife allays that fear, I think that’s the main reason most people choose to be irrational. Believing that if you follow the right rules of your chosen superstition, you’ll never die, or will be given paradise is irrational, I think even stupid and unhealthy.

  95. Benjamin Franklin says

    gathererofknowledge asks-

    Why don’t we all ask… why God doesn’t create any miracle that is so obvious that people would fall down in awe and worship Him? I.e. proving once and for all that He’s the Almighty.

    It seems to me that millions have been asking that question for thousands of years. So far – no answer.

    You say –
    “All we know of God is what He deigned to tell us. And this is not done directly, but through other human beings.” This is precicely where all revealed religion fails. You have to put your faith, ultimately, in another human beings’ interpretation of their “revelation”, and believe that their revelation was truly from God. I don’t, and it can not be proved that they are.

  96. gathererofknowledge says

    Nick (#599), that’s one possibility. I think I’ll politely disagree, though.

    MAJeff, OM (#601) Catholicism (and probably all Christianity too) is all about Jesus being tortured and mortified a long time ago, so yes, again with the torture and mortification fetishism.

  97. Benjamin Franklin says

    Sheesh! – make that …precisely

    It’s tough to be precise when you can’t even type out the bloody word correctly. Meh.

  98. gathererofknowledge says

    Benjamin Franklin (#603), you’re absolutely correct. It can’t be proved that anyone has got hold of The Truth. But irrational old me has arbitrarily decided to believe that the Catholic church has a firmer grasp of The Truth than other religions and irrational old me has no intention of defending his arbitrary decision using facts that can’t be proven anyway. And irrational old me will stick to his decision until the moment he dies when he’ll find out how irrational and arbitrary he is. And that’s his choice.

  99. Nick Gotts says

    If Christianity is correct, then eternal life is just that —- forever. And there is eternal reward and eternal suffering. – turzovka@584

    I am not convinced God will torture anyone forever. And torture is not the right word turzovka@600

    You don’t seem to know what you believe. Care to clarify?

  100. Damian says

    gathererofknowledge:

    I think that there is much validity to what you have said. Sometimes atheists can go overboard, in my opinion, when claiming that our atheism is entirely a rational, evidence based decision. That is often an ad hoc interpretation, in my experience, although I do not doubt that many people have seriously looked at the evidence [or lack thereof] and concluded that there is no rational basis for believing.

    Of the many stories that I have heard about personal journeys from theism to atheism, very few have mentioned that they were persuaded entirely by evidence. Many people talk about a kind of epiphany [in the non-religious sense of the word] where they pretty much wake up one day and it hits them. I am generalizing here, of course.

    All that I would say to you is that there are ethical issues concerned with belief [The duty to believe according to the evidence — it’s very long, but it lays out the evidentialist position], and a theistic morality is certainly not as straight forward, or defensible, as some believers would like to think — in fact, I would suggest that it is decidedly indefensible [Read this].

    In many ways, that is why I believe that theists have a fairly unique duty to make sure that members of their own faith do not allow themselves to become too fanatical. You may say that is unfair, but if you admit that much of what you believe is not grounded in evidence, you must also accept that that very mode of thinking is more susceptible to producing fanatics.

    And why wouldn’t it be. With all due respect, and as we have seen with cracker-gate, the process that one must go through to convince themselves that a food item really does become the body of Jesus Christ — a man who, even if he is a real historical figure [and there is some doubt about that], has been dead for over nearly 2000 years — often manifests itself in a strange sort of devotion. That is not the case with factual claims, in my experience.

    There are few, if any, people that are fanatical about the Theory of Evolution. All that I have to do is present the evidence and argue a case. There is no faith involved. When you believe outlandish claims, and become reliant on them for comfort, health, happiness, etc, you will be prepared to go to greater and greater lengths to rationalize those beliefs. I don’t believe that this is healthy — at least not in some people.

    That is why it is often very difficult for an atheist to have a discussion with a certain percentage of believers. It is almost as if they don’t take in a single word that you say to them, and instead continually repeat things that you have long shown to be faulty. Once again, I am generalizing, of course, and there are some theists that are extremely intelligent, rational, and interesting to talk to, but there are also many that worry me in their disconnectedness from reality.

  101. gathererofknowledge says

    Let me give my two bits in answer to Nick Gotts’ (#607) question. Bear in mind that since I neither know nor have read any of turzovka’s posts, I may be entirely unreflective of turzovka’s opinion.

    Eternal suffering and eternal torture are two different things. The first implies no doer (person causing suffering) while the second more than implies a doer (an actual torturer). Now you may ask why would a loving God want to torture His creation eternally in Hell. You’re right. He doesn’t want to. Nor does He actually torture them. He simply creates a painful place for those who don’t want to be with Him and let them live there eternally.

    You may also ask why an all-powerful God doesn’t simply forgive the sins of everyone and unite all His creation in Paradise. It simple. He isn’t that all-powerful. He puts limits on Himself. And one of His limits is issuing blanket amnesties. Another one is forcing people to accept Him or even believe in Him. A third is acting as if it’s okay to force those living in Hell to accept Him, just as long as they don’t suffer eternally.

    I know. It’s all convoluted. But that’s how my mind works.

  102. Steve_C says

    Where do you get these ideas from? It’s all just a man made construct. Circular and pointless.

  103. gathererofknowledge says

    Damian (#608), I agree with you. We theists do try to prove that our decision to believe in God is a thinking one (full of proofs) instead of an emotional one (gut feeling commonly labeled ‘encounter with God’). Yet since religion isn’t scientific in ways that physics (for example) is scientific we tend to fail miserably. So some of us get so excited over this fact that we close our mind to all differing opinions, believing that only with this can we stay theist. And that’s my two-bit on how some theists become fanatics. May I submit that a similar mind-set seems to affect some atheists, causing them to appear to be similarly fanatical about their beliefs as some of the fanatical theists.

  104. Damian says

    gathererofknowledge said:

    Eternal suffering and eternal torture are two different things. The first implies no doer (person causing suffering) while the second more than implies a doer (an actual torturer). Now you may ask why would a loving God want to torture His creation eternally in Hell. You’re right. He doesn’t want to. Nor does He actually torture them. He simply creates a painful place for those who don’t want to be with Him and let them live there eternally.

    You may also ask why an all-powerful God doesn’t simply forgive the sins of everyone and unite all His creation in Paradise. It simple. He isn’t that all-powerful. He puts limits on Himself. And one of His limits is issuing blanket amnesties. Another one is forcing people to accept Him or even believe in Him. A third is acting as if it’s okay to force those living in Hell to accept Him, just as long as they don’t suffer eternally.

    With all due respect, gathererofknowledge, you seem like a nice person, but this is what I was talking about in the post above yours. This reasoning is shown to be both wrongheaded, and dare I say, immoral, with a simple example:

    Let’s say that you have the choice between sending a group of children [perhaps your own?] to a place that they really, really don’t like going to — even to the point where it caused them great suffering — would you consider it moral to claim that you cannot not send them to this place because you have limited yourself in such a way?

    Just think about what you are saying in ethical terms. Many theists retort that we can not possibly limit God by holding him to our own ethical standards, but that is simply a cop-out. For a start, if God is omnibenevolent, and we are expected to behave in a certain manner, according to what God considers to be good, then even if God’s moral nature goes far beyond ours, His must necessarily include our idea of what is good.

    As what you have described is not the case, there are only two options — (1) God is evil, and/or (2) your interpretation is false.

    This might also interest you: The End of Pascal’s Wager: Only Nontheists Go to Heaven

  105. gathererofknowledge says

    Steve_C (#610), allow me to presume that you’re addressing your question to me and answer it. I treated the man-made construct you call religion as a philosophy, rumbled some thoughts about it, and came up with some thoughts justifying my belief. Hopefully this is similar to the process with which you decided that religions are man-made constructs.

  106. Nick Gotts says

    Now you may ask why would a loving God want to torture His creation eternally in Hell. You’re right. He doesn’t want to. Nor does He actually torture them. He simply creates a painful place for those who don’t want to be with Him and let them live there eternally. – gathererofknowledge

    This is ludicrous sophistry. He “creates a painful place”, which he knows people are going to end up in, and then denies responsibility for their eternal suffering. Not only a torturer, but a moral coward.

    You may also ask why an all-powerful God doesn’t simply forgive the sins of everyone and unite all His creation in Paradise. It simple. He isn’t that all-powerful. He puts limits on Himself. And one of His limits is issuing blanket amnesties.

    Why? Since this “self-limitation” is going to result in an infinite amount of suffering, it would be an evil thing to do.

  107. Damian says

    gathererofknowledge said

    May I submit that a similar mind-set seems to affect some atheists, causing them to appear to be similarly fanatical about their beliefs as some of the fanatical theists.

    This may or may not be true, but you cannot place the blame on atheism, in my opinion. If there are fanatical atheists, that fanaticism must necessarily manifest itself through some other avenue.

    Why? Because atheism is simply a lack of theism. It would be like blaming a lack of stamp collecting. I realize that this seems like a cop-out, but I am honestly not trying to absolve blame.

    There has to be a logical link between anything that you believe and the actions that you undertake. I could show you evidence from the psychology of religion to support my claim, but there is no such psychology of atheism, because nothing follows from it. It is not a philosophy, and there really is nothing else to it, other than a lack of belief. What we believe beyond that cannot be blamed on our non-belief in god’s.

    I suppose that you could attempt to show that, without religion people become less moral, etc, but there are no real-life statistics to back that up. In fact, all statistics show that there is either no difference, or that atheists are more moral in some cases. One such statistic is that roughly 10% of the US citizenry are non-believers, while the same group only constitutes 0.209% of the prison population. In other words, we are massively under-represented.

    By the way, I don’t place too much store in those statistics. Many social issues are very complex, and attempting to draw conclusions based on one factor is not very rigorous, and it certainly isn’t fair.

  108. turzovka says

    Nick (#614),

    As far as I am concerned there are only two “eternal” questions that address all of mankind’s stuggles with God, death, and the unknown.

    1) Why are we given life or why are we here? (This would include the other often asked question “Why does God allow suffering on earth?”)

    2) Why would a supposed all good God allow people to suffer in hell, apparently forever?

    Both questions are beyond the scope of man as far as I am concerned, but the first one may be more easier to venture a guess. Would you prefer to have a beautiful woman arranged to be your wife or would you prefer she choose to be your wife? Which would give you greater satisfaction? Perhaps God created mankind to be subject to some trial and those who stay obedient or seek to love God are of greater joy to Him, than say the angels who are beyond sinning or falling away (Lucifer in eons past notwithstanding).

    Question #2, I answer this way again. God has revealed more than enough, empirically and otherwise to me that there is no question in my mind of his existence and the truth of His Son Jesus Christ. In so many ways, I am grateful and feel very much assured of his mercy and his promises of eternal life and happiness. What a feeling of security and serenity. To be able to know there is life beyond the grave, you can be with your loved ones, and to know you will live forever and not be blotted out into non-existence. I am convinced of this, I see the evidence for it, and so I am grateful. Therefore: When God then says “my ways are not your ways, i.e. do not question that which is beyond your understanding or need to know” then I accept that. I cannot understand hell, I cannot understand how someone would be bound there forever, so I do not question it. It will always be a mystery for man, but God is so superior in his thoughts and ways, there may be something quite valid about it that will some day be made clear. No need to question the mystical or that which we are not privy to, just obey and be grateful. I know enough. It very well may be that no one is in hell forever, but God poses it that way for man to process his own path properly. Good enough for me.

  109. Paul W. says

    That got me thinking: do we Catholics worship a piece of bread? Not really. We don’t worship the Eucharist (your cracker) like we don’t worship statues and crucifixes.

    I think you’re mistaken. Many Catholics do worship the Host. Look up “transubstantiation,” “Real Presence”, and “adoration of the Eucharist” in the Catholic Encyclopedia online.

    Dogma says that the Host is literally transubstantiated into the Body of Christ. It’s the body of the living god. It is god. And it’s a good thing to “adore” it, which doesn’t mean standing around saying “what a cute cracker!”

    I think that by any reasonable standard, that’s a form of worship—worshipping God in the form of a cracker—and it’s also idolatry.

    Catholics aren’t supposed to admit that, and have some very special terms and fancy footwork to avoid it, but I do think that’s what it is.

    (And of course I’m not alone. That’s one of the things the Protestant Reformation was about.)

    Catholics like to say that adoration of the Eucharist isn’t anything like pagan idol worship.

    But then, Catholics have never been very interested in what pagan idol worship is actually about—do idol-worshipping pagans really worship mere wood and stone objects in a different, worse sense? Generally, they don’t. They do the same kind of fancy footwork, and are more likely to believe in something weaker like consubstantiation than transubstantiation.

    Transubstantiation and eucharist adoration are about as idol-worshipping as idol-worshipping actually gets. If it doesn’t count as idol-worship (believing that a mundane physical object literally is a god, and adoring that object as a form of worshipping the God), nothing does.

  110. Nick Gotts says

    Damian@615,
    I think you’re wrong: I think you can get “pure” atheist fanatics: individuals can identify with and commit themselves to any facet of their belief system, even a negative one; and I take “fanaticism” to mean the conviction that anyone who disagrees with you on a particular point is an enemy, and must be either stupid or wicked. However, I don’t think they are nearly as common as atheists who are fanatical about something other than atheism (typically some variant of Leninism or right-libertarianism).

  111. gathererofknowledge says

    It seems to me that atheists and religionists live in two different worlds (realities). Atheists say that there is no God and even if there is he/she/it/they must be bound by human rules and expectations (moral, ethical, physical, etc.) The first is because they see little proof of the existence of such a being or beings, and the second is because they put human life and happiness as the reason for the existence of God (in other words, God must agree with our ideas of what is good and what is evil). Religionists see it as the other way around. Our ideas of what is good and what is evil, what is right and what is wrong are but imperfect reflections of God’s morals and ethics. Thus though we can be moral and ethical without God, we can be more moral and more ethical if God reveals to us his morals and ethics. And my particular religion (Catholicism) believes it has the clearest refection of God’s morals and ethics.
    By the way, thank you Damian and Nick Gotts for your comments. Please forgive me if my comments hurt your feelings.

  112. spurge says

    “And my particular religion (Catholicism) believes it has the clearest refection of God’s morals and ethics. ”

    and yet they protect pedophile priests, help spread AIDS, oppress Homosexuals and Women.

  113. Nick Gotts says

    turzovka@616,

    You have stated very fairly the starting points for arguments that: (a) If there is a creator, that creator cannot be both omnipotent and omnibenevolent; (b) The Abrahamic god, if he exists, is evil beyond human comprehension.

    You then continue:
    “Both questions are beyond the scope of man as far as I am concerned”. In other words, you are aware that the “answers” you give are weak. In fact, they are hardly worth calling answers. You ask:

    Would you prefer to have a beautiful woman arranged to be your wife or would you prefer she choose to be your wife? Which would give you greater satisfaction? Perhaps God created mankind to be subject to some trial and those who stay obedient or seek to love God are of greater joy to Him, than say the angels who are beyond sinning or falling away (Lucifer in eons past notwithstanding).

    This God sounds a very selfish fellow; just because he wants a particular quality of sycophancy from his creatures, he creates a world in which many of the beings suffer terribly (infinitely, if we admit the doctrine of eternal punishment). I note by the way that the case of Lucifer completely badly damages your hypothesis about God’s motivation – clearly angels are not per se beyond “sinning”.

    With regard to hell, you just admit you “don’t understand”:
    No need to question the mystical or that which we are not privy to, just obey and be grateful.
    This is truly spine-chilling; it is sheer power-worship, the psychological foundation of fascism. You abandon moral responsibility, in exactly the way people are pressured to do under totalitarian regimes. Do not question God! very quickly becomes: Do not question the Leader/Party/Church/Ayatollah!

    Recognising the weakness of your arguments, you fall back on the trust you feel in God. How can you possibly claim to know what you think is “God” is trustworthy? Whatever you may have felt, a sufficiently powerful evil creator could cause you to feel that trust and joy. Why would such an evil creator do this? Why, for a certain type of psychopathic sadist, I imagine that a large part of the pleasure is in anticipation, and in gaining the trust of your intended victims. The only evidence we have is of a world which does not look as though it was designed by a virtuous creator, and of “holy books” such as the Bible, which tend to suggest that this creator, if he exists, is not at all a nice chap.

  114. Nick Gotts says

    It seems to me that atheists and religionists live in two different worlds (realities). – GoK

    It seems to me theists live in a fantasy, atheists (some of them, at any rate) in the real world!

  115. Damian says

    Nick Gotts:

    I agree with you on that point, and perhaps I wasn’t clear enough. There are certainly atheists that are fanatical about what they do or do not believe, but I was attempting to suggest that the fanaticism does not follow from that belief. I don’t know if you agree with that or not, but I have never seen a sound logical argument that shows it to be possible.

    I don’t believe that religious fanaticism necessarily follows from the religious teachings, either. A good example of that would be Muslim fanaticism. It has been successfully argued, in my opinion, that much of the fanaticism that we have seen in the Muslim world and elsewhere is not necessarily a consequence of Islam, itself. I don’t think that you can absolve Islam of all of the blame, but there are obviously political, tribal, and cultural dimensions, as well.

  116. Lucifer says

    than say the angels who are beyond sinning or falling away (Lucifer in eons past notwithstanding).

    Make up your mind, willya?

    Did I have a choice to rebel?

    If I did, then I have as much free will as you. In fact, I have more free will — I knew for a fact that God existed when I rebelled. You humans don’t.

    If I didn’t have a choice to rebel, then I don’t have free will. So I’m just God’s sock puppet.

    So which is it? Free-willed angel, in which case humans are redundant, or sock-puppet?

    And if the latter, how do you know that you’re not actually all sock-puppets too?

  117. turzovka says

    Nick (#623),

    If you would accede to proof for this God that we worship then there would be no “weakness in my arguments.” But I never have been able to get a coherent answer as to what proof or evidence is required? As far as I am concerned, statues of Mary that weep blood are highly convincing of the supernatural. There are hundreds of them! Many have been examined by medicine or science. Do I have to do the research again and tell you which ones? Would it make a difference? Start with the one in a convent in Akita, Japan that has been video taped on a number of occasions weeping tears of blood. It has been thoroughly examined, cat scanned, what have you. Why these manifestations do not blow the minds of humans or skeptics is beyond me? There is NO WAY these are all hoaxes, many are supernatural, there is no reasonable natural explanation for them whatsoever. It is obvious. Mary is weeping because of the state of sin in this world.

    Anyway, I submit that is proof of supernatural occurrences, divine intervention. Now if you want to argue which god is God, then we go further with the evidence, historical, reason, rationale, claims, prophecies, charity, fruits, and so on. Maybe you would get stuck on “there must be a God but not sure which one.” For many of us, there is no question which one.

    However once you are accepting of God, then to question all His ways which are not in line with your human understanding I consider to be very demanding, arrogant or foolish. He has given all one needs to attain eternal life.

  118. Nick Gotts says

    Hey, Lucifer,
    Has it been one of your chaps playing at being God for turzovka all the time?

  119. Paul W. says

    Basically, any time you trick somebody out of their property, that’s theft. (In Minnesota, it’s covered under the “swindle” clause of Minnesota Statute 609.52) There doesn’t have to be a custom rule defined by a contract (implicit or explicit).

    In cases where the terms under which you’re given something are unclear, there’s a gray area as to what constitutes tricking somebody into giving your property. Unfortunately, admitting that you knew they wouldn’t give it to you without your pretending to follow their rules is pretty much an admission of guilt.

    But who’s making that admission? PZ said his local churches probably won’t give him a cracker willingly…so he’s not taking one. There’s plenty of ways to get a cracker without deceiving the person giving it to you; you simply have to find a priest or a church that doesn’t care much. Dan L. at #523 gave an example of that from his own life. My wife, an open Jewish atheist, has been invited to communion in two different Catholic churches. Take a cracker if you want, eat it if you want, no biggie.

    That’s an interesting case. If the priest knows she’s an atheist and gives her the wafer, she may not be stealing it, but the priest may be.

    She might be technically stealing the cracker, too, or receiving stolen goods, if she knows that she’s not supposed to take it, or if she plans to do something with it that the priest would not or should not approve of. (For example, if she plans to give it to PZ to desecrate, and knows the priest would not give it to her if he knew that.)

    One of my points in this is that it’s often not determinate whether something is “legal.” Often there’s a gray area where the law says something is illegal, but the issues are unclear and the stakes are so small (like a 2-cent cracker) that the courts would not decide either way whether a crime had been committed. They’d usually just say “the law doesn’t concern itself with trifles” (I forget the Latin) and worry about something else.

    Many Catholics don’t buy all the Catholic dogma, and do NOT confess all their sins to the priest before taking communion. That violates the terms of use for the wafer, and they know it.

    Well, no, it doesn’t, because the “terms of use” are implicit, and given that priests know that many Catholics take the wafer without confession, and they happily hand it out anyway, there’s no implication that confession is required.

    I don’t think that’s clear. The terms of use don’t have to be explicit and clear in everybody’s mind for theft to be committed. If they’re clear enough that you resort to deception to obtain the property, that usually counts as theft.

    And interestingly, if they’re unclear enough to you, and you can’t be expected to know you’re stealing, the legal fault may be with somebody who was supposed to make it clear, but didn’t. Such as a priest.

    If the church wants to write up terms of use and hand them out to all comers, or have a brief verbal announcement before communion, they’re welcome to do so. But until they do, all we can do is see which people are invited to or excluded from communion, and make an inference from that. If your local church doesn’t seem to exclude anybody, nor does it make a fuss about strict adherence to the ritual, so much for terms of use.

    I don’t think that’s clear. If you understand that they’re not supposed to give you the cracker for your intended purposes, and you act innocent and nice so that they’ll assume you’re taking it “the right way” and give it to you, that may technically be (ridiculously) petty theft.

    Your position, it seems to me, requires that some subset of Catholics–Bill Donohue and his buddies, or the Vatican, or somebody–gets to decree what the legal terms of use will be for crackers handed out by all Catholics. I just don’t find that legally or morally tenable. If the church you’re attending doesn’t act like they care who takes a cracker or what they privately do with it, more dogmatic Catholics at other churches have no say in the matter.

    Under law, I think that the wafers are church property, which means that they’re the property of a religious corporation. I don’t know if that’s the individual parish, and I suspect it’s the diocese; it’s probably not the whole Catholic Church.

    (Legally they try to operate as something like a franchise operation and avoid having the Catholic Church legally responsible for the actions of dioceses—the buck stops there. That’s a farcical aspect of the priestly pedophilia scandal. The International Church uses the dioceses as a cutout, saying they’re just franchises, not subsidiary corporations. Given the top-down control that the church actually exerts despite that overt lack of ownership, especially the way they covered up and fostered pedophilia, I think RICO should have been invoked and the church should have been nailed for racketeering. They were literally acting as an international child-fucking racket.)

    Depending on how the diocese’s legal charter reads, I think that dogma about crackers may in fact be very relevant to whether they’re being “stolen,” and who is doing the stealing. Priests are employees of a corporation, and have the usual responsibilities for not giving away the corporation’s property in ways the corporation says not to.

    If some overzealous prosecutor were to make an issue of it, and the judge didn’t throw it out as a frivolous waste of the courts’ time over 2-cent crackers, it could be an entertaining farce. Especially if it was found that the fault lay mostly with the priests for not taking dogma seriously enough and illegally giving away corporate crackers.

  120. says

    Paul W:

    I think you’re mistaken. Many Catholics do worship the Host.

    The word “host” is from the Latin hostia, “sacrificial victim,” i.e., Jesus. Yes, Catholics worship the Host, i.e., our passover sacrifice, God incarnate in Jesus Christ, whom we believe to be present under the appearances of bread.

    However, even if you disbelieve in the Real Presence, it is a category mistake to say “Catholics worship a piece of bread.” They do not. They direct their worship to God whom they believe to be present under the appearances of bread. On the hypothesis that He is not present, their worship would then be directed to an unreal, imagined object, but it is still not directed at bread. Bread is finite. We cannot worship what is finite.

    Dr. Johnson (a Protestant) understood this quite well: “Sir, there is no idolatry in the Mass. [Catholics] believe [God] to be there, and they adore him.”

    That’s one of the things the Protestant Reformation was about.

    Not exactly. Both Lutherans and Anglicans believed that Jesus was really bodily present in the Eucharist, with some philosophical differences in explanation. It would be better to say “That was one of a complex of ideas that eventually came out of the Reformation.”

    If it doesn’t count as idol-worship (believing that a mundane physical object literally is a god, and adoring that object as a form of worshipping the God), nothing does.

    However, the same argument could equally be extended to argue that worshiping God incarnate in the flesh would also be “idolatry.”

    In Judeo-Catholic thought, “idolatry” might be defined as “worship directed to anything or anyone less/other than the eternal, infinite Creator God who revealed himself to Abraham and Moses.”

    What makes pagan worship “idolatry” is not ultimately that they do it before a bit of wood or stone, but that they offer worship to what is finite, whether you call it “a statue” or “Dagon” abstractly conceived.

  121. Damian says

    gathererofknowledge:

    Don’t worry, you are not hurting our [my] feelings! I rather like to converse with believers, and even if we don’t agree on a great many things, we will at least gain a better understanding of one another.

    Now, having said that :), we seem to disagree about [or perhaps you have misunderstood] my argument?

    If what you consider to be good is supposedly a reflection of what God considers to be good — after all, without that, there would be no grounds for a theistic ethics — then it follows that God cannot violate or directly contradict that standard of goodness, does it not?

    And I am arguing that what you describe as God’s rationale for not allowing atheists in to heaven, and indeed for essentially punishing us for an eternity, is a direct contradiction of anything that we would normally describe as moral. If a theist believes that it would immoral to do what you describe here on earth [and I hope that they would], and they claim biblical support for that position, then something is not quite right.

    As I’ve said, there is no doubt that God would be immeasurably more morally developed than we are, but he canno directly contradict His own teachings!

    So, either we should be doing what you describe [or actions that are morally similar] here on earth, or you are wrong about what happens when we die. Of course, there is the option that God is evil, but that then destroys most of what theists believe. Most of the tenets of your faith would fall if God was evil, I’m sure.

  122. turzovka says

    Lucifer (pitiful you should assume such a name)(#626),

    In eons past long before man came on the scene, apparently you did have the free will to rebel. (I bet you’re regretting that move?)

    Anyway, God is God so He does as He so wills. He has revealed much knowledge and understanding through His inspired saints, those like Catherina of Sienna. She is beyond reproach. Her words are words of divine wisdom and the Church has benefited immeasurably from such revelations. If they instruct us that angels no longer can be tempted by sin, then so it is. Big deal.

    God also said at some point in Scripture, I assume once the population of the earth was suffice, no longer can marriage or relations within the same family be allowed. And so it is. He also cut short the life span of man to no more than 120 years after populations grew. And so it is. Don’t get hung up on those little incongruencies or paradoxes that you think are smoking guns. It is the enormous white elephants in the room (or should I say that cross?) which you seem to be ignoring for ulterior reasons. Just a guess on my part.

  123. Nick Gotts says

    Why these manifestations do not blow the minds of humans or skeptics is beyond me?

    Because they are not actually very impressive, and we know such “miracles” are easily faked, and that there are strong incentives to fake them, in order to enhance the repuation of a particular shrine. I have not heard of the particular statue in Japan you mention, but it would require thorough investigation by an independent body including forensic scientists and professional conjurors, before I would take it seriously. If it were proved to be beyond explanation, that would of course tell us nothing about the nature of the force or agent behind the phenomenon.

  124. Owlmirror says

    Bread is finite. We cannot worship what is finite.

    So why the fuss over the cracker?

    However, the same argument could equally be extended to argue that worshiping God incarnate in the flesh would also be “idolatry.”

    In Judeo-Catholic thought, “idolatry” might be defined as “worship directed to anything or anyone less/other than the eternal, infinite Creator God who revealed himself to Abraham and Moses.”

    The Jewish take on Christianity is certainly that it is idolatry. Of course, saying so got them burned alive, so they started to just not talk about it.

    Really, once you read through the Nicene Creed, your whole “worship directed to anything or anyone less/other than the eternal, infinite Creator God who revealed himself to Abraham and Moses” is obviously out the window.

  125. says

    Even if Catholics are both wrong and stupid, P.Z. Meyers is mean, just like a person who would come into my house and rip my three year-old son’s “art” off the fridge and burn it in front of me… And that’s sadder, much sadder, than being wrong and stupid.

  126. SC says

    Anyway, I submit that is proof of supernatural occurrences, divine intervention.

    Dear Ms. Turzovka:

    Thank you for your submission of 25 July, 2008. We received a large number of submissions this year, many of them of very high quality. We regret to inform you that yours has been rejected as woefully inadequate and indeed risible. Thank you for your time and effort, and we hope that you will consider us in your future endeavors.

    Sincerely,

    SC, The Reality-Based Community

  127. turzovka says

    Thank you Mr SC for your diligent work on determining the statue weeping in the convent of Akita Japan is not of supernatural origin. Question: Is this kind of like the Shroud of Turin — i.e. you can tell the world it is not, but heaven forbid, that you could tell us what it is? Tons of questions remain unanswered on those objects, but apparently they are of no concern of yours?

    Sincerely, Turzovka

  128. Lucifer says

    Lucifer (pitiful you should assume such a name)

    Why pitiful? The name means “Lightbringer”. Do you think that light is pitiful for some reason?

    In eons past long before man came on the scene, apparently you did have the free will to rebel.

    So there you go. Free will.

    (I bet you’re regretting that move?)

    Do you regret moving out of your parents’ house? Or have you even done so?

    Anyway, God is God so He does as He so wills. He has revealed much knowledge and understanding through His inspired saints, those like Catherina of Sienna. She is beyond reproach. Her words are words of divine wisdom and the Church has benefited immeasurably from such revelations. If they instruct us that angels no longer can be tempted by sin, then so it is.

    Interesting. Catherina of Sienna tells God to not allow angels to be tempted by sin, so he just does it.

    God sure sounds easy to boss around.

    And of course, if God can remove the free will of angels on a whim, he can remove the free will of anyone on a whim. Including humans. Say, maybe the Calvinists are right after all.

    Don’t get hung up on those little incongruencies or paradoxes that you think are smoking guns.

    You mean “contradictions”.

    It is the enormous white elephants in the room (or should I say that cross?) which you seem to be ignoring for ulterior reasons.

    You mean, the fact that God, according to the stories in the bible, and exterior to the bible, is utterly capricious? I’m not ignoring that. Are you?

  129. Paul W. says

    SDG:

    The word “host” is from the Latin hostia, “sacrificial victim,” i.e., Jesus. Yes, Catholics worship the Host, i.e., our passover sacrifice, God incarnate in Jesus Christ, whom we believe to be present under the appearances of bread.

    OK, so far so good.

    However, even if you disbelieve in the Real Presence, it is a category mistake to say “Catholics worship a piece of bread.” They do not. They direct their worship to God whom they believe to be present under the appearances of bread. On the hypothesis that He is not present, their worship would then be directed to an unreal, imagined object, but it is still not directed at bread. Bread is finite. We cannot worship what is finite.

    I think it’s more correct (for a nonbeliever in transubstantiation) to say that Catholics worship a piece of bread which they believe to be God. (Because they believe it to be God, not because they believe it to be bread.)

    My point is that you can say the very same thing about pagan idol worship. Nobody worships a wooden or stone statue as a mere wooden or stone statue. Everybody has rationale for idol worship that involves something like a special presence within the physical object, or a metaphysical transformation of the physical object into a different kind of thing despite the observable sameness, or something unfalsifiable like that.

    Idol worshippers worship idols because they believe them to be gods, or to contain gods, or whatever.

    If we accept the Catholic reasoning about the wafer, we have to accept (other) idol-worshippers’ reasoning as well, and decide that idol-worshipping doesn’t exist. Nobody actually worships idols.

    That’s ridiculous. Of course idol worshipping exists, and Catholic adoration of the eucharist is an excellent example of it.

    (Even if we decide it’s not real idol worship, and is just what’s traditionally and mistakenly called “idol worship” when referring to other cultures, Catholics are no better in that regard. Whatever so-called “idol worship” actually is, Catholics do it too.)

    The thing that’s special about Catholic idol worship is the neat combination of idol worship and cannibalism. The very strong claim of transubstantiation allows eating the idol to be literal, not merely symbolic cannibalism. (Or attempted cannibalism, to nonbelievers.) Cool.

    You can dance around the cannibalism thing, too, but I don’t think it will wash. Most cannibalism is not eating people for food, per se, but to absorb a spiritual essence that the meat is believed to contain. (It’s usually a sign of respect for the deceased, in one way or another.) The distinguishing feature of Catholic cannibalism is just that it’s such an abject failure—people try to eat Jesus, but it’s just a frackin’ cracker.

  130. SC says

    Thank you Mr SC for your diligent work on determining the statue weeping in the convent of Akita Japan is not of supernatural origin. Question: Is this kind of like the Shroud of Turin — i.e. you can tell the world it is not, but heaven forbid, that you could tell us what it is? Tons of questions remain unanswered on those objects, but apparently they are of no concern of yours?

    That’s Ms./Dr. SC.

    Please refer to Nick Gotts @ #633. With all that is wondrous in the natural world, everything we have learned and continue to learn from science, it amazes me that people can take these paste-miracles seriously, much less base their broader beliefs on them.

  131. CJO says

    Even if Catholics are both wrong and stupid, P.Z. Meyers is mean, just like a person who would come into my house and rip my three year-old son’s “art” off the fridge and burn it in front of me… And that’s sadder, much sadder, than being wrong and stupid.

    Analogy fail. (someone should really collect all these. There have neen literally hundreds of handwringing attempts at analogies on the assorted cracker-gate threads. I have yet to see one that worked. anyhoo…)

    Each object created by your child, while resembling the cracker in that it is assigned negiligible value in monetary terms, is nevertheless a unique object, with its connection to a time and place and a phase of your son’s development as a creative being. Its value is a product of this uniquness and your close connection to your son as he grows up. A cracker is a cracker, and it’s indistinguishable from all the trillions of jesus-crisps mass produced over the years.

    What you (and I imagine most of the over-wrought bad analogy peddlers we’ve hosted over the last fortnight) seem to be getting at is that PZ’s motivations for demeaning a cracker are the same as the motivations that would be behind a senseless act like destroying your son’s artwork. All I can say is, you’re wrong. You’re trying to divorce the act from the context of what went on in Florida, without which, none of this would ever have happened.

  132. says

    There’s a common theme to these analogies.

    The cracker is so cheap, so trivial, so inane, that they can’t actually argue against its desecration without looking like lunatics. So instead, they use these bad analogies to substitute in something that really matters: “What you are doing is like butchering babies!”

    After all, no one argues that butchering babies would be bad. If I were actually butchering babies, no one would be making analogies to explain how bad it was — they’d just tell me that that act is horrible and evil.

    This is a case where they can’t. The cracker is just too damned stupid.

  133. Nick Gotts says

    no one argues that butchering babies would be bad – PZ Myers

    Erm, I think it would be very bad! I think your meaning would be better conveyed by sticking in “against the view” after “argues” ;-)

  134. says

    The Jewish take on Christianity is certainly that it is idolatry.

    That was certainly not the “Jewish take” of Jews like Saul of Tarsus and thousands of first-century Jewish Christians.

    Really, once you read through the Nicene Creed, your whole “worship directed to anything or anyone less/other than the eternal, infinite Creator God who revealed himself to Abraham and Moses” is obviously out the window.

    This thesis cannot be exegetically maintained without smuggling non-exegetical philosophical or theological assumptions, such as “the eternal, infinite Creator God who revealed himself to Abraham and Moses did not go on to become incarnate in Jesus Christ and reveal the Triune mystery of His being.”

    Non-Christian Jews, of course, would affirm this, while Christians would affirm the contrary. Non-theists, rejecting the veridicality of the key terms, would appear to have to consider it a non-problem and leave it at that.

  135. CJO says

    Erm, I think it would be very bad!

    Nick, I think he means “no argument is considered necessary to support the assertion that butchering babies is bad.”

  136. SDG says

    After all, no one argues that butchering babies would be bad.

    By “argues,” do you mean no one maintains that, or no one contests it?

    Whichever you mean, you’re wrong, unless by “butcher” you mean something more precise than “kill.” For example, Peter Singer maintains that killing babies under, e.g., 30 days old is not bad. And lots of people contest it.

  137. SC says

    Nick,

    Judging from the sentences that follow, I think he meant that no one would bother to construct an argument requiring elaborate analogies and such about the badness of butchering babies, this being evident to all.

  138. Nick Gotts says

    CJO, SC – Yes, I realised what he meant to say – it just amused me that it could appear to mean the exact opposite.

  139. says

    Judging from the sentences that follow, I think he meant that no one would bother to construct an argument requiring elaborate analogies and such about the badness of butchering babies, this being evident to all.

    Except academics like Peter Singer, and others who think just like him.

    And Obama and others who oppose legal protection for born-alive babies who survive botched abortions.

    And any number of professors of philosophy (e.g., emotivists) who deny that “badness” has any noetic meaning at all, as distinct from an expression of the speaker’s emotional state (“Boo! Hurrah!”).

    Apparently, it is evident to many, but not to all. Whether it should be evident to all is, of course, another question.

  140. Anton Mates says

    That is not “clearly” true and is in fact likely false. It is entirely possible that visitors didn’t flip open the missalette cover and read the guidelines, but the missalettes themselves are nearly ubiquitous.

    It doesn’t matter. The church itself is not following the guidelines, so they do not accurately reflect the church’s terms of use.

    If I stand around handing out candy canes for free, people who take one are not guilty of swindling me even if the candy canes actually have a price tag on the side. Clearly, the price tag does not reflect my conditions for distribution.

  141. Anton Mates says

    Under law, I think that the wafers are church property, which means that they’re the property of a religious corporation. I don’t know if that’s the individual parish, and I suspect it’s the diocese; it’s probably not the whole Catholic Church.

    You’re right; I didn’t think of that.

    So far as I can see from the Catholic Encyclopedia, in the US the bishop or archbishop generally operates as a one-man corporation…all church property in the diocese is technically his. (It varies somewhat by state, though.)

    So, yeah, anyone taking communion in a diocese where the bishop would personally disapprove of that action is actually stealing-by-swindle or receiving stolen property…and, interestingly, in a number of states, receiving stolen property is a crime even without awareness or intent.

    The solution, of course, would be to take communion in a diocese where the bishop doesn’t give a damn–find a bishop like John Shelby Spong, say.

  142. says

    Good grief, but you people are pettifogging pedants.

    Situation: I go to the local hospital, grab a random baby, and chop it up with a meat cleaver. Would you stop to say, “Well, gosh, that might be kinda awful. Here are a bunch of analogies that might convince someone that he done wrong.” No. You don’t argue, you call the cops.

    Situation: I get a communion cracker in the mail, and I punch holes in it and throw it in the trash. It is obviously not criminal, entirely harmless, and at best silly. Now the analogies come out, trying to inflate the pain and suffering caused by this trivial act. “It’s like killing my family!” “It’s like crucifying Jesus all over again!” “It’s like spraypainting swastikas on a church!” No, it’s not. It’s not like any of those things. Just because you can invent an analogy does not make it valid, and the exaggerated attempts at analogizing the act are indications that you’ve got nothing.

    This is a situation that doesn’t need any analogies, because it is so simple and straightforward. I was sent crackers that Catholics believe are holy. I destroyed the crackers. Easy.

  143. Owlmirror says

    After all, no one argues that butchering babies would be bad. If I were actually butchering babies, no one would be making analogies to explain how bad it was — they’d just tell me that that act is horrible and evil.

    This is a case where they can’t. The cracker is just too damned stupid.

    I think Avalos is sort of pointing in that direction when he talks about “sacred ground” in Fighting Words. The land itself may or may not have economic value — but asserting that it is “sacred” changes it in the minds of the adherents such that its value now transcends the economic; it is changed to “infinite” by psychological fiat; it is now worth killing and dying for.

    In this case, instead of “sacred ground”, it is “sacred food“, meant to be eaten ritually. A violation of the ritual is perceived psychologically as being an intrusion on the sacred.

    Of course, what “sacred” means to adherents is something that still needs to be articulated properly. It is probably tied to magical thinking, and to the emotional and psychological perception of real taboos — hence the baby-killing analogies.

    Christianity may be unique in articulating the concept of God as being at the same time powerful and transcendent, and at the same time, being weak and vulnerable, and in need of human defense.

    Orthodox Judaism and Islam would deny that God is explicitly weak, yet in some ways, the fact that God is weak is implicit in that both of those religions recognize the concepts of blasphemy and heresy: God does not speak for himself, and can therefore be blasphemed and spoken of incorrectly; hence adherents must be willing to come to God’s defense, and “protect” God from being blasphemed.

    Of course, it is also blasphemous to speak of God being weak, so Islam and Judaism must experience cognitive dissonance when confronted with that. Christianity does as well, of course, but some of the Catholics have explicitly stated that the host cracker’s defenselessness is comparable to Jesus’ defenselessness at the Crucifixion — again, basically stating that God is indeed weak.

    Although of course, when actually called on it, they too have that cognitive dissonance, and evade the issue.

  144. Nick Gotts says

    PZ, we’re just sorry for this thread – it got left behind the other “cracker” threads in the excitement of the Great Desecration, so we need to get it to 1000 at least!

  145. Benjamin Franklin says

    PZ-

    The analogies are also a common them in Donohue’s press releases – i.e. swastikas, cross burnings, koran, ad infinitum.

    He certainly plays those cards to the max.

    And you’re absolutely right. They use analogy to change the irrationality into comprehensibility. Kind of like changing a stale cracker into the living son of God, or is that just a bad analogy?
    .

    ChristOCrackersLike no other cracker on Earth

    ..
    .

  146. Owlmirror says

    That was certainly not the “Jewish take” of Jews like Saul of Tarsus and thousands of first-century Jewish Christians.

    You will note that the Jewish Christians did not believe that Jesus was literally God, but was the Messiah. The Messiah is given power by God; he may be the viceroy or agent of God; but the Messiah is most certainly not God himself.

