Creatures of definition: are they only mental?

Some person’s done me the honour of linking to my blog, over at this “Rational Skepticism” post (the impartial observer may note how frequently the word “rational” is to an atheist what the phrase “People’s Democratic” is to a free and fair election).

I can’t respond there without registering, which I don’t like to do if I’m not going to be posting (and what could be more dull for an unbeliever than a sombre congregation of the devout?). So I thought I’d say a little something here.

First off, I am given as an example of “Neoplatonism or Advaita Vedanta”. I know very little about the latter, so on that I cannot comment, but regarding the former, the position I advanced in the Ontological Argument post is so directly contrary to everything that is platonist in neoplatonism that what I said might be regarded as ANTI-platonist, and I cannot fathom what sort of philosophical ignorance could conflate these two directly opposing points of view. Platonism, including Neoplatonism, is the triumph of the real over the actual, of the essential over the accidental, of the universal over the particular, and of the compulsory over the chosen. What I have said is the absolute contrary.

The more important point, however, is what they go on to say. “Sure, anyone can define a God into existence for their own convenience, but this is hardly a convincing reason for someone who doesn’t share your assumptions and habits of thinking to have faith in your God.” – well yes, I said that myself. But then: “These people have practically admitted that their God is a mental construct”.

Here we have a very serious misunderstanding. What a theist who accepted my earlier comments would have to acknowledge is that God, as we know of and conceive of him, is a creature of our own definitions. But there are two large errors in conflating this with the position that “God is a mental construct”.

The first is that “God” and “our conception of God” are not the same thing. The latter is created by definition, but that says nothing about the former. Consider the black box of skepticism: something is in there that causes various things to occur in response to stimuli. We put in X, we get out Y. What is in the box? We’ll call it Bod. Now, Bod’s behaviour is very complex, and some of us realise that predicting what will happen is a lot easier if we instead think of there being TWO things in the box, Bod-1 and Bod-2: instead of one complicated Bod, with an extremely complicated behaviour, we instead posit two quite simple Bods, interacting with the outside world, and each other, in quite a simple way. In addition, perhaps somebody notices that Bod-2 would be more or less the same as the things inside many OTHER black boxes (a type of thing already classified as the Gox).

Now, what is Bod-1? Well, our concept of Bod-1 is a concept born out of a voluntary definition. We don’t have to define Bod-1 as existing at all: we could ascribe everything to Bod-2. And once we DECIDE to posit Bod-1, we are still free as regards which behaviours we ascribe to it: there’s an infinite number of ways (well, a LOT of ways, at least) we could split up the behaviours between Bod-1 and Bod-2. So in the end, our only core conception of Bod-1 is “that being that, in combination with Bod-2, explains the outputs from the black box, if it is assumed that Bod-2 is, or is very similar to, a Gox”.

So, our concept of Bod-1 is a creature of definition: but is Bod-1 a mental construct? Well, let’s see: we bash open the box, and inside we find an ordinary little Gox of unexceptional type, and this other thing, which is indeed as we calculated Bod-1 would probably be. Look, a physical little creature! Not a mental construct at all! Our CONCEPT was mental, yes, but what concept is not?

The quick-minded realist among you will no doubt have noticed that Bod-1 can stand  an analogy for ANYTHING. We are constantly forming concepts of the world around us on the basis of inadequate information. Some of that concept-formation occurs by (intentional or unintentional) definition; some of it, by (conscious or unconscious) calculation; some of it, perhaps, by various forms of rationalist or empiricist strong intuition or impression. But all these concepts are concepts, and all concepts, at least as they are present in the mind, are mental constructs (even if some people might want us to believe that they have been constructed according to, as it were, a floorplan of non-mental origin). So to say that our concept of God is the result of definition is not to say that God itself is a mental construct.

Now, it might be objected that something strange is going on in an ontological argument that concedes that the existance of God can only be “shown” if we make a definition without any exterior reason for doing so. Yet all that amounts to is saying “I only believe in the God I believe in because I have this particular concept of her”: but about what could this not be said? You do not believe in Gox, but then how could you, when you have not formed a clear concept of what Gox is said to be?

The difference, I suppose, is that with an OA-God, we are essentially saying that the concept itself cannot be formed except by definition… except we’re not, because although a believer in such a God CAN put forward an ontological argument, they may themselves have formed their concept in some other way already. So the concept of God is in much the same ontological condition as the concept of anything else.

—-

However, there is still another point. It might be said that God, while not a mental construct precisely, is still in a different category from, say, snails. It may be a concept that is ‘disconnected’ from reality: there may not really be a God.

This is where I think that people like that “Rational Skeptic” are themselves perpetrators of platonism, in Kantian form. We have our understanding of a thing on the one hand, and the Real Thing Itself on the other. Some ‘understandings’ may have no correlate in Real Stuff. We may call these concepts “false”; and, in keeping with the spirit of our Skeptical friend we may call the putative “things” depicted in false concepts “imaginary” or “fictional”.

To illustrate this, back to the black box. We are talking about the contents of the box as Bod-1 and Gox, before we’ve broken in. Is our concept of Bod-1 false or unfalse? It is a concept drawn from definition, but does that make the thing it is a conception of, Bod-1, “imaginary”? No, not by itself. We may break in to the box and find Bod-1 within: then Bod-1 would clearly be “factual”.

What are we talking about when we say “Bod-1 is hungry!”? Are we talking about Bod-1? Presumably, if Bod-1 is factual. But what if Bod-1 is fictional? Well then, let’s see, would “Bod-1 is hungry!” be true or false? Or neither? Or both? Let’s insist: “hungry” must mean the same thing as usual. Well then, either we accept that we are right to talk about fictional things in the same terms as factual things (in which case “Bod-1 exists” will likewise mean the same thing, and be equally true, whether Bod-1 is fictional or factual), or we say that no, it is NOT true that Bod-1 is hungry if Bod-1 doesn’t actually exist. And yet: something is clearly truer in saying “Bod-1 is hungry” than “Bod-1 is not hungry”, if the black box behaves in the way that we are predicting when we ascribe hunger to the putative being inside. So maybe we are saying something true, but not about the fictional Bod-1? Maybe we’re actually talking about an aspect of a single Combi-Bod, which aspect we’ve named Bod-1?

Consider this from another side: when I say “I am hungry” and I’m not lying, I’m talking about a real thing, myself. Because when we ascribe things using unfalse concepts we ascribe them to true, real, actual, factual things. But when, it seems, we ascribe things using false concepts, we ascribe them to… well, surely we are still ASCRIBING them? But to what the Skeptic named “mental constructs”. But this means that we do not know whether we are talking about a construct or about an entity until we have opened the box! Until then, we must withhold judgement.

BUT: we can never open the box. “Opening the box” is comparing the real thing, if it exists at all, to our concepts of it. We have the real thing in one hand, as it were, and the concept in the other, and see if they weigh the same. But we can never “know” about a thing without our concepts of it. Knowing about a thing and having a concept (in the sense of an understanding, which need not be a conscious concept) of it are integrally connected concepts: the former requires the latter. Regarding this lightbulb here: I don’t get to say “well, I’ve got this phenomenal conceptualisation of the lightbulb, and I’ve checked that with the real lightbulb as it exists outside of my understand and experience of it, and they’re the same!”. We can never open the box. Which means that we must ALWAYS withhold judgement. We never know which things are “real” and which aren’t.

But that doesn’t mean that we should be skeptics in the sense of decrying our inability to “know” the external world. Because what would that mean? It means saying “the concept-lightbulb may not represent the lightbulb”. What does “lightbulb” mean in that sentence? If our lightbulb-concept is unfalse, the lightbulb is factual, and we are talking about lightbulbs. In which case, yes, the concept-lightbulb MUST represent the lightbulb. Or alternatively, our concept may be false, and “the lightbulb” is fictional. In which case, how does out concept of the lightbulb fail to represent the fictional lightbulb? Presumably because we say that the lightbulb is real but in fact the lightbulb is fictional. When do we say the lightbulb is real? Well, that’s assumed. We can assume that every time we use a word we’re making the claim “this is a real factual thing, not a fictional thing”.

What if we weren’t saying that? What if we never claimed the lightbulb was factual, but merely that that lightbulb could not be demonstrated to be fictional? Well then, in that case, “the concept-lightbulb may not represent the lightbulb” would be false – if the concept were unfalse, the claim would be untrue, and if the concept were false, the “lightbulb” in question would be fictional, but so long as it could not be shown to be fictional, our concept-lightbulb would not make any untrue claims about it.

