Stress-testing the
mind of Christ

Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)


series
Square circles and the Trinity, part 3: the law of identity

In this series, I interact with the criticisms of the Trinity forwarded by Steve Zara in our recent debate, using them as a springboard to examine this important doctrine and demonstrate that it is not intrinsically self-contradictory.

This is part 3 of 4. It follows on from the previous discussion of the nature of the Trinity by drawing out its ramifications for our understanding of identity, and how this influences the way in which we can formulate arguments about God.

« continued from ‘Square circles and the Trinity, part 2: the nature of the Trinity’
This article has been heavily revised as of July 4, 2008, in response to a detailed critique from Mike, which can be viewed in the comment stream.

I’ve now talked about contradictions; argued that the doctrine of the Trinity cannot be self-contradictory; acknowledged that Christians must concede at least the appearance of self-contradiction in it nonetheless; and then provided some reasons to explain why this contradiction might appear, and how it might be resolved. I’ve almost said enough to take on a critical examination of Steve’s formal argument. First, though, there is one vital issue which I must draw out of my previous post, which will significantly alter how we, as Christians, see that argument from the get-go.

III. How the ambiguity of being affects the law of identity

In part 2, I mentioned that God does not have parts: the Father is not a part of God; the Son is not a part of God; the Spirit is not a part of God. They are all fully God. They all share fully in God’s attributes. That is, each person of the Trinity is the same being as God. I then went on to suggest that it is reasonable to assume that there is an unspoken equivocation in our understanding of being. God is one being in one sense; three in another—but we don’t understand what it means to draw a distinction between ways of being. Nonetheless, it follows by good and necessary consequence from Scripture that “being” is not a univocal term; it does not (necessarily) have only a single, unambiguous referent. When applied to God, at least, it seems to refer to more than one thing, even though we don’t understand exactly what. When we subject the doctrine of the Trinity to logical analysis, we find that it forces us to formulate a doctrine of being which gives a consistent account of it: the principle of Non-Univocal Being. (Following in Anderson’s slightly droll footsteps, I dub this “NUB”.)

NUB appears central to Christian metaphysics, and affects it in a larger and fairly significant way, because it has ramifications for the law of identity.

The law of identity is one of the three major logical axioms. Simply put, it is the notion that an entity is the same as itself: A is A. By corollary, an entity is not the same as some other entity: A is not B. If an entity was the same as some other entity, then it would be one and the same with that entity: A is B. The reason this is important is because, if we make this identity statement fully explicit, we find that it is saying that

This is an unproblematically clear statement on the face of it. For a non-Christian it’s probably always unproblematically clear. However, for a Christian committed the thesis of non-univocal being, it is not necessarily clear, despite appearances. For example, if “A” is the Father and “B” is the Son, this statement is both true and false, because it contains an unarticulated equivocation. It is true in one sense for the term “being”, and false in another.

This has obvious ramifications for a certain category of arguments about the nature of God—a category which includes Steve’s argument in part 4 of this series, and similar ones employed by various would-be Christians in support of their Christological heresies. These arguments leverage a key feature of identity, which is transitivity: If A is the same as B, and B is the same as C, then by transitive relationship A is the same as C. This is important because we can draw the following kinds of inferences:

  1. The Father is the same as God.
  2. The Son is the same as God.
  3. Therefore, the Father is the same as the Son.

This is a heresy called Sabellianism or modalism, and is similar to the way in which Steve appeals to transitivity in his argument. However, because it relies on a univocal understanding of being, a Christian has no reason to accept it. If Christianity entails a non-univocal theory of being, he can see clearly that the argument only appears to go through because it equivocates.

Now, let me be clear. I am not suggesting that a non-Christian must accept, on his own terms, that this argument equivocates. He is by no means committed to a thesis such as NUB. He has no reason to be, because he does not presuppose that the Bible’s testimony regarding the nature of God is in any way authentic. What I am saying here is that a Christian may reject the conclusion of this argument because, on his own grounds, the testimony of Scripture gives him good reason to believe that the argument commits some kind of non-obvious error. Because the charge of self-contradiction is an internal critique of the Trinity, the Christian may bring all of his own religion’s resources to bear in refuting that charge. Since NUB is at least one way in which the apparent self-contradiction of the Trinity can be resolved, a Christian has every right to argue that the conclusion of the above argument is false, which is merely apparently contradictory as a result of an unarticulated equivocation. In fact, a Christian need not even be committed to NUB at all in order to use it as a means of showing that in principle these sorts of arguments fail to conclusively prove self-contradiction. Even if NUB is not true, it constitutes a defeater to the argument; just as the greater-good defense constitutes a defeater to the problem of evil, even if it isn’t true.

In other words, as an internal critique of Christian theology, the above sorts of arguments fail. I will show how Steve’s argument in particular fails in the final part of this series. This, alone, does not constitute any kind of reason for a non-believer to accept the doctrine of the Trinity. He can argue against it on other grounds. But NUB is sufficient to show that, on Christian grounds, the charge of internal incoherency is invalid. Having now said this, I think I’m at the perfect point to tackle Steve’s formal argument.

Continued in ‘Square circles and the Trinity, part 4: Steve’s argument’ »

152 comments

  1. Brian

    Hi Bnonn, Here’s the philosophical definition of essence:

    Philosophy. the inward nature, true substance, or constitution of anything, as opposed to what is accidental, phenomenal, illusory, etc.

    Assuming this definition, you are saying that what is the true constitution of the father is his essence. If we strip off all accidentals we are left with what is truly the father. Then you say this is the same as the essence of the son. So, the father and son are the same essence. We have 1 being. Now, for this to work, the person that is the father is a separate being from the essence of the father, and likewise with the other 2 people in the trinity. What you seem to have done is created an extra problem to be solved. First, you still have 3 people, which you’ve now uncoupled from whatever is essential to each respectively. This essence, God, is now not the father, not son nor holy spirit. This is because non of these three shares the true substance of God.

    By the way, in reading your ‘Wisdom of God’ you say the problem of induction is that it lacks justification in a non christian worldview, which it does. This doesn’t matter for us, because induction works, and that’s all that matters. However, you have a problem of justification too. You say that God provides justification for your use of induction, but what justifies your reliance on God? It can’t be that up till now he’s kept his word, or the Bible seems true because then you’re using induction to justify induction. :)

  2. Brian

    therefore, by transitive relationship we truthfully conclude that the Father is the same as the Son with respect to essence. But with respect to person, this is not the case

    Law of non-contradiction: it is not that case that something is the case and is not the case (Something cannot both be and not be). The father cannot both be identical with person and essence and not be identical with person and essence. So, either the father is identical with the person and essence, or is not identical with person and essence of the father. If the former, you have the original problem, if the later, as stated above, you have 4 beings now.

  3. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Brian, you seem to really have missed the point of my NUB thesis…

  4. Steve Zara

    There is a relevant article by Lawrence Krauss quoting Einstein on theology in this week’s New Scientist. I have summarised it on my blog.

    The summary of the summary is… I see lots and lots of epicycling.

  5. Steve Zara

    Bnonn-

    Brian is right, although I don’t think he goes far enough.

    What you are saying is that for each member of the trinity, there is a person, and an essence, but the essences are the same.

    So, we have God essence (GE), and the three essences of the father, son and holy ghost (call them AE, BE and CE)

    Starting to look familiar?

    It should. You are back to the Trinity again. Unless, of course, you say that all the essences are the same, in which case you are rejecting a Trinity.

    I would like to specifically deal with one point:

    When we subject the doctrine of the Trinity to logical analysis, we find that it forces us to formulate a doctrine of being which gives a consistent account of it

    It doesn’t force you to do that. There are other alternatives, such as to accept that it is wrong. I know you won’t, but I think it is reasonable to point that out.

  6. Brian English

    Bnonn, you are the one who doesn’t get the point. The essence of the father is that which is the father. To say that which is the father is not the person who is the father is to contradict oneself. You can’t have fashion an essence that is separate from the person. If it’s separate, it’s accidental. You’ve put yourself in a reductio ad absurdum.

    By the way ‘the bible is the word of God’ is eminently evaluable, and up to this point epistemologically unsound. To claim it is sound is to beg the question. You need to show God exists first, and also that your biblical interpretation is his view. You can’t avoid this.

    As Steve says, you’re committed to an incoherent point of view. The words in your apologetic that you wrote to mock those who don’t use logic and avoid the truth apply to you.

    Take care.

  7. Steve Zara

    I just realise Brian is saying the same as me about the Trinity – sorry Brian!

  8. steve zara

    Brian.. I am not sure that further discussion here will achieve much on any subject.

    I have started to read this article in more detail:

    http://bnonn.thinkingmatters.org.nz/?p=36

    I noted the following sections:

    This doesn’t mean that secular science will never yield useful results (by certain standards of usefulness).

    Scientists may muddle their way through learning about reality to the point that they’re able to describe with reasonable accuracy how it works in certain situations. They may, despite their intellectual incompetence, eventually produce things like computers and cars, which work relatively well and are useful to us in everyday life.

    Indeed, this is my advice to Christian scientists—there is no need to waste time fighting secular scientists on their own ground by trying to disprove evolution. Evolution will fall apart all by itself sooner or later. Let us rather devote our resources to furthering Christian science, and leave the unbelievers in their foolishness.

    We are fools. We are intellectually incompetent. Science is only useful in certain areas.

    But saddest of all: Evolution is wrong. I can’t tell you how much my heart sinks when I read such words. The sheer unfettered arrogance of someone who ranks their understanding of reality above that of Einstein, Watson and Crick, Hawking, simply because they put their trust in internal feelings and a book. Over centuries hundreds of thousands of scientists have worked to reveal how life has developed on our planet, but no, they are all wrong. Evolution is shown by biology, biochemistry, chemistry, physics, atomic theory and geology, but internal feelings and a book rank higher. That is a very troubling point of view, not even held by most theologians, not even by Popes.

    This intellectually incompetent fool thinks that more discussion may be a waste of time.

  9. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Brian, Steve: please re-read what I have written. “Essence” and “person” are terms which theologians have devised so as to speak of the two aspects which God has revealed regarding the nature of his being. They are terms which are used to demonstrate non-contradiction; not a diversity of being. Your critique relies on an assumption of univocal being, which does not apply. As I said in part 2, non-univocal being is not explicable to us conceptually; but it can be described logically to show that no contradiction exists.

    Brian, as regards your comments about biblical epistemology, according to what first principle would you evaluate the proposition ‘the Bible is the word of God’? If you have already taken this as your first principle, it is eminently non-evaluable. If you have not, you will need to demonstrate that whatever first principle you have adopted is capable of evaluating anything; let alone the Bible.

    Steve, please remember that I was not directing those comments about intellectual incompetence toward you and others as a form of personal insult. I was reiterating what the Bible teaches, and it was important to do so in the context of that study on science.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  10. Steve Zara

    Bnonn-

    I have re-read what you have written many times.

    I am willing to discuss things further with you on one condition – you retract what you said in that post I linked to here.

    I am a scientist. I believe in rationality. I find no reason to believe in a deity.

    How can I not find what you said offensive? If you state things about a group, then individuals within a group will identify with what you say.

    There is much to discuss. And I will enjoy that discussion. But while you have this view of science, and especially that view of evolution (I am a biologist), I will feel deeply offended.

    There would be no shame in changing your mind about this. Goodness knows I have been proved wrong about much in recent years. I would consider it admirable.

    The position of science and scripture should be up for debate. I will argue with vigour against those who disagree with my position, but I won’t call those people fools or incompetents (I have too many dear friends who are religious to do that!)

    Are you willing to retract those accusations in your post, and engage with what I hope will be a friendly and interesting discussion?

  11. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Steve, I’m sorry but you misunderstood. I was not trying to defer offense; I was trying to clarify the source of that offense. I quite understand that you will find what the Bible says about unbelievers to be offensive. To be told that you are stupid and ignorant because you deny the source of wisdom and knowledge is offensive. To be told that you are sinful because you deny the source of goodness is offensive.

    My point was not to avoid offending you. My point was to ensure that you understand I am not trying to personally insult you out of some kind of malice or general obnoxiousness of my own. Rather, I am conveying a scriptural teaching, because it is important and relevant to the context of the discussion.

    That said, whether or not something is offensive has no bearing on its truth. I can’t very well retract something which I believe to be the truth, and which I have sound reasons for believing.

    The position of science and scripture should be up for debate.

    No doubt you think so; but you want me to accept this (with its lack of epistemic foundation) and reject my own position before we can even start discussion. You’ll only consent to further discussion if I will agree to it being based on your own presuppositions—presuppositions which are demonstrably unfounded and without rational justification; and antithetical to my own. Why would I do that?

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  12. Mike

    Hi!

    >“there is an unspoken equivocation in our understanding of being. God is one being in one sense;”

    In fact, many of the misconceptions I found in this post stem from an equivocation here that you don’t seem to have noticed. This is clear from the examples you use. You seem to equivocate the noun “being”, as in “a being” or “God is one being[…]”, and the being of “Being good in some respect”. A term which has to have (in a sentence that has meaning) an entity as a referent (a being) and a term for the ascription of properties (being a good so-and-so in this-and-that respect)

    Before I continue – it would help if you distinguished in your text between usage and citation. When you talk about a word as a word, or a statement as a statement, it is put in quotation marks: The word “being” has 5 letters. The word “being” has so-and-so-many meanings. etc.

    ““being” is not a univocal term; it does not (necessarily) have only a single, unambiguous referent.”

    In fact, it does. That’s why we have singular and plural. “A being” – singular – one entity, one referent. “Multiple beings” – plural, multiple entities, multiple referents. “unambiguous” is of course the weasle-word here. The ambiguity -if and where it should exist – is an epistemic one, that we don’t know whether some phenomenon corresponds to a single entity or multiple distinct entities – so that we falsely use singular or plural where we ought to have used the other, but didn’t know better.

    But that is not what you meant. In fact, you mean that the singular-noun (though a type-label, not a proper name) “being” can be used correctly in not refering to a distinct, singular entity. This is of course, bogus – because of the singular-plural distinction.
    You tacitly introduce a premise(!) here, stating in effect that somehow the mereological and numerical problem of the trinity is not there “in reality”. You are claiming that the singular type-label “being” has at least one entity to which it refers that isn’t a singular entity. You can see the contradiction I hope – this is like saying that the type-label “triangle”, has at least one entity to which it refers that is not triangular. In the former case, the inconsistency, the contradiction, is with the numerus of the word, in the second it is with the non-numerical properties. So, you introduce tacitly (and probably not even knowingly) what you need to proof (that a logical contradiction is not a logical contradiction).

    But that is what you were supposed to give arguments for. And you haven’t done that. You simply introduce the term “NUB”, the concept of which simply presupposes that the problem you need to solve is solved. And you do not give any sort of explanation HOW this concept is supposed to be consistent. None at all.

    As for identity – that was pretty cheap. Given your equivocation I explained above and the exposition I just gave on how the “NUB” concept is worthless because meaningless unless shown to be consistent – it is clear that your “identity”-argument doesn’t hold.

    This brings me to a very strange statement of yours:

    “the law of identity is incomplete. “A is A” is not a precise enough way of putting it.”

    Strange. The concept of “identity” has long been clarified, via properties – the famous two statements (expressed for example by Leibniz) of the Identity of indiscernibles and the indiscernability of identicals. Both alone take the form of conditional statements in second order logic (logic quantifying over properties):

    “P” is a variable for properties
    “x” and “y” are variables for entities

    Indiscernability of identicals:
    FOR ALLx,y: (FOR ALL P:(x=y -> (Px Py)))

    Identity of indiscernibles:
    FOR ALLx,y:(FOR ALL P: ((Px Py) -> x=y))

    So, combined, we get:

    FOR ALLx,y:(FOR ALL P:(x=y (Px Py)))
    “For any x and any x, x is identical to y if and only if x and y have the same properties”

    This makes your misconception even clearer: The variables are variables of singular entities. Where we talk of and quantify over multiple entities, either sets or ordered tuples of entities are used OR we specify the proposition for each individual per conjunction of propositions.

    It is clear that this:

    ““A is A” is incomplete. It’s a quick way of saying “A is the same A”. But then we can ask: in what sense is A the same as A? Shouldn’t this be explicit in a proper identity statement? Shouldn’t we actually be saying “A is the same as A as A“? Or, put another way, shouldn’t we be saying “A is A with respect to A“?”

    Is vacuous – because the paraphrased statements add no information whatsoever, the latter aren’t any more or less “proper” than “A is A”. And your last statement “A is A with respect to A” makes no sense whatsoever. It is BECAUSE “A” and “A” refer to the same thing – are identical – that you cannot put identity “with respect to” something which is identical to what is said upfront to be identical. That just makes no sense.

    You really ought to take a basic course in logic, set-theory, mereology, category theory etc. The above is cruel to read to any logician.

    Anyway – You don’t just get to claim that the singular-plural distinction is invalid or irrelevant.

    Now for another blatant confusion (related to the above):

    “4. God is good and God is not good.
    5. God is good with respect to being a father and God is not good with respect to being a tyrant.”

    4. Ascribes a general property (in most cases moral) to an entity, an individual
    but 5 ascribes a functional, not moral property with respect to some task or role (in this case).

    The functional and the moral good are of course related – and for a utilitarianist for example, or indeed anyone with teleological ethics, the moral “good” is a functional property. But for a deontologist it isn’t.

    But for a teleologist, even 4 is a proposition describing an entity as being capable of fulfilling a certain function, and thus is always shorthand for some proposition (or set of propositions) that explicate functions. Thus, 4 is indeed not contradictory, but only IN VIRTUE of an equivocation on “good” WITHIN that statement, because they are both shorthand for different ascriptions of functionality.

    You, however are just taking this example and claiming that it shows that any contradiction you don’t like doesn’t have to be a contradiction – but you don’t give a consistent analysis of the kind the teleologist can in explicating the equivocation via tacit functional distinction. You only can resolve a conjunction of a proposition and its negation (like “P AND not-P” – or, as it were, the contradictions in the conceptions of the trinity) by proclaiming the term for the individual, the property or whatever which is present in the proposition and the negation to have a meaning/referent different and distinct in the two cases. But by this, you automatically introduce plurality. Thus, the logical inconsistency in the trinity can never be solved.

    Now I shall discuss a blatant error of yours that would make every first-semester student of logic cringe:

    ” 6. Hesperus is the evening star.
    7. Hesperus is Phosphorus.
    8. Therefore, Phosphorus is the evening star.

    Despite the fact that premises (vi) and (vii) are both true, and the inference is valid, the conclusion is false. In fact, Phosphorus is not the evening star, but the morning star. “

    You fail to distinguish between extension of a term and intension – between sense and denotation. For the position about identity you want to defend, it is extension/denotation that is central, not intension – because you are talking about identity – about being, not about by virtue of which property or properties we REFER to an entity or entities. Extension is what a term refers to (the entitiy/entities), Intension is that by which we pick out entities. For example:

    The set of the numbers 2, 4, 6, 8 can be defined extensionally as {2,4,6,8} or as the set of all x where x are the even numbers above 1 and below 10 {x| x is even AND x is within the intervall [1,…,10]}.

    Another example clarifying the difference between intension and extension is this:
    We know that all beings who have kidneys also have hearts. Therefore, the terms “creature with a heart” and “creature with a kidney” are coextensive. They refer to exactly the same set of entities!

    Wait for it – this is the punchline: “evening-star” and “morning-star” refer to the same entity/denote the same singular entity – namely the Planet Venus. So, the evening star IS the morning-star. Hesperus IS Phosphorus! It is in INTENSION that these terms differ, not in EXTENSION.

    This was of course not always known – people didn’t know that the brightest star in the evening and the brightest star in the morning are the same entity – so of course they used different terms. But it was discovered that they were identical, and that therefore the TWO terms REFER to ONE entity. This is a prime example (a philosopher’s favourite) of so-called “a posteriori knowledge of an analytical truth”… or in short “analytical a posteriori”.

    I’m sorry – I cannot be kind about this: You have the nerve to call the philosophical position of “identity” naive without giving arguments for that before you introduce the example (and making severe errors in the course of talking about that) and then you use this example which in fact PROVES YOU WRONG…. that is quite amusing, highly arrogant and and very embarrassing.

    Honestly – this is elementary logic, set-theory, mereology and philosophy of language. Absolutely elementary.

    You have produced about two pages of text – and ALL of the essential points are blatant fallacies or errors of another kind.

    Of course, Steve and Brian have already taken apart most of this post on the conceptual level in a more informal way – and have done a great job.

  13. James

    Steve

    Here is the problem with your position:

    First, you spoke about men like Einstein – yet as I quoted/ referenced in the other thread, he did not believe that we could ever understand the true nature of the universe. Do you agree? Disagree? On what grounds?.

    Second, why should we accept the present findings of science? In our discussion on your blog you said that theories were always tentative, and can/may be falsified at any time. So why does it bother you that we question these conclusions? This is especially true when it comes to “origins” since we can not repeat or observe these past events.

    Third, we are Christians with a high view of Scripture. We really do believe that God communicated truth to man. If science and scripture contradict why on earth would we go with science? Since, as you said, so much of it is tentative? This would not be rational for us…

  14. steve zara

    Bnonn-

    My point was to ensure that you understand I am not trying to personally insult you out of some kind of malice or general obnoxiousness of my own.

    Don’t be silly. You are responsible for your own words. If I said “All Tennants are nutcases” on a blog, you would take personal offense, and would be justified in doing so.

    If you have already taken the truth of scripture as the foundation for everything, then there is simply no possibility for rational debate of any kind.

    James-

    As so often, you go round in circles.

    I make no claims about reality. You are the one making claims – not just that the supernatural exists, but you know what it consists of. You can’t have it both ways – to say that reality is unknown, but that you know it.

    I will take my leave for good from here now. I must say I have been deeply troubled by what I have encountered.

  15. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Mike, thanks for your detailed comments. As you implicitly observe, I have not had any formal training in ontology, or its underlying disciplines (in honesty, I find ontology quite difficult as I don’t have a very mathematical mind). Your criticism has been very helpful in clarifying my thinking; particularly regarding A P Martinich’s article, from which I derived many of my thoughts. I had been trying to reconcile his thesis regarding identity with my own regarding being, on the basis that they appear (superficially) compatible. However, I have come to think now that this is not the case; and that his thesis, indeed, is seriously flawed. So thank you for pointing out the errors I had made—correcting these has helped to refine and solidify my view of how identity is affected by the NUB thesis.

    In light of your critique, I have significantly amended this article. I hope that isn’t considered poor form. The amendments are not so extreme as to answer all of your points, however, so let me make a few observations here as well:

    The very purpose of my NUB thesis is to demonstrate that a presupposed truth (the Trinity) is not necessarily self-contradictory. As I have said, this does not mean that it is conceptually explicable to us, since it is a transcendent reality and may be beyond our conceptual limitations. My thesis is that being is non-univocal, at least as regards God: that is, there is actually more than one sense of being, and both senses correspond with our term “being”. God’s being is “three dimensional” rather than “two dimensional”. True, the equivocation in the word “being” is epistemic; but it is epistemic not because we don’t know enough about God, but because our noetic structure is intrinsically incapable of properly conceptualizing the distinction in God’s being, regardless of how much we do know about it.

    You seem to want to argue that the term “being” is precise enough, and that we just don’t know enough about God to say whether he is one or three beings. You say that “being” must be a univocal term and have a single and unambiguous referent, which is why we have singular and plural terms. But this obviously begs the question against me, since my whole thesis is that these terms are inadequate to describe God in the first place and that “being” is not necessarily univocal. You haven’t given any actual reasons to suggest that, on Christian grounds, NUB is invalid.

    You really ought to take a basic course in logic, set-theory, mereology, category theory etc. The above is cruel to read to any logician.

    Fair enough. I am not a logician; I’m just doing what I can to think these things through, and am doing it publicly because it is helpful for both myself and others.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  16. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Don’t be silly. You are responsible for your own words. If I said “All Tennants are nutcases” on a blog, you would take personal offense, and would be justified in doing so.

    But this isn’t at all like what I have done, Steve. Your example is a strawman as it currently stands. You would have to instead say something like, “On the basis of naturalism, which I believe, all Tennants are nutcases, and this is why they are unable to properly understand the truth of naturalism.” And that would be fine. If this was, ex hypothesi, a valid inference from naturalism, I would have to engage with naturalism in order to show that I was not, in fact, a nutcase. Regardless of how offensive I found your statement, I could hardly claim that you were just saying it to be mean, or that you were trying to slander me for personal reasons, or whatever. Similarly, if my obligation is to the truth of Scripture, and Scripture says that non-believers are foolish and ignorant (which is a necessary inference from the fact that they deny God), you can hardly take umbrage with me for passing this along when it is relevant to the discussion at hand. Take umbrage with Scripture. Take umbrage with God. But don’t shoot the messenger.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  17. Steve Zara

    Bnonn-

    You are welcome to post on my blog at any time. But I find continuing a conversation with someone once they deny evolution is pointless, unless it is about that denial. And as you have stated the reason for your rejection of science is that scripture is simply right, there is nothing to discuss about that.

    It is, of course, incorrect for you to say that you are simply reporting scripture. No-one sane accepts all scripture (I am sure even you don’t believe that Pi is 3 or that the earth is flat and with 4 corners). Therefore you pick what you want to accept. In doing so, you take personal responsibility for the views you state.

    Unless you are prepared to do what I do, and throw everything open to question, then useful rational conversation between us is simply impossible – we have no common standards by which to judge rationality.

  18. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    It is, of course, incorrect for you to say that you are simply reporting scripture. No-one sane accepts all scripture (I am sure even you don’t believe that Pi is 3 or that the earth is flat and with 4 corners). Therefore you pick what you want to accept. In doing so, you take personal responsibility for the views you state.

    Steve, I don’t mean to press the point unduly, but bolstering one strawman with another hardly strengthens your case. If you’d like to get into an exegetical examination of Scripture’s teaching regarding unbelievers, I’m quite prepared for that. Plus I’ve already given a brief justification of it via simple inference. Or if you’d like to get into the exegesis of things like numerical accuracy and metaphorical representations, that’s fine too. But it’s a patent strawman to make a blanket statement that no one sane believes all of Scripture because it teaches that Pi = 3 and the earth has four corners. If we did have a look at these teachings, you would that your interpretation looks deliberately simplistic and obtuse.

    I believe Scripture is inerrant; I therefore believe all of it. I don’t think I’m particularly insane, and neither are most of the people I’ve met who share my belief. They are just better educated as regards what and how Scripture teaches than people who sling around these sorts of accusations.

    Incidentally, don’t you think calling me insane in response to me explaining that Scripture teaches that you’re stupid is somewhat ironic? What’s your justification, under a naturalistic scheme?

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  19. Steve Zara

    I believe Scripture is inerrant; I therefore believe all of it. I don’t think I’m particularly insane, and neither are most of the people I’ve met who share my belief. They are just better educated as regards what and how Scripture teaches than people who sling around these sorts of accusations.

    Sorry, but people often don’t recognise their own delusions. If you seriously believe that scripture is inerrant, and superior to other forms of acquiring knowledge then you are, to be honest, a crackpot. This kind of nuttiness is tolerable in those who aren’t educated, but not in those who are.

    I don’t have to justify anything. I am a sceptic. I find it ironic that all the time I have been facing accusations of question begging and having a closed mind when all the time your mind has been closed to anything that contradicts scripture.

    You really need to learn about Ockham’s Razor. Picking an arbitrary old book and taking everything in it as axiomatic is ludicrous, and would be funny if it wasn’t being promoted as a serious way of looking at the world. I actually consider such an approach to be a threat to civilization, as we have different people picking up different books, and insisting that their book is the true one. Why is it the true one? Because it is.

    I suspect after this, you won’t want me posting here again, but I have no concerns about that. You are welcome, as I say, to post on my blog, but there will be little tolerance for irrationality there.

    So, I’ll say goodbye for now. I wish your wife and child well.

  20. James

    A question for Mike.

    Mike on Steve’s blog a number of times I tried to get you to tell me which theory of knowledge you held. Were you an empiricist? A rationalist? A pragmatist? And would your theory of knowledge hold up under scrutiny? Would you like to share? Or are you afraid?

    For Steve,

    I’m glad to see that you are a sceptic. Are you a sceptic when it comes to your own conclusions and the scientific method in general?

  21. steve zara

    I’m glad to see that you are a sceptic. Are you a sceptic when it comes to your own conclusions and the scientific method in general

    I am glad you asked this.

    I am prepared to be fully sceptical as to my conclusions. What I have a problem with is abandoning the scientific method.

    If you want to abandon the scientific method, one has to allow arbitrary, un-verified personal opinions to have significance in understanding reality.

    The problem is that no-one has ever provided any method of exploring reality beyond the scientific method that isn’t based on interpretation and opinion. Science allows ideas to be falsified by experiment. That is it’s greatest strength.

    I hope that you, unlike Bnonn, are prepared to open all matters up to discussion, like I am?

  22. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Steve, you’re still quite welcome to post here. I am not offended that you think me deluded. On the testimony of Scripture, I expect you to think that. The wisdom of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.

    The difficulty for you seems to be manifold, though. On the one hand, there are these highly educated people like Plantinga and Bill Craig and my theologically mercurial friend Victor Reppert who hold to the view that Scripture is inerrant. Apparently, for you, this is intolerable. Yet these people have developed various kinds of arguments which provide compelling evidence in favor of the thesis that it is entirely reasonable to believe in God, and to believe that he has communicated his thoughts to mankind. Now, you can say that you personally find these arguments unconvincing. Perhaps you are familiar with them, and perhaps you do; you obviously find at least one representation of the argument from reason unconvincing inasmuch as you understand it, which I don’t believe is as well as you think. But whether they sway you personally is irrelevant to their status as arguments. So for you to claim that it is “intolerable” that educated people would believe that the Bible is inerrant just smacks of either extreme ignorance or extreme prejudice; or perhaps both. I would suggest that you spend less time reading Dawkins’ frothy rantings, and more time reading the reasoned arguments of people who are actually educated in the areas that Dawkins pretends to talk about: philosophy and theology. I think it’s embarrassing for you that you make the sorts of blanket statements that you do, because they just make you look very foolish.

    One another hand, you want to say that you don’t need to justify anything; as if having no metaphysical or epistemological foundation is a valid option for you. But regardless of what you claim, you are always going to have some kind of metaphysical presuppositions, as James has tried to show you with sadly little success. You are also clearly committed to some kind of empirical epistemology. The probem for you is that you don’t seem to have the faintest idea what this necessarily entails, all the various problems with it, or even why epistemology matters at all. And that, again, is just embarrassing for you. You are accusing people who have a solid epistemological theory of being deluded; but from what foundation? These questions do actually matter. Again, it sounds like you have really no knowledge at all of, say, Plantinga’s response to the de jure objection to Christianity. The simple-mindedness and obvious certainty with which you forward this objection just shows that you haven’t got the slightest awareness (or at least understanding) of Christian responses to it which thoroughly defuse it, and even turn it back on you. Again, I would suggest that to avoid embarrassing yourself you at least become familiar with some of the basic literature, like Warranted Christian Belief. Even if you don’t read it in full, but find some summaries of the various arguments so you are aware of their existence and gist.

    Then there’s Ockham’s Razor. Well, I’m sorry Steve but this objection is just kinda O.o yah know? What justification can you give for even leveraging the Razor as a general rule, let alone the sort of “seventh logical axiom” you’ve tried to turn it into?

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  23. James

    Steve,

    That’s all well and good. I once asked you – does truth only come through the scientific method? I believe you said no. Sience does help us to figure some things out, but when it comes to love, family, friendship, law, justice, ethics, art, music, beauty, history, logic, meaning, religion, etc… science is silent. Yet these are the things that touch our lives the most. Yes, at times science can extend our lives, but without the above – it’s all meaningless. It’s the intangables, the things that one can not put under a microscope, that give our lives true purpose and deep meaning.