    Why do you think early Jewish Christianity died out? The heteroousians were declared anathema by the later majority of homoousians.

    This thesis cannot be exegetically maintained without smuggling non-exegetical philosophical or theological assumptions, such as “the eternal, infinite Creator God who revealed himself to Abraham and Moses did not go on to become incarnate in Jesus Christ and reveal the Triune mystery of His being.”

    Which is basically so much hot air and handwaving. Exegesis is just making shit up.

    Non-theists, rejecting the veridicality of the key terms, would appear to have to consider it a non-problem and leave it at that.

    A non-theist can still point out that it’s even more contradictory than the usual contradictions in the original.

  147. Benjamin Franklin says

    I can see it now-

    The headline in the next issue of the National Enquirer:

    MINNESOTA BABY BUTCHER

    ATHEIST PROF/BLOGGER PZ MYERS SAYS “I go to the local hospital, grab a random baby, and chop it up with a meat cleaver.”

    Oh no, PZ – jumping from the cracker pot right into the baby frying skillet.

    New ChristOCracker Minisfor that baby Jesus taste

    ..
    .

  148. says

    PZ: Lots of things that many not be illegal are still despicable. I’m not myself accusing you of a crime. I’m accusing you of vile contempt for your fellow man. And it’s a shame, because I’ve learned a thing or two from your science blogging, and I don’t regard you as personally beneath contempt or unworthy of serious consideration, as not a few of your readers seem to regard anyone like me.

  149. says

    Owlmirror:

    A non-theist can still point out that it’s even more contradictory than the usual contradictions in the original.

    You are welcome to try… although I suspect you’ll run into some philosophical difficulties around the concept of “contradiction.”

    Exegesis is just making shit up.

    Oh, well then, that simplifies matters for you, doesn’t it. You can just make up whatever shit you want about the Creed, and say that it’s contradictory.

  150. says

    Owlmirror:

    You will note that the Jewish Christians did not believe that Jesus was literally God, but was the Messiah. The Messiah is given power by God; he may be the viceroy or agent of God; but the Messiah is most certainly not God himself.

    How did you reach those startling conclusions? Oh. Exegesis. Nevermind.

  151. Benjamin Franklin says

    SDG-

    You brought up a key point that is worth correcting.
    The non-transubstantiationalists (dammit-there has to be a better word to convey that meaning) like PZ do NOT have vile contempt for their fellow man. At worst, most have vile contempt for what they feel is an absurd, outdated belief of their fellow man that has been shown to cause actual vile contempt and disregard for life of fellow man (death threats, etc).

    In words that might bring it closer to home for you,
    Hate the idea, not the ideaer – or whatever.

  152. says

    Benjamin Franklin:

    Contempt for the idea, you can express in words, and PZ has, as is his right, a right I uphold.

    The actions PZ has undertaken — and, frankly, the words accompanying them — express more than contempt for ideas. They express contemptuous disregard for persons.

    Look. Take it out of the realm of Eucharistic theology. For some reason I can’t fathom, lots of people seem to have the confused notion that Catholics asking non-Catholics to leave our Blessed Sacrament alone is somehow analogous to Hindus asking the whole world to completely change their lifestyle and adopt a Hindu diet.

    Although I reject this sophistry out of hand, I can say this. If one were moved by animosity toward Hindus — or Hinduism, let us say — to acquire some cows, precisely because they are the Hindu sacred animal, and then to go about doing bizarre and pointless things to said cows that one would never otherwise do, precisely because it is the sort of thing Hindus find objectionable, with the aim of putting pictures of this on the Internet…

    …with a lot of scorched-earth rhetoric about how stupid and insane Hindus are…

    …then it seems to me that would begin to resemble what’s happened here. (I leave out the issue of property rights because of the ambiguous exchange value of a eucharistic host.)

  153. CJO says

    doing bizarre and pointless things to said cows that one would never otherwise do

    People never throw stale crackers in the garbage?

  154. Benjamin Franklin says

    SGD-

    Nope, I don’t buy it.

    It was contemptuous disregard for a cracker. Granted, it was a cracker some think has been mystically, magically, supernaturally transformed into the physical flesh of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, son of God.

    But, at the end of the day,

    No humans were physically harmed in the desecration of this cracker. Maybe, at worst, their beliefs got a little bruised. And I think that God, King of the Universe can take care of himself and his family.

    And your Hindu analogy doesn’t hold Holy Water.

  155. says

    P.S. FWIW, Benjamin Franklin, as I’ve already made clear numerous times, I — and the vast majority of transubstantiation-ers objecting to PZ’s actions — totally share your and PZ’s abhorrence to the contemptible actions that outrage over PZ’s actions has inspired in some (e.g., threats of violence).

    Widespread outrage or anger for whatever reason, however justified or unjustified, will always elicit unacceptable behavior in some. This is in no way to make excuses for anyone. It is merely to note that the effects of outrage doesn’t necessarily directly impact the question of the basis for outrage.

  156. says

    No humans were physically harmed in the desecration of this cracker. Maybe, at worst, their beliefs got a little bruised. And I think that God, King of the Universe can take care of himself and his family.

    Who could disagree with that? Not that I accept this as a rebuttal, but it’s nice to agree on some things.

    And your Hindu analogy doesn’t hold Holy Water.

    Of course, no actual holes are poked by mere assertions of non-water-tightness. But it isn’t my analogy in any case. I just took a really bad analogy that a lot of PZ supporters keep bringing up, and tried to align it closer up to the facts.

  157. Owlmirror says

    Oh, well then, that simplifies matters for you, doesn’t it. You can just make up whatever shit you want about the Creed, and say that it’s contradictory.

    No, no, no. Theologians make shit up.

    I’m just pointing out that it’s so badly made up that it contradicts itself.

    How did you reach those startling conclusions? Oh. Exegesis.

    It’s not my exegesis, though. I’m just citing the made-up shit of Roman-occupied Judea.

    But I’m glad that you agree that it’s just made-up shit.

  158. gathererofknowledge says

    Hi, I’m back!
    Just to follow up on some of the posts:
    Damian, one of your posts seems to imply that atheists are automatically denied entry to Heaven. That one I believe to be untrue since only God can decide who is to be automatically denied entry to Heaven, and we theists can only make assumptions about it. After all, it’s possible that if you meet God face to face after you die you would immediately fall in love with Him, ask for baptism of desire (look it up in Wikipedia) and get admitted into Heaven. Don’t ask me about the possibility or impossibility of this scenario, though.
    Now about those of you who equate desecration of Eucharist to baby-butchering. What’s the connection? One is disrespect of God, and the other is cold-blooded murder. How can both be equally wrong? Equating the two is a bit over the top in my opinion, unless you’re talking about Muslims, who I think believe that these two acts are equal in horrendous-ness. But I’m a Catholic not a Muslim.

  159. says

    I’m just pointing out that it’s so badly made up that it contradicts itself.

    So far, you haven’t actually pointed out anything at all… and I’m not yet convinced of your credentials to practice the law of non-contradiction.

    I’m just citing the made-up shit of Roman-occupied Judea.

    Which you know about how? Were you actually there? Or did you (or someone you read, or someone someone else read and told you about) have to read some stuff from the time and try to exegete what they thought at that time and place?

  160. Owlmirror says

    After all, it’s possible that if you meet God face to face after you die you would immediately fall in love with Him, ask for baptism of desire (look it up in Wikipedia) and get admitted into Heaven.

    Ah! Apokatastasis. Yes, Origen came up with that, as I recall. Some condemned the idea, some accepted it. I see now that at least one Catholic Cardinal thinks that it’s compatible with Catholicism.

    Huh. The Wikipedia articles on apocatastasis and universal reconciliation (which articles really ought to be merged, I think; they are nearly entirely synonymous) do not mention “baptism of desire”.

    And I see now that “baptism of desire” itself does not, in fact, exactly refer to apokatastasis; it just means that those that die, as converted Christians, without having been baptized, but wanting to be baptized, are to be considered as having been baptized. Poof! Magic not-water is magic water!

  161. Benjamin Franklin says

    I am not licensed to practice the law of non-contradiction,

    Or is that a contradiction?

    Or is that an agument?

  162. says

    Owlmirror: The key concept you really need is “implicit baptism of desire.” It is not at all controversial among orthodox Catholics. You can find the theology well set out, e.g., in the 1949 letter of the Holy Office to Fr. Feeney.

    The basic idea is that the normative way of salvation is through baptism into the Church, but that God also gives grace for salvation to many unbaptized non-Catholics who are open to receiving grace and whose non-Catholic status is not due to some deliberate rebellion against God on their part.

  163. Owlmirror says

    So far, you haven’t actually pointed out anything at all… and I’m not yet convinced of your credentials to practice the law of non-contradiction.

    What, you need credentials now?

    Hey, let’s start with the very beginning, with one of my favorites.

    Genesis 2:17 : God says “But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat. for in what day soever thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death.

    Genesis 3:6 : And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold: and she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave to her husband who did eat.

    Genesis 5:5 : And all the time that Adam lived came to nine hundred and thirty years, and he died.

    930 years is 339450 days.

    339450 ≠ 1

    Gen 3:6 + Gen 5:5 contradict Gen 2:17

    QED

    But of course, you have some exegesis made-up shit that explains that, right?

    Which you know about how? Were you actually there? Or did you (or someone you read, or someone someone else read and told you about) have to read some stuff from the time and try to exegete what they thought at that time and place?

    Reading history is exegesis now?

    Look, how about you read the article on historical Jewish beliefs about the messiah. Then you can tell me that it’s all made-up shit. I’ll even agree with you. Because all religion is made-up shit.

    http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=510&letter=M

  164. Epimendes of Crete says

    I am not licensed to practice the law of non-contradiction

    All Cretans are liars.

  165. says

    Owl:

    Real quick, cuz I’m walking out the door…

    1. I thought you wanted to talk about the Creed.

    2. So far, you haven’t established a formal contradiction of X vs. non-X. No, I don’t need theology to explain why. I’ll be back for logic 101 later.

    3. Reading history is very largely reading documents. Exegesis in its most basic sense is just interpretation. All meaningful reading implies interpretation.

    4. When did I say the historical Jewish belief about the Messiah implied that he would be God? You said that “the Jewish Christians did not believe that Jesus was literally God, but was the Messiah.” You seem to be assuming that the Jewish Christians accepted Jesus as the pre-expected Messiah with no further modification or expansion of their previous understanding as to who or what the Messiah would be, which is perfectly ridiculous.

  166. Owlmirror says

    The key concept you really need is “implicit baptism of desire.” It is not at all controversial among orthodox Catholics. You can find the theology well set out, e.g., in the 1949 letter of the Holy Office to Fr. Feeney.

    It’s very amusing that you assert that it “is not at all controversial among orthodox Catholics” when the letter itself states that there was a controversy, and in fact, is followed by the excommunication (!) of Leonard Feeney, who, it says on Wikipedia, FWIW, was later re-accepted and never actually recanted.

    Toward the end of this same encyclical letter, when most affectionately inviting to unity those who do not belong to the body of the Catholic Church, he mentions those who “are related to the Mystical Body of the Redeemer by a certain unconscious yearning and desire,” and these he by no means excludes from eternal salvation, but on the other hand states that they are in a condition “in which they cannot be sure of their salvation” since “they still remain deprived of those many heavenly gifts and helps which can only be enjoyed in the Catholic Church” (AAS, 1. c., p. 243). With these wise words he reproves both those who exclude from eternal salvation all united to the Church only by implicit desire, and those who falsely assert that men can be saved equally well in every religion (cf. Pope Pius IX, Allocution, <Singulari quadam>, in <Denzinger>, n. 1641 ff.; also Pope Pius IX in the encyclical letter, <Quanto conficiamur moerore>, in <Denzinger>, n. 1677)

    OK, not apokatastasis. If you really, really believe, really hard, and really, really want to join the Church, maybe you’ll be let in to heaven, even if you don’t join the Church.

    But maybe you won’t be let in! So join the Church!

  167. DingoDave says

    Turzovka asked @ #183:

    “How come no lizards want to fly any more?”
    Look here;
    http://magma.nationalgeographic.com/ngexplorer/0703/images/articles_gallery_2_0703.jpg

    “How come no fish have the desire to take a walk on the beach any more?”
    Look here;
    http://cache.virtualtourist.com/2921792-Mudskipper-Singapore.jpg
    http://www.sms.si.edu/IRLspec/Clarias_batrachus.htm

    “How come no apes want to be humans anymore?”
    Look here;
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5479501/

    Imbecile.

  168. CJO says

    they are in a condition “in which they cannot be sure of their salvation” since “they still remain deprived of those many heavenly gifts and helps which can only be enjoyed in the Catholic Church”

    I LOL’ed.

  169. gathererofknowledge says

    Hi, just went to a crackerbaters mass, and (with due respect to PZ) I seem to be able to. Or maybe the news that I can’t attend mass any more is a bit slow in reaching my archdiocese… :)
    Anyway, when God told Adam and Eve that when they eat the fruit they will die, He was NOT talking about physical death. This is pretty obvious, since they live to reach 900+ years of age (at least Adam did). Now (this may sound like after-the-fact rationalizing)God is really talking about spiritual death here- their connection to Him as friend and worshiper will die if they eat the fruit.
    Why did God make it like that? I have no idea, but I do have a lot of conjectures. Was it because He was being irresponsible, like a parent who put dynamite around the house, gave the trigger to his children and said “Don’t push the button.”? I also have no idea, but I don’t think so.

  170. Owlmirror says

    I thought you wanted to talk about the Creed.

    The Creed is on top of on all of the earlier contradictions…

    So far, you haven’t established a formal contradiction of X vs. non-X.

    Oh? By all means, please explain how dying after 930 years is not a formal contradiction of dying in less than a day.

    Reading history is very largely reading documents. Exegesis in its most basic sense is just interpretation. All meaningful reading implies interpretation.

    Exegesis is essentialist interpretation.

    And making shit up.

    I mean, take “original sin”. Nowhere in Genesis does it say anything about “original sin” condemning all humans to hell. Nowhere. Not word one. So where did it come from? Paul, performing exegesis making shit up.

    You seem to be assuming that the Jewish Christians accepted Jesus as the pre-expected Messiah with no further modification or expansion of their previous understanding as to who or what the Messiah would be, which is perfectly ridiculous.

    You seem to be assuming that Jewish Christians thought that the Messiah Jesus was exactly the same as God, which is indeed perfectly ridiculous.

  171. gathererofknowledge says

    Owlmirror(#681), you do realize that original sin is the business about Adam and Eve disobeying God, don’t you? And that is in the Bible, right? Christians use the term original sin instead of saying “that business about Adam and Eve disobeying God, etc. etc.” for time-saving reasons. Just because we coin a term doesn’t mean it’s something never seen before in the Bible.

  172. DingoDave says

    Posted by Fr. J #301:
    The Catholic Church is growing in the US and elsewhere. Even Europe is seeing modest signs of growth. Secular Europe is in such terrible shape that people don’t even breed anymore. Atheism with its lack of hope or joy kills even the desire to survive.

    I think you meant to say, “that people don’t even breed (like rabbits) anymore.” There I fixed it for you.

    -“Orwell put the vision of atheism best, “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face–forever.”

    You mean like the Catholic church did for over 1500 years?

    “The joy and sweetness of thousands of young Catholic pilgrims who flooded into the city, in the words of Cardinal George Pell, simply “overwhelmed” the rancid negativity of sections of our sex-fixated media,”

    And he has been roundly and rightly condemned for saying so, as has Bishop Anthony Fisher.

    ‘Outrage over bishop’s abuse remarks’
    “THE Pope’s expected apology to victims of sexual abuse by priests has been sabotaged by a senior Australian bishop, who criticised people for “dwelling crankily on old wounds”.
    The bishop organising World Youth Day, Anthony Fisher, made the remarks in response to questions about two Melbourne women who were repeatedly raped by priest Kevin O’Donnell when they were pupils at Sacred Heart Primary School in Oakleigh from 1988 to 1993…The girls’ parents, Anthony and Christine Foster, are flying into Sydney from London to confront Cardinal George Pell before Sunday’s papal Mass in Sydney. Speaking from transit in Tokyo, they said Bishop Fisher’s comments were outrageous. “We are still grieving over our daughters, and many other victims are struggling every day,” he said. “To think this issue is over when the abuse stops is ridiculous. There are people self-harming, committing suicide, drinking, using drugs, because of sexual assaults committed by Catholic priests.”
    http://www.theage.com.au/national/outrage-over-bishops-abuse-remarks-20080716-3gcr.html

    You are a despicable, amoral excuse for a human being Priest J. I suggest that you go fondle a cracker, and then beg it for forgiveness.

  173. Owlmirror says

    Now (this may sound like after-the-fact rationalizing)God is really talking about spiritual death here- their connection to Him as friend and worshiper will die if they eat the fruit.

    Yes. That’s essentialist exegesis. Exactly like that.

    See that phrase “really talking about spiritual death”? That’s making shit up.

    The words themselves — “מות תמות”, “die the death” — are used elsewhere, I see. For example, 2nd Kings 1, about Elijah, uses that exact phrase about Ahaziah, who does, indeed, actually die. Dead. Not spiritually, literally. Dead, dead, dead. As a doornail!

    Why did God make it like that? I have no idea, but I do have a lot of conjectures.

    Since God is made up, and the story is made up, you can conjecture anything you like. It’s still all just made up.

  174. Owlmirror says

    Owlmirror(#681), you do realize that original sin is the business about Adam and Eve disobeying God, don’t you?

    Yes, I realize that that is Paul of Tarsus’s essentialist exegesis about the text. Because Paul of Tarsus was just a human being making shit up about a text that had been written hundreds of years before he was born, which was based on legends floating around hundreds of years before that, which were all just made up to begin with. By human beings.

  175. Holbach says

    Holy crap, the world didn’t end! No hordes of locusts, or rivers running red with blood, ot the dead rising from their graves! I was away all day Thursday and got back on Friday afternoon, knowing that the comments would pass 2000 and perhaps 3000 with the posted overflow, and yet Pharyngula and the earth is still here! Hey, what gives here? Damn, I’d figured I would be on a small patch of earth heading for the Andromeda Galaxy! Leave it to the catholics to dash one’s belief in apocalyptic happenings. Oh well, back to the bashing of more insane religion and the hope of further sacred desecrations with dire warnings of hell and torture. Mercy, this is fun!

  176. Holbach says

    Fr jackass @ 301 and turdzovka(now why did I spll it that way?) Isn’t it blatantly plain to you religious cretins that there is no god to come down and kick our asses? Why does it take all of our reasoning and pernicious debasing to try to get you to realize that there is no imaginary god in the form of a cracker, a pile of shit, an image in a cloud, a mashed turnip or any other medium to cinvet this imaginary thing? Wasn’t this recent demonstration more than enough to convince you that you unredemptively and hopelessly insane? You are pissed because your ghost god did not beat the crap out of us, explode our planet, or in any way show signs of any retribution to that deatardly deed. All the outcry was made and puked by your insane fellow humans who are flagellating their hides and demented brains trying to figure out why there was no apocalyptic retribution. You are being soundly laughed at and drag through the deserving muck. Hey, it’s not your fault that there is no god; blame the morons that put that shit idea into your demented brains in the first place. And then blame yourselves for keeping that crap there to fester into a more pernicious form of insanity. Can’t you see that you are losers, up against the universe and all the rational minds let loose to turn you into the shit that you are? There is no imaginary god to help you, you pathetic morons, grovelling in the muck of insanity until the day you die, with no imaginary hand to pull you out of that stultifying crap. Can we put all this in any way plainer and rational than we have been doing on these many comments? Hey, there’s always suicide to decidedly find out if all we say is bullshit, or all the bullshit you have been living with all your pathetic lives is just that.
    The choice is yours; convert, snicker, to a godless and sane life or end your life to verify nothing. Sorry, no more crackers.

  177. DingoDave says

    Posted by turzovka #524:
    -“I find the fact there are those who reject God entirely or any involvement in the evolution process to be even more laughable. At some point a giraffe was nothing more than an amoeba sized animal right?”

    Yes. When a baby giraffe is first conceived in it’s mothers uterus, it is an amoeba sized animal, just the same as you were when you were first conceived. But it doesn’t stay that way for very long. So what’s your point?

    -“At some point in the evolution game, a liver was formed and an eyball, brain, et al. because that early form of life had none of them. So how did it happen? ”

    Go and read some introductory biology books to get a general idea. Here are some suggestions

    A good one to start with would be ‘How the Leopard Changed it’s spots’, by Brian Goodwin.
    Another good one is ‘Why Elephants Have Big Ears: Understanding Patterns of Life on Earth’, by Chris Lavers
    Another excellent one, but it’s got small writing so I don’t know whether you’ll be able to handle it, is ‘Life: an Unauthorised Biography’ by Richard Fortey.
    Or you could try ‘Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea’ by carl Zimmer.

    Read those first, and then report back to us with your scholarly analysis.

  178. Holbach says

    Dingo Dave @ 689 Good reply to turzovka, but I think your efforts to educate this religionist are wasted on suggesting titles for his awakening. He should be able to think for himself and to find out the answers to the questions he proffers. There are libraries galore, the Internet, bookstores, and other manner of education oneself in other than the stultifying position one is currently encased in. He is a deadhead religionist and no amount of convincing or suggestions is going to steer him away from his present state. I would not give him one second of my time or mind, the latter probably to lambaste his dementia. However, it was nice to see someone mentioning Richard Fortey and his excellent book which I have. I also have his “Earth: An Intimate History”, which I’m surprised you did not mention. I have four books by Carl Zimmer which are very worthy to the cause. I mentioned Richard Forty and his books in a previous post and was surprised at the lack of response or interest?

  179. DingoDave says

    Posted by gathererofknowledge @ #591:
    -“do we Catholics worship a piece of bread? Not really. We don’t worship the Eucharist (your cracker) like we don’t worship statues and crucifixes. Now I don’t think ur interested in what we Catholics actually worship so I’m going to continue on.”

    Bullshit! Just read this from a CHRISTIAN website;

    -“See that little white circle in the middle of the sunbursts? That is a cracker. Catholics call it Jesus or the “holy” Eucharist. They eat their Jesus. But before they eat him, they have to bow down in front of this gold thing that holds their Jesus and worship him. The gold thing is called a monstrance. But before they bow down in front of the monstrance (graven image) with their Jesus (idol) in it, they like to parade him through the streets and “adore” him in their solemn processions. You see, their Jesus can’t walk. He has to be borne about by men. THIS is the Catholic Jesus that we write about here at Jesus is Lord–he is plainly not the Jesus of the Bible.”

    -“You don’t believe that they actually worship and “adore” this thing called the Eucharist? Look at what pope John Paul II (a.k.a. Karol Joseph Wojtyla–his real name) said about the Eucharist in his 1980 Encyclical Letter on the Mystery and Worship of the Eucharist–
    “Adoration of Christ in this Sacrament of love must also find expression in various forms of Eucharistic devotion: personal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament [the Eucharist], hours of adoration, periods of exposition – short, prolonged and annual (Forty Hours) – Eucharistic benediction, Eucharistic processions, Eucharistic Congresses…The mass is the center of Catholicism and the Eucharist (that little round wafer above) is the center of the mass. “…[E]ucharistic worship is the center and goal of all sacramental life.”
    –Karol Wojtyla, aka pope John Paul II – ‘DOMINICAE CENAE ON THE MYSTERY AND WORSHIP OF THE EUCHARIST’ , February 24, 1980

    -What else did Karol say?
    “The encouragement and deepening of the Eucharistic [cracker] worship are proofs of that authentic renewal…Jesus waits for us in this sacrament of love…”

    -“Many Catholics say that I don’t understand Catholicism BUT NOT ONE will deny that they consider that cracker Jesus! NOT ONE WILL DENY that they fall down in front of images like this as well as statues, relics, paintings, and other images. NOT ONE will say that the ONE TIME sacrifice of Jesus Christ is enough to save your soul.”
    http://www.jesus-is-lord.com/monstran.htm

    No sirreee! No cracker worshipping going on around here.

    Now move along folks.

  180. Holbach says

    Dingo Dave @ 691 You would think that what you retold as concerning that incredulous demented catholic ritual, that anyone reading that drivel would not give vent and exclaim those rantings as only to come from a mind that has gone completely insane. And yet to the religious morons, that speaks of unadulterated wonder and awe! But never would they be considered fodder for insane asylums! Incredible!

  181. DingoDave says

    Posted by gathererofknowledge @ #609:
    “Eternal suffering and eternal torture are two different things. The first implies no doer (person causing suffering) while the second more than implies a doer (an actual torturer). Now you may ask why would a loving God want to torture His creation eternally in Hell. You’re right. He doesn’t want to. Nor does He actually torture them. He simply creates a painful place for those who don’t want to be with Him and let them live there eternally…I know. It’s all convoluted. But that’s how my mind works.”

    Dear gathererofknowledge,
    Do you even believe your own bullshit?

    The Bible speaks of non-believers being THROWN into Hell by the god you worship. If I THREW someone into a fire, would you consider that to be the same thing as ‘leting them’ get burned to a crisp?

    Matt.5
    [29] If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.

    Mark.9
    [45] And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell.
    [47] And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell,

    The Bible also speaks about Jesus and his angels being physically present, and gloating, while people are being tortured in Hell.

    Rev.14
    [10] he also shall drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and he shall be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.
    [11] And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night…

    I do wish you Christians would read your own Bibles before presenting the rest of us with your absurd rationalisations for your god’s brutality.

    Your mind certainly does work in convoluted ways! But I guess that it has to, in order for you to continue worshipping this cosmic monster without feeling any sense of shame for doing so.

  182. DingoDave says

    Posted by turzovka @ #616:
    -“Therefore: When God then says “my ways are not your ways, i.e. do not question that which is beyond your understanding or need to know” then I accept that…I cannot understand hell, I cannot understand how someone would be bound there forever, so I do not question it…No need to question the mystical or that which we are not privy to, just obey and be grateful. ”

    That statement just about sums up all of your arguments so far, both FOR the defence of your religious convictions, and AGAINST the findings of modern scientific research.

    The first step towards liberating yourself from your primitive superstitions is to question what your shamans (sorry priests) have been telling you for all these years.
    In fact, it’s what Dr. Myers has been trying to tell you all along, if only you’d listen and learn.

    It’s no wonder that Christians like yourself, refer to yourselves as ‘sheep’!

  183. turzovka says

    Dingo Dave,

    Of what value are you to this world? Where do the poor, the sick, the dying and the destitute receive any comfort from your vile words or from your sitting at home cursing those who may be reaching out to help them? All you appear to be to me is some pitiful small-minded half-educated angry man who will say the most slanderous comments towards his neighbor for one simple reason — to puff up his own ego and get a laugh or a nod of approval from his sycophantic peers.

    You are such an honorable one Dingo Dave. Why not really make a splash? Why not get in the communion line and tip the whole ciborium full of hosts onto the floor in front of those Catholic sheep and scream out “You Idiots are wasting your lives!” as you run from the church laughing? That would be even bigger headlines than your fearless leader, PZ Meyers made, and it might even sway some of us sheep to reconsider this drudgery we’ve been putting ourselves through. I would think that would be your idea of real altruism.

    Well anyway, I know I can be repetitive and boring so I will not say much more. In fact, my “mission statement” in post #584 pretty much sums it all up. Anyone interested in anything I have to say would do well to read it all there. It is the voice of a confident Catholic lamenting at the condition of the world in which he lives.
    Dingo Dave, How can you be so certain there is no God? You know what I am fairly certain of, and forgive me God for saying this — I am certain you are strongly in the clutches of the devil. It is people like you that brings a smile to his face — those who doubt his existence and make merry of him. Those who sin without a hint of remorse or concern. The passage in Romans 1 I leave you with at the end of this post speaks of those who God, sorrowfully, has given them over to their lusts and reprobate minds because, apparently, they will never be interested in redemption.

    As Jesus said: “An evil age is eager for a sign, but no sign will be given it except that of Jonah.” You demand a sign, but you are incapable of discerning one. The cross is your only sign that you need or may be able to humble yourself before. Everything else given to you for discernment is cast aside like swine trample upon precious pearls. So I am not at all surprised you laugh at weeping statues, the miracle of the sun at Fatima, the story of Lourdes, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the inexplicable qualities of the Shroud of Turin, the inexplicable bleeding stigmata wounds of Padre Pio, the incorruptible bodies of saints long gone, the dismissal of all divine healings, the manifestations of the children of Garabandal Spain, the 500,000 Egyptians who witnessed Mary on a cathedral in Zeitoun in 1968, and so on and so on. Laugh Dingo Dave but I leave you with my own joke.

    Two Americans were visiting the world famous art museum in Paris, The Louvre. As they were leaving, a French guard overheard one American saying to the other, “I don’t think much of this place.” The French guard responded, “Monsieur, the Louvre is not on trial here… you are.”
    Jesus is not on trial here Dave…. you are.

    [Footnote #1. from Romans Chapter 1:]
    22Professing to be wise, they became fools,
    23and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
    24Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.
    25For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
    26For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural,
    27and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
    28And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper,
    29being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips,
    30slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,
    31without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful;
    32and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

    [footnote #2: thanks to PZ Meyers for this forum to exchange ideas]

  184. Nick Gotts says

    I know I can be repetitive and boring so I will not say much more blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah… [footnote #2: thanks to PZ Meyers for this forum to exchange ideas] turzovka

    Who is this PZ Meyers of whom you speak?

  185. Nick Gotts says

    OT, what is this “Meyers” thing? It’s not frequency, at least if this (Most common US surnames) is right. Is it (probably mostly subconscious) anti-semitism? (I tend to identify “Meyers” but not “Myers” as a Jewish name, but I’m not sure this is statistically justified.) Any other hypotheses?

  186. Nick Gotts says

    DingoDave@678,
    No fair! You weren’t supposed to refute her unanswerable challenges like that!

  187. Wowbagger says

    Good grief.

    I just read all of Turzovka’s post at #695 – I don’t know how I got through it without rupturing something. I haven’t laughed that hard for some time.

    Seriously, I’ve taken drugs – good, strong, hallucinogenic drugs – that wouldn’t have put me in a place where I’d be able to believe in that nonsense. I believed that an owl put thoughts in my head and a river spoke to me, and that’s not even half as flaky.

    Man, my stomach still hurts. I want to read through it again but I don’t know if it’s safe to.

  188. clinteas says

    Re 695:

    I just can not for the life of me make up my mind about whether this is mental illness,self-delusion,the result of brainwashing of a simple mind,or what…..

  189. Nick Gotts says

    Wowbagger@701,
    I just got round to reading the whole thing properly. I realise my summary doesn’t do it any justice at all – it really is one of the funniest things I’ve read this year! Thanks turzovka – laughter is very good for the health, and you’ve supplied several days’ worth!

  190. echidna says

    I think the religious sorts are used to the spelling Meyers from Dr. Stephen Meyers, head of the Institute for Biblical and Scientific Studies.

    Then they have trouble adapting.
    -Cheers.

  191. Anton Mates says

    Orwell put the vision of atheism best, “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face–forever.”

    Orwell was an atheist socialist with a strong dislike of the Catholic church, you extremely silly person. He once pointed out that “a totalitarian state is in effect a theocracy.”

    And:

    “The Catholic and the Communist are alike in assuming that an opponent cannot be both honest and intelligent. Each of them tacitly claims that ‘the truth’ has already been revealed, and that the heretic, if he is not simply a fool, is secretly aware of ‘the truth’ and merely resists it out of selfish motives.”

    Oh, and:

    “One cannot really be a Catholic and grown up.”

    Quote-mine someone else mb.

  192. Nick Gotts says

    echidna@704,
    Thanks, yes, that’s plausible – a trivial indication of their general tendency to force new information into a framework they’re used to.

  193. says

    It’s very amusing that you assert that it “is not at all controversial among orthodox Catholics” when the letter itself states that there was a controversy, and in fact, is followed by the excommunication (!) of Leonard Feeney, who, it says on Wikipedia, FWIW, was later re-accepted and never actually recanted.

    It’s very amusing that you seem to think that statements made in the present tense in 1949 and 2008 must be chronologically interchangeable, and/or that Fr. Feeney must be orthodox because he was later reaccepted and never actually recanted.

    OK, not apokatastasis. If you really, really believe, really hard, and really, really want to join the Church, maybe you’ll be let in to heaven, even if you don’t join the Church.

    But maybe you won’t be let in! So join the Church!

    Close. Except that as the word “unconscious” indicates, the “really, really wanting” business doesn’t have to have the Church as its conscious object. “A certain unconscious yearning and desire” may, by God’s grace, be sufficient, thank God.

    Oh? By all means, please explain how dying after 930 years is not a formal contradiction of dying in less than a day.

    Did I say I would do that? Well, no, but perhaps I will anyway.

    Logic 101, with no theology or exegesis. (Incidentally, on that latter term, see below.)

    The law of noncontradiction states that it cannot be truly said of something that it is and that it is not in the same respect and at the same time. In one shorthand statement, if X, not non-X.

    You have identified two propositions A and B. A is “God said that Adam would die on the day he eat of the tree.” B is “Adam died 930 years after eating of the tree.”

    Given these propositions A and B, non-A would be “God did not say that Adam would die on the day he ate of the tree,” while non-B would be “Adam did not die 930 years after eating of the tree.”

    For A + B to entail a logical contradiction, A must entail non-B, and, of course, B must conversely entail non-A. On the facts admitted to date, prescinding from theology and exegesis, this cannot be shown to be the case.

    That is, from A (God said that Adam would die on the day he ate of the tree), one cannot show non-B (Adam did not die 930 years after eating of the tree), while from B (Adam died 930 years after eating of the tree), one cannot show non-A (God said that Adam would die on the day he eat of the tree).

    Perhaps you think that the problem can be simplified as follows: “God said X would happen, but non-X happened.” Even if this is granted (though it need not be), logically speaking — prescinding from theology and exegesis — the proposition “God said X would happen” does not yield “X happened,” nor does “Non-X happened” yield “God did not say that X would happen.”

    Perhaps you think that if God says X will happen, X must happen, because God is omniscient, omnipotent, absolute and eternal, and thus cannot lie, be mistaken or change his mind. Those are all fine theological assumptions, but we aren’t doing theology right now, we’re doing logic. Really, of course, we ought to be reading a story, except that you don’t want to do exegesis either (again, see below).

    The irony, of course, is that you are doing exegesis, you just haven’t noticed. Ironically, you’re applying a Fundamentalist-literalist hermeneutic that presupposes Genesis 1-3 as literal history.

    If we were reading a story, we might notice that the text depicts God as sometimes present and sometimes not, and as apparently not knowing things, and so forth, and we might begin to suspect that we are reading a story in which those nice theological assumptions don’t necessarily apply to God as he is depicted here. But then we might be doing exegesis (or interpretation).

    Incidentally, as noted above, it has not been established that the problem can be simplified to “God said X would happen, but non-X happened.” What God said is that Adam would die on a particular day — not that he would not die on another day. Perhaps you think those are contrary propositions because scientifically death is a one-time event. But we’re doing logic now, not science.

    So, in fact, “dying after 930 years is not a formal contradiction of dying in less than a day.” Even if we grant that death in both cases is in the same respect, i.e., physical death (which has not been shown), it is not logically impossible that Adam should have died more than once.

    Now, as exegesis (or interpretation), this would of course be perfectly ridiculous. I’m not for a moment proposing either that this is what happened or that the text could reasonably be read that way. But once we start talking about reasonable ways to read the text, we are talking about interpretation, or exegesis, not just logic.

    Let me tell you a secret: When you said that Genesis 2 contradicts Genesis 3, I suspect what you really meant was something like “You have no reasonable explanation for this” or “You cannot reasonably interpret this story in a way that is plausible and makes sense.”

    I think I can, though it would be a reading quite different from the one suggested by your literalist-Fundamentalist hermeneutic. First, though, a word about exegesis.

    Exegesis is essentialist interpretation.

    I’m tempted to say that’s an awfully essentialist statement. But instead I will simply note that words have ranges of potential usage and meaning, and this particular term, as first introduced into this particular discussion (i.e., in my reference you your exegesis of the Creed), did not carry the implication of any particular school of interpretation. If you thought otherwise, you misunderstood me. For my purposes in this discussion, exegesis = interpretation.

    You seem to be assuming that Jewish Christians thought that the Messiah Jesus was exactly the same as God, which is indeed perfectly ridiculous.

    When did I assume that? All I said was that it was not the Jewish take of Jews like Saul of Tarsus that Christianity is idolatry.

    I certainly grant and insist that the Jewish Christians worshipped Jesus, and did not believe this to be idolatry. But the implications of phrases like “exactly the same as God” presuppose centuries of unpacking that had not yet taken place in the earliest decades of the Church.

  194. says

    Correction: I just noticed a couple of typos in non-A in the graf below. Here is how it should read:

    That is, from A (God said that Adam would die on the day he ate of the tree), one cannot show non-B (Adam did not die 930 years after eating of the tree), while from B (Adam died 930 years after eating of the tree), one cannot show non-A (God did not say that Adam would die on the day he ate of the tree).

    Other incidental typos shouldn’t affect the material issue.

  195. Owlmirror says

    Oh, bravo. That was the most beautiful piece of sophistry that I have seen in a long, long time. Take the laurel wreath, for it belongs to you.

    What God said is that Adam would die on a particular day — not that he would not die on another day. Perhaps you think those are contrary propositions because scientifically death is a one-time event. But we’re doing logic now, not science.

    So, in fact, “dying after 930 years is not a formal contradiction of dying in less than a day.” Even if we grant that death in both cases is in the same respect, i.e., physical death (which has not been shown), it is not logically impossible that Adam should have died more than once.

    *laughter*

    And it’s not logically impossible that when it comes to bullshit, that that is the most bullshittiest conclusion ever uttered by anyone, theologian, scientist, or logician.

    Hey, as long as we’re redefining “death” to be something that can “logically” occur more than once, why not just say that God was speaking obscene Elizabethan and/or French slang, where “to die”, in addition to meaning the absolute termination of life, also means “orgasm”? And of course, Adam “died” when he knew Eve, and “died” again and again and again, because being newlyweds, they fucked a lot?

    Why the fuck not? It makes exactly as much sense as anything you wrote.

    I’m not sure I even want to bother addressing the rest of your arguments. What’s the point when you can spout off the most ridiculous and patent nonsense and say that it’s “logical”?

  196. says

    As I expected, you missed the point.

    It probably hasn’t occurred to you that don’t actually have the slightest idea what I think of Genesis 2-3 — because you didn’t ask that. All you did was wave a couple of verses around like a Fundamentalist slinging proof-texts and crow “Here’s a contradiction!”

    Coming at the Bible like a Fundamentalist looking for proof-texts, like you did, is pointless and stupid. Do you get that now? You didn’t make the slightest effort to ascertain what you were looking at. You wanted to throw “exegesis” to the winds. More precisely, you pretended you weren’t exegeting when you were, you claimed exegesis is just making shit up — and and now all of a sudden you complain about “ridiculous and patent nonsense.”

    Oh, now you want to be reasonable too — to have a reasonable reading of the text? Okay. You wanna exegete? Let’s exegete. Otherwise you’re just a Fundamentalist seeing what he’s already decided to see. That’s called eisegesis. You could also call it making shit up.

  197. Owlmirror says

    You’re just all huffy because I called bullshit on your bullshit.

    Coming at the Bible like a Fundamentalist looking for proof-texts, like you did, is pointless and stupid.

    I agree that the bible is pointless and stupid from any perspective that interprets the text as being in any way true.[/disingenuous prooftexting]

    Oh, now you want to be reasonable too — to have a reasonable reading of the text? Okay. You wanna exegete? Let’s exegete. Otherwise you’re just a Fundamentalist seeing what he’s already decided to see. That’s called eisegesis. You could also call it making shit up.

    You mean like you’re doing?

    All interpretation of fiction is equally made up. Because it’s fiction to begin with. All “exegesis”, all of this sort of thing: This line here secretly means its exact opposite. This entire passage must be an interpolation. Well, if we take this relativist perspective, the text can be deconstructed as this allegorical and poetic reification of the ideal essence. The scribe/printer must have made a typographical error. This word meant something completely different in this other era, so the meaning of this sentence is completely different!

    It’s all fanwanking.

    You can analyze the text all you want, but unless you acknowledge upfront that it’s all just stories made up by imperfect human beings who were writing down things that they may or may not have know were made up, all you’re doing is not just fanwanking, but actively conspiring in your own self-deception.

    But hey, whatever gets you off.

    How about this exegesis? It rather amusingly draws a comparison between the bible and film montage.

    http://georgeleonard.com/yahweh.html

  198. says

    In other words, when you talk about contradictions, you’re just “fanwanking.”

    I agree. You don’t particularly care whether there are contradictions or not. It’s just a convenient stick to beat Fundamentalists with. One of your “favorites,” as you said.

    It’s a nice hobby for you, but it doesn’t have anything to do with reality… about the Bible, or about anything else.

    As for what I do or don’t acknowledge upfront, you wouldn’t know, because you haven’t asked.

  199. Owlmirror says

    In other words, when you talk about contradictions, you’re just “fanwanking.”

    The contradictions are in the text. Coming up with absurdist sophistries that they are not “really” contradictions is the “fanwanking”.

    but it doesn’t have anything to do with reality… about the Bible, or about anything else.

    Right, because the Bible doesn’t have anything to do with reality. That’s what I’ve been saying all along.

    As for what I do or don’t acknowledge upfront, you wouldn’t know, because you haven’t asked.

    You could just write it out. I certainly haven’t stopped you from doing so. But will it just be more self-deceptive fanwanking? I don’t know, but I have my suspicions…

  200. says

    The contradictions are in the text.

    My gosh, you still don’t get it.

    How can you talk with a straight face about what’s “in the text” after all your shit about “all interpretation” being “making shit up”?

    You really are a Fundamentalist: You really think that you can see and say what’s “in the text” without any “interpretation.” “Interpretation” is what other people do when they read texts.

    Let’s review. This is you:

    All interpretation of fiction is equally made up. … It’s all fanwanking.

    But then you say:

    The contradictions are in the text.

