Here are some replies I gave in response to a commenter on this post:
"First, if you're willing to make the quest for truth to be a complete joke by removing a major contender, why not just deny the premise that atheism entails nihilism instead."
Your objection is hopelessly superficial. If atheism implicates moral and existential nihilism, then it's atheism that makes the quest for truth a complete joke. Indeed, a bad joke.
"In other words, instead of putting your head in the sand regarding ontological questions…"
What's wrong with putting one's head in the sand if moral and existential nihilism supply the frame of reference? Your nearsighted disapproval confirms the fact that you fail to grasp the intellectual consequences of the issue under review.
"Second, your last paragraph seems to imply that you think the quest for truth should be limited to the Bible."
In context, I'm responding to Licona. The question is whether there's a fallback to Christianity.
"The problem is that the Bible makes claims and touches upon issues that cross into scientific territory."
Which I never denied.
"For example, the order of creation found in Genesis. What happens when something like fossil evidence refutes such claims? (Which it has.)"
i) To begin with, I don't assume that the sequence in Gen 1 is strictly chronological. For instance, the relation between Day 1 and Day 4 seems to be a deliberate anachronism.
ii) In principle, the fossil record could be a part of God initiating the story in medias res–just as historical movies begin at a certain point in the ongoing history of the world, but have an implicit backstory.
"Moreover, take the doctrine of the soul. What happens if we look around and find nothing but physics?"
Evidently, you fail to grasp the hard problem of consciousness. Likewise, you're evidently ignorant of empirical evidence for the independent existence of the soul (e.g. OBEs, NDEs, apparitions).
"I can't help but feel that there's a reason as to why there is no consensus on what the Bible teaches;why when someone like Issac Newton tries to extract scientific knowledge from it, it's to no avail; why sections making predictions, such as the Book of Revelations, are so vague that even sophisticated believers, such as William Lane Craig, have no idea what it means."
Which contradicts your contention that the Bible makes claims which cross into scientific territory. Can't have it both ways. Either the Bible is too vague to clearly teach anything or else Bible teaching is clearly wrong.
"If by nihilism, you mean…"
I said what I meant by nihilism by including adjectives: "moral" and "existential." To elaborate:
Ethical nihilism or moral nihilism rejects the possibility of absolute moral or ethical values. Instead, good and evil are nebulous, and values addressing such are the product of nothing more than social and emotive pressures. Existential nihilism is the notion that life has no intrinsic meaning or value, and it is, no doubt, the most commonly used and understood sense of the word today.
While nihilism is often discussed in terms of extreme skepticism and relativism, for most of the 20th century it has been associated with the belief that life is meaningless. Existential nihilism begins with the notion that the world is without meaning or purpose. Given this circumstance, existence itself--all action, suffering, and feeling--is ultimately senseless and empty.
In his study of meaninglessness, Donald Crosby writes that the source of modern nihilism paradoxically stems from a commitment to honest intellectual openness. "Once set in motion, the process of questioning could come to but one end, the erosion of conviction and certitude and collapse into despair" (The Specter of the Absurd, 1988). When sincere inquiry is extended to moral convictions and social consensus, it can prove deadly, Crosby continues, promoting forces that ultimately destroy civilizations.
Back to brownmamba:
"then I am sorry to inform you that nihilism can't be avoided by postulating God, because intrinsic value is a logical non-starter, If things such as love or sadism had intrinsic moral worth, we would be able to find 'goodness' or 'evil' within the concept of these things (just as we know a triangle is necessarily a three-sided shape)."
You confuse the meaning of words and/or concepts with whether these ideas have real-world correlatives.
"However, thanks to G.E. Moore…"
That's terribly dated. Moore's intuitionism is pretty passé even within secular ethics.
"That being said, for someone to be consistent, its unnecessary to hold the 'intrinsic value' of truth. All that's needed is that they themselves value the truth."
So you're telling me that science has no intrinsic truth value? If so, why do you make science a standard of comparison?
"If one wants to put their head in the sand, fine."