    You are all excited about the Higgs Boson test at CERN, that’s fine. But will that test save one human life? What was the cost of that collider? How many children could have been saved from starvation or malaria for that money? Or received the hope of the Gospel? Many of our priorities are upside down. This is what I would expect from sinful man. That money could have been much better spent on medical research.

  24. steve zara

    You are accusing people who have a solid epistemological theory of being deluded; but from what foundation?

    You don’t have a solid epistemological theory. For goodness sake, you hadn’t even researched the logic necessary to understand the concept of the Trinity.

    You just say “it’s all true, whatever”.

    You also seem to misunderstand the term “theory”. It doesn’t mean to try and dodge clear inconsistencies by even trying to redefine logic. That is intellectually dishonest.

    If you wish to use the word “theory”, then you are going to have to indicate how it could be falsified, otherwise you have bothing but a “belief”.

    My only attitude is not to believe things unless I am shown consistent evidence, because I know how fallible we all are.

    James-

    The money that is spent at CERN is a tiny fraction of that spent on other matters, not even 1% of the cost of the Iraq war, for example.

    You are incorrect that science has nothing to say about matters such as family, friendship, history and so on. It provides an detailed explanation of why we live like we do. It can certainly explain how we reason, why we experience beauty and so on. What science doesn’t do is provide any framework for ethics or behaviour – that is what philosophy is for. It just seems dangerous to me

    The real issue here is how we explore the world, and whether or not we choose to shut ourselves away in a cave of ignorance, where it may feel warm and safe, but we never get to see the real world with all its fearsome beauty. I find it hard to express the awe I get when I contemplate what science has revealed to us. Let’s just look at a very recent one – a quark star – a new form of matter. A star compressed to just a few kilometers in diameter, and with so much gravity that time runs significantly slower at its surface. Isn’t that amazing?

    Let’s also pick a subject that I specialise in, as I am a biologist – evolution. It tells such wonderful stories, we know how fish came onto land, how dinosaurs developed into birds, how a small deer-like creature went back to the sea and gave rise to whales, and so on. We know the details, and when all this happened. And, we have discovered amazing animals – dinosaur-birds that flew with four wings, for example.

    I am utterly astonished that anyone can reject the process that leads to such amazing discoveries, in favour of conflicting interpretations of inconsistent words in an old book. It totally eludes me. If someone could explain the psychological motivation, I would be seriously interested.

  25. Steve Zara

    Bnonn-
    Another point about “epistemological theories”.

    Anyone can have them. I’ll make one up: knowledge comes from elves. It is nice and consistent: The elves define themselves as the source of knowledge.

    Such systems of statements can be consistent. They can be self-affirming (I have some writing that I believe is from the elves say that all this is true).

    But that doesn’t matter. What matters is whether or not it is reasonable to claim that such beliefs could possibly be true. In order for that to be the case you have to test the ideas against reality. Internal feelings aren’t sufficient.

    All beliefs about the world have to be subject to verification. This isn’t going to necessarily prove that they are true, but it helps support them.

    To be anti-science is to abandon tests against reality. I think that is dangerous. It allows people to make important claims without rational support:

    “God loves me, not you”
    “Gays are evil”
    “Evolution is wrong”

    Without such support, there is nothing to distinguish between competing supernatural claims, and it comes down simply to who shouts loudest and with the most voices.

    This is why you are responsible for your words when you call those you oppose ignorant and foolish. It is fair for others to insist you justify those words with reasoned discourse. Saying “I can’t help it, I am just right”, as you have, is not reasonable in a civilized society. It isn’t about what you personally believe, it is about what it is acceptable to claim in a public forum.

    True egalitarian democracies, that protect individuals against the majority, can only operate through the use of reason.

  26. Steve Zara

    James-
    Sorry, did not finish a sentence in a post above

    “It just seems dangerous to me to base ethics on religion”

  27. James

    Steve,

    When science does touch on things like family, friendship, love, beauty, ethics etc… it simply reduces it all to mechanical phenomenon. We are just coggs in the non-rational machine of nature. No free will, no ultimate accountability, no ultimate meaning, no transcendent grounding for ethics, love, beauty, rationality or justice. And any intuitive sense we may to the contrary is an illusion – according to you. And you wonder why people don’t flock to this view of human nature, reality?

    And yes, I agree that the Iraq war is a great waste of money. But thanks to modern science we can not kill each other by the bushel full! Not only that, thanks to science we can now completely destroy humanity! And believe me, that may be right around the corner… Thanks guys… I think we were better off with sticks and clubs…

    Ok, you asked why we believe in the words of an old book. Well, Steve truth is truth – no matter when it is first uttered. Second, and I will ask this again – what present theory has no chance of being falsified tomorrow? You yourself said that all scientific conclusions were tenative – so why sould we accept them as absolute truth? If you say that science does not deal in absolute truth, then I will say – what the hell Steve! Stop speaking as if it does!

    Second, I certainly will question biological evolution. Especially non-teleological evolution by random mutations and natural selection. Remember you prevented me from posting on your board because I questioned the ability of RMs to created new body parts. There is no compelling evidence that they can. And without random mutations what are you left with to built all the new body parts and systems that would be needed to go from a cell to a man. Nevermind the fact that you can not even get to the first simple cell in the first place. I once had debate with another biologist on the evolution of the eye from a simple light patch up. His “just so stories” were just so fantastic, believing in Biblical miracles seemed tame in comparsion… And another point. Facts do not interpret themselves, all facts are filtered through the subjective human mind – a mind full of bias and assumption – that taint all said facts.

    Third, if you are correct, and materialism is correct, then we believe in that old book because the evolutionary process caused us to do so. It’s not like we had any choice in the matter. Mother nature caused us to believe a lie. Of course, I wonder how many lies mother nature is causing you to believe right now?

  28. James

    As far as ethics Steve,

    I my younger years I live what some may call a colorful life. Anyway, I knew a man who was a “fence.” He took stolen goods and resold at discount prices (goods that were often got at the end of a gun). He was very low key, and made a ton of money. He was never arrested and his family thought he was in the import buisness. He provided very well for his family. Put his three children through good colleges, and left them all quite a chuck of jack. And he died old and happy, surrounded by these faithful loved ones.

    What on earth could an atheist like you tell this man on his death bed? That he did “wrong?” He would laugh in your face – as he should…

  29. Steve Zara

    James-

    I blocked you from posting on my blog because you were going around in circles;
    repeating questions that had already been given an answer. You were not progressing the debate by responding to those answers.

    There is certainly compelling evidence that random mutation can produce new body parts. This happens all the time in the arthropodia – our ancestors. We see different varieties with different body parts. The thing is that a certain common ancestor of the arthropodia survived to produce fish, with a certain fin pattern, and by that time thing were fixed. Given a different circumstance, fish would havd had different fins, and we would have had extra limbs.

    However, In order for us to develop major new body parts, we would need to re-wind evolution back to the point where the worm-like creature that led to fish had a different number of segments.

    What on earth could an atheist like you tell this man on his death bed? That he did “wrong?” He would laugh in your face – as he should…

    I am completely baffled by this. You haven’t the faintest idea what your “God” wants of you. If I asked you to prove to me what theistic ethics where, you would not be able to.

    We are all in the same situation regarding ethics. It is just that some people claim that their views are somehow linked to the creator of the universe. Without evidence, such claims have no value.

  30. James

    Steve,

    You are again begging the question. You have to show that RMs produced the new body parts that you are speaking of. Did you observe this? No, you are assuming again…

    And no Steve, I am not in the same boat since God made His views known on stealing (see the Torah and the ethical teaching of the New Testament) . That man will be judged for his wrongs, as will you. But the fact is, the atheist has nothing to say to this man. As a matter of fact, all morality or law is relative in your world. If a man can get away with it, and further his power, wealth and set up his children – then he did good. In the evolutionary sense, he did real good.

  31. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Steve, I’m away for a week from today, so I’ll reply when I get back.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  32. steve zara

    James-

    We have actually observed mutations that produce extra limbs in the kinds of organisms that fish evolved from. We also know how fin patterns appeared in fish. This organisation is controlled by “homeotic genes”. We really do know how all this happened. Saying it is mistaken is a bit like saying that the theory of electromagnetism is wrong while using a computer. There is no doubt about it.

    As for the matter of knowing that something is wrong because the Bible says so, that is question begging! Let’s look at all the steps you have to go through before saying that is reasonable.. You have to show:

    1. That there is a God
    2. That it is your God
    3. That He inspired people to write the Bible (how did he do this?)
    4. That God is good (why should this be?)
    5. That what is said in the Bible is meant to be taken seriously, as against myth.

    You have a lot of work to do before you can state that what is said in the Bible is to be used as the basis for ethics.

    Also, being a thief is NOT actually good for genes. It isn’t what is known as an “evolutionarily stable strategy”: if we all did it, society would collapse. This has been investigated in detail for decades. If a behaviour is to persist in a group of organisms, it has to be the kind of behaviour that will succeed when it encounters copies of itself. That just does not work for stealing in the kind of groups humans used to live in. Our moral sense makes good evolutionary sense. We have morals to control behaviour just like we have a sense of pain to discourage ourselves from doing harm to our bodies.

  33. James

    Steve,

    1. I’m sorry, I do not believe you observe any such thing. What you observe are mutations duplicating existing information (and almost always harmful, a fruit fly, reproducing a leg on the top of it’s head or a useless, extra set of wings) , and acting on existing systems. Not creating new systems, and let me quote Dr Christian Schwabe:

    ‘Control genes like homeotic genes may be the target of mutations that would conceivably change phenotypes, but one must remember that, the more central one makes changes in a complex system, the more severe the peripheral consequences become. … Homeotic changes induced in Drosophila genes have led only to monstrosities, and most experimenters do not expect to see a bee arise from their Drosophila constructs.’ (Mini Review: Schwabe, C., 1994. Theoretical limitations of molecular phylogenetics and the evolution of relaxins. Comp. Biochem. Physiol.107B:167–177).

    Do you agree or disagree?

    2. I certainly do not believe that you would take to heart any defense I made of scripture. You very seldom see me doing this. I in fact believe that you will fight tooth and nail against Holy Writ – a sinner seeks God like a bank robber looks for a cop. But I will say, it is not a leap to believe that a Creator God could communicate to His creation – man in particular. Even if we don’t know the mechanism. Just like you believe in Quantum entanglement – that two formely entangled particles mirror each other’s movement at a distance. There is nothing that can explain this – yet you believe it to be so. Now you could say that we may one day find the mechanism, but I could say the same thing – perhaps one day God will reveal how He accomplished certain things. But for now we both take it by “faith.”

    3. Your point about ethics is meaningless. People steal all the time. Most are not so bold, like my co-workers taking little things from the workplace. So clearly stealing is an evolutionarily strategy for survival or we would NOT be doing it. I see apes stealing each other’s food all the time on the Animal Planet. Sometimes they share, but when the big ape wants the little ape’s food or mate, he just comes and takes it/them. So obviously stealing is a good strategy for survival.

    Like I said Steve, you have nothing to say to the man in my story… He protected his gene pool and gave them advantage. Good strategy indeed…

    A side note Steve concerning evolutionary behavior. Is there a behavior we humans could do that would falsify evolutionary behavior models? If so, could you name me one? Or are the present models of evolutionary psychology unfalsifiable?

  34. Steve Zara

    James-

    You are missing an important point. I am not talking about mammals, or even creatures with specialised limbs such as insects. The level of organism we need to consider are segmented worms with legs. Simple mutations can reduce or increase the number of segments. It is also true that most such mutations are harmful in more organised creatures. But that doesn’t matter. We are dealing with timescales of hundreds of millions of years.

    This really is extremely well-researched. I just don’t understand why you have a problem with it.

    Regarding ethics, you are trying to deal with absolutes. Things aren’t black and white. Lifting a few pencils from workplace isn’t equivalent to living off thievery.

    So clearly stealing is an evolutionarily strategy for survival or we would NOT be doing it.

    Again, you go with the black-and-white all-or-nothing arguments. Occasional pilfering may not be too harmful, but for most people, their consciences won’t allow them to rob banks.

    Like I said Steve, you have nothing to say to the man in my story… He protected his gene pool and gave them advantage. Good strategy indeed…

    No, he didn’t. If he passed on the same genetic tendency towards unfettered thieving, then this behaviour will not be successful.

    You are confusing what happens in one generation with what happens long term.

    As for proving evolutionary ideas of behaviour wrong, of course it is falsifiable. If all of humanity suddenly turned into mass murders for no apparent reason…

    And yet again, you have nothing at all to say to that fellow, unless you can give a good reasonable explanation to believe in scripture…. all you are doing is projecting what you feel is right anyway into what you suppose comes from a supreme being. It is a form of sock-puppetry (“me and my powerful invisible friend both think…”)

  35. James

    Hey Steve,

    1. Perhaps I’m not making myself clear. Like with your worm example. Are any new systems being created? I’m not speaking of duplication or losing information (like the loss of legs). That is mutation acting on existing material, existing body parts. Do we have observable evidence that mutations can built these systems in the first place?

    2. You said: No, he didn’t. If he passed on the same genetic tendency towards unfettered thieving, then this behaviour will not be successful.

    But you are assuming. Obviously the genetic trait was passed on to him. And he did just fine. It would depend on conditions and intelligence. There is a saying – only stupid criminals get caught.

    3. You said: Again, you go with the black-and-white all-or-nothing arguments. Occasional pilfering may not be too harmful, but for most people, their consciences won’t allow them to rob banks.

    But what moral obligations do we have to conscience? None in a materialistic world. People generally don’t understand that now, but when they do look out…

    4. Again, we see stealing in the animal kingdom all the time Steve. The stronger constantly steal from the weaker. If you were correct we should have seen major species (including large primates) die out long ago. But they haven’t – so it must be effective. How can you argue against this?

    5. You said: As for proving evolutionary ideas of behaviour wrong, of course it is falsifiable. If all of humanity suddenly turned into mass murders for no apparent reason…

    First, men are already practice genocide. Men commit suicide. I don’t see how your example would disprove evolutionary psychology since we already have the seeds for mass murder , and self murder in our make up. It is interesting that you had to reach for such an extreme example – this only shows me that the theory, for all practical purposes, can not be falsified.

    6. You said: And yet again, you have nothing at all to say to that fellow, unless you can give a good reasonable explanation to believe in scripture…. all you are doing is projecting what you feel is right anyway into what you suppose comes from a supreme being. It is a form of sock-puppetry (”me and my powerful invisible friend both think…”)

    Ok, your will be done…

  36. Steve Zara

    Perhaps I’m not making myself clear. Like with your worm example. Are any new systems being created? I’m not speaking of duplication or losing information (like the loss of legs). That is mutation acting on existing material, existing body parts. Do we have observable evidence that mutations can built these systems in the first place?

    Yes, we do. There was recent observation of the development of new structures in the guts of lizards that had their diet changed. This happened after only decades.

    But you are assuming. Obviously the genetic trait was passed on to him. And he did just fine. It would depend on conditions and intelligence. There is a saying – only stupid criminals get caught.

    We have discussed this. It isn’t about single generations. Consider a situation where 80% of people were lifelong thieves? Does this work? How about 40%? How about 20%?

    The problem is that even intelligent thievery doesn’t work if a significant number do it. That is why most of us have consciences telling us not to do it.

    4. Again, we see stealing in the animal kingdom all the time Steve. The stronger constantly steal from the weaker. If you were correct we should have seen major species (including large primates) die out long ago. But they haven’t – so it must be effective. How can you argue against this?

    I have just discussed this. Let me repeat precisely what I posted in my my previous effort. It is to do with degrees, and averages. Pilfering is not the same as a life spent thieving. There are some actions that just don’t work in groups that humans used to live in – say bands of a few dozen.

    But what moral obligations do we have to conscience? None in a materialistic world. People generally don’t understand that now, but when they do look out…

    Conscience IS morality. What you are talking about is ethics. Also, what you are suggesting is just plain silly – that if people found out they are just atoms, they would go around killing and stealing. Why should they? We have feelings for each other. We aren’t emotionless uncaring robots. Having someone point out the nature of their bodies doesn’t change that.

    What I find totally bizarre is why you think that the existence of a non-material world (for which you have provided no evidence) changes anything at all to do with morality or ethics. If you have a think about it, you will see it doesn’t. The material/non-material status of the world has as much relevance to the status of morality as the colour of the sky.

    First, men are already practice genocide. Men commit suicide. I don’t see how your example would disprove evolutionary psychology since we already have the seeds for mass murder , and self murder in our make up. It is interesting that you had to reach for such an extreme example – this only shows me that the theory, for all practical purposes, can not be falsified.

    I am at a loss to explain why you say this. I have already covered this. Having some individuals do this is not the same as it being the usual case. That was my falsifiable situation.

    Ok, your will be done…

    I am not claiming an invisible friend who tells me what to do. I take personal responsibility for my actions, and for finding out what is right and wrong.

  37. James

    Hey Steve,

    1. You said: Yes, we do. There was recent observation of the development of new structures in the guts of lizards that had their diet changed. This happened after only decades.

    Do you have link for this?

    2. You said: I have just discussed this. Let me repeat precisely what I posted in my my previous effort. It is to do with degrees, and averages. Pilfering is not the same as a life spent thieving. There are some actions that just don’t work in groups that humans used to live in – say bands of a few dozen.

    What the bigger apes do to the smaller apes is not pilfering for goodness sake, they take their food. Which is necessary for survival. I mean you see this across the animal knigdom. The strong, or clever, take from the weak and stupid. How can you A. deny this is pretty universal among animals, and B. say it is not effective?

    3. You said: Conscience IS morality. What you are talking about is ethics. Also, what you are suggesting is just plain silly – that if people found out they are just atoms, they would go around killing and stealing. Why should they? We have feelings for each other. We aren’t emotionless uncaring robots. Having someone point out the nature of their bodies doesn’t change that.

    It would be logically foolish to be obligated to conscience. Why, if it stood in the way of a person’s power and wealth? And I do believe men act on, or from, their worldview. If we are nothing more than primordial slime evolved to a higher order then why not grab all you can? What’s the difference in the end?

    4. You said: What I find totally bizarre is why you think that the existence of a non-material world (for which you have provided no evidence) changes anything at all to do with morality or ethics. If you have a think about it, you will see it doesn’t. The material/non-material status of the world has as much relevance to the status of morality as the colour of the sky.

    A. This is an interesting point Steve – what is evidence? If I remember correctly you provided no evidence that the universe was either self-generating or self-sustaining. You could not even give non-arbitrary standards of what a purely materialistic universe would look like. We both assume our positions. But back to my question – what is evidence?

    B. Your second point is just foolish. Belief in God has a profound effect on one’s moral life. It had on mine, and dozens of people I have known.

    5. You said: I am at a loss to explain why you say this. I have already covered this. Having some individuals do this is not the same as it being the usual case. That was my falsifiable situation.

    This is the problem Steve, evolutionary psychology explains why men rape, and why they don’t, why women birth their children, and why they abort, why we wage war and why we wage peace, why we are sexually attracted to the same sex and why we are sexually attracted to the opposite sex, why we are greedy, and why we share, etc, etc, etc… It explains every behavior and it’s opposite – that is unfalsifible (when looking at actual behavior) and therefore it is not science. And believe me, if we all really did start killing each other tomorrow you would come up for a evolutionary explaination for that too.

    6. You said: I am not claiming an invisible friend who tells me what to do. I take personal responsibility for my actions, and for finding out what is right and wrong.

    Tell me Steve, why is your moral opinion on let’s say genocide more correct or valid than Stalin’s?

  38. Iapetus

    James,

    it seems obvious to me that your exchange with Steve concerning ethics/morality suffers from a massive misunderstanding on your part, namely the confusion between a descriptive theory and a prescriptive set of rules. The theory of evolution is the former, not the latter.

    When you write

    “What the bigger apes do to the smaller apes is not pilfering for goodness sake, they take their food. Which is necessary for survival. I mean you see this across the animal knigdom. The strong, or clever, take from the weak and stupid.”

    you are describing a behaviour of organisms in nature and jump from there to the conclusion that humans should act likewise. Why? We have the mental capacity to reflect on our behaviour and are not dependent on instincts. Every time we use contraceptives for instance we are acting against the evolutionary “desires” (in an abstract sense) of our genes to propagate into the next generation. And why not, since we have reached a cognitive level where our destiny is to a certain degree in our own hands. Again, evolution is simply a process that goes on all around and within us. To claim that we should follow the “demands” of said process (and ignoring that this is not even a coherent proposition IMO) in ethical questions is a massive non sequitur.

    Further, I have the impression that you think ethical propositions are either grounded in an absolute, objective standard or they are completely meaningless. Anyone who has studied philosphy of ethics will find such a statement so massively wrong that it hurts, not to mention that I very much doubt that you could show ethics based on your version of/belief in the Christian god to be objective. I would urge you to obtain some reading material on this topic bef0re arguing in this way, e.g. Mackie’s “Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong”.

  39. steve zara

    Do you have link for this?

    http://www.richarddawkins.net/article,2663,Lizards-make-adaptive-change,Stan-Freeman

    How can you A. deny this is pretty universal among animals, and B. say it is not effective?

    Please re-read what I posted before. You are just making stuff up to disagree with me. Full-time thievery is not a stable strategy for the majority of members of any species.

    This is an interesting point Steve – what is evidence? If I remember correctly you provided no evidence that the universe was either self-generating or self-sustaining. You could not even give non-arbitrary standards of what a purely materialistic universe would look like. We both assume our positions. But back to my question – what is evidence?

    Evidence is something that will convince a sceptic. That is repeatable at different places in space and time. That does not rely on personal testimony.

    You make more complex assumptions with more entities than me. It is up to you to justify your position. If you have evidence for things not following laws of nature, please present it. If you have some evidence for a supernatural/natural divide, please present it.

    If we are nothing more than primordial slime evolved to a higher order then why not grab all you can? What’s the difference in the end?

    What a deeply silly statement. For goodness sake man, don’t you care about other people? Do you honestly think you only care about them because of your belief in God?

    B. Your second point is just foolish. Belief in God has a profound effect on one’s moral life. It had on mine, and dozens of people I have known.

    That is completely missing the point. We aren’t talking about belief, we are talking about there being some actual transcendent foundation for morality. Belief in God can have a profound effect on one’s moral life. Just see the way Osama Bin Laden acts. The point is that we construct our belief in God out of whatever existing moral framework we have. In truth, we don’t get our morals from God – we construct a God out of our morals. That is the danger – that people claim supernatural backing for whatever morality they happen to have. It is a real danger – we see it all the time.

    This is the problem Steve, evolutionary psychology explains why men rape, and why they don’t, why women birth their children, and why they abort, why we wage war and why we wage peace, why we are sexually attracted to the same sex and why we are sexually attracted to the opposite sex, why we are greedy, and why we share, etc, etc, etc… It explains every behavior and it’s opposite – that is unfalsifible (when looking at actual behavior) and therefore it is not science. And believe me, if we all really did start killing each other tomorrow you would come up for a evolutionary explaination for that too.

    No. It explains typical behaviour. We have been over this.

    Tell me Steve, why is your moral opinion on let’s say genocide more correct or valid than Stalin’s?

    Because I care about people. And, hey, I don’t need an imaginary friend to do it!

  40. James

    Hey Steve,

    1. Thanks for the link. But that really does not answer my question. Creationists believe in change, even rapid change within type or kind. In your example there is no evidence that random mutations did this. As a matter of fact on your blog you told me that such change would take long ages, and we shouldn’t expect to see such things. If RMs did cause the change in these lizards you would expect to see it in the DNA, yet the DNA was exactly the same as the parent population. No I suspect some form of phenotypic plasticity. A inherent ability to adapt.

    2. Steve, are you telling me that the stronger, more agressive animals of a group don’t regularly take from the weaker members of the group?

    3. You said: Evidence is something that will convince a sceptic. That is repeatable at different places in space and time. That does not rely on personal testimony.

    Then prove that you live in a materialistic universe. Convince this sceptic. Besides, you just reject most of ancient history since it relies on personal testimony and is not repeatable.

    You make more complex assumptions with more entities than me. It is up to you to justify your position. If you have evidence for things not following laws of nature, please present it. If you have some evidence for a supernatural/natural divide, please present it.

    What cause the universe only needs to be as complex as necessary, I suppose. Do you know what that was? Second, what laws of nature do formerly entangled particles follow? And again you are begging the question – how do you know these laws are “natural?”

    4. You said: What a deeply silly statement. For goodness sake man, don’t you care about other people? Do you honestly think you only care about them because of your belief in God?

    The question is why care? The man in my story did care very much for his family – obviously not at all for strangers. So? Did he do wrong? How so?

    5, You said: Because I care about people. And, hey, I don’t need an imaginary friend to do it!

    That is no answer. I’m sure Stalin cared for his family (actually he did). I asked why your moral opinion was more correct or valid than his?

  41. James

    Hello Iapetus,

    1. How can we act against evolutionary “desires?” Are you suggesting free will? The fact is humans do steal, rape, practice genocide, etc… It’s our genetic make up to do so. How can genetics be “wrong?”

    2. And yes, I am claiming that if ethics or morality are not objectively grounded that they are ultimately meaningless, and without moral authority. Again, how is Stalin’s moral opinion more correct or valid than yours?

    3. And it really doesn’t matter what Mackie says, or how detailed his argument, it will come back to the samething. If there is no God, everything is permissible. Like the man in my story – if you can get away with it and further your gene pool, you won… Plain and simple.

  42. James

    Hello again Steve,

    1. You said: That is completely missing the point. We aren’t talking about belief, we are talking about there being some actual transcendent foundation for morality. Belief in God can have a profound effect on one’s moral life. Just see the way Osama Bin Laden acts. The point is that we construct our belief in God out of whatever existing moral framework we have. In truth, we don’t get our morals from God – we construct a God out of our morals. That is the danger – that people claim supernatural backing for whatever morality they happen to have. It is a real danger – we see it all the time.

    First, you are assumimg that we construct our belief in God out of a existing moral framework. Second, your points are completely bias. I can’t tell you how many christians I know that have left lives of crime and drug abuse because of their faith. Who are now good citizens because they believe in objective, God given, moral truths – like loving one’s neighbor, helping the poor and outcast, being true to their spouses, etc… The content of one’s faith (the moral tenets of that system) are important. So don’t lump us in with Bin Laden – it is intellectually dishonest.

    2. You said: No. It explains typical behaviour. We have been over this.

    My point remains, it is unfalsifible when observing actual behavior so it is not “science.”

  43. Iapetus

    James,

    “1. How can we act against evolutionary “desires?” Are you suggesting free will? The fact is humans do steal, rape, practice genocide, etc… It’s our genetic make up to do so. How can genetics be “wrong?””

    We are conscious of and able to reflect on our actions and therefore not bound to follow our instincts. Furthermore, as Steve already noted, we also have altruistic urges due to our evolutionary past that required us to develop some form of cooperation within small groups of individuals.

    However, it seems you missed the point I was making. Inferring from the fact/hypothesis that we have a genetic predisposition to behave in a certain way the proposition that it is ethically justified/not justified to behave in this way is not warranted. It is the old is/ought problem that was formulated by Hume almost 300 years ago. When we say an action is ethically justified or not (or “good” or “bad” if you prefer) we mean that it is an action that one should or should not do, i.e. there is a prescriptive component involved.
    In contrast, observing that human beings sometimes display violent tendencies is a description/observation. How would you derive from this a prescriptive rule that says “Behaving violently is good.”? Answering that our genes predispose us to it is not enough, because you have to explain why we should try to follow this genetic predisposition.

    “2. And yes, I am claiming that if ethics or morality are not objectively grounded that they are ultimately meaningless, and without moral authority. Again, how is Stalin’s moral opinion more correct or valid than yours?”

    This presupposes the existence of an objective standard that could be more or less exactly approached. Unless you can show this to be the case, your question does not make sense. Which brings me to this:

    “3. And it really doesn’t matter what Mackie says, or how detailed his argument, it will come back to the samething. If there is no God, everything is permissible. Like the man in my story – if you can get away with it and further your gene pool, you won… Plain and simple.”

    Again, I would recommend you familiarize yourself at least superficially with his work (or philosophy of ethics in general). It is precisely sentiments like these that Mackie shows to be untenable. For starters, could you please elucidate the chain of reasoning for your assertions that a) ethical propositions are objective and b) the Christian god (and only this god) makes these objective ethical propositions possible.

  44. Steve Zara

    James-

    I can’t see what you are arguing in your last post. You seem to have moved away from arguing that there is a God to arguing that the belief in a God and objective morality is all that matters.

    Sorry, but you are wrong. People are much more decent than you appear to believe. There are hundreds of millions who don’t believe in a God or in objective morality but who live happy and decent lives. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if it is decent behaviour to try and change people’s lives based on delusions.

    It is entirely fair to lump you in with Bin Laden while you, like him, continue to insist that your morality is supported by the divine. That is an unfair tactic in a civilized society. You say God says one thing, and he says God says another thing, but without hard evidence, the only reasonable thing is to ignore both claims. It is intellectually dishonest to talk about the objective nature of morality when you have no evidence for such a thing at all.

    Also, there is not the slightest doubt that we construct ideas of Gods out of our own morality. We can see the consequence of this right now with the imminent splitting of the Anglican church. Apparently some people say the Holy Spirit says this, and other people say the Holy Spirit says that.

    One would think that the Holy Spirit would just sort all this out!

    My point remains, it is unfalsifiable when observing actual behavior so it is not “science.”

    Yes, it is falsifiable. Ideas of animal behaviour based on this kind of work are falsified all the time! It is a robust experimental science.

    I strongly back Iapetus’ suggestion that you read Mackie on these matters – he is a wonderfully clear writer.

  45. James

    Hello again Iapetus

    1. Tell me how you rationally go from is to ought? And if you are not suggesting some form of libertarian free will, then as Dawkins says – we are just dancing to our DNA. Our DNA may cause us to be gracious and giving or greedy and violent. How is any of this outside of our genetic predisposition? How do you NOT follow this disposition? Again, how do go from is to ought – rationally?

    2. We are both assuming at this point Iapetus, I assume the Christian God, you assume naturalism. And you can not prove that our moral sense is the result of evolutionary forces alone. So we work off our assumptions. If God then A, if no God then B. I have presented B and I don’t see how you can rationally refute it. So in the end it doesn’t matter what Mackie says, or anyone else – it will all come back to that simple point.

    3. I will again ask-how is Stalin’s moral opinion more correct or valid than yours?

    4. Or let me quote from Russell’s Science and Ethics:

    “The theory which I have been advocating is a form of the doctrine which is called the ‘subjectivity’ of values. This doctrine consists in maintaining that, if two men differ about values, there is not a disagreement as to any kind of truth, but a difference of taste. If one man says ‘oysters are good’ and another says ‘I think they are bad,’ we recognize that there is nothing to argue about. The theory in question holds that all differences as to values are of this sort, although we do not naturally think them so when we are dealing with matters that seem to us more exalted than oysters. The chief ground for adopting this view is the complete impossibility of finding any arguments to prove that this or that has intrinsic value.

  46. James

    Hey again Steve,

    1. I did not move away from anything. Like I said I very rarely defend belief in God. My point is there are certain logical conclusions for morality depending on whether God exists or not….

    2. As to my belief in God being a delusion. This is the problem Steve. Your opinion has no weight (and I’m not trying to be dismissive here) with me. Are you rational? Can you prove it? I mean some much of what you say is completely arbitrary. Like when I asked you what evidence was or why your opinion was more valid than Stalin’s. You believe many things without rational justification – like your experience of the world corresponds with reality

    3. You said: Yes, it is falsifiable. Ideas of animal behavior based on this kind of work are falsified all the time! It is a robust experimental science.

    Ok, then give me a real life example of a behavior that would falsify theories evolutionary psychology.

