• The ‘my mum’ argument against God

    Quote of the Day from Andy Schueler:

     

    Oh, and I also like the “my mom” argument, which I just made up :-D

    My mom is an inexhaustible source of practical wisdom and when I read the gospels for the first time, I was completely underwhelmed because my mom seemed to be a much better teacher than Jesus. It´s of course not an argument that I would use to try to persuade anyone else, but for me it was very powerful ;-)

    Genius. My mum is a better teacher than Jesus about things moral and suchlike. Therefore, Jesus ain’t all that and a bag of chips.

    Category: JesusPhilosophical Argument Against God

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    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce

    • AdamHazzard

      Funny and absolutely true.

      I’m fascinated by the odd absences at the core of Christianity — in this case, the absence of moral and ethical teachings more profound than what you might hear on a daily basis at any kitchen table or village hearth in the known world.

      It points to a bigger mysterious absence: the failure of the son of God, during his epoch-making visit to Earth, to give us anything like a Gospel According to Jesus. Better, apparently, to let a later generation of followers encode the Good News in a series of contradictory and unreliable narrative accounts; better to let councils of bishops determine what constitutes true belief and the means of eternal salvation; better to let theologians invent absurd cosmologies rather than tell us how the heavens spin…etc.

      Like theism itself, it all begins to seem like a hollow egg — a shell of language surrounding a void.

      • labreuer

        Would you give an example of two or three “moral and ethical teachings more profound”? I’m interested in whether you’re thinking more behavior-based or desire/belief-based. BF Skinner would say the latter doesn’t exist; my view is that Jesus by far focused on it, knowing that if you change the inside you change the outside, but often not the converse.

        • AdamHazzard

          Would you give an example of two or three moral or ethical teachings attributed to Jesus in the Gospels that you consider profound, so that we can have a basis for comparison?

          • labreuer

            Sure, I’ll go first. Hopefully you’ll follow.

            1. Mt 5:23-24 talks about maintaining ‘short accounts’ with your fellow believers—not offenses build up. It’s even in the Didache (ch14). To clarify what ‘sacrifice’ means, see Rom 12:1-2.

            This idea of keeping short accounts—making it very high priority—is something I do not find in the world. We are told to just ‘let things go’, until we can no longer and we blow up at people. If you have to be constantly wondering if you’ve done things to offend others in your group, much brain-time goes toward ensuring safe and proper action. If, on the other hand, you can act more freely, knowing that you’ll be told if you overstep the bounds and that forgiveness is cheap in comparison to the world’s ways, one can take bigger risks and go more places.

            2. Mt 5:27-28 discusses lusting in your heart being Really Bad. Contrasted to this, Damion on Skeptic Ink thinks this ain’t a big deal. Which is it?

            I think that one’s habits of mind are extremely important, as I think they ultimately evidence themselves in actions. I don’t mean that lust always turn into adultery; I actually mean to talk about much more than just lust. For some secular evidence, read You and Your Research, a famous lecture by Richard Hamming about the habits—including mental habits—of great scientists. Posts like Psychology, neuroscience and a fundamental lack of free will heighten the stakes, because to the extent that we don’t learn about and take control of our inner lives, our inner lives will take control over us.

            3. Mt 7:15-23 talks about judging a tree by its fruit (the goodness of the fruit is predicated on the goodness of the insides of the tree), and those who say they believed and did the right things to get into heaven, but didn’t. Well, which is it? Does what we believe matter, or doesn’t it? (Saying ‘matter for getting into heaven’ in this conversation can just be used to ‘maximize the stakes’, as it were.)

            Because he’s the most recent atheist I’ve read, John Loftus makes the error of thinking that getting into heaven is predicated solely upon what you say you believe, or perhaps what you truly believe you believe. Contrast this to Damion’s writing on lust, where he says you don’t sin in your inner life, but only if it escapes into your actions (ok, I’m strongly paraphrasing there, sorry Damion!). Well, which is it? Does what you believe and think about matter, or is it irrelevant?

