Monday, July 31, 2006

Hallelujah.

This guy's morality and politics are odious, and his obsession with the invisible man in the sky is irrational. However, it's astonishing to see a self-proclaimed evangelical American Christian preacher -- who even has a gigantic "mega-church", for Pete's sake -- turning his back on the neoconservative poltical project. And it's about damn time, too.
In his six sermons, Mr. Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek "power over" others -— by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have "power under" others —- "winning people’s hearts" by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did, Mr. Boyd said.

"America wasn’t founded as a theocracy," he said. "America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn’t bloody and barbaric. That’s why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state.

"I am sorry to tell you," he continued, "that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ."

Mr. Boyd lambasted the "hypocrisy and pettiness" of Christians who focus on "sexual issues" like homosexuality, abortion or Janet Jackson’s breast-revealing performance at the Super Bowl halftime show. He said Christians these days were constantly outraged about sex and perceived violations of their rights to display their faith in public.

"Those are the two buttons to push if you want to get Christians to act," he said. "And those are the two buttons Jesus never pushed."

I get really tired of churches and religious figures abusing their theological authority (what little that's worth) by claiming political and moral authority. Very, very often, they have no idea what they are talking about and engage in little more than the grossest and most odious bigotry.

The preacher in this case has taken a hit for his rejection, too. He's had to lay off staff members, lost about a thousand members of his church, and failed to reach a fund-raising target (he was off by $3 million). Volunteers from the Sunday School also quit, claiming that church-goers have to support the Republican Party. However, he has gained members from non-white ethnic communities -- which he seems perfectly fine with.

Maybe not all religious nuts are unreachable.

21 comments:

Janet said...

I applaud the reverend's stance. You're right, it's about time.

Question: are all anti-religious nuts unreachable?

ADHR said...

*laughs* Are you trying to say that an evangelical American Christian who heads a mega-church and who, until recently, supported the neocon agenda doesn't fit the definition of "religious nut"? And are you also suggesting that religion isn't inherently nuts?

I'd love to see a defense of either claim. The floor is yours.

Janet said...

To be quite honest, I'm a little leery. You have been using emotionally loaded terms quite repeatedly, which suggests to me that your objections are not at all intellectual, but rather emotional. I'm quite frankly rather surprised to find it being used by someone at your level of education. It definitely isn't the language of rational, academic discourse.

I also believe that the onus is on you to back up your rather eccentric claims, which in a fell blow dismiss such people as Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Georges Vanier, Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, Martin Marty, and Johann Sebastian Bach as motivated largely by something "inherently nuts". Sounds to me like a form of insanity that has contributed much more to the world than Hegelian dialectics ever could. Even Durkheim, avowed atheist that he was, pointed out that societies need religion to function properly. To the best of my knowledge, he never addressed in any satisfactory manner why that should be so.

However, I'll make a quick stab at playing the ball in my court. I'd point you first to one of the professors at York who addresses some of these issues in his writings and who you might want to become acquainted with when you get an opportunity. Check out Don Carveth's page, paying special attention to the links at the bottom to Religion and Values.

If you'd like to have a rational and respectful discussion, I'll be only happy to return. If you'd rather have a pissing match, I'll leave to you the privilege of the last word.

Janet said...

Sorry, I meant to say Jean Vanier, although Georges probably qualifies too.

ADHR said...

"To be quite honest, I'm a little leery. You have been using emotionally loaded terms quite repeatedly, which suggests to me that your objections are not at all intellectual, but rather emotional."

Non sequitur and strawman. If you can show me the "emotionally loaded" terms, that would take care of the latter. If you could show me how using emotionally loaded terms implies that one has no intellectual basis for one's objections, that would take care of the former. I don't seriously think you can pull off either, but particularly the latter, given that any serious, sincere intellectually-grounded view should produce strong emotional attachment. (After all, if there is no emotional committment to x, in what sense does someone who says x really believe it?)

"I'm quite frankly rather surprised to find it being used by someone at your level of education. It definitely isn't the language of rational, academic discourse."

Unless you're a career academic, you really don't know what academic discourse is like. (For that matter: why should rules of academic conduct apply in a non-academic context?) I'm sorry to shatter any illusions, but I'm a nice guy compared to some. Many academics are prissy, many are aggressive (like myself), and some are downright cruel. (The horror stories about doctoral candidates who had to rewrite their dissertations from scratch after not passing the defense are great examples of the latter.)

As an example of the median, one of my favourite stories about Jerry Fodor is that at a conference, after a paper he particularly disagreed with was presented, he stood up and asked: "Excuse me, but was your paper a joke?" (That link goes to his CV, incidentally: the man is hardly a fringe crank; he's one of the most respected English-language philosophers there is.)

"I also believe that the onus is on you to back up your rather eccentric claims"

Tomayto, tomahto. Religion strikes me as eccentric; anti-religion strike you as eccentric. I don't think this kind of comment really gets us anywhere.

"which in a fell blow dismiss such people as Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Georges Vanier, Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, Martin Marty, and Johann Sebastian Bach as motivated largely by something "inherently nuts"."

This sounds odd to you? Stalin wasn't motivated by something nuts? Mao wasn't? Hitler wasn't? George W. Bush isn't? (Just examples of people who did bad things by being motivated by something crazy; not necessarily people motivated by religion.)People can be motivated by a whole host of entirely irrational things (indeed, one area of my research is in trying to figure out what the difference is between doing things for good reasons, doing things for reasons, doing things for bad reasons, and doing things for no reason at all).

I also don't see how you're drawing the (implicit) conclusion that being motivated by something nuts implies that whatever one produces is bad. The standards applied to the process of motivation (rational standards) aren't at all the same as the standards applied to products (generally, moral standards; also potentially aesthetic, as you cited Bach). Moreover, the idea that the source of something necessarily says anything about what that something is is the genetic fallacy.

Finally, I can come up with a list of my own luminaries, so, even if your reasoning works, the data don't necessarily support your conclusion: Susan B. Anthony, Woody Allen, George Carlin, Joss Whedon, Douglas Adams, Richard Dawkins, Albert Camus, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Popper, Epicurus, Lucretius.