You disregard the specifics of my response. I said "What's wrong with putting one's head in the sand if moral and existential nihilism supply the frame of reference?"
So you duck the real force of the question.
"It's just factually incorrect to say you're going on a quest for truth…"
I never said that. I was responding to Licona's notion that people should pursue the truth "no matter where it leads."
"…and then proceed to exclude an immensely, plausible position."
Atheism is immensely plausible to an atheist. Nothing like a circular appeal.
"If you really don't care about facts…"
You still don't get it. I understand. Your position is too threatened if you allow the point to sink in. The irony is that Christians like me take atheism more seriously than atheists like you. You keep avoiding the dilemma that your position generates. Atheism is self-defeating. To repeat:
"In his study of meaninglessness, Donald Crosby writes that the source of modern nihilism paradoxically stems from a commitment to honest intellectual openness. 'Once set in motion, the process of questioning could come to but one end, the erosion of conviction and certitude and collapse into despair.'"
That's your conundrum.
"Okay fine. But is there anything in Genesis that can be read straightforwardly?"
I arrive at my interpretation (i.e. the anachronism of Day 4) by a straightforward reading of the text. Just comparing Day 1 with Day 4.
"Do you sense any irony when you call the quest for truth on atheism to be a bad joke, when you hypothesize God making things seem not the way they are on a grand scale?"
Your comparison is fatally equivocal. On the one hand, atheism is a "bad joke" because it renders good and evil nebulous; values addressing such are the product of nothing more than social and emotive pressures; life has no intrinsic meaning or value.
Compare that to the possibility that the cosmos is, in some measure, a stage set, like a movie set in the Old West. The movie set has period architecture, dated newspapers, stage props. That fictional setting supplies the backdrop for the action. Real action. Real actors. Why is it acceptable for directors to do this, but the idea that God would do it is somehow unacceptable?
I'm not saying that's the case. But there's nothing wrong with that in principle. And if it were true, it would be empirically indistinguishable from a real past.
"What you don't seem to understand is that trying to solve the problem by adding a new "substance", such as the soul, would make what we know about physics to be false at least some of the time. Unless the soul behaves exactly like physical entities, we should be able to see this indiscretion when the soul interacts with the rest of physical reality. But we haven't. Thus, it seems that the soul has been empirically falsified."
If I'm receiving garbled messages on my cellphone, that could either be because my cellphone is malfunctioning or because there's a problem at the source–the cell site. Which end is the source of the problem: the receiver or the transmitter? The cellphone or the cell tower?
"My general point, however, is that the existence of the soul can be settled by observation just like many other truth claims; claims you would rather look at the Bible to find answers for."
If the soul exists, it is not an empirical entity, so it can't be directly observed. Anymore than we can normally observe someone at the other end of the receiver when we answer the phone.
That does, however, allow for the possibility of observable effects, viz. veridical OBEs, NDEs, ESP, apparitions.
"My main point, however, is that the great bulk of the Bible is vague when it comes to making verifiable claims. What I had in mind is the Book of Revelations."Prophecy is verifiable after the fact, but not in advance of the fact.
"But take for example, the claim we are made in the image and likeness of God. What does this mean?"
"My other point, however, is that the relatively few times that the Bible does make fairly clear scientific claims, like in Genesis, it often turns out to be wrong."
Begs the question.
"And when this happens, people like yourself claim that the Bible really isn't making a clear scientific claim, and a fog is placed around the passages."
That isn't what I claimed.
"I don't know what you meant by the correlatives comment."
Do moral concepts correspond to real events? Is it actually wrong to torture babies for fun. Or is that just a matter of how we define words? Stimulative definitions, viz. "married bachelor" is a contradiction in terms?
"If someone values the truth to a great enough extent, then they shouldn't put their head in the sand."
i) You keep missing the point. The question is why, from a secular standpoint (i.e. moral and existential nihilism), people ought to value the truth.
ii) Furthermore, naturalism conduces to alethic relativism. If we think with our brains, and our brains are the byproduct of an unintelligent process (i.e. naturalistic evolution), then there's no reason to suppose our brains are reliable truth-detectors. Would you buy a computer that was the byproduct of an unintelligent process? Would you rely on a computer that was the byproduct of an unintelligent process? Would you fly a plane with computers like that?