    I’m left wondering: Which word do you not understand: interpretation or contradiction?

    In what universe can you declare a text to contain contradictions without interpreting what it means?

    If all interpretation is “making shit up”, then the contradictions you pretend to perceive are just shit you made up. If the contradictions are “in the text,” then you had to be able to interpret what’s in the text without just making shit up.

    Is any part of this still confusing to you?

    You could just write it out. I certainly haven’t stopped you from doing so.

    It may come to that. I’d like to iron out this little point first.

  201. Owlmirror says

    If all interpretation is “making shit up”, then the contradictions you pretend to perceive are just shit you made up. If the contradictions are “in the text,” then you had to be able to interpret what’s in the text without just making shit up.

    You seem to be confusing “reading” with “interpretation”. Either words mean what they mean, or they don’t mean what they mean. Which one is it? You tell me.

    Look, here’s a simple narrative:

    Alice told Bob “You will not die today”.
    Bob lived for many years.

    Read the words. Is there contradiction there? Is any additional interpretation necessary?

    Another simple narrative:

    Alice told Bob “You will die today”.
    Alice killed Bob that day.

    Same deal. Is there contradiction there? Is any additional interpretation necessary?

    Finally, one last narrative:

    Alice told Bob “You will die today”.
    Bob lived for many years.

    Is there contradiction there? Can you see the contradiction just by reading the words themselves? If not, why the hell not?

    Sheesh.

  202. says

    See, this is just sad.

    Third narrative: No, no contradiction. As far as I can see, the most reasonable interpretation is that Alice was incorrect.

    Is that the only interpretation? No, but it’s the one I would defend against all comers, until and unless more information comes to light.

    So, now we need Interpretation 101. I’ll be back.

  203. Owlmirror says

    As far as I can see, the most reasonable interpretation is that Alice was incorrect.

    Ahem. You came up with, that is, imagined a “reasonable” interpretation, because you saw the contradiction.

    So! Now replace “Alice” with “God” and “Bob” with “Adam”.

    Are you saying that the most “reasonable interpretation” of the contradiction in the Genesis verses quoted is that “God” was just flat-out wrong?

  204. says

    Wow. Just wow. You don’t understand logic, and you don’t understand interpretation.

    The following sentence literally does not make any sense — at all:

    You came up with, that is, imagined a “reasonable” interpretation, because you saw the contradiction.

    Please try to follow this: If I saw a contradiction, I could not propose a “reasonable” interpretation.

    Look. Here is a narrative with a prima facie contradiction:

    Alice killed Bob.
    Alice did not kill Bob.

    Assuming the terms are meant in the same respect — assuming we’re talking about the same Bob and the same Alice, and assuming that killing means killing — the narrative is flatly self-contradictory. Thus, no reasonable interpretation of the narrative as we have it is possible. It might be possible to imagine additional information that might ameliorate the prima facie contradiction, but going by the facts established to date the prima facie contradiction excludes reasonable interpretation.

    Now, let’s try a variant on your problem narrative:

    “Now, Alice,” said Bob, “I will kill you today.”
    Alice killed Bob, and lived for many long years afterward.

    Do you read this and think, “Wow, contradiction”?

    If someone read it and said, “Wow, Bob was going to kill Alice, but Alice killed Bob instead,” would your response be, “That interpretation is just shit you made up because you saw the contradiction?”

    Because if you do, gosh, no wonder you think the Bible is full of contradictions. Anything would be. You know how to read words, evidently, but you don’t know how to read narratives.

    Let’s go back to your original narrative:

    Alice told Bob “You will die today.”
    Bob lived for many years.

    The logic is basically the same as in my example. A character makes a statement. Something happens. Two events in a narrative that is perfectly coherent, with no prima facie contradiction between sentence 1 and sentence 2.

    Obviously, I don’t know why Alice’s statement turned out to be untrue. I could only speculate about that, and speculation, even plausible speculation, isn’t interpretation.

    If I were inclined to speculate, I must guess that perhaps Alice was joking. Perhaps she was misinformed. Perhaps she was trying to scare Bob. Perhaps Bob was on death row but received a pardon hours later. Perhaps Alice was Bob’s doctor and didn’t expect Bob to survive his terminal disease, but Bob experienced a miraculous recovery. Who knows? That’s only speculation, not interpretation.

    The interpretation part is: Evidently, for whatever reason, Alice said something untrue.

    The logic part is: Sentence 1 does not contradict sentence 2.

    Please let me know what part of this I need to explain next.

    So! Now replace “Alice” with “God” and “Bob” with “Adam”.

    Wow, never saw that one coming.

    Are you saying that the most “reasonable interpretation” of the contradiction in the Genesis verses quoted is that “God” was just flat-out wrong?

    What on earth would make you think that? Please review what I said: I said that would be the most reasonable interpretation “until and unless more information comes to light.” Since Genesis 2-3 provides more information than that, other interpretations may be more plausible.

  205. says

    Argh, another malignant typo. That should have been “If I were inclined to speculate, I might guess that perhaps Alice was joking.”

  206. Owlmirror says

    If I were inclined to speculate, I must guess that perhaps Alice was joking. Perhaps she was misinformed. Perhaps she was trying to scare Bob. Perhaps Bob was on death row but received a pardon hours later. Perhaps Alice was Bob’s doctor and didn’t expect Bob to survive his terminal disease, but Bob experienced a miraculous recovery. Who knows? That’s only speculation, not interpretation.

    The interpretation part is: Evidently, for whatever reason, Alice said something untrue.

    It looks like you’re shifting the meanings of words around. OK, so now it’s just an interpretation that for whatever reason, God said something untrue? And coming up with reasons like “Oh, he really meant spiritual death” is speculation?

    Well, the speculation part is certainly “making shit up”.

    Y’know, I went and looked up the Wikipedia entry for “Exegesis”, and then looked at the New Advent Catholic encyclopedia entry for the same topic, and y’know, I don’t think you’re correct about “exegesis” just meaning “interpretation”. But it’s a pain to slog through word salad. About 19,000 words of word salad, too. Still…

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05692b.htm

    Hm. I see an essentialist presuppostion……

    No error in Scripture

    Since God is the principal Author of Sacred Scripture, it can contain no error, no self-contradiction, nothing contrary to scientific or historical truth.

    And the article also talks about hermeneutics, which has its own article…:

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07271a.htm

    Which is even more word salad. Argh. Feel free to wade through all that, if you must. I’m pretty sure that somewhere in there, something boils down to “we make shit up”. But I am too tired to wade through it just now.

    I said that would be the most reasonable interpretation “until and unless more information comes to light.” Since Genesis 2-3 provides more information than that, other interpretations may be more plausible.

    Oh? Feel free to bring this additional information…

    Say, that reminds me. There were some verses that I left out…

    Genesis 3:4 And the serpent said to the woman: No, you shall not die the death.

    Genesis 3:5 For God doth know that in what day soever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil.

    Genesis 3:7 And the eyes of them both were opened:

    Let’s put this into proper boolean form:

    A = “you eat the fruit”
    B = “you will die that same day”
    C = “your eyes will open that same day”

    Gen 2:17 ⇒ God asserts that if A then B (A→B)
    Gen 3:4 ⇒ Snake asserts that if A then not-B (A→¬B)
    Gen 3:5 ⇒ Snake asserts that if A then C (A→C)

    (A→¬B) ∧ (A→C) ⇒ (A→(¬B∧C))

    So the snake contradicts God, and adds in some additional info.

    Gen 3:6 ⇒ A
    Gen 3:7 ⇒ C
    Gen 5:5 ⇒ ¬B

    And from Boolean logic, an implication is false if its implicated part is false.

    Looks like the only one who speaks truly is the snake…

  207. SEF says

    Looks like the only one who speaks truly is the snake

    That’s always been my view of that section, bearing in mind the whole thing’s fictional anyway. God is either clueless or a liar or both (since he does other clueless and other dishonest things too).

  208. Anton Mates says

    Liar, primarily. You can see from 3:22 that the gods (plural at the time) knew quite well what eating from the tree would do; they had to boot Adam and Eve from the garden before the humans ate from the other tree as well and became uncomfortably close to gods themselves. Same as the Tower of Babel, pretty much, and quite reminiscent of the Prometheus story.

    I don’t think it’s at all contradictory in itself; it’s a perfectly consistent story from a polytheistic religion, featuring non-omnipotent gods who fear that mortals will usurp their status. Of course, it contradicts later henotheistic and monotheistic parts of the Bible.

  209. SEF says

    The differing accounts of the creation are completely contradictory (to each other and in being contradicted by reality!). It’s just the individual account which contains the sort of claim contradicted by subsequent claim which reveals that the character (god) in the story has to be a falsehood-teller or deliberate liar.

  210. Owlmirror says

    Actually, looking at the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia page on hermeneutics, the following sure looks like a confession that they make shit up:

    Hence a hermeneutic truth may be an objective falsehood, unless the writing subjected to the hermeneutic rules be endowed with the prerogative of inerrancy.

    It’s interesting that the article has a whole section on “inerrancy” which handwaves various explanations for various contradictions and inconsistencies, but does not, so far as I can see, address the very first chapters of Genesis. But I am skimming, so perhaps I missed something.

    Or perhaps that’s one of the “objective falsehoods” that is confessed to above.

  211. Tigernerd says

    So what does this “crackerclysm” prove? That P.Z Meyers is about as witty as H.L Menken, and about as much of a jerk? That P.Z Meyers doesn’t mind that, if he were Catholic, he would be excommunicated several times over?

    If you want to argue, argue logically, and please, don’t act like we have no brains in our heads.

    To me, violating the Eucharist, in the eyes of a secular humanist is like me forcing my way into your house, stuffing a rosary in your hand, and slapping a crucifix on your wall.

    Oh, and Owlmirror.

    Your argument holds as much water as a sieve. A two year-old can spot the logical error. Every theologian I have heard has said that the serpant spoke a half-truth. There is a detailed explanation, but your head would probably explode, even though you *have* more education than I.

  212. Owlmirror says

    Every theologian I have heard has said that the serpant spoke a half-truth.

    And logic says that the serpent spoke a full truth, and the God spoke a full falsehood. But I guess logic loses to “every theologian”.

    There is a detailed explanation, but your head would probably explode

    So far, all of the detailed explanations have involved making up ridiculous bullshit. That does not make my head explode, although it is irritating to see bullshit justified because a hermeneutic truth may be an objective falsehood.

  213. Owlmirror says

    That P.Z Meyers doesn’t mind that, if he were Catholic, he would be excommunicated several times over?

    Sheesh. If PZ were part of the club, he would be kicked out of the club. Except he isn’t part of the club. So why would he care about being kicked out of it?

    To me, violating the Eucharist, in the eyes of a secular humanist is like me forcing my way into your house, stuffing a rosary in your hand, and slapping a crucifix on your wall.

    No, it’s more like Catholics praying for “heretics, schismatics, lebertines, atheists, blasphemers, sorcerers, Mahomedans, Jews, and idolaters”. They do it in their own space, and it has no actual affect on those persons. Just like nailing a cracker in one’s own home.

    Logic: You’re doing it so very, very, very wrong.

  214. says

    Actually, looking at the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia page on hermeneutics, the following sure looks like a confession that they make shit up: Hence a hermeneutic truth may be an objective falsehood, unless the writing subjected to the hermeneutic rules be endowed with the prerogative of inerrancy.

    That would be a hermeneutical error on your part. Here is the hermeneutical truth of the sentence (and, I would argue, objective truth about reality) in colloquial paraphrase: “A correct statement of the meaning of a text (i.e., a “hermeneutical truth”) may still be a false statement about reality (i.e., an “objective falsehood”), if the text in question is subject to error.”

    Example: It is a hermeneutical truth about Mein Kampf, but an objective falsehood about reality, that the Aryans are the Master Race.

    Capice?

    It looks like you’re shifting the meanings of words around.

    That’s your interpretation, huh?

    OK, so now it’s just an interpretation that for whatever reason, God said something untrue? And coming up with reasons like “Oh, he really meant spiritual death” is speculation?

    Concluding that God said something untrue would be an interpretation, yes. Based on Genesis 1-3 in isolation, reading “die on that day” as spiritual death could be labeled speculation — not necessarily unreasonable speculation, just as my speculation of Alice’s misstatement regarding Bob’s impending death is not unreasonable, but not something you can nail down in the text either. Certainly we would minimally need more information to make more of it than that.

    Y’know, I went and looked up the Wikipedia entry for “Exegesis”, and then looked at the New Advent Catholic encyclopedia entry for the same topic, and y’know, I don’t think you’re correct about “exegesis” just meaning “interpretation”.

    Since you’ve pronounced them both to be “making shit up” or “fanwanking,” what difference does it make? Are you backtracking now?

    Again, “words have ranges of potential usage and meaning,” etc. Exegesis certainly has technical senses more specific than just interpretation, but they don’t apply here. At no time in this discussion have I presupposed exegeting Genesis as sacred scripture in light of any particular religious commitment. I’m just interested here in a reasonable approach to the text, like any other text.

    Let’s put this into proper boolean form

    Uh huh. You can write boolean truth tables, yet you make elementary logical errors in identifying contradiction or noncontradiction in a simple narrative.

    Why don’t you try applying boolean analysis to Alice and Bob and see whether the contradiction you were so sure was there really exists?

    Also, I’d still like your thoughts on my proposed revision in which Alice kills Bob. Is that contradictory? If not, why not? Are you just fanwanking?

    Let’s try to nail down the theory, please. Is interpretation just making shit up, or not?

    Oh? Feel free to bring this additional information…

    If you want, sure. We don’t have a working theory of interpretation yet, but I don’t mind going ahead anyway with what makes sense to me. (How far afield we’ve gotten from Eucharistic theology…)

    So. Approaching Genesis 1-3 like any other text, I find various reasons to regard it as a literary composition in a mythic mode, a story without the sort of claims of historicity found in, say, the court records of the Judean kings, or the Gospels.

    As with all myths, I take it to be a story embodying a worldview of the people and culture in which it took shape, among whom it was presumably told and retold, revised and reshaped for countless generations, in various forms and variations, before being set down in its present literary form. As such, it expresses, in story form, certain aspects of a particular people’s understanding of the world in which they live, the god they worship, and so forth. (BTW, by referring to “the god” rather than “God,” I hope to facilitate reading the text as a story rather than projecting onto it theological assumptions and expectations unhelpful at this stage.)

    For various reasons, the story impresses me as a literary composition of considerable artistry and subtlety, not at all a crude redaction patchwork “so badly made up that it contradicts itself,” as you put it, though clearly there are signs of more than one previous source. Most obviously, the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 can reasonably be seen as reflecting originally separate sources — though in their present literary form, far from being slapped together, they have apparently been dovetailed with sufficient care there is considerable unity, and scarcely any (I don’t say there is zero) prima facie contradiction, between the two accounts.

    In general, the god of this account is called “Elohim” in Genesis 1 while in Genesis 2-3 he is given the joint name “YHWH Elohim.” “Elohim” is a morphologically plural word which in other contexts may mean more or less “gods” or “mighty ones,” and is sometimes used as such in reference to the gods or pantheons of other nations, or to human rulers. Despite the plural morphology, when used with reference to the Hebrew god, “Elohim” is treated grammatically as a singular noun, with singular verbs and adjectives.

    The origins of the plural usage for the singular Hebrew god are not known. Speculation about a connection to a prior polytheism is — well, speculative, if not necessarily unreasonable. However, in its present literary form the Genesis story uses Elohim to refer to the singular Hebrew god.

    The story bears certain resemblances to other creation myths, but also striking differences, so that to call it “a perfectly consistent story from a polytheistic religion” is certainly wide of the mark. For example, I’m not aware of any other creation myth in which a god deliberately and systematically creates the heavens and the earth without any sort of resistance, conflict, collaboration or inadvertency, as in both Genesis 1 and 2. Many aspects of the story contain implicit critiques of polytheistic religion. (For example, the sun and moon, honored as divine in other religions, are simply “lights” here without even being given names. And while IIRC the theme of a god “resting” after a creation is found in other creation-myths, in connection with, e.g., recovery after a primeval battle, I’m not aware of any parallel example of a god taking his ease after an effortless work of creation.)

    The creation of Man (adam) as male and female is treated both in Genesis 1 and 2. Conjugal union and reproduction is blessed and approved in both accounts (1:28, 2:23-25). Genesis 2 ends with the lovely coda “The man and his wife were both naked and unashamed.”

    In Genesis 2 the god YHWH Elohim places Man in the garden, with a positive mission (keep the earth) and wide latitude of freedom (eat freely of all the trees) along with a single prohibition (not this tree). The prohibition, alas, gets all the press, just as the prohibited tree gets all the attention, though there is also another tree, equally or more important: the tree of life. Man is not forbidden to eat of the tree of life.

    Genesis 3 introduces a new player, the serpent. Literarily, there is no textual justification in Genesis 1-3 for identifying the serpent as a supreme agent of evil (e.g., “Satan,” “the Devil”), a phallic symbol, an agent of death, etc. Its presence and agenda is unexplained.

    Unquestionably, the serpent reveals truths that the god has not told the Man: After the deed is done, YHWH Elohim himself acknowledges that “the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil,” just as the serpent said.

    However, the story also clearly confirms the serpent’s deceptiveness. Its opening salvo (“Did Elohim really say you may not eat of any tree in the garden?”) is a grotesque distortion of the prohibition — and there is a tantalizing hint in the Woman’s response that she has begun to be misled: In correctly stating the prohibition around the forbidden tree, the Woman adds the novel clause “nor touch it.” Has the serpent succeeded in beginning to cloud the issue? The text leaves it an intriguing open question.

    It is also worth noting that while the Woman adds that the prohibition is under pain of death, she does not specify a timeframe (“on that day”). Thus, the serpent’s first intimations of hidden knowledge — “You shall not die” — can only be construed as a lie. The serpent neither says nor implies “You shall not die on that day,” but, “You shall not die.”

    Ironically, the story suggests that this possibility — not dying — was within Man’s grasp prior to his disobedience. There is no reason to suppose that Man prior to Genesis 3 was immortal, or that mortality was a punishment imposed on him as a result of “the fall.” However, while he lived in the garden the tree of life was available and permitted to him; had he chosen to eat of it rather than the other, he could have lived forever.

    Still another indication of the serpent’s untrustworthiness is the theme of shame, guilt and hiding. As soon as Man eats of the prohibited tree, the unashamed intimacy he previously enjoyed with his wife before the god is shattered. (In light of the positive view of sexuality and reproduction in Genesis 1-2, the Man’s disobedient shame cannot be seen as sexual shame.) Man has indeed “become like Elohim” in some sense — but to his surprise this turns out to be the opposite of the glorious experience he expected. Now Man must seek both to cover his nakedness and to hide from the god. (Someone above made a flippant comment about God “holding a grudge,” but the disobedience seems to carry a punishment of its own weight.)

    Then of course the god returns, and there is an inquiry, and judgment rendered.

    Then another surprise. YHWH Elohim has previously said that on the day Man eats of the prohibited tree, he will die: but now he seems to be pondering anew what to do with the Man, who, having eaten from the prohibited tree and come to know good and evil, cannot be permitted also to eat of the tree of life (3:22). Having cursed the serpent, and punished, but not cursed, the Man and the Woman (though cursing the soil is included in the Man’s punishment), the god exiles Man from the garden.

    Finally, yet another surprise: Seeing the inadequacy of Man’s efforts to cover his own nakedness with fig leaves, the god turns from judge to provider, fashioning for them suitable clothing made of animal skins, seeking to make accomodation to the sad reality of man’s new status. (This detail offers another intriguing hint: Evidently the god did take a life that day, but an animal life rather than a human one.)

    Owl, you asked me whether I thought the most reasonable interpretation was that God was “mistaken.” Others suggested that he was “lying,” or that he was jealously seeking to prevent Man from becoming too godlike.

    None of these seems to me a persuasive literary reading of Genesis 1-3 as a story. Genesis 3 depicts a god in complete control of the situation, threatened neither by the serpent nor by the man, whose new “godlike” status has not empowered or elevated him, but on the contrary has brought him shame and guilt. If YHWH Elohim wished to carry out the sentence of death at that time, he had the power to do so. Instead, he metes out a lesser punishment, mingled with mercy and providence.

    What about the original threatened sentence? As with many other matters, the story doesn’t spell everything out, but one obvious reading is that, confronted with the reality of human disobedience, the god changed his mind, deferred the sentence, showed mercy. The Man will indeed die, but not at the time originally pronounced.

    A slightly more nuanced reading might see the sentence fulfilled in an unexpected form, just as the promise of godlike knowledge came in an unexpected form. Although the Man (Adam) did not die that day, from that day forward Man (adam) was under a sentence of death; death became an inevitable part of the fabric of human life, and was first manifested not in Adam’s own death, but in the death of Abel at the hand of his brother Cain. From the day of his disobedience Man was cut off from the tree of life, cut off from the fullness of blessed and unashamed life that he had previously, and from the immortal life that might have been his.

    The bottom line of the story is that the god has not cut Man loose, as it were, or washed his hands of him. In spite of his own warning and Man’s disobedience, YHWH Elohim continues to provide and care for mankind.

    That’s as far as I think one can reasonably go in this regard based on a literary reading of Genesis 1-3 as a story. Whatever may (and must) be said about spiritual death or original sin would go beyond this, and beyond my present purpose.

  215. SEF says

    reading “die on that day” as spiritual death could be labeled speculation — not necessarily unreasonable speculation

    Yes, it is unreasonable. “Spiritual death” is twaddle anyway, so it’s an inherently unreasonable speculation. However, it’s also unreasonable within its given context (of other twaddle) because the passage doesn’t go on to confirm any such “spiritual death” occurring but instead goes on to confirm in detail that the claims the serpent had made were true. The god of the bible is evil and a liar.

    Genesis 3 depicts a god in complete control of the situation

    Rubbish. If he was in such complete control then he had to have set the humans up all along. So he’s scum and free-will’s a lie. However, the “Where are you?” question makes that speculation of yours laughable anyway.

  216. SEF says

    If YHWH Elohim wished to carry out the sentence of death at that time, he had the power to do so.

    That’s speculation on your part which is unsupported by the text at that point. The rather non-omniscient and stupid god of that era is never claimed to have that ability – just cursing and tailoring skills.

    Though a later version of the god is claimed to do a lot of killing and is generally rather more indiscriminate about it than you require of him. The later god also does the taking away of free-will in order to force people to be bad when they weren’t going to be.

    The god described in the bible is repeatedly evil and rather petty, with approximately no redeeming features.

  217. says

    SEF: Your (heavily theologized) reading the text stumbles into the very philosophical errors I sought to ward off. Your problem isn’t unbelief. It’s literary philistinism. You don’t read the text for what it is. You simply look to vent your spleen against belief in God.

    Just to clarify: By “complete control” I don’t assert “omnipotence/omniscence” as defined by monotheistic theology. I simply assert that nothing in the text offers any threat or resistance to the god, no obstacle to his exacting whatever justice he wishes. At no time in Gen 1-3, or Gen 1-11, or throughout Genesis is the Hebrew god ever presented with an obstacle or force of resistance to his carrying out whatever plan he decides.

    This is the same YHWH/Elohim whom we see wiping out mankind with the flood in Gen 6-8, wiping out Sodom and Gomorrah in Gen 18-19. I am aware of no evidence of these as literarily “later” to Genesis 1-3, i.e., representing a “later version of the god.” There is no textual basis for your claim that the god would have any difficulty pronouncing any sentence he wishes on Man in Gen 3.

    “Spiritual death is twaddle.” This is an ontological claim, not a literary one. You should learn the difference, and learn to read stories before commenting on them.

  218. SEF says

    I simply assert that nothing in the text offers any threat or resistance to the god, no obstacle to his exacting whatever justice he wishes.

    That’s still an unsubstantiated assumption on your part, not part of the text itself – and it’s contradicted anyway by the serpent (unless you make your god complicit) and by the Nephilim a little later. Such omnipotence also requires him to be evil throughout the rest of the book.

    You religious people are just so hopelessly dishonest and delusional that you’re not even willing to think straight even if you’re theoretically capable of it. Because you’re defending the indefensible, you just have to lie and lie and lie some more, tying yourself in knots with your sophistry and self-contradictory deceitfulness.

    This is the same YHWH/Elohim whom we see wiping out mankind with the flood in Gen 6-8 …

    Yes, that’s a later god – potentially older and more powerful and yet either unable or unwilling to act justly and discriminatingly. It’s still displaying something of a temper tantrum in most cases.

    I found it amusing when someone pointed out (some years and then some months ago?) that other people had noticed the same pattern. Eg: this one among other such pages.

    This is an ontological claim, not a literary one.

    I note you selectively ignore the other point. How dishonest of you.

    You should learn the difference, and learn to read stories before commenting on them.

    I do know the difference and I did read them and, unlike you, I did so honestly whereas you are forced to be dishonest. That’s what religion does to you – assuming it’s not simply your natural tendency anyway. Some evidence of the way you address a non-religious topic would be required to make a more accurate determination of the primary cause of your dishonesty.

  219. SEF says

    There is no textual basis for your claim …

    NB Have you ever met the documentary hypothesis at all? It’s based on larger amounts of that textual evidence you deny exists.

    Unfortunately, I can’t seem to re-find the cartoon which someone drew some years back (just before I was about to do almost exactly the same thing myself!) of god creating the world when a baby, drowning the world when a toddler and so on. I do save interesting links but apparently not enough of them.

  220. says

    SEF:

    FWIW, I’ve studied literature and mythology under unbelieving teachers, so I don’t make any general correlation between unbelief and literary philistinism. To me, unbelievers are individuals… just like believers. As far as I can see, you as an individual are a bright person, and I make no judgment about your honesty. I just can’t see that you can read your way out of a paper bag.

    By contrast, on your end, it’s “You religious people are just so hopelessly dishonest and delusional that you’re not even willing to think straight even if you’re theoretically capable of it.” I’m reminded of the quotation someone mentioned earlier from Orwell, who for some strange reason thought associated the error of “assuming that an opponent cannot be both honest and intelligent” with Catholics and Communists.

    I won’t simply change the rings and say it’s really atheists who do that. I know too many smart atheists who don’t, just like I know too many smart Catholics who don’t to believe Orwell. It’s just ignorant, bigoted individuals on both sides, atheist and Catholic. It is a form of delusion: Your ideas about “You religious people” just don’t correspond to reality about other people.

    This may come as a surprise to you, but mainstream critical OT scholarship is not dominated by wild-eyed religious devotees looking to rescue sacred scripture from the harsh light of reason. Although I’m not a biblical scholar, I have some higher education in critical scholarship, not as a religious person but as a student of literature. I’d be embarrassed to read the Prose Edda or the Iliad as perversely as you misread Genesis. I don’t see it as a religious issue at all.

    You ask if I know about the documentary hypothesis. Had you read my comments on Genesis 1-3, you could probably have answered that question for yourself. I take for granted the basic premise of the documentary hypothesis. I also consider the manuscript tradition in its present form, which is all we actually have, to be the primary object of study. If you knew more about the state of critical scholarship today, you might know that source theory does not at all erode my observation that “There is no textual basis for your claim that the god would have any difficulty pronouncing any sentence he wishes on Man in Gen 3.”

    If you think there is a textual basis, produce the evidence. What you call my “unsubstantiated assumption” is in fact a statement in the negative, positing an absence in the text. If you assert the contrary, it’s up to you to produce what I say isn’t there: evidence of the god YHWH Elohim facing any real challenge to his ability to do whatever he wants, an occasion when he sets out to do something, or wishes to, and is frustrated by some other power.

    As a point of comparison (or contrast), it may be helpful to consider some actual examples of the limitations, challenges and conflicts faced by gods in other ancient Near Eastern mythologies.

    Take the Enuma Elish, the Genesis of Babylonian mythology. In the Enuma Elish, the story of the world begins with two gods, Apsu (god of fresh water and male fertility) and Tiamat (goddess of the sea and of chaos), who mingle and produce other gods representing the horizon and the sky, who proceed to disturb rest-loving Apsu with their disorderly ways.

    Apsu wants to kill the younger gods and restore peace and quiet, but tempestuous Tiamat objects. When Apsu decides to go ahead with his plan, Tiamat warns the most powerful of her descendants, Ea, of the plot. Ea then uses magic to put Apsu to sleep and kill him, and goes on to become the new chief god, establishing his dwelling above Apsu’s body.

    Ea and his consort Damkina have a son, Marduk (god of spring and storms), who proceeeds to disturb Tiamat’s sleep and the gods still in her body. Eventually Tiamat is roused to seek vengeance for the slaying of Apsu, and puts together a coalition of gods and monsters to defeat Marduk and the other gods. However, Marduk slays Tiamat, and her corpse becomes the world.

    Or take Hittite mythology, preserved on clay tablets. In this mythology, Alalu is king of heaven and first among the gods. His cupbearer Anus conquers him and throws him down to earth, becoming the new king of heaven.

    Then Anus is in turn attacked by Kumbaris, who bites off his genitals. In doing so, Kumbaris inadvertently becomes impregnated with three new gods. However, by spitting out the semen on the earth, he succeeds in impregnating the earth with two of the gods, and only has to bear the third himself. Where the third god comes out gets to be quite an issue. Kumbaris reigns as king of heaven for a time, but is eventually destroyed.

    Now, this is great stuff literarily, and there are fascinating parallels to a number of episodes in Genesis. At the same time, the more comparable literature you study, the more striking the uniqueness of the Genesis account becomes. Where there are similarities, the unique twist given in Genesis offers a commentary or critique on other ancient Near Eastern mythologies.

    The god in the Genesis account, this semitic tribal desert god YHWH Elohim, is sometimes depicted with a level of anthropomorphism, e.g., going from place to place, not knowing or finding things out, being willing to change his mind. At the same time, anthropomorphism is a relative term: This is not a god who gets drunk, has sex, wages wars, or gets maimed or killed. He has no rivals or adversaries; there is no question of plots or struggles to overthrow or supplant him; he never decides to do something and is prevented from doing it.

    I am aware of no credible textual grounds — none — for arguing that the god in Genesis 3 might have wanted to kill the Man for disobedience but been unable to do so, or even that he might have been unable to do so had he wanted. Such a proposal is controverted by every relevant consideration I can see, from the consistent depiction of the god’s ability to do as he pleases to the ongoing providence he shows for the Man and Woman. Source theory offers no help: You can theorize all you like about the shape of hypothetical source documents, but the text is what it is. This isn’t religion. It’s reading.

  221. SEF says

    What you call my “unsubstantiated assumption” is in fact a statement in the negative, positing an absence in the text. If you assert the contrary, it’s up to you to produce what I say isn’t there

    You’re being dishonest again – just like the people who try to pretend atheists have the burden of proof for showing any particular go doesn’t exist. There was an extraordinary contortionist of that sort around here recently.

    In this instance you are claiming that god could do anything he wanted and chose what he chose. Yet the text does not support you in this. You are making it up. You are assuming it because you want to believe it. You are the one adding stuff which isn’t in evidence.

    The text does not have god saying at the initial death threat that the death was anything other than automatic nor that it would have to be administered or could be averted by him or others. That’s merely your assumption along with the “spiritual” twaddle you tried on earlier.

    Then after the incident, there’s nothing in the text about god saying he or his fellow gods (there was more than one in the original text) really should kill the humans but will let them off lightly this time. There’s nothing about mitigating the former threat or reversing a poisoning or anything. There’s nothing except the curses and tailoring.

    All your nonsense about god having other options is entirely made up by you. It isn’t in the text. You are being thoroughly dishonest about that. You just expect no-one to notice. Well, tough. I did notice and was willing to point it out to the other people you were attempting to hoodwink.

  222. says

    You’re being dishonest again … You are being thoroughly dishonest about that.

    By definition, apparently. I’m still one of “you religious people,” and we’re still talking about a literary work that happens to have canonical status in the particular religion to which I belong. Therefore, I’m so hopelessly dishonest and delusional that I’m not even willing to think straight even if I’m theoretically capable of it, while you have done all things honestly and well. I’m sure anyone can see it.

    The text does not have god saying at the initial death threat that the death was anything other than automatic nor that it would have to be administered or could be averted by him or others. That’s merely your assumption

    LOL. To say the god never says the penalty of death would be “anything other than automatic” is, of course, impeccably correct. It’s just as correct as saying that he never says it would be “anything other than rendered upon a determination of guilt.” Since he doesn’t say either way, why then he doesn’t say “anything other than” either possibility.

    Either possibility would thus be consistent with what he does say, which is simply, “In the day you eat of it you will die.” Not “At the moment,” or even just “When,” but “In the day.”

    You say it’s my “assumption” that the punishment is to be imposed. Actually, my assumption — no, my literary conclusion — is that the open-minded reader of Genesis 2 makes no assumption in advance how the punishment is supposed to come. In principle, we don’t know from Genesis 2 whether the Man is supposed to die on the spot from eating the fruit, or whether the god is supposed to come back and render judgment.

    It is only the hostile reader, the unliterary reader, who gets to Genesis 3 and concludes in verse 7 that the god has “lied” because the Man doesn’t die on the spot. The god hadn’t said he would. Likewise, it’s only the hostile reader who concludes that the serpent, who distorts (“Did Elohim really say…?”) and lies (“You will not die”) and deceives (omitting the shame and guilt and hiding, saying only “you will be like Elohim”), “tells the truth.”

    A reader who brought this level of hostility to the Epic of Gilgamesh or the Babylonian creation saga would achieve zero understanding of the cultures in which these myths took shape. Just as you shut yourself off from understanding of the ancient Semitic worldview underlying Genesis. Those contemptible, petty Hebrews and their evil, dishonest god.

    In this instance you are claiming that god could do anything he wanted and chose what he chose. Yet the text does not support you in this. You are making it up. You are assuming it because you want to believe it. You are the one adding stuff which isn’t in evidence.

    I think that for any reasonably capable and non-hostile reader, no rebuttal of this is required but to read Genesis and observe the doings of the god.

  223. SEF says

    It is only the hostile reader, the unliterary reader, who gets to Genesis 3 and concludes in verse 7 that the god has “lied” because the Man doesn’t die on the spot.

    Untrue. It’s only the honest reader who notes that the humans haven’t died in the rest of the specified day either. So, whatever the mechanism, the god was definitively telling a falsehood or deliberate lie (especially given what the rest of the chapter reveals*) and the serpent was definitively telling the truth.

    I think that for any reasonably capable and non-hostile reader, no rebuttal of this is required but to read Genesis and observe the doings of the god.

    So you finally admit that it isn’t in the text you claimed to be reading so carefully, but you still hope to get away with it by dishonestly including a separate piece of text which in no way covers that god’s specific ability to kill Adam and Eve (or lack thereof). The god doesn’t do it nor say that he can do it, nor wibble on in a hand-wringing way about alternatives because he doesn’t want to do it. The plain facts of the matter are that the god wasn’t telling the truth and neither are you. Religion actively makes you dishonest even if you weren’t going to be dishonest anyway.

    * The rest of the chapter reveals that the gods are scared of the humans. They fear their abilities and what they might acquire next. Contrary to your claims, the gods don’t act like omnipotent beings who have power over the humans at all. They clearly don’t believe they can put a force-field around the other tree or remove that tree out of reach or do without it themselves or anything.

    Crucially, they show no sign of being able to kill those humans. You might speculate that they could but they don’t say so – which is your own claimed standard and the one from which you continue to fall short. All the gods reveal themselves able to do (other than cursing and tailoring) is shove the humans out the garden airlock and even then they have to place a guard because they either don’t have a human-proof lock or method of sealing it (primitive nomadic goat-herders lack technology and imagination) or have a stupid fondness and faith in flaming swords. Roll on the iron chariots a bit later …

    A reader who brought this level of hostility to the Epic of Gilgamesh or the Babylonian creation saga would achieve zero understanding of the cultures in which these myths took shape.

    Rubbish. The books reveal, to an honest and perceptive person like me, quite a lot about the cultures which invent such gods and tales. What they don’t do is what you claim they do. They don’t support your version of a god actually existing – even within the story. You are incapable of being objective because you want to believe. So you continue to lie about the contents of the book. You just don’t seem to be able to stop yourself. That’s the human brain on religion. Religion (faith and fantasy-based “thinking”) corrupts.

  224. SEF says

    Summary:

    In that bit of Genesis, the god says to man that if man does X he will die in that same day. Man does X. Man doesn’t die in that day. Hence the god is irrevocably wrong in his former statement. The god is either incompetent or a liar (or both).

    And so are you, SDG. None of your apologetics and speculations and special pleadings can change the facts of the text.

    Meanwhile, the serpent happens to be telling the truth about the issue of eating and not dying. Whether that was knowingly or accidentally (or by relying on additional circumstances) is another speculation, but the fact of the matter is still that the serpent was the one telling the truth on that key point.

  225. says

    It’s been my experience that it’s hard to study any culture, tradition or demographic with any depth and insight without gaining some sort of appreciation and admiration for one’s subjects. General contempt and disregard nearly always goes hand in hand with ignorance and complacency.

    SEF, despite your noises about all that an “honest and perceptive person” like you can learn about ancient cultures from their literature, your increasingly blatant contempt for the ancient Semites (“primitive nomadic goat-herders” who lack not only technology but also “imagination”!) betrays little such “learning.” What socio-anthropological insights have you gained about the culture that produced the Genesis narrative — other than ones that reinforced your own sense of superiority? Please, tell us about them.

    I’ve already mentioned that I’ve learned a lot about literature and mythology from unbelieving teachers. I don’t regard atheism with general contempt and disregard because I find that when I try to take people seriously even when I disagree with them, I learn there’s more to them — not every individual, of course, but the best of anyone or anything — than I thought.

    Of course, since you know already how incorrigibly dishonest and perverse “you religious people” are, that experience can’t be yours.

    I see no evidence that you have the slightest interest in what the ancient Semites really thought, or in the literary character of Genesis, or in critical scholarship — notwithstanding your silly and pointless name-checking of the documentary hypothesis.

    To pick one glaring example, every time you use plural verbs and pronouns for Elohim, you falsify the text. If you want to toss critical scholarship out the window and pretend that this usage of Elohim actually means “gods,” you could still be honest to the Hebrew grammar and say “The gods is scared of the humans … All the gods reveals himself able to do,” etc. What you’re doing — once again — isn’t reading Genesis.

    So honest and perceptive are you that your reading reveals that Elohim “clearly don’t [sic] believe they [sic] can put a force-field around the other tree or remove that tree out of reach or do without it themselves [sic] or anything.”

    Which, of course, is worse than moonshine with no basis in the text. It’s not even the kind of question biblical literature is remotely interested in. It’s not the way this kind of literature works.

    A lot of discussion in this combox has revolved around the question of the discrepancy between the god’s warning and the actual outcome. That is the kind of question biblical literature is interested in — the kind of question the reader is meant to ask.

    Same with the discrepancy between the original prohibition and the Woman’s expanded restatement, which mentions not touching the tree. That’s just the kind of thing that is meant to raise the reader’s eyebrow: Wait a minute, had the god mentioned “touching”? What’s going on here? That’s the way biblical literature works.

    When we ask “Why didn’t the man die on that day?” that’s a legitimate literary question, since the prospect of him dying on that day is indeed on the table. The reader is meant to ponder that. It’s the way the narrative works. Even though your answer(s) — the god couldn’t kill him, he was lying, he was incompetent — are stupid, at least you’re asking a valid question.

    By contrast, when you ask, “Why wouldn’t the god just put a force-field around the tree, or move it out of reach, etc.?” — and then go on to “conclude” that “clearly” he couldn’t — you’ve stepped entirely outside the sphere of literary inquiry. You aren’t reading the story any more.

    How you can keep a straight face claiming to draw “clear” conclusions about the god’s ability or inability to create force-fields, yet roar foul when I observe that — in marked contrast to other ANE mythologies — the narrative never depicts any incident in which the god sets out to do something, or wishes to, and is prevented from doing so against his will, is one of the mysteries of human psychology that I must leave to others to sort out.

    Not only are you not reading Genesis, you also aren’t reading me, apparently, since I’ve already pointed out that that the serpent is not telling the truth on the key issue of eating and not dying. See above.

    You conclude by saying:

    In that bit of Genesis, the god says to man that if man does X he will die in that same day. Man does X. Man doesn’t die in that day. Hence the god is irrevocably wrong in his former statement. The god is either incompetent or a liar (or both).

    A man tells his son, “If you do X, punishment X1 will result.” His son does X. Punishment X1 does not result. Instead the man imposes punishment Y, where Y < X1.

    Is your conclusion that he is either incompetent or a liar (or both)?

    If it is, there’s just something wrong with you, and I’m happy not to know you.

    If it isn’t — if you think it’s different in Genesis because YHWH is a god — then you haven’t learned how to read a story. Perhaps you’re too busy boxing with a shadow god in whom you wish to disbelieve.

  226. Nick Gotts says

    Same with the discrepancy between the original prohibition and the Woman’s expanded restatement, which mentions not touching the tree. That’s just the kind of thing that is meant to raise the reader’s eyebrow: Wait a minute, had the god mentioned “touching”? What’s going on here? That’s the way biblical literature works. – SDG

    Riiiiight, so the more contradictions (sorry discrepancies) there are in the text, the more profoundly meaningful and awesomely wise it must be!

  227. SEF says

    Evidently so when one is as dishonest as SDG is (and as religionists in general are continually forced to be). They are reliably going to lie and lie and lie some more rather than face the facts. Just as SDG is doing.

    A man tells his son, “If you do X, punishment X1 will result.” His son does X. Punishment X1 does not result. Instead the man imposes punishment Y, where Y < X1.

    The man is a bad parent for making idle threats. Perhaps you too are a bad parent if you didn’t already know that. Your pervasive dishonesty would be another part of making you a bad parent.

    Meanwhile, it not only makes him an incompetent parent, it also makes him incompetent at knowing his own mind if not an outright liar. Yet that’s still not really the sort of god in which you want to believe, despite your wriggling.

    I’ve already pointed out that that the serpent is not telling the truth on the key issue of eating and not dying.

    Yes you did and you’re still wrong and still dishonest. The serpent was correct on the man doing X and not dying that day according to your own religious text. Your continual lying about it can’t make the fact of it go away in anything other than your own delusional mind.

