Sam Harris’s The End of Faith is a well-executed polemic of a kind that, in retrospect, has been curiously absent in the West over the last fifty years. Not since I read Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not A Christian in the early 1970s have I seen an attack on organized religion as clear, uncompromising, and compelling as this one — and Russell’s book was expanded from a lecture he gave in 1927.
Why, in a supposedly secular and modernist society that is heir to the anti-religious Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th century, do we not see more outright attacks on particular religions, or religion as an institution in general? Mr. Harris supplies a surprising answer: he thinks ‘tolerance’ is a problem, that the modern West has agreed to accept almost any form of unsanity or fanaticism as long as it is labeled ‘religion’.
Harris barely mentions Russell (and never cites earlier militants in the same line like Voltaire or Robert Ingersoll), but following his logic we would conclude that critiques like Russell’s are now rare because even intellectuals inclined to believe them deem them a violation of the ethos of tolerance, the tacit agreement not to dispute matters of religion that is the closest Western secularism has come to solving the problem of faith.
The trouble with ‘tolerance’ is that it only works as a cultural compact when all parties are civilized and have in practice largely agreed to abandon the more inconvenient claims of the religions they theoretically profess. Bertrand Russell, in his time, could set against Christianity’s moral account mainly the fact that it had committed massacres and atrocities in the past and might do so in the future. Sam Harris began writing this book on September 12th, 2001; he is reacting to the vary real atrocities being perpetrated now in the name of militant Islam.
The End of Faith begins with a description of the last hour of a suicide-bomber’s life. Beginning with this vivid image, Harris argues that tolerance of religious fanaticism is now a liability that a nuclear-armed world can no longer afford. If we do not make an end to faith, he warns, it will make an end of us.
Apologists for the now-dominant Christianity of the West will object that this is too sweeping. “Surely, at worst,” they will argue, “only some kinds of faith are toxic; conveniently for us, the wrong kinds.” Harris neatly scotches that argument by quoting passages from both Old and New Testaments that require killing for apostasy. There is no doubt that Christian scripture tells its adherents to kill those who turn away from faith, even members of their own families. There is no doubt that Christians have behaved that way in the past; there is no doubt that Christianity only refrains from this now because most Christians have agreed to ignore inconveniently harsh passages from the Bible; and, given that the fastest-growing Christian denominations profess Biblical literalism, there is every reason to suspect that agreement is fragile and temporary.
Harris’s central case is continuous with arguments I have made before, notably in my essays Islamofascism and the Rage of Augustine and Toxic Christianity, round two. I will spend much of the rest of this essay critiquing various aspects of this book not because I disagree with his conclusions, but because I think some important aspects of the problem he is tackling are not quite adequately addressed in his argument.
Most of what is missing is readily explicable from Harris’s background; he is someone primarily trained as neuroscientist writing in an area where comparative religion and some aspects of philosophy (most notably epistemology, confirmation theory, and the philosophy of language) are more directly applicable. As a result there are places where, while his conclusions are sound, his arguments are roundabout, a bit naive, and subject to spoiler attacks on the details. And there are arguments he should make that he doesn’t.
One obvious error in the early part of Harris’s exposition is a tendency to speak as though all religions make faith claims in the same way that Christianity and Islam do, and are thus all equally dangerous in potential. This is not true, and later in the book Harris makes clear that he knows better — or at least, that he knows Buddhism (when properly understood) doesn’t make faith claims. But he displays no understanding of other kinds of religion (shamanism, polytheisms, animism) even where references to it would strongly bolster his case against Judeo-Christian-Islamic particularism.
Harris’s Chapter 2 (The Nature of Belief) is the first major demonstration that he knows too little about analytical philosophy. Thus, he spends that chapter wading through ontological thickets that he could have avoided had he availed himself early on of the operationalist criterion: a belief or theory is true to the extent it permits successful prediction of observables. Lacking this tool, he has to do a lot of gear-grinding about the relation between “statements” and “reality” before getting anywhere useful. While putting the ontological cart before the confirmational horse in this way remains a common error even among philosophers, seeing Harris repeat it is disappointing in a book otherwise so lucid.
A similar error dogs his discussion of “pragmatism” vs. “realism” in Chapter 6 (A Science of Good and Evil). Harris doesn’t seem to realize that modern versions of “pragmatism” such as Richard Rorty’s are largely self-crippled by their advocates’ political commitments (notably, to multiculturalism and against objective normative truth). Early pragmatists like C.S. Peirce actually had a better handle on the relation of usefulness to “reality” than their successors today do. One might summarize it by observing that a pragmatist who does not arrive at an independently causal “reality” as the most useful hypothesis has failed, but a realist who justifies his ontology on any grounds other than strictly pragmatic ones is just fantasizing.
Harris’s forays into ethical philosophy are in some ways even more unfortunate. There is some excellent reasoning about the use of force here (Harris’s account of pacifism is especially telling), but the worst moment in the book arrives when he makes a complete hash of the controversy between deontic and consequentialist ethics, annotating the statement “Where ethics are concerned, intentions are everything” with a footnote that flatly contradicts it! He is far too quick to usher adaptationist accounts of ethics offstage, and he seems completely unaware of the contributions ethical-egoist critiques of faith (such as, for example, Ayn Rand’s) could make to his argument.
In terms of Harris’s own objectives, the book’s most serious failure is that he does a poor job of connecting faith-based religion to the murderous secular irrationalisms of the 20th century, notably Communism and Naziism. The problem here is one that shows up elsewhere in the book; connections that seem obvious to Harris are alluded to rather than nailed down with explicit argument, creating the appearance that his case is weaker than it actually is.
Harris could have made much of the connection between ‘faith’ and authoritarianism, and the psychological mechanism I have elsewhere described as the sin/guilt/thoughtcrime monitor. But he never gets there, which is a curious failing in someone who understands meditation and mysticism so well.
But these are comparatively minor defects in a sustained argument that is remarkable in its clarity, penetration, and wit. The most unfortunate thing about this book is that the people who need it most are the ones least likely to read it.
The best we can hope for is that it is the beginning of a conversation that will galvanize the unbelievers, the sane people, into rejecting suicidal tolerance of fanaticism and standing up against ‘faith’ and for rationality. Because Harris is right — this isn’t a parlor game any more. If we let them, the fanatics will use our ‘tolerance’ as a weapon against us. And they will use it to kill.
>But these are comparatively minor defects in a sustained argument that is remarkable in its clarity, penetration, and wit. The most unfortunate thing about this book is that the people who need it most are the ones least likely to read it.
Well, your review certainly tantalizes.
The spoilage I was looking for (and I guess I’ll have to RTFM) is what Sam Harrisâ€™s “definition of is is”.
Wouldn’t want to punt on my current existential certainty without a clearly superior replacement.
Yes. Thanks to the sin/guilt/thoughtcrime monitor, most Christians you give it to will suddenly be much too busy with some project to do any pleasure reading. I have experienced this over and over with The Blind Watchmaker.
I have been a doubter for as long as I remember, but one of the most memorable moments in my journey out of religion was when I let myself read your paganism FAQ. I had passed by it in your site’s index over and over, wanting to read it, but knowing it would be a sin. Then, one day, I read it anyways.
I’m no theologian but I do have 12 years of Catholic schooling. Never once was I taught that the Bible was to be read literally or as an historical document. In 20 words or less the Old Testament is a pretty good story about the passage of humanity from barbarism to civil society. The transition was accomplished by humanity evolving its theology from God-me to God-us. My summary of Catholic theology is first ‘do no harm’ and second ‘help your fellow man as you would like to be helped.’ My understanding of Judaism, as limited as it is, is that Judaism does not vary from those precepts. If anything Judaism is even more oriented to sustaining a civil society with its emphasis on education and learning.
Faith claims, at least as I understand Catholicism, do not supplant any scientific evidence of the big bang or evolution or quantum physics or any other discipline, nor do they require an authoritarian social organization. I’m sure that there are models of Christianity that fit Harris’ premise but I don’t think they’re dominant or even popular.
PeterBoston, your Catholic schooling (a background I share) came after Catholicism had had the epistemological stuffing kicked out of it for about four centuries. Thus, the version of Christianity you learned was seriously detoxified. Now go read the Book of Deuteronomy…
Very nice piece.
A few thoughts: I haven’t read Harris’ critique of Christianity but I wonder whether he is substituting a straw-man version of that particular faith for the real thing (yes, I know his broader point is about faith, not just Christianity). He’s certainly right that Chrisitanity has been viciously uncompromising in the past but, as Peter points out, it just doesn’t act this way in the modern West. Despite the *political* claims of, say, the gay community, there remains a huge difference between Christianity and pre-reformation (unreformed?) faiths like Wahabbi Islam. I hope that Harris doesn’t buy into the politicized critique of Christianity that sees no difference between its (commonly accepted) position of “hate the sin but love the sinner” and the Islamicist position of crushing homosexuals under a toppled wall.
In a related vein – a question. Do you think that the “Cliff Notes” version of his position (which is all that most people will hear) will be dismissed simply because Christians simply find his idea of their faith shallow and misinformed?
Now, despite this critique, to the extent that the Old Testament itself offers justification for extremism, there is a very real concern that future incarnations of Christianity could again devolve into barbarism. But, by the same token, *any* strongly held ideology suffers the same critique. The advantage of Christianity is that it has, at the core of its belief system, the immutable example of Christian love and forgiveness in Jesus. While this is certainly not enough to assure that it won’t turn vicious in the right circumstances, it is a powerful counterweight that other ideologies (Communism, Islamism) simply don’t possess. This is different from the advantage of non-faith-based religions such as Buddhism which, lacking claims to revealed truth and the mandate of power, simply don’t generate the same degree of intolerance at their source.
Now, you say: “the bookâ€™s most serious failure is that he does a poor job of connecting faith-based religion to the murderous secular irrationalisms of the 20th century.” Surely you aren’t claiming that, but for its connection to religious faith, Communism, etc. would have been relatively benign. I think I know your thinking well enough to discount this so I’m not sure where you are going with that.
Anyway, hope this makes sense for a quite write, gotta get back to work!
I disagree with much of this, but one particular point I’m curious about:
In terms of Harrisâ€™s own objectives, the bookâ€™s most serious failure is that he does a poor job of connecting faith-based religion to the murderous secular irrationalisms of the 20th century, notably Communism and Naziism.
I suppose the argument here is that Communism and Naziism, being totalitarian, were aggressively secular precisely because they occupied the faith-position of a religion? But what do we then do with Imperial Japan?
It seems to me a pessimistic rationalist might well conclude religion is the most practical impediment to totalitarianism, if the alternative is relativism (which it very often seems to be).
I don’t deny that Christianity has changed over the years. Been detoxified if you would. But how does the evidence that Christianity has, without abandoning its core beliefs, adapted itself to modern democratic society make it more likely to favor fascism? Your logic is bassackwards.
And just to toss a science and rationality ball up into the air – physics has absolutely no explanation for how the universe expanded from a dot to near infinity in 1/trillionth of a second. I don’t have an explanation either but I also don’t see any explanation as other than a faith claim either.
>I havenâ€™t read Harrisâ€™ critique of Christianity but I wonder whether he is substituting a straw-man version of that particular faith for the real thing
I think Harris’s answer would be the same as mine. Intolerant Christianity is the real thing; it’s liberal, tolerant Christianity that is contingent, surprising, historically recent, and probably unstable. Your “immutable example of Christian love and forgiveness in Jesus” was insufficient to prevent Christian atrocities in the past, and there is no reason to believe it will be sufficient in the future.
>Surely you arenâ€™t claiming that, but for its connection to religious faith, Communism, etc. would have been relatively benign.
No, I’m claiming that Christianity and Communism have the same pathology at their core — the fact that we categorize one as ‘secular’ and the other as ‘religious’ is a surface feature of no great interest. Go read my essay on “Islamofascism and the Rage of Augustine”.
>It seems to me a pessimistic rationalist might well conclude religion is the most practical impediment to totalitarianism, if the alternative is relativism (which it very often seems to be).
Read the book. Harris does a good job of refuting this.
>I donâ€™t have an explanation either but I also donâ€™t see any explanation as other than a faith claim either.
Faith claims aren’t confirmable or disconfirmable. Cosmological ones are. The difference is fundamental.
“physics has absolutely no explanation for how the universe expanded from a dot to near infinity in 1/trillionth of a second.”
I’ve never encountered this specific claim, but nonetheless… The nice thing about science is precisely that the beliefs of is practitioners are *not* grounded in faith. Systems are observed, hypotheses drawn up, experiments conducted, and maybe, with luck, a supportable theory arises. If new evidence comes to light that contradicts the previously held theory, then something’s gotta give. Various attempts to answer the question of the origin of our universe are still mostly just untested hypotheses, but that doesn’t make them faith. They don’t become faith until you accept them at face value and refuse to consider anything new. “Don’t confuse me with facts. My mind is made up!” Phew.
PeterBoston wrote: “And just to toss a science and rationality ball up into the air – physics has absolutely no explanation for how the universe expanded from a dot to near infinity in 1/trillionth of a second. I donâ€™t have an explanation either but I also donâ€™t see any explanation as other than a faith claim either.”
I won’t repeat what Eric pointed out already in response to this. I will say that you cannot effectively evaluate science if you are operating within the meta-physical framework of SuperNaturalism. The typical approach taken, and clearly demonstrated in your comment, is to subsitute the meta-physical for the subsequent constructs. Just because physics has no answer for how that particular thing happened does not mean that you are asked to take it on faith. Indeed, within Naturalism you are asked not to take it on faith. This is a tremendous difference, staggering really, if you stop and think about it. Naturalism does not demand that you accept any explanation of the universe on faith. You are invited to learn physics, recreate the work done and prove, or disprove, the claims of Naturalism. This simply is not possible within SuperNaturalism.
This difference is so crucial that it lies at the heart of the problem.
Fair enough; I haven’t read the book (this is the third review I’ve run across…).
FWIW, of these essays I found “Toxic Christianity, round 2” by far the least convincing; I think you’ve completely misdiagnosed that one (possibly due to lack of familiarity with Christian inter-denominational arcana?). Archbishop Williams’s politics are those of a perfectly typical European leftist, rather than having any real corelation to, say, Pat Robertson. That doesn’t particuarly impart the main point of the current essay in either case, though.
Why did you use confirmable instead of provable? How is the fact that physics has no explanation for expansion confirmable? You lost me there.
Since you base your theory that faith=fascism on Augustine I will first have to read Augustine.
Permit me to pick a nit.
“…Buddhism (when properly understood) doesnâ€™t make faith claims…”
Who gets to decide when it’s properly understood?
I could just as easily claim that (when properly understood), the major monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (when properly understood) don’t make faith claims. For that matter, the major monotheistic faiths (when properly understood) promote harmony, love, peace, and joy. Who could object to that?
>Why did you use confirmable instead of provable?
It’s a technical distinction. Properly, one should only use ‘provable’ of mathematucal propositions that are subject to formal analytic proof.
>How is the fact that physics has no explanation for expansion confirmable? You lost me there.
Evidently. Read what Simon and Eric Cowperthwaite had to say about this; they’re both correct.
>Who gets to decide when itâ€™s properly understood?
The Buddha. The earliest Buddhist scriptures are quite clear that he was describing a psychological system, a form of self-therapy through meditation and awareness. The supernatural accretions came later, and half the Buddhist world (the Theravada tradition) rejected them. Even theistic Buddhism has invented schools of back-to-basics anti-supernaturalism resembling Theravada; Zen is an example.
>I could just as easily claim that (when properly understood), the major monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (when properly understood) donâ€™t make faith claims.
You could, but you’d be wrong. Jesus was not the Buddha, and his teachings cannot be plausibly interpreted in a way that doesn’t have faith and exclusive revelation as a pprimary component. If that were possible, I might still be a Christian. And just try bouncing ths claim off a rabbi…
>> Who gets to decide when it’s properly understood?
> The Buddha.
Unfortunately, he’s unavailable at the moment. What do you suggest in his absence?
The explanations may be correct but they’re sop. At the big bang the universe expanded faster than the speed of light. Maybe by a factor of billions. Not only is there no explanation, as in we just haven’t discoverd it yet, but the laws of physics say it cannot happen. Since we must accept the laws of physics as well established and corrent the only logical conclusion is for an entirely different and distinct set of physical laws at the big bang. If that doesn’t twiddle your curiosity about the limits of scientific rationalism it should.
Peter, this is the same fallacy that throws out evolution because it does not explain everything. That we do not now know how the universe expanded at its beginning does not in any way mean that we never will. That it appears to violate the laws of physics as we now know them merely means that our understanding is currently incomplete, and the laws may well be more complex than we currently understand them to be.
Just because we don’t know all the answers doesn’t mean we should throw out those answers we do know.
Peter, none of that invalidates anything, nor demands that you take anything on faith. This the crucial difference between Naturalism and SuperNaturalism. Nor does any of this cause me to rethink Naturalism, or its subsidiary concept of scientific rationalism. The reality is that our understanding of the universe is dramatically different than what it was in 1850. The atom was then believed to be the smallest division of matter. Today, we understand that was incorrect. Does discovering the existence of electrons, neutrons and protons invalidate scientific rationalism? Just because we don’t understand something doesn’t mean that Naturalism is wrong, nor that SuperNaturalism is right. Don’t know means don’t know, not that something is true.
Nice answer Jay! :-)
No it shouldn’t.
Er, the last post was in reply to PeterBoston; sorry.
You are misrepresenting what I’ve said and attributing things to me that I have not said. Not only am I not saying that we should throw out answers that we do know, I am saying that the science is so well established that it must be accepted as truth. Jay is saying that our understanding is incomplete. That’s true as far as it goes but it does not go far enough to recognize that expansion is a paradox. It happened but it could not have happened.
This is entirely a Natural issue. I have not ascribed expansion to a supernatural cause. I could as easily accept the theory of a second and distinct law of physics as any other explanation. I guess my whole point to begin with was that because no aspect of the big bang can ever be recreated in a laboratory that any explanation, no matter what it is, will have to be accepted on faith (whatever else you want to call it)
Peter, you’re still missing the point. That the expansion is an apparent paradox simply shows that our understanding is incomplete. At some point, science will come up with an explanation that makes sense for that case as well as the normal case.
The science is so well established that it must be accepted as truth except when it cannot explain what happens – and when something like that is found, science expands until it can explain that, too.
It’s like the difference between Newtonian and Einsteinian physics: for the stuff you and I work with daily, Newtonian physics is perfectly adequate. Only in some subset of cases do we need to delve into the mysteries of Einsteinian physics, and only in some subset of those cases is Einstein not up to the task.
How do you know we will never be able to recreate the Big Bang in a laboratory?
Jay, questions about the physical universe to which no human being on earth can even suggest an answer may deserve more than a cavalier response.
As I understand you are a computer scientist .at least the web says so… . :-) and you criticised someone for entring an area which is not their specialisation ………. . Paradox …….
Peter, I’m saying that your suggestion that this is an unexplainable paradox (i.e. the Big Bang) is no different than any other unexplainable paradox, undefinable mystery, or hard limit of past science that we have since identified as not being “the final answer”. I’m not saying that you are trying to ascribe a supernatural cause to the issues you’ve discussed, but that, instead, you appear to be discussing the constructs of Naturalism (i.e. science) from the meta-physical framework of SuperNaturalism.
When exactly did it become “SuperNaturalism” instead of “supernaturalism”? Just curious.
heh, just how I wrote it.
Uh.. If his entire premise about Christianity being bad is based upon the fifth book of the *old testament*, then I have serious doubts as to the rigor of his analysis anywhere else.
Note that the root word of Christian is “Christ”, as in followers of the teachings of this Jesus fella. The old testament predates Jesus. Most Christians regard the old testament as history, and new testament as the teachings of Christ that are to be followed.
Faith turns to fanatacism only in the minds of the wicked or the deranged. To toss the entirety of religion out to prevent its abuse by a few is roughly akin to stripping firearms from the citizenry to prevent the wicked and the deranged from shooting people.
That whole “baby with the bathwater” thing is kinda off-putting. Because you never know when you’re gonna be the one in the tub when someone decides to chuck it.
No one criticizes Christianity anymore because it doesn’t exist, for the most part. No one in Europe attends church, and the mainline congregations are hemoragging people left and right. Religion, at it’s best, answers the questions for people afraid of death or missing dead loved ones with some form of communal spiritual comfort. Hence the growth of Evangelicals. However their growth as such has to be measured in the decline of religious belief in large measure.
Islam of course is a different case. Islam is not a religion in the Western sense but in the Eastern sense (a total way of life and culture and politics). Unlike Western identity (which can be separated from overt religious belief); Islamic identity is part and parcel of their religion; their way of life will be eaten away by the acid of modernity so the Islamic world’s response is to destroy the modern world and turn into one giant barbaric Dark Ages tribe. Before literacy, urbanization, and modernity simply destroy their way of life.
Christianity simply went gently into that good night; Islam is determined to destroy the modern world in a last, desperate fight. Progressives really hate modern life anyway, and yearn for some autocrat to order the world as a Philosopher King; so they are sympathetic to the Islamists and share their desire to destroy modernity.
I believe the single biggest reason faith has suffered in recent times is that the most vocal and visible proponents of faith are fantastically ignorant and refuse to admit it.
There is still room in modern life and in modern science for God, but you have to drop the baggage people attach to Him, like the omnipotent and omniscient bits. There are contradictions in those, so no matter how much you would like them to be true, they *can’t* be true. You have to let go of them. Likewise, when the scripture says “this happened at that place during this year”, and we demonstrate conclusively that it cannot possibly have happened there and then… well, you have to let it go. Maybe it happened somewhere else, maybe it happened another time, maybe it didn’t happen at all; it certainly didn’t happen when and where the scripture says.
When you refuse to accept these things, you’re just being stupid, and everybody knows it except you. No matter how comforting you find the idea that modern science is stupider than the largely uneducated nomadic tribesmen who wrote your “holy” scriptures, you don’t get to be that comfortable.
Jim Rockford wrote: “Christianity simply went gently into that good night”
From our modern, Western perspective that seems to be true. Especially since our history usually barely touches upon the conflict between Henry VIII and the Pope, the rise of Liberalism, the Enlightenment, the Reformation, the 100 Years War, the 30 Years War, etc. Before all of that, Christian Europe was no different from how you describe the Islamic world today. Religion, politics, identity, etc. were all wrapped up into one big ball of wax that defined the world and world view of 99.9% of Europeans. This is difficult for us to comprehend today, in a culture where religion, politics and culture have been, to some extent, separated. I would argue that the rise of Romanticism in the 19th Century, and its follow on ideologies, such as Fascism and Communism, were a direct consequence of, and reaction to, the reformation of Western culture that separated Faith and Reason.
Those of you who have been saying Christianity has mellowed, or even died, haven’t been paying much attention to the Real World. From various surveys (you’ll have to look them up yourselves if you want specifics, these are from memory and I can’t recall all the exact sources), most (more than 50%, varies depending on survey) Americans believe atheistic writings should be censored, most that angels exist, not half but a substantial (10-20%) minority that the Holy Bible is the literal word of god. These are not statistics that should make anyone with any sense feel comfortable.
Re: Deuteronomy — apparently neither Harris nor ESR is aware of Acts, chapters 10 and 11, in which God is described as telling Peter to kill and eat any animals; that is, to ignore the kosher laws, which are set down in Deuteronomy. Christians have always interpreted that passage as an abrogation in general of the legal code in Deuteronomy; Peter himself read it as abrogating the duty to circumcise Gentile converts. Therefore you cannot quote any passage of Deuteronomy as proof of Christianity’s wickedness; the passage you pick probably isn’t binding as law. (By the way, exactly which verses did Harris quote?)
Re: the “operationalist” criterion for truth — That criterion depends on the assumption that the cosmos is intelligible; which is to say, that we have a right to expect observables to fall into patterns, that similar causes produce similar effects, and that “laws of nature” really exist. And it is not self-evident that this assumption is valid, since it can be denied without logical contradiction. People believe in it on faith. If Harris has read Hume, he knows this, which would explain why he didn’t appeal to operationalism.
Finally, Islam today does share one trait with the “secular irrationalisms of the 20th century”: a refusal to consider objections to its core doctrine, and condemnation of all objectors. They will not, that is, permit rational debate of their faith. And Harris is on to something in marking Western “tolerance” as a problem, but he doesn’t recognize what he has. What passes as “tolerance” in Europe is, in fact, a rejection of rational debate in religious matters, on the grounds — more accurately, in the faith — that religious matters are all nonsense, imposed on the credulous by “organized religion”. It’s the same mistake, at base, that the fanatics make, so naturally the “tolerant” are defenseless against the fanatics. (Incidentally, in the major branches of Christianity and Judaism rational debate of the faith is not just permitted, but almost required; rejecting reason is a heresy. And it wasn’t modern science that drove them to it, either — commentaries on Aristotle first raised the question.)
Verily! Christianity is an active and dangerous force in America today.
I have difficulty with the credibility of a survey that has no connection with my life experience. I have never talked to single person who believes that atheistic writings should be censored, nor do I recall any person who seriously argued that the Bible should be read literally or as an accurate historical document. Those people exist, I’m sure, but not likely in the numbers you suggest.
I suppose it’s one thing to trace philosophical development through history but it’s quite another to make a convincing case that faith=fascism. I think that case can be made easily with Islam. The post-Khomeni Iranian constitution gives a single cleric the absolute authority to nullify any legistlative act or judicial decsion. There are any number of Islamic organizations with names like the Group for Preaching and Combat who actually perpetrate acts of violence.
But where are the Christian institutions that support the conclusion that “Christianity is an active and dangerous force in America today?” Examples of people who say things is not an institution. Tell me how people have organized themselves and what they do.
Most people’s direct experience is pretty narrow, mostly with others who resemble them closely. Which is why surveys, and history is important.
Actually, I think they were somewhat exaggerated myself by people trying to make a point. Move to a small city (less than 100 000) or a working class suburb of a larger city and start talking about atheism and you will probably get a more realistic idea of what most Americans believe.
>Re: the â€œoperationalistâ€ criterion for truth â€” That criterion depends on the assumption that the cosmos is intelligible; which is to say, that we have a right to expect observables to fall into patterns, that similar causes produce similar effects, and that â€œlaws of natureâ€ really exist.
The intelligibility of the cosmos doesn’t have to be assumed. It can just be observed. We know there are important causal regularities because we experience them.
Since I could not make any reasonable contribution on Augustine with a Wikipedia reading I did the next best thing and searched for contemporary writing on Augustine and politics.
Augustine’s World and Ours
It seems that you may not have granted Augustine the complexity his writings deserved. Just dismising him as a Zoroastrian seems like you are cutting the pieces to fit your puzzle.
Political philosophy in the abstract can make good reading but it’s woefully inadequate as an explanation of why people organize the way they do, or as a description of how they organize. I believe that question can best be addressed, maybe even only addressed, through the actions of the institutions they create.
I believe there is a problem with your definition of truth, as predictive power. You are missing an important distinction. There is what I think of as lowercase truth and uppercase Truth.
Lowercase truth has to do with what is. If you think the truth is that a dog you see is a living animal, then at some point you would expect to see it move, eat, shit, breath, mate and so on because living animals do these things. Thus, truth IS information you can use to predict the future.
But uppercase Truth is about what it all means. “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, and of these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Those ‘self evident’ truths are Truths with a capital T.
If you are deprived of lowercase truth, your standard of living will fall. If you are sufficiently deprived, you will die. People die from lack of lowercase truth. But people are willing to die FOR uppercase Truth. They are willing to die for meaning.
The two sources of uppercase Truth that I have been able to identify are: revelation and authenticity. Revelation is: “The Bible says it and I believe it.” Authenticity is: “You got to represent.”
Authenticity: There is a 7 year old poetry prodigy in New York named Autum Ashante who was recently invited to perform at some public schools for Black History Month.
She commanded white students to remain seated while she led black students in a recitation of the “Black Child’s Pledge,” by Black Panther Shirley Williams, which begins:
“I pledge allegiance to my Black People.”
The trouble with authenticity as a source of meaning is that it makes in impossible to form a large, coherent, disciplined social group. If I pledge allegiance to my Black People, then to hell with all of the rest of you, and it is impossible to form a society across races, or even clans.
The inability to form a coherent society is the root cause (as it were) of slavery. If you can not achieve the military coherence necessary to fight off slave raiders, then your people will sooner or later be chattel. And probably ultimately extinct.
Revelation: The problem with Revealed Truth is that it sooner or later comes into conflict with lowercase truth and demands that lowercase truth yield before it. After all, truth is shown to you merely by your own eyeballs, whereas Revealed Truth comes to us from God.
And people suffer and die to the degree that they are denied access to lowercase truth.
If you can name or describe a third source of Truth, neither authentic nor revealed, I’m all ears. But if not, we have an existential problem.
Why can’t people just live without Truth? Because unlike animals (for the most part), we can anticipate our own death. It’s not just that you and I are going to die. It’s that one day the human race will end, and then the Universe itself, and all will be forgotten.
One of my favorite Heinlein quotes is: “Death is the lot of all of us and the only way the human race has ever conquered death is by treating it with contempt.”
Uppercase Truth is what make it possible to treat death with contempt. The Truth is that death doesn’t matter, because God or your Race (or something) is eternal, so that as long as the Truth is part of you, then part of you will never die.
Belief in Truth is what saves most of us from existential despair. Both authentic and revealed Truth are lethal in large, concentrated doses. But those who take their Truth in small, watered down doses are frequently crushed by True Believers.
Without Truth, it is difficult to have hope. And without hope, you will not do the things that make it possible for you to have a future.
Thus is our existential dilemma. In short, God has a wicked sense of humor.
> Harris neatly scotches that argument by quoting the Book of Deuteronomy. There is no doubt that Christian scripture tells its adherents to kill those who turn away from faith, even members of their own families.
Eric, as this and numerous other comments of yours confirm, you don’t even really know Christianity, much less understand it. Look, why don’t you get together with Vox Day sometime and have a long talk with him? You share a number of positions, and I think the meeting would be good for both of you. :)
Vox’s blog can be found at http://voxday.blogspot.com/, for those interested I find it somewhat ironic that I have the two of you right next to each other on reading list.
By the way, the problem with Feminism (if anybody’s interested) is its having flipped from one source of Truth to the other. The first feminists proclaimed: “Women, like men, are children of God, equal in His eyes, and deserving of the same respect.”
Modern academic Feminism is contemptuous of God and universal divinity-based arguments. The FemiNazi’s credo is: “You got to represent.” There is such a thing as the authentic woman’s opinion: the standard Lefty mumbo-jumbo you’ve heard a million times. Any woman who turns away from the Left is a traitor to women, an Aunt Tom, as it were.
This is part of why Jihad is not a Feminist issue (as far as the academics are concerned). Early feminism was entirely consistent with the univeral American creed of liberty for all, and so had no problem being pro-American. Modern Feminism is at war with universalism, and hence with America. Thus it cannot declare war on the Jihadis.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
And yes, there is a contradiction here, as the Jihadis would basically enslave the academic Feminists if they had the power. But one of the great things about being an Intellectual, is that you have the mental tools necessary to maintain a willful blindness to contradictions you do not want to see.
It seems to me that only Revealed Truth (as opposed to authenticity) is compatible with Liberty. Liberty is founded in the determination to tolerate all behavior that does not harm others. And it must be backed up by a willingness to die for this principle.
But why should I die for your freedom? What good will it do me after I am dead? If I am ornery I might be willing to risk death for my own liberty, but yours? If I take as my position: â€œI disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it,â€ wouldnâ€™t that make me the stupidest person who ever lived?
I suppose fighting for your liberty might make sense if you and I were essentially the same in some way, but what if your skin is a different color than mine? What if your genitals are shaped differently than mine? What if you and I are not of the same tribe, clan, village, neighborhood?
Then screw you, buddy. I got to represent. I pledge allegiance to my Black People (or whatever). How does your freedom of speech benefit me?
If, on the other hand, there is some God, whose children we all are, and under whose Lordship we are all the same, then if I died for your freedom of conscience, my death might be imbued with meaning.
Then and (as near as I can tell) ONLY then would it make sense for me to risk my precious skin to safeguard your right to say what you want.
Where then does this leave people like yours truly, who love liberty but have trouble believing in God?
In the National Review Online, John Derbyshire wrote once about a car wreck he was in where one minute he was driving along and the next second he was waking up, having been out for several minutes after being hit by another vehicle.
He said that he had no real philosophical problem with death being just like that period of unconsciousness after the wreck, wherein time passed but he was not aware of it. It was easy for him to imagine death as a sleep wherein forever passed, and he would be oblivious.
But nonetheless, he said he continued to believe in God, because he seemed to be constitutionally incapable of not believing.
I understood exactly where he was coming from, because I come from exactly the opposite place. I am fascinated by religion and its social and philosophical implications. I have come to believe that some form of popular religious belief is indispensable to a free society. And I would never want to live in an unfree society.
Yet I have no religious faith.
I have tried praying. It just seems like I was talking to myself. The supernatural makes no sense to me. I am fascinated by the structure of belief, yet I am utterly bored by the content.
The inescapable conclusion is that I am a hypocrite. Yet I cannot seem to be otherwise.
>Eric, as this and numerous other comments of yours confirm, you donâ€™t even really know Christianity, much less understand it.
You lose. I was raised Catholic, I’ve had mystical experiences in a Christian context, I’ve read the entire Bible, and I’ve studied the theology and history of Christianity more closely than anyone who isn’t a seminarian normally does. The odds that you know anything about Christianity that I don’t aren’t zero, but they are very, very low.
I don’t loathe Christianity because I don’t understand it. I loathe it because I do.
Instead of reposting, … meh I’ll just repost.
I read someone saying that not all evangelical christians are evil. I can only agree, Iâ€™ve had many a debate with both hackers and non-hackers on similar issues. Many people fail to notice that people need to be together, and that it really helps when there is a guiding hand in that getting together. Only really bad thing about christianity (and really every other faith) is when people start taking the book (the Bible, in this case) litterally and being dogmatic and selfish, thereby completely ignoring the essence of the Bible.
