The Empty Cup Theory of Everything

Scipio came to coffee yesterday at Gimme and said he was amused by the debate going on between atheist confrontationists and another group he called accommodationists.

“What debate?,” I said distractedly, noticing that the coffee barista had given me three eyedroppersful of espresso in my cup, because she hates me.

He named names. I had never heard of most of them, so I asked Scipio to cut to the chase and tell me what the Big Deal was.

“Most of the confrontationists want atheism to be the Big Bad Wolf. Think of religion as the three little pigs.”

“That’s a terrible analogy,” I said. The whole point of the story is that the dumb little pigs get eaten but the smart pig survives and the wolf gets killed.”

“That’s not the way it ends,” Scipio said slurping away at his cup, filled halfway to the top with a lovely espresso emulsion. “All the pigs survive.”

“No, ” I said, “That’s Disney. They get eaten. One survives. And the wolf dies a hideous death.”

Scipio frowned. Nothing distresses him more than being bested in a controversy about folk tales, unless it’s being accused of a bad analogy.

“But I see your point,” I said, trying to soothe his feelings. “Maybe at the end of a confrontation there’s a pot of boling water just waiting for you. Never underestimate your opponent. Accommodation reduces the chances of humiliation. But honestly, Scipio, before I worried too much about tactics, I’d want to know how solid the ground was under my confrontational feet–or how solid my house was, if we stick with fables.”

He seemed cheered by the comment. “Let me ask you a question. If you had the choice between telling an atheist he is right or telling him he is wrong, what would you say?”

“It would depend,” I said. “If the atheist said that men are smarter than women, I would say, ‘You’re wrong. You cannot prove a thing like that because the word smart only possesses connotations, not an absolute meaning like ‘the freezing point of oxidane’.”

“Why would you get into a conversation about water with an atheist,” Scipio said, clearly annoyed.

“Why would I get into a conversation about the three little pigs?” I asked.

“If the question was the question of God–which is the only issue you would want to discuss with an atheist, would you tell him he is right or wrong.”

I stared at the darkish brown, scarcely damp bottom of my empty cup. “Scipio,” I said. “Would you agree with me that this cup is empty?”

“Yes,” he said cautiously. “I think we might agree on that.”

“Not so fast. What persuades you?”

He hated this game. We have played it for years, sometimes several times a day. “Our agreement or something else?”

“The evidence is the emptiness of the cup. Our agreement is simply a result of our examination of the evidence, an assessment.”

“But there is no evidence,” I said playfully. “There is only an empty cup. You’re sounding like a theologian: you believe “in all that is visible and invisible?”

“You’re going to lecture on cups now,” he said unhappily, “potens and form and substantia and all of that…please can we get through an afternoon without Aristotle.”

“There is no such thing as an afternoon without Aristotle. There are only geese who think there are. You have to agree that the only way of concluding the cup is empty is to evaluate the nature of the cup–a cup–which is meant to hold things, even though mine held almost nothing and yours held a lot and came with biscotti.”

“Can we talk about the barista instead,” he said, “I think she likes me.”

“No,” I said. “At most she’s an instrumental cause related to fullness and emptiness, and if you ask me, more the latter. But we can talk about the universe,”

“Sweet,” Scipio said. “From coffee cups to the cosmos. Another one of your horrid analogies.”

“Is it full or empty?”

“Please don’t go where I think you’re going or I’ll start quoting Stephen Hawking to you.”

“Until he has his theory of everything figured out, quote away; what do you think he would say to the question?”

“I think he would probably say it depends on gravity, but that the existence of the strong force, electromagnetism, weak force, and gravity point to the fact that it is not empty.”

“God, Scipio,” I squeaked. “You are so…careful. ‘that it is not empty’ is not an answer, it’s a whimper, a pule. I’m not trying to get a Creator out of this conversation, just some fun. -So is it full or not.”

“It’s not full in the eighteenth century sense of full because if it was–I know you–you’d start talking about creation and chains of being. Besides, full is a word like smart, isn’t it? Is it full if it has stuff in it or full if it can’t hold an iota more?”

“Is it full in any sense,” I said, seeing Scipio had also drained his cup.

“I don’t think we can know that, because the universe is not a coffee cup.”

“You mean we can’t look down into its bottom or that we can’t see the limit of its top?”

“Ok, for the sake of an argument that is really becoming tiresome, I’ll grant you that it is full if full means that it is not empty and if it has limits and if we can know something about its limit by observing events. It doesn’t matter that we can see edges, tops, and bottoms because we can know about events and forces. And there aren’t any real edges, anyway.”

“But I disagree. I think it isn’t full. I think it’s as empty as this coffee cup and the microscopic particles that are still invisibly occupying space down below are to full what the planetary masses are to the totality of the universe. Isn’t that what you’d want in subatomic theory anyway? I agree with Richard Feynmann: no one understands quantum mechanics. Not even Stephen Hawking.”

“Listen mate,” Scipio said testily. “I asked a simple question. Would you confront an atheist or accommodate an atheist on the question of God’s existence?”

“I answered your question,” I said, summoning the barista. She pretended to be busy polishing the bar glasses, but smiled at Scipio.

52 thoughts on “The Empty Cup Theory of Everything

  1. An entertaining discourse on nothing, yet everything.
    You really need to have a word to the barista on the mandatory
    level of an expresso. There is nothing worse than sniffing one and it is gone.

  2. It is my unerudite opinion that nothing is, in point of fact, something. Indeed, nothing is a wannabe something, a something lying in wait, if you will. Of course, nothing is also something that ceases to be.

    Trillions of years from now when all the suns in the universe will have burned up all their fuel and the forces of nature will have stopped being, well, you know, forces of nature, then, M theory notwithstanding, nothing will not only be something, but nothing – call it emptiness – will be everything!

      • Then there’s always Einstein: “Once you can accept the universe as being something expanding into an infinite nothing which is something, wearing stripes with plaid is easy.”

  3. This is a very very very subtle story all about me, disguised as something else. I’m a confrontationist, one of the ones nobody has ever heard of, except that there is a persistent rumor that I am the barmaid in “Jesus and Mo.” This conversation is between men and the generic “atheist” is assumed to be male – it’s all very male, and yet and yet – they keep talking about the barista.

    You see what I mean? It’s all about me!

    • You are incorrigible. I think a confrontationist is someone who says “Don’t tell me what to do” when a politically cautious sales clerk says “Have a good holiday season, if in fact you celebrate, which I’m not suggesting you do.” But yes, it’s all about you.

      • Ahhhh it’s just as I thought, a confrontationist is someone who barely exists. Although…I did scowl very ferociously once when I was handed some sort of Christian message on an Alaska flight. Nobody was looking, but I did scowl.

  4. Beyond fun and games The Theory About Everything is about you and me – Knowing or not Knowing – Ultimate Reality – the ultimate solution to the human predicment.
    Paul Davies wrote: “The search for a closed logical scheme that provides a complete and self-consistent explanation for everything is doomed to failure. – such a thing may exist “out there” – but we cannot know its whole form on the basis of rational thought.”
    You quote Richard Faymann: “no one understands quantum mechanics. Not even Stephen Hawking.” (with his M theory – no need for God).
    A bit more about Faymann, that his context may not be misunderstood. Davies once asked Faymann whether he thought of mathematics and the laws of paysics as having an idependent existence. He replied in part: “The problem of existence is a very itresting and difficult one. If you do mateematics,which is simply working out the correspondence of assumptions, you’ll discover for instance a curious thing-” (he goes on to describe a numeral interrelationship). “Now, that fact which I’ve just told you about might not have been known to you before. You might say “Where is it, what is it, where is itlocated, what kind of reality does it have?” And yet you came upon it. When we discover these things, you get the feeling that somehow they existed somewhere, but there ‘s nowhere for such things. It’s just a feeling – – Well, in the case of pyhsics we have double trouble. We come upon these mathematical interralationships but they apply to the universe, So the problem of where they are is doubly confusing –These are philosophicl questions that I don’t know howto answer.”
    Fred Hoyle reports a conversation on the topic of reveation with Richard Faymann: Some years ago I had a graphic description from Dick Faymann of what a moment of inspiration feels like, and of it being followed by an enormous sense euphoria, lastin for maybe two or more days. I asked how often had it happened, to which Feymann replied,”four”, at which we both agreed that twelve days of euphoria was not a geat reward for a lifetime’s work”.