  47. Iapetus

    James,

    “1. Tell me how you rationally go from is to ought? And if you are not suggesting some form of libertarian free will, then as Dawkins says – we are just dancing to our DNA. Our DNA may cause us to be gracious and giving or greedy and violent. How is any of this outside of our genetic predisposition? How do you NOT follow this disposition? Again, how do go from is to ought – rationally?”

    Please read again what I wrote. The difficulty to derive an ethically prescriptive rule from an observation of (human) nature is exactly what I was talking about. Why do you ask me to lay out a rationale for crossing this divide when I explicitly questioned the validity of such an endeavour in the first place? You were the one who set up the strawman that a non-theistic ethical system must somehow be based on the theory of evolution and/or descriptions of natural patterns of behaviour. We can see this again in the above quote about genetic predisposition. Unless you can justify why accepting discovered facts about the natural world forces us to declare it ethically desirable to follow this or that genetic predisposition, your position is not coherent.

    Regarding this “dancing to our DNA” theme, I will repeat what I already wrote: we have the mental capacity to reflect on our instincts, urges, desires etc. and to amend our behaviour. Furthermore, it is ludicrously simplistic to think that complex patterns of behaviour as displayed by humans are somehow 100% hardwired in our genes. Our brains have tremendous plasticity and are shaped through e.g. cultural factors during childhood.

    “2. We are both assuming at this point Iapetus, I assume the Christian God, you assume naturalism.”

    How would you know what my metaphysical assumptions are, if any? For all you know, I could be an atheist Buddhist who holds that the Universe is governed by an objective, yet impersonal moral law. The metaphysical landscape is bigger than this simple Christian god/no Christian god dichotomy.

    “And you can not prove that our moral sense is the result of evolutionary forces alone. So we work off our assumptions.”

    We also can not prove that a ball falling to the ground is the result of gravitational forces alone. Is it reasonable to assume that invisible leprechauns are pushing it? If we can sufficiently explain a phenomenon through natural forces, this is it. If you want to introduce additional mechanisms/entities to the explanation it is your burden to show corroborating evidence.
    I would be interested to hear why theists are so frequently afraid of accepting that we are creatures that were shaped by evolutionary forces. Do you believe that it would deny you this special place in the Universe your god promised you? Do you fear that it would destroy the notion of absolute morality that you deem indispensable?

    ” If God then A, if no God then B. I have presented B and I don’t see how you can rationally refute it.”

    If by “presented” you mean “asserted”, I would agree with you. As it is, there is not much on the table that could be refuted, because no rational argument was laid out. So I will repeat the request from my last post: could you please elucidate the chain of reasoning for your assertions that a) ethical propositions are objective and b) the Christian god (and only this god) makes these objective ethical propositions possible.

    “So in the end it doesn’t matter what Mackie says, or anyone else – it will all come back to that simple point.”

    Statements like these are precisely the reason why you would immensely profit from engaging philosophy of ethics in general and Mackie in particular.

    “3. I will again ask-how is Stalin’s moral opinion more correct or valid than yours?”

    I answered this already. If you mean “correct” in the sense of “maximal approximation of an objective truth”, then this presupposes the existence of such. Unless you can show this to be the case, the question does not make sense.

  48. James

    Hello Iapetus

    1. Ok, then you agree that you can not go from is to ought and Stalin’s moral opinion is no more correct or valid than yours.

    2. I have no idea what you mean by suggesting that we can override our genetic make up. Is Dawkins wrong? Yes our brains may have plasticity but they still dance to their genetic make up. You can assert, but unless you pose some form of libertain free will, all our thoughts, actions and responses are determined – do you deny that they are determined?

    3. As far as proof Iapetus. Again, you can not prove that this universe is “natural.” You simply assume it. What is the difference between a supenatural universe and a purely natural universe – how would you know? By what objective standard?

    4. And yes these is an ethical difference concerning man’s place in the universe. Man has no inherent dignity or value in a strictly material universe. He does have, objective, transcendent worth if the Christian God exists.

    5. As far as Mackie goes, what is he going to say, bottom line, that you haven’t said? Are his conclusions going to be different? BTW – that quote from Russell was from one of Mackie’s online papers I read – I was not impressed – same old, same old….

  49. Steve Zara

    James-

    You keep missing the point.

    I don’t have to prove anything to you about the nature of the world, or if I am rational.

    You are making claims about invisible things. It is as simple as that.

    What you are effectively proposing is a form of dishonest intellectual anarchy…. “we can’t prove anything, so I can just make stuff up”.

    Even if I were to accept that science was useless (which I don’t), or that there is a supernatural realm (which I don’t), that doesn’t help you one bit to prove God. You have to give robust evidence – it is simple as that.

    Also, what you are basically claiming is that your mind has super-powers. You are somehow able to have direct experience of some other realm.

    Well, two can play at that game. I declare the existence of the hyper-natural realm. I experience it directly in my thoughts. I have spoken in my head to some entity called Dog, and he has told me that your mere “supernatural” realm is an inferior sort of place, where lesser beings hang out, and have fun deluding humans.

    Do you see the kind of rubbish one can get to if you don’t start with the simplest working, tentative assumptions (one kind of reality, the one we see; the one we can prod)?

    This is why you are in a very difficult position with your claims of the supernatural. I’m assuming one reality, you are assuming two. You have to justify your case.

    He does have, objective, transcendent worth if the Christian God exists.

    This is just stringing words together in the hope they make sense.

    You first have to show that there is a supernatural realm, that there is a God, that he somehow gives us worth, and so on.

    Otherwise this sentence makes as much sense as “floopy warble flip”.

  50. Steve Zara

    3. As far as proof Iapetus. Again, you can not prove that this universe is “natural.” You simply assume it. What is the difference between a supenatural universe and a purely natural universe – how would you know? By what objective standard?

    You keep making the same mistakes.

    This isn’t about proving the universe natural. It is not assuming anything else until evidence is provided. Why do we start off with the assumption that the universe is natural? Because the scientific method works. We get the same, repeatable results at different points in time and space.

    The supernatural isn’t even a sensible concept. How could you tell if something was supernatural?

    I think it is time you answered this question.

  51. Iapetus

    James,

    “1. Ok, then you agree that you can not go from is to ought and Stalin’s moral opinion is no more correct or valid than yours.”

    I agree to the first half-sentence since this is what I was trying to communicate to you from the start. As for the second half-sentence, I refer you to my previous two posts.

    “2. I have no idea what you mean by suggesting that we can override our genetic make up. Is Dawkins wrong? Yes our brains may have plasticity but they still dance to their genetic make up. You can assert, but unless you pose some form of libertain free will, all our thoughts, actions and responses are determined – do you deny that they are determined?”

    If I wanted to ascertain your Dawkins-qoute I would have to know the exact wording and the context in which the statement was made. However, I doubt that he espouses the form of naive genetic determinism that you suggest here. As I said, it is both fundamentally naive and not supported by scientific findings to claim that human behaviour patterns are directly encoded in their DNA. As far as we know, there is no “violence gene” just as there is no “love gene” or “envy gene”. The most we can currently say is that there seems to be a correlation between some genetic traits and the propensity for a certain behaviour, e.g. alcoholism. However, a multitude of other factors apart from our genes come into play, e.g. circrumstances, upbringing, our mental and emotional state, psychological or physiological disease etc.

    Regarding free will, if you mean “free” in the sense of “uncaused”, I would indeed deny that this is possible. If totally free will would exist, we ourselves would not know the reasons why we decided on this action and not another, i.e. it would not really be our will at all. Furthermore, it is overwhelmingly likely that our mental states are based on the physical states of our brain, so our decisions are the result of these physical states and in this sense not uncaused.

    However, I feel we are going out on a tangent here. What does this have to do with whether non-theistic ethical systems are viable or whether objective, theistic ethical systems are possible?

    “3. As far as proof Iapetus. Again, you can not prove that this universe is “natural.” You simply assume it. What is the difference between a supenatural universe and a purely natural universe – how would you know? By what objective standard?”

    I second Steve’s request that you provide evidence for the existence of a second reality apart from the one we all experience. And while you are at it, please also provide your argumentation in support of objective ethical propositions and the role the Christian god plays in making them possible.

    “4. And yes these is an ethical difference concerning man’s place in the universe. Man has no inherent dignity or value in a strictly material universe. He does have, objective, transcendent worth if the Christian God exists.”

    See the preceding paragraph.

    “5. As far as Mackie goes, what is he going to say, bottom line, that you haven’t said? Are his conclusions going to be different? BTW – that quote from Russell was from one of Mackie’s online papers I read – I was not impressed – same old, same old….”

    Why not read Mackie yourself and find out? If you can counter his objections regarding the existence of objective ethical propositions, I’m all ears…

  52. James

    Hello Iapetus, are you Mike? There can’t be two of you… ; )

    1. I went back, I’m not getting it – could you reword it? How is your moral opinion more correct or valid than Stalin’s? Why exactly do you object to the second half of my sentence? Thanks…

    2. You said: Furthermore, it is overwhelmingly likely that our mental states are based on the physical states of our brain, so our decisions are the result of these physical states and in this sense not uncaused.

    Ok, so how are you not making my point? This is determinism – non-rational determinism at that. The reason why this pertains is that we don’t have a choice in what we believe or how we act – there is no good or evil, right or wrong. No ought from is. Stalin does what Stalin does, you do what you do. Using moral language here is simple irrational. I suspect you agree with that though?

    3. I think you missed my point. Which was – how do you know that this reality is “natural?” Compared to what? What is natural – can you define it?

    4….

    5. No, please submit one of Mackie’s objections here that you find compelling and let’s have a go at it. You would know his argument better than me – his stronger ones… Thanks…

  53. James

    Steve I hope we can continue this discussion in good cheer and warmth, I have grown rather fond of you over these weeks – though I’m not sure if I like Mike yet… ; )

    1. You said: This isn’t about proving the universe natural. It is not assuming anything else until evidence is provided. Why do we start off with the assumption that the universe is natural? Because the scientific method works. We get the same, repeatable results at different points in time and space.

    The supernatural isn’t even a sensible concept. How could you tell if something was supernatural?

    I think it is time you answered this question.

    1. But this is the very question under discussion. So the scientific method works, so what? Why not expect that in a supernatural universe? Who says a supernatural universe would not have predictability and uniformity? I could say that a purely “natural” universe is not even a sensible concept. How does one even claim a “natural” universe? On what grounds? Who defines “natural?’ In reference to what? If you want to say that you don’t know if we live in a natural universe or not then fine – we will leave it there…

    2. To the whole rational thing. The reason why you can not prove that you are rational is that you have no objective reference point. This is why I don’t generally attempt to “prove” God. Because I do not think that your rational abilities are functioning correctly. Like when I asked you to define what evidence was, you offered a completely arbitrary definition: “that which would convince a skeptic.” Which skeptic? How many skeptics? One? A hundred? You? Why should the skeptic or you decide what good evidence is? Why should I accept your definition of bad evidence? And on and on…

    As a Christian I believe that the closer one’s thinking is to biblical truth the more rational he is. The further away, the less rational – atheism being at the far end of the scale. This is not about one being “smarter” though, its about correct function. So my standard of rationality is Holy Scripture and what corresponds to said Writ.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking with it!

    3. And if you want to listen to Dog, be my guest. I prefer Christ Jesus, the Son of God… but I’m funny that way…

  54. Iapetus

    James,

    “Hello Iapetus, are you Mike? There can’t be two of you… ; )”

    No, I am not Mike. I fear you will have to put up with both of us…;-)

    “1. I went back, I’m not getting it – could you reword it? How is your moral opinion more correct or valid than Stalin’s? Why exactly do you object to the second half of my sentence? Thanks…”

    Let me give you an example of what I mean. Suppose person A says: “2+2=4”, while person B is of the opinion: “2+2=5” while person C claims: “2+2=100”. We can now say that person A’s opinion is “correct” or more valid than person B’s whose opinion is again more “correct” or “valid” than person C’s because there exists an objective mathematical truth that can be approached to a lesser or higher degree. Therefore asking which person is more correct is valid.
    If you want to transfer this question to ethical propositions, you have to show that such an objective ethical truth exists in the first place before asking whether this or that ethical stance is more correct or valid than another.

    “Ok, so how are you not making my point? This is determinism – non-rational determinism at that.”

    Why do you assume that recognizing that our mental capabilities are based on a physical substrate automatically leads to strict determinism? As I said in my previous post, free will in the sense of “absolutely uncaused” is self-defeating. If there is no reason or cause whatsoever for your decisions, then you can not influence them and it is unintelligible to call them “your” decisions. All our momentary decisions and thoughts are influenced by and based on our preceding mental states and in this sense caused by them. Nonetheless, our brains have plasticity and flexibility. We can reflect on our behaviour and adjust it to a high extent.

    “The reason why this pertains is that we don’t have a choice in what we believe or how we act – there is no good or evil, right or wrong. No ought from is. Stalin does what Stalin does, you do what you do. Using moral language here is simple irrational. I suspect you agree with that though?”

    No, it only means that there exist no objective, maybe even transcendent, metaphysical ethical entities or values or whatever, so we have to negotiate our own ethical framework. And this is exactly where people like Mackie are helpful in that he shows a possible ethical system that is not dependent on the proclamation of objective ethical propositions.

    “3. I think you missed my point. Which was – how do you know that this reality is “natural?” Compared to what? What is natural – can you define it?”

    I do not really care that much about this whole labeling business since one can get hung up on it. I guess we both agree that our experiences of reality are very similiar, repeatable, continous and steady. Science has discovered that there exist certain patterns and regularities that seem to govern this reality and yield predictable results. Whether we call this reality “natural” or “slfnweihn” is not important.
    You make the claim that there exists another reality which is fundamentally different from the one we are familiar with. Whether you call this second reality “supernatural” or “iergnwog”, it adds something to that which is already known. Now, if you want people to take this claim seriously, you have to give them some evidence that this second reality is actually there, otherwise we are entitled to disbelieve it.

    “5. No, please submit one of Mackie’s objections here that you find compelling and let’s have a go at it. You would know his argument better than me – his stronger ones… Thanks…”

    I am somewhat hesitant to do this since it can get rather tedious to lay out Mackie’s reasoning in this setting when it would be easier if you just read his book. Nonetheless, I will give it a try and see how it goes. Three of his major objections are:

    a) metaphysical queerness: objective values would be metaphysical entities unlike any others in that they do not only exist but are at the same time motivational, meaning that they possess an intrinsic “worthiness” to be realized

    b) epistomological problems: even if this metaphysical entities exist, how would we recognize them?

    c) what is the connection between these metaphysical entities and concrete actions, i.e. how is their objective ethical value channeled from the metaphysical to the physical realm?

  55. James

    Hello Iapetus, who is not Mike…

    1. You said: If you want to transfer this question to ethical propositions, you have to show that such an objective ethical truth exists in the first place before asking whether this or that ethical stance is more correct or valid than another.

    A. No, that is not what I was saying. I was asking why you objected to my point that your moral opinion was no more valid than Stalin’s in a non-theistic universe. You disagreed with that part of my sentence above.

    B. And how do you know that “objective mathematical truth” exists? Where are they? Don’t mathematical truth have to exist in a “mind?”

    2. You said: All our momentary decisions and thoughts are influenced by and based on our preceding mental states and in this sense caused by them. Nonetheless, our brains have plasticity and flexibility. We can reflect on our behaviour and adjust it to a high extent.

    A. But reflection language is misleading. Reflection suggested choice, the ability to choose between different options. There is no option to adjust anything. It’s like saying a rock can reflect about rolling down hill. It’s meaningless.

    B. Can you give me an example of a thought that is not biologically determined?

    3. You said: You make the claim that there exists another reality which is fundamentally different from the one we are familiar with. Whether you call this second reality “supernatural” or “iergnwog”, it adds something to that which is already known. Now, if you want people to take this claim seriously, you have to give them some evidence that this second reality is actually there, otherwise we are entitled to disbelieve it.

    Fair enough, but you can not even define natural in a non-arbitrary way. As a matter of fact, if I ask you to define evidence, like Steve’s answer, that too will be arbitrary. The fact is, you do not know if you are living in a natural world or a supernatural world. My next question would be – how did the universe get here. Do you have a natural explaination?

    4. a) metaphysical queerness: objective values would be metaphysical entities unlike any others in that they do not only exist but are at the same time motivational, meaning that they possess an intrinsic “worthiness” to be realized.

    Sure, in one sense like 2+2=4 is motivational, compels us to it’s truth. We recognize that murder is wrong.

    b) epistomological problems: even if this metaphysical entities exist, how would we recognize them?

    We recognize them through our minds, like we recognize mathematical truth.

    c) what is the connection between these metaphysical entities and concrete actions, i.e. how is their objective ethical value channeled from the metaphysical to the physical realm?

    If we recognize and believe that murder is wrong – perhaps we will not murder. That wasn’t hard…. ; )

  56. Iapetus

    James,

    “A. No, that is not what I was saying. I was asking why you objected to my point that your moral opinion was no more valid than Stalin’s in a non-theistic universe. You disagreed with that part of my sentence above.”

    We are going round in circles here. I was not objecting to any point of yours, I was rather pointing out that the question you asked does not make sense if you can not prove its unstated premise of an objective ethical truth. You might as well ask: “Why is your opinion about the aesthetic beauty of the Mona Lisa more correct than my uncle Joe’s?”.

    “B. And how do you know that “objective mathematical truth” exists? Where are they? Don’t mathematical truth have to exist in a “mind?””

    If you start from the basic axioms of mathematics, you inevitably reach certain conclusions. The ratio of the circumference and the diameter of a circle in Eucledian geometry will always be the same, no matter who calculates it in what place and in which time. It can not be different, i.e. it is objective, at least as far as we can determine.

    Philosophy of mathematics is surely fascinating, but I invite you to do some research on your own to answer your questions.

    “A. But reflection language is misleading. Reflection suggested choice, the ability to choose between different options. There is no option to adjust anything. It’s like saying a rock can reflect about rolling down hill. It’s meaningless.”

    No, it is not. A rock does not have the capacity to acquire and process information and act upon it that we and many other living beings have. Even a non-living entity like a computer steering an automobile is making decisions all the time in reaction to incoming stimuli. You seem to think that free will can only mean the capability to make decisions or choices without any prior cause or reason whatsoever. As I said, this is self-defeating.

    “B. Can you give me an example of a thought that is not biologically determined?”

    I do not really understand what you mean here. The scientific evidence we currently have leads me to conclude that mental processes are the product of/identical to physical processes in the brain, so in this sense you could say they are biologically determined. However, if you use “determined” in the sense of “preordained and could not have been different” then I would dispute this, because as I said our brains are highly flexible and open neural networks that are in a constant state of change and rearrangement.

    “Fair enough, but you can not even define natural in a non-arbitrary way. As a matter of fact, if I ask you to define evidence, like Steve’s answer, that too will be arbitrary. The fact is, you do not know if you are living in a natural world or a supernatural world. My next question would be – how did the universe get here. Do you have a natural explaination?”

    You keep getting stuck on this “prove that reality is natural” hurdle. I am not interested in sticking any label onto reality and demanding that it can only be thus.
    Look, the current situation is this: all scientific evidence we have points to reality being uniform and governed by certain regularities and patterns that we have discovered and understand to such an extent that we can make predictions that can be verified, thus further corroborating the scientific worldview. You now claim that there is something more, something which science presumably overlooks or is incapable of detecting. Fine. What leads you to believe this? If you want to convince other people of this non-obvious fact, you must present something that corroborates your claim. Please present this something.

    We understand the evolution of the universe up to a tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang. We do not know at the moment what happened at or before the time t=0, assuming that this is even coherent since time itself is supposed to have started with the Big Bang. But let me ask you this: do you have a supernatural explanation? If the answer is that your god caused it, please provide the mechanism that was used.

    “Sure, in one sense like 2+2=4 is motivational, compels us to it’s truth. We recognize that murder is wrong.”

    2+2=4 is not a metaphysical entity, it is a mathematical statement. Further, there is nothing in this statement that forces us to act in a certain way.

    “We recognize them through our minds, like we recognize mathematical truth.”

    No, that does not fly. We recognize mathematical truth by applying a procedure using mathematical/logical rules to arrive at a conclusion. How would this work for ethical values?

    “If we recognize and believe that murder is wrong – perhaps we will not murder.”

    How do you recognize that murder is wrong? If it is objective, why do you have to believe in it? Islamic terrorists have no qualms about murdering infidels, for them it is ethically justified in defending their faith. If this is objectively wrong, you should be able to prove it in a way that they have to accept. Please do so.

  57. Steve Zara

    James-

    So the scientific method works, so what? Why not expect that in a supernatural universe?

    Because that is not what supernatural means.

    Suprernatural means “beyond nature”, and “beyond rules”. In a purely supernatural universe there be no rules.

    We see rules, therefore it is up to you to demonstrate that there is something that does not obey them.

    As a Christian I believe that the closer one’s thinking is to biblical truth the more rational he is. The further away, the less rational – atheism being at the far end of the scale. This is not about one being “smarter” though, its about correct function. So my standard of rationality is Holy Scripture and what corresponds to said Writ.

    No, you can’t just use words as you like. Biblical “truth” does not conform to standards of rationality (if it did, one would not need faith). This is nothing more than an “I’m right and you are wrong” argument, and so can be ignored.

    We recognize them through our minds, like we recognize mathematical truth.

    No, you don’t, and that is a very bad comparison. Mathematical proofs can be objectively demonstrated. There is another problem with that argument. Mathematical proofs are abstract. We have to select which ones apply to the physical world by experiment. Ontological arguments in your own head don’t connect with the real world unless the are proven by tests.

    James. Please show me God. I would like some objective evidence. Telling me science is wrong does not help your case. I am a skeptic. Convince me.

  58. Steve Zara

    Incidentally, Iapetus – I am not sure if I know you or not, but you are doing an excellent job. I think I will probably take a back seat and see what comes of your discussion. I find such discussions are best left to one person, so things don’t get distracted.

    Incidentally, I would love to see you take on Bnonn Tennant on these issues.

  59. Iapetus

    Steve,

    you probably do not know me since I started posting in these kinds of settings only some weeks ago on Jason Rosenhouse’s Evolutionblog. However, I am a frequent lurker over at RD.net, which is where I became aware of your blog and the debate you had with Bnonn.

  60. James

    Hello Iapetus

    I have limited computer use, I’ll try to get to as much as possible.

    1. You said: 2+2=4 is not a metaphysical entity, it is a mathematical statement. Further, there is nothing in this statement that forces us to act in a certain way.

    No, just as there would not be anything in a objective moral statement to force us to act rightly. There is no authority in a mathematical statement that compels us to accept it. But if one is rational he will agree that 2+2=4 and if he is morally rational he will agree that murder is wrong.

    2. You said: No, that does not fly. We recognize mathematical truth by applying a procedure using mathematical/logical rules to arrive at a conclusion. How would this work for ethical values?

    Yes, it does fly. Mathematical truths would be true whether we applied them or not, or discovered them or not. Objective moral principles are the same. They would exist whether we applied them to our lives or not.

    3. You said: How do you recognize that murder is wrong? If it is objective, why do you have to believe in it? Islamic terrorists have no qualms about murdering infidels, for them it is ethically justified in defending their faith. If this is objectively wrong, you should be able to prove it in a way that they have to accept. Please do so.

    Iapetus, I’m sure you agree that both the laws of mathematics, and the laws of logical are objective. Yet men violate both everyday. An irrational man may deny logic and mathematical truths, yet that does not negate the objective nature of either.

    4. You said: No, it is not. A rock does not have the capacity to acquire and process information and act upon it that we and many other living beings have. Even a non-living entity like a computer steering an automobile is making decisions all the time in reaction to incoming stimuli.

    So do computers reflect? It’s the “Chinese Room” for it and us. And a rock may not have the capacity process information but we are just as subject to the non-rational forces of nature as the rock is. Reflection suggests choice, i.e options – without which such language is meaningless.

    5. You said: You keep getting stuck on this “prove that reality is natural” hurdle. I am not interested in sticking any label onto reality and demanding that it can only be thus.
    Look, the current situation is this: all scientific evidence we have points to reality being uniform and governed by certain regularities and patterns that we have discovered and understand to such an extent that we can make predictions that can be verified, thus further corroborating the scientific worldview. You now claim that there is something more, something which science presumably overlooks or is incapable of detecting. Fine. What leads you to believe this? If you want to convince other people of this non-obvious fact, you must present something that corroborates your claim. Please present this something.

    A. I keep geting stuck on it because you have not told me the difference between a supernatural universe and a natural universe and how you can prove that we live in the latter, or how we would know the difference. How do regularities, patterns and predictibilty suggest a natural universe? That is exactly the kind of universe the bible claims. The kind of universe a rational lawful God would create.

    B. Yes I claim that there is something else: What caused the Big Bang? Is Science capable of detecting that thing? If the answer is that nature caused it, please provide the mechanism that was used.

    C. BTW – My belief in the Christian God is a priori. And we all believe many things, central things, in an a priori fashion.

  61. Iapetus

    James,

    “No, just as there would not be anything in a objective moral statement to force us to act rightly. There is no authority in a mathematical statement that compels us to accept it. But if one is rational he will agree that 2+2=4 and if he is morally rational he will agree that murder is wrong.”

    Yes, there would be no physical force exerted on us by these metaphysical objective values to act in a certain way. That was not the point. The point was that while we can conceive of metaphysical entities like e.g. Platonic forms that simply exist in some kind of metaphysical realm (even though this is still a rather strange notion), we have no idea what it could mean to have metaphysical values that apart from purely existing somehow possess an intrinsic urge or desire or worthiness to be realized.

    “Yes, it does fly. Mathematical truths would be true whether we applied them or not, or discovered them or not. Objective moral principles are the same. They would exist whether we applied them to our lives or not.”

    That is an ontological statement and does not address the epistomological problem. We have established procedures to discover mathematical truths. How do we recognize ethical truths? What is the procedure everyone can follow to arrive at these truths?

    “Iapetus, I’m sure you agree that both the laws of mathematics, and the laws of logical are objective. Yet men violate both everyday. An irrational man may deny logic and mathematical truths, yet that does not negate the objective nature of either.”

    True, but in case of mathematics we actually have a logical/rational way of showing a proposition to be right or wrong. What is your logical/rational argumentation that objectively shows murder to be wrong? Please spell it out.

    “So do computers reflect? It’s the “Chinese Room” for it and us. And a rock may not have the capacity process information but we are just as subject to the non-rational forces of nature as the rock is. Reflection suggests choice, i.e options – without which such language is meaningless.”

    You are conflating the evaluation of choices/opting for a particular choice with being aware of it and reflecting on it. A computer is certainly capable of the former, which is what you denied any physical system could do. As to the latter, unless you can show why reflection on choices is someting qualitatively completely different and not just a quantitative difference in the processing power of the neural network, your objection is unsubstantiated.

    We are also just as subject to the non-living forces of nature as a rock is. Should we conclude that being alive is non-natural and only possible courtesy of some magical force?

    Generally, I fail to see where this discussion is going. You are trying to defend the notion of objective ethical propositions. Please lay out the arguments for them, regardless of whether our minds are the product of our brains or not.

    “A. I keep geting stuck on it because you have not told me the difference between a supernatural universe and a natural universe and how you can prove that we live in the latter, or how we would know the difference. How do regularities, patterns and predictibilty suggest a natural universe?”

    I am not interested in proving this since I am not claiming it. As far as we have scientifically determined thusfar, our universe is uniform. However, I am open to the possibility that this conclusion is premature and that there are areas either within our outside of the known universe that behave fundamentally differently from what we know. You claim that this is indeed the case, which implies that you have some knowledge that leads you to assume this. Please share this knowledge with me.

    “That is exactly the kind of universe the bible claims. The kind of universe a rational lawful God would create.”

    I do not care what the bible claims. You are making an existence proposition regarding a god. So is this god in the universe? Then we should be able to detect him. Is he outside of the universe? How do you know about him?

    “B. Yes I claim that there is something else: What caused the Big Bang? Is Science capable of detecting that thing? If the answer is that nature caused it, please provide the mechanism that was used.”

    At the moment we do not know what caused the Big Bang. We do not even know whether this is a valid question since “to cause” something implies a certain temporal sequence. However, if time itself only came into being at the moment of the Big Bang, it might be senseless to ask what came before.

    However, you claim to know that there is something else. So, let’s hear it. What is this “something else”? How did this “something else” cause the Big Bang?

    “C. BTW – My belief in the Christian God is a priori. And we all believe many things, central things, in an a priori fashion.”

    Yes, I have gathered from browsing the site that this is the notion that is promulgated here. To be frank, I find this utterly incomprehensible. While we all may have certain assumptions to start with, we should always be willing to critically test these assumptions and be willing to amend or discard them if they become untenable. In contrast, stating that any piece of knowledge that does not fit with a preconceived dogma (in this case presumably the bible) will be either dismissed or ignored is intellectual suicide in my eyes. It is like cheerfully agreeing to become lobotomized. Why on earth would you want to do that? Is your faith so precarious that you have to assert it unquestioningly to keep you from tumbling into unbelieve?

  62. James

    Hello again Iapetus

    1. Yes, there would be no physical force exerted on us by these metaphysical objective values to act in a certain way. That was not the point. The point was that while we can conceive of metaphysical entities like e.g. Platonic forms that simply exist in some kind of metaphysical realm (even though this is still a rather strange notion), we have no idea what it could mean to have metaphysical values that apart from purely existing somehow possess an intrinsic urge or desire or worthiness to be realized.

    The same with objective mathematical truths or logical truths. But so what? That does not change their objective nature. But of course being a theist I ground all three in the mind of God. And not following that moral sense will have consequences.

    2. That is an ontological statement and does not address the epistomological problem. We have established procedures to discover mathematical truths. How do we recognize ethical truths? What is the procedure everyone can follow to arrive at these truths?

    Moral truth is communicated – from God to man, and from man to man. Whether one recognizes them or not is another story. And a lack of recognition would not undermine their objective nature. As a lack of procedure would not undermine their objective nature. Having a procedure for discovery is
    not a criterion for objectivity. If God endows man with an innate moral sense, then it is objective, whether one can point to a procedure or not.

    3. True, but in case of mathematics we actually have a logical/rational way of showing a proposition to be right or wrong. What is your logical/rational argumentation that objectively shows murder to be wrong? Please spell it out.

    Well no Iapetus, you would have no way of convincing an irrational man. He would not find your arguments convincing. Have you ever argued with Buddhist who contemplates the sound of one hand clapping? They generally do not have our western either/or mind set in the East. They do not generally hold to the law of non-contradiction and now use the chaos theory, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, etc.. to bolster their case. So demostration is not always possible, nor is the demostration always accepted. That does not change the objective nature of the thing.

    Let me put it this way Iapetus, If a moral God exists and if He has given us an innate moral sense, then that sense is objective since it is grounded in Him. It would not matter if one could demostrate or not, it’s objectivity remains. In other words, prove that something has to be demostrate to be objective or true.

    4. At the moment we do not know what caused the Big Bang. We do not even know whether this is a valid question since “to cause” something implies a certain temporal sequence. However, if time itself only came into being at the moment of the Big Bang, it might be senseless to ask what came before.

    This is a absolutely irrational statement, one often used to escape the conclusion. Something caused the universe or it popped out of nothing. And what ever caused the universe was not the universe – period. So we have one of two choices…. Mind or energy – and with energy I don’t see how you escape infinite regress…

    5. Yes, I have gathered from browsing the site that this is the notion that is promulgated here. To be frank, I find this utterly incomprehensible. While we all may have certain assumptions to start with, we should always be willing to critically test these assumptions and be willing to amend or discard them if they become untenable. In contrast, stating that any piece of knowledge that does not fit with a preconceived dogma (in this case presumably the bible) will be either dismissed or ignored is intellectual suicide in my eyes. It is like cheerfully agreeing to become lobotomized. Why on earth would you want to do that? Is your faith so precarious that you have to assert it unquestioningly to keep you from tumbling into unbelieve?