"Sounds to me like a form of insanity that has contributed much more to the world than Hegelian dialectics ever could."

Genetic fallacy again. And I'm not a Hegelian -- I tend to think that Schopenhauer was on to something when he called it "pseudo-philosophy" (although, Hegelians would just say I didn't really understand it). I'm not sure why you think I am one.

"Even Durkheim, avowed atheist that he was, pointed out that societies need religion to function properly. To the best of my knowledge, he never addressed in any satisfactory manner why that should be so."

You're right, he didn't. Which has always suggested to me that (at least) he couldn't. This, actually, is what I find to be the most interesting avenue for defending the role of religion, and I'm disappointed that you didn't really pursue it. Religion can fulfill many purposes: providing a community, for example. But so can other institutions: book clubs also provide community, as do the Boy Scouts, political parties, floor hockey leagues, etc. So: what is the role that religion plays that cannot be played equally well by another institution?

(I should note, though, that religion is useful doesn't mean it's rational, except on an oddly utilitarian conception of rationality. I'll point you to Plato's doctrine of useful lies, as defended near the end of Republic: encouraging the populace to believe in a lie, says Plato, might have beneficial social consequences, not the least of which is encouraging them to accept their place in his (very hierarchical) ideal society.)

"However, I'll make a quick stab at playing the ball in my court. I'd point you first to one of the professors at York who addresses some of these issues in his writings and who you might want to become acquainted with when you get an opportunity."

Ad verecundiam. If he has a good argument to make, why don't you reproduce it?

"Check out Don Carveth's page, paying special attention to the links at the bottom to Religion and Values."

First sentence on the Religion page really did it for me: "Answer: because rational people, even trained psychoanalysts, are human beings and it is in the nature of the human being to worship something or someone." He's just begged the question. If humans need to worship something, and religion is (let us suppose) defined as worshipping something, then humans need religion. But the only way to make the syllogism go through is by presuming the first premise (humans need to worship something) -- and there's no argument for that!

Later on the page, there's some blatant conflation of loving and worshipping that would make any decent philosopher scream. It certainly made me scream. I'd really hate to be loved by that guy, let me tell you.

So, what part of that page did you find useful, exactly?

I don't see anything on the Values page that's relevant. Help me out: narrow it down for me.

"If you'd like to have a rational and respectful discussion, I'll be only happy to return. If you'd rather have a pissing match, I'll leave to you the privilege of the last word."

Respectful and rational discussion has begun. Your turn.

Janet said...

Sorry for taking so long to get back to you. My son was in town for the weekend (well, one of the four...) and he took priority over most other activities.

***

"Odious, obsession with the invisible man in the sky (in this combination, highly pejorative), grossest and most odious bigotry, religious nuts" - these are all unequivocally emotionally loaded terms. My field was language and literature and analysis of how various emotional effects are achieved by the choice of language is an important part of it.

Your use of such terms does not necessarily imply that there is no intellectual basis for your position, but it does hint strongly that you will have difficulty getting to a sufficient emotional distance from it to be able to evaluate it objectively.

I would like you to demonstrate to me how being an evangelical pastor and a "neocon" is a sign of irrationality. So far you have posited this as a premise without any indication of how you justify it.

I am quite aware of academic discourse, although I admittedly spent only five years at university, winning awards and scholarships in each of my three disciplines. I also did a lot of proofreading and translation work on my husband's master's and doctoral theses, not to mention the articles and research he has been doing since. It gives me a better insight than the average "layman". I've also heard of some of the shenanigans that go on at conferences, as well as reading the comments of anonymous readers used by academic publishers, so I know how petty and nasty they are capable of being. The comments you are referring to are not exactly shining examples of what academic discourse is supposed to be, now are they? This certainly can't be a standard you aspire to.

I engaged in the genetic fallacy because you apparently were, with your comments on "religious nuts". So why do presume Boyd is a religious nut, if you are not using the genetic fallacy? You have presented neither logic nor empirical evidence for your conclusion and judging from the text alone, the only justification for it is the genetic fallacy. If not that, how did you come to such a conclusion?

I threw in Hegel as an example of philosophers in general, not implying that you personally considered yourself a Hegelian. I wouldn't presume such a thing with the limited contact I've had with you. As for Durkheim, I thought he was caught in a highly illogical argument: People have a demonstrable need for something that does not exist. Last I checked, I'm not in need of any non-existent vitamins; all of my needs are for real - albeit sometimes intangible - things. There are two possible ways to resolve this dilemma - either the need does not really exist (which I suspect would be your argument), or the object of this need does in fact exist (which would be mine). It would indeed be a lot of fun to pursue the question in the direction you indicated, but if I am to answer you at all in this decade, I'll have to forgo it for at least this post.

I'm curious to know what conclusion you thought I had come to, that you countered with your own list of luminaries. I have no argument with your list. I never thought for a moment that only religious people have made contributions of worth to society. I do have some trouble thinking of any concrete contributions of worth made by philosophers, but I am willing to be corrected.

ADHR said...

Sorry for taking so long to get back to you. My son was in town for the weekend (well, one of the four...) and he took priority over most other activities.

Apologies not needed. Of course your son takes priority.

"Odious, obsession with the invisible man in the sky (in this combination, highly pejorative), grossest and most odious bigotry, religious nuts" - these are all unequivocally emotionally loaded terms. My field was language and literature and analysis of how various emotional effects are achieved by the choice of language is an important part of it.

I don't see how any of these are emotionally loaded. Normatively loaded, certainly. Calling something "odious" is to condemn it in strong terms, as is to call it "gross" or to label behaviour as "bigotry". I don't see why condemnation can't be (as it sometimes said) "coldly rational".

Your use of such terms does not necessarily imply that there is no intellectual basis for your position, but it does hint strongly that you will have difficulty getting to a sufficient emotional distance from it to be able to evaluate it objectively.

Here we part ways. I don't think that emotional distance is a laudable goal. It might sometimes be useful, but it's certainly not a requirement for objective evaluation. Indeed, in my experience, the best intellectual evaluations take place during emotionally intense confrontations.