            The juxtaposition of vv15-20 and vv21-23 forces a split of “self-reported belief” into what we think we believe, and what beliefs best predict our actions. It strongly hints at The Unreliability of Naive Introspection. (more) Alternatively, it gets at the difference between truly following Christ and settling for some finite mental concept of ‘the good’ and not trying to improve it. I describe this as good being infinite in ‘description’, and evil being finite in ‘description’. Reality with a glass ceiling is evil. Following Jesus includes heading toward the point at infinity—a good way to stay between the lines when driving, by the way.

            Even today, in modern society, I find people frequently reject one or more of the above. One result of such denial is a less rich, less well-understood inner life. Another is the lack of truly safe environments where one can both be oneself, but also be pushed onward and upward in a way that doesn’t suck.

            • Andy_Schueler

              Re 1 – I don´t have the foggiest clue what you are talking about there…
              Re 2+3 – there is plenty of psychological research that shows that attempting to change beliefs (e.g. telling people with clinical depression to “just think positive!”) is pointless at best and actively harmful at worst (to stay in the example of depression, since people cannot just choose to “think positive” and thus inevitably fail – it adds feelings of guilt for failure on top of already being depressed). Teaching people to change harmful behaviours (which implicitly changes their thinking as well) actually works on the other hand.

            • labreuer

              I omitted a word in #1; perhaps the edit “not offenses build up” → “not letting offenses build up” helps.

              #2 & #3 don’t say to exert doxastic voluntarism. Yes change is required, but I didn’t specify how. I’m well-acquainted with depression; I know the simple answers don’t work. There’s a fascinating TED talk by Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are. You really can fake it till you become it. But faking can also lead to hypocrisy. So the juxtaposition I pointed out really exists and can’t be smoothed over, like many people are wont to do—both theist and atheist.

            • AdamHazzard

              Is it your contention that these admonitions — to avoid carrying a grudge, to be as wholesome in one’s thoughts as in one’s acts, and to beware of hypocritical claims — are original to the Gospels?

            • labreuer

              I don’t know whether they’re original. Surely they have predecessors, even if they’re better than what came before. You requested profound statements, not original ones.

            • AdamHazzard

              In other words, are they “moral and ethical teachings more profound than what you might hear on a daily basis at any kitchen table or village hearth in the known world”?

            • labreuer

              Yes. I’m getting significant disagreement from Andy on #2, for example. It doesn’t seem to be a commonly held tenet. And you reversed #1; it talks about going to those you think might have a grudge or something much less than a grudge, just to make sure everything is alright and ‘wrongness’ doesn’t have a chance to grow up between you and the other person. #3 obviously isn’t being taught to the many atheists—John Loftus just being the most recent example—who cannot seem to distinguish self-reported beliefs from the beliefs which actually cause us to act the way we do.

              Maybe what I’ve listed are taught in more places than I thought. In going through life, I do not find them commonly believed. I’m basing profundity off of, “How much better would the world be if people actually believed these things?”

              I’m beginning to think that you don’t intend to answer my question about “moral and ethical teachings more profound”. While I’m used to being the one whose ideas are always ‘under examination’, I do like it if once in a while, I can examine the other person’s position. It’s much easier to critique a position than build a good one, oneself. I learned this from my creationist days, critiquing evolution. Except for what I learned from it, that effort was wasted, for I had nothing nearly as good as the theory of evolution.

            • AdamHazzard

              With respect, your request for “moral and ethical teachings more profound” is tangential to my original comment. I remarked on the absence from the New Testament of “moral and ethical teachings more profound than what you might hear on a daily basis at any kitchen table or village hearth in the known world.”

              [I hit the “share” button prematurely — comment continued below]

            • AdamHazzard

              Sorry, that was an unfinished post. To continue:

              Is Matthew 5:23-24 more profound than:

              “Consider how much more you often suffer from your anger and grief, than from those very things for which you are angry and grieved.” –Marcus Antonius

              or:

              “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” –Buddha

              or:

              “Not the fastest horse can catch a word spoken in anger.” –Chinese proverb

              or:

              “Anger blows out the lamp of the mind.” –Robert G. Ingersoll

            • labreuer

              With respect, your request for “moral and ethical teachings more profound” is tangential to my original comment.

              How on earth can this be the case? You claimed a class of things existed; asking for some examples is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

              Since you’ve switched to anger:

              Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. (Eph 4:26-27)

              Be angry, and do not sin;

                  ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.

