Forgive Us our Sins, Mr. Darwin

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The Anglican Church is fashioning a public apology to one of history's most shat-upon scientists, Charles Darwin:

The Church of England owes Charles Darwin an apology for misunderstanding his theory of evolution and making errors over its reaction to it, a senior clergyman said today….

"People, and institutions, make mistakes and Christian people and churches are no exception. When a big new idea emerges which changes the way people look at the world, it's easy to feel that every old idea, every certainty, is under attack and then to do battle against the new insights.

"The church made that mistake with Galileo's astronomy, and has since realised its error. Some church people did it again in the 1860s with Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. So it is important to think again about Darwin's impact on religious thinking, then and now – and the bicentenary of Darwin's birth in 1809 is a good time to do so.

"It is hard to avoid the thought that the reaction against Darwin was largely based on what we would now call the 'yuk factor'—an emotional not an intellectual response—when he proposed a lineage from apes to humans."

While somewhat late to the party, the Anglicans are at least better at admitting their foibles than the One True Church, which is currently building a statue to commemorate Galileo:

"It's an effort to make him a symbol, an attempt to make Galileo one of the emblems of the church," says Mr. Galluzzi, whose museum houses two of Galileo's telescopes. "It's the church which needs rehabilitation on this case, not Galileo. He was right."

On the other side of the barricades, meanwhile, some Roman Catholics think the church has already done more than enough to make up with Galileo.

Atila Sinke Guimarães, a conservative Catholic writer, dismisses the church's mistreatment of Galileo as a "black legend."

The scientist, he says, got what he deserved. "The Inquisition was very moderate with him. He wasn't tortured."

As the western branches of the Anglican Communion have liberalized over the last several decades, their membership numbers have plummeted. In Africa, on the other hand, where Anglican ministers espouse a fire and brimstone theology akin to American Evengelicalism with a hint of Orthodox Roman Catholocism, membership is on the rise. 

It would seem that the more a Christian denomination Anglicanism encourages intellectual freedom—or doubt, as the believers call it—the less able it is to sustain or grow its membership. Why can't Anglicans be more like some Jews and some Buddhists, occasional intellectual stars in a contemporary religious dark age? Because Christianity Anglicanism thrives only if its adherents believe that dogmatic obedience is a non-negotiable requisite for salvation. Waiving that requirement amounts to relinquishing a monopoly on salvation.

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  1. In before hatred!

  2. Uh-oh, Riggsy–the Christers (if we have any left) are not going to like this last bit. They never like when anyone pulls away the curtain.

  3. Why can’t Anglicans be more like Jews and Bhuddists, intellectual stars in a contemporary religious dark age?

    If you think Judaism is inherently tolerant of those who question dogma, you’ve never read the Old Testament.

  4. “intellectual freedom-or doubt, as the believers call it”

    A thousand questions don’t add up to a single doubt, I once wrote. Maybe you should read my contemporaries’ arguments over whether the various proofs of God’s existence were valid.

  5. Actually,it’s not the lack of intellectual freedom that explains the draw of the fire-and-brimstone churches.

    Sociologist Rodney Stark has an interesting concept of the “market” for religion and various sects. Some people seek out a fairly “relaxed” religion, while others seek a more “intense and demanding one.” (And some seek to avoid religion altogether.)

    People often have a sense that the more something costs, the more that thing must be worth. People who feel this way toward religious matters are going to be drawn to more demanding and “costly” religions, feeling that they will deliver more in the way of rewards. Of course, their descendents, the succeeding generations, may not necessarilyfeel the same desire for high-intensity religion, so churches over time tend to “relax.”

    However, the next crop of the most intensely religious people, wherever they come from, will not be satisfied by the more relaxed church they are born into. And these people tend to be the most “activist.” They will either attempt to “reform” their mother church into something more demanding, or leave it for a more demanding, “costly” and presumably more rewarding church elsewhere.

    And this is an explanation of why the more liberalized churches are losing membership and the more strict churches are gaining.

  6. “Why can’t Anglicans be more like Jews and Bhuddists, intellectual stars in a contemporary religious dark age?”

    Indeed, look at how much scientific progress the Buddhist societies made, in contrast to the obscurantist Christian societies of the West.

    And thank FSM that so many previously-Christian countries adopted non-Christian ideologies, thereby setting the stage for the replacement of “dogmatic obedience” by a truly tolerant and scientific attitude.

    I need only mention the French Revolution (deist/atheist), the Communist Revolutions(atheist), the National Socialist and Fascist revolutions (neo-pagan), and other rationalist movements which freed the West from the shackles of Christianity.

  7. I knew this was going to happen!

  8. Not to mention the modern secular states in Europe, where you are free to be as rational as you want so long as you don’t say anything mean about Muslims, or the French flag, etc.

  9. If the idiocy of the corrupt Borgia papacy of 500 years ago is valid evidence against Catholicism, why aren’t the sins of atheist regimes against intellectual freedom valid evidence against atheism?

  10. “As the western branches of the Anglican Communion have liberalized over the last several decades, their membership numbers have plummeted…It would seem that the more a Christian denomination encourages intellectual freedom-or doubt, as the believers call it-the less able it is to sustain or grow membership.”

    I suspect Riggs has got the causality backwards: Superstition is declining throughout Western society in general, which has led to declining faith in Christian dogma. Christianity is liberalizing in an attempt to accomodate the trend, with limited success. If all Christian denominations dug in their heels, I suspect we’d see membership fall even more precipituously than we see presently.

  11. “God Schmod! I want my monkeyman!”

  12. Mad Max,

    When a religious person demands you believe as they do, that’s intolerance and adherence to dogma.

    When a secular humanist demands you believe as they do, that’s just encouraging rationality.

  13. why aren’t the sins of atheist regimes against intellectual freedom valid evidence against atheism?

    Because replacing the worship of God with the worship of the state is not atheism.

  14. I suspect Riggs has got the causality backwards: Superstition is declining throughout Western society in general, which has led to declining faith in Christian dogma.

    Superstition is declining? You don’t get out much, do you? Sure, it doesn’t involve statues and incense anymore, but people need to believe in something beyond pure reason if they’re going to continue existence.

  15. Sugar Free, there was very little overlap between the activities of the medieval popes and the worship of God.

    If atheists can distance themselves from Stalin and Mao, then Christians shouldn’t be eternally chained to Torquemada and his ilk.

  16. “replacing the worship of God with the worship of the state is not atheism.”

    Ach, I forgot that big-government atheists are nae true Scotsmen!

  17. Tulpa,

    I don’t care about your analogy, I’m just saying that calling communist regimes “atheistic” is disingenuous. It was the state as surrogate religion; a channeling of the religious impulse to fervent support of the state. Atheist = without God. They had a God still.

  18. Wasn’t Charles Darwin wrong? His books aren’t used as texbooks today because they are wrong. Don’t evolutionists agree he was wrong?

    Why should anyone apologize for any of Darwin’s contemporaries for telling him he was wrong when he was, in fact, wrong.

    Did I mention he was wrong?

  19. Mad Max,

    If you want to defend everything that has ever called itself “Christianity,” we could have some fun with that.

  20. “people need to believe in something beyond pure reason if they’re going to continue existence”

    Only because they need a crutch. They could just accept that their lives are, essentially, arbitrary and pointless.

    If people would adopt this position then they wouldn’t get their panties in a bunch because this guy is gay, ot that one smokes dope, or the other one likes porn. As long as ‘god’ gets mad, they have that right as well.

    It might be better if we just dispensed with god all together.

  21. My two cents regarding communism and atheism. The issue is not God, it’s rationality. It’s claims notwithstanding, no one can honestly claim communism to be rational — unless you’re willing to discard evidence.

    Bill Walsh

  22. @ Monsignor Tulpa:

    “…but people need to believe in something beyond pure reason if they’re going to continue existence.”

    And your support for such an outrageous statement is- what?

    To rational-thinking people, reason doesn’t require belief.

  23. If atheists can distance themselves from Stalin and Mao, then Christians shouldn’t be eternally chained to Torquemada and his ilk.

    The popes were the official top dogs of Christianity until the Reformation. They called the shots, and still do for Catholics. Stalin and Mao are not the official top dogs of atheism, because no one is.