    Since we do in fact believe that Scripture is God breathed, there would be no higher source for truth. What would you put in it’s place? Science? Science if often wrong, and ever changing. And often uses the fallacies of induction and asserting the consequence. Also, well educated scientists often look at the exact same evidence and come to completely different conclusions. In those cases which one should us lay people believe?

    And you start with certain assumptions that can not be demostrate – like your experience of the world corresponds to reality, that you are not a brain in a vat. How do you demostrate that your sense experience is valid without using your sense experience – therfore falling into the fallacy of question begging? Etc, etc,etc….

  63. steve zara

    This is getting even more interesting. I can’t resist.

    James- you are making a serious logical mistake. Your justification for scripture as being of worth is just plain silly: you are making the unjustified assumption that a fixed point of knowledge has worth. You are basically refusing to explore the world, clinging onto whatever certainty you can find.

    There is a fundamental mistake in assuming God a priori – God is flipping complex – the most complex thing we can possibly imagine. Every bit of that complexity has to be justified.

    Reason works because we start with the simplest workable assumptions, and proceed cautiously from there.

    I have to say your recent posts have been quite revealing: you seem frightened of what would happen if people stopped believing, and you seem frightened of uncertainty. Is fear the best way to find truth?

  64. Iapetus

    James,

    “The same with objective mathematical truths or logical truths. But so what? That does not change their objective nature.”

    On the contrary. This is exactly the point Mackie is making: these proposed metaphysical ethical truths would be totally unlike metaphysical logical or mathematical entities (assuming for the moment that they exist) in that the former must be thought of as having intrinsic action-guiding properties that would not only enable a person to behave in the objectively correct way but would also have an innate worthiness to be executed. We have no idea how to conceive of such entities.

    “Moral truth is communicated – from God to man, and from man to man. Whether one recognizes them or not is another story.”

    But exactly that is the heart of the epistomological problem! How is it communicated? How do we recognize an objective ethical proposition? How can we decide whether a given ethical proposition is objectively true or not? Simply saying it must be rational will not cut it. I am pretty sure Osama bin Laden considers himself perfectly rational. Why are his deeds objectively wrong?

    “Let me put it this way Iapetus, If a moral God exists and if He has given us an innate moral sense, then that sense is objective since it is grounded in Him. It would not matter if one could demostrate or not, it’s objectivity remains.”

    Well, firstly all you have done here is stating a conditional clause. So the next step is to show that this god really does exist and that he has endowed us with a moral sense, otherwise your conclusion does not even formally follow.
    Secondly, what is “objective morality grounded in a god” supposed to mean? If ethical propositions are objective, they need no grounding in anything, just like mathematical truths. On the contrary, it would indicate that they were defined by this god, destroying their objectivity. However, if they are truely objective, i.e. could not have been different, we can cut out the middle man god.

    “In other words, prove that something has to be demostrate to be objective or true.”

    Huh? You are claiming the existence of objective ethical propositions. I am asking you to bolster this claim. Simple as that.

    “This is a absolutely irrational statement, one often used to escape the conclusion.”

    No, it is manifestly not irrational. On the contrary, it is fundamentally naive to simply transfer our everyday notions of time and cause and effect on the macroscale onto the conditions of the universe at the Big Bang. When we deal with entities on the sub-atomic scale, a-causal quantum effects can occur. We also can not really conceive what it means that time itself came into being with the Big Bang, although it is possible that this is what happened.

    “Something caused the universe or it popped out of nothing.”

    But you presumably believe in creation ex nihilo, so in your view the universe would also pop out of nothing. The difference is that you pose an external cause for this. However, it is slightly misleading to say we know the universe came out of nothing. All we can say at the moment is that when we try to describe the evolution of the universe backwards in time through mathematical formulas, we reach a singularity point where all variables become infinite.

    “And what ever caused the universe was not the universe – period.”

    This is what is commonly referred to as a bare assertion. Any arguments to back that up?

    ” So we have one of two choices…. Mind or energy – and with energy I don’t see how you escape infinite regress… ”

    Aha, and how do you avoid the infinite regress by positing a Mind?

    “Since we do in fact believe that Scripture is God breathed, there would be no higher source for truth. ”

    Since Muslims do in fact believe that the Quran is Allah-breathed, there would be no higher source for truth.

    Since Hindus do in fact believe that the Upanishads are Vishnu-breathed, there would be no higher source for truth.

    Hm, what do we do now?

    “What would you put in it’s place? Science? Science if often wrong, and ever changing. And often uses the fallacies of induction and asserting the consequence. Also, well educated scientists often look at the exact same evidence and come to completely different conclusions. In those cases which one should us lay people believe?”

    I realize that many theists crave certainty and abhor the thought that one of their core beliefs could be wrong. Bu what you perceive as a weakness of science (or more precisely: the scientific method) is in reality its greatest strength: its constant and systematic doubt. We can never be 100% certain that we are in possession of The Truth, all we can do is strive to approximate it ever closer. This may not be as comforting as religious claims to eternally valid truths. However, the prize you pay for this comfort is the necessity to either ignore or try to rationalize away any piece of knowledge or fact that is in conflict with your dogmas, frequently resulting in mild to severe forms of cognitive dissonance. From what I have seen, it does not look very comfortable.

    “And you start with certain assumptions that can not be demostrate – like your experience of the world corresponds to reality, that you are not a brain in a vat. How do you demostrate that your sense experience is valid without using your sense experience – therfore falling into the fallacy of question begging? Etc, etc,etc….”

    Yes, I start with the assumption of an external reality that my senses can monitor more or less accurately since otherwise there would be no point in trying to explore it. What I manifestly do not do is to declare this an infallible dogma that could not possibly be wrong. This is one of the core differences between our approaches.
    Lastly, you need to get away from this notion that either we can prove something with absolute certainty or it is totally worthless. The world does not work in this black-and-white fashion. The only intellectually honest approach is to operate with tentative assumptions and hypotheses whose confidence values increase the more corroborating evidence we have.

  65. James

    Hello Iapetus

    I don’t have a lot of computer time, so I will get to what I can.

    1. On the contrary. This is exactly the point Mackie is making: these proposed metaphysical ethical truths would be totally unlike metaphysical logical or mathematical entities (assuming for the moment that they exist) in that the former must be thought of as having intrinsic action-guiding properties that would not only enable a person to behave in the objectively correct way but would also have an innate worthiness to be executed. We have no idea how to conceive of such entities.

    Of course I disagree. Logical and mathematical truths are much the same, sharing the same strengths or weakness. Logical and mathematical truths would have no more intrinsic mental-guiding properties than ethical truths would have intrinsic action-guiding properties. Until one assents to their truth all three would be meaningless.

    2.But exactly that is the heart of the epistomological problem! How is it communicated? How do we recognize an objective ethical proposition? How can we decide whether a given ethical proposition is objectively true or not? Simply saying it must be rational will not cut it. I am pretty sure Osama bin Laden considers himself perfectly rational. Why are his deeds objectively wrong?

    A. How does one recognize an objective logical laws? What if you are dealing with a Hindu that does not agree with your logical premises?

    B. What if Osama bin Laden denies the law of non-contradiction? Is the law no longer objective or valid?

    That’s all I can get to tonight…

  66. Steve Zara

    Until one assents to their truth all three would be meaningless.

    In order to do this, you first have to demonstrate that they exist

    Also, if you are reducing these “moral truths” to the level of “logical and mathematical truths”, you are just saying that there is some abstract “truth” out there that has the label “moral” on it. You aren’t are giving us a reason why we should base our ethics on it.

    A. How does one recognize an objective logical laws? What if you are dealing with a Hindu that does not agree with your logical premises?

    B. What if Osama bin Laden denies the law of non-contradiction? Is the law no longer objective or valid?

    People don’t fly planes into buildings over disagreements about logic. Also, we accept that mathematics is inconsistent and incomplete, and depends on which axioms you choose. You are the one making absolute statements about morality.

  67. James

    Hey Steve,

    In order to do this, you first have to demonstrate that they exist

    That’s the pont Steve, how do you demonstrate them to one who rejects the. I could say that murder is wrong and 2+2=4 to an irrational man who does not accept either.

    Also, if you are reducing these “moral truths” to the level of “logical and mathematical truths”, you are just saying that there is some abstract “truth” out there that has the label “moral” on it. You aren’t are giving us a reason why we should base our ethics on it.

    Of course I’m a Christian and ground these truth in the nature and character of God. So when one accepts these truths, he is accepting universal truths. Of course the moral truths inherently carry more weight because they are interpersonal. And the fact that God judges moral acts (of course I don’t expect you to agree with that).

    People don’t fly planes into buildings over disagreements about logic. Also, we accept that mathematics is inconsistent and incomplete, and depends on which axioms you choose. You are the one making absolute statements about morality.

    A. True, people generally don’t drive planes into buildings because of logic. That is why moral truths carry more weight.

    B. But that does not change my point – these would be objective truths whether one agreed with them or not. Whether they could be demonstrate to a person or persons or not.

    C. Some things in both math and logic are gray, as with moral law. We are not perfectly rational or morally rational, this again would not deny their objective nature. Just that we haven’t yet fully understood them yet, or refuse to accept them. But some things are simple and evident, 2+2=4, the law of non-contradiction holds, and raping a child wrong. Do you disagree with any of those?

    BTW – are you denying the objective nature of mathematics and logical laws? That would throw all rational thinking into a tail spin….

  68. James

    Hello again Iapetus,

    I wanted to deal with these while I had the chance:

    You said I realize that many theists crave certainty and abhor the thought that one of their core beliefs could be wrong. Bu what you perceive as a weakness of science (or more precisely: the scientific method) is in reality its greatest strength: its constant and systematic doubt. We can never be 100% certain that we are in possession of The Truth, all we can do is strive to approximate it ever closer. This may not be as comforting as religious claims to eternally valid truths. However, the prize you pay for this comfort is the necessity to either ignore or try to rationalize away any piece of knowledge or fact that is in conflict with your dogmas, frequently resulting in mild to severe forms of cognitive dissonance. From what I have seen, it does not look very comfortable.

    Yes, I start with the assumption of an external reality that my senses can monitor more or less accurately since otherwise there would be no point in trying to explore it. What I manifestly do not do is to declare this an infallible dogma that could not possibly be wrong. This is one of the core differences between our approaches.
    Lastly, you need to get away from this notion that either we can prove something with absolute certainty or it is totally worthless. The world does not work in this black-and-white fashion. The only intellectually honest approach is to operate with tentative assumptions and hypotheses whose confidence values increase the more corroborating evidence we have.

    This is interesting given your theory of mind. You speak of evidence yet no fact is self-interperting. They all must be filtered through our subjective lenses. But as you have made clear, we have no options when it comes to this process. What we decide is evidence, how much weight we put on a fact, or the conclusions we draw from said facts. These are all dictated by the underlying non-rational forces that control the process… It makes you wonder how good science is even possible given this state of affairs since one would have no control over what one believes.

  69. Iapetus

    James,

    “Of course I disagree. Logical and mathematical truths are much the same, sharing the same strengths or weakness. Logical and mathematical truths would have no more intrinsic mental-guiding properties than ethical truths would have intrinsic action-guiding properties. Until one assents to their truth all three would be meaningless.”

    No. If objective ethical truths exist, they would have to be of such a kind as to indicate to the person recognizing them both the correct way of acting as well as giving him a motive to do so. In other words, the fact that an action is objectively good shows the person recognizing it what to do and incites him to do it. An objective ethical truth would be desired to be executed by anyone recognizing it, not because of some contingent fact that causes this person to do it, but because this objective ethical truth itself possesses an intrinsic worthiness to be realized. This is totally unlike mathematical/logical truths or “common” metaphysical forms.

    “A. How does one recognize an objective logical laws? What if you are dealing with a Hindu that does not agree with your logical premises?

    B. What if Osama bin Laden denies the law of non-contradiction? Is the law no longer objective or valid? ”

    Pretend for a moment that I am a rational person. Please lay out the reasoning for an ethical proposition of your choice that shows it to be objective.

    “This is interesting given your theory of mind. You speak of evidence yet no fact is self-interperting. They all must be filtered through our subjective lenses. But as you have made clear, we have no options when it comes to this process. What we decide is evidence, how much weight we put on a fact, or the conclusions we draw from said facts. These are all dictated by the underlying non-rational forces that control the process… It makes you wonder how good science is even possible given this state of affairs since one would have no control over what one believes.”

    Please re-read what I wrote about this topic. I neither said that we have no options regarding what to believe nor that we have no control over it. In fact, I stated exactly the opposite.

    But let me ask you this: since you obviously believe that rationality and a physical description of the mind are mutually exclusive, what is your theory of mind and how does it explain our ability for rational thinking and decision-making?

    And while you are at it, please do not forget that you also still owe me your knowledge regarding the existence of a second reality apart from the one we currently experience.

  70. James

    Hey Iapetus

    No. If objective ethical truths exist, they would have to be of such a kind as to indicate to the person recognizing them both the correct way of acting as well as giving him a motive to do so. In other words, the fact that an action is objectively good shows the person recognizing it what to do and incites him to do it. An objective ethical truth would be desired to be executed by anyone recognizing it, not because of some contingent fact that causes this person to do it, but because this objective ethical truth itself possesses an intrinsic worthiness to be realized. This is totally unlike mathematical/logical truths or “common” metaphysical forms.

    Your definition is arbitrary. Why would an objective ethical truth need to motivate to remain objective? Says who? Why can’t a man act against what he knows is right for selfish reasons? Have you ever lied, knowing it was wrong? Motivational properties need not be inherent for a thing to remain objective. Since the individual can, like with the laws of logic and mathematics, reject or accept their principles. I’m sorry Iapetus it simply does not follow.

    But I will ask again, if an irrational man denied that 2+2=4 – does that take away it’s objective nature? Does it’s intrinsic truth suddenly vanish?

    Pretend for a moment that I am a rational person. Please lay out the reasoning for an ethical proposition of your choice that shows it to be objective.

    You don’t know that murder is wrong? Now pretend I’m an irrational person – perhaps you won’t have to pretend to much ; ) – please lay out the reasoning for objective logical truths.

    Please re-read what I wrote about this topic. I neither said that we have no options regarding what to believe nor that we have no control over it. In fact, I stated exactly the opposite.

    Actually no you didn’t. You agree that our mental processes were the result of the underlying non-rational forces. And when I use the words “choice and option” I really mean, for instance, that we can choose between option A or B – selecting one or the other i.e. the choice is not determined by the underlying non-rational causes.

    But let me ask you this: since you obviously believe that rationality and a physical description of the mind are mutually exclusive, what is your theory of mind and how does it explain our ability for rational thinking and decision-making?

    Some form of classic dualism. That immaterial thoughts have some looping influence on the thinking process. If not, as was discussed on this blog – logical inference is impossible – the content of a proposition would have no direct influence on the conclusion. Just a series of non-rational electro-chemical ons and offs.

    And while you are at it, please do not forget that you also still owe me your knowledge regarding the existence of a second reality apart from the one we currently experience.

    Certainly, as soon as you give me a non-arbitrary definition of a “natural universe. ” Remember I asked first… ; )

  71. Steve Zara

    No. If objective ethical truths exist, they would have to be of such a kind as to indicate to the person recognizing them both the correct way of acting as well as giving him a motive to do so.

    Indeed.

    “If” they exist.

    So, first, you need to show that they exist.

    So when one accepts these truths, he is accepting universal truths.

    But why should one?

    A. True, people generally don’t drive planes into buildings because of logic. That is why moral truths carry more weight.?

    That is why we can’t let people like you claim you know what those truths are without evidence.

    B. But that does not change my point – these would be objective truths whether one agreed with them or no

    No. If they were objective, we would not be discussing whether or not we agreed with them.

  72. James

    Hello Steve,

    1. You said: That is why we can’t let people like you claim you know what those truths are without evidence.

    Steve, prove that objective logical and mathematical laws exist to a person that does not accept their premise. I’ll be waiting…

    2. You said: No. If they were objective, we would not be discussing whether or not we agreed with them.

    A. That simply does not follow, people disagree about both math and logic, at times. Does that mean that there are no objective logical or mathematical laws?

    B. And I will restate my question – is child rape always wrong? Yes or no….

  73. Iapetus

    James,

    “Why would an objective ethical truth need to motivate to remain objective?”

    Because ethical propositions are prescriptive and not merely descriptive. Stating that murder is ethically wrong is not stating a fact, it is equivalent to saying: “Do not murder!”, i.e. it is imperative. Now, if this is an objective proposition and we recognize it as such, we would be instantly motivated to follow this prescription, because it can not be otherwise. The difficulties you are having with this concept indicates the metaphysical queerness of it.

    “But I will ask again, if an irrational man denied that 2+2=4 – does that take away it’s objective nature? Does it’s intrinsic truth suddenly vanish?”

    Again, the statement “2+2=4” is descriptive, not prescriptive.

    “You don’t know that murder is wrong?”

    I want you to show that it is objectively wrong. Please do so.

    “Actually no you didn’t. You agree that our mental processes were the result of the underlying non-rational forces.”

    Just as our vital processes are the result of the underlying non-living forces. No magic is needed.

    “And when I use the words “choice and option” I really mean, for instance, that we can choose between option A or B – selecting one or the other i.e. the choice is not determined by the underlying non-rational causes.”

    So what are the causes that determine your decisions? Are there any? If not, how can they be your decisions?
    Btw, philosophical problems aside, if you think that what you perceive as your conscious decisions is not influenced by unconscious factors, cognitive biases, etc. that you have absolutely no control over and that are anything but rational, you should talk to a psychologist and/or neuroscientist for some eye-opening information.

    “Some form of classic dualism. That immaterial thoughts have some looping influence on the thinking process.”

    Immaterial thoughts have influence on the thinking process? So is this thinking process material, then? How can immaterial thoughts influence something material? What is the difference between “thoughts” and “thinking process”? If you really want to defend substance dualism here, you have got your work cut out for you.

    “If not, as was discussed on this blog – logical inference is impossible – the content of a proposition would have no direct influence on the conclusion. Just a series of non-rational electro-chemical ons and offs.”

    Simply not true. Did you read the debate between Bnonn and Steve Zara?

    “Certainly, as soon as you give me a non-arbitrary definition of a “natural universe. ” Remember I asked first… ; )”

    We have been over this several times already. Let me spell it out for you again (and for the last time, since I am beginning to tire of having to state many things repeatedly): I am making no claims regarding the ultimate nature of reality or about the nature of reality as a whole. Furthermore, I do not care if you call it “natural”, “supernatural”, “ultra-natural”, “sknwsonfe” or whatever.
    Scientific evidence we have accumulated thusfar shows that reality is governed by certain patterns and regularities that we understand to a higher or lower degree. The part of reality we have scientifically explored seems to be uniform in that those patterns und regularities universally apply.
    You are claiming to have knowledge about another part of reality that is unlike the part we have encountered and where those patterns and regularities presumably do not hold, i.e. you assert that reality as a whole is not uniform. I would like to know what leads you to assume this. Now please answer this simple request. If you can not do this, I am entitled to dismiss your claim.

  74. James

    Hey Iapetus

    1. Because ethical propositions are prescriptive and not merely descriptive. Stating that murder is ethically wrong is not stating a fact, it is equivalent to saying: “Do not murder!”, i.e. it is imperative. Now, if this is an objective proposition and we recognize it as such, we would be instantly motivated to follow this prescription, because it can not be otherwise. The difficulties you are having with this concept indicates the metaphysical queerness of it.

    No Iapetus, I’m not having any problem with it – my problem is with the arbitrary standard you apply to ethical truths and fail to apply to mathematical and logical truths. And another arbitrary point you just brought in – if we fail to follow it’s prescriptive sense – how does that in it’s self remove it’s objectivity? Why would we be instantly motivated to follow it’s prescription? On what basis are you making this claim? Also, not all men would recognize it’s objective claim – that just shows that they are morally irrational – it bears not on it’s objective nature.

    2. Again, the statement “2+2=4? is descriptive, not prescriptive.

    You did not answer the question: “if an irrational man denied that 2+2=4 – does that take away it’s objective nature? Does it’s intrinsic truth suddenly vanish?”

    It’s a simple yes or no… BTW – mathematical truths would be prescriptive, since they would have to be applied for specific results. Just as moral truths would…

    3. I want you to show that it is objectively wrong. Please do so.

    So you don’t know that murder is wrong. And again, please prove the objective principles of logic to someone who does not accept their premises. I’ll be waiting.

    4. “If not, as was discussed on this blog – logical inference is impossible – the content of a proposition would have no direct influence on the conclusion. Just a series of non-rational electro-chemical ons and offs.”

    Simply not true. Did you read the debate between Bnonn and Steve Zara?

    Since this is the crux of the issue, I’ll focus here. How does the non-material content of a proposition effect the conclusion? Be specific please.

    5. You are claiming to have knowledge about another part of reality that is unlike the part we have encountered and where those patterns and regularities presumably do not hold, i.e. you assert that reality as a whole is not uniform. I would like to know what leads you to assume this. Now please answer this simple request. If you can not do this, I am entitled to dismiss your claim.

    Well it’s clear that you can not come up with a non-arbitrary definition for a “natural universe.” But I answered this question a number of posts ago Iapetus. I take Christian “dogma” (i.e. scripture, and what can be deduced from scripture) a priori, included in that is the creation account: In the beginning God… Now I do not expect you accept that, as a matter I expect you to invent all kinds of nonsensical things to reject that truth – like the fantasy of multiple universes… ; )

  75. Iapetus

    James,

    “No Iapetus, I’m not having any problem with it – my problem is with the arbitrary standard you apply to ethical truths and fail to apply to mathematical and logical truths.”

    It is not in the slightest arbitrary. It is the very nature of ethical propositions that they are prescriptive.

    “And another arbitrary point you just brought in – if we fail to follow it’s prescriptive sense – how does that in it’s self remove it’s objectivity?”

    I did not say that. If objective metaphysical entities pertaining to ethical propositions exist, everyone who recognizes them as such would also recognize their intrinsic worthiness to be executed, since it can not be otherwise. Hence their metaphysical queerness and our difficulties in conceiving of them. Although you obviously do not want to accept this, it is nonetheless a necessary consequence. I again invite you to familiarize yourself with the philosophy of ethics and Mackie´s book in particular where he addresses these topics.

    “You did not answer the question: “if an irrational man denied that 2+2=4 – does that take away it’s objective nature? Does it’s intrinsic truth suddenly vanish?””

    No, but that is not the point. The point is, once again, that objective ethical truths entail that a person would not only recognize their truth as such, but due to their prescripitive nature would also be induced to act according to this recognized truth. Hence the strange nature of these supposed entities.

    “BTW – mathematical truths would be prescriptive, since they would have to be applied for specific results. Just as moral truths would…”

    No, this shows your misunderstanding. We decide to apply certain mathematical procedures to specific problems in the expectation to achieve useful results, e.g. to model the behaviour of air flow around the wing of an aeroplane. There is nothing intrinsic in those procedures themselves that induces us to apply them to this specific problem and not another. In contrast, an objective ethical truth is somehow intertwined with a specific action and somehow both channels this ethical truth from the metaphysical to the physical realm as well as induces the person recognizing this truth to carry out the action.

    “So you don’t know that murder is wrong.”

    I asked you to show that it is objectively wrong. Please do so.

    “And again, please prove the objective principles of logic to someone who does not accept their premises. I’ll be waiting.”

    Then go ahead and state those premises that you postulate in order to deduce objective ethical truths and demonstrate the logical steps you use for this deduction. Until now all you have done is hinted that it is rational to claim murder is objectively wrong and anyone who disagrees is not rational. That will not do.

    “Since this is the crux of the issue, I’ll focus here. How does the non-material content of a proposition effect the conclusion? Be specific please.”

    I am not interested in getting sidetracked by rehashing a debate that has just been held. Steve Zara has addressed this issue in considerable detail. If you have nothing new to add to Bnonn´s position, I consider the topic exhaustively discussed.

    “Well it’s clear that you can not come up with a non-arbitrary definition for a “natural universe.””

    I am not interested in defining “natural” as I am not claiming that reality is partly or wholly “natural”. I am not sticking any label whatsoever onto reality. Feel free to read these two sentences as often as it takes for their meaning to sink in.
    I realize that you consider it a clever debating technique to stall the discussion on these labeling issues. The problem for you is that I will not enter into this kind of games.

    “I take Christian “dogma” (i.e. scripture, and what can be deduced from scripture) a priori, included in that is the creation account: In the beginning God…”

    So your claim that reality is non-uniform is exclusively based on words written in a book that you accept unquestioningly? This is it?
    What is your method of corroborating that scripture and what can be deduced from it are indeed a correct description of reality? What do you do when your deduction turned out to be wrong? What do you say to adherents of other religions who make the exact same claim, only with regard to a different book?

  76. James

    Hey Iapetus

    I did not say that. If objective metaphysical entities pertaining to ethical propositions exist, everyone who recognizes them as such would also recognize their intrinsic worthiness to be executed, since it can not be otherwise. Hence their metaphysical queerness and our difficulties in conceiving of them. Although you obviously do not want to accept this, it is nonetheless a necessary consequence. I again invite you to familiarize yourself with the philosophy of ethics and Mackie´s book in particular where he addresses these topics.

    But this would be true of any ethical propositions – whether objective or not. I asked you if you ever lied – humans lie, even though we believe it to be wrong. People murder, even though they may believe it to be wrong. It certainly can be otherwise. There is no queerness here. We often act against what we believe to be right. Objective moral law, even though prescriptive, would have no inherent power to compel. Nor need there be for said law to be objective. This is an arbitrary standard.

    No, but that is not the point. The point is, once again, that objective ethical truths entail that a person would not only recognize their truth as such, but due to their prescripitive nature would also be induced to act according to this recognized truth. Hence the strange nature of these supposed entities.

    1. Objective moral law is no more strange than objective logical or mathematical law. Again who says that moral law’s prescripitive nature must compel? Are you suggesting that men never act irrationally against what they believe to be right?

    2. Who say that prescriptive now means induces to action. I’m going to have to call you on this Iapetus, I checked a number of online dictionarys – not one links prescriptive to action. So please back up your claim.

    Then go ahead and state those premises that you postulate in order to deduce objective ethical truths and demonstrate the logical steps you use for this deduction. Until now all you have done is hinted that it is rational to claim murder is objectively wrong and anyone who disagrees is not rational. That will not do.

    Again Iapetus, you can not prove that the laws of logic are objective to a person why does not accept your premises. You are in the same boat. All you can do is state your beliefs and hope they are rational enough to accept them. As I would state my beliefs and hope they are morally rational enough to accept them. And please don’t come on with “demonstrate the logical steps you use for this deduction.” I will turn that right back on you – demonstrate the logical steps you use for the deduction that your sense experience is valid – without begging the question. Or demonstrate that the laws of logic are objective, or valid, without begging the question… I’ll expect a deductive syllogism for both.

    I’ll get to your other points later, if possible. Isn’t this fun… ; )

  77. Iapetus

    James,

    “But this would be true of any ethical propositions – whether objective or not. I asked you if you ever lied – humans lie, even though we believe it to be wrong. People murder, even though they may believe it to be wrong. It certainly can be otherwise. There is no queerness here. We often act against what we believe to be right. Objective moral law, even though prescriptive, would have no inherent power to compel. Nor need there be for said law to be objective. This is an arbitrary standard.”

    No, it is not arbitrary. It is the result of positing metaphysical, objective ethical propositions. However, I feel that it is pointless to go round and round in circles on this issue since the same arguments are repeated again and again, so I propose to agree to disagree and leave it at that.

    “Again Iapetus, you can not prove that the laws of logic are objective to a person why does not accept your premises. You are in the same boat. All you can do is state your beliefs and hope they are rational enough to accept them. As I would state my beliefs and hope they are morally rational enough to accept them.”

    But what ARE these premises and arguments derived from them? As it is, there is nothing on the table that reason could act on. What is your chain of arguments to support the notion of an ethically objective proposition? You keep going on and on about how it is impossible to show something to be objectively true to a person who refuses to apply the accepted standards of rational argument, yet never produce anything that could be rationally discussed. So go ahead, spill the beans, lay it out.

  78. James

    Im back Iapetus, lucky you… ; )

    I am not interested in getting sidetracked by rehashing a debate that has just been held. Steve Zara has addressed this issue in considerable detail. If you have nothing new to add to Bnonn´s position, I consider the topic exhaustively discussed.

    And Steve could not show how non-material content could effect the conclusions. So we are left with the underlying non-rational forces dictating our every thought and conclusion.

    I realize that you consider it a clever debating technique to stall the discussion on these labeling issues. The problem for you is that I will not enter into this kind of games.

    Ok that’s fair, but my point still stands.

    So your claim that reality is non-uniform is exclusively based on words written in a book that you accept unquestioningly? This is it?

    So how do you know that nature is uniformed? How do you escape Hume’s problem of induction? How do you rationally argue from particulars (your limited experience) to universals – say that the laws of physics are uniform or immutable? Uniformity is exactly what the Christian expects and sees, since there is a rational, Sovereign God upholding the universe. Remember Iapetus, many of our earlier great scientists were Christian, and worked of this very assumption. That a rational God created an orderly universe that could be investigated and understood because of said order.

    What is your method of corroborating that scripture and what can be deduced from it are indeed a correct description of reality? What do you do when your deduction turned out to be wrong? What do you say to adherents of other religions who make the exact same claim, only with regard to a different book?

    First, you really do not find other religions claiming a created orderly universe. Yes, the Muslims, but they borrow from the Jews and Christians. Most creation stories are not anything like this. And since we believe that scripture is God breathed there can be no falsehood. We may understand it wrongly, but that is a different story.

    Sceond, on what would you base a false deduction? Fallible sense experience? And given our discussion on whether or not propositional content can even effect the thinking process, I’am not sure what kind of ground for knowledge you could claim.

  79. James

    Iapetus

    No, it is not arbitrary. It is the result of positing metaphysical, objective ethical propositions. However, I feel that it is pointless to go round and round in circles on this issue since the same arguments are repeated again and again, so I propose to agree to disagree and leave it at that.

    Not so fast new friend. You recently introduced a new element. That of a proposition being prescriptive. And because it was prescriptive, it would logically follow that it would compel. Yet I checked a number of on line dictionaries and not one linked prescriptive, or prescription with action. This is why Mackie’s linking of the two is both arbitrary and unnecessary. Let’s face it Iapetus, the man just made it up…

    But what ARE these premises and arguments derived from them? As it is, there is nothing on the table that reason could act on. What is your chain of arguments to support the notion of an ethically objective proposition? You keep going on and on about how it is impossible to show something to be objectively true to a person who refuses to apply the accepted standards of rational argument, yet never produce anything that could be rationally discussed. So go ahead, spill the beans, lay it out.

    That’s the point Iapetus, I’m assuming objective moral law to be to be so. And if a man is morally rational he will agree, it will be self-evident. Just are you are assuming the objective nature of the laws of logic. Please prove the objective laws of logic deductively without first assuming said laws. You can’t! They, like moral laws, are first assumed. Please don’t demand from me what you could not provide in support of your own position – be fair…

  80. Iapetus

    James,

    “And Steve could not show how non-material content could effect the conclusions. So we are left with the underlying non-rational forces dictating our every thought and conclusion.”

    This is not a new argument and was addressed in the debate. So I will not respond to it.

    “Ok that’s fair, but my point still stands.”

    Congratulations.

    “So how do you know that nature is uniformed? How do you escape Hume’s problem of induction? How do you rationally argue from particulars (your limited experience) to universals – say that the laws of physics are uniform or immutable?”

    I am not ruling out the possibility that the patterns and regularities we have observed thusfar are not immutable and/or not applicable to the whole of reality. The problem is that we have not observed this thusfar, while you claim to know that there are parts of reality where this is so. And as you have conceded, the only basis for this claim is words written in a book that you interpret to mean what you claim them to mean. Now, why should anyone take this seriously if you can not show anything to corroborate that these words describe reality correctly?