So what does it mean, “to choose to use the word ‘lightbulb’ to mean a thing that is not demonstrably fictional”, in contrast to “to choose to use the word ‘lightbulb’ to mean a thing that is not fictional”. Well, it means that in one case we’d be wrong a lot without ever knowing, and in the other case we wouldn’t be. But which do we actually choose? Well, I don’t remember choosing. OK, so not a conscious choice. But what sort of choice at all? We choose to do X or to do Y – but what is the difference in this case? By definition, there is no possible circumstance where choosing A (not fictional) would lead to different behaviour from choosing B (not demonstrably fictional). In every possible world (given a suitably strong rendering of ‘demonstRABLE’) the two choices lead to identical behaviours – except, perhaps, how one chooses to talk about the choice, if you happen to read this blog post. To me, that’s a distinction without a difference. And that means that the concept of a concept failing to represent a real thing is unsupportable. And that means that failing to represent a real thing is not a failure at all. As Nietzsche put it: in abolishing the true world, we have abolished the apparant world also.

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And there is another consideration also. What does it mean to say, even putatively, that a certain concept doesn’t represent anything? If we say “Bod-1 is hungry” and this predicts the behaviour of the thing in the box, surely “Bod-1” does represent something, even if not what we thought? A part of Combi-Bod, perhaps, or a combination of Bod-3 and Bod-4?

To put it another way: it doesn’t even matter whether we can open the box. And what if we can? We open the box and pick out what’s inside. One person says “that’s Bod-1 alright! But… it turns out he’s a little different from the way we thought he would be”. Another person says “that’s not Bod-1! That’s something entirely different!”. What does this argument really signify? How could it be resolved? Well, it can’t be. There’s no evidence could prove the case one way or another. Whether to call it the same thing with different behaviour or a plain different thing is a matter of our own free choice.

Imagine: “everything we say about the concept-lightbulb is really true, but the concept doesn’t reflect the real lightbulb”; “the concept reflects the reality, but everything we say about the concept is isn’t really true”. We cannot divorce the concept from its content.

What this should tell us is: we don’t actually care about the ‘connexion’ between concept and reality. As the case of Bod-1 shows, we can argue irresolubly about whether that connexion exists (whether the Bod-1 concept was false or unfalse) even when we agree upon the truth or falsity of everything said about Bod-1. The further matter of the “reality” of Bod-1 has no content that can be cashed out in experience. Our words, however are founded in experience, and anything that has no, even hypothetical, experiential ramifications is nothing but hot air. We can choose to believe in it or not as we are inclined.

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So, I don’t accept that this distinction between fictional things and factual things exists. If talking about a thing has some use and import, that is enough for me – whether the “thing” has a mystical connexion to some unseeable, unhearable, unknowable, uninfluential and superfluous “Real Thing In Itself” is a matter for, ironically, theologians to bicker over, ‘Skeptical’ theologians included.

But another distinction could be made: between concepts that are “natural” and those that are merely the products of definition. Bod-1, it might be said, is actually a defined concept, but the definition matches a natural thing, and hence has a certain fitness. This ‘nature’ can be written out in terms of the experiential things around us, so does not fall prey to the same objections as the metaphysical dualism did.

But why bother with it? Imagine: you go to a volcanic island, and you do some measurements, and you realise that a huge chunk of rock is likely to fall into the sea at some point creating a tidal wave that will destroy half of civilisation. You call this chunk “Nemesis”. This “chunk” is actually contiguous with the rest of the island; it may be bordered by weak zones of rock that you calculate will break, but there is no clear defining fault. You don’t know the precise boundaries of Nemesis; indeed, they haven’t been ‘decided’ yet. Does Nemesis exist? It has been “created” entirely by your “definition”, and is thus a “mental construct”, not something that “really exists” – or to put it in the terms we’re now using, it’s not a natural thing, and hence the Nemesis-concept is artificial and purely man-made.  But Nemesis will still fall into the sea and kill everybody, so the fact that it’s purely a creature of definition (at this stage!) doesn’t seem to be too important. Or imagine a beach of sand. You put markers in the sand and call the volume of sand they enclose “Albert” – by measuring the movement of the markers, you measure the movement of “Albert”. But Albert is a creature of definition – yes, but sand is still moving. We can always redefine through new definitions. A bicycle has too wheels? No, a bicycle has one tweel! The CONTENT of the definitions are the same, so how can an atheist come along and say “tweels are mere mental constructs created by our own definitions; what’s REAL is the existence of two-wheeled bicycles!”. Or, for that matter, “wheels are mental constructs, they’re really just our attempt to understand semi-tweels”.

What I’m getting at here is that regardless of the role of definition, a concept can still be used provided it has some content. Of course, some concepts can’t be used. Which? Well, try them and see. A common analogy to the ontological argument is the ontological proof of the “highest prime number”. But I don’t believe we can easily sketch out what we MEAN when we talk about coherently believing that there is a highest prime number; the words must be so redefined that they have little connection to the items of mathematics. And is that redefinition of any use? To my knowledge, nobody has suggested that it is. So, we can leave the issue until somebody makes that choice and tried to live with it. By contrast, people DO live with their belief in a deity. And since some of those are very intelligent and sane people, and some of those are also sincere in their beliefs, as best we can tell, we cannot say that their concept is incoherent.

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41 thoughts on “Creatures of definition: are they only mental?

  1. nac says:

    “I cannot fathom what sort of philosophical ignorance could conflate these two directly opposing points of view.”
    The answer is rather obvious if you think about it:

    “First off, I am given as an example of “Neoplatonism or Advaita Vedanta”.”
    No you aren’t.

    “well yes, I said that myself.”
    Quite.

    “Here we have a very serious misunderstanding.”
    As you have shown, they are but one step away from reaching your conclusion. All one needs to see is that “God, as we know of and conceive of him, is a creature of our own definitions.” Since “our conception of God” isn’t God, the ontological argument doesn’t “prove” anything. All it does is construct an abstract argument about the nature of a metaphysical being “God”, as defined by the argument itself. When it’s in our power to define Bod as we will, is it not dishonest, or at least complacently fatuous, to do so in a manner that makes almost no definite predictions about the outcome Y, especially when alternatives do exist? To erect double standards by placing one’s trust in modern medicine in matters of physical illnesses, yet reject the very foundations of biology when it comes to justifying irrational convictions held by our ancestors?

    As you may have noticed, I’m arguing against a specific target, the creationist God, not just any unseen deity who might happen to exist. With the body of evidence scientists have accumulated today, an opposition to this view can be rationally justified with unprecedented ease: http://forum.richarddawkins.net/viewtopic.php?f=46&t=106468#p2643996 Even in the post that has kindled your ire, I explicitly argue against the views of God depicted in the bible, the Koran, etc. My thread is specifically concerned with our duty to expose the fact that the grounds for belief in a deity with those qualities traditionally ascribed to the biblical God is now woefully inadequate. If one wished to spin a mythological narrative from scratch assuming the existence of God as understood by respectable, contemporary theology as a first principle, the account couldn’t possibly resemble the sacred text of any Abrahamic religion.

    What one must realize is that faith in the face of mountains of evidence and rational argument is not a virtue, if virtuous conduct is defined as actions that actually benefit others in any way. In fact, it is no different from unshakable prejudices of other varieties. I don’t even think it matters what objective standard of “benefit” one chooses as long as it doesn’t involve the bible or bullheaded conservatism. Naturally, it is impossible to argue against someone whose idea of “benefit” is biblical indoctrination. The point is that there is no way to establish the credibility of the injunctions of biblical religion using sources apart from the bible itself. That is, the only rational way to validate this school of thought is to first legitimize the entire bible as a perfect and inerrant document, a notion that is thoroughly rejected by modern biblical scholarship in both conservative or liberal seminaries. The only other rational course of action is to examine each religious injunction in its own merits if one is not to commit the error of “cherry-picking”. As far as I’m aware, there is no way to do this without profoundly revising one’s understanding of God.

    People who consider the bible an end in itself, come what may, are of course impervious to rational argument to begin with. That is the front they have been trained to put up at any rate. However, reasoned discourse obviously does strike a chord in them at some level, or else why would it bother them so much when reason appears to invalidate their prejudices?

    Interestingly, Buddhist metaphysics actually has a deity corresponding to this phenomenon, Manjushri, the Buddha of Wisdom. When words of wisdom threaten to knock down our dearest prejudices, Buddhists are supposed to visualize the words as a wrathful manifestation of the Buddha Manjushri himself, holding the flaming sword of discriminating wisdom in his right hand and a book in his left, attempting to enlighten sentient beings. Those who honor him at this juncture inevitably move closer to enlightenment, while others sink deeper into the pit of ignorance. 😛 Fortunately, because of our innate Buddha-nature, a majority find themselves unable to turn away from reasoned argumentation, whether or not they admit it to themselves. This deity, I think, represents a valid An of evolutionary theories. (click the link I posted above)

    Platonism comes into the picture because the ontological argument is a perfect example of the Neoplatonic apotheosis of “the best”. I’m sure you’ve read Plotinus. If not, you should try it. IMHO, few have matched the lyrical beauty of his work, especially in the original Greek.