I can add that I have experienced quite weird feelings of spiritiualism (is that the right word?) in church. I’m not talking about miracles, not about getting high on incense, just about being there and feeling what, well, love is about. Love really is the wrong word, it’s more like a mixture of church, faith, love, and whatnot. I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe Jesus came walking again. I do however believe that christianity (and therefore many other religions too) is right. I am encouraged in this thought by the preachings of my priest, he is quite progressive in fact. I remember him saying, to a full church, “Did He really come alive again? Did He really walk out of his grava again? No, of course not! Heh, I can see Him walking. But he does live on.”.
With all of the current ranting and raving from the Christian right about homosexuality and marriage, based on a few verses in the Old Testament, how can Christians expect anyone to believe that the Old Testament has been left behind?
The Old Testament has not been left behind. How could it be? If the Jews were not the old Chosen People, then how could the Christians become the new Chosen People? Before you can become king, there must first be a kingdom.
The reason why homosexuality is such a bad thing from a Christian perspective is that it takes sex out of marriage. I love my wife dearly, but Iâ€™d be lying if I told you that living with her wasnâ€™t a pain in the ass sometimes. And Iâ€™m sure sheâ€™d say the same about me.
Marriage is the cornerstone of patriarchy. Patriarchy is the social mechanism for maximizing a fatherâ€™s investment in his children. Society strictly circumscribes female sexuality so as to ensure that all brides are virgins. Thus you can be certain that all of your wifeâ€™s children are your children.
As a man, you can only relieve your sexual needs with a woman. And all women are either maidens or wives. Neither are available for sex, unless one is your own wife. Since you are GOING to want sex, you must get married and look after your children.
Unlessâ€¦you can get sex outside of marriage. If you can have sex with other men, why marry some soon-to-be harridan at all? Just find you a local bath house and party hearty. Of course, if all men do that, then your civilization will soon come to an end, but what do you care? Apres moi, le deluge.
Patriarchy means marriage and sex-is-dirty-and-disgusting-so-save-it-for-your-spouse.
Silly? Yes. Entirely dispensable? Maybe not so much.
By the way Jay, don’t you be touching yourself, either. You’ll go blind and your palms will become hairy. ;-)
“…Youâ€™ll go blind…”
Funnily enough, both Viagra and Cialis have been mentioning this side-effect in their advertising nowadays…perhaps my mother was right after all…
Still…you can’t whack choking the chicken ;-)
While the majority of Christianity is not as virulent as the majority of Islam is, I’m truly amazed at the number of folks trying to make the argument that Christianity is mellow. Your definition of mellow must be different from mine. Of course, I don’t possess faith, which probably means I look at the world dramatically differently than you do.
Oh, and Dean, just curious how you reconcile someone like me (or Bob Heinlein, for that matter) who is a complete atheist/rationalist and yet I’ve willingly put my life on the line to defend my country?
Please don’t understand me to say that an atheist cannot be patriotic. I’ve never believed in God and I sincerely hope I could find the courage to die for my country if need be. But how many of us are there? Statistically, how well does identifying oneself to a pollster as atheist/rationalist correlate to having a distrustful attitude toward the military, voting Democrat or Green, and having a bumper sticker on your car that says: “I love my country, but we should see other people”?
The only organized group of atheist patriots I know of are the Randroids, one of which I used to be. Generally speaking, the average atheist is presumed to be a Lefty because generally he IS. The survival of a democratic society requires that a LARGE percentage of its citizens be willing to make serious sacrifices on its behalf.
Honestly, of all the other atheists that you know, how many get misty-eyed at the Star Spangled Banner versus how many roll their eyes at those who do?
Oh, say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
Is this still the home of the brave and do we still DESERVE to be free? Either (1) you care deeply about that question or else (2) you think itâ€™s stupid.
If we were to take a poll of all the atheists in America, how would they break down into those two categories?
Just out of curiosity, when you put your life on the line to defend your country, WHY? You canâ€™t enjoy your freedom once you are dead and I assume you were not paid mercenary wages to risk your life in combat. So what did you do it for?
I expect that the immediate answer is something like: â€œI couldnâ€™t let my comrades down.â€ And this is perfectly valid, in the moment. But in the larger sense, how can you justify taking serious risks for principle, RATIONALLY?
Do not understand me to be belittling your service. That is not what I mean AT ALL. But intellectually, how do you reconcile a rational belief that the end of your life is THE END, with a willingness to risk the end for pretty words on a piece of paper? Because thatâ€™s all the Constitution is, unless it is something else: a Sacred Document.
And rationally, how can anything be Sacred? In reason, what would Sacred mean?
Dean, I’d argue, using your “represent” vs. “revealed” discussion, that Patriotic American Christians are simply another version of “represent”. What I find most interesting is that during the Enlightenment and American Revolution there were plenty of folks who were not religious, yet were patriotic (Paine and Jefferson leapt to mind immediately). I would say that there has been a concerted effort, although not particularly orchestrated, to recapture the idea of America by Christians ever since. This doesn’t preclude atheist patriots at all. In fact, from a perspective of effective rhetoric, we are probably more powerful than faith based patriots. At least, judging by history. Of course, my “patriotism” is about the ideal that underlies America, and has nothing to do with any specific group of people. This, I suspect, means that faith patriots don’t consider me a “real patriot”.
I consider you a real patriot. But again, there is that niggling matter of rational justification. Whatâ€™s it all for?
During the Civil War, Union soldiers marched off to battle singing: â€œAs He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.â€
If you are not imitating God in some way, why would you die to make men free? What good does their freedom do you? Especially if you are dead?
“The intelligibility of the cosmos doesnâ€™t have to be assumed. It can just be observed. We know there are important causal regularities because we experience them.”
No, we don’t. Unless you are prepared to claim that the highly elaborate constructions called scientific theories are intuitively obvious, and just what anybody would first think of as an explanation for the facts. In truth, every causal regularity we experience directly has exceptions somewhere, and therefore cannot be what we mean by a “law of physics” — such laws are supposed to apply universally, so cannot admit an exception. Only a firm belief that the cosmos is intelligible, held despite all exceptions to the obvious regularities, led the scientists to the current theories. And a belief that’s held against experiences obviously isn’t derived solely from experience.
“I was raised Catholic, Iâ€™ve had mystical experiences in a Christian context, Iâ€™ve read the entire Bible, and Iâ€™ve studied the theology and history of Christianity more closely than anyone who isnâ€™t a seminarian normally does.”
If somebody told you that rockets can’t work in space because there’s no air up there to push against, and then claimed to understand Newtonian mechanics better than you, would you believe them?
Dean: My comment was in reply to Brian’s comment “Most Christians regard the old testament as history, and new testament as the teachings of Christ that are to be followed.” – which sounds like he’s claiming that the teachings of the Old Testament, especially its laws, are no longer binding on Christians. They sure throw out most of them, but cling to the ones they can use to hit their opponents over the head with.
>the teachings of the Old Testament, especially its laws, are no longer binding on Christians.
Some Old Testament teachings ARE problematic. They represented the social norms of a barbaric tribe of goat-herding nomads from 3000 years ago. The Jews of Biblical times were not like the Jews you see today. They were as ruthless as any of their contemporaries. The difference is that they WANTED to be better.
They imagined a tribal God for themselves who was, of course, all powerful. But He was constrained by pity for his creatures and a personal standard of morality that, in practice, limited the arbitrary use of divine power. Jehovah COULD do anything, but in practice there were things He WOULD NOT do.
This was the beginning of the Jews evolution into a peculiar people. They eventually developed, in imitation of their God, a standard of morality that went beyond immediate tribal self-interest.
If we are to take the Old Testament as a literal guide to how to live today, we would be forced to become pre-historic barbarians.
And yet if we entirely abandon the Old Testament as irrelevant to modern times, then in what sense is it Revealed Truth, given to us by God? If Godâ€™s will changes as rapidly as Michael Jacksonâ€™s face, then how can He offer us any sort of immortality beyond the immediate moment?
This is Christianityâ€™s most profound dilemma, much more vexing than Darwin.
Consider the people that the Jews are now, compared to what they used to be.
The Jews give more money to charity per capita than any other human tribe. They maintain a constitutional democracy in Israel despite being surrounded by enemies that long to murder them all. And until recently, Israeli Arabs were the only Arabs in the Middle East who could vote.
Israel could solve the â€œPalestinian problemâ€ in a month, just by using its military power to cut off all supplies of fresh water to Gaza and the West Bank. No one could stop them. The US military could defeat the Israelis on their own soil, maybe, but American public opinion would never support such an intervention, especially if it meant significant American casualties. And no other military force on the planet could beat the IDF within its radius of projectability.
But they wonâ€™t because they are Jews.
Israel could put a stop to the Iranian nuclear program tomorrow by nuking Tehran. No one could stop them. But they wonâ€™t because they are Jews.
Israel could bring the EU to heal is 6 months by blowing up the pipelines that get Arab oil the Mediterranean, and thus to Europe. But they wonâ€™t because they are Jews.
And let us not forget that the Israeli kibbutzim managed to make total communism work on a large scale for 50 years and they never had to build a Berlin wall to keep people in or shoot anyone for trying to escape.
To be sure, Jehovah started out in life a bloodthirsty son of a bitch, but He had the potential to become better, and so did His Chosen People. And they did.
Israel could bring the EU to heal IN 6 months. Proofread before posting. :-)
From a technical standpoint, the greatest difficulty that Israel would face in driving out all of the Palestinians by depriving them of fresh water would be that the individual soldiers of the IDF would surely REFUSE TO CARRY OUT THE ORDER if given.
Can you imagine any Arab state facing the same problem? The Syrian military carried out orders to massacre 20,000 FELLOW SYRIANS in Hama in 1982.
But the Jews would never do that to their Arab enemies. That is why Jehovah matters.
And, by the way, I meant to say heel, not heal. ;-)
Or how about this? Lefties like to protest Caterpillar because Israel uses their bulldozers to knock down the houses of Palestinian suicide bombers who self-detonate in Israel. They destroy the houses so that the bomberâ€™s family will not profit from the bomberâ€™s â€œmartyrdom.â€
But why be so circumspect? The IDF certainly has the power to simply hunt down and murder the family of every bomber, and doing so would certainly alter the social incentives with regard to suicide attacks. So why not do it?
Because the Jews in the IDF would not carry out the order. They would not murder children in their beds. Hamas does that sort of thing all the time and brags about it. But not the Jews.
It is easy to nitpick the Bible and point out where it sings the praises of those who did barbaric things. But this misses the point. The Bible is the Sacred Text of a tribe of savages who bootstrapped themselves into becoming some of the most decent human beings who ever lived.
This is not an achievement to be taken lightly.
i>Israel could bring the EU to heal is 6 months by blowing up the pipelines that get Arab oil the Mediterranean, and thus to Europe. But they wonâ€™t because they are Jews.
(It’s “to heel”, actually.) It’s not because they’re Jews – a hell of a lot of Israelis are secular these days. They nevertheless retain a fine sense of PR and an understanding of the need to have *some* kind of grip on the moral high ground, however tenuous. And cut off the oil to Europe? They’d have to be insane. But I suppose you think Europe would just mope about and issue position papers.
First, I know its heel. Second, what could Europe do? Other than your nation of Britain, Europe has no capacity to project power. Europe couldn’t stop ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, how the hell would Brussels take on the IDF? Do you have any idea how badass those mofos are?
Would Europe use its nukes on Tel-Aviv? The Jews have their own nukes, don’t ya know. That kind of tit-for-tat would not be a fun game.
Maybe Tony Blair would do something, but I doubt it. The rest of Europe WOULD mope about and issue position papers. That’s just the reality.
And as for PR, Israel is loathed by every nation (save one) that has an official position on the matter. WTF do they need to worry about the “moral high ground” for? They will surely be condemned for any defensive action they take anyway. Everybody hates them! They’re Jews!
The only thing they could do to make the world happy would be to die.
>No, we donâ€™t. [observe important causal regularities from which one can impute a realist ontology]
Oh. So, I take it rocks commonly fall upwards when you drop them?
The problem about ethnic cleansing in the Balkans as I recall was that the Russians had been backing the Serbs for ages and the Euros were reluctant to antagonise them on their own without solid US backing. They did still have the military of an ex-superpower lying around the place, as you may recall. Maybe not in top condition, but still.
Britain has pretty miserable power-projection capability (think the Falklands – and I have a suspicion that our nukes might not work if we fired them without US approval) – France’s is at least a bit more independent.
If Israel blew up Europe’s oil supply then Europe would bid the price on the world market up. Way up. This would affect the US, who would not be pleased with Israel. It’s Iran which is likely to do something along those lines if someone insists on provoking them, however.
And as for PR, Israel is loathed by every nation (save one) that has an official position on the matter. WTF do they need to worry about the â€œmoral high groundâ€ for?
That one nation you mentioned is quite an important one, let’s say. Support for Israel in Congress is pretty solid, though there are a couple of lawsuits in the pipeline concerning AIPAC’s activities, which makes me think that they might have overstepped the mark a little here and there. But the Israelis know which side their bread is buttered on.
Realistically, Iran is GOING to do something along those lines, which is why they want nukes. So no one can stop them.
Oh. So, I take it rocks commonly fall upwards when you drop them?
If by “you” you mean “Chuck Norris,” then yes, if that is in accordance with his wishes.
Realistically, Iran is GOING to do something along those lines, which is why they want nukes. So no one can stop them.
Let me just say this. If Iran should do anything to significantly reduce the amount of hot Israeli babes on this Earth — there will be hell to pay. Old Testament style.
Amen, brother. Amen.
You just made reading this entire point/counterpoint fornication festival worth every second.
Not that everyone here doesn’t have valid points. Not at all. And I take that on faith.
>Britain has pretty miserable power-projection capability
Iâ€™ll take your word for it. Question. What, if anything would you like to do about that?
From our previous discussions, you seem like the kind of guy who thinks the state should spend much on butter and little on guns. Do you WANT your country to have serious force projection capability?
If so, where and under what conditions would you like to see it projected?
If not, do you want Britain to be Americaâ€™s poodle forever?
If none of the above, do you see a third alternative?
“So, I take it rocks commonly fall upwards when you drop them?”
I take it you can’t be bothered to read the second sentence of a comment, if the first gives you an opportunity to sneer? I had thought better of you than that.
Michael, you made a statement about the laws of physics that is pretty easily refuted by observing gravity (for example). And, actually, every time we discover something new about the physical universe, it generally looks pretty obvious in retrospect.
Realistically, Iran is GOING to do something along those lines, which is why they want nukes. So no one can stop them.
One man’s realism is another man’s paranoia. I think they feel vulnerable, but sense an opportunity. Though there are apparently a lot of people there who think their hand is being overplayed. It’s a complicated place. And they’re a long way from having nukes, even if the Israelis keep shouting THEY’LL HAVE THEM ANY MOMENT YOU FOOLS!!!
What, if anything would you like to do about that?
Stop trying. I don’t think it’s appropriate for Britain to keep trying to “punch above its weight”. The political class of the place is carrying some serious baggage.
From our previous discussions, you seem like the kind of guy who thinks the state should spend much on butter and little on guns.
Little on either if I had my way. Did I give the impression I was greatly in favour of nationalised health? I do think it could be more efficient than the current American system, but the problem of decreasing people’s self-reliance remains.
Do you WANT your country to have serious force projection capability?
Not really, but then I consider myself a libertarian, even if I don’t see how it’s possible to evolve towards a state of statelessness at the present time. I wouldn’t mind some fairly serious investment in ways to counter other people’s force projection capabilities. And working (hard) towards energy independence, of course. That’s the key thing for me. I reckon force projection is only necessary if you’re living beyond your means energywise.
If not, do you want Britain to be Americaâ€™s poodle forever?
Forever is a long time in international politics. Can’t say I haven’t occasionally envied the French position.
>I take it you canâ€™t be bothered to read the second sentence of a comment, if the first gives you an opportunity to sneer?
Your second sentence added nothing to the implicit absurdity of the first. Human beings deal pretty well with apparent exceptions to universals; we are pattern-seeking animals, and once we’ve found a pattern we tend to explain away exceptions rather than discarding it. In effect, we’re hardwired for inductive reasoning — we believe in the intelligibility of the universe not by deduction but by instinct.
This fact is somewhat obscured only because we also instinctively anthropomorphize systems with complex behavioral repertoires. Thus, the patterns we instinctively tend to find are animistic and theistic. It took us about five thousand years of cultural evolution to even start getting shut of that bad habit, and a lot of us haven’t made it yet.
I think you are also conflating logical consistency with empirical consistency (although you do seem quite aware of the distinction). You also appear to be overstating your case. In the vast majority of simple physical interactions we can predict with perfect consistency the outcome (turbulent flow being one exception, large complex dynamic systems being another). No one, however, concludes that our inability to capture complex dynamic systems *logically* rules out the correctness of the “assumption that the cosmos is intelligible.” We take it as merely evidence that our understanding is not yet perfect.
There is an old story, perhaps apocryphal, about Galileo’s experiment dropping a cannon ball and a much lighter wooden ball from the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Given that all of the cognoscenti believed that heavier objects fell, proportionally, faster than lighter ones, they all predicted that the cannon ball would fall in one tenth the time as the wooden ball (it being that ratio heavier). When the experiment was conducted, the balls fell at essentially the same rate but the cannon ball did make impact just a fraction of a second before the wooden ball. “Aha!” exclaimed the cognoscenti, “we were right – it fell faster!”
You cannot take small deviations from the scientists prediction and use it as proof that science falls short of your standards when your standards have almost no relation to reality. As Eric says, cannon balls simply don’t fall upward (unless, of course, you are Chuck Norris and you want them to ;-). In the main, your position is simply untenable. While you have some notable thinkers on your side (Feyerabend being the most notorious) you simply aren’t going to convince the vast majority of people who carefully consider this issue that your theory is better than our experience.
This is an excellent discussion. Lots of good commentary with Dean, Eric and PeterBoston, in particular, in fine form. I don’t mean to take anything away from the others who are also contributing wonderful comments but each of those three have brought up points that I found particularly novel and challenging. Thanks for a hosting such a great blog!
“he thinks â€˜toleranceâ€™ is a problem, that the modern West has agreed to accept almost any form of unsanity or fanaticism as long as it is labeled â€˜religionâ€™.”
While I agree with this something is missing so I changed one word…
he thinks â€˜toleranceâ€™ is a problem, that the modern West has agreed to accept almost any form of unsanity or fanaticism as long as it is labeled â€˜governmentâ€™.
Dean wrote: “If you are not imitating God in some way, why would you die to make men free? What good does their freedom do you? Especially if you are dead?”
Dean, based on your comments, I’m fairly sure you have read Heinlein. Remember his discussion of a system of morality in “Starship Troopers” and that the only valid morality is one based on survival? That morality, then, was hierarchical? That is the basis for someone who doesn’t believe in God to be a patriot and willing to put their own life in danger for a larger something. Because it tends towards survival. Or, re-read his speech, The Pragmatics of Patriotism, to the US Naval Academy. In this speech he makes the argument that a man who is NOT patriotic is an evolutionary dead end. This is not sentiment but the hardest of logic.
Something to think about as a counter to your argument that patriotism necessarily stems from, in general, faith.
I love Starship Troopers. And I have read The Pragmatics of Patriotism. But I can’t escape the feeling that thereâ€™s something hollow, both in Heinleinâ€™s conservative utopia, and in the vision which informs it.
To start with, it is a wonderful thing to be in love. But not if you are the only one. Reciprocity (or at least the prospect of it) is what makes human relationships worthwhile. Or, in the immortal words of John Rambo, speaking on behalf of Vietnam vets: â€œWhat we want is for our country to love us, as much as we love it.â€
An inherent difficulty in maintaining any human institution is the â€˜free riderâ€™ problem. If, by force of arms, you create a state free from predation, are not pacifists entitled to live in that state with you? All successful systems acquire parasites. When you create anything good, you will have to tolerate at least some people will trying to get over on you. To be ruthless enough to purge all free riders, you would have to undercut the goodness of what you created.
In Starship Troopers, Heinlein imagines a secular state that punishes free riders by not allowing them to vote. But in real life, how would such a policy be maintained? In the book, Heinlein mentions that the merchant marine are upset because they are not considered part of the Federal system for the purpose of awarding the franchise. But what about cops, firefighters and others who do genuinely dangerous work for the benefit of the body politic? By what reasonable moral standard could they be denied the vote, just because they were not formally in the military?
And if you are going to give the vote to cops and firefighters, why not desk-bound civil servants, judges, lawyers, doctors, teachers, and dry cleaners. Do they not also perform valuable services to the body politic?
The logic of democracy is to expand the voting class, not restrict it.
How then, are the free riders to be kept from overwhelming the state with their demands for bread and circuses? It seems to me that you need some kind of transcendent arbiter of good and evil. A judge of righteousness who stands above the human condition, not subject to its weaknesses.
In short, you need a God who tells you it is WRONG to suck on the teat of the welfare state in perpetuity. There has to be some principled master to whom we are all in eternal thrall, lest we inevitably become slaves to each other and to our own appetites.
If you are the last patriot in a state of self-serving hedonists, your devotion to the welfare of the group only enables your â€˜fellow citizensâ€™ to consume you. You are made a victim by your own virtue. (Yes, I have also read a lot of Ayn Rand.)
Without a God to punish in the afterlife, those who successfully exploit their brothers and sisters in this life, virtue makes you a sucker.
No state can long survive, wherein to be good is to be eaten. Yet there doesnâ€™t seem to be any purely rational agency by which exploitation can be prevented. Therefore, as a hypocritical atheist, I exhort free men and women to trust in God.
I think that you are overlooking the “patriotism is a survival trait” argument. Certainly, much of what you are discussing is true, and over time we will end up breeding those that are not able to be selfless out of the gene pool
>over time we will end up breeding those that are not able to be selfless out of the gene pool
I don’t think evolution works that way. Our ancestors of the Victorian era were much more willing to sacrifice for the common good than we are. Their children were in no way GENETICALLY inferior to themselves. What changed was the culture. And the culture changed for good reasons.
Living under the Victorian moral regime was both arduous and more than a little absurd. For reference, see anything by Oscar Wilde. (For instance, Victorian women didnâ€™t have legs. They had LIMBS, because mention of the feminine leg was regarded as too sexually suggestive.)
The value of such a regime was that it facilitated the accumulation of both economic and moral capital throughout the West. Once such capital had been accumulated in sufficient amounts to provide for the comfort and security of society, who could justify maintaining the rigid and severe Victorian social model? Wasnâ€™t it H.L. Mencken who defined a Victorian moralist as a person terrified that someone, somewhere might be happy?
Today, concepts like patriarchy and Christian religious values are just beginning to get a little bit of respectability back. But ONLY because of the profound existential threat that resurgent Islam poses to comfortable Westerners. Were it not for that threat, the Liberal West would continue to spit on the â€˜Jesus freaksâ€™ in perpetuity.
This ainâ€™t no Darwin thing. Hard times call for hard codes. And the West has not seen really hard times for a while now. Therefore, many have come to believe that hard codes are no longer relevant. And indeed they would not be, if hard times were destined never to return.
Well, it happened again.
1) I couldn’t read each and every comment, though I tried. Yes, I finally had to start skimming.
2) I forgot what the original topic was, and, no, I haven’t been drinking.
3) The Chuck Norris reference was hilarious! Caught me totally off my guard and I think the neighbors heard me laughing.
4) I must have missed something along the way in my education. For some reason I just don’t think of Naziism as being any more irrational than what w has done to us. And, theoretically, communism is comparable to sharing the ball during a basketball game. Yes, occasionally a Michael Jordan will come along, and the supremacy of a “team-first” attitude will wane. But most of the time passing the ball around and team play and sharing works better for everybody. No, I don’t think theoretical communism is irrational.
5) By the way, I just officiated at a wedding yesterday (my first time!) where the vows mentioned “gods and goddesses,” both lowercase. I was a last-minute replacement for a real pastor; I guess he read the script and refused. And no, I’m not ordained; they visited the justice of the peace the day before, and I was just there to fill in for the benefit of all those who had traveled hundreds of miles for the ceremony. Having lost my faith years ago I enjoyed all of it.
> You lose. I was raised Catholic, Iâ€™ve had mystical experiences in a Christian context, Iâ€™ve read the entire Bible, and Iâ€™ve
> studied the theology and history of Christianity more closely than anyone who isnâ€™t a seminarian normally does. The odds
> that you know anything about Christianity that I donâ€™t arenâ€™t zero, but they are very, very low.
I’m unsure how you “know” Chritianity without being Christian. Since you don’t express that you ever had any faith in the God(s) of Chritian theology, you can’t make any claim on understanding Christian thought.
Your claims are similar to: “I was raised in a house with computers, I’ve read all of K&R, and I’ve studied the linux kernel source code, and the history of linux, therefore I am a kernel hacker!”
Which, of course, you’re not.
Herbie: For some reason I just donâ€™t think of Naziism as being any more irrational than what w has done to us. And, theoretically, communism is comparable to sharing the ball during a basketball game.
Ummm, not sure where to start, but let’s try. How about the fact that Nazism was not only based upon irrational hatred and fear of the alien “other”, but was taken to the extreme of this that resulted in the intentional murder of 11 million Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and other assorted undesirable population. How about the “Fuhrer Prinzip”? How about the requirement (and philosophical principle) that men, women and children be subordinated to the state and what was best for the state? Women should housewives and bear children, men should serve in the military or industry to make the state stronger and children should be trained for those duties. Come now, comparing the current GOP leadership to Nazism and considering it to be on par in terms of rationality and morality means one of two things:
1. You are ignoring historical reality and facts. Not sure if that is deliberate, or just not educating yourself on the reality of Nazism.
2. You are engaging in moral relativism.
As far as communism, if you accept the underlying principles then the more visible ideas of socialism probably don’t seem all that irrational. Since, however, communism and socialism are based upon precepts that bear little relationship to reality, they are totally irrational. And have actually resulted in even more mass murder and death than Nazism did. The number appears, as best we can tell, to be somewhere between 60 and 100 million between just Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. Hitler’s numbers, including war deaths is around 50 million. He was seriously slacking.
Dean, I think your time frames that you are taking into consideration are much too short, which is leading you to erroneous conclusions. That said, I would venture to say that we are beginning to see the end of the great American experiment and the idea that patriotism is pro-survival is showing in that. The folks who decide not to be patriotic may prosper in the short term (in fact, they probably will), but they will almost create contra-survival conditions in the long term.
>Iâ€™m unsure how you â€œknowâ€ Chritianity without being Christian.
I was a Christian, though not a devout one, until the age of 12.
Just about when I decided I was no longer Christian (age 13). I grew up in a quite evangelical household (missions to Indian reservations, friends who were missionaries in Africa, the whole 9 yards). When folks talk about how the depictions of evangelicals are way off base, especially on the morality and sex stuff, I just have to chuckle. You clearly haven’t actually been around evangelicals of any stripe. The descriptions given by others of how to touch the opposite sex, masturbation, etc. are very true and accurate.
I’ve said that I was a Christian, though not a devout one, until the age of 12. I should add that, having had that experience, I have seen no reason at all to believe that Christianity is difficult to understand without having been a Christian.
Few would doubt that it’s possible to fully understand Communism without having been a Communist, or Naziism without having been a Nazi. The only thing that could possibly make Christianity more difficult to comprehend to outsiders is Christian mystical experience — and having had that at least once, I can say there’s nothing special about it. I can report that other mysticisms induce essentially equivalent states, both from my own experience of Zen and neopaganism and and from having seen the results of neurological studies of brain activation in mystics.
Claims that understanding Christianity requires one to be Christian (or understanding Islam requires one to be a Moslem) are just special pleading, and not very well disguised special pleading at that.
Eric Cowperthwaite: Verily. Like I said before, you really have to live with them to understand them. And, again, these people are not on the fringe. Most of them don’t show their true selves in public, but they are common.
ESR: The sin/guilt/thoughtcrime monitor might be difficult to comprehend if you haven’t experienced it. Since I have, I don’t know. It’s one thing to understand what Christianity is about, another thing to know how a Christian thinks and feels.
>The sin/guilt/thoughtcrime monitor might be difficult to comprehend if you havenâ€™t experienced it.
Hmmm…well, maybe (I remain skeptical). I don’t think it’s difficult to explain, but it’s possible that the explanation doesn’t fully convey the sick feeling of having your thoughts censored by your own guilt.
ESR: the explanation doesnâ€™t fully convey the sick feeling of having your thoughts censored by your own guilt.
Exactly. And the guilt of everyone around you. And the drive to punish yourself for your deviant/immoral/sinful behavior. And the view of yourself as being superior to all of the sinners around you. You are taught to feel simultaneously superior to them and pity them, all at the same time. In the 1970’s, when I was a teenager, my church, my family and my friends all believed implicitly that evolution was completely fraudulent, that if there were actually fossils older than 4400 BC (or whatever the date is for Creation), then God had created them that way. Creation took precisely 7 days, each of 24 hours in length, the bible was the literal truth and word of God, and so on and so forth.
Throughout my teenage years I continued to depict an evangelical Christian on the outside, for good reason. If the Bible is the word of God, and I’ve rejected it, then I’m a sinner. The results of that have been shown on a huge number of Lifetime movies. :-) A couple of times I even convinced myself that I had “found God” again (it’s very painful, as a teenager, to be suddenly be a stranger in the only group you’ve ever been part of). Like ESR, I’ve been to Christian revivals and seen/experienced Christian mysticism. I’ve also had mystical experiences via martial arts and meditation. I much prefer the latter to the former.
The Spire by William Golding touches on this.
ESR: “In effect, weâ€™re hardwired for inductive reasoning â€” we believe in the intelligibility of the universe not by deduction but by instinct.”
That doesn’t refute what I said, it supports me. I said the intelligibility of the cosmos is an assumption — assumptions are never proven by deduction. I also said we take that assumption on faith; you say we’re led to make it by instinct — with which I entirely agree. The question is, how far is our instinct for finding patterns trustworthy, as a guide for finding truth? I doubt that anyone ever maintained, seriously, that every pattern a human has ever perceived was meaningful; the delusions of paranoiacs come to them by way of the instinct for finding patterns, but that isn’t taken as a reason for believing them.
Wildmonk: “No one, however, concludes that our inability to capture complex dynamic systems *logically* rules out the correctness of the â€œassumption that the cosmos is intelligible.â€ We take it as merely evidence that our understanding is not yet perfect.”
Quite right. But that’s only restating the assumption — we affirm, despite our present failure to understand complex dynamic systems, that an understanding of them is possible, because (and only because) we accept on faith that whatever we experience can be understood.
“You cannot take small deviations from the scientists prediction and use it as proof that science falls short of your standards when your standards have almost no relation to reality.”
That wasn’t the type of argument I had in mind. I’m thinking of someone who would look at a scientific prediction, and at the experiments which confirm it, and say in all seriousness “Why do you think this proves anything at all? It looks like sheer coincidence to me!”
There is, for instance, a philosophical stance called “occasionalism” which says that all events are caused immediately by the will of God, and what we take to be the causes of an event really have nothing to do with it. If we find by observation that A is invariably followed by B, that doesn’t mean A causes B, but only that God consistently chooses to make B occur in the neighborhood of A, for His own ineffable reasons that mere mortals cannot expect to understand. Very few people, I expect, would even consider accepting occasionalism (I certainly don’t!) but coming up with an argument against it is surprisingly difficult. The only one I’ve ever found is that it makes the cosmos unintelligible.
Few would doubt that itâ€™s possible to fully understand Communism without having been a Communist, or Naziism without having been a Nazi.
How about fully understanding capitalism without being a capitalist?
Well, this is fun:
“And, theoretically, communism is comparable to sharing the ball during a basketball game. Yes, occasionally a Michael Jordan will come along, and the supremacy of a â€œteam-firstâ€ attitude will wane. But most of the time passing the ball around and team play and sharing works better for everybody.”
Except that the referee will strictly control who gets the ball and for how often and, oh yes, he’ll shoot anyone who he thinks is trying to “hog” the ball. One other thing, the referee gets to have the ball most of the time. And he’ll shoot you for complaining about that as well…
Seriously, real life business is very much a “team” effort. Your complaint isn’t that we don’t play on teams, it is that you don’t like the idea that I may create a team that has ideas about the world that differ from yours. Worse yet, you imply that there is *one* ball. Capitalism is the art of bending our efforts to the creation of as many “balls” (in your analogy) as we feel are appropriate. Look around you, Herbie. Economic activity is not a zero-sum game and, to the extent that you confuse it with one, you will simply break things and hurt people.
To your main point – Communism has lead, without exception, to oppression, death and plunder in every society in which it has been tried. It is irrational because, to implement it, you must ignore the unassailable historical, economic, and socio-political facts before you and plunge mankind headlong (once *again*) into a form of social organization that is very likely to kill and/or immiserate you and everyone around you. That, my friend, is irrational.
As E.O. Wilson said (and I paraphrase) “Communism: great idea, wrong species.”
If God is consistent, then we can still understand the universe, and when we do, we understand the mind of God. A consistent god is just a complicated set of physical laws. If God is not consistent, then there is no illusion of a comprehensible universe. In other words, an occasionalistic universe is indistinguishable from a comprehensible or random universe.
Maybe. You can certainly understand Naziism on a macroscopic scale — how it works, how it came to be, what it does to the world. However, I have no idea what it’s like to be a Nazi. Although in the original discussion, that’s not what was in question, I suspect that there are things about Naziism and Christianity that only former Nazis and Christians can know.
>The question is, how far is our instinct for finding patterns trustworthy, as a guide for finding truth?
Fundamentally, the answer to this question doesn’t matter. If you can stop thinking of ‘truth’ as an abstract, stop chasing religious certainty in the guise of philosophy, you’ll have an easier time understanding why.
Your original objection was, and I quote: “That criterion depends on the assumption that the cosmos is intelligible; which is to say, that we have a right to expect observables to fall into patterns, that similar causes produce similar effects, and that â€œlaws of natureâ€ really exist.”
That assumption is wired into us, and it’s wired into us because the wiring is adaptive. The environment we evolved in is intelligible to us because those of our ancestors who didn’t extract patterns with causal significance died. You are descended from hominids who survived because they were competent operationalists.
We have learned to observe and reason about environments wildly different from our ancestral one. So far, we have always discovered intelligible regularities. That’s enough; operationalism doesn’t have to be justified by some unfounded assumption that we will always do so. When it breaks, we’ll do something else, if anything else is possible.