In physicalism, "truth" is simply whatever your brain tells you. A brain that's the incidental result of a mindless product.
Consider what the brain of someone on an acid-trip is telling him.
Consider what the brain of someone on an acid-trip is telling him.
"So I don't think all out truth seeking necessarily leads to despair, even if the conclusion is nihilism."
Because they lack the courage of their convictions.
"If it weren't for your Christian belief, would there be any reason to disbelief that the past goes back as far as carbon dating, cosmology, ext says it does? There are several issues with your suggestion besides the prima facie absurdity, even for Christians."
How is that any more "absurd" than cosmologists who speculate that, for all we know, the universe might be a giant hologram?
"A director isn't being deceptive when he provides the back-story, because we all know its' a movie."
When children watch movies, do they know the difference between fantasy and reality? Are Disney films "deceptive"?
"In the case of God, he clearly is because we would've been given every reason to believe in the past, but in reality it was not the case."
Your argument is circular. That only follows on the naive assumption that appearance and reality are conterminous. But physics routinely drives a wedge between appearance and reality.
I don't deny the reality of the past. I deny the reliability of unlimited induction from the present to the past. That presumes that the universe is composed of machines within machines within machines. Even human beings are machines. All agency is mechanical. Hence, everything operates with mechanical uniformity. The clockwork universe.
That I reject. Not all causes are physical causes. There are causes within the universe involving mental agency. Hence, we can't extrapolate from the present to the past in a linear, uninterrupted continuum. Mental agency isn't an automated process. It allows for rational discretion.
The question is not the reality of the past, but when the past begins. Where does the preamble end and the action begin?
If creation ex nihilo is true, then there's a sense in which the world is a story in progress from the first moment of the universe.
"Secondly, the back-story is provided by a director so that the story in the movie we see makes sense. I don't see why a distant past is necessary for God to tell his 'story'."
Nature is cyclical. Creating a cyclical process will break into the process at some arbitrary starting-point. Where do you begin a circle? It could be anywhere. Once the cyclical process is in place, you can mentally rewind it.
"Especially since it contradicts the other story of creation he revealed in the Bible."
What story does it contradict?
"Take the hypothesis that there is a giant who lives in Times Square."
That's an unoriginal variation on Carl Sagan's "The Dragon in My Garage," which is, in turn, an unoriginal variation on Anthony Flew's invisible gardener.
But if, as even many secular philosophers concede, the mind has properties that are irreducible to a physical state, then the brain is inadequate to explain the effects.
Moreover, as I've noted twice before, there's corroborative for the ontological independence of the soul.
"As for the OBEs, I take them as seriously as you probably take accounts of alien abductions. The ones I am familiar with(admittedly not many), turned out to be largely discredited, such as the kid who inspired the best selling book and turned out to be a liar. Rigorous scientific observation is what I had in mind for empirical evidence."
i) I suspect many "alien abductees" are liars and publicity hounds. However, I think some "alien abductees" had a genuine encounter, but not with ETs.
ii) I take it that you haven't done any in-depth study of OBEs, NDEs, &c. Jason Engwer and I have posted a lot of material on that.
iii) I don't know what you mean by "rigorous scientific observation." Do you mean experimental evidence in contrast to anecdotal evidence?
What about studying animal behavior in the wild rather than the laboratory. Is that "unscientific" because it isn't "rigorous"? Or did you have some other distinction in mind? If field studies are scientific, anecdotal evidence for OBEs, NDEs, &c. can also be scientific.
iv) I'm also unclear on why "scientific" observation is the paradigm. Take oral history, based on eyewitness observers. That's not "scientific," but it's the basis for much historical knowledge.
"As rational creatures, its the fact that we do value the truth that's important and all that is necessary to justify an attempt to seek it."