  228. SEF says

    Sorry about the blockquote error, it was caused by the angle bracket characters in your text (the various Sb bugs are rather annoying). The first quote should have ended after your Y less than X1 – which the system instead hid for looking like a tag! My own reply text begins at “The man is a bad parent …”.

  229. says

    The man is a bad parent for making idle threats. … Yet that’s still not really the sort of god in which you want to believe, despite your wriggling.

    Looks like it’s both. There’s something wrong with you, and you can’t read stories.

    A parent has no leeway to change his mind? A stipulated punishment must always be carried out?

    The serpent was correct on the man doing X and not dying that day

    If the serpent had said “You will not die on that day,” you would be right, instead of wrong. And unable to read.

  230. says

    P.S. Sorry for tripping you up with my “less than” symbol. I typed it in html and had to submit it with the html still in the textarea; if I clicked preview first, it rendered as a character and then threw off my text.

  231. SEF says

    A parent has no leeway to change his mind? A stipulated punishment must always be carried out?

    Interesting that you risked bringing that up, since it’s part of the point I came back to address (after my TV programme of the evening). It’s where you are once again being dishonest – in introducing speculation and apologetics of your own which are not in evidence in the text. Your own standard if you (and other readers) recall.

    It was never stated that the death in a day would be a punishment – that’s your current claim and not the god’s. So you’re making that up and also the subsequent claim of a commuted sentence.

    Nor is it even clear that death is bad – though that’s certainly an obvious assumption, including for someone who is as dishonest in their Christian faith as you are. For an allegedly ensouled being (and remember that you were wibbling earlier about a spiritual death before that was roundly debunked by someone else more knowledgable about the hebrew than you), death would merely be a matter of being with god forever – supposedly a good thing to Christians (though some people might equate Eden with being their heaven/paradise concept mutated from the Jewish idea anyway). Without that or Sheol, death is merely nothing.

    For an Eden allegedly without death (as many religious nutters claim), the point wouldn’t even have been comprehended by Adam. Though it’s a reasonable speculation that he’s magically meant to get that it’s intended as a consequence to be avoided. It just isn’t stated as a punishment. And that’s what you’re now pretending to know it was. The text does not support your view. It doesn’t directly contradict it but it doesn’t support it.

    And, yes, even were you not being dishonest again anyway, a parent who makes idle threats which they don’t intend to carry out would be a bad parent. Parents should only make threats they have the wherewithal and intention of fulfilling. Otherwise the children quite rightly lose respect for them – unless they’re really stupid children of course. Religion might conceivably do that to them. So it’s possible you aren’t mentally equipped to work that one out for yourself. But now you know. Odd that god didn’t though. Not so omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, loving or anything much else good really.

    Once again, the significant an unavoidable point:

    The god said Y would happen given X; and Y did not happen given X. The god was wrong and the serpent was right. Everything else is just you wriggling madly because you are constitutionally incapable of telling the truth.

  232. Priya Lynn says

    SEF, SDG is capable of telling the truth, he just chooses not to. He’s decided that he must present a certain unjustified conclusion and as long as he sticks to that he’s forced to lie.

  233. Priya Lynn says

    SDG I tried to read all of your posts rationlizing how god did not lie when the text clearly says he did and I’m afraid I just couldn’t follow it. It was just so nebulous, convoluted, and tedious I only got part way through before I gave up trying to understand what you were saying. Your posts remind me of reading the stuff on the flat earth society’s web site where they try to explain away everything that suggests the earth is round. You are as they are, seemingly highly imaginative, but ultimately nonsensical.

  234. SEF says

    SDG is capable of telling the truth, he just chooses not to.

    That’s the constitutional part of it. In this case, Catholic constitution.

  235. Owlmirror says

    Huh, looks like I missed a lot of back and forth. I will try and catch up more later, but I just had a few thoughts on this:

    Here is the hermeneutical truth of the sentence (and, I would argue, objective truth about reality) in colloquial paraphrase: “A correct statement of the meaning of a text (i.e., a “hermeneutical truth”) may still be a false statement about reality (i.e., an “objective falsehood”), if the text in question is subject to error.”

    It certainly looks like you’re saying that “hermeneutical truth” is just the contextual reality of a narrative. So, basically, there is no country called Oz (well, there is, but just as a slang name), but it is a “hermeneutical truth” that a magical country called Oz exists in the fictional books written by L. Frank Baum and others (and in the movies, etc).

    Is that what you mean?

    And are you also trying to say that the bible is contextually true? That is, it contains things that are “truths” within its context as a fiction created by humans, but it is indeed also objectively false? And if not, why not?

    Example: It is a hermeneutical truth about Mein Kampf, but an objective falsehood about reality, that the Aryans are the Master Race.

    It’s odd that you chose that book as an example. Hector Avalos, in his critique of religion Fighting Words, points out that the Bible is full of tribal absolutism and demands to defend tribal purity even unto genocide, and that Hitler’s Germanic tribal absolutism is very similar to the bible’s harsh demands.

    I’m not sure that Avalos gets everything right in his book, but it’s certainly a thought-provoking analysis that he makes.

    Note that he examines the New Testament and the Koran in a similar way; it’s not like there’s any particular religion that he picks on.

    Y’know, I went and looked up the Wikipedia entry for “Exegesis”, and then looked at the New Advent Catholic encyclopedia entry for the same topic, and y’know, I don’t think you’re correct about “exegesis” just meaning “interpretation”.

    Since you’ve pronounced them both to be “making shit up” or “fanwanking,” what difference does it make? Are you backtracking now?

    Not exactly…. Let me see if I can articulate this.

    The description of exegesis (including hermeneutics) differs from just “interpretation” in that it demands essentialist presuppositions (by the way, Avalos also describes how defenses of biblical truth are essentialist), such as general inerrancy, and the absolute insistence that God has certain qualities. These essentialist presuppositions restrict the ways that the text can be “interpreted”, and demand that for any textual inconsistency or incorrectness, an “exegetical” or “hermeneutical” explanation be created. Sometimes the explanation is one that I don’t really have a problem with; I accept that scribes can make mistakes, for example. But then there are the explanations where it is obvious that someone, somewhere, is making shit up to reconcile clear narrative contradictions and inconsistencies, and to excuse the behavior of a character (or characters) who is (or are), by any objective standard, evil, foolish, and/or weak.

    You know, I have no problem with making shit up, or with fanwanking, per se. I enjoy reading fiction, and I enjoy speculating about the fictional people and places created for a piece of fiction. What I have no patience for is asserting that somehow essentialist “hermeneutical truths” are not objective falsehoods, purely by (religious) fiat.

    The bible is mostly fiction. The parts that aren’t fictional are non-fictional only in the sense analogous to that of Kansas as described in the Oz books; we know that Kansas is a real place, and tornadoes do indeed occur there. But we also know that tornadoes do not transport people (and houses) from Kansas to magical kingdoms called Oz.

    Also, I’d still like your thoughts on my proposed revision in which Alice kills Bob. Is that contradictory? If not, why not? Are you just fanwanking?

    Yes, it’s a minor contradiction, or an inconsistency. It demonstrates that there wasn’t enough information in the original narrative to determine what happened, and does require interpretation — or fanwanking, if you wish — to clarify the sequence of events.

    Approaching Genesis 1-3 like any other text, I find various reasons to regard it as a literary composition in a mythic mode, a story without the sort of claims of historicity found in, say, the court records of the Judean kings, or the Gospels.

    OK, so now it looks like you are considering the story itself as being made up by human beings. As long as you’re up front about it, I have no problem with this.

    Further analysis of your interpretation will have to wait a bit though. I’ll slog through that, and there various responses, tonight or tomorrow.

  236. DingoDave says

    Posted by Turzovka @ #695:

    -“Dingo Dave, Of what value are you to this world?”

    About the same as any other regular guy who lives in a secular industrialised nation.

    -“All you appear to be to me is some pitiful small-minded half-educated angry man”

    Better to be half-educated than not at all, as you appear to be.

    -“Why not really make a splash? Why not get in the communion line and tip the whole ciborium full of hosts onto the floor in front of those Catholic sheep and scream out “You Idiots are wasting your lives!” as you run from the church laughing?”

    Because it would be rude, and it would be unnecessarily disruptive to the the free excercise of their religion.

    -“Dingo Dave, How can you be so certain there is no God? You know what I am fairly certain of, and forgive me God for saying this — I am certain you are strongly in the clutches of the devil. It is people like you that brings a smile to his face — those who doubt his existence and make merry of him. Those who sin without a hint of remorse or concern.”

    Which of the thousands of gods which humakind has worshipped during the last several thousand years, should I not be skeptical about? I imagine that you dis-believe in all of the gods which mankind has ever worshipped except for one. I just go one god further. At least I’m consistent.
    By the way, do you know of a good excorcist who I can contact here in Australia? All the ones in the town where I live have told me that I’m a hopeless case, and that they can’t do anything for me. : D
    I guess that the devil must have me in some kind of unbreakable cosmic ‘Full Nelson’. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nelson_hold
    By the way, a ‘Full Nelson’ hold looks a hell of a lot like what your priests do to little alter boys, don’t you think?

    -“The passage in Romans 1 I leave you with at the end of this post speaks of those who God, sorrowfully, has given them over to their lusts and reprobate minds because, apparently, they will never be interested in redemption.
    22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,
    23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
    25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”

    You are the idolater here Turzovka, not me. You are the one ‘worshipping and serving the creature, rather than the creator’. You are a self confessed crackerphile, yet you accuse me of worshipping false idols? What’s with that? You strain at a gnat, yet swallow an idol, sorry a cracker, sorry a camel (in the form of a lifeless cracker). Nice piece of projection there Turzovka.

    -“26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural,
    27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.”

    Are you suggesting that I’m homosexual Turzovka? Where did you get that idea from? The only people I can recall ever threatening to do nasty things to other people’s backsides on these threads have been Catholics. That’s without even mentioning all the perverted (supposedly celibate) Catholic priests out there who have been regularly and gleefully desecrating alterboy’s Arseholes for all these years. That a staunch Catholic would quote that particular passage to a practicing hetrosexual atheist is one of the most perversely ironic things I think I have ever read. You have plumbed new depths of stupidity with that one Turzovka .

    -“28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper,
    29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips,
    30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,
    31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful;”

    Which specific examples of these ‘depravities’ are you accusing me of committing Turzovka? Or do you believe that I’m guilty of all of them? For example, do you realise that it’s a serious offence in the eyes of the law to falsely accuse someone of being a murderer, just because they don’t believe in your particular brand of superstitious drivel? Do not bear false witness against thy neighbor Turzovka. By the way, is purjury a ‘mortal sin’, or not?

    -“32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”

    Here’s a heads up for you Tunguska. I don’t condone any of the practices on the list you just quoted. Well, apart from hating the Biblical description and the alleged practices of the god you claim to worship. If you are implying that I do condone such practices, then you are guilty of committing several of those ‘sins’ yourself. Slander being one of them. And do you really believe that people who commit such practices are “worthy of death”? If you do, then you are one sick puppy my friend, and you don’t deserve to be living in a modern, civilised society. It sounds as though a barbaric bronze age society might suit you better.
    I’ll bet you wish that you could bring back the ‘Office of Holy Inquisition’ to deal with upstarts like me, don’t you? Oh, I almost forgot, your beloved Pope used to head up that department before he got his promotion, didn’t he? Your Pope is the ex-‘Grand Inquisitor’, so perhaps you’d like to drop him a line about me, so that he can send some of his goons over to my place and haul me before one of his kangaroo courts (sorry, ‘Ecclesiastical Tribunals’).

    -“Jesus is not on trial here Dave…. you are.”

    Would you have me suffer the same fate as he did, simply because I take the time to point out the abject stupidity of your particular brand of religious superstition?
    If it was up to you, is that what you’d recommend, or would a simple stoning suffice? Or would you prefer to see me burned at the stake like your church used to do to people like me until they were forbidden to do so, by people like me? Nice going Torquemada.

    “You are accused of heresy on three counts — heresy by thought, heresy by word, heresy by deed, and heresy by action — four, four counts. Now, you have one last chance. Confess the heinous sin of heresy, reject the works of the ungodly — two last chances. And you shall be free — three last chances. You have three last chances… Unrighteous creature, how do you plead? HA HA HA HA!” – Cardinal Ximinez, Monty Python’s ‘Spanish Inquisition’ sketch.

    Blow it out your arse Turzovka!

  237. DingoDave says

    Posted by Owlmirror @ #711:
    “How about this exegesis? It rather amusingly draws a comparison between the bible and film montage.”
    http://georgeleonard.com/yahweh.html

    Interesting article Owlmirror.
    I’ve been familiar with that hypothesis for quite a while now, and I believe it to be very plausible, if not very probable.

  238. DingoDave says

    Posted by Owlmirror @ #727:
    “Sheesh. If PZ were part of the club, he would be kicked out of the club. Except he isn’t part of the club. So why would he care about being kicked out of it?”

    -“I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” – Groucho Marx

    -“Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” – Groucho Marx

    -“I have a mind to join a club and beat you over the head with it.” – Groucho Marx

    -“Hey, we have been thrown out of lots better places than this you know.” – Three Stooges

    -“I would never want to be a member of a club whose symbol was a guy nailed to two pieces of wood.” – George Carlin

    : D

  239. Wowbagger says

    Dingo Dave,

    I had a rant on one cracker-related thread about a few comments which reflected the strange perception about how what PZ did ‘damaged the atheist cause’.

    That it’s not a country club seems to perplex certain people.

    It’s not about popularity and it’s not about likeability -it’s about not believing in god/s. If there is a fence-sitter out there doubting god’s existence who subsequently decides that they’re going to go back to church simply because some atheists aren’t deferential to religious irrationality then too damn bad.

  240. DingoDave says

    Give it a rest SDG. You couldn’t lie straight in bed.

    All your mental gymnastics, and esoteric interpretative contortions cannot rescue the text from saying what it plainly says. Yahweh lied, and the snake told the truth. Doesn’t that tell you something about the god you worship? The first lie ever told in the entire Bible, was told by none other than Yahweh himself.
    Some role model you’ve got there.

    John.8
    [44] You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

    John certainly got that right! It’s no wonder the Gnostic Christians came to the conclusion that Yahweh was the ‘Demiurge’ (the evil, inferior creator god). I wonder whether John WAS a Gnostic considering that this passage appears to be trashing the Jewish god.

  241. says

    SEF: So you have nothing good to say after all about those primitive, unimaginative Hebrews? Hm. I wonder how much you can have learned.

    You know, all your harping about dishonesty has me curious. What would you say intellectual honesty consists of? How would you define or describe it? How in your view does one know one has it — and can one be sure of having it?

    you are once again being dishonest – in introducing speculation and apologetics of your own which are not in evidence in the text.

    If you stick to issues with which the narrative is actually concerned, I’ll be happy to stick to what answers I think the narrative supports.

    a parent who makes idle threats which they don’t intend to carry out would be a bad parent.

    I said nothing about idle threats one doesn’t intend to carry out. I mentioned leeway to change one’s mind.

    It was never stated that the death in a day would be a punishment.

    (shrug) Noise about labels. The text is what matters. “On the day you eat of it you will die.” Punishment, consequence, automatic, imposed — the narrative introduces none of these terms, and my thesis, as I’ve already said, is that, based on Genesis 2, we have nothing more than a reasonable expectation that the Man will die on the day he eats from the forbidden tree. Genesis 3 poses no prima facie discrepancy until after the god is through questioning everyone and announcing what will in fact happen. Only after this is it clear that the Man is not to die on that day, and the discrepancy emerges for consideration and comment.

    and remember that you were wibbling earlier about a spiritual death before that was roundly debunked by someone else more knowledgable about the hebrew than you.

    Sorry, I can’t remember that because it didn’t happen. Nobody has so far corrected me on a point of Hebrew, although I cheerfully admit it could happen. I never said I was an expert.

    Incidentally, the reason I haven’t claimed that the text is speaking about “spiritual death” is that literarily I don’t believe that’s the case.

    Nor is it even clear that death is bad – though that’s certainly an obvious assumption, including for someone who is as dishonest in their Christian faith as you are.

    Perhaps if you knew more about historic Judeo-Christian belief regarding death, you would realize I’m being quite honest here. Your comments here reflect a profound (though widespread) misunderstanding of both Jewish and Christian belief. It is emphatically not the case that in historic Christian thought “death would merely be a matter of being with god forever – supposedly a good thing to Christians.” If you’re curious (and if PZ continues to tolerate our spiraling discussion), I’ll be happy to explain.

    Not so omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, loving or anything much else good really.

    “Omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent”? Where did those words come from? Can you or can’t you read a story and stick to the text?

    “Good,” OTOH, is a word that figures significantly in Genesis 1-2 — though it is a kind of goodness prior to moral goodness. This is a very important point. I invite you to reread the text and share your conclusions.

    Once again, the significant an unavoidable point: The god said Y would happen given X; and Y did not happen given X. The god was wrong and the serpent was right.

    Here is a strange thing.

    I, the supposedly dishonest believer, have never denied the obvious sense in which what the god said didn’t happen: The man didn’t die on that day, as the god said he would.

    You, the supposedly honest unbeliever, have so far inexplicably denied the obvious sense in which what the serpent said — not “You will not die in that day,” but “You will not die” — didn’t happen. They did die, as the serpent said they wouldn’t. I keep pointing this out, and you keep ignoring it.

    In your last post you actually went so far as to retcon the serpent’s statement by adding the clause “that day,” which neither Eve nor the serpent ever mentioned. I thought that time you’d have to admit it, and you ignored it again.

    Can you or can’t you admit that the serpent doesn’t say what you say it said? Let’s see once and for all what honesty means to you.

  242. says

    Priya Lynn,

    SDG I tried to read all of your posts rationlizing how god did not lie when the text clearly says he did and I’m afraid I just couldn’t follow it. It was just so nebulous, convoluted, and tedious I only got part way through before I gave up trying to understand what you were saying.

    I understand your difficulty. Let me simplify it for you. Perhaps the god changed his mind.

  243. Priya Lynn says

    SDG, that’s a convenient excuse, but doesn’t follow from what the text says.

  244. says

    Hey Owl,

    OK, so now it looks like you are considering the story itself as being made up by human beings. As long as you’re up front about it, I have no problem with this.

    Yes. I am up front about this. Genesis 1-3 is a literary creation of human storytelling and literary craft. I do believe that God (capital G here) was active in a special way in the writing of the text as we have it… but not, like, dictating the words, or showing the writers visions of stuff that really happened, or anything like that.

    The bible is mostly fiction. The parts that aren’t fictional are non-fictional only in the sense analogous to that of Kansas as described in the Oz books; we know that Kansas is a real place, and tornadoes do indeed occur there. But we also know that tornadoes do not transport people (and houses) from Kansas to magical kingdoms called Oz.

    There are parts of the Bible about which this might be said. There is also a lot in the Bible that is not narrative at all (Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, etc.)

    But there’s also legitimate history in the Bible. For example, mainstream historigraphy generally recognizes the historical validity of the basic structure of the OT records of the kings of Judah and Israel from David and Solomon down to the Babylonian exile and return, the rebuilding of the temple, etc. As for the Gospels, there is a general critical consensus that a core of credible historical knowledge about the life and mission of Jesus of Nazareth is possible. (I can get specific if you’d like.)

    So much, at least, we ought to be able to agree on. After that, we are going to agree on tornadoes and most definitely disagree about rising from the dead. :)

    It certainly looks like you’re saying that “hermeneutical truth” is just the contextual reality of a narrative. So, basically, there is no country called Oz (well, there is, but just as a slang name), but it is a “hermeneutical truth” that a magical country called Oz exists in the fictional books written by L. Frank Baum and others (and in the movies, etc).

    Is that what you mean?

    I think you’re somewhere in the neighborhood, but not quite there yet.

    How’s this? Perhaps I might paraphrase “hermeneutical truth” as “what we are meant to understand as true from the text.” Thus it is a hermeneutical truth about Mein Kampf that the Aryans are the master race, though obviously that is an objective falsehood because Mein Kampf is an evil book.

    OTOH, I wouldn’t call it a “hermeneutical truth” about Baum’s stories that Oz exists, because we aren’t meant from the text to understand that as true.

    Example: In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the hermeneutical truth is not that there actually was such a man who was beaten by robbers, etc. It’s a story; we aren’t meant to take it on that level. The hermeneutical truth is: Love your neighbor as yourself by being a neighbor to all you meet.

    Likewise, in Genesis 1-3, I do not take it as the hermeneutical truth that the god created the world in six 24-hour days. (For one thing, there are evening and morning for three days before he gets around to creating the sun. The six days of creation are carefully structured, but it is a literary, mythic structure; it is not historical literature.)

    I do take it as hermeneutical truths about Genesis 1-3 that, e.g.,

    1. The world as we know it — the heavens and the earth — is the work of one particular god.
    2. The world is good, even very good (not evil or illusory).
    3. Mankind, male and female, are in a special way the work of this god and bear some special resemblance to him.
    4. Sex, procreation and marriage are all good parts of the god’s good plan. (So is work.)
    5. The god’s plan for man was one of harmony between man and woman before himself.
    6. Through disobedience to the god, man has in some way incurred loss of harmony in himself, between man and woman, and between man and the god.
    7. This loss of harmony has not entirely cut man off from the god, who continues to care for mankind.

    That is what I take to be the basic Semitic worldview behind the literary myth.

    And are you also trying to say that the bible is contextually true? That is, it contains things that are “truths” within its context as a fiction created by humans, but it is indeed also objectively false? And if not, why not?

    I certainly believe that the Bible contains stories about things that never happened in the real world, including parables, myths, legends, stylized history, etc.

    So far I have been trying to stay more or less in the realm of literary criticism. Now, for almost the first time in this discussion, a statement of faith.

    As a Catholic Christian, I believe that the books of sacred scripture, written over thousands of years by countless men (and women?), are in a special way also a divine work. As such, in contradistinction to merely human works, what the text asserts as true — not, e.g., the events of fictional narratives, but what is meant to be understood as essentially true — is in fact proposed by God, and is to be accepted as an article of faith.

    Thus, while I don’t take it as an article of faith that there was really a forbidden tree or a serpent, I do take the seven points above as expressing articles of faith. I don’t think that Revelation literally describes the “last days,” but I do believe Jesus was actually physically raised from the dead.

    Hope that helps some. That’s all for now… I’ll be back when I can.

  245. Priya Lynn says

    SDG, I see you’re back to your nebulous and twisted attempts to rationalize your god’s lie. Its a lot simpler than you make it out to be. You say “Perhaps the god changed his mind”. Assuming that were the case it wouldn’t change the fact that when he told Adam he’d die if he ate the apple it wasn’t true – your god told a falsehood. The other problem with your lie about your imaginary god’s lie is that he couldn’t have changed his mind. Your god’s supposed to know the future, he’s supposed to be omniscient. He knew in advance that Adam would eat the apple and that he wouldn’t die. Your imaginary god lied just like you lie about the bible and Christianity.

    Christians have lied about their religion all along, they claim that their imaginary god is both omniscient and omnipotent when, as I’m sure you know the two are mutually exclusive. If your god is omnisicient then he knows everything he will ever do and can’t change his mind (otherwise he wouldn’t know what he’s going to do) and if he can’t change his mind he’s not omnipotent.

    Spare me your 3 page twisted excuses and talk about “hermeneutical truths” – its really pathetic nonsense.

  246. SEF says

    @ SDG #755

    In your last post you actually went so far as to retcon the serpent’s statement by adding the clause “that day,” which neither Eve nor the serpent ever mentioned.

    That was the bit which god definitively got wrong. You’re not getting out of it by objecting to me pointing out the importance of it in a sentence in a manner that you don’t like. God was wrong and quite probably lied. Did you imagine that Eve and the snake had to keep repeating “that day” in order to be talking about the same death? How many other deaths are mentioned in the passage which they might need to distinguish? To which other claim of the god’s could they possibly be referring there? You, like your religion, are thoroughly dishonest.

    It would be amusing that your personal fantasy version of your religion matters so much to you that you are willing to lie about the simplest things in the text of it. Except it’s also sad and extremely dangerous for the rest of the world that there are so many people like you in it.

  247. SEF says

    @ SDG #756

    Perhaps the god changed his mind.

    The text doesn’t say that though. Once again you fall short of your own standard. You are forced to make up stuff about the text because it doesn’t say what you want it to say. The problem lies with you and you lie about the problem.

    Your religion (ie your personal version in which you want to believe) absolutely requires you lie about it. It renders you incapable of telling the truth while you cling to it. Religion causes and condones artificial retardation – mental, educational, moral and emotional.

  248. SEF says

    Re #758

    Through disobedience to the god, man has in some way incurred loss of harmony

    Which reveals another of god’s falsehoods – the declaration that the whole of his creation was good (including the serpent if 3.1 is to be taken as a claim of ownership of its creation too). If the creation really had been good then it wouldn’t have been able to go wrong from the inside. Ergo god was wrong.

    It’s also interesting to note that, other than the god’s own deliberate cursing, the only possible cause of such disharmony would be the acquisition of knowledge (specifically of good and evil – at least in some versions). That group of religions are explicitly anti-knowledge – both in canon and typically in practice.

    That’s hardly surprising since the acquisition of knowledge, eg noticing that one’s neighbours who don’t have the same religion are easily as good as members of one’s own religion and not at all as evil as one’s religious cult has claimed, is one of the main routes to losing the stupidity of religious faith. The established churches also opposed the translation of the bible into languages more of the public could read – because they were afraid of the truth about the text being found out and of losing control over their sheeple.

    Religion is a very evil thing. SDG is a prime example of how insidiously it works by corrupting people in little ways (eg SDG lying about a passage because he’s invested his whole sense of self-worth in the lie he’s told himself about his religion) which will then enable the big ways.

  249. SEF says

    PS to #760

    Just to emphasise the absurdity of SDG’s latest attempted wriggle, let’s retry the passage with the bit he claims should have been repeated in order to count:

    Serpent: “You will not die in that day.”

    Eve: “Whaddya mean in that day? What’s in the small print which god wasn’t telling us? Is the fruit not intrinsically poisonous to us or is it a delayed-action poison and god’s not a very competent physician, unlike yourself? Did god and his buddies not really intend to kill us for it? Was that threat just an outrageous bluff? What exactly is god lying about? Will eating the fruit let me recognise how evil this god dude actually is? Right then, we’ll see about that …” [heads purposefully off in direction of tree]

    Most importantly though, note that SDG’s bizarre grievance with the serpent’s simple truth does nothing to change the fact that his story god was absolutely and irrevocably wrong in making a straightforward claim of near immediate death to fruit-eaters (or, in Eve’s recounting which differs in many tiny details, fruit-touchers!). There was no “unless I change my mind” or “unless I save you or someone else does” or … about it.

    God lied and so do the followers of that liar-god.

  250. says

    SEF:

    Your excursion into storytelling is breathtaking.

    I have nothing to add. The defense rests.

  251. SEF says

    @#764: No, it isn’t. You can’t even manage to tell the truth about that. I’m quite sure you’re still breathing – and your managing to type is part of the evidence for that. I doubt you even paused in your breathing.

    Meanwhile, since you claim to have stopped making up excuses for your god, I fully expect everyone who isn’t of a similarly dishonest persuasion to yourself to recognise that the god really did tell a falsehood – just one among many in the relevant story-book.

  252. Nick Gotts says

    I do believe that God (capital G here) was active in a special way in the writing of the text as we have it… but not, like, dictating the words, or showing the writers visions of stuff that really happened, or anything like that. – SDG

    What a meaningless piece of verbiage: “active in a special way”! Like what, just tweaking the neurotransmitters a bit? Using his supernatural eraser when they wrote something he didn’t like? What are the distinguishing characteristics of a text in the production of which “God” has been “active in a special way”?

  253. says

    SDG: Your excursion into storytelling is breathtaking.

    SEF: No, it isn’t. You can’t even manage to tell the truth about that. I’m quite sure you’re still breathing – and your managing to type is part of the evidence for that.

    *snort* Oh, that’s good. You should have your own detective show on TV, SEF. Your ability to catch your enemies in their lies is… well, I don’t want to say “staggering,” since I’m sitting down and all, and I know I can’t get away with any more lies as long as you’re around.

    God never had a chance with you on the case.

  254. SC says

    And with comment #758 SDG sputters to an ignoble finish. A “very special way,” indeed.

    By the way,

    Thus it is a hermeneutical truth about Mein Kampf that the Aryans are the master race, though obviously that is an objective falsehood because Mein Kampf is an evil book.

    Say wha?

  255. SEF says

    Yes: logic – ur doing it rong, SDG.

    Even if Mein Kampf actually were to be more evil than the Bible, that still wouldn’t necessarily make a particular item in it false. The item is false on its own lack of merit and not because of its inclusion in a book which SDG doesn’t like.

    Meanwhile, perhaps the people who created the Skeptics Annotated Bible site, in which they analysed the Bible for good and bad points of various kinds and then did the same for the Koran/Quran (and more recently the Book of Mormon), should tackle Mein Kampf next for comparison purposes. I have a sneaking suspicion Mein Kampf might well end up with a net value of less evil than the Bible.

  256. says

    Even if Mein Kampf actually were to be more evil than the Bible, that still wouldn’t necessarily make a particular item in it false.

    Absolutely correct, and I cheerfully admit that my sentence was unfortunately imprecise.

    FWIW, the word “because” has two different senses: ground-consequent “because” and cause-and-effect “because.”

    Example 1: Michael is out because his keys are gone. (Ground-consequent “because”: The missing keys are our evidence that Michael is out.)

    Example 2: Michael is out because he and Anne had a fight. (Cause-and-effect “because”: The fight is the reason for Michael’s absence.)

    In saying “obviously that is an objective falsehood because Mein Kampf is an evil book,” I didn’t mean “We can conclude this is obviously a falsehood from the fact that Mein Kampf is an evil book” (ground-consequent “because”). I meant “The evil of the book is the cause or source of this obvious falsehood” (cause-and-effect “because”).

    Note that this does not imply that the evil of the book necessarily results in the falsity of any particular statement (just as Michael and Anne having a fight does not necessarily result in his going out). However, it can be a more or less sufficient explanation of the outcome in any particular case.

    Had I the foresight to avoid this ambiguity, I might have written simply, e.g., “obviously that is an objective falsehood in a very evil book.”

    So, sorry for the ambiguity.

    SEF, your witness. I must be lying through my teeth throughout this post. We religulous types, we just can’t help ourselves.

  257. Priya Lynn says

    SDG, you’re hiding from the obvious. Your god’s supposed to know the future, he’s supposed to be omniscient. He knew in advance that Adam would eat the apple and that he wouldn’t die. When he told Adam he would die within the day he knew that wasn’t true, he lied, just like you continue to lie and spin in the most pathetic shameful manner.

  258. SEF says

    I meant “The evil of the book is the cause or source of this obvious falsehood” (cause-and-effect “because”).

    And you’re still wrong! The alleged evil of the book did not turn the statement into a false one. It is not the cause of the statement nor of the statement being false. There will also be statements in the book which are true (started off true and remain true) despite their inclusion in the book. Similarly, the evil Bible may occasionally contain a true remark. Just not many of them.

    The logic actually goes the other way round than you claim. All the evil contents of the Bible is the evidence that it’s an evil book. Ditto any evil contents in Mein Kampf, if there’s a preponderance of it like there is in the Bible.

  259. says

    SDG, you’re hiding from the obvious. Your god’s supposed to know the future, he’s supposed to be omniscient.

    (nod) And omnipresent, too. In other news, Genesis depicts the god coming and going from place to place. In Genesis 3 he comes to the garden in the cool of the day after apparently having been absent. In Genesis 19 he decides to go down to Sodom and Gomorrah to find out for himself if their sins are really as wicked as what he’s been hearing.

    He knew in advance that Adam would eat the apple and that he wouldn’t die.

    Wait. Where did Genesis say that the god knew the future? I missed that part.

    Don’t atheists know how to read stories? Don’t you read stories with your kids? What is wrong with you people? Tell me, for I want to know.

  260. says

    And you’re still wrong!

    I knew it! Thanks for riding to the rescue, SEF. I knew I could count on you.

    The alleged evil of the book did not turn the statement into a false one.

    Is that what I said. Man, a lying theist can’t get away with anything in this forum.

    I have a sneaking suspicion Mein Kampf might well end up with a net value of less evil than the Bible.

    The alleged evil of the book did not turn the statement into a false one. It is not the cause of the statement nor of the statement being false. There will also be statements in the book which are true (started off true and remain true) despite their inclusion in the book. Similarly, the evil Bible may occasionally contain a true remark. Just not many of them.

    …All the evil contents of the Bible is the evidence that it’s an evil book. Ditto any evil contents in Mein Kampf, if there’s a preponderance of it like there is in the Bible.

    So… on the one hand, there’s “the evil Bible”… and on the other hand the “alleged evil” of Mein Kampf… “any” evil contents of which you (seem to) acknowledge might amount to “a preponderance… like there is in the Bible.”

    And you come right out and say that you “have a sneaking suspicion” that Mein Kampf may be “less evil than the Bible.”

    Not surprising, I guess. Given your blatant contempt for the Semites of the ancient world, perhaps it figures that you would be more sympathetic and open-minded toward the bible of anti-Semitism than the Semitic scriptures.

  261. SEF says

    Way to go with the misrepresentations, SDG. You’re really on an incompetent and dishonest roll this week.

    How about you find a site which has actually bothered to compare the good and bad points of Mein Kampf – which I haven’t ever bothered to read myself but which I might reasonably expect to contain some accurate history (unlike the Bible) and some neutral or even good politics/sociology rather than being merely anti-semitic (which, for the record, I would count as one/N of its evils). I’m certainly not taking your word for it that it has more evil points than good ones, given your appallingly bad track record on the Bible. You’re simply not a reliable witness.

  262. says

    SEF, I’ve repeatedly invited and asked you to offer any hint that you have ever found anything of any value in the Semitic scriptures — any confirmation of your supposed ability to learn about ancient cultures from their literature. I even threw you a softball (“good” in Genesis 1-2). Not a bite. Your sole interest in the Semitic scriptures has been trashing them and labeling them as evil. Period.

    Now you start offering unsolicited speculation on the possible good points of Mein Kampf.

    I don’t need to represent you one way or the other. You’re doing a fine job on your own.

  263. SEF says

    Not a bite.

    Of course not. It was an irrelevance and merely yet another of your attempts to divert attention away from the fact that you and your (imaginary) god are dishonest.

    No-one much, certainly not me, was falling for your ploy. If they had done, then they’d probably have whinged about it to me themselves. They didn’t, therefore it’s quite likely they could see through your transparent tactics too.

  264. Nick Gotts says

    SDG,
    “Semite” is not a term generally used in intellectually respectable anthropology any more; the term “Semitic” is used only to refer to languages, as it has become clear that some peoples classified in the Bible as descendants of Ham (e.g. the Canaanites and Amorites) spoke Semitic languages; and more broadly, that populations can switch language over historically short periods. In trying to make out that hostility to the Bible has any connection with anti-Semitism (a term coined by anti-Semites themselves in the 19th century), you are merely displaying your ignorance.

    Moreover, it astounds me that any Catholic has the gall to hurl casual accusations of anti-Semitism around, considering the disgusting record of your own church in this respect (as indeed in many others).

  265. Priya Lynn says

    I said “He knew in advance that Adam would eat the apple and that he wouldn’t die.”

    SDG said “Wait. Where did Genesis say that the god knew the future? I missed that part.”.

    Where did Genesis say that God changed his mind about Adam dying if he ate the appple? I missed that part. On one hand you claim that if genesis doesn’t say something it didn’t happen and on the other you claim that something genisis doesn’t say did happen (god changed his mind). Once again you’ve got one standard for yourself and another for eveyone else – you lie. You’re so wrapped up in trying to claim a lie is the truth, up is down, and black white that you can’t keep your lies straight.

    Unlike with your baseless claim that god changed his mind the bible does say that god knows everything (and in other places that he doesn’t):

    http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/knows.html

    Once again your bible contradicts/lies just as you do. Irrespective of that it is well known Christian doctrine that god is supposed to be omniscient (and omnipotent). Do you want to stand alone from all Christianity, say they’ve got it wrong and state clearly for us that you don’t believe god is omniscient? Or do you want to stay vague about that so that a later time you can insist god is omniscient while here you imply he isn’t? That’d be more in keeping with your demonstrated dishonesty.

    I said “SDG, you’re hiding from the obvious. Your god’s supposed to know the future, he’s supposed to be omniscient.”
    SDG said “(nod) And omnipresent, too. In other news, Genesis depicts the god coming and going from place to place.”. So, once again your theology contradicts itself/lies. That’s a problem for you not me. You’re the one claiming your bible/theology is true.

  266. Priya Lynn says

    I said “SDG, you’re hiding from the obvious. Your god’s supposed to know the future, he’s supposed to be omniscient.”
    SDG said “(nod) And omnipresent, too.”. Here SDG agrees god is omnisicent.

    Then SDG said “Where did Genesis say that the god knew the future? I missed that part.

    Don’t atheists know how to read stories? Don’t you read stories with your kids? What is wrong with you people? Tell me, for I want to know.”. Here SDG says god is not omniscient. First he says god is omniscient, then he says god is not omnisicient. As I said, he can’t keep his lies straight. What he claims to be the truth varies with whatever is convenient at the time to make the false claim that god didn’t lie.

  267. says

    Nick,

    SEF hasn’t confined his contempt to literature. How could he? How can you despise the entire library of the literature of a particular people without some contempt washing onto the “primitive nomadic goat-herders” whose “lack of imagination” is responsible for it?

    If the book is so evil, how could that not say something about the people who produced it? If the god is so vile and contemptible, what kind of people would worship him?

    Never mind what I think. Let SEF speak for himself. What do you say, SEF? What have you learned about those primitive, unimaginative goat-herders from reading their literature?

    I am well aware of the shameful antisemitism in Catholic history and make no excuses for it (which isn’t to say that Catholic antisemitism hasn’t been exaggerated in some cases). I don’t throw anything around casually.

    For the record, I don’t claim to know whether SEF is antisemitic or not. What is crashingly obvious is that he despises God/religion/believers so vehemently that he can’t see straight. Can’t. See. Straight. As in: Believers are always wrong no matter what they say. As in: Can’t read his way out of a paper bag, at least if the subject is religion.

    The Bible is religious. Mein Kampf isn’t. What more do you need to know?

  268. SEF says

    he can’t see straight. Can’t. See. Straight.

    You’re projecting. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that you’re the one who can’t see straight – nor read straight nor keep your lies straight (because you tell so many).

  269. Priya Lynn says

    SDG its rather amusing of you to claim SEF can’t see straight when your tortured “logic”, lies and contortions have been exposed repeatedly for all to see. When one insists on defending absurdities they are forced to lie, that’s clear.

  270. CJO says

    But there’s also legitimate history in the Bible. For example, mainstream historigraphy generally recognizes the historical validity of the basic structure of the OT records of the kings of Judah and Israel from David and Solomon down to the Babylonian exile and return, the rebuilding of the temple, etc.

    I’m not sure how much wiggle-room you’re leaving yourself with that “basic structure” qualification, but I hope it’s a lot. “Mainstream historiography generally recognizes” that the court history you refer to is a product of post-exile invention and redaction. David and Solomon were figures of legend to the author, who was writing for a post-exile audience with the aim of institutionalizing a centralized monotheistic state religion at the temple in Jerusalem. David and Solomon existed, it seems, but practically every detail of their regimes and the milieu they occupied are late 6th century BCE fabrications. Given the modern state of archaeology of the region, they were local tribal leaders who practiced a polytheistic religion not at all dissimilar from the other Near Eastern traditions, hardly the kings of a fully-formed state society, the likes of which wouldn’t be seen in Judea until well into the era of the second temple.

    As for the Gospels, there is a general critical consensus that a core of credible historical knowledge about the life and mission of Jesus of Nazareth is possible. (I can get specific if you’d like.)

    Sure, let’s hear it.

  271. Nick Gotts says

    SDG,
    Having now read through the entire dispute about the creation-fall narrative in Genesis, I’m bound first to say that I think you were right in dismissing Owlmirror’s claim of contradiction, and in accusing SEF of failing to distinguish between what happens in that particular myth, and the claims made about the nature and character of God by modern religious believers (or rather, some modern religious believers – we get a lot of fundamentalists here, and I’d guess you were mistaken for one early on). However, your claim about SEF’s contempt for the ancient Hebrews seems to be based on one throw-away remark; one could well feel contempt for those who produced the OT in its current form without extending that to the entire people. One hypothesis about the process behind the production of the OT, as I’m sure you’re aware, is that it was a central part of a struggle by a monotheistic priestly caste to impose their authority on the people as a whole – and contempt for such a caste is both well merited, in my view, and quite compatible with pity, or respect, or indifference, toward those being imposed upon.

    I alos think there are clear signs that your own attitude to the text, which in your words “happens to be canonical” in your religion, distorts the way you see it. Having recently read Genesis and Exodus right through for the first time, I was astonished and disappointed at their poor literary quality. (Admittedly I will inevitably have missed much, but I do have, though not recently, experience in literary criticism and I was, in fact, expecting them to be much better than they appeared.) However, since you believe the text to have been, in some unspecified way, influenced by God, your judgement of its literary qualities can hardly be objective.

    On a few specific points: despite what you say, the god does appear concerned that Adam and Eve will become godlike (Genesis 3:23); he is surely thwarted by the serpent – though by guile rather than force; and it’s not clear from the KJV (the Catholic text may be different) that the serpent does lie. It says: “Yeah, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden.” (not “of any tree” as you quoted); and I see no implication that the serpent means “You will never die” rather than simply “Eating the fruit won’t kill you.” (Which it doesn’t).

    Finally, you ask what we can learn about the ancient Hebrews from the text. Well first, it is primarily those who produced the OT we learn about – and what we can learn about them from the creation-fall narrative alone is limited, but interesting: they believed there were things it were better people did not know (the whole “Tree of Knowledge” theme), and misogynistic (3:16). If we look more widely in the Pentateuch these characteristics are thoroughly confirmed, along with a considerable degree of brutality and xenophobia. Of course, there was nothing unusual about these traits then, nor is there now for that matter, but that we should take a book produced by such people as any sort of guide to how to live would not be taken seriously for a moment by any person of goodwill in the absence of religious conditioning – any more than such people would take the Iliad and Odessey in that way.

