Saturday, July 24, 2010

Allah knows best

Catholic apologists regard evangelical ethics as hopelessly defective because it fails to give the kind of detailed guidance that Catholic casuistry and Catholic moral theology allegedly offers. Sola Scriptura leaves too many questions unanswered.

There are different ways of assessing this objection. One way of judging whether or not evangelical ethics is deficient in that respect is to compare it with another religious tradition which is nothing if not generous in dishing out “authoritative” advice on just about every conceivable contingency, then contrast that with the providential freedom we enjoy in matters where Scripture is silent.

It is permissible to sleep on one’s left side

The Prophet SAWS (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) used to sleep on his right side, putting his right hand on his right cheek, and this is what the Prophet SAWS (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) recommended others to do.

This indicates that sleeping on one’s right side is Sunnah, and if a person does that to follow the example of the Prophet SAWS (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), he will be rewarded for that. Sleeping on one’s left side is permitted, but one misses out on the reward for following the Sunnah. And Allaah knows best.

The reason why it is forbidden to sleep on one’s belly

The reason for this is that it was forbidden by the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), who left no good thing but he told us about it and left no evil thing but he warned us against it. Ya’eesh ibn Tihfah al-Ghifaari reported that his father said: “I stayed as a guest with the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) with those of the poor whom he hosted. The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) came out in the night to check up on his guests, and saw me lying on my stomach. He prodded me with his foot and said, ‘Do not lie in this manner, for it is a way of lying that Allaah hates.’” According to another report, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) prodded him with his foot and woke him up, and said, “Do not lie like this, for this is how the people of Hell lie.” (Reported by Ahmad, al-Fath al-Rabbaani, 14/244-245; by al-Tirmidhi, no. 2798, Shaakir edn.; and by Abu Dawood, al-Sunan, Kitaab al-Adab, no. 5040, al-Da’aas edn. Also reported in Saheeh al-Jaami’, 2270-2271)

This is a general prohibition that applies to both males and females, because the basic principle is that rulings apply to both sexes, except in cases where it is indicated that there is a differentiation between the two. And Allaah knows best.

Is there any prohibition on sleeping without clothes on, even if one is with one’s wife?

The ‘awrah must be covered in all circumstances except when necessary, such as when bathing, having intercourse, relieving oneself, etc. But when there is no reason, the ‘awrah must be covered, because of the report narrated by Bahz ibn Hakeem from his father, from his grandfather, who said: “O Messenger of Allaah, what should we do about our ‘awrahs?” He said, “Guard you ‘awrah except from your wives and those whom your right hand possesses (concubines).”

Based on the above, it is not permissible for you to sleep with no clothes on that would cover your ‘awrah, whether you are sleeping with or without your wife. Rather it is permissible for you to uncover your ‘awrah only at times of necessity. And Allaah knows best.


Keeping dogs inside the house without any necessity merely as pets was forbidden by the Prophet (saws)... It is nothing other than a revelation sent down. (53:3-4).

Etiquette of sneezing

If a person sneezes whilst he is praying, it is prescribed for him to say al-hamdu Lillaah, may He be glorified, whether the prayer is obligatory or naafil. This is the view of the majority of scholars among the Sahaabah and Taabi’een, and it was also the view of Imam Maalik, al-Shaafa’i and Ahmad, but they differed as to whether he should say it silently or out loud. The correct view and the view of Imam Ahmad is that he should say it out loud, but only loud enough that he can hear himself, lest he distract other worshippers. That is indicated by the general meaning of the report narrated by Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him), that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “If one of you sneezes, let him say ‘Al-hamdu Lillaah’…” The hadeeth was narrated by al-Bukhaari. That is also supported by the report narrated by Rifaa’ah ibn Raafi’ (may Allaah be pleased with him) who said: I prayed behind the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and I sneezed and said: Praise be to Allaah, much good and blessed praise, as our Lord loves and is pleased with. When the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) had finished praying he said: “Who is the one who spoke during the prayer?” and no one said anything. Then he said it a second time, “Who is the one who spoke during the prayer?” and no one said anything. Then he said it a third time, “Who is the one who spoke during the prayer?” and Rifaa’ah ibn Raafi’ said: It was me, O Messenger of Allaah. He said: “What did you say?” He said: I said: Praise be to Allaah, much good and blessed praise, as our Lord loves and is pleased with. The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “By the One in Whose hand is my soul, thirty-odd angels competed to see which of them would take it up.” Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, Abu Dawood and al-Nasaa’i. Al-Tirmidhi said: a hasan hadeeth. Al-Haafiz narrated in al-Tahdheeb from al-Tirmidhi that it is saheeh. It was also narrated by al-Bukhaari in his Saheeh but he did not mention that he said that after sneezing, rather he said it after rising from bowing. It may be that he sneezed whilst rising from bowing and he said that because he sneezed, and the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) approved of that and did not rebuke him for it.

Standing Committee for Academic Research and Issuing Fatwas.

Is it Sunnah to shake hands with only the right hands?

Most of the scholars are of the view that shaking hands with one hand is the Sunnah, and this is the usual custom among the Muslims and the Sahaabah (may Allaah be pleased with them)...As for the view of some Hanafi and Maaliki fuqaha’, that it is mustahabb to shake hands using both hands, putting the palm of the left hand over the back of one’s brother’s hand, this is not proven to be Sunnah from the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) or from his companions. Rather the most that can be said concerning some ahaadeeth that refer to it is that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) took the hand of one of his companions in both of his hands as a sign of extra care in teaching, guiding and so on, as it says in Saheeh al-Bukhaari (6265) and Saheeh Muslim (402) that Ibn Mas’ood (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) taught me the tashahhud, holding my hand between both of his.

And Allaah knows best.

If a child is the illegitimate offspring of two kaafirs, can he be named after the zaani?

In Islam the scholars are unanimously agreed that the illegitimate child should not be named after the zaani if the zaani does not ask for him to be named after him. Rather the majority of scholars said that he should not be named after him even if the zaani wants that...Islam forbids attributing the child to anyone other than his father...The illegitimate child – whether he is born to Muslim or non-Muslim parents – cannot be attributed to the zaani, rather he must be named after his mother.

Is it permissible for a woman to travel in an elevator alone with a non-mahram man?

It is not permissible for a woman to travel in an elevator on her own with a non-mahram man. If there is one or more other women with her, then there is nothing wrong with her travelling on the elevator in that case, because then she is not alone with the man.

If there are both men and women with her, there is nothing wrong with her travelling on it if the elevator is spacious, and she will not be forced to touch or rub against the men. But in this case it is safer for the Muslim woman to walk up the stairs, and seek reward with Allaah for the difficulty that she encounters by doing that, because she is only doing that so as to avoid that which Allaah has forbidden and to avoid fitnah and its causes.

And Allaah knows best.

Sitting beside women on public transport because one is forced to

If a person has no choice but to use public transit and he cannot change his place or change vehicles, and he cannot stand because that is even more crowded and brings even more contact with women, then there is no sin on him in that case if he sits next to a woman, so long as he keeps away from her as much as possible.

Prohibition on shaking hands with paternal uncle’s wife even if she is old

It is not permissible to shake hands with non-mahram women at all, whether they are young or old, and whether the man who is shaking hands is a young man or an old man, because of the danger of fitnah (temptation) that it poses to both parties. It was narrated in a saheeh hadeeth that the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “I do not shake hands with women.” And ‘Aa’ishah (may Allaah be pleased with her) said: “The hand of the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) never touched the hand of any woman, and he used to accept their oath of allegiance by words only.”

It makes no difference whether one shakes hands with a barrier in between or with no barrier, because of the general meaning of the evidence, and so as to block the ways that may lead to fitnah.

And Allaah knows best.

Should one return salaams to a parrot?

Some of the scholars have stated that it is not prescribed to prostrate if one hears a verse from a parrot or from a recorded tape.

And Allah knows best.

Does the Bible predict Muhammad?

One of the oddities of Mohammedan apologetics is the popular claim that the Bible predicts the rise of Muhammad. Here I’ll make two brief observations:

1. Even if we grant, for discussion purposes only, that the Bible predicts the rise of Muhammad, that, of itself, wouldn’t begin to validate the prophetic pretensions of Muhammad. After all, the Bible undoubtedly predicts the rise of the Antichrist. Yet that’s hardly an endorsement of the Antichrist!

2. However, a deeper problem with this appeal is that it generates a dilemma for Mohammedan apologetics. On the one hand, there are passages in the Koran where Muhammad evidently commended the Bible as the standard by which his own prophetic claims should be judged. And this, of course, has proven to be an acute embarrassment to Mohammedan apologists. For if we measure Muhammed by that yardstick, he comes up short.

As a result, Mohammedan apologists devote much time and effort laboring to explain away the positive references to the Bible in the Koran. They assure us that Muhammad wasn’t referring to the Bible as we have it today.

In the same vein, you have books by Mohammedans like Maurice Bucaille which “discover” uncanny anticipations of modern science in the Koran while they “uncover” obsolete science in the Bible.

On the other hand, if Mohammedans are suddenly going to invoke Bible prophecies to corroborate Muhammad, then their appeal is only legitimate (assuming we grant their hermeneutical legerdemain) if the Bible as we have it today is authentic and reliable. You can’t spend half your time attacking the inerrancy of the Bible, then spend the other half of your time citing Bible prophecies which allegedly anticipate the rise of Muhammed.

Preaching Repentance at the Gates of Hell

The following open air preaching clip was video taped outside A Woman's Choice Abortion Clinic at 201 Pomona Drive in Greensboro, NC @ 8:30 a.m. on 7-24-10.

Interestingly, the following negative reports are consistent with the hateful behavior we have witnessed from the clinic workers we have preached to for years. The second one even reports that the woman had an incomplete abortion yet was blown off by the clinic workers.

By In Dismay A. - Sep 14, 2009
Terrible, terrible experience. Unprofessional, not confidential, women took personal phone calls THREE times in the middle of helping me. Left disgusted ...