  24. a name before submitting the form:

    Wasn’t Charles Darwin wrong? Not on evolution, he was wrong on the mechanism of inheritance. Of course, that wasn’t what the churches attacked him for.

    His books aren’t used as texbooks [sic] today because they are wrong. I know someone who uses The Origin of Species as one of two texts for his evolution class. They are rarely used as textbooks because we now have more details, better examples, an additional mechanism and they are written in a style difficult to understand by 20th and 21st century English speakers.

    Don’t evolutionists agree he was wrong? No, but the theory was incomplete.

    Why should anyone apologize for any of Darwin’s contemporaries for telling him he was wrong when he was, in fact, wrong. You really just don’t know what you are talking about, do you?

    Did I mention he was wrong? Well, you’ve convinced no one except perhaps yourself.

  25. I too must take great umbrage with the false dichotomy between religions, especially on the pages of Reason. I have previously on these comments pages provided evidence of Buddhist atrocities and persecution at the hands of the beloved Dalai Lama of a sect of adherents who refused to cease their worship of another deity. And as someone who’s lived among Orthodox Jews all my life, and currently live in a neighborhood center for Chabad, I can say for a fact they are no more the intellectual stars than their Evangelical brethren. Chabad is in fact a close ideological cousin to Evangelical Christianity with recruitment of nonbelievers, strict moral codes, and a general doom laden Messianic world outlook. The non-Christian street-cred is no recourse among truly intelligent minds to say that this is somehow a haven for free scientific thought (the Orthodox and Conservative Jewish position on Evolution is largely in line with that of Evangelical Christianity).

    Like any religion, Judaism has many offshoots, some of which are more free-thinking than others. Just as the Catholic Church has accepted Evolution and the Episcopals have condoned gay marriage by and large, some reformed Jewish groups have followed in this. Though the Buddhists seem to still take a rather hard spiritual line against sodomy, and sex for pleasure in general. We should take it as gospel, as it were, that any strict dogma tends to lead to be limiting at best, tyrannical at worst – Christian or otherwise.

  26. As a true dis-believer I find it difficult to find others of my ilk. My conservative friends believe in the Bronze Age god and my liberal friends believe in Astrology and spirits. Is irrational belief simply the human condition?

    Why am I so alone?

  27. I, Kahn O’Clast,

    More people believe like you do than you think, they are just quiet about. That’s what happens when you live in a non-denominational theocracy.

  28. Well if rationality is your thing, then you ought to begin by admitting that God’s nonexistence cannot be proven by empirical evidence, pure reason, etc. Atheism requires every bit as much faith as any religion.

    As for those hip and with-it religions you’d like to put forth as counterexamples to Christainty, as others have pointed out in some fashion or another, (a) Judaism is perhaps the most exclusive religion on the planet, (b) neither’s core tenets jibe particularly well with the brand of reason you seem to be fond of, (c) where in the hell are all the universities they’ve founded over the centuries?

    Get the ignorant log out of your own eye before you seek to remove the splinter from another’s.

  29. Atheism requires every bit as much faith as any religion.

    The same bullshit every damn time.

    The burden of proof is always on those who claim something in the absence of evidence. A lack of faith is not faith.

  30. “Why should anyone apologize for any of Darwin’s contemporaries for telling him he was wrong when he was, in fact, wrong.”

    Uh, because he, uh, wasn’t wrong??

    How ’bout this: read it for yourself.On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

    It’s online for free. That way you can still put all your money in the collection plate and learn something real, too!

  31. Because Christianity thrives only if its adherents believe that dogmatic obedience is a non-negotiable requisite for salvation. Waiving that requirement amounts to relinquishing a monopoly on salvation.

    That would not place it apart from Judaism (read Maimonides’ concise list of what one is required to believe to be a Jew) or Islam (which requires dogmatic obedience at the very least to the article of Submission that there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His prophet). And both Judaism and Islam historically have supported impressive scholarship. It is no accident that many words in math and chemistry are of Arabic origin (algorithm, algebra, alcohol, alkali, etc.).

    With Buddhism you may be on to something, but only because Buddhism’s primary concern is escape from suffering: something that pretty much everyone can get behind, even if one disagrees on method. But then again, comparing Western and Eastern religious traditions is always a trap for the unwary, as even the notion of religion and its place in the social order is nearly entirely mutually incommensurate. Besides, Buddhism may be phenomenologically oriented, but it is deeply anti-empirical in orientation, so it is hard to see how advancement in the modern sense can be seen as being advanced by the continued survival of Buddhism.

    What separates Christianity is not immediately apparent, nor nearly as simple as “having a dogmatic outlook” or any such nonsense. I wouldn’t dare claim I have *the* answer to the question of why Christianity is in many incarnations hostile to an empirical worldview, and the real-world openness to criticism that that implies.

    If I were to hazard a guess, perhaps it is a consequence of the writings indicating the fervent belief that the arrival of the Kingdom of God is imminent; a belief that ironically has followed the religion through it’s entire two thousand year history. In such a situation, it is rational to prioritize understanding lower than belief, since understanding requires time and effort (which can fail, and would in any case come to waste if the Kingdom comes early!) whereas simple belief requires only a choice.

  32. then you ought to begin by admitting that God’s nonexistence cannot be proven by empirical evidence, pure reason, etc

    You don’t prove non-existence, you prove existence. If you want to tell us about a new part of the electromagnetic spectrum called “Z-rays”, I don’t have to prove that “Z-rays” don’t exist, you have to prove that “Z-rays” do exist. Why is this so hard to understand?

  33. armchairpunter,

    I can say exactly the same about Thor, Quetzalcoatl, or the Easter Bunny… Lack of proof of existence is not actually proof of existence as you seem to think it may be. In fact, it is — at least — evidence of non-existence.

    Atheism does not replace Jehovah with something, it merely states that the evidence points to his/her/it’s non-existence. It does not take faith to disbelieve in god, it takes thought.

  34. Why can’t Anglicans be more like Jews and Bhuddists, intellectual stars in a contemporary religious dark age?

    Like these Jews?

  35. “If you want to defend everything that has ever called itself ‘Christianity,’ we could have some fun with that.”

    If my aunt had testicles, she’d be my uncle, and we could have fun with *that.*

    SugarFree,

    Yes, we can use “atheist” to mean something completely different than its conventional meaning. Better to change the definition than to actually defend atheism.

    Too bad you guys have to go back the the seventeenth century to find conflicts between Catholicism and science. We only need to go back to the twentieth century to find conflict between science and secularism.

    Who denounced the pseudo-scientific dogma of eugenics when it was the big thing among many secular Americans?

    Who stood against the pseudoscientific population panic of the Ehrlichs and their ilk, while many secularists were taking it seriously?

    Who acknowledged the existence of differences between men and women, when certain shrill secularists said those differences were socially constructed?

    Who acknowledged the reality of global warming while Ronald Bailey was still denying it?

    Nice try, though.

  36. The same bullshit every damn time.

    The burden of proof is always on those who claim something in the absence of evidence. A lack of faith is not faith.

    That is true in the narrow religious sense of “faith”, but epistemologically it is certainly *not* true. If one is to accept some universal mechanism of causation, then it is required that each phenomenological event requires both a hierarchical and (probably) a temporal cause. The Argument from Teleology simply points out that each event begs an explanation, and so in that context the hypothesis “God exists and originally caused X” is exactly identical to “[NULL] exists and originally caused X”.

    An uncaused, or [NULL] caused causation chain requires as much faith to believe in as an originally caused causation chain. The problem here is not in proving a negative, but rather in identifying an antecedent, even if the theory is that the antecedent is [NULL]. To endorse such a hypothesis is to endorse a positive statement about the nature of the universe., not to assert a negative.

    It pisses me off that this counterargument has gained so much credence and currency.

  37. Pope John Paul II apologized for the church’s error regarding Galileo in 1992.

    When is Mike Riggs going to apologize for mis-characterizing the Church’s position? 😉

  38. Relgion gives people hope in a world torn apart by religion.

    They’re all pushy and bossy.

  39. Indeed, look at how much scientific progress the Buddhist societies made, in contrast to the obscurantist Christian societies of the West.