    In any case, I have learned my lesson. I’m never mentioning Plato in connection with you again. The potential for misunderstanding is too great, since I rarely think deeply about the crap I post online. I usually just toss off random paragraphs now and then as writing practice, which I then critique and correct by myself. Their content is nothing to get flustered over, but then again, well, wrong on the internet and all that. C&C? 😛

    In summary, I am mostly on your side. If I wasn’t, I would’ve posted criticisms here, not on a random skeptic forum to seek validation. Once you lose a few prejudices and read my post again, you’ll find I’m not as bad as your first impressions suggest. How did you come to see it anyway, if rationalskepticism is nothing more than “a sombre congregation of the devout”?

    Good god, I promised myself there will be no ranting today. I can’t stay true to my own precepts. First sign of net addiction. The worst part is, I feel kinda like Mr. Darcy, except with respect to some grumpy online philosopher dude instead of a vivacious young lady. Ugh! 😛

  2. nac says:

    I gratefully accept your clarifications, but views should be measured by the yardstick of completeness, as you say. I wholeheartedly agree. In saying this, you have in fact divined one of the first principles in my own approach to philosophical inquiry. Honest. Having said so, however, do you have further objections to my view as explained above?

  3. nac says:

    I don’t really believe in “naturalness” to be perfectly honest, considering that everything we experience goes on inside our heads. Having accepted that fact, we see that this is not the whole story, because once we study the multifarious, contingent forms in which sense-impressions arise, we begin to observe certain intersubjectively verifiable patterns. By manipulating these patterns, we can make the holistic tapestry consisting of the elementary qualities of experience change in certain partially predictable ways that are not only verifiable in a purely subjective sense, thus vindicating the axiom of intersubjectivity we adopted earlier, but also quantifiable using techniques of deeper analysis. Nothing beyond this lowest, most fundamental level of analysis is “real” in the truest sense of the word.

    As far as I’m concerned, the computer screen is a near-perfect microcosm of the emergent epiphenomenon English speakers like to call “real life”: http://xkcd.com/722/ Just my personal opinion.

    I’ve pontificated enough for one day, gotta sleep now. cya!

  4. nac says:

    “a near-perfect microcosm”
    Or at least of one side of the overall experience…

    I wish you could ninja-edit comments. There are so many corrections I could make. I’d change “consisting of” in comment #3 to “composed of” for starters. 😛

  5. nac says:

    When I say I don’t believe in naturalness, I mean a strict dichotomy of natural vs. man-made. Arbitrary distinctions, for instance, are indeed artificial when they do not correspond to any set of quale in that segment of sense-experience commonly referred to as the “external” world.

  6. nac says:

    … meaning, of course, findable in that segment after open-minded, but critical analysis.

    Alrighty then, take your time to prepare a response. No rush.

  7. vacuouswastrel says:

    ““First off, I am given as an example of “Neoplatonism or Advaita Vedanta”.”
    No you aren’t.”

    Yes, I am. That’s what “e.g.” means.

    “Since “our conception of God” isn’t God, the ontological argument doesn’t “prove” anything. All it does is construct an abstract argument about the nature of a metaphysical being “God”, as defined by the argument itself.

    The second half of that is true. The first half of that misses the point entirely. And all arguments are abstract. That’s what arguments do – they abstract.

    “When it’s in our power to define Bod as we will, is it not dishonest, or at least complacently fatuous, to do so in a manner that makes almost no definite predictions about the outcome Y, especially when alternatives do exist? To erect double standards by placing one’s trust in modern medicine in matters of physical illnesses, yet reject the very foundations of biology when it comes to justifying irrational convictions held by our ancestors?”

    Ergghhh. It’s only ‘fatuous’ if the point is to make predictions about things, which is not the point of any serious religion. And no, it’s not “double standards” to believe that science can tell us about the arrangement of particles but not about the proper construction of morality. Biology has nothing to do with it. You think the idea of God has been produced through biology? Well, so has the idea of parallel lines. Etymology is not meaning, and evolution is not validity.

    I don’t care about anything you’re saying about creationism or the bible. So some weirdos off in the desert in America have silly points of view. That’s got nothing to do with me or anything I’ve said. And needless to say, if I don’t care about them, I can’t very well start reading Richard Dawkin’s forum, can I? When two sets of bigoted and incoherent lunatics are frothing at the mouth about the damnation of unbelievers, you either ignore both sides or neither, and I chose to ignore both.

    “What one must realize is that faith in the face of mountains of evidence and rational argument is not a virtue”

    No, what one must realise is that THERE IS NO EVIDENCE AGAINST GOD. No, I’m sorry: THERE CANNOT BE EVIDENCE AGAINST GOD. If you think you’re presenting evidence against God, you don’t understand the concept. It’s like presenting evidence against the taste of orange juice.

    There’s no way to verify the credibility of Biblical injunctions. OF COURSE THERE ISN’T THAT’S THE POINT. The very idea of the ‘credibility’ of Biblical injunctions makes no sense.

    [Nonetheless, it is of course possible to provide evidence for or against the correctness of interpretations of biblical comments. This comes from a) historical-literary contextual analysis, and b) the independent conclusions of the rational faculty developed from self-evident and uncontradictable premises – remember, from the Catholic perspective, all true moral precepts are knowable without the aid of divine revelation, purely through analysis and deduction. The Bible is only a helpful map for those who aren’t good at orienteering themselves.]

    And no, accepting something as an axiom doesn’t make them impervious to reason. It makes their reasoning system incommensurable with your own. You are as irrational as they are – you have axioms of your own. We all do. So they have no reason to accept the Bible as axiomatic – nobody has any reason to accept any axiom.

    [Nor, for that matter, have I any great interest in the doctrines of the Buddhist or Evolutionary religions]

    Regarding the “wrong on the internet” denigration: of course, you’ve got far more important things to worry about than life, the universe and everything. If it’s on the internet, it must be worthless, remember? The point about people being wrong on the internet is that they challenge you to examine your own opinions, and an unexamined life is not worth living.

    —–

    You say you are on my side and that I am prejudiced. You haven’t specified the prejudices I’m meant to have, and you haven’t accounted for how you’re on my side while denying everything I’ve said. Nor have you addressed my points made in either the original post or this one.
    [In your later posts, you lay out a philosophy of naive empiricism, but don’t address any of the objections to it.]

    And no, no distinctions are “found” in “sense-experience”, whatever the latter may be. And no, I don’t think we do refer to sense-experience as the external world: we refer to the external world as a cause of an explanation for the presence of qualia, not the qualia themselves.

    As for how I found your forum: you linked to my blog, people followed the link, and I followed them back via the stats I’m given by wordpress.

    Apologies if I sound “grumpy”. Or, indeed, if I appear to be a “philosopher”.

  8. vacuouswastrel says:

    Regarding me missing the point: my point is that you say that “these people” have admitted that their God is only a mental construct. I refuted this. This IS the point. The rest of the “I hate creationists” stuff is not of much interest to me.

  9. nac says:

    “Yes, I am.”

    No you’re not, “eg.” is meant to indicate that yours is an admirable deconstruction of the kinds of argument put forward by traditions like Neoplatonism and Advaita Vedanta.

    “THERE IS NO EVIDENCE AGAINST GOD”
    I refuse to respond to the rest of your ravings until you stop deliberately misunderstanding me and read this link: http://forum.richarddawkins.net/viewtopic.php?f=46&t=106468#p2643996

  10. nac says:

    “Regarding the “wrong on the internet” denigration”
    I intended all that stuff to come across as gentle teasing.

  11. vacuouswastrel says:

    My word, an anonymous Internet Atheist will stop talking to me if I don’t read his forum of Internet Atheists blathering amongst each other? Are you my schoolteacher now, to set me homework?

    I don’t care whether you respond to me or not. I’m interested in the truth, not in your or my or anyone else’s ego or entertainment. I responded to you – oh wait, I didn’t – I pondered out loud in response to your comment – because I felt that you had articulated what I thought might be a (flawed but) common objection to my earlier rambling, and I wanted to address that point.

    If you don’t have anything to say that actually addresses my arguments, I’m not interested in whether you respond to me or not.

    Out of intellectual charity, I’ve now read at least part of your link. I regret the waste of my time in doing so, as there was nothing sophisticated or novel to be found there, nor anything particularly relevant to anything I’ve said. Not to mention that I now feel dirty.