I had a really bad experience here
By kellymichellebay - Dec 18, 2008
I came with my boyfriend to this clinic to get a check-up after a procedure. The nurses were rude to me. They all told me how my boyfriend was "hot" and one of the bigger nurses even had the nerve to say, "that can't be your man". Then when i was leaving, they told me it was OK to have sex already after 3 weeks, even though i was having pain, because my boyfriend was so "hot". I have NEVER felt so disrespected. I would have NEVER expected that of an Abortion Clinic. I was so upset that i called to complain after i left. They said that i was lying, none of their nurses had said anything about me not being good enough for my boyfriend. The woman was talking saracastically to me on top of all that saying, "ok honey". Yeah, this actually happened. This is the most unprofessional place i have ever visited. I was very uncomfortable and left crying. I would NEVER recommend this place to any friend of mine. So please think twice before you choose ... More »
I came with my boyfriend to this clinic to get a check-up after a procedure. The nurses were rude to me. They all told me how my boyfriend was "hot" and one of the bigger nurses even had the nerve to say, "that can't be your man". Then when i was leaving, they told me it was OK to have sex already after 3 weeks, even though i was having pain, because my boyfriend was so "hot". I have NEVER felt so disrespected. I would have NEVER expected that of an Abortion Clinic. I was so upset that i called to complain after i left. They said that i was lying, none of their nurses had said anything about me not being good enough for my boyfriend. The woman was talking saracastically to me on top of all that saying, "ok honey". Yeah, this actually happened. This is the most unprofessional place i have ever visited. I was very uncomfortable and left crying. I would NEVER recommend this place to any friend of mine. So please think twice before you choose this clinic. Sincerly, Kelly Not to mention, it turns out that the pain i was experiencing was due to a incomplete abortion. They told me the pain was from the birth control. I ended up in the emergency room passing huge blood clots. Dont make the same mistake i did. Dont go here. There are much better clinics. Trust me.
The above motivates me even more to see these people converted and see this place shut down.

Be truthful or ruthless?


“This is an NOT argument based on the evidence, and the probabilities have little if anything to do with it, regardless of what the point of this argument may be. Clears the underbrush? Narrows the field? Still irrelevant if we make decisions based on truth (evidence, reason, logic, probability) and nothing else.”

I deployed two distinct, but related arguments. Turning to the next argument, if I’m an atheist, then why should I give a fig about the truth except when the truth happens to coincide with my self-interest? Life is unfair. Nasty, brutish, and short. So why not be ruthlessly pragmatic? I only serve the truth if and when the truth serves me?

I can still play the odds, but that’s not the same thing as pursing truth for its own sake.

Christian theism and atheism are not symmetrical positions. Nothing ultimately matters in a godless universe. You can’t play for keeps. Sooner or later, you lose everything.

“Delusion” carries a derogatory connotation. But in a world without moral absolutes, there is no reason you *shouldn’t* be deluded.

“It is far more illustrative than Jesus' descriptions of hell, and contemptibly so: if it influence's the faith and decisions of Muslims and their targets of evangelism because of the mere possibility that it may be true, then it is a delusion in the truest sense of the word.”

i) Fear of hell would only be delusive if hell is nonexistent.

ii) You’re assuming that Jesus’ figures of speech should be taken literally.

iii) Fear can be a rational factor in decision-making. Avoid high-risk behavior. Don’t gamble if you can’t afford to lose.

iv) ”Contemptible” is a value judgment. But unless atheism can underwrite moral absolutes, what’s wrong with being “contemptible”?

At July 22, 2010 12:28 PM , steve said...

"Dr. Logic,"

I could say a number of things, but for now I'm going to confine myself to one observation.

Morality isn't about doing what I feel like. Indeed, the acid test of morality is doing something I dislike–because that's what I'm *supposed* to do. Duties overrule desires.

If I'm a teenager who impregnates a girl (consensual sex), then walks out on her, and if, two years later, she tracks me down, hands our son over to me and says it's my turn, then walks out the door, I may not "care" about raising my son. That's not my "preference."

It is, however, my *obligation.* Indeed, that's a fundamental difference between desires and duties.

Of course, it's always nice when duties and desires coincide, by in the real world that's often not the case.

You can, of course, disagree, but that merely exposes the fact that your "non-absolute" morality is just a sham. A nice sounding label to sanctify whatever you want to do, whether you're Florence Nightingale or Jeffrey Dahmer.

At July 24, 2010 6:59 AM , steve said...

Doctor Logic said...
“Yes, it *is* your preference. You prefer to be the person who raises his son in that situation more than you prefer to be the person who walks away. What you really mean is that you have a conflict between the two desires. Your immediate desire for pleasure conflicts with your desire to be seen as a good person. And if you do walk away, you will experience moments when you lack the gratifications of bachelorhood (e.g., when you're bored or feeling dejected), and the sting of abandoning your child will feel that much worse. And so you'll return to your son.”

i) You seem to be a hedonist. When a critic of hedonism points out that people also do unpleasant things, the hedonist expansively redefines “pleasure” to cover any apparent counterexamples. But that renders the theory tautologous. By definition, “pleasure is whatever you do.” And in that event, the theory operates apart from any evidence.

ii) You’re also equivocating. To say that I have a reason for doing one thing rather than another, to say that if do something, then that’s what I intended to do, is not synonymous with “pleasure” or “gratification.”

“Your response features the usual crippling confusion that I've come to expect from Christian apologists. All of you conflate morality with absolute morality. In any argument about the subject, you beg the question. You say that if there's no absolute morality, then there's no morality at all. It's inane. Obtuse, to use your preferred word.”

i) Your hedonism doesn’t provide an ethical alternative to moral absolutes. Morality is a about what we *ought* to do, not merely what we “prefer” to do, or “desire” to do. Doing what we ought to do sometimes involves self-denial. Your failed alternative commits the naturalistic fallacy.

ii) And suppose, for the sake of argument, that my objection is “inane”? So what? That’s my “preferred” objection. I find that objection “gratifying.” Who are you trying to correct my “preference”? What makes your preference better than mine?

“Of course my argument is morally compelling. It's just that morality is a matter of caring.”

No. Morality is a matter of doing what we’re *supposed* to do, or refraining from what we ought not to do.

“It is irrational to think that the desire to be rational can be rationally justified!”

We can have rational desires if God designed us to function in a certain way, and we function consistent with our design specifications.

“It's hypocritical because you say you think psychological coercion is bad form.”

i) I didn’t say it’s “bad form.” Rather, it said it’s not equivalent to ethics.

ii) BTW, the charge of hypocrisy is toothless if you reject moral absolutes. Suppose I find hypocrisy “desirable”? “Gratifying”? Indeed, a hypocritical lifestyle can be far more pleasant than a life of dutiful self-denial.

At July 24, 2010 7:01 AM , steve said...

Cont. “In the next breath, you propose a scenario that's psychologically coercive.”

As a negative illustration! Try to pay attention.

“It's self-defeating because, without assuming your conclusion, the only reason why (iv) should be important is because we both subjectively care that people not be murdered.”

In my illustration, I don’t subjectively care that people not be murdered. Rather, I refrain from murder because it is too risky. I’m afraid of getting caught.

“You understand this, but you're begging the question when you apply this definition to the claims of moral subjectivists.”

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that I’m begging the question. So what? It gives me pleasure to beg the question. It’s not as if that would be wrong.

“A moral subjectivist defines morality as an idealization or abstraction of what he cares about.”

Ted Bundy would appreciate your justification.

“Under subjectivism, most people still think murder is wrong, and this is because most people care that murders be stopped.”

Except for murders, who don’t think murder is wrong. Take the hit-man. It’s just a job.

“And a good person is someone who cares to act in accordance with my (or my culture's) cares.”

Now you’re having to violate your core principle. If what is right is defined by my subjective preferences, then you can’t suddenly switch to “cultural cares,” as if that’s equivalent to what any given individual prefers.

“Apart from the aforementioned hypocrisy, what makes you think that I care to dismember you?”

If we ran out of supplies, cannibalism would be the only way for you to survive.

“But it gets better than that. Let's suppose that I were a moral realist. Why would a moral realist not care to dismember you?”

Because that’s not something a person *should* do.

“Just because morality is real, doesn't mean you should act in accordance with it. Indeed, most moral realists do not.”

Now you’re confusing what people *should* do with what they *would* do. That’s a category mistake.

"Rational argument is a game played between players who care about all of the above. There's no point in presenting arguments to people who don't accept the ground rules of rational thinking. If you *do* care about these things, then you can stop pretending that my rational arguments aren't compelling to you."

You can't have ground rules for rational argument unless you're obligated to play by the rules. But since you deny epistemic duties ("There's no absolute, objective reason why every person should be rational"), your demand is self-refuting.

"Let's get this out of the way. Do you care to be rational?"

You repeat the same mistake ad nauseam. Atheism and Christian theism are not symmetrical positions. I care about rationality because I'm a Christian. If I were not a Christian, I'd have no reason to care about rationality, per se. Stop comparing incomparable positions. Your position has difference consequences from mine.

“I'm not confusing the two. You are. You suggested that you would not want to share a lifeboat with me because I don't believe in absolute ‘oughts’. Aren't you confusing what a person would do with what he should do?”

You’re ignoring the obvious. If a man thinks cannibalism is wrong, then that fosters a moral inhibition. While it’s possible that he will overcome his inhibition, at least he has an inhibition to overcome. Men who think cannibalism is wrong are less likely to commit cannibalism than men who don’t think cannibalism is wrong. For the latter have no inhibition to overcome.

“I don't care that I absolutely shouldn't (or should) eat you.”

The cannibal may not care, but that’s a source of concern for his next meal.

“But isn't the important thing whether (1) I subjectively, non-morally desire to not eat you, and (2) whether I subjectively, morally desire not to eat you?”

If you think your subjective, amoral desires don’t correspond to real obligations, then you’ve set the threshold for resistance exceedingly low.

“In fact, even if I were a moral realist, I might think it my moral duty to eat you. So why are you afraid of sharing a lifeboat with me?”

i) Are you trying to be obtuse? There’s an obvious difference between a position in which it’s not even possible say cannibalism is objectively wrong, and a position in which that is a possibility.

ii) If, moreover, someone is a moral realist, then at least he has some standards we can appeal to. If he’s mistaken, we have something to work with.

"Sure. And I've been discussing this with Paul. I don't classify all of my desires as moral desires. My desire to eat cake is not a moral desire, whereas my desire to be fit and healthy is more so. For me to be moral by my own moral standard involves the self-denial of cake."

That's not responsive to what I said. You said morality is a matter of caring. I replied by pointing out that morality is a matter of doing what we *ought* to do (or not doing what we ought not to do). You have yet to bridge the gap between duty and pleasure.

"First of all, I don't consider myself a hedonist."

You've used hedonistic terminology to characterize your position.

"Second, I would only run afoul of the naturalistic fallacy if I said 'Here is subjectivism, a description of how we make moral decisions. Therefore you ought to X.'"

No. You commit the naturalistic fallacy when you turn wants into oughts. And you've been doing that all along.

"Most Christians find subjectivism such a terrifying concept that they need to lash out."

"Lash out" is a judgmental phrase. But since, by your own admission, your value judgments are purely subjective, your indictment is only impressive to yourself, and not to the object of your indictment.

Follow me

HT: Josh Harris.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Christ or a College Degree?

It is a sad day in the United States when a Christian is given the ultimatum to either ditch Christ or get kicked out of grad school. See the details of Jen Keeton's story below.