    You mean like paper, moveable type, gunpowder, modern navigation, crop rotation, and all the other things that China invented while Europe was still scratching out a living in mud huts?

    Oh, *I* see, unless it’s state of the art right this instant, it’s completely worthless. And god damn the fact that none of the modern inventions would have been possible with what came before, right? Fuck understanding how historical processes of invention affect the present day. It’s not like history has ever done anything for us before!

  40. Wasn’t Charles Darwin wrong?

    Not on evolution, he was wrong on the mechanism of inheritance.

    That is… interesting. That illustrates what a nebulous term “evolution” is. I mean, what scientifically useful thing did he have to say if he was “wrong on the mechanism of inheritance”?

    I’d say his contribution was more philosophical than scientific, since he got the science wrong, but he made it OK to hypothesize that man came from apes.

  41. “Too bad you guys have to go back the the seventeenth century to find conflicts between Catholicism and science”

    Between persecuting scientists, sympathizing with Nazis, and having sex with children, what does Catholicism really have to recommend itself to anyone (other than the fun superstition and drinking?)

  42. Some people seek out a fairly “relaxed” religion

    That would be sunny So Cal where the thriving mega churches accept all comers and have a loose interpretation of Biblical rules that includes allowing church goers to show up for Sunday School on a Harley after spending Saturday evening with cigars, poker, and the Reverend Jack. R movies R fine as is a little indulgence in the devil weed. They don’t care if you get a little of your heavenly reward here on earth and they no more resemble the fire and brimstone purveyors than they do the dying Anglican church. Heck, on Friday nights you can even drop the kids off for a movie or a basketball game.

    These churches are dynamic and rich. They’ve become so by tuning in to the market and offering the Whole Foods version of Christianity.

    Every time we pass by my kids tell me how fun those churches are and why can’t we go there?.

  43. What global warming?

  44. Mad Max,

    I have yet to meet an atheist who condemns on the basis of sin. Most atheists I know are tolerant of homosexuality, drug use, pornography etc.. They might not partake, and they might think that drugs and porno are not exactly healthy, and they might even think (the bastards!) that the government has some role in keeping you sober, but they don’t condemn on the basis of knee-jerk nonsense and the views of centuries dead Rabbis.

    And they don’t subvert science based on some ancient writings by people who lived in caves.

  45. Too bad you guys have to go back the the seventeenth century to find conflicts between Catholicism and science. We only need to go back to the twentieth century to find conflict between science and secularism.

    It is true that Catholics have, as a body, cleaned up much of their act with regards to empirical research. Thanks to the Jesuits, certainly, but also to the inevitability of capitulating to the secular world. It is crazy to assert that the Church didn’t make these changes at least in part to remain relevant in the post-Enlightenment world.

    Who acknowledged the existence of differences between men and women, when certain shrill secularists said those differences were socially constructed?

    As a Catholic, do you really want to go there? The acknowledgment of obvious genetic and structural differences between men and women has been used by the church to justify, historically and to some extent today:

    Persecution of “witches”
    Subjugation of women in violent marriages
    Denial or ordination to capable and godly women
    Condemnation of contraceptives as vital tools for women

    Misogyny and the Church have a great and happy past. They get *no points* for pointing out the blindingly obvious and then using it as an excuse to hurt and subjugate women.

  46. Who bombs abortion clinics?

    Who refused to to condemn the Nazis until after the war?

    Who opposed condoms for Africa, even for the prevention of the spread of AIDS?

    Who diddles little kids in the rectory?

    This is a fun game.

    I could give a crap less about the history of secularism. I don’t belong to that gang. There’s no secular Pope I have a picture of over the dinner table. I don’t go down to the secular center to give them money and have what I already believe repeated back to me ad nauseum.

    Your vast strawman argument is very intricate in your mind. I applaud the depth of your self-delusion, but if you’re the best the Catholic Church can send here by the way of apologetics, they might as well board up their North American franchise.

  47. The scientist, he says, got what he deserved. “The Inquisition was very moderate with him. He wasn’t tortured.”

    That’s right. He wasn’t tortured. He was “just” shown the instruments of torture during his recantation.

  48. You mean like paper, moveable type, gunpowder, modern navigation, crop rotation, and all the other things that China invented while Europe was still scratching out a living in mud huts?

    Oh, *I* see, unless it’s state of the art right this instant, it’s completely worthless.

    Shem, there’s something to be said for the fact that many of those technologies were independently (re)discovered elsewhere. The distinction between the two sets of societies and their achievements centers around what they went and *did* with those technologies.

    Chinese scientists and philosophers invented the compass and gunpowder, but didn’t build fleets of ships or armies of musketeers. Other people did those things instead, and now their societies essentially rule the world…instead of China’s.

  49. That is… interesting. That illustrates what a nebulous term “evolution” is. I mean, what scientifically useful thing did he have to say if he was “wrong on the mechanism of inheritance”?

    Newtonian mechanics isn’t right either, but it is good enough and was the best explanation for mechanics at the time. It led to a lot of great discoveries and was a good foundation for future scientists to build on. Same goes with Darwin. It isn’t 100% right, but it was a step in the right direction, a good foundation for future inquiry and correct thematically.

  50. SugarFree, you’re talking to a guy who tried to spin Catholic priests raping little children as if it were “ancient Greece”, e.g., having consensual gay sex with teenagers. When you get to that point, discussion is worthless.

  51. That is… interesting. That illustrates what a nebulous term “evolution” is. I mean, what scientifically useful thing did he have to say if he was “wrong on the mechanism of inheritance”?

    He didn’t know about DNA. Same way Maxwell didn’t know about quarks.

    Darwin’s contributions were still scientifically useful, as were Maxwell’s, even though neither of them had the entire picture understood.

  52. Ele,

    The Argument from Teleology simply points out that each event begs an explanation, and so in that context the hypothesis “God exists and originally caused X” is exactly identical to “[NULL] exists and originally caused X”.

    I don’t claim to know the First Cause. They do. The burden still falls on them. Occam’s Razor alone destroys the notion of God in a evidence-free environment.

    Teleological atheism is not the belief there is no God, it’s an unwillingness to pick a point in the natural world after you throw up your hands a say “Well, I guess God did it!”

  53. Tulpa | September 15, 2008, 2:44pm | #

    If the idiocy of the corrupt Borgia papacy of 500 years ago is valid evidence against Catholicism, why aren’t the sins of atheist regimes against intellectual freedom valid evidence against atheism?

    Actually, Tulpa, I agree with you. I don’t judge the Church for whatever it did in the Middle Ages. Holding the current generation accountable for the sins of the ancestor is exactly the kind of irrational injustice that the Old Testament propagates. There’s plenty of failings the Vatican can be held to today without dragging skeletons out of closets.

  54. Shem,

    Before complaining about how others don’t understand the historical processes of invention, you should know that most of the inventions you mentioned can’t be traced to buddhism:

    Paper invented in China (earliest archeological discovery): about 120 BC; first accounts of Buddhism being transmitted to China: about 67 AD.

    Gunpowder: discovered in China in the 9th century by Taoist monks–not Buddhists.

    Crop Rotation: Early crop rotation methods were mentioned in Roman literature, and referred to by several civilizations in Asia and Africa. During the Muslim Agricultural Revolution of the Islamic Golden Age, Muslim engineers and farmers introduced a new modern rotation system where land was cropped four times or more in a two-year period.

    Source: Wikipedia.

  55. …Christianity thrives only if its adherents believe that dogmatic obedience is a non-negotiable requisite for salvation. Waiving that requirement amounts to relinquishing a monopoly on salvation.

    The point of adhereing to a religion is actually believing in it. Of course conservative Christians believe that Christianity has a monopoly on salvation. To say otherwise is contrary to their Bible and tradition. Mike Riggs statement proves that people don’t like a half-assed faith, because a half-assed faith is no faith at all.

  56. Elemenope,

    Science offers the hope of uncovering your [NULL]. Religion binds people to believe it was done by magic.

    Human beings will uncover [NULL] (in fact we have a number of competing theories) just as we discovered that world is round, it rotates around the sun, you can use microwaves to heat water, and the moon is neither a god, made of swiss cheese, or heaven.