    I’m not sure where you get off demanding that people do reading homework to be allowed to talk to you; I’m even more baffled why you think the same-old-same-old at an internet forum is critical reading. Have you read Wittgenstein’s PI, and his lectures and writings on ethics, religion, culture and values? Wisdom’s “Gods”? Nietzsche, and “Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy”?
    —-

    If you think I’m “deconstructing” Neoplatonism or Advaita Vedanta, you haven’t read my ramblings at all. Although I am critical of the former personally, my only criticism of it in the OA post was the implicit criticism of the platonist part, not of the god part.

  12. vacuouswastrel says:

    Oh, and I realised that the “wrong on the internet” jibe (unlike, presumably, the accusation of “raving”) was probably not hostile. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong. My point is that however unfasionable it is, loving truth and opposing wrongness still has its own virtue, and whether a webcomic, even a wonderful webcomic, finds me mockable as a result is more an issue for the writer of it, not for me. I have never been a fashionable man and don’t intend to become one.

  13. nac says:

    “My word, an anonymous Internet Atheist will stop talking to me if I don’t read his forum of Internet Atheists blathering amongst each other?”
    There was no point in talking to you otherwise, because you consistently keep missing the point and erecting embarrassingly ridiculous strawmen. It’s a veritable breakdown of communication. I honestly couldn’t think of a way to get through to you until you read that one short post. (not an entire conversation)

    I’m sorry if I come across as denigrating, but I don’t know how else to describe your comments except raving. The sad part is, I agree with you on most of the particulars. You comments simply do not address any of my points.

    “I don’t care whether you respond to me or not. I’m interested in the truth, not in your or my or anyone else’s ego or entertainment.”
    You know what I was interested in? Seeing you do justice to the truth. I’m rapidly losing my respect for your view of the truth, commonly held by great philosophers as it is, with every post you make. You keep calling me delusional without presenting any evidence to that effect, yet you refuse to make the slightest effort to understand my side of the argument while attempting to respond to them.

    After all, why should you? You have already seen the likes of me before, heard all the lines I’m about to utter from Dawkins himself. (peace be upon him) I see now that there is nothing I could have said or done that would’ve moved you an inch from your meaningless stance. I should have known when you refused to believe (dunno if that was just your style of writing :?) that I had cited you to bolster my point.

    “deconstructing”
    Just a word, not used as a technical term.

    “Not to mention that I now feel dirty.”
    You have my condolences. :/

    “Have you read Wittgenstein’s PI”
    I’m not sure, everyone reads a different Wittgenstein.

    “THERE IS NO EVIDENCE AGAINST GOD”
    I have never in my life attempted to disprove the existence of God. How you could have gotten that impression despite my repeated assurances to the contrary is beyond me. All I’ve done is attempt to falsify the hypothesis of God as presented in the bible using the epistemology of empiricism, which both believers and disbelievers casually use every single day of their lives.

    “It’s only ‘fatuous’ if the point is to make predictions about things, which is not the point of any serious religion.”
    Of course not, but when they do assure us that certain events ought to come true, their claims turn out to be false. Religion gives us the impression that prayers make certain outcomes are more likely than others and they demonstrably do not.

    “And no, it’s not “double standards” to believe that science can tell us about the arrangement of particles but not about the proper construction of morality.”
    Unclaimed.

    “Biology has nothing to do with it. You think the idea of God has been produced through biology? Well, so has the idea of parallel lines. Etymology is not meaning, and evolution is not validity.”
    Unclaimed. Unclaimed. Unclaimed.

    “That’s got nothing to do with me or anything I’ve said.”
    Boy do I totally agree.

    “If you think you’re presenting evidence against God, you don’t understand the concept.”
    I am and I do. Fuck you.

    No, not really. Unclaimed.

    “There’s no way to verify the credibility of Biblical injunctions.”
    Fundamental misunderstanding as to the nature of my argument. But with the kind of responses I’ve gotten so far, I can’t summon the energy to correct the error. I’m not even confident that I’ll be able to.

    “And no, accepting something as an axiom doesn’t make them impervious to reason. It makes their reasoning system incommensurable with your own.”
    Guess what? I spent fifteen minutes scanning and double-checking my comment for anything to which this could be directed. I think it’s pretty safe to say: Unclaimed.

    “nobody has any reason to accept any axiom.”
    I disagree. There are very good reasons to reject axioms after they have been accepted. Axioms should be rejected if they lead to contradictions or conclusions that have been falsified by empirical methods.

    “The point about people being wrong on the internet is that they challenge you to examine your own opinions, and an unexamined life is not worth living.”
    Thanks, I agree.

    “You haven’t specified the prejudices I’m meant to have, and you haven’t accounted for how you’re on my side while denying everything I’ve said.”
    I agree with almost everything you have said. It’s just that none of it is relevant to anything I have said.

    “Nor have you addressed my points made in either the original post or this one.”
    Should I have? I AGREE with you. Believe it or not, I started out by agreeing with you and citing your blog as a part of my argument. It is you who assumed, God knows why, that we disagree on anything to begin with. We do, but as far as I can tell, that’s mostly because you have misunderstood me so thoroughly, that I scarcely know how to begin untangling the knot.

    “In your later posts, you lay out a philosophy of naive empiricism, but don’t address any of the objections to it.”
    Such as? I’m willing to bet I agree with all your “objections”. Are you talking about the open possibility of reanalysis as different Bods?

    “And no, no distinctions are “found” in “sense-experience”, whatever the latter may be. And no, I don’t think we do refer to sense-experience as the external world: we refer to the external world as a cause of an explanation for the presence of qualia, not the qualia themselves.”
    Yes, but that comes only after we see that assuming the existence of an external world gives us useful results. Then the cognitive object of “external world” itself becomes a quale using my definitions.

    “My point is that you say that “these people” have admitted that their God is only a mental construct.”
    I did not. I said they are but one step away from realizing that _their idea_ of God is a mental construct. I don’t remember mentioning “only”. “Only” comes after a certain hypothesis of God is falsified by means of empiricism.

    You have indeed refuted that “their God is only a mental construct.” Unclaimed.

    “If you don’t have anything to say that actually addresses my arguments, I’m not interested in whether you respond to me or not. ”
    I hope you haven’t forgotten that you began by “addressing” my arguments. This has been a surreal and not altogether pleasant experience.

    Well, I hope you liked that answer. There is no need to continue this conversation. All that it has served to accomplish so far is convince you that I’m a token foaming-in-the-mouth atheist, an idea so far from the truth that it has been a novel experience for me to be regarded as such. Strangely, it has inspired an unreasonable suspicion in me that much of the work of modern philosophy has been carried out using methodology like yours.

    PS. My ego, good one. lol

  14. nac says:

    Hmm. I did say, “These people have practically admitted that their God is a mental construct…” I didn’t say only and the context should be obvious from the rest of the post, but I really should have been more explicit. I’ll give you that one.

  15. vacuouswastrel says:

    “That one”, as you put it, is the WHOLE of the matter at hand. You appeared, from the structuring of your “argument”, either to think I was one of “these people” or to think that I had said that about “these people” . Not only are both of these untrue, but I think the idea of “mental construct” as opposed to “not mental construct” is unhelpful, at least in this case. So I posted to make this clear.

    The rest of the ranting, to me, is of no interest.

    You then came in and made various responses to my post which were incorrect, or which had no relevance to my post. And at times you claimed to agree with me, while in fact construing what I had said in a false way, or applying it in such a way as to make the implied construal appear false.

    If you in fact agree with me, I don’t know why you’ve been arguing with me.

    The post on the Dawkins forum does not clear anything up. For one thing, it’s entirely false, and for another thing, it has nothing in the slightest to do with anything I’ve said.

    ——

    Let’s clear this up even more clearly: here is what you actually said:
    “BTW in my experience, the latter [philosophical arguments] are especially effective against traditions like Neoplatonism and Advaita Vedanta, eg: [my post]. Sure, anyone can define a God into existence for their own convenience, but this is hardly a convincing reason for someone who doesn’t share your assumptions and habits of thinking to have faith in your God. These people have practically admitted that their God is a mental construct, and some, like Buddhists openly admit that transcendental Buddhas represent the subjective aims and ideals of those who subscribe to Buddhist ethics.”

    First sentence: either my argument was meant to be an example of a neoplatonic or vedantic argument, or it was meant to be an example of an argument AGAINST neoplatonism or advaita vedanta. The former appeared more reasonable and in keeping with the post itself, so that’s what I assumed. If it’s the opposite, I’m sorry for my miscomprehension. However, the opposite is even more problematic. Because my argument was, if anything, IN SUPPORT OF such religious positions, NOT AGAINST THEM.

    Remainder: you make a number of claims. As they’re in the same paragraph as the mention of arguments against neoplatonism and advaita vedanta, normal reading comprehension suggests that these comments are meant to be relevant to those postures, and to my post. However, only one part of what you say is relevant to what I said, and that part is in no way an argument either for or against these religious positions. The remainder of what you say has nothing to do with what I said, and even if it had, it would not be an argument either for or against these religious positions.