I would like you to demonstrate to me how being an evangelical pastor and a "neocon" is a sign of irrationality. So far you have posited this as a premise without any indication of how you justify it.

I'll do both (fairly quickly), since the terms aren't co-extensional. A neocon, as I understand the position, is little more than soft fascism -- the overt approval of street violence against opponents is not endorsed, but the corporatism, militarism and authoritarianism are alive and well. Corporatism, at its base, favours the interests of corporations over those of people. Now, people can have interests intrinsically. Corporations can have interests only derivatively -- in terms of the persons that make them up. Since the interests of people are intrinsic, they should be prioritized over those of corporations, ceteris paribus. Corporatism reverses the order, and is thus irrational (encourages denying reality).

Militarism favours military action as a mechanism for resolving problems over other forms of action. Military action, however, is a fairly blunt instrument: it is not capable of nuance. Many problems require nuanced intervention. Hence, an excessive favouritism towards military action will often result in courses of action not suited to their contexts. Hence, militarism is irrational (violates constraints on means-ends rationality).

And authoritarianism favours the use of absolute authority. But authority, by its nature, is not absolute. Authority is a moral concept. All moral concepts vary with context. Hence, authority varies with context. Thus, there is no absolute authority. Thus, authoritarianism favours what is false. Hence, it is irrational (encourages believing what is false).

As for the "being an evangelical pastor" thing, I would think that is obvious. Believing in things that don't exist is irrational. Believing in things which serve no explanatory purpose is irrational. On either count, an evangelical pastor is irrational.

I am quite aware of academic discourse, although I admittedly spent only five years at university, winning awards and scholarships in each of my three disciplines.

I'm sorry, but are awards and scholarships in three disciplines supposed to impress me? Otherwise, I'm not sure why you're mentioning it.

I also did a lot of proofreading and translation work on my husband's master's and doctoral theses, not to mention the articles and research he has been doing since. It gives me a better insight than the average "layman".

Good. It wasn't clear originally that you had been exposed to actual academic discourse.

I've also heard of some of the shenanigans that go on at conferences, as well as reading the comments of anonymous readers used by academic publishers, so I know how petty and nasty they are capable of being. The comments you are referring to are not exactly shining examples of what academic discourse is supposed to be, now are they? This certainly can't be a standard you aspire to.

The standard I aspire to is not the overtly cruel, but also not the passive and weak. Not all ideas are worth taking seriously. I'll aggressively pursue and defend my ideas, and expect the same in return. If that offends, then it offends.

I engaged in the genetic fallacy because you apparently were, with your comments on "religious nuts". So why do presume Boyd is a religious nut, if you are not using the genetic fallacy?

It's only a genetic fallacy if I look at where he came from in order to judge what he is now. What I did was look at what he is now to judge what else he is now. He's still a preacher at a megachurch. Still a self-described evangelical Christian. That fits my definition of "religious nut". Have you been in one of these megachurches? They're paradigms of religious zealotry. This is not a small parish church or even a dignified cathedral we're talking about here.

You have presented neither logic nor empirical evidence for your conclusion and judging from the text alone, the only justification for it is the genetic fallacy. If not that, how did you come to such a conclusion?

See above.

I threw in Hegel as an example of philosophers in general, not implying that you personally considered yourself a Hegelian.

Hegel's sort of an odd case of a "philosopher in general".

I wouldn't presume such a thing with the limited contact I've had with you. As for Durkheim, I thought he was caught in a highly illogical argument: People have a demonstrable need for something that does not exist. Last I checked, I'm not in need of any non-existent vitamins; all of my needs are for real - albeit sometimes intangible - things.

Assuming that your knowledge is perfect. If your knowledge is imperfect -- as I presume it is (mine is!) -- then you could need something that you believe exists but, unfortunately, does not. That's Durkheim's way out: religious things are needed, but not real, but yet believed to be real. So, there's no dilemma. What is needed is not real, but is believed to be. It's rather like if I needed a drink from a bottle of clear liquid, believing that it's water. In actual fact, let us suppose, it's 100% ethyl alcohol. My false belief has led me to form a "need" for something that doesn't actually exist (i.e., the water in the bottle).

I'm curious to know what conclusion you thought I had come to, that you countered with your own list of luminaries. I have no argument with your list. I never thought for a moment that only religious people have made contributions of worth to society.

Then why did you make the list?

I do have some trouble thinking of any concrete contributions of worth made by philosophers, but I am willing to be corrected.

I wonder what you mean by "concrete contributions". But, off the top of my head: Descartes, Leibniz, and Locke. Coordinate geometry, calculus (Leibniz and Newton invented calculus independently, but Leibniz's notation is the one we currently use), and the US Declaration of Independence, respectively. I also note that John Stuart Mill agitated for suffrage for women (and wrote on it), and Bertrand Russell was a notorious anti-war activist (consistent with his ethical writings), opposing both the First and Second World Wars. Kant managed to end the "rational theology" movement (largely through the First Critique), inspiring the current form of religious defense, on the basis of faith rather than reason. And Marx is an easy example -- he literally changed the course of the 20th century.

After a bit of flipping through encyclopaediae, I can add the following. Karl Popper's philosophy of science informed the majority US Supreme Court decision in the famous Daubert case, which heavily revised the Federal Rules of Evidence for admitting expert testimony in court. John Dewey agitated for (but never quite succeeded in) school improvement. Aristotle taught Alexander the Great, and was apparently quite influential.

Which of these would you count as a "concrete contribution"?

Moreover, why is "concrete contribution" a relevant criterion of "worth" of a discipline? Advanced mathematics, for one, doesn't seem to make many contributions.

Anonymous said...

Something I should have brought out in my last comment is that you have not established that the pastor in question is a neocon, especially as you have defined it. Do you know more about him than was outlined in the article? If not, I would say you are on shaky ground. As a matter of fact, the article seems to make it pretty clear that there isn't any evidence for him being a neocon. So we can scratch that. Which makes me wonder, on what basis are you condemning his politics? You don't even know what they are. As far as I can see, you are merely projecting a stereotype, which, may I point out, is an essential exercise in bigotry.