  5. This cup will never grow stale – fulsome flavour, awesome aroma. There’s nothing really to talk about except Aristotle and baristas and false analogies (which all analogies are). The lack of evidence isn’t evidence of anything, so there is nothing to confront or accommodate with an atheist or a theist on the question of existence or non existence of something not seen…

    • Steph:

      Seems to me that “true” and “false” don’t really apply all that well to analogies as those words tend to be very binary and very categorical – very digital; Mr. Either-Or – Søren Kierkegaard – would have been in his glory. Analogies, on the other hand – speaking of binaries, tend to be analog – a spectrum of values, of degrees of correspondence. Although there is no small degree of “prior art”, much in the electronics field, that details and uses extensively the techniques for analog-to-digital conversion and its converse.

      But “the lack of evidence” is evidence of a dearth of evidence. That is a fact which a great many questions and court cases – potential ones in any case – seem to turn on.

      In any case, some clever and amusing if overly convoluted analogies of questionable accuracy from Joseph. For instance, I certainly haven’t gotten the impression that many “confrontationists” see themselves as the “Big Bad Wolf” – maybe some “bad cop” to the accommodationist’s good one. Or maybe as “brave heroes” fighting for “truth” and “justice”. So the “Big Bad Wolf” looks to be a bit of a strawman.

      In addition, while I’ll readily agree that many confrontationists seem to shoot themselves in the feet – the frequent result of going off half-cocked, of not being sure, or too sure, of their ground – and while “confrontationist” seems a very subjective term, one might argue that the largely commendable efforts of both you and Joseph, and no few others, to present the evidence for a historical – and presumably mortal – Jesus is more of a “confrontation” to Christian fundamentalists, a waving of the red flag in front of the Christian bull, than are the efforts of various misguided and dogmatic mythicists. Something which I think several of your recent comments tends to corroborate.

      • I wonder what ‘recent comments’ of mine, corroborate exactly what, in precisely which way? Your elaborate reply to something I barely remember writing nearly two years ago on the other side of the world, doesn’t appear to really relate to it in even any significant analogous way, let alone directly, but carries a redundant contradiction – the lack of evidence is as I said, evidence of nothing.

      • Steph:

        While I’ll concede that you didn’t make those statements “recently” – mea culpa – you did make at least one some 11 months ago in Joseph’s The Passion of the Christ Deniers:

        To demonstrate that Jesus was a normal human being is potentially devastating to [conservative] Christianity.

        I would say that “devastating” qualifies as “confrontational” – in effect if not in intent. It sure doesn’t look particularly accommodationist. Not that I’m throwing stones at anyone for doing so – more power to you; I think it a very sensible way forward. Just that I think it helps to identify the log in one’s own eye before one attempts to remove the mote in the eye of one’s interlocutors.

        As for your “lack of evidence is … evidence of nothing”, that is, I think and with all due respect, based on some binary and categorical if not literalist thinking; on an inability or unwillingness to extrapolate from the tangible realm to the intangible one, to draw an analogy between those two cases. Certainly the lack of tangible evidence of Jehovah’s existence – for example, the inscription of the tetragrammaton on each and every quark, and assuming that is what we’re referring to – is not a tangible piece of evidence that one can put on some balance scales and get a reading – 21 grams for example. But the very absence of that type of tangible evidence tends to qualify at least as “circumstantial evidence”: i.e., “evidence that relies on an inference to connect it to a conclusion of fact”.

        And the inference – further buttressed by the archelogical evidence of literally tens of thousands of “gawds” who have drifted across the stages of humanity’s evolution over hundreds of millennia – is that at least an anthropological conception of “god” is probably not particularly accurate: evidence that we’re probably barking up the wrong tree – even if it isn’t something you can physically touch, taste, or weigh. An interesting summary from the Wikipedia article on “Evidence of absence”:

        In some circumstances it can be safely assumed that if a certain event had occurred, evidence of it could be discovered by qualified investigators. In such circumstances it is perfectly reasonable to take the absence of proof of its occurrence as positive proof of its non-occurrence.

        I wouldn’t go so far as to say “positive proof”, although I haven’t written a textbook on logic. But I would suggest that “absence of evidence” tends to at least increase the probability of non-existence – which highlights the problem of black-and-white thinking as probability itself is an analog measure, and puts the ball back in the court of those who make the positive claim for existence. And justifies concluding that those who dogmatically insist on that existence are probably very badly deluded – at best – if not actually psychotic.

        However, that is not to say that there aren’t other conceptions that might hold more water, something that many atheists, particularly those of an explicitly “confrontational” frame of mind, seem surprisingly unwilling to address.

      • I always cringe when I see the word evidence and gospel in the same sentence, but it has to be true that the gospels are evidence of something that happened, though not in the sense we would apply to bones being evidence of human settlement. It’s also true that a total lack of evidence of anything would prove only an absence of evidence but not that something never happened. At the very least the gospels are evidence that something happened. That it seems to me is unarguable. The question is whether an historical individual happened. The gospels suggest that what happened was indeed an historical individual, and despite all the bickering about Paul’s Christology, it also seems clear that the basis for his theology is the same individual Let me make the topic more difficult: Do you approach that question of what really happened with assumptions about the nature of the evidence–a sort of skeptical / debunking mode of thought, which by the way has been the approach not of skeptics and atheists but of New Testament scholarship for 150 years–focusing on parallels, analogies, doublets and triplets, inconsistencies, contradictions, authorial intent–each one of those has morphed into its own form of criticism (method). Or do you back up to prior questions and look at context, cultural factors, community life, religious environment, political factors, personality, plausibility. The question of the historical Jesus can easily be exploded by the first approach and theology has already done that several times over, and then been guilty of playing with the scattered pieces like Legos to construct a hundred different Jesuses. It’s that practice i attacked mildly in the introduction to G A Wells’s Jesus Legend when I said that these Jesuses are so many, varied and unpersuasive that it makes the theory of non-historicity a welcome relief. But the second approach, which doesn’t overlook the problems created by a century of critical deconstruction, and certainly is not a religious or theological approach, does more service to the reality of the gospels and the events they precipitated. I am moderately well known for saying that the gospels cannot settle the matter but that on balance they point to an historical individual and not to a historicized myth or deliberate falsehood. I know that is a frustrating conclusion, but I am convinced (and yes, I have looked at almost everything anyone throws at me and thought about it), that Jesus is an entirely plausible historical figure and that plausibility will continue to be fatal to the mythicists’ case.

      • This discussion is all wrong; you are using logical, modal categories and probability. To be blunt, plausibility is a value judgement not a quality of propositions, and its criteria are rather different. Failure to acknowledge the kind of material he was examining” is what ran RichardCarrier aground with his Bayes Theorem machine when he tried to grind the gospels through it. There are of course certain things in the gospels that can be tested as factual; Pontius Pilate was the Roman pro-curator of Roman Palestine (true). Pontius Pilate was the Roman Governor of Palestine (false). But these things are usually testable by correspondence to external evidence, that is, they are not self-authenticating, and historians are habitually skeptical of sui generis sources. As there is no useful external or “corroborating” evidence for Jesus of Nazareth outside the gospels we are confined to context, parallels, and certain techniques (like the famous dissimilarity principle) which are helpful in some instances and misleading in others. While absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, it seems to me that this maxim is more routinely used by mythtics in exploiting for example the “silence” (?) of Paul as a kind of proof of their case than by biblical scholars–though both sides do it. As I judge the case at present, the total weight of material only reaches to the plausible because we lack the basis for a higher level of proof that could only be achieved by external, unbiased, contemporary, corroborating material. Though this is something, however, we lack in the case of a great many ancient figures. On the other hand, an ingenious, circumstantial case for Jesus is always interesting and we have no shortage of those.

