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Christianity

Selection Bias and Hurt

I might post a few “snippets” here and there for the next few days.  I’ve had a lot of thoughts that don’t deserve a full post, but seem important enough to mention.

Commenter David said a couple of things I wanted to respond to in a post instead of a comment that might not get read by many people.

I would like to shed a little light on why my friends acted with ‘disbelief’ when you said you hadn’t been hurt by the church. (For those tuning in, I was one of those at the dinner with Hamby. I thoroughly enjoyed it, even though it wasn’t nearly long enough.) It’s simply a reaction, a learned one. We just see people hurt by the church *that much.* We desire to make things right. I’ll vouch for the well-meaning of my friends; they meant no harm in their reaction.

However, when you write in another blog “Fundamentalism can skew our perception of reality to the point of severe dysfunction — which is precisely what it did to me,” I tend to think that the reaction of my friends may just not be too far from the mark. Perhaps their reservations may be justified after all?

It wasn’t until well after I left Christianity that I discovered how dysfunctional I was as a fundamentalist.  That’s the real problem with it.  We live a certain way, and we don’t know any other way, and we can’t imagine believing anything else.  Then when we are either pulled from our dysfunction or dig our own way out, we look back and think, “How could I have thought I was healthy and happy?”

Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity teach several things that are absolutely contrary — dichotomously opposed — to our observations of the human animal and human psychology.  It takes looking at it from outside the Fundamentalist worldview to see that there are alternatives, and that they are perfectly healthy and self-actualizing.

It’s simply a reaction, a learned one. We just see people hurt by the church *that much.*

It occurred to me last night that of course you would see this a lot! It’s selection bias.  When I left the church, it was of no use for me, and I had no reason to return.  So I didn’t return.  On the other hand, I thought about my step-mother, who was always religious but left the church after being hurt badly.  Over the years, she’s returned to church every few months, trying to find a church that suits her — one she believes is unlikely to hurt her again.  There are probably a dozen pastors who have all seen her as one of those wounded doves.  I would imagine she wants an apology she can believe, so she keeps coming back to see if one is forthcoming.  That’s what we do when we’re hurt.  We want our offender to make amends.

If you think about it, a few dozen people could give the impression that there are hundreds or even thousands of wounded doves.  All the while, except for when churches purge old membership rolls, there’s no indication of how many people leave religion and never bother to mention it to anybody.

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Discussion

32 thoughts on “Selection Bias and Hurt

  1. How does this deal with the question that was raised? This is a red herring about the state of evangelical and fundamental Christianity. He’s asking about you however and not about his worldview.

    Posted by apologianick | October 19, 2010, 4:03 pm
  2. I’m not sure what you’re unhappy with. I laid out my own deconversion step by step and showed you that the hurt I experienced was not what led me out of religion. I stayed in religion after being hurt. It was my experience with non-Christians and my exposure to science, philosophy, and academia in general that was most responsible.

    Perhaps you didn’t read my previous post?

    Posted by hambydammit | October 19, 2010, 4:07 pm
  3. But in “Going Home” you have the following:

    “Last night, I was able to speak candidly with a table full of Christians about my atheism. There were some moments that would feel frustrating and cliché to a lot of atheists. Many of them wanted to know how I was hurt by religion. They wanted to find a traumatic moment that “hardened” me against religion. I don’t think most of them believed me when I said there wasn’t such a moment. I saw open disbelief when I told them that most of the atheists I know aren’t “damaged goods.” In fact, this was a common theme all weekend. They simply can’t believe that I’m just a regular dude who doesn’t believe in their god, and that’s all there is to it.”

    You present this as if no one should believe you were hurt. Now you have an account of being hurt by religion. David wanted to know if that assessment was correct and he has valid reason to think such. I agree with him.

    And looking at the other post you made, it looks like you frankly threw the baby out with the bathwater. Personally, I’m glad I don’t believe in the God you did.

    Posted by apologianick | October 19, 2010, 4:10 pm
  4. Well, I don’t really know what to say. As I wrote earlier: “Can we say that hurt is the only reason people leave religion? I suppose we can. Maybe that’s what some of my questioners think. If that’s the case, I have to just let them go their way. How do you argue against that position? If they will not accept anything other than the answer they want, they’re not very open minded, are they?”

    If you are convinced that I am lying and I left religion because I was hurt, then all I can do is repeat myself. You can either believe me or not. I can assure you that I clung even tighter to religion as a result of being hurt — I reconciled my hurt with the explanation that I had been confused about the religion. It was my fault for misunderstanding. And then I was fine. It was years later that I began to move towards non-belief.

    If you choose not to believe me, then we are at an impasse, and I don’t see how either of us can learn from the other.

    Posted by hambydammit | October 19, 2010, 4:17 pm
  5. But that’s the problem. I don’t know which to believe. In “Going Home” you say it wasn’t because of hurt. In the post you linked me to, it’s all about hurt.

    Which is it?

    Posted by apologianick | October 19, 2010, 4:18 pm
  6. Nick, all weekend, people asked me about what hurt I experienced that drove me out of religion. The correct answer to that question is “none.” Hurt did not drive me out of religion.

    But I am also open about the fact that I did experience hurt while in religion. Would you rather I tell you that my religious experience was pristine, and that I never had even a smidgen of discomfort? For one thing, you wouldn’t believe me. It’s part of the human condition to be hurt. For another, I’d be lying.

    Think of yourself for a moment. Have your parents ever hurt you? Have any of your friends ever done things behind your back that made you angry?

    Of course. Perhaps someone you thought was a friend hurt you badly enough that you stopped associating with them. But I feel pretty certain that you have friends who have hurt you, but you still love them.

    I experienced hurt when I was religious. I stayed in religion anyway because I believed it was true. Farther down the timeline, I left religion. My reasons for leaving were mainly intellectual.

    Posted by hambydammit | October 19, 2010, 4:42 pm
  7. I don’t think it’s selection bias so much as it is the narrative of the new atheists. Is “religion hurts people” not the standard around which so many atheist groups and sites are founded? I think this is simply a case of the cows coming home, whether intended or not.

    Posted by David | October 19, 2010, 5:00 pm
  8. I don’t think it’s selection bias so much as it is the narrative of the new atheists.

    I would like to believe that the “New Atheists” have as much influence as you suggest. Not so much because I agree with them in lock-step (I don’t) but because it would be nice if we atheists actually had that much cultural clout.

    The truth is, out of all the non-believers I know, maybe one in five has read even one of the “Four Horsemen” authors. Most of them simply don’t care to read them, since they already know they’re non-believers.

    Where the New Atheists are having the biggest influence is on young people and people who feel trapped in overwhelmingly theist communities. That is — people who feel like they need to react to Christianity. It’s been my observation that there have been a lot of non-believers in hiding for many years. It’s just not been worth the social hit to mention their non-belief. They’re married to theists. Their kids are in church. Even if they do believe that “religion hurts people” it’s not worth it to them to rock their own boat.