Now, on what basis do you declare that God does not exist? "I declare that I do not believe in God, therefore God does not exist, therefore it is not rational to believe in God, therefore those who do are irrational." Needless to say, that is an awfully shaky line of reasoning and I have perhaps not represented your reasoning clearly. Although as far as I can see, only the first link in that chain is in doubt here. It is far from established that God does not exist and many, many people who do believe in God show disturbing signs of rationality in virtually everything they do. It is a very interesting thing that there are more Christians to be found in science faculties than in the humanities and social sciences.

Also, on what basis do you condemn "this guy's" morality? It seems to me that you know very little of that either, except again, by projecting stereotypes.

I'm not sure how big a church has to be before you qualify it as a megachurch. Depending on where the threshold is, I probably haven't ever been in one. Canada doesn't tend to produce very many of them.

I'm afraid I find your resolving of Durkheim's dilemma to be very unsatisfying. The need for a glass of water remains real. It seems to me that what Durkheim is saying is "we need water yet water does not exist." Being mistaken about the nature of something you think will fill your need is a different matter altogether. If that was Durkheim's way of resolving it, it sure looks like fuzzy thinking.

Your list of the contributions of philosophers is impressive and I have nothing to dispute. I will be more respectful towards philosophers as a class in the future.

To sum everything up, my concern here is that you are indulging in a form of religious bigotry. "These people don't believe as I do, therefore I will demonize and hate them."

******

FWIW, I have a lot of trouble with a lot of elements with neo-conservatism too, and am uneasy with the tendency of too many religious people, most particularly in the States, to swallow the party line blindly, which is why I applaud Boyd for what he is doing.

Sorry for signing in anonymously. I've switched to Blogger beta, and it dislikes the old program. I apologize again for taking so long to come back.

ADHR said...

Something I should have brought out in my last comment is that you have not established that the pastor in question is a neocon, especially as you have defined it.

As should be clear, he isn't a neocon -- at least, not any more.

Do you know more about him than was outlined in the article? If not, I would say you are on shaky ground. As a matter of fact, the article seems to make it pretty clear that there isn't any evidence for him being a neocon. So we can scratch that. Which makes me wonder, on what basis are you condemning his politics? You don't even know what they are. As far as I can see, you are merely projecting a stereotype, which, may I point out, is an essential exercise in bigotry.

I see no evidence in the article that he has repudiated the moral and political conclusions associated with being a neoconservative, only that he endorses the distinction between church and state. I think you're projecting a stereotype, frankly.

The NYT article has gone behind a payment wall, but it's reprinted here. The line that stood out for me was this one: "He is opposed to abortion and thinks homosexuality is not God’s ideal."

Now, on what basis do you declare that God does not exist? "I declare that I do not believe in God, therefore God does not exist, therefore it is not rational to believe in God, therefore those who do are irrational." Needless to say, that is an awfully shaky line of reasoning and I have perhaps not represented your reasoning clearly. Although as far as I can see, only the first link in that chain is in doubt here. It is far from established that God does not exist and many, many people who do believe in God show disturbing signs of rationality in virtually everything they do. It is a very interesting thing that there are more Christians to be found in science faculties than in the humanities and social sciences.

You're not serious. Lots of Christians are scientists, hence Christianity is rational? People are rational with regard to x, therefore they must be rational with regard to y?

I'm not sure that you're going to get anywhere with "it is far from established that God does not exist". Arguments for the existence have been decimated throughout the history of philosophy, so, just on that ground, it's more likely that God does not exist than God does. Furthermore, and more to the point, God is explanatorily superfluous. There is no phenomenon which we cannot explain except by invoking the existence of God. So, either God is a wholly unique theoretical construct, one which explains nothing yet can nonetheless be proven to exist, or God does not exist. It's far more plausible that God does not exist. Hence, it's irrational to suppose that God does exist. Unless, of course, you have some counter-example to this line of reasoning that you have declined thus far to share.

Also, on what basis do you condemn "this guy's" morality? It seems to me that you know very little of that either, except again, by projecting stereotypes.

See above. You seem to be advocating a suspension of judgement here, and I'm not sure why. When all I have to go on is the associations the man is involved with and the few opinions captured in the article, I form the judgement on that basis. After all, if I stood around waiting for perfect information all the time, I'd never form any judgements about anything -- not even the weather. What reason do you have for suspecting I'm not right? By your own admission, you don't know any more than I do.

I'm not sure how big a church has to be before you qualify it as a megachurch. Depending on where the threshold is, I probably haven't ever been in one. Canada doesn't tend to produce very many of them.

True. I've been in a few in the US. It's not so much size of congregation as it is ostentation of service. Giant video screens, huge surround sound systems, patriotic imagery mixed in with Christian iconography. Very monied, almost corporate, really.

I'm afraid I find your resolving of Durkheim's dilemma to be very unsatisfying. The need for a glass of water remains real. It seems to me that what Durkheim is saying is "we need water yet water does not exist." Being mistaken about the nature of something you think will fill your need is a different matter altogether. If that was Durkheim's way of resolving it, it sure looks like fuzzy thinking.

It's not a way to resolve the dilemma, it's a way to dissolve the dilemma by showing it is a false one. Your setup was: either what I need is real or it is not real. If the need for God is a need for something real, then atheism is wrong. If the need for God is a need for something not real, why do I need it? I denied the second horn, by pointing out that we often have needs for things that we mistakenly believe to be real. The need remains real, but its object is not. So, one can need God and God can still not be real. It's worth noting that atheists as a class do not have the need for God, which reinforces my claim: once it becomes clear that one's need was for something one mistakenly believed to be real, the need vanishes.

Your list of the contributions of philosophers is impressive and I have nothing to dispute. I will be more respectful towards philosophers as a class in the future.

Ta muchly. ;)

To sum everything up, my concern here is that you are indulging in a form of religious bigotry. "These people don't believe as I do, therefore I will demonize and hate them."