Augusta State Univ. to counseling student: change your beliefs or get out

Keeton, 24, is pursuing her master’s degree in counseling at Augusta State. After her professors learned of her biblical beliefs, specifically her views on homosexual conduct, from both classroom discussions and private conversations with other students, the school imposed the re-education plan. Keeton never denigrated anyone in communicating her beliefs but merely stated factually what they were in appropriate contexts.

The plan assails Keeton’s beliefs as inconsistent with the counseling profession and expresses suspicion over “Jen’s ability to be a multiculturally competent counselor, particularly with regard to working with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (GLBTQ) populations.” The plan requires her to take steps to change her beliefs through additional assignments and additional “diversity sensitivity training.” It also orders her to “work to increase exposure and interactions with gay populations. One such activity could be attending the Gay Pride Parade in Augusta.”
So, my 64 million dollar question for the powers that be at Augusta State University is this: Why stop with GLBTQ sensitivity training for Jen Keeton? Why not PB training too? (P = Pedophilia; B = Bestiality).

After all, I'm sure NAMBLA and the human-animal porn industry could use some counseling services too!

HT: Alpha and Omega Ministries

What are the odds?

Some people claim that 2 + 2 = 4 in base 10 math. But think about this for a moment. Someone could claim that 2 + 2 = 5. Or that 2 + 2 = 7,380,934. Now here’s the thing about that. Those people who would say the answer to 2 + 2 is some particular answer or another are typically those people who fit into a certain demographic (i.e., those who come up with counterarguments to poor reasoning may be culturally biased toward stating 2 + 2 = 5). So we can use the OTF to examine whether it is right in treating any answer to 2 + 2 as valid.

Now there are essentially an infinite number of answers you could claim satisfy 2 + 2. Yet certain mathematicians will insist that 2 + 2 = 4 in all cases in base 10 math. Even facing the OTF, they insist their answer could be the only correct one.

Fine. I understand this and I grant it. Even though their particular brand of mathematical solution has a low probability to it they could still have the correct answer after all. At this point though, they are talking about possibilities. Their answer could still be true even though the odds are their answer is wrong. This is sort of like winning the lottery when there are an infinite number of mathematical tickets to draw out of a barrel. The odds are 1 in infinity but that doesn't give any one of them pause. Even if we pare the possible solutions down to positive whole numbers, acknowledging the rest are negatives or fractions or even irrational numbers, this still doesn't change much of anything, nor would it give them any pause. Why? Because they have done a dance that I now call The Delusional Sidestep (TDS). Since the consequences of the demographic data are quickly recognized by them to require the OTF they make a quick sidestep to avoid it by claiming they could still be right despite the odds. Wait just a minute!? What about the odds? Ahhh, just ignore them we're told. There is nothing to see here. Move along. We prefer our delusion to the actual probabilities.

Remember, it doesn’t matter that someone can provide actual reasons why one answer is valid and another isn’t. WE MUST NOT IGNORE THE ODDS! Why, any statistician would agree with me here. What are the odds the Roman Empire was located in present-day Italy? Well, there are 195 countries in the world now, so the answer is 1 in 195. Obviously, therefore, it is not at all likely that the Roman Empire was located in present-day Italy. What are the odds that Obama is president of the United States? Well, the population of the United States is 307,006,550, so the answer is 1 in 307,006,550. Obviously, therefore, it is not at all likely that Obama is president of the United States.

It’s obvious to any intelligent person that there are far more ways for a factual question to be answered incorrectly than correctly, and therefore the odds that any particular answer is actually true is quite low. Therefore, if you make a factual claim, the OTF says you’re talking bunk so I don’t have to listen to a single thing you say. Only a non-scholar could possibly disagree with my brilliance.

Armchair philosopher

An armchair philosopher once had the following dream.

First Plato appeared, and the armchair philosopher said to him, "Could you give me a 15 minute capsule sketch of your entire philosophy?" To the armchair philosopher's surprise, Plato gave him an excellent exposition in which he compressed an enormous amount of material into a mere 15 minutes. But then the armchair philosopher raised a certain objection which Plato couldn't answer. Confounded, Plato disappeared.

Then Aristotle appeared. The same thing happened again, and the armchair philosopher's objection to Aristotle was the same as his objection to Plato. Aristotle also couldn't answer it and disappeared.

Then all the famous philosophers of history appeared one by one and our armchair philosopher refuted every one of them with the same objection.

After the last philosopher vanished, our armchair philosopher said to himself, "I know I'm asleep and dreaming all this. Yet I've found a universal refutation for all philosophical systems! Tomorrow when I wake up, I will probably have forgotten it, and the world will really miss something!" With an iron effort, the armchair philosopher forced himself to wake up, rush over to his desk, and write down his universal refutation. Then he jumped back into bed with a sigh of relief.

The next morning when he awoke, he went over to the desk to see what he had written. It was, "You are NOT going with that. Oh, wow. You ARE. That's just scary and speaks volumes on where you are coming from. Why are you even attempting to convince anyone of anything?!"

Buying milk

From Doug Jones:
Imagine that you are mistaken about everything you hold dear. Suppose you wake up one morning and clearly realize that your long-held, day-to-day views of nature, social values, and self are obviously mistaken. Common things that you have seen for years take on a whole new light. The world hasn't changed, but different things stand out in odd ways. Things you once adored are now utterly disgusting. Things you once hated now command your deepest loyalty. You can now see through your motives and rationalizations in a way hidden before. How could you have been so naive?

Could one really be so radically deceived about the world after all these years? We may not often think about it, but most people do in fact assume that millions of others are out to lunch in just this way. For example, probably much of the world believes, rightly or wrongly, that millions of zealous Muslims are seriously disconnected from reality. And millions of third-world animists, slavishly trying to balance numerous life forces in trees and rocks and heads, fare no better on reality checks. Even postmodernist types who pretend to deny any single reality or truth are usually the first to insist that the vast millions of us who believe in reality and truth are terribly mistaken about the world.

Some can easily write off "fanatics," but why can't a more mundane, common-sensical, middle-of-the-road view be equally deceived about the world? After all, most people with "sane," moderate views acquired those views in the same way that most "fanatics" acquired theirs - living in a community where those views seem obvious. Fanatics don't usually look like fanatics within their own communities. There, they appear rather mundane and average. To them, you are the fanatic, wildly at odds with reality. Most people hold the beliefs they do because they picked them up along the way from people they trusted - parents, friends, media, maybe even from some zealous college instructor. But over millennia, many parents and zealous college instructors have proven themselves terribly mistaken. Real deception never looks strange when you're on the inside.

The kind of deception I'm suggesting isn't the rather unbelievable sort, like being mistaken about whether your left thumb is really an African elephant. The more interesting and plausible kind of radical deception involves less obvious, even invisible things, like moral standards and rules of reasoning and assumptions about how the world works. If people are wrong about these sorts of things, then they could be radically mistaken but go along with the flow of life in the short term without running into any corners. They might only recognize their horrible mistake in the long run, when it all starts to fall apart. But then it could be dangerously late.

Now add to all this the fact that anyone's years on earth has really been very few. And the time any of us spends thinking about the world is relatively minute compared to all that there is to understand. Given all this, then, isn't it even likely that most people, maybe even you, are indeed radically deceived about the world? Considering how many and how easily people are deceived, it doesn't seem that wild a conjecture.

In fact, people's actions often reveal more about their likely deception than their words. For example, whenever you do something like go to a grocery store to buy milk, you reveal many things about yourself. When you first walk up to the grocery store, you assume that you and the store are two different things, not one, thus showing your rejection of most Eastern and New Age religions. When you walk down that same dairy aisle and select the same kind of milk, you assume that the world is not chaotic, but orderly, regular, and divided into set kinds of things. When you stand in line with others, expecting others to respect your space and person, you reveal your rejection of moral relativism and your deep trust in absolute ethical norms. When you calculate your available change, compare the price of the milk, and make the exchange with the clerk at the register, you engage in a complex array of thought processes involving nonmaterial rules of reasoning, thus showing your rejection of materialism and evolution.

In short, when you do something as mundane as buying milk, you accept and reject all sorts of views. You act like you reject many popular religions and scientific claims. In fact, given the sum of what you assume and reject just when buying milk, you act like you believe that you live in the world described by Christianity. The world depicted above suggests complexities and contours of reality that are only supplied in Christianity. If Christianity weren't true, then such things as simple as milk buying would appear to be impossible. Now, you may openly reject Christianity, but you certainly act like it is true and that your non-Christianity is false. Why such self-deception? Why don't you just confess what you appear to assume?

Non-Christian thought has no cogent answer for such evident and world-encompassing self-deception, but Christianity does. The Christian Scriptures explain that the world is in an abnormal state, due to the destructiveness of our sin. We have rebelled against a holy and gracious God, and so we try to make up grand scenarios in order to evade Him. Such evasion isn't a marginal error. It is concerted warfare against our Creator, and it deserves divine capital punishment. The alternative to such self-deceptive evasion is to embrace the mercy found in Christ, the God-given substitute sent to take our punishment so that we can be reconciled and at peace with God. That's the heart of Christianity — peace with God through Christ's work, with no more radical self-deception about the world.

Could you be radically mistaken in your non-Christian outlook? It looks likely. You profess non-Christianity, but assume Christianity. Think about Christ's work the next time you go to buy some milk.

James Anderson interview

Christ the Center interviews Dr. James Anderson (MP3).

HT: Jeff Downs.

Atheist Hissy Fit

I'm aware that John Loftus is doing a series of posts responding to my critique of his "outsider test for faith" argument. I'll respond later. Right now I'm interesting in a comment an atheist made in the comments section of part 1.
WAR_ON_ERROR said...

It is really bizarre that Manata's counter examples included the use of taste preference as though truth criteria wouldn't have an impact on the validity of the counterexample. I read that and was like, "He is NOT going with that...Oh wow...he IS."

And his defense of philosophical solipsism (as though there's no reason to have good arguments for our positions on morality and politics), makes me anxious about humanity in general. Do people actually listen to this stuff? "I deeply value x and therefore have the right to not evaluate my value like an outsider." WTF? That's just scary and speaks volumes on where they are coming from. It's like, "Oh, *that's* why you rarely make sense. You don't think you actually *have* to make sense in any kind of impartial way at a fundamental level." Why are they even attempting to convince anyone of anything? "We're Just Expressing Our Insufficiently Critical Christian Selves at Infidels Who Call Us Names" should be the title of their counter-book. I'm surprised anyone would publicly admit to the kinds of things Manata said, but other Christians seem to be applauding. I suppose your OTF really brought that "right to assert conclusion" out of them.