    A recent study suggested that this is true. The social stigma of using the word “atheist” is strong enough to dissuade people from self-identifying as such. But when we take the real substance of people’s beliefs, it’s apparent that there are a lot more people who — regardless of their classification — don’t buy Christianity.

    It would be disingenuous to suggest that Dawkins, et al, are responsible for the stigma on atheism. If we go back to the McCarthy Era, and follow it through to the rise of the Moral Majority, we see a consistent political and religious message — atheists are bad people, communists, homosexuals, and deviants bent on destroying free society from the inside. If Dawkins has added to this stigma, then so be it, but he certainly did not create it. Christians and politicians did. (And for the record, since it’s part of my business to know what I’m talking about, I have read most of their books, and Dawkins especially is falsely maligned. He does not say many of the things he is accused of saying, and in fact, often says quite the opposite. But that’s another post entirely.)

    By the way, may I ask, David… have you ever read Dawkins?

    Is “religion hurts people” not the standard around which so many atheist groups and sites are founded?

    Generally, yes. Certainly Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens resoundingly come down on the side of “Religion poisons everything.” Personally, I have some doubts that the severity of their statements is either helpful or true. (Which is not to say that I think religion is primarily a good influence — only that it is not an ALL bad influence.)

    To be fair, I think you guys are going to have to lie in the bed you’ve made for a while. You’ve portrayed us as monsters for a long time. (I’m using the royal “you.” I have no idea if you’ve ever done this.) When I was tutoring high school students several years ago, a parent found out that I was an atheist and stopped letting her daughter come to me. She informed me in no uncertain terms that she would not allow her child to be taught by a moral degenerate with no sense of right or wrong. Almost every atheist I know has a similar story, though many are not quite so severe.

    It may be that in the end, we discover that there are elements of religious life that are beneficial to society. But I think there will be a backlash for a while, and you guys may have to learn to do what we’ve done for our entire lives — sit back and take the abuse quietly. Pat Robertson, Jerry Fallwell, and his comrades in arms have caused us quite a bit of consternation, and a lot of us will probably be angry for a while.

    I hope you’ve seen my personality enough to know that I’m not trying to bash you. I’m honestly trying to help you understand what it feels like from this side of the fence, and tell you what I believe about the state of society.

    I think this is simply a case of the cows coming home, whether intended or not.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve been talking to a friend in the sociology department, and I’m working on a qualitative study to help discover ways to start answering this question more concretely.

    Posted by hambydammit | October 19, 2010, 5:36 pm
  9. Hamby: Nick, all weekend, people asked me about what hurt I experienced that drove me out of religion. The correct answer to that question is “none.” Hurt did not drive me out of religion.

    Reply: I am not saying hurt drove you out. I am also not denying that hurt drove you out. The problem is that on one post, you make the case of how hurt you were. On the other, you deny the hurt.

    Hamby:But I am also open about the fact that I did experience hurt while in religion. Would you rather I tell you that my religious experience was pristine, and that I never had even a smidgen of discomfort? For one thing, you wouldn’t believe me. It’s part of the human condition to be hurt. For another, I’d be lying.

    Reply: Correct. However, you make it seem as if those who thought you were damaged goods were just entirely wrong. Now you have a post that does say there is some truth to that. I’m not saying it’s all truth, but it’s some truth.

    Hamby: Think of yourself for a moment. Have your parents ever hurt you? Have any of your friends ever done things behind your back that made you angry?

    Reply: Yes to the former, no to the latter. I run a distinct line on the second. Friends have done things to me that I thought wrong before that resulted in my getting angry. However, they do not make me angry. No one can make me feel anything. I choose to feel something in response to an event that takes place.

    Hamby: Of course. Perhaps someone you thought was a friend hurt you badly enough that you stopped associating with them. But I feel pretty certain that you have friends who have hurt you, but you still love them.

    Reply: Of course.

    Hamby:I experienced hurt when I was religious. I stayed in religion anyway because I believed it was true. Farther down the timeline, I left religion. My reasons for leaving were mainly intellectual.

    Reply: I have no problem with that. My problem is that you seem to present both sides and it’s unclear which is which.

    Now in response to what you said to David, I can’t answer for him but I will tell you that yes, I have read Dawkins. I’ve read Stenger. I’ve read Harris. I’m waiting to read Hitchens and Dennett.

    For the idea that atheists are monsters, I know several Christians and I do not know one who thinks this. This is just a stereotype that is presented that evangelical Christians think atheists are monsters. Ironic this happens while telling us what it is we think about certain people and how we shouldn’t.

    The reason the four horsemen have the effect they have is squarely because of the failure of the church to stick to its intellectual grounds. The ones I meet who are influenced by Dawkins and the new atheists are those who really don’t understand Christian theology. That’s not saying Christian theology is right. It could be wrong, but it should at least be criticized by those who understand it.

    When you read the new atheists, simply look in the back in the bibliography and see how much they fail to interact with opposition. Richard Dawkins, for instance, dismisses Thomas Aquinas’s Five Ways in about the length of a page. Now it could be that all the ways are wrong, but it is not good research to dismiss it as easily as Dawkins does. Aquinas was a great thinker, something that everyone should admit, and Dawkins treats him as someone who doesn’t know better.

    My contention has simply been that your posts seem contradictory on the surface. One denies any hurt and the other goes on a long trail of hurt.

    Posted by apologianick | October 19, 2010, 5:56 pm
  10. Nick, rather than respond to each of your points individually, I’ll just repeat what I’ve already said. I apologize if I worded things less than precisely enough. I will never deny that parts of my religious life resulted in hurt. But I hope you’ll give me enough credit as a fellow human to have had the intellectual capacity to realize that hurt does not equal wrong.

    Let me put that another way. Do you realize that you’re suggesting I wasn’t smart enough to separate my emotions from what I believed was right? Are you sure that’s what you mean to do?

    If you want to take the high ground and believe that you’re just smarter than me, then I can’t very well stop you. But if you’ve glanced through this blog enough to notice that my central message is the importance of using intellect to make the most important decisions in life… well… it seems a bit disingenuous of you to imply that I’m not smart enough to do that in my own life.

    For the idea that atheists are monsters, I know several Christians and I do not know one who thinks this

    And there’s the rub. I can’t say that I don’t believe you, but that presents me with a problem. Nearly all the Christians I’ve met say the same thing. But if they’re all telling the truth, why have I been consistently subjected to hate and discrimination for being an atheist? I’ve never held signs on street corners and yelled at passing Christians. I don’t even wear atheist shirts. I just live my life as a non-believer. And yet, I’ve been turned down for work, yelled at, cursed at (yeah… really Christian, right?)… I’ve had women turn down dates with me because they couldn’t “date a man without morals.” It’s a consistent thread when you’re an atheist.