    Hence, I thought you had misread me as arguing for or against these positions, and sought to clarify what I had said. I don’t see what your later material has to do with this. However, when it came to that material, I extended the same assumptions: so that when you were talking about nameless unspecified people believing in the face of overwhelming evidence, you meant people who believed in god (ie there was evidence against god). Who else these unspecified people might be, I do not know.

    —-

    You say that I’ve claimed you’ve said things you haven’t said. You don’t, however, offer alternative interpretations. The problem has largely arisen because you haven’t specified what you’re talking about.

    On double-standards:
    “To erect double standards by placing one’s trust in modern medicine in matters of physical illnesses, yet reject the very foundations of biology when it comes to justifying irrational convictions held by our ancestors?”
    – I took this to mean approaching science [eg medicine] differently from God [ie morality, viz the “irrational convictions held by our ancestors.” I don’t know what biology has to do with it, however]. Alternative interpretation?

    On biology:
    “the very foundations of biology when it comes to justifying irrational convictions held by our ancestors”
    – I could only think that you meant that the belief in God [ie the irrational convictions of our ancestors] was in some way a product of biology, and that this was in some way important. Alternative?

    On evidence against God:
    “What one must realize is that faith in the face of mountains of evidence and rational argument is not a virtue, if virtuous conduct is defined as actions that actually benefit others in any way. In fact, it is no different from unshakable prejudices of other varieties.”
    – I took this to mean that there was ‘mountains of evidence’ against the proposition in question, namely the existence of God. As I’ve said, I’m not sure what else you’re trying to heap up evidence against, when the subject-matter is “Neoplatonist or Advaita Vedanta” conceptions of divinity. Alternative interpretation?

    On verifying the credibility of Biblical injunctions:
    “The point is that there is no way to establish the credibility of the injunctions of biblical religion using sources apart from the bible itself.”
    – I took you to be saying that there was no way to establish the credibility of the injunctions of biblical religion using sources apart from the bible itself, and that this fact was somehow a “point”. On the contrary, I argued that it was not correct, and that even if it were correct, it would not be a significant point. Alternative interpretation?

    On accepting axioms vs imperviousness to reason:
    “People who consider the bible an end in itself, come what may, are of course impervious to rational argument to begin with. That is the front they have been trained to put up at any rate.”
    – I took this to be saying that those who accepted the truth of the bible as an axiomatic truth [ie something that no evidence could be contrary to] were impervious to rational argument. Alternative interpretation?

    —–

    Some miscellaneous points:
    -axioms cannot lead to contradiction (in the sense of something that cannot be true), only to confusing lifestyles. Cf Wittgenstein’s considerations on necessity. Cf also Quine’s “Two Dogmas”.

    – I’ve never called you delusional. You’re the only person to have used that word.

    – I know you don’t mean ‘deconstructing’ as a technical term, but I thought it was clear that you thought I was ‘bolstering’ your argument – when in fact I was supporting the very people you were arguing against.

    – “Religion gives us the impression that prayers make certain outcomes are more likely than others and they demonstrably do not.” I’m sorry, but what arrant nonsense! Religion gives us no impression of the sort. Sure, a few ignorant people may believe that, but their views are laughable and not something that serious people would consider. Or rather, the view that there is any causal connexion between prayer and outcome is laughable – and indeed heretical for Catholics. Catholics would allow that it is possible that there could theoretically be a correlation between prayer and outcome, but I don’t know any that believe so. [Some believe that specific prayers “cause”, metaphorically, specific outcomes, but to interpret this “causation” as a physical, statistically-verifiable valid-by-scientific-method causation would, again, be heretical, just like intelligent design]. Of course, the scientific case is less solid than you might believe, given that some studies, for reasons unknown, HAVE shown that patients who are prayed for have better medical outcomes, even if they don’t know they’re being prayed for. I strongly suspect these results are just statistical flukes that a more thorough study would refute (and if it’s not a fluke, I wouldn’t rely on god or invisible powers as an explanation), but let’s not pretend the case is closed when it isn’t. Indeed, studies have even shown that prayer works retroactively! However, Catholics would point out that “true” prayer cannot be scientifically defined, and so no scientific study can be done on the subject. [For balance: the most rigourous of the studies, however, showed that prayer leads to divine smiting, particularly if the ‘beneficiaries’ know about it] So no, religion doesn’t claim these things (even if a few american or african charismatics may), and no, it’s not currently demonstrably false (because because its unfalsifiable and hence not possible to demonstrate false, and because the best operationalisations yet have so far been unable to demonstrate it to be false).

    “All I’ve done is attempt to falsify the hypothesis of God as presented in the bible using the epistemology of empiricism, which both believers and disbelievers casually use every single day of their lives.”
    The bible presents no hypothesis of God, at least not in the sense of a hypothesis that can be disproven by science. Plus, empiricism’s been dead for a century, and no, most people don’t use it daily, or indeed ever. [Indeed, I would argue as most would that it’s impossible to use empiricist methods, as they’re incoherent.]

  16. Eddy1701 says:

    At the risk of adding fuel to the fire, I felt like throwing in my two cents. I agree that you can’t actually find evidence against the existence of gods, and that lack of evidence for their existence can’t prove they don’t exist. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t regard the concept of gods skeptically. We cannot, after all, find any evidence against the existence of invisible pink unicorns (to use a common example) or self-levitating pasta creatures. But at the same time, almost no one takes those hypotheses seriously and would justify this response by citing the lack of evidence for either. If you took the lack of evidence against something as reason to take it seriously, you’d find yourself unable to disavow all manner of hypothetical beings.

    I think the real difference between deities and invisible flying noodles lies with cultural perception. We consider the notion of a flying spaghetti monster self-evidently silly and don’t see any reason to entertain the possibility of his existence. We are similarly dismissive of claims, like UFOs or Sasquatch, for which evidence exists but lacks sufficient rigor. Religious beliefs command a lot more respect in our society, though, and we give them a lot more leeway regarding evidence.

    Admittedly, most of my criticisms of religious belief focus on the popular manifestations of religion rather than educated theological ones. This does mean using a less sophisticated and nuanced definition of “god”, one that probably has little in common with the one you prefer. No doubt this will come back to bite me in the ass if Thomas Aquinas rises from the dead and challenges me to a debate. But it seems quite probable that most religious believers throughout history have tended toward naïve concepts of deity than sophisticated or educated ones. Christian fundamentalists may be stupid, but I don’t believe they are uncommonly or uniquely stupid.

  17. nac says:

    I… I just don’t know what to say to you, but I’m going to try anyway. I’ve thought about your suggestions and even reread portions of Wittgenstein, but I still don’t see it. I only disagree with random bits and pieces of what you said, and those seem to result from complete misunderstandings. This is why I’m unable to argue with you as such, just rant and bombard you with background info, hoping you’ll see where I’m coming from. All things considered, you’ve done a pretty lousy job of disabusing me of my pet notion that I understand modern philosophy. For that reason, I can’t even be sure whether your contributions were misguided to begin with. 😛

    For one thing, you seem to be arguing against the stances you think I represent rather than stuff that I’ve actually said. For instance, I’ve got nothing against, say, Whitehead’s conception of the deity, but I’m of the opinion that the traditional Abrahamic God can be falsified by empirical evidence because none of the conclusions that follow from his existence are borne out by observed reality. For starters, shouldn’t nations that are open-minded about homosexuality be doomed to destruction like Sodom and Gomorrah and not at the top of the world in terms of living conditions if Jehovah had been real?

    If his mythical accounts are accurate, his divine book couldn’t possibly say things so contrary to how the real world functions unless he was some kind of malevolent demon:

    [QUOTE]
    16 Sins of Homosexuals.

    Jude 1:7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like
    manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after
    strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance
    of eternal fire.
    1:8 Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise
    dominion, and speak evil of dignities.

    II Peter 2:10-22; Romans 1

    1. Practice sex perversion. (Jude v 8, Romans 1)
    2. Despise government and law.
    3. Insult rulers.
    4. Speak evil in arrogance.
    5. Corrupt themselves.
    6. Commit sin in maintaining error in religion.( Gen 4)
    7. Serve in religion for gain.
    8. Rebel like Korah.
    9. Practice Hypocrisy.
    10. Commit ungodly deeds.
    11. Blaspheme God.
    12. Murmur and complain.
    13. Live in ungodly lusts.
    14. Brag and boast.
    15. Mock truth.
    16. Live in sensual lusts.
    [/QUOTE]

    Either way, it’s a safe bet that the guy who inspired this sacred text is not the compassionate, all-knowing father of humanity guiding us onto a path that is good for us. He seems to have been ignorant of balance of power which resulted in modern political structures if he thinks “insulting rulers” and “murmuring and complaining” are harmful. None of the evidence indicates that THIS particular hypothesis resulting from our definitions is anything more than a child of our collective imagination. It’s like saying that God is an invisible fire-breathing frog who’s busy belching at my inflammable curtains. All that’s well and good. God himself is still not “imaginary” in your sense, but if the frog (or Jehovah) is the real God, my curtains ought to go up in flames. As long as that doesn’t occur, the continual lack of empirical evidence in support of this particular God hypothesis renders the possibility of his existence vanishingly small, especially when everything is arranged in such a manner that some indication really ought to turn up. This stuff isn’t hate, I’m stating all this literally, with a very serious expression 😐 on my face because I see nothing wrong with this argument. Not only that, I honestly cannot see a way around it by means of philosophical reasoning, certainly nothing from Wittgenstein, Nietzsche & Co, who I happen to be familiar with.