Hume’s deconstruction was brilliant but ultimately pointless, because he was chasing “Truth” as a kind of infallible absolute, which we can’t get and don’t need. The pragmatists are right about this much: there are no guarantees, only adequate coping mechanisms.
>we accept on faith that whatever we experience can be understood.
WildMonk, this is seriously wrong. It confuses two different senses of the word ‘faith’.
The scientist’s ‘faith’ is a sort of halo effect of induction. We have always found experience intelligible in the past. We therefore take intelligibility as a working assumption until it has been falsified. The assumption of intelligibility has consequences. It is confirmed every time we extend the domain of our perception and find intelligible regularities.
The religionist’s ‘faith’ is of a fundamentally different character; it is in premises that have no testable consequences, or premises that are logically contradictory (such as the simultaneous omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence of a deity). Religious faith is not subject to confirmation.
Confusing the two concedes far too much ground to religion.
>How about fully understanding capitalism without being a capitalist?
Sure. I’ve met people like that. What they really want is power, control, a justification for forcing other people to live according to fixed precepts. So, even though they more or less understand that free markets optimize for human freedom and happiness, they reject capitalism because it doesn’t produce the results they want. You don’t get unquestioning obedience to the will of God or purity of the Herrenvolk from free markets; they’re too messy and contingent, too many consumers doing just what they want.
I didn’t say they were good people…
Thanks for mentioning E.O. Wilson. His “Sociobiology” is the first big book I read after college JUST FOR FUN. Loved the part about those ants that make another species of ants their slaves. The hubris! That we humans think we’re the only species cool enough to make others do our bidding.
As for tyranny, well, over the years I’ve felt more wrath from management than either Communist or Nazi leaders. And, instead of fighting back against these tyrannists (AKA bosses and owners), most of my co-workers instead stab their co-equals in the back when they get half a chance. IOW, we take turns knocking each other down into lower pay scales, instead of doing something about those who keep that yoke around our shoulders.
I could be wrong, but I have a feeling that any co-worker of mine who feels that Nazis and/or Commies were/are any different or any better or any worse than w would be the kind of co-worker whom I’d share my lunch with or help with a flat tire after work one day, only to find out that the next day this co-worker tattled on me to management about something insignificant. IOW, Naziism and Communism is all on paper and it’s all “over there”; if you can’t recognize a bully when one’s staring you in the face and continually adding to your burden, I question your judgement and pragmatism.
Since it’s worse “over there” and “back then,” then let’s NOT try to improve what we have here now. “This is fine,” you say, as you’re eating a pile of poo; “this sandwich tastes great!”
“Yeah, but over there they don’t get bread with their poo sandwiches. So we got it pretty good here in America.”
I have had a problem/question about Starship Troopers and Pragmatics of Patriotism for several years now without receiving a good answer; Why should it be more ethical to support a larger group, such as a nation, than a smaller group, such as your family or community? This claim is also advanced by many socialist moralists.
Dean – you need to **read** Starship Troopers, or atleast Heinlein’s comments on it in Expanded Universe – most veterans earned the vote through what is currently considered Civil Service **not** the military. Also no one voted in the service, they were not allowed to vote until they got out – career military or civil service workers did not vote for the twenty years they served.
Eric Cowperthwaite – I am curious where you got Heinlein as a complete atheist. As far as I have found he studiously avoided talking about his own religious beliefs at all. For a good discussion see Spider Robinson’s Rah, Rah, R.A.H.
I read his various commentaries in “Expanded Universe” and other discussions (such as “Grumbles From The Grave”) that lead me to the conclusion that he was either an atheist or a agnostic/theist who would never discuss his beliefs outside private friends. That would be indistiguishable from an atheist unless you were one of those friends.
Why is it more ethical to support a group larger than family/community? Because it tends towards racial survival. He answers the question in both Trooper and Pragmatics.
Follow up on Starship Troopers for Dean. It’s also clear that police are all veterans. In other words, you can’t be a police officer unless you served honorably and earned the franchise. Now, I don’t necessarily agree with the idea of a limited franchise based on rendering service to the group. I do agree that a limited powers constitutional republic cannot survive as such when the franchise is extended to all warm bodies.
I remembered the only-veterans-can-vote thing from Starship Troopers when I wrote what I did, I just didn’t consider it germane to the point I was trying to make.
I suppose it might be a good idea to restrict the franchise to a select group, but which group?
â€œIf all men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.â€ -James Madison
Given that we don’t happen to have any angels available to place in high office, our principle problem is in how to shape the behavior of the voting class (whoever may constitute it) toward making decisions that are both self-interested and Good.
If the body politic makes stupid decisions, it will soon lose its sovereignty. If it makes evil decisions, it will soon lose its positive self regard, quit having babies, and die out.
Oh, how much easier it would be if we could just find the Right People and put them in charge! Then all would be well. If, however, we must make do with schmucks like you and me, our problem is more vexing. I have reluctantly become convinced that there must be some vision of the transcendent against which the will of the people is to be measured, if ordinary people are to govern ourselves well.
Democracy means ‘majority rules.’ But the people cannot just vote for whatever they feel like in the moment. There must be some sense of responsibility to posterity, perhaps even to the eternal, if our baser instincts are not to get the better of us.
God, I used to be such a fire-breathing Libertarian in my youth. How trite and Conservative I have become.
Two thoughts Dean.
First, “majority rules” has invariably proven to be a bad idea. Our Constitution was designed to preclude majority rule having excessive amounts of power as much as anything else.
Second, selecting the group of people is the trick, if you limit the franchise. The best idea I can come up with is similar to what was “proposed” in Starship Troopers or Pournelle’s “Mercenary” series. A means to allow people to self-select by causing them to earn the franchise. And earning it has to be done in a fashion that indicates that you are one of those folks who puts long term ahead of short term interest.
The Constitution embodies a combination of Enlightenment proceduralism from Locke and Montesquieu with a moral vision of a Good Society informed by 3000 years of Judeo-Christian history and moral argument.
As for the self-selected veteran voter, it is the active duty soldiers who have a monopoly on most of the heavy weapons. Why would they not use them to force the state to enfranchise them? Because doing so would be wrong. But wrong by what standard?
My memory is a little fuzzy, but I think it was Lee Harris in TechCentralStation who once proposed a game show called Firearms Island. The idea behind FI is that two groups of 10 men each are sent to an island, Survivor style.
The groups are designated A and B. Group B is given pistols, rifles, shotguns and plenty of ammunition. The goal of the game show is for Group A, which remains unarmed, to successfully give orders to the men of Group B.
Would you watch such a show? Of course not. You already know what would happen each week on Firearms Island. The men of Group A would issue their demands, and the men of Group B would laugh at them. Why would the armed ever obey the unarmed? Why would the heavily armed ever obey the lightly armed?
Wouldn’t asking young soldiers to risk their lives in support of government policies they had no say in shaping be the ultimate form of ‘taxation without representation’? And if you let the soldiers vote, how would Starship Troopers not be a whitewashed military dictatorship?
This is something I keep yammering at esr about. We are not a stupid people. And if our problems could easily be solved, we’d have made more progress by now.
Dean, I’m not suggesting that what RAH proposed is “the solution”. In fact, I think it is not. I think the larger idea of creating a mechanism where people self-select for the franchise is a good one. Finding the technical means to put into practice is the challenge. But, before the great American experiment of limited Republic, elected King and separation of powers, people said the same sorts of things.
Are the problems such that they allowing for easy solutions? No, if they were they would be solved already, or much more progress, as a minimum. I agree with you.
If you must know, I tend to believe in the frontier concepts of civilization. The further you are from the frontier, the less liberty there is, but the more order. If you like order, you will appreciate the fact that there is no frontier today. If you like liberty, you will not. I fall into the latter group. I’m not a “libertarian” in the sense that most use the word. I am an individualist and believer in liberty. Since it seems clear that we will organize ourselves socially, I urge the social organization enables the most freedom/liberty rather than the one that enables the most order.
As we learn more about complex and dynamic social structures, we continue to find that imposed order fails to work above a certain level of complexity. The solution, in general, is fairly simple. The complexity lies in the unwillingness to accept the solutions.
PS, using your island game show, let’s ask ourselves why the US military has not taken control of the US government.
ESR: “The scientistâ€™s â€˜faithâ€™ is a sort of halo effect of induction. We have always found experience intelligible in the past. We therefore take intelligibility as a working assumption until it has been falsified. … The religionistâ€™s â€˜faithâ€™ is … in premises that have no testable consequences …”
The problem with this is simple enough. What experiment, what possible event, *would* falsify the belief in the intelligibility of the cosmos? A scientific theory asserts that the cosmos follows the law X, and would be falsified if we found that, on some occasion, the cosmos broke law X. If I claim that light travels as waves in a luminiferous ether, you can point to the Michelson-Morley experiment. If I claim that socialist economies allocate resources more efficiently than the free market, you can point to the records of the Soviet Union. And if I claim that Chuck Norris can bend nature to his desire by sheer force of will, you can record him trying to do so without success.
But if I assert that laws of nature exist, without claiming to know exactly what they are, how would you demonstrate that I am wrong? David McCabe points out, quite rightly, that the occasionalistic universe is indistinguishable by experiment from an intelligible cosmos — any pattern we find in reality could, in theory, have been produced by the immediate will of God. It follows that the denial that we live in the occasionalistic universe cannot be falsified *or* confirmed by any experiment. A scientific theory is a working hypothesis; but the belief that there are valid scientific theories is a premise without testable consequences.
In short, when I said that “the cosmos is intelligible” is held by faith, I meant precisely that kind of faith by which monotheists hold “there is one and only one God, the creator of Heaven and Earth”. I do not say that general relativity, quantum mechanics, or evolutionary biology are held by faith, apart from the assumption of the cosmos’ intelligibility that licenses the scientific method in the first place. I don’t confuse scientific convictions with religious theories. But I do say science starts from an unconfirmable (therefore, religious) assumption, which means operationalism, however useful, cannot be the basic criterion of truth.
“Humeâ€™s deconstruction was brilliant but ultimately pointless, because he was chasing â€œTruthâ€ as a kind of infallible absolute, which we canâ€™t get and donâ€™t need. The pragmatists are right about this much: there are no guarantees, only adequate coping mechanisms.”
Unfortunately, the alternative to chasing Truth as an infallible absolute isn’t the pragmatic program of sticking to the facts — it’s the postmodern agenda of “reality is a social construct” which we are meant to tear down and rebuild in a more equitable form. Even pragmatists need one small kernel of absolute truth (that the cosmos is intelligible) if they want to establish anything from their facts. The occasionalist and the deconstructionist won’t concede that kernel — and faced with so complete a skepticism, the pragmatist is silenced.
>why the US military has not taken control of the US government
Because they more or less believe in the Constitution and the moral/political vision it embodies with all their hearts. I am not saying that the majority of soldiers are Constitutional scholars or well versed in the finer points of Classical Liberal theory. That is absurd.
But if American soldiers were ordered to open fire in peaceful citizen protesters, as in Tiananmen Square, they would refuse. I am quite confident that the majority of men and women I served with would die before they obeyed such an order.
They probably have the raw power to turn this country into a military dictatorship. What stays their hand is love. Pure and simple.
>the larger idea of creating a mechanism where people self-select for the franchise is a good one
The sad truth is that you are quite right. Franchise self-selection is a big part of what made, and still makes America. With the exception of American Indians and blacks who are the descendents of imported slaves, every American today either is or is descended from a self-selectee to the franchise.
The Constitutional system probably would not have worked in the 18th century, anywhere but in New England. There, a new people had been created ex nihilo, to do something no previous race had ever achieved.
I am and will probably always be a supporter of the Iraq war, however it turns out. It will have been a good thing to try, even if it does not succeed.
But we have to consider the possibility that the Iraqi Arabs and Kurds simply are not worthy of self rule. They may not have the moral self restraint to settle things peaceably between themselves without slitting each otherâ€™s throats over who gets to control the oil.
Where I think you and I disagree is over whether it is even possible to create a VIRTUOUS elite ruling class distinct from the people in general. My gut is that for democracy to work, the demos must be good and want to be good. They must have the necessary social and technical skills to accomplish most things on their own without the help of experts. And these traits must be virtually uniformally distributed throughout the whole of the population. It canâ€™t just be a select few, however they are selected.
Please let me know if I am misreading you.
>The problem with this is simple enough. What experiment, what
possible event, *would falsify the belief in the intelligibility of
Oh come on, that’s easy. It could easily be that the
universe obeys a variant of M-theory with the property that the
computations required to deduce even as simple a result as (say) the
mass of the electron from it are intractable — so even if we deduced
that theory must apply by excluding the alternative brane theories we
can’t test the theory, and if we could test it we couldn’t use it.
>It follows that the denial that we live in the occasionalistic universe
>cannot be falsified *or* confirmed by any experiment.
But it’s basic to the operationalist position that the difference
between two predictive models is only significant when their
predictions differ. The possibility that we need occasionalism only comes
up if God decides to stop simulating a rule-bound universe, at which
point there is an observable difference. So occasionalism
is a red herring.
>A scientific theory is a working hypothesis; but the belief that
there are valid scientific theories is a premise without testable
Eh? The existence of even one predictive scientific theory is a
tested consequence. Rocks do fall.
>But I do say science starts from an unconfirmable (therefore, religious) assumption, which means operationalism, however useful, cannot be the basic criterion of truth.
And you’re wrong. I’ve shown both how intelligibility is confirmed
by experience (rocks do fall) and how it could be disconfirmed by
observation (M-theory could turn out to be intractable).
>The occasionalist and the deconstructionist won’t concede that kernel —
and faced with so complete a skepticism, the pragmatist is silenced.
Nonsense. I’m not silenced. I can do just fine without the good
opinion of either kind of idiot. Because rocks still fall.
Dean, something to think about:
Patriotism is about the survival of the society, not the individual. Darwinism still applies, but it does so at a societal level, which then trickles down to the human level. That is, societies which fail to be sufficiently patriotic get invaded and “die.” Societies which are beyond patriotic and become jingoistic commit too much war and “die.” Ultimately, this affects the humans inside the society strongly enough that, from a very macroscopic perspective, patriotism is upregulated. Although if we ever manage to permanently stamp out significant evil, neither scenario will happen. But then we will cease to need patriotism, and the whole thing won’t matter anymore.
In this context, the argument in favor of hardcore libertarianism and/or anarcho-capitalism is that there is a correlation between self reliance and patriotism — that these phenotypes are transmitted through linked genes, or possibly the same gene. Intuitively, this makes sense. Somebody who expects to be taken care might not care either way what dirty work their society does on their behalf, but they are very much unlikely to do it themselves. Somebody who expects to take care of himself and his is more inclined to help society do its dirty work, if not for himself than for his (his being loved ones).
Dean: “Please let me know if I am misreading you.”
I think that for democracy to work at all, you are quite correct. I also think that, because of this, democracy is doomed to failure. As long as America was a European frontier, and had its own frontier, self-selection was occurring on a regular basis. Once the self-selection mechanism was no longer viable, roughly around 1880, the inevitability of the unlimited franchise of democracy began to take hold. The solution is not, I believe, to be found within this country. Sure, we can stave off the inevitable with some return to limited Constitutional government. Ultimately, the only way to create an actual, functioning democracy is to enable self-selection again. Without a frontier of some sort, I don’t think we can actually create a self-selecting franchise. Ultimately, our only hope to live in a social structure that limits the group’s power over the individual is for space to become a true frontier.
About the island game show thing. The fact that the US military has never established a military dictatorship is prima facie evidence that the island game show is not doomed to a situation where the 10 guys with the guns dictate to the 10 guys without the guns.
Dean, first, women didn’t come to America for the franchise, because they didn’t have it before 1920. The Constitution initially gave the franchise only to property owners.
The reason the franchise was extended is simply because the government started to make voting profitable. Go read Bastiat’s _The Law_. He points out that good law is good law; who writes it, or who votes for the people who write it, doesn’t matter. As long as the law treats everyone equally, you only need enough people voting to avoid problems of dictatorship.
The bottom line regarding a universe run by a God who creates consistent “laws of nature” and then follows them without fail is that it is indistinguishable from a universe without a God that simply operates by intelligible natural laws.
Dean, you should read Jack Powelson’s Wealth and Poverty. In it, he points out that people have to TAKE power. Power that is handed over, as we have done in Iraq, can just as easily be taken back. He also points out that the liberal democracies (==relatively more libertarian) countries are the ones where the rich and poor had to cooperate to survive. In countries like Africa, if a rich person bothered a poor person, he would just take his herd and migrate away. In countries like Arabia, whoever controlled the water controlled life; everyone else was subservient to them.
>The solution is not, I believe, to be found within this country.
I understand where you are coming from, I have often had those same thoughts. But emotionally I cannot follow where you lead. To say: â€œAmerica no longer has a frontier, therefore it is doomed,â€ is unacceptable to me.
This is my country. Here I was born and here I will die. I canâ€™t give up. My identity is wrapped up in this place, this culture, the people Iâ€™ve known all my life. I donâ€™t think Iâ€™m cut out to be Buck Rogers.
My belief that there IS some kind of solution, however difficult and messy and obscure, is an article of faith with which I am not prepared to part. I canâ€™t believe in the supernatural, but within logic and reason and experience there MUST be a workable solution. We will never find it without serious skull sweat, but it IS there to be found. To believe otherwise is to despair.
Of course, there is no reason to believe the solution will be found all at once, or in my lifetime, or in any convenient little package. But I have but one country, and but one race, and there must be a way for us to govern ourselves without falling into tyranny or dissipation. If I can contribute in some small way toward finding it, then my life will have had meaning.
What else is there?
Dean, we have a catch-22 situation. In order to remain a stable society, we must extend the franchise universally to all warm bodies, regardless of education, intelligence, patriotism, etc. However, it is clear that a democracy will, sooner or later, degenerate to the lowest common denominator. As has been made abundantly clear by our politics for quite a while now. In order to avoid that problem, you must find some means to limit the franchise to those who can act with some degree of long term vision and disinterest for their own gain. However, if you manage to do that, you will rapidly destabilize the society when all of those who no longer have a franchise feel that it is “unfair”. Given their perspective, they won’t give a rat’s ass for Enlightenment theories, Bastiat’s “The Law”, etc. We are talking about the portions of society that will be ripe pickings for populist demagogues. Either, you will then travel the same path that we did from roughly 1880 onwards and extend the franchise universally, or you will face rebellion and social disorder.
With very drastic changes to the manner in which children are educated, taxes are collected, welfare is distributed and many other aspects of our society we could, potentially, change this over the next few decades. Are those drastic changes going to happen? I highly doubt they will without some sort of significant upheaval.
Stipulated. But if there is no United States of America, I donâ€™t see much point in there being a me. Therefore, my course is set.
I will continue to believe, that some way can be found to elevate the lowest common denominator to something compatible with individual liberty, because I must. I adore Lazarus Long as a literary character, but I cannot achieve his dispassion for the land of our birth.
I believe I could make your argument as well as you can, but unlike you I cannot accept it. There has to be a way out. There has to be.
I will do what I can to help find it. Pace Martin Luther: Here I stand. I can do no other.
I suspect that, if every computationally tractable variation of M-theory were ruled out by experiments, physicists would decide that M-theory is a false trail and start looking for a different organizing principle for the Theory of Everything. (That’s essentially why Ptolemaic astronomy was abandoned.) They wouldn’t take it as proof that the cosmos is not, after all, understandable; just as proof that M-theory isn’t a useful way to understand it. Incidentally, several alternative suggestions for unifying all of physics have been put forward — I hear hopeful things about loop quantum gravity, for instance. M-theory isn’t the only game in town.
So no, discovering that the only variant of M-theory that might be valid is impossible to calculate with would not falsify the intelligibility of the cosmos. Would you like to try again?
“But itâ€™s basic to the operationalist position that the difference between two predictive models is only significant when their predictions differ. The possibility that we need occasionalism only comes up if God decides to stop simulating a rule-bound universe, at which point there is an observable difference.”
Is there? Suppose you witness an event that the laws of physics, as far as you know them, say is impossible — for instance, suppose Chuck Norris actually did tell a rock not to fall down, and it then hung unsupported in midair. Do you explain this by saying that God has changed the laws of physics because He likes Chuck Norris, or by saying that the laws of physics remain unchanged, but Chuck Norris is exploiting a law you didn’t know about? I’m nearly certain you would pick the latter, which is the pragmatist option. But that’s not because pragmatism was, in this case, a better predictive model; pragmatism doesn’t predict that Chuck Norris has supernatural powers. (Neither does occasionalism.) It’s because you simply won’t believe that God would run the universe in the arbitrary fashion that occasionalism describes.
What you’re not seeing is that the occasionalist is not proposing an alternative scientific theory; he is not trying to fit observed facts into a pattern. He is, instead, putting in question our right to expect that patterns in the observed facts are significant. Occasionalism says that, just because every rock anyone has observed, if not supported, fell, there is no reason to suppose that rocks must fall if not supported. Repeating “rocks do fall!” as if that were evidence for the validity, or the utility, of the scientific method is merely begging the question — exactly like trying to prove the validity of formal logic with formal logic.
Well, here’s a monstrously delayed partial response (I don’t read you half as often as I should do, ESR, you’re a good read even when you are illogical and wrong). Sorry if the formatting got screwed here; you could really, really do with a preview button..
And he was wrong; not about the facts, but that people falsely calling themselves Christians doing evil things counted against the truth claims of Christianity. So what? People do evil things in the name of good things all the time (elsewhere in your writings you seem to be able to make this distinction; you don’t oppose a “fair market” per se, but you rightly oppose government policy that pretends to support it). Nobody bothers counterfeiting worthless currency.
I challenge you to give me a single, accurately-exegeted NT verse that requires killing for apostasy. You’ll fail: there aren’t any (unless you’re reading it via selective hyper-literalism, rather than as first-century literature).
In my own experience, literalists tend to be most opposed to the use of force to further Christianity. (Fundamentalists have been so loudly opposed to “Christian” theonomy and social activism that they’d make the average angry atheist look like James Dobson…)
Christianity does not make “faith claims”, whatever that means; it makes truth claims about events in history (the life of Jesus, the resurrection, etc), about human nature (people do a lot of bad things — shocker!), about morality, about the inerrancy of Scripture, etc etc, and then offers a set of explanations for it which are the only true ones. So what? Is there something inherently wrong about making absolute truth claims of this kind, but nothing wrong with making absolute truth claims about any other matter (“Libertarianism is the only moral way to organise a society”, “A=A”, “Christians are closet suicide bombers”, etc)? Or are you about to contradict everything you’ve ever stood for and embrace relativism, or what?
And he would be every bit as wrong to argue along those lines as you were. At best, it offers a good reason not to force a uniquely Western “guilt” outlook upon a document written in a culture that did not understand things that way at all. (I’m all in favour of that; there’s a whole raft of bad teaching in the Christian church that relies upon this kind of misunderstanding…)
>I suspect that, if every computationally tractable variation of M-theory were ruled out by experiments, physicists would decide that M-theory is a false trail and start looking for a different organizing principle for the Theory of Everything
OK, slightly different scenario: suppose we have a Theory of Everything than can be confirmed via particle-mass predictions, but the the math is still too intractable for us to actually find out what unification with gravity looks like.
Or here’s an even better one, a variation on a theme due to Hofstadter. Suppose a unique TOE exists, but the human being is equivalent to a Turing machine and the TOE contains a Gödel sentence for it. People who discover the TOE go irreversibly catatonic. To dispose of obvious dodges: further suppose that some logical equivalent of the brain-jammer sentence is necessarily part of any TOE, and that all sophonts and strong-AI programs necessarily respond to the brain-jammer in the same way.
>Itâ€™s because you simply wonâ€™t believe that God would run the universe in the arbitrary fashion that occasionalism describes.
Actually, given sufficient evidence, I would. Or at least I could be convinced that I was dealing with something not distinguishable from an occasionalist God. For example, suppose God’s voice said to me: everything in the lower left half of your visual field will turn purple in thirty seconds, and the Moon will become a giant cauliflower — and these things happened.
Then it would be hard to avoid, on the evidence, one of two conclusions (a) either my universe is run by an occasionalist God, or (b) I’ve become a brain in a vat somewhere and someone not operationally distinguishable from an occasionalist God is messing with my sensorium.
>I challenge you to give me a single, accurately-exegeted NT verse that requires killing for apostasy.
See page 83 of the trade paper edition of “The End Of Faith”. (Yes, I’m doing this deliberately. You need to
confront the evidence, not me) I lent my copy to a friend, but a commenter on another blog says he found the cite there.
To which I offer a hearty “pfft!”. I’m not afraid to confront the evidence one bit; I’ve read the NT more times than Harris has worn out crayons — that’s why I offered the challenge. But I’m not weighing down my shelves with any more sophomoric whining from ill-informed atheists, spending money that I could spend on much more important things, like Strongbow.
(Yes, I know you think I should read the whole thing, not just page 83. But really, I’ve read enough atheists to know that they’re nothing if not tiringly predictable, and that by and large the only legitimate use for such books by serious critical thinkers is for kindling (or Rizlas when you’re really desperate).)
Dean: I believe I could make your argument as well as you can, but unlike you I cannot accept it. There has to be a way out. There has to be.
Every way out that has been proposed is unworkable because of the Catch-22 I’ve outlined. There may be a way out that is workable, but Europe seems to prove the false hope that exists. There are ways out, look at Poland, the Baltic Republics, Hungary, the Czech Republic for strong examples of the changes that can occur and the trend patterns that are occurring in those countries. Bear in mind that it took 50 years of totalitarianism and a massive social revolution to begin achieving that change.
Dean: I will do what I can to help find it. Pace Martin Luther: Here I stand. I can do no other.
As do I. It’s why I comment here, write two separate blogs, work to support political candidates that favor changes that may move in the right direction, advocate individual responsibility, and so on. At the same time, I firmly believe that the human race will not survive if we do not expand beyond this planet. Questions of liberty and individualism and so forth are pointless if we don’t survive.
I believe in Santa Claus. He brings me presents, and if you don’t believe in him, he’s gonna climb down your chimney and fuck you in the ass.
My reference to Europe is to Western Europe (i.e. Germany, France, Britain, Italy, etc.), rather than the former Warsaw Pact countries and Soviet Empire.
>I believe in Santa Claus. He brings me presents, and if you donâ€™t believe in him, heâ€™s gonna climb down your chimney and fuck you in the ass.
Well done, Pete! Theism in one sentence; the differences between this and Christianity, or Islam, are trivial.
For a similarly entertaining deconstruction that’s even funnier and more merciless, see Kissing Hank’s Ass.
“Religion convinced the world that there’s an invisible man in the sky who watches everything you do. And there’s 10 things he doesn’t want you to do or else you’ll go to a burning place with a lake of fire until the end of eternity. But he loves you!” —George Carlin
So long as *that* is the fundamental truth claim of Christianity, any reason-oriented mind has a right to call “bullshit.”
Back to the basic premise.
If God made the universe so that it follows unchanging, immuatable “laws of nature”, is invisible, undetectable and does not intervene in the physical universe, explain to me the difference between that and a universe with no God.
ESR, you’re well-informed enough to know that this is a silly straw-man and that the differences are more than trivial. Put the pom-poms down — you’re interesting when you think, but you’re a crappy cheerleader (I have a blonde wig I can lend you, though). Talking of silly men…
Correct, Mr Bessman. And until you start looking beyond Jack Chick tracts to understand Christianity, any reason-oriented mind has a right to call “be quiet about subjects you know little about”.
Because in the former, when you die, you’ll go to Heaven. Unless you were bad, then you go to hell. If you’re kinda gray, you’ll go to purgatory and get fucked in the ass by Santa Claus. But in the latter scenario, you just die, and nobody really knows what happens next. So in the former scenario, you’ve got a reason for living: get into heaven, avoid having Santa penis punch your poop hole. But in the latter scenario, there is no reason for living — you can do whatever you want, and ultimately, you’ll wind up just as dead.
I can certainly sympathize with the appeal of religion, given this situation. I still think it’s a bunch of bullshit, but I kinda wish it were true. It would be sorta convenient if God just came down and was all like “A’ight ya’ll, here’s the real tip.” To date, that hasn’t happened. And in lieu of that, we’re stuck with our thumbs up our ass trying to come up with a reason to live, and a sense of right and wrong. And that ain’t easy, nosiree. So really, the deck is stacked heavily against atheism. Maybe if there was a secular philosophy with more depth than “fuck religion” in general circulation it would be a different situation, but the truth is that right now, embracing atheism is an understandably unappealing proposition.
Correct, Mr Bessman. And until you start looking beyond Jack Chick tracts to understand Christianity, any reason-oriented mind has a right to call â€œbe quiet about subjects you know little aboutâ€.
What the hell is a Jack Chick tract? Did I miss something about Christianity? I mean, seriously, correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure the gist of it is that there is a guy called God who made everything, and if you play by his rules on earth, when you die you’ll go to his paradise — but if you screw up, you go to hell. I defy you to prove me wrong. And if you refuse to do so, and direct me to read the Bible, you forfeit your right to complain to ESR when he directed you to read The End of Faith. Choose wisely, Oroku Saki.
>in the latter scenario, you just die, and nobody really knows what happens next
But that goes to the heart of religion’s appeal. When we die, we know exactly what happens next. Our flesh rots, our bones turn to dust and we are forgotten. It is a misconception that the basis of religion is fear of the unknown. If only it were that simple. Then all we would need to do is “educate” people in the proper philosophy and we could achieve enlightenment like they have in the later Star Treks.
The real root of religion is fear of the known. What is the point of being if oblivion is my destiny? If, in 1000 years, it will be as if I had never been, then what rational justification do I have for engaging in goal-directed behavior right now? I know that if I don’t act, I will soon die. And I have a built in fear of death. But this, too, is absurd.
If I were an animal, I could just operate on instinct, blissfully ignorant of the ultimate fate which awaits me. But I am a man. I can foretell the future, insofar as my reason and imagination can guide me. I know for damn sure what will happen to me, because it has happened to all who came before me. And I know I am not so different from them.
In Ecclesiastes, Solomon tells us that he has examined all life “under the sun,” and found it to be “unutterably weary and tiresome,” for “all is vanity and vexation of the spirit.” The only hope this cynical old bastard could find was in the prospect of life above the sun.
It is easy to imagine a secular utopia in the future, where men have outgrown the need for the transcendent. Futurists have been doing it for centuries. But people who lose faith in the eternal come face to face with the gaping maw of oblivion, and it breaks their hearts.
Perhaps in the future, we will have tougher hearts. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Peter, I agree with what you are saying from a First Cause, meaning of life, morality standpoint. Although there is a good non-theistic approach to morality, ethics, etc., it has some similar problems to the theistic ones. I was trying to get at the question from a mechanical “how does the universe work” perspective. Whether I have an invisible friend, or not, doesn’t make one whit of difference IF my invisible friend doesn’t actually do anything that makes him visible in some fashion.
>ESR, youâ€™re well-informed enough to know that this is a silly straw-man
Au contraire. After thirty-two years of studying the history of Islam, thirty-four years of studying the theology and history of Christianity, thirty years of serious study of comparative religion, twelve years as a Christian, six years as a dogmatic atheist, and thirty-six years as a neopagan, I am well-informed enough to know that Pete Bessman has nailed the core of theism exactly in one sentence.
The self-delusions of theists to the contrary are not evidence. In a truly sane civilization you’d all be in straitjackets and on Thorazine. Too bad we don’t have one yet.
That was invective. (But you might want to try here.)
Not really His rules at all; there has to be a standard of good and evil independent of God (but He epitomises it) which all human beings are aware of (Romans 2) and should hold to. Not out of fear of God, but because doing good is, well, good. So His rules are really just the way people should act regardless of whether He exists or not.
Yes. If you do evil and don’t repent of it, you have separated yourself from God by your own choice.
Well, you just stated it in an entirely different way to Carlin so there’s no reason to take great issue with it, even if it does fall short somewhat. Your evident belief that the Carlin quote is the “fundamental truth claim of Christianity” is wrong on several counts, namely:
God does not live in the sky;
Hell is eternal separation from God, not a literal fire (the Western perception of Hell owes more to Dante then it does the Bible, as Calvin and Luther understood);
There are only two commandments from which all the others follow (Matthew 22:37-40,
“Love” in the Bible does not mean Western mushy sentimentalism;
God’s love is inseparable from His justice, and love (Biblically defined) requires justice; there’s no contradiction between punishing evil people who are unrepentant, and loving humanity.
Do I get a cookie? :)
One could argue that, if I want to survive, I must engage in goal-directed behavior. So then religion is irrelevant. All I need is reason. But why precisely should I want to survive? On a cosmic scale, am I not insignificant, and are my actions not futile? What is the point?
Heroin exists. And I can rob my neighborâ€™s house to get money to pay for it. With a sufficient supply I could, in theory, exist to the end of my days in a state of chemical bliss. Why should I entertain larger ambitions?
Suppose I become a great scientist and invent a faster-than-light drive that takes mankind to the stars, and our race spreads throughout the galaxy. In 5 billion years the sun will (more or less) explode and 2 billion years after that, M31 will collide with the Milky Way and shatter both galaxies. Ultimately, the universe will begin to contract and all will finally perish in a Big Crunch, or the expansion will continue forever until proton decay leaves a formless infinite void.
And all of this will still happen, whether I am buried an honored scientist or a nameless junkie. The proposition that the Lord God of Hosts cares deeply about our conduct in life and will reward or punish us accordingly in the afterlife, is obviously absurd. But in what way is it more absurd than our actual experience of life?
This is the ultimate problem with atheism.
Atheist (to Theist): â€œNyah, Nyah, Nyah, Nyah, Nyah, your metaphysics is ridiculous.â€
Theist: â€œAnd yours isnâ€™t?â€
And yet, you still think that there’s no difference between “believe in Santa Claus or he’ll fuck you in the ass” and “repent to God of evil, or you will get the punishment that you rightly deserve”? That’s not even chalk/cheese, that’s cheese/skyscraper stuff, and I don’t think you’re silly enough to believe they’re anything alike.
I was about to say “very libertarian of you”, but then I realised you are an habitual contrarian who will say just about anything if it pisses off all the right people. So I’m not taking that one too seriously. ;)
Lewis, distill Christianity down to one sentence that you prefer. Let’s see what that is and talk about it, since you don’t like the non-Christian answer to what it is.