    So… who’s doing it?

    I’ll give you a hint: Our legislators are doing it. Here’s a transcript from a conversation between Rep. Monique Davis and Rob Sherman in a debate over separation of church and state:

    Davis: I don’t know what you have against God, but some of us don’t have much against him. We look forward to him and his blessings. And it’s really a tragedy — it’s tragic — when a person who is engaged in anything related to God, they want to fight. They want to fight prayer in school.

    I don’t see you (Sherman) fighting guns in school. You know?

    I’m trying to understand the philosophy that you want to spread in the state of Illinois. This is the Land of Lincoln. This is the Land of Lincoln where people believe in God, where people believe in protecting their children.… What you have to spew and spread is extremely dangerous, it’s dangerous–

    Sherman: What’s dangerous, ma’am?

    Davis: It’s dangerous to the progression of this state. And it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists! (Emphasis mine: HD) Now you will go to court to fight kids to have the opportunity to be quiet for a minute. But damn if you’ll go to [court] to fight for them to keep guns out of their hands. I am fed up! Get out of that seat!

    Sherman: Thank you for sharing your perspective with me, and I’m sure that if this matter does go to court—

    Davis: You have no right to be here! We believe in something. You believe in destroying! You believe in destroying what this state was built upon.

    (Ironically, Lincoln was most certainly not a Christian. His own quotes attest to this fact, but that’s another topic.)

    Here’s another gem from the news:

    In a December 6-9 Gallup poll, nearly half of the respondents endorsed an even stronger anti-atheist statement, saying they would refuse to vote for “a generally well-qualified person” of their own party “who happened to be an atheist.” The corresponding number for a Mormon candidate was 17 percent, about the same as before Romney’s speech.

    And…

    Every single study that has ever looked at the issue has revealed massive amounts of bigotry and prejudice against atheists in America. The most recent data shows that atheists are more distrusted and despised than any other minority and that an atheist is the least likely person that Americans would vote for in a presidential election. It’s not just that atheists are hated, though, but also that atheists seem to represent everything about modernity which Americans dislike or fear.

    The most recent study was conducted by the University of Minnesota, which found that atheists ranked lower than “Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in ‘sharing their vision of American society.’ Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.”

    So yeah… Somebody’s doing it, and it’s 47% of Americans.

    The ones I meet who are influenced by Dawkins and the new atheists are those who really don’t understand Christian theology.

    I think you’d be surprised to know how many atheists understand your theology at least as well as you do. Especially those of us who left religion. Would it surprise you to know that I was a pretty fine apologist in my late teens? I could argue the minutia of theology with the best of them.

    When you read the new atheists, simply look in the back in the bibliography and see how much they fail to interact with opposition. Richard Dawkins, for instance, dismisses Thomas Aquinas’s Five Ways in about the length of a page. Now it could be that all the ways are wrong, but it is not good research to dismiss it as easily as Dawkins does. Aquinas was a great thinker, something that everyone should admit, and Dawkins treats him as someone who doesn’t know better.

    Dawkins, in general, doesn’t bother too much with refuting theology. His task, as he sees it, is to build a positive case for a natural universe. There are plenty of people who have addressed Aquinas at length. If you’d like some references, I’d be happy to supply them.

    My contention has simply been that your posts seem contradictory on the surface. One denies any hurt and the other goes on a long trail of hurt.

    I don’t believe I’ve ever denied hurt. I’ve been open about it from the get-go. I’ve denied that it was the reason for leaving religion. I don’t know what’s confusing about that.

    Posted by hambydammit | October 19, 2010, 6:44 pm
  11. I think for myself the pain and the leaving Christianity are two separate things. I left because I simply do not believe in the core beliefs of Christianty. A good deal of the pain came from the colossal waste of time and resources from my involvement, plus the social shunning that happens after you leave the church.

    Plenty of people live in pain stemming from their Christian involvement – the single women that can’t find Christian husbands because of the sex ratio imbalance for example. But they still believe and so they stay.

    Posted by Athol Kay: Married Man Sex Life | October 19, 2010, 6:57 pm
  12. (I hope this quote tag system worked.)

    It would be disingenuous to suggest that Dawkins, et al, are responsible for the stigma on atheism. If we go back to the McCarthy Era, and follow it through to the rise of the Moral Majority, we see a consistent political and religious message — atheists are bad people, communists, homosexuals, and deviants bent on destroying free society from the inside.

    Dawkins and company certainly aren’t responsible for the stigma that you speak of. They may not be helping it, but they’re certainly not its cause.

    For the record, I’m not one who thinks that atheists can’t be good people.

    If Dawkins has added to this stigma, then so be it, but he certainly did not create it. Christians and politicians did. (And for the record, since it’s part of my business to know what I’m talking about, I have read most of their books, and Dawkins especially is falsely maligned. He does not say many of the things he is accused of saying, and in fact, often says quite the opposite. But that’s another post entirely.)

    I’m not sure what you mean. What are these things he’s accused of saying?

    And I simply must ask: with things like the blasphemy challenge, what sort of a reaction did you think that the RRS would get? That didn’t exactly alleviate the sentiments you mentioned above.

    By the way, may I ask, David… have you ever read Dawkins?

    I have, and I got to hear him speak in Charlotte roughly this time last year. Excellent public speaker–it was neat getting to hear him read from Greatest Show on Earth, and an excellent writer…but the content in The God Delusion was disappointingly shallow.

    To be fair, I think you guys are going to have to lie in the bed you’ve made for a while. You’ve portrayed us as monsters for a long time. (I’m using the royal “you.” I have no idea if you’ve ever done this.) When I was tutoring high school students several years ago, a parent found out that I was an atheist and stopped letting her daughter come to me. She informed me in no uncertain terms that she would not allow her child to be taught by a moral degenerate with no sense of right or wrong. Almost every atheist I know has a similar story, though many are not quite so severe.

    Sounds like you ran into a jackass.

    It may be that in the end, we discover that there are elements of religious life that are beneficial to society. But I think there will be a backlash for a while, and you guys may have to learn to do what we’ve done for our entire lives — sit back and take the abuse quietly. Pat Robertson, Jerry Fallwell, and his comrades in arms have caused us quite a bit of consternation, and a lot of us will probably be angry for a while.

    Then I think my point stands, and you’re right–that we’ve both inherited an unpleasant situation.

    I hope you’ve seen my personality enough to know that I’m not trying to bash you. I’m honestly trying to help you understand what it feels like from this side of the fence, and tell you what I believe about the state of society.

    You need not worry about either.