      • Luther thought of God as deus absconditus and this theme is expressed with great clarity by Pascal: “There is enough light for those who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition.” Augustine said, “I do not know how God could be shown to me so that I would say, “That is enough” For I do not think that I know anything in the way that I wish to know God.” The point is that, for many theists, the issue of the hiddenness of God is one that makes good theological sense to them. But, whatever one’s beliefs, we face an issue of fact which is at present veiled in ambiguity, so that both belief and disbelief carry with them the risk of profound error. The believer risks the possibility of being deluded and of living, as a result, in a state of self-deception. The nonbeliever risks the possibility of shutting out the most valuable of all realities. It seems that we stand, as finite and ignorant beings, in a universe that both invites religious belief and yet holds over us the possibility that this invitation may be a deception.

        As for probability, I think you are getting a little confused. That is, you are mixing up your probabilities. What makes a statement about contingent probabilities true always is the way the world happens to be compared to how the statement in question claims it to be. For example, the contingent probability statement that the probability equaling 1/6 of getting 7’s with honest pairs of dice is true just in case the relative frequency of 7 with honest dice does in fact equal 1/6. Another instance would be what makes the contingent prob. claim that over 95 percent of all heart bypass operations are successful false is that the actual frequency of success has been much lower than 95 percent.

        But what makes epistemic probability statements true or false is quite different. For they always concern beliefs about the world, not the world “out there” itself. In general, what makes rational epistemic prob. statements true is that they are justified by good deductive or inductive reasoning: what makes them false is the opposite-not justified. But what makes contingent prob. statements true or false never has to do with the quality of our justification for such a claim. Am I making sense? You are trying to talk about the existence of God, I suspect, with contingent prob. claims. The problem is that you cannot approximate the relative frequency of God in any sensible way. It is, in my mind, one of the most compelling reasons for why science cannot comment directly on God’s existence–the claims concerning God’s existence become about *strength of belief* about the world, not about the world itself. In short, fools sometimes luckily are right in their claims although wrong to have held them; geniuses sometimes are wrong in their beliefs, even though right to have held them.

        Concerning the Wiki page, firstly, is God an event or the creator of events? I think that is an important distinction. And what God-event do you lack evidence for? Secondly, in some circumstances should be emphasized here. Thirdly, those who are convinced by relevant but insufficient evidence in support of a theory are guilty of the fallacy of hasty conclusion, of which that statement is a good example. Sherlock Holmes, if he weren’t a fictional character, would be guilty of this all of the time.

        So, I tend to agree with Steph that “a lack of evidence is evidence of nothing,” meaning not anything, a concept of nothing that Krauss seems incapable of grasping.

      • Is Steersman talking about God or Jesus? If he is talking about Jesus, then I agree with Joe that this discussion is all wrong, and my reply doesn’t make much sense on this thread. I say that because I don’t think belief in Jesus and belief in God are the same sort of belief. In fact, it is only through a category-error that they can be brought into alignment.

        Could you maybe clarify this for us, Steersman? Thanks.

      • Pancakesandwildhoney:

        Luther thought of God as deus absconditus …

        Rather like that – I’ll have to file it away for future use: Jehovah, the deadbeat god; creates a child and then takes a powder, leaving “Mother” to raise the kid on her own – even if one might suggest that “Mother” is probably scamming the system. Helluva set of role models.

        But, whatever one’s beliefs, we face an issue of fact which is at present veiled in ambiguity, so that both belief and disbelief carry with them the risk of profound error.

        That, however, looks rather problematic and seems predicated on putting belief and disbelief – and in a specific case – on an equal footing. While I’ll readily concede that my understanding and knowledge of probabilities and statistics is a little rough around the edges – although my prof in the course suggested that some of the obscurity is virtually intrinsic, I think you’re misinterpreting what I’ve said. It is not that “god does not exist”, but that the anthropomorphic deity Jehovah probably doesn’t. And the “evidence” that “justifies” that inference is the rather brute fact that, as mentioned, there have been literally tens of thousands of such critters – even apart from the millions of Hindu ones currently on tap – that humans have believed in over the millennia. None of which, as far as I know, have ever given any positive evidence of their existence – probably why most of them have gone into the proverbial “dustbin of history” – RIP – and are perceived now only as mythology.

        And where all of those exhibit attributes – virgin births, heavens & hells, immortality, personal gods, the polytheism of pantheons of lesser immortals, etc., etc., etc. – that are virtually identical to the current largely odious crop – i.e., Jehovah and Allah – then it seems well within the realm of inductive logic to suggest that the belief in the latter is based on the same processes and mechanisms – i.e., projection and psychology and wishful thinking and neuroscience – but have no more independent “reality” than any other figments of the human imagination.

        Looks to me to be bending over backwards – to “positively supine lengths” in Dawkins’ phrasing – to suggest that one should, in effect, still believe in Zeus, and Thor, and Woden, and Ahuru Mazda and a myriad of others, simply because they haven’t been proven to not exist. And if not them then why Jehovah and Allah, critters of the same type and modus operandi? If it walks like a duck ….

        The fact of the matter seems to be that there are likely to be far more “things” that don’t exist – dragons in the garage, (large) monsters under the bed, square circles, etc., etc. – than things that do. Unless we’re going to be continually starting at shadows one does need some mechanism or process to separate the wheat from the chaff: should we be sacrificing to Zeus on the off-chance that he’s the “Big Man in the Universe”? And comparisons and analogies and logic seem the most effective tools for that purpose.

        However, as I also suggested, that doesn’t seem to pull the rug out from under all possible conceptions of god; personally, I tend to think that consciousness itself is a reasonable contender, not least for being a common element in most if not all of the previous ones. Although it is moot whether it is simply a cheat to ascribe known laws and attributes of the universe, particularly unexplained or unexplainable ones, to “god” – if I’m not mistaken, Joseph’s sensible point, succinctly phrased.

      • Really muddly is that – I suspect your interpretation of ‘lack of evidence is evidence of nothing’ is more literal than my intended implication which is not that the lack of evidence is evidence that there is no evidence at all. Also devastating does not qualify as either “confrontational” or ‘accommodationist’ – in either effect or intent or even analogy. I avoid Wikipedia and probably more so now, the entire worldwide internet and blogs.

      • Pancakesandwildhoney:

        A brief if possibly obscure response to your recent question: I agree that it is somewhat confusing as to whether the topic is God or Jesus, although there is obviously some degree of overlap. However, Steph’s comment – to which I responded was this:

        The lack of evidence isn’t evidence of anything, so there is nothing to confront or accommodate with an atheist or a theist on the question of existence or non existence of something not seen…

        Which seemed pretty clearly to be referring to the supposed existence of some god. Although the point of tangency in the implicit analogy seems to have been the “confrontational” or “accommodationist” tactics of atheists in presenting their opinions on that supposed existence. Tactics which are also used on the question of the historicity of Jesus.

      • ‘Which seemed pretty clearly to be referring to the supposed existence of some god…’ really??????? goodness gracious isn’t it surprising how easy it is in reception for the receiver to impose its own ideas on another, with an elaborate dance, jiggle, twerk and twist, resulting in a complete distortion of what I wrote.

      • Joseph:

        I always cringe when I see the word evidence and gospel in the same sentence, but it has to be true that the gospels are evidence of something that happened, though not in the sense we would apply to bones being evidence of human settlement.

        I was, of course and as suggested, largely referring to “evidence” for various types of gods rather than for a historical Jesus – entirely different kettles of fish as the former is, of course, a supernatural entity of which we have no tangible examples or cases in spite of a myriad of wild and wildly conflicting claims; whereas the latter is supposedly or as hypothesized, merely a human of which we have a myriad of real and tangible examples. For instance, I note that there were several claimants to the title of Messiah before Jesus and a great many after him, and that there were at least 16 claimants to the title of Mahdi. In which case, given that entirely human predilection to messianic complexes, it is, I think, entirely plausible that Jesus was a relatively early, though not the earliest, instance of the type; maybe or probably badly deluded in some areas, but maybe possessing some worthwhile insights in others.