    “Uniformity is exactly what the Christian expects and sees, since there is a rational, Sovereign God upholding the universe.”

    This is a total non sequitur. If reality were utterly chaotic and irrational, would it need a chaotic and irrational god to uphold it? Who or what is upholding this rational and orderly god? How exactly does this god uphold reality?

    “Remember Iapetus, many of our earlier great scientists were Christian, and worked of this very assumption. That a rational God created an orderly universe that could be investigated and understood because of said order.”

    And, what does this indicate with regard to the question whether this god of yours exists or not? Btw, I think declaring reality to be utterly rational and orderly is unwarranted after discoveries like chaos theory and the a-causal and indeterministic effects we observe on the quantum level.

    “First, you really do not find other religions claiming a created orderly universe. Yes, the Muslims, but they borrow from the Jews and Christians. Most creation stories are not anything like this.”

    So let met get this straight: the corroborating evidence you are presenting here that your book of choice is the one and only true source of knowledge is that the universe is supposedly rational and orderly and your god is purported in this book to be rational and orderly as well. Meanwhile, if a competing religious book makes the same claim for another god, it is because it was plagiarized from your book. Is this about correct?

    “And since we believe that scripture is God breathed there can be no falsehood. We may understand it wrongly, but that is a different story.”

    I know that you believe this. Why should anyone take this belief seriously, let alone share it? How do you discriminate between a wrong understanding and an actual error in the book?

    “You recently introduced a new element. That of a proposition being prescriptive. And because it was prescriptive, it would logically follow that it would compel. Yet I checked a number of on line dictionaries and not one linked prescriptive, or prescription with action. This is why Mackie’s linking of the two is both arbitrary and unnecessary. Let’s face it Iapetus, the man just made it up…”

    This is in all likelhood a hopeless cause, but I will try one more time.
    The nature of ethical propositions is different from those of normal propositions in that they introduce a prescriptive or normative component, i.e. stating that an act is ethically wrong is equivalent to saying “Do not perform this act!”. Please look it up in a philosophy textbook if you do not believe this.
    Now, when you posit metaphysical, objective ethical values or propositions you create an ontological problem because you have to explain what kind of entities are referred to by ethical propositions. What is it supposed to MEAN that there exist metaphysical, objective ethical propositions? Since ethical propositions are prescriptive, asserting that they are objective implies that they can not be different, i.e. when a person recognizes that a given ethical proposition is objective he realizes the correct way to act and is simultaneously endowed with a compelling motive since it is the objective proposition itself that possesses an intrinsic worthiness to be realized. I do not know how to explain this any more clearly.

    “That’s the point Iapetus, I’m assuming objective moral law to be to be so. And if a man is morally rational he will agree, it will be self-evident.”

    Finally. So you can not give any reasoning for the deduction of objective ethical propositions but see them as self-evidently true.

    Now, this raises the epistomological issue of how we can recognize an ethical proposition to be objectively true. How is a “morally rational” proposition defined? What distinguishes it from a “morally irrational” proposition? How do we recognize this difference?

  81. James

    Hey Iapetus,

    Congratulations.

    Thank you, congratulations are so few and far in between… ; )

    I am not ruling out the possibility that the patterns and regularities we have observed thusfar are not immutable and/or not applicable to the whole of reality. The problem is that we have not observed this thusfar, while you claim to know that there are parts of reality where this is so. And as you have conceded, the only basis for this claim is words written in a book that you interpret to mean what you claim them to mean. Now, why should anyone take this seriously if you can not show anything to corroborate that these words describe reality correctly?

    Ok, so your particulars many not be universal. And you really have no idea if your finite discoveries are in fact universal – therefore you may not be describing reality in the macro-sense.

    BTW – I don’t not expect you to accept my position. But the fact remains theorderly universe we have is one we would expect from the rational God of scripture. The God of scripture would also ground the objective, universal nature of the the laws of logic , mathematics, and morality. Also, when I say objective I mean objective to humankind.

    This is a total non sequitur. If reality were utterly chaotic and irrational, would it need a chaotic and irrational god to uphold it? Who or what is upholding this rational and orderly god? How exactly does this god uphold reality?

    But the creation is orderly, and and reflects His nature, as we would expect from scripture. Also he upholds this universe by His power. Now, I don’t expect you to accept this, we do not start with the same assumption, but you have no evidence that the universe is self-sustaining. You assume it, but you can not produce a mechanism.

    Btw, I think declaring reality to be utterly rational and orderly is unwarranted after discoveries like chaos theory and the a-causal and indeterministic effects we observe on the quantum level.

    Really, we don’t find trees turning into sheep. If the universe was not orderly science would be impossible. Are you saying that science is impossible?

    So let met get this straight: the corroborating evidence you are presenting here that your book of choice is the one and only true source of knowledge is that the universe is supposedly rational and orderly and your god is purported in this book to be rational and orderly as well. Meanwhile, if a competing religious book makes the same claim for another god, it is because it was plagiarized from your book. Is this about correct?

    Well Islam certainly did borrow from Genesis, Mohammed even quotes it. And you will not find anything like the Genesis creation story in other ancient religious texts. Most of which saw this present universe as eternal – Genesis said it was created – Genesis was right…

    I know that you believe this. Why should anyone take this belief seriously, let alone share it? How do you discriminate between a wrong understanding and an actual error in the book?

    Iapetus, I want to be kind here. I don’t expect you to take my belief seriously. I expect you to mock it and try to undermine it. But I don’t believe you are rational. Especially on this subject. So I can’t accept your opinion as valid.

    Since ethical propositions are prescriptive, asserting that they are objective implies that they can not be different, i.e. when a person recognizes that a given ethical proposition is objective he realizes the correct way to act and is simultaneously endowed with a compelling motive since it is the objective proposition itself that possesses an intrinsic worthiness to be realized. I do not know how to explain this any more clearly.

    That is what simply does not follow. Men do not always do what they know is right, do you on any level disagree with this? I know this from personal experience, I and many christians I know, do believe in objective moral truths, but often fail to live up to them. As worthy as they are we are morally weak and often selfish. Prescription does not mean power to act. And even motive does not always supply the power to act. Really Iapetus, you seem like a smart fellow – what don’t you get about this?

    Be honest Iapetus have you ever failed to live up to an ethical norm you found worthy to be followed?

    Now, this raises the epistomological issue of how we can recognize an ethical proposition to be objectively true. How is a “morally rational” proposition defined? What distinguishes it from a “morally irrational” proposition? How do we recognize this difference?

    Let’s take one point at a time, again, I’m just going to turn it around on you: how we can recognize a logical proposition to be objectively true? And if you can’t answer let me remind you of what I said: Please don’t demand from me what you could not provide in support of your own position – be fair…

  82. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Hi Steve. If you don’t mind, I’m going to ignore the discussion you’re having with James and go back to your previous comments, since I think they’re more fundamental.

    You don’t have a solid epistemological theory. For goodness sake, you hadn’t even researched the logic necessary to understand the concept of the Trinity.

    Have you investigated my epistemology? I suspect you have not, so it seems premature for you to claim that it isn’t solid. Furthermore, if you have investigated it, could you at least articulate some reasons as to why you believe it is not solid, rather than just making the assertion?

    As regards the issue of the Trinity, let me point out that (i) I have researched the logic (just not as well as I ought to have); and (ii) the specific logic in question is actually incidental to my NUB thesis, which still provides an adequate defeater to the objection of internal inconsistency. Having some experientially inexplicable propositions within one’s epistemology does not constitute grounds for dismissing it; especially when these very propositions are integral to providing a metaphysic which can account for a certain fundamental aspect of reality (unity and plurality).

    You just say “it’s all true, whatever”.

    No I don’t; again with the strawmen, Steve. What I say is that my Christian worldview gives me adequate grounds for believing in the Trinity, even if it is a difficult doctrine to articulate and understand. The testimony of Scripture makes it entirely reasonable for me to believe that God is three and one. If you wish to contest this, you need to go after the grounds for my belief in Scripture; not after the Trinity itself. That is a dead end, as Anderson has very competently shown, and as I have attempted to reiterate in this series.

    You also seem to misunderstand the term “theory”. It doesn’t mean to try and dodge clear inconsistencies by even trying to redefine logic. That is intellectually dishonest. If you wish to use the word “theory”, then you are going to have to indicate how it could be falsified, otherwise you have bothing but a “belief”.

    No Steve, I’m afraid that it is you who has misunderstood what the word “theory” generally means. I know you’re very science-biased, but that doesn’t excuse you from being ignorant of the semantic range of a common English word. You are trying to define a theory as something exclusively scientific. Well, according to Merriam-Webster, a theory can be any one of the following:

    1. the analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another
    2. abstract thought : speculation
    3. the general or abstract principles of a body of fact, a science, or an art
    4. a: a belief, policy, or procedure proposed or followed as the basis of action b: an ideal or hypothetical set of facts, principles, or circumstances —often used in the phrase in theory
    5. a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena
    6. a: a hypothesis assumed for the sake of argument or investigation b: an unproved assumption : conjecture c: a body of theorems presenting a concise systematic view of a subject

    Please note how my usage of the word conforms to the primary definitions (1-3). You are not free to insist that a word’s semantic range be confined to its secondary definitions (5-6).

    My only attitude is not to believe things unless I am shown consistent evidence, because I know how fallible we all are.

    Again, you are using words without clarifying their definition. What do you mean by “evidence”? What is evidence under your worldview? You appear to be (a) excluding a large body of relevant information which reasonably counts as evidence under my own worldview; and (b) ignoring the fact that evidence is actually data interpreted—and that interpretation presupposes a certain schema. If you are prejudicially excluding all other schemas than your own, then you ought to be able to explain why your schema is sound, and the others are not.

    Another point about “epistemological theories”. Anyone can have them. I’ll make one up: knowledge comes from elves. It is nice and consistent: The elves define themselves as the source of knowledge. Such systems of statements can be consistent. They can be self-affirming (I have some writing that I believe is from the elves say that all this is true). But that doesn’t matter. What matters is whether or not it is reasonable to claim that such beliefs could possibly be true. In order for that to be the case you have to test the ideas against reality. Internal feelings aren’t sufficient.

    No Steve, I’m afraid not. “Knowledge comes from elves” is not intrinsically self-consistent. Even if you have revelation from the alleged elves, we can still ask: does it constitute sufficient grounds for a worldview? That is, does it contain sufficient information to formulate a workable theory of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics? For example, how does knowledge come from elves? What is knowledge? What are elves? Etc.

    Furthermore, since you admit that your epistemology is fabricated, we can a priori dismiss it. You can’t just “make one up”, because we have no grounds for believing something of our own invention.

    Additionally, fabricating an epistemology for the sake of rejecting another one is clearly prejudicial. If the only way you can dismiss my epistemology is to invent another one to compete with it, you are tacitly admitting (i) that my epistemology has some real value; and (ii) that you are so biased against accepting it that you will make up anything to try to “prove” that it is not as useful as I claim. Furthermore, since (iii) you don’t even hold to your own invented competing epistemology, it is quite irrelevant to the question. We should be examining the epistemology you do hold to; not some artificial framework pulled out of your proverbial purely for the sake of trying to disprove Christianity. By shifting the focus in this way, you are tacitly admitting that your own epistemology is so weak that it has less chance against Christianity than some nonsense you just made up and would never actually believe.

    Even further, what do you mean by saying that we have to “test our ideas against reality” in order to determine whether it’s reasonable to think they could possibly be true? How do you (a) know this and (b) define what it means to “test against reality”? Why are internal feelings not sufficient? Are you requiring that we all hold to an externalist epistemology? On what grounds? What about your internal feeling that an external world exists? How do you plan to test this against reality? Are you admitting that this feeling of yours is unreasonable? After all, you say that “internal feelings aren’t sufficient”.

    All beliefs about the world have to be subject to verification. This isn’t going to necessarily prove that they are true, but it helps support them.

    I see. Let me ask you something Steve: do you hold to a verificationalist view of the world? If so, how do you respond to the obvious criticism that verificationalism is self-refuting?

    This is why you are responsible for your words when you call those you oppose ignorant and foolish. It is fair for others to insist you justify those words with reasoned discourse.

    Sorry, again I’m going to have to ask you to clarify your definitions. What is “responsibility” under your worldview? Responsibility, I would have thought, entails accountability to some authority according to some ethical law. To what specific authority are you referring, from where does its power come, and by what law is it going to judge me? Moreover, if we are indeed merely biological organisms, then presumably we can be reduced to physical processes. That is what you argued in our debate, I believe. Physical processes follow physical laws, so how we “act” (that is, how the conglomeration of physical processes we call “us” function) is fully determined by physical laws. This being the case, what does “responsibility” mean to begin with? We don’t hold computers responsible when they crash or error. We don’t hold any physical processes responsible, in fact. It is obviously absurd to do so. So I’m hoping you can clarify what you mean when you talk about holding human beings responsible, given that we are no more than physical processes. And if you could provide the same explanations as regards “fairness” that would be great too. I’m having trouble understanding what you mean when you claim that it’s “fair” for others to insist that I justify my words with reasoned discourse. What is “fairness”? And how do you know that it’s fair for me to have to do this?

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  83. James

    Hello Bnonn, welcome back…

    You said: What about your internal feeling that an external world exists? How do you plan to test this against reality? Are you admitting that this feeling of yours is unreasonable? After all, you say that “internal feelings aren’t sufficient”.

    Very good question, since in my discussions with Steve he has more than once he has stated this axiom about “feelings.” I wonder if he will now apply it to himself, or attempt to ignore the issue.

  84. Steve Zara

    Very good question,

    It is a rather silly question. One can’t compare a tentative proposition that an external world exists with a firm conviction that one has a direct line to the maker of the universe.

    Stick with the simple things, guys. You can’t just make up weird complex stuff and declare it true because of “feelings”.

    I would like to ask James and Bnonn two easy questions:

    1. Is God complex?
    2. Can you prove a negative?

  85. Iapetus

    James,

    “Ok, so your particulars many not be universal. And you really have no idea if your finite discoveries are in fact universal – therefore you may not be describing reality in the macro-sense.”

    Yes, which is why scientific theories are always tentative and open to change. This is the great thing about them. The fact that you see this as a weakness is telling.

    “BTW – I don’t not expect you to accept my position. But the fact remains theorderly universe we have is one we would expect from the rational God of scripture.”

    Why? Does he like order and rationality? How would you know? Did you talk to him? There is no logical connection whatsoever here.

    “The God of scripture would also ground the objective, universal nature of the the laws of logic , mathematics, and morality.”

    If these laws needed grounding in a god, how could they be objective? What is it supposed to MEAN that they are “grounded” in a god? How? In what way?

    “Also, when I say objective I mean objective to humankind.”

    What is this supposed to mean? It is like saying the value of pi is objective only for people in the northern hemisphere.

    “Also he upholds this universe by His power.”

    Unless you can give at least a vague notion how this is achieved it remains an empty statement.

    “Now, I don’t expect you to accept this, we do not start with the same assumption, but you have no evidence that the universe is self-sustaining. You assume it, but you can not produce a mechanism.”

    You can not produce a mechanism, either. Furthermore, this presupposes that the universe is contingent. Or to put it another way: it presupposes that non-existence is the normal state of the universe rather than existence and thus an internal or external force is necessary to keep it from reverting back to non-existence. So first you have to show that this is the case before we can talk about a possible mechanism.

    “Really, we don’t find trees turning into sheep.”

    Are you by any chance employing an inductive argument based on unreliable sense experience here? You know, an argument based on this induction thingy that the fatally-flawed, inferior-to-scripture scientific method allegedly relies on and which renders any scientific findings not trustworthy. Now you want to support your position with it?

    Furthermore, you are applying a totally arbitrary definition of order. Hypothetical beings from a mechanistic, 100% deterministic universe would find our reality replete with chaos and indeterministic effects, from the quantum level up to the macroscale, where there are plenty of chaotic systems in e.g. fluid dynamics and meteorology.

    “If the universe was not orderly science would be impossible.”

    Says who?

    “Well Islam certainly did borrow from Genesis, Mohammed even quotes it.”

    Why not, since he is supposed to be the final messenger that rectifies the distorted Jewish and Christian accounts of Allah. You might be right on creation, but wrong on the god. How do you decide this?

    If you want to hang your hat on the Genesis story, shouldn’t you be a Jew? After all, they have the older intellectual property rights for it.

    “And you will not find anything like the Genesis creation story in other ancient religious texts. Most of which saw this present universe as eternal – Genesis said it was created – Genesis was right…”

    What are you possibly talking about here? We have discussed this already: nothing in our scientific knowledge lets us conclude that the universe came out of nothing, let alone that it was purposefully created.

    Incidentally, I wonder why you put so much stock in the Big Bang theory. Lest we forget, it is based on a method of gathering knowledge that according to your ideology is inherently flawed and not reliable. Curious how theists cheerfully latch onto scientific findings when they hope to milk support for their dogmas out of it, yet fiercely deny scientific findings like the theory of evolution that they perceive as a threat to their dogmas.

    “Iapetus, I want to be kind here. ”

    Thanks.

    “I don’t expect you to take my belief seriously. I expect you to mock it and try to undermine it. But I don’t believe you are rational. Especially on this subject. So I can’t accept your opinion as valid.”

    I see, so since your beliefs are inherently rational, anyone who questions or does not share those beliefs is per definitionem irrational and can therefore be dismissed. Neat. Hmm, I think I can play this game, too. Watch this:

    I hereby declare belief in Zeus and the other gods of the Pantheon to be the only inherently rational position. I further declare the Iliad to be a perfect, flawless book. Should you want to criticize these beliefs, I regret to inform you that your position is inherently irrational and therefore not valid.

    Hey, that was not so hard! And fun, too…

    “That is what simply does not follow. Men do not always do what they know is right, do you on any level disagree with this? I know this from personal experience, I and many christians I know, do believe in objective moral truths, but often fail to live up to them.”

    Unless you can show that you have in fact recognized a metaphysical, objective ethical truth your example does not indicate what you want it to.

    “Let’s take one point at a time, again, I’m just going to turn it around on you: how we can recognize a logical proposition to be objectively true? And if you can’t answer let me remind you of what I said: Please don’t demand from me what you could not provide in support of your own position – be fair…”

    A logical or mathematical proposition follows necessarily from the basic axioms or premises, which are themselves assumed to be true, but not proven to be. The problem for you is that you have explicitly denied the possibility to deduce objective ethical truths from any premises and have instead proposed that we simply recognize them as such due to their self-evidency.

    How do we do this? By what criteria? What distinguishes an objective ethical proposition from a subjective one?

  86. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Not so fast, Steve. You obviously consider it entirely reasonable to believe in an external world. This belief is not evidently falsifiable and it is based on your internal feelings, so you appear not a little hypocritical in holding to it. And don’t pretend as if you treat it like a tentative hypothesis in everyday life; you treat it as a brute fact, just like everyone else. If you didn’t, you’d probably be locked away. You can come along now and be all “humble” and say that you don’t really know there’s an external world, but that’s really just an admission of how profoundly incapable your worldview is of justifying even the most basic and obvious facts about reality. It doesn’t make you more rational; it makes you the very fool which Scripture claims you are. It puts you on the level of an insane person. Especially since you act inconsistently with your supposed “tentative proposition” by treating it as a thoroughly absolute proposition when you aren’t involved in argumentation.

    Yet if I have an internal feeling that I have a “direct line to the maker of the universe” as you so quaintly put it, then that can’t possibly be rational? What if I try to treat it as a tentative proposition like you do? Well, we both know how such feelings work—you can call them “tentative”, but by their very nature they are brute facts forced upon you. So unless you want to say that you are irrational for believing in an external world, it appears that you have a problem in claiming that I am irrational for believing in God. To say this would make you obviously inconsistent; a hypocrite. Why accept one feeling but refuse to entertain the other?

    Naturally, we must distinguish between internal and external rationality. You are certainly in a position to externally falsify the propositions I infer from my internal feeling. You can still demonstrate that, even if I am internally rational, I am deluded. My feeling actually is falsifiable, which is more than can be said for yours. Which is kind of embarrassing, since if falsifiability is all you say it is, then I am entirely more rational to believe in God (given the failure of everyone to falsify that belief) than you are to believe in an external world.

    Now, the answers to your questions are (1) no and (2) sometimes. Why don’t you answer my questions, though? To make it easier for you, I’ll even list them.

    1. What specific reasons do you have for asserting that my epistemology is not solid?
    2. What do you mean when you use the word “evidence”?
    3. What do you mean when you say that we have to “test our ideas against reality” in order to determine whether it’s reasonable to think they could “possibly be true”?
    4. Are you, in fact, a verificationalist?
    5. What is “responsibility” and “fairness” under your worldview, given that these terms don’t apply to physical processes?
  87. James

    Hello Iapetus,

    I’m really short on computer time so I will pass on the bulk of what you said since much of it has been covered.

    1. If these laws needed grounding in a god, how could they be objective? What is it supposed to MEAN that they are “grounded” in a god? How? In what way?

    What don’t you understand? God thinks rationally and mathmatically if you will. God is a moral being. So His very immutable nature/character is the objective ground for these things. It all begins in the Mind of God…

    “Also he upholds this universe by His power.”

    Unless you can give at least a vague notion how this is achieved it remains an empty statement.

    2. No more empty than the materialist who holds that the universe is self-sustaining without providing a mechanism….

    Unless you can show that you have in fact recognized a metaphysical, objective ethical truth your example does not indicate what you want it to.

    3. Of course I recognized objective ethical truth. I’m a Christian. But the point remains there is nothing inherent in the nature of a objective, prescriptive ethical law that would compel an man to act. Even if he did find it worthy, we are all morally weak at times. Mackie’s argument simply does not hold.

    A logical or mathematical proposition follows necessarily from the basic axioms or premises, which are themselves assumed to be true, but not proven to be. The problem for you is that you have explicitly denied the possibility to deduce objective ethical truths from any premises and have instead proposed that we simply recognize them as such due to their self-evidency.

    How do we do this? By what criteria? What distinguishes an objective ethical proposition from a subjective one?

    Well you got the first part right, you have to assume logical laws just as I assume moral law. Again, how do you know that your assumption of logical laws is correct? How do you do this? By what criteria? What distinguishes a objective logical proposition from a subjective one?

    BTW Iapetus – do you assume logical laws to be universal? Can you prove that?

  88. Mike

    My goodness,

    this is really getting creepy. Everytime I read a comment, and then read iapetus’s reply – it’s arguments are exactly (though not exclusively) those I would have brought up. Let me ask you, Iapetus – are you an interested (and highly qualified) layman (like Steve), or are you a “professional” student of philosophy?

    I can certainly understand why James asked whether you are me :)

    So, when I say “very good job, Iapetus”, is this self-congratulatory because I would have done the same? :)

    Anyway – so many things to comment on – so little time and not enough energy to deal with everything. So I think I will just pick the problems I have thought (and read) about most.

    MORAL OBJECTIVITY AND THEISM:

    Iapetus is right, Christian theism is not an objectivist position, it’s a subjectivist position. The moral facts theism proposes are contingent upon god’s nature or will.

    Of course the standard answer (thomistic) is that moral values derive from god’s nature, and that since god is a necessary being they are necessary.

    (note: I am just analysing and deconstructing here, not agreeing – but you will know that by now :)

    Anyway – this thomistic view is interesting, but doesn’t solve the problem. The moral facts in theism would still be of a “lower” order than god him-/her-/itself… they would be contingent upon him.

    Something the (neo-)thomists haven’t caught up with is the concept of nested modalities. This applies (sort of) the concept of uncountable infinities to modalities, and thus – in the possible-worlds semantics, to possible worlds-interpretations. I don’t have time to go into this, you ought to read Mackie’s deconstruction of Plantinga’s modal-ontological argument for this.

    Anyway – nested modalities is only way to make sense of and avoid the contradiction in the theistic moral theory that moral values are both necessary and dependent, that is contingent upon something.

    At the level of the moral facts/moral values/moral truth (whichever term you prefer) – these are contingent upon god, and thus not objective, but subjective to god. They are universal, yes – but not objective. That, by the way is another important distinction – and it certainly applies here.

    Another point of interest (forgive me if I’ve covered it before here – I forget): It seems to me that the concept of god as the origin of everything PLUS as a necessary being is logically inconsistent.

    As explained above (and presumably you knew this already) thomism holds that moral values “come from” or “reflect” God’s nature, which is necessary.
    What exactly is that supposed to mean.

    The usual theistic position says of God that he has certain attributes…

    The “nature” of God is the totality of his attributes. Any entity is uniquely defined by its attributes.

    (note: this is all independent of “NUB” or some such things. BTW, thanks for notifying me of your revision – I do not object to this revision at all… well, not to the act of revising, the criticism of the content remains. “NUB” still seems to be a contradictory concept with an added claim “this is not contradictory”. I have seen no arguments for this. And “A is B with respect to BEING” … that doesn’t seem to be logical either – do you mean “nature” as in “totality of attributes”? In that case the law of identity of indiscernibles renders your “NUB” logically inconsistent. Or do you mean “being” as in the verb “to be”, ie to exist. In that case you make the mistake of treating “existence” as a predicate.)

    We have the law of identity of indiscernibles and indiscernablity of identicals…

    Now, – what is the origin of God’s nature? What determines god’s attributes?
    Either
    i) nothing/nobody – it’s just a logical necessity
    In that case – this has to be proven. Which means that “EXISTS X: GOD.X AND [P1X, … , PiX]” has to be shown to be an analytical statement. Good luck with that – because that is clearly and unquestionably wrong!
    Furthermore – it makes Logic completely independent of God and “prior to” God or “of a higher order than” God – who could thus not be its origin.
    or
    ii) God himself
    And this is manifestly impossible.
    That would mean that God determined his nature. Since everything is defined by its attributes it would be equivalent to “That specific thing with attributes P1,…,Pi determined these Ps”. It’s not logically possible – for in order for the designator in the first part of the sentence (“God”) to have meaning, it already has to have a definite set of properties/attributes, which negates the sentence “God determined his nature”.

    Of course there are many more problems, such as with the non-temporality and non-spatiality of God.

    PRESCRIPTIVENESS AND METAPHYSICAL QUEERNESS:

    James, Iapetus is correct – and you really seem desperate when arguing that there is no connection between “prescriptive” and “action”.
    While “Murder is wrong” is only COMPLETELY IDENTICAL to “Do not murder!” under one interpretation (namely the non-cognitivist metaethical position of prescriptivism), what you, James, seem to have missed is that it is not “objective” that necessitates prescriptivity in the composite term “objective moral values”, it is “moral”.

    Moral values are always prescriptive. “Murder is wrong” thus always has “It is wrong to perform the action of murder” and thus “you must not/ought not murder” as its meaning (though perhaps not exclusively).

    Metaphysically objective moral values would be different from mathematical truths (seen as platonic forms) in that they would be – as Mackie correctly says – intrinsically related to actions in a specific way. It would be these strange entities that somehow see to it that a specific type of event, namely certain actions, have certain properties – namely their supposed moral properties.

    They would also indeed have to be intrinsically action-guiding, in that recognizing that “murder is metaphysically objectively wrong”, as explained above, always includes “I must not/ought not murder”. Whether this is overridden or not is of no importance.

    Really, please do read Mackie – it is painful to behold how you try to argue that supposed objective moral values are no different from other supposed metaphysical entities… because it would mean – as you may have realized by now – to argue that intrinsic prescriptiveness makes no difference.

    A SHORT COMMENT ON FAIRY-EPISTEMOLOGY:

    Dominic, you’re criticism of Steve’s fairy-epistemology example doesn’t fly. You make the irrational demand that an epistemology has to be the basis of an ontology, a metaphysics, or in short: a theory of everything. This is blatantly false. What it has to be is consistent with some worldview one is prepared to affirm. And fairy-epistemology certainly is compatible with a certain overarching worldview – just not one that you or Steve would subscribe to. Furthermore, his criticism in paralleling theistic epistemology with fairy-epistemology is entirely valid. It’s (for example) what renders Plantinga’s reformed epistemology useless… only that in this case it was termed the “(son of the) Great Pumpkin”-objection. You might want to read up on it. Introducing a sensus divinitatis in the way and under the definition Plantinga does to try and avoid this objection is adding yet another auxiliary ad-hoc hypothesis. It is also useless because we could just as well say there is a “sensus pumpkiniatus”, and cite Charlie Brown’s “inner feelings” as evidence for and instances of that.

    Theistic epistemology is – in short – arbitrary and unjustified. Even if it were coherent – we would need arguments that it’s assumptions are true.

    A SHORT COMMENT ON VERIFICATION, FALSIFICATION AND REALISM:

    First – James – note that Steve said “all beliefs ABOUT THE WORLD“. I assume this to mean beliefs pertaining not to logical, that is analytical, prescriptive or pragmatic statements. Verificationism thus limited is indeed entirely coherent.
    But then, verificationism is indeed out of favour… falsification is the way to go: Statements about phenomena can be intersubjectively verified. Hypothesis, theories and in general assertions about the empirical world can only ever be falsified.

    And yes – there are no empirical reasons for realism about the external world. There couldn’t be. But then, neither Steve nor I nor Iapetus said we were empiricists, did we? Nor did we say we were rationalists… there are many positions in between and outside.

    Why be a realist about the external world? Because it is the most economic and thus reasonable position. Mackie also makes this clear in his section criticising Berkleyan idealism in his “The Miracle of Theism”.

    And with that I bid you good day!
    -Michael

  89. Steve Zara

    Dominick-

    Two questions:

    1. Is God Complex?

    If so (and he must be), then your idea of the world is deeply un-economical, and is so not reasonable.

    2. Can you prove a negative?

    If not (and theists use this to say that belief in God is reasonable), then the existence of the supernatural is not reasonable.

    Everything about your worldview fails because of lack of economy. It matters not one whit if it is consistent or not – it matters if it is true.

    You clearly realise you can’t demonstrate that it is true, otherwise you would have done so. Instead you have to assign this worldview the status of the starting point of belief., not the end-point of rational investigation.

    Meanwhile, we are stuck in a shrinking world where people with such unwieldy and unfounded worldviews fight for control over our lives. That is dangerous.

    So, sorry, but your views are not reasonable. And to cling to them to the point where you reject science is deeply arrogant. It means you place yourself personally over minds like those of Einstein, Hawking and Darwin.

    I suspect you aren’t that wise – don’t you agree? :)

  90. Steve Zara

    Theistic epistemology is – in short – arbitrary and unjustified. Even if it were coherent – we would need arguments that it’s assumptions are true.

    I am pleased that, in the end, I make the same points as Mike, even though I can’t make them with rigour.

    The only attempt at argument I see, when it gets downs to things, are:

    1. Christianity is coherent. (As Mike and other say, even if it was, so what?)

    2. I have a sensus divinatus; combined some kind of Dune-style “truthsense”. (Argument from superpower)

    3. By the way, I am going to attack science in case it gets in the way of 1 and 2. (Argument from arrogance)

  91. James

    Hello Mike,

    You said:

    PRESCRIPTIVENESS AND METAPHYSICAL QUEERNESS:

    James, Iapetus is correct – and you really seem desperate when arguing that there is no connection between “prescriptive” and “action”.
    While “Murder is wrong” is only COMPLETELY IDENTICAL to “Do not murder!” under one interpretation (namely the non-cognitivist metaethical position of prescriptivism), what you, James, seem to have missed is that it is not “objective” that necessitates prescriptivity in the composite term “objective moral values”, it is “moral”.

    Moral values are always prescriptive. “Murder is wrong” thus always has “It is wrong to perform the action of murder” and thus “you must not/ought not murder” as its meaning (though perhaps not exclusively).

    Metaphysically objective moral values would be different from mathematical truths (seen as platonic forms) in that they would be – as Mackie correctly says – intrinsically related to actions in a specific way. It would be these strange entities that somehow see to it that a specific type of event, namely certain actions, have certain properties – namely their supposed moral properties.