    Posted by David | October 19, 2010, 7:04 pm
  13. Hamby: Nick, rather than respond to each of your points individually, I’ll just repeat what I’ve already said. I apologize if I worded things less than precisely enough. I will never deny that parts of my religious life resulted in hurt. But I hope you’ll give me enough credit as a fellow human to have had the intellectual capacity to realize that hurt does not equal wrong.

    Reply: I never implied hurt means otherwise. My problem has been I saw two different situations. One was you telling people “No. I wasn’t hurt by religion.” Then you have a whole post on how you were hurt by religion.

    Hamby: Let me put that another way. Do you realize that you’re suggesting I wasn’t smart enough to separate my emotions from what I believed was right? Are you sure that’s what you mean to do?

    Reply: That has never been a contention of mine. My contention was that your statements were on the surface contradictory. I see a supposed contradiction and I like to dig to the surface and see what the reality is.

    Hamby: If you want to take the high ground and believe that you’re just smarter than me, then I can’t very well stop you.

    Reply: My intelligence at this is irrelevant. I could be a genius or an idiot and the point would be the same.

    Hamby: But if you’ve glanced through this blog enough to notice that my central message is the importance of using intellect to make the most important decisions in life… well… it seems a bit disingenuous of you to imply that I’m not smart enough to do that in my own life.

    Reply: Nope. My point has never been about your intellectual capacity but about how you seem to respond in one way in person but your blog reveals something different. Of course, I don’t have in person interaction. I just have what you’ve said about it.

    Hamby: And there’s the rub. I can’t say that I don’t believe you, but that presents me with a problem. Nearly all the Christians I’ve met say the same thing. But if they’re all telling the truth, why have I been consistently subjected to hate and discrimination for being an atheist? I’ve never held signs on street corners and yelled at passing Christians. I don’t even wear atheist shirts. I just live my life as a non-believer. And yet, I’ve been turned down for work, yelled at, cursed at (yeah… really Christian, right?)… I’ve had women turn down dates with me because they couldn’t “date a man without morals.” It’s a consistent thread when you’re an atheist.

    Reply: It could be because of the different groups we hang out with. I do consider myself an intellectual and seek to be with Christians of that view. Personally, fundamentalism makes me sick, and I see it as a mindset, not a religious view. I see the four horsemen as fundamentalist atheists. It’s the same mind of thinking as fundamentalist Christianity. It’s just a different conclusion.

    Hamby: So… who’s doing it?

    Reply: People I don’t know about and it’s a view I don’t defend. If my fellow Christians are sadly being idiots, I am not personally responsible nor am I obligated to defend their idiocy.

    Hamby:I’ll give you a hint: Our legislators are doing it. Here’s a transcript from a conversation between Rep. Monique Davis and Rob Sherman in a debate over separation of church and state:

    Davis: I don’t know what you have against God, but some of us don’t have much against him. We look forward to him and his blessings. And it’s really a tragedy — it’s tragic — when a person who is engaged in anything related to God, they want to fight. They want to fight prayer in school.

    I don’t see you (Sherman) fighting guns in school. You know?

    I’m trying to understand the philosophy that you want to spread in the state of Illinois. This is the Land of Lincoln. This is the Land of Lincoln where people believe in God, where people believe in protecting their children.… What you have to spew and spread is extremely dangerous, it’s dangerous–

    Sherman: What’s dangerous, ma’am?

    Davis: It’s dangerous to the progression of this state. And it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists! (Emphasis mine: HD) Now you will go to court to fight kids to have the opportunity to be quiet for a minute. But damn if you’ll go to [court] to fight for them to keep guns out of their hands. I am fed up! Get out of that seat!

    Sherman: Thank you for sharing your perspective with me, and I’m sure that if this matter does go to court—

    Davis: You have no right to be here! We believe in something. You believe in destroying! You believe in destroying what this state was built upon.

    (Ironically, Lincoln was most certainly not a Christian. His own quotes attest to this fact, but that’s another topic.)

    Reply: And such is an attitude I condemn. All philosophies should be examined and let the true one stand. Properly understood, I support separation of church and state.

    Hamby: Here’s another gem from the news:

    In a December 6-9 Gallup poll, nearly half of the respondents endorsed an even stronger anti-atheist statement, saying they would refuse to vote for “a generally well-qualified person” of their own party “who happened to be an atheist.” The corresponding number for a Mormon candidate was 17 percent, about the same as before Romney’s speech.

    Reply: I would vote for someone based on how they meshed with my views. If I voted against an atheist, it would not be for moral reasons per se but ideological reasons. An atheist can be moral, but I do not think they have a basis for morality, but that’s another topic also. Just stating my view.

    Hamby: And…

    Every single study that has ever looked at the issue has revealed massive amounts of bigotry and prejudice against atheists in America. The most recent data shows that atheists are more distrusted and despised than any other minority and that an atheist is the least likely person that Americans would vote for in a presidential election. It’s not just that atheists are hated, though, but also that atheists seem to represent everything about modernity which Americans dislike or fear.

    Reply: See above. However, if you want to see a group regularly maligned, it’s evangelical Christianity. For instance, we can’t say “Merry Christmas” now in society. That could offend someone.

    Hamby: The most recent study was conducted by the University of Minnesota, which found that atheists ranked lower than “Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in ‘sharing their vision of American society.’ Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.”

    So yeah… Somebody’s doing it, and it’s 47% of Americans.

    Reply: And that is a result largely of fundamentalist thinking. It is from people who don’t know how to think.

    Hamby: I think you’d be surprised to know how many atheists understand your theology at least as well as you do. Especially those of us who left religion. Would it surprise you to know that I was a pretty fine apologist in my late teens? I could argue the minutia of theology with the best of them.

    Reply: Yes I would be because the ones I meet, and I have debated several, make the most basic mistakes in theology that they wouldn’t make in any other field.

    Hamby: Dawkins, in general, doesn’t bother too much with refuting theology. His task, as he sees it, is to build a positive case for a natural universe. There are plenty of people who have addressed Aquinas at length. If you’d like some references, I’d be happy to supply them.

    Reply: I take it you have people like Anthony Kenny in mind. Any others are free to be given. However, Dawkins could make his case and it would not establish atheism. In fact, in The Blind Watchmaker, he makes a good case for macroevolution and then has it implied that God does not exist. It does not follow.

    Hamby:I don’t believe I’ve ever denied hurt. I’ve been open about it from the get-go. I’ve denied that it was the reason for leaving religion. I don’t know what’s confusing about that.

    Reply: You stated that you denied it in person.

    Posted by Nick | October 19, 2010, 7:06 pm
  14. And I simply must ask: with things like the blasphemy challenge, what sort of a reaction did you think that the RRS would get? That didn’t exactly alleviate the sentiments you mentioned above.