        So I do tend to agree with you, though probably on less evidence or at least from far less knowledge, that “Jesus is an entirely plausible historical figure”. While it is probably a moot point, which I think you’ve suggested elsewhere, whether the story of Jesus was cut from whole cloth, whether it was entirely a fiction – similar to the story of Sherlock Holmes that others have suggested – it just seems implausible that that is the case.

        And while I think you may have mentioned, here or in another thread, that the ancient times were permeated with mixtures of fact and fiction and older myths, it seems more plausible to think that stories don’t “precipitate” out of that type of supersaturated solution unless there’s an important and salient factual element to start that process – like a grain of sand becoming a pearl in an oyster or the story of Jessica Lynch who could have been portrayed as a female Rambo by the US Government and Hollywood if she hadn’t had the courage to put the facts on the table.

        So, prior or analogous cases of similar behaviours and of similar causes and effects – like pancakes’ recent analogy with the behaviours of fair dice – seems to support – where there’s one case, there’s likely to be another; if it walks like a duck – both a mortal and historical Jesus, as well as Jehovah and Allah being little more than mythology and figments of the human imagination – even if they possess some utility.

      • Hi Steersman,

        Most of the Christians I have drinks with think that that deity doesn’t exist as well. Have you visited a mainline Protestant church recently? Theism begins with an observation about the mystery of being, that is, as Wittgenstein phrased it, “Not how the world is, is the mystical, but that it is.” Since Plato and Aristotle, God has been equated with Being itself. I think one can discern from the NT the extent to which Jews by the time of Jesus had come to understand that Yahweh was not a god, at least not in the sense in which their ancestors had spoken of strange gods, household gods, or the gods of other nations. (John 8.58, John 1.1) Aquinas called God “ipsum esse subsistens” — the “Ground of Being,” in the parlance of Christian mysticism and theology. This understanding developed organically over the course of a thousand years, with no obvious moment of birth, although by Aquinas’ day it had certainly become mature. Where the approach to God had been anthropological, it was now also ontological. We are talking about God as Being itself, and we have been for over 2000 years. Did you miss it? Perhaps, you should read some Heidegger to develop an awareness of the unfathomable profundity of what it means “to be.”

        It is also important to notice that reasoning from false premises is not necessarily fallacious. Cogent reasoning requires warranted premises, not necessarily true ones. We don’t have to know everything about a topic to reason cogently about it. The problem for you is that I am not appealing to ignorance, but you are drawing a hasty conclusion and making faulty comparisons.

        “However, as I also suggested, that doesn’t seem to pull the rug out from under all possible conceptions of god” So, you think you need to tell Christians that it is irrational for them to believe in a God that they don’t believe in? Wait…that’s right. The NAs and the fundie Christians believe He is the only concept of God worth discussing.

        Your comment reminds me of how the young Socrates was intellectually enlivened to study Anaxagoras’ Nous until he discovered it didn’t actually do anything.

      • Steph:

        … than my intended implication which is not that the lack of evidence is evidence that there is no evidence at all.

        Seems to me that the problem in general is a changing of the definition of “evidence” from a tangible to an intangible variety – which I may have been guilty of as well. But a lack of one type doesn’t necessarily mean there is a lack of another. And sometimes a lack of the former qualifies or manifests as the presence of the latter. That a cup is empty of a fluid that one might normally expect it to contain still qualifies as evidence – “something indicative, an outward sign”; the evidence isn’t of less substance simply because there’s less substance in evidence – so to speak.

        As for “confrontation”, since a relevant definition of it seems to be “Discord or a clash of opinions and ideas”, that seems well within the scope of your implied use of the root word “devastate”: “To overwhelm; confound; stun”.

        I avoid Wikipedia and probably more so now, the entire worldwide internet and blogs.

        It certainly can be frustrating and time consuming to have to deal with wildly different interpretations of the same event or statement – one despairs of making progress in the face of that fairly common predilection or failing. Somewhat apropos, something from Michael Shermer’s The Believing Brain:

        As we saw in the previous chapter, politics is filled with self-justifying rationalizations. Democrats see the world through liberal-tinted glasses, while Republicans filter it through conservative shaded glasses. When you listen to both “conservative talk radio” and “progressive talk radio” you will hear current events interpreted in ways that are 180 degrees out of phase. So incongruent are the interpretations of even the simplest goings-on in the daily news that you wonder if they can possibly be talking about the same event. [pg 263; my emphasis]

        Though that situation seems almost preferrable to being stuck in some echo-chamber or “Internet Silo” – like the “FreethoughtBlogs ghetto” – or other places where discussion and debate are anathematized. But that muddied water won’t be clarified unless people are prepared, and able, to discuss those different interpretations.

        And, speaking of “incongruent interpretations”, you also said “resulting in a complete distortion of what I wrote”. Maybe a distortion of what you intended, but I’m hardly a mind reader. However, considering the context of the OP, and that you responded to it with that “non-existence of something not seen” statement of yours, I hardly think my interpretation was particularly wide of the mark, or inconsistent with that context. What else would you “confront or accommodate with an atheist or a theist”, if you were going to do that, except their claims for the non-existence or existence of a particular deity? Their taste in shoes? Their opinions on the National Debt?

      • Mr steers man. I did not change definition of ‘evidence’. You imposed your interpretation by taking ‘my’ “evidence” out of its context, and added your twist to what I actually wrote, distorting the meaning. Perhaps ambiguity fails today. It could be evidence or no evidence. It is not clarified. You have decided to do that yourself. I did not intend ‘distortion’! but you certainly have conveyed yourself as a ‘mind reader’. What I wrote should have been clear and concise. However due to the length of responses… I love this sun.

      • pancakesandwildhoney:

        Perhaps, you should read some Heidegger to develop an awareness of the unfathomable profundity of what it means “to be.”

        Haven’t read much of the existentialists – mostly just an overview of them, in particular Irrational Man by William Barrett. However, while that “unfathomable profundity” – at least as a rubric –certainly seems to be a credible phenomenon that justifies some thought, that the Catholic Church – and Christianity in general – insists on joining that at the hip with some egregious barbarism, ignorance, and dogma looks to be more than just a little problematic. As a case in point, perhaps you should read this post on Jerry Coyne’s website by Greg Mayer on a recent Pew Forum poll on the acceptance – or not – of evolution. He quotes a recent article in The New York Times:

        But I believe that something else is also at play here, something more cynical. I believe this is a natural result of a long-running ploy by Republican party leaders to play on the most base convictions of conservative voters in order to solidify their support. ….

        There has been anti-science propagandizing running unchecked on the right for years, from anti-gay-equality misinformation to climate change denials.

        And the Catholic Church with its decidedly dogmatic, if not pig-headed, adherence to the “myth” of Adam and Eve in the face of science which discredits it, root and branch, is part and parcel of that “anti-science propagandizing”. Something over which I think it has painted itself into a very tight corner since, arguably, if it concedes that then it its entire raison d’être, the basis of the “guilt-trip” it has laid on humanity for the last two millennia will evaporate, and the whole edifice will collapse like a house of cards. Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch.

        It is also important to notice that reasoning from false premises is not necessarily fallacious. Cogent reasoning requires warranted premises, not necessarily true ones.

        Maybe you could provide some citations of cases where “reasoning from false premises” leads to valid and “true” conclusions – apart from reductio ad absurdum where the objective is to prove “that a false assumption [premise, axiom] has been used”. But if you don’t care whether there is any correspondence to “reality” then I guess you can use false premises, although it then seems decidedly moot whether “cogent” can be used to refer to any part of the process.

        … enlivened to study Anaxagoras’ Nous until he discovered it didn’t actually do anything.