    They would also indeed have to be intrinsically action-guiding, in that recognizing that “murder is metaphysically objectively wrong”, as explained above, always includes “I must not/ought not murder”. Whether this is overridden or not is of no importance.

    Really, please do read Mackie – it is painful to behold how you try to argue that supposed objective moral values are no different from other supposed metaphysical entities… because it would mean – as you may have realized by now – to argue that intrinsic prescriptiveness makes no difference.

    Yes Mike, and it does make a difference if it is overridden . One can know that murder is wrong, and act against that knowledge. You have not shown that said knowledge must be followed or that it imposes moral action – you are asserting . “Intrinsic prescriptiveness” as you say brings no inherent power to act, it only informs, like the laws of logic and math inform. So my point stands.

    Second, do you believe in objective mathematical truths and logical truths? Do you believe in “platonic forms” Mike? Do you care to prove them? Do you care to show how such things can exist apart from a mind?

  92. James

    Hello Mike,

    And yes – there are no empirical reasons for realism about the external world. There couldn’t be. But then, neither Steve nor I nor Iapetus said we were empiricists, did we? Nor did we say we were rationalists… there are many positions in between and outside.

    Why be a realist about the external world? Because it is the most economic and thus reasonable position. Mackie also makes this clear in his section criticising Berkleyan idealism in his “The Miracle of Theism”.

    Then what is your theory of knowledge Mike? I asked you this a number of times on Steve’s blog. Are you a realist? Let’s see how that holds up under rational discussion.

    To quote Heisenberg on the Copenhagen interpretation:

    “But then one sees that not even the quality of being (if that may be called a “quality”) belongs to what is described. It is a possibility for being or a tendency for being.”

    “In the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, the objective reality has evaporated, and quantum mechanics does not represent particles, but rather, our knowledge, our observations, or our consciousness of particles.”

    Heisenberg, Werner, Physics and Philosophy, the Revolution in Modern Science

    So Mike how does “realism” fair when dealing with quantum mechanics?

  93. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Steve, I already answered your questions; please refer to my previous comment. You are evidently unaware of the doctrine of the simplicity of God; I suggest you investigate it as it seems to rather undermine your complexity thesis. Similarly, proving a negative is not intrinsically difficult. It just depends on the negative in question. It’s trivial to prove that there are no lions in my bedroom.

    Now, will you answer my five questions?

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  94. Iapetus

    James,

    “What don’t you understand? God thinks rationally and mathmatically if you will. God is a moral being. So His very immutable nature/character is the objective ground for these things. It all begins in the Mind of God…”

    This does not make them objective, on the contrary. Please read Mike’s comment above.

    “2. No more empty than the materialist who holds that the universe is self-sustaining without providing a mechanism….”

    Please read again what I wrote about it. If you assert that the universe needs “sustaining”, you presuppose that non-existence is the default state and that the universe needs help either from within our outside to keep it from reverting back to this state. Why should we assume this? How do you know that existence is not the default state while non-existence would need “sustaining”?

    “3. Of course I recognized objective ethical truth. I’m a Christian.”

    What is the logical connection between these two sentences?

    “Well you got the first part right, you have to assume logical laws just as I assume moral law.”

    No, we assume the AXIOMS to be true without proving it. Logical/mathematical truths follow necessarily from these axioms and are therefore objective.

    However, this route is closed to you as you explicitly denied the possibility to deduce objective ethical truths from basic axioms or premises. Instead, you asserted that we recognize them as such immediately due to their self-evidency, but that they are nonetheless objective. So, how do we do that?

  95. Iapetus

    Mike,

    I seriously contemplated studying philosophy for some time, but ultimately decided against it and went into the natural sciences. Nonetheless, I try to read as much philosophy as my spare time allows to be informed about what is going on.

    Gruesse nach Deutschland von einem Landsmann.

  96. Steve Zara

    Bnonn-

    Are minds complex? Have you come across any mind that can ponder, reason, or remember, and that is simple?

  97. Steve Zara

    James-

    So Mike how does “realism” fair when dealing with quantum mechanics?

    How does “Christianity” fair when dealing with quantum mechanics?

    Perhaps you will try my Higgs Challenge, even if Bnonn Tennant won’t?

  98. Steve Zara

    Bnonn-

    1. What specific reasons do you have for asserting that my epistemology is not solid?

    1. That you have to try and struggle so much to keep it going in the face of argument – just consider what happened with the Trinity. Honest people when faced with such problems don’t struggle to make things fit. They admit there is a problem. This is typical of what happens when people have an emotional attachment to an idea. Well, that is fine. We should have emotional attachments. But that should not stop us being honest.

    2. It is unwiedly. It is this huge pile of odd ideas. Also, it requires you to claim you know better than the majority of scientists and philosophers alive to day. That “smells a bit off” to me, and it should to you too, if you are honest.

    2. What do you mean when you use the word “evidence”?

    Something that is repeatable at different times and places and in different cultures. Something that has the potential to

    3. What do you mean when you say that we have to “test our ideas against reality” in order to determine whether it’s reasonable to think they could “possibly be true”?

    Because if we pick arbitrary epistemologies on which to base our lives, we need, if we are responsible people, to ensure that they are in some way “true”.

    4. Are you, in fact, a verificationalist?

    No.

    5. What is “responsibility” and “fairness” under your worldview, given that these terms don’t apply to physical processes?

    Of course they apply to physical processes. They are what we feel and understand as a result of certain mental processes.

    Reponsibility and fairness are what we decide to do based on feelings of empathy and considered opinion.

    If you want to know what I am, I am modest. I claim no direct-line-to-God superpower. I don’t consider my opinion above that of Einstein or Hawking or Darwin. I realise my mind is faulty, and I need to start simple with ideas and trust others to help me learn.

  99. Steve Zara

    Sorry – did not finish a sentence:

    Something that has the potential to falsify an idea.

  100. James

    For Iapetus and Mike

    Some thoughts. Both of you appealed to platonic forms. Yet Plato’s forms included things like beauty and love and justice, love and justice being the highest, most important, of all forms. But you would reject these higher forms for the lesser forms that seem to agree with your atheistic assumptions.

    Of course Plato knew that one could not grasp universals by sense experience therefore his “doctrine of recollection.” That we are born with this innate a priori knowledge. I would like to know how the atheist discovers knowledge of universals by sense experience? Please be specific.

    If you can’t then this innate knowledge will serve as a vehicle for moral truths as well as logical truths.

    Plato also knew that you could not ground these universals in anything but intelligence. Mind, the divine. Though this mind was not defined. Where does the atheist ground these universal non-entities? If not in Mind, then where do they live?

    Finally, a moral axiom would not have to be analogous to a logical truth since the aim of both would be different. A logical truth would be verified by premise, inference and conclusion. A moral truth however, since we are dealing with interpersonal factors, would be justified on these interpersonal grounds – do they prompt peace, justice, happiness, order, etc… It’s apples and oranges…

  101. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Steve, what do you mean when you ask if minds are complex? In your view, a mind is just a brain, which surely is complex. In my view, a mind is something entirely else; something non-physical and ultimately simple. So there is a conceptual chasm a mile wide between my answer and yours.

    Now, regarding your answers to my questions—

      1. How is the solidness or lack thereof of my epistemology correlated to how much I may struggle with articulating or even understanding it? Should I be highly skeptical of scientific claims which scientists have difficulty articulating or even understanding?
      2. How have I struggled to make things fit? I wouldn’t characterize myself as having “struggled” at all, except with the logic surrounding identity, with which I was fairly unfamiliar and which was incidental to my thesis anyway. It’s probably fair to concede that others have struggled to make things fit; I’m just riding their coattails. But then again, how does this correlate to having a weak epistemology? Perhaps the closer one’s theory of knowledge approximates the truth, the harder it is to understand. Your objection only seems to hold any water at all if you presuppose that things which are hard to understand or articulate must be wrong, which is just question-begging.
      3. The discussion I’ve forwarded surrounding the Trinity is not primarily epistemological; it is metaphysical. The Trinity certainly bears on my epistemology, but it is part of my metaphysic, so I’m unsure what exactly the relevance is as regards the alleged weakness of the former. To be fair, though, I was unclear previously in my usage of these terms, so I can’t really blame you for the same.
      4. Who says my epistemology is unwieldy? I don’t find it unwieldy. Against what standard of wieldiness are you measuring it? Your worldview seems unwieldy to me, but I’m not going to try to use that as an argument against it because (i) it’s not actually an argument at all; and (ii) it’s begging the question (again!)
      5. Who says it’s odd? I don’t find it odd. Against what standard of oddness are you measuring it? I’m sure it’s odd if you’re not a Christian, but then you’re just begging the question again.
      6. Why should it smell “a bit off” that it requires me to “claim I know better” than a majority of people in certain fields if, in fact, properly represented I am claiming that the omniscient creator of the universe knows better? How does this correlate to my epistemology being weak? If those people are working from their own personal and subjective views and opinions and perceptions, then naturally they will interpret data wrongly and come to false conclusions. If my epistemology is based on the objective revelation of God, naturally I will side with him on issues of science and philosophy, as any others. He knows the truth definitively. You have to presuppose my wrongness and your rightness before this objection carries any weight at all, so again you’re begging the question.
    1. Please could you clarify your definition of evidence? I’m unsure what sort of “thing” you mean must be repeatable at different times and places, and have the potential to falsify an idea.
      1. I wasn’t asking you to justify your statement. I agree that one’s theories of knowledge and reality should actually be true. Although I’m at a loss to understand why you would think this, as it’s a normative statement, and I can’t see how you would justify such a thing in your worldview (see (5) below).
      2. My epistemology is not arbitrary. Maybe you should check all these terms you’re using against a dictionary before posting…
      3. I was asking how we are to test our ideas against reality. How do you propose we test any given epistemology?
    2. Good; please stop acting like a verificationalist then. Empirical statements are not the only meaningful ones, and empirical testing is not the only meaningful kind (which is why I asked you to clarify (2), as it looks on face value to be an empirical definition).
      1. What are you talking about? Mental processes are physical processes under your view, remember? Feelings and understanding are physical processes. Empathy is a physical process.
      2. Why should I be responsible or fair? Since these are (i) only physical processes and (ii) only descriptive as opposed to prescriptive, I’m really confused by your appealing to them as some kind of normative rule for behavior. Why should I follow them?

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  102. Steve Zara

    Bnonn-

    How do you know you have a direct line to God?

    How do you intend to verify your empistemology against reality?

    Why do you think you should be reasonable or fair?

    Please define “objective revelation”. Revelation is subjective.

  103. Steve Zara

    Bnonn-

    Regarding minds, I will allow you to talk of things other than brains. Mike may not forgive me :)

    I am talking about any thing that can store memories, make decisions and so on.

    Now, as for evidence and arbitrariness, I may have hit upon something that will illustrate my point.

    I will say that evidence is something that will convince both jury and judge in a non-religious court. It is the same kind of thing that I presume you would expect police to use to find out who had stolen your car.

    So, you declare you have a consistent epistemology, and that it is the truth. Imagine you have to present why you believe this to a judge and jury. (I am not suggesting here you are guilty of anything, just that the Jury needs to believe what you say is true for some reason).

    You can’t start off with “I state that scripture is true” in that context. You may believe that, but it is begging the question for the Jury. They will want to see how they can test your ideas against their reality.

    But you have to do better than that. You have to convince a jury from different cultures and different times.

    It’s not up to the jury to tell you what constitutes evidence – it is up to you to show how your epistemology is grounded in reality, and how you have tested it.

    Until you have shown that, the judge won’t allow you to declare your epistemology non-arbitrary, and certainly not true.

  104. Iapetus

    James,

    “Some thoughts. Both of you appealed to platonic forms. Yet Plato’s forms included things like beauty and love and justice, love and justice being the highest, most important, of all forms. But you would reject these higher forms for the lesser forms that seem to agree with your atheistic assumptions.”

    If I remember my reading of The Republic correctly, Plato postulated the Form of the Good as the highest conceivable knowledge and thus as the ultimate measure of justice. As only philosophers are capable of attaining that knowledge, they would make the ideal, just kings. Talk about self-promotion…

    As for the rest, I do not follow what you are saying. What are “higher” and “lesser” forms supposed to be?

    “Of course Plato knew that one could not grasp universals by sense experience therefore his “doctrine of recollection.” That we are born with this innate a priori knowledge. I would like to know how the atheist discovers knowledge of universals by sense experience?”

    First of all, you are mixing platonism with theism. More on that later. Second, the existence of universals is hotly contested among philosophers. Nominalists would dispute that they exist in the sense of metaphysical entities.

    “If you can’t then this innate knowledge will serve as a vehicle for moral truths as well as logical truths.”

    Are we stuck in a time loop here? Just a few posts ago you conceded that ethical/moral truths can not be deduced from basic axioms or premises, IN CONTRAST to objective logical/mathematical truths that can be; rather, we recognize objective ethical truths as such due to their self-evidency. Which is it?

    “Plato also knew that you could not ground these universals in anything but intelligence. Mind, the divine. Though this mind was not defined.”

    I do not know what Plato himself thought, but platonism in its contemporary form most certainly does NOT posit that metaphysical forms are held in existence by some kind of transcendent mind (which would be some kind of conceptualism, IIRC). Platonic forms are conceived as being wholly non-spatiotemporal, i.e. they are non-physical (not made out of physical material and not existing in the physical world) and non-mental (they are not ideas in the minds of humans, gods, aliens from Alpha Centauri or whatever).

    “Where does the atheist ground these universal non-entities? If not in Mind, then where do they live?”

    The question does not make sense. To ask “Where does entity X exist?” presupposes that there is a defined space this entity occupies. Platonic forms, however, are non-spatiotemporal, so there is no particular place that we can point to and say “THIS is where Platonic forms are.”. Find that hard to swallow? Well, welcome to one of the problems that lead me to be very sceptical about this concept.

    “Finally, a moral axiom would not have to be analogous to a logical truth since the aim of both would be different. A logical truth would be verified by premise, inference and conclusion. A moral truth however, since we are dealing with interpersonal factors, would be justified on these interpersonal grounds – do they prompt peace, justice, happiness, order, etc… It’s apples and oranges…”

    Then why did you persistently argue differently and maintained that ethical/moral truths are “just like” logical/mathematical truths when they are not?
    So now you have abandoned this position and claim that we can not deduce ethical/moral truths like we can logical/mathematical truths, but we have to recognize them as such as they are self-evident. How do we do this? No, wait, I am going to speed things up a bit since my patience starts to wear a little thin.

    If you assert the existence of objective ethical/moral values or truths that are not deduced but are self-evident, you have to postulate that we possess a moral sense/moral intuition that we can use to recognize these objective ethical/moral truths. This is problematic on multiple levels. I wiil just mention two.

    For one, it would be a cognitive faculty of a kind that is unlike any other. It is not a normal sense experience, nor the usual recognition of inner, mental states, nor the familiar way of devising and verifying or falsifying hypotheses, nothing of this sort. It is pure intuition or inspiration. And yet it is supposed to lead to objectively true propositions. Very strange indeed.

    Second, empirical data does not really support this notion. We have abundant evidence that moral/ethical stances and opinions are different for different people in different cultures and eras. The obvious fact that the answers to moral/ethical questions changed and evolved over time and still do is hard to reconcile with the notion that we possess an intrinsic ability to recognize eternal truths.

  105. James

    Hello Mike…

    At the level of the moral facts/moral values/moral truth (whichever term you prefer) – these are contingent upon god, and thus not objective, but subjective to god. They are universal, yes – but not objective. That, by the way is another important distinction – and it certainly applies here.

    That would not change my point that moral truth is objective to man, even if it is subjective to God.

    Now, – what is the origin of God’s nature? What determines god’s attributes?
    Either
    i) nothing/nobody – it’s just a logical necessity
    In that case – this has to be proven. Which means that “EXISTS X: GOD.X AND [P1X, … , PiX]” has to be shown to be an analytical statement. Good luck with that – because that is clearly and unquestionably wrong!
    Furthermore – it makes Logic completely independent of God and “prior to” God or “of a higher order than” God – who could thus not be its origin.
    or
    ii) God himself
    And this is manifestly impossible.
    That would mean that God determined his nature. Since everything is defined by its attributes it would be equivalent to “That specific thing with attributes P1,…,Pi determined these Ps”. It’s not logically possible – for in order for the designator in the first part of the sentence (”God”) to have meaning, it already has to have a definite set of properties/attributes, which negates the sentence “God determined his nature”.

    I’m not sure what your first point means Mike. Perhaps you could restate it in language that we laymen (or this layman) could understand? If it is God’s nature to think logically then what is the problem? How would that make logic independent of God? Since God is the source? It certainly could not be prior, since there is no prior. And we would not say that God determined his nature – His nature is Him… neither created nor self determined.

  106. James

    Hello Iapetus

    If I remember my reading of The Republic correctly, Plato postulated the Form of the Good as the highest conceivable knowledge and thus as the ultimate measure of justice. As only philosophers are capable of attaining that knowledge, they would make the ideal, just kings. Talk about self-promotion…
    As for the rest, I do not follow what you are saying. What are “higher” and “lesser” forms supposed to be?

    That things like love or justice would have a more profound effect on mankind than mathematics let’s say. But the point is that these forms are central to his beliefs.

    First of all, you are mixing platonism with theism. More on that later. Second, the existence of universals is hotly contested among philosophers. Nominalists would dispute that they exist in the sense of metaphysical entities.
    The point is that we could not rationally understand universals from sense experience, we need innate a priori knowledge – contained in the “soul” as Plato would say. The question here Iapetus, is do you believe in universals?
    “If you can’t then this innate knowledge will serve as a vehicle for moral truths as well as logical truths.”
    Are we stuck in a time loop here? Just a few posts ago you conceded that ethical/moral truths can not be deduced from basic axioms or premises, IN CONTRAST to objective logical/mathematical truths that can be; rather, we recognize objective ethical truths as such due to their self-evidency. Which is it?

    Their “self-evidency” or a priori status are not mutually exclusive. Why should they be? And as I said I do take moral truths a priori, and their usefulness is self-evident.

    The question does not make sense. To ask “Where does entity X exist?” presupposes that there is a defined space this entity occupies. Platonic forms, however, are non-spatiotemporal, so there is no particular place that we can point to and say “THIS is where Platonic forms are.”. Find that hard to swallow? Well, welcome to one of the problems that lead me to be very sceptical about this concept.

    Platonic forms are simply “ideas.” Forms are ideas, and I don’t know anywhere that ideas exist except in minds. Do you? And if they don’t exist in an objective (objective to humankind) Mind then they are subjective and conventional to man. And why did you bring up Platonic forms to support your position, if you do not hold to them?

    Then why did you persistently argue differently and maintained that ethical/moral truths are “just like” logical/mathematical truths when they are not?
    So now you have abandoned this position and claim that we can not deduce ethical/moral truths like we can logical/mathematical truths, but we have to recognize them as such as they are self-evident. How do we do this? No, wait, I am going to speed things up a bit since my patience starts to wear a little thin.

    Iapetus, I never said, nor do I believe, that moral truth are “exactly” like logical truths for instance. What I believe they have in common is their a priori, universal and objective nature. And all a priori truths or universal truths come by intution. They can not come by finite, particular sense experience. Logical truths and moral truths have this in common.

    If you assert the existence of objective ethical/moral values or truths that are not deduced but are self-evident, you have to postulate that we possess a moral sense/moral intuition that we can use to recognize these objective ethical/moral truths. This is problematic on multiple levels. I wiil just mention two.
    For one, it would be a cognitive faculty of a kind that is unlike any other. It is not a normal sense experience, nor the usual recognition of inner, mental states, nor the familiar way of devising and verifying or falsifying hypotheses, nothing of this sort. It is pure intuition or inspiration. And yet it is supposed to lead to objectively true propositions. Very strange indeed.

    Second, empirical data does not really support this notion. We have abundant evidence that moral/ethical stances and opinions are different for different people in different cultures and eras. The obvious fact that the answers to moral/ethical questions changed and evolved over time and still do is hard to reconcile with the notion that we possess an intrinsic ability to recognize eternal truths.

    But I could say that same thing about logical truths. Again Iapetus how do you prove objective logical truths to someone who does not accept your premises? It is pure opinion on your part in the eyes of the one that does not accept said premises. And if logical truths are not universal and objective, then the game is over – they are subjective – and you have yet to offer an objective, universal grounding for these, except to appeal to Platonic forms, which you now seem to be backing off of.

  107. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Steve, to answer your questions:

    1. How do I know I have a direct line to God? Ignoring the rather silly metaphor, I have a saving knowledge of God in two ways: (i) through his experiential testimony via the Holy Spirit working in my mind; (ii) through his propositional testimony in the Bible.
    2. How do I intend to verify my epistemology against reality? I think you would have to clarify what you mean by this. My epistemology, like the rest of my worldview, starts with the first principle that the Bible is the word of God. I am aware that without this first principle, knowledge would be impossible. Since knowledge is not impossible (to say otherwise is self-refuting), the Bible is the word of God.
    3. Why do I think I should be reasonable or fair? Because God is reasonable and fair, and Christians are commanded to conform ourselves to his image.
    4. Please define “objective” and “subjective”. When you say that revelation is subjective, as opposed to objective, I’m not certain what you mean (or why it is a problem).

    Now, on to evidence:

    I will say that evidence is something that will convince both jury and judge in a non-religious court. It is the same kind of thing that I presume you would expect police to use to find out who had stolen your car.

    I was going to write a point-by-point rebuttal explaining how ludicrous this example is. But then I realized that the reason you’re committing flagrant category errors like asking for physical evidence in a case where a non-physical issue is being investigated is that you just have no idea what epistemology is about. We’re talking about first principles, Steve. The basic presuppositions from which everything you believe is deduced. “Evidence” is just various kinds of data, interpreted according to those presuppositions. It is not self-interpreting. Even physical evidence is not self-interpreting. People can look at the same data and come up with different interpretations, which function as “evidence” for opposing points of view. So rather than waste time with your specious jury analogy, let me ask you:

    What is your first principle? What is the proposition from which you deduce the rest of what you believe? What is the fundamental assumption of your worldview?

  108. Steve Zara

    through his experiential testimony via the Holy Spirit working in my mind

    That doesn’t work as an argument. It begs the question. What you are saying is that you know that your line to god is real because you think you get messages through it. That is like someone who is experiencing an optical illusion saying that what they see must be real because they see it.

    All you are doing is having faith in what is going on in your mind. That is no proof of anything to do with God.

    I think you would have to clarify what you mean by this.

    The jury example.

    Please define “objective” and “subjective”.

    Objective is something that can be shared and experienced by someone else in a way that you can be reasonably sure of.

    This is why I used the jury example.

    So rather than waste time with your specious jury analogy

    It’s not specious. It was chosen very carefully, and for a specific reason. We use court systems to settle disputes in civilized countries. We expect a cross-section of society (the jury) to be swayed by evidence, with a judge advising them of what is and isn’t acceptable.

    I chose this example because it is part of the foundation of our societies.

    If you aren’t prepared to demonstrate to others in a way that a varied cross-section of society (including those of other faiths, including atheists and scientists) how you test your epistemology against reality, in way that they accept, then you are in no position to claim that this is truth and make statements based on it in public. You can make those claims, but no-one need accept that they are true.

    Also, if you make very strong claims, such as that scientists are fools and evolution is wrong, and you can’t back up the epistemology that is behind those claims, you are certainly in an awkward position, if you choose to make those claims in public.

    So, I would suggest you consider the jury example again. It is important.

  109. James

    Hey Steve,

    Of course, I would ask can genuine knowledge only come through your above method? It seems pretty clear that you are verificationalist/empiricist. And the reason you don’t want to admit this is that this, your first principle, is self refuting and irrational. The belief that the empirical method is the foundation for knowledge is not it’s self empirically known or discovered – thus as I said, is self-refuting. It is an a priori assumption which is not open to verification…

    And how does your jury example handle historical truths, especially truths about those who are long dead? Do you throw out history? How about the historical claims of the evolutionists? At least with the historical truths in question we have written records. With the the historical claims of evolution, we have non speaking fossils at the mercy of completely subjective and bias minds…

  110. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    All you are doing is having faith in what is going on in your mind.

    This seems like a very strange objection, Steve. Do you not have faith in what is going on in your mind? If this objection actually gains any traction against me, it certainly gains equal traction against you, and so refutes itself.

    Objective is something that can be shared and experienced by someone else in a way that you can be reasonably sure of.

    Well, no it isn’t Steve. If that’s how you want to define it, then go ahead; but it’s not relevant to the way in which I was using it, and so your objection is meaningless to me. Again I have to suggest that you check the definitions of terms before using them.

    As regards your jury analogy, please trust me when I say there is no point pursuing this further until you’ve been able to elucidate the first principle(s) of your worldview.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  111. Steve Zara

    This seems like a very strange objection, Steve. Do you not have faith in what is going on in your mind? If this objection actually gains any traction against me, it certainly gains equal traction against you, and so refutes itself.

    It is a very reasonable objection. I would not have faith about what was going on in my mind if it was extraordinary. What you claim is certainly extraordinary – you claim a direct link to a God. That is a claim of having a superpower. If I had a feeling that I had a superpower, I would be suspicious of that feeling. I am puzzled as to why you aren’t.

    I would be particularly suspicious if that feeling led me to believe that people like Newton and Einstein were deluded and foolish.

    As regards your jury analogy, please trust me when I say there is no point pursuing this further until you’ve been able to elucidate the first principle(s) of your worldview.

    That isn’t really acceptable. When presenting a case to a judge and jury, you don’t ask for their worldviews. It is up to you to put a convincing case.

    Remember – juries are what we use in civilised societies to judge public disputes. If you won’t follow that procedure, even hypothetically, then you are rejecting the principles of civilised society.

    I say that people like Newton, Einstein, Hawking and Dawkins are innocent until proven guilty of being deluded fools. It is up to you to present a case that will convince a jury which includes people of other faiths, along with a few atheists and scientists that your epistemology is true.

    If you aren’t prepared to make that case without question-begging statements about the truth of scripture, you are admitting you are in no position to make such accusations in public, as you can’t back them up.

  112. Steve Zara

    James-

    If someone crashed into your car, would you accept them saying “it was not my fault, a demon grabbed the wheel”?

  113. Iapetus

    James,

    “That things like love or justice would have a more profound effect on mankind than mathematics let’s say. But the point is that these forms are central to his beliefs.”

    I still do not see where the connection to theism or atheism is.

    “The point is that we could not rationally understand universals from sense experience, we need innate a priori knowledge – contained in the “soul” as Plato would say.”

    Which presupposes that universals in the metaphysical sense exist.

    “The question here Iapetus, is do you believe in universals?”

    Taking into account the ontological and epistemological problems, I consider the existence of metaphysical entities of such a kind unlikely.

    “Their “self-evidency” or a priori status are not mutually exclusive. Why should they be?”

    Indeed. Unfortunately, that was not the point. The issue was that we deduce objectively true logical/mathematical propositions from basic axioms or premises, which you claim is not possible for objective moral/ethical propositions as we recognize the latter due to their self-evidency. Thus, in this sense they are not alike.

    “And as I said I do take moral truths a priori, and their usefulness is self-evident.”

    Their “usefulness”, whatever you mean by that, is irrelevant. It is their objective status that you assert to be self-evident.

    “Platonic forms are simply “ideas.” Forms are ideas, and I don’t know anywhere that ideas exist except in minds.”

    Not according to contemporary platonism, I am afraid. Please look it up.
    What you have in mind is some form of conceptualism or Berkley’s idealism, which is, ironically, a subjectivist position as everything that exists are ideas emenating from the mind of a god.

    “And if they don’t exist in an objective (objective to humankind) Mind then they are subjective and conventional to man.”

    It is non-sensical to label a proposition objective for entity X and subjective for entity Y.

    Consequently, as we already discussed, asserting that moral/ethical propositions flow from the mind of a god renders them subjective, as they are dependent on the will of this god and thus could conceivably be different.

    “And why did you bring up Platonic forms to support your position, if you do not hold to them?”

    What? I am not the one defending the existence of objective moral/ethical propositions here. Platonic forms were brought up to show the strange metaphysical nature of such propositions.

    “But I could say that same thing about logical truths. Again Iapetus how do you prove objective logical truths to someone who does not accept your premises? It is pure opinion on your part in the eyes of the one that does not accept said premises.”

    You do not HAVE any premises for your supposed objective moral/ethical truths that you could use to deduce them from since you denied that this is possible. All you have now is a postulated a priori knowledge or moral intuition.
    Btw, these two things are not necessarily identical. So do you hold that we possess a priori knowledge of objective ethical/moral truths that we only have to mentally conceptualize or do we have to wait for a sudden moral insight that gets channeled from some other place?
    Finally, as interesting as this all is, I do not see any necessary connection to a god here, not to mention the specific one you happen to believe in, which is (I suppose) where you want to go. All these concepts are perfectly viable and much more elegant without reference to a god. Notice that Kant, for instance, postulated our a priori knowledge in moral/ethical matters to be a brute fact of reason which can not be (and indeed need not be) further justified by grounding it in any kind of god, as he clearly saw the pitfalls asscociated with this strategy.

    “And if logical truths are not universal and objective, then the game is over – they are subjective – and you have yet to offer an objective, universal grounding for these, except to appeal to Platonic forms, which you now seem to be backing off of.”

    Logical/mathematical truths are objective in that they necessarily follow from the basic axioms/premises and can not be different within this framework. However, we can not prove those basic axioms/premises themselves to be objectively true, otherwise they would not be basic.
    You also keep equivocating “objective” and “universal”. As Mike already pointed out, these two concepts are distinct.

    And finally, you did not really address the problem of changing moral/ethical opinions throughout history. For instance, for much of their time Christians had no real problem with the concept of slavery. Then this stance changed and slavery was considered morally repugnant. What happened here? Did people all of a sudden collectively recognize and heed a moral intuition that was suppressed and/or ignored for centuries?
    What about the recent quarrels in the Anglican Church over the ordination of gay priests? Both sides are Christians with the same access to objective ethical/moral truths, yet hold diametrically opposed positions. How can this be?

  114. James

    Hey Iapetus

    Taking into account the ontological and epistemological problems, I consider the existence of metaphysical entities of such a kind unlikely.

    Indeed. Unfortunately, that was not the point. The issue was that we deduce objectively true logical/mathematical propositions from basic axioms or premises, which you claim is not possible for objective moral/ethical propositions as we recognize the latter due to their self-evidency. Thus, in this sense they are not alike.

    Not quite, I said that objective moral truths would suffer the same weaknesses or strenghts that objective logical or mathematical truths would suffer from. And if we can grasp objective logical and mathematical truths a priori (which must first be done to even get off the ground) then the same intuitive sense could grasp objective moral truths, which is exaclt what Plato believed. . But since you are now backing off of the objective nature of logical or mathematical truths, the question becomes moot. But that also means that logical truths may not in fact be universal, which means that knowledge may in fact be impossible. It would be possible for your last two statements to mean their exact opposite. Gross contradiction may in reality be possible.

    Not according to contemporary platonism, I am afraid. Please look it up. What you have in mind is some form of conceptualism or Berkley’s idealism, which is, ironically, a subjectivist position as everything that exists are ideas emenating from the mind of a god.

    Ok, then tell us where “ideas” could exist apart from a mind? And no, I know some about Berkley’s idealism and that is not what I’m saying – I’m pretty much a straight forward Christian theist…

    It is non-sensical to label a proposition objective for entity X and subjective for entity Y.

    Of course that is silly – God’s moral and logical law would remain objective to humankind. Just as the sun is objective to mankind.

    Consequently, as we already discussed, asserting that moral/ethical propositions flow from the mind of a god renders them subjective, as they are dependent on the will of this god and thus could conceivably be different.

    Well no, since God’s character and nature are immutable. Morally and logically He acts in specific ways and can not deviate…

    You do not HAVE any premises for your supposed objective moral/ethical truths that you could use to deduce them from since you denied that this is possible. All you have now is a postulated a priori knowledge or moral intuition.