    Look at the targets I’ve identified. Once again, I’m not trying to “disprove” God, only specific God- and god- hypotheses. That was the whole point of my post in Rational Skepticism. Could you please explain in more detail why susu.exp’s ideas are false? I cannot fathom your objection(s) to them, so I’ll try and clarify them. IMHO, it’s irrational to believe in the Christian God for the same reason that I don’t think of homosexuals as “ewemi”. It’s certainly possible for ewemi to exist, but it’s an inappropriate adjective to describe homosexuals since they’re not sterile. It’s also possible that the universe is governed by one God, but if so, he/she/it’s probably not the biblical one. Some possible Bods are falsified by empirical evidence and the Jehovah who created animals and man separately is one of them, unless there has been a massive misinterpretation of evidence. Namely, that God has planted fossils to test our faith. However, there is no evidence to contradict the evolutionary picture besides the accounts of religious texts. No small bits of rabbit bone in the Precambrian to make us suspicious. If that makes the test of faith hypothesis unlikely, Creationist Jehovah must be correspondingly improbable. Note that I do not claim “absence of evidence is evidence of absence”. I only claim that, just as overwhelming empirical evidence against the literal account of genesis makes a creationist God less likely, a deity for whom there is good evidence which can stand up to rational scrutiny is more likely than one for whom there is none, producing a less and less likely series of god-hypotheses. In this case, “empirical falsification” doesn’t stand for something absolute like “proof” and “disproof”.

    Once again, there are some deities, such as Whitehead’s God, to whom such considerations do not apply. Not only don’t I have a problem with such deities, I “worship” a few such “beings” myself. I’m not really concerned with whether to metaphysically classify them as “mental” phenomena or not, but here’s my take on it: If Euclidean lines exist, then parallel lines are independent of the human mind. Similarly, if “best” exists, so is God. Since I’m a weak mathematical Platonist but not a moral one, parallel lines exist and God doesn’t for me. The same is true for anyone who has done their metaphysical housekeeping in the same manner as I have. However, this question, being one of technical categorization, doesn’t really concern me. I do not presume to dictate that one shouldn’t place God as the fundamental axiom around which to paint one’s picture of the entire world. I’ll say it again; I myself am a huge fan of the Whiteheadean deity. All I’m saying is that empirical evidence can render some of these God hypotheses more likely than others if certain empirical claims follow from their existence. Say, god-fearing societies have highler living standards than others. This was true in colonial times, but not anymore. It’s less rational to believe in certain God hypotheses, not in God himself.

    Next, if you think science can never affect or decide moral questions in any way, then your claim is objectively counterfactual AFAICT. You may be able to analyze it away and I’d encourage you to do so if possible, but you cannot honestly deny that it’s true at some level. That would be like denying mundane causality. You can show it to be an inappropriate or incomplete description of fundamental reality after deeper probing, but dismissing the very experience of it at face value is simply too unhelpful to be acceptable. I really can see no way of doing this unless you’ve confused how morality is supposed to work according to traditional absolutist theories with how human beings actually handle the question of ethics in practice.

    If you’re scientifically ignorant, there’s no two ways about it: You’re literally confused as to your own wants and standards of moral satisfaction in an embarrassingly fundamental sense. There’s no point chanting the tired old mantra about how all educated and honestly introspective people “know” that science and morality have nothing to do with each other. (come on, allow me some latitude for rhetoric) That idea probably follows from the counterfactual and rather odd assumption that once we adopt a set of ethical principles, we’re rationally obligated to uphold them for all time. The question is, why have people accepted those systems in the first place? Obviously, because we think that they can predict what is moral and what isn’t. Therefore, no matter how objective we claim our chosen system is, there is still one layer of subjectivity underneath every ethical system: The deep conviction, “emotional”, “rational”, or whatever you call it, that our chosen system is just. When we’re unaware of the how reality works, hence the true consequences of our actions, we’re not yet qualified to judge and settle this question from within our current mental state. Now, if you think that revision becomes an irrational act if the principles one has adopted do not allow for revision once they are accepted, THEN none of this matters. This fallacy of dogmatic objectivism is, I think, at the root of all this bullshit about the scientific/moral divide.

    It doesn’t matter how many respected greybeards endowed with foreheads bulging with profound thoughts have assumed or testified to this. (ok, I sense I’m going too far with the rhetoric thing) They have all been gravely mistaken because I don’t believe that people normally “accept” logical propositions under the guidance of common sense. In the real world, it means absolutely nothing to objectively “accept” or “reject” abstract ideas. Even those of us who think that’s how things work continually rededicate ourselves to those principles which we’ve convinced ourselves agree with our “reason”, follow from primal “emotion” or is the “lord’s bidding” for each new moral dilemma that crops up. Sometimes, we cannot do this and simultaneously remain true to our internal moral compass, the ever-changing feelings of right and wrong arising without analysis that are conditioned by the holistic amalgam of personality, culture, experiences, genetics, etc. In my humble opinion, the failure to uphold one’s accepted moral precepts is as much a part of the process called “rationality”, the power to identify goals with precision and find the means to attain them, as strict self-discipline. A failure in this may indicate either sloth or a lack of deep conviction in the beliefs and principles that one claims to profess.

    Science and morality share a complex, intertwined relationship. Without empirical knowledge, we wouldn’t have the slightest clue as to what our goals and moral obligations should be in real life. Ignoring this component is synonymous with setting ourselves up for unending personal disappointment, no matter what school of ethics one subscribes to. Knowledge is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for wisdom.

    BTW, I see no harm in “accepting” all sets of non-contradictory axioms (not leading to radically falsified conclusions) even when these sets are themselves mutually non-commensurable. In this view of Pluralistic Completeness, there are no “schools of thought”. What there is, is an n-dimensional moral landscape. By comparing the goal and method axes on this graph, we find that some points represent objectively self-defeating stances. Eliminating those, we’re left with coherent positions on ethical dilemmas. The gradient of preference tends to converge asymptotically for the majority of human beings once we’ve been brought up to speed on how the real world (of sense-experience; I can’t believe you’re not familiar with the term) functions.

    Hence I see myself as both a theist and an atheist at the same time, but not a biblical literalist, since the account of genesis is contradicted by mountains of empirical evidence, which strongly refutes the authenticity of the bible as having been inspired by a benevolent, all-knowing being. God as understood by the Abrahamic faiths couldn’t have directly inspired any of the texts which they declare sacred, because that leads to certain conclusions as to their contents, none of which are vindicated by the biblical documents that have come down to us today. This doesn’t mean that the bible wasn’t originally inspired by the divine, just that it would be unwise to trust the texts we now know to be sacred as divinely inspired. I cannot imagine why any philosopher would condemn my approach even if it goes against their particular doctrines.

    For some reason, you seem to think that being an atheist makes me irrationally hostile to all forms of religion and spirituality. Not so, I consider myself a modern upholder of classical Indian atheism (nastika) which has been totally integrated with the Hindu tradition for centuries. You’re probably not interested in being tainted by more of my atheistic irrationality, but I highly recommend Rabindranath Tagore’s Quartet. (B: Chaturanga) Tagore wasn’t an atheist; he was a very spiritual man. Like many Indian mystics, he considered atheism to be one important stage in the journey of the soul towards God. (I disagree with him; please try and assume good faith)

    I realize a lot of this doesn’t deal with the core issues, but I didn’t have much else to quibble about. I mostly agree with the contents of your blog entry, I just don’t think it applies to my argument. Thanks for trying to help me see the light though, I really appreciate it. I apologize for getting snarky back there, but there’s no theist hate in any of my posts. I honestly report the facts as I see them interspersed with a few of my own speculations. The “I feel dirty” part struck me as so incredibly pretentious, that I decided to put the dialogue on hold and attempt a reorientation. It seemed as though any attempt to change your mind would bring down more accusations of me injecting philosophical impurities into your soul. Anyway, thanks again.