1. WOE never bothers to show that the counter example doesn't work.

2. The really unfortunate part is that WOE went on this emotional tirade and suggested that only a dumb religious believer could say what I said. A problem is that the exact same points WOE complains about was made to me by a famous atheist philosopher (one who may have even blurbed the book, I will keep his identity undisclosed for the time being. If Loftus takes this same tactic, then I let the embarrassing cat out of the bag). In fact, this philosopher made both points about matters of taste as well as values. I think that's sufficient to declaw this little kitty's over-the-top rhetoric.

3. I did not defend philosophical solipsism. In fact, I assumed that is was false.

I'm not sure what he's referring to, but here's two problems:

(a) Is he referring to the point I made in my review of Tarico's chapter? I didn't defend solipsism, I argued that it is a logical consequence of social constructivism, but it would be solipsism with a "we" rather than an "I", as Putnam once said.

(b) Is he referring to the OTF (I didn't think I brought up solipsism)? The OTF says that we should have "the same level of skepticism" towards all of our beliefs. Each one needs to be "tested." I argued that it is absurd to think that we should treat the belief in maya with "the same level of skepticism" that we treat belief in a real mind-independent external world. I quoted John Loftus assigning the latter a higher probability, which means that we shouldn't treat them with "the same level of skepticism." I think solipsism shouldn't get treated with "the same level of skepticism" as all other beliefs, and I don't think solipsism's truth value is equipossible with all other philosophical beliefs, but these are things the OTF requires us to believe (if it isn't a self-serving, question begging, biased argument against religious belief).

As WOE says, we shouldn't treat solipsism this way and test our belief in the existence of other minds since we have reasons and arguments for believing what we do. I agree! That's why I don't need to take Loftus's OTF. His argument leads to treating maya and solipsism in this way, but WOE says that's clearly an error (which he is sworn to wage war on). Likewise, I have reasons and good arguments for Christianity, so I don't think I'll be taking the test today. Loftus's test rests on the genetic fallacy, I showed why this is mistaken even if we grant Loftus's premises about the origin of our religious beliefs.

4. The attitude WOE expresses is odd given that he tried to paint me with the brush as an emotional, angry, hissy fit throwing Christian.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Reply To John Loftus On Chapter 4 Of The Christian Delusion

John Loftus has replied to our critique of chapter 4 of The Christian Delusion. I have some other things to do this evening, so for now I'll just briefly respond to a few sections of his post directed at me.

He writes:

Hays (and later Jason Engwer) takes issue with my saying they evaluate other religious faiths using just David Hume‘s evidentiary standards along with a methodological naturalist viewpoint. Any reading of Christian literature on the so-called “cults” will show this statistically. They claim to evaluate these other religious faiths and miracles as if they are demon produced. Really? How is that anything by way of an objective standard? Yep, demons can account for these other faiths and their miracles. Demons are everywhere. Hays and Engwer can even demonize their opponents, even most other Christians. Such a view is scary to me for certainly they think I am possessed of demons. Yeah, that solves everything when you cannot answer a man’s arguments. Demonize him. Demonize them all. This is such a barbaric view to me.

He's misrepresenting my argument. I didn't say that Christians "evaluate these other religious faiths and miracles as if they are demon produced". Rather, I referred to conclusions that are reached about non-Christian individuals and belief systems. See page 47 of The Infidel Delusion. I referred to arguing for something like demonic influence in another religion. I didn't say that we should begin with an assumption of demonic involvement. I didn't suggest that "Demons are everywhere." And I mentioned supernatural possibilities other than demonic involvement. For example, I cited the healing of Naaman and Caiaphas' prophesying in John 11. Were those cases of demonic influence? No, they weren't. What about Cornelius in Acts 10? There were supernatural events in his life before he became a Christian. Do Christians consider those supernatural events demonic? No. In a recent thread here, I discussed some of the paranormal phenomena documented by researchers like Stephen Braude, and I specifically made the point that I don't think all of it is demonic. In the past, when discussing near-death experiences, I've acknowledged that we have convincing evidence for the experiences of some non-Christians, and I didn't argue that they're all demonic in nature.

But even if I had argued that every supernatural element of a non-Christian individual's life or a non-Christian belief system is demonic, the fact would remain that Loftus was wrong in what he argued in The Christian Delusion. I and many other Christians don't take the sort of presuppositional or Humean approach toward non-Christian systems that Loftus suggested we do.

Do I think Loftus is possessed by demons? No. And I never suggested it.

He writes:

If God exists then he can do this by other means besides using objective argumentation. But how likely is it that there is a God who does this in the first place? The evidence of billions of non-Christians who have adopted what they believe based on where they were born speaks like a megaphone against his existence or of him doing just this.

How so? I was arguing for one means among others that God could use. I didn't suggest that He only or always uses that means. And where people are born is something within God's sovereignty (Acts 17:26-27).

Loftus continues:

He just doesn’t get it, does he? How do we know that we have eyewitness testimony? There is a huge difference between seeing a miracle take place before our very eyes in which we can determine it was not a trick of the eyes, from hearing a story that stems from one source which is repeated told by different people for decades across different lands in a ancient pre-scientific culture.

I was commenting on the value of eyewitness testimony during the initial stages of examining a belief system. Read what I wrote on pages 47-48 of The Infidel Delusion. As I said there, I was addressing "initial observations", since Loftus had referred to things we note when we first examine a belief system. If Loftus now wants to appeal to later observations that can overturn what our initial observations suggested to us, then I can respond the same way to Loftus' initial observations. Does it initially seem unlikely that my worldview is the correct one out of the many that exist? Later observations can help me weed out other belief systems. If Loftus is going to appeal to later observations, after we consider eyewitness testimony in more depth, then I can appeal to later observations as well in order to weaken the force of Loftus' initial observations.

Since Loftus missed my point, and since I've already addressed objections to eyewitness testimony like the ones Loftus has raised in previous discussions with him and elsewhere in The Infidel Delusion, I won't get into that here.

Neal on TCD

I'm posting some comments which which Neal left at DC:


July 22, 2010 10:58 AM
Neal said...

"[John Loftus] this is such a nice version of Christianity developed by angry men for angry men, isn't it?"

What is evident from this posting is that the only one who appears to be angry is you.

"Over and over we read where atheists have no right to make moral judgments if there are no absolute objective morals. This is simply false. They are ignorant to say otherwise. But this is true of most Christians."

I see you are a graduate of the Dan Aykroyd school of argumentation.

“Then too, the authors are Calvinists which I think is a reprehensible theology, as I posted here.”

You'd think that someone who touts the importance of scholarly creds wouldn't make such an amateurish mistake as engaging in ad hominem fallacies. Or maybe you are just giving us autobiographical information here on your psychological makeup? What is not clear is what if anything it has to do with the truth or falsity of Christianity. You seem to think any argument from a Calvinist can be dismissed at the outset by the mere fact that it came from a Calvinist. In fact, this whole posting is nothing more than one ad hominem attack after another. Epic FAIL.

"Over and over the authors contrast their brand of Christianity with atheism which is left undefined but understood by them to be equivalent to metaphysical naturalism. I don't think they truly know what atheism is, as I explained right here, and again here."

Most people understand atheism as the belief that there is no God. Metaphysical naturalism is a consequence of atheism as it is usually defined. Your links failed to make any distinctions between atheism and metaphysical naturalism. As Hays said, metaphysical naturalism is a euphemism for atheism. If you disagree, how does atheism not entail metaphysical naturalism? And does not metaphysical naturalism entail methodological naturalism? It seems that you are merely attempting to escape some criticisms here.

"Besides, the options before us are not between their brand of conservative Calvinism and non-belief. The options are myriad with everything in-between. There is Arminianism, moderate and liberal Christianities, as well as Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists, Orthodox Judaism, Islam, and many eastern religions to choose from."

But you titled your book "The CHRISTIAN Delusion". Why should they be concerned about all these other religions in a refutation of a book that purports to be a critique of Christianity? And why should they respond to it in terms of what they consider to be weaker and heretical forms of Christianity?

"So it really does not make a whit of difference who is making a particular argument against their brand of Christianity. The argument either stands on its own or not."

Hypocrisy. This coming from someone who thinks he can dismiss Calvinists because he doesn't like "their brand" of Christianity.

"They cannot assert, for instance, that an atheist cannot make this or that kind of argument because he has no standard for morality, since Process Theologians can make that same argument as can Arminians like Christian philosopher Victor Reppert (which they have repeatedly attacked) or liberals like James McGrath."

I thought you just said the argument stands or falls on its own, regardless of who makes it? Why do you bring up irrelevancies? Do atheists have an objective standard of morality or not? What process theologians and liberals have to say about Calvinism has no bearing on that question.

"In areas where it’s obvious we should expect a perfectly good God to communicate his will better, he didn’t do so, which caused a great deal of harm done in his name by the church (think Inquisition, crusades, witch hunts, Christian attempts at genocide during the Thirty Years War directed at other Christian groups, Slavery, the treatment of women, and denial of the democratic ideals of the freedom of religion and of expression)."

This argument is incoherent until you can demonstrate that you have an objective standard of morality by which you can judge all those things as evil. Until you can demonstrate that, your objection to those things amounts to little more than your personal preferences.

"On that same page Manata claims “the last two chapters have no bearing on whether Christianity is a delusion.” Really? Surely whether Christianity is beneficial to society bears some relationship to whether it’s true. I mean, you really wouldn’t want to hold to something as true from a perfectly good God if it wasn’t beneficial to society, or would you?"

Pragmatism is not a standard of truth. Something can be useful but be totally false. In order to determine whether something is "beneficial" or not, you have to have some objective criteria by which you can judge what is and is not beneficial. And atheism provides no objective criteria whatsoever. So even here Christianity is superior in that it provides objective foundations for society. The gulag was "useful" in Stalin's Russia as were the gas chambers in Hitler's Germany. Do you think these men did not have what they considered to be valid moral justifications? They each had a view of what would benefit their respective societies that I assume conflicts with yours. Why should yours prevail?

"Truth for its own sake"

A couple of unbelievers have attempted to critique an argument I use in my introduction to The Infidel Delusion–one at Reppert's blog, and the other at the theologyweb. Here's my response:


Terrible, terrible introduction. It is basically a vindication of the title of their object of criticism, "The Christian Delusion," because it shamelessly tells the reader that there is no value in truth for its own sake when there is an appeal of heaven and threat of damnation hanging in the air. That is what delusion is all about. That is the whole point. That is the primary fault with Christianity--and Islam, and Hinduism, and old-school Buddhism, and all other religious ideologies that promise rewards and threaten you in the afterlife.

i) My argument wasn’t predicated on the threat of damnation.

ii) Abe’s problem is that, like a lot of unbelievers, he acts as if you can make fundamental changes in your worldview, but leave everything else intact.

But where atheism is concerned, we’re not simply dealing with some unfortunate local consequences. Rather, atheism is a global position with global consequences. If atheism leads to moral nihilism (or the equivalent), then there is literally no good reason to be an atheist.