I don't hate them. I think they're irrational on this point, and I'm condemning the irrationality. I don't know where you're getting "hate" from. So, the better way to capture it is: "These people are wrong to not believe as I do, therefore I will hate their error."

FWIW, I have a lot of trouble with a lot of elements with neo-conservatism too, and am uneasy with the tendency of too many religious people, most particularly in the States, to swallow the party line blindly, which is why I applaud Boyd for what he is doing.

Fair enough. I don't think there's much in the "party line" worth swallowing, though!

Sorry for signing in anonymously. I've switched to Blogger beta, and it dislikes the old program. I apologize again for taking so long to come back.

Not a problem. I wondered why I was getting an anonymous comment on such an old post....

undergroundman said...

The idea that Albert Einstein was a Christian is so ludicrous...sorry, you've been lied to. Read the first ten pages of his autobiography (as I have) and you will find this quote:

"Through the reading of popularscientific books I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true. The consequence was a positively fanatic orgy of freethinking coupled with the impression that youth is intentionally being deceived by the state through lies; it was a crushing impression. Mistrust of every kind of authority grew out of this experience, a skeptical attitude toward the convictions that were alive in any specific social environment — an attitude that has never again left me, even though, later on, it has been tempered by a better insight into the causal connections."
* Autobiographical Notes (1979) Edited by Paul Arthur Schilpp

Instead of relying on potentially fallacious appeals to authority or pragmatic rationalizations for why religion is good, we should maybe think about why belief in the Christian God is irrational. As historian Stephen Roberts once said, "I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand whyyou dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."

Strictly speaking, atheism is irrational as well. The only rational position to take on God is agnosticism.

Ironically, Jesus's philosophy was the polar opposite of neoconservatism, Janet. Which should make Christians angry -- strangely, it hasn't for the past 50 years. That makes me suspicious of the rationality and sincerity of these so-called Christians (the majority of them).

ADHR said...

Does that really mean Einstein wasn't a Christian? Or that he was some sort of variant, such as a Deist? All that quote really shows is that he had suspicions about the Bible.

I don't see why atheism is irrational, particularly given your second quote. Agnosticism is only a rational position when the reasons on one side or the other are not sufficiently weighty to make a decision. (One example may be time travel -- it's not clear whether or not it is actually impossible, so one should be agnostic about its possibility.)

Many Christians are actually angry about the debasement of genuinely Christian ideals (the United Church of Canada is one, for example). They just don't get as much press. Perhaps they need to have better PR departments?

undergroundman said...

He has plenty of other quotes showing that he was certainly no Christian. He decided the Bible was false when he was a young teenager. I thought that would suffice. I think he mentioned that he believed in a Spinozan God. Wikiquote has tons of great quotations, all accurately sourced. Einstein was quite philosophically inclined, and grew up reading Kant, Schopenhauer, and all sorts of other philosophers. The fourth quote down or so is about epistemology.

Here's a brief excerpt of a good quote:

"I fully agree with you about the significance and educational value of methodology as well as history and philosophy of science. So many people today — and even professional scientists — seem to me like someone who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest."

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein

Agnosticism is only a rational position when the reasons on one side or the other are not sufficiently weighty to make a decision.

I thought it was obvious that atheism hasn't been sufficiently proven -- there is little evidence that there is not some all-powerful force behind the universe. Nor is there much decent evidence that there is. Thus, agnosticism.

ADHR said...

The Spinozan God quote is on that Wikiquote page. Calling Einstein a Christian is probably a misnomer, given that alone. He's clearly some kind of theist, though -- exactly what kind is not clear, given that there's not enough material there to make Eistein's own views clear, and that Spinoza's views are notoriously difficult to figure out.

I thought it was obvious that atheism hasn't been sufficiently proven -- there is little evidence that there is not some all-powerful force behind the universe. Nor is there much decent evidence that there is. Thus, agnosticism.

It depends on what you mean by "proof". In my case, as I expressed in the 9th comment (just above your first one): Arguments for the existence have been decimated throughout the history of philosophy, so, just on that ground, it's more likely that God does not exist than God does. Furthermore, and more to the point, God is explanatorily superfluous. There is no phenomenon which we cannot explain except by invoking the existence of God. So, either God is a wholly unique theoretical construct, one which explains nothing yet can nonetheless be proven to exist, or God does not exist. It's far more plausible that God does not exist. Hence, it's irrational to suppose that God does exist. Unless, of course, you have some counter-example to this line of reasoning that you have declined thus far to share.

So, extracting the principles I'm appealing to:
(1) Arguments for the existence of an abstract entity have failed.
(2)Only explanatorily relevant abstract entities should be allowed into one's ontology.

That is, the arguments for the existence of the abstract entity "God" have all failed. The abstract entity "God" is explanatorily superfluous. Hence, this is the proof that God does not exist.

The two principles are really independent, but they are also mutually supporting. When asserting the existence of a particular abstract entity, one must either positively argue for it directly or show that it serves an explanatory purpose. (The latter is the usual progress of science -- quarks, for example, can only be considered to exist insofar as they explain something.) If both strategies fail, what else is left but to conclude the entity does not exist?

undergroundman said...

Seems like an ad ignoratium fallacy to me. Simply because attempts to prove God have failed doesn't mean he doesn't exist.

Furthermore, and more to the point, God is explanatorily superfluous. There is no phenomenon which we cannot explain except by invoking the existence of God.

So you say. Obviously Einstein disagreed with you. You think the Big Bang suffices as an argument for the beginning of the universe? What came before the Big Bang? You believe an infinite regression is fine, I suppose? (Sure it is, but why not a finite regression, then? They are equally strange -- we live in a strange universe.) Implied in your statement is that you know intimately why the universe is the way it is and none of it requires God. Hogwash. Philosophers jump from ridiculous argument to ridiculous argument gleefully ignorant of their foolishness (Plato's Theory of Forms to Descartes to Anselm's argument for God to Berkeley's arguments and now to this).