  57. I love the contention that atheists are a big club just like Catholics or Hasidim or Sunnis. There is no set of beliefs or tenets to join atheists together, so don’t even try because it’s bullshit. It’s like saying everyone who isn’t a fan of the Harry Potter books is also one big club. It’s dumb and lazy.

  58. BakedPenguin,

    I know, I know. I’ll just let him rave from now on. Like all our trolls, I occasionally have to lash out at him for mental health reasons. When no one argues with him, he thinks that’s “winning.”

  59. If one is to accept some universal mechanism of causation…

    What is the need for a universal cause? This sounds like a circular argument to me — “If you accept that we need a god for causation…”

  60. It’s like saying everyone who isn’t a fan of the Harry Potter books is also one big club. It’s dumb and lazy.

    I love the smell of a good analogy in the morning. It smells like victory.

  61. Human beings will uncover [NULL] (in fact we have a number of competing theories) just as we discovered that world is round, it rotates around the sun, you can use microwaves to heat water, and the moon is neither a god, made of swiss cheese, or heaven.

    There is a reason I’m an Atheist, you know. I find the God hypothesis as a seriously lacking teleological antecedent to the Universe.

    However, I disagree that empirical methodology is going to reveal what’s under the [NULL] blot, if only because the competing mathematical models for explaining conditions and events *universally break down* near the moment of first occurrence. My faith as an Atheist is an insistence that the [NULL] blot is not filled with God, and since that assertion cannot be tested any more than the assertion that the first cause is a deity, I place myself on a level playing field with my religious interlocutors.

    And the notion that Atheists can claim superiority in *this* matter (of knowing, or not, first causes) really goes up my ass, because it is a weak argument and diminishes by association all the ways in which an Atheistic empirical worldview is superior to all religious competitors in elucidating truth in many other areas.

  62. I hypothesize that “a name before submitting the form” is the newest personality to emerge from Neil/ Cesar, the personality which the SSRIs are affecting.

  63. What is the need for a universal cause? This sounds like a circular argument to me — “If you accept that we need a god for causation…”

    If there is no fundamental mechanism of causation then empiricism is pointless (since empiricism functions by a posteriori elucidating the statistical connections between events to illuminate causes). By rejecting this axiom, you kill science, constructed mathematics, and everyday experience along with religion.

    Which is why pretty much everyone in the argument hews to it. Doesn’t necessarily make it true (the Universe *could* be an opaque tangle of chaotic and anomic collisions), but our phenomenal experiences seem to indicate otherwise. We observe, through science no less than every day experiences, that there is a regularity to the functioning of the Universe.

  64. “Who bombs abortion clinics?”

    The Catholic Church in your head, perhaps?

    “Who refused to to condemn the Nazis until after the war?”

    You mean, other than Pope Pius XI’s denunciation of National Socialist ideology in 1937? Or maybe by “after the war” you meant “after the war of 1812”?

    “Who opposed condoms for Africa, even for the prevention of the spread of AIDS?”

    Yes, STDs and unwanted pregnancies declined so much in the U.S. after the widespread availability of condoms.

    “Who diddles little kids in the rectory?”

    Now, *there’s* a good example of the Church “capitulating to the secular world,” which (according to Elemenope’s standards) makes their acts simply a reflection of the secular world’s standards. I happen to have a stricter evaluation of such behavior – namely, that it’s a gross betrayal of everything the Church stands for. That’s why the Church’s enemies like to play the “hypocrisy” card – because even they know that such crimes are a betrayal, not a fulfillment, of the Church’s teaching.

    BakedPenguin,

    If you check the link, you’ll find that I compared the cover-up in the sex scandals to the Watergate affair. Yes, there were victims who were younger than teenage years.

  65. Let’s go through these one by one:

    “Who bombs abortion clinics?”

    Statistically, very few people. Those that have done so were usually evangelicals rather than Catholics. Eric Rudolph professed himself to be a disciple of Nietzsche.

    “Who refused to to condemn the Nazis until after the war?”

    Not the Pope, contrary to later disinformation.

    “Who opposed condoms for Africa, even for the prevention of the spread of AIDS?”

    The Catholic Church, but it’s unlikely that the sexually promiscuous have been letting the Church’s statements on the subject influence their behavior. Who thinks, “I’ve slept with a hundred women (or men), but I listen to the Pope when he says not to use a condom?” No one.

    “Who diddles little kids in the rectory?”

    Well, actually it usually was teenagers as previously noted, although that doesn’t make it any less horrific. Of course, it wasn’t the vast majority of priests, although there is no doubt that several bishops acted shamefully.

  66. The Argument from Teleology simply points out that each event begs an explanation, and so in that context the hypothesis “God exists and originally caused X” is exactly identical to “[NULL] exists and originally caused X”.

    I don’t claim to know the First Cause. They do. The burden still falls on them. Occam’s Razor alone destroys the notion of God in a evidence-free environment.

    Occam’s razor is a heuristic, generally speaking, and otherwise mainly useful in terms of logical proofs.

    Teleological atheism is not the belief there is no God, it’s an unwillingness to pick a point in the natural world after you throw up your hands a say “Well, I guess God did it!”

    And that is a good argument for being unsure either way, which is the logical response in terms of belief.

  67. If there is no fundamental mechanism of causation then empiricism is pointless…

    What do you mean by fundamental mechanism? Different kinds of events have different kinds of causes. A photon can knock an electron away from atom. An alpha particle can break apart a nucleus. A baby crying can wake me up. There is no fundamental mechanism.

  68. All athiests worship at the altar of Jessica Alba!

  69. If there is no fundamental mechanism of causation then empiricism is pointless (since empiricism functions by a posteriori elucidating the statistical connections between events to illuminate causes). By rejecting this axiom, you kill science, constructed mathematics, and everyday experience along with religion.

    Whoa there Mr. Strawman! He didn’t say you don’t need causation, he was saying that you don’t need God for causation. Or you can go on believing that you need God to explain science.

  70. Put another way:

    The teleological argument for God’s existence does little but convince me there is something possibly worth arguing about.

    In the end, I do not think something like what we call God exists. The evidence leads me to think its unlikely, but I am far from sure that he does not. Hence, no strong belief either way.

  71. All athiests (sic) worship at the altar of Jessica Alba!

    Hi ho! Wait, what about the female atheists?

  72. “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.”

    Mr. Swift nailed it. The rest of you are jerking off. Now jerking off can be fun, but you should always realize that is only jerking off.

  73. henry: But its twice as fun when you do it with someone else!

  74. Before complaining about how others don’t understand the historical processes of invention, you should know that most of the inventions you mentioned can’t be traced to buddhism:

    And most of the inventions that people like Mad Max would point to as the triumph of Christian society can’t be traced directly to Christianity, either. Either indirect influence is good enough (in which case yes, the Christians and Buddhists did have an effect on science) or they don’t, in which case neither one has any claim. You can’t have it both ways.

    Also, you might want to actually read a book instead of depending on Wikipedia for all your information needs. Just to point out the biggest error you made; Daoism and Buddhism were intimately linked from the time that the two came in contact with each other, and without Buddhism, the Daoists would likely have remained solitary practitioners to an even greater degree than they already were, ensuring that their studies of chemistry were never promulgated enough to develop a topical analgesic, let alone gunpowder. Context is the name of the game, and it’s not something Wikipeia has in great supply.

  75. Bingo,

    Depends who the someone else is. Here we have a circle jerk–not my cup of jizz.

  76. And that is a good argument for being unsure either way, which is the logical response in terms of belief.

    Why “either way?” Wouldn’t there be infinite possible causes (sentient or otherwise) to put in place of [NULL]? Why give God, Yaweh extra weight here?

  77. SugarFree,

    The RCC has become a less divisive force since the end of the “wars of religion,” but that’s in major part because it has lost a great deal of secular authority. As a corporate body it is simply not as powerful as it used to be, and that is a good thing IMHO.

  78. Epi:

    Well we can’t be sexist, females are allowed to worship The Great Alba too!

  79. Whoa there Mr. Strawman! He didn’t say you don’t need causation, he was saying that you don’t need God for causation. Or you can go on believing that you need God to explain science.