        Don’t know much about that, although I note that Wikipedia indicates that it is considered somewhat analogous to intuition. Which certainly seems to me to have some utility. But, as a case in point, I’m reminded of some comments by Norbert Wiener – one of the progenitors of cybernetics – in which he described some seminal contributions by Willard Gibbs to the science of thermodynamics:

        This occurred long after Gibbs’ death, and his work remained for two decades one of those mysteries of science which work even though it seems that they ought not to work. Many men have had intuitions well ahead of their time; and this is not least true in mathematical physics. [The Human Use of Human Beings; pg 10]

        Although, as the biologist/philosopher Massimo Pigliucci has argued, it has its limitations. Sort of like the computer programming aphorism: “garbage in; garbage out”. Rather like the differences between scientists and theologians: both use, arguably, intuition, but at least the former make some efforts to determine whether their intuitions, their hypotheses, their premises and assumptions, actually correspond to “reality”. Instead of peddling “philosophick romances”.

  6. Steersman,

    I try to stay away from the cyber scribble of Jerry Coyne, unless, of course, he is talking about evolutionary biology–he actually has something valuable to say about it. So….political affiliation conjoined with fundamentalist religion is a bad thing? Yep, we agree. But, you know what, 78% of mainline Protestants accept evolution. Crazy ain’t it?: accepting evolution whilst remaining a Christian. Ironically, both the NAs/secular humanists and the evangelical Christians agree on something: either accept evolution and deny God or deny evolution and accept God. It’s a false dilemma. Are there no other alternatives? The NA tactics only make things worse, reaffirming what many of these people already think about evolution–it destroys faith. It doesn’t, never has, read Teilhard de Chardin. It does have something to say about biblical literalism, but biblical literalism was nonsense in the fourth century–see Augustine. Do you really think the militant tactics of the secular community make the task of teaching evolution any easier? I know, tell the Dawkins Foundation to think up a nice billboard that insults religious people and reinforces their fear that evolution is the Devil. That’ll solve the problem. What did the data say? Evolution acceptance down from 54 percent to 43 percent among Republicans over the last three years. Yeah, it’s really working. Seems to me it’s only making them more pig-headed. Of course, I mostly blame evangelical leaders, from church leadership to college leadership, but I also blame the fallacious and ineffectual approach taken by many “leaders” of the secular community. I just don’t see much hope for change when the most prominent people on both sides of the question agree that accepting evolution means giving up on one’s religion. It’s just utter nonsense, and those who propagate it, religious or atheist, are perpetuating the system of nonsense.

    As for Adam and Eve, the question of biological origins is a scientific one and, if science shows that there is no evidence of monogenism and there is lots of evidence for polygenism, then a Catholic need have no problem accepting that, at least not to my mind. But God knows what Rome thinks about it. Just as a piece of anecdotal evidence, one of my professors is a Jesuit priest and he seems quite comfortable with polygenism. I think he would say, channeling his inner Teilhard, “Theology, if it is to make any sense, must be an evolutive discipline.”

    My dearest chap, it is a very fortunate thing that we can reason cogently about a topic we don’t know everything about indeed, given that we’re all at least partially ignorant about virtually everything. Doctors, for instance, prescribe an addictive drug believing that it is not addictive reason cogently if their acceptance of that false premise is justified by background beliefs and experiences like by authoritative medical literature. Similarly, reasoning from a highly confirmed scientific theory, say Newtonian mechanics, is not less cogent because later evidence has shown that that theory, while exceedingly close to the truth, is in truth not quite true. Furthermore, we often reason about what would happen if we did this or that, or if this or that were to happen. Reasoning about what would be likely to happen if there were a third world war is an example. We ask ourselves, what if the premises that there is a third world war were true. And we conclude, after dragging in all sorts of scientific calculations, that if this premise were true, the consequences would be so horrible that we must try very hard to make sure that it becomes false, that is, to make sure that we never have a third world war and thus never have an all-out nuclear war with all of its attending horrors.

    On the other hand, even when we reason validly, and from true premises, we may still reason fallaciously if those premises are not warranted or if our reasoning overlooks relevant background beliefs. For instance, let us say a writer in 1960 made several wagers against Kennedy being elected president, based principally on the true premises that 1) Kennedy was Catholic and 2) at that time, no non-Protestant had ever been elected president of the United States. The mistake in this was to overlook all sorts of background information about changing conditions in America, not to mention Kennedy’s charisma and Nixon’s 5 o’clock shadow and sweaty upper lip. Notice, btw, that the reasoning in this case would have been just as faulty if Kennedy had lost to Nixon in 60. That bad reasonings sometimes yield true conclusions does not show that they are good after all but rather just that sometimes people get lucky.

    I think we agree, at least very broadly, although I think your comment about theologians is a little unfair, but also fair–it’s a paradox.

    • Pancakesandwildhoney:

      I try to stay away from the cyber scribble of Jerry Coyne, unless, of course, he is talking about evolutionary biology–he actually has something valuable to say about it. So….political affiliation conjoined with fundamentalist religion is a bad thing? Yep, we agree. But, you know what, 78% of mainline Protestants accept evolution.

      Well, good for them. But the point is, I think, the problematic consequences of the 33% and 40%, respectively, of the American population who believe that “humans have existed in present form” – presumably as a result of Jehovah or Allah taking some mud and breathing the “Holy Spirit” into it – and that their “holy” books (ha!) are “the Word of God, taken literally word for word”. And to tout that “78%” as if it nullifies that 33% and 40% looks rather akin to “I’m alright, Jack”, and seems sufficient to suggest that they are probably more part of the problem than part of the solution.

      And while I certainly question some of Jerry’s positions – notably on freewill since I think the keystone in the overarching phenomenon of consciousness is very much an open question, and on evolution itself since I think self-organization and emergence play a far bigger role than he and many others are prepared to countenance – I also think that he and many others – notably Ophelia Benson – do a yeoman’s job in highlighting the rather egregious depredations of that third of the population. For instance, Jerry’s recent post on “Virginia introduces first antiscience bill of the year”. Seems a little incongruous, to say the least, to be tut-tutting about the “confrontationist” behaviours of the New Atheists while apparently turning a blind eye to the depredations that they alone seem to be front-and-center in attempting to prevent.

  7. Look, mate, I agree with you, but your approach is rubbish. And the data seems to confirm that, at least all of the data I have seen. Why don’t you put a picture of Satan up in the courthouse? That’ll really convince them. If you guys want to become what you despise, then who am I to stop you. But, I should warn you, two wrongs don’t make a right. You are trying to justify an apparently wrong action by charging your opponent with a similar wrong. That’s just bad reasoning. Evolution is as confirmed as science gets, why stoop to their level? Because they have some influence? Yeah, they do and the NA tactics only increase that influence.

    Benson? Coyne? They want to convert people to their worldview as much as evangelical Christians do. Evangelical Christians tell people that they are going to hell if they don’t think like evangelical Christians do, Coyne just tells them they are stupid if they don;t think like he does.

    • Hear hear! PCAWH. I hope you don’t mind my calling you PCWAH. There is even a difference between the kind of bullying a Coyne (or Myers) does and the repugnant evangelism of a Jesus-lover, though the Gnus profess to feel bullied by something called “Religion,” part of their mild victimization script which Coyne once said Gnus don’t Use, but belies the fact they want to be regarded as a struggling, unpopular, untrusted minority. And I fail to see the relevance of their unpopularity if it isn’t used to argue minority/victim status.
      But the fundamental issue with the Coyneseses is that they are not advancing science by calling religious people stupid, and when this name-calling is accompanied by historical and academic wowsers unequalled outside a 1st year English remedial class, it doesn’t touch the target either. (I’ve often wondered how long I would last in a university if–on those rare occasions I say anything substantive about science-I made the kind of errors they do.) But most humanities types have the good sense to shut up unless they feel confident enough to say anything on a scientific topic, a decorum presumably not taught in our best scientific institutes. I think we need to find a new name for the commando Gnus who think this way. Instead of Brights, maybe we should call them “The Deficients”.