Even if I assume that God is superflous, that is not scientific proof, which is what stands for proof these days. Argue this "logic" till you're blue in the face but you won't be convincing me.

ADHR said...

Seems like an ad ignoratium fallacy to me. Simply because attempts to prove God have failed doesn't mean he doesn't exist.

That's not quite ad ignorantiam. Ad ignorantiam would be a line of inference from the lack of knowledge that God does exist to the claim that God does not exist. What I'm suggesting is that the failure of very sophisticated arguments for the existence of God suggests that there are no good arguments for the existence of God. It's an inductive generalization.

So you say. Obviously Einstein disagreed with you. You think the Big Bang suffices as an argument for the beginning of the universe? What came before the Big Bang?

I have to stop the line of argument at this point, because you've assumed something I don't actually believe, namely that the universe began. I think this is something that cannot be known. In Kantian terms, it's a claim about noumena, when all we can know are phenomena. I can know whether the Earth began, or particular clusters of stars, and so on, but the whole universe gets outside things as they appear and into things as they are in themselves -- about which I can know nothing.

Implied in your statement is that you know intimately why the universe is the way it is and none of it requires God. Hogwash.

If I had implied that, then it would indeed be ridiculous. I'm not sure I implied it, though. What I did imply was that the explanations we have are sufficient for the phenomena we observe, and none of them invoke God. If there's something wrong with the explanations that hypothesizing God would fix, then God would not be explanatorily superfluous. The challenge, though, is what that "something" is.

Philosophers jump from ridiculous argument to ridiculous argument gleefully ignorant of their foolishness (Plato's Theory of Forms to Descartes to Anselm's argument for God to Berkeley's arguments and now to this).

This is a bit ad hominem, isn't it? In any case, these theories only look foolish in hindsight. As, for that matter, does phlogiston, the caloric fluid, or heavenly crystalline spheres. But they were good explanations in their time; as our understanding of what we were observing deepened, though, we saw that these explanations were flawed and we repaired or replaced them. (I tend to think most people still implicitly accept some version of Cartesian dualism, although probably not as sharp a version as Descartes actually defended.)

Even if I assume that God is superflous, that is not scientific proof, which is what stands for proof these days.

I wouldn't appeal to scientific standards here. Science proceeds on the presumption of naturalism --i.e., methodological naturalism. So, science can't see non-natural or supernatural phenomena, even if they are explanatorily relevant. Science would have to throw up its hands if a naturalistic explanation failed. Since God is not natural (at least, on most conceptions of God; pantheism is a bit of a hard one to pigeonhole on this point), scientific standards of proof don't really seem to apply. It looks like it's philosophy or nothing.

Argue this "logic" till you're blue in the face but you won't be convincing me.

Mebbe. But who said I was trying to convince you I was right? Argument can proceed in other ways, and still be fruitful. We may come away from an argument even more deeply committed to our original views, but, through argument, we understand our own views and each other's more fully. Which looks like a good thing.

undergroundman said...

What I'm suggesting is that the failure of very sophisticated arguments for the existence of God suggests that there are no good arguments for the existence of God. It's an inductive generalization.

Suggestions are not proof. Arguments are not proof. Proof is the slam-dunk argument which can't be denied.

you've assumed something I don't actually believe, namely that the universe began. I think this is something that cannot be known.

An agnostic position? Like I said, infinite regression and finite regression are equally strange, though existence can't be created from non-existence(I think -- who really knows?), so I suppose we can conclude that something has always existed.

Science proceeds on the presumption of naturalism --i.e., methodological naturalism.

Everything that exists is "natural." Therefore, if God exists, it is "natural" as well, and it operates through some "natural" mechanism -- even if that natural mechanism is somehow decided by it and its circumstances(yeah, maybe I'm digging myself into a hole?). Who truly knows whether science won't be able to discover it at some point?

I suppose we should clarify what kind of God we're talking about here. It's possible that there is some extremely powerful force behind our particular universe who created it with some purpose in mind (at the least that would solve the purpose problem, even if you don't think that's a problem). But beyond that there must be some sort of pantheistic, Spinozan "God" composed of the entirety of existence and directing existence's flow in its own way, i.e. being directed by its own laws.

Argument can proceed in other ways, and still be fruitful. We may come away from an argument even more deeply committed to our original views, but, through argument, we understand our own views and each other's more fully. Which looks like a good thing.

Good point. :p

ADHR said...

Suggestions are not proof. Arguments are not proof. Proof is the slam-dunk argument which can't be denied.

That's kind of a parochial definition of proof, isn't it? Even mathematical proofs aren't that strong. "Proof", as I'm understanding it, just is good argument.

An agnostic position? Like I said, infinite regression and finite regression are equally strange, though existence can't be created from non-existence(I think -- who really knows?), so I suppose we can conclude that something has always existed.

It's not really agnostic. Agnostic would be to claim that we don't know something yet -- that the jury is still out, so to speak. My view is that, when it comes to the origins of the universe, the jury can't go out at all. So, I'm positively asserting that there is a limit to what we can know.

The idea, from Kant, is that we have to be able to experience something in order to have knowledge of it. (He thought this ruled out knowing God because of parochial details of his conception of experience.) We can't experience a timeless or spaceless state, though: our whole experience is spatiotemporally bounded. So, if we can't know anything unless we can experience it, it follows that we can't know anything about the non-spatiotemporal. Which means we can't know anything about the "time" "before" there was a universe.

Everything that exists is "natural." Therefore, if God exists, it is "natural" as well, and it operates through some "natural" mechanism -- even if that natural mechanism is somehow decided by it and its circumstances(yeah, maybe I'm digging myself into a hole?). Who truly knows whether science won't be able to discover it at some point?

That's certainly a fair definition of "natural", but it's highly non-standard. Most definitions of "natural" that get thrown around in the literature are as I gave: "natural" is what current science accepts. Some (Galen Strawson, for example) have challenged this, but it's still a bit fringey to come out against it.