    First, like I said moral truths would be justified by their interpersonal usefullness, since we are speaking of interpersonal rules. Second, All you can do for logical or mathematical truths is to assume them a priori by intuition. But since these logical or mathematical truths do not exist objectively for you, you can not even do that. Tell me Iapetus – how is knowledge possible in your world?

    And finally, you did not really address the problem of changing moral/ethical opinions throughout history. For instance, for much of their time Christians had no real problem with the concept of slavery. Then this stance changed and slavery was considered morally repugnant. What happened here? Did people all of a sudden collectively recognize and heed a moral intuition that was suppressed and/or ignored for centuries?

    What about the recent quarrels in the Anglican Church over the ordination of gay priests? Both sides are Christians with the same access to objective ethical/moral truths, yet hold diametrically opposed positions. How can this be?

    What do you do where there is changing logical or mathematical truths? Please show how non-universal logical or mathematical truths could possiblt be “objective?” Objective to whom?

    And it is obvious that some in the Anglican Church have rejected biblical norms. There is no question about that…

  115. James

    Hey Steve,

    That isn’t really acceptable. When presenting a case to a judge and jury, you don’t ask for their worldviews. It is up to you to put a convincing case.

    Remember – juries are what we use in civilised societies to judge public disputes. If you won’t follow that procedure, even hypothetically, then you are rejecting the principles of civilised society.

    I say that people like Newton, Einstein, Hawking and Dawkins are innocent until proven guilty of being deluded fools. It is up to you to present a case that will convince a jury which includes people of other faiths, along with a few atheists and scientists that your epistemology is true.

    If you aren’t prepared to make that case without question-begging statements about the truth of scripture, you are admitting you are in no position to make such accusations in public, as you can’t back them up.

    1. Steve it most appropriate to ask you about your theory of knowledge. You keep avoiding the issue. Why is that Steve? We have laid out what we believe, why are you afraid? The fact is Steve, your theory of knowledge will not only beg the question, I suspect it will be self-refuting. Like I mentioned above. You chide Bnonn for question begging, but I’m willing to bet that your worldview is based on a self-refuting principle… This is hypocritical to the max…

    2. I bet your fossil record won’t convince a jury. Do you want to try? So should we throw it out?

    3. I will ask again, what do you do with historical evidence (writings)? Historical evidence would do little to convince a jury in a court situation, yet may still be quite true.

  116. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Steve, please. This is getting silly. I’m starting to feel really embarrassed for you as I read your posts; they’re getting more and more bizarre.

    You object that I can’t trust my own mind. When I point out that this is self-refuting you say that it’s only if what I experience in my mind is extraordinary that I can’t trust it. So you give self-contradiction the slip in favor of question-begging. My position is not extraordinary under my worldview. It is only extraordinary under yours. Why should I be held to your petty standards of ordinariness? You first have to justify your worldview, which starts with justifying your first principle(s)!

    Then you want to say that it just isn’t acceptable that you have to give an account of your first principle(s) because, if this were a court case, I wouldn’t be asking the juries for their worldviews. Well excuse the bluntness Steve, but how could you not have noticed that this is not a court case, that we aren’t investigating anything remotely like what courts investigate, and indeed that the very question under discussion is the validity of our worldviews!?

    Remember – juries are what we use in civilised societies to judge public disputes. If you won’t follow that procedure, even hypothetically, then you are rejecting the principles of civilised society

    Whaaa…? Could you point me in the direction of the jury verdict which was passed on Alston’s discourses on rationality and God? Did Plantinga, when he critiqued Alston in Warranted Christian Belief (which, might I add, you so clearly have not the slightest familiarity with), have to run the book by a jury before it went to the publishers?

    Steve, are you in fact tripping on shrooms?

  117. Steve Zara

    Steve, please. This is getting silly. I’m starting to feel really embarrassed for you as I read your posts; they’re getting more and more bizarre.

    You are making major public claims – that your mind has reached perfection in it its ability to understand the world, and that you rate your understanding of the world, and of scientific matters, far exceeds that of millions of scientists.

    Those are extraordinary claims indeed. I would like to know how you justify them.

    So you give self-contradiction the slip in favor of question-begging.

    Let me tell you a story. The well-known writer and sceptic Michael Shermer is a cyclist, and a good one. When he once cycled to the point of exhaustion, and it affected his mind. He hallucinated that he was abducted by aliens. Because he is a sensible chap, he knew this was unlikely.

    So no, Bnonn, one can’t trust one’s own mind, and extraordinary mental experiences have to be questioned. Your claim is truly extraordinary… you have a direct like to God.

    Well excuse the bluntness Steve, but how could you not have noticed that this is not a court case, that we aren’t investigating anything remotely like what courts investigate, and indeed that the very question under discussion is the validity of our worldviews!?

    No, it is’t. I have been trying to get you to a discussion of the validity of your worldview, but you won’t allow it, as you say that certain parts of your worldview are defined as valid at the start, such as the truth of scripture, and the perfection of your own mind.

    So, let’s not call it a “court case”. Let’s call it a “panel of experts in various fields who want to investigate Bnonn Tennant’s accusations about science”.

    They have asked you to convince them that your worldview is right. This means that you can’t start where you want to. You have to justify even your statement that scripture is perfect.

    Either everything about your worldview is up for discussion (as I asked of you way back), or your statement that that we are discussing the validity of our worldviews is incorrect.

    Which is it? Are we discussing the correctness of our worldviews or you simply trying to put me into a position of discussing mine, while declaring yours unassailable?

  118. Steve Zara

    James-

    If someone crashed into your car, would you accept them saying “it was not my fault, a demon grabbed the wheel”?

    This is a serious question. What sort of evidence would you need to explain the crash?

    Would “demons” work for you?

  119. Steve Zara

    Bnonn-

    It does not help your case at all to mention Plantinga, for example.

    Plantinga’s ontological argument is clever (although its foundations have been seriously questioned, for example his use of modal logic), but what it is supposed to show is the necessity of a perfect being. However, exactly the same logic (as Plantinga realised) can be used to show the necessity of the absence of a perfect being.

    Whether or not Plantinga’s logic is sound, you still don’t get God. This is the whole basis of what I am trying to get you to understand. You have to subject such arguments to tests against reality, and it is up to you to define tests that will potentially falsify the argument. If you can’t, then your position is unsound.

    Your position is also unfounded because the arguments you present, even if they were true, only allow for the vaguest ideas of God. They don’t select your God.

    It is the difference between having evidence that life is possible elsewhere in the Universe, and claiming to have been on a summer holiday with your friend from Alpha Centaurii.

    You going from Plantinga and “science is flawed” to “scripture is the foundation of all my views” is equivalent to the Alpha Centaurii holiday.

    I want to see postcards, and holiday snaps!

  120. James

    Hey Steve,

    1. So no, Bnonn, one can’t trust one’s own mind, and extraordinary mental experiences have to be questioned. Your claim is truly extraordinary… you have a direct like to God.

    Yet Steve you pose very extraordinary claims. Like the universe is self created and self sustaining. If you are really agnostic about that claim, then you leave a God foot in the door. If you are not agnostic then you believe something unprovable. You believe that inorganic forces created organic life. You believe the non-concious, non-self aware, mindless forces of nature created their opposite – conscious, self aware, minds. You believe that the non-rational, purposeless brain processes produce rational, purposeful mental states. Talk about extraordinary claims! You may believe that all these things may one day be explained by naturalistic means, but that is an assumption – and may or may not pan out.

    2. If someone crashed into your car, would you accept them saying “it was not my fault, a demon grabbed the wheel”?

    This is a serious question. What sort of evidence would you need to explain the crash?

    Would “demons” work for you?

    Steve, I believe in demonic forces. So it would depend on the person and my knowledge of them. I would not generally accept the claim, but I would not reject it out of hand either. I have a good friend who has a PHD from Harvard (Dr. John Rankin). He is a very sober minded individual. He has had a long ministry, and durning those years he speaks of couple of para-normal experiences, only two – I did not witness them, but I have no reason to doubt his word.

    Ok, I’m off to a three day bible conference. And I get to visit Niagara Falls for the first time, and praise God’s handiwork! ; )

    See ya….

  121. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    You are making major public claims – that your mind has reached perfection in it its ability to understand the world, and that you rate your understanding of the world, and of scientific matters, far exceeds that of millions of scientists.

    Flagrant strawman.

    Those are extraordinary claims indeed. I would like to know how you justify them.

    Even granting the howling misrepresentation of my views, you haven’t justified your claim that they’re extraordinary. Why should I feel like I need to vindicate them against your mere opinion?

    No, it is’t. I have been trying to get you to a discussion of the validity of your worldview, but you won’t allow it, as you say that certain parts of your worldview are defined as valid at the start, such as the truth of scripture, and the perfection of your own mind.

    Steve, can I ask you a serious question? Do you even know what a first principle is? Do you understand what I am saying when I say that my first principle is that the Bible is the word of God?

    They have asked you to convince them that your worldview is right. This means that you can’t start where you want to. You have to justify even your statement that scripture is perfect.

    And with what premises would I justify it? And with what premises would I justify those premises? And them in turn? And them afterward? Do you understand the concept of axioms? Do you understand the idea of infinite regress? Do you even know what foundationalism is? You are effectively saying that I have to assume the truth of your worldview in order to prove the truth of my own. How can you not see how obviously absurd that is? How can you not yet have grasped the basic facts that (i) this would mean that I disbelieved Christianity and believed the nonsense you do instead; and (ii) I would then have to prove your worldview before I could believe it—which of course would require me to adopt yet another worldview, which would require me to adopt another one to prove it in turn, and another again, ad infinatum.

    Plantinga’s ontological argument is clever (although its foundations have been seriously questioned, for example his use of modal logic), but what it is supposed to show is the necessity of a perfect being. However, exactly the same logic (as Plantinga realised) can be used to show the necessity of the absence of a perfect being.

    Are you just googling for Plantinga and hoping that whatever you find is what I’m talking about? Firstly, I never mentioned his ontological argument. Secondly, if you think that the same argument can be used to show the non-existence of God, you have misunderstood it. Thirdly, I mentioned Plantinga in regards to the de jure objection to Christianity: the objection that it is irrational or unreasonable to believe. He shows very convincingly that this objection is bosh and reduces down to question-begging. He examines it in great detail, applying all the major definitions of rationality (including Alston’s). I mention this because your major vector of attack appears to be nothing more than a repeated but jejune application of the de jure objection. So you should probably know that it has been dealt with.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  122. Steve Zara

    Bnonn-

    This is fascinating. What you are saying is you have closed yourself off from civilised society. You are above having to justify your claims.

    You claim to have a direct line to truth that no-one can challenge, as your direct line to truth is your starting point.

    You seem to have completely missed the point of my last few posts.

    The question is how we integrate each other into civilized society. You refuse to integrate. You claim innate superiority over others, by refusing to explain your position; by saying that your superiority is your starting point.

    You also seem to deeply misunderstand how philosophy should be used. You can claim all you like what your favourite thinkers have said, but that is meaningless unless you have demonstrated that their views apply to reality.

    That was the point of my description of Plantiga’s ontological argument. One can deal with all the objections to theism that one likes but that is not relevant to the question of it’s truth.

    I do hope you don’t end up living in a hostile theocracy. You might then get the point of my discussion. You will be dealing then with someone else’s “consistent epistemology”, and “first principles”, and their refusal to have them challenged. What will you do then? Just shout “my first principles are BETTER THAN YOURS”?

    Until you learn that true debate means challenging everything, even supposed first principles, further discussion is pointless.

    Best wishes

    Steve

    If you ever do decide to engage in real debate, you have my e-mail, and you know where my blog is.

  123. Iapetus

    James,

    “Not quite, I said that objective moral truths would suffer the same weaknesses or strenghts that objective logical or mathematical truths would suffer from.”

    What you asserted in the beginning was that moral/ethcial truths were “just like” logical/mathematical truths. When you realized that you were unable to give any equivalent to the deductive process that we use to arrive at objective mathematical/logical propositions from basic premises or axioms, you switched to asserting that we somehow recognize them a priori or by some kind of moral intuition.
    Btw, as I already said, these two kinds of knowledge acquisition are not identical. So, which one is it to be?

    “And if we can grasp objective logical and mathematical truths a priori (which must first be done to even get off the ground) then the same intuitive sense could grasp objective moral truths, which is exaclt what Plato believed. .”

    The basic axioms of logic and mathematics are ASSUMED to be true. We can not SHOW them to be objectively true since that would mean that they follow necessarily from even more basic assumptions. It would be turtles all the way down.

    “But since you are now backing off of the objective nature of logical or mathematical truths, the question becomes moot.”

    What could you possibly be talking about here?

    “But that also means that logical truths may not in fact be universal, which means that knowledge may in fact be impossible. It would be possible for your last two statements to mean their exact opposite. Gross contradiction may in reality be possible.”

    Indeed, this MAY be so. Scary, huh? That is why we PRESUME basic axioms like the law of non-contradiction to be true and choose to adhere to them in order to facilitate meaningful communication. If you would want to ensure their objective status, however, you would have to show that they follow necessarily from some even more basic axioms. And again you get lots of turtles.

    “Ok, then tell us where “ideas” could exist apart from a mind? And no, I know some about Berkley’s idealism and that is not what I’m saying – I’m pretty much a straight forward Christian theist… ”

    Contemporary platonism does not hold that “forms” are “ideas”. As I said, forms are conceived as non-spatiotemporal and causally inert. Hence they are absolutely independent of theism; being a non-theistic platonist is entirely consistent.

    “Of course that is silly – God’s moral and logical law would remain objective to humankind. Just as the sun is objective to mankind.”

    You have totally lost me here. What is the connection between sentences 1 and 2?

    While the imperative commands of an omnipotent or at least unimaginably powerful being might be universally applicable to humans, they are absolutely NOT objective since they depend on the authority or will of this being and could thus be different.

    “Well no, since God’s character and nature are immutable. Morally and logically He acts in specific ways and can not deviate…”

    Which would mean that these moral and logical laws that determine god’s character are primary to and above him. Furthermore it contradicts your previous statement that moral/ethical laws are subjective to god. So why not cut out the middle man then and go directly to these laws?

    Incidentally, I doubt that certain people who try to explain away the inherent logical contradictions in the concept of the trinity by appealing to the transcendence of this god of yours would agree with your statement.

    “First, like I said moral truths would be justified by their interpersonal usefullness, since we are speaking of interpersonal rules.”

    I thought that your latest position was that objective moral/ethical truths are a priori certain. If they were, there would be no need to justify them by their usefulness since they could not be different. Kant clearly realized that, just as he realized that they can not be (and need not be) grounded in a god.
    So are you now asserting that moral/ethical truths follow from basic criteria of usefulness? If so, which ones? How?

    “What do you do where there is changing logical or mathematical truths? Please show how non-universal logical or mathematical truths could possiblt be “objective?””

    There you go again, conflating “universal” and “objective”. These concepts are not identical and not in necessary mutual dependence.

    “Objective to whom?”

    To everyone, be they humans, gods, intelligent slime moulds, etc. This is the very definition of “objective” and the reason why your assertion of “objective to humans, subjective to god” is utterly non-sensical.

    “And it is obvious that some in the Anglican Church have rejected biblical norms. There is no question about that…”

    Biblical norms? I thought we were talking about a priori knowledge of objective truths here. Why would they need to be cross-checked with words written in a book? If these truths are known a priori, this is it. There is no need to hold them up against an external standard and see whether they are in agreement.

    What about slavery? It was once thought to be in agreement with (or at least not in outright contradiction to) biblical norms. Now it is no longer. How come?

  124. Gordon

    Hi Bnonn,

    Sorry to weigh in sideway into this discussion. My contribution would be like a gnat put up against the intellectual giants that are already here (you, james, steve, mike and iapetus). But I have some questions that are coursing through my mind that is bothering me for some days, could you shed some theological light on it?

    Watching the WYD unfolding in Sydney and reading your comment here:

    How do I know I have a direct line to God? Ignoring the rather silly metaphor, I have a saving knowledge of God in two ways: (i) through his experiential testimony via the Holy Spirit working in my mind; (ii) through his propositional testimony in the Bible.

    As I understand it, the Catholic Pope is chosen by men with free will but I assume those men would have consulted the Holy Spirit to who shall be the next Pope. And as I understand it, they then “vote” for the next Pope. Once the votes are counted and the winner is declared, I am wondering what had happen to those men who have barracked for the wrong candidate:

    – Are their free wills/minds interferring with their “line” to the Holy Spirit?
    – Is the Holy Spirit misleading them and only them?
    – They did not consult the Holy Spirit at all?
    – Does God permit such a random process to select his number one representative on Earth?

    Remember, this is a decision that has huge implications for the biggest denomination of Christians in our galaxy (that we know of).

    If you are not Catholic, I guess my questions are really about: How confident are you that your communication with the Holy Spirit is static-free and that you understood everything as God intended? How about when someone else who is more devout than you are (e.g. a clergy in your church), claim that the Holy Spirit is telling them the direct opposite to what you have understood?

    So hypothetically, if you derived an answer A and the devout clergyman derived an answer B after consulting the Holy Spirit, how do you both convince a “panel of experts” of the validity of your answer?

    Thanks
    Gordon

  125. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Steve, if you ever change your mind and are willing to front up with your own first principles, feel free to stop by. You should probably do a bit of reading first. If you were really keen, you could even read my book. That way you’d actually have some concept of what my position really is, and my reasons for holding it; and you might be less inclined to just attack strawmen, while engaging in constant question-begging.

    Gordon, thanks for your comment. Three things:

    Firstly, Catholics are not Christians, so I don’t think the Holy Spirit has anything to do with the choosing of the popes. I do believe that other spirits are involved; but they ain’t holy.

    Secondly, I don’t believe in libertarian free will. I believe that God really does order all things according to his purposes.

    Thirdly, the sort of communication with the Spirit of which I was talking with Steve is not a propositional sort. That is to say, while Steve will happily represent me as believing that I have some kind of spiritual telephone inside my head which links me to God, this is not the case. If you have read even a few of the comments in this thread, you’ll see that I constantly point out two major fallacies he commits over and over again: burning a strawman, and begging the question. The idea of the spiritual telephone is a good example of the former.

    Thus, I don’t “consult” the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is not like the Oracle at Delphi. The kind of communication I have is an awareness, an intrinsic knowledge, of God’s existence. It isn’t communication in the sense that we are commnicating now. I don’t think the Spirit tells me things, and I cannot ask questions of it. On the contrary, that is what the Bible was given to us for. The Bible conveys the mind of God propositionally; the Spirit conveys a conviction of the Bible’s truth.

    Hope this helps.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  126. Gordon

    Hi Bnonn,

    Thanks, your explanation helps some. But it raises some other questions.

    Firstly, Catholics are not Christians, so I don’t think the Holy Spirit has anything to do with the choosing of the popes. I do believe that other spirits are involved; but they ain’t holy.

    I think a lot of Catholics would disagree with you about them not being Christians (or Christians enough). I have read a little bit about why you think they are not true Christians, but I think the way you define it, this would rule out majority of the Christians who believes they are attaining salvation through Christ.

    Excuse my ignorance but it sounds a lot like a No True Scotman fallacy.

    Thus, I don’t “consult” the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is not like the Oracle at Delphi. The kind of communication I have is an awareness, an intrinsic knowledge, of God’s existence. It isn’t communication in the sense that we are commnicating now. I don’t think the Spirit tells me things, and I cannot ask questions of it. On the contrary, that is what the Bible was given to us for. The Bible conveys the mind of God propositionally; the Spirit conveys a conviction of the Bible’s truth.

    You understand and interpret the Bible in one way, and Catholics do so in their way. Both of you is under the impression that the “Spirit conveys a conviction of the Bible’s truth”, in the way that you both have understood it individually.

    My point is, you say that the “Holy Spirit is working through your mind”. Catholics claim the same concept from the Nicene Creed. How can you or them convince an impartial and objective “panel of experts” that you are the one truely in tune with the Holy Spirit? That you or them have the most complete version of Bible’s Truth?

    Thanks
    Gordon

  127. Havok

    Bnonn: The Bible conveys the mind of God propositionally; the Spirit conveys a conviction of the Bible’s truth.

    I could just as easily state:
    “The Koran conveys the mind of God propositionally; God himself conveys a conviction of the Koran’s Truth.”

    I assume you would claim your statement as true and mine as false. What criteria did you use to determine this?

  128. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Gordon, since the study I linked you to is an attempt to find a conclusive definition for genuine Christianity, the charge of the No True Scotsman fallacy doesn’t make sense. That fallacy basically involves denying something which is true by definition on the basis of arbitrary special pleading. That’s quite clearly the opposite of what I try to do in ‘Who are the Christians?’

    Havok, since the Qur’an claims that the Bible conveys the mind of God propositionally; and since the Bible contradicts the Qur’an, it’s quite clear that your claim is false. The criteria of noncontradiction is sufficient to determine that. As regards more detailed reasons for my own beliefs, I would point you to the fairly voluminous resources available on this very website which detail these; particularly chapter 2 of my book.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  129. Havok

    Havok, since the Qur’an claims that the Bible conveys the mind of God propositionally; and since the Bible contradicts the Qur’an, it’s quite clear that your claim is false. The criteria of noncontradiction is sufficient to determine that. As regards more detailed reasons for my own beliefs, I would point you to the fairly voluminous resources available on this very website which detail these; particularly chapter 2 of my book.

    The Koran doesn’t claim the bible you use to be conveying the mind of God propositionally. It claims what you (and Christians throughout the ages, as well as Jews) regard as being the inspired word of God is corrupt. The contradictions between the bible & the Koran are the obvious signs of this corruption, as the Koran is the direct word of god. Anything which goes against the Koran is false, as the Koran is Gods truth.

  130. Gordon

    Hi Bnonn,

    I will attempt to read your study from part 1 to part 4, and get back to you.

    In the meantime, the Catholic Church have, I dare say thousands of studious Theologians who research the Bible to formulate their dotrines and rule upon their beliefs. They regard their studies as genuine teachings of Christs. Who am I to say they are not truly following Christ’s gospel. Who am I to say that the Holy Spirit is not “working through their mind”.

    Thus my original questions still stand (irrespective of whether you think they are Christians/Christ’s followers or not):

    How can you or them convince an impartial and objective “panel of experts” that you are the one truely in tune with the Holy Spirit? That you or them have the most complete version of Bible’s Truth?

  131. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Havok,

    The Koran doesn’t claim the bible you use to be conveying the mind of God propositionally.

    Yes it does:

    Say ye: ‘We believe in Allah, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Ismail, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses, and Jesus, and that given to all prophets from their Lord: we make no difference between one and the other of them’ (sura 2:136).

    O ye who believe! Believe in Allah, and His Apostle—and the scripture which He sent before them (4:136).

    It was We who revealed the Law (to Moses); therein was guidance and light […] if any do fail to judge by the light of what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) unbelievers […] We sent Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: Therein was guidance and light […] a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah. Let the people of the Gospel judge by what Allah hath revealed therein. If any do fail to judge by the light of what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) those who rebel. Judge […] what Allah hath revealed, and follow not their vain desires […] (5:44,46,47,49).

    You then say,

    It claims what you (and Christians throughout the ages, as well as Jews) regard as being the inspired word of God is corrupt.

    Two things— 1: where does it say this? 2: if this is true, then it is just another example of internal contradiction in the Qur’an, since I have already shown that it treats the Bible as the inspired word of God. (That’s the Bible as it was available in 600 AD, which is actually less textually pure than the manuscripts available today.)

    The contradictions between the bible & the Koran are the obvious signs of this corruption, as the Koran is the direct word of god. Anything which goes against the Koran is false, as the Koran is Gods truth.

    Refuted above.

    In the meantime, the Catholic Church have, I dare say thousands of studious Theologians who research the Bible to formulate their dotrines and rule upon their beliefs. They regard their studies as genuine teachings of Christs. Who am I to say they are not truly following Christ’s gospel. Who am I to say that the Holy Spirit is not “working through their mind”.

    Gordon, do you believe that it is impossible to determine the meaning of written statements such as those written in Scripture? Do you believe that any interpretation is equally likely? If so, on what basis are you reading my words here? If not, why do you find it objectionable that I can confidently declare that the Catholic Church is wrong?

    How can you or them convince an impartial and objective “panel of experts” that you are the one truely in tune with the Holy Spirit? That you or them have the most complete version of Bible’s Truth?

    Firstly, let’s dispense with this ongoing charismatic-sounding talk of my relationship with the Holy Spirit. I have never claimed to be “in tune” with the Spirit or “in communication” with the Spirit in the ways which are being represented here. The only thing I have said is that I have an experience of the Spirit testifying to me the truth of the Bible in a general sense. Not that it “tells” me which specific interpretation of the Bible is accurate. Not that I am guided in a supernatural way which trumps normal exegesis and sound reason. I have said nothing like that. I determine the meaning of Scripture in the same way I determine the meaning of anything: grammatico-historical exegesis. The role of the Spirit, as I clearly stated, is to testify that the Bible is God’s word. Not that some particular interpretation is God’s word, or that some other interpretation is demonic. Just that the Bible is God’s word.

    Secondly, why must I convince an “impartial and objective” panel of “experts” that my understanding of Scripture is correct? (i) Experts in what sense? (iia) Is the truth of my doctrines predicated on whether it is believed by these experts? (iib) Or is it predicated on my being able to convince them? (iiia) If neither of the above, what is the purpose of your question? (iiib) Or, if (iia) or (iib), do you have a panel of experts who will testify that you’re right about this? (iv) Moreover, what do you mean by “impartial” and “objective”? Please define these words carefully. Given that any truth-claim will either be congruent or antithetical to one’s existing beliefs, and given that the only way to judge the truth of said truth-claim is to compare it to one’s existing beliefs, how can one be impartial? (iva) How do you know that the experts’ presuppositions are true? You would first have to know that your own presuppositions were true in order to be able to determine that. (ivb) So by claiming to be able to determine who is, and who is not an “impartial and objective” expert, aren’t you yourself assuming that you are impartial and objective, and thus have true presuppositions? (ivc) In this way, aren’t you begging the question in favor of your own position exactly like Steve is?

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  132. James

    Hey Iapetus

    What you asserted in the beginning was that moral/ethcial truths were “just like” logical/mathematical truths. When you realized that you were unable to give any equivalent to the deductive process that we use to arrive at objective mathematical/logical propositions from basic premises or axioms, you switched to asserting that we somehow recognize them a priori or by some kind of moral intuition. Btw, as I already said, these two kinds of knowledge acquisition are not identical. So, which one is it to be?

    First, I cannot find the “just like” comment. Perhaps I said it, but I’m not sure in what sense I was using it. Second, you cannot use the deductive process to prove logic, logic has to first be assumed. If you believe otherwise deductively prove the laws of logic without first assuming them. And that is how they are similar – both must be first assumed without proof. And like I said, moral intuition would not follow the same pattern, or be demonstrated, as logical intuitions. Since moral truths would be proven by their interpersonal results. You don’t disagree that there are better and worse moral conditions in societies – do you?

    The basic axioms of logic and mathematics are ASSUMED to be true. We can not SHOW them to be objectively true since that would mean that they follow necessarily from even more basic assumptions. It would be turtles all the way down.

    And I can not assume basic moral axioms – why?

    “But that also means that logical truths may not in fact be universal, which means that knowledge may in fact be impossible. It would be possible for your last two statements to mean their exact opposite. Gross contradiction may in reality be possible.”

    Indeed, this MAY be so. Scary, huh? That is why we PRESUME basic axioms like the law of non-contradiction to be true and choose to adhere to them in order to facilitate meaningful communication. If you would want to ensure their objective status, however, you would have to show that they follow necessarily from some even more basic axioms. And again you get lots of turtles.

    But you have no real confidence that they are true, and you are correct it is scary – which is another way of saying that I can pretty much discount your arguments and conclusions. For their opposites could be equally true. So much for debate…

    Contemporary platonism does not hold that “forms” are “ideas”. As I said, forms are conceived as non-spatiotemporal and causally inert. Hence they are absolutely independent of theism; being a non-theistic platonist is entirely consistent.

    Which is about as rational as blowing smoke… Do you guys spend a lot of time sitting around thinking up this nonsense? Does someone pay you to do this… ; ) And I guess Plato’s more moral forms (like justice) could share this same non-spatiotemporal and causally inert condition.

    Which would mean that these moral and logical laws that determine god’s character are primary to and above him. Furthermore it contradicts your previous statement that moral/ethical laws are subjective to god. So why not cut out the middle man then and go directly to these laws?

    Again, His character and nature from where these laws are grounded are immutable. So they are not outside Him and said character and nature are unchanging. And when I said it was subjective, I meant it was dependent upon His person – not that it was changeable or arbitrary.

    I thought that your latest position was that objective moral/ethical truths are a priori certain. If they were, there would be no need to justify them by their usefulness since they could not be different. Kant clearly realized that, just as he realized that they can not be (and need not be) grounded in a god.
    So are you now asserting that moral/ethical truths follow from basic criteria of usefulness? If so, which ones? How?

    Again, just like logical truths – one could accept them or reject them, reject that intuitive sense. You don’t believe that things like child rape is always wrong – I do. You must in fact believe that child rape is sometimes useful and good – go figure…

    To everyone, be they humans, gods, intelligent slime moulds, etc. This is the very definition of “objective” and the reason why your assertion of “objective to humans, subjective to god” is utterly non-sensical.

    Now this makes no sense. How are logical truths objective to those that reject their axioms? Be specific please…

    Biblical norms? I thought we were talking about a priori knowledge of objective truths here. Why would they need to be cross-checked with words written in a book? If these truths are known a priori, this is it. There is no need to hold them up against an external standard and see whether they are in agreement.

    Why do we write down the laws of logic or math in books if these truths are a priori and objective? Because we need to be reminded of certain basic truths. More so in the moral realm since we have a strong tendency toward moral laxity… We call that sin…

  133. Havok

    Bnonn, the Koran afirms the message sent to Moses and Prophet Isa was of God, but was corrupted afterwards. This is obvious in the way in which your bible contradicts the true word of God.
    That you claim the Christian bible is the message which is referred to by the Koran, and then claim to find contradictions between this message and the true word of God makes plain this corruption.

  134. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Bnonn, the Koran afirms the message sent to Moses and Prophet Isa was of God, but was corrupted afterwards.

    So you’ve said, yet you’re surprisingly unforthcoming with the evidence. If the Qur’an says this, why can’t you prove it?

  135. Havok

    Bnonn: So you’ve said, yet you’re surprisingly unforthcoming with the evidence. If the Qur’an says this, why can’t you prove it?

    You provided the evidence yourself. The Koran is the true word of God, as affirmed by Prophet Mohammed (pbuh), and yet you’ve found contradictions between it and the Christian bible.
    These contradictions prove that the message from which the Christian bible was derived, the message of Prophet Isa, has been corrupted by those who came after him.

  136. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Havok, I think you’re confused. Your reasoning doesn’t produce the conclusion you’re arguing for. We have the following three premises:

    1. The Qur’an claims that it is the word of God.
    2. The Qur’an claims that the Bible is the word of God.
    3. The Bible contradicts the Qur’an.

    Now, you want to say that—

    1. Therefore, the Qur’an teaches that the Bible is corrupted.

    But this manifestly does not follow. For (4) to be taught by the Qur’an means either that (4) is itself stated explicitly in the Qur’ran; or that (4) follows necessarily from statements which are made explicitly in the Qur’an. Neither is the case as far as you have shown. Indeed, as the suras I quoted show, the Qur’an prima facie affirms that the Bible is not corrupted. It states that no distinction can be drawn between the Bible and itself in terms of revelatory status. And it explicitly demands that the people of the gospel (that is, Christians) judge by that gospel whether the Qur’an is accurate or not. This is contradictory to the notion that the Qur’an teaches the corruption of the Bible, since if the Bible was indeed corrupt then to judge the Qur’an against it would necessarily lead to the conclusion that the Qur’an is false. But the very fact that it makes the demand to judge its standing against the gospel implies that it considers the gospel to be a trustworthy revelation from God—a revelation by which other alleged revelations can be tested.