>And yet, you still think that thereâ€™s no difference between â€œbelieve in Santa Claus or heâ€™ll fuck you in the assâ€ and â€œrepent to God of evil, or you will get the punishment that you rightly deserveâ€?
That’s correct. There is no essential difference. The demand for belief without evidence is so fundamentally insane that none of the apparatus surrounding it makes any real difference, because any of the surrounding apparatus can change the moment some nut-job gets a new revelation.
>So Iâ€™m not taking that one too seriously. ;)
You should. When I describe religious believers as dangerously crazy, I’m not kidding. 9/11 proved that once and for all.
True Believers, whether of an invisible deity, or a living, visible deity (i.e. Hitler), have been responsible for more deaths, wars, destruction, suffering, famine, slavery in the world than any other single human factor. And yet, somehow, organized religion and “true belief” is still a good thing?
Believers may be dangerous to others, but non-believers are dangerous to self. If you don’t believe me, ask a European whose 1000 year old cathedrals have a half dozen worshippers show up on Sunday, all of them old.
That same European has but one child, if that. And realistically, no future, except possibly as a dhimmi.
Dean, what you are struggling with is whether humans will be adults or children. I mean the race, as a whole. When we were children, we expected mommy and daddy to take care of things for us, fix problems, feed us, clothe us, etc. When we grew up and became adults, we did that for ourselves. When we didn’t get what we wanted, we threw tantrums. The question in front of us is whether we will be grown-ups who don’t need an invisible friend to take care of us, or not. I choose to be an adult.
Following on to that thought. If we choose to be children, then I believe that we have ultimately doomed the human race. We will live in theocratic slavery, with no hope that we will ever leave the surface of this planet. The ultimate conservative dictatorship, with no science, no new literature, etc. will come into existence and humanity will ultimately die on this planet, circling a minor sun on the outskirts of an insignificant galaxy. In the grand scheme of the universe it may not matter if humanity becomes an adult, or not. But it matters to me and to my children.
>And yet, somehow, organized religion and â€œtrue beliefâ€ is still a good thing?
With all due respect, dude, what part of:
1) no faith in the transcendent =
2) no faith in the future =
3) no will to reproduce =
4) no future in fact
don’t you understand?
Dean, I disagree strongly with the idea that no religious faith is a bad thing, for individuals or humanity as a whole.
>Believers may be dangerous to others, but non-believers are dangerous to self. If you donâ€™t believe me, ask a European whose 1000 year old cathedrals have a half dozen worshippers show up on Sunday, all of them old. That same European has but one child, if that. And realistically, no future, except possibly as a dhimmi.
Well, strictly speaking, not reproducing is not “dangerous to self”, just dangerous to one’s culture and genetic line. But that’s a quibble; I take your point.
The good news is that Buddhists, Taoists, animists, and neopagans manage to reproduce just fine without a faith-centered theism keeping them at it. The European demographic collapse isn’t a consequence of the death of God, it’s the result of substituting the social-democratic welfare state for God.
I don’t like one-sentence versions of any non-trivial worldview. Bumper stickers might suffice for the cheerleading style of debate, but not for intelligent discussion.
I find the idea of “blind faith” (as in, assent to propositions without evidence) as insane and abhorrent as you do. But you’re wrong in using this against Christianity; faith (as used in the Bible, rather than the mutilated Western understanding of such) depends on evidence. (For me, it was an honest assessment of all the supposed problems with Scripture, the historical facts surrounding Jesus, and the fact that a Biblical worldview helps me make much better sense of the world than any other. YMMV.)
“When I describe pagans as dangerously crazy, I’m not kidding. <Insert name of repugnant pagan practice> proved that once and for all.” That cuts both ways, you…three-letter acronym you!
Lewis: I donâ€™t like one-sentence versions of any non-trivial worldview. Bumper stickers might suffice for the cheerleading style of debate, but not for intelligent discussion.
That’s fine, use a paragraph. But, if you can’t distill your worldview to something that is cogent, concise and easy to understand, then its sheer complexity makes it unlikely to be usable. It plays right into the hands of the bin Ladens of the world if it requires a priest to understand and interpret for the masses.
Lewis, you’re seizing on the wrong things. The point of the Santa-as-fudgepacker thing is not that living in fear of getting assfucked for not believing in Santa is on a moral plane comparable to living in fear of damnation for deviating from the word of the Christian God — it’s that believing in God or Santa in the first place is ridiculous. I just think the idea of Santa fucking people in the ass is funny, don’t read too deeply into that.
Likewise, the Carlin joke is an obvious… joke. I think everybody here knows the gist of Christianity — it’s hard to be alive and be ignorant of that.
So, the heaven and hell thing is all just icing on the cake. The whole point, in my eyes, is that believing in a God who spoke to his subjects, created the universe, maintains a heaven, has rules to live by, etc. — all of this flies in the face of the basic criteria of a good theory. To wit, that it is simple, general, and falsifiable. Christianity certainly is not simple, as the multitude of factions debating the proper interpretation of the Bible indicate. I don’t know enough about it speak to its generality — if it really could be stripped down to just two rules, then it’s very general, but that matter doesn’t appear to be settled — so I can’t comment. But where it really falls down is falsifiability. It’s not that we can’t prove it wrong given current knowledge and technology — it’s that there isn’t a single set of conditions that can be dreamed of which could prove that God is bunk.
It’s like the malthusian proposition that as population goes up, the number of people living at subsistence levels go up. Since subsistence living is “culturally defined” in this theory, if objective measures of standards of living have gone up, then that just means that the cultural definition of subsistence living has gone up even more, so that on whole, more people are living at subsistence than before. There is no way to prove malthus wrong.
Put simply, my biggest problem with God is that he is a tautology.
So clearly, God exists outside the bounds of inductive truth (science). Equally clearly, he exists outside the bounds of deductive truth (logic), as the various logical contradictions to his existence (can He make a rock so big He can’t lift it?) illustrate. And these two methods of ascertaining truth have created absolutely every advancement in the human state. If you think 2000AD is better than 0AD, you’d be daft to think that science and logic are unimportant. Believing seriously in an entity outside the bounds of these two pillars of progress is pretty silly, then.
But even worse: because God exists outside the bounds of science and logic, yet you believe in him, you can’t use these tools to argue against other beliefs which exist outside the bounds of science and logic. If you do as much, you admit the validity of these tools in determing truth, and undermine your own position. So the result is that my claim about Santa is perfectly valid by the standard of proof you demand — because your standard of proof as nothing to do with science and logic.
Ultimately, what this all boils down to is faith. You have to simply believe that you’re right, and I’m wrong, and that’s that. Faith isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but given it’s track record vis-a-vis science and logic, I see no reason why it should be preferred to the alternatives. I especially don’t think it should be used to implement public policy, and I damn sure don’t want people shoving it down my throat.
>what you are struggling with is whether humans will be adults or children.
The key to our survival is to be a little bit of both. Another of my favorite Lazarus Long quotes is:
“The way to live a long time–oh, a thousand years or more–is something between the way a child does it and the way a mature man does it. Give the future enough thought to be ready for it–but don’t worry about it. Live each day as if you were to die next sunrise. Then face each sunrise as a fresh creation and live for it, joyously. ”
It’s not good to be too childish or too mature. You want to find that happy medium.
Dean: Itâ€™s not good to be too childish or too mature. You want to find that happy medium.
I don’t think you can achieve that happy medium when you still believe in God. It’s no different than believing that your parents can fix every problem in the world for me. My three year old believes that. My thirteen year old is beginning to realize that is not true. In five years, if I’ve done my job right, he will know that no one can fix all of his problems except himself. And that some problems, because of their insoluble nature, just have to be lived with. The human race is struggling to go from being 13 to being 18.
>The European demographic collapse isnâ€™t a consequence of the death of God, itâ€™s the result of substituting the social-democratic welfare state for God.
Well, OK, if we are going to quibble, observe that the Russians are doomed also and they reproduced just fine under the ultimate social-democratic welfare state which was Communism. It was only after Communism failed and they found nothing to replace it that they started aborting 3 out of every 4 pregnancies.
No matter what you worship, history shows that if your God dies and you don’t find a replacement, it’s curtains for you and your civilization.
Lewis, distill Christianity down to one sentence that you prefer.
I did that in the 3rd post in the thread.
Do no harm. Help whosoever you are able.
You might as well say that about any worldview, or component thereof. True things aren’t necessarily simple (can you distill quantum physics, evolution or into a paragraph?). It doesn’t require a priest to understand it; that it might take more than a paragraph to explain sufficiently doesn’t put it in the hands of the bin Ladens any more than ESR using 16 paragraphs to make his point does the same.
Nevertheless, here is an attempt at the sentence version: Humans haveto done much evil, which will be judged by the triune God revealed in the inerrant Bible and His works of creation, who suffered at Calvary for the sins of all that would believe in Him. (Yes, that misses a lot, but anything more would have made it an even more awkward sentence. :))
Wrong on that count. See above for comments on worldview simplicity.
Actually, I can think of two that would discredit traditional Christianity altogether: find an internal inconsistency or an error in the Bible.
Wrong, as I have outlined above: you can prove Christianity false.
I disagree. That God must be logical by nature is a pre-requisite for His being able to communicate to humanity (if He were extra-logical, then there is no way that God could say “Peter”, and not actually mean “Lewis”, or “rock”, or not mean anything at all).
Ooh, the old ones are the best. ;) This isn’t a problem to the traditional view of God’s omnipotence, which is that He can do anything that does not contradict any part of His nature (i.e. God can’t contradict His own all-powerfulthingyness any more than He can lie, and if God is logical by nature, then creating a contradiction is something He is unable to do because it would violate His nature).
Which is something that I, you, and the majority of Christian fundamentalists out there would agree on. “Forced faith” is an contradiction in terms.
>I find the idea of â€œblind faithâ€ (as in, assent to propositions without evidence) as insane and abhorrent as you do.
Congratulations. That makes you a complete failure as a Christian, but a much better human being than you would be if you were a success.
That earns you another “pfft!”.
>Do no harm. Help whosoever you are able.
That’s no good as a summary of Christianity. Several other religions could make the same claim.
Last I checked, Christians were required to believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ.
As an historian with an interest in ideological outcomes, do you deny that the population’s connection (96%) with Catholicism had no role in Poland’s initiative break-out from Communism? Or that the Polish Pope’s visit to Poland when he addressed millions about the value of the individual had no effect on the psyche of the Polish people, or perhaps was even the impetus for the Solidarity movement?
Lewis: True things arenâ€™t necessarily simple (can you distill quantum physics, evolution or into a paragraph?)
First, we are talking about two entirely different things. There is a significant difference between metaphysics and quantum mechanics. If a metaphysical framework cannot be explained in a clear, concise, cogent fashion (which is not the same as simple, but nice strawman), then it is not going to be useful. If it requires significant amounts of arcane knowledge, I am reduced to dependence upon the “priests”, whatever their flavor may be. Neither naturalism nor supernaturalism is difficult to understand. Each can be reduced to a single sentence.
I can say, for example:
“Ontological naturalism is the metaphysical assumption that the natural world is all that exists.”
This would be a concise and clear summary of my world view. There is, clearly, much beyond that single sentence. But it gives you a basis for understanding my worldview that doesn’t require that I refer you to Einstein, Hawking, etc. It is something that we can discuss and work with. It is certainly not “simple”.
Peter, I don’t deny those things at all. What would give you the impression that I did? Or, am I leaving you with the impression of a contradiction of some sort? Solidarity and Communism was, to a large extent, a conflict between two systems of “True Belief”. Catholicism probably would have lost had it not allied itself with Secular Liberalism.
Thatâ€™s no good as a summary of Christianity
It amy not be good enough for you but it has been for billions of other human beings over the centuries.
The premise of the thread was that religious faith is inherently destructive and leads only to fascism. I challenged you several posts back to show me the Catholic insititutions that lead only to fascism.
Maybe that comment was more properly addressed to esr. Again, the premise of the thread was faith=fascism. The Polish example is historical proof that faith can lead to individual liberty. More so when that faith is Catholicism which is grounded on the value of the individual and individual human life.
>As an historian with an interest in ideological outcomes, do you deny that the populationâ€™s connection (96%) with Catholicism had no role in Polandâ€™s initiative break-out from Communism?
No, that would be absurd; of course it did.
Sometimes, both sides in a confrontation are wrong. I’m not required to exonerate the Catholic Church just because it opposed Communism any more than I am to exonerate Communism because it promoted atheism. I regard both Communist and Christian belief systems as irredeemably evil at their core, and opposed to each other more because they dislike competition than for any reason I need approve of.
If you can rationally arrive at the conclusion that the Catholic church is evil at its core for providing the ideological glue that drove Poland to freedom then there is nothing to argue about. Facts get too much in the way.
Wrong on that count. See above for comments on worldview simplicity.
What the.. I don… your gonna hav.. to.. what?
Actually, I can think of two that would discredit traditional Christianity altogether: find an internal inconsistency or an error in the Bible.
This isnâ€™t a problem to the traditional view of Godâ€™s omnipotence, which is that He can do anything that does not contradict any part of His nature
Would defeating dudes in iron chariots contradict God’s nature? Judges 1:19.
But playing your game: Santa inhabits the minds of gift buyers during the holiday season, and determines what they purchase in accordance with his wishes. However, the process is entirely transparent, and the host never knows it happens. If you don’t believe in Santa, he climbs down a chimney and wrecks you anally — but he freezes time when he does it, so nobody can tell its happening. And once he’s done, he sets absolutely everything exactly back to normal — including your anus. He doesn’t want to get caught.
Now, I challenge *anybody* to refute that without using arguments that would refute Christianity as well.
>If you can rationally arrive at the conclusion that the Catholic church is evil at its core for providing the ideological glue that drove Poland to freedom then there is nothing to argue about. Facts get too much in the way.
The Catholic Church is not evil because it provided that ideological glue, it is evil in spite of having provided that ideological glue.
>The premise of the thread was that religious faith is inherently destructive and leads only to fascism. I challenged you several posts back to show me the Catholic insititutions that lead only to fascism.
That’s easy. Go read my essay on “Islamofascism and the Rage of Augustine”.
Mr Cowperthwaite, I misunderstood you, my bad.
Admittedly, there’s no way I could be that concise (and not just because I hadn’t thought about it before ;)). But then, for a more arcane explanation to lend itself to an oppressive priestly hierarchy, and for that to be dangerous, would require a large number of people interested in boiling down Christianity to metaphysical explanations of that form. I don’t think that is the case.
Peter Bessman: Heh, Since the Easter Bunny is capable of instantaneously leaving colored eggs hidden in the grass throughout the entire world, I say your Santa story is false. How do I know? Cause the Easter Bunny whispered in my ear that it’s really him, in a Santa suit, that does all of that.
If you can rationally arrive at the conclusion that the Catholic church is evil at its core for providing the ideological glue that drove Poland to freedom then there is nothing to argue about. Facts get too much in the way.
Why don’t you read his response again — this time for comprehension. Why don’t you explain why the Catholic church should be wholly exonerated because it provided the ideological glue that drove Poland to freedom.
I really meant that the fact that it is not simple does not mean it is untrue. But I picked a bad way of saying it.
(Longer answer: If any of those were actually inconsistencies, they would present a serious challenge to Christianity. Again, those are the sort of things that have to be addressed. Blog threads aren’t really an appropriate place for doing it; my point was only that Christianity can be falsified.)
That one always struck me as odd, too. (BTW, people who are smarter than me tell me that it’s actually a reassurance that God was with Judah, despite failing to drive out the inhabitants of the valley.)
ErCow: I see your Easter Bunny, and raise you a Loch Ness Monster.
I did read your article on Augustine. Because I am not learned enough on Augustine I provided you with a link to a contemporary writer who did an intellectually complete piece on the man and his conflicting political teachings. I’m sure that your knowledge of Augustine is more complete than what is apparent from your article. It may also be worthwhile to point out that Augustine died in the 4th century.
According to Catholic theology the Old Testament is not to be read literally, and neither is it considered an accurate historical document. The Old Testament should be read as literature. A pretty good story about the progress of humanity from barabarism to civility. In that respect quoting Deuteronomy as “evidence’ is as intellectually bankrupt as quoting Norman Mailer.
Oooh! Oooh! Can I play, too?
Let’s see…the Great Pumpkin. Yeah, the Great Pumpkin. If we are sufficiently sincere in our pumpkin patch, he will arise in glory and drive out the false gods, the Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny; yea, and even the Loch Ness Monster shall he drive out. Tremble and obey.
That’s what all monotheisms come down to in the end: tremble and obey. As in Orwell’s 1984, the fundamental demand is that you come to love the jackboot as it stomps your face, forever.
Perhaps there are Lewisian Pumpkinists, surrounded by clouds of intellectual blather so dense that they cannot actually see how far they have wandered from the True Faith: “The Great Pumpkin says it! I believe it! That settles it!”
The next step, of course, is to gather all of my Easter Bunny-ites, arm them and prepare to destroy the Pumpkinistas for their evil. What is their evil? Denying the truth of my belief in the Easter Bunny, of course.
Lewis, I wanted to ask you about something you said earlier. You said that faith requires evidence. Since this completely contradictory of the actual dictionary definition of the word, perhaps you could explain this. You also said that the faith the West discusses is not what faith really is.
I was raised in an evangelical Christian household. My family, friends and church held that faith was believing without evidence, based on spirituality (aka mystical experience). Faith meant believing even when the physical evidence contradicted what you were supposed to have faith in, such as the age of the earth, or the return to life of Christ. Ultimately, I left Christianity because of the complete lack of reality of such a system. If you have a different definition of faith, I’m interested in hearing about it. Every version of faith I’ve heard of required a belief in an invisible friend.
Actually, it’s not contrary to the dictionary definition (see #3 here). The best, pithiest definition I can give is the one I gave earlier: trust based on evidence of previous performance.
I’m not sure how the physical evidence contradicts contradicts the return to life of Christ. On the earth-age thing, I can entirely understand someone rejecting Christianity when they’re told by all manner of evangelical figures that believing the universe is any more than 10,000 years old (i.e. that God isn’t a liar who packed the creation with all manner of evidence making it look a million times older) marks you as a Hell-bound heretic.
Again, something I can sympathise with entirely; I left the church over that sort of thing. In a way, ESR is making a rather good point on this count that I can agree with: irrationality is a very dangerous thing that leads to ugly places, and it is very popular with Christians. I only object to his characterisation of Christianity as necessarily irrational.
The return to life of Christ contradicts the physical evidence we have that anyone who is actually dead (brain and body) for 3 days has never returned to life, and cannot return to life. It is not biologically possible. This is where that whole natural laws things comes in. Not one of the miracles of the Bible, to the best of my knowledge, is actually possible, or is obviously explained (i.e. an eclipse for the sun being darkened).
Lewis: trust based on evidence of previous performance.
What previous performance?
The point is that miracles are a temporary suspension of natural laws. This isn’t so unbelievable unless you believe that God doesn’t exist, or that He can’t do such a thing. It’s not an internal inconsistency.
It could be many things; if someone examines the evidence and concludes that Jesus’ death and resurrection occurred as it was described in the Bible, that would be “previous performance”. (Or if they were around to see it at the time, or (like the Hebrews 11 folks) they had seen some other miraculous work of God, etc.)
that’s completely circular logic.
>I only object to his characterisation of Christianity as necessarily irrational.
Christianity is only “necessarily irrational” when it’s done right. The 3rd century church father Tertullian is often quoted as having written “I believe because it is absurd”. Some sources claim he actually wrote this:
Whichever version is correct, Tertullian’s intention is clear: true faith, true oneness with God, is signified by belief which is in direct contradiction with everything that the evidence of the senses and reason tell us. Seventeen hundred years later, Eric Cowperthwaite reports:
Eric’s report is consistent with Tertullian’s credo and consistent with my own study of Christian theology. It is intellectualizers like Lewis who are deluded about what Christianity requires. If Christian eschatology is correct, Lewis will burn in eternal hell right alongside myself and Pete Bessman and Eric Cowperthwaite.
As Ted said:
Religion is Like Wine:
Too much will kill you for sure.
Long before that it makes you stupid, tedious to have around, and a danger to yourself and others.
In moderation it makes many people happy, which is reason enough for it, I guess. Too bad even a little makes some people mean. It just makes me sleepy.
Some claim it has health benefits. Maybe so, but I can’t help wondering if grape juice would work as well.
If you enjoy it, and can handle it, go for it. But I won’t be joining you, and I’d rather not have to say so twice.
Really, drink up. I’ll be happy to have you around until you get annoying. Just remember, if you turn into a loud-mouthed asshole or start a fight, the wine is no excuse.
Finally, if you ever find it’s ruining your life, and can’t quit by yourself, I’m here to help.
I find this applys to all religion. Christian, Islam, “neopagans”, etc.
For me, ESR comes off as just another asshole attempting to dip other people’s choice of euphoria in bat shit.
Wine never made anyone blow up the World Trade Center.
We must teach people how not to need faith, or expect to die immanentizing somebody else’s Eschaton. After 9/11, no third choice is left.
And Tertullian was just as capable of being wrong about matters of fact as any other Christian was. (Though, if I may quote the Second Highest Authority On All Things: “This may be a statement of a fideist position, but it is also possible–and rendered somewhat plausible by the context–that Tertullian was simply engaging in ironic overstatement.”)
I have faith that God exists because he has done things written in the scriptures. I have faith that he has done things that are written in the scriptures because they are written in the scriptures.
Mr Cowperthwaite, you got the 200th comment in before I did, you bastard.
That’s not really circular logic; it does beg the question of whether Scripture is true or not. But that’s why Christian apologists spend so much time defending the Bible; if we have reasonable evidence to believe that everything but the miracles written in the Bible is true, then there’s good reason to think that the miracles documented therein are true as well.
Couldn’t the circularity charge apply to you, too? “I don’t believe in the God revealed in the Bible, because that would require miracles to happen, and I don’t believe in miracles, because I don’t believe in the God revealed in the Bible.”
Too much wine, Lewis.
Wine never made anyone blow up the World Trade Center.
Who can tell what Peter Buck might do?
We must teach people how not to need faith, or expect to die immanentizing somebody elseâ€™s Eschaton. After 9/11, no third choice is left.
You sound like Bush Jr. “My euphoria good, your euphoria bad!”
One thing’s for sure, Jesus knew how to throw a party: (John 2:1-11: 120-180 gallons of wine… Dionysosian, for sure!)
“OK, slightly different scenario: suppose we have a Theory of Everything than can be confirmed via particle-mass predictions, but the the math is still too intractable for us to actually find out what unification with gravity looks like.”
That’s still analogous to Ptolemaic astronomy — it is possible, remember, to explain the observed movements of the planets with a model of geocentric circular orbits and nested epicycles. But since Copernicus’ and Kepler’s model of heliofocal elliptical orbits fits the observations without any epicycles, and is far simpler to compute, nobody bothers with Ptolemy’s model anymore. A ToE that fits the observed particle masses, but can’t be computed with to the point of making new predictions, isn’t going to be convincing to working physicists.
“Or hereâ€™s an even better one, a variation on a theme due to Hofstadter. Suppose a unique TOE exists, but the human being is equivalent to a Turing machine and the TOE contains a GÃ¶del sentence for it. People who discover the TOE go irreversibly catatonic.”
First, a non-essential quibble: presenting a GÃ¶del sentence for the human brain to a human as a mathematical proposition wouldn’t send the human into catatonia, because mathematical reasoning doesn’t run in the human brain’s kernel mode. That said, fine, suppose the ToE does involve a humanly undecidable proposition — what consequences would follow? Scientists, looking at the cosmos with the firm belief that it can be understood, would be encouraged in that belief by finding patterns in events, and would build up models to explain the patterns as consequences of a law. Since any law the scientists thought of would be humanly decidable, none of them would match the true ToE, so eventually some observation would come up that falsified any given model. But I put it to you that the falsifications, however often repeated, would *not* lead scientists to doubt the intelligibility of the cosmos. Every model the scientists build will explain more events than its predecessor, so science will at least appear to be making progress. And the long history of ever-deeper understanding would certainly be cited as evidence that the cosmos can be understood. So under the supposition, science would be … indistinguishable from what it actually is.
Want another try?
“… I could be convinced that I was dealing with something not distinguishable from an occasionalist God. For example, suppose Godâ€™s voice said to me: everything in the lower left half of your visual field will turn purple in thirty seconds, and the Moon will become a giant cauliflower â€” and these things happened. Then it would be hard to avoid, on the evidence, one of two conclusions (a) either my universe is run by an occasionalist God, or (b) Iâ€™ve become a brain in a vat somewhere and someone not operationally distinguishable from an occasionalist God is messing with my sensorium. ”
Well, yes, if the universe presented no patterns at all, nobody would ever suspect it could be understood. But in that scenario you’d be more likely to decide your senses were being messed with than that the universe had really gone mad. No prize for guessing why.
Oh yes: if you want a real one-sentence summary of the doctrine you reject, ESR, why not use Augustine’s “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee”?
>Want another try?
It doesn’t really seem to me that yuo’ve answered either scenario. Consider the second one: If such a brain-jamming Gödel sentence exists. it would be not just a conjecture that the universe is unintelligible at a deep level, it would be a brute and dangerous fact. The existence of partial non-TOE theories would do nothing to change this.
>But in that scenario youâ€™d be more likely to decide your senses were being messed with than that the universe had really gone mad.
Correct. But so what? I’m an operationalist, remember? Any entity with enough power to mess with my entire sensorium is not distinguishable from an occasionalist god, not from within my sensorium. I don’t have access to the “universe” other than through my phenomenal field, so hypothesizing that the whatever-it-is is not an occasionalist god would be pointless.
>Well, yes, if the universe presented no patterns at all, nobody would ever suspect it could be understood.
Ah! Now, there you’ve answered your own question. The belief that the universe is intelligible will be falsified if and when it ceases to present any patterns. Bada-bing, bada-boom. End of discussion.
THE BIBLE IS A HEAP! Laugh at infidels.org all you want, but the fact remains that the Bible certainly does not seem up to the QA standard one might expect the almighty LORD our God to maintain. If you deem Christianity to be falsifiable based on internal contradictions in its holy scripture — well, stick a fork in it, because it is done.
And even beyond that, if the Bible was internally consistent, it wouldn’t mean a damn thing. My Santa Claus god (who will summon the army of the undead and possibly brain damaged, led by a laser augmented loch ness monster, and totally pwnz0r the easter bunny and pumpkin king in the bagel) comes with completely consistent scripture. Obviously, that doesn’t make it right — the fact that I said it does.
So what, all euphoria is good then, Jim?
I hope you have a rifle, because I get a euphoric kick out of slaughtering people from afar. When .30-06 and brains meet — man is it a sight to behold. And since all euphoria is good, well, then it’s all good in the hood, right?
Lewis, try asking a devout Christian to prove that the Bible is true, divinely inspired, etc. No doubt they will refer you to the Bible itself: 2 Timothy 3:16,17 comes to mind as a popularly cited passage. So we are supposed to believe that the Bible is true, by and large, because the Bible says it’s true.
And I will, because their exegesis is, by and large, sloppier than a cheap curry at a crappy Indian restaurant.
Thus saith Peter Bessman; yea, His proof by strenuous assertion abideth forever. Amen.
According to them, yeah, but it’s not an argument I believe to be valid so I see no reason to defend it. On that note, it’s 3am, and I’m off to sleep.
When you wake up, you’ll have another hundred comments to read…
So what, all euphoria is good then, Jim?
Not what I said. What I said: ESR seems to be on a kick of “my euphoria-inducing crap is better than your euphoria-inducing crap”. His choice of religion (neopaganism) is superior to Christianity and/or Islam because .
I hope you have a rifle,
Several. I’ve even been known use them, but I don’t get a kick out of head shots, and the only hunting I’ve done in the past 10 years was for birds.
Ya see, several years ago, I got bored with NRA high-power matches, and decided that I needed a new challenge… and I don’t mean “benchrest”. I shoot a .308 Norma (Magnum) in 1,000 yard NRA matches (or did before I moved to Hawaii.)
Back when I shot NRA high-power I shot a NM M1 Garand (which was originally owned by my grandfather). I’m familiar with the balistics of the .30-06 round, having put tens of thousands of .30-06 (Lakeshore Match) ammo down range. I know what it takes to hold an approximate-sized headshot at 600 yards.
Tell ya what, you can bring your .30-06 and I’ll bring my rifle and we’ll back off to 1,000 yards. I suggest, for safety’s sake (never mind the ethics of the situation) that we both shoot at targets that aren’t each other, or even human. Once the results of poking holes in paper at 1,000 yards are in, you may wish to reconsider your implicit threat. I will accept your apology at any time.
If you claim that my choice of rifle is somehow “unfair” (in war? please) then I’ll bring the Garand and we can shoot the same caliber at the same range. I’ll even allow you your choice of sights (scopes included). I’ll be using the NM sights on the Garand.
Personally I’d only shot a man if it was “a clear cut case of him, or me”. Self-defense.
>His choice of religion (neopaganism) is superior to Christianity and/or Islam because
it doesn’t require me to believe untestable claims. In fact, it doesn’t actually require me to believe anything at all. (Which is why I hesitate to use the word `religion’ to describe it. To anyone who’s been raised in Judeo-Christian-Islamic fantasyland, the term is misleading.)
“If such a brain-jamming GÃ¶del sentence exists. it would be not just a conjecture that the universe is unintelligible at a deep level, it would be a brute and dangerous fact. The existence of partial non-TOE theories would do nothing to change this.”
If the correct ToE contained a human GÃ¶del sentence, no human would ever formulate it; but if there is a correct ToE at all, there are also partial models of the cosmos, and the discovery of such models will be taken for evidence that an intelligible ToE exists. Therefore, if the universe were unintelligible for this reason, we would never suspect it. There’s no empirical difference between this scenario and an intelligible cosmos; how do you rule out the scenario, if not by faith?
“The belief that the universe is intelligible will be falsified if and when it ceases to present any patterns.”
Actually, I said that if the universe had never presented any patterns, nobody would suppose it was intelligible. If tomorrow the universe suddenly *stopped* presenting patterns, I think most people would assume they were hallucinating, or were now brains in a vat, rather than believe the universe itself had fallen apart.
Come to think of it, if every law of physics were suddenly repealed, our bodies would instantly dissolve into a dust of elementary particles and we would all be dead; so like the GÃ¶del sentence scenario, nobody could experience the event which would falsify the cosmos’ intelligibility in this way. And if the laws of physics were only modified, in such a way that at least some observers kept a continuous identity and an accurate memory of how things worked before the change (so they could know that there was a change) … that very continuity would be a pattern of events persisting across the change, and be taken for evidence of a persistent natural law underlying pre- and post-change physics. Belief in pre-change physics would vanish, but not belief in the possibility of physics.
It is the basic rule of operationalism, isn’t it, that events which *in principle* could not be observed, need not be considered? It follows, then, that theories which can only be falsified by unobservable events, are not falsifiable at all. And both the scenarios you gave which would really falsify the intelligibility of the cosmos require unobservable events, which puts them out of bounds.
Lewis: Mr Cowperthwaite, you got the 200th comment in before I did, you bastard.
That’s Mr. Bastard to you! ;-)
Lewis: I donâ€™t believe in the God revealed in the Bible, because that would require miracles to happen, and I donâ€™t believe in miracles, because I donâ€™t believe in the God revealed in the Bible.
Ahhh, but that isn’t my logic.
Peter Bessman: Laugh at infidels.org all you want, but the fact remains that the Bible certainly does not seem up to the QA standard one might expect the almighty LORD our God to maintain.
The answer to that, as I was taught as a young child, is two-fold.
1. The contradictions are there because we don’t understand the mind of God, if we did, there would be no contradictions.
2. The contradictions are there because fallible men wrote down the infallible word of God.
Pretty neat way to completely take the contradictions of the table, huh? Another of the reasons I’m no longer religious.
>If the correct ToE contained a human GÃ¶del sentence, no human would ever formulate it; but if there is a correct ToE at all, there are also partial models of the cosmos, and the discovery of such models will be taken for evidence that an intelligible ToE exists. Therefore, if the universe were unintelligible for this reason, we would never suspect it. Thereâ€™s no empirical difference between this scenario and an intelligible cosmos; how do you rule out the scenario, if not by faith?
I wasn’t clear enough. Here is the modification of Hofstadter’s scenario I had in mind:
After decades of patient work, physicists are increasingly confident they are closing in on a TOE. There have been some experimental confirmations of partial theories. Expectation is in the air; it is known that if a particular symmetry group can be identified, the problem will be solved. The situation is closely analogous to the way things were in the mid-1960s just before the formulation of the Standard Model.
Then, theoretical physicists start going catatonic, sometimes in the middle of writing an equation on a whiteboard. The first few times this happens, it’s thought to be coincidence — but it keeps happening. Then it’s noticed that they were all working on a particular variant of M-theory. As this is investigated, the brighter physicists doing the investigating have a rash of catatonia cases among themselves.
After a while, the other variants of M-theory are excluded by experimental test. Everything points at that particular variant being the right one; the other variants all prove to have something like non-renormalizable infinities in them. Physicists start being found slumped over particular journal articles; eventually it becomes clear that there are texts in M-theory it is barely safe to comprehend, and deadly to reason foward from.
A mathematician announces a breakthrough in calculus on manifolds, the engine of M-theory. He throws a preprint on the Internet. Two days l;ater he is found catatonic. Physics and math enrollments plummet. The truth is out there, and it makes you irretrievably insane.
Quick!!! Somebody write the screenplay!!!
The Nobel prizewinning physicist Niels Bohr kept a horseshoe nailed to the wall above his desk and, when asked whether he believed it would bring him luck, replied: â€œNot at all. I am scarcely likely to believe in such nonsense. However, I am told that a horseshoe will bring you luck whether you believe in it or not.â€
Actually the Easter Bunny is dead. Bun-bun killed him.
Bun-bun hasn’t been that successful with Santa though.
See the Sluggy Freelance archives for the whole story.
In the above, I enjoyed reading about m-theory and Chuck Norris in the same comment. However, too many John 3 sixteens and bob seven forty nines will eventually turn my eyes away from this site forever.