    It was a response to a strawman in turn. He framed my argument as saying:

    “God makes empiricism possible. Empiricism requires explanations for effects. Chains of cause/effect must terminate. The termination point is God.”

    That would be circular. It would also be *nothing like what I said*.

    What I actually said was:

    “Empiricism requires explanations for effects. Chains of cause/effect must terminate. All hypotheses about the nature of the termination point are epistemologically equal.”

    Which is not actually an *argument* at all. It is a meta-observation about the relative epistemological warrant of two positions (Theism and Atheism) given the Argument from Teleology.

    In other words, except in the case of actual teleological agnosticism (what Sugarless referred to as teleological atheism above), competing hypotheses for what lies in the set of the origination point of all causes are all on a level playing field.

    That’s all I was saying.

  80. Well, actually it usually was teenagers as previously noted

    Well, it was only a few little kids that got raped…

    Which is still bullshit; $2 billion since the 1950s hasn’t been paid out because of a few inappropriately timed May-December relationships. Wikipedia has a nicely-sourced litany of child rape.

    Repeating a lie over and over never gives it the blush of truth.

  81. shem,

    But, the facts reported by Wikipedia are correct. Three of the developments you cited as being traceable to buddhists either pre-existed buddhists or were not invented by them. At best, one was invented by a religion “influenced” by buddhism.

    You respond by arguing against the source, and a straw dog/tu quoque argument about Mad Max. Is that what you call context?

    Just admit you got it wrong.

  82. Yes, but I specifically said something like we call God. I am not contrasting a particular deity with nothing, but rather something with nothing.

    It seems irrational to be sure either way. It is not, however, irrational to live as an atheist.

  83. females are allowed to worship The Great Alba too!

    Especially if I get to watch.

  84. Mr. Swift nailed it. The rest of you are jerking off. Now jerking off can be fun, but you should always realize that is only jerking off.

    Jessica Alba?

  85. Well we can’t be sexist, females are allowed to worship The Great Alba too!

    Finally, true equality for women!

  86. Seward,

    I’m a non-denominational critic. The RCC just happened to be on the plate today.

  87. (The previous comment was a response to Soda)
    “And that is a good argument for being unsure either way, which is the logical response in terms of belief.”

    Why “either way?” Wouldn’t there be infinite possible causes (sentient or otherwise) to put in place of [NULL]? Why give God, Yaweh extra weight here?

    Yes, but I specifically said something like we call God. I am not contrasting a particular deity with nothing, but rather something with nothing.

    It seems irrational to be sure either way. It is not, however, irrational to live as an atheist (despite some arguments to the contrary)

  88. …it looks like the secular humanists are finally getting their wish.

  89. “Subjugation of women in violent marriages”

    (for example, here) expressly allows separation in case of “grave mental or physical danger.” The Council of Trent actually anathematized anyone who denies the Church’s power to grant separations.

    “Denial or ordination to capable and godly women”

    If you want to be ordained in the Church, you presumably believe that the Church’s doctrines are true. If you think the Church is repressive and wicked, why would you *want* to be ordained?

    “Condemnation of contraceptives as vital tools for women”

    What a brave new world artificial contraception led to! I’ve already debated the subject on another thread.

  90. Why “either way?” Wouldn’t there be infinite possible causes (sentient or otherwise) to put in place of [NULL]? Why give God, Yaweh extra weight here?

    Yes there would, which is why *any* specific hypothesis attempting to identify the nature of the [NULL] blot would be inherently weaker than the entirety of the remaining set.

    My only point was that two competing specific hypotheses (it is YHWH who is under the blot; there is nothing under the blot) are equivalent. From each proceeds a set of positive statements, of equal epistemological warrant.

  91. SugarFree,

    Well, I don’t think that the RCC has been any worse or better historically than other long-lasting corporate bodies have been. It isn’t religious belief that is necessarily problematic in other words.

  92. That first link was to the Latin Church’s Code of Canon Law, Canon 1153, which allows separation in cases of abuse (and in other cases).

  93. What a brave new world artificial contraception led to!

    Yes, fun casual sex is terrible. Max, you need to lighten up. Remember that time I found you naked with that bowl of Jello?

  94. “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.”

    Henry, this may shock you, but some of us are actually trying to understand. I am unfamiliar (or have forgotten, college was a long time ago) with lmnop’s teleological argument. So far it isn’t making sense to me, but that could be lack of information or intelligence on my part.

  95. Elemenope,

    “‘God exists and originally caused X’ is exactly identical to ‘[NULL] exists and originally caused X’.”

    Atheism, which is the same thing as skepticism when applied to the god question, allows for “I don’t know” to be a valid answer when, in fact, one does not know the cause of something. That does not lead to your conclusion, which, I think, is that agnosticism is more logical than atheism.

    We do, in fact, know what caused everything up to a fraction of a millisecond after the Big Bang. The gap in which humans insert God as an explanation has grown literally that small. Atheist aren’t inserting [Null] in place of God, they are leaving the question open until science figures it out. We feel safe in ruling out a deity given the evidence available. That is, it is almost certainly not a deity that caused X, but some other thing. A deity is certainly of nonzero complexity, so a deity’s cause would need to be explained as well. The baffling realities of quantum physics require more than the logic developed in ancient Greece, and understanding the universe requires more than the teleologies of religion.

    You’re right that [Null] would have to be explained, but you fail to mention that God has yet to be explained in the thousands of years people have been trying to do so. The cause of the universe is as yet unknown; atheism is simply a word given to those who reject the illogic of believing in specific assertions for which there is no evidence. “I don’t know what caused the universe (yet)” is not a specific assertion, and agnosticism simply places a deity unfairly above other unevidenced explanations.

  96. It isn’t religious belief that is necessarily problematic in other words.

    But it’s merits over atheism is being touted, so you can’t leave religion out.

  97. Mad Max,

    That first link was to the Latin Church’s Code of Canon Law, Canon 1153, which allows separation in cases of abuse (and in other cases).

    Well, as long as that in no way concerns those who don’t want to belong to the RCC I’ve got no problem with it.

  98. The teleological argument is, simply put, the argument whereby the universe, or some subset of it, seems like something designed, so we assume there must be a designer.

    A related argument, the cosmological argument, basically follows the idea that either the universe has no beginning, or there is some First Cause (the First Cause being God – because natural principles that could start the universe from nothing would also have to come from somewhere).

    I think alot of what is being called teleological (by me >.

  99. SugarFree,

    Given that there are perfectly “happy” atheists and perfectly “happy” (what that term means depends on a lot of factors) theists I suspect that different people have varying needs re: a belief in God.

  100. Tony,

    I think there is a disagreement. Maybe my definitions are way off, but I always thought of atheists as being the more affirmative “definitely no God”, and agnostics as being more “maybe God”.

    If atheists just think God is unlikely, I would be an atheist. If they argue that he does not exist, I would not be. I imagine both types fall under atheism, then.

  101. I am pretty sure that while there are some believers that call themselves agnostic, agnosticism is pretty firmly in the “I don’t know camp.” I don’t see how that is placing the deity unfairly high in the list of possibilities.

  102. stuartl,

    Let me take a crack. Elemenope forgets not everyone wasted four years of their life on a philosophy minor…

    Events have a cause. The flow of time in our perception dictates that the cause comes before the effect. Therefore, if all effects have a cause, that was in turn the effect of a previous cause, then if you work all the way back to the beginning of the universe (assuming the universe is not eternal) then there must have been a First Cause.

    Imagine the universe is a really long and complicated game of pool, and all the balls crashing into each other and dropping into pockets for billions of years was the result of a single stroke by a pool cue.

    Cosmology is asking: Who or what wields the pool cue?

    Teleology is asking: Did he make his shot? (are the balls falling randomly or not?)

  103. Thanks for the link. I like the Dawkins definition, probably because it is close to my own. I like having wide-open middle terms and closely defined final terms, so agnostic as anyone unsure works well for me, and reserving atheism for strong atheism does as well.

    Probably how I like libertarian for constitutionalists to minarchists and anarchists, instead of just pure minarchists (and/or anarchists).