Given moral nihilism, then there is no “value in truth for its own sake.” Without a value system, there are no values. The pursuit of truth cannot be artificially isolated from other values, as if that continues to flourish in its own little glasshouse.

If a worldview denies the very framework for right and wrong, then we have no responsibility to believe something just because it is the right thing to believe–including the worldview in question. Such a worldview summarily forfeits the right to be taken seriously. For a worldview is not entitled to our consideration if it disenfranchises the very notion of epistemic duties. Such a position disenfranchises itself from further consideration.

If a worldview rejects the possibility that true beliefs are praiseworthy, while false beliefs are blameworthy, then there’s nothing praiseworthy about pursing the truth for its own sake. And there’s nothing praiseworthy about believing a worldview which denies the praiseworthy character of true beliefs.

I’m making a radical claim because atheism has radical consequences which the average atheist stops short of taking. So I will do it for him. I’ll give him that extra little nudge over the cliff.

iii) I didn’t say that’s a reason to believe in Christianity. But it clears the underbrush. It narrows the field.

At July 21, 2010 6:21 PM , steve said...

Doctor Logic said...

“On page 1, Steve Hays starts out with the childish canard that the only morality worth caring about is absolute morality.”

“Childish” is a value judgment. But if you reject moral absolutes, then what’s wrong with being childish (assuming, for the sake of argument, that my “canard” was “childish”)?

“That's like saying that the only deliciousness worth caring about is absolute deliciousness…”

That’s an argument from analogy minus the argument. Why should I regard morality as equivalent to taste?

“Hays seems to be telling us that he doesn't give a %$#* about being courageous unless courage is an absolute moral virtue at the abstract level.”

If there are no moral absolutes, then what makes courage virtuous? You rattle off some putative counterexamples, but your counterexamples lose their moral worth once you ditch moral realism. So your exercise is self-defeating.

“(I think we're supposed to assume he lacks any subjective appreciation for courage from which he infers an absolute virtue.)”

What’s the value of subjective appreciation for courage if it doesn’t correspond to an objective moral fact about courage?

“For all practical purposes, Hays declares that it's preferable to be deluded and happy than be correct and stuck with a limited life in a physical universe.”

i) To begin with, that’s not what I said. Either you’re obtuse, or else you’d rather caricature what you cannot refute.

ii) But let’s play along with your caricature for the sake of argument. If you reject moral absolutes, then what is wrong with being deluded?

“He seems to back off from saying that this is an argument against atheism, but essentially he says that he doesn't care about being right if it's going to mean receiving bad news.”

No. What I said is, why should we care about being right if there is no epistemic duty to be right? Are you too dim to grasp the issue?

“If Hays really feels that way, there's not much point in engaging him in rational argument, is there?”

If you reject moral absolutes, then what’s the point of rational argument? There’s no obligation to be right.

“If Christians like Hays would just imagine a world without God, they might see that their appreciation for moral behavior exists independently of any abstract reasoning, and, thus, independent of any absolute values.”

“Moral behavior” which doesn’t answer to moral absolutes is indistinguishable from immoral behavior.

“Alas, fear and superstition prevent Christians from performing this sort of ‘what if’ analysis.”

i) Hypotheticals are a basic feature of rationality.

ii) If you reject moral absolutes, then there’s no obligation to avoid “fear and superstition.”

Thanks for your self-refuting tirade, Dr. Illogic.

At July 22, 2010 7:31 AM , steve said...

Doctor Logic said...

“I'm calling your bluff on this one.”

Never call a player’s bluff when you have a losing hand.

“It doesn't matter if there's no absolute, objective reason why every person should eschew childishness. My argument is compelling to you because you prefer - you care - not to be childish.”

i) If I were an atheist, it wouldn’t matter. Unless your argument is morally compelling (which you deny at the outset), then it has no force.

ii) If your “argument” reduces to emotional bullying, then that’s not an “argument.” Rather, that’s high school social dynamics. Who’s hot and who’s not.

“The same goes for rational thinking. There's no absolute, objective reason why every person should be rational. (Indeed, any such rational justification you come up with would be circular.) The point is that we desire to be rational, and are often biologically compelled to be rational.”

i) I don’t think evolutionary biology compels us to be rational.

ii) But let’s play along with your claim for the sake of argument. That only works for animals which are unaware of their biological programming. If, however, an animal becomes conscious of its biological programming, then it’s in a position to realize that its “desire to be rational” it not, itself, a rational desire.

iii) You’re downshifting to psychological coercion, like the desire of an adolescent schoolgirl to fit in. To do whatever it takes to be accepted. Wearing the “right” clothes. The “right” hairdo. The “right” makeup. Listening to the “right” music.

iv) I might like to murder the guy who stole my girlfriend if I thought I could get away with it. In your worldview, my murderous desire is amoral.

“So, you sit across the table from me, holding a spoonful of dung, asking me to give you an absolute reason why you ought not eat the dung. Sorry, but I'm not worried that either of us is going to start eating dung, especially not on a regular basis.”

If you want to bring “rationality” down to the level of certain tastes and odors we find naturally repellent, that doesn’t exactly commend your worldview.

“Let's suppose (contra reality) that you really didn't care about being rational. How would the existence of some absolute moral imperative cause you to be rational? Surely, such an imperative only has a hold on you if you care. If you lack a subjective appreciation for rationality, a rational argument won't change that.”

There’s a fundamental asymmetry between atheism and Christian theism at this point. In Christianity, there’s a match between our subjective appreciation for rationality and objective epistemic duties. But by your own admission, you don’t have that in atheism.

“None of what I have said is self-defeating. My arguments appeal to people who subjectively value rationality. People who don't subjectively value rationality won't give a damn about my arguments, and I can live with that.”

Of course it’s self-refuting. You appeal to “rationality.” But your real position boils down to one’s personal preference, which is hardly interchangeable with rationality.

“The reason you think my comments are self-defeating is that your model of morality is wrong. You mistakenly think that people are moral because the perform some sort of deductive inference from self-evident moral absolutes. The reality is that morality is caring, not deduction. A man's supposed moral absolutes are inferred from his cares. It's not the other way around.”

I said nothing about moral motivations. I’ve been discussing the metaphysical foundations of morality.

“If I could somehow prove to you on paper that objectively good people absolutely ought to rape, kill and steal, would you still want to be an ‘objectively good’ person? I put it to you that you would prefer to be a subjectively good person, and an objectively evil person. You would rather be ‘objectively evil’ because you care about not murdering, not raping, etc.”

i) We can always dream up hypothetical scenarios which generate tensions between what is subjectively the case and what is objectively the case. But why not deal with the real world situation of atheism and Christian theism? Does Christian theism trigger this cognitive dissonance? No.

ii) And, once again, that goes to the asymmetry between the respective positions.

“Of course, this is all hypothetical because there are no decent arguments about objective goods, let alone proofs. But it does make the important point. People aren't good because they perceive and obey some abstract objective moral framework of absolutes. They act on their cares.”

i) This isn’t a question of what makes people good, since–on your view–nobody is good. There is no good to emulate.

ii) And, once again, I’m not discussing incentives or disincentives. Rather, I’m discussing what grounds moral ascriptions. You admit that moral ascriptions are baseless.

“If you don't care about being rational, and don't care about being childish, then my argument isn't going to work on you.”

To call one’s opponent “childish” is an attempt to shame him into changing his belief or behavior. But your moral nihilism takes the sting out of that accusation.

“Like I said, I can live with that.”

Yes, well…if the ship were going down, I won’t be stepping into the same lifeboat you do. Hard to sleep in a lifeboat with a moral nihilist by my side. I might be missing some body parts when I awake.

Can philosophy be polemical?

Edward Feser answers the question.

HT: Paul Manata.

On Assessing Loftus's Assessment of Triablogue's Review of "The Christian Delusion"

John Loftus's hasty assessment of our review of his book, The Christian Delusion TCD, is ironic for its instancing the psychological and emotional character traits supposedly owned by Christians per chapter 1 - 3 of TCD. If having those traits means your beliefs are deluded, then his co-authors ought to next write, The Loftus Delusion. I'll interact with a few of Loftus's comments in his "assessment" of our review.

"After all, if their God has foreordained me to hell then they have the right to heap additional abuse on me, and they have done so"

I As Jason Engwer noted about terms Loftus and Carrier have used of Christians:
He [Carrier] referred to Christians as "delusional", referred to "mowing them down", and told us that he's going to "be mean", among other things. In the same thread, John Loftus referred to another commenter as "deluded" and "brainwashed". That's one thread. They've made similar comments in other places.

In TCD, Christians have abuse heaped on them in just about every chapter. They are called: irrational, deluded, dishonest, blind, and fools. In one place, Loftus calls the God of the Bible, "stupid." None of the rhetoric in our response to TCD reached that level of vindictiveness. At times, sure, I laughed a little. I mean, we're talking about a book in which a "serious" criticism of Christianity is that God should have made us birds or plants.

"I contacted the contributors of TCD to see if any of them would like to respond to this hatchet job of an online book."

Right, because we are assumed to be wrong from the start. The book says Christians are the ones who act like this. The book said that Christians think that no argument against their faith is good because if it contradicts God's authoritative say-so, then it must be wrong. Here we see Loftus exhibit the same traits chapters 1-3 said were indicative of Christians and the cause for being called deluded.

"Most of us have better things to do than respond to such drivel. If their arguments are considered good ones then it goes to show you that when it comes to faith any argument will do."

"Such drivel?" I thought Calvinists like us were the disrespectful ones.

This is just a way to get off a shot. If Loftus et al. really didn't think our review worth responding to, then they wouldn't.

"What strikes me as a common criticism of TCD is that there are fifteen chapters in "the space of 419 pages," and as such, it isn't as in-depth as whole books written on each of the topics we cover. Well I'm here to tell you that this is simply not an informed way to judge anthologies especially since each chapter in TCD has plenty of footnotes for further reading (did they not notice them?).... Each chapter serves as an introduction to each topic. Get it? ... To criticize any chapter because of the limited space available to the author without exploring the works in the footnotes is, well, not reading it thoroughly or engaging it very deeply."

This scaled-back claim is odd. Reading Carrier, you wouldn't think TCD was just an "introduction." According to Michael Martin, it couldn't be "just an introduction." Loftus is disagreeing with the over-the-top claims made by some atheists about TCD.

Furthermore, we did notice the utter reliance on footnotes in lieu of arguments. Much of the book was made up of naked assertion after naked assertion followed up by "the footnote refutation," i.e., "go see my footnote."

"Over and over we read where atheists have no right to make moral judgments if there are no absolute objective morals. This is simply false. They are ignorant to say otherwise. But this is true of most Christians."