    _/\_

  18. nac says:

    Dammit, I couldn’t get around to half the topics I wanted to cover. Later, maybe.

  19. nac says:

    I once encountered an argument that the fossil layers are perfect because God is perfect. That’s certainly true, but then, how come the bible isn’t?

  20. nac says:

    ^In other words, the God of the bible couldn’t have been the deity who got the fossil record perfect, but not the bible. Again, there’s no way we’re talking about the SAME being.

  21. nac says:

    I only disagree as to which identity(ies) of God are possible and how closely each hypothesis reflects the identity of the deity established by the ontological argument in light of the evidence, not his metaphysical “existence” or “non-existence” and whether he’s objectively “mental” or not. The latter questions aren’t an issue with me. We cannot directly penetrate to the true ontological nature of God, if such a concept corresponds to any actual configuration, just as we cannot know whodunit from the courtroom. Like in court, the best we can do is to examine the various arguments, refutations, evidence and exhibits, trying to help the jury sort out how each Bod is to be understood in order to construct the most complete, helpful and coherent picture of reality.

    Which chapters of PI and articles by Wittgenstein and Nietzsche would you recommend I take a second look at?

  22. nac says:

    Perhaps I’m just phrasing things too thoughtlessly. Dunno.

  23. nac says:

    “If such a concept corresponds to any actual configuration,” for example, could easily be mistaken for Platonism. By that I mean if our axioms are later justified by empirical evidence the in same manner that other minds were justified in comment #3. I don’t mind whether a tradition is called “science” or “religion” as long as (1) its doctrines aren’t logically fallacious, and (2) doesn’t have every piece of evidence stacked against it even after several thorough and independent investigations. When neither criterion is satisfied, its ideas should be up for review until they are. Meanwhile, it’s irrational to act upon empirical claims with no evidence for them as though they were valid when there’s no justification for this besides the claim itself.

  24. nac says:

    You know, I think I’ve actually got it this time.

    So far, only one category of sources, mythological accounts, offers even the slightest hint at alternative, non-evolutionary interpretations of the fossil record. Most of these disagree with each other and their reliability in connection with science hasn’t been demonstrated for any of them. Even the Cosmogonies of Greek philosophers appear to be nothing more than ass-talk that arose because their originators didn’t bother to study the outside world in sufficient detail. I call this the Aristotelian fallacy, (i.e. of pronouncing that heavier stones fall faster than lighter ones because this is “intellectually” satisfying at some level) although I’m aware this isn’t a formal fallacy. You’re probably opposed to the idea that this constitutes a rational argument against some interpretations of the biblical deity because you do not accept my non-traditional use of the word “rationality”. In my conception of rationality, Bod-configurations can be judged on three criteria:

    1) Logical coherence. Logically speaking, my only problem with the ontological argument is that it uses an infuriatingly vague and ill-defined term good/better/best. Logic is only relative insofar as different logical systems are relative. Due to its relative absoluteness, only this condition was traditionally considered to “rationally” invalidate analytical theories seeking to explain the workings of phenomena, but I think two others are equally important.

    2) Empirical probability. I think it’s irrational to deny that the stronger the links connecting a theory to the observed behavior of phenomena that it seeks to explain, the more probable it is. This is the reason why all possible Bod-configurations are not considered equally likely in law courts. This doesn’t concern the ontological argument, only hypotheses leading to empirical claims.

    3) Completeness of representation. A theory may be coherent. The evidence may be strongly in its favor. However, it may have (often unknowingly) confined itself to a smaller subset of the phenomena that it originally sought to explain. This failing is nearly universal, but a more representative theory is usually better than a less representative one once the first two conditions are satisfied.

    All three of the above constitute rational reasons for preferring one Bod-configuration over another IMHO, but these differ in the degree to which each can recommend or invalidate a theory. Since they’re all relative, there is never an objective reason to outright reject any formulation of Bods, since not even logical considerations are perfectly absolute. Even though my conception of “rationality” is fully relative, a decision gradient charted out by relative considerations can be just as compelling a guide in helping us decide upon a course of action as traditional logic trees and flowcharts. It’s like probability. The knowledge that each time a die is cast, every third number is, on average, an even number can help us in gambling even though we’re unaware of the actual values that will turn up.

    If I’m correct, we may now consider this matter settled and happily agree to disagree. Either way, thanks again!

  25. nac says:

    I took the time to phrase the above comment more carefully than I usually do. I even revised it a few times before submission. Tell me what you think if you get the time. No pressure.

  26. nac says:

    AFAICT Your other objection seems to be metaphysical. This, being purely a matter of organization and classification of concepts, doesn’t concern me.

  27. nac says:

    I’m sure you’ve seen it. Still, relative, probabilistic reasoning: http://xkcd.com/795/ 😛

  28. nac says:

    “some points represent objectively self-defeating stances.”
    …and ignorance is necessarily a self-defeating stance. Personally, I can see no way around this conclusion without making some kind of a sophistic attempt at redefining everything. The contents of your entries are in fact some of the premises I used to reach this conclusion.

  29. nac says:

    ^ What’s more, there is no contradiction between the above inference and the relativity of reasoning. Reasoning is not metaphorically “beneath” its conclusions, lending “support” to them. Relative reasoning often gives rise to objective conclusions, like two infinite lines intersecting at a finite, identifiable point.

  30. nac says:

    Um… I was trying to write up a “proof” (a set of cross-linked examples, really) to support that assertion, but it’s getting way too long to be manageable. I’m sure I’ve made a lot of mistakes already, there’s no point in an amateur regurgitating subjects on which papers are still being published by analytic philosophers.

    “- I took this to mean approaching science [eg medicine] differently from God [ie morality, viz the “irrational convictions held by our ancestors.” I don’t know what biology has to do with it, however]. … I could only think that you meant that the belief in God [ie the irrational convictions of our ancestors] was in some way a product of biology, and that this was in some way important.”
    Nope, this is about genetics, evolution and creationism, not morality. The “irrational convictions held by our ancestors” doesn’t refer to God, but the incompatibility of the Creationist God with the brotherhood of all terrestrial species.

    “I took this to mean that there was ‘mountains of evidence’ against the proposition in question, namely the existence of God.”
    There can be evidence against specific hypotheses leading to empirical claims, not God as established by the ontological argument.

    “I took you to be saying that there was no way to establish the credibility of the injunctions of biblical religion using sources apart from the bible itself, and that this fact was somehow a “point”.”
    Yes, it is. The bible isn’t protected by the ontological argument. I’ve said more about this in previous comments.

    “I took this to be saying that those who accepted the truth of the bible as an axiomatic truth [ie something that no evidence could be contrary to] were impervious to rational argument.”
    Anyone who refuses to defend their assumptions using multiple forms of argumentation (teleological justification, etc) is, from some angle, imperious to “rational” argument. Using my new definition of “rationality”, the axiomatic-deductive mode of thought is inherently irrational when used to the exclusion of all other considerations.

    “axioms cannot lead to contradiction”
    Logical contradiction, eg axioms like: “A=B” and “A=/=B”.

    “in the sense of something that cannot be true”
    I agree if you’re saying what I think you’re saying.

  31. nac says:

    I think you’ve misunderstood the manner in which morality is (partially) determined by scientific facts. Didn’t you read my posts in the Girl Throwing Puppies thread? Logic affects moral considerations by helping us minimize hypocrisy and double standards. Science affects them by triggering cognitive dissonance when the ethical system we’ve adopted asks us to act against some conscientious aspect of the psyche. This is not possible when we’re uninformed as to how the world really works and hence, the consequences of our actions. Whether to overpower the psychic resistance and stick to our orthodox principles or modify the system is a subjective decision.

    I realize that some of my posts in that thread were incomplete: http://www.spinnoff.com/zbb/viewtopic.php?p=800602#800602 The main problem with ignorance is that the conscience is unable to make moral judgments when the mind lacks an accurate and sufficiently complete understanding of the world. This has two corollaries: (1) we’re deluded as to the consequences of our actions, and (2) we’re hindered in the process of figuring out the means to attain our goals, no matter what these are.

    God, I think that’s enough for one day. I really should’ve compiled these into one big digest, but that could’ve broken your blog. 😛

  32. nac says:

    “Subjective decision,” but with its own consequences. Repression and denial is not a pretty thing, but it’s up to us whether or not to take that risk.

  33. vacuouswastrel says:

    I’m sorry, do you have a problem with your Enter button? Because I don’t see what spamming my blog with seventeen posts in a row of wild ranting is meant to achieve, especially when some of them are only one sentence long.

    Comment 17:
    “For instance, I’ve got nothing against, say, Whitehead’s conception of the deity, but I’m of the opinion that the traditional Abrahamic God can be falsified by empirical evidence because none of the conclusions that follow from his existence are borne out by observed reality.”