If that's the definition of "natural", then, yes, God could count. However, that definition of "natural" goes well beyond any currently-known or -accepted scientific methodologies. So, we place the question outside of our scope entirely: we can't prove or disprove God within the current scientific framework, because the current scientific framework doesn't encompass everything covered by that conception of "natural".

So, on that basis, it seems agnosticism might be a sensible position. However, there would need to be a defense of the non-standard, broader conception of "natural".

I suppose we should clarify what kind of God we're talking about here. It's possible that there is some extremely powerful force behind our particular universe who created it with some purpose in mind (at the least that would solve the purpose problem, even if you don't think that's a problem). But beyond that there must be some sort of pantheistic, Spinozan "God" composed of the entirety of existence and directing existence's flow in its own way, i.e. being directed by its own laws.

Again, though, I think we're getting into issues that are beyond what we can know.

undergroundman said...

That's kind of a parochial definition of proof, isn't it? Even mathematical proofs aren't that strong. "Proof", as I'm understanding it, just is good argument.

A proof should be stronger than a (basically inductive) argument which suggests something. You know, I can construct an argument similar to yours based on my "ad hominem" attacks. My argument: philosophy has always been found to be false in the past, therefore it will always be false. Your argument(s): arguments proving God have failed thus far, therefore they will always fail + God has been found to be superflous thus far, thus he doesn't exist. Wow, looks like I just proved that philosophy will never find the truth.

Under your definition of proof, the ID argument looks ok. (You didn't respond to my point that God is not superflous -- he does serve to give existence a purpose, even if we don't know what that purpose is.) I'd prefer that we reserve the word proof to where we're strongly confident that we're certain. Now, you may be certain based on your argument, but I doubt many others are. It looks to me like two fairly weak inductive generalizations from some human with very limited knowledge.

(He thought this ruled out knowing God because of parochial details of his conception of experience.)

Accuse me of parochialism (why don't you just say limited?) and then use it against me a second later?

We can't experience a timeless or spaceless state, though: our whole experience is spatiotemporally bounded.

Who's to say that God exists only in a timeless or spaceless state? Or you're just saying that we can never know whether existence can come from nothingness? I say there's a strong possibility that we will be able to scientifically research (guess, like string theory but hopefully much better, more empirical) what happened before our universe -- but that research would not be knowledge, you say? Even if it advanced technology?

Most definitions of "natural" that get thrown around in the literature are as I gave: "natural" is what current science accepts.

I don't really like going the "logical tricks" route -- changing a definition to extend my argument as to whether we could test for God's existence scientifically is a logical trick. But I firmly believe that what we should call existing should always be discoverable by science. Therefore, if you say something exists, then it has to be scientifically discoverable -- otherwise we can't say whether it exists or not. Logic doesn't cut it. So, yes, I believe that the only things which exist are those things which are scientifically testable -- God, if he exists, among them.

ADHR said...

A proof should be stronger than a (basically inductive) argument which suggests something. You know, I can construct an argument similar to yours based on my "ad hominem" attacks. My argument: philosophy has always been found to be false in the past, therefore it will always be false. Your argument(s): arguments proving God have failed thus far, therefore they will always fail + God has been found to be superflous thus far, thus he doesn't exist. Wow, looks like I just proved that philosophy will never find the truth.

Not really. Arguments for the existence of God are for a specific proposition. Philosophical theories are more general. The failure of philosophical theories on some propositions is not on par with the failure of arguments for the existence of God on their only proposition. Philosophy is progressive, albeit slowly. One progression is the steady decimation of the arguments for the existence of God.

Under your definition of proof, the ID argument looks ok. (You didn't respond to my point that God is not superflous -- he does serve to give existence a purpose, even if we don't know what that purpose is.) I'd prefer that we reserve the word proof to where we're strongly confident that we're certain. Now, you may be certain based on your argument, but I doubt many others are. It looks to me like two fairly weak inductive generalizations from some human with very limited knowledge.

It's OK as an argument, but it yields a conclusion that may not be true. (A common problem with induction!) That is, if God gave existence purpose, then we would have a reason, on the basis of explanatory relevance, to accept God into the ontology. However, it's not clear either that or how God gives existence purpose.

Accuse me of parochialism (why don't you just say limited?) and then use it against me a second later?

I don't know. I like "parochial". It's a nice-sounding word.

Who's to say that God exists only in a timeless or spaceless state? Or you're just saying that we can never know whether existence can come from nothingness? I say there's a strong possibility that we will be able to scientifically research (guess, like string theory but hopefully much better, more empirical) what happened before our universe -- but that research would not be knowledge, you say? Even if it advanced technology?

This is about the whole "can we know what started the universe" business, not God in particular. Since the universe contains all space and time, by definition, whatever started the universe must be timeless and spaceless.

On this conception of knowledge, it ain't knowledge, no. The whole idea of something "before" the universe is problematic, really. If the universe contains all time, how can there by any "before" it?

I don't really like going the "logical tricks" route -- changing a definition to extend my argument as to whether we could test for God's existence scientifically is a logical trick. But I firmly believe that what we should call existing should always be discoverable by science. Therefore, if you say something exists, then it has to be scientifically discoverable -- otherwise we can't say whether it exists or not. Logic doesn't cut it. So, yes, I believe that the only things which exist are those things which are scientifically testable -- God, if he exists, among them.

Under an ideal science, though, not actual science? (Which can't, among other things, really detect minds.) If it's an ideal science, then I'm still not sure why an agnosticism follows rather than a (necessarily provisional) atheism. Ideal science might settle the question, once and for all. But all we're obligated to do before making a conclusion that we can legitimately call knowledge is consider the evidence and techniques at hand. Given what we've got thus far, God looks explanatorily superfluous. We don't need God to explain why biological creatures are they way they are, why morality works the way it does, how the Earth came to be, and so on. This seems to inductively support atheism.

I'm not sure it's a "logical trick" per se. It looks more like pushing the argument back to a conceptual point. If something important hangs on what counts as "natural", then we should have an argument about what "natural" really does or should mean! I don't quite see how that's a trick.

undergroundman said...

Gonna have to revive an old debate. I'm bored and this is an interesting (and understandable) topic.