That claim was argued for in the book.

"They cannot assert, for instance, that an atheist cannot make this or that kind of argument because he has no standard for morality, since ... Arminians like Christian philosopher Victor Reppert (which they have repeatedly attacked) [make the same arguments]"

Really? Victor Reppert denies objective morality?

Anyway, here's the relevant argument that Victor Reppert can make and Loftus et al. cannot make:

1. [There are objective moral facts] "Calvinism is objectively morally wrong."

2. [There are no objective moral facts] "Calvinism is objectively morally wrong."

Doesn't John see the difference between (1) and (2)?

Now, that's not to say that some who holds the bracketed belief in (2) cannot offer a moral argument. They could offer an internal critique. But TCD doesn't do that.

"On page 9 Paul Manata faults the book because our claim is that there is no such thing as Christianity (singular), only Christianities (plural), and yet we also claim Christianity (singular) is a delusion. But the fact is that precisely because Christianity is a cultural phenomenon we think all Christianities are a delusion."

If Loftus had read the review before reacting he'd note that I consider this interpretation (i.e., that there are numerous Christianities and no Christianity just is a Christian delusion) and respond to it. Nevertheless, the fact still remains. If Loftus is right, then all the claims that X refutes Christianity are false. If they are not false, then Loftus et al. are admitting that there are common features to Christianity that make for a singular religion.

"On that same page Manata claims “the last two chapters have no bearing on whether Christianity is a delusion.” Really? Surely whether Christianity is beneficial to society bears some relationship to whether it’s true."

Really? How would that argument go. X isn't beneficial to Y, therefore, X isn't true? That is obviously false.

Also, "beneficial" is quite obviously hopelessly vague, so I doubt John will be able to make a good argument here.

"I mean, you really wouldn’t want to hold to something as true from a perfectly good God if it wasn’t beneficial to society, or would you?"

Besides the vagueness of "beneficial", Christians are truth seekers. We hold to things because they are true. If holding true beliefs is "beneficial to society", then Christianity would be "beneficial to society." But that view of "beneficial to society" wasn't considered in TCD.

Furthermore, here's another way Christianity is "beneficial to society." It provides (through the person of Jesus, of course) the only hope man has. The only way to be right before God. The only way to escape the destruction of Babylon (i.e., society). Is that beneficial?

Christianity is a unique religion concerned with saving men's souls, from which various effects follow--like neighbor loving, etc. It's not about making "Christian" music, movies, or video games. It isn't a political party. It is concerned with far more profound things than that.

So Christianity is beneficial to society, but it defines what it means to be beneficial. It is more profound than getting strip clubs off the street, or making "Christian" pop-music knock-offs. John Loftus doesn't understand the faith he critiques. John Loftus attacks a Christianity of his understanding. He thinks the mundane and common is the unique, relevant and interesting.

I hold to Christianity because it is true and there is no hope without it, without the life and death of Jesus Christ. I don't hold to it if it is "beneficial to society." Maybe that's what you think of atheism? It is, isn't it? Why would you "hold to atheism" if it wasn't "beneficial to society?" John wants atheist politics, atheist music, atheist movies, atheist clothing lines, atheist bumper stickers, and the all the rest. Christianity wants to save the souls of politicians, musicians, movie producers, and t-shirt and bumper sticker makers. From there they can go on to engage in politics, make music, movies, t-shirts, and bumper stickers.

Exploding The Naturalistic Box

"He [David Hume] is merely appealing to what everyone knows: the frequent reports of the extraordinary we hear from UFO abductees, Loch Ness Monster fans, people who see ghosts or claim psychic powers, always seem to turn out to be bunk upon examination. Ask Joe Nickell. Ask James Randi. Ask the evangelical stage magician Andre Kole, who exposed Filipino 'psychic surgeons.'" (Robert Price, in John Loftus, ed., The Christian Delusion [Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2010], p. 277)

"Nevertheless, with his usual bluster, [James] Randi accepted a $10,000 challenge (a considerable sum in those days) to duplicate the Serios phenomena and make good on his claim. Of course, confidence is easy to feign, and Randi does it routinely in his role as magician. He also cleverly takes advantage of the occasional high-profile case he successfully exposes as fraudulent, by publicizing those successes and creating the impression that he's a generally reliable guide when it comes to the paranormal. So Randi's dismissal of the Serios case was all it took for those already disposed to believe that Serios was a fake, and it was probably enough even for those sympathetic to parapsychology but unaware of Randi's dishonesty....What the TV audience never learned was that when the show was over and Randi was pressed to make good on his wager, he simply weaseled out of it. To keep that side of the story under wraps, Randi prohibited publication of his correspondence on the matter. That was undoubtedly a shrewd move, because the letters show clearly how Randi backed down from his empty challenge. However, Randi's original letters now reside in the library at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and researchers, finally, can easily confirm this for themselves. When Serios's principal investigator, Jule Eisenbud, died, I was assigned the task of going through his papers. I collected all the material relevant to the Serios case and deposited it in the Special Collections section of the UMBC library. (This includes correspondence, the original photos and film, and signed affidavits from witnesses.)...But there's no documentary evidence of Randi having even attempted to duplicate the Serios phenomena under anything like the conditions in which Serios succeeded, much less evidence of his having actually pulled it off....In fact, the history of parapsychology chronicles some remarkable examples of dishonest testimony and other reprehensible behavior on the part of skeptics....Skepticism is just as glib and dishonest now as it was in 1882 when the British SPR was founded. In fact, despite sensible and careful dismantling of the traditional skeptical objections, the same tired arguments surface again and again. And those arguments all too easily mislead those who haven't yet heard the other side of the story or examined the evidence for themselves." (Stephen Braude, The Gold Leaf Lady [Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 2007], pp. 22, 34, 126)

See Steve Hays' discussion here. And see the sources discussed by Michael Sudduth in the thread here, including the comments section. See, also, Sudduth's material here.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Monkeys with PhDs

John Loftus fired off a hasty reaction-piece to our review of TCD. I’ll comment on some of the highlights–or should I say, lowlights?

“I've had enough contact with Triablogue authors to know that I will never get in the last word. And I do not consider them honest in dealing with me. They will quote things out of context and misrepresent me because as Calvinists they do not think I deserve any respect at all. After all, if their God has foreordained me to hell then they have the right to heap additional abuse on me, and they have done so (this is such a nice version of Christianity developed by angry men for angry men, isn't it?).”

That’s a nice window into his persecution complex. Did he dash that off that from his headquarters in his abandoned missile silo somewhere in Kansas?

“I contacted the contributors of TCD to see if any of them would like to respond to this hatchet job of an online book.”

Well, ever since the Gorical convinced me of the imminent perils of global warming, I try to economize whenever possible. Why use an ax on something as flimsy as the TCD when a hatchet will do?

“Most of us have better things to do than respond to such drivel. If their arguments are considered good ones then it goes to show you that when it comes to faith any argument will do.”

He talks about arguments, but he doesn’t give an argument.

“I find it amazing that some people think this is a good rebuttal to our book. It isn't, not by a long shot. No wonder Christians have the edge. They respond to every skeptical book with three or four or ten book-length responses. Since they always have the last word and because people cannot think through the issues, the last word is what seems the most reasonable.”

He seems to think the Christian faith is a free fire zone where which he should be at liberty to turn his guns on the Christian faith, but we have no right to return fire.

“What strikes me as a common criticism of TCD is that there are fifteen chapters in the space of 419 pages, and as such, it isn't as in-depth as whole books written on each of the topics we cover. Well I'm here to tell you that this is simply not an informed way to judge anthologies especially since each chapter in TCD has plenty of footnotes for further reading (did they not notice them?). For people who wish to truly evaluate the case we make in each chapter they must read the works listed in the footnotes. It's that simple.”

Well, if it’s that simple, then it’s that simple in reverse. Our review of TCD also contains plenty of footnotes, so unbelievers who wish to truly evaluate our review of the TCD must read the books listed in the footnotes. It’s that simple.

“We DO know what we're talking about.”

If you put it in CAPS, that must make it true.

“To criticize any chapter because of the limited space available to the author without exploring the works in the footnotes is, well, not reading it thoroughly or engaging it very deeply.”

Well, when you deal with something as shallow as TCD, scratching the surface creates the Grand Canyon.

“Over and over we read where atheists have no right to make moral judgments if there are no absolute objective morals. This is simply false. They are ignorant to say otherwise. But this is true of most Christians.”

We quoted his own contributors to the TCD! You know, like Eller and Avalos. They explicitly reject moral absolutes.

What is more, his precious Outsider Test is simply a variant on cultural relativism. And moral relativism is a variant of cultural relativism. If you subscribe to cultural relativism, then that relativizes social mores as well.

“Then too, the authors are Calvinists which I think is a reprehensible theology, as I posted here.”

i) Actually, Jason Engwer is not a Calvinist.

ii) In addition, Loftus is rehashing the same objection he already raised in TCD. And I rebutted that objection in my review.

“Over and over the authors contrast their brand of Christianity with atheism which is left undefined but understood by them to be equivalent to metaphysical naturalism. I don't think they truly know what atheism is, as I explained right here, and again here.”

I see. Well, according to atheist Evan Fales, writing for The Cambridge Companion to Atheism:

Naturalism and physicalism are metaphysical positions commonly associated with atheism…Naturalism and physicalism are, therefore, natural allies of atheism, and offer a philosophical framework within which atheism finds a natural home (118).

“Besides, the options before us are not between their brand of conservative Calvinism and non-belief. The options are myriad with everything in-between. There is Arminianism, moderate and liberal Christianities, as well as Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists, Orthodox Judaism, Islam, and many eastern religions to choose from. So it really does not make a whit of difference who is making a particular argument against their brand of Christianity.”

Really? Then why is The Christian Delusion called the Christian Delusion–rather than the Mormon Delusion, The Buddhist Delusion, the Hindu Delusion, The Hasidic Delusion, The Ellen G. White Delusion, or The Saracen Delusion?

Furthermore, TCD targets conservative evangelicalism. It doesn’t focus its fire on Don Cupitt or John Spong.

“The argument either stands on its own or not. They cannot assert, for instance, that an atheist cannot make this or that kind of argument because he has no standard for morality, since Process Theologians can make that same argument as can Arminians like Christian philosopher Victor Reppert (which they have repeatedly attacked) or liberals like James McGrath.”

If Victor Reppert or Alfred North Whitehead were moral relativists, then they’d be in the same bind. And it won’t do to bring up McGrath since I’ve already argued him down.

“Then too, the Triabloguers forget that the reason why there are moderates and liberals and process theologians is precisely because many of them grew up as conservative Christians and found the arguments we have expressed in TCD to be telling against their faith. It's precisely because of these arguments that led us away from conservative Christianity in the first place.”