If you have something to say, say it. Trick me into reading someone else’s “truth” that you found on page 11 in the bee eye bee el ee. But don’t type out chapter and verse or I will skim faster and faster.
Commentors: if you insist on delineating c and v, first wow me with your stuff, then get me to click on your link, then at your site you can go to town with all your myriad mentionings of c and v.
It will be interesting to check the stiffness of the spine of the snickering, gene-based morality crowd when they get eyeball to eyeball with 7th century man.
I used to think that that bit in Snow Crash about a bitmap breaking your brain just by looking at it was far-fetched. Then I realized we live in the age of goatse. So much for that hubris.
On Hofstader’s scenario: as I said before, this couldn’t happen, not because a ToE that involves humanly undecidable statements is impossible, but because mathematical reasoning doesn’t affect the subconscious levels of the human mind. The “parrot” image in David Langford’s “Blit”, which encodes a human GÃ¶del sentence and kills anyone who sees it, is plausible because visual processing does take place below consciousness. Following the brain-as-computer metaphor, mathematics is done in a user-mode process, and it can’t get into the operating system to corrupt it.
If you can think of a more plausible way in which a branch of mathematics could be dangerous to think about, I’ll take your suggestion seriously. Until then, I maintain that a ToE built around a human GÃ¶del sentence would never be discovered, even if it were correct, and therefore a cosmos governed by such a ToE cannot be distinguished (by those inside it) from an intelligible cosmos.
>mathematical reasoning doesnâ€™t affect the subconscious levels of the human mind.
I used to be a mathematician. I am not at all sure you are correct in this belief. Mathematical intuition is not a conscious process — something computationally nontrivial happens at a moment of discovery.
In any case, for purposes of this discussion I think you are required to assume any logically consistent scenario I set up. If a mathematical Gödel sentence can jam the brain, will you concede that this scenario falsifies the assumption of intelligibility? If not, why not?
Speaking of stimuli which damage your brain, I have just borne witness to… the Python movie.
I know now why it is forbidden to speak of the Python movie.
Jeff: People accuse me of breaking their brane all the time (after looking at my Tron Guy website).
Personally, I think anyone whose brane could be b0rked by something like that was b0rked to begin with.
Ahhhhhh, my brain is broken!!! That was uncool Jay. :-) Although the Easter Bunny is now telling me that I did the right thing. In fact, he’s talking to me A LOT now.
Oh, come on. Don’t tell me this thread has petered out. We gotta reach three hundred!
What’s the plan for tranqualizing Islam at this point?
Lewis: WTF, mate? You ask for proof, I give it to you — and you won’t even read it? What if I write up a list of contradictions and post them on my blog, will you read it then? It looks to me like you’re sticking your fingers in your ears and going “la la la.”
Jim: Jezum Crow dude, get a grip. Threat? The whole point was that some forms of euphoria are morally wrong by *any* reasonably civilized measure (and some uncivilized ones, to boot). I could just as well have said I’ve always wanted to self detonate on a crowded school bus. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you read it as a physical challenge, though, given your track record in this department. And as I’ve said before, there’s no way I’d *ever* fight a Big Scary Man like you.
be considered a crime?
Shenpen…that was truly awful…but not a crime.
> The self-delusions of theists to the contrary are not evidence. In a truly sane civilization youâ€™d all be in straitjackets and on
> Thorazine. Too bad we donâ€™t have one yet.
Unfortunately so. U of MN survey: Atheists identified as Americaâ€™s most distrusted minority:
“If a mathematical GÃ¶del sentence can jam the brain, will you concede that this scenario falsifies the assumption of intelligibility? If not, why not?”
On reflection, no. Take the viewpoint of the surviving physicists in the scenario; what would they have reason to believe, by the operationalist rules? Certainly, that there is a result in the calculus of manifolds which the human mind cannot contemplate; that calculations within one variant of M-theory turn on just that result; and that all other variants of M-theory fail to describe the universe they experience. But these facts, disturbing as they are for mathematics, don’t add up to the belief that the fatal variant of M-theory *does* describe the universe they experience. To confirm that belief, physicists would have to calculate within the fatal variant until they reached a testable prediction, then check the prediction with an experiment. But, by hypothesis, calculating within the fatal variant is an impossibility. So the physicists will never have reason to think the cosmos is unintelligible, because they cannot observe that an unintelligible theory correctly describes the cosmos.
“Mathematical intuition is not a conscious process â€” something computationally nontrivial happens at a moment of discovery.”
Well, mathematical intuition can’t be a subconscious process, for if it were everybody would be a mathematician. I wouldn’t argue if you called it a super-conscious process, but a ontological naturalist would choke.
>But these facts, disturbing as they are for mathematics, donâ€™t add up to the belief that the fatal variant of M-theory *does* describe the universe they experience.
I was expecting this answer. In fact, it doesn’t actually matter whether the Killer Theory is the empirically correct one. The existence of the killer theory means that doing physics anywhere in the neighborhood of the TOE will use up all the physicists we can generate. That whole class of theories may not be logically out of bounds, but it’s out of bounds in any practical, operational sense.
>Well, mathematical intuition canâ€™t be a subconscious process, for if it were everybody would be a mathematician.
All you’ve done is excluded the possibility that it’s a subconscious process for which everyone has the wiring. But we already know that mathematical talent is uncommon.
Tell me, if a secret conspiracy was murdering everyone who worked on a specific version of M-theory, would that falsify the intelligibility of the cosmos? And how is that different from your scenario?
Because in the GÃ¶del sentence case, it is impossible in principle for humans to understand the theory without going flatline, whereas a human in an underground nuclear shelter could understand the theory without fear of the secret conspiracy.
Musical creativity is largely subconscious. This doesn’t mean that we are all Bachs. Musical creativity is a subconscious process that must be activated by conscious exposure and labor. And so, I suppose, it is with mathematics.
In the GÃ¶del sentence scenario, the cosmos is unintelligible to humans. Is there a scenario in which the cosmos is unintelligible to all possible sophonts?
Yes, David, that’s what I thought too. But ESR must think something else, because I’ve already proved — twice — that if the correct ToE includes a human GÃ¶del sentence, we as humans could not recognize the evidence that the correct ToE is, indeed, correct. Therefore we could never be able to falsify the belief that the cosmos is intelligible. Therefore those within such a cosmos cannot distinguish it from an intelligible cosmos, and the belief that the correct ToE will *not* include a human GÃ¶del sentence is necessarily held by faith, not as a working hypothesis, as operationalism would require.
That, in the scenario, understanding the correct ToE means death, does not affect any part of my argument. It would, to be sure, create real problems for mathematics, and impede the practice of physics; but it doesn’t affect the *belief* in physics in any way. A murderous conspiracy would impede the practice of physics just as much, but it doesn’t raise the GÃ¶delian issue.
By the way, ESR first stated the scenario as “the cosmos is unintelligible to all possible sophonts” for GÃ¶delian reasons, not just humans.
>Is there a scenario in which the cosmos is unintelligible to all possible sophonts?
Yes. It could be that all sophonts have to have minds equivalent to a narrow enough range of Turing machines that the same brain-jammer whacks all of them. It could even be the case that the TOE necessarily contains a universal brain-jammer, because there is some deep tie between the TOE and the nature of consciousness.
And in case anybody was wondering about the lurking danger of Christianity:
Not that I don’t think the poll is indicative of an issue, but I really have to say that what is being termed “torture” really makes me laugh in most cases.
The fact is, I endured as bad, or worse, in escape and evasion training and leadership schools I attended while in the Army. What they did to us there, including sleep deprivation, water immersion, humiliation, physically rough treatment (pushing, shoving, stuff like that), etc. was considered as far as you could legally go with a soldier while training him for potential capture by an enemy. Re-read the memtic warfare posts.
Anyways, the point is that, if you believe the polls, Christians are more ready to draw blood than other Americans. Inferences about their world view can be made.
I understood the point David, and agreed with it. I am also pointing out that what is being called “torture” is silly.
I suggest folks take a look at Penn Jillette’s “What I Believe”.
David McCabe makes a good point.
I wonder why it’s never occurred to Eric that America’s addiction to two types of oil — gerin oil and the stuff you burn for fuel — is the real driver of our Middle Eastern policy.
Oops… link to article should be this: gerin oil.
If the universe were not intelligible, I doubt that we could even
begin to ask the question, ‘Is the universe intelligible?’. Asking
this questions seems rather like a self-referential contradiction.
If the universe were not intelligible, far more than the
objectivity of theoretical physics would be at stake, by this
alleged ‘brain-jammer whack’, somehow, built into the lowest-levels of the physical universe.
‘If such a brain-jamming GÃ¶del sentence exists, it would be not
just a conjecture that the universe is unintelligible at a deep
level, it would be a brute and dangerous fact.’
How is this GÃ¶del sentence, at some deep level, being a brute and dangerous fact, radically dissimilar to what we think we know about Quantum Mechanics? When the quantum numbers are low – at the sub-atomic level – weird things like non-localization, indeterminancy, the break-down of the subject-object dicotomy, etc. reign. But when the numbers
are higher, such things vanish. How is the ‘brain-jamming
GÃ¶del sentence’ sentence more GÃ¶delian, than a GÃ¶del sentence, derived from quantum indeterminancy? Because
it is tied to events, occuring at an even lower level than the
sub-atomic level? Macro-objects are compounded from events, arising on the sub-atomic and the sub-sub-atomic (if this
really exists) level and the paradoxes, generated by Quantum Mechanics, did not deliver the death blow to theoretical
physics, so why MUST this?
‘A mathematician announces a breakthrough in calculus on manifolds, the engine of M-theory. He throws a preprint on the Internet. Two days later he is found catatonic. Physics and math enrollments plummet. The truth is out there, and it makes you irretrievably insane.’
You assume that the brains of humans, or at least the brains
of physicists, operate on the sub-atomic or sub-sub-atomic
level. There are arguments for supposed sub-atomic
brain-operations (see Penrose), but they are not, exactly,
convincing. (If you tried to observe a sub-atomic brain operation, you would, necessarily, alter the outcome of it.)
You also assume that ‘insanity’ is something, which happens
to the brain, on whatever level you think the brain is operating on. Ole’ Dr. Szasz would have more than a bone to pick with
you on this one.
We’re addicted to oil. But the rest of the world is addicted to sunshine and vegan gumdrops. God we’re so awful.
/me shoots a kitten.
>so why MUST this?
My scenario is that the the brain-jammer causes irreversible catatonia. QM doesn’t do that.
>You assume that the brains of humans, or at least the brains
of physicists, operate on the sub-atomic or sub-sub-atomic
I wasn’t assuming any such thing, actually.
If doing away with (belief in) God makes the USA a better place, shouldn’t we take a look at the possibility of proof by example?
Top 50 Countries
With Highest Proportion of Atheists
Note that I’m not arguing for against a belief in God here, you can enjoy your state of euphoria as you like. I am arguing against ESR’s premise and conclusion, that faith in (a) God makes a society more prone to conquest at the hands of “terrorists”.
And wasn’t ESR recently arguing against Sweden?
I’m looking at those tables and I’m seeing that the countries that have substantially larger atheist demographics than the U.S. are also the ones that tend to be way ahead of the U.S. in terms of mathematical and scientific literacy.
Draw your own conclusions from that.
>My scenario is that the the brain-jammer causes irreversible catatonia. QM doesnâ€™t do that.
Yeah, but you tried to rig up the scenario to preclude any outcome, where intelligiblity is not lost when a GÃ¶del
sentence is extracted from a specific low-level theory. I
am saying that like QM, intelligiblity can persist across the
universe, if the disturbances from the sentence wash out
on another level.
Even if theoretical physics fails, physics may not fail. The
future physicists may come to resemble biologists or
anthropologists. They would, probably, have to eschew a
rigorous mathematical understanding of the physical
universe, however. (This crisis-senario is not convergent
with the history of physics, either.) Remember the ‘ultra-
violet catastrope’? There were non-renormalizable
infinities involved in this as well, yet no physicist
fell into despair much less went catatonic. It took
30 years to pin-point exactly what was anomalous,
and what was wrong with a sub-theory of a theory
could have only been known in retrospect.
If the universe were unintelligible, nothing in the universe,
including your thoughts, statements, belief claims, etc.
could be intelligible. Anything you say or do presupposes
the existence of an intelligible universe.
nekhbet, quantum mechanics creates very real problems for ontological naturalism, but it doesn’t yield the kind of problem in ESR’s scenario. We can calculate with QM, and get testable predictions out of it, and the predictions accord with experiments. ESR postulated a theory that can’t be confirmed, because no human can understand it well enough to get a prediction out of it.
Speaking of which, ESR, exactly why *did* you add to your scenario that anyone who approaches an understanding of this theory dies? As far as I can see, what matters is the theory’s incomprehensibility as such, not the result of an attempt to comprehend it. What, of any weight against the comprehensibility of the cosmos, do you think follows from the results you assumed?
Moreover, do you have any reply to the argument I gave, regarding your scenario? Or do you think it’s so obviously ridiculous that there’s no point even trying to answer it?
Jim, I took ESR’s premise to be that faith — defined as, belief in any proposition not based on empirical evidence — is impossible to a rational being; and his conclusion to be, that faith is destructive to any society fit for rational beings. That’s why I’ve been arguing that the concept of “empirical evidence” itself rests on an article of faith, and would be incoherent without it. Once one admits that one needs a bit of faith in order to be rational, ESR’s premise collapses.
>We can calculate with QM, and get testable predictions out of it, and the predictions accord with experiments.
Michael. I was using some of the consequences of QM and
the resolution of these consequences as a mere analogy.
If things look wobbly at a low-level, even at the ultimately low-level, intelligiblity can prevail thruout the experiential
level, AS IT ALWAYS HAS.
I think that the inherent intelligiblity of the universe and
the capacity of theoretical physicists to precisely capture
the complexities of the physical universe via mathematics
should be unlinked. It is possible that physicists may one
day throw up their hands and say, ‘We do not need
these damned equations anymore! Now we are all
biologists!’, without the universe ever being, having been,
or ever becoming unintelligible.
The activity of engaging in science involves certain assumptions, such as a belief in the existence of an
external world, a belief in mathematical induction,
which Popper, incidentally, considered to be a myth,
etc. All of these assumptions are reviseable and none
of them reach the rationality-busting level of belief
required to subjectively assent that some guy is a
deity, to overcome all doubts that an event,
described in the bible in which this guy/deity
converted water into wine is false, etc.
If doing away with (belief in) God makes the USA a better place, shouldnâ€™t we take a look at the possibility of proof by example?
Depends upon how important it actually is, which I don’t think we have any real way of knowing. But I don’t believe that was the point, anyway. Quoting ESR:
“In terms of Harrisâ€™s own objectives, the bookâ€™s most serious failure is that he does a poor job of connecting faith-based religion to the murderous secular irrationalisms of the 20th century, notably Communism and Naziism. The problem here is one that shows up elsewhere in the book; connections that seem obvious to Harris are alluded to rather than nailed down with explicit argument, creating the appearance that his case is weaker than it actually is.”
> My scenario is that the the brain-jammer causes irreversible
If the brain-jammer causes irreversible catatonia and the
rupture to the universe’s intelligibility is so fundamental,
so shot thru the ‘fabric of the universe’, then why would
physicists be uniquely suspectible to it and why would they
become so after, merely, uncovering this rupture? The
physicists are, essentially, giving themselves irreversible
catatonia (whatever the hell that is). A job related illness
in a case of possible job related discrimination on the part
of the universe…
This brain-jammer –> irreversible catatonia theory is perfectly
describable as reverse-supervenience. What the physicists
know or what they think they know about the nature of the universe, insofar as it ceases to be cognizable to them,
triggers permanent brain damage (if that is what catatonia really is). A physicist’s mental state determines an
unremediable disruption of his own neuro-cortical intactness.
The mental, thus, prevails over the physical: A
complete, symmetrical reversal over good ole’ traditional
(No wonder why mathematical geniuses will be tossing their
slide-rules into the sea and opting for exciting and rewarding
careers in the growing field of hard-core porno.)
Existentialists, structuralists, de-constructionists, etc. the
entire side-show of BAD modern philosophers have always
rejected the meaning of the Enlightenment, scientific
objectivity and, of course, the intelligibility of the universe in
rather opaque and incomprehensible langauge. ‘The universe
is absurd.’ It was Foucault, after all, who postulated that
historians, living at a certain time in a unique culture could
not have an understanding of the beliefs and practices of an
alien culture, living at a different time, because the gap
between the two cultures was incommensurable. Not even
this microscopic portion of the universe was knowable,
according to him. Why haven’t any of these savants lapsed
into irreversible catatonia, when they finally ‘realized’ that
the universe (or even some small slice of it) was utterly unintelligible?
Saying that the universe is unintelligible presupposes its
own refutation. The universe MUST have been and MUST
remain very intelligible for such an utterance to occur. The
question is: Just how intelligible is the universe?
nekhbet: It isn’t quite true that the cosmos must be intelligible if it’s to contain intelligent beings. Rather, the cosmos must act *as if* it were intelligible, in order to contain intelligent beings. It’s part of my point that a cosmos governed by an occasionalist God could not be distinguished, from the inside, from an intelligible cosmos. If you were right, and occasionalism refuted itself, ESR’s operationalism would also be right.
That said, are you quite sure that you can class belief in the cosmos’ intelligibility as necessary to a rational being, and belief in miracles as impossible to a rational being, by any rule other than that you believe in the former but not the latter? Neither belief can be falsified empirically, after all.
> It isn’t quite true that the cosmos must be intelligible if it’s to
contain intelligent beings.
Intelligibility is or is not a property of a universe, independently
of whether intelligent beings inhabit it or not. For me to say
that ‘the universe is not intelligible’ or to say anything else
presupposes a universe, which has and continues to have this
property. There must have been regularities, constancies, and
predictabilities prevailing thruout it, else humans could not
have learned to speak, have learned to learn, etc.
> It’s part of my point that a cosmos governed by an
occasionalist God could not be distinguished, from the
inside, from an intelligible cosmos.
Why do you contrast an occasionalistic universe with an intelligible universe? (We may have a terminological
dispute here.) Why do you believe that an occasionalistic universe MUST lack the property of its being knowable by intelligent beings from within-side of it? How could all of the truth conditions appear indistinguishable, within
both universes, if only one had the property of its own
intelligibility? There would be a discernible difference
between the two, if the occasionalistic universe was unintelligible.
Please do not forget that occasionalism was devised to preserve the truth-values of objects, when they went
un-observered by humans. I look at the monitor, but when
I look away, how can I trust that its existence remains?
Because an all-seeing God, observes it and everything else,
thus preventing the existence of objects in that universe
from becoming ‘gappy’.
The assertion that an occasionalistic universe and a universe, which sprang into being, spontaneously, without any supernatural devising or intervention, are indistinguishable
may not hold.
Take two universes: One of which is occasionalistic. It was created, is maintained and occasionally intervened in by
God. God, periodically, intervenes within it to tweak the fundamental constants or even to alter a fact within it. The
other universe sprang into being spontanteously and
persists on its own.
In the occasionalistic universe (ID theorists seem to maintain
this), God slips into the universe, periodically, like a hyper-cosmic cat-burgler, then rearranges some facts or
even the physical laws without leaving traces of evidence
for the occurrence of any re-arrangement. If this were so,
some or even all truth conditions would be altered, with no
way of determining just what had been altered. Human
knowledge would become unreliable, though not impossible,
and the universe would remain, probably, intelligible from
one intervention to the next, though not in the same
continuous manner as a spontaneous universe remains intelligible. Humans could, probably, not ask the
question after God intervened and reversed gravitation:
‘Don’t you remember when the rocks did not fall upward?’
What is terrifying to me is the possibility that God can monkey
around with the truth-conditions or anything else in the
I do not know what you mean by ‘from the inside’. I live in a 12
x 12 ft. black box, constructed of galvanized metal, without any
internal illumination. You live in a 12 x 12 ft. black box,
constructed of wood, without any internal illumination. Both of
our homes look indistinguishable, from the inside.
> are you quite sure that you can class belief  in miracles as
impossible to a rational being [?]
It depends upon the miracle. Some micracles are made rational,
because and only because, they require supernatural intervention.
Take two miracles: one ancient and one modern.
The doctrine of transsubstantiation, where the bread and wine
are converted into the flesh and blood of Christ, after a priest
proffers a chalice and a wafer and chants a liturgical formula
over them and the communicant. This ‘event’ would make no
sense, if it did not require alot of supernatural involvement.
The doctrine of PCP. (I slap my head in amazement when
prohibitionists start to reel this one off.) An effective dose
of PCP triggers the acquistion and expression of 10 times
human strength and these PCP takers routinely acquire
and express this superhuman strength, without succumbing
to very crippling injuries. These ‘events’ would only be
possible with the intercession of some deity. No drug
confers 10 times human strength on anyone. Muscle tissue
is just so strong, tendons are just so flexible, etc. There are
limits to chemistry and human physiology, which the
prohibitionists defiantly reject.
One might argue that God is intervening, because the PCP
ingestors do not suffer, continually, from body-breaking
injuries. I rather doubt that chemicals can overcome the
low-level constraints of physical reality, ie. by producing
instanteous corrections for bone, tendon, and muscle
The doctrine of pcp, arguably, requires an exertion of greater
faith on the part of the believer than the doctrine of
transsubstantiation does. The old miracle is far more
intellectually compelling than the new miracle, due to
its appealing to something supernatural.
You’ve mixed up occasionalism with something else, nekhbet. Several something elses, in fact. If you’ll read the earlier posts here, you’ll find that occasionalism means the belief that all events in the cosmos are caused *immediately* by God, and all the “regularities, constancies, and predictabilities” we find in it are coincidences, without any meaning. Concretely, according to occasionalists unsupported rocks don’t fall because a law of gravity requires it, they fall because God makes them fall — and God is not compelled to make rocks fall, though He always has done so before.
This theory is not Bishop Berkeley’s idealism, or the speculations of the Intelligent Design school, or even a belief in the possibility of miracles (all of which you identified with it.) Of the ideas you have probably heard of, it’s closest to Gosse’s “Omphalos”, where the universe is supposed to have been created by God in 4004 BC, in a state identical to that it would assume, had it begun in a Big Bang 15 billion years ago, as science currently asserts. Gosse, I should mention, was swiftly rejected by theologians and scientists alike, and has been definitively demolished by whoever thought up “Last-Thursdayism”, in which the date of Creation is moved forward to last Thursday, making our memories of events before then as ficticious as the fossil record and the cosmic background radiation.
The occasionalist cosmos is not intelligible, not because there is no structure in it, but because all the structure it has is deceptive. (That’s why Gosse was rejected — he’d have made God out a liar.)
Another point: a cosmos that just “springs into being” without any supernatural source is philosophically incoherent. If you want a cosmos that’s genuinely uncaused and self-existent, you’ll have to give it either an infinite timespan — both pastward and futureward — or else a circular time. A cosmos with a clear beginning, such as we seem to inhabit, must have an origin outside itself.
> occasionalism means the belief that all events in the cosmos are caused *immediately* by God, and all the ‘regularities, constancies, and predictabilities’ we find in it are coincidences,
without any meaning.
Oops. I should have googled before I typed. I forgot and
REALLY misconstrued that one.
As Wittgenstein said in his ’32-33 Lectures: ‘Russell said
remembering cannot prove that what is remembered has
occurred, because the world might have sprung into existence
five minutes ago with acts of remembering intact.’ He goes
on to say: ‘Russell’s hypothesis was so arranged that nothing
could bear it out or refute it.’ ‘Hence, it is that such sentences seem to mean something. But they are otiose, like wheels in a
watch which have no function although they do not look to be
That would be my criticism of this occasionalism. It is otiose.
If God is the sole causal agent and God can force his
idiosyncratic actions to be understood as regular, the
occasionalistic universe may well be indistinguishable
from the intelligible universe, from the inside. But, this
universe seems vastly more complicated than one
governed by causally efficacious laws. Why not opt for
the simpler explanation?
There might be a problem of truth in such a universe as it
would lack a criterion of correctness, sort of like private
languages. After all, what are God’s truth-conditions? What
seems to be true to him is TRUE. It is not as though a sole
God learns, observes and interacts with other Gods. The
problem of truth for God and this universe would vanish,
if he is omniscient and self-caused, but every claim
either true or false would have the same status, as all
claims would be caused by and dependent on God.
> This theory is not Bishop Berkeley’s idealism, or the
speculations of the Intelligent Design school, or even a
belief in the possibility of miracles (all of which you
identified with it.)
I did not identify occasionalism with miracles. I was responding
to your question, as to whether it is impossible for a rational
being to believe in miracles. A being can believe in miracles
without sacrificing rationality, but at what cost when the
‘events’ can only be made rational by invoking a supernatural
agency? The intellectual status in the belief of the miracle
would be, at best, degenerately rational.
On second thought, my treatment of the problems of
knowledge and the continuity of the universe’s intelligibilty,
when a God intervenes and scrambles over the
truth-conditions in a universe normally governed by
natural laws seems more interesting, than the sterility of occasionalism.
> all the ‘regularities, constancies, and predictabilities’ we
find in it are coincidences, without any meaning.
There would HAVE to be meanings in these patterns for God.
And, if he were omnipotent, he could build the meanings for
his acts into the sentient beings. If there were no such
patterns in the universe, the non-patterns would have
meanings to God as well.
An occasionalistic universe, containing ‘regularities,
constancies, and predictabilities’ programmed into it by
God could look the same to internal ‘observers’ as an occasionalistic universe, containing ‘irregularities,
inconstancies, and unpredictabilities’ programmed
into it by God to internal ‘observers’, if God were
omnipotent. When you haul an omnipotent God into
every argument, you over-decide the outcomes. The
universe looks to ‘observers’ how God wants it to look
If a regular occasionalistic universe and an irregular
occasionalistic universe can look the same to internal
‘observers’, how can occasionalism refute or even bear
on esr’s brain-jammer theory? Don’t you have to do more
than merely suggest the possibilty of a occasionalistic
universe to torpedo esr’s theory?
The only way THIS universe cannot be intelligible is if an
omnipotent God makes it unintelligible. Why must the
intelligibility of the universe be proved empirically anyway?
Why is the burden of proof shifted onto non-occasionalists?
“But, [the occasionalist] universe seems vastly more complicated than one governed by causally efficacious laws. Why not opt for the simpler explanation?”
Depends on what you think of as “simple”. In terms of causal processes, occasionalism is as simple as it gets, and *much* simpler than the Standard Model of particle physics. If you’re looking for predictive power, though, the Standard Model takes the prize.
“… how can occasionalism refute or even bear on esrâ€™s brain-jammer theory?”
It doesn’t. ESR’s scenario was an attempt to construct a cosmos that was unintelligible, in a way that *could* be discovered by an internal observer.
“The only way THIS universe cannot be intelligible is if an omnipotent God makes it unintelligible. Why must the intelligibility of the universe be proved empirically anyway? Why is the burden of proof shifted onto non-occasionalists?”
If you wish to maintain — as ESR did — that beliefs not empirically confirmable are irrational, and holding such beliefs is a threat to our civilization, then occasionalism creates a problem for you; because the impossibility of refuting occasionalists with empirical evidence shows that belief in the intelligibility of the cosmos is, by that rule, irrational. Yet the logical weight of empirical evidence rests on just that “irrational” belief; deny yourself every article of faith, and you lose all of science too.
“That would be my criticism of this occasionalism. It is otiose.”
As long as you recognize that this is not an argument, but an implicit declaration of faith, I’m content.
> ESR’s scenario was an attempt to construct a cosmos that was unintelligible, in a way that *could* be discovered by
an internal observer.
ESR’s devised a scenario wherein the consequences in the
failure of ONE low-level physics theory demonstrated that
THIS universe was unintelligible or ceased to be intelligible.
I went a long way in de-linking the intelligibility of THIS
universe from the doings of theoretical physicists. (He
never explained how a physicist could succumb to the
brain-jammer as well.)
My reply was that the postulated scenario asked a false
question; It answered itself in the negative by the
mere asking of it.
> the impossibility of refuting occasionalists with
empirical evidence shows that belief in the
intelligibility of the cosmos is, by that rule,
No. No. No. You perplexingly mistake me for an empiricist.
However, as I see it, occasionalism refutes itself. (see
below) One need not further refute the refuted with
evidence, empirical or otherwise, as it would be
I explicitly mentioned that beliefs can be rational (the
belief in an external world, but it too should be held
tentatively). Beliefs can be degenerately rational
(some necessitating the supernatural to make them rational
or seem so), and some are just damn scary, irrational
beliefs (read the PCP ‘event’ again and wince).
Popper was a hypothetical-realist, but he remained open
for jettisoning EVEN this if it became necessary.
(How can you know that something exists independently
of all ideas concerning it, unless you can know this
by resorting to think with something other than
> As long as you recognize that this is not an argument,
but an implicit declaration of faith, I’m content.
This formulation of occasionalism is not otiose,
though some of its consequences are; It is
Occasionalism is internally incoherent. You say an
occasionalistic universe, by definition, can have
no meaning and cannot be intelligible from an
internal point of view. I am saying that an
omnipotent God can put meanings into the brains
of the inhabitants of such a universe and can
make these inhabitants know how and why their
universe is intelligible. One need not demolish
occasionalism with empirical evidence; It
is logically flawed. An omnipotent God thrown
into the works, for fun and profit, makes the
outcomes hyper-elastic and this thesis cannot
be reigned in by slapping arbitrary conditions
on him, thus limiting the range of his limitless
Since occasionalism is logically troubled,
one cannot employ Occam’s razor to select
between occasionalism and any other
contender. Even though an occasionalistic
universe can be made extensionally equivalent
to another universe by the caprices of God,
it could never be logically compatible with
any contender, not so troubled.
I do not understand this rule that a
a ‘discovery’, made on the part of one
internal observer to show that his
universe is intelligible has any
merit, whatsoever. It is a false analogy.
If these ‘regularities, constancies,
and predictabilities’ are all just
illusions, then any affirmation,
denial, or uncertainty regarding
them is an illusion as well. In
your restricted occasionalistic
universe where there is NO meaning,
all inferences are unsound. No
one could say or try to say anything
intelligible in an unintelligible
universe. No one’s looking around
at it, even if they could begin to
look, could yield anything
meaningful. A universe must
be intelligible for anything
to be looked at or said
about it, in it.
You are trying to compare the
intellectual dispositions of the
creatures in 2 radically dissimilar
universes. In an intelligible universe,
one can look. In an unintelligible
universe, no one looks or even
has the possibility of learning how
If you are asking: Is there a matter
of fact which can be said to determine
whether a universe, seen from its
insides, is intelligible or not,
you could have asked that question
without having whipped out this
occasionalism nonsense. (How is
asking whether or not the
universe is intelligible or
not, not a fact pointing towards
> Yet the logical weight of empirical evidence rests on
just that ‘irrational’ belief; deny yourself every
article of faith, and you lose all of science too.
Baloney. Anti-realists reject bi-valance – the simple
notion that a state of affairs is either true or
not, independently of human minds. To them, in a
constricted range of situations, the truth-values
of these states are dependent on human minds.
This involves a commitment to idealism. Their
interpretations of science are not irrational.
Pan-critical-rationalists are, well, rationalists!
Beliefs cannot be taboo to rationalists or they
would self-destruct. Popper and the evolutionary
epistemologists are of this crowd. Most philosophers
of science remain empiricists. You mentioned the
self-referential problem, the same one which sunk
the verificationist boat. Empiricism’s bark is even
more leaky than that: Observations are contaminated
by hypotheses, physical laws can only be weakly
inferred, if that, from the concatenations of
nekhbet, I can’t make out whether you’re arguing with me or not. And nobody else has said anything here for several days. If you want to go on, why don’t you try restating what you think my position is, so I can see if you’ve got it right?
1. That believing in things, including the irrational
things, is not a pursuit towards the irrational.
2. That there are 2 dissimilar universes, one which has
neither meaning nor intelligibility and one which has
the former and the latter, yet they both ‘look’
indistinguishable, seen from their respective insides.
3. That I am logically bound to yank a fact out of this
universe which either has OR lacks both meaning and
intelligibility, so as to prove the intelligibility
of this universe.
4. The practice of asking whether or not this universe
is rational is not fact enough to show a part of our
I think you have forgotten, nekhbet, that I didn’t start out by arguing with you, but with ESR, who had said, as if nobody could possibly doubt it, that empiricism was an all-sufficing guide to truth. Pointing out how leaky that particular boat is has been my object from the start. That said, to your list:
1) I hold that the true mark of irrationality is, to forbid objection to what one believes. If I learn that A thinks the Earth is flat, I know that A is wrong, but not that A is irrational; whereas if I learn that B wants anyone who says the Earth is flat to be jailed, I know that B is irrational, even though B is defending truth. Put differently, I say rationality and its absence are attributes of minds, and the rationality of a belief depends wholly on the mental state of the believer. (By contrast, the *truth* of a belief is not dependent on the believer at all.) You, apparently, equate rationality and truth; I don’t.
4) The fact that someone exists who can ask whether the universe is intelligible proves that the universe has behaved as if it were indeed intelligible. Unfortunately, that it has behaved so does not entail that it must behave so — I trust I needn’t explain why? And this means, raising the question is not tantamount to answering it.
2) It would be more correct to say, we cannot confirm, looking at the universe from the inside, which of these dissimilar universes is our own, and which is imaginary. We *assume* the cosmos’ intelligibility.
David Foster Wallace, in his book _Everything and More_, tells of a certain rooster, the most intelligent on a farm he visited in his youth, who began pecking at the ground whenever the farm’s handyman came by carrying a sack; he had noticed, you see, that every time the handyman did this he then scattered grain from the sack for the chickens to eat. Then, one day, the handyman came by with the sack and, instead of scattering grain, he wrung the rooster’s neck, put him in the sack and took him away to be cooked. Was the rooster irrational for not expecting this drastic change in the handyman’s behavior?
3) Why, if you wanted an empirical proof, that’s exactly what you would be logically bound to do. But you’re claiming to prove it a priori — you say occasionalism is self-contradictory. You haven’t actually done so (your attempts so far have all been petitio principii) but you are not in ESR’s leaky boat.
> I say rationality and its absence are attributes of minds,
and the rationality of a belief depends wholly on the mental
state of the believer.