  272. says

    CJO:

    I’m not sure how much wiggle-room you’re leaving yourself with that “basic structure” qualification, but I hope it’s a lot. “Mainstream historiography generally recognizes” that the court history you refer to is a product of post-exile invention and redaction.

    Does “redaction” imply existing, preexilic documentation? If so, wiggle room requirements may be within expected tolerance ranges.

    I had thought that the succession of the Davidic monarchy, for example, was rather uncontroversial. I understand that other aspects of the Judean history, such as Assyrian siege of Jerusalem after the fall of the Northern Kingdom, have been independently confirmed.

    The assessment of David and Solomon as “local tribal leaders” seems at least controverted, and not necessarily only among religious believers.

    Sure, let’s hear it.

    I take the following points to reflect a fairly broad consensus on what can be proposed without great controversy about the historical figure of Jesus:

    He was probably born around 4 BC, and grew up in Nazareth in Galilee.

    Around AD 28 he began traveling around the villages and synagogues of Galilee, publicly calling (like John the Baptist) for “repentance” and announcing the coming of the “kingdom” or reign of Israel’s god.

    He spoke frequently in parables, and was known for dramatic healing displays. Among his followers a group of twelve held a special place.

    He engendered controversy, among other things, with his social habits, as well as what seems to have been a puzzling attitude toward family.

    Toward the end of his work, if not sooner, he ran afoul of the Temple hierarchy, not least due to a controversial public display in the Temple.

    In the end he was accused of crimes before the Roman authority in Jerusalem, and executed by crucifixion.

    Soon after, his followers began declaring that he had been raised from the dead, a claim that engendered controversy both with Jewish and pagan populations.

  273. says

    Nick:

    Great post. I appreciate all your thoughtful comments, both converging and critical.

    I’m walking out the door at the moment, but looking forward to responding.

  274. SC says

    How about you find a site which has actually bothered to compare the good and bad points of Mein Kampf – which I haven’t ever bothered to read myself but which I might reasonably expect to contain some accurate history (unlike the Bible) and some neutral or even good politics/sociology rather than being merely anti-semitic (which, for the record, I would count as one/N of its evils). I’m certainly not taking your word for it that it has more evil points than good ones, given your appallingly bad track record on the Bible. You’re simply not a reliable witness.

    SEF, that is not a reasonable expectation for anyone who knows anything about Hitler. I have read Mein Kampf (don’t have it here, though – it’s in storage in another state), and even led discussion sections about it when I was TAing for a course on fascism. It contains no “neutral or even good politics/sociology,” [!] and any accurate history (who lost WWI, e.g.) is purely incidental and interpreted in the most bizarre manner possible. It is the extended racist rant of a hate-filled man, has no redeeming qualities, and is only of historical value. Any site that would purport to find good points in Mein Kampf would be populated with some scary, scary people.

  275. DingoDave says

    There is one important verse in this narrative, which I think has not been afforded nearly enough emphasis in this discussion.

    Gen.3
    [22] Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us [the gods], knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever –”

    Adam and Eve, contrary to modern Christian misconceptions, were never created immortal. According to the story, they were always destined to die eventually, unless they ate from the tree of life. It is interesting to speculate about what would have happened had Adam and Eve had eaten from the tree of life BEFORE eating from the tree of knowlege. I suspect this would have really put Yahweh in a quandry about how to deal with them. (Perhaps the snake had already been there, done that, and got the T-shirt.)

    This in my opinion, negates any wiggle room for any loose interpretations of Yahweh’s original threat about dying ‘on the day’ they ate from the tree of knowlege. They ate the fruit, they didn’t die on the day, therefore Yahweh’s threat was false. To interpret these passages in any other way, in my opinion, strains the texts far beyond that which the author is likely to have originally intended. Of course we really have very little idea about how much the original text has been edited by later redactors. The fact that the story is contradictory, didn’t seem to bother the people who compiled the assortment of various writings which we now call our modern Bibles, as is evidenced by the numerous contradictions which we find in other parts of the Bible.

  276. Nick Gotts says

    SC,
    I refrained from comment on the Mein Kampf comparison, since I haven’t read it – glad we have someone here who has. I think it was a mistake on SDG’s part to use it to illustrate “hermeneutical truth” – Godwin’s Law as originally formulated is descriptive not prescriptive, but introducing Hitler into an argument which isn’t about fascism is very seldom helpful.

    Incidentally, I am rather suspicious of the concept of “hermeneutical truth”, which I suspect has a range of overlapping meanings that can be put to apologetic use!

  277. Priya Lynn says

    SDG said “I take the following points to reflect a fairly broad consensus on what can be proposed without great controversy about the historical figure of Jesus:”.

    Nonsense. There are no historical records from historians contemporary with Jesus that confirm anything that would suggest he existed. He was a fictional figure.

  278. Priya Lynn says

    http://www.atheists.org/christianity/didjesusexist.html

    They Should Have Noticed

    John E. Remsburg, in his classic book The Christ: A Critical Review and Analysis of the Evidence of His Existence (The Truth Seeker Company, NY, no date, pp. 24-25), lists the following writers who lived during the time, or within a century after the time, that Jesus is supposed to have lived:
    Josephus
    Philo-Judæus
    Seneca
    Pliny Elder
    Arrian
    Petronius
    Dion Pruseus
    Paterculus
    Suetonius
    Juvenal
    Martial
    Persius
    Plutarch
    Pliny Younger
    Tacitus
    Justus of Tiberius
    Apollonius
    Quintilian
    Lucanus
    Epictetus
    Hermogones Silius Italicus
    Statius
    Ptolemy
    Appian
    Phlegon
    Phædrus
    Valerius Maximus
    Lucian
    Pausanias
    Florus Lucius
    Quintius Curtius
    Aulus Gellius
    Dio Chrysostom
    Columella
    Valerius Flaccus
    Damis
    Favorinus
    Lysias
    Pomponius Mela
    Appion of Alexandria
    Theon of Smyrna
    According to Remsburg, “Enough of the writings of the authors named in the foregoing list remains to form a library. Yet in this mass of Jewish and Pagan literature, aside from two forged passages in the works of a Jewish author, and two disputed passages in the works of Roman writers, there is to be found no mention of Jesus Christ.” Nor, we may add, do any of these authors make note of the Disciples or Apostles – increasing the embarrassment from the silence of history concerning the foundation of Christianity.

  279. Nick Gotts says

    Priya Lynn@791,
    I think SDG’s right that there is a “fairly broad consensus” among historians who have studied the matter (including atheists) that Jesus existed, although I think SDG may overstate what else this consensus covers (e.g. I don’t think there’s any reason to suppose he was born “about 4 BC”, since AFAIK there’s no hint in the NT as to how old he was when he began making trouble). Whether that consensus is justified, I don’t know, and it’s certainly true that no actual physical manuscript mentioning him dates before the 3rd century (there’s a scrap of John’s gospel from around CE 125, but it’s a bit of text that doesn’t mention Jesus). I am actually rather puzzled that a lot of Pharyngulites are so insistent that Jesus didn’t exist; after all, we have excellent evidence that Mohammed, Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard existed, but that does not mean we have to take the claims made for them seriously.

  280. CJO says

    He was probably born around 4 BC, and grew up in Nazareth in Galilee.

    It’s not clear from the archaeology that the site of Nazareth was even inhabited at that time. The first reference to such a settlement is 3rd century. In addition “the Nazarene” is an odd apellation if it was intended to convey geographical provenance: even if inhabited, it was an exceedingly insignificant little settlement, not referred to by an contemporary sources, e.g. Josephus, who does list some thirty villages of Galilee. For some interesting speculations as to what “Nazarene” could have meant if not “from Nazareth,” check out this site

    Around AD 28 he began traveling around the villages and synagogues of Galilee, publicly calling (like John the Baptist) for “repentance” and announcing the coming of the “kingdom” or reign of Israel’s god.

    Historically, then, he could well be considered a disciple of John the Baptizer. The Gospels vary on the question of whether Jesus was baptized by John, with some theological discomfort on the point in the accounts of Matthew, Luke and John. Mark seems untroubled by the idea.

    He spoke frequently in parables, and was known for dramatic healing displays. Among his followers a group of twelve held a special place.

    Pretty generic, you have to admit.

    He engendered controversy, among other things, with his social habits, as well as what seems to have been a puzzling attitude toward family.

    Indeed, one wonders how it is Dobson and his ilk get away with so much “focusing on the family” in his name. Again, though, this is generic, and as Greco-Roman as it is Semitic in outlook (e.g. the philosophy of the Cynics).

    Toward the end of his work, if not sooner, he ran afoul of the Temple hierarchy, not least due to a controversial public display in the Temple.
    In the end he was accused of crimes before the Roman authority in Jerusalem, and executed by crucifixion.

    Here’s where you’ll run into “great controversy.” The synoptic Gospel accounts of the Passion are wholly incoherent as regards the transfer of the case from Jewish Temple law to secular, Roman law. If he was “afoul of the temple,” the Roman authorities would not have been involved at all, and crucifixion would not have been his fate. By the same token, the Jewish authorities (Luke has priests of the temple personally on the scene) would under no circumstances make an arrest at night, much less on Passover! The author of this essay concludes:

    The historical inconsistencies and implausibilities contained in the accounts of the arrest of Jesus and his trial before the council force us to agree with Burton L. Mack that these events are fiction, a good deal of which has been constructed from passages in the Jewish Scriptures.

  281. DingoDave says

    Posted by Nick Gotts @ #793:
    “I don’t think there’s any reason to suppose he was born “about 4 BC”, since AFAIK there’s no hint in the NT as to how old he was when he began making trouble.”

    Luke.3
    [23] Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli,

  282. CJO says

    I am actually rather puzzled that a lot of Pharyngulites are so insistent that Jesus didn’t exist

    I am more insistent that the case for his existence not be overstated; especially details of his life which are obvious fictions. In my view, it was a troubled time for the people of Judea (the destruction of the temple in AD 70 was right around the corner), and there was a lot of discontent among the Jewish peasantry. That there were politico-religious rabble-rousers active in the region at the time cannot be credibly doubted. That stories about one (or more!) of them may have given rise to the legendary figure Jesus Christ, I find unproblematic. But that one Jeshua ben Joseph did and said most of the things attributed to him in the Gospels and that the tradition was reliably maintained after his death by persons who personally knew this individual, there is not a single shred of extra-scriptural evidence.

  283. Priya Lynn says

    Nick Gotts said “I think SDG’s right that there is a “fairly broad consensus” among historians who have studied the matter (including atheists) that Jesus existed…after all, we have excellent evidence that Mohammed, Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard existed, but that does not mean we have to take the claims made for them seriously.”.

    Spare me your nonsense. There may or may not be excellent evidence that Mohammed existed and I’ll grant you that Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard did, but apart from the bible and non-canonical biblical writings there is no evidence whatsoever that the Jesus character existed. The silence from the historians at the time STRONGLY suggests he is fiction. It simply isn’t credible that such a character could have existed and been ignored by all these historians.

  284. Priya Lynn says

    And Nick your suggestion that because Mohammed, Joseph Smith and L Ron Hubbard existed Jesus must have existed couldn’t be any more absurd.

  285. Nick Gotts says

    It simply isn’t credible that such a character could have existed and been ignored by all these historians. – Priya Lynn

    Why not? Why would contemporary historians have anything to say about someone who, during his life, did nothing of any real significance so far as the authorities were concerned? Even if we assume he caused some sort of trouble in the temple at Jerusalem and was executed, the death of a minor troublemaker in Judea would hardly be considered worth recording even if it happened to come to a historian’s notice.

  286. Priya Lynn says

    Nick, now you’re graping at straws. These historians wrote of the most minor of characters and trivial and mundane of events. The idea that the Jesus character did nothing of significance as far as the authorities are concerned is absurd. The bible says itself he was known far and wide and performed miracles witnessed by many such as the dead coming back to life and walking the streets where they were witnessed by many people. The idea that historians wouldn’t have taken note of such a character and such events simply isn’t credible. That there is no extra biblical evidence for Jesus makes it clear there is no basis for any current historian to claim he existed, those few that do do so, like you, out of political correctness.

  287. Nick Gotts says

    And Nick your suggestion that because Mohammed, Joseph Smith and L Ron Hubbard existed Jesus must have existed couldn’t be any more absurd. – Priya Lynn

    I made no such suggestion. Learn to read.

    CJO@796. As far as I know about this issue (which isn’t very far), I’d pretty much agree. However I think there was probably one main individual around whom the myth collected, and to whom stories oriignally told of others were transferred. If the historians are right, the first writings about Jesus date from a few decades after his death – plenty of time for a lot of elaboration and myth-making, but perhaps a bit brief for an individual to be invented without some basis in fact (though the case of John Frum could be cited as a possible counterexample).

  288. Priya Lynn says

    From the link I posted earlier:

    Before considering the alleged witness of Pagan authors, it is worth noting some of the things that we should find recorded in their histories if the biblical stories are in fact true. One passage from Matthew should suffice to point out the significance of the silence of secular writers:
    Matt. 27:45. Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour… Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. 51. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; 52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, 53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection [exposed for 3 days?], and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.
    Wouldn’t the Greeks and Romans have noticed – and recorded – such darkness occurring at a time of the month when a solar eclipse was impossible? Wouldn’t someone have remembered – and recorded – the name of at least one of those “saints” who climbed out of the grave and went wandering downtown in the mall? If Jesus did anything of significance at all, wouldn’t someone have noticed? If he didn’t do anything significant, how could he have stimulated the formation of a new religion?

  289. Nick Gotts says

    The bible says itself he was known far and wide and performed miracles witnessed by many such as the dead coming back to life and walking the streets where they were witnessed by many people. – Priya Lynn

    Of course he didn’t do those things. That doesn’t mean he didn’t exist. If he existed, he was a marginal figure from an obscure part of a minor province who no-one of any social status ever listened to or noticed.

  290. CJO says

    And Nick your suggestion that because Mohammed, Joseph Smith and L Ron Hubbard existed Jesus must have existed couldn’t be any more absurd.

    That’s not what he said.

    He was just suggesting that it is not incumbent on one taking the atheist stance to claim that figures of religious import didn’t exist.

    I’m largely with you on this one, Priya, but I feel like you may be overstating the case too, just going the other way.

    For you, and Nick, and, heck, everybody, here is a useful breakdown of a number of contemporary scholars’ theories on the matter. There’s quite a range of opinions on the historicity of Jesus, fully within mainstream scholarship. So in a sense you’re both right. I also recommend the writings of several of the scholars considered, especially Mack, Ehrman, Horsley and Crossan, those being the ones I have read.

  291. Nick Gotts says

    Priya Lynn,
    For some reason you appear unable to grasp the distinction between the claim that Jesus existed, and the claim that everything said about him in the Bible is true. The first can be true while the second is false – and in fact this is the position taken by the great majority of historians who have studied the matter.

  292. Nick Gotts says

    CJO@805,
    Thanks – that’s a very useful link. I note that in fact the great majority of those listed do believe Jesus was a historical figure who lived at around the traditional time – the exceptions being Freke and Gandy, Ellegård, and Doherty.

  293. Priya Lynn says

    CJO said “He was just suggesting that it is not incumbent on one taking the atheist stance to claim that figures of religious import didn’t exist.”.

    I never said it was.

    Nick said “For some reason you appear unable to grasp the distinction between the claim that Jesus existed, and the claim that everything said about him in the Bible is true.”.

    If you’re not talking about the character as described in the bible you’re not talking about Jesus. If you’re saying someone named Jesus existed but he didn’t do what was described in the bible you’re denying that the Jesus of the bible existed. You can’t have it both ways.

    In any event you’re making the claim that there is a “fairly broad consensus among historians who have studied the matter (including atheists) that Jesus existed”. There is no evidence to support such a position and the onus is on those making such a claim to prove the exceptional claim is true, not for me to demonstrate it is false.

  294. Nick Gotts says

    If you’re not talking about the character as described in the bible you’re not talking about Jesus. If you’re saying someone named Jesus existed but he didn’t do what was described in the bible you’re denying that the Jesus of the bible existed. – Priya Lynn

    Don’t. Be. Silly. If what you meant was “no-one who did everything attributed to Jesus in the New Testament existed”, you should have said so. Everyone taking part in the discussion would have agreed with you – even SDG, I think. Suppose a Jesus existed who’d done the things SDG listed, but nothing more specific of what’s in the NT? It would still be misleading to say “Jesus was a fictional character”.

  295. Priya Lynn says

    Nick said “Thanks – that’s a very useful link. I note that in fact the great majority of those listed do believe Jesus was a historical figure who lived at around the traditional time”.

    That is hardly an exhaustive list of historians and far from a complete survey of what most historians think. Also the list is compiled by the authors of a biblical website, not an unbiased source. Nick’s claim that there is a “fairly broad consensus among historians who have studied the matter (including atheists) that Jesus existed” is not supported and even those who take this position have no evidence whatsoever to support it.

  296. Priya Lynn says

    Nick, you’re the one being silly. There is no evidence for a character who’s “done the things SDG listed”. You and he have repeatedly made this baseless assertion. The onus is on you to provide evidence for your claim, not on me to disprove what you assert.

  297. Nick Gotts says

    That is hardly an exhaustive list of historians and far from a complete survey of what most historians think. Also the list is compiled by the authors of a biblical website, not an unbiased source. Nick’s claim that there is a “fairly broad consensus among historians who have studied the matter (including atheists) that Jesus existed” is not supported

    OK, name the significant, recent historians who have studied this matter that the site leaves out. The site CJO linked to clearly does support the claim that there is such a broad consensus as SDG and I have been claiming. Of course it’s a “biblical website” – we’re talking about the Bible, aren’t we? Where else do we go – to a site listing recipes for chicken curry? There’s nothing obviously Christian about the website, and at least some of the sites linked to from it are explicitly atheist.

    Right, enough, I’m off to bed.

  298. Damian with an a says

    Interesting discussion. I’m hopelessly uninformed about much of the bible — preferring to concentrate on the existence of god, itself — but there are a few things that I have picked up on my travels.

    Firstly, Nick is indeed correct that the vast majority of biblical scholars and historians, at this moment in time, at least, accept that Jesus was a historical figure. However, that may be about to change in the very near future.

    Richard Carrier is someone that I have a lot of respect for. He is very serious about the quality of the scholarship of anything that he chooses to engage in, and he is an expert in Greco-Roman intellectual history. He was pretty impressed with Earl Doherty’s, “Jesus Puzzle”, and he offered some fairly minor criticism here, saying:

    “First of all, let me say this: having read the entire book carefully, and having checked those facts I did not already know, I can honestly say as an expert that Doherty’s facts are generally all in line. He does not make anything up or fudge the truth. And as far as I could tell, he doesn’t leave out anything significant. Where he puts his own spin on things, he is usually explicit about that, and argues for his particular interpretation rather than asserting it as given. The exceptions to these general observations I detail at length in Appendix 1: Problems. But to a remarkable extent, I can sincerely vouch for the fact that lay readers can trust him as an historian and translator. All you need do, then, is assess how his facts relate to his arguments, and how strong these are in the end, an act of reason that any rational person, with care, can undertake. A special education is not necessary.

    Secondly, this book must be taken seriously. It is not a quack theory, it is not shoddy work, it is not amateurish. Though elements of Doherty’s method of presentation do indicate he is an amateur in the literal sense (I would not believe from reading it that he had a Ph.D. in any relevant field), he is one of the most expert amateurs I have ever encountered. He has read a vast amount of scholarship and he actually understands what he reads. More importantly, he deals with ancient texts directly and competently. The scope of his work would be of dissertation quality, if it were only polished according to existing conventions. In short, I was very impressed. This is serious scholarship, marshaling a great deal of important evidence and observations, and the lack of letters behind the author’s name does nothing to remove from the importance of this work as something one must read and interact with before dismissing.”

    Carrier is currently working on a book — which has been solely funded by people who were willing to donate money, by the way — about this very question. He managed to raise $20,000 from secularists and general fans, and has been working on it for the last few months. Which side he will come down on is as yet unknown, but he has promised to seriously examine the evidence and prior scholarship, and attempt to produce a book that moves the conversation forward, either way.

    I loathe to directly question the objectivity of biblical scholars, but it is simply a fact that most of the people that have looked at the question of a historical Jesus do have something of a conflict of interest — either as a Christian, themselves, and/or recognizing that there is much more money to be made if Jesus is thought of as a genuine historical figure, particularly as Christians are overwhelmingly the main purchasers of books about that subject.

    Also, on the topic of contradictions:

    (1) 1 John 4:8 says that, “God is love” [Greek translation for love is agape].

    1 Corinthians 13:4 says, “Love [agape] is…not Jealous…”

    However, Exodus 34:14 says, “You shall not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous god….”

    (2) The second chapter of Matthew’s Gospel tells us that after Jesus was born an angel came to Joseph in Bethlehem to instruct him:

    “Arise and take the child [Jesus] and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”

    Joseph does as he is told, and the family runs to Egypt.

    However, the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel tells us that after Jesus was born the family observe the legal purification period, and then left Bethlehem to go to Jerusalem to present Jesus to God in the Temple, and present the required sacrifice for a first born son. They did all of this, and then Luke says:

    “And when they had done everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth.

    And the child [Jesus] continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon him.”

    So, in one Gospel the family is running for its life in to Egypt, and in another Gospel the family is traveling to Jerusalem, and then on to Nazareth.

    There are plenty more, as well. I have learned quite a lot from ProfMTH, on youtube, who I believe comments on this site from time to time. Ironically, he used to be a Catholic [his partner still is], but he has since left the faith. He knows his stuff, that’s for sure, and his videos are terrific.

  299. SEF says

    1 Corinthians 13:4 says, “Love [agape] is…not Jealous…”

    Don’t forget that reliance on that area of the text makes someone a Paulian rather than a Christian. So, sticking to just the Christian bits and the whole of the OT (which the Jesus character stated was to be kept), that particular contradiction doesn’t exist. Meanwhile, everyone knows of at least some people who claim to love but who are exceedingly jealous (and typically destructive too). So the god described could easily be that sort of “loving” god – abusive, jealous lover and abusive, bad parent.

    There will still be other contradictions of course, such as the ones already mentioned in the life of the Jesus character and the ones with reality which prevent Jesus from being an actual historical character.

  300. truth machine, OM says

    Richard Carrier is someone that I have a lot of respect for.

    I’ve read and spoken to Carrier, and have the same opinion of him. One of the points he has made about “the vast majority of biblical scholars and historians, at this moment in time, at least, accept that Jesus was a historical figure” is that he was one of them, but in reading Doherty was forced to examine the source of that judgment, and concluded that it was largely consensus gentium.

    he has promised to seriously examine the evidence and prior scholarship, and attempt to produce a book that moves the conversation forward, either way.

    Carrier’s the one to do it … the consequences could be huge.

  301. Damian with an a says

    SEF:

    The only apologetics that I can find that attempt to refute that contradiction don’t mention what you have said at all, which would be a rather simple refutation. Instead, they attempt to claim that jealousy isn’t always a bad thing, and that it can be “righteous”. I would of course hold anybody to that if they were to claim that Paul should be dismissed.

    By the way, how many Christians only stick to the parts that you have highlighted? Very few, in my experience. What I could do is use that to force them in to a corner, because it drastically narrows the escape routes, does it not?

  302. SEF says

    I’m not surprised there’s a lack of apologetics on it, because the majority of Christians are (a) Paulians and (b) reluctant (a considerable understatement!) to admit the horribleness of their imaginary god. However, the option does legitimately exist; and there are at least a (vanishingly?) few Christians who admit and reject the Paulian revisions of the religion (even if they still can’t take an honest look at the conduct of their supposed god yet).

  303. Nick Gotts says

    Damain with an a, truth machine,

    I haven’t read Doherty and probably won’t, time being limited, but it will be interesting to see what conclusions Carrier comes to. Damian’s point about even non-Christian Jesusologists (if that word doesn’t exist, I hereby invent it) having an interest in their subject of study being real is a valid one, although AFAIK there’s no reason to suppose they (or non-fundamentalist Christian Jesusologists) would consciously distort the evidence. There might be an interesting comparison with “King Arthurologists”, where you have a similar shadowy possibly-but-not-definitely historical figure, and similar incentive to come to positive conclusions (“The Real King Arthur Revealed” would sell better than “There Very Probably Was No King Arthur”), but there’s no complicating religious factor. (Or almost none – see http://arthurpendragon.ukonline.co.uk/ – Britain still leads the world in the production of harmless and amusing nutters.)

  304. says

    Wow. All of a sudden some great discussion here.

    Aside to CJO: Thanks for your comments. Looking forward to replying.

    Nick Gotts: Again, thanks for your post. I appreciate your thoughtful interaction with my posts, not just in the generous first sentence but also your critical engagement throughout.

    In regard to SEF’s opinion of the ancient Hebrews, I am and have always been willing to let SEF speak for himself on this point, and have repeatedly invited him to do so. I’m tempted to say more here, but I’ll let it go at that.

    Regarding my “attitude toward the text”: I’m certainly willing to grant something to the point you’re making. Although “happens to be canonical” etc. was admittedly a conceit, FWIW, neither faith nor literary judgment impels me to uniformly admire the canon of scripture as literature, nor do I feel impelled to rank any particular book of scripture literarily over any particular work of pagan literature. E.g., the Prose Edda seems to me a more formidable aesthetic achievement than the book of Daniel, say.

    The psalms, to me, vary wildly in poetic quality, some exquisite, others pedestrian and shapeless. Isaiah (all two or three of him) is tremendous literature, while long tracts of Leviticus and Numbers have (AFAICT) little or no literary value I can discern. Job is a stunning work, but is there any earthly reason (so to speak) for it to go on… and on… and on? Ecclesiastes, one of the most haunting and powerful of OT books, feels haphazardly structured and slapped together. In the NT, Luke-Acts and Hebrews clearly display the erudition of their respective authors, while Mark get the job done with a minimum of craft, and Paul veers from brilliance to impenetrable density from passage to passage. (All subjective opinions, of course, and subject to revision.)

    My comments about Genesis 1-3 don’t necessarily apply to the Pentateuch or even Genesis as a whole. Genesis 1-3, and the larger cycle of Genesis 1-11, credibly constitutes an integral literary whole in which diverse sources have been woven together, not slapdash as the early source critics thought, but with considerable ingenuity and art. In particular Genesis 1-3 seems to me a luminous and elegant achievement of literary mythopoeia. No, I don’t claim to be totally objective; nobody is. But I don’t think I’m just projecting religious belief onto aesthetic experience.

    Part of the remarkable achievement of Genesis 1-3 and 1-11 is its achievement both as skillful redaction, as editorial dovetailing or synthesis of source material, and also its remarkable adaptation/subversion/critique of existing ANE mythologies.

    I’ve already alluded to the theme of creation-rest, where other creation-myths have gods resting to recover after primeval battles, or disturbed in their rest by boisterous younger gods. The Genesis account adapts this theme of the god resting after the work of creation, but here there is no battle, no opposition, no question of rest disturbed. The text simply has the god taking his ease after completing the work of creation, literarily subverting the notion of the divine in other myths and offering another vision entirely.

    Even more striking is the subversion of ANE flood mythologies in the Noah story. For example, the Akkadian Atrahasis epic, the gods decide to wipe out humanity with a flood in response to human overpopulation, with the theme of disturbed god-rest again recurring (the god Enlil’s sleep is disturbed by excessively noisy humans overpopulating the earth).

    By contrast, Genesis offers a morally based reason for the Flood: The problem with mankind, Genesis says, is not that they are too numerous, but that they do evil. Readers of Genesis who take exception to the god’s actions here may not realize the significance of the story’s critique of non-Hebrew ANE mythology.

    Regarding Genesis 3: I believe the KJV “every tree” has the same force as “any tree” in modern literal translations (RSV, NASB, NAB). As for the sense of the Hebrew, before writing about that verse I checked the Genesis commentary on my shelf, which happened to be Genesis: Interpretation by Walter Brueggemann, a mainstream OT scholar who appeared on Bill Moyers’ Genesis series on PBS. Brueggemann writes:

    This subtle theological talk is a distortion of the realities. The serpent says back God’s speech with just enough of a twist to miss the point. The serpent grossly misrepresents God in 3:1 and is corrected by the woman in verses 2-3. But by then the misquotation has opened up to consciousness the possibility of an alternative to the way of God. From that point on, things become distorted.

    To the best of my knowledge, then, the Hebrew supports the reading that the serpent confuses the issue from the start. FWIW, Brueggemann also supports the reading I gave to the end of the story:

    Perhaps the sentence is heavy. But it is less than promised, less than legitimate. The miracle is not that they are punished, but that they live. … This is not a simple story of human disobedience and divine displeasure. It is rather a story about the struggle God has in responding to the facts about human life. When the facts warrant death, God insists on life for his creatures.

    Thus the last scene contains a surprise. The cursed ones are protected. The one who tests is the one who finally provides (3:21; cf. 22:1-14). With the sentence given, God does (3:21) for the couple what they cannot do for themselves … They cannot deal with their shame. But God can, will, and does.

    Regarding death: It seems clear that the story connects death as a necessary part of human life with the disobedience in the garden. Until they eat from the forbidden tree, the god has no objection to their eating from the tree of life and living forever. It thus seems reasonable to say that with obedience could and would have come eternal life.

    Narratively, Genesis 3 presents man with a test, and man fails the test. Had he succeeded, all would have been different. (I would even speculate that, having passed the test and achieved immortality, knowledge of good and evil also might have been given to man. It is perhaps not so much that there are “things it were better people did not know,” but things we aren’t necessarily ready for yet, or that we must not grasp before we are given. In any case, obedience, not knowledge, is the fundamental theme.)

    Man thus dies as a result of disobedience. The serpent says that eating will not bring death, and it does. Whether it is a flat lie, as I see it, or a viciously deceptive partial truth, may not be all that important. The third part of the serpent’s speech is also deceptive: It tells the truth, and a truth the god has not told, than man will become like the god, knowing good and evil, but it omits the reality of what this will entail, shame and guilt and hiding rather than glory and enlightenment.

    I don’t guess I have any real problem with anyone who wants to say that the serpent deceives without lying. I do think it’s crashingly absurd, and demonstrably hostile to the text, to say that “the god lies and the serpent tells the truth.” (Pace SEF and Priya Lynn. I say you can’t read your way out of a paper bag, and you say I’m a lying liar who lies lyingly. We know. Let’s move on.)

    Regarding your thoughts on what we can learn about the ancient Hebrews: Particularly in light of your proposed defense on SEF’s behalf, I’m surprised to find you such a harsh and unsympathetic judge of other cultures, or at least this other culture. You seem to me to be filtering the data for the bits that fit your conclusions no less than you suspect me of doing.

    For example, you charge misogynism based on Genesis 3:16, which is, I think, not only a misreading of Genesis 3:16, but crassly ignores the evidence of the earlier passages.

    Consider the absolute theological egalitarianism of Genesis 1:27, the climax of the Genesis 1 creation account and the defining anthropological statement of Genesis and arguably of the whole Bible: “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.” Note that “man” in the first clause is not “male.” Male and female together equally constitute the divine image and the human community; there is no shadow of distinction or privilege.

    In Genesis 2, Brueggemann, citing feminist scholar Phyllis Trible (God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality) calls the creation of woman “the crowning event in the narrative and the fulfillment of humanity.” Trible, reading Genesis 2 in light of Genesis 1:27, argues that prior to the creation of woman the “man” [adam] is simply humanity, neither male nor female.

    Genesis 3:16 connects patriarchal authority with the exilic order, what Christian theology calls “the fallen order,” not the order of creation. As Jesus would later say of divorce, “From the beginning it was not so”; it was not the Hebrew god’s plan that man should rule over woman. That is due to sin.

    Incidentally, I am rather suspicious of the concept of “hermeneutical truth”, which I suspect has a range of overlapping meanings that can be put to apologetic use!

    I would be more than happy to drop that term altogether — it’s a phrase from a century-old reference work that has no cache I know of in contemporary exegetical discourse.

    Unfortunately a more current phrase is even more misleading. For some reason more recent biblical criticism has used the term “literal sense” to mean what I would call the “literary sense,” i.e., the meaning intended by the author, what the author means us to understand as true. The “literal sense” of the text is thus distinguished from, and potentially opposed to, the literal meaning of the words! I find this most unhelpful, and would gladly use the term “literary sense” instead.

    I think SDG’s right that there is a “fairly broad consensus” among historians who have studied the matter (including atheists) that Jesus existed, although I think SDG may overstate what else this consensus covers (e.g. I don’t think there’s any reason to suppose he was born “about 4 BC”, since AFAIK there’s no hint in the NT as to how old he was when he began making trouble).

    I guess that depends on what you mean by “making trouble.” Luke 3:23 says that Jesus was “about 30 years of age” when he began his public work. Also, although there is considerable skepticism about the general historicity of the Matthean and Lucan infancy narratives, specific chronological indicators (Herod’s death in Matthew, Quirinius’s Syrian governorship in Luke, etc.) converge on a date around 4 BC. Again, this is consistent with the conclusions of a range of critical scholarship, although of course dissent is possible, and there are still scholars (though fewer than there once were) who deny that Jesus existed at all.

    Whew. More later.

  305. SEF says

    with considerable ingenuity and art

    More with evil cunning – viz putting the all-powerful beardy god version ahead of the incompetent brat god version of the divergent accounts in order to give precedence to the one of most use to priests.

    The serpent grossly misrepresents God in 3:1

    Untrue. It asks a question which is answered in an abbreviated form. It is Eve who actually misrepresented what god said – unless Adam first misrepresented it to her (since in fact the text never has Eve being told it at all!) or unless you accept that the lack of exact repetition is down to the way the poetry worked and is not intended to imply Eve/Adam got it wrong but that both accounts together give the actual original rule (one worded one way and one the other).

    Regardless, your god still lied (or told a falsehood because he didn’t know his own mind) and is a bad parent. You can’t really wriggle out of that no matter how much you lie about it yourself (to us and to yourself).

    The serpent says that eating will not bring death, and it does.

    and you’re still a liar about this.

    Trible, reading Genesis 2 in light of Genesis 1:27

    ie making stuff up because he doesn’t like what’s actually there – just the same as you do.

  306. says

    There might be an interesting comparison with “King Arthurologists”, where you have a similar shadowy possibly-but-not-definitely historical figure, and similar incentive to come to positive conclusions (“The Real King Arthur Revealed” would sell better than “There Very Probably Was No King Arthur”), but there’s no complicating religious factor.

    FWIW, while I admit I tend to be more a “King Arthurologist” than not (at least, it looks like somebody pushed back the Germanic and Celtic barbarians around the turn of the sixth century), the record and historical impact of Jesus in the first century puts him in a wholly different category.

    The earliest NT documents (Pauline letters) date to within a couple of decades of Jesus’ life. AFAIK, critical scholarship is nearly unanimous in recognizing the gospels (even John) as first-century texts, and even skeptical scholarship widely acknowledges the high integrity of the manuscript tradition. The NT offers multiple strands of early Christian tradition — synoptic, Johannine, Pauline — that can be compared and contrasted for a multi-faceted perspective on early Christian belief.

    It isn’t hard to tie the historical Jesus to known historical figures. No one doubts that Paul lived and wrote several books of the NT (though of course the authorship of some is disputed). There is wide consensus that Luke-Acts was written by Paul’s companion Luke, who traveled with Paul and personally witnessed many of the events in the second half of Acts (I think the first narrative “we” crops up in chapter 16). Both Paul (in Galatians) and Luke (in Acts) record that Paul traveled to Jerusalem and met Peter, James and John, all apostles of Jesus’ inner circle. IIRC, Luke was with him on one occasion. So two NT authors met three of Jesus’ inner circle, just for starters. We aren’t remotely talking about King Arthur, here.

    Beyond that, the rise and shape of early Christianity, its beliefs, the stories it told, the behavior of its adherents, is at least minimally massively improbable and difficult to explain, possibly impossible, apart from the existence of a figure significantly like the one described above. Cf, e.g., N.T. Wright’s multivolume work Christian Origins and the Question of God. He’s a comparatively conservative scholar but a formidable one.

  307. says

    ie making stuff up because he doesn’t like what’s actually there

    If you could read better, you would know it’s she, not he.

  308. SEF says

    No, someone on PT with a female name turned out to be male. So looking for more than just the surname you provided in that excerpt isn’t guaranteed to be of any use either. I decreed it to be not worth the effort and went for the common generic “he”. Mostly I kept envisioning them as being a small, useless, furry, prooty critter (ie Tribble) though.

  309. says

    So looking for more than just the surname you provided in that excerpt isn’t guaranteed to be of any use either.

    Phyllis’s first name was mentioned in the preceding sentence (“feminist scholar Phyllis Trible”).

    I decreed it to be not worth the effort and went for the common generic “he”.

    Interesting choice in a discussion about sexism and feminism.

  310. Nick Gotts says

    SDG,

    Narratively, Genesis 3 presents man with a test, and man fails the test. Had he succeeded, all would have been different. (I would even speculate that, having passed the test and achieved immortality, knowledge of good and evil also might have been given to man. It is perhaps not so much that there are “things it were better people did not know,” but things we aren’t necessarily ready for yet, or that we must not grasp before we are given. In any case, obedience, not knowledge, is the fundamental theme.) – SDG

    Here you appear to be doing what you accused SEF of, failing to keep within the bounds of “the story”. I see no justification whatever in the text for your parenthesized speculations. What is more, the whole passage I have quoted seems only to make sense on the assumption that the Fall was a real, historical event.

    I would agree with your identification of obedience as the fundamental theme, while noting that “obedience” and “knowledge” come close to being antonyms, and that obedience has played a central part in the greatest evils people have committed. Obedience to “God”, of course, almost always turns out to require obedience to his self-declared representatives. Catholicism is particularly noxious in this regard – AFAIK, no other religion has the gall to explicitly claim infallibility for its leader.

    I’m surprised to find you such a harsh and unsympathetic judge of other cultures, or at least this other culture. You seem to me to be filtering the data for the bits that fit your conclusions no less than you suspect me of doing.

    You’re ignoring the distinction I drew between the culture as a whole, and that of the authors/editors of Genesis. The OT itself provides convincing evidence that the religious beliefs and practices of the ancient Hebrews were not such as the priests of monotheism desired – the rage against their worship of other gods is abundantly clear. I do regard the patriarchal monotheism of the Abrahamic religions as utterly pernicious, but I’ve no doubt ancient Hebrew women, and those men who did not conform to it, were themselves among its victims.

    For example, you charge misogynism based on Genesis 3:16, which is, I think, not only a misreading of Genesis 3:16, but crassly ignores the evidence of the earlier passages.

    Consider the absolute theological egalitarianism of Genesis 1:27, the climax of the Genesis 1 creation account and the defining anthropological statement of Genesis and arguably of the whole Bible: “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.”

    The “theological egalitarianism” is far from absolute: the god himself is male (while all polytheisms have deities of both sexes); and among the created, “male” comes first. More important, the “take-home message” from 3:16 is quite clear: “Women, do as you are told, God says men are in charge”.

    On Jesus’ birth date, DingoDave already pointed out to me the “about 30” passage in Luke, but:

    “The Gospel of Luke claims (2.1-2) that Jesus was born during a census that we know from the historian Josephus took place after Herod the Great died, and after his successor, Archelaus, was deposed. But Matthew claims (2.1-3) that Jesus was born when Herod the Great was still alive–possibly two years before he died (2:7-16). Other elements of their stories also contradict each other. Since Josephus precisely dates the census to 6 A.D. and Herod’s death to 4 B.C., and the sequence is indisputable, Luke and Matthew contradict each other.”

    – Richard Carrier, http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/quirinius.html

    On the historical reality of Jesus, as you’ve seen I’m inclined to credit it, and I’d agree the evidence is considerably stronger than for Arthur, but I think there is real doubt, and your point about the behaviour of the early Christians is very weak. Messianic cults can arise and spread despite the behaviour or even dubious existence of their supposed founders. Consider for example
    the behaviour of Rastafarians. Neither Haile Selassie’s denial that he was their messiah, nor his deposition and death, have led to the collapse of the religion. Scientology thrives despite the copiously documented lies and crimes of its recently deceased founder. John Frum (messiah of the Vanuatu cargo cult), if he lived, did so within living memory – yet whether he was a real person or not is uncertain.

  311. Nick Gotts says

    @826 The paragraph beginning “Consider the absolute theological egalitarianism” belongs to the quote from SDG which precedes it, not to my response.

  312. says

    Here you appear to be doing what you accused SEF of, failing to keep within the bounds of “the story”.

    Yes, hence speculation. Anyone is free to disagree with me. I am, though, trying to think with the story — as I would any story, any myth — rather than to debunk and attack it.

    I see no justification whatever in the text for your parenthesized speculations.

    My reading, and AFAIK it is only mine, is that as a test narrative Genesis 3 provides man with a decisive choice that will have decisive implications either way. I don’t read it that if he chooses disobedience, he faces shame and exile, but if he chooses obedience, everything remains status quo and the serpent tries again tomorrow.

    Man in his original Edenic state, not yet having eaten of the tree of knowledge and lost his innocence, nor of the tree of life and gained immortality, is in a transitional state. Whichever tree he eats from eats from, the time of transition ends, and a new time begins. Disobedience entails punishment; obedience entails reward.

    One can certainly suppose that obedient, immortal man would simply have happiness forever and never think about that silly tree ever again. I, for one, find it more plausible to suppose that the prohibition is a provisional measure for untested, mortal man.

    Why else did the god put both trees in the garden in the first place? Genesis 2 specifically says that the god made both trees grow there, and nothing in the text justifies concluding (as SEF implied) that the god himself had any “need” either tree (or anything else). It makes sense to me to suppose that both trees are ultimately there for man’s sake, the tree of knowledge first as a test of obedience, and ultimately as the reward of same.