      • I don’t mind it at all, Joe.

        To prove your point I give you Coyne’s own words from a January 5th post titled, “Bill O’Reilly and Chris Stedman ally against The War on Christmas”:

        “Atheists are the most reviled group in America, far less likely to be elected to office than are gays, women, or blacks. We’re not going to change that by showing people that we’re “normal”. Does anybody really think that Christians will either accept us or, more important, abandon their faith if they perceive us as real people? No, they’ll just try all the harder to convert us to their delusions…You didn’t see Martin Luther King touting himself as “The Happy Negro” or Harvey Milk as “The Friendly Homosexual,” trying to make common cause with Anita Bryant. No, they called out their countrymen for misguided and harmful thinking. And eventually Americans realized that they were right.”

        This is one of those wowsers, I think.

        I agree, Joe.

    • Pancakesandwildhoney:

      Look, mate, I agree with you, but your approach is rubbish. And the data seems to confirm that, at least all of the data I have seen.

      Which approach on which topic or question since I addressed or broached several? And what data is it that you’re disputing? The Pew Forum stuff? Looks to be a pretty credible outfit to me – one whose results are also confirmed, more or less, by the Gallup poll as well.

      You are trying to justify an apparently wrong action by charging your opponent with a similar wrong.

      Bit of a stretch to suggest, as you’re apparently doing, that the New Atheists calling fundamentalists “stupid” is somehow on par with fundamentalists attempting to eviscerate science education with any number of problematic consequences – for starters, with abortion, stem-cell research, “faith-healing”, climate-change denial, gay-bashing and other bronze-age moralizing and Old Testament vindictiveness, and the attempted abrogation of the separation of church and state being close seconds. But if you don’t believe me then you might be interested in this NY Times article by one evangelical, Karl Giberson who also happens to be a physicist:

      But in fact their [evangelical’s, fundamentalist’s] rejection of knowledge amounts to what the evangelical historian Mark A. Noll, in his 1994 book, “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” described as an “intellectual disaster.” He called on evangelicals to repent for their neglect of the mind, decrying the abandonment of the intellectual heritage of the Protestant Reformation. “The scandal of the evangelical mind,” he wrote, “is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”

      Somewhat arguably, a situation that might well justify the epithets “pigheaded” or “ignorant” if not actually “stupid” – and not coming from New Atheists. But entirely different kettles of fish, if not entirely different species from entirely different phyla – so “stupid” epithets and attacks on education are not “similar” in any way, shape or form. Seems to suggest some problematic bias to argue otherwise.

      Evolution is as confirmed as science gets, why stoop to their level?

      Whose level? Fundamentalists? In any case, I would say that there are more than a few reputable, non-fundamentalist, scientists who also think that the “Modern Synthesis” – the current “model” or theory of evolution – is in need of some serious updating and modifications. For instance, you may wish to read this post by the biologist/philosopher Massimo Pigliucci on the topic, one, I might add, that highlights some notable differences of opinion with Jerry Coyne. In addition, there’s this from Pigliucci’s paper Do We Need An Extended Evolutionary Synthesis? [currently behind a paywall at the moment, I think, although I can provide the PDF if necessary]:

      Nonetheless, there is little doubt that certain kinds of complex physical systems—of which biological ones are an obvious example—do show a tendency for self-organization and spontaneously complex behavior, and surely there is no mysticism implied by notions such as criticality and the edge of chaos. Should these ideas in fact be organically incorporated in an EES, biologists would have not only additional sources of heritable variation, but also a new organizing principle to aid in the quest to explain the evolution of biological form.

      And that is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg on the question of self-organization – this being a reasonably brief, succinct, and accessible overview – and its relevance to evolution. Hardly something I’m pulling out of my nether regions.

      You might want to consider that science is always, or almost always, a “work in progress”, although that is something that no few scientists seem to forget at times as well.

      • Steersman,

        I am hesitant to continue this conversation because, it seems to me, that you are more interested in confirming your own opinions than getting at truth. But I’ll give it one more go.

        I agree with you that the acceptance rate of evolution among evangelical Christians is a problem. I am not disputing any data, sorry. I am merely pointing out that the NA approach to the problem of evolution acceptance is not working, and the data seem to confirm that.

        Bit of a stretch to suggest that all they are doing is calling them stupid. Of course, if you think that approach will work, which was my point, btw, then knock yourself out. And, really, do you think their sins excuse yours–that’s just another way of wording the fallacy, btw? Be careful, glasshouse.

        Evangelical Christians are pig-headed. We all agree on that, even, apparently, other evangelicals. But do you really think calling them stupid gets us anywhere? Does ridiculing them? Does telling them that science and religion are incompatible? Does telling them that the acceptance of evolution is the denial of God? Or does it in fact make them more pig-headed? Just curious. I am not saying, as I said in previous comment, that evangelical leaders don’t deserve the lion’s share of the blame. They do. What I am saying, and do try and read this, is that the NA approach to the problem of evolution acceptance among evangelicals is a dustbin approach. It is garbage. So, quit telling me how their bad actions justify your bad actions, and grab a mirror.

        Steersman, do try and read what I write. “Evolution is as confirmed as science gets…” In a different context I could have as easily said, “Gravity is as confirmed as science gets…” It doesn’t mean that there won’t be modifications/alterations, philosophical refinements or that new evidence won’t throw a different light on the theory. Really, where did that come from? Species evolved over vast amounts of time via various mechanisms that seems fairly Gospel to me. Much like within Earth’s gravitational zone objects will fall downward toward Earth at an acceleration of 32.17 feet per second^2. Of course, if something is traveling at 25,000mph, as do objects that escape our atmosphere, they don’t fall downward anyways. Wasn’t newtonian mechanics superseded? And gravity is not even a very well-defined concept. But I think it is as confirmed as science gets, right? Or would you like to question that statement as well?

        Science is provisional. Wow…is that on the internet somewhere?

        One question: Is the “but they are worse than us, and we are so logical, so we can be dicks” approach a sensible and effective approach or not?–please, don’t beg the question again.

      • Pancakesandwildhoney:

        … it seems to me, that you are more interested in confirming your own opinions than getting at truth.

        I might say the same about you.

        I am merely pointing out that the NA approach to the problem of evolution acceptance is not working, and the data seem to confirm that.

        You weren’t at all clear about what it was that you were referring to. Which is why I asked the question. But I’ll concede that the Pew Forum numbers suggest very little change in the numbers of those who believe in evolution versus those who believe in creationism [60% & 30%, more or less] over the four years. However, to coin a phrase, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it won’t be torn down in one either: 4 years isn’t even one generation so it seems a bit much to expect a lot out of any policy in that amount of time. Particularly if you consider the somewhat apocryphal aphorism about Jesuits and them having children for their first 7 years to mold them as they wish – “as the twig is bent, so is the tree inclined”. If not twisted.

        Seems more appropriate to look at the longer view – and from the Scopes Trial to today, I would say there is a lot more acceptance of evolution now than there was then. And arguably, that change was due, in no small part, to the “confrontationist” actions of atheists of one stripe or another.

        But do you really think calling them stupid gets us anywhere?

        Depends on the context and the individual, I expect; sometimes, as with the joke about the mule, one periodically needs a blunt instrument just to get their attention. But, as you pointed out yourself, the efforts of the New Atheists are very substantially more than just that. As for “ridiculing them”, you might reflect on Thomas Jefferson’s:

        Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.

        I really don’t think it helps at all to sugar-coat the pill by suggesting “unintelligible propositions” are in any way actually intelligible, or by denying that at least fundamentalist religion if not much of Catholic theology and dogma (“philosophick romances”) is simply incompatible with any number of basic principles and facts of science – give them an inch and they’ll take your whole society if not your whole damn “soul”. Arguably that sugar-coating, particularly of our mortality, is what got us into this mess in the first place.

        So, quit telling me how their bad actions justify your bad actions, and grab a mirror.