You assume that a belief is a mental state. That it has a
knowable beginning and ending: a duration. When was the
precise instant that I believed in God and when was the precise
instant the belief vanished? I may have held contradictory
beliefs for a time, never noticed this, then found my beliefs
had changed. So, there would be 2 mental states corresponding
to 2 mutually exclusive beliefs running in my mind
simultaneously. Which one was the rational belief? To you,
How is it you alone have this power to assess the authenticity
of some or all mental states linking with beliefs? If I say
that a tall man is not a man, I remain rational to you, due
to your spying on the contents of my mind, even though
I’ve belted out the granddaddy of all absurdities. This
smacks of cognative relativism. There must be minimal
belief constraints, impinging on matters of truth for
rationality or all is rational, which is self-refuting.
Self-contradictions or tautologies might be your limiting
Your scheme might admit of gradations. If I assert my
belief that a tall man is not a man, but esr asserts his
belief in the existence of an external world, my belief
may be more rational than his, if judged by you as being
more authentic or intense than his. If your scheme admits
of no gradations, then both mine and esr’s are rationally
equivalent, which is loopy. Affirming a self-contradiction
is the type-specimen of irrationality.
> if I learn that B wants anyone who says the Earth is flat to
be jailed, I know that B is irrational
You come too close to linking rationality with your abhorrence
towards coercion, which to me is uplifting in these days when
a president shoots a torpedo into the 4th amendment, striking
it, blowing it to smithereens, yet no one notices, or worse
all notice and no-one cares. You also jumble up descriptive
and presciptive statements: ‘I believe the earth is flat’ and
‘I believe he should be prosecuted for saying he believes
the earth is flat’.
What if B’s mental state, when believing that A should be
jailed, is equivalent in the force of authenticity to A’s
mental state, when believing the earth is flat? The constraint
on coercion seems purely arbitrary and beside the point. You
hewed your pit from the pure rock of your ability to attribute
mental states to speakers and there is no jumping out now.
A coercionist has mental states corresponding to his rotten
beliefs or he would lack these. This seems tautological. Saying
that he has his own mental states is a tautology and is
meaningless. Who else’s mental states can he have but his own?
You tell me how you give the purple of rationality to those
idiots who affirm the ‘doctrine of pcp’. (Bearing in mind
that there is much coercion, lurking behind the scenes in
all of these utterences, but by your own rule, you deem it
rational, and do not inspect any truth-claims about it
before doing so.) It is logically possible for the pcp ‘events’
to occur but it would involve a rupture in the universe’s
fundamental physical arrangements as far as we think we know
> You, apparently, equate rationality and truth; I don’t.
You might be saying that I equate a rational belief with a
true or possibly true belief.
No. A logical truth, such as a tall man is a man, cannot
be believed in, as there is nothing to believe. A belief
pressuposes its possible falsity. I can elaborate on this
at some length in this, if you desire. You cannot believe
in a tautology; It cannot be other than true.
Please read Popper or Quine. A scientific theory can never be
proved true. The empirical evidence always underdetermines a
theory. A scientific theory is a human creation, like a work
of art. It can be falsified, but not confirmed. One can do
science with theories which are falsifiable and hold
strongly viable theories tentatively over weakly viable
> The fact that someone exists who can ask whether the universe is intelligible proves that the universe has behaved
as if it were indeed intelligible.
The universe does not have the capacity to behave or not
behave; It simply is, however it is. There is no as if intelligibility.
If there can be an as if intelligibility, there can be an as if
me, which is a self-referential contradiction. My thinking that
I am or am not an as if me presupposes something intelligible.
If I point to the ceiling and say ‘this ceiling does not exist’,
I am engaging in a referential contradiction, unless according
to you, this ceiling is an as if ceiling as well.
You banish intelligibility from this country, then smuggle it back
in to establish a thesis which banishes the possibility of finding
intelligibility, anywhere. This is the work of the devil. People
cannot have mental states if all they have are as if mental
states. You cannot judge a belief rational if rationality is
as if rationality.
> we cannot confirm, looking at the universe from the inside,
which of these dissimilar universes is our own, and which is
No-one lives, learns and thinks in an imaginary universe.
No-one is logically compelled to sit around and decide which
universe is his own. You cannot postulate an imaginary
universe if the universe inhabited by you is imaginary.
> Was the rooster irrational for not expecting this drastic
change in the handyman’s behavior?
A handyman is not a universe. He has what these universes
lack: free agency. He plots. He scatters grains so as to
fatten up a cock for a sumptuous repast. I’ll not speculate
on the rationality of rooster thoughts, as it is squirrely.
But assume per impossible that the rooster was testing the
bounds of mathematical induction, he lost because he was
not testing induction, mathematical or otherwise. He was
testing the behavioural dispositions of a creature, which
he falsely assumed were constant. I’ve already covered
mathematical induction by saying that it cannot be known
to be true, via Popper, because it involves an infinite
regress to prove.
I object to your saying that the statements you
parade about as intelligible are or can be as if
> you say occasionalism is self-contradictory. You haven’t
actually done so (your attempts so far have all been petitio
My critique of occasionalism was complete. There were
no petitio principii involved. I teased out logical
elasticities from its turning on the rubber of omnipotence.
I’ll refine it more. Occasionalists claim God is omnipotent
and made this universe meaningless and unintelligible
to all observers within it for his own ineffable reasons,
but they do not and cannot say why or how this was done,
because God is ineffable. This is a vicious circularity.
They assume, no doubt for their own desire in
subordinating themselves and all others to a deity, that
the deity had to have made this universe meaningless
and unintelligible. They try to hamstring a being who
cannot be hamstrung, and hide behind his ineffability
to shield themselves from explaining why or how he was
hamstrung. The petitio principii are theirs. And to
even make this argument, they like you, presuppose
intelligibles, like language, which both they and you
Any type of universe follows from the assumption of
an omnipotent God. If the occasionalists wish to affirm
that this universe was created by an omnipotent entity
and was made so by him utterly devoid of meaning and
intelligibilty for its creatures, let them prove it,
WITHOUT resorting to language or other intelligibles,
as it is their row to hoe.
1. God is omnipotent.
2. God made this universe meaningless and unintelligible
for creatures living within it, for his own ineffable
3. God made this universe microscopically meaningful
and intelligible for creatures living within it, for
his own ineffable reasons.
4. God made this universe microscopically more meaningful
and more intelligible than 3 for creatures living within it,
for his own ineffable reasons.
2 follows from 1, but so do 3 and 4 and an infinite
range of numbers, pertaining to degrees of meaningfulness
and intelligibility. That is why it is slack. Any argument
premised on omnipotence, cannot be other than true and
degenerately so at that. But to top off the degeneracy,
occasionalists threw some vicious circularity into the
soup, for fun, profit, and the deflection of criticism
“I may have held contradictory beliefs for a time, never noticed this, then found my beliefs had changed. So, there would be 2 mental states corresponding to 2 mutually exclusive beliefs running in my mind simultaneously. Which one was the rational belief? To you, both.”
Not at all. While you held both the beliefs which are mutually contradictory, *you* were irrational. That’s what I meant by calling rationality an attribute of minds — minds taken as a whole. One belief, standing by itself, is either true or false, but it becomes rational only when combined with other beliefs, in the mind of a being capable of believing.
“How is it you alone have this power to assess the authenticity of some or all mental states linking with beliefs? If I say that a tall man is not a man, I remain rational to you, due to your spying on the contents of my mind, even though Iâ€™ve belted out the granddaddy of all absurdities.”
If you point to a man and say “that is not a man”, I will conclude that you are hallucinating, or lying, or joking, or possibly taking some peculiar metaphysical stance — but, exactly because I don’t know your mind, I can’t conclude you are irrational. I recognize without any difficulty that what you said is not literally true, but I can’t know what your reason was for saying it, and it would be the height of presumption to suppose you had none.
“What if Bâ€™s mental state, when believing that A should be jailed, is equivalent in the force of authenticity to Aâ€™s mental state, when believing the earth is flat? The constraint on coercion seems purely arbitrary and beside the point.”
I did not mean, by calling coercing belief a “mark” of irrationality, that coercion defines irrationality; I meant that coercing belief is sufficient evidence of irrationality. This is because one resorts to force, when arguments would be decisive, only if one fears the arguments for one’s belief are invalid.
“You tell me how you give the purple of rationality to those idiots who affirm the â€˜doctrine of pcpâ€™.”
Easy — they have their facts wrong. Specifically, they lack the understanding of biochemistry needed to see that the supposed effects of PCP are not within the limits of a human organism. (I’m assuming that you’re correct about this, of course, since I know very little biochemistry. However, you might want to be more cautious; did you ever hear it said that “according to aerodynamics a bumblebee can’t fly”?)
“A logical truth, such as a tall man is a man, cannot be believed in, as there is nothing to believe. A belief
pressuposes its possible falsity. […] You cannot believe in a tautology; It cannot be other than true.”
I do not think the definition of “believe” which this statement implies is appropriate or useful, and it certainly doesn’t accord with ordinary English speech. To begin with, if “believe” is restricted to the mental act which I express by saying “rocks fall”, what word is correct for the mental act expressed by saying “2+2=4”? I assure you, my experience of the acts are identical, apart from the difference in their objects.
“The universe does not have the capacity to behave or not behave; It simply is, however it is. There is no as if intelligibility. If there can be an as if intelligibility, there can be an as if me, which is a self-referential contradiction.”
I don’t see any logical contradiction in the possibility of a being who acts exactly as you act (having, of course, encountered the same situations you have) but whose mental state bears no resemblance to your own. (Philosophers of the mind attach the name “zombie” to hypothetical beings of this kind.)
“If I point to the ceiling and say â€˜this ceiling does not existâ€™, I am engaging in a referential contradiction, unless according to you, this ceiling is an as if ceiling as well.”
Come now! When engaging in a referential contradiction, you’re supposed to point to a *spoon*! Didn’t you see _The Matrix_?
“A handyman is not a universe. He has what these universes lack: free agency. He plots. He scatters grains so as to fatten up a cock for a sumptuous repast.”
And what makes you think the universe lacks free agency?
“Iâ€™ll refine it more. Occasionalists claim God is omnipotent and made this universe meaningless and unintelligible to all observers within it for his own ineffable reasons, but they do not and cannot say why or how this was done, because God is ineffable. This is a vicious circularity. They assume, no doubt for their own desire in subordinating themselves and all others to a deity, that the deity had to have made this universe meaningless and unintelligible. They try to hamstring a being who cannot be hamstrung, and hide behind his ineffability to shield themselves from explaining why or how he was hamstrung.”
Good, now we’re getting serious. You have misstated the occasionalist position. Occasionalism claims that God did not have to make the universe intelligible, in order that events within it take place as we observe them. They say, in fact, that the concept of “natural law” is a constraint on God’s freedom to act upon the universe, and therefore inconsistent with His omnipotence — hamstringing Him, as you put it. But they don’t claim God was required to make an unintelligible universe. To say they do is like saying “I am not obliged to write this message” is the same as “I am obliged not to write this message”.
> While you held both the beliefs which are mutually contradictory, *you* were irrational.
You remain locked inside this bottle where beliefs are mental
states or linked to mental states. It is your thesis attributing
beliefs to mental states. If it is logically possible for me to
evolve mental state A and mental state -A simultaneously, by
your own thesis, you must give them both the purple of
rationality. You cannot describe this as irrational under your
rules, because I did not object to the belief-claims of another.
> One belief, standing by itself, is either true or false, but it
becomes rational only when combined with other beliefs, in
the mind of a being capable of believing.
How does a belief/mental state stand by itself, dis-severed
from any mind, as though it were a gear for a watch ready
to be installed? You banished the inspection of a belief’s truth-claim from what counts as rational, now you
mercenarily smuggle it in.
‘If you point to a man and say ‘that is not a man’, I will conclude
that you are hallucinating, or lying, or joking, or possibly taking
some peculiar metaphysical stance ‘ but, exactly because I don’t know your mind, I can’t conclude you are irrational.
Pointing to a man and asserting that he is not a man may not
be irrational if my eye-sight is bad. Affirming that a ‘tall man
is not a man’ is irrational, because it can only be false. You
banish truth-claims once again, after eliciting them earlier. If
affirming a self-contradiction cannot be ruled irrational, then
nothing can be ruled irrational, a claim which is
self-invalidating. Further, if you believe in ‘as if’ mental states,
you cannot judge anything to be irrational. (x’s belief that y’s belief is objectionable is ‘as if’ as is your believing x
‘Specifically, they lack the understanding of biochemistry needed to see that the supposed effects of PCP are not
within the limits of a human organism.
No. If they have bodies and experience the world with them,
they know this not to be the case. They are self-deceived or
lying. I saw my friend bench-press a barbell, holding a stack
of weights he was comfortable with and he snapped his
sternum in half. He was expressing his own strength, not
10 times his own strength. The pcp doctrine insofar as its truth-conditions are concerned is logically possible. The adherents to the pcp doctrine are stupid or lying, invoking
irrational claims to further their interests, or both. Affirming
that an effective dose of pcp triggers superhuman strength
and that no ingestor expressing this superhuman strength
can succumb to crippling injuries is irrational.
‘I don’t see any logical contradiction in the possibility of
a being who acts exactly as you act (having, of course,
encountered the same situations you have) but whose
mental state bears no resemblance to your own. (Philosophers of the mind attach the name ‘zombie’ to hypothetical beings
of this kind.)
The question had not to do with the logical possibility of a
being who lacks mental things yet acts as I act. It had to
do with ‘as if’ mental states, ‘as if’ rationality and
‘as if’ intellegibility.
Zombies cannot encounter the same or any situations as
people, as they encounter nothing. Zombies are robots
lacking mental properties, or qualia. Their movements,
gestures, glances, verbal behaviors and other physical manifestations precisely simulate those of humans.
It is logically possible for a being to be a zombie, but not
for mental states, rationality or intelligibility to be zombie.
There is a ontological distinction between me saying I do not exist and an ‘as if’ me saying identically. An ‘as if’ me is not
me. Zombies cannot not pose the self-referential
contradiction because they lack minds, by definition. If a
robot is programmed to generate sounds via a speech-synthesizer and warbles out sound-patterns
distinguishable as ‘I do not exist’, the robot is not and
cannot be denying his own existence. The robot’s
machinery is executing the instructions of its programmer.
> What word is correct for the mental act expressed by saying
Tautology. Two and two cannot be other than 4 and this
cannot be believed in, as it can only be true.
> You have misstated the occasionalist position. Occasionalism claims that God did not have to make the universe intelligible,
in order that events within it take place as we observe them.
Well, their little universe seems rather unintelligible to me,
what with God as the sole causal agent, pre-established harmony of causes and precepts, and truth-conditions all dependent on the caprices of God. This is distinct from God’s being compelled to make it in this way, which I NEVER claimed. Occasionalists cannot force anything on supreme being, but they can finesse an argument, so as to make it appear He was ripe to do their bidding.
It was the occasionalists who say God made THIS universe unintelligible. They used intelligibles, plucked from within our universe, so as to make the claim that this universe is unintelligible, which is self-refuting. If even one jot of this universe is intelligible, the universe taken as a whole is intelligible. Let them postulate their own unintelligibility
without recourse to the tools of reason and language as
> They say, in fact, that the concept of ‘natural law’ is a constraint on God’s freedom to act upon the universe, and therefore inconsistent with His omnipotence ‘hamstringing Him, as you put it. But they don’t claim God was required to make
an unintelligible universe.
Nor did I.
I used ‘hamstring’ in a radically different sense and applied it
to how the occasionalists concocted their argument. They wanted THIS to be an unintelligible universe and said God did
it, then they pinched the argument off from the possibility of anyone’s ascertaining how or why he did what he did by
trotting out our inability to get a glimpse at His incomprehensibility.
I rigorously demonstrated that an omnipotent God can make ANY universe. The occasionalists cannot account for how or
why God made THIS universe unintelligible, as they build in a dogmatic stopping point; thus, sealing themselves off from answering the big question. Hyper-elasticity and arbitrary closure: the unfalsifiable stuff of occasionalism.
1. God’s omnipotence: ‘We can say God made a universe as
self-refuting and as screwy as we please.’
2. God’s unfathomability: ‘We can deflect any complaints
about the self-refuting screwiness of the universe, saying
God cannot be interrogated or his ways understood.
3. Occasionalism: ‘Everything in this universe is self-refutingly
screwy, including this statement.’
The problem with saying that the universe is unintelligible is
because saying it is self-referentially applicable.
1. Everything in this universe is unintelligible.
2. 1 is a thing in this universe.
3. 1 is unintelligible.
You cannot begin to express the idea that the universe is
unintelligible in an unintelligible universe, because there
is nothing intelligible there available to help you make it.
Only in an intelligible universe can such a fallacy arise.
nekhbet, your latest argument fails because you are assuming that, if no mind can correctly believe a statement, then it cannot be true. It’s perfectly correct that, if occasionalism were true, the universe could not really contain anything we would recognize as a mind, capable of having beliefs, and thus that any statement made by beings within the universe would be meaningless, including the statement “occasionalism is true”. But the absence of reason in occasionalism’s universe is not a logical contradiction, it only conflicts with our awareness of ourselves as being rational — and what is there to say *that* can be trusted, except our faith in an intelligible cosmos?
> Your latest argument fails because you are assuming that,
if no mind can correctly believe a statement, then it cannot
You are putting the cart before the horse. The argument is
logically anterior to the existence of minds and beliefs. If
there are no intelligibles, then there are no minds or
beliefs-claims nor the possibility of either. If, per impossible,
you found yourself in an unintelligible universe, you could not
begin to express the idea that the universe is unintelligible, because there would be nothing intelligible there available
to help you make it. The occasionalists say they live in an
unintelligible universe and say they know that
the universe is unintelligible, but they can only make that
claim by employing intelligibles, which cannot exit in such a
The truth-values of statements are logically independent from
the existence of minds, beliefs and minds making correct
inferences. Nothing in the argument assumed such a thing.
> But the absence of reason in occasionalism’s universe is not a
logical contradiction, it only conflicts with our awareness of
ourselves as being rational – and what is there to say *that* can
be trusted, except our faith in an intelligible cosmos?
The absence of reason in an occasionalist universe is not a
logical contradiction; It is a logical truth, a tautology. The
contradiction resides with an occasionalist using reason, an
attribute of an intelligible universe, to assert that the
universe he resides in is unintelligible.
The occasionalists say they live in an unintelligible universe,
but to make that statement they must use intelligibles, like
language, which does not and cannot exist in such a universe.
The occasionalists are using reason in a universe, from which
they think reason was banished, so as to deny the possibility
One need not embrace any faith to say that ones does not live
in an unintelligible universe, as it follows from the self-
referential fallacy or 1, 2, and 3.
4. If 1 is false, then something in the universe is intelligible.
5. If something in the universe is intelligible, then the universe
taken as a whole cannot be unintelligible.
6. If the universe is intelligible, then the only question
remaining is to what degree this universe is intelligible.
Christian scripture does _NOT_ tell us to kill people. Actually it does the exact opposite.
We are not allowed to use the sword. At worst we are allowed to excommunicate persons.
There are places in the Old Testament that allow killing, but the Old Testament is void and is only a part of Christianity for historical reasons.
The New Testament also says it’s wrong to stone people due to adultery.
Sinners are not allowed to punish sinners, and we are all sinners. Therefore the punishment will be dealt at the outmost day.
I’m aware that this has not been respected at all times. The Popes clearly disregarded it for many centuries, and protestants have had their share of problems too. So the disdain for organized religion is understandable, and I share it to some extent. It took centuries for the situation to become reasonable.
But still, there are no places in Christian Scripture that allows for killing. Just to point that one out. I can only regret that claimed-to-be Christians have committed slaughter in the name of Christianity.
“The contradiction resides with an occasionalist using reason, an attribute of an intelligible universe, to assert that the universe he resides in is unintelligible.”
So that’s what you’ve been trying to say all this time. But have you noticed that this still presupposes the occasionalist is wrong? If occasionalism were true, the act of arguing for occasionalism would not be in truth what it appears to be, namely an appeal to the intellect; it would be, rather, just one of the many things God arranged to happen. But then, according to the occasionalist nothing is what it appears to be. What does it matter if the occasionalist can’t consistently mean anything by what he says, when (if he’s right) nobody else can consistently mean anything either?
We dismiss occasionalism, and other positions which deny the existence of rational beings — materialism, for instance — because they are “otiose”, not worth discussing. I never differed with you there. But I do insist that this dismissal is _the same kind of act_ as a monotheist’s belief in God, and that it’s not at all a case of recognizing an inconsistency, or of falsifying a hypothesis.
> But have you noticed that this still presupposes the occasionalist is wrong?
No. The occasionalist can’t be right because of 1, 2 and 3. That
series presupposed nothing but what the occasionalists say and
logic. But, assume the occasionalist can be right or wrong. They
have not demonstrated their case due to hyper-elasticity (God can create any universe he wants because he is omnipotent, so
he made an unintelligible universe) and dogmatic stoppage
(We cannot know why or how he did what he did because he
is unfathomable, so no-one can refute us when we say God
made an unintelligible universe, unless he can fathom the
unfathomable). They must adhere to minimal logical
constraints in order to proceed with their argument.
> What does it matter if the occasionalist can’t consistently mean anything by what he says, when (if he’s right) nobody
else can consistently mean anything either?
The occasionalist needs to come to grips with the actuality of
at least one intelligible in the universe. If at least one
intelligible did not exist, he could not even begin to make his
If there is one intelligible, someone can mean something, but that does not guarranty any meaningful statement will ever
come about. A minimally intelligible universe would be a
rather confusing place to its inhabitants. If its inhabitants are
able to grasp that their universe is somewhat, though not
totally, deprived of meaning, maybe they could seek a way to
increase it, thru science or other pursuits. This part of the
universe has to have more meaning in it than it had 10,000
years ago, and not just because of science.
> But I do insist that this dismissal is _the same kind of act_ as
a monotheist’s belief in God, and that it’s not at all a case of
recognizing an inconsistency, or of falsifying a hypothesis.
Constructing 1, 2, and 3 and pointing out the logical flaws of
hyper-elasticity and dogmatic stoppage in their argument is
not a blithe dismissal of occasionalism. “Otiose” to
Wittgenstein meant a proposition which appears interesting or
even profound on the surface level and seems to mean something, but when you dig around in it, what it says cannot
be born out or refuted (unlike occasionalism which is
“The occasionalist needs to come to grips with the actuality of at least one intelligible in the universe.”
Not at all. If he is right, God has ordained that he speak the words expressing an argument for occasionalism, so he does so. God has also ordained who, among those who hear the argument, will act as if they believe it. There’s no inconsistency involved in one puppet among other puppets doing as the puppet-master wills.
“Constructing 1, 2, and 3 and pointing out the logical flaws of hyper-elasticity and dogmatic stoppage in their argument is not a blithe dismissal of occasionalism.”
Asserting that “hyper-elasticity” and “dogmatic stoppage” are logical flaws is petitio principii. What your 1-2-3 shows is that an occasionalist, by attempting to reason at all, gives evidence for the efficiacy of reason; which would be telling, if the occasionalist held the same standard of evidence as you do. But it’s exactly what constitutes evidence that the occasionalist disputes.
Also, Wittgenstein applied the word “otiose” to Last-Thursdayism (in Bertrand Russell’s version), which belongs to the same family of theories as occasionalism — you quoted the passage yourself. Or do you see some essential difference between the two?
> If he is right, God has ordained that he speak the words
expressing an argument for occasionalism, so he does so.
He cannot begin to be right, express an opinion, or even speak
without resorting to intelligibles, which he denies the existence
of. Is it God or the occasionalist ‘speaking’? If you mean to say
that an omniscient God programmed him to release noises detectable by some intelligent entity as speech, then the
statement can and must be true, but only to God, unless
there are non-programmed beings in that universe (where
did the intelligent entity come from anyway?).
If he was programmed by God, it is God, not he, who is speaking. But how can an omniscient God be other than
right? This tactic collapses to the assertion that an omniscient
God is right, which is trivial (he can be no other than always
right). If God is not omnipotent and omniscient, but
plenipotent and pleni-scient like an advanced form of life, say
a space alien and can make puppets do his bidding, then let
the being come forward and convince someone how and why
he did so. If this person can learn and know this, he is not a
puppet and he resides in an intelligible universe.
> Asserting that ‘hyper-elasticity’ and ‘dogmatic stoppage’ are
logical flaws is petitio principii.
Petitio principii is a logical fallacy, ie. begging the
question. It is the occasionalists who beg the questions:
1. God exists
2. God is omnipotent
3. God created our universe and created it unintelligible to
those inside of it.
4. God is unfathomable
5. No-one can refute what we say God did unless he can fathom
the unfathomable first.
Pointing out the above does not commit petitio principii. Not
compelling an arguer to demonstrate that a supreme being
exists and that he is omnipotent, as in 1 and 2, if permitted,
allows anything to be said of this being. A criticism deflecting
strategy, as in 4 and 5, if allowed, makes a part of the
argument unfalsifiable. Why should the burden of proof be
on a critic to prove that God does not exist, God is not
omnipotent and to fathom the unfathomable, before he can
refute that or similar arguments?
> There’s no inconsistency involved in one puppet among other
puppets doing as the puppet-master wills.
You are comparing dissimilarities: A puppet in an intelligible
universe where there can be both puppets and non-puppets
and a thing in an unintelligible universe which, if per impossible
anything could occur there, could only be a puppet. The
puppets, being puppets, can not know anything about themselves or their universe, like the robot with a built-in speech synthesizer programmed to generate sound-patterns discernable as, ‘I do not exist.’
> What your 1-2-3 shows is that an occasionalist, by
attempting to reason at all, gives evidence for the efficiacy of
reason; which would be telling, if the occasionalist held the
same standard of evidence as you do.
1, 2, and 3 prove that occasionalism is self-refuting. It holds
no-one to any standards or evidence. If the occasionalist, per
impossible, could try and say that constructing and affirming a
self-refuting argument is not self-refuting and it does not collapse his argument, then no-one should listen, because
he is affirming a self-contradiction; He is presupposing the
logical backbone of what he needs to make the argument
then rejecting it. They do not have the possibility of
erecting any standards in such a universe. There is no
evidence of anything in their universe. 1, 2, and 3 have
nothing to do with creating or holding anyone to any
standards of evidence.
> the same family of theories as occasionalism you quoted
the passage yourself. Or do you see some essential
difference between the two?
Russell’s statement was flip. He was exploring the nature of
human knowledge by trotting out a statement which could
not be answered. Nothing in his statement makes a
commitment to an unintelligible universe. The world could
have sprung into being 5 minutes ago with all acts of
remembering intact, yet the world could remain knowable
from that time forth. It is not self-refuting like occasionalism
is, but unfalsifiable and silly: A crack a philosopher would
make to stimulate discussion among his students.
“If you mean to say that an omniscient God programmed him to release noises detectable by some intelligent entity as speech, then the statement can and must be true, but only to God”
There’s your mistake. Statements are never true *to* anybody; when they are true, they remain true even if nobody has understood them. No logical contradiction follows from assuming that the world and all in it are automata programmed by an omnipotent God. What does follow from that is, that our conviction of our own rationality is a delusion, and we are not prepared to admit that conclusion — but that is faith.
“Petitio principii is a logical fallacy, ie. begging the question. It is the occasionalists who beg the questions:”
Petitio principii means, putting the desired conclusion to an argument among its premises. Occasionalism doesn’t do that — one does not “beg the question” merely by stating one’s premises. Nor is it a logical fallacy to so choose one’s premises as to discredit all objection. It isn’t irrational to deny reason: it’s only untruthful.
“You are comparing dissimilarities: A puppet in an intelligible universe where there can be both puppets and non-puppets and a thing in an unintelligible universe which, if per impossible anything could occur there, could only be a puppet.”
Wrong again. I am considering two cases:
1) An intelligent being, living in an intelligible cosmos, asserts that everything in the cosmos is caused by the arbitrary will of God, without any intermediary — including his own assertion; and
2) One of God’s puppets, living in a cosmos of other puppets which exactly resembles the cosmos in case 1, speaks the same words as the being mentioned in case 1.
My point is that case 2 is entirely self-consistent, and (if you look only at the cosmos, without taking notice of God) impossible to distinguish by observation from case 1. *You* have never considered case 2 at all. To refute occasionalism logically, you must get a contradiction out of case 2. You cannot do it by smuggling an intelligent occasionalist into the occasionalist universe and then noticing (with an air of surprise) that he isn’t supposed to be there — which is all your favorite argument amounts to.
“Russellâ€™s statement was flip. He was exploring the nature of human knowledge by trotting out a statement which could not be answered. Nothing in his statement makes a commitment to an unintelligible universe. The world could have sprung into being 5 minutes ago with all acts of remembering intact, yet the world could remain knowable from that time forth.”
Despite the fact that all our beliefs referring to times before 5 minutes ago, as if they had existed and been as we remembered them, would be wrong? I cannot agree that such a universe would be intelligible. You might as well suppose a universe that was created in the last instant before the present, and will be destroyed in the next instant, and replaced by another, very slightly different, universe …
> There’s your mistake. Statements are never true *to*
anybody; when they are true, they remain true even if
nobody has understood them.
No. I have never stated this and have consistently maintained
the opposite. If there are only robots and an omniscient God,
all statements, programmed into the robots, are true, trivially.
If there is a non-robot, he may be able to understand it and judge it as true or false, but his mere understanding and
judging of it does not make it true or false. The truth-status
of a sentence is independent from the understanding or lack
of it by any mind.
> No logical contradiction follows from assuming that the world
and all in it are automata programmed by an omnipotent God.
The robot consolidates his status as a tool, a mindless thing,
when it unleashes a movement or releases a noise, such as:
A. Every statement in this universe was programmed by God.
B. A is a statement in this universe.
C. A was programmed (into me) by God.
A, B, and C are senseless. They can only be true. It is logically
impossible for them to be false. They are not significant. Only
a statement which can be false (a synthetic sentence) can be
meaningful, which a robot cannot generate. A, B, and C are the
logical inverses of 1, 2 and 3. A, B, and C cannot produce
contradictions, because there is nothing in that universe to
conflict with them. All truth-conditions are dependent on God;
He is the ultimate truth-decider. That is how the problem of
correctness arises in such a universe, as everything
programmed by God is correct. God wires-up a robot to spew
out ‘Every statement in this universe was programmed by God.’
or ‘No statement in this universe was programmed by God.’ or
‘God is not omniscient.’ or ‘Neither God or I exist.’. They are
all games for God, and there is no correctness other than what
he decides the correctness to be. The robot is a toy in the
hands of God.
A robot, programmed by God, belts out the following:
C. No statement in this universe was programmed by God.
D. C is a statement in this universe.
E. C was not programmed (into me) by God. (even though it was)
A robots movements cannot be wrong; Neither can his
his noises. There is no-one other than God who lay down
whether E is self-contradictory or tautological.
> Petitio principii means, putting the desired conclusion to
an argument among its premises. Occasionalism doesn’t do that
God is omnipotent and his ways are unfathomable. These
premises illicitly engineer the outcome of the conclusion.
Let them prove these things before embedding them in
> Nor is it a logical fallacy to so choose one’s premises as to
discredit all objection.
It makes an argument or part of it unfalsifiable.
> It isn’t irrational to deny reason: it’s only untruthful.
One must use reason while making the argument which
denies the possibility of reason.
> 1) An intelligent being, living in an intelligible cosmos,
asserts that everything in the cosmos is caused by the arbitrary
will of God, without any intermediary – including his own
> 2) One of God’ s puppets, living in a cosmos of other puppets
which exactly resembles the cosmos in case 1, speaks the same
words as the being mentioned in case 1.
An intelligent being, living in an intelligible cosmos can be
wrong. A robot cannot. The intelligent being making this
‘assertion’ engages in a bout of self-refutation, due to 1, 2,
and 3. A robot in any universe cannot construct either sound
or unsound arguments, because the arguments are not his own.
He is channelling some contents of the mind of his builder.
He can assert nothing. He executes pre-devised instructions.
> To refute occasionalism logically, you must get a contradiction out of case 2.
Occasionalism in an intelligible universe is self-refuting and a
robot cannot assert anything. The robot discharges those
words because he cannot other than discharge the words. A
refutation of 2 might be ‘A asserts that robots can
authentically devise, not merely relay, meaningful sentences.
B proves they cannot.’
> My point is that case 2 is entirely self-consistent, and (if you
look only at the cosmos, without taking notice of God) impossible to distinguish by observation from case 1.
Case 2 cannot be other than self-consistent, as this was
programmed by God: The only causal and truth-conditional
agency available. An intelligent, but non-omniscient being
can be wrong; The robot does not have the capacity to speak
and his truth-claims do not have the possibility of being
anything other than what a programmer specifies. If the robot
executes some instructions, say by slaughtering all revelers
at a party, it is no fault of his. A robot cannot distinguish
anything in his universe, other what he is wired-up to
> Despite the fact that all our beliefs referring to times
before 5 minutes ago, as if they had existed and been as we
remembered them, would be wrong? I cannot agree that such a
universe would be intelligible.
If Russell’s remark inferentially related to the existence of
an unintelligible universe, then his remark was self-refuting,
if not, it is unfalsifiable. ‘As if’ memories are not memories.
“If there are only robots and an omniscient God, all statements, programmed into the robots, are true, trivially.”
So, if a robot is programmed to say “I am a rational being and a free agent”, that statement is true?
There are three distinct ways in which a theory can be ruled out of consideration:
1) It entails a contradiction.
2) It makes predictions that, checked against experience, are false.
3) It makes no predictions at all, for it can account for any experience whatever.
I have maintained that occasionalism belongs to class 3, and that we rule out class 3 by faith. In your last post you have carefully explained just why occasionalism is in class 3, and then asserted that it’s in class 1. I have no quarrel with your explanation, but I wonder why you’re not seeing what it implies.
> So, if a robot is programmed to say ‘I am a rational being
and a free agent’, that statement is true?
I am saying its truth or falsehood is underdecideable by all
except God. It is only he who is the determinant of
truth-values in that nutty universe.
> There are three distinct ways in which a theory can be ruled
out of consideration:
The robot is not commenting on a scientific theory.
> 3) It makes no predictions at all, for it can account for
any experience whatever.