It’s true that apostates have a stereotypical deconversion process. But the fact that apostates are typecast to read from the same script bodes ill for their claims to be free-thinkers.

“Steve Hays asks me on page 4 to justify my assumptions. Well, if he read Why I Became an Atheist then he would see that I did just that.”

That’s symptomatic of Loftus’ egocentrism. What I actually said is:

“If, however, The Christian Delusion is directed at believers as well as unbelievers, then the contributors can‘t simply take their own methods and assumptions for granted. They can‘t treat their own social mores as the default position. They can‘t treat secular moral realism as the default position. They can‘t treat methodological naturalism as the default position. And so on. If the contributors are attempting to persuade Christians to abandon their faith, then the contributors must justify their operating assumptions. Otherwise, the whole exercise is question-begging and unconvincing from the get-go.”

Notice that my comment wasn’t limited to Loftus. Moreover, why would Loftus call in the cavalry if he thinks that he can do it all by his little lonesome?

“In areas where it’s obvious we should expect a perfectly good God to communicate his will better, he didn’t do so, which caused a great deal of harm done in his name by the church (think Inquisition, crusades, witch hunts, Christian attempts at genocide during the Thirty Years War directed at other Christian groups, Slavery, the treatment of women, and denial of the democratic ideals of the freedom of religion and of expression).”

Of course, this is simply incoherent. Loftus doesn’t think the Bible is unclear on these issues. To the contrary, he thinks the Bible is clearly wrong.

It’s a work of supererogation to refute Loftus. You only have to quote him to refute him. He does the rest.

“But in other areas through good sound Biblical scholarship we can discern what the Biblical authors probably meant to say. Take for instance their claim that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. We know this is simply ignorant.”

Of course, that’s circular. He defines “good sound Bible scholarship” as scholarship that just so happens to agree with him.

“Furthermore, the two last chapters in TCD are examples of the delusional thinking Christians have used to defend their faith, so they are indeed relevant to the book as a whole. Christians have repeatedly come along after social/political/scientific changes and claimed it was Christianity that produced these changes. The arguments of the last two chapters show this is not the case, nor is it the case when it comes to the rise of democracy, feminism, environmentalism, and animal rights.”

The chapter by Hector Avalos is basically a critique of an argument by Dinesh D'Souza while the chapter by Carrier is basically a critique of an argument by Rodney Stark. But even if Stark and D’Souza overstated their case, that doesn’t begin to disprove Christianity.

“Ken Pulliam said...These guys at Tribalogue are not worthy of a response. First, they are not scholars as were the authors of TCD. Second, because they are not scholars they don't understand the issues involved. They just merely presuppose that their holy book is perfect and that anyone who disagrees is of the devil.”

i) If the contributors to TCD are real scholars, while we are not, then it should be all the easier to knock us down.

ii) Are the contributors to TCD “scholars”? For instance, is Babinski a scholar? He contributed an essay on ANE cosmology. Is he a Hebraist? Does he read cuneiform? Does he publish learned articles in BASOR?

iii) From the Darwinian standpoint, what does it mean to be a scholar? To be a monkey with a PhD?

iv) Is TCD written by and for scholars? It wasn’t published by an academic publishing house like Oxford, Harvard, or Cambridge.

v) If scholars don’t understand the issues, then what does that say about the natural constituency for TCD? The average atheist who reads TCD can’t grasp the issues. The poor dear.


Over on Loftus's blog, Ken Pulliam is telling John to ignore The Infidel Delusion. Here’s what Ken said:


These guys at Tribalogue are not worthy of a response. First, they are not scholars as were the authors of TCD. Second, because they are not scholars they don't understand the issues involved. They just merely presuppose that their holy book is perfect and that anyone who disagrees is of the devil. Third, any response only gives them credibility.

Since I’ve actually read what was written, I find this laughable. But for the record, Ken, you can feel free to do this (and this won’t even require you to actually read the ebook). Download The Infidel Delusion and open it in Adobe. Use the search feature and look for “devil.” You will get zero results.

So look for the word “Satan” instead. Here’s what you find.

Page 65: The parallel passage in Luke 4:5 refers to how Satan showed Jesus the kingdoms “in a moment of time”. Jesus is shown the kingdoms. He doesn‘t move around to look at them. And it happens in an instant. Apparently, Satan is supernaturally bringing images before Jesus.

Page 104: A passage written by a Jew, in which another Jew refers to some other Jews of first-century Israel as children of Satan (John 8:44-45), is described by Loftus as supporting “anti-Semitism” (191). Using Loftus’ reasoning, passages like Ephesians 2:3 and Colossians 1:13 must be expressing hatred of every race, since they refer to all humans as condemned and coming from Satan’s kingdom.

Page 134: Angels, both good and evil, are involved as well, and Satan took part in bringing about the fall of mankind.
And that’s it.

What of the word “presuppose” then? Well, we get this:

Page 17: It has no bearing on whether reasoning presupposes theism.

Page 200: Science presupposes the reliability of our cognitive faculties, but what does the conjunction of naturalism and evolution—Carrier‘s position—do to this?

Page 204: Next, science presupposes logical and mathematical truths.

Page 204: Speaking of antirealism, Robert Koons has argued that naturalism cannot hold to scientific realism (which the book presupposes) “since scientific realism entails the falsity of naturalism.”

Page 208: The quasi-prophecy [11:36-39] closes with an evaluative summary of Antiochus‘s religious attitudes as king…The ‘him’ [11:40-45] again presupposes that ‘the northern king’ is the same person as that in vv21-39.
And that’s it.

I dare say, Ken, that you start worrying about your own credibility before worrying about ours.

The Waterloo of atheism

I'm posting some comments that Timothy McGrew left over at Victor Reppert's blog:

At July 15, 2010 5:52 PM , Tim said...

Mark writes:

No kidding. In practice, no miracle testimony has ever been strong enough to establish its conclusion. This is a far cry from saying Hume thinks it's impossible for testimony to establish the existence of miracles. Look at these sentences from part 2, which come immediately after the section you quoted:

"I beg the limitations here made may be remarked, when I say, that a miracle can never be proved, so as to be the foundation of a system of religion. For I own, that otherwise, there may possibly be miracles, or violations of the usual course of nature, of such a kind as to admit of proof from human testimony; though, perhaps, it will be impossible to find any such in all the records of history."

Still not convinced?

Well, no. Just look at the way that Hume goes on:

Thus, suppose, all authors, in all languages, agree, that, from the first of JANUARY 1600, there was a total darkness over the whole earth for eight days: Suppose that the tradition of this extraordinary event is still strong and lively among the people: That all travellers, who return from foreign countries, bring us accounts of the same tradition, without the least variation or contradiction: It is evident, that our present philosophers, instead of doubting the fact, ought to receive it as certain, and ought to search for the causes whence it might be derived.

The closing reference to ‘causes’ can scarcely be taken to mean anything but natural causes, and the ‘philosophers’ are natural philosophers, that is, scientists. This choice of words warns the reader that under the circumstances Hume would consider the period of darkness to be, not in the strict sense a miracle, that is, a violation of the laws of nature, but rather a violation of its usual course. He goes on to note that the ‘decay, corruption, and dissolution of nature’ is rendered so probable by many analogies that it ‘comes within the reach of human testimony, if that testimony be very extensive and uniform’. The event, in short, is a marvel rather than a miracle; Hume has taken back with the left hand what he appeared to concede with the right.

At July 16, 2010 6:51 AM , Tim said...


Why be so shy? You're missing out. Imagine the fun you could have if you approached Napoleon the way you approach Jesus. I'll illustrate, using the sort of reasoning that you've displayed over the years, just to get you started.

* You have Napoleon's body? Hah. All you have is some body or other.

* Napoleon really existed? Show us his birth certificate. You can't.

* We have not a single photograph of Napoleon. Not. One. Of course, Napoleon apologists will argue that Napoleon died in 1821, whereas the camera was not invented until 1839. That just shows you the desperate lengths to which they will go to explain away the lack of evidence.

* Supposedly we have Napoleon's autograph. But there are about a dozen wildly different ways that he supposedly signed his name, and even those who believe Napoleon existed will concede that most of the signatures purporting to be his are outright forgeries.

* The accounts of the exploits of Napoleon are wildly inconsistent. Just try to reconcile them. It can't be done.

* Even apart from the contradictions, the feats ascribed to Napoleon are wildly improbable; and it is a well-known fact that the more marvelous anything is the less likely is it to be true.

* It was in the interest of the British government to promote national unity at the time. What better way to do so than to invent a figure to play the "good part" of a common enemy against whom the gullible populace might be rallied?

* Supposed memorabilia of Napoleon fetch high prices at auctions. An encrusted sword with no documentation will fetch $30,000; Henry Wellcome even purchased a gold-plated toothbrush that supposedly belonged to Napoleon. The Napoleon myth is good business.

See how easy this is?

The one about the birth certificate illustrates a particularly useful trick that you will want to study closely and imitate as often as you can. No matter what the actual evidence is, you can always find something that isn't available. Fasten on that as if its absence were of crushing significance. If your interlocutors point out that it wasn't to be expected, at this point in time, that we should have every sort of ancillary evidence we might think up, deride them as ignorant and delusional. If they try to turn the discussion to the actual positive evidence for their primary contention, just shout louder about the absence of the thing you demand. It makes you seem like a serious historian.

At July 17, 2010 5:27 AM , Tim said...


It was not skeptical arguments Überhaupt that I was satirizing. It was yours. The transparent unfairness of these arguments against the existence of Napoleon is simply a mirror of the transparent unfairness of the arguments you use on the internet almost daily. You're the only one in this conversation who can't recognize yourself.

Thanks for the additional laughs in your link to the page of "photographic documented evidence." This is your own attempt at satire, right? Taking a few words in a row as proof of borrowing?

Golly, what a wide field for further research that one provides.

I open my copy of The House at Pooh Corner at random -- it happened to fall open at p. 87 -- and the second line reads "... until he came to the place ..." What do you want to bet that we can find a close match for this in the Bible? Hey, how about Luke 23:33: "When they came to the place ..." And in fact, Luke is talking about the crucifixion of Jesus -- whom Christians identify as the Man of Sorrows -- while The House at Pooh Corner is talking about Eeyore ("... when he came to the place where Eeyore was ..."), who is also a man of sorrows! Yes, that clinches it: Milne is definitely borrowing from Luke. Or maybe Luke is borrowing from Milne. Or maybe picking out a few words in a row and claiming that it is "photographic documented evidence" that one document is borrowed from another is bonkers.

At July 18, 2010 9:58 AM , Tim said...