    Speculation, yes, but in keeping with the way throughout Genesis 1-11 that we see the god adjusting the rules for man as the situation changes. In Genesis 1 the god gives man every plant and fruit for food — but does not mention eating animals. In Genesis 2, placing him in the garden, he gives him full rights to roam the garden and eat from all but one of the trees. In Genesis 3 the situation changes and previous privileges are lost. However, critically, the situation changes again in Genesis 9 after the flood as the god makes a new covenant with Noah, and man is now given new permission not previously mentioned: to eat animals and fish as well as plants and fruit.

    These new liberties are occasioned by Noah’s obedience. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suppose that obedience in Genesis 3 might also have occasioned new liberties.

    I don’t deny that my reading may be influenced — I don’t think it’s determined — by the faith I bring to the text. I trust the god, that is, I trust God. I believe he means us ultimately to have all good things. Knowledge is good. When it comes to God, obedience comes first.

    What is more, the whole passage I have quoted seems only to make sense on the assumption that the Fall was a real, historical event.

    I’m not sure that’s true. FWIW I do believe that a literal truth (I wouldn’t say a “historical event,” if “history” implies a credible human record of witnessed and reported events that aren’t available here) stands behind the text, and that by some primeval disobedience to God man has in some way become alienated from himself, his fellow man and God.

    More later. (I really need to get to CJO’s post!)

  313. CJO says

    There is wide consensus that Luke-Acts was written by Paul’s companion Luke, who traveled with Paul and personally witnessed many of the events in the second half of Acts (I think the first narrative “we” crops up in chapter 16). Both Paul (in Galatians) and Luke (in Acts) record that Paul traveled to Jerusalem and met Peter, James and John, all apostles of Jesus’ inner circle. IIRC, Luke was with him on one occasion. So two NT authors met three of Jesus’ inner circle, just for starters. We aren’t remotely talking about King Arthur, here.

    The attribution of Luke-Acts to Luke was not made until the late second century, and on flimsy evidence. See here for a discussion of the problems. They are, primarily, the fact that Luke is only mentioned once in authentic Pauline writings (II Timothy and Colossians are condidered to be pseudoepigraphal); Acts and Galatians in fact differ significantly on the very elements of the narrative you cite, as discussed in depth here
    ; and the narrative “we” can be understood as a literary device, and is no kind of definitive evidence that the author of Luke-Acts had first-hand knowledge of the events in question. The attributions (to John Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John) of all the canonical Gospels were made by early church leaders in the second and third century, and are all rejected as factual by modern scholars.

    So it’s probably true that Paul visited Jerusalem within decades of the supposed death of Jesus, and met with leaders of a burgeoning movement who claimed to have been in his inner circle. But I don’t see what that proves. Certainly nobody denies that there existed at that time a splinter group of messianic Jews proclaiming the imminence of the kingdom. The leaders would have proclaimed their authority on some basis regardless of the actual facts of what went on decades previous. Again, I’m fairly agnostic on the historicity question, and I think it’s the only tenable stance.

  314. SEF says

    It makes sense to me to suppose that both trees are ultimately there for man’s sake, the tree of knowledge first as a test of obedience, and ultimately as the reward of same.

    Which makes god evil. It still means god was lying about creating man good (because he wouldn’t have been capable of doing wrong if he was really good unless his actions were exactly what god intended all along – making god doubly evil). It also means god was lying about the rest of creation being good since you require the serpent to be evil, or at least complicit in god’s entrapment scheme. And yet it still doesn’t let you off god having lied. God lied and so did you.

  315. Nick Gotts says

    SDG:
    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suppose that obedience in Genesis 3 might also have occasioned new liberties.

    I don’t see that it makes any sense to “suppose” this or anything else. It’s like “supposing” that if Hamlet had killed Claudius while the latter was (trying unsuccessfully to) pray, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark would have had a happy ending. In fact, it’s worse, because Shakespeare might possibly have settled this in his own mind, while in the case of Genesis, we are not dealing with a single author. It only makes sense if we “suppose” God is trying to tell us something through the story – so your speculation here is completely determined by your faith.

    I do believe that a literal truth (I wouldn’t say a “historical event,” if “history” implies a credible human record of witnessed and reported events that aren’t available here) stands behind the text, and that by some primeval disobedience to God man has in some way become alienated from himself, his fellow man and God.

    By “historical event” I just meant “actual occurrence”, but your distinction is a useful one. As you did earlier in the case of how God influenced the text of Genesis, you take refuge in vagueness as soon as things become difficult. What do you mean by saying “a literal truth… stands behind the text”? What this would normally mean, I think, is that the text records, perhaps in very distorted form, an actual event of which an account was passed down in earlier texts, and/or in human memory, so even in your restricted sense, the Fall would be a historical event. Is that what you mean? If not, what? Whether or not you believe there was some such causal chain leading from “the Fall” to the composition of the text, what could “the Fall” itself possibly have been? When and where could it have occurred? For the last 60,000 years at least, ancestors of today’s humans have lived on more than one continent. Genetic evidence indicates that at no time did our ancestors consist of fewer than thousands of people, who would have lived in small, widely-spaced nomadic groups. What reason is there to believe that our ancestors ever lived in a pre-lapsarian state (presumably, from what you say elsewhere, as vegetarians)? Frankly, your claim that the “Fall” is an actual act of “primeval disobedience to God” is as absurd as the claims of the literalists – and at least they don’t hide behind vagueness.

  316. says

    CJO,

    Thanks for your very informative and thoughtful comments. I appreciate the corrections on points where my knowledge or memory was faulty.

    It’s not clear from the archaeology that the site of Nazareth was even inhabited at that time. The first reference to such a settlement is 3rd century.

    Well, except for the NT references which date to the first century, certainly well before the third century, right? All four gospels mention Nazareth as a specific place in Galilee where Jesus lived.

    Historically, then, he could well be considered a disciple of John the Baptizer. The Gospels vary on the question of whether Jesus was baptized by John, with some theological discomfort on the point in the accounts of Matthew, Luke and John. Mark seems untroubled by the idea.

    All three synoptics mention Jesus’ baptism by John, but Matthew and Luke seem to downplay it as you suggest. John has more on the Baptist than the others, but omits the baptism (does that mean the Gospels “vary on the question”? John doesn’t say Jesus wasn’t baptized).

    There does seem to have been something discomfiting about the matter, which is usually thought to make it unlikely to be an invention of the early church.

    Pretty generic, you have to admit.

    ? Not sure what you’re getting at.

    Here’s where you’ll run into “great controversy.” The synoptic Gospel accounts of the Passion are wholly incoherent as regards the transfer of the case from Jewish Temple law to secular, Roman law.

    I didn’t posit any particular theory of “transfer.” I simply said that there seems to have been a controversy with the Temple authorities in connection with Jesus’ actions and sayings regarding the Temple.

    I looked over the interesting skeptical article you linked to. I’m familiar with the thesis of Jesus as “pagan Christ” rather than “Jewish Messiah,” of course, but I think the tide of recent scholarly inquiry into the Jewishness of Jesus is headed the other way (e.g., John Meier, Marinus de Jonge).

    The attributions (to John Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John) of all the canonical Gospels were made by early church leaders in the second and third century, and are all rejected as factual by modern scholars.

    Except perhaps in the case of Luke-Acts, where it apparently remains a possibility, though clearly I was totally wrong about the settled status of the issue, and I appreciate you correcting me.

    For example, Joseph Fitzmyer, not exactly a traditionalist, argued for the traditional authorship. N.T. Wright considers it plausible though no more. Again, an interesting and eye-opening link.

    So it’s probably true that Paul visited Jerusalem within decades of the supposed death of Jesus, and met with leaders of a burgeoning movement who claimed to have been in his inner circle. But I don’t see what that proves. Certainly nobody denies that there existed at that time a splinter group of messianic Jews proclaiming the imminence of the kingdom.

    Well, “splinter group of messianic Jews” doesn’t exactly do justice to the uniqueness of this particular movement, for one thing.

    In second Temple Judaism under imperial Rome, a messianic group was by definition a group with a messianic leader. That’s what a messiah was for. A dead messiah was a non-messiah with no following — particularly if there was a credible leader, like James or Peter, to assume the mantle (as perhaps Jesus in some way assumed John the Baptist’s mantle when the latter died). The speech that Luke (whoever he was) attributes to Gamaliel in Acts is historically quite correct: When the leader died, these things fell apart.

    The Jewish hope of resurrection — which, rightly understood, was AFAIK solely a Jewish hope, with no counterpart in pagan culture — was a hope for future glory. Nobody expected a messiah who died and came back.

    The earliest strata of Christian tradition, going all the way back to the pre-Pauline credal formula of 1 Corinthians 15:4-5, names Peter as the first witness among the Twelve of the resurrected Christ. Peter’s special place among Jesus’ twelve disciples is also attested in both the Synoptic and Johannine traditions. If Jesus were King Arthur, Peter would be Kay or Gawain or Lancelot (depending on the era and the literature). All I’m saying is, Peter was a real guy and Paul met him more than once.

  317. says

    Nick,

    I don’t see that it makes any sense to “suppose” this or anything else. It’s like “supposing” that if Hamlet had killed Claudius while the latter was (trying unsuccessfully to) pray, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark would have had a happy ending.

    I think Shakespeare is more interested in Hamlet’s inner struggle and machinations than in what he does or what happens as a result of one or another course of action. I think Genesis 3 is intensely interested in what the people do and happens as a result.

    In fact, it’s worse, because Shakespeare might possibly have settled this in his own mind, while in the case of Genesis, we are not dealing with a single author.

    Isn’t that a matter of degree? I mean, Shakespeare is drawing on prior source material too, isn’t he? And certainly Genesis had a final redactor, even on the crudest version of source criticism.

    What do you mean by saying “a literal truth… stands behind the text”? What this would normally mean, I think, is that the text records, perhaps in very distorted form, an actual event of which an account was passed down in earlier texts

    I understand what you’re saying, and I don’t know that I could claim anything like that (though I don’t guess I could exclude it either).

    The basic claim is simply that it is a fundamental spiritual fact about the human condition that mankind has rebelled against God. I don’t claim that any historical memory or awareness of how this actually happened, however vague or distorted, was passed down.

    Rather, I think, with the Hebrews’ unique relationship with God came unique supernatural insights — call it inspiration, revelation, prophecy — into the human condition as well as the nature of God, which they expressed in story form.

    The insight, clarifying over time and fully understood in light of what God has done for man in Jesus Christ, is that the sad state of the world and of human experience is not the good God’s original plan, and that it is not he who failed us but we who failed him. At the same time, the Hebrews were also aware of God’s ongoing love and active concern for them in particular and mankind as a whole.

    When and where could it have occurred? For the last 60,000 years at least, ancestors of today’s humans have lived on more than one continent. Genetic evidence indicates that at no time did our ancestors consist of fewer than thousands of people, who would have lived in small, widely-spaced nomadic groups.

    Yes, I’m aware of the genetic case for polygenism, and this raises another complication. In Catholic thought, not only the fall but also the creation of man in God’s image represents a supernatural turning point for humanity.

    As far as I can see, this would seem to mean that at some point in human evolution God intervened in the life of some hominid individual or community and supernaturally elevated it or them to a new spiritual status and awareness of God. In this state, man was holy and just before God, until his rebellion.

    What reason is there to believe that our ancestors ever lived in a pre-lapsarian state (presumably, from what you say elsewhere, as vegetarians)?

    The vegetarian thing is part of the story. I’m not sure that’s a real point of contention. Belief in man’s prelapsarian state of holiness, as mentioned above, rests on divine revelation, including confidence in God’s goodness and the illumination of what God has done for man in Jesus Christ.

    Frankly, your claim that the “Fall” is an actual act of “primeval disobedience to God” is as absurd as the claims of the literalists – and at least they don’t hide behind vagueness.

    I’ll try to be as specific as I can. It’s possible I’m being too tentative and wary at times. Not that you haven’t been great, but I feel ever so slightly like a much less heroic Indiana Jones picking my way through the Well of Souls. I hope you understand. :)

  318. CJO says

    So I just read some articles by Doherty on The Jesus Puzzle (referred to upthread a bit by Damian(?)), and I have to say, it’s the most convincing exposition of the Jesus as myth thesis I have yet read. My agnosticism wavers.

    SDG, it hinges crucially on just some of the issues with Paul’s writings we were just discussing, and it cleared up a lot of things for me that I had always found puzzling about Paul’s theology. It’s probably more discomfitting to someone coming from a Christian mindset, but, I must say, you seem uncommonly willing to at least entertain other points of view, so I really think you should give it your attention.

  319. says

    Thanks, CJO. I try. I will check out Doherty.

    May I recommend you check out some N.T. Wright? Since you’ve read Crossan, you might be interested in their joint work, The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright in Dialogue. Wright and Crossan each think highly of the other, as different as their conclusions are.

    I know you disagree with Wright’s ultimate conclusion, but his scholarship is enormous and the general shape of his argument and the Jewish and early Christian worlds he posits are very compelling.

    FWIW, I’m talking about the scholarly stuff, not the popular stuff. Vols 2-3 of the Christian Origins and the Question of God series, Jesus and the Victory of God and The Resurrection of the Son of God, are especially helpful (though vol 1, The New Testament and the People of God, lays some essential groundwork).

  320. Nick Gotts says

    In Catholic thought, not only the fall but also the creation of man in God’s image represents a supernatural turning point for humanity.

    As far as I can see, this would seem to mean that at some point in human evolution God intervened in the life of some hominid individual or community and supernaturally elevated it or them to a new spiritual status and awareness of God. In this state, man was holy and just before God, until his rebellion.

    I’ve come across this idea before, but it really is a desperate recourse, seized on by those who like to pretend that Christianity is compatible with reason. You are simply inventing two events out of whole cloth in order to preserve your belief-system. What happened to those not chosen for this divine intervention? How did those who were and those who were not interact? From the Christian point of view, what does this scenario say about “original sin”? Why go to all the trouble of letting natural selection do its (often cruel) work for 4bn years, and then stick the divine finger into the works?

  321. CJO says

    Thanks for the recommendation. I think I may have read one of his popular books. I went on a major 1st Century Near Eastern history/New Testament Scholarship reading kick about a year ago, where I read practically nothing else for two months, so I may not dive back in immediately (one gets tired), but I will file that away. And I’m certainly not against reading works that come to conclusions opposed to my views. The scholarship and the arguments are what’s important to me.

  322. says

    Nick,

    I’ve come across this idea before, but it really is a desperate recourse, seized on by those who like to pretend that Christianity is compatible with reason.

    Now what kind of way is that to talk? Perhaps next we can talk about the desperate recourses of those who like to pretend that materialism is compatible with morality.

    You are simply inventing two events out of whole cloth in order to preserve your belief-system.

    I’m not. The events themselves are part of the revelation that goes with the belief-system, not something made up to preserve it. The way I’ve imagined them above is an effort at understanding faith in light of reason, and vice versa.

    What happened to those not chosen for this divine intervention? How did those who were and those who were not interact? From the Christian point of view, what does this scenario say about “original sin”?

    Those are excellent questions. I have some thoughts, but at the end of the day the Christian worldview proposes that the infinite and eternal God has deigned to give us so much insight into who we are, where we come from and what we are called to — so much, and not more. The natural sciences can tell us what they can tell us; they cannot tell us what only God can tell us. It may chafe our pride and frustrate our intellectual curiosity, but by the nature of the situation we are out of our reckoning and we cannot dictate terms to God.

    Why go to all the trouble of letting natural selection do its (often cruel) work for 4bn years, and then stick the divine finger into the works?

    Our thinking is inevitably hopelessly anthropomorphic. Phrases like “going to all the trouble” are of fairly dubious utility here. FWIW, I’m not proposing an ID universe in which God is continually tinkering and souping up his creation. The universe is what it is, and it’s an astonishing, terrifying, sublime, fascinating, inexplicable place. What God did in making man in his image was not simply moving us ahead a step, but elevating us to another level entirely. It’s a spiritual story, entirely outside the reckoning of the natural sciences.

  323. SEF says

    The scholarship and the arguments are what’s important to me.

    But are not what’s important to religious liars like SDG. So the quality of the arguments and “evidence” is likely to be similar to his and those of C.S.Lewis and Thomas Aquinas etc etc, ie very dishonest and poor.

    I have a separate set of links on the non-historicity of Jesus but it looks as though the Earl Doherty page is comprehensive enough to be addressing much the same points. Indeed, one of my older links has died and a google on part of its name took me to that same new site!

    http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/jhcjp.htm

    (Though I’m unsure whether the text really is identical to that of the previous and now deceased link.)

    Another of the old discussion links (still working!).
    And another (by Jim Walker).

  324. Nick Gotts says

    Perhaps next we can talk about the desperate recourses of those who like to pretend that materialism is compatible with morality. – SDG
    I’m not sure if you’re being serious here – if you are, please do present a case for their incompatibility.

    By saying you were “inventing two events”, I meant the following:
    A few hundred years ago, people could rationally believe that the “Making” and “Fall” happened as described in Genesis, a few thousand years ago. For anyone who is not prepared to maintain (in effect) that the whole of science is a gigantic con trick, that belief has become untenable. Yet there is absolutely no evidence or reason, outside the Bible, for believing any such events as the Making and Fall ever occurred. The rational course of action, then (subject of course to revision in the light of new evidence) is to abandon the belief-system concerned. Instead, you invent new versions of the events in an attempt to patch it: God doesn’t make a man out of clay and a woman out of his rib, but:
    “As far as I can see, this would seem to mean that at some point in human evolution God intervened in the life of some hominid individual or community and supernaturally elevated it or them to a new spiritual status and awareness of God.”, and instead of a specific story of a talking serpent and forbidden fruit, we have:
    “by some primeval disobedience to God man has in some way become alienated from himself, his fellow man and God.”
    These are both events which, if they are to play the role you want, must have happened at specific times and places to specific people – these are the events I say you are inventing, because there is no evidence whatsoever that they ever happened.

    Those are excellent questions. I have some thoughts, but at the end of the day the Christian worldview proposes that the infinite and eternal God has deigned to give us so much insight into who we are, where we come from and what we are called to — so much, and not more.
    This illustrates exactly what I mean by your suggestion being a “desperate recourse”: as soon as specific questions are asked about it, you either ignore them (as when I asked how God had influenced the text of Genesis), or throw up your hands and say “Goddidit” – and furthermore, that he won’t tell us how. It is clear why you do this – because there are no answers that are even vaguely plausible. I assure you that if you do try to argue that materialism is incompatible with morality, I will not be reduced to any similar recourse.

  325. says

    I’m not sure if you’re being serious here

    About the incompatibility? Dead serious.

    if you are, please do present a case for their incompatibility.

    Well, I might say something like: A few hundred years ago, people could rationally believe in an objective “Moral Law” governing human behavior, which all men were in some sense bound or obliged to follow, doing what was “right” or what “ought” to be done, but were also free to choose to disobey, doing what was “wrong” or what “ought not” to be done. For anyone who believes that the whole of science has somehow established material reality as the whole of reality, that belief has become untenable. Human beings are not “free” to behave other than how they do, since the behavior of material reality is either deterministic or random; what we call our “choices” are simply the outworkings of bio-chemical-electrical processes in our organisms and cannot be grabbed as if by outside and shoved in another direction. Likewise, feelings of moral obligation and value judgments of right or wrong do not express propositions about reality; they are simply behavioral facts about individual human organisms. A person who wants to do something he feels he “ought” not to do, and decides to do it anyway, is no more “wrong” than a person in whom one of any two conflicting impulses wins out over another. There is no meaningful sense in which anyone is “obliged” by anything other than biological necessity to do anything other than what he does, nor any meaningful sense in which anyone is capable of doing anything other than that. The rational course of action, then (subject of course to revision in the light of new evidence) is to abandon the belief-system concerned.

    Or I might just say: What do you as a materialist mean by “morality”?

    I assure you that if you do try to argue that materialism is incompatible with morality, I will not be reduced to any similar recourse.

    Desperation takes many forms. We’ll see.

    A few hundred years ago, people could rationally believe that the “Making” and “Fall” happened as described in Genesis, a few thousand years ago.

    However, even a few hundred years ago or even longer, Christians were capable of understanding that their faith and belief in Genesis did not necessarily entail the literal occurence of the events as described, and that empirical evidence should not be ignored in deference to a particular interpretation of scripture.

    For example, St. Augustine wrote in the fifth century:

    With the scriptures it is a matter of treating about the faith. For that reason, as I have noted repeatedly, if anyone, not understanding the mode of divine eloquence, should find something about [the physical universe] in our books, or hear of the same from those books, of such a kind that it seems to be at variance with the perceptions of his own rational faculties, let him believe that these other things are in no way necessary to the admonitions or accounts or predictions of the scriptures. … it was not the intention of the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, to teach men anything that would not be of use to them for their salvation. (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis, 2:9)

    Augustine was, indeed, deeply concerned that Christians, irrationally putting certitude in interpretation ahead of empirical evidence, would not only be deceived but make the faith absurd to rational nonbelievers — a concern that has sadly been abundantly borne out:

    It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation. (Genesis 1:19-20)

    Also in the fifth century, Origen observed:

    For who that has understanding will suppose that the first and second and third day existed without a sun and moon and stars and that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? … I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance and not literally. (The Fundamental Doctrines 4:1:16)

    Based on these insights, partial and flawed though they were, it’s not hard to imagine that if Augustine or Origen were transported to modern times and learned evolutionary science, they would certainly make considerable modifications to their respective understandings of Genesis, while at the same time believing that the essence of the faith as they understood it in the fifth century was in no way refuted or undermined.

    Yet there is absolutely no evidence or reason, outside the Bible, for believing any such events as the Making and Fall ever occurred.

    The scope of divine revelation is broader than the Bible. Catholics believe that God has been at work in the world particularly in the history of the Hebrew people, preeminently in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and subsequently in the spread of early Christianity, in the life of the Catholic Church and in the life of individual believers. Belief that man is created in God’s image and is fallen rests on this whole scope of divine action, not just the Bible.

    This illustrates exactly what I mean by your suggestion being a “desperate recourse”: as soon as specific questions are asked about it, you either ignore them (as when I asked how God had influenced the text of Genesis), or throw up your hands and say “Goddidit” – and furthermore, that he won’t tell us how. It is clear why you do this – because there are no answers that are even vaguely plausible.

    I didn’t ignore your question about Genesis because there was nothing else to say. I’ve been responding piecemeal to what I could when I could, and some things have fallen through the cracks.

    However, I couldn’t say whether divine inspiration would involve tweaking neurotransmitters, in part because I can’t even say much about the operation of my own neurotransmitters as I sit writing very humanly and without the aid of divine inspiration. I suppose neurotransmitter tweakage is a possibility. I can say the “supernatural eraser” hypothesis would be inadequate; that sounds like negative inspiration theory (God simply prevented the authors from writing what he didn’t want), and that falls short of what is required by Christian faith.

    The issues run deeper, though, because divine inspiration is bound up in an anthropology that posits that man does have free will, such that there is in him a form of causality that is neither deterministic nor random, but volitional and moral, by which he is truly responsible for freely chosen acts. It is also bound to the notion that man has a spiritual soul by which he is capable of knowing God. The thesis is that God can act upon the human soul such that, with man’s active cooperation, man does what he would not otherwise do or even be capable of doing.

    Catholics thus believe that the books of sacred scripture were written by human authors making full use of their natural powers and the genres and conventions available to them, but under the active agency of the Holy Spirit, such that the sacred books, rightly understood, assert everything which God wanted to make known for our salvation. This belief is held in the context of the whole of divine revelation as described above.

    It is of course not possible to put Genesis under a microscope and produce empirical evidence of a divine signature, any more than it would be possible, if Jesus were physically brought from the first century to today, to subject his living body to scientific scrutiny for evidence that he is God incarnate. Or to subject any man to scientific scrutiny for evidence of his soul. Or to subject human behavior to scientific scrutiny for evidence of right and wrong. Science cannot verify or disprove what is by nature beyond its scope.

  326. SEF says

    people could rationally believe in an objective “Moral Law” governing human behavior

    Untrue. It was merely easier for them to pretend they were rationally believing in it. It never was a rational belief, just an illusion which hadn’t yet had the curtain quite so blatantly pulled aside on its trickery for nearly all to see rather than just the most perceptive.

    Human beings are not “free” to behave other than how they do, since the behavior of material reality is either deterministic or random; what we call our “choices” are simply the outworkings of bio-chemical-electrical processes in our organisms and cannot be grabbed as if by outside and shoved in another direction.

    Human beings wouldn’t have been free if god or the church had genuinely been feeding them morality either. Your failure to perceive the truth of the matter doesn’t mean reality is different than it is. There’s still the morality-forming instincts built in by evolution whereby humans gain advantage when (co-)operating as a social species. Just like other social species have natural morality, eg wasps as well as other primates. The outside “grabbing” and “shoving” feedback comes from other humans and the rest of the environment, ie things which really exist!

  327. SEF says

    divine inspiration is bound up in an anthropology that posits that man does have free will, such that there is in him a form of causality that is neither deterministic nor random, but volitional and moral, by which he is truly responsible for freely chosen acts.

    Which, I remind/inform you, scuppers your Genesis story utterly. If man didn’t know good from evil, ie have morality, before eating from the tree of knowledge then he couldn’t be held responsible for choosing to eat. Hence revealing your god to be a scumbag for doing so.

    The reason you’re unable to look at reality straight is because your mind is all twisted up with the evils and contradictions of your religion. Dump your stupid religion and you might be capable of being rational and honest for a change. On the other hand, you might be naturally rather irrational and dishonest anyway.

  328. John Morales says

    SDG:

    Science cannot verify or disprove what is by nature beyond its scope.

    Its scope is all of nature.

  329. Nick Gotts says

    SDG,
    Human beings are not “free” to behave other than how they do, since the behavior of material reality is either deterministic or random; what we call our “choices” are simply the outworkings of bio-chemical-electrical processes in our organisms and cannot be grabbed as if by outside and shoved in another direction.
    You’ve apparently never heard of emergent properties. Wholes can have properties that are not true of any of their parts. The atoms in a bouncy castle are not bouncy, any more than the atoms in a free agent are free, but that does not prevent the castle being bouncy. Any form of causality or responsibility you attribute to a “soul”, I can (if I accept that it is real) attribute to an agent – and the existence of agents, unlike that of souls, is obvious to the naked eye. (A few “radical reductionists” among materialists might insist that there are no agents, no freedom, no responsibility, but their actions show that they do not in fact believe this.) Our freedom is a function of the complex relationships we have with the outside world, both physical and social, and with our own past and potential futures. How atomic and molecular-level processes in and around an agent combine to give the kinds of context-sensitive decision-making capabilities we exercise when we act freely is an exceedingly complex scientific question, but one on which enormous progress has been made in the biological and human sciences in the last century.

    More on this and other points you raise later – I am making a free decision to take the dog for a walk, in order to avoid the undesireable consequences of not doing so (this will be important in what follows).

  330. Nick Gotts says

    Back from dog-walking, but there’s something else I need to get done, so just to briefly deal with a simple point.

    What do you as a materialist mean by “morality”? – SDG

    Being considerate of the interests and wishes of other sentient beings in making decisions and performing actions.

  331. Damian with an a says

    SDG:

    For a start, I would hazard a guess that most atheists would describe themselves as naturalists, and not strictly materialists. While there is a new kind of materialism that is currently in its infancy — including phenomena that would not ordinarily be described as material, by themselves, though they are the product of material entities — it is not something that I would wish to support at this moment in time.

    As it says on Naturalism.org:

    No basis for responsibility, all is excused

    One the most acute and widespread fears engendered by encountering naturalism is that since all is caused, all is excused. If someone really and truly couldn’t have done other than what he did in the exact situation in which behavior arose, then what happens to praise and blame? If people don’t originate their behavior in some ultimate sense, then how can they be held responsible for their wrongdoings, and why should we reward them for their virtues?

    Two basic points make up the reply to this worry. First, it’s clear that even in an entirely deterministic world, we still retain our strong desires for certain basic outcomes, namely the well-being of ourselves and our loved ones. Therefore, we retain strong inclinations to protect ourselves, and to shape and guide behavior in directions we deem proper. So the motives we have for maintaining public safety and a flourishing society are still in place, even though we are fully caused creatures.

    Second, being motivated in this way means that we have all sorts of good reasons to hold persons accountable for wrongful, damaging behavior and to reward them for behavior we want encouraged. Such accountability and encouragement are essential to keep behavior within social norms and to create human agents who behave responsibly, considerately, and ethically. So even without the notion of retribution and just deserts, both of which are based on the idea of contra-causal free will, we have sufficient justification for keeping dangerous individuals out of society, for imposing sanctions as deterrents, and for other responses to criminality which will promote social safety, stability, and flourishing. And likewise we still have good reasons for praising and otherwise rewarding individuals for good behavior, although we won’t any longer suppose that they are good because of some uncaused, self-chosen virtue. Without such reinforcers, people simply don’t behave as well as they otherwise would.4

    The upshot is that under naturalism, many of our social practices that work to shape behavior and protect society are left untouched, even though the justifications for them no longer include the idea that people are uncaused agents deserving of ultimate credit or blame. We must still hold people responsible, even though they are fully caused creatures, since holding them responsible is an important means to make them responsible, considerate, and ethical agents. But, since persons no longer can be considered the first cause of their behavior, we can’t any longer suppose that they deserve to suffer for having simply chosen, independent of circumstances, to act the way they did. This should help to undercut retributive attitudes that have resulted in our all too punitive criminal justice system, one which imposes needless and counterproductive suffering well beyond what’s needed for deterrence, rehabilitation, or restitution. It will also prompt us to discover and change the factors which actually cause criminality and dysfunctional behavior. For discussions of these points see the essays at Criminal Justice.

    No moral standards

    Some fear that naturalism, by showing that our values derive entirely from physical and social factors (that is, from our biological nature as it gets expressed in our cultural environment), undercuts any tenable justifications for our moral practices. If there is no basis outside of our contingent biological and social situation for what we believe is the right and good, then how do we make the case for our moral standards? Although this question gets us into very deep waters very quickly, some reassurance can be found in the fact that basic human values are widely shared simply by virtue of being rooted in our common biological nature. Each of us has deeply held preferences for how we want ourselves and our loved ones to be treated, preferences that define the core of everyday morality nearly everywhere one looks. We are no more in a position to seriously question the moral values that underlie human flourishing (e.g., that murder is wrong unless in self-defense, that the young, elderly and weak deserve protection by the strong, that pain should not be needlessly inflicted) than we are to voluntarily cease breathing. Such values are directly linked to human survival, and as such don’t really need further justification.

    The tougher question is how to justify moral norms specific to cultures, since these obviously differ from place to place. From a naturalistic perspective, such norms (e.g., allowing female circumcision, banning the death penalty) can be understood as the contingent outcome of cultural developments, not better or worse approximations to some external moral standard that exists independently of human preferences. Nevertheless, specific social practices and policies can be evaluated on the basis of the extent to which they are consonant with basic human needs and motives, e.g., the desires for food, shelter, and companionship, to avoid unnecessary suffering, to find pleasure and meaningful activities in life. Naturalism may show the ultimate contingency of our values, in that human nature might have evolved differently, and human societies and political arrangements might have turned out otherwise. But, given who and what we are as natural creatures, we perforce have basic values which serve as the criteria for assessing moral dilemmas, even if these assessments are often fiercely contested. Naturalism doesn’t lead to nihilism as some suppose,1 rather it shows the basis of our values in human nature.

    And now you have your real work ahead of you, SDG, because you will also need to show that all attempts to ground objective morality on a nontheistic basis fail. As you clearly won’t even attempt to do that, you have no right to claim that an objective morality is impossible without theism.

    And now we move on to the untenability of a theistic morality. These are just some of the problems with attempting to ground ethics on a theistic basis:

    The Euthyphro dilemma

    “Is what is moral commanded by God because it is moral, or is it moral because it is commanded by God?”

    – “The first horn of the dilemma (i.e. that which is moral is commanded by God because it is moral) implies that morality is independent of God and, indeed, that God is bound by morality just as his creatures are. God then becomes little more than a passer-on of moral knowledge.”

    – “The second horn of the dilemma (i.e. that which is moral is moral because it is commanded by God, known as divine command theory) runs into three main problems:

    – First, it implies that what is good is arbitrary, based merely upon God’s whim; if God had created the world to include the values that rape, murder, and torture were virtues, while mercy and charity were vices, then they would have been.

    – Secondly, it implies that calling God good makes no non-tautological sense (or, at best, that one is simply saying that God is consistent and not hypocritical).

    – Thirdly, it involves a form of reasoning that G.E. Moore classified as a naturalistic fallacy; to explain the claim that murder is wrong (or the prescription that one should not commit murder), in terms of what God has or hasn’t said is to argue from what Moore classified as a putative fact about the world to what Moore classified as a value (see is-ought problem).”

    However you attempt to squirm of out this dilemma, you are always going to run in to the same problem. It doesn’t matter whether you claim that it is a command, or part of God’s character, or anything else that you can think of.

    And there are more problems, as well. How does one objectively [and it would need to be so] decide, not just between the competing accounts of different religions, but also the same religion? The very act of deciding to either become, or to remain a Catholic [who interpret scripture differently to other Christians], introduces subjectivity in to the equation. You are essentially deciding which account of morality [as well as other teachings] suit you, personally. This is not objectivity.

    Also, how do you decide what to do about the thousands of modern moral dilemma’s that are not even mentioned in the bible [child custody, for example]? There is no scriptural basis for deciding who should have custody of children after a divorce. So, I’m afraid, many of your own moral choices will necessarily have to be informed by the secular, and often nontheistic, world.

    As Adolf Grünbaum put it in his essay, “The Poverty of Theistic Morality”:

    THE MORAL STERILITY OF THEISM

    The moral hollowness of the theistic superstructure requires both clarification and argument. Why are theological trappings morally unavailing? It was Socrates who permitted us to realize that if a religious creed is to yield any specific moral prescriptions at all, the ethics must be extraneously imported or tacked on to theism on extra-theological, worldly grounds, being put into the mouth of God by the clergy when asserting His goodness or omnibenevolence. This moral sterility of theism comes into view from the failure of divine omnibenevolence to deal with the challenge posed by a key question from Socrates in Plato’s Euthyphro: Is the conduct approved by the gods right (“pious”), because of properties of its own, or merely because it pleases the gods to value or command it? In the former case, divine omnibenevolence and revelation are at best ethically superfluous, and in the latter, the absolute divine commands fail to provide any reason at all for imposing particular kinds of conduct.

    For if God values and enjoins us to do what is desirable in its own right, then ethical rules do not depend for their validity on divine command, and they can then be independently adopted. But, on the other hand, if conduct is good merely because God decrees it, then nowadays we also have the morally insoluble problem of deciding, in a multi-religious world, which one of the conflicting purported divine revelations of ethical commands we are to accept. Indeed, Richard Gale sees the thrust of Plato’s Euthyphro to be the claim that “Ethical propositions are not of the right categorical sort to be made true by anyone’s decision [command], even God’s” (R. M. Gale, On the Nature and Existence of God. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 34).

    The plurality of competing revelations is illustrated by those in which Jesus is the Lord and those in which he is not, as in Islam and Judaism. And how are we to resolve theologically the basic ethical disagreements existing even within the clergy of the same religious denomination, such as the debate on pacifism in times of war or the justice of capital punishment for crime? Just these conflicting moral revelations and intra-denominational disagreements spell a cardinal lesson: Even if a person is minded to defer completely to theological authority on moral matters, he or she cannot avoid deciding which one of the conflicting religious authorities is to be his/her ethical guide. Thus, try as they may, people cannot abdicate their own responsibility for deciding by what moral norms they are to live. In just this decision-making sense, man is inescapably the measure of all things, for better or for worse. And it is quite otiose to speak, as Reinhold Niebuhr did, of “God giving us to see the right” (Arthur Schlesinger Jr., “Reinhold Niebuhr’s Long Shadow,” The New York Times, June 22, 1992, Op-Ed p. A13).

    True enough, assuming divine omnibenevolence, it presumably follows that all divinely ordained conduct is morally right. But that is unavailing, because this much leaves us wholly in the dark as to which moral directives are binding on us, or what goals are ethically desirable. How, for example, does divine omnibenevolence tell us whether to share or abhor the Reverend Falwell’s and Rabbi Kahane’s claim that a nuclear Armageddon is part of God’s just and loving plan for us, because only the righteous will be resurrected thereafter? In any case, the existence of states of affairs in the world that theists themselves acknowledge to be morally evil, no less than others do, does indeed impugn the purported omnibenevolence of God. And the existence of evil that is not wrought by human volition cannot be explained away by recourse to the so-called “free will defense.” That apologia adduces the value of human freedom to perpetrate evil deeds no less than to do good ones.

    The inability of the theological superstructure to yield a moral code also crops out in Kant’s invocation of God (and of personal immortality) as underpinnings of his own system of deontological ethics. His argument for such a theological foundation starts out from his moral doctrine that there is a categorical imperative to act only on principles that everyone could adopt consistently. But Kant avowedly offered only a formula: Alas, it does not tell us which moral directives to adopt from a set of competing ones. Thus, instead of being a source of concrete ethical injunctions, his formula provides only a necessary condition of their acceptability.

    Even at that, Kant’s theological underpinning of his ethics loses its force, if only because the required realizability of the highest good is hardly assured. Besides, his case for a divine underwriter founders on its dubious assumption of personal immortality. And his argument becomes baseless in the context of such rival conceptions of ethics as are offered by the teleological or self-realization schools. Indeed, even if the philosophical viability of morality were evidence for the existence of God, as claimed by Kant, the ubiquitous reality of evil in the world would be stronger evidence against theism.

    It would seem that Kant’s own special version of a theological foundation for ethics fails, even if one disregards the legitimacy of non-deontological systems of ethics.

    Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 Commencement Address at Harvard showed no awareness of the moral sterility of theism:

    There is a disaster which is already very much with us. I am referring to the calamity of an autonomous [despiritualized] and irreligious, humanistic consciousness. It has made man the measure of all things on Earth, imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects … Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him?

    Prima facie, this declaration may sound ingratiatingly modest. But, as it stands, it is morally hollow and theologically question-begging. Whose revelation, one must ask, is to supplant man as the measure of all things? That of the Czarist Russian Orthodox Church? Or the edicts of the Ayatollah Khomeini, as enforced by his mullahs? Those of the Dutch Reformed Church in apartheid South Africa? Or the teachings of Pope John Paul II, who–amid starvation in Africa–is getting support from the native episcopate for the prohibition of “artificial” birth control? Or yet those of the orthodox rabbinate in Israel, which prohibits autopsies, for example? And, if the latter, which of the two doctrinally competing chief rabbis is to be believed, the ashkenazi, or the sephardic one? If the ethical perplexity of modern man is to be resolved by concrete moral injunctions, Solzhenitsyn’s jeremiad simply replaces secular man by selected clergymen, who become the moral touchstone of everything by claiming revealed truth for their particular ethical directives.

    It appears that the moment a theology is to be used to yield ethical prescriptions, these rules of conduct are obtained by deliberations in whose outcome secular aims and thought are every bit as decisive as in the reflections of secular ethicists who deny theism. And the perplexity of moral problems is not lessened by the theological superstructure, which itself leaves us in an ethical quandary.

    No wonder that Judaeo-Christian theology has been invoked as a sanction for such diverse ethical doctrines as the divine right of kings; the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; black slavery; “Deutschland über alles;” the social Darwinism of Spencer, and socialism. Indeed, as Sidney Hook has pointed out in his own critique of Solzhenitsyn (The Humanist, Nov./Dec. 1978, p. 5): “Neither Christianity nor Judaism, in principle, ever condemned slavery or feudalism. In their modern forms, they have been humanized in consequence of [the challenge from] the rise of secular humanism.” As the Roman Catholic Judge John T. Noonan Jr. pointed out more specifically most recently (“Development in Moral Theology,” Theological Studies, vol. 54, no. 4, December 1993, pp. 662-677), from the time of St. Paul to well beyond the middle of the nineteenth century, the Catholic Church taught that slavery was morally acceptable. And it was not until 1890 that Pope Leo XIII finally condemned slavery, but “only after the laws of every civilized land [had] eliminated the practice” (p. 675). At last, Pope John Paul II included slavery among intrinsic evils in his latest encyclical Veritatis Splendor.

    To conclude, it is my own opinion that we are all in the same boat in terms of ethics and morality, and that theists, by virtue of being able to hand over all of their ethical impulses to God — a God, by the way, whose moral nature is decidedly incoherent, in the first place — become lazy, and often don’t even think about ethical questions at all. If you honestly believe that deferring to another — even the creator of the universe — is the best way to develop a compassionate and consistent moral character, I beg to differ.

  332. Nick Gotts says

    SDG,
    Like Damian, I’d actually call myself a naturalist rather than a materialist, since the latter can be taken to imply that entities such as minds, emotions, money, music, friendship etc are not real; while a naturalist (or materialist in a weaker sense) says they are real, but their existence depends wholly on the existence and arrangement of material things. I took you to be using the weaker meaning, but if the stronger was what you intended, I’d agree with you that such a philosophy is inconsistent with belief in the reality of such things as moral choices – although someone with such a philosophy can still behave morally.

  333. Paul W. says

    SDG,

    You need to read Elbow Room: On the Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting by Daniel Dennett, and Moral Minds by Marc Hauser.

    Traditional religious conceptions of free will are incoherent. To be will, “free will” must be causal, i.e., not “free” in the sense of being nondeterministic. Whether the willing entity is material or spiritual (whatever that might mean), there must be cause and effect at work. For example, if you do bad things because your soul is corrupt, that’s not random.

    If “free will” were not deterministic, there would be no grounds for attributing blame. Blame depends on something flawed about the actor causing a choice. The fact that random factors may perturb mostly deterministic behavior doesn’t help; they either let the actor off the moral hook if they’re extreme enough, or leave the actor blameworthy for deterministic reasons for being “flawed enough” that minor perturbations lead to bad choices.

    One thing we’ve learned pretty well from the last 50 years of cognitive science is that choice-making is a variety of information processing. Anything else wouldn’t even be choice-making. (A number of smart people recognized that before modern science, but it’s become much clearer lately. Calvin got it partly right—the Catholic theology of “free will” is nonsense.)