> I have maintained that occasionalism belongs to class 3,
and that we rule out class 3 by faith.
I do not think that occasionalism rises to the level of a
theory, if it is self-refuting and contains hyper-elasticity
and dogmatic stoppage for it to become a ‘theory’.
Occasionalism makes the possibility of experiences,
including the propounding and evaluating a theory,
If you are saying that experiences, if possible, in an
occasionalist universe are compatible with, indistinguishable
from, or even identical to experiences in all intelligible and
unintelligible universes, then occasionalism makes all
predictions of all things, inferentially. But, can it make
these coherently, if it contains the above mentioned flaws?
A self-contradiction engenders all statements both true and
false: a self-contradiction is literally a complete axiom
system, but is so in an invalid way. 1, 2, and 3 show
how occasionalism is a self-referential contradiction.
W. It is raining and it is not raining.
X. Paris is in France
Y. Paris is in Russia
Z. Red is blue
X, Y, and Z can be derived from W because W is false. A
falsehood implies both true and false statements. If W
were true, then only X would follow from it. A
self-contradiction cannot be other than false. ‘Paris
is in Russia’ could be true if certain historical
conditions were otherwise.
1′. Everything in the universe is unintelligible and the
prior assertion is a thing in this universe and the same
prior assertion is unintelligible.
All statements can be derived from this, but to get to 1′,
much intellectual chicanery is involved, only to make it
self-refuting. The consequences of occasionalism cannot
be taken seriously because all consequences flow from it.
It does not involve a leap of faith to show and recognize a
self-referential contradiction. Going from 1 – 3 is trivial,
due to the spurious over-completeness, following the
consequences of a self-contradiction. 3 does not apply
in a coherent way, if 1 is true. Going from 3 – 1, even
if possible, would involve faith in what?
“‘So, if a robot is programmed to say â€˜I am a rational being and a free agentâ€™, that statement is true?’
I am saying its truth or falsehood is underdecideable by all except God [in the occasionalist cosmos.]”
If the truth of a statement is independent of any mind’s understanding it, then whether the robot’s statement is decidable by anybody doesn’t affect whether it is true. Anyone in an occasionalist cosmos who claims to be rational utters a falsehood, and only God can know such claims are falsehoods — but not even God could know such claims are truths, because they aren’t.
“It does not involve a leap of faith to show and recognize a self-referential contradiction.”
The problem is, what you call “self-refutation” isn’t a contradiction. I have given a self-consistent scenario in which the statement “occasionalism is true” can be said, and is true — and I could not do this for any statement that entails a contradiction. Therefore it is not true that occasionalism entails a contradiction, unless you can find a flaw in my scenario, which you haven’t done.
> If the truth of a statement is independent of any mind’s
understanding it, then whether the robot’s statement is
decidable by anybody doesn’t affect whether it is true.
As I said that the truth-value of such noises are undecideable,
if per possible non-robots exist in that weird universe, by
non-robots in that no-body other than God can know whether
the noises, his own noises, are true or false. Once again,
having the ability to understand a statement and deciding
whether it is true or false have nothing to do with its
> I have given a self-consistent scenario in which the
statement ‘occasionalism is true’ can be said, and is
true and I could not do this for any statement that
entails a contradiction.
Occasionalism does not entail just contradictions; It
entails all statements, because it is self-referentially
Occasionalism = Everything in the universe is unintelligible
1. Everything in the universe is unintelligible is true.
2. 1 is a thing in this universe is true.
3. 1 is unintelligible is true.
4. Every intelligible statement is unintelligible. (from 1 being false)
5. Black is white and black is not white. (ditto)
6. Paris is in France. (ditto)
“As I said that the truth-value of such noises are undecideable”
Who cares if they’re decidable? It’s whether they’re *true* that matters!
Set aside occasionalism for the moment, and consider this statement: “nekhbet can’t consistently assert this sentence.” Is it meaningful? Is it true? Can you consistently assert it?
> Who cares if theyâ€™re decidable? Itâ€™s whether theyâ€™re *true*
They can only be true or false or whatever to God, because
he determines the truth-conditions in a universe, comprised
of him and his robots.
> â€œnekhbet canâ€™t consistently assert this sentence.â€
The sentence is empty. It make no claims as to the nature
of the universe, like 1. It was not derived as the result
of using fallacies, like dogmatic stopping. It is not a
philosophical proposition asserted to be true by anyone.
“‘nekhbet canâ€™t consistently assert this sentence.’ The sentence is empty. It make no claims as to the nature of the universe, like 1. It was not derived as the result of using fallacies, like dogmatic stopping. It is not a philosophical proposition asserted to be true by anyone.”
Unless you aren’t an inhabitant of the universe, nekhbet, the sentence makes a quite specific claim about the nature of the universe. In fact it has the structure of a GÃ¶del sentence — the paradigm of an undecidable proposition. And, just like a GÃ¶del sentence, if you could consistently assert it, it would have to be both true (because only true statements can be consistently asserted) and false (because it says you can’t.) So you can’t consistently assert it, which is what it says is the case, and the sentence is true … though I don’t expect you to admit it.
“‘Who cares if theyâ€™re decidable? Itâ€™s whether theyâ€™re *true* that matters!’ They can only be true or false or whatever to God, because he determines the truth-conditions in a universe, comprised of him and his robots.”
Are you prepared to maintain that God can know a robot is not a robot?
Or, do you hold that unless a statement is known to him who states it, it has no truth-value?
If you won’t claim either of those, where is the falsehood in a robot uttering the sentence “I am a robot”?
> Unless you arenâ€™t an inhabitant of the universe, nekhbet, the sentence makes a quite specific claim about the nature of the universe. In fact it has the structure of a GÃ¶del sentence â€” the paradigm of an undecidable proposition.
You are assuming that logic is not a game, devised by intelligent
beings, and that it is somehow built into fundamental structure of
the universe. The self-referential paradoxes of whatever
‘GÃ¶del sentences’ you might come accross have nothing to do
with whether occasionalism is coherent. Occasionalism does not
break down into such paradoxes. GÃ¶del sentences apply to
logic: predicate calculi. Occasionalism is not an axiom system; It
never aspired to being one. It made no claims about completeness
or consistency. This is a silly red-herring. Whether I can
consistently assert this or any other silly sentence, incorporating
self-referential paradoxes, is far beside the point. The
self-referential contradiction generated by 1 has to do with
its content, what occasionalists postulate about the universe, not because it refers to itself.
If these ‘GÃ¶del sentences’ ‘make claims’ about the universe,
then the entire universe or something about it would be
To be pedantic: your little ‘GÃ¶del sentence’ is a Tarski sentence,
a sentence where it fallacy lies in self-reference. GÃ¶del sentences
are generated by the incompleteness of certain, if not all, axiom systems.
> Are you prepared to maintain that God can know a robot is
not a robot?
He is the only one who could know that or anything else in
the screwy universe, inhabited by himself and robots.
> Or, do you hold that unless a statement is known to him
who states it, it has no truth-value?
Robots know nothing about the truth-values of any statement.
nekhbet, unless you can rid yourself of this foolish obsession with possible knowers of truths, and begin thinking about truths in themselves, you’re not going to understand what I’m talking about. You didn’t understand the questions I asked you, for just that reason. To rephrase:
1) Can an omniscient being believe that something is not what it in fact is?
2) If a robot utters a statement, does that statement have a truth-value?
If you think you’ve answered these questions, further discussion of occasionalism is pointless.
> y ou can rid yourself of this foolish obsession with possible
knowers of truths.
In a universe consisting of God and robots, there is only
1 possible and actual knower of truth. That is why it is
pointless to refer to such language behavior in such a
> 1) Can an omniscient being believe that something is not what
it in fact is?
If you can believe that something is not what it in fact is, then
why could not omniscient being? It is pointless to speculate
on what an omniscient being can or cannot believe.
> 2) If a robot utters a statement, does that statement have
If a robot makes sounds distinguishable as ‘it is raining’ and
it is raining, his sounds are true, but the robot makes no
assertion. If he makes sounds distinguishable as ‘I do not
exist’, it is a bad joke perpetrated by his programmer.
“If you can believe that something is not what it in fact is, then why could not omniscient being? It is pointless to speculate on what an omniscient being can or cannot believe.”
I can believe something is not what, in fact, it is, because there are facts I do not know. An omniscient being, by definition, cannot be ignorant of any facts; therefore he cannot be mistaken in his beliefs; therefore he cannot believe what is not true.
“If a robot makes sounds distinguishable as â€˜it is rainingâ€™ and it is raining, his sounds are true, but the robot makes no assertion. If he makes sounds distinguishable as â€˜I do not existâ€™, it is a bad joke perpetrated by his programmer.”
Very good. Now we can return to the occasionalist universe: suppose an inhabitant of that universe utters the sentence “Every event in the universe (including my saying of this sentence) is determined by the immediate will of God.” Now every event in that universe *is* determined by the immediate will of God, including the uttering of that sentence. Therefore the sentence is true, although the inhabitant has not really asserted it. Equally, if another inhabitant utters the sentence “I am a rational being and a free agent”, that sentence is not true — God has perpetrated a joke.
At this point you would claim, I believe, that because God determines all events in the occasionalist universe, He also determines the truth-values of all possible statements about that universe, and therefore any given statement might be true, false, or meaningless as God willed, irrespective of the state of the universe. This implies that God, having willed that something be what it is, can know it is not what He willed it to be, which is absurd. In fact, once the structure of and all events in the universe have been fixed, the truth-values of statements about the universe follow necessarily. God can’t know that the occasionalist universe contains rational beings, when He has willed that it does not.
It follows, then, that occasionalism is self-consistent, and does not entail (as a contradiction would) the truth of all statements whatsoever. The “self-referential fallacy” does not exist.
Incidentally, the GÃ¶del sentences of consistent axiomatic systems aren’t paradoxes, but true statements; and it’s the basic point of GÃ¶del’s theorems that mathematical reasoning is not just a game invented by intelligent beings.
> An omniscient being, by definition, cannot be ignorant of any
facts; therefore he cannot be mistaken in his beliefs; therefore he cannot believe what is not true.
No. No. No. An omniscient mind can have no beliefs. Once
again, if, per impossible, God could believe, he could believe
in anything. (This is a consequence of omnipotence, which
you are trying, like the occasionists to breech for your own
devious purposes.) This argument has never turned on whether
God could entertain beliefs and whether his beliefs were always
incorrigible and you know that.
Where did I say or intimate that an omniscient being can be
ignorant or mistaken about anything? I have asserted repeatedly
that God is the sole decider of all truth-conditions and his doings
can not be other than true, in a trivial fashion. Any belief on the
part of God is incoherent. What counts as truth and falsity is
fabricated exclusively by him. You are trying to dictate
that or what God may or may not believe, so as to finesse a
self-refuting argument that this universe is unintelligible.
God is omniscient. For him to believe in anything is a
self-contradiction. He is the sole causal agent. GOD BELIEVES
This omniscient being is also an omnipotent being. To deny God
a power of cognition or a course of conduct is to try, by mere
words, to constrain the unconstrainable (the same trick the
occasionalists used to concoct their argument). If, per
impossible, God believes in X and X is not true and God
cannot believe in X, then God is less than what you’ve
proclaimed him to be. But, If God, per impossible, believes in X
and X is not true, then due to God’s infinite ability to alter events,
X becomes true by God’s ‘believing’ it so (a sort of idealism).
All truth-values contract into God’s capacities. He is the ultimate decider of all truth-conditions. There is no room for him to believe.
All of his statements are trivially true. The criterion of correctness rears its head again, as I have maintained over and over and over again. You assume the hyper-elasticity of God’s omnipotence and omniscience, then you attempt to restrict this by legislating
that he must believe or dis-believe in the sounds his robots make.
You cannot argue from the existence of possibly false or silly noises made by a robot to leverage an argument proving the irrationality
of all beings in this universe. Your new little tact is devised to illicitly compare the beliefs by minds in an intelligible universe with the non-beliefs by non-minds in an unintelligible universe and the
supposed ability of God to entertain beliefs and who created
that universe. Non-minds and the ultimate mind of God cannot,
for distinct reasons, believe in anything.
> If another inhabitant utters the sentence â€œI am a rational being
and a free agentâ€, that sentence is not true â€” God has
perpetrated a joke.
We are talking about God again. He can make any inhabitant
a rational being and a free agent. You assume the existence
of an unintelligible universe, which is what was to be proved.
You cannot go from a possible joke which God perpetrates by programming it into a robot to then argue that this universe is unintelligible. You need to first show that the universe is as such
and do so without resorting to using intelligibles like language
to help you draw this imbecilic conclusion. It is logically possible
for God to make a robot release stupid noises but this does not
locate any universe in which this exists, certainly not our own.
You are now commiting an existential fallacy. God setup the
robot to make a joke; He need not, even if he could, believe or
dis-believe in the contents of robots noises.
> At this point you would claim, I believe, that because God determines all events in the occasionalist universe
No. Such a God can determine the truth-values of all events in
all sorts of universes. The identity of our universe as being characterizable as occasionalist is the big question, which
cannot be overcome due to the inadmissibility of the tricks and
the self-referential problems plaguing this occasionalism. Why
is and how did this universe become occasionalist, rather than
rational and anti-occasionalist? If God did it, he knows.
> He also determines the truth-values of all possible statements
about that universe, and therefore any given statement might
be true, false, or meaningless as God willed, irrespective of the
state of the universe.
No. The universe exists in whatever state God wills it to be. If
God shifts the truth-conditions in that universe, how do
the truth-conditions in universe not shift? It is a weird variant
of dogmatic stopping, which you have disinhibited yourself
> God, having willed that something be what it is, can know it
is not what He willed it to be, which is absurd.
Which I never said. He can only know, not suspect what is
correct or not. He is the only criterion of correctness
in such a universe.
You are begging the question that God created this universe as
unintelligible and that you, inexplicably, can know what God
knows, what he cannot know, that he believes, what he willed
and that he cannot alter what he willed by his ‘believing’ it to
be otherwise. All of these pronouncements you try to say
within a universe which you insist lacks all of the tools needed
to express any of the above. You say you know what God can or
cannot know, yet you assume that you can know nothing; This is
another self-referential contradiction. You also say that you are
a robot whose utterences are programmed into you by God,
yet you can only think you know this by resorting to something
other than by programmed in capacities. There is a self-vitiating problem with the former claim, insofar as truth-statuses.
> In fact, once the structure of and all events in the universe
have been fixed, the truth-values of statements about the
universe follow necessarily.
More dogmatic stopping. You cannot dictate that when an
omnipotent and omniscient being lays down some initial
conditions that they become fixed, immutably and eternally.
Nothing can reign in God and bind him necessarily or
otherwise from any further self-originating and
> God canâ€™t know that the occasionalist universe contains
rational beings, when He has willed that it does not.
You are begging the question that God created this
universe as entirely lacking in the existence of
rational beings. This too is a self-referential fallacy.
1. Every sentence in this universe is not a product of rational agency
inhabiting this universe.
2. 1 is a sentence in this universe.
3. 1 is not a product of rational agency inhabiting this universe.
4. If 3 is true, then I as a non-rational agency cannot make or
begin understand this.
5. If 3 is false, then there is something in this universe possessesing
a rational agency.
You are affirming a self-contradiction. First, presupposing the
logical substrate of what you need to make an argument,
then, mercenarily, rejecting it. You may postulate your own
total irrationality without recourse to the tools of reason and
language as your accomplices, as I have stated time and
time and time again.
You may seek to assert that you are not a rational entity and
the universe in which you inhabit is untelligible, but you can
only do so in a self-refuting manner, as I have stated over and
over and over again.
> It follows, then, that occasionalism is self-consistent, and
does not entail (as a contradiction would) the truth of all
The only place a occasionalism can work is in a universe
of robots, created by God. You cannot get this universe
to be this way by invoking the ‘beliefs’ or the knowledge
The burden of proof shifts on you to demonstrate that this
universe is untelligible, without employing hyper-elasticity,
dogmatic stopping and the many self-referential fallacies.
The truth of all statements follows degenerately from 1, 2, & 3.
Not as the result of any incorrigible ‘belief’ of God’s.
> The â€œself-referential fallacyâ€ does not exist.
The self-referential fallacy IS because of what the
occasionalists say and do in 1, 2, & 3. It never had
to do with the ‘beliefs’ of God’s and you know this.
Do you really believe that occasionalists were inauthentic
cognitive agents, that when they devised and articulated their
thesis, they all so deluded as to the nature of their own agency?
A robot cannot commit a self-referential fallacy because it has
no self. A robot cannot know what he is. The occasionalists
employed the tools of non-robots, their own tools, so as to
claim to know that they are agency-less creatures.
> Incidentally, the GÃ¶del sentences of consistent axiomatic
systems arenâ€™t paradoxes, but true statements
G sentences are ‘true but unprovable’ by the axiom system
in question. They show a lack of completeness in the system.
It was you who said that the Tarski sentences were GÃ¶del
sentences, not me.
> mathematical reasoning is not just a game invented by
Well, you have a few choices:
1. The laws of logic are laws of nature.
2. The laws of logic are laws of the mind.
3. The laws of logic are games, invented by
the human mind.
1 & 2 are silly. How can I construct and assert a
fallacy if I am bound by laws of logic, preventing me
from constructing and asserting it? I can overcome
the gravitational pull of the earth with a rocket, by I
do not run afoul of the law of gravity. This confuses
descriptive and prescriptive laws.
GÃ¶del, following Wittgenstein, believed that mathematics
was not reducible to or a prolongation of logic. Wittgenstein
believed that both logic and mathematics are games, and
the structure of these games is shown within the structure
of the universe, but this cannot be said, because it is
redundant; hence, meaningless to say so.
Where did you get the notion I thought occasionalism is true?
You are failing to distinguish between these two statements:
A) Occasionalism is inconsistent.
B) The assertion of occasionalism is inconsistent.
Having proven B, you imagine that you get A for free. It’s the move from B to A that I decline; it’s that move which you make by talking of “self-referential fallacies”.
That said, to the minor points. Your assertion that “God believes in nothing” turns upon your earlier definition of “believe”, which includes the concept that the object of that verb must be a statement whose truth-value is uncertain. I never accepted that definition — in normal English, and in my dialect, when “believe” takes a statement for its object, it puts no constraint at all on the statement’s truth-value. Tautologies and contradictions are believed, in the same sense that empirical statements are.
You have omitted one choice for the ontological status of reason:
4) The laws of logic exist independently of nature, and of minds, but are perceived by the human mind as necessary truths — when they’re perceived at all.
This happens to be my own choice (one I share with most working mathematicians, and with all monotheists) and I’m surprised that anyone with a philosophical education would overlook it.
GÃ¶del certainly did not follow Wittgenstein in holding that mathematics (or logic) is a game invented by us. In the field of meta-mathematics that position is called formalism, and was fairly popular before GÃ¶del published his first Incompleteness Theorem. But GÃ¶del’s work discredited it for mathematicians. I’d be interested to hear why you still credit it …
> Where did you get the notion I thought occasionalism is
Then why are you asserting that Occasionalism is
consistent if its consistency cannot be asserted?
> You are failing to distinguish between these two statements:
A) Occasionalism is inconsistent.
B) The assertion of occasionalism is inconsistent.
How the hell can A be consistent if A can never be
consistently asserted? How can A be known to be
consistent if A’s assertion always fails at
consistency? The truth-status of A would remain
unfalsefiable and unknowable, if we conferred a
special dispensation on the occasionalists to
evade any consistency tests. I suspect the entire
objective behind these screwy doctrines is that the
exponents of them believe that they are entitled to
this kind of exemption. The architects expect that
no-one will hold them or their little edifices to
any constraints on consistency or even minimal
Why are we supposed to assume that occasionalism is
consistent if it can never be consistently asserted?
Since when have philosophers been held to NO
If occasionalism lacks consistency, when asserted,
but does not lack consistency inherently, then let
the occasionalists demonstrate this without words.
We cannot know that a theory is consistent if it
cannot remain consistent when converted into and
conveyed by words.
Compare A and B with the following:
C. The theory of types is consistent.
D. The assertion of the theory of types is inconsistent.
If Russell had belted out the following line after propounding
his theory, ‘My theory of types cannot be asserted
consistently, yet this failure must not be taken as
counting against its inherent consistency’, he would have
been chuckled at and for a damn good reason.
> Your assertion that ‘God believes in nothing’ turns upon your
earlier definition of ‘believe’, which includes the concept that
the object of that verb must be a statement whose truth-value is
It had nothing to do with sentence structure. It had to do with
doubting. I cannot believe in that which I cannot doubt. How
can I believe that a tall man is a man or disbelieve that
a tall man is not a man?
It was universally understood thruout Christianity, until
about one and one half centuries ago, that belief was an
activity, conducted on the part of a potential believer.
This activity posed a struggle, perhaps leading him into
despair and damnation – that he must summon up his will
to believe and use this to subdue all doubts regarding
doctrinal questions. However, fundamentalism has replaced
the traditional role of Christian belief by shunting it off,
then only to embrace a modern, an almost pharmacological
interaction, whereby all doubts are neatly anaestitized
by the affirmation of biblical inerrancy. Christians once
knew what believing consisted of, but now fundamentalism
has essentially corrupted all relegious and secular notions
about belief. You cannot believe in A if A is inerrant, as
there is nothing to believe in. All half-way literate
persons living 2 centuries ago would have instinctively
understood what I’ve just written.
(Doubt = possible falsity)
If the object of belief carries no possible truth-value,
then belief in it is impossible. Tautologies and self-
contradictions have no possible truth values other than
being true and false, respectively.
How can an omniscient being believe in anything, unless you’ve
somehow conflated belief-claims with knowledge-objects? Saying
that I know x is true is not identical to saying that I believe
x is true. If belief = knowledge, then that would make knowledge
superfluous. If you are saying that beliefs are logically
severed off from truth-claims, then the statement ‘I believe
that God exists’ lacks an expectation of its truth-value, which
is self-refuting. ‘I believe that God exists.’ is a ellipsis of
‘I believe that God exists is true.’ I believe that ‘a tall man
is a man is true’ is redundant; hence, meaningless.
To you, either there is no subjective component to believing
or believing is nothing but a hyper-subjective adventure.
These make an act of believing or an object of belief vanish,
> Tautologies and contradictions are believed, in the same
sense that empirical statements are.
There is nothing to believe in with a tautology. How can one
deny the undeniable?
A tall man is a man is true and I believe it…
> 4) The laws of logic exist independently of nature, and of
minds, but are perceived by the human mind as necessary truths
when they’re perceived at all.
That is not incompatible with Wittgenstein’s view where the
universe shows logical constants, but they are not detectable
directly or otherwise thru observation. But, how can one
perceive ‘necessary truths’ which do not exist in nature,
unless perceiving is other than perceiving? You may mean
apprehending by the mind rather than perceiving with the
senses, yet this smacks of intuitionism, which was refuted
because it was deficient. What laws are thus apprehended? The
law of the excluded middle? The law of the converse of the
contra-positive? Apprehended by all minds? What is it which
passes before the mind’s eye when a truth is apprehended?
> GÃ¶del certainly did not follow Wittgenstein in holding that
mathematics (or logic) is a game invented by us.
He followed Wittgenstein by independently deducing that
mathematics was not an extension of natural logic, as
Russell and others had always maintained. He did not
accept that logic and mathematics were games, which I
> In the field of meta-mathematics that position is called
Wittgenstein rejected formalism, as mere marks on paper were
insufficient to ground a calculus. To him, it had to be
useable. But this useability presupposed metaphysical
commitments, which he would never have openly admitted.
“Why are we supposed to assume that occasionalism is consistent if it can never be consistently asserted?”
Because the reason occasionalism can’t be consistently asserted is that it denies the possibility of assertion. it isn’t that a universe can’t be arranged as occasionalism describes — if there were no model for occasionalism the doctrine would really be inconsistent, but there *is* a model.
“… why are you asserting that Occasionalism is consistent if its consistency cannot be asserted?”
Consistency is not equivalent to truth — necessary for it, but not sufficient. It’s the *truth* of occasionalism that can’t be consistently asserted. As for my motives: I’m arguing (contra ESR) that far from being opposed to science, faith is actually necessary to science.
“Saying that I know x is true is not identical to saying that I believe x is true. If belief = knowledge, then that would make knowledge superfluous. If you are saying that beliefs are logically severed off from truth-claims, then the statement â€˜I believe that God existsâ€™ lacks an expectation of its truth-value, which is self-refuting.”
The clearest way of explaining what I meant is to shift to the third person: contrast “He believes that God exists” with “He knows that God exists”. If I assert the latter, ordinarily that means I would also assert that God exists — “he knows that X” usually entails that X is true. But if I say “he believes that God exists”, does that entail (as you would have it) that I doubt God’s existence? Not in ordinary English. “He believes that X” leaves the truth of X as an open question.
“‘4) The laws of logic exist independently of nature, and of minds, but are perceived by the human mind as necessary truths when theyâ€™re perceived at all.’ That is not incompatible with Wittgensteinâ€™s view where the universe shows logical constants, but they are not detectable directly or otherwise thru observation. But, how can one perceive â€˜necessary truthsâ€™ which do not exist in nature, unless perceiving is other than perceiving? You may mean apprehending by the mind rather than perceiving with the senses, yet this smacks of intuitionism, which was refuted because it was deficient.”
You’ll have to clear up one point: do you mean mathematical intuitionism, or ethical intuitionism, was found to be deficient? I can’t tell which from the context, and while they’re compatible they don’t share anything but the name.
> If there were no model for occasionalism the doctrine would really be inconsistent, but there *is* a model.
Huh? Do not occasionalists assert their model when they
cache out their theory? How can they assert the model
of an inconsistent theory without asserting it inconsistently?
> As for my motives: Iâ€™m arguing (contra ESR) that far from being opposed to science, faith is actually necessary to science
The faith in an external world is necessary for science to
launch. Popper had always insisted that science presupposes
faith in the predictablility of the ethical behavior on the part of scientists. Without that, the status of the integrity of research
data would be problematic, to say the least. If a scientist
constantly questioned the reliability of the data, he would
forever be tied up in uncertainty, unless he conducted the experiments or replicated all of them himself.
> But if I say â€œhe believes that God existsâ€, does that entail (as you would have it) that I doubt Godâ€™s existence?
No. God’s existence is possibly false; hence, doubtable. See what
I wrote about doubt being the engine of faith, as traditionally
understood. If God’s existence was irrevesably certain, then
faith would be an pointless ceremony. The believer’s internal
journey in seeking answers to relegious questions, in a way
satisfying to his own individualistic degree of convincement,
would be over before it began.
> â€œHe believes that Xâ€ leaves the truth of X as an open question.
Yes, of course. You are making my point! There must be a
possible truth-value associated with this sentence, hovering
nebulously somewhere, else X would lack a reason to assert
> Do you mean mathematical intuitionism, or ethical intuitionism,
was found to be deficient?
Mathematical intuitionism. It predated meta-mathematics and
was popular in the 19th century, before Boolean Algebra and
“Do not occasionalists assert their model when they cache out their theory?”
Not according to them. They utter sentences, but an utterance need not be an assertion. Moreover, an utterance is still meaningful before it has been asserted, and even when asserting it would contradict it.
“No. Godâ€™s existence is possibly false; hence, doubtable. See what I wrote about doubt being the engine of faith, as traditionally understood.”
I don’t see that you wrote any such thing — and, frankly, your saying it now reminds me of one of Douglas Adams’ jokes, in which the discovery of the Babel fish proved the non-existence of God.
” ‘â€œHe believes that Xâ€ leaves the truth of X as an open question.’ Yes, of course. You are making my point! There must be a possible truth-value associated with this sentence, hovering nebulously somewhere, else X would lack a reason to assert it. ”
You have misunderstood me. “He believes that X” doesn’t entail that X is true, or false, or possibly doubtful. I could choose any sentence whatever — tautological, empirical, religious, even contradictory — for X, and the sentence “he believes that X” could still be true. In contrast, “he knows that X” can’t be true, unless X itself is true.
“Mathematical intuitionism. It predated meta-mathematics and was popular in the 19th century, before Boolean Algebra and Frege.”
Strictly speaking, mathematical intuitionism was conceived by Brouwer in the early 20th century, and it’s part of the development of meta-mathematics. You may be thinking of Kronecker’s “constructivism”, a related stance, since Kronecker’s work dates to the late 19th century. And I wouldn’t agree that Brouwer’s view or Kronecker’s were ever refuted, or found deficient. Rather, Cantor’s set theory provided mathematicians with a way to handle infinities and infinitesimals, which was more satisfactory in principle and practice than any previous methods, and much more so than the methods Kronecker was willing to accept. (You should know something about this already, since Wittgenstein objected to Cantor’s methods for essentially the same reasons as Kronecker did.)
In any case, the view I gave as my own is certainly *not* intuitionism — that one’s usually called mathematical Platonism, as it asserts the independent reality of mathematical concepts.
> They utter sentences, but an utterance need not be an assertion. Moreover, an utterance is still meaningful before it has been
asserted, and even when asserting it would contradict it.
Now you are playing word games and are legislating by fiat
that, somehow, an utterance is like an assertion but without
entailing any logical or metaphysical commitments when
expressed. Philosophers do not mention models of possible
meaningfulness with their theories; They use them explicitly
to make unequivocal truth-claims. God as the sole and
universal causal agent, the pre-established harmony of
concepts and precepts, and the truth-conditional dependence
on God are used to make very definite logical, physical and metaphysical commitments about the possibility of knowledge,
God and this universe.
An utterance with or without its being asserted can be shown
to be inconsistent because its truth-conditions tie in to something
beyond itself. It is not as though an utterance is deprived of its inferential scaffolding when not asserted, but miraculously
acquires this when or immediately after being asserted.
> He believes that Xâ€ doesnâ€™t entail that X is true, or false, or
There is no such sentence which is possibly doubtful. It either
is or is not doubtful. The sentence ‘He believes that X’ entails
a truth-value. He is asserting that X is true, but indeed X may
not be true. If he is not cognitively assenting that X is true,
then what is status of the object of his belief and why would he
assert this at all? If he is generating noises, how does the
incoherency of these noises rise to any level, qualifying a
definite belief concerning anything?
Take Moore’s paradox:
Student: ‘There is a fire in the classroom down the hall.’
Moore: ‘He said ‘There is a fire in the classroom down the
hall’, but I do not believe that there is a fire in the
classroom down the hall.’
G.E. Moore mapped out what would later become known as
propositional attitudes: The logical indeterminancy of
truth-values when they are embedded in certain clauses
within a sentence. New branches of intensional logic were
crafted to deal with these attitudes, but they differ radically
from extensional logic, and any ‘quantification into’ these
clauses is problematic, if at all possible.
Your wobbly interpretation of belief would allow the following,
which appear to be referential or self-referential contradictions,
to be rational or at most degenerately ‘true’:
Moore pointing to the flames shooting out of the classroom’s
windows: ‘There is a fire in the classroom down the hall, but I
do not believe that there is a fire in the classroom down the
Moore screaming in agony: ‘I am in the classroom down the hall,
it is on fire, and I, too, am now on fire after being ignited by its
flames, but I do not believe that there is a fire in the classroom
down the hall.’
Moore can subjectively assent that he is not on fire while being
consumed by the flames, yet his belief-claims cannot be true.
Moore can only rationally believe he is not being immolated
while being immolated if he does not consistently understand
fire, that fire causes classrooms to burn, and that fire applied
to the skin causes searing pain. If you are angling to
dislodge a belief from its own truth-claim or a belief’s relation to
possible truth-values, then anything is believable. And if you
sever off beliefs from truth, this makes all beliefs equivalent,
neither true nor false, which is self-invalidating because you presuppose a concept of truth when propounding your belief
that beliefs are severed off from truth-values. A belief is a
mere verbal spasm if it does not go proxy for a truth-value.
A belief is inextricably linked to what its belief-claim
1. All beliefs lack corresponding truth-values
2. 1 is my belief.
3. 1 lacks a corresponding truth-value.
This is nothing but the perverse intrigue of hyper-subjective
> I could choose any sentence whatever â€” tautological, empirical, religious, even contradictory â€” for X, and the sentence â€œhe
believes that Xâ€ could still be true.
The sentence that ‘He believes that a tall man is a man is false’
can be true if and only if he has the ability to imagine that
a tall man is not a man. If he can imagine the unimaginable,
then the sentence would be true. The only exit from this is to
reject the analytic/synthetic dicotomy, which Pan Critical
Rationalists do, but their arguments for this position are
artifices. They are unpersuasive and contrived. They would say
that I am attributing an impoverished imagination to a speaker,
whom I do not know and even if I did, I could not dip into his
mind and lay bear its contents when I say he cannot imagine
that a tall man is man is false. But, this person is not trying
to imagine the unimaginable; He cannot even try to try to
imagine this. He can merely convince himself that a tall man
is man is false if he does not understand the sentence, which
further consolidates the notion that tautologies are
unimaginable and that they are always true.
Quine rejected analyticity in his ‘Two dogmas of Empiricism’,
but he rejected the boot-strapping required to a make
certain sentences synonymous, not logical truth and logical
The sentence ‘a tall, two-legged primate who possesses
articulate speech and who has a brain case of about 1400cc
in volume is a man’ is not a tautology, because there is a vast
cognitive gulf between that and ‘a tall man is a man’. For
a person to affirm that ‘A tall man is a man, but I do not believe
that a tall man is a man’ projects far beyond the outer regions
of ultra-subjectivity. The person would be simultaneously
assenting and dissenting that a tall man is a man, unless he had
re-defined it, in transit, so that a man cannot be tall, but then,
he would not be denying the tautology, because he abolished
it by his ad-hoc, peremptory re-definition scheme.
> I donâ€™t see that you wrote any such thing â€”
Search for ‘It was universally understood thruout Christianity,
until about one and one half centuries ago, that belief was an
> Wittgenstein objected to Cantorâ€™s methods for essentially the
same reasons as Kronecker did.
Wittgenstein objected to Cantor primarily because he rejected
any attempt to define what the foundations of mathematics
were. He fought with Turing and drove him nuts over this
issue. Turing would not speak to Wittgenstein subsequent
to their big blowup.
Kronecker believed that God created the integers and
man created all else in mathematics.