        Again, you might have had a point if “their bad actions” were in any way on par with New Atheist bad actions, although I might point out that I don’t really identify as a “New Atheist” even if I’m prepared to defend many of their actions. While the actions of some on each “side” bear some problematic resemblances, particularly in being narrow-minded and dogmatic – and I might also point out that I’ve made that criticism in any number of places, I really don’t think it helps in the slightest to deny that one of them is “the lesser of the two weevils”. One can and of course should complain about both, but a sensible, rational, unbiased course of action is to spend more efforts on the more egregious transgressions and depredations – and that would be fundamentalist religion.

        Steersman, do try and read what I write. “Evolution is as confirmed as science gets…”

        You gave absolutely no context whatsoever for that statement so I was left wondering what you were referring to. Since your comment immediately followed the one of mine in which I raised a question about the “conventional wisdom” on evolution itself, I thought it a reasonable inference on my part that that was what you were questioning – hence my response. You may wish to quote what I say more liberally to forestall the possibility of that type of misinterpretation. As a way of emphasizing what is quoted, all of the Freethought blogs list the HTML codes in their commenting sections that work here as well.

        One question: Is the “but they are worse than us, and we are so logical, so we can be dicks” approach a sensible and effective approach or not?

        Some New Atheists are certainly dicks periodically in presenting their arguments. But it doesn’t help matters at all to suggest – as you apparently do with your “we” – that all of them are, all of the time. You may wish to refer to specifics rather than trying, apparently, to tar everyone with the same narrow brush.

      • Gosh there are 804 words in steersman’s last essay. I read somewhere there was a limit of 500… Terribly tedious – quote, contradict, quote, contradict. The fact is we all know steersman is always right. Opinions don’t need evidence and argument to prove them true. The odd reference to Jerry Coyne is impressive enough.

      • Steph:

        … I read somewhere there was a limit of 500 ….

        Probably in Joseph’s “Comments and Moderation” page, but all he said on that topic was “I ask you to try to keep comments under 500 words”. Which I take to mean that it isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. But if it makes you happier then, since most of my comments are longish because I actually try to respond to each of the salient points my interlocutors raise, I can always break up my responses to any given post into smaller, more manageable portions for you.

        The fact is we all know steersman is always right.

        Nice to see that you appreciate that fact.

        Opinions don’t need evidence and argument to prove them true.

        Maybe you didn’t notice my rather extensive embedding of links to various sources – and quotations therefrom – as corroboration or support for my arguments. Which all and sundry are entirely welcome to peruse at their leisure, and either reject or accept and offer reasons for in either case. Which I note that PCAWH did, more or less, in the case of my quote of the evangelical physicist Karl Giberson’s “trenchant” criticisms of the “evangelical mind”.

      • Joseph:

        Your blog of course, but it hardly seems cricket to allow Steph’s comment to stand while deleting my response to it. Particularly since I don’t see where I transgressed anything in your “Comments and Moderation” policy.

      • SM: I was being ironic. Yes of course on the comments page. Interesting how you read things literally. I was being cynical. It is not a ‘fact’. Perhaps a little too obscure? And to the embedded things – that was precisely my point.

      • Steph:

        Of course it’s not a “fact”, but sarcasm; I’m surprised you didn’t notice that.

        But “embedded things” is one way around the 500 word limit – if “conventional wisdom”, such as it is, has laboriously reached some consensus then who am I to dispute or reprise it? Though we are of course each welcome to try – but if counter-argument is not forthcoming then it should probably be accepted that the point stands.

      • Good. I’m glad you claim no accuracy…. But no, the point, whatever it is, does not stand, ie stand as ‘correct’, because no counter argument is provided. The silence is an indication that it is obvious that your contradictions are infinite and continuation of conversation is not fruitful. I think the essay itself is a little lost and compromised in discussion. So it’s best to just enjoy the sunshine (or snow if that’s where you are).

      • Steph:

        Good. I’m glad you claim no accuracy ….

        A rather questionable misinterpretation – I claim some accuracy, actually a fair amount of it, buttressed by no small amount of facts and figures and “prior art”.

        But no, the point, whatever it is, does not stand, i.e., stand as ‘correct’, because no counter argument is provided.

        You think, maybe, that a defendant in a court of law is going to be let free simply because they don’t provide a defense? Judges, whether on the bench or in the “court of public opinion”, are still going to make a decision based on the available evidence.

        … it is obvious that your contradictions are infinite ….

        And which “contradictions” would those be? Even one out of that “infinite” number would do. That I presumably disagree with or dispute your “conventional wisdom” is hardly proof that I’m wrong. Particularly in the absence of any countervailing evidence.

      • Uh huh. But you’ve clearly missed the point…

        The sea was delicious. Might pop in for a last swim before the sun sets. I hope you had a nice day too….

        I just read the post again. Lovely. Nothing is simple (except swimming). I think I would like a glass of wine right now – or after my last swim – rather than another espresso though.

      • If your ‘fact’ was ‘sarcasm’ it is not a claim of accuracy. Nor was it conceding inaccuracy. Actually it’s analogous to the point you never understood about evidence. There is no counter argument because your argument is against a claim not made. This is not a court of law and a court of law is not a model for ordinary conversations. The point of infinity is that it goes on an on which is what you will do. Whatever is said you will contradict it and never stop. And this sort of thing based on incomprehension is tedious and futile and quite irrelevant to the post.

      • Steph:

        If your ‘fact’ was ‘sarcasm’ it is not a claim of accuracy. Nor was it conceding inaccuracy.

        That makes no sense whatsoever.

        Actually it’s analogous to the point you never understood about evidence.

        One of us is clearly confused about the concept of evidence. Considering that you said “the lack of evidence is as I said, evidence of nothing”, I would say that person is you since that statement clearly depends on a change – in midstream – in the definition of the word “evidence”. How else can you have a lack of something in the first half of the sentence, and the presence of it in the last half, and where both uses of the same word are referring to the same state of affairs?

        But maybe your intent was to make a pun, to suggest “evidence of no thing” which at least sort of seems to hang together, even if it relies on a questionable interpretation of “thing” as something physical.

        There is no counter argument because your argument is against a claim not made.

        Your “claim” was that statement about evidence; my argument is and has been over several comments that that is an incoherent and nonsensical statement, at best a “deepity” in Dennett’s phrasing. But which you have, rather pointedly, made no counter-argument to refute, or even any other statements to clarify what you meant.

        This is not a court of law and a court of law is not a model for ordinary conversations.

        Of course not, although this is hardly what one could call an “ordinary conversation”, whatever that might be. But it should have been clear that that was an analogy – some elements are the same, and some are different, but there are some elements that bear the same sorts of relationships – like “hand is to palm as foot is to sole”. In this case, presenting arguments and evidence for the consideration of any “judges” who happen to be in attendance, now or in the future.

        As for being “quite irrelevant to the post”, it seems to me that that is anything but the case, that the question about the natures and types of evidence applicable to which hypothetical phenomena is virtually the entire crux of the matter.

      • *your ‘fact’ was ‘sarcasm’ it is not a claim of accuracy. Nor was it conceding inaccuracy.

        ‘That makes no sense whatsoever.’ * ….

        Ho hum. This is a clear demonstration of you failing in basic comprehension and logic of sequence of events.

        The ‘fact’ is Mr SMan, you said you were glad I was aware of ‘the fact’ that you were right, which I had suggested in cynicism, and you in turn responded to my description of the ‘right’ being cynical, and your response that you were glad I was aware of that ‘fact’ (of being right) with saying ‘Of course it’s not a “fact”, but sarcasm’. Therefore your ‘fact’ was ‘sarcasm’ and your defence following my identification of that ‘fact’, was to defend yourself saying had claimed a certain amount of accuracy, which in fact was in contradiction of what you had said.

        The ‘fact’ is you are creating chaos of something relatively simple and ambiguous which you have failed to understand in a humourless fashion. NO this is not an ‘ordinary conversation’. It is bashing a tennis ball over a net. I read incessant whining twisted contradictions. What the heck is the point. What is your point. Please don’t reply – that was rhetorical. I wonder if you read or remember the post or if this was just another opportunity to leap onto your hobby horse.