  104. stuartl,

    “Logical” proofs of God’s existence have been a dead letter since Kant (a Christian, by the way), except among types who appear to have walked out of Monty Python’s Argument Clinic sketch. So, if you are interested in them as a matter of intellectual history, great, learn away. If, on the other hand, you are expecting some enlightenment (bad pun), you are 300 years too late.

  105. Nothing enjoyable is a waste, sugarfree. Pretty much all metaphysics and epistemology classes are fun enough to be worthwhile.

  106. “””Mike Riggs statement proves that people don’t like a half-assed faith, because a half-assed faith is no faith at all.”””

    Religion has been half-assed for most people for a long time. When you don’t like the doctrines, water them down to what you like, and spin off a lighter version. People like the ligher version better.

  107. Mad Max —

    Separation is not divorce; those so burdened may not remarry. And, the cause for separation must be adjudged by the ecclesiastical authorities…who are all men.

    On the subject of ordination, many faithful people can still believe that the church errs in temporal doctrine. It wasn’t always so that priests could not marry, and it wasn’t always so that women could not teach with authority. The church has changed its mind on earthly matters time and again; to believe that the church currently errs on one such matter is not sufficient cause to assume no affection for the Church or absence of profoundly held belief. There are gay Catholics, to be sure, just as there are those who believe that women should be ordained or that priests should be allowed to engage in the sacrament of marriage.

    Contraceptives are a mixed bag, I will readily agree, but for sure their existence advantages women over men in the sense that it gives women more control over the timing and manner in which they may become pregnant.

    And I noticed you didn’t even touch the Church’s history of overt misogyny in the form of torture and murder under the cover of purging “witchcraft”. So much the better, for there is really no excuse one could offer for it.

  108. “””Mike Riggs statement proves that people don’t like a half-assed faith, because a half-assed faith is no faith at all.”””

    Revelation 3:16:

    “So then because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.”

  109. libertarian democrat,

    It’s really a semantic question, but agnosticism, to me, is akin to saying “there is no evidence for a deity, therefore I withhold judgment on whether there is a deity.” This seems fallacious to me. No one is agnostic with respect to any other assertion for which there is no evidence (either an irrational person plainly believes in unicorns or a person says “there are no unicorns” until someone provides evidence for them). Agnosticism gives undue merit to deities simply because many people happen to believe in them.

  110. “Separation is not divorce; those so burdened may not remarry. And, the cause for separation must be adjudged by the ecclesiastical authorities…who are all men.”

    I was discussing the problem of “violent marriages” (and, by the way, prior approval for the separation is not needed if there is danger from delay). The Church doesn’t say spouses have to hang around and get beaten up.

  111. I am a “strong Atheist”: I do not believe that there is a god, nor that there are gods.

    Dawkins often tells believers that he is an atheist towards their god in the same fashion that they are atheist towards Thor. I have a greater affinity to Thor than to Yaweh yet I do not believe in either of them.

    And this notion that there is cause and effect at all times is held only by those who believe that time itself exists as we perceive it, that nothing could have existed before it, and that it is not conceivable that this universe was created from another or from some other natural process that we have yet to prove happened.

  112. It would seem that the more a Christian denomination encourages intellectual freedom-or doubt, as the believers call it-the less able it is to sustain or grow membership. Why can’t Anglicans be more like Jews and Bhuddists, intellectual stars in a contemporary religious dark age? Because Christianity thrives only if its adherents believe that dogmatic obedience is a non-negotiable requisite for salvation. Waiving that requirement amounts to relinquishing a monopoly on salvation.

    The Roman Catholic Church has a centuries old tradition of formalized doubt. The main form of it is Apologetics. The unexamined faith is a shallow faith. Yet Roman Catholics comprise the largest single Christian denomination.

    Which Christian churches are vibrant and growing? The ones with “contemporary” services rather than dull somber Matheresque affairs.

    But religions are still beliefs. It is not strange in the least that people would seek out those churches with strong firm beliefs rather than wishy-washy whatever congregrations. Judaism is different, because it is an mainly an ethnic religion. Bhuddism is different because moderation is one of its core beliefs. But ambivalent Christianity attracts no one.

    Oh, and “dogmatic obedience” is not a requirement for salvation. Christianity is quite clear on this.

  113. I love the contention that atheists are a big club just like Catholics or Hasidim or Sunnis. There is no set of beliefs or tenets to join atheists together, so don’t even try because it’s bullshit. It’s like saying everyone who isn’t a fan of the Harry Potter books is also one big club. It’s dumb and lazy.

    I think I understand what you are saying. The American atheist who lives quietly and votes libertarian and donates his time and money to charity is nothing like a Mao Ze-Dong, just because neither one happens to hold a belief in God. Just as I don’t think I have anything crucial in common with Mao Ze-Dong just because neither of us believes in Zeus. The point is that what they hold in common is a negative, a nothing. Therefore they have nothing in common.

    At the same time, though, I have a hard time completely wrapping my head around the idea of, “Atheists have nothing in common with other atheists, aside from the fact that they are atheists — and really, not even that.”

    Do atheists ever tend to have anything in common other than simple lack of belief in a god? Do they tend to share any common assumptions, beliefs, expectations, goals? I know of groups of atheists that regularly meet, and have discussions, and it is their atheism that draws them together as a common topic. So what do they talk about? Nothingness?

    This is complicated. Maybe there is more going on here than stupidity and laziness.

  114. I have a greater affinity to Thor than to Yaweh yet I do not believe in either of them.

    Fuck yeah, man, no one writes bitchin’ songs about Yaweh.

    Do atheists ever tend to have anything in common other than simple lack of belief in a god?

    No. Nothing. Not one single goddamned thing.

  115. From an strict, intellectual standpoint we’re all Agnostic. We don’t have any other choice. However, being an Agnostic, and being an Atheist are not mutually exclusive positions.

    In the modern, popular sense, “Agnosticism” has become to mean, “I’m not sure” to many people, which is really just another level of faith.

    Believing in any kind of supernatural being, in this day and age, should be considered absolutely absurd, but alas, belief in the supernatural seems to be an inherent coping mechanism for many people.

    I suspect that it’s a nagging evolutionary side effect, but the evidence will likely never materialize to a satisfying degree.

  116. Brandybuck —

    I agree with mot of your argument. And it is true that Catholicism is both large and more tolerant of critical examination of faith than some other denominations. They, however, are losing ground to those denominations (look at the relative growth statistics).

    However, confession of the faith in Christianity does include obedience to a handful of doctrines, including:

    God exists.
    God is either the inspiration for or the direct author of holy text.
    Jesus is the Son of God.

    It can be examined faith; I surely agree that without thought any statement is empty. But the above statements do still seem to be minimal requirements: Christianity is fairly clear on *that*.

  117. Oh gosh. You know, I’m not much on speeches, but, it’s so gratifying to leave you wallowing in the mess you’ve made. You’re screwed, thank you, bye.

  118. At the same time, though, I have a hard time completely wrapping my head around the idea of, “Atheists have nothing in common with other atheists, aside from the fact that they are atheists — and really, not even that.”

    I don’t think that it’s about “having nothing in common,” and I surely don’t argue that. What Epi and I and few others are getting at is that no collective guilt can be place on atheists because we are not a collective. We don’t have a church, a hierarchy, a Pope, or a formalized list of tenets. No one speaks for me; no one dictates or guides my actions or beliefs. There is no central text, no dogma, no banner to rally under, and no central authority to appeal to.

    Atheists are spiritual anarchists; those trapped in a hierarchy cannot conceive of how we live, and therefore cannot meet us with useful arguments. It’s the equivalent of someone trying to “logically” argue me into a lobotomy; or argue a freed slave back into chains.

  119. It’s the equivalent of someone trying to…argue a freed slave back into chains.

    Turns out this one isn’t as hard as it sounds.

    But otherwise, I think your analysis there is spot-on. It’s like nations trying to fight terrorists. Nations are easy to hit because they are large, and ordered, and organized. Terrorists are far less so, and so striking back at them is infinitely more complex, difficult, and fraught with peril.

  120. SugarFree –

    Thanks for an intelligent and honest response.