    The fact that choice-making is, at its core, deterministic poses huge problems for Catholic theology. (But not so much for Calvinism; Calvinism makes God even more clearly a moral monster, and worships him anyway. A lot of people can’t go for that.)

    The determinism of choice-making is not the problem it seems for most practical moral and legal purposes.

    For example, I think I’m basically a choice-making machine. That’s what I’m evolved to be. That doesn’t mean I can’t feel guilty about doing something wrong. The fact that my basic moral sense is evolved in doesn’t keep me from finding it important—it just explains why I do find it important.

    I can no more get away from my evolved-in pangs of conscience than I can get away from my evolved in pangs of pain when I put my hand on a hot stove. (And unlike the pangs of pain, I can’t take an anaesthetic—or rather, I can’t choose to. I’m evolved to be moral, and because I am, I can’t want to just turn my moral sense off and become a complete sociopath. Only somebody who’s already mostly sociopathic can do that.)

    The fact that in the big low-level picture I only make the choices I “had to” doesn’t get me off the moral hook for my actions. I also have to evaluate my own actions and feel good or bad about them. As a scientist, I may dryly view my moral failings as symptoms of a malfunctioning information processing system, but as the defective system in question, I don’t like it when I realize that I am defective. It’s something I’m programmed not to be neutral about.

    I believe that my moral failings are the product of my environment and heredity, including a number of “noise” factors. So in some low-level sense, nothing about me is “my fault”, I couldn’t help but be this way, and if there’s a God, it’s his fault. But that doesn’t mean that in the most important sense, I’m not responsible. I may be “just” a defective, malfunctioning unit, but if my defective decision-making is the proximate cause of bad stuff, I have to care about that, too, irrespective of whether it’s all ultimately God’s fault, or just the luck of the draw due to the the working-out of vast numbers of subatomic particle interactions. Here and now, I’m me, and I have to deal with me.

  334. Nick Gotts says

    Dennett’s view is more fully set out in the more recent Freedom Evolves (2003), which I’m currently reading.

  335. Damian with an a says

    If SDG doesn’t wish to buy any books concerning free will, but does wish to understand the challenge to it that is coming from cognitive science, as well as philosophy, I suggest that he/she reads these articles, which do a fairly good job of explaining much of the current thought.

    Naturalism, by the way, is defined by philosopher Paul Draper, as “the hypothesis that the physical world is a ‘closed system’ in the sense that nothing that is neither a part nor a product of it can affect it.”

    More simply, it is the denial of the existence of supernatural causes. In rejecting the reality of supernatural events, forces, or entities, naturalism is the antithesis of supernaturalism.

  336. Paul W. says

    Damian@851

    I think we need to be careful about this. “Natural” and “Supernatural” are funny words, and are not antonyms.

    In the sense of Naturalism used for defining the scope of science, what’s “natural” is just what can be reasoned about from its observable effects, including very indirect ones. Pretty much anything counts, except weird nonfalsifiable stuff engineered to make religion immune to attacks from science or just common sense.

    “Supernatural” stuff is not necessarily un-natural in that sense. So, for example, there could be some kind of spirit realm made of something besides matter/energy/space/time, and that would be well within the scope of science if we have any evidence grounds for believing in it, i.e., if it interacts in any way with things that we can observe its effects on.

    (That’s one of Dennett’s main points in Breaking the Spell; the natural/supernatural distinction is irrelevant to whether science can study religion and its contents—so it should, and let the chips fall where they may.)

    What’s called “supernatural” in the vernacular is generally conceived as a part of the natural world, in the larger scientific sense. “Supernatural” phenomena are generally assumed by believers to be causal and have effects in the observable world. In their basic form, there’s no necessary unfalsifiability; what makes them interesting for religious explanations and narratives is their understandability at a certain level, and especially their supposed consequences for people.

    That’s one of Pascal Boyer’s main points in Religion Explained. Religious concepts have a certain structure, and a certain role in explanations and storytelling; that’s what makes them religious concepts.

    In their “natural” form, religious ideas are not generally unfalsifiable. They’re typically not only falsifiable but end up falsified, because they’re false. Then you get hifalutin theology coming in and reworking the concepts to make them unfalsifiable, but that generally does considerable violence to what rank-and-file believers believe.

    Most religious people believe in religion, which is falsifiable, not the official theology, which isn’t. The former is just wrong, and the latter is not even wrong.

  337. Nick Gotts says

    To continue from #845:

    Suppose the physical world is “closed” in the naturalist sense: there are no “souls”, and if there’s a god, it set up the universe’s physical laws and initial conditions, and is now just watching the show. (Whether the physical laws are deterministic or not is irrelevant.) It remains true that human beings, and other agents, make decisions, and perform actions – although if you looked closely enough all you would see is atoms and subatomic particles moving about. It also remains true that we can criticise such decisions and actions. We may do so instrumentally – action X did not achieve its goal, decision Y was an error becvause it failed to take into account consideration Z. We can also ask whether the agent actually had the necessary characteristics (e.g. physical strength, intelligence, knowledge) to have taken action that would have achieved the goal, or made the correct decision. So, even within a closed physical world, critique of actions is possible. Going a step further, there is no reason we cannot give a commentary/critique of the form:
    “X achieved its goal, but it also had the unintended result W.”, or
    “X achieved agent A’s goal, but doing so thwarted a goal of agent B.”
    If we then adopt the meaning of morality suggested in #846:
    “Being considerate of the interests and wishes of other sentient beings in making decisions and performing actions.”,
    then we can give a specifically moral rather than instrumental critique of actions and decisions: either by design or by omission, action X or decision Y damaged the interests or thwarted the wishes of other agents. Of course, it can be right to do this – if the other agent is themselves endangering others – so there may be an answer to the critique, a rejoinder to that answer, etc.

    I deliberately left my statement of what “morality” means open-ended, because I don’t believe there are (literal or metaphorical) tablets of stone on which the correct morality is engraved: these are things we must work out for, and among, ourselves. We can take things one step further by observing that proposed moral principles can themselves be criticised in the light of the meaning of morality I suggest: what will be the consequences of adopting them, as far as we can see?

    SDG, if you’re still reading, I’m sure you’ll have objections to the above, but I may not get round to replying to them for some days, as I have a house-guest arriving tonight. If you prefer to continue this offblog, my email address is not hard to find.

  338. says

    Sifting through the above avalanche, I find more or less the sorts of responses I was expecting, and in a sense hoped for.

    Some of it I agree with, or at least sympathize with. Nick, you deny that I can claim that objective morality is impossible without theism. I agree. I would never claim that. I do think a meaningful morality worth the name is impossible under materialism. But I also agree with you that merely positing a god or God doesn’t automatically seal the deal. When you say “we are all in the same boat in terms of ethics and morality,” I think I know what you mean, and I have long thought it a point insufficiently appreciated by many theists.

    No time this morning to offer a full response. More to come.

  339. SEF says

    I do think a meaningful morality worth the name is impossible under materialism.

    Depending on your definition of “materialism” it might well be. It isn’t at all impossible under naturalism though – rather it’s all too plausible and well-evidenced. Meanwhile, “a meaningful morality worth the name is impossible under” theism. Only doing good because you’re afeared of the superpowered bogeyman and greedy for a promised reward later is no genuine sort of morality at all.

  340. Damian with an a says

    SDG:

    That was my post that you were responding to. I just wanted to add that I had suspected that you would agree with at least some of it. I get the impression that some believers are reluctant to admit that it is possible to ground morality on a non-theistic basis, essentially because it is so central to theism, itself.

    That you are prepared to admit that it is possible is both intellectually honest [unless, of course, you have a good argument against it], and appreciated.

  341. Nick Gotts says

    Nick, you deny that I can claim that objective morality is impossible without theism. I agree. I would never claim that. I do think a meaningful morality worth the name is impossible under materialism. – SDG

    There’s two terms here we need to be sure we’re using in the same sense: “objective morality”, and “materialism”. If you mean what I think you mean by “objective morality” – an absolute set of moral principles which is beyond reasoned dispute, then I don’t believe such is possible with or without theism; however, if you mean that which moral standards we adopt is not an arbitrary decision, then I certainly agree with that position. “Materialism” has been diuscussed in some of the comments above, and there are possible senses in which I would agree it is incompatible with morality, and others in which I consider it is not – can you try to pin down what you mean by the term?

  342. says

    Thanks, Damian with an a. Sorry to you and Nick for mixing you up!

    BTW, Damian, it’s nice to be credited by somebody around here with at least some intellectual honesty. Thanks.

    Yes, I think meaningful morality is possible without theism. I don’t think it possible under materialism, at least as I understand that term. How broad the middle ground between the two is, and where “naturalism” fits into the spectrum, remains to be seen.

    Nick (I think) rightly challenges me to clarify what I mean by “materialism” and “objective morality.” On the first point, I’m intrigued by Nick’s description of the “closed” nature of the “naturalist” POV, which allows at least the possibility that some sort of god may exist:

    Suppose the physical world is “closed” in the naturalist sense: there are no “souls”, and if there’s a god, it set up the universe’s physical laws and initial conditions, and is now just watching the show.

    The possibility of even a god such as this existing poses an interesting challenge, but for the sake of argument let’s begin with the idea that there is no such god, nothing outside the “closed” system, nothing above or beyond or alongside the world of physical laws and matter and energy. In particular, our notions of good and evil, right and wrong, are applicable strictly within the context of an emergent phenomenon known as mind, and outside of that they have no meaning whatsoever. Once there was no mind, and thus no framework of good or evil, right or wrong, only bare, neutral fact, the “desert of the real”; and one day the desert will again reclaim all.

    I think I can safely say that such a universe satisfies my concept of “materialism” such that, in any such universe, moral obligations are strictly unreal and illusory, and in any worldview that predicates such a universe, no meaningful system or theory of morality can consistently be maintained.

    I’m not saying that in such a universe or worldview “good” and “evil” are meaningless or arbitrary terms. There is an important pre-moral sense in which, in any possible human worldview, “good” and “evil” (as distinct from moral right and wrong) have self-evident meaning for human beings. For instance, we can say that sickness is “bad,” and premature death is a great “evil,” but we don’t mean that anything immoral has happened.

    We aren’t disembodied intellects floating around thinking abstractly about “good” and “bad” in vacuo. We are biological and sentient creatures who both by instinct and intellect are moved toward a state that Damian’s Naturalism.org article calls “well-being” (“the well-being of ourselves and our loved ones”). By itself this is rather vague, but models of what constitutes “well-being” may be credibly fleshed out. One account of human well-being to which I have some partiality describes a number of basic human goods constitutive of human well-being, among them (a) human life and health, (b) knowledge of truth and appreciation of beauty, (c) meaningful work and recreation, (d) harmony between and among individuals, neighborliness and friendship, and (e) self-integration or inner peace.

    All of these can be called “good,” meaning good for us, constitutive of our well-being. And, of course, opposed to them are certain basic evils: sickness and death, ignorance, quarrels and war, etc. These are good or evil in a pre-moral sense, though they can certainly be bound up with what we think of as morally right or wrong choices or acts.

    However it has happened and whatever it means, our ideas of moral right and wrong feel meaningful to us, and in general can rationally be explained in terms of good and evil in the pre-moral sense, i.e., what is advantageous or disadvantageous to us as individuals and communities. Very often we see that moral impulses move us away from unhealthy and harmful behaviors and incline us toward beneficial behaviors. Moral impulses have survival value, and besides, we like to do what we feel impelled to do. Wherever our moral impulses come from and however we understand them, it makes sense to want to follow them.

    I thus do not mean to say, as per Damian’s query, that on a materialist accounting the “moral standards we adopt” are merely “an arbitrary decision.” They are not. Nor do I mean by morality “an absolute set of moral principles which is beyond reasoned dispute.” “Beyond reasoned dispute” is, I agree, an impossible goal. And the phrase “an absolute set of moral principles” seems to me at least highly problematic. Objective is one thing; absolute is another.

    However, on a materialist accounting it seems to me we have to give up the idea that morality has obliging force — even our own moral judgments regarding our own actions. That we regard something as “wrong” or “bad” may rationally be a reason not to do it, especially in connection with practical consequences or other disincentives we can point to, but doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong may not be the only rational or reasonable course. Sometimes it may be rational and reasonable to do what we believe is wrong. And that, I say, is not morality.

    Life is all about making decisions — choosing which potential good, or which instance of a good, to pursue at any particular time. Some choices are easy because our minds are clear and unconflicted. My favorite author at a book signing? I’m there. A high-profile project at work that will give me a chance to show new skills and impress the department director? Sign me up. Thanksgiving at your crazy aunt’s house? Not for love or money. Etc.

    Other times, though, we may be genuinely conflicted. Buy or lease a car? New or used? Or keep driving the old car a while longer? We might weigh the pros and cons for months. Pursue a career in one field or another? Get married or stay single? Conflicting wants and considerations may leave us torn as to the best decision. Even simple decisions — which entree looks the most appetizing? — may require us to choose between conflicting impulses, sometimes heeding one, sometimes another.

    At times our response to our moral judgment may be simple and clear. Here is a comment from a discussion on morality made by a self-described “Bright” with whom I’ve interacted on occasion: “I am strong, and the thing that stops me bullying weaker people is that I’d feel like a louse afterwards. I will not indulge in that kind of behaviour. Simple.”

    This comment sparked an extended line of thought for me, which, looking back, seems to have been trying to get at what might be a fairly simple point. Yes, morality can be simple enough when we want and choose to do the right thing. But there’s something slightly surreal about sitting around earnestly discussing the possibility and legitimacy of moral action under various worldviews as if that were the only side of the coin. To put it bluntly, who wants to be moral all the time, at least in practice? To put it even more bluntly, is there any rational reason why we should?

    Moral judgments can be difficult enough when we “just want to do the right thing.” What happens when we don’t — when we are torn between conflicting impulses to do what we believe is right, or to do what we really want to do?

    The personal and social utility and value of conscience and empathy are too obvious to need defending. Moral instincts help us get along and makes life pleasant. Even when morality inclines us to make trouble or take pains, it is usually ordered toward some larger, more agreeable situation in the future, if not for us, for someone else, which, if that’s what we’re inclined to do, makes just as much evolutionary sense as anything else.

    All of this is perfectly obvious, and none of it means a damn thing when we find ourselves giving the name “wrong” to something we really want to do.

    Understanding the general value and utility of the impulse that tells you not to do the wrong thing is in itself no additional impetus to heed this impulse rather than the one in the opposite direction, which also surely has a creditable evolutionary pedigree and rationale. The survival value to the community of traits like empathy and selflessness speaks for itself — but there is also survival value in self-interest and even callousness to others.

    We make rational decisions all the time to resist one impulse or another. A firefighter resists his self-preservation instinct to rush into a burning building and save lives. We can say that he does so in obedience to another impulse rooted in herd instinct. Fine. The point is, there is a time and place for heeding the self-preservation impulse, and a time and place for heeding the hero-impulse. What about listening to conscience? Is that also an impulse we can rationally heed sometimes and ignore other times?

    Sometimes, in our conflict, society comes to the rescue, and we are deterred by consideration of the likely consequences of doing the wrong thing. I am not now speaking of those cases. I’m talking about something you want to do, that you believe you can get away with, that you know is wrong.

    If anyone is brazen enough to deny facing such situations, I can only conclude that he hasn’t got a morality worth the name. I am speaking here to those who are human enough to acknowledge that all of us want at times to go against our own judgments of right and wrong, and that we have actually done so more often, perhaps, than we would care to admit.

    Damian asked what I mean by objective morality. Here is one thing I mean. Whether we can know actual right and wrong with certitude is one question. However, if a particular course of action in a particular set of circumstances is wrong, then it is wrong — and if one believes or acknowledges it is wrong, then one must regard oneself as absolutely obliged not to do it — must consider not it doing the only rational, reasonable course.

    Whether we act on that recognition is another question. I’m not saying — I wish I could — that if we believe in objective morality we will always do what we believe is right. Nor am I saying that we won’t rationalize ways of doing things we want to do in spite of our beliefs about objective morality. I am saying that if we are honest enough to acknowledge to ourselves that the thing we want to do is wrong, then it is no longer a matter of weighing pros and cons, only of strength of character. Whatever is morally wrong can never be the rational, reasonable course. At least, on any accounting of morality that is worth the name.

    Let’s say you have a friend who is torn between (a) the sensible car and (b) the hot car. The sensible car really makes every kind of sense — it’s the right price, it’s in good condition, it’ll retain its value, etc. It’s not like he doesn’t have the money for the hot car, but there’s really no practical reason to splurge… it’s just that the hot car would just make him much happier than the sensible car.

    I don’t know about you, but I can’t say I would rule out recommending the hot car, if it would make him that happy. Not that that would necessarily be my advice based solely on what’s been said so far, but it could be — at least it remains an open possibility. The sensible choice is not necessarily the only rational choice. Sometimes it can be rational not to be sensible.

    But now suppose your friend confides in you about his struggle between (a) doing what he knows is right and (b) doing what he really wants to do. He knows that the thing he wants to do is wrong — he knows it, and you agree (what the specific thing is I can’t say without knowing more about your moral views). There’s really no question about the morally right course… it’s just that he really wants the wrong thing, and it would make him happier than the right thing.

    I’m not saying you can’t sympathize with your friend’s inner conflict. I’m not saying he’ll make the right choice, or that you or I would in his place. But can we at least agree that in any such situation the right remains obligatory, regardless how we feel about it? Or can it be rational and reasonable sometimes to do the wrong that makes you happy, just as any other impulse or motivation may rationally be sometimes indulged and sometimes denied?

    If we say the latter, then I deny that morality rightly so called is at work in our thinking. Moral principles may or may not be “absolute,” in the sense that there can be situational exceptions to many moral norms. But where we recognize that a moral norm does apply, where we recognize that a particular course is wrong, then it is wrong, and the only rational, reasonable course is not to do it. If we act against self-preservation or hero-instinct, that may or may not be rational as circumstances dictate, but if we act against our own conscience, against our own judgment of moral right and wrong, then we are acting irrationally and unreasonably, always. The voice of conscience may be shouted down, but it cannot be overruled: Where all our other impulses and motivations speak to us with power, the voice of conscience, rightly heard, speaks with authority.

    And this is where it seems to me materialism fails to support a morality worth the name. On any such view, I can’t see that the seeming “authority” of conscience can be anything more than a subjective perception of a collection of impulses and responses, like any others in us, shaped by millennia of evolution. This doesn’t mean conscience isn’t still be valid and helpful, as far as it goes. But it no longer goes as far as has traditionally been thought. Rather, the voice of conscience, like every other voice and impulse in us, is simply a factor impelling us toward general well-being, but without veto power over other impulses. It’s up to us to decide on any particular occasion which impulses to heed; conscience is just one more impulse to be sometimes heeded and sometimes not. On those occasions where I must frustrate sometimes my desires and sometimes my conscience, I cannot see any rational basis, rooted in materialism, for always privileging conscience.

    And that, I have to think, makes a practical difference. As noted above, I am far from saying that belief in objective morality is either necessary or sufficient to elicit moral behavior. But when you are faced with a choice between what you want to do and what you believe is right, if you believe your own judgment of right and wrong is simply a subjective interpretation of various evolutionary cues shaped generally by circumstances inclining you toward well-being, but otherwise no different from any other impulse that can be resisted or denied when circumstances call for it, then I have to think that will impact your thinking about the issue.

    Finally, as Damian noted, I realize that I still have my work in explaining what it is I think changes when a god or God is added to the mix.

  343. SEF says

    What a lot of drivel you do write, SDG.

    On those occasions where I must frustrate sometimes my desires and sometimes my conscience, I cannot see any rational basis, rooted in materialism, for always privileging conscience.

    But that doesn’t mean you don’t have a naturalistic morality, ie are amoral, it just means that you choose to be immoral on those occasions. There’s also clearly no “authority” stopping you or any other immoral person from acting immorally – and, worse, the bogus authority of religion even typically allows people to pretend that immoral acts are moral(!), hence the gory history of religon and criminal religious people.

  344. SEF says

    Just to re-emphasise this in regard to another part of your drivel:

    The voice of conscience may be shouted down, but it cannot be overruled

    What you have written is patently untrue. Environmental factors (nurture) adjust the natural tendency to have some sort of morality into a specific local (time and place) morality. That’s an overruling right there. Then there’s the evil twisting that religions do to people – causing them to practise really really believing all sorts of stupid and impossible things so that they are then well-primed to believe that evil acts are good ones, eg in defence of a cracker, or that good or neutral acts are evil, eg homosexuality.

  345. says

    SEF, past experience has convinced me that your will to give anything and everything I say the most perverse misreading possible will always trump my best efforts to explain it. To you, everything I say will always be not just wrong but stupid and evil and dishonest, and nothing I say will ever make any difference. There can be no good faith dialogue between us because neither of us acknowledges the other’s good faith.

    FWIW, neither of your above posts interacts with what I was really saying. If anyone other than SEF is confused on either point, I will be happy to clarify.

  346. SEF says

    That’s because most of what you were really saying was just woffling on and on. There were only a few points of note amongst your ramblings, and those were ones where you were significantly wrong – ie the nature of the wrongness mattered and was revealing as to the wrongness with religion in general.

  347. says

    No. I mean you didn’t even get right the actual sentences you quoted and tried to respond to. Not even close.

  348. SEF says

    I had to pick small bits because youe nonsensical drivel just went on and on. So of course the snippets aren’t entirely representative of the points you were missing. They can’t be. You were apparently incapable of being succinct or getting to the point and kept skirting around and missing the important bits. Perhaps I should borrow a phrase and say that the difficulty is that you weren’t even wrong. You were so way off making sense and saying anything worthwhile.

    Eg:

    if we act against our own conscience, against our own judgment of moral right and wrong, then we are acting irrationally and unreasonably, always.

    Another bit of nonsense and equivocation. Doing the wrong thing can actually be very rational and reasoned. (Having false premises can also help that to be the case – hence my pointing that out.)

  349. SEF says

    You were supposed to be defining what you meant by materialism. However, after a brief but slimey intro, you woffled mightily and drifted into useless poetical metaphor before sneaking back round and pretending materialism was naturalism. Something you did by the equivocation of including a quote with which you pretended to agree while actually introducing unnecessary additions and contradictions in the following couple of paragraphs. That’s not honest. It’s where you had already “jumped the shark” in terms of being able to address the original issue with intellectual honesty.

  350. truth machine, OM says

    However, on a materialist accounting it seems to me we have to give up the idea that morality has obliging force

    Sure, but on a non-materialist accounting we have to give up that idea too. In fact, on any accounting we have to give it up, because it’s simply mistaken, a category error.

    — even our own moral judgments regarding our own actions. That we regard something as “wrong” or “bad” may rationally be a reason not to do it, especially in connection with practical consequences or other disincentives we can point to, but doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong may not be the only rational or reasonable course. Sometimes it may be rational and reasonable to do what we believe is wrong.

    None of that is in any way dependent on “a materialist accounting”.

    And that, I say, is not morality.

    Bully for you. But your desire for morality to have a force it does not and cannot have, to be a different sort of thing than it is, changes nothing, and certainly has no bearing on the metaphysical type of world we live in. The latter point should be evident to any intellectually honest thinker, and should alert one to seek out an error in one’s conceptual framework.

  351. truth machine, OM says

    if we act against our own conscience, against our own judgment of moral right and wrong, then we are acting irrationally and unreasonably, always.

    But you wrote “Sometimes it may be rational and reasonable to do what we believe is wrong.” Oh, but that was “on a materialist accounting”. Sorry, you can’t have it both ways — either it’s always unreasonable or it’s not. Claiming that it’s always unreasonable, while at the same time arguing that “on a materialist accounting” it wouldn’t be unreasonable, in order to denigrate materialism, is the most blatant sort of intellectually dishonest special pleading, and is enough to dismiss you from the company of the honestly deliberative.

  352. truth machine, OM says

    SEF, past experience has convinced me that your will to give anything and everything I say the most perverse misreading possible will always trump my best efforts to explain it.

    Present experience convinces me that your hyperbolic whine is blatantly hypocritical dishonesty.

    To you, everything I say will always be not just wrong but stupid and evil and dishonest, and nothing I say will ever make any difference.

    Such absolute claims undercut your moral standing.

    There can be no good faith dialogue between us because neither of us acknowledges the other’s good faith.

    What good faith? Those words display none. I don’t need to defend SEF, who is surely guilty of some bad faith, as are we all, to note how your words here are laced with self-serving bad faith and lack of charity. And if you are really so convinced that nothing that you say to SEF will make any difference, why are you saying anything to him? Acting like such a petulant child is, in my experience, a good sign that the criticism is warranted.

  353. truth machine, OM says

    if you believe your own judgment of right and wrong is simply a subjective interpretation of various evolutionary cues shaped generally by circumstances inclining you toward well-being, but otherwise no different from any other impulse that can be resisted or denied when circumstances call for it, then I have to think that will impact your thinking about the issue.

    So what? If you believe that God will torment you forever if you don’t do the things that some book written by ancient goatherders tells you to do, that will impact your thinking as well, but that doesn’t mean that God will torment you forever or that you should do those things or that it’s good to believe that sort of thing. In other words, yes, believing what is true — as described in your words above — will impact your thinking in ways different from believing what is false — e.g., your beliefs about God and morality. But just because you (perversely) prefer the effects on one’s thinking that come from holding your particular false beliefs is not an argument against believing what is true, and will not convince your betters to change their minds.

  354. truth machine, OM says

    BTW, Damian, it’s nice to be credited by somebody around here with at least some intellectual honesty. Thanks.

    One or two drops in a sea.

  355. truth machine, OM says

    Going back to SDG’s first post:

    However, there is no way we can believe what we do about the Eucharist and not regard something like this as a hurtful, hateful offense, not only against those whose disproportionate actions may have helped incite PZ’s wrath, but against all of us who hold the belief.

    Yes, actually, you can, if you have more than a few drops of intellectual honesty, charity, and empathy.

  356. truth machine, OM says

    What I said is that PZ’s actions are “just plain incivil, and should be generally recognized by civil people as socially unacceptable.” Is that any clearer?

    That verges on a No True Scotsman fallacy. While there may be things that all civil people agree on as being required for civility, one cannot simply declare that all civil people should recognize as socially unacceptable something that not all civil people agree is socially unacceptable — not if one is intellectually honest, not if one is not an ass who insists on imposing his own standards on everyone else simply because they’re his own standards. Which goes to the heart of your — and all religious — notions of morality. They are the notions of authoritative asses who wish that their own moral judgments were woven into the fabric of reality and were somehow “obligatory”.

  357. Sastra says

    SDG #858 wrote:

    As noted above, I am far from saying that belief in objective morality is either necessary or sufficient to elicit moral behavior. But when you are faced with a choice between what you want to do and what you believe is right, if you believe your own judgment of right and wrong is simply a subjective interpretation of various evolutionary cues shaped generally by circumstances inclining you toward well-being, but otherwise no different from any other impulse that can be resisted or denied when circumstances call for it, then I have to think that will impact your thinking about the issue.

    Sorry, I’m coming in late to a very old thread, and may have missed something or be oversimplifying, but I have a question. Is the above part of a larger argument that our sense of morality — our conscience — is best explained by the existence of God? Or are you trying to say that it is easier to follow our conscience if we believe that our conscience is the internal voice of God?

    I’ve noted that a fair amount of apologetics seem to be less about whether or not God exists, but whether or not belief is pragmatically useful.

  358. truth machine, OM says

    However, even if you disbelieve in the Real Presence, it is a category mistake to say “Catholics worship a piece of bread.” They do not. They direct their worship to God whom they believe to be present under the appearances of bread. On the hypothesis that He is not present, their worship would then be directed to an unreal, imagined object, but it is still not directed at bread. Bread is finite. We cannot worship what is finite.

    You don’t understand the concept of a category mistake and actually invert it. The consecration and consumption of a wafer are actions performed on a piece of bread, not on “an unreal imagined object”. And the notion that one cannot worship what is finite is a transparent falsehood.

    Dr. Johnson (a Protestant) understood this quite well: “Sir, there is no idolatry in the Mass. [Catholics] believe [God] to be there, and they adore him.”

    If that isn’t idolatry then nothing is.

    The whole realm of religious thinking is a cesspool of intellectual dishonesty.

  359. truth machine, OM says

    Is the above part of a larger argument that our sense of morality — our conscience — is best explained by the existence of God? Or are you trying to say that it is easier to follow our conscience if we believe that our conscience is the internal voice of God?

    SDG doesn’t seem able to tell the difference. S/he is making an argument against materialism, in the sense that “meaningful morality” isn’t “possible under materialism”, but employs results-based arguments like the one quoted.

  360. truth machine, OM says

    To clarify that confusion: while SDG claims that meaningful morality isn’t possible under materialism, what s/he actually argues is that meaningful morality isn’t possible by materialists. Of course, these are wildly different claims, but they are commonly conflated by those who argue for an absolute morality, and they do so because they (and not just they) are deeply confused about the nature of morality. But the end result is that they argue that there can be no morality without believing in God, and treat that as if were the same as if there can be no morality without God. Of course, both are false.

  361. truth machine, OM says

    PZ: Lots of things that many not be illegal are still despicable. I’m not myself accusing you of a crime. I’m accusing you of vile contempt for your fellow man.

    Which is vile on your part.

    And it’s a shame, because I’ve learned a thing or two from your science blogging, and I don’t regard you as personally beneath contempt or unworthy of serious consideration, as not a few of your readers seem to regard anyone like me.

    Oh boo hoo hoo. Gross intellectual dishonesty, and believing absurd things just because some council decreed them centuries ago tends to breed that sort of feeling.

  362. truth machine, OM says

    Gross intellectual dishonesty

    I wrote that before reading the exchange about the death of Adam. I take back the “intellectual” part; SDG is just a flat-out liar, a grossly dishonest person and a waste of neurons.

  363. says

    Sorry, I’m coming in late to a very old thread, and may have missed something or be oversimplifying, but I have a question. Is the above part of a larger argument that our sense of morality — our conscience — is best explained by the existence of God? Or are you trying to say that it is easier to follow our conscience if we believe that our conscience is the internal voice of God?

    I’ve noted that a fair amount of apologetics seem to be less about whether or not God exists, but whether or not belief is pragmatically useful.

    Thanks for the question, Sastra.

    The long post as a whole is part of a larger argument is that the authority of conscience — not just the inclination or impulse to conform to a particular idea of right or wrong, but the binding sense that choosing what we believe is wrong is not just resisting of one impulse among many, but is in some intractable way something we ought not to do — is either an illusion and a mistake, as truth machine seems to say, or it is a real insight into reality, as I believe. And while I don’t go so far as to claim that the authority of conscience requires God, I do think it requires some concept of good and evil, right and wrong, that transcends the emergent world of the human mind.

    You’re right that the closing paragraph you quoted simply makes a practical point that what we believe about morality does impact our aspiration to be moral people. I don’t think this quite reduces to “Belief is pragmatically useful.” I don’t think morality reduces to pragmatism. Our aspiration to be moral people (if we have it) is itself an important piece in the worldview puzzle. If the piece doesn’t seem to fit in the picture we imagine, perhaps the picture is meant to look different.

  364. Sastra says

    SDG #879 wrote:

    The long post as a whole is part of a larger argument is that the authority of conscience — not just the inclination or impulse to conform to a particular idea of right or wrong, but the binding sense that choosing what we believe is wrong is not just resisting of one impulse among many, but is in some intractable way something we ought not to do — is either an illusion and a mistake, as truth machine seems to say, or it is a real insight into reality, as I believe.

    This sounds like a false dichotomy to me. Our sense that something is really and truly wrong for everyone could be a very real insight into the reality of human minds and relationships — and meaningless outside of that.

    To do what you want to do, I don’t think you really need a good and evil which “transcends the emergent world of the human mind.” What you seem to be looking for is a good and evil which transcends any individual viewpoint, and would look the same to all observers. You’re looking for an intersubjective consensus on morals — not something non-human. Evolution would then seem to be sufficient.

    That doesn’t rule out God as a source, of course. But it makes it unnecessary.

    To restate a point which I think I may have made earlier — somewhere way back in the dark mists of this seemingly interminable thread — the ability to come together in agreement on the Good comes before the ability to come together in agreement that God is Good. If we cannot do the first, we cannot do the second.

  365. truth machine, OM says

    Damian’s point about even non-Christian Jesusologists (if that word doesn’t exist, I hereby invent it) having an interest in their subject of study being real is a valid one, although AFAIK there’s no reason to suppose they (or non-fundamentalist Christian Jesusologists) would consciously distort the evidence.

    Nick, consider what I wrote:

    One of the points [Richard Carrier] has made about “the vast majority of biblical scholars and historians, at this moment in time, at least, accept that Jesus was a historical figure” is that he was one of them, but in reading Doherty was forced to examine the source of that judgment, and concluded that it was largely consensus gentium.

    That doesn’t have anything to do with consciously distorting the evidence, it’s about believing “the common wisdom”, which often consists largely of others propagating beliefs from the same source. A couple of other such inherited beliefs without good evidentiary basis that come to mind are that Jefferson didn’t bed Hemmings and the dinosaurs weren’t wiped out by a sudden cataclysm. As with Jesus, these beliefs were reinforced by ideological commitments.

  366. truth machine, OM says

    the binding sense that choosing what we believe is wrong is not just resisting of one impulse among many, but is in some intractable way something we ought not to do — is either an illusion and a mistake, as truth machine seems to say, or it is a real insight into reality, as I believe.

    Sigh. The judgment that something is wrong makes it “in some intractable way something we ought not to do” — that’s the nature of moral judgments, that’s what it means to be a moral judgment. Of course it’s a real insight into “reality” — the reality of human psychology. The notion that it’s an insight into the fabric of reality is bizarre and confused beyond measure.

    And while I don’t go so far as to claim that the authority of conscience requires God, I do think it requires some concept of good and evil, right and wrong, that transcends the emergent world of the human mind.

    But the two have nothing to do with each other. Again, saying that morality requires some particular sort of concept has no bearing on the correctness of the concept — requiring a belief in something “that transcends” is not like requiring that there is something “that transcends”. But in either case, this thing you “think” is absurd and confused and contrary to everything that informed people know about morality and human psychology.

    the ability to come together in agreement on the Good comes before the ability to come together in agreement that God is Good. If we cannot do the first, we cannot do the second.

    Meno, anyone?

  367. truth machine, OM says

    That doesn’t rule out God as a source, of course. But it makes it unnecessary.

    More than that, it’s a category error to treat “God” as a source of morality in any sense beyond the way any author can be a source of moral ideas. No two societies, no two human beings, agree in all particulars as to what one ought and ought not do. Individual moral judgments come out of human psychological dynamics, fed by physical (inherited and congenital) and environmental factors, which includes the dynamics of the societies in which those individuals are embedded.

  368. says

    Sastra,

    Our sense that something is really and truly wrong for everyone could be a very real insight into the reality of human minds and relationships — and meaningless outside of that.

    If it is meaningless outside that, then our judgments of rightness and wrongness are worth heeding insofar as (a) going against our obligation-feelings may be distressing to us, (b) going against the expectations of others may cause conflict, and (c) other consequences of the proposed action may outweigh the incentives.

    My point is that these criteria cannot get us to the conclusion that it is always unreasonable to go against our judgments of rightness and wrongness.

    To do what you want to do, I don’t think you really need a good and evil which “transcends the emergent world of the human mind.” What you seem to be looking for is a good and evil which transcends any individual viewpoint, and would look the same to all observers. You’re looking for an intersubjective consensus on morals — not something non-human. Evolution would then seem to be sufficient.

    I don’t think this is what I’m trying to do. I never thought it was possible to achieve a standard of good or evil that would look the same to everyone. I’m trying to articulate a reason why it is always unreasonable to go against one’s own judgments of right and wrong.

    the ability to come together in agreement on the Good comes before the ability to come together in agreement that God is Good. If we cannot do the first, we cannot do the second.

    Whatever there may or may not be to this dictum, I’m not trying to settle either question for everyone — just contemplating the individual’s pursuit of the answers for himself.

  369. says

    Among truth machine’s withering assessment of my posts, I find one thought worth responding to:

    The judgment that something is wrong makes it “in some intractable way something we ought not to do” — that’s the nature of moral judgments, that’s what it means to be a moral judgment.

    Yeah, that may not have been the most helpful phrasing. In trying to evoke the principle of the consistent trustworthiness and authority and obliging force of moral judgments, I have usually been using the terms “rational” and “reasonable.” In writing “in some intractable way something we ought not to do” I probably tripped over my own feet. Thanks.

  370. Paul W. says

    truth machine,

    Meno, anyone?

    Euthyphro first, I think. I’m not sure where Meno would get us.

  371. Sastra says

    SDG #884 wrote:

    If (right and wrong)t is meaningless outside (the reality of human minds and relationships), then our judgments of rightness and wrongness are worth heeding insofar as (a) going against our obligation-feelings may be distressing to us, (b) going against the expectations of others may cause conflict, and (c) other consequences of the proposed action may outweigh the incentives. My point is that these criteria cannot get us to the conclusion that it is always unreasonable to go against our judgments of rightness and wrongness.

    I don’t know, maybe I misunderstand you here. I guess I see no problem with doing something I would normally think is wrong if, in a particular situation, it 1.) didn’t damage my self-image as a moral person 2.) caused no real conflicts with others and 3.) did more good than harm. In that situation, I would reanalyze the matter and not consider it wrong — or as wrong. It would be irrational not to do that, and act as if #1,2, and 3 are unchanged from usual.

    Hard and fast rules are difficult to apply in a fuzzy world of ambiguities and conflicting values. In fact, they probably shouldn’t be that hard and fast, for that very reason. Some cases are easy, but there are always going to be gray areas, and ethical situations where there may be no one, single right answer — even with good will, good intentions, and understanding all the facts of the matter correctly.

    Having a God — a theoretical “Perfect” source of Morality — would not change that. A “Perfect” being would rationally have to recognize that there are moral gray areas with no single right answer. I suppose we could let God flip the coin, if that’s what it comes down to.

  372. truth machine, OM says

    My point is that these criteria cannot get us to the conclusion that it is always unreasonable to go against our judgments of rightness and wrongness.

    If they can’t, then neither can abandoning materialism since, as I noted, none of your arguments against morality are dependent on materialism. Once again, either it is always unreasonable or it’s not, and you’ve stated that it’s not, “under materialism”, but materialism had nothing to do with your reasoning.

    The fact is that you equivocate over these terms. There are senses of “reasonable” and “wrong” for which it’s always unreasonable to do what’s wrong and there are senses for which it isn’t, but you bait and switch always with your godbotting apologetics in mind. It’s worth remembering how this discussion about morality got started:

    Nick,

    I’ve come across this idea before, but it really is a desperate recourse, seized on by those who like to pretend that Christianity is compatible with reason.

    Now what kind of way is that to talk? Perhaps next we can talk about the desperate recourses of those who like to pretend that materialism is compatible with morality.

    Paul W.: Euthyphro first, I think.

    Right you are; thanks.

  373. truth machine, OM says

    Yeah, that may not have been the most helpful phrasing. In trying to evoke the principle of the consistent trustworthiness and authority and obliging force of moral judgments, I have usually been using the terms “rational” and “reasonable.” In writing “in some intractable way something we ought not to do” I probably tripped over my own feet. Thanks.

    But it’s all the same thing. Moral judgments are only trustworthy or authoritative or have obliging force to the degree that we find them psychologically compelling (putting aside the sort of force they have from external enforcement or threat, physical and psychological).

  374. truth machine, OM says

    Among truth machine’s withering assessment of my posts, I find one thought worth responding to

    I guess you’re saving your responses to the others for the confessional.

  375. Paul W. says

    SDG,

    First, I think you need to understand the Euthyphro Dilemma. (What Sastra was saying about being unable to say God is good without having a standard of goodness beyond “what God wants.”) It’s very basic and very important. (Ethics 101 stuff, first week of class.)

    If what makes something “good” is just God’s preference, there’s a big problem. What if it turned out God was in fact an evil demon, who liked excessive suffering to no purpose other than getting his sick jollies? Would that still make what God wants good? No. Not unless the only virtue is obedience to God, no matter how evil he is.

    What makes something good or bad or right or wrong has to be something beyond an external authority.

    (Plato nailed that one in ancient Athens, and pretty much every philosopher since has had to agree with him. You are literally thousands of years behind the curve here.)

    Second, you need to ditch “psychological hedonism”—the idea that we only do right or do good as an indirect way of making ourselves happy. That’s an assumption many people make, but it’s not a necessary assumption and I think it’s empirically false. People have truly mixed motives, including both selfish ones and altruistic/moral ones.

    That’s important in understanding how something can be morally binding if not psychologically motivating. It’s a basic fact about the human condition that we have mixed feelings and want some kinds of things in some kinds of ways and other kinds of things in other kinds of ways. There’s not just one kind of wanting and a simple calculus to compute the optimal choice.

    (If there’s anything right about the notion of “free will,” and I think there is, that’s part of it. Sometimes we have to choose between things that are incommensurable—not measurable on the same scale—and they leave us with unresolved conflicts. It may all be deterministic in terms of subatomic physics—or in terms of souls, if you like—but at the psychological level, it’s a painful competition between competing impulses, often with no stable winner.)

    Third, you need to be much more careful and clear with words like “rational” and “reasonable.” You seem to conflate them with being moral, desperately trying for a morality that rationally compels you to act or refrain from action, all by itself, independent of your motives.

    That is just not going to work. What it’s rational to do or not do necessarily depends on your goals, which depend on your values.

    If you are a sociopath, you may be entirely selfish and entirely non-altruistic. You may know what’s right and what’s wrong, as well as how to achieve good and bad things, and just not care about the distinction. If you are truly a complete sociopath, nothing in the world can rationally convince you to care about others. You’re just not built that way. No amount of rational argument can change the fact that you simply don’t mind hurting others to please yourself.

    Theology might affect your behavior, if you truly believe it’s in your own best interest to avoid going to Hell or something. But if you’re a rational sociopath, you also know that won’t get you into Heaven anyway—acting morally for amoral reasons doesn’t make you moral.