    The Blasphemy Challenge was specifically designed to cause consternation. Nobody’s ever denied that. When it started, we believed that there were a LARGE number of young people who felt totally alone in their unbelief. The Blasphemy Challenge was a fantastic way to get you, the Christians, to do our marketing for us. You were so upset at the idea of us encouraging blasphemy that you made it into a viral thing, and we found over 35,000 teenagers who were thrilled to learn that they weren’t alone.

    It was a response to the suppression and social stigma of atheism, and it worked brilliantly.

    but the content in The God Delusion was disappointingly shallow.

    I hear that all the time, and I’m shocked at how often my follow up questions go unanswered or poorly answered. I don’t think the God Delusion was Dawkins’ best work, but I didn’t find it to be glaringly shallow by any stretch. I sometimes get books confused because I’ve read most of them, and it’s been a while on all of them, but let’s go with something simple: If you saw Frank Turek’s presentation, you know he was critical of Dawkins’ “assumption” of materialism. What he didn’t mention was that the assumption had been backed up by a rather simple methodological algorithm. Can you tell me what that was?

    Even if it wasn’t in the God Delusion, it’s something that’s simple enough that if you’ve read it once, you ought to be able to reproduce it easily enough. It really is simple.

    Posted by hambydammit | October 19, 2010, 7:37 pm
  15. OK, Nick. I don’t think I can add anything to this conversation. If you’re determined to believe that I’m being contradictory, I can’t stop you. I hope you’ll continue to read and contribute on other topics.

    Posted by hambydammit | October 19, 2010, 7:40 pm
  16. I’m sticking around to see this. Note also I didn’t say you were being contradictory. I said you it was seemingly contradictory.

    Posted by Nick | October 19, 2010, 7:42 pm
  17. LOL… Well I hope I’ve either cleared it up for you or at least given you enough reason to stick around and see if I paint a relatively coherent picture.

    Posted by hambydammit | October 19, 2010, 7:45 pm
  18. Not really. I still see one thing said to people in person. Another said on the blog.

    However, I am interested in the discussion on Dawkins and I agree with David, The God Delusion was an incredibly shallow work.

    Posted by Nick | October 19, 2010, 7:49 pm
  19. Well, maybe that’s something I’ll cover soon. I’ll ask you the same question I asked David. What is Dawkins’ justification for his “assumption” of the materialist worldview?

    Posted by hambydammit | October 19, 2010, 8:07 pm
  20. Personally, I don’t see one. Dawkins assumes that if science can answer a question, then God is irrelevant, which is confusing efficient causes with instrumental causes. I am of the opinion that science can provide data and we have to see if that data is consistent with a broader worldview, but science alone cannot answer metaphysical questions. It’s why Victor Stenger’s title of “God: The Failed Hypothesis”, I consider to be a category fallacy.

    Dawkins speaks on areas that he does not know and the writing shows light research on his part on theology and philosophy.

    Posted by Nick | October 19, 2010, 8:10 pm
  21. The Blasphemy Challenge was specifically designed to cause consternation. Nobody’s ever denied that. When it started, we believed that there were a LARGE number of young people who felt totally alone in their unbelief. The Blasphemy Challenge was a fantastic way to get you, the Christians, to do our marketing for us. You were so upset at the idea of us encouraging blasphemy that you made it into a viral thing, and we found over 35,000 teenagers who were thrilled to learn that they weren’t alone.

    It was a response to the suppression and social stigma of atheism, and it worked brilliantly.

    I’d say we found 35,000 teens who don’t know what blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is. And quite a few adults, too.

    I hear that all the time, and I’m shocked at how often my follow up questions go unanswered or poorly answered. I don’t think the God Delusion was Dawkins’ best work, but I didn’t find it to be glaringly shallow by any stretch. I sometimes get books confused because I’ve read most of them, and it’s been a while on all of them, but let’s go with something simple: If you saw Frank Turek’s presentation, you know he was critical of Dawkins’ “assumption” of materialism. What he didn’t mention was that the assumption had been backed up by a rather simple methodological algorithm. Can you tell me what that was?

    To be honest, I really don’t remember. I was more interested in how he treated the theological arguments; and it’s been three or four years since I’ve read it, and I’ve had bigger fish to fry since then.

    Even if it wasn’t in the God Delusion, it’s something that’s simple enough that if you’ve read it once, you ought to be able to reproduce it easily enough. It really is simple.

    If it’s in the God Delusion, it’s not explicitly referred to as an algorithm (I just checked, I’ve got it on Kindle). Which might be why it’s hard to recognize by that designation.

    Posted by David | October 19, 2010, 9:36 pm
  22. If you guys really want to get dirty, try critisizing both religion and the atheist movement.

    Posted by cptpineapple | October 19, 2010, 11:02 pm
  23. If it’s in the God Delusion, it’s not explicitly referred to as an algorithm (I just checked, I’ve got it on Kindle). Which might be why it’s hard to recognize by that designation.

    It may not be in the God Delusion, and he may not have referred to it as an algorithm. This is part of the problem, I think, when — as Turek did — we attack scientists instead of the science.

    Turek was wrong, of course. The beauty of science is that it is removed from its authors, at least when it’s done well. It’s beyond the scope of this blog to get into climate change, but Turek’s representation of those leaked emails was disingenuous or just wrong. And the problem with his presentation was his claim that science doesn’t say things — scientists do.

    Surely you’ve done a few science papers, right? You know that by far the two most important sections are the methodology and the sample data. The reason those two sections are so important is because when they’re done properly, ANYONE can repeat the experiment and either reinforce or cast doubt on the conclusions. It doesn’t matter whose name is on the top. In fact, if we could magically make every name from every science paper in all the libraries of the world disappear, the science would still be there, and ANYONE could replicate ANY of the experiments to their heart’s content.

    I say all of that to say that you don’t need Dawkins to justify materialism. (He did do it… perhaps it was in The Blind Watchmaker… It all kind of runs together in my brain…) Once you’ve grasped the simple concept behind trust in materialism, you don’t need to refer to a book or try to remember who wrote it. It’s irrelevant. Dawkins is not the only person who’s ever gone through this exercise, either. It’s been done for decades by various philosophers of science. What was startling in Dawkins’ case was that he was applying this philosophy directly and openly against faith in a book for laypeople.

    I’m not going to give away the secret just yet. Forgive me if I seem to be playing coy. But I’ve actually written about this at some length already, and since I’m in the process of updating the website anyway, I’m just going to do a “second release” of previous material soon.

    Posted by hambydammit | October 20, 2010, 1:13 pm
  24. Alison, I think I’ve been forthcoming with my criticisms of the atheist movement. Would you like me to pretend to adopt your criticisms, or is it ok if I just stick with mine?

    Posted by hambydammit | October 20, 2010, 1:14 pm
  25. Hamby: It may not be in the God Delusion, and he may not have referred to it as an algorithm. This is part of the problem, I think, when — as Turek did — we attack scientists instead of the science.