    I think, though, that some theists infer some common threads among atheists because, for example, some atheists go beyond expressing mere unbelief. Some express what seems to be a downright hatred for religion and religions, and wish they’d just go away, or say they look forward to the eventual and inevitable extinction of religion. And then said theists read about some dictator, also known to be an atheist, executing Catholic priests for Bible-smuggling, or rounding up Buddhist monks and putting them into “re-education” camps, etc.

    Some people are not just atheist but anti-theist, in other words. It’s the anti-theists who gain political power who are the scary, potentially dangerous ones. And sometimes it’s hard to draw the line between mere atheists and anti-theists. Sometimes even in the threads at H&R. (Although not this, I don’t think. This one is actually a lot more calm and gentle than most.)

    Formal collective or not, though, the expression of shared ideas — even if they aren’t central to unbelief — doesn’t go unnoticed.

  121. I didn’t quite connect all the dots in that last post because I got interrupted and have to leave for a bit. Didn’t come off as quite fair.

    But can you see how “atheism” can sometimes be seen as a big, scary, potentially threatening “movement” to some, even if the vast majority of individual atheists are in fact a mild scattered minority of disconnected independents?

  122. Cool Cal:

    I have previously on these comments pages provided evidence of Buddhist atrocities and persecution at the hands of the beloved Dalai Lama of a sect of adherents who refused to cease their worship of another deity.

    You’re a fucking idiot. No amount of repetition will make the events you described come any closer to “atrocities and persecution” just because you keep repeating those terms. Get over it. Hate Buddhists, if you want, but stop trying to shoehorn the expulsion of a handful of non-believers from a Buddhist temple into some kind of political purge. It wasn’t, and won’t be.

  123. Getting atheists together is somewhat like herding cats. Disbelief only ends up being important to us because there are so few of us we feel like singular pebbles in an endless ocean of faith. Quite frankly, most atheist meetups I’ve attended usually end up on topics completely divorced from faith. The libertarians start bickering with the socialists and the Objectivists look down their noses at everyone else. The “not Harry Potter fans” analogy is a very good one.

  124. lmnop,

    You don’t need causality for a ordered universe. The assumption that each instant constructs the subsequent instant is widely adhered to, but probably wrong. If you were to take all the instants and run them in reverse, you’d get just as sensible a universe, only certain rules would be inverted (ex the entropy of a closed system would decrease rather than increase). You can just as easily say the future causes the past as the past the future. The only necessary assumption is that the structure of the universe is determine by what is consistent with a set of rules.

  125. MattXIV —

    I wasn’t primarily talking about temporal causation, but rather about hierarchical causation.

    Hierarchical causation is the chain that traces that by which a thing requires in order to exist. For example, a human exist because (among other hierarchical causes), there is air to breathe. Atmosphere is a hierarchical cause of humans. The atmosphere in turn exists because of the Earth’s gravitation. Gravity exists because of certain properties of space-time as they interact with masses, and so forth.

    Unlike temporal causality, hierarchical causality does not yield a sensible result in reverse, nor can it fail to terminate.

  126. LMNOP:
    Chains of cause/effect must terminate.

    This is only true in the case of a universe whose existence doesn’t extend backward past some beginning point. Certainly a universe can be envisioned in which there is no definite starting point, but rather one that say, goes through cycles of expansion and contraction, or perhaps a multiverse in which new universes grow from preexisting ones like buds. In either such case, it’s pretty easy to imagine the universe allowing an infinite string of causes rather than a first cause.

  127. Someone Who Doesn’t Want to Lose His Job

    You failed to read and/or understand my comment @ 6:29pm. Hierarchical causation is not defeated in its necessary termination by an infinite temporal period.

    Think of it like a house, with the support beams being a hierarchical cause of the roof, and the foundation being a hierarchical cause of the support beams, and the bedrock/ground being a hierarchical cause of the foundation.

    Aristotle approximated the idea with his “efficient cause”. This is the notion of cause that Aquinas was using when he formulated the Cosmological Argument.

    It is not meant, generally, a literal temporal regression of events back to a first moment. (Sadly the Cosmological argument is often misstated thus). It is meant in the sense that of that which exists, there must be a finite number of causes which maintain its existence.

  128. “But can you see how “atheism” can sometimes be seen as a big, scary, potentially threatening “movement” to some, even if the vast majority of individual atheists are in fact a mild scattered minority of disconnected independents?”

    Certainly, but I also believe that many believers in God are afraid of Atheists, period, since it’s a position that goes well beyond the usual human frailties that lead often lead to “sin.” If you catch a God fearing sinner when they’re vulnerable, then you can usually get them to repent with talk of fire and brimstone. With Atheists, no such go.

    In fact, the whole anti-academia trend on the Right seems rooted in the intellectual opposition to Christianity. Certainly, the wide support for Communism within Academia didn’t help, but again, I think that also had a lot to do with the perception of Communist regimes as nothing more than a roving band of Atheist fundies.

    When it comes to analyzing Libertarian politics, follow the money.

    When it comes to analyzing Right Wing politics, follow the cross.

    When it comes to analyzing Left Wing politics, follow the good intentions, and stay on you’re right until you see the exit for Hell.

  129. Stevo,

    It was touched on the other day, but I think I’m starting to understand a formalized description of intellectual aggression. In the other words, just like physical aggression can be morally met with a physical response, aggressive disagreement to the point of denouncement is acceptable in a situation where ideas are met with derision and law-making. Intellectual pacifists are content to be aggressed against, but there is no obligation to be an intellectual pacifist.

    Religion is clearly the aggressor in this situation. It actively seeks to convert or contain individuals who do not agree with its principles. But religious individuals (not all, of course) have somehow convinced themselves and some fellow travelers that they are victims in this new situation (i.e. atheism no longer has to be The UnBelief That Dare Not Speak Its Name.)

    As I’ve said here before: Not being able to tell people what to do anymore is not a form of oppression. I do not and will not weep for the jailer who no longer has any prisoners. If the religiously inclined don’t like the flamethrowing “anti-theist,” maybe they should stop smacking him in the face every time they walk by. He’s probably tired of having to defend himself constantly, anyway.

  130. I’m sorry, but you guys sound like a bunch of Elites.

    I am most certainly not renewing my subscription.

  131. Sugarless @ 7:25,

    That’s a truly excellent way to put it.

    A form of intellectual armistice could be achieved if a base line of mutual respect formed the framework of the interaction. For certain I have never found any one particular group or class of religious belief to entirely preclude rational discourse, even over sensitive topics. It depends upon the attitude and intentions of those engaged in the discourse.

    If the intent is to dominate or control the thoughts of the other, or to tear down the value of the others’ beliefs, then there’s your mental aggression. If the intent is to expand understanding and establish mutually commensurate vocabularies of discourse, then such violence can be avoided.

    The major problem with oppression and violence in this abstract way is that the oppressors often are not even aware that they are doing violence to the other; they cannot conceive of why the other is offended, and have no frame of reference to understand how they feel about the issue at hand. Overcoming this lack of empathy is the most important step to ending the cycle of theist/anti-theist sniping.

  132. You failed to read and/or understand my comment @ 6:29pm.

    Failure to read. Reading now…

    It is meant in the sense that of that which exists, there must be a finite number of causes which maintain its existence.

    I’m not quite sure I get why there can’t be an infinite number of hierarchical causes just as there could be an infinite number of temporal causes. At the very least, a requirement that there only be finitely many hierarchical causes for a later event seems non-obvious and thus would require a good bit of backing. Let me try to think of a counterexample and get back to you. (Admittedly a counterexample might not be easy (or maybe even possible) to construct, but it’s what I get paid for so I should at least try.)

  133. SWDWtLHJ —

    Google “infinite regress of efficient causes” (without the quotes).

    The first five or six results are pretty good.

  134. I just got this typed in. I may be still misinterpreting your hierarchical cause definition but I think this fits, though it may leave something to be desired as far as readability (or intuitive oomph) goes:

    The theory of numbers, i.e. the full list of properties of the integers cannot be generated by any finite list of axioms from some finite list of symbols. In any system of axioms powerful enough to generate arithmetic to the extent that properties of the whole numbers can be discussed, one can never enumerate a finite list of generating axioms. The axioms are all necessarily independent of one another and in order to generate mathematics (the effect), no finite list of these axioms (causes) will suffice. This from Godel’s “On formally undecidable propositions of Principia Mathematica and related systems.” A nice proof is Hofstadter’s in Godel Escher Bach.