    (Many sociopaths do think they’re going to Hell for what they do. It doesn’t affect their behavior much, because they know they’re sociopaths, and think they’re going to Hell anyway—not really for what they do, but for what they are. If you are fundamentally not a moral person, you can’t expect to fake it and fool God.)

    Fourth, you need to realize that none of this depends much on materialism. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a sociopath because your brain is wired wrong or because you have a bad soul.

    A normal person is not a sociopath, and has mixed basic motives. You can talk about that in terms of souls with a God-given moral sense and a (similarly God-given) propensity to sin, if you want, but that’s never really explained anything or clarified anything. Or you can get real and realize that we’re evolved animals with both a moral sense and a big dose of selfishness that both come from evolution. That does make sense, and explains a whole lot.

    Fifth, … ah, no, this comment is too long already, and it’s midnight here. Enough for now.

    But if you’re as serious about this as your posts suggest, you really ought to do some homework. When you talk about conflicts materialism and morality, you obviously don’t have a basic understanding of the materialistic point of view about morality.

    I suggest that you read Unto Others by Sober and Wilson, about the evolution of selfishness and altruism. (Some of the stuff about group selection is controversial, but there’s a lot of stuff there that isn’t, which you seem to be unaware of.) Marc Hauser’s Moral Minds is also very good.

    (Sober and Wilson are particularly good about showing how selfishness and altruism at one level don’t map onto selfishness or altruism at another level in a simple way, and debunking naive psychological hedonism. Hauser is particularly good at talking about competing models of how moral judgments are made in real time, and to some extent about how moral frameworks are revised.)

    If you don’t know any cognitive psychology—and from the way you talk, I suspect you don’t—it might be a good idea to start with How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker. It’s a great book, and a good read. I think it would give you a better picture of what we do know about minds and emotions, and why we don’t need to resort to non-materialist explanations of things like morality.

  376. truth machine, OM says

    Nice, Paul.

    If you are a sociopath, you may be entirely selfish and entirely non-altruistic. You may know what’s right and what’s wrong, as well as how to achieve good and bad things, and just not care about the distinction.

    Speaking of distinctions, I think it’s important to make one here, especially in the context of SDG’s moral absolutism and my rejection of same:

    The sociopath may, and usually does, know what is considered right and wrong by others in society, while lacking the sort of psychological pressure that non-sociopaths have via their internal judgments. A sociopath might not understand the Euthyphro Dilemma because, to him, all morality is a matter of external rules and none of those rules seem inherently more appropriate than others. The sociopath will follow society’s rules when that’s self-beneficial because of disapproval or punishment, but wouldn’t hesitate to break those rules if there were no risk of getting caught.

    I think that religion that externalizes moral authority, especially in the form of fear of a bogeyman, tends to breed sociopathy. The question that we see so often, how can you be moral without God, is in some serious sense sociopathic; people who have a strong internal moral compass know the answer.

  377. SEF says

    @ SDG #884

    My point is that these criteria cannot get us to the conclusion that it is always unreasonable to go against our judgments of rightness and wrongness.

    That’s because there’s no ought about it. You just want there to be one because you won’t accept the reality of the situation. For a start, sometimes people have incorrect feelings of wrongness (eg brought on by religion) and it’s entirely correct that reason and reality can’t be made to support their views. Strict naturalism does a lot better than allegedly revealed goddiness in that respect. Goddiness leads people to be much more wrong than they would otherwise be if they took an honest look at the evidence of reality (typically believers have ditched reason altogether to laud faith).

    I’m trying to articulate a reason why it is always unreasonable to go against one’s own judgments of right and wrong.

    And you can’t because you’re wrong. Your feeling of right and wrong here is seriously flawed and distorted. And your inability to justify what you want should be a clue to you that you’re wrong. Yet that doesn’t mean you’ll get it – much as you’ve rendered yourself quite incapable of noticing and admitting that your god would count as immoral and unreasonable. Since you’ve had huge amounts of practice in dishonestly believing wrong-headed religious nuttery, you’re probably going to continue to try and twist reality into supporting your fantasy. Your morality (whatever little of it exists) is failing to tell you that you shouldn’t because you do have a more pressing and selfish want which is over-riding it.

  378. Nick Gotts says

    truth machine@881,
    Yes, my comment about not having any reason to think most believers in Jesus’s historical reality were deliberately distorting the evidence was an aside. However, as I think you imply, there’s more than one reason that they might think the evidence stronger than it is: unconscious distortion because of their (ideological or material) interests, and simply following the consensus.

  379. Nick Gotts says

    SDG,
    I think you have not actually said what you mean by “materialism”; and I think your concept of “objective morality” is incoherent. The reason I say this has been at least partly articulated by others, but I’ll add my own formulation.

    What you want is justification for saying it is never rational or reasonable to do what our moral judgement tells us is wrong. I’m not sure quite what distinction (if any) you are drawing between “rational” and “reasonable”; I’ll concentrate on “rational”, with a brief remark on “reasonable”.

    An action is “rational” if it is fitted to achieve the goal(s) for which it is performed, given current information. It cannot be judged either rational or irrational in the absence of a specification of those goals. If my goal is always to do what my moral judgement tells me is right, then it is irrational to do something my moral judgement tells me is wrong. (It is always of course always immoral to do something my moral judgement tells me is wrong – that is, I always ought not to do it – because that’s just how the meanings of these words relate to each other.) Of course, goals can conflict, but if I always give highest priority to doing what is right, it is always irrational to do something my moral judgement tells me is wrong. If I don’t always give this the highest priority, then it can be rational. This is completely independent of whether naturalism (I’ll use this in place of materialism since there remains uncertainty on what you mean by that) is true.

    Now we can go a step further, and say “But I ought always to give the highest priority to doing what is right,” – but this is a moral “ought”, not a rational one, and there is no way naturalism being false could change this. It’s probable that always giving highest priority to doing what our moral judgement tells us is right is only possible if that moral judgement is a relatively permissive one. If my moral judgement tells me I ought always to be completely altruistic, giving no weight to my own interests or preferences, then I can be certain I will often do what my moral judgement tells me is wrong. If my moral judgement tells me that only gross injuries to others, such as unprovoked violence, are wrong, I may well succeed. In practice, my own moral judgement tells me something between these two – and I do sometimes fail to follow it.

    A brief note on “reasonable”. If this means something different from “rational”, it is surely something like “proportionate”. So, say a small scrap of paper falls from my pocket while I’m on a country walk, and blows away. Littering is in my moral judgement wrong, so if I fail to chase after it I’m failing to do what my moral judgement tells me is right, but if the piece of paper is small enough, and the chase difficult enough, I’ll abandon it. All of us, in practice, do similar things, and I would say it would in fact be unreasonable not to. Now if you say otherwise, and can show that if one assumes some proposition or other that conflicts with naturalism, this makes such actions unreasonable – then so much the worse for that proposition (in pragmatic terms, of course it might still be true).

    In any case, all this seems a far cry from your original claim (on which I questioned whether you were serious and you affirmed that you were), that materialism is incompatible with morality – which one would naturally understand as meaning that materialists must be amoral.

    One more minor point: in stating what I meant by naturalism, I said something like “and if there is a god, it set the laws of physics and initial conditions and is now just watching the show”. You thought it interesting I should concede this possibility. Why? Unless one claims that the notion of a creator is logically incoherent, of course this is a possibility. There is simply, as far as I can see, no reason whatever to believe it – but this could change. Certain kinds of god, on the other hand (like an omnipotent and omnibenevolent one) clearly don’t exist, given what we can observe of the nature of the world.

  380. Sastra says

    This has been an interesting discussion. Thanks to all.

    I keep wondering what SDG thinks God would ever add to any of the moral dilemmas. If God’s particular perfect choice makes sense, then there is a particular perfect choice that makes sense. If the perfect choice doesn’t make sense — or couldn’t be arrived at — then where is the moral imperative to obey God anyway?

    The question of whether it is always unreasonable to go against one’s own judgment of right and wrong simply turns into the question of whether or not it’s always unreasonable to go against doing what God wants. As a thought experiment, you can’t just take that as a given.

    Sidestep for a moment the huge and I think unsolvable problem of knowing for sure what God wants, and assume one can do that. So? Why obey God? Why care about God? Why think God is right? Where is the compelling motivation to follow God no matter what coming from, and how can it be rationally justified?

    These appear to be the same questions — or at least the same sorts of questions — which SDG is asking — only now they have a handy “narrative story”-type answer which sidesteps serious analysis. Premise: God is morally perfect, and God always knows the right thing, and God is what will make you happiest, and God made you so that you know all that, and God is the only way everything turns out just the way it should be. Justifying following God’s moral decisions is now easy. But there’s still the problem of justifying all those elements of the premise, without cheating and assuming them. Stories are useful to us, because they absorb real dilemmas, and keep everything tidy and safe.

    Much more tidy and safe than in real life, where we can’t know that we’re a character in a storybook.

    Just as claiming “God did it” is no real explanation in science, explaining “God wants it” is no real explanation in ethics. HOW did God do it? WHY does God want it? That’s where the real work is done — and it still has to be done even if God’s existence is granted.

  381. Damian with an a says

    SDG:

    Thanks for the reply. In all honesty, I’m not entirely sure that the conversation has moved forward. I stated quite clearly that, in my experience, most atheists are not strictly materialists, so even if you had shown — and I’m afraid to say that you haven’t even come close — that objective morality is impossible while holding to a materialist philosophy [which one, by the way — Metaphysical materialism, Reductionist materialism, Nonreductive materialism?], it would be as meaningful to me as showing that it is impossible to ground morality and ethics within an Islamic theology.

    You have suggested that “materialism” entails that, “our notions of good and evil, right and wrong, are applicable strictly within the context of an emergent phenomenon known as mind, and outside of that they have no meaning whatsoever”, which, in your opinion, implies that, “moral obligations are strictly unreal and illusory, and in any worldview that predicates such a universe, no meaningful system or theory of morality can consistently be maintained.” Without defining your terms, this definition really is, as others have pointed out, incoherent. Who decides whether a system of ethics is meaningful? I would suggest that the most meaningful sense in which a theory of morality should be measured is in its practical application [i.e. whether or not people are persuaded by it and act accordingly]. Of course, it also needs to be both coherent and non-contradictory, as well.

    But that definition pretty much applies to anyone who doesn’t believe in god — as well as, I suspect, a large number of people that do. Unless you believe that moral principles are somehow an intrinsic property of the universe — how on earth you would go about showing that, I have no idea — morality is something that is only relevant to humans, and in the sense that we are able to consciously reflect upon such things. And another problem with your definition is that it excludes all of the people who do believe that there are objective moral facts, but that they are necessarily only meaningful to humans. If you were correct in your assertion, the implication would be that, if god did/does not exist [as well as/or intrinsic moral principles], there could necessarily be no good reason not to butcher babies, which is absurd. Is the preservation of our species not a good reason, in your opinion, because if there could be “no meaningful system or theory of morality”, given that, “outside of that [our own minds] they [right and wrong] have no meaning whatsoever”, our species would likely be extinct within months [if god did/does not exist]? I submit that you do not believe in this awful and hopeless vision of humanity.

    And, of course, your theory has literally no basis in reality, either. We can be almost certain that we are the only truly sentient beings on this planet, and that therefore, if we did happen to go extinct, morality as we understand it would be lost, but there are others animals that exhibit signs of altruistic behavior, and not just those that we would consider as having some degree of intelligence [although many animals, due to other behavior patterns, are considered to be automatons]. Also, how would you explain the fact that the complexity of [moral] behavior seemingly correlates with the brain size in proportion to the body size [the neocortex seems to be very important, here]? How on earth would you begin to explain this given your thesis? Is the Bonobo’s altruistic behavior meaningless, and in what sense?

    And in yet another cataclysmic collision with reality, how do you explain the moral behavior of people who do not accept your vision, and especially those who have managed to organize their societies around what seem to be common moral impulses, but have never encountered your own idea of god, if they have encountered a god, at all? This can also be applied to young children who exhibit clear signs of fairness, decency, and altruism. We must surely agree that for morality to have any meaning whatsoever, it is the practical application that is most important. And yet, the thesis that you have outlined cannot explain so much altruistic behavior in the natural world, and you have even gone as far as claiming that, whatever its epistemic justification, it is essentially meaningless!

    From now on I am only going to refer to non-theistic morality, as that is the corner that you have essentially backed yourself in to. Without explaining what a non-theistic morality is to be compared to, it is entirely possible that it is the best that we can hope for. Indeed, given that you haven’t refuted any of the problems that I have outlined concerning attempts to ground morality on a theistic basis, a non-theistic morality — whatever the perceived difficulties — is clearly more preferable, at this point. As I’ve already said, there are numerous robust and fully worked out accounts of secular objective morality, and it would therefore be necessary to either show that a secular objective morality is logically impossible, or to refute all known accounts, which clearly hasn’t been achieved.

    You have provided no truly persuasive or coherent arguments, so you have not shown that it is impossible to ground morality, objective or otherwise, on a non-theistic basis. Nor have you dealt with the major objections concerning a theistic morality, so even if there are problems with a non-theistic morality [and why wouldn’t there be?], the moral theory that we should surely adopt is that which is most fully worked out, and most likely to persuade others to behave according to moral principles?

    I realize that this isn’t easy, but we might get somewhere if you could articulate your objections more formally, and with a clearer focus on what it is that you are hoping to show. I’m going to provide some definitions that we can work with, which will hopefully clarify what it is that you are arguing against.

    Moral objectivism or moderate moral realism is the position:

    that certain acts are objectively right or wrong, independent of human opinion. According to Richard Boyd, moral realism means that:

    1. Moral statements are the sorts of statements which are (or which express propositions which are) true or false (or approximately true, largely false, etc.);
    2. The truth or falsity (approximate truth…) of moral statements is largely independent of our moral opinions, theories, etc.;
    3. Ordinary canons of moral reasoning–together with ordinary canons of scientific and everyday factual reasoning–constitute, under many circumstances at least, a reliable method for obtaining and improving (approximate) moral knowledge.

    According to R. W Hepburn, to adopt objectivism is

    to argue that moral judgments can be rationally defensible, true or false, that there are rational procedural tests for identifying morally impermissible actions, or that moral values exist independently of the feeling-states of individuals at particular times.

    Moral realism:

    is the view in philosophy that there are objective moral values. Moral realists argue that moral judgments describe moral facts. This combines a cognitivist view about moral judgments (they are truth-evaluable mental states that describe the state of the world), a view about the existence of moral facts (they do in fact exist), and a view about the nature of moral facts (they are objective; that is, independent of any cognizing of them, or any stance towards them, etc.).

    Materialism:

    The philosophy of materialism holds that the only thing that can be truly proven to exist is matter, and is considered a form of physicalism. Fundamentally, all things are composed of material and all phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material interactions; therefore, matter is the only substance.

    In the hope that we can begin to move this argument forward, I am going to provide two accounts of morality for you to consider. One is a short defense of objective morality, and the other of moral realism. They should give you an idea of what it is that you are arguing against. Both state that it should be possible to apply the epistemological tools from other disciplines to moral theory, and that if we can confidently assert that scientific findings — insofar as it is possible for us to understand them — are objective, then it should be possible to work towards a theory that contains objective moral facts.

    One has to wonder if you have even considered the possible implications of your original decision to dismiss secular objective morality. It could be argued that the rendering of a secular morality as meaningless, when arrived at through a rational “scientific” process, might also render disciplines such a biblical scholarship as meaningless, as well. I haven’t thought this point through, to be honest, but you should be careful about what it is that you are arguing against.

    I will also state at this point that I am neither a materialist or moral objectivist, necessarily. I am defending these positions, in a sense, for the hell of it. If I had to describe my own position, it would be naturalist and moral realist, but both are open to change in the future.

  382. Damian with an a says

    The Case for Objective Morality by Francois Tremblay

    And from, “Facts, Values, and Norms: Essays Toward A Morality Of Consequence”, by Peter Railton [sorry about the length, again!]:

    THE FACT/VALUE DISTINCTION

    Any attempt to argue for a naturalistic moral realism runs headlong into the fact/value distinction. Philosophers have given various accounts of this distinction, and of the arguments for it, but for present purposes I will focus upon several issues concerning the epistemic and ontological status of judgments of value as opposed to judgments of fact.

    Perhaps the most frequently heard argument for the fact/value distinction is epistemic: it is claimed that disputes over questions of value can persist even after all rational or scientific means of adjudication have been deployed; hence, value judgments cannot be cognitive in the sense that factual or logical judgments are. This claim is defended in part by appeal to the instrumental (hypothetical) character of reason, which prevents reason from dictating ultimate values. In principle, the argument runs, two individuals who differ in ultimate values could, without manifesting any rational defect, hold fast to their conflicting values in the face of any amount of argumentation or evidence. As Ayer puts it, “We find that argument is possible on moral questions only if some system of values is presupposed.”2

    One might attempt to block this conclusion by challenging the instrumental conception of rationality. But for all its faults and for all that it needs to be developed, the instrumental conception seems to me the clearest notion we have of what it is for an agent to have reasons to act. Moreover, it captures a central normative feature of reason giving, since we can readily see the commending force for an agent of the claim that a given act would advance his ends. It would be hard to make much sense of someone who sincerely claimed to have certain ends and yet at the same time insisted that they could not provide him even prima facie grounds for action. (Of course, he might also believe that he has other, perhaps countervailing, grounds.)

    Yet this version of the epistemic argument for the fact/value distinction is in difficulty even granting the instrumental conception of rationality. From the standpoint of instrumental reason, belief-formation is but one activity among others: to the extent thatwe have reasons for engaging in it, or for doing it one way rather than another, these are at bottom a matter of its contribution to our ends.3 What it would be rational for an individual to believe on the basis of a given experience will vary not only with respect to his other beliefs, but also with respect to what he desires.4 From this it follows that no amount of mere argumentation or experience could force one on pain of irrationality to accept even the factual claims of empirical science. The long-running debate over inductive logic well illustrates that rational choice among competing hypotheses requires much richer and more controversial criteria of theory choice than can be squeezed from instrumental reason alone. Unfortunately for the contrast Ayer wished to make, we find that argument is possible on scientific questions only if some system of values is presupposed.

    However, Hume had much earlier found a way of marking the distinction between facts and values without appeal to the idea that induction – or even deduction – could require a rational agent to adopt certain beliefs rather than others when this would conflict with his contingent ends.5 For Hume held the thesis that morality is practical, by which he meant that if moral facts existed, they would necessarily provide a reason (although perhaps not an overriding reason) for moral action to all rational beings, regardless of their particular desires. Given this thesis as a premise, the instrumental conception of rationality can clinch the argument after all, for it excludes the possibility of categorical reasons of this kind. By contrast, Hume did not suppose it to be constitutive of logic or science that the facts revealed by these forms of inquiry have categorical force for rational agents, so the existence of logical and scientific facts, unlike the existence of moral facts, is compatible with the instrumental character of reason.

    Yet this way of drawing the fact/value distinction is only as compelling as the claim that morality is essentially practical in Hume’s sense.6 Hume is surely right in claiming there to be an intrinsic connection, no doubt complex, between valuing something and having some sort of positive attitude toward it that provides one with an instrumental reason for action. We simply would disbelieve someone who claimed to value honesty and yet never showed the slightest urge to act honestly when given an easy opportunity. But this is a fact about the connection between the values embraced by an individual and his reasons for action, not a fact showing a connection between moral evaluation and rational motivation.

    Suppose for example that we accept Hume’s characterization of justice as an artificial virtue directed at the general welfare. This is in a recognizable sense an evaluative or normative notion – “a value” in the loose sense in which this term is used in such debates – yet it certainly does not follow from its definition that every rational being, no matter what his desires, who believes that some or other act is just in this sense will have an instrumental reason to perform it. A rational individual may fail
    to value justice for its own sake, and may have ends contrary to it. In Hume’s discussion of our “interested obligation” to be just, he seems to recognize that in the end it may not be possible to show that a “sensible knave” has a reason to be just. Of course, Hume held that the rest of us – whose hearts rebel at Sensible Knave’s attitude that he may break his word, cheat, or steal whenever it suits his purposes – have reason to be just, to deem Knave’s attitude unjust, and to try to protect ourselves from his predations.7

    Yet Knave himself could say, perhaps because he accepts Hume’s analysis of justice, “Yes, my attitude is unjust.” And by Hume’s own account of the relation of reason and passion, Knave could add “But what is that to me?” without failing to grasp the content of his previous assertion. Knave, let us suppose, has no doubts about the intelligibility or reality of “the general welfare,” and thinks it quite comprehensible that people attach great significance in public life to the associated notion of justice. He also realizes that for the bulk of mankind, whose passions differ from his, being just is a source and a condition of much that is most worthwhile in life. He thus understands that appeals to justice typically have motivating force. Moreover, he himself uses the category of justice in analyzing the social world, and he recognizes – indeed, his knavish calculations take into
    account – the distinction between those individuals and institutions that truly are just, and those that merely appear just or are commonly regarded as just. Knave does view a number of concepts with wide currency – religious ones, for example – as mere fictions that prey on weak minds, but he does not view justice in this way. Weak minds and moralists have, he thinks, surrounded justice with certain myths – that justice is its own reward, that once one sees what is just one will automatically have a reason to do it, and so on. But then, he thinks that weak minds and moralists have likewise surrounded wealth and power with myths – that the wealthy are not truly happy, that the powerful inevitably ride for a fall, and so on – and he does not on this account doubt whether there are such things as wealth and power. Knave is glad to be free of prevailing myths about wealth, power, and justice; glad, too that he is free in his own mind to pay as much or as little attention to any of these attributes as his desires and circumstances warrant. He might, for example, find Mae West’s advice convincing: diamonds are very much worth acquiring, and “goodness ha[s] nothing to do with it.”

    We therefore must distinguish the business of saying what an individual values from the business of saying what it is for him to make measurements against the criteria of a species of evaluation that he recognizes to be genuine.8

    To deny Hume’s thesis of the practicality of moral judgment, and so remove the ground of his contrast between facts and values, is not to deny that morality has an action-guiding character. Morality surely can remain prescriptive within an instrumental framework, and can recommend itself to us in much the same way that, say, epistemology does: various significant and enduring – though perhaps not universal – human ends can be advanced if we apply certain evaluative criteria to our actions. That may be enough to justify to ourselves our abiding concern with the epistemic or moral status of what we do.9

    By arguing that reason does not compel us to adopt particular beliefs or practices apart from our contingent, and variable, ends, I may seem to have failed to negotiate my way past epistemic relativism, and thus to have wrecked the argument for moral realism before it has even left port. Rationality does go relative when it goes instrumental, but epistemology need not follow. The epistemic warrant of an individual’s belief may be disentangled from the rationality of his holding it, for epistemic warrant may be tied to an external criterion – as it is for example by causal or reliabilist theories of knowledge.10 It is part of the naturalistic realism that informs this essay to adopt such a criterion of warrant. We should not confuse the obvious fact that in general our ends are well served by reliable causal mechanisms of belief-formation with an internalist claim to the effect that reason requires us to adopt such means. Reliable mechanisms have costs as well as benefits, and successful pursuit of some ends – Knave would point to religious ones, and to those of certain moralists – may in some respects be incompatible with adoption of reliable means of inquiry. This rebuttal of the charge of relativism invites the defender of the fact/value distinction to shift to ontological grounds. Perhaps facts and values cannot be placed on opposite sides of an epistemological divide marked off by what reason and experience can compel us to accept. Still, the idea of reliable causal mechanisms for moral learning, and of moral facts “in the world” upon which they operate, is arguably so bizarre that I may have done no more than increase my difficulties.

    VALUE REALISM

    The idea of causal interaction with moral reality certainly would be intolerably odd if moral facts were held to be sui generis;11 but there need be nothing odd about causal mechanisms for learning moral facts if these facts are constituted by natural facts, and that is the view under consideration. This response will remain unconvincing, however, until some positive argument for realism about moral facts is given. So let us turn to that task.

    What might be called ‘the generic stratagem of naturalistic realism’ is to postulate a realm of facts in virtue of the contribution they would make to the a posteriori explanation of certain features of our experience. For example, an external world is posited to explain the coherence, stability, and intersubjectivity of sense-experience. A moral realist who would avail himself of this stratagem must show that the postulation of moral facts similarly can have an explanatory function. The stratagem can succeed in either case only if the reality postulated has these two characteristics:

    (1) independence: it exists and has certain determinate features independent of whether we think it exists or has those features, independent, even, of whether we have good reason to think this;
    (2) feedback: it is such – and we are such – that we are able to interact with it, and this interaction exerts the relevant sort of shaping influence or control upon our perceptions, thought, and action.

    These two characteristics enable the realist’s posit to play a role in the explanation of our experience that cannot be replaced without loss by our mere conception of ourselves or our world. For although our conceptual scheme mediates even our most basic perceptual experiences, an experience-transcendent reality has ways of making itself felt without the permission of our conceptual scheme – causally. The success or failure of our plans and projects famously is not determined by expectation alone. By resisting or yielding to our worldly efforts in ways not anticipated by our going conceptual scheme, an external reality that is never directly revealed in perception may nonetheless significantly influence the subsequent evolution of that scheme.

    The realist’s use of an external world to explain sensory experience has often been criticized as no more than a picture. But do we even have a picture of what a realist explanation might look like in the case of values?12 I will try to sketch one, filling in first a realist account of non-moral value – the notion of something being desirable for someone, or good for him.13

    Consider first the notion of someone’s subjective interests – his wants or desires, conscious or unconscious. Subjective interest can be seen as a secondary quality, akin to taste. For me to take a subjective interest in something is to say that it has a positive valence for me, that is, that in ordinary circumstances it excites a positive attitude or inclination (not necessarily conscious) in me. Similarly, for me to say that I find sugar sweet is to say that in ordinary circumstances sugar excites a certain gustatory sensation in me. As secondary qualities, subjective interest and perceived sweetness supervene upon primary qualities of the perceiver, the object (or other phenomenon) perceived, and the surrounding context: the perceiver is so constituted that this sort of object in this sort of context will excite that sort of sensation. Call this complex set of relational, dispositional, primary qualities the reduction basis of the secondary quality.

    We have in this reduction basis an objective notion that corresponds to, and helps explain, subjective interests. But it is not a plausible foundation for the notion of non-moral goodness, since the subjective interests it grounds have insufficient normative force to capture the idea of desirableness. My subjective interests frequently reflect ignorance, confusion, or lack of consideration, as hindsight attests. The fact that I am now so constituted that I desire something that, had I better knowledge of it, I would wish I had never sought, does not seem to recommend it to me as part of my good.

    To remedy this defect, let us introduce the notion of an objectified subjective interest for an individual A, as follows.14 Give to an actual individual A unqualified cognitive and imaginative powers, and full factual and nomological information about his physical and psychological constitution, capacities, circumstances, history, and so on. A will have become A+, who has complete and vivid knowledge of himself and his environment, and whose instrumental rationality is in no way defective.We now ask A+ to tell us not what he currently wants, but what he would want his nonidealized self A to want – or, more generally, to seek – were he to find himself in the actual condition and circumstances of A.15 Just as we assumed there to be a reduction basis for an individual A’s actual subjective interests, we may assume there to be a reduction basis for his objectified subjective interests, namely, those facts about Aand his circumstances that A+ would combine with his general knowledge in arriving at his views about what he would want to want were he to step into A’s shoes. For example, Lonnie, a traveler in a foreign country, is feeling miserable. He very much wishes to overcome his malaise and to settle his stomach, and finds he has a craving for the familiar: a tall glass of milk. The milk is desired by Lonnie, but is it also desirable for him? Lonnie-Plus can see that what is wrong with Lonnie, in addition to homesickness, is dehydration, a common affliction of tourists, but one often not detectable from introspective evidence. The effect of drinking hard-to-digest milk would be to further unsettle Lonnie’s stomach and worsen his dehydration. By contrast, Lonnie-Plus can see that abundant clear fluids would quickly improve Lonnie’s physical condition – which, incidentally, would help with his homesickness as well. Lonnie-Plus can also see just how distasteful Lonnie would find it to drink clear liquids, just what would happen were Lonnie to continue to suffer dehydration, and so on. As a result of this information, Lonnie-Plus might then come to desire that were he to assume Lonnie’s place, he would want to drink clear liquids rather than milk, or at least want to act in such a way that a want of this kind would be satisfied. The reduction basis of this objectified interest includes facts about Lonnie’s circumstances and constitution, which determine, among other things, his existing tastes and his ability to acquire certain new tastes, the consequences of continued dehydration, the effects and availability of various sorts of liquids, and so on.

    Let us say that this reduction basis is the constellation of primary qualities that make it be the case that Lonnie has a certain objective interest.16 That is, we will say that Lonnie has an objective interest in drinking clear liquids in virtue of this complex, relational, dispositional set of facts. Put another way, we can say that the reduction basis, not the fact that Lonnie-Plus would have certain wants, is the truth-maker for the claim that this is an objective interest of Lonnie’s. The objective interest thus explains why there is a certain objectified interest, not the other way around.17

    Let us now say that X is non-morally good for A if and only if X would satisfy an objective interest of A.18 We may think of A+’s views about what hewouldwant towantwere he in A’s place as generating a ranking of potential objective interests of A, a ranking that will reflect what is better or worse for A and will allow us to speak of A’s actual wants as better or worse approximations of what is best for him. We may also decompose A+’s views into prima facie as opposed to “on balance” objective interests of A, the former yielding the notion of “a good for A,” the latter, of “the good for A.”19 This seems to me an intuitively plausible account of what someone’s non-moral good consists in: roughly, what he would want himself to seek if he knew what he were doing.20

    Moreover, this account preserves what seems to me an appropriate link between non-moral value and motivation. Suppose that one desires X, but wonders whether X really is part of one’s good. This puzzlement typically arises because one feels that one knows too little about X, oneself, or one’s world, or because one senses that one is not being adequately rational or reflective in assessing the information one has – perhaps one suspects that one has been captivated by a few salient features of X (or repelled by a few salient features of its alternatives). If one were to learn that one would still want oneself to want X in the circumstances were one to view things with full information and rationality, this presumably would reduce the force of the original worry. By contrast, were one to learn that when fully informed and rational one would want oneself not to want X in the circumstances, this presumably would add force to it. Desires being what they are, a reinforced worry might not be sufficient to remove the desire for X. But if one were to become genuinely and vividly convinced that one’s desire for X is in this sense not supported by full reflection upon the facts, one presumably would feel this to be a count against acting upon the desire. This adjustment of desire to belief might not in a given case be required by reason or logic; it might be “merely psychological.” But it is precisely such psychological phenomena that naturalistic theories of value take as basic.

    In what follows, we will need the notion of intrinsic goodness, so let us say that X is intrinsically non-morally good for A just in case X is in A’s objective interest without reference to any other objective interest of A. We can in an obvious way use the notion of objective intrinsic interest to account for all other objective interests. Since individuals and their environments differ in many respects, we need not assume that everyone has the same objective intrinsic interests. A fortiori, we need not assume that they have the same objective instrumental interests. We should, however, expect that when personal and situational similarities exist across individuals – that is, when there are similarities in reduction bases – there will to that extent be corresponding similarities in their interests.

    It is now possible to see how the notion of non-moral goodness can have explanatory uses. For a start, it can explain why one’s actual desires have certain counterfactual features, for example, why one would have certain hypothetical desires rather than others were one to become fully informed and aware. Yet this sort of explanatory use – following as it does directly from the definition of objective interest – might well be thought unimpressive unless some other explanatory functions can be found.

    Consider, then, the difference between Lonnie and Tad, another traveler in the same straits, but one who, unlike Lonnie, wants to drink clear liquids, and proceeds to do so. Tad will perk up while Lonnie remains listless. We can explain this difference by noting that although both Lonnie and Tad acted upon their wants, Tad’s wants better reflected his interests. The congruence of Tad’s wants with his interests may be fortuitous, or it may be that Tad knows he is dehydrated and knows the standard treatment. In the latter case we would ordinarily say that the explanation of the difference in their condition is that Tad, but not Lonnie, “knew what was good for him.”

    Generally, we can expect that what A+ would want were he in A’s place will correlate well with what would permit A to experience physical or psychological well-being or to escape physical or psychological ill-being. Surely our well- or ill-being are among the things that matter to us most, and most reliably, even on reflection.21 Appeal to degrees of congruence between A’s wants and his interests thus will often help to explain facts about how satisfactory he finds his life. Explanation would not be preserved were we to substitute ‘believed to be congruent’ for ‘are (to such-and-such a degree) congruent,’ since, as cases like Lonnie’s show, even if one were to convince oneself that one’s wants accurately reflected one’s interests, acting on these wants might fail to yield much satisfaction.

    In virtue of the correlation to be expected between acting upon motives that congrue with one’s interests and achieving a degree of satisfaction or avoiding a degree of distress, one’s objective interests may also play an explanatory role in the evolution of one’s desires. Consider what I will call the wants/interests mechanism, which permits individuals to achieve selfconscious and un-self-conscious learning about their interests through experience. In the simplest sorts of cases, trial and error leads to the selective retention of wants that are satisfiable and lead to satisfactory results for the agent.

    For example, suppose that Lonnie gives in to his craving and drinks the milk. Soon afterward, he feels much worse. Still unable to identify the source of his malaise and still in the grips of a desire for the familiar, his attention is caught by a green-and-red sign in the window of a small shop he is moping past: “7-Up,” it says. He rushes inside and buys a bottle. Although it is lukewarm, he drinks it eagerly. “Mmm,” he thinks, “I’ll have another.” He buys a second bottle, and drains it to the bottom. By now he has had his fill of tepid soda, and carries on. Within a few hours, his mood is improving. When he passes the store again on the way back to his hotel, his pleasant association with drinking 7-Up leads him to buy some more and carry it along with him. That night, in the dim solitude of his room, he finds the soda’s reassuringly familiar taste consoling, and so downs another few bottles before finally finding sleep. When he wakes up the next morning, he feels very much better. To make a dull story short: the next time Lonnie is laid low abroad, he may have some conscious or unconscious, reasoned or superstitious, tendency to seek out 7-Up. Unable to find that, he might seek something quite like it, say, a local lime-flavored soda, or perhaps even the agua mineral con gaz he had previously scorned. Over time, as Lonnie travels more and suffers similar malaise, he regularly drinks clearish liquids and regularly feels better, eventually developing an actual desire for such liquids – and an aversion to other drinks, such as milk – in such circumstances.

    Thus have Lonnie’s desires evolved through experience to conform more closely to what is good for him, in the naturalistic sense intended here. The process was not one of an ideally rational response to the receipt of ideal information, but rather of largely unreflective experimentation, accompanied by positive and negative associations and reinforcements. There is no guarantee that the desires “learned” through such feedback will accurately or completely reflect an individual’s good. Still less is there any guarantee that, even when an appropriate adjustment in desire occurs, the agent will comprehend the origin of his newdesires or be able to represent to himself the nature of the interests they reflect. But then, it is a quite general feature of the various means by which we learn about the world that they may fail to provide accurate or comprehending representations of it. My ability to perceive and understand my surroundings coexists with, indeed draws upon the same mechanisms as, my liability to deception by illusion, expectation, or surface appearance.

    There are some broad theoretical grounds for thinking that something like the wants/interests mechanism exists and has an important role in desire-formation. Humans are creatures motivated primarily by wants rather than instincts. If such creatures were unable through experience to conform their wants at all closely to their essential interests – perhaps because they were no more likely to experience positive internal states when their essential interests are met than when they are not – we could not expect long or fruitful futures for them. Thus, if humans in general did not come to want to eat the kinds of food necessary to maintain some degree of physical well-being, or to engage in the sorts of activities or relations necessary to maintain their sanity, we would not be around today to worry whether we can know what is good for us. Since creatures as sophisticated and complex as humans have evolved through encounters with a variety of environments, and indeed have made it their habit to modify their environments, we should expect considerable flexibility in our capacity through experience to adapt our wants to our interests. However, this very flexibility makes the mechanism unreliable: our wants may at any time differ arbitrarily much from our interests; moreover, we may fail to have experiences that would cause us to notice this, or to undergo sufficient feedback to have much chance of developing new wants that more nearly approximate our interests. It is entirely possible, and hardly infrequent, that an individual live out the course of a normal life without ever recognizing or adjusting to some of his most fundamental interests. Individual limitations are partly remedied by cultural want-acquiring mechanisms, which permit learning and even theorizing over multiple lives and life spans, but these same mechanisms also create a vast potential for the inculcation of wants at variance with interests.

    The argument for the wants/interests mechanism has about the same status, and the same breezy plausibility, as the more narrowly biological argument that we should expect the human eye to be capable of detecting objects the size and shape of our predators or prey. It is not necessary to assume anything approaching infallibility, only enough functional success to hold our own in an often inhospitable world.22

    Thus far the argument has concerned only those objective interests that might be classified as needs, but the wants/interests mechanism can operate with respect to any interest – even interests related to an individual’s particular aptitudes or social role – whose frustration is attended even indirectly by consciously or unconsciously unsatisfactory results for him. (To be sure, the more indirect the association the more unlikely that the mechanism will be reliable.) For example, the experience of taking courses in both mathematics and philosophy may lead an undergraduate who thought himself cut out to be a mathematician to come to prefer a career in philosophy, which would in fact better suit his aptitudes and attitudes. And a worker recently promoted to management from the shop floor may find himself less inclined to respond to employee grievances than he had previously wanted managers to be, while his former co-workers may find themselves less inclined to confide in him than before.

    If a wants/interests mechanism is postulated, and if what is non-morally good for someone is a matter of what is in his objective interest, then we can say that objective value is able to play a role in the explanation of subjective value of the sort the naturalistic realist about value needs. These explanations even support some qualified predictions: for example, that, other things equal, individuals will ordinarily be better judges of their own interests than third parties; that knowledge of one’s interests will tend to increase with increased experience and general knowledge; that people with similar personal and social characteristics will tend to have similar values; and that there will be greater general consensus upon what is desirable in those areas of life where individuals are most alike in other regards (for example, at the level of basic motives), and where trial-and-error mechanisms can be expected to work well (for example, where esoteric knowledge is not required). I am in no position to pronounce these predictions correct, but it may be to their credit that they accord with widely held views.

    It should perhaps be emphasized that although I speak of the objectivity of value, the value in question is human value, and exists only because humans do. In the sense of old-fashioned theory of value, this is a relational rather than absolute notion of goodness. Although relational, the relevant facts about humans and their world are objective in the same sense that such nonrelational entities as stones are: they do not depend for their existence or nature merely upon our conception of them.23

    Thus understood, objective interests are supervenient upon natural and social facts. Does this mean that they cannot contribute to explanation after all, since it should always be possible in principle to account for any particular fact that they purport to explain by reference to the supervenience basis alone? If mere supervenience were grounds for denying an explanatory role to a given set of concepts, then we would have to say that chemistry, biology, and electrical engineering, which clearly supervene upon physics, lack explanatory power. Indeed, even outright reducibility is no ground for doubting explanatoriness. To establish a relation of reduction between, for example, a chemical phenomenon such as valence and a physical model of the atom does nothing to suggest that there is no such thing as valence, or that generalizations involving valence cannot
    support explanations. There can be no issue here of ontological economy or eschewing unnecessary entities, as might be the case if valence were held to be something sui generis, over and above any constellation of physical properties. The facts described in principles of chemical valence are genuine, and permit a powerful and explanatory systematization of chemical combination; the existence of a successful reduction to atomic physics only bolsters these claims.

    We are confident that the notion of chemical valence is explanatory because proffered explanations in terms of chemical valence insert explananda into a distinctive and well-articulated nomic nexus, in an obvious way increasing our understanding of them. But what comparably powerful and illuminating theory exists concerning the notion of objective interest to give us reason to think – whether or not strict reduction is possible – that proffered explanations using this notion are genuinely informative?

    I would find the sort of value realism sketched here uninteresting if it seemed to me that no theory of any consequence could be developed using the category of objective value. But in describing the wants/interests mechanism I have already tried to indicate that such a theory may be possible. When we seek to explain why people act as they do, why they have certain values or desires, and why sometimes they are led into conflict and other times into cooperation, it comes naturally to common sense and social science alike to talk in terms of people’s interests. Such explanations will be incomplete and superficial if we remain wholly at the level of subjective interests, since these, too, must be accounted for.24

    NORMATIVE REALISM

    Suppose everything said thus far to have been granted generously. Still, I would as yet have no right to speak of moral realism, for I have done no more than to exhibit the possibility of a kind of realism with regard to non-moral goodness, a notion that perfect moral skeptics can admit. To be entitled to speak of moral realism I would have to show realism to be possible about distinctively moral value, or moral norms. I will concentrate on moral norms – that is, matters of moral rightness and wrongness – although the argument I give may, by extension, be applied to moral value. In part,my reason is that normative realism seemsmuch less plausible intuitively than value realism. It therefore is not surprising that many current proposals for moral realism focus essentially upon value – and sometimes only upon what is in effect non-moral value. Yet on virtually any conception of morality, a moral theory must yield an account of rightness. Normative moral realism is implausible on various grounds, but within the framework of this essay, the most relevant is that it seems impossible to extend the generic strategy of naturalistic realism to moral norms. Where is the place in explanation for facts about what ought to be the case – don’t facts about the way things are do all the explaining there is to be done? Of course they do. But then, my naturalistic moral realism commits me to the view that facts about what ought to be the case are facts of a special kind about the way things are. As a result, it may be possible for them to have a function within an explanatory theory. To see how this could be, let me first give some examples of explanations outside the realm of morality that involve naturalized norms.

    “Why did the roof collapse? – For a house that gets the sort of snow loads that one did, the rafters ought to have been 2 × 8s at least, not 2 × 6s.” This explanation is quite acceptable, as far as it goes, yet it contains an ‘ought.’ Of course, we can remove this ‘ought’ as follows: “If a roof of that design is to withstand the snow load that one bore, then it must be framed with rafters at least 2 × 8 in cross-section.” An architectural ‘ought’ is replaced by an engineering ‘if . . . then . . .’ . This is possible because the ‘ought’ clearly is hypothetica