An "argument" for conscious borrowing in the service of mythmaking that can be replicated in 90 seconds with a copy of a Winnie the Pooh book in one hand and a copy of the Bible in the other is, to borrow a phrase from Hume, more properly a subject of derision than of argument. It belongs in the same pile with The Bible Code -- which, come to think of it, it rather resembles.

At July 18, 2010 7:05 PM , Tim said...


This has already been discussed above. Hume does use "miracle" and "extreme improbability" interchangeably sometimes, e.g. here:

"When any one tells me that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself whether it be more probable that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact which he relates should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other." [Emphasis added]

On the epistemic side, extreme improbability is all we have to work with.

Whately's point is that the alleged events of Napoleon's career are wildly improbable. It is therefore fair game for the application of Hume's maxim.

By the way, there's a cookie for you if you can find a passage from Gibbon expressing doubt regarding the existence of Jesus. And no, the famous passage from Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire ch. 15 doesn't help you; that has to do with Jesus' reported miracles, not with his existence. (It's a lousy argument anyway, but that issue is being discussed in the thread on arguments from silence.)

At July 18, 2010 8:45 PM , Tim said...


All the work is being done by improbability. Hume sets up his argument from universal testimony in order to support his claim that a miracle is wildly improbable. That's why the comparison is fair game. You're free to argue that the aspects of the (reported) career of Napoleon cited by Whately aren't actually all that improbable. But that would require that you actually read Whately -- and judging from your comments so far, this is something that you haven't bothered to do.

At July 19, 2010 10:41 AM , Tim said...


No, you don't quite understand the like basic Fratboy-o-sopher point that it's an irrelevant analogy.

Perhaps that’s because, unlike you, I don’t do fratboy-o-sophy.

Napoleon's existence is not controversial

Neither is the existence of Jesus, except among the lunatic fringe. Good grief, even Bart Ehrman gets this.

Hume’s argument against miracles is that there is universal testimony against them. He isn’t even consistent, since elsewhere in the same piece he admits that miracle reports abound in all of history. But waive that. The argument from universal testimony to the contrary, if it were any good, would apply equally well to spontaneous proton decay. Yet we accept that testimony would be perfectly competent to confirm such an event. Hume’s argument, applied consistently, would truly be a science stopper.

You don't quite understand Humean tactics either. He wanted to undercut the supposed inerrancy of scripture, ie theocracy, like as a basis for law. And that he does, uh did.

Hume’s tactics and his motives would be two separate matters. But never mind that; your description is so far off from what Hume actually says that it is really rather bizarre. Hume’s critique of miracles has nothing to say about theocracy. You are simply jumbling together standard skeptical complaints that have nothing to do with one another in a sort of verbal salad. This may be standard fare in fratboy-o-sophy. But it is not reasoning.

At July 19, 2010 1:28 PM , Tim said...


You are apparently under the misimpression that, just because you are finally starting to understand Hume’s reasoning in Hume’s own terms, you can assert without argument that his reasoning is cogent. Maybe on the atheist blogs – but not here.

However, we aren’t even quite there yet. Let’s take this one step at a time.

Whether the biblical miracles are wildly improbable depends on two factors; the prior probability that something like the Judeo-Christian God exists, and the strength of the total evidence for the biblical miracle claims. Vic has repeatedly pointed out that estimates of the former vary from person to person. Every sensible Christian acknowledges that the evidence for some particular biblical miracle claims is better than for others.

Napoleon's existence isn't improbable, even if some details of his life can't be established. It's really a false analogy. He's merely pointing out that you can't necessarily prove Napoleon existed either.

You seem to be treating ‘Napoleon’ as a rigid designator. As a good neo-Russellian, I’m not obligated to let you get away with it. ‘Napoleon’ denotes someone who did at least approximately the things attributed to him in the historical accounts we have. These are quite astonishing and improbable, some of them quite unprecedented. That is all that is required for Whately’s satire to hit home. I suggest that you take the time actually to read Whately’s satire before you say again that it is a false analogy.

Spinoza also said much the same as Hume (as did other writers) in the 17th century, and suggested all biblical miracles could be accounted for by natural science.

This claim is half right, half wrong. The half that is right is that Spinoza did suggest that the root of belief in the biblical miracles was ignorance of natural causes. But the other half is wrong. Spinoza’s argument against miracles is completely different from Hume’s argument, and Hume does not suggest that the biblical miracles were just misunderstood natural phenomena.

If you think the apparitions of Mary are even remotely akin to the resurrection, then you have not read the gospels through even once with attention. The use of the misspelling “Hebbin’” as a derogatory term may make you feel that you are better educated than those with whom you disagree, but that feeling, I regret to inform you, is an illusion, and the affectation is childish.

If it were any part of the Christian faith that the resurrection of Jesus would end all war and suffering, then the occurrence of these things might have a point. But it isn’t, so the only relevance of these remarks is that they direct attention to the general problem of evil, which has of course been discussed at great length by Christian authors. Incidentally, using the diminutive form of someone’s name does not increase the cogency of your argument. Nor does the spelling “Jeezus” magically transform your opponents into hapless rednecks.

I have no clear sense of what you mean by a “fundamentalist,” but there are certainly many Christians who believe that Jesus literally rose from the dead who have written serious works grappling with the problem of evil. If you are aware of these works but are going to disqualify the authors from being “fundamentalists” because many of the authors are well-published professional philosophers with graduate degrees, then why are you even commenting about fundamentalism here? Is it because you don’t realize that Vic and several of his commentators have earned doctorates and have been teaching and writing philosophy longer than you have been alive? If, on the other hand, you are not familiar with the literature of Christian philosophers addressing the problem of evil, perhaps you should read up on the topic a bit before you stride into Vic’s comboxes with your cape fluttering behind you.

At July 19, 2010 2:51 PM , Tim said...


You persist in assuming that understanding Hume’s point and agreeing with it are the same thing. This requires argument – which you have yet to provide. We’re also waiting on you to provide any reference to “theocracy” in Hume’s writings.

As I already mentioned, Spinoza’s argument against the credibility of the biblical miracle reports is completely different from Hume’s. But I’m beginning to realize that you are working from a hazy recollection of someone else's talking points and have never actually read either author for yourself.

Hume’s grasp of the mathematics of probable reasoning was minimal. Have a look at John Earman’s discussion of the subject in Hume’s Abject Failure. As for inconsistencies in the gospels, suppose it to be true in some ancillary matters; how would this render the main outlines of the history incredible?

... 4000 BC or whatever judeo-christian tradition held

By the late 18th century, before either Darwin or Lyell was born, the majority position among Protestant theologians was that the earth is extremely old and that the chronologies worked out by Bishop Ussher and other well-intentioned scholars were based on a faulty understanding of the biblical narrative.

Indeed the historical view of the Gospels arguably misses the point anyway. It's not Herodotus or Tacitus, but more like....ethics...and poetry. Consider the lilies of the field. etc. Jeeezuss was a William Blake type, man. Or the Grateful Dead, on a good night.

Cherry picking some inspirational quotations from Jesus’ teaching will not substantiate the claim that the genre of the Gospels is not history. Please try to do at least a little reading on the subject before you say silly things like this. You might start here.

You also seem to need reminding again that saying "Jeeezuss" does not give you gravitas.

At July 19, 2010 2:58 PM , Tim said...


If that were a real wager, you’d be paying me money right now. Pointing out that you are a clueless internet hack is not, per se, unchristian. Think of it as compassionate intervention.

The only things I’ve been concerned to argue about here are your repeated and pervasive misconceptions regarding Whately, Hume, Spinoza, and the New Testament. It took me a while to realize that you haven’t read any of them. There is no shame in this; many otherwise fine people have not read them. But for someone who pretends to know all about them, a lack of firsthand acquaintance with these works must surely be an inconvenience.

At July 19, 2010 3:13 PM , Tim said...


Can you read? I mean, at all? I just said that the only thing I’ve been concerned to argue about is your misreading of just about everybody. Now it appears that you can’t even be bothered to read what I write. It does rather diminish the interest of having a conversation.

You say that proving Napoleon existed poses the exact same difficulties as does establishing the veracity of biblical miracles.

Actually, I didn’t say that; I said that the nub of the problem is extreme improbability in both cases. There are, of course, various disanalogies, some of which tell in favor of the accounts of Napoleon’s exploits and some of which tell in the other direction.

In everything I have ever written on the subject, I have consistently maintained that the only legitimate way to deal with these issues is by straightforward historical scholarship. The reason to believe in the resurrection but not in the supposed miracles of other religions or even of later ecclesiastical history is simply that the evidence for the resurrection is many orders of magnitude stronger than the evidence for those other claims. If you really think that Christians are unaware of the issue of other religious miracle claims, I can only surmise that you have been hiding in a cave for the past 400 years or so.

At July 19, 2010 4:05 PM , Tim said...


Actually, Hume is wrong on the uniformity of experience claim, since miracles other than the resurrection have occasionally occurred. And even if he weren't wrong, in this context, it would be begging the question to make that claim. But there's another claim in the neighborhood that is true, namely, that outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition, there are no well-attested miracle reports. We can charitably read him as really meaning that.

What on earth the First Amendment has to so with any of this is completely obscure. No one is abridging your freedom of speech, even though you are making a complete fool of yourself.

You were indeed the first one to use the phrase "uniformity of experience" in this thread. Why you think that shows me to be lying is a mystery. It's right up there with your juvenile fascination with the diminutive form of my name. Whatever.

You're "pretty well acquainted with zee klassix" because you are aware of a fact about Kant that can be read off of the Wikipedia article on him? Well, I'm convinced.

And you still think Hume was talking about theocracy. I've asked you a couple of times to provide a reference for this, but to no avail. It seems like providing evidence to back up your assertions isn't your strong suit.

On the other hand, you do show some elementary facility with vulgar insults, like the Spanish word for a male prostitute. Your upbringing apparently left out some basic training in manners, but trust me: it's considered impolite.

At July 19, 2010 5:48 PM , Tim said...


You are seriously delusional and probably need professional help. It is a trial of patience simply to respond to all of the palpable falsehoods you continue to spew out. Just so that you cannot with any show of plausibility claim that my silence gave color to your claims, here are responses to ten of them:

I never blogged at Right Reason. I am not a Calvinist. I did not favor going into the war in Iraq. I have never defended or even discussed the claim that there were WMDs there. To the best of my recollection, I have never discussed Ann Coulter on the internet (though I once did tell a reporter that I thought she was over the top). I have no objection to carbon-14 dating when used within the limits of its range (i.e. up to about 60K years BP). Widespread Christian belief in an indefinitely old earth and cosmos predated Lyell and Darwin. The First Amendment is not about inerrancy. No one in this conversation is trying to infringe your First Amendment rights. My criticisms of Hume are very nearly identical to those of John Earman, a well-respected philosopher of science at the University of Pittsburgh; Earman is not a religious believer of any stripe.