    The Abrahamic God has nothing to do with anything. Your comments regarded myself, and “Neoplatonism or Advaita Vedanta”, neither of which features The Abrahamic God. Therefore anything about the Abrahamic God is irrelevant.

    “For starters, shouldn’t nations that are open-minded about homosexuality be doomed to destruction like Sodom and Gomorrah and not at the top of the world in terms of living conditions if Jehovah had been real?”

    No, obviously not, as you’d know from even a cursory honest study of the religion. God doesn’t go around handing out punishments to the wicked and rewards to the good – not in this life. I mean, he can, but he can ALSO do the opposite. As Ecclesiastes puts it: “There are just men to whom evils happen, as though they had done the works of the wicked: and there are wicked men, who are as secure as though they had the deeds of the just”. The only certain punishment comes after death – although the Bible also points out that apparent material flourishing can be accompanied by its own mental torment, and that nobody can know whether a man is being punished or not.

    Indeed, it is the height of folly to attempt to reason from God’s desires to the material world in any way – you shouldn’t even try to understand it. “And I understood that man can find no reason of all those works of God that are done under the sun: and the more he shall labour to seek, so much the less shall he find”.

    The idea that you can “predict” what will happen in the physical world from knowledge of God’s desires comes dangerously close both to heretical views on causality and to prosperity theology and superstition.

    So: Catholicism (and most of the rest of Christianity) never claims any sort of falsifiable or demonstrable relationship between following its moral doctrines and material reward or punishment in this life. So the absence of such a relationship is not evidence against the Catholic position.

    Let alone the “Neoplatonist or Advaita Vedanta” position.

    “Look at the targets I’ve identified. Once again, I’m not trying to “disprove” God, only specific God- and god- hypotheses.”

    Specifically, Advaita Vedanta and Neoplatonism. And I don’t see how they relate to the evolution controvery. (And by the way, again this is utter rot. The ‘fossils are trick to test our faith’ idea would only be held by Creationists. Who have been completely repudiated by most of Christianity, including the Pope. If you’re only talking about a handful of weird American talk-show politicians, say so. Better yet, call them out by name, there aren’t that many of them).
    ((And it’s doubly nonsense because you don’t seem to understand how falsification works. “We are being tested by god” is not falsifiable – this means it cannot be falsified. The absence of evidence against it is not evidence against it. Because if there WERE evidence against creationism, it would imply that we were being tested by someone incompetant at covering their tracks, ie not God. Of COURSE the putative test is going to be a hard one! An impossible one without the Bible, these people say. You’re just repeating what your enemies say – but if they say it, not just say it but have it has the centre of what they say, then clearly it’s not something that they have a problem with, so repeating it is pointless. But anyway, let’s not get distracted from the question at hand: Advaita Vedanta and/or Neoplatonism.))

    I’m not going to get into the science-and-morality issue, since what you’re saying is nonsense. This kind of “I don’t need to think rationally or coherently, because people who do have grey hair” anti-intellectual anti-establishment claptrap is great for streetcred, and I’m happy to cede that battle to you, but let’s not bring it into anything resembling serious discussion.

    The final word on the issue is still Hume:
    “In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark’d, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when all of a sudden I am surpriz’d to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, ’tis necessary that it shou’d be observ’d and explain’d; and at the same time that a reason should be given; for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.”

    Empiricism gives us what IS and what IS NOT. It cannot give us what OUGHT or OUGHT NOT to be, which is what we call ‘ethics’ or ‘morality.

  34. nac says:

    “I’m sorry, do you have a problem with your Enter button?”
    lol Sorry, but do you mind? We seem to be the only vocal contributors here.

    “Your comments regarded myself, and “Neoplatonism or Advaita Vedanta”, neither of which features The Abrahamic God.”
    No, but is that still what we’re talking about at this point? I thought I’d made it clear that I’m only opposed to Platonic Gods when they’re used as evidence for or “proof” of imaginary, falsifiable deities.

    There can be no evidence for or against beings who may not interfere in the world of the senses. Like I said, I don’t see how a metaphysical discussion about whether these are “imaginary” can establish anything useful or meaningful. All theories are imaginary to me until they’re later shown to be have been justified, while theology is all about what cannot be known from within this world. It is important to get theists to admit that their God may only be imaginary, no matter how sophisticated their view of him is.

    “No, obviously not, as you’d know from even a cursory honest study of the religion.”
    I’m not opposed to any “religion”, only specific god-hypotheses, and overwhelming numbers believe that God will cast his thunder upon communities that legalize homosexuality. Prosperity theologians, creationists, etc are therefore open to refutation by means of empirical induction.

    “So the absence of such a relationship is not evidence against the Catholic position.”
    The Modern Catholic God cannot be disproved as such, but neither can he be “proved” by means of pure reasoning as Kant pointed out. I’ve never said otherwise. Human imagination is the only glue linking him to the being established by means of the ontological argument.

    I’m only opposed to him for two reasons: 1) Where he’s supposed to have interfered in the sensory universe, physical explanations of the same phenomena are more complete, comprehensive and justifiable whereas theological interpretations are unjustifiable by definition. “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” 2) It’s immoral to lead an ethical life out of fear of an unknowable afterlife. He’s therefore a useless concept, not representative of my view of the ultimate good.

    Gotta run, sorry.

  35. nac says:

    Sorry, interrupted by yet another power cut.

    Me: “their God may only be imaginary”
    Or whatever they’d like to call it. If they lack an equivalent category and refuse to create one, then they’re beyond help, like committed solipsists. At least reality won’t be as swift to take its toll on them.

    “This kind of “I don’t need to think rationally or coherently, because people who do have grey hair” anti-intellectual anti-establishment claptrap is great for streetcred, and I’m happy to cede that battle to you, but let’s not bring it into anything resembling serious discussion.”
    I have no idea what you’re talking about either. You seem unwilling to even consider arguments that do not follow the same patterns as the ones you’ve grown used to thinking of as “serious” and “rational”. I’d be happy to admit to charges of unorthodoxy, but not anti-intellectualism. Everything I said makes perfect sense to me. I must either be a silly crazy-person or a super-intelligent mutant, taking you as my standard of reference. 😛

    “every system of morality”
    I’d just like to note that I’ve never opposed moral Gods, even though they qualify as imaginary in my metaphysical outlook.

    “Empiricism gives us what IS and what IS NOT. It cannot give us what OUGHT or OUGHT NOT to be, which is what we call ‘ethics’ or ‘morality.”
    I humbly beg to differ. This is true, but only in the narrow, incomplete sense that different schools of thought can have similar, but differing standards of what good is even after the behavior of the sensory universe is well understood by all. The post on morality that I quoted is still here in my browser cache:

    “As I see it, the utility of ethics is not to facilitate a process of deciding upon The Correct set of moral axioms from scratch, but to help us achieve some level of consistency in those actions we already know to be morally justified and reverse engineer fundamental ideals which uphold these as laudable, as well as suggest other ways to lend our support to the principles that we think our preferences represent. We then enter a complex process of alternately deriving guidance from these ideals and modifying them when their logical conclusions no longer please our moral instinct, hopefully getting closer to self-realization with each correction.”

  36. nac says:

    Believe it or not, I _am_ sorry for what happened. It happened due to a failing of mine. When one of your paragraphs was prefaced by a long string of deprecatory language, I often skipped over it after around 3 or 4 sentences instead of taking it in my stride and reading through it carefully. I don’t expect a response and I won’t bother you again.

    I just wanted to say: You WIN!

    cya 😛

  37. nac says:

    (I had to wake up to eat)

  38. nac says:

    “You WIN!”
    No really, I mean I’m not opposed to any conception of the Catholic God that doesn’t include irrational elements or serves as an incomplete explanation of the phenomena it seeks to explain. I don’t have a problem with any god hypothesis that doesn’t make superstitious or otherwise irrational claims. However, I don’t buy your argument that “I hate you!” or anything else shouldn’t be subjected to logical analysis.

  39. nac says:

    …provided they don’t believe in miraculous events on insufficient and/or untrustworthy testimony, (lazarus) possess coherent explanations for apparent logical inconsistencies in church doctrine, (omniscience+potence) etc.

  40. nac says:

    “lazarus”
    Not only is there no known process by which a putrifying corpse can naturally come back to life, such an occurrence, if non-miraculous, would upset so many currently accepted core hypotheses of vital import, that a miracle may be judged more probable in comparison: http://chem.tufts.edu/answersinscience/relativityofwrong.htm

    Huh. I have no idea why I still keep qualifying my remarks. Never mind then.

  41. nac says:

    I’ve got nothing against miracles in themselves, mind you, only believing in them on irrational grounds. I disagree with Hume’s contention that there can never be adequate evidence for miraculous events, but I won’t waste your time trying to explain myself.

    Okay, last time. I promise.

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