It's OK as an argument, but it yields a conclusion that may not be true. (A common problem with induction!)

Doesn't your argument suffer from the same flaw?

That is, if God gave existence purpose, then we would have a reason, on the basis of explanatory relevance, to accept God into the ontology. However, it's not clear either that or how God gives existence purpose.

Is that really a problem? All it tells us is that the world doesn't just "exist" -- there is some reason behind it (as we, as reasoning beings, would like there to be). Sure, there's a lot of flaws in it, but so does yours -- a world without "God" seems to be an alien world without reason. Since we depend on reason and view it as important, it seems strange to think that reality is ultimately without reason.

Since the universe contains all space and time, by definition, whatever started the universe must be timeless and spaceless.

Ah. Little bit of miscommunication -- I was defining universe to be our universe rather than the totality of material existence.

If the universe contains all time, how can there by any "before" it?

There was God before it. After existing for eons God was bored and created the Earth. :p (You read Kierkegaard on boredom?)

Under an ideal science, though, not actual science? (Which can't, among other things, really detect minds.) If it's an ideal science, then I'm still not sure why an agnosticism follows rather than a (necessarily provisional) atheism.

I don't know what difference between an ideal science and an actual science is. What's important scientifically is testability. Science can't say anything about the existence of God because God isn't testable. Thus science must always be agnostic. What's the point of "provisionally" stating that God does not exist? If you're going to say that, why don't you just speak honestly and say "it seems that God does not exist" rather than phrasing it in absolute terms? Why support metaphysical "truths" like this?

But all we're obligated to do before making a conclusion that we can legitimately call knowledge is consider the evidence and techniques at hand.

This seems like a loose definition of knowledge. Scientific knowledge is honest - it admits only that there is empirical evidence strongly suggesting a certain causation, based on strong ( often seemingly definite) correlations. Why can't philosophy approach knowledge similarly, without making sweeping and conclusive claims like "God does not exist because it is explanatorily superflous." (With the inevitable "as of yet" and "based on my biased perspective on what explains (makes sense) of the world" going unspoken.) There is evidence for some sort of God (Spinozian, perhaps) in the strange beauty and rationality of the world -- you're just strongly biased against it.

ADHR said...

It's OK as an argument, but it yields a conclusion that may not be true. (A common problem with induction!)

Doesn't your argument suffer from the same flaw?


I wasn't really pointing to a flaw, as such, more to a possible avenue of response.

Is that really a problem? All it tells us is that the world doesn't just "exist" -- there is some reason behind it (as we, as reasoning beings, would like there to be). Sure, there's a lot of flaws in it, but so does yours -- a world without "God" seems to be an alien world without reason. Since we depend on reason and view it as important, it seems strange to think that reality is ultimately without reason.

If we don't know that or how God gives existence reason or purpose, then we have no basis for concluding that he does. Not to mention that the existence of mystery seems to, just on its own, fail the explanatory relevance test. Nothing that is incomprehensible or not comprehended can have explanatory relevance, by definition.

Furthermore, it doesn't follow from the non-existence of God that there are no reasons or purposes in the world; what follows is that reasons and purposes must come from somewhere else. As you say, it seems clear that reasons and purposes are all around us. Given that they can't come from God (as God does not exist), then we have an initial puzzle to be solved: where did they spring from?

Happily, though, we can realize that we humans are good at creating reasons and purposes, all by ourselves. We do it all the time -- you could do it right now. So, the existence of reasons and purposes is no evidence for the existence of God, under the explanatory relevance criterion of existence.

Ah. Little bit of miscommunication -- I was defining universe to be our universe rather than the totality of material existence.

Not catching your distinction here.

There was God before it. After existing for eons God was bored and created the Earth. :p (You read Kierkegaard on boredom?)

No, I went to a highly analytic university as an undergrad, and so skipped Kierkegaard completely. Unless your distinction between "our" universe and the totality of existence is tenable, though, then there can't be a God before the universe, as there's no then for God to be before in.

I don't know what difference between an ideal science and an actual science is. What's important scientifically is testability. Science can't say anything about the existence of God because God isn't testable. Thus science must always be agnostic.

Doesn't follow. Even accepting your criterion of science (which is dubious; I'd think that explanation is more important, else how to explain quantum theory, which is not testable?), God should be testable for fear of being impotent. If God can affect the world, then the presence of God should be testable.

What's the point of "provisionally" stating that God does not exist? If you're going to say that, why don't you just speak honestly and say "it seems that God does not exist" rather than phrasing it in absolute terms? Why support metaphysical "truths" like this?

All truths are provisional, pending possible future refutation. If you don't accept that, then you're never going to be able to know very much at all! This is Descartes' problem: he set the bar so high on knowledge that, as it turned out, he didn't really know anything at all. The task of an adequate epistemology is setting the bar at such a level that we can actually use knowledge -- we don't turn "knowledge" into a completely unachievable, hence useless, ideal -- but not such that anything goes. So, technically, all knowledge will come out as being provisional: given that what was considered knowledge in the past has turned out to be not knowledge at all, it's entirely possible that what is considered knowledge now will turn out to be not knowledge at all. But what else are we to do, unless we want to plunge into Cartesian skepticism?

This seems like a loose definition of knowledge. Scientific knowledge is honest - it admits only that there is empirical evidence strongly suggesting a certain causation, based on strong ( often seemingly definite) correlations. Why can't philosophy approach knowledge similarly, without making sweeping and conclusive claims like "God does not exist because it is explanatorily superflous." (With the inevitable "as of yet" and "based on my biased perspective on what explains (makes sense) of the world" going unspoken.) There is evidence for some sort of God (Spinozian, perhaps) in the strange beauty and rationality of the world -- you're just strongly biased against it.

Or you're strongly biased for it. Accusations of "bias" don't really get an argument anywhere, as they're far to easy to turn around.

The important point is that science does not proceed as you describe it. Scientists do say that they know things: evolution is true, the Big Bang happened, and so on. They accept that these are possibly subject to refutation, but, until the refutation happens, these claims are true.