    Reply: Please give an instance of where Turek did this.

    Hamby: Turek was wrong, of course. The beauty of science is that it is removed from its authors, at least when it’s done well.

    Reply: I doubt Turek would disagree.

    Hamby: It’s beyond the scope of this blog to get into climate change, but Turek’s representation of those leaked emails was disingenuous or just wrong.

    Reply: Because?

    Hamby: And the problem with his presentation was his claim that science doesn’t say things — scientists do.

    Reply: You deny this? Data doesn’t make propositions. People make propositions based on the data. In “Impossibility” John Barrow warned even about people who say “science says” as if it’s a monolithic institution.

    Hamby: Surely you’ve done a few science papers, right? You know that by far the two most important sections are the methodology and the sample data. The reason those two sections are so important is because when they’re done properly, ANYONE can repeat the experiment and either reinforce or cast doubt on the conclusions. It doesn’t matter whose name is on the top. In fact, if we could magically make every name from every science paper in all the libraries of the world disappear, the science would still be there, and ANYONE could replicate ANY of the experiments to their heart’s content.

    Reply: Correct.

    Hamby: I say all of that to say that you don’t need Dawkins to justify materialism. (He did do it… perhaps it was in The Blind Watchmaker… It all kind of runs together in my brain…)

    Reply: He has never done it. I could grant Dawkins all the science in the Blind Watchmaker and theism would not be damaged. Dawkins confuses an instrumental cause with an efficient cause. That is a basic philosophical mistake.

    Hamby: Once you’ve grasped the simple concept behind trust in materialism, you don’t need to refer to a book or try to remember who wrote it.

    Reply: Be sure you’re also not confusing methodological naturalism with metaphysical naturalism. We should do science assuming there are no outside interferences since we can’t measure those. That doesn’t mean however that interferences violate laws of physics.

    Hamby: It’s irrelevant. Dawkins is not the only person who’s ever gone through this exercise, either. It’s been done for decades by various philosophers of science.

    Reply: It’s been argued. Saying it’s been done is quite different.

    Hamby: What was startling in Dawkins’ case was that he was applying this philosophy directly and openly against faith in a book for laypeople.

    Reply: Against faith? How could Dawkins make an argument against faith when he doesn’t even get the definition of faith right once in his whole book? Dawkins also does not understand Christian theology and argumentation. It’s quite obvious when you read his book.

    Hamby: I’m not going to give away the secret just yet. Forgive me if I seem to be playing coy. But I’ve actually written about this at some length already, and since I’m in the process of updating the website anyway, I’m just going to do a “second release” of previous material soon.

    Reply: I will be awaiting it.

    Posted by apologianick | October 20, 2010, 4:55 pm
  26. I’d say we found 35,000 teens who don’t know what blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is. And quite a few adults, too.

    From your perspective, I can understand why you think that’s important. But please remember that from our perspective, there is no Holy Spirit, and it honestly doesn’t matter what people did. It wasn’t about the blasphemy. That’s the whole point. It was about getting a message to a lot of people. Which we did. (Or, I should say, which you did. There’s nothing like righteous indignation as a marketing tool.)

    To be honest, I really don’t remember. I was more interested in how he treated the theological arguments; and it’s been three or four years since I’ve read it, and I’ve had bigger fish to fry since then.

    Would it surprise you to learn that I asked ten different apologists this same question and not one of them could answer it? You’d think apologists would at least know what they were trying to refute. If this is representative of the best of the best, I’d venture a guess that virtually no “everyday Christians” would be capable of even articulating the opposing position. That’s sad.

    Posted by hambydammit | October 21, 2010, 4:28 pm
  27. Not really. It’s all Dawkins’ sophomoric attempts at conversing with Christian apologetics actually deserves. And an algorithm doesn’t prove materialism–at most, it can prove an instrumental cause, but not an efficient cause. Which is why, as far as the philosophy behind materialism goes, it’s more or less irrelevant.

    Posted by David | October 21, 2010, 4:42 pm
  28. It’s all Dawkins’ sophomoric attempts at conversing with Christian apologetics actually deserves.

    Wow. That’s pretty harsh. But it doesn’t ring true. If it’s so sophomoric and trite, then it ought to be easy enough to at least remember. I know for my part, I’m loath to call something such harsh names until I’m sure I know what I’m talking about, which means understanding the proposition under consideration at least as well as the person putting it forward.

    And an algorithm doesn’t prove materialism–at most, it can prove an instrumental cause, but not an efficient cause.

    I’m sorry. I admit I chuckled quite a bit at this statement. You’re telling me that the algorithm you don’t know can’t do something? How would you know that?

    I am guessing that you mean this in a more fundamental way, and I think I can get around this objection by explaining what I mean more precisely.

    When I say that Dawkins, et al, use an algorithm to justify materialism, I mean “algorithm” in a very basic sense — a method for solving a problem. Regardless of anything else, at a fundamental level, we are faced with basic ontological problems:

    * Is there an objective reality?
    * What can I determine about this reality?

    To an overly pedantic point, we can never “prove” anything with absolute certainty. But eventually, we have to land somewhere if we’re ever going to get out of bed in the morning. We must assume some methodological and philosophical perspective and take it where it leads us. And this is where the simple algorithm comes in. In a nutshell, it’s this: We adopt a position, follow it where it leads, and observe whether or not it works. If it works, we keep it. If not, we discard it.

    Of course, we must be careful not to presume the definition of “what works.” The only way I can think of to categorize a perspective as “working” or “not working” is by its ability to make accurate predictions. If you know another one and can justify it, please let me know, but I’m at a loss to think of anything.

    Materialism (the belief that the universe is real and consistently follows foundational principles, describable and testable by science) works. It makes astonishingly accurate predictions. Millions and millions of them.

    To date, I am not aware of one accurate prediction made by non-materialism (meaning any metaphysical perspective in which things which are NOT matter/energy/space/time influence the universe). Do you know of any?

    Posted by hambydammit | October 21, 2010, 5:13 pm
  29. Wow. That’s pretty harsh. But it doesn’t ring true. If it’s so sophomoric and trite, then it ought to be easy enough to at least remember. I know for my part, I’m loath to call something such harsh names until I’m sure I know what I’m talking about, which means understanding the proposition under consideration at least as well as the person putting it forward.

    That’s the problem–Dawkins didn’t know what he was talking about when he tried to assail the theistic arguments. He didn’t even bother to realize what Divine Simplicity, a key element of the classical doctrine of God, meant when he made his goofy “Well then the designer must be complex” argument. He simply stepped out of his field. In sum, TGD is one big argument from (misplaced) authority.

    I’m sorry. I admit I chuckled quite a bit at this statement. You’re telling me that the algorithm you don’t know can’t do something? How would you know that?