  8. Steersman,

    I am talking about the data from 1980 onwards. I wasn’t limiting myself to the links you posted.

    Of course, any strides made, since the 1920s, I know that the confrontationists will take credit for them. “See, being an asshole works.” Dawkins makes that argument all of the time. It has nothing to do with evidence and arguments, better primary and secondary education, (Something that won’t improve in certain areas of the country if people continue to think of evolution as the Devil. And that fear produces ignorance which creates a climate of antagonism towards science that forces evangelicals who accept evolution to leave evangelicalism for other faith traditions. Thereby only strengthening the anti-evolution resolve among evangelicals. It’s what happens when doctors continually over-prescribe antibiotics. You are left with an increased population of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Much more stubborn than they were before.), liberal theology, the Clergy Letter Project, etc. “Being rude works, you see. Yeah, we use evidence and arguments and stuff, but it’s the being a dick part that is most effective.” For a group that praises science……

    As for the Jefferson quote, I think calling an idea stupid is quite a bit different than calling a person stupid, don’t you? Before you tell me that that is not what is happening, why don’t you take a look at the billboard campaigns of atheists? Or, better yet, read that blog where Jerry Coyne writes in crayon? Or, even better than that, read the comments section of some atheist blog? Really, though, I am only saying that the reasoning used to justify the confrontational approach is fallacious and that the approach itself is just flat-out ineffectual. But, of course, they don’t care about certain groups accepting evolution, do they? It’s not knowledge that they really care about, is it? I mean, do you think that the majority of people who accept evolution as true know any more about why it’s true than the majority of people who deny evolution know about why it’s false? This is not about science anymore than it’s about baseball cards. This is about religion, right? Their hatred of it. As Coyne makes abundantly clear, “Does anybody really think that Christians (presumably all Christians-my words) will either accept us or, more important, abandon their faith if they perceive us as real people? No, they’ll just try all the harder to convert us to their delusions…” Did you catch the “more important” part? If this conflict was about evolution itself, NAs wouldn’t be emphasizing that the decision to accept the trustworthiness of evolution means denying the whole of one’s religious tradition, even the existence of God. Science as science has nothing to say about religion. It has no opinion on whether religion and religious study are valid domains. Of course, individual scientists do have opinions on these religious issues, but when they think and express these opinions, they operate outside the domain of science. For a group that praises science…..

    This clash is less about the workings of nature than the establishment of some subjective idea concerning the application of that scientific understanding. I say that the existing data is sufficient enough to choose for the idea of a maker, while it is limited enough to choose against the idea of a maker, depending upon one’s disposition. But that is not good enough for Coyne and Dawkins and Harris and you, apparently. It is also not good enough for evangelical Christians. You seem to think that the NA dogmatism is less dangerous than their opponent’s, but I am afraid all I can see is the same attitude about dissent–stifle it. They both speak with undue assuredness. They both have a desire to be seen as the authority, the wise one who discovers new truth and can explain almost anything. “He that doubteth is damned…” They deserve each other as far as I am concerned.

    Regarding bad actions on both sides, you are missing the point. If I point out to you that you are acting less than admirably towards a particular person or group or whatever, then you respond by pointing out that the other side is not only acting less admirably than you, but that your sins don’t excuse theirs. Well, we have what we have here.

    “that all of them are, all of the time. You may wish to refer to specifics rather than trying, apparently, to tar everyone with the same narrow brush.”

    I never meant to say that NAs are generally dicks, but that dicks are generally NAs. Do you wish to contest this point?

    • PCAWH:

      Of course, any strides made, since the 1920s, I know that the confrontationists will take credit for them.

      And why not? And how would you characterize Madalyn Murray O’Hair? Accommodationist or confrontationist? You think that Americans wouldn’t still be saying their prayers in schools, with all of the attendant and quite problematic consequences, if she hadn’t “taken the bull by the horns”? As regrettable as it may be, sometimes appeasement and turning the other cheek simply isn’t going to cut it.

      And in the face of virtually innumerable such cases, one might wonder at, and commend, the forebearance of atheists in putting up with that crap. As a case in point, you may wish to take a look at this fellow’s experience with trying to get a divorce and custody of his daughter while being “unchurched” – a salient comment of his:

      The social pressure of Christianity, including her ‘not being churched’ that my daughter got was so strong that we (I’d remarried to my current wife by then) eventually became Unitarians. Sort of ‘hippie’ Christians, but it got the pressure off the child who got a lot of crap (bullying, stigmatization, institutional bias) in school because we didn’t go to church. Hell, it was better (in the South) to be a Jew (like her best friend) than to be ‘unchurched.’

      And that is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. As a case in point, you might take a look at this other comment from the same fellow where he references some dozen cases where “where atheists are discriminated against in child custody [hearings]”.

      It has nothing to do with evidence and arguments, better primary and secondary education ….

      Horse manure. As a case in point, you may wish to peruse some of the close to a dozen posts by Jerry Coyne on the attempts by Ball State “University” – I use the term loosely – to allow, condone, or promote the teaching of creationism. If those efforts on the part of Coyne to forestall those attempts don’t qualify as promoting “better … secondary education” then I don’t know what would. But personally I would vote on denying teaching certificates to anyone graduating from any “university” that taught creationism – might go some distance in reducing the brainwashing in primary levels that Joseph recently referred to.

      As for the Jefferson quote, I think calling an idea stupid is quite a bit different than calling a person stupid, don’t you? Before you tell me that that is not what is happening, why don’t you take a look at the billboard campaigns of atheists? Or, better yet, read that blog where Jerry Coyne writes in crayon?

      Yes, I’ll agree attacking ideas is generally a better course of action. Although as the Wikipedia article on the ad hominem “fallacy” suggests, “ad hominem reasoning is not always fallacious, and that in some instances, questions of personal conduct, character, motives, etc., are legitimate and relevant to the issue” – including the inability, whether congenitally caused (which probably qualifies as hitting below the below) or as a result of being brainwashed, to use reason – aka, “stupid”.

      However, I might suggest Joseph’s recent “hypoactive Buddies”, “intellectually lazy”, “fear and ignorance” comments and related ones might well qualify as a pretty thorough and detailed “slamming of the ignorant” – i.e., the willfully stupid, even if the stupidity is the result of parental choices rather than personal ones. While I disagreed, and have said so in several places, with Bill Maher and his Religulous for apparently going out of their way to insult the religious, one might also reasonably consider that “tit for tat” for the religious attempting to impose their beliefs on everyone else – cases in point being several of my previously embedded links.

      As for the “billboard campaigns”, you might want to try to be a little more specific since none of the ones I’ve seen – “You can be good without god”, and “Nothing fails like prayer” – looked particularly odious or problematic to me. Particularly in the face of attempts by the religious to impose prayer ceremonies and their moral precepts on everyone else.

      I never meant to say that NAs are generally dicks, but that dicks are generally NAs. Do you wish to contest this point?

      Considering that atheists and agnostics are something less than 10% of the American population whereas fundamentalists comprise some 30% to 50% of it, I would say it more probable that there are probably at least 5 to 10 times as many dicks in the latter group as there are in the former one. Particularly in light of Pascal’s aphorism that “Men [and presumably women] never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction”; nothing like having “gawd” in one’s back pocket to stiffen one’s resolve – like having a big brother that enables one’s bullying. As Bertrand Russell put it, “The infliction of cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to moralists – that is why they invented hell.” Nice bunch of people.

      • PCAWH:
        🙂 That’s generally what I, and no few others, have been doing – apropos of which, perhaps you may wish to read this recent article in Salon which calls for atheists to be even more forthright in defending their rights.

        In any case, it is of course a moot point how much “height”, how much of a “commanding” presence or view Joseph’s blog provides, but at the very least the aphorism “if you look after the pennies then the dollars look after themselves” may be of some applicability: one makes “cents” where one can.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s