You continually miss the point. If, say, the truth concerns a dire unavoidable consequence, then why should I "value" it. Knowing about it does me no good. I will be irreparably harmed, and there's nothing I can do to prevent it. There's no reason for my to value the truth in that context.
"I think that this point is confused. Our brains' existence may be the result of a mindless process, but brains themselves are not mindless."
Would you bet on racehorses by rolling dice to pick the winners? The reliability of the product is contingent on the reliability of the process.
"If we understand 'truth' to mean 'what is the case', then the "the truth" is what molds and shapes the brain in the first place."
i) By defining truth to mean "what is the case," you seem to be gesturing at a correspondence theory of truth. However, correspondence involves a relation (between two or more things). A natural process isn't true or false. It has no truth value.
Rather, a truth would be a true belief or true proposition about a natural process.
ii) In naturalistic evolution, it's not "the truth" that produces the brain, but unintelligent physical causes.
iii) A physical state lacks inherent meaning. For instance, an arrangement of rocks spelling S.O.S. is not intrinsically meaningful. Rather, it has extrinsic meaning. Meaning has been assigned to that pattern by a linguistic community.
Brain states don't refer to anything. Brain states aren't about anything.
"To the point about the man on the acid trip, is this not a problem for the theist as well?"
In atheism, the human brain is the ultimate frame of reference. There is no higher corrective.
"In the context, I was referring to the possible evidence of the soul. Given that the soul is allegedly in the brain…"
What makes you think that according to substance/Cartesian dualism, the soul is in the brain?
Rather, it's a case of the soul using the brain. And even in physical situations, an agent can have remote access or remote control (e.g. wireless transactions).
"…the kind of observation that would be appropriate would be the same as for any other phenomenon taking place in the body."
Which piggybacks on your false premise (see above).
"Controlled observations using the tools of neuroscience are what I had in mind. Field studies may be scientific, but aren't appropriate in this context."
If you have reported OBEs where an individual saw or heard things he couldn't perceive in his body, given where his body was at the time in relation to the observation, then that doesn't require "controlled observations using the tools of neuroscience."
Same thing with apparitions. If, say, a decedent appears to an acquaintance at the time of the decedent's death (i.e. the acquaintance wakes up and sees an apparition of the decedent), the acquaintance glances at the clock, goes back to sleep, then finds out the next day that the individual who appeared to him died the night before at the time on the clock, that doesn't require "controlled observations using the tools of neuroscience."
Likewise, a crisis apparition in which the decedent warns or informs an acquaintance about his situation or the situation of somebody he cares about. As it turns out, the warning (or information) was prescient. That doesn't require "controlled observations using the tools of neuroscience."
These would be examples of veridical OBEs and apparitions. Of course, they depend on testimonial evidence, and you can always deny the credibility of the witness. Since, however, most of our knowledge is dependent on testimonial evidence, that borders on global skepticism.
In any case, my immediate objective is not to document cases (although that material is available), but to describe types of cases. The kinds of examples that would constitute veridical evidence.
"When I said the truth molds the brain, what I should have said is that 'reality' molds the brain."
And the reality that produces the brain, given naturalistic evolution, consists of mindless physical causes and events.
"The analogy about the horse race is misleading: there's no connection between the outcomes of the race and the dice. However, there is a connection between the brain and reality."
There's a connection between spicy food and indigestion.
"Now what you're bringing up is the problem of intentionality. Notice, however, that there is a subtle difference between the kinds of questions you have asked."
That's because I'm tailing you. When you turn, I turn.
And you don't offer a counterargument to my examples.
"As for a truth being a true proposition, this sounds problematic if you deny the ontological reality of propositions. Do propositions actually exist as features of the world?. If not, what then happens to truth? I don't know what exactly what to make of this."
Propositions can be viewed as abstract objects. Of course, that runs counter to physicalism.
And in theism, God's true beliefs guarantee truth. Because his beliefs are timeless, the truths never pass out of existence.
"I would think the external reality would be the frame of reference on both atheism/theism."
In physicalism, reason is confined to the brain.