    So in fact, the conclusion we should be getting from our premises is—

    1. Therefore, the Qur’an is not the word of God.
  137. Havok

    1. The Qur’an claims that it is the word of God.
    2. The Qur’an claims that the Bible is the word of God.
    3. The Bible contradicts the Qur’an.

    Actually, it is more like:

    1. The Koran claims it is the word of God.
    2. The Koran claims the message from which the bible is descended, that given to Prophet Isa, as well as previous prophets, is of God.
    3. The bible contradicts the word of God present in the Koran
    4. Therefore the bible is the corrupted word of God.

    Unless you want to argue that God’s word is contradictory. I don’t think you’re doing that.

    The Sura’s you quoted affirm that the message given by the prophets was of God, not that the Christian bible, corrupted as it is, is the word of God.

  138. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Sorry Havok, your case just doesn’t hold up. It relies on the assumption that the Qur’an itself is not referencing the Bible when it talks about the message of Isa, the gospel, etc. This is just patently false; there is no exegetical support for it, and obvious exegetical support against:

    But if you are in doubt as to what We have revealed to you, ask those who read the Book before you; certainly the truth has come to you from your Lord, therefore you should not be of the disputers. (10:94)

    Again, the Qur’an is commanding Muslims to test the truth of the Qur’an itself against the revelation held by Christians. So either it is commanding them to test its truth against corrupted revelation (which is absurd), or it is commanding them to test it against revelation which contradicts it (which proves it false on its own terms).

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  139. Havok

    The Christian bible should be tested against the word of God, the Koran.
    Where there is agreement, then the message of God has been left intact in the bible, through the will of God.
    Where there is contradiction, the Koran, being the word of God, is given primacy over the Christian bible. The Koran, being the direct word of God cannot be in error, so it becomes obvious that the Christian bible has become corrupted.

  140. James

    Bnonn, the Koran afirms the message sent to Moses and Prophet Isa was of God, but was corrupted afterwards. This is obvious in the way in which your bible contradicts the true word of God.

    So God allowed His message to be corrupted? Did He lose control of things?

  141. Iapetus

    James,

    “Second, you cannot use the deductive process to prove logic, logic has to first be assumed. If you believe otherwise deductively prove the laws of logic without first assuming them. And that is how they are similar – both must be first assumed without proof.”

    Hurray, it seems some progress IS possible after all. Yes, we ASSUME the basic axioms of logic and mathematics to be true, but can not prove it to be objectively so. However, once these basic axioms are in place, logical/mathematical propositions follow necessarily and are therefore objective, since they can not be otherwise given the underlying axioms.

    The problem is that you are not assuming basic axioms of morality, you are asserting a priori knowledge of objective moral/ethical truths.

    “And like I said, moral intuition would not follow the same pattern, or be demonstrated, as logical intuitions. Since moral truths would be proven by their interpersonal results.”

    If you had not obviously abandoned your previous position, this would not follow since you asserted that we recognize OBJECTIVE moral/ethical truths a priori or by intuition (where you still have not answered whether it is the former or the latter), so there would be no need to prove them by another standard.
    However, this seems to be no longer the case and now you are claiming that we have moral knowledge or intuitions, but we can not be sure of them and need to do a cross-check according to their “interpersonal results”. What criteria would you use for this?

    “And I can not assume basic moral axioms – why?”

    You can assume to your heart’s content. You just do not get to call these assumptions objectively true.

    “But you have no real confidence that they are true, and you are correct it is scary – which is another way of saying that I can pretty much discount your arguments and conclusions. For their opposites could be equally true. So much for debate…”

    Yes, it would make rational debate impossible. This is why certain basic axioms of logic are an indispensable prerequisite for any discussion.
    Furthermore, my confidence in their truth is rather high. However, I can not call them objectively true since I can not show that they follow necessarily from even more basic axioms.

    “Which is about as rational as blowing smoke… Do you guys spend a lot of time sitting around thinking up this nonsense? Does someone pay you to do this… ; )”

    Hey, do not shoot the messenger. As I said, I am deeply sceptical about platonism due to the strange metaphysical nature of forms and lack of plausible mechanism how we could possibly generate knowledge about them.

    Incidentally, if I were you I would not be so quick to discount platonism as irrational since you seem to hold notions about the existence of metaphysical universals. Their ontological and epistemological problems are to a high degree comparable.

    “And I guess Plato’s more moral forms (like justice) could share this same non-spatiotemporal and causally inert condition.”

    Indeed.

    “Again, His character and nature from where these laws are grounded are immutable. So they are not outside Him and said character and nature are unchanging.”

    If his character is constrained by these laws, they are determining his nature and are thus above him. Please read Mike’s comment 88 where this was addressed in some detail.

    “And when I said it was subjective, I meant it was dependent upon His person – not that it was changeable or arbitrary.”

    If god can change logical/moral laws, they are dependent on his will and therefore subjective. If he can not do that and is at most working as a crutch, they are objective for god just as for humans, so we do not need god and can go to these laws directly.

    “Again, just like logical truths – one could accept them or reject them, reject that intuitive sense.”

    What are you talking about? That was not the point. You asserted that a priori certain, objective moral/ethical truths are cross-checked by their “interpersonal usefulness” (which is self-contradictory since objective truths are in no need of cross-checking by another criterium). So, what parameters are used for this?

    “Now this makes no sense. How are logical truths objective to those that reject their axioms?”

    Denial of basic axioms does not change the fact that certain logical/mathematical propositions follow necessarily from them and are therefore objective, i.e. can not be otherwise.

    “Because we need to be reminded of certain basic truths. More so in the moral realm since we have a strong tendency toward moral laxity… We call that sin…”

    So are you claiming that the people arguing for the ordination of gay Anglican priests realize that it is morally/ethically unjustified due to their a priori, objective knowledge, but go ahead nonetheless? Why should they do that? If they really had access to an a priori objective truth, it would be a motive with an almost unstoppable force. Do you not honestly consider it more likely that there is no objective truth in this matter and that people come to different conclusions based on their subjective moral principles and priorities? Both sides appear to biblical teachings and what god REALLY wants, so these are not of much help here…

    What about slavery?

  142. Havok

    James: So God allowed His message to be corrupted? Did He lose control of things?

    How could God lose control of things?

  143. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Havok, it looks like you’re trying to mimic my own approach to show that it is unsound. The problem is that you have failed to engage with the internal critique I have given which totally refutes your aped presentation. There isn’t any symmetry between your approach and mine. I am able to defend my first principle against internal critique—and against competing worldviews, as I have done in refuting your assertions about the Qur’an. You have succeeded in doing neither; indeed, you seem to think (and I presume this reflects your understanding of my own method) that simply asserting your first principle in lieu of argumentation is all that is required. I’d ask that you read over what I have written about biblical apologetics. You will find that my approach is quite antithetical to yours.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  144. Gordon

    Hi

    Bnonn, I am still reading your essay on your definition of a Christian. But I will reply to your questions first.

    Gordon, do you believe that it is impossible to determine the meaning of written statements such as those written in Scripture?

    No, it is possible to interpret sematics from written languages.

    Though when it comes to a poetic and archaic work like the bible, where it is compiled and edited by the Nicean Council and translated multiple times, from several extinct languages to other extinct languages, the semantics is questionable. And I am not drawing the divinity of Bible into question yet.

    Do you believe that any interpretation is equally likely?

    No, I think not all interpretations are equally likely, depending on the context.

    The statement “The chicken is turning on the record player” has a number of interpretation, depending on the context, not all of which is equally likely.

    (The chicken could be rotating upon the record player; The chicken could be switching on the record player; The chicken could be sexually arousing the record player.)

    Having said that, some statements can be easily and equally misinterpreted by various parties.

    Ambiguities within non-formal languages is a b1tch.

    If not, why do you find it objectionable that I can confidently declare that the Catholic Church is wrong?

    I do not find it objectionable at all. The Catholic church might object to it, as they believe they are true Christians, in the way they define Christianity. I am indifferent to your disagreement with them.

    I am only highlighting that you saying you are right based on a translated 1900 year old book and they are saying they are right based on a translated 1900 year old book. I am puzzled as to who is right, particularly when both parties are deriving semantics from a translated 1900 year old book.

    Again, I am not drawing the divintiy of the book into question.

    Firstly, let’s dispense with this ongoing charismatic-sounding talk of my relationship with the Holy Spirit. I have never claimed to be “in tune” with the Spirit or “in communication” with the Spirit in the ways which are being represented here. The only thing I have said is that I have an experience of the Spirit testifying to me the truth of the Bible in a general sense. Not that it “tells” me which specific interpretation of the Bible is accurate.

    Noted and I apologise. I am not trying to be charismatic. I am trying to working out the common vocabulary and semantics between us. Thus, I will no longer be alluding to you “talking” with or in “communication” with or being “in tune” with the Holy Spirit.

    Can I still quote that you know God: “through his experiential testimony via the Holy Spirit working in my mind;” and that “the Spirit conveys a conviction of the Bible’s truth.”

    The role of the Spirit, as I clearly stated, is to testify that the Bible is God’s word. Not that some particular interpretation is God’s word, or that some other interpretation is demonic. Just that the Bible is God’s word.

    Okay, I think I understand what you are saying now. You know the Bible is the truth because of the Holy Spirit testify to it’s truth. But it does not testify to how you understand it’s meaning.

    Do you think that the Holy Spirit have testify to the Catholics that God’s truth is the Bible?

    What about other non-Christians?

    Secondly, why must I convince an “impartial and objective” panel of “experts” that my understanding of Scripture is correct?

    I think I have misunderstood something here.

    The panel of experts is an idea that Steve raised. You didn’t like the idea of a jury because you don’t think we should subject spiritual ideas to be reviewed by a “jury”, perhaps it was too judicious.

    So he suggested calling it a “panel of experts” (hence the quotemarks). I think he actually called it “panel of experts in various fields who want to investigate (an idea)”.

    Under your definition, you would not classify Catholics as Christians, and I say I believe Catholics would disagree with you on that charge.

    I thought you attributed that definition to the Holy Spirit or to the interpretation of the Bible. That was a misunderstanding of mine. My Apologies.

    So the “panel of experts” was only a way of sorting out whether Catholics are Christians or not.

    On to your question of why you should subject your understanding of the scripture to a panel of people, to which I reiterate what Steve has said, it is the way modern civilised society works.

    If the Holy Spirit testify to you that the Bible is God’s truth, though the Jews and Muslim disagree (slightly or wholely), then how can you convince to them that the Bible is the correct and only source of divine truth, when the Holy Spirit didn’t “conveys a conviction of the Bible’s truth” to them?

  145. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Hi Gordon.

    Though when it comes to a poetic and archaic work like the bible, where it is compiled and edited by the Nicean Council and translated multiple times, from several extinct languages to other extinct languages, the semantics is questionable. And I am not drawing the divinity of Bible into question yet.

    Let me ask another question, without meaning to sound condescending: how much do you know about the formation of the biblical canon, and the nature of the biblical autographs? The reason I ask is that I’ve heard this sort of statement before, almost word-for-word. I’ve heard it a lot of times, actually. It seems to be some kind of meme which gets circulated around, which serves to reassure non-Christians that they don’t need to take the Bible seriously. As I say, I’ve run into it a lot—but I have yet to see anyone substantiate it with any kind of historical scholarship.

    Consider that we have significant portions of Scripture dating from prior to the Council of Nicea. Consider that the canon of the New Testament was more or less settled by 200 AD, over a hundred years prior to that council (the Old Testament, of course, was settled well before that). Consider that the Council of Nicea ratified that existing canon by vote; it did not decide it. Consider that there is no other work in the world with as much historical scholarship surrounding it as the Bible; and that we subsequently know a huge amount about the historical and grammatical context of all of its books—thus making their genres fully transparent to us (and most of them are not primarily poetry). Consider that Hebrew, the main language of the Old Testament, is no longer extinct; and that Greek, the primary language of the New Testament, never dropped out of usage at all and is also very much alive (it has changed, of course). Consider that we have significant amounts of Greek literature which is more or less contemporaneous with the New Testament, which has allowed us to greatly expand our understanding of ancient Greek. Consider that every English translation of the Bible is based directly on ancient manuscripts which themselves are in the original languages, and that most biblical scholars of repute, and a lot of Christian laymen besides, can read those original languages.

    You’re welcome to try to validate your claims, but I suspect you’ve repeated them here just as I have seen them repeated elsewhere by non-Christians—as “facts” credulously accepted because you would like them to be true, and not investigated for the same reason. After all, it seems reasonable to assume that the person from whom you heard them knew what he was talking about…

    Can I still quote that you know God: “through his experiential testimony via the Holy Spirit working in my mind;” and that “the Spirit conveys a conviction of the Bible’s truth.”

    Most certainly; any Christian would say the same.

    Do you think that the Holy Spirit have testify to the Catholics that God’s truth is the Bible?

    I don’t rule out the possibility, because although the Catholic Church’s teachings are highly aberrant (it’s hard to overstate that), the gospel is still preached in a basic form during the Catholic mass. If someone attending that mass were to hear the gospel, and if the Holy Spirit were to work in her mind to convict her of it, and thus convict her to question and deny the teachings of Rome which surround that gospel, then she certainly may be saved. But that seems both highly speculative and quite unlikely. Perhaps there are saved Christians in the Catholic Church—but it’s hard to imagine them staying there, attending the same idolatrous service week after week.

    As for other non-Christians—the Holy Spirit obviously will work in some of them, since some of them are simply Christians who have yet to be saved. But that doesn’t mean that the Spirit works in all non-Christians. I don’t have a considered opinion on that I’m afraid.

    If the Holy Spirit testify to you that the Bible is God’s truth, though the Jews and Muslim disagree (slightly or wholely), then how can you convince to them that the Bible is the correct and only source of divine truth, when the Holy Spirit didn’t “conveys a conviction of the Bible’s truth” to them?

    I can’t. Refer to 1 Corinthians 2; particularly verse 10 and onwards.

  146. Gordon

    Hi Bnonn,

    how much do you know about the formation of the biblical canon, and the nature of the biblical autographs?

    The answer is not very much, if any at all. I am parroting other’s opinion.

    I never felt a strong urge to investigate the history of the Bible very deeply. I am in IT and I do my study in that field. You are a theologian, philosopher or an apologist and that is your specialty.

    Perhaps what you are saying is correct that, the modern bible is true to it’s ancestral roots. That the semantics is correctly translated across from the original manuscript with complete lossless accuracy.

    Somehow I am sceptical of any text ancient or modern, surviving with 100% of intended semantics after any form of translation. That is the way of non-formal laguages works. Though this is the opinion of someone who isn’t an expert in linguistics.

    Thanks for all your enlightening answers. I wish you luck in future essays on your blog.

    Gordon.

  147. James

    Hey Iapetus

    You can assume to your heart’s content. You just do not get to call these assumptions objectively true.

    Of course I can, just as some atheists (not you though) assume that the laws of logic are objectively true. And since I have a mind to ground my objective claims, it follows quite nicely…

    If you had not obviously abandoned your previous position, this would not follow since you asserted that we recognize OBJECTIVE moral/ethical truths a priori or by intuition (where you still have not answered whether it is the former or the latter), so there would be no need to prove them by another standard.

    However, this seems to be no longer the case and now you are claiming that we have moral knowledge or intuitions, but we can not be sure of them and need to do a cross-check according to their “interpersonal results”. What criteria would you use for this?

    First, I have not abandoned anything. We recognize, or accept, the objective, and a priori nature of moral truths by the vehicle of intuition. Like with logical truths. And like logical truths we flesh them out in practice – we don’t prove their objective, and a priori nature by this process. I think it does support them though…

    Yes, it would make rational debate impossible. This is why certain basic axioms of logic are an indispensable prerequisite for any discussion.
    Furthermore, my confidence in their truth is rather high. However, I can not call them objectively true since I can not show that they follow necessarily from even more basic axioms.

    Which leaves us in eternal ignorance. You may not want to claim their objective nature (I don’t blame you because you have no grounding) but if you don’t, it’s all up in the air. Despite your unfounded confidence.

    Incidentally, if I were you I would not be so quick to discount platonism as irrational since you seem to hold notions about the existence of metaphysical universals. Their ontological and epistemological problems are to a high degree comparable.

    Not really, since I ground these objective truths in an objective Mind (once again objective to humankind). And we know by experience that minds hold such truths. Modern Platonism would have these truths kind of floating around out there in the ether…

    If his character is constrained by these laws, they are determining his nature and are thus above him. Please read Mike’s comment 88 where this was addressed in some detail.

    I did read Mike’s points and made the same response. These laws (if you will) are Him. They make up His nature. Logically, morally, is how He thinks. Nothing external about it. He is constrained only by what He is, his nature.

    If god can change logical/moral laws, they are dependent on his will and therefore subjective. If he cannot do that and is at most working as a crutch, they are objective for god just as for humans, so we do not need god and can go to these laws directly.
    God cannot change logical law, since it is His nature. God cannot change what He hates or loves in the moral sense either. He loves obedience and hates disobedience. He can however allow things that He does not prefer – I would suspect that divorce and slavery are two Old Testament practices that would fall under that allowance.

    What are you talking about? That was not the point. You asserted that a priori certain, objective moral/ethical truths are cross-checked by their “interpersonal usefulness” (which is self-contradictory since objective truths are in no need of cross-checking by another criterion). So, what parameters are used for this?

    I answered this above, but… All I’m saying is that we can see the usefulness of both logical laws or moral laws. This does not prove their objective status however… It does prove their usefulness…

    Denial of basic axioms does not change the fact that certain logical/mathematical propositions follow necessarily from them and are therefore objective, i.e. can not be otherwise.

    You are just asserting. If one denies their basic axioms, then nothing follows, there is nothing to follow. So again, how do you prove their objective results to one who rejects your premises and reject your results?

    So are you claiming that the people arguing for the ordination of gay Anglican priests realize that it is morally/ethically unjustified due to their a priori, objective knowledge, but go ahead nonetheless? Why should they do that? If they really had access to an a priori objective truth, it would be a motive with an almost unstoppable force. Do you not honestly consider it more likely that there is no objective truth in this matter and that people come to different conclusions based on their subjective moral principles and priorities? Both sides appear to biblical teachings and what god REALLY wants, so these are not of much help here…

    1.Yes that is exactly what I’m saying. Like logical truths, moral truths can be denied – and often are.

    2.Again, their objective nature has no inherent power to compel. Despite what you think you would do. We often have competing moral desires. I’m sure you have had these, even though you don’t believe in objective moral truths.

    3.And I’m sorry – the Anglican’s have rejected scripture. They are in gross sin.

    And Iapetus, I will ask you again, perhaps this time you will answer – is child rape always wrong? Yes or no?

  148. Havok

    Bnonn, all you’ve shown is that your bible and the Koran do not agree on all points. This is not unexpected as the your bible has been modified, though it still contains many great teachings of god. The Koran, the direct word of God, was given to validate those teachings which were true, and reveal those which were not of God.

    You don’t have to compare the Christian bible to the Koran to deduce it is not the word of God however, simply reading it will show this to be the case.
    The dates of the nativity as given in Luke & Matthew are irreconcilable, as is the supposed physical ressurection spoken of in Luke, Matthew & John, with the spiritual resurrection which the heretical Saul of Tarsus claims (along his disregard for the laws of God which were given to Moses).
    You are unable to say with any certainty just who the authors of your gospels were, yet the author of the Koran is plain for all to see – God through his Prophet Mohammed.

  149. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Thanks Gordon. It’s been enjoyable talking to you. Incidentally, I work in IT as well (:

    Havok—

    The Koran, the direct word of God, was given to validate those teachings which were true, and reveal those which were not of God.

    As I have already pointed out, this is not what the Qur’an says. It says the opposite. Please don’t post again if you are just going to repeat the same assertions I have already refuted; especially since you don’t even believe what you’re asserting. Trolling will be deleted.

    As regards the other objections you’ve raised: I’ve let this thread continue despite it being very off-topic, because I think some productive discussion has been had. However, it is now getting very long, and I don’t think that taking it off on yet another tangent is sensible. I would refer you to Tektonics, whose authors have far more expertise in refuting the sorts of claims you’re now making. I hope you’ll actually do a search there, and read with an open mind what they have to say about the specific objections you have. Such objections generally indicate that you’re more familiar with the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible than the Bible itself, which is rather a jejune state of affairs for someone making the sorts of grandiose claims you are. You could learn something from Gordon about knowing the limitations of your knowledge, and speaking appropriately.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  150. Iapetus

    James,

    “Of course I can, just as some atheists (not you though) assume that the laws of logic are objectively true.”

    I do not know which “atheists” you are referring to here; however, assuming something to be objectively true does not make it so, I am afraid. You have to show it.

    “And since I have a mind to ground my objective claims, it follows quite nicely…”

    And I actually thought we had made some progress. Obviously I was mistaken and we are back to square one…

    “First, I have not abandoned anything. We recognize, or accept, the objective, and a priori nature of moral truths by the vehicle of intuition. Like with logical truths. And like logical truths we flesh them out in practice – we don’t prove their objective, and a priori nature by this process. I think it does support them though…”

    Just one post ago you asserted the following: “And like I said, moral intuition would not follow the same pattern, or be demonstrated, as logical intuitions. Since moral truths would be proven by their interpersonal results.”

    Clearly “to prove” is very different from “to support”. Could you please make up your mind on this? Furthermore, we are not proving “logical intuitions”. We are proving logical propositions that follow from basic premises or axioms.
    The obvious confusion that you exhibit on these and other topics just adds to my impression that you have never thoroughly thought these things through and, when pressed, have to sort of make it up as you go along.

    “Which leaves us in eternal ignorance. You may not want to claim their objective nature (I don’t blame you because you have no grounding) but if you don’t, it’s all up in the air. Despite your unfounded confidence.”

    So you honestly believe what you have presented here constitutes a “grounding”?

    Well, disregarding for the moment the obvious fact that you merely have a bare assertion with absolutely zilch corroborating evidence outside of your book of choice that the mind of your god “grounds” objective logical/mathematical or moral/ethical propositions , and furthermore disregarding the fact that this would instantly render those laws subjective and not objective, what makes you think that you have achieved anything more than pushing the question back one step?

    After all, the obvious follow-up problem would be: what grounds this mind of your god? If you are intuitively inclined to answer along the lines that it needs no grounding since it is basic, I would strongly recommend to resist this intuition and earnestly think about it long and hard before posting.

    “Not really, since I ground these objective truths in an objective Mind (once again objective to humankind).”

    You may as well call this concept “eofnwsdn”, because whatever it is you are talking about here, it definitely is not “objective”. Saying something is objective to entity X, but not to entity Y is utterly vacuous.

    “These laws (if you will) are Him. They make up His nature. Logically, morally, is how He thinks. Nothing external about it. He is constrained only by what He is, his nature.”

    You are just stringing words together without coherence. If your god is constrained by moral and logical laws, they are primary to him. You can not get around the fact that his mind is bound to think in ways these laws permit and which he can not break or circumvent.

    “He loves obedience and hates disobedience. He can however allow things that He does not prefer – I would suspect that divorce and slavery are two Old Testament practices that would fall under that allowance.”

    I love it when theists talk about what their preferred deity loves and hates, prefers or abhors, as if they had recently had a chat with him like with Aunt Katie last week.

    There is absolutely NO WAY you could possibly know with any confidence what your god thinks and is up to. All you have is your very personal interpretation of words written in a book, which is your one and only source of information about him.

    I also love these ad hoc rationalizations that are required every time one of these objective, eternal truths that theists are so fond of (be they about the natural world or moral/ethical matters) turn out to be false or changeable.
    So you think that he “does not prefer” slavery? What a progressive stance! However, he certainly felt it not necessary to condemn it outright in this infallible book you adhere to. Nor did millions of Christians throughout history. So now that morality has progressed to a point where slavery is considered repugnant, you have to condemn it as well. Unfortunately, the bible does not enable you to do that unequivocally, forcing you to resort to these mental gymnastics of declaring slavery “not preferred” by your deity. Objective morality at work!

    “You are just asserting. If one denies their basic axioms, then nothing follows, there is nothing to follow. So again, how do you prove their objective results to one who rejects your premises and reject your results?”

    I am not asserting anything, I am merely stating the obvious. If one would deny the basic axioms of logic or mathematics, he would consequently also deny any propositions derived from them. This does not change one iota the fact that anyone who does accept these axioms will necessarily come to the same conclusions. Hence they are objective.

    “1.Yes that is exactly what I’m saying. Like logical truths, moral truths can be denied – and often are.

    2.Again, their objective nature has no inherent power to compel. Despite what you think you would do. We often have competing moral desires. I’m sure you have had these, even though you don’t believe in objective moral truths.

    3.And I’m sorry – the Anglican’s have rejected scripture. They are in gross sin. ”

    Maybe they have communicated with the deity and now know that he just “does not prefer” gay priests and bishops. You know, the way he “does not prefer” slavery and divorce. I can not recall a bible passage that explicitly deals with this topic.

    And I again have to wonder why we need scripture to settle this in the first place. After all, both parties allegedly have access to a priori, objective truths. There should be no doubt in anyone´s mind about the right course of action. I have to ask again: do you honestly think it more likely that large swathes of the Anglican Church persist in denial of their a priori moral knowledge for months and years on end, risking a split within their church rather than that these people are genuinely convinced that they are doing the morally correct thing, as we would expect if morality is subjective?

    “And Iapetus, I will ask you again, perhaps this time you will answer – is child rape always wrong? Yes or no?”

    I can not conceive of any situation where it would be morally/ethically justified. However, if you would want to take that as an indication of an objective truth, you would be sorely mistaken, as the limits of my imagination do not determine objectiveness. If they did, banning same-sex marriage would be objectively wrong, as well. Would you want to agree with me on that?

    Since you introduced these quaint little games, here is one for you:
    I presume you deem both child rape and murder to be objectively wrong, i.e. both acts must not be performed or be allowed to happen under any circumstances. Imagine you witness a known child rapist about to unleash his terror on a five year old child. The only way you could stop him is by a lethal electric shock from your taser, which would surely kill him.

    What does objective morality tell you to do?

  151. James

    Hey Iapetus,

    We are going in circles, I have given my reasons for what I believe, and since I have little computer time I’m going to let most of the above slide. I do however want to deal with one point…

    You said:

    Well, disregarding for the moment the obvious fact that you merely have a bare assertion with absolutely zilch corroborating evidence outside of your book of choice that the mind of your god “grounds” objective logical/mathematical or moral/ethical propositions , and furthermore disregarding the fact that this would instantly render those laws subjective and not objective, what makes you think that you have achieved anything more than pushing the question back one step?

    About “bare assertion.” All you have said relies on “bare assertion.” You assert that you are rational(prove it). That your experience of the world corresponds to reality(prove it). On top of this you can not even know if the laws of logic are universal – which means that every proposition you hold or expound – it’s opposite may also be true. Which renders all your points meaningless. You may be speaking utter nonsense Iapetus – how would we know? If there are no logical or mathematical or moral laws independent of man. No objective standard to man – then it’s all subjective to the person. It’s all relative, there are no ultimate knowable truths – foolishness all the way down… On top of this, in your materialistic world, you can not show how the abstract content of a proposition can effect the physical process of thinking . Which means your mental states are purely the result of non-rational processes. So i) You have no independent standard to compare your rational or moral conclusions and ii) You can not know if the non-rational brain processes are producing rational conclusions. Theism may have it’s problems but nowhere near the irrationality of materialism…

    Finally, we Christians expect atheists to attack our position – it’s your job so to speak. But in this long discussion no one of you have offered a coherent or rational theory of knowledge. So from what rational platform do you even attempt to launch an attack on our position?

  152. Iapetus

    James,

    so apparently you have decided to discontinue this discussion. Very well. I will give some final thoughts within the context of your latest post.

    “About “bare assertion.” All you have said relies on “bare assertion.” You assert that you are rational(prove it). That your experience of the world corresponds to reality(prove it). On top of this you can not even know if the laws of logic are universal – which means that every proposition you hold or expound – it’s opposite may also be true. Which renders all your points meaningless. You may be speaking utter nonsense Iapetus – how would we know? If there are no logical or mathematical or moral laws independent of man. No objective standard to man – then it’s all subjective to the person. It’s all relative, there are no ultimate knowable truths – foolishness all the way down…”

    Yes, I know that this is one of your (and many other theists´) greatest fears: that our life is uncertain; that our mental faculties, our reasoning capabilities might not always be reliable; that we are the chance result of a blind evolutionary process and that we have to fumble our way through the dark in a cosmos that is utterly uncaring and oblivious to us; that there are no Absolutes that you can cling to. Therefore you insist that there simply MUST be a solid, unshakable base to build on, emotionally, morally, epistemologically, to allay those fears. There MUST be a cosmic purpose to our existence, an external purpose- and lawgiver who provides your life with meaning and structure. And consequently you have simply gone ahead and POSTULATED it to be so, or to put it in your terms: “We take the Christian god and the bible a priori and deem it to be the only inherently rational position”.

    Your problem is that this operation is the opposite of rational, it is totally arbitrary. The same process would (and does) work for Muslims and their Quran, for Mormons, Hindus or any other religion and its special book. Your refusal to have any of your core beliefs challenged in a meaningful way by declaring any criticism per definitionem irrational can be employed by rival religions just as well. It is a recipe for conflict when two dogmatic worldviews clash that are unwilling to even contemplate that they might be mistaken.

    It will also lead you down an intellectual dead end in more than one way.

    First of all, to hope that positing your god as the “grounding” for logical/mathematical/moral laws or universals or whatever would give you this unassailable starting point you crave is a delusion (aside from the fact that it lacks any corroborating evidence whatsoever). It is a self-fabricated, illusory certainty which fits your emotional bias and just shows that you have decided to dogmatically terminate the chain of reasons at this point. One could just as well stop before your god and declare those laws themselves “basic” (as Kant did), or one could ask who or what “grounds” this god of yours (to which you have no answer).

    Second, to insist that your book (or more fittingly: your particular interpretation of it) is infallible in every respect will lead you (and apparently already has) in conflicts with science that you are inevitably bound to lose. For instance, expecting the theory of evolution to come crashing down and all evolutionary biologists to embrace the biblical account, as I have read elsewhere here, is pure fantasy and wishful thinking. You deliberately shut yourself off from the scientific discourse when you dismiss any inconvenient facts or theories that do not coincide with your ideology. However, this is your loss, not the one of science.

    Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, if you were earnestly and honestly searching for the truth, you would have to adopt a fundamentally different approach. It is folly to declare an island of a priori, eternal truths that could not possibly be wrong and try to shoehorn everything else into this framework. Rather, only by subjecting your core beliefs to the most rigid criticism possible and by risking their failure in the process can you gain confidence in their veracity.

    “Finally, we Christians expect atheists to attack our position – it’s your job so to speak.”

    I do not consider myself very attack-minded; I am rather discussing your views and pointing out the flaws and contradictions within it. However, if one announces publicly to be in possession of the only inherently rational worldview, in the process slandering scientists as being incompetent, deluded fools who happen to cobble together some useful tidbits here and there, one should not be surprised to receive a reaction from people who are somewhat knowledgeable in scientific and philosophical matters.

    “But in this long discussion no one of you have offered a coherent or rational theory of knowledge. So from what rational platform do you even attempt to launch an attack on our position?”

    I again have to wonder: did you actually READ the debate contributions by Steve Zara or did you just skim over them? This very topic was addressed there. You may find the answers you saw not satisfying, but simply swatting them aside with no coherent argument whatsoever or pretending that nothing was said is just lame.

    Well, it seems we have reached the end here. Thanks for the discussion.

    Good day & good bye.

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