    I’ll try to come up with a nicer example than Godel’s work if possible.

  135. SWDWtLHJ —

    All that Godel is showing is that the list of possible objects creatable by the axiomatic system is not enumerable, and that there is no way to conclusively test whether any given construct is decidable within the set of axioms.

    The problem of generalizing Godel’s two theorems to the physical world is that by logical exclusion, if a phenomenal object exists, by that very virtue there is demanded hierarchical causes which derive from those that generate reality generally.

    Godel’s theorems would only be a serious challenge to the account of finite efficient causes if mathematical objects are real objects (Mathematical Platonism). I think there are some very good reasons to believe that mathematical objects are not real in the Platonic sense.

  136. When it comes to atheists having formal groups, I would note that it was only in recent times that it wasn’t incredibly dangerous to be labelled an atheist.

  137. LMNOP:

    All that Godel is showing is that the list of possible objects creatable by the axiomatic system is not enumerable, and that there is no way to conclusively test whether any given construct is decidable within the set of axioms.

    Not exactly. It isn’t the objects creatable within the system that Hilbert and Russell and so on (later to include Godel) were concerned with, but the axioms required to create the system itself. Their goal was to come up with a simple, enumerable list of axioms (not results) that would generate mathematics. This is what Godel showed was impossible. Any finite, humanly constructable list of axioms and symbols cannot generate all of mathematics (and in fact we aren’t helped if we allow the list to be infinite but still enumerable). Any such list leaves undecidable “holes”. If one wishes to have some finite list of causes (axioms) for our effect (mathematics), Godel’s work shows us that this is impossible.

    The problem of generalizing Godel’s two theorems to the physical world is that by logical exclusion, if a phenomenal object exists, by that very virtue there is demanded hierarchical causes which derive from those that generate reality generally.

    Also, it’s important to note that I am not attempting to generalize Godel’s theorem to the actual physical world. I am merely granting you a counterexample, within the mathematical world, to your claim that every effect or end result (in this case mathematics) must have no more than finitely many hierarchical causes (in this case axioms). Axioms would certainly, I think, be viewed as hierarchical causes of mathematics, and Godel’s theorem shows that we don’t get the whole of mathematics with only finitely many axioms. If non-physical counterexamples are not satisfactory to you, then this one certainly wouldn’t be, thought it at least shows that in some non-physical realms there are effects with no finite list of causes – houses with no finite number of support beams.

    Godel’s theorems would only be a serious challenge to the account of finite efficient causes if mathematical objects are real objects (Mathematical Platonism). I think there are some very good reasons to believe that mathematical objects are not real in the Platonic sense.

    Since however you aren’t interested in a counterexample from the mathematical world, I have to grant that enumerating an infinite list of causes for some physical phenomenon won’t really be possible. However, I’m still not quite sure I understand why you claim it is so obvious that any effect (even in the physical realm) only admits at most finitely many hierarchical causes.

    I’m not saying that this is necessarily untrue, just that it is non-obvious. If I can find counterexamples in realms such as mathematics, I am not sure what precludes the possibility of counterexamples in the physical world.

    Anyway, I have to grade. I will try to remember to check this tomorrow in case the thread isn’t dead and you answer.

  138. Forgive me for babbling, it’s very late. 🙂
    ————

    It’s not that I am uninterested in the mathematical counter-example, it is merely that I think that constructed grammars are off-point when dealing with physical reality.

    But even if they weren’t, I don’t think the result of Godel’s theorems actually has the implication as regards to the problem at hand that you think it does. Re-frame in this way: for any given mathematical object, there exists some set of axioms which define its behavior. It may be true that the entire set of mathematical objects cannot be defined by any enumerable set of axioms, but severally, each mathematical object is well-defined by some set of axioms. The impossibility theorems show only that there exists for any given enumerable set of axioms some object not decidable by them.

    In this frame, consider the set of all sets of enumerable axioms (which, I know, is not a well-formed set; indulge me). For any given mathematical object, we can be certain that its axiomatic hierarchical description lands somewhere in the domain of that set of sets. We simply can’t enumerate the members of the superset as such, only severally as each discrete set of axioms. Thus we can never construct a set of axioms that will explicate the grammar of all mathematics, but that does not exclude the observation that all mathematical objects have a hierarchical causal termination somewhere in the domain of the superset.

    That is, to borrow from the Godel Escher Bach every well-formed string generated by a grammar falls into four categories; theorems, negations of theorems, undecidable true statements, and undecidable false statements. The orientation of those four categories to the whole set of well-formed strings depends only on the specific axioms of the grammar. Godel showed decisively that the superset of all possible axiomatic orientations is not constructable, *not* (given Mathematical Platonism) that it doesn’t *exist*. I don’t think it is unreasonable to posit that for each grammatical string severally there exists a set of axioms in which that string is a theorem or a negative theorem, and such a result is not excluded (so far as I can tell) by Godel’s findings.

  139. No problem with babbling. I am bleary eyed and sick of grading papers myself.

    OK: As I understand, you are saying here that “mathematics” or “number theory” or “arithmetic” is too large an object to be viewed as a single phenomenon or result or effect (or whatever we want to call it) for your purposes. I suppose that that may be reasonable. And certainly, if we do limit the mathematical objects that you would view as effects to single statements, rather than fields, then yes, any given mathematical statement can be produced by some given (and finite) system of axioms. This system would not always be the same system of axioms, and in the most trivial case, the statement itself (or some equivalent statement) could be used as the axiom, so this might not be very interesting mathematically. However, if something as large as “mathematics” is too large to be workable as a result in this view then certainly Godel’s theorem doesn’t apply here.

    I guess I am not sure why we’d limit our view to exclude such things as “number theory” or “arithmetic” from those for which we might be concerned about the causes. Given that limitation, though, you are certainly correct, and I think that pretty much explains our differences. I was looking at “mathematics as a whole” as the object I wanted to explain by causes while you are rather only concerned with explaining the causes of single mathematical statements.

    Also, though you are correct that Godel did not show that the superset of axioms doesn’t exist (in fact if we are vague enough, we can describe them), it is clear that this superset is not finite. Again, though, this winds up being irrelevant once we take such things as “mathematics” off the table in our considerations and limit ourselves as you suggest to particular individual mathematical objects.

  140. SugarFree | September 15, 2008, 5:21pm | #

    …What Epi and I and few others are getting at is that no collective guilt can be place on atheists because we are not a collective…

    If I choose to view you collectively, then you’re a collective. The question is, is the understanding of anything improved by this stance?

    I think the point of the Communism examples isn’t that all atheists are Communist, but to suggest that atheism might be a necessary, if not a sufficient cause, of the belief that human nature can and should be reconstructed by societal planners. And it is this second belief that leads to murder on the grandest possible scale.

    Someone Who Doesn’t Want to Lose His Job
    &
    Elemenope,

    I think all the fascinating speculations about whether or not an infinite series of causes could happen is totally beside the point. The Big Bang cosmogony tells us that it didn’t happen.

  141. I think all the fascinating speculations about whether or not an infinite series of causes could happen is totally beside the point. The Big Bang cosmogony tells us that it didn’t happen.

    Except, just because we cannot be sure what existed prior to the big bang does not mean nothing existed.

  142. The Big Bang cosmogony tells us that it didn’t happen.

    Depends on some as-yet unresolved questions of curvature of spacetime. Big bang-big crunch cycles are still possibilities.

  143. Is this mic still on?

    Except, just because we cannot be sure what existed prior to the big bang does not mean nothing existed.

    I agree. It seems to me that whatever existed before the beginning of space and time wouldn’t have been nothingness, but a timeless, spaceless something, that had the power to cause the Big Bang.

    Who does that remind you of?

  144. Nick M wrote:
    I agree. It seems to me that whatever existed before the beginning of space and time wouldn’t have been nothingness, but a timeless, spaceless something, that had the power to cause the Big Bang.

    Who does that remind you of?

    Before the beginning of time? Sounds contradictory. And who does that remind you of?

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