    Because I know how to reason–and I know that good science can only be founded on good philosophy. And you demonstrate below that your arguments aren’t based on good reason.

    I am guessing that you mean this in a more fundamental way, and I think I can get around this objection by explaining what I mean more precisely.

    When I say that Dawkins, et al, use an algorithm to justify materialism, I mean “algorithm” in a very basic sense — a method for solving a problem. Regardless of anything else, at a fundamental level, we are faced with basic ontological problems:

    * Is there an objective reality?
    * What can I determine about this reality?

    So far, so good.

    To an overly pedantic point, we can never “prove” anything with absolute certainty. But eventually, we have to land somewhere if we’re ever going to get out of bed in the morning. We must assume some methodological and philosophical perspective and take it where it leads us. And this is where the simple algorithm comes in. In a nutshell, it’s this: We adopt a position, follow it where it leads, and observe whether or not it works. If it works, we keep it. If not, we discard it.

    I’ve got another idea: Why don’t we ask “Is this philosophy true?” But we don’t test a philosophy in the same way we test whether or not bleach turns socks white. We use an argument, and we use reason. That can tell us what is true, and what isn’t.

    Of course, we must be careful not to presume the definition of “what works.” The only way I can think of to categorize a perspective as “working” or “not working” is by its ability to make accurate predictions. If you know another one and can justify it, please let me know, but I’m at a loss to think of anything.

    As far as the scientific method goes, it does precisely what it’s intended to. And that’s a good thing.

    Materialism (the belief that the universe is real and consistently follows foundational principles, describable and testable by science) works. It makes astonishingly accurate predictions. Millions and millions of them.

    That’s not the kind of ‘materialism’ I’m opposed to–nor is that particular statement even contradictory to Christian metaphysics or theism!

    To date, I am not aware of one accurate prediction made by non-materialism (meaning any metaphysical perspective in which things which are NOT matter/energy/space/time influence the universe). Do you know of any?

    And here we have the bait-and-switch. What you described above is not the same as what you’re describing here: why only now bring in the implications of what philosophical materialism logically entails? Second, you’ve made a pretty big category fallacy: it doesn’t follow that we can test immaterial things the way we test physical things. We test immaterial things by way of argument and reason. Nor does it follow that because an immaterial reality cannot be tested the same way as the physical world, that it is meaningless or nonexistent.

    Posted by David | October 21, 2010, 5:48 pm
  30. That’s the problem–Dawkins didn’t know what he was talking about when he tried to assail the theistic arguments. He didn’t even bother to realize what Divine Simplicity, a key element of the classical doctrine of God, meant when he made his goofy “Well then the designer must be complex” argument. He simply stepped out of his field. In sum, TGD is one big argument from (misplaced) authority.

    Ok. I get what you’re saying. But yes, this position is addressed by the standard refutation of supernaturalism. And I’m certain that Dawkins is familiar with the concept of divine simplicity because I’ve heard him argue against it explicitly. I don’t know that he’s ever mentioned it as a doctrine specifically in a book, but that hardly seems relevant if he’s refuted the argument itself.

    At the risk of over-simplifying, I’ll just say that the ultimate problem with DS is that it provides no universe of discourse and no positive ontology. That is, it is not sufficient to say what a thing is NOT. We must also provide a coherent description of what it IS. Though the language of DS is worded to sound like positive attribution, it actually reduces to negative statements in basic syllogistic form.

    I’ve got another idea: Why don’t we ask “Is this philosophy true?” But we don’t test a philosophy in the same way we test whether or not bleach turns socks white. We use an argument, and we use reason. That can tell us what is true, and what isn’t.

    I mentioned in response to Nick that this sort of thinking is (and has to be) backwards. If we rely solely on reason and argument, we don’t get very far at all. Specifically, we get to “I exist.” For us to get past this basic statement, we have to incorporate some data about that which exists outside of “I.” This can only be done by observing (and by “observe” I mean to include all sensory data) “reality” — whatever that might be — and incorporating our observations of reality into questions, which then become the foundations of philosophical inquiries. In other words, the very questions which lead to philosophical inquiries MUST BE founded on empirical data, which is the milieu of science, as Frank Turek so eloquently stated.

    Similarly, when we ask if a philosophy is true, we must be guided by empiricism, or we are just speculating haphazardly. Yes, we must use argument and logic in the process, but we are applying them to sense data — empirical sense data. Again, without that sense data, there’s quite literally nothing to talk about.

    So we see that we quite literally have no choice but to rely on empiricism, which is really the same as admitting that we must rely on science.

    That’s not the kind of ‘materialism’ I’m opposed to–nor is that particular statement even contradictory to Christian metaphysics or theism!

    That’s fine, I suppose. I’m still waiting to find any model of non-materialism (and by that, I mean to imply anything at all which can be proven as a reliable philosophical model) that doesn’t steal any success it might have from materialism.

    Second, you’ve made a pretty big category fallacy: it doesn’t follow that we can test immaterial things the way we test physical things. We test immaterial things by way of argument and reason.

    This statement presupposes the existence of the immaterial, and as I mentioned earlier, the concept of “immateriality” fails from the outset for lack of providing a positive ontology and a universe of discourse.

    Nor does it follow that because an immaterial reality cannot be tested the same way as the physical world, that it is meaningless or nonexistent.

    It does not follow in the form you’ve presented it, but that is irrelevant to the discussion since, as I mentioned, “immaterial” has not passed the basic test of coherence, and cannot even be discussed rationally, much less assigned or denied meaning. It would have to make it a step up the ontological ladder to even be in the class of things that can be assigned meaning or existence.

    Which brings me to the accusation of bait-and-switch. The presumption that there is a workable philosophical underpinning to the acquisition of knowledge outside of the paradigm of “what works” is just that. A presumption. And if we’re trying to come at this from the very beginning, we must not make presumptions unless they fall in the category of things which are true through retortion. That is, asking the question of their existence proves their existence.

    When I ask if I exist, I am answering the question. In order to ask the question, I must exist. Therefore, my existence is axiomatic. I’m sure you’re familiar with this kind of philosophical justification.

    But the existence of the immaterial is not axiomatic. I can ask, “Does the immaterial exist?” Either “yes” or “no” is a plausible answer. So it doesn’t get to sneak in the door by claiming axiom status. Since it is not axiomatic, it falls to us to demonstrate its existence or non-existence using the next higher order of logic. That means we must provide an ontology and universe of discourse, or we are quite simply not talking about anything at all.

    Which brings us back to our original premise — the only way we can know that our philosophy works is if it allows us to make accurate predictions. Any philosophy including the supernatural/immaterial must demonstrate that it makes accurate predictions, or it must justify itself some other way. And as I already pointed out, if such a way exists, then I’m at a total loss to think of it.