> mathematical Platonism, as it asserts the independent reality of mathematical concepts.
Then mathematical Platonism is sensitive to all the critiques
brought down to bear on regular Platonism. Hauling out
independent ‘realities’ co-existing with and over-lapping
good ole’ reality does not lend to it much of a
“Now you are playing word games and are legislating by fiat that, somehow, an utterance is like an assertion but without entailing any logical or metaphysical commitments when expressed.”
No, it’s much simpler than that. To _utter_ a statement is simply to make the sounds that comprise it; to _assert_ a statement is to convey its meaning. A rational being cannot utter without asserting; but a zombie (if zombies are possible) invariably utters without asserting.
“An utterance with or without its being asserted can be shown to be inconsistent because its truth-conditions tie in to something beyond itself.”
Perfectly true. But, when an utterance happens to be about assertion, the act of asserting it *is* one of the things its truth-conditions tie into. Specifically, the statement “there are no assertions” is false if it is asserted, but if it’s only uttered (by zombies, say) then it may be true.
“Take Mooreâ€™s paradox: Student: â€˜There is a fire in the classroom down the hall.â€™ Moore: â€˜He said â€˜There is a fire in the classroom down the hallâ€™, but I do not believe that there is a fire in the classroom down the hall.â€™”
What’s paradoxical about that? Moore doesn’t believe what the student said, and says so.
“Moore pointing to the flames shooting out of the classroomâ€™s windows: â€˜There is a fire in the classroom down the hall, but I do not believe that there is a fire in the classroom down the hall.â€™”
In this case, Moore, having just asserted the fire’s presence, then denies that he has done so, or would ever do so. Which is to say, he is lying or deluded about his own beliefs. Hard to see why he would do that, but it’s not exactly a paradox.
You may never have met them, but there *are* people who manage to believe contradictions in terms. They are irrational people, to be sure, but they exist, and so can’t be dismissed as impossible.
Yes, I saw that passage about belief being understood as an activity. But nothing you said there forces the conclusion you want, that the act of believing can’t have a tautology as its object.
“Then mathematical Platonism is sensitive to all the critiques brought down to bear on regular Platonism. Hauling out independent â€˜realitiesâ€™ co-existing with and over-lapping good oleâ€™ reality does not lend to it much of a recommendation.”
I have never heard a convincing critique of Platonism which did not end up by denying the possibility of rational beings, which as a matter of faith I refuse to do. But you may feel free to try making one.
> To _utter_ a statement is simply to make the sounds that
comprise it; to _assert_ a statement is to convey its meaning.
A speaker asserting A is making truth-claims with A. But,
a sentence by its structure has truth-conditions and from
them truth-claims flow, inferentially. If the truth-
conditions refer, directly or indirectly, to themselves,
the sentence is self-referentially paradoxical.
A. ‘The house over there is not red.’ If there is a house
over there and it is not red, the sentence is true. (No
one needs to assert this for it to be true or false.
It contains no self-referential paradox.)
B. ‘There are no assertions’. If there are no speakers
who have the capacity to use sentences to make
truth-claims or have the capacity yet choose to not
make them, then the sentence is true. But, if
a speaker who has the capacity to make truth-claims,
asserts it, then it is not just merely false, but
self-referentially false. (No one needs to assert
this for it to be true or false, but anyone who
does commits a self-referential fallacy. The
self-referential paradox was contained within it
prior to any assertion of it.) You could not have
come up with B, if you did not have the capacity
to assert and have not asserted in the past.
C. ‘The universe is not intelligible’. If the universe lacks
predictability, regularity and constancy, then the sentence
is true. (No one needs to assert this for it to be true
or false, but anyone who does so refutes it and his own
rationality. The self-referential paradox was contained
within it prior to any assertion of it.) You could not have
come up with C if this universe was unintelligible.
You are now attempting to assimilate sentences like B and
C, which contain self-referential paradoxes with others
like A, which do not so contain, to, somehow, keep the
possiblility open that all sentences generated within
the universe are utterly meaningless! B and C
superficially resemble A, but are not like A beneath
their deceptive surfaces. You cannot turn an argument
for the possibility of the universe’s meaninglessness
on the pivot of these broken sentences.
Why not question the sanity of keeping around sentences,
like B and C, which contain self-referential paradoxes,
and throw them out, rather than trying to leverage
them in an botched effort to expel all meaning from
this poor, be-deviled universe?
> A rational being cannot utter without asserting; but a
zombie (if zombies are possible) invariably utters without
A rational being can mention or comment on any sentence
without affirming its truth. I can speak about the ‘social
compact theory of civilization’ without committing myself
to its truth. A rational being can mention the aforementioned
B and C.
> The statement ‘there are no assertions’ is false if it is
asserted, but if it’s only uttered (by zombies, say) then it
may be true.
The sentence ‘There are no assertions’ is true or false
independently of its being asserted or uttered.
Assume that zombies are possible. If a zombie generates noises
that are interpretable by the rationals, as ‘I do not exist.’,
then he does not and cannot commit a self-referential
contradiction and its truth-value, false, does not and cannot
obtain. If a zombie generates two discrete streams of noises
deciperable by the rationals, as ‘The universe is not
intelligible’ and ‘There are no assertions’. What truth-values
obtain? How can they not obtain in sentence 1 but you think,
for whatever reason, they do so or can so obtain in 2 and 3?
What is the reason for this dicotomy? Because they are devient
sentences, we should celebrate them, then go about as happy
as clams deluding ourselves that we have proved the possible
absurdity of the universe?
You are hauling in zombies to make the truth-value of every
sentence appear uncertain or worse, so as to hold onto the
self-refuting belief that the universe lacks all meaning.
To say that a zombie cannot assert is trivially true, then,
to go from there and say that a zombie’s sentence can be
either true or false is pointless, as a sentence is true or
false, by itself, without any zombies around to utter it.
If a sentence requires assertion because it truth-conditions
require it, then any such sentence, if admissible, could be
true or false, if uttered by zombies or not uttered at all.
‘There are no assertions’ requires a zombie or silence, so as
to make it not appear self-referentially paradoxical. ‘The
universe is not intelligible’ requires a non-intelligent being
or silence, so as to make it look as though it is non-self
refuting. Ask yourself who made up these sentences? The
The assertion of the sentence ‘The universe is not intelligible’
is not required for it to be analysed and rejected on its
merits. This hypothesis can be assumed and tested against other
hypotheses. In fact, one could take it as the null-hypotheses,
‘The universe is not intelligible.’ and refute it, very
> When an utterance happens to be about assertion, the act of
asserting it *is* one of the things its truth-conditions tie
Yeah, only when the truth-conditions refer to themselves, in
an invidious way.
> What’s paradoxical about that? Moore doesn’t believe what the
student said, and says so.
Compare the two –
Moore: ‘The student said, ‘There is a fire in the classroom down
the hall’, but I do not believe that there is a fire in the
classroom down the hall.’
Moore pointing to the flames shooting out of the classroom’s
window: ‘There is a fire in the classroom down the hall, but I
do not believe that there is a fire in the classroom down the
In the first context, the assertion that ‘I do not believe that
there is a fire in the classroom down the hall’ is not
contradictory but in the other context, the assertion definitely
is. To philosphers like Moore and Wittgenstein, who were once
taken with the notion that an object in a sentence has a
truth-value, and that it is knowable whenever the sentence is
expressed, such propositional attitudes were very troubling to
them. Quine calls the variability of the truth-values for an
object in a ‘mental’ clause embedded within a sentence
‘referentially inscrutable’. Quine rejected intensional logic
and as well as intensions, ie. meaning. He was, essentially,
> In this case, Moore, having just asserted the fire’s presence,
then denies that he has done so, or would ever do so.
He is not affirming that ‘the classroom is on fire’, then
subsequent to realizing his perceptions were grossly in error,
denying that he was correct in affirming that ‘the classroom is
on fire’. He is simultaneously affirming the existence of a fire
in that classroom and repudiating his belief in it! (He is pointing
at the flames shooting out of the classrom’s windows while
denying he believes that the flames are shooting of the
>Which is to say, he is lying or deluded about his own beliefs.
Hard to see why he would do that, but it’s not exactly a paradox.
It is a referential contradiction, as when I point to the
ceiling and say, ‘This ceiling does not exist.’
> You may never have met them, but there *are* people who
manage to believe contradictions in terms.
I have never doubted this. However, there is a critical
distinction between merely saying that one believes that a
tall man is not a man and deploying the requisite mind-power,
so as to overcome the impossible task of doubting the
undoubtable. The only way out of this snare is to reject
analyticity in all of its aspects and without concocting
an argument which builds-in any logical truth to present
>They are irrational people, to be sure,
Which is what was the crux of the issue all along. You
rejected slapping any belief with the label of the
irrational. You reserved this label for those who
objected to anyone else’s goof-ball beliefs, as you’ve
insisted that beliefs were private(?) mental states,
and are as such, authoritative, sacrosant, and exempt
from criticism. I offered up tautologies and
self-contradictions as potentially limiting cases on
the little thesis.
>but they exist, and so can’t be dismissed as impossible.
It is not their public declarations which are impossible. It
is, if to deny a tautology is to deny the undeniable, THAT
intellectual exertion would be impossible.
> I have never heard a convincing critique of Platonism which
did not end up by denying the possibility of rational beings,
which as a matter of faith I refuse to do. But you may feel
free to try making one.
You must understand the soil from which Greek philosophy
sprang. Centuries before ‘the Greek Enlightenment’, the
philosophers inhabited the outer fringes of that civilization.
They were outcasts. They were constantly persecuted, tormented
and executed for their heresies. Ancient ‘epic’ Greece was a
rather worldly culture. There were Gods and demons cavorting
around and mingling freely with humans in an experiential,
non-transcendental world. Some of these philosophers spoke
of a independent world beyond this lived world where one
could find the Truth, which was utterly lacking herein. Plato
could not find rationality in this lived world, so he concocted
the realm of the pure forms, where there was knowledge and
rationality a-plenty, but available only to the fawning
cognoscenti who could understand this. Aristotle produced a
watered-down version of Platonism, and he too needed a world
of perfection, constancy, and regularity from which to draw
the Truth. But, if one can find rationality in this world,
the lived world, the only world, it makes these higher realms
not simply otiose, but insidious, as no-one needs a
crypto-mystagogue like Plato, claiming a priviledge access
to the knowledge of the pure realm.
“But, a sentence by its structure has truth-conditions and from them truth-claims flow, inferentially. If the truth-conditions refer, directly or indirectly, to themselves, the sentence is self-referentially paradoxical.”
True — this is why the infamous Liar’s Paradox, “This sentence is false”, must be classed as meaningless. But the sentence “there are no assertions” doesn’t refer to its own truth-value, or entail a sentence which so refers. It refers to acts of assertion, and assertion is logically distinct from truth. Hence “there are no assertions” is not self-referential, even indirectly.
“If a zombie generates two discrete streams of noises deciperable by the rationals, as â€˜The universe is not intelligibleâ€™ and â€˜There are no assertionsâ€™. What truth-values obtain?”
In a universe with both zombies and rational beings, “there are no assertions” is almost certainly false, for rational beings do make assertions; but “the universe is not intelligible” is true — since the definition of a zombie, in this context, is a being which acts as if it were rational, but actually isn’t. In the occasionalist universe, which contains only zombies, both statements are true. In neither scenario does any paradox occur.
“If a zombie generates noises that are interpretable by the rationals, as â€˜I do not exist.â€™, then he does not and cannot commit a self-referential contradiction and its truth-value, false, does not and cannot obtain.”
What can you possibly mean by saying that a sentence’s truth-value does not “obtain”, provided that it *has* a truth-value? The sentence “I don’t exist” refers not to itself, but to its speaker; its meaning is well-defined, and its truth-value is easily discovered.
“You rejected slapping any belief with the label of the irrational. You reserved this label for those who objected to anyone elseâ€™s goof-ball beliefs, as youâ€™ve insisted that beliefs were private(?) mental states,
and are as such, authoritative, sacrosant, and exempt from criticism.”
You are here, I regret to say, engaged in deliberate distortion of what I said, to the point of actually inverting the sense. I said that any attempt to hold one’s beliefs exempt from criticism is sufficient evidence of one’s irrationality. That’s wholly contrary to any claim that beliefs should be held exempt from criticism.
Your historical remarks on the origins of Greek philosophy neither are correct in their matter, nor constitute a critique of Platonism in any version. Prior to the “Greek Enlightenment”, if by that you mean the fifth and fourth centuries BC, philosophers were not outcasts from Greek civilization, because they didn’t exist, in that civilization or anywhere else. The recognition of philosophy as a distinctive practice, with its own peculiar character and specialists, is one of the things Greek civilization achieved. And no version of Platonism I know of (and that includes Plato’s!) proposes that knowledge of the Pure Forms is available only to fawning cognoscenti, or that reason has no purchase in the material world. Gnosticism does not count as a version of Platonism.
> But the sentence ‘there are no assertions’ doesn’t refer to its
own truth-value, or entail a sentence which so refers. It refers
to acts of assertion, and assertion is logically distinct from
truth. Hence ‘there are no assertions’ is not self-referential,
The sentence ‘There are no assertions.’ presupposes truth,
what assertions are, ie. truth-claims, and the non-existence
of any asserter. If these are not references, then nothing is.
The truth of the existence of a rational being asserting the
sentence bends back into the sentence’s truth-conditions,
thus falsifying it, which is what it was designed for in
the first place: to make it reach self-reference whenever
asserted. The sentence seems to presuppose that there is
truth and that it is true under some theory of truth, even
though this theory could not contain even the possiblity
of truth-claims, which should refute it to begin with.
1. Nothing in this univese is an assertion.
2. 1 is something in this universe.
3. 1 is not an assertion.
Seems like a self-referential contradiction to me.
> It refers to acts of assertion, and assertion is logically
distinct from truth. Hence ‘there are no assertions’ is not
self-referential, even indirectly.
An act of assertion cannot come about within the confines of
the sentence itself. That is why the sentence presupposes, if
not points toward, the existence of active asserters, so as
to make it self-refuting.
> What can you possibly mean by saying that a sentence’s
truth-value does not ‘obtain’, provided that it *has* a
What I wrote before:
‘There is a ontological distinction between me saying I do not
exist and an ‘as if’ me saying identically. An ‘as if’ me is not
me. Zombies cannot not pose the self-referential contradiction
because they lack minds, by definition. If a robot is programmed
to generate sounds via a speech-synthesizer and warbles out
sound-patterns distinguishable as ‘I do not exist’, the robot
is not and cannot be denying his own existence. The robot’s
machinery is executing the instructions of its programmer.’
> The sentence ‘I don’t exist’ refers not to itself, but to its
The zombie is not an authentic speaker; It is a sound-generator,
if per impossible, it exists. It is roughly comparable to a
stereo. If you detect sound-patterns, blaring from out of your
stereo’s speakers and they are decipherable as, ‘I, your stereo,
do not exist!’ The stereo does not and cannot be denying its own
existence. It lacks precisely that which it is required to do so.
The sound-patterns are hoaxes perpetrated by a cut-up disc-jockey
or a devious recording engineer. But, by me saying that I do not
exist, this is a self-referential contradiction.
The truth of my existence when I assert ‘I don’t exist.’
refers back to the sentence’s truth-conditions because
they presuppose my lack of existence and by what
I, an existent, do with the sentence. I could not make
this assertion if I did not exist, so the sentence
becomes self-referentially contradictory. The truth of
my existence bends back into the sentence’s
truth-conditions, thus, falsifying it. ‘I’ = an authentic
speaker. ‘don’t’ = lacks. ‘exist’ = something needed to
assert this damn, self-referentially paradoxical sentence.
(A zombie cannot make this sentence self-referentially refer,
because a zombie lacks what it takes to be an ‘I’.)
The truth of the existence of a rational entity asserting
‘There are no assertions.’ refers back to the sentence’s
truth-conditions because they presuppose that no entity
capable of making truth-claims can be found, including
whoever made up this idiotic sentence, and by what a
entity capable of making truth-claims, now found, does
with the sentence. (The sentence also presupposes,
curiously, that there can be truth without the possibility
of any truth-claims, a dodgy proposition.) If this sentence
is built on a shaky foundation of truth, one cannot know
whether the truth-conditions are satisfied or not.
‘There’ = somewhere in the universe. ‘are’ = exist. ‘no’=
a total lack of. ‘assertions’ = truth-claims made by rational
beings, possessing language abilities. (A zombie cannot make
this sentence self-referentially refer, because a zombie
lacks what it takes to make truth-claims.)
1. Nothing in this universe is assertion.
2. 1 is something in this universe.
3. 1 is not assertion.
4. If 3 is false, then 1 is false.
The truth of the existence of an intelligible being asserting
‘The universe is not intelligible’ refers back to the sentence’s
truth-conditions because they presuppose that intelligibles,
like language(!), cannot be found anywhere, even within itself,
and by what an intelligible being, now found, does with the
imbecilic sentence. ‘The universe’ = everything. ‘is not’ =
lacks. ‘intelligible’ = predictability, regularity, etc.
(A zombie cannot make this sentence self-referentially refer,
because a zombie lacks what it takes for him to even make
1. Nothing in this universe is intelligible.
2. 1 is something in this universe.
3. 1 is not intelligible.
4. If 3 is false, then 1 is false.
A zombie cannot refer to its existence. A zombie cannot assert.
A zombie’s cognitive abilities are comprised of no intelligibles,
because it has none. To craft sentences which presuppose (1)
predispositions on the part of rational beings who question how
or why or if they exist, (2) an ability on the part of rational
beings to make truth-claims, and (3) intelligible capacities,
like rationality and language competence, then send these
jiggered-up sentences thru a speech-synthesizer, so as to
demonstrate that they are not self-referentially inconsistent via
the speech-synthesizer is redundant. The failure of these sentences
to reach self-reference does not point to anything outside of
a plot conducted by a rational being who rigged them up to fail,
certainly not to a proof that all sentences in this universe are
meaningless. All of this monkeying around with truth-conditions
by synthetically adjusting them to self-refer only if used by
rational beings, warrants the profound and earth-shattering
conclusion, which no-one had ever seen coming – that our
hypothetical beings, the zombies, lack minds. (WOW!)
You presuppose your ability to assert to try to prove that
you cannot assert.
1. Nothing in this universe is an assertion.
2. 1 is something.
3. 1 is not an assertion.
> Its meaning is well-defined, and its truth-value is easily
Its meaning is well-defined as lacking in all meaning. ‘As if’
speakers can neither affirm nor deny their own existences or
anything else, for that matter.
> I said that any attempt to hold one’s beliefs exempt from
criticism is sufficient evidence of one’s irrationality.
That’s wholly contrary to any claim that beliefs should be
held exempt from criticism.
‘1) I hold that the true mark of irrationality is, to forbid
objection to what one believes. If I learn that A thinks the
Earth is flat, I know that A is wrong, but not that A is
irrational; whereas if I learn that B wants anyone who says the
Earth is flat to be jailed, I know that B is irrational, even
though B is defending truth. Put differently, I say rationality
and its absence are attributes of minds, and the rationality of
a belief depends wholly on the mental state of the believer.’
If the mark of ‘irrationality is to forbid objection to what
one believes’ is not a criticism blocking strategy, then
> Prior to the ‘Greek Enlightenment’, if by that you mean the
fifth and fourth centuries BC, philosophers were not outcasts
from Greek civilization, because they didn’t exist, in that
civilization or anywhere else.
Yeah, there were no pre-socratic philosophers before Socrates,
because he had an as-if existence. It was not as though
Socrates was brought up on charges of impiety and for
leading the Athenian kiddies astray. Anaxagoras was not
executed for claiming that the sun was a red-hot stone,
because he never existed as-if or otherwise.
> And no version of Platonism I know of (and that includes
Plato’s!) proposes that knowledge of the Pure Forms is
available only to fawning cognoscenti,
Like the Guardians in the Republic, who were solemnly bound to
keep the esoteric knowledge of the antiseptic realm from the
hoi-poli, who would contaminate it, if they could grasp the
magnitude of it all, to nobly lie to them, to exert strict
censorship on them (‘When the modes of music change, the
fundamental laws of the state change with them.’), to
forcibly perform eugenics, euthanasia and abortions on them,
etc.. Plato was a totalitarian rat. He and his cronies could
not have sacked Athenian democracy without a preganant
propaganda artifice like the irreversable certitudes
subsisting within the occult realm.
> or that reason has no purchase in the material world.
He could not find reason in this world, so he popped out
of it and invented a shiny, sterile, new world, replete
with perfect lines, triangles and squares. But, lo and
behold, the knowledge contained within the pristine
little world was very suitable for being co-opted to
justify the greatest bunko-fraud-conjob of them all:
The dictatorship of the philosopher-kings over everyone
“The sentence [‘there are no assertions’] also presupposes, curiously, that there can be truth without the possibility of any truth-claims, a dodgy proposition.”
I pick out this remark from the torrent because, though you made it in passing, it’s the crux of our disagreement. I say, in so many words: there can be truth-values without the possibility of truth-claims. Indeed, denying this entails rejecting the concepts of objective truth and of rationality, and becoming a postmodernist or deconstructionist.
There is, I suppose, little point in mentioning that Anaxagoras lived in the fifth century BC. As for the other matter: you probably claim to be an analytic philosopher, but you are amazingly bad at analysis. I have explained before what I meant in the passage you quoted by “mark of irrationality”, and the fault is yours for ignoring that clarification. And I at least would appreciate it if you did not repeat at length things I never denied, or refute views I never accepted; and simply address what I really disputed.
> itâ€™s the crux of our disagreement. I say, in so many words: there can be truth-values without the possibility of truth-claims
But the sentence you put together explicitly referred to
truth-claims. I do not know how they can be true without
a coherent theory of truth, which somehow does not
mention truth-claims. If you deny these in a self-referential
sentence, the outcome is inevitable.
Why craft self-referential sentences which incorporate assertions,
intelligibles, and the existence of rational beings, if you want to
deny they exist? This tact is bound to blow up on you. Why not
show how there can be truth and no truth-claims and how this
can be knowable or even possible without resorting to assertion,
rationality, and language? (This seems impossible to me.)
> There can be truth-values without the possibility of truth-claims. Indeed, denying this entails rejecting the concepts of objective
truth and of rationality, and becoming a postmodernist or deconstructionist.
I honestly do not grasp this. Both Plato and Aristotle explicitly
referred to them. Why would Plato have written dialogues,
in which the interlocutors debate the merits of opposing
viewpoints, if they did not turn on truth-claims? Take Justice.
Even though Socrates version approximates the Ideal of justice,
the most closely, there is a vast gulf between the archetype and
the appearence of it, not to mention his human understanding
of the Ideal. Socrates view participated in the ideal the most
rigorously than the other views. Aristotle was the first philiospher
to use the the term ‘predicate’. Predicate = to make truth-claims about. He also sketched out a rather crude version of the correspondence theory.
Those post-modern’s deny any possibility of human knowledge.
Their arguments do not turn on assertions or whether one
sentence can be true or even more truthful than another.
X’s truth-claim can be stronger than Y’s truth-claim; hence,
more objective than Y’s. This presupposes objective truth.
It merely illustrates the epistemological problem of getting
> There is, I suppose, little point in mentioning that
Anaxagoras lived in the fifth century BC.
What is the point? How does this make the philosophers not
the counter-culture in ‘epic’ Greece prior to the ‘Greek
Enlightenment’? This point is not a controversial matter. The
world-view of persons in ancient Greece shifted dramatically
after Plato and Aristotle, as did their governments.
> I have explained before what I meant in the passage you
quoted by â€œmark of irrationalityâ€, and the fault is yours for ignoring that clarification.
I copied an pasted your own words. What was missing?
> An act of assertion cannot come about within the confines of
the sentence itself. That is why the sentence presupposes, if
not points toward, the existence of active asserters, so as
to make it self-refuting.
The second sentence should have run:
That is why the sentence presupposes, if not points to,
conditions of assertion and what asserters do, once found,
so as to make it self-refuting.
“Why not show how there can be truth and no truth-claims and how this can be knowable or even possible without resorting to assertion, rationality, and language? (This seems impossible to me.)”
I think we can take it as obvious that truth is the object of knowledge, by which I mean that if something can be known, it is true. What you are asking for, then, is how one can have knowledge without language; you believe that knowledge, to be knowledge, must be expressed in sentential form.
Consider the animals — the traditional example is a dog who’s treed a cat. It’s clear that a dog doesn’t have language, and isn’t capable of constructing a logical argument. But if a dog sits under a tree, looking up at the place it last saw a cat and barking, it’s perfectly sensible to say the dog knows the cat is trapped up there in the tree. The fact that it can’t *say* so doesn’t mean it can’t know where the cat is. It means only that it can’t know that it knows where the cat is. That is, the power of language is to make thoughts perceptible, and permit knowledge of one’s knowledge.
“How does this make the philosophers not the counter-culture in â€˜epicâ€™ Greece prior to the â€˜Greek Enlightenmentâ€™?”
What dates are you assuming for the â€˜Greek Enlightenmentâ€™? Anaxagoras falls within the period I thought proper for that name. And â€˜epic Greeceâ€™ suggests to me either the date of the Trojan War, or the lifetime of Homer — and philosophers certainly didn’t exist in either of those times.
> I think we can take it as obvious that truth is the object of knowledge, by which I mean that if something can be known, it
I think you have a boot-strapping problem here. How can a
person know X if he cannot know that X is true (see below)?
Truth cannot be severed off from knowledge.
> Consider the animals – the traditional example is a dog
who’s treed a cat. It’s clear that a dog doesn’t have
language, and isn’t capable of constructing a logical
If an entity has language, it is not a dog.
> But if a dog sits under a tree, looking up at the place it
last saw a cat and barking, it’s perfectly sensible to say the
dog knows the cat is trapped up there in the tree.
It is rather problematic to turn an argument about the status
of objective knowledge on the cognitive capacities of a mutt.
What does and how does a dog know, Socrates?
An Empiricict might say that a dog is constructing a
proto-observation sentence within its own idiolect, ie. –
‘There is a black cat, in relation to scampering up that tree
over there right now.’
Cartesians would say that the dog cannot know anything because
it exhaustively lacks all preconditions for a mind. It is
operating on the endowment of programmed-in instincts; It is
Evolutionary Epistemologists would concede that the dog has
a mind. They believe that the ability of any organism to
interact with and adapt to its environment is sufficient
evidence for the existence of a mind. The more perfect the
fit with or the greater mastery of the environment by an
organism, the more advanced its mind is. They also insist
that language is a technique used to manipulate the
environment thru ‘victors’ or representations, rather than
thru physical acts; thus, saving the organisms alot of
catastrophes thru trials and errors. If a dog can know,
his knowledge is vastly inferior to a human’s.
> The fact that it can’t *say* so doesn’t mean it can’t know
where the cat is.
See the Evolutionary Epistemologist’s argument. His knowledge
is not on a scale with humans. I do not see how you can compare
the incomparable, then assert that a dog’s knowledge, if even
possible, is equivalent to or more objective than an organism
who employs language. John Lilly, the mad-scientist, who
discovered that dolphins have language, curiously, maintained
the same position: That language is an utter mis-representaion
of the world. He also invented the sensory isolation tank, a
device he theorized would be useful to simulate for him the
conditions of dolphin-hood. He began taking pcp and ketamine,
while lying motionless suspended in the tank; thus, evoking
mind-body dissociation. Eventually, he concluded that what he’d
experienced in the tank was a far more direct and objective
knowledge about the universe than any theory a scientist
could develop. Essentially, he became a mystic and entreated
other scientists, like Richard Feynman, to join him
in the tank.
> It means only that it can’t know that it knows where the cat
It is logically possible that it knows that it knows within its
idiolect, however meager it is. The question is does a dog have
this rudimentary, internal form of language and how was it
acquired? They do not acquire this idiolect competence, if even
possible, by interacting with other dogs or with the external world.
Even if dogs do have this rudimentary, internal language, the
problem of correctness rears up again. Does each dog decide
that cats are its prey? Can a dog correctly identitify cats,
consistently, once its decision is made. Idiolect competence
would be whatever a dog decides it to be or however it was
programmed into all(?) dogs. If it can’t know that it knows,
the robot problem appears once again. If it can’t know that
it knows, no theory of truth can be invented or understood by
it; thus, leaving all problems of knowledge, if possible, up in the
air. How can X know anything if X can never know anything
to be true, ie. in this instance where the cat is? A dog cannot
commit a self-referential contradiction, even with his own
idiolect. If a being cannot commit a self-referential contradiction,
can it be a knower of anything? Why should we privilege this
kind of ‘knowledge’?
There was this guy, named Terrance McKenna, something of a
self-styled, new-age shaman. His livelyhood consisted in giving
lectures, concerning the ‘meaning’ of psychedelic experiences. He
would trot out Kant, Quantum Mechanics, and periodically even
Wittgenstein to elucidate this. He delivered these lectures in an
opaque, an almost inpenetrable prose-style. He once manufactured
quite a howler: ‘Wittgenstein proved that one’s consciousness is
directly related to one’s language ability.’ He yanked a quote
from the Tractatus to, seemingly, bear out this point.
We could conduct an entirely unethical experiment to test this
thesis, whereby two neonates are removed from their mothers and
subjected to radically dissimilar learning and growing conditions.
The first would be placed in an environment where he is deliberately
deprived of all or most sensory stimulations, like lighting, music,
exercise, etc., but would be trained to speak rudimentarily, say by
being taught to ask for his meals, ask to go to the bathroom, etc.
The second would be inundated by sensory stimulation like lighting,
music, psychedelics, various types of novel tactile and olfactory
titillation devices, techniques like wordless computer simulations
conveying scientific theories, maps showing the places in the world,
etc. Suppose that, rather predicatably, after 20 years of the
experiment, the second has a far more robust internal life,
measurable by a brain scan or similar piece of technology, than
the first’s. Won’t his consciousness be more developed than the
first’s? Does the second not have more knowledge about the
world than the first, though he cannot express it?
If you are trying to create a knowledge dicotomy, consisting
of a kind of wordless, direct knowledge without a knower knowing
anything to be true and a knowledge where language is a necessary
condition for it, incorporating a theory of truth, then plaster over
the rift, by maintaining that they are, somehow, unified or
equivalent, or that the direct is superior to the representational,
but how can we test the hypotheses of those who lack the ability
to convey their wordless hypotheses? How can a person know
X if he cannot know that is X is true? (This seems like a
self-contradiction and/or another robot problem.) There is also
a severe inter-subjective problem going on here. X could be
true to someone but not the robot/unknower.
> That is, the power of language is to make thoughts
perceptible, and permit knowledge of one’s knowledge.
The power of language does not make thoughts perceptible;
It makes them expressible and intelligible within a
community of speakers.
> What dates are you assuming for the ‘Greek Enlightenment’?
Sometime after the death of Socrates.
The book THE END OF FAITH sounds pretty ridiculous to me. Harris’s whole argument hinges on what one considers to be “faith” in the first place. Of course a belief in the completely irrational is ridiculous, and I’ll admit that no, most people do not develop personal philosophies through observation and experience. A flimsy faith that just kind of chooses this or that and hopes that it’s true is toxic, but Harris himself in his “openmindedness” is holding a faith that is simply a means to an end. From how it sounds, it seems he himself has had an emotionally traumatic run in with organized religion, and he has bulit a philosophy to justify his hate for religion in general. I can pretty much guaruntee that Harris is not looking for “scientific proof” of anything. He’s simply discrediting what a tolerant, largely close-minded society calls “faith.” The real issue is personal identity, and the questions we struggle with are existential. If Harris truly investigated his beliefs, he would find that logic says there is no point for anything. He is ignoring the fact that there is no point for writing his book, there is no point for refining our society, there is no point for mankind at all, if his beliefs are true. That is all beside the point. One must systematically establish a philosophy through assumption. There is nothing that fits the bill for what most people would consider “science.” We can not know anything for sure. We cannot even know for sure that every time we drop a stone, it will fall to the ground. We have simply observed this happening every other time we dropped stones. It doesn’t mean it will happen again. How do we know that we are not brains in vats, being stimulated by tiny electrodes? We accept by faith that we are not. Harris is ignorant of the neccesity of faith for everyday interactions; for breath. I can say that when a person truly starts asking themselves questions about their existence, they must start to ignore “logic” if they are to get anywhere in the first place, because the answers to these questions are not written down for us or determined to be “scientific” by our peers. We must step out into the unknown, and we must answer these questions, ultimately, without the help of anyone else. Harris denies his own philosophy with every breath he takes, and every book he writes, and every kiss he gives his wife. The first question we must ask is, “Do I exist?” I don’t know. Do you? You’re reading this. We can only answer questions through experience, and we can only form philosophies through assumption. Harris has not worked this out yet. He is a blind man leading the blind. He will become a purposelss ghost; an empty shell. He will resign himself to a life of emptiness if he does not truly seek. I guaruntee if you ask yourself question after question, and try to build assumption upon assumption, you will find the darwinism diverges completely from love. Evolutionary theory expressing itself in humanism and Love, mercy, compassion,and Life itself are mutually exclusive. I do not feel like answering your questions for you, but I will ask you one question, Harris. Aside from bad experience, connected with unfavorable emotional response when you think of religion, what objection or evidence or reason do you have to try and eliminate it? Even from within your own philosophy, we are dirt. There is no point for anything according to you. Why don’t you just go sit in a ditch and die? Because way down deep, you believe in love, and human value. Dare I say that You know God is there? If you are looking for qualitative scientific analysis, I can beat you in that ballpark, too. But you’re not looking for qualitative scientific analysis. You’re looking to spread your faith.
Might be a bit strong to call Sam Harrisâ€™s The End of Faith a polemic. But great article nevertheless.
esr, thanks for this very important article.
“Why, in a supposedly secular and modernist society that is heir to the anti-religious Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th century, do we not see more outright attacks on particular religions, or religion as an institution in general?”
I think, in practice, we are not really free to speak our mind. Lots of people are still believers, including friends, coworkers, family members, so in my personal experience, for a non-believer the smartest thing is to not create needless arguments with them. Whenever I have tried them to convince them against their belief, it was in vain. It’s possible, but it’s very hard. And in more conservative societies, it’s downright dangerous or otherwise bad to yourself to do so.
Unfortunately, that’s still a reality in the 21st century.