    So sure, we can have any philosophy we want. And it can be “true” as a closed system. But if it does not intersect with the universe in a way that provides useful information that’s verifiable, it’s an exercise in logic, not a tool for… well… anything other than honing logic skills.

    Posted by hambydammit | October 21, 2010, 6:57 pm
  31. Ok. I get what you’re saying. But yes, this position is addressed by the standard refutation of supernaturalism. And I’m certain that Dawkins is familiar with the concept of divine simplicity because I’ve heard him argue against it explicitly. I don’t know that he’s ever mentioned it as a doctrine specifically in a book, but that hardly seems relevant if he’s refuted the argument itself.

    It’s painfully relevant, especially when he targets classical theism in general and the essential nature of God in particular. When he says, and I quote–“However statistically improbable the entity you seek to explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable. God is the Ultimate Boeing 747.”

    That is a simple and clear failure to address the God of classical theism. And what better place to mention it than here, when failing to deal with it means that he has, in effect, attacked the wrong god? You have no idea how well the Ultimate 747 argument works against LDS missionaries. It works like a charm. But it completely misses classical theism. That’s a pretty big fail.

    At the risk of over-simplifying, I’ll just say that the ultimate problem with DS is that it provides no universe of discourse and no positive ontology.

    Actually, it does; if God is Simple, then His essence is existence. I’m not sure you can get much more ontological than that. (grin)

    That is, it is not sufficient to say what a thing is NOT. We must also provide a coherent description of what it IS. Though the language of DS is worded to sound like positive attribution, it actually reduces to negative statements in basic syllogistic form.

    I don’t think it’s sufficient to say what something only is not, but that’s hardly the case with divine simplicity. It contributes to the understanding of God’s essential nature (and avoids elementary mistakes like the Ultimate 747 argument).

    But I suppose saying “God is spirit” doesn’t meet your standard, either.

    I mentioned in response to Nick that this sort of thinking is (and has to be) backwards. If we rely solely on reason and argument, we don’t get very far at all.

    Lucky me. That’s not what I was arguing.

    Specifically, we get to “I exist.” For us to get past this basic statement, we have to incorporate some data about that which exists outside of “I.” This can only be done by observing (and by “observe” I mean to include all sensory data) “reality” — whatever that might be — and incorporating our observations of reality into questions, which then become the foundations of philosophical inquiries.

    Two questions:

    Why do you put the word reality in quote marks?

    Why do you trust your senses to accurately report the world around you?

    Similarly, when we ask if a philosophy is true, we must be guided by empiricism, or we are just speculating haphazardly.

    That’s a bit of a false dilemma, don’t you think? And more than a little extreme?

    Yes, we must use argument and logic in the process, but we are applying them to sense data — empirical sense data. Again, without that sense data, there’s quite literally nothing to talk about.

    Yet even this is a philosophy (a good one, mind you) that even sense experience is based on. You have to have some conclusions about the world, and how it works, before you can make sense of the world, even at a very young age.

    So we see that we quite literally have no choice but to rely on empiricism, which is really the same as admitting that we must rely on science.

    I would say it depends on what you were trying to use science for. For physical things, sure. For immaterial things, not so much.

    That’s fine, I suppose. I’m still waiting to find any model of non-materialism (and by that, I mean to imply anything at all which can be proven as a reliable philosophical model) that doesn’t steal any success it might have from materialism.

    Truth is truth, regardless of who says it.

    But I see an insurmountable terminology gap between the terms we’re using.

    This statement presupposes the existence of the immaterial, and as I mentioned earlier, the concept of “immateriality” fails from the outset for lack of providing a positive ontology and a universe of discourse.

    The existence of the immaterial, however, is not irrational. And I disagree that it fails to provide a positive ontology, unless by “positive” you mean “material,” in which case it’s just question-begging.

    It does not follow in the form you’ve presented it, but that is irrelevant to the discussion since, as I mentioned, “immaterial” has not passed the basic test of coherence,

    What basic test of coherence? What does it not cohere with? You haven’t bothered to say what it contradicts, only some hand-waving about positive ontology, which isn’t a problem of coherence–yet.

    and cannot even be discussed rationally,

    What do you mean, it can’t be discussed rationally? You’ve been discussing God in such a manner this whole time.

    much less assigned or denied meaning. It would have to make it a step up the ontological ladder to even be in the class of things that can be assigned meaning or existence.

    Two things: that category fallacy I mentioned is still in effect. I think you’re loading your use of the word ‘existence’ to mean ‘that which is physical.’ Which happens to be the definition I question.

    As for meaning…that’s a different problem–for you, not me. In order for you to demonstrate meaninglessness in theism, you’ll have to show incoherence or a self-contradiction. It takes more than saying “It’s not coherent” to show a lack of meaning.

    Which brings me to the accusation of bait-and-switch. The presumption that there is a workable philosophical underpinning to the acquisition of knowledge outside of the paradigm of “what works” is just that. A presumption. And if we’re trying to come at this from the very beginning, we must not make presumptions unless they fall in the category of things which are true through retortion. That is, asking the question of their existence proves their existence.

    When I ask if I exist, I am answering the question. In order to ask the question, I must exist. Therefore, my existence is axiomatic. I’m sure you’re familiar with this kind of philosophical justification.

    It’s the “first things”–the undeniables, if you will.

    But the existence of the immaterial is not axiomatic. I can ask, “Does the immaterial exist?” Either “yes” or “no” is a plausible answer. So it doesn’t get to sneak in the door by claiming axiom status. Since it is not axiomatic, it falls to us to demonstrate its existence or non-existence using the next higher order of logic. That means we must provide an ontology and universe of discourse, or we are quite simply not talking about anything at all.

    Which brings us back to our original premise — the only way we can know that our philosophy works is if it allows us to make accurate predictions. Any philosophy including the supernatural/immaterial must demonstrate that it makes accurate predictions, or it must justify itself some other way.

    What if I said that the only way a philosophy can be true is if it corresponds to reality?

    And as I already pointed out, if such a way exists, then I’m at a total loss to think of it.

    What about the laws of logic? You know, Identity, Non-Contradiction, and the Excluded Middle?

    And what do you mean by ‘predictions?’

    So sure, we can have any philosophy we want. And it can be “true” as a closed system.

    And it makes no sense to have two true philosophies that contradict. They simply cannot both describe reality.

    But if it does not intersect with the universe in a way that provides useful information that’s verifiable, it’s an exercise in logic, not a tool for… well… anything other than honing logic skills.

    Then I’m curious: are the only meaningful statements about reality empirical?

    Posted by David | October 22, 2010, 12:28 am
  32. Wow! Interesting discussion, but lots of communication problems. I think you guys need to talk on the phone.

    Posted by Joel Justiss | October 22, 2010, 7:44 am

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