              (Ps 4:4)

              There are many others, but these suffice to show the importance of A) acknowledging one’s anger and not suppressing it; B) dealing with it quickly, not letting it fester. Some of the quotations you cite give the impression that anger is never acceptable and should be squashed; this I believe to be a grave error and emotionally damaging. To the extent that our beliefs of what ought to be are ‘good’ in a particular situation, an angry response to something which is ‘wrong’ is a very efficient mental operation. At least, I believe it is possible to ‘tune’ my emotions so that they provide useful output. This output, like all data we take in, need to be properly analyzed and dealt with, of course.

            • AdamHazzard

              How on earth can this be the case? You claimed a class of things existed; asking for some examples is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

              No, I said I found in the Gospels’ account of Jesus’s teaching an “absence of moral and ethical teachings more profound than what you might hear on a daily basis at any kitchen table or village hearth in
              the known world.” This is not a claim that a class of things exists; it’s a claim that a class of things is absent.

              If you want to counter it, you can provide examples from the Gospels’ account of Jesus’s “moral and ethical teachings more profound than what you might hear on a daily basis at any kitchen table or village hearth in the known world.”

              If the examples you provided are meant to address that question, I’m afraid I don’t find them at all convincing. They resemble similar truisms from countless other cultural traditions antecedent to and parallel to Christianity.

              But my original comment was meant to suggest we take a step back and consider whether the moral and ethical teachings of Jesus are such that only a demi-human emissary from the creator of all time and space could have delivered them to humankind — and why such an emissary would not have made this information explicit in a Gospel of his own, rather than allowing it to be communicated by means of a handful of belated and contradictory narrative accounts of his life.

            • labreuer

              This is not a claim that a class of things exists; it’s a claim that a class of things is absent.

              Granted. There is a difficulty with such claims, though: without defining what would qualify as a member of said class, I’m at a loss as to how to find a qualifying member. You can just continually say, “No, that doesn’t qualify, and nope, that doesn’t either!”

              If you want to counter it, you can provide examples from the Gospels account of Jesus’s “moral and ethical teachings more profound than what you might hear on a daily basis at any kitchen table or village hearth in the known world.”

              Well, you misconstrued Mt 5:23-24, for one. First, it doesn’t say “don’t hold grudges”, it says that if you suspect a fellow Christian might “have something against you”—this is more broad than grudges—then you ought to go and clear things up. This has nothing to do with your own complaints against him, which could build toward grudges. Second, it places an extremely high importance on clearing things up—higher than sacrificing. Sacrificing would have a rich meaning to the Jews of Jesus’ time, and Paul gives it a new meaning in Romans 12:1-2; Christians are to live ‘as a living sacrifice’, which probably means that sacrificing happens more frequently than on a weekly basis. This would mean clearing up potential issues with fellow Christians very quickly—probably within a day or three.

              But I don’t know whether you would consider the above statements ‘profound’. If you’re talking about an emotional response, I doubt it—doing the above is hard. If you’re talking about “what if everyone did the above”, you could probably imagine that the result would be good, but all sorts of statements have that result, removing profundity. What would make the above profound is if only a few such statements were ‘psychologically tenable’ (defined in last paragraph), and it was one of them. But how would we really know if it were ‘profound’? The only way I know of is to look at what a group of people is like when they do it, and what a group of people is like when they don’t. If the difference is profound, then the statement is profound.

              But my original comment was meant to suggest we take a step back and consider whether the moral and ethical teachings of Jesus are such that only a demi-human emissary from the creator of all time and space could have delivered them to humankind — and why such an emissary would not have made this information explicit in a Gospel of his own, rather than allowing it to be communicated by means of a handful of belated and contradictory narrative accounts of his life.

              This begs the question of what God-given teachings would look like. And you know what, I’m not even sure they would ‘look’ all that profound. Until its fruits were realized, I’m not sure the scientific method ‘looked’ profound. What’s profound isn’t an imagined, better future, it’s the keys for how to get there.

              I am continually perplexed by this discussion of “contradictory narrative accounts”; have you discerned a single moral difference between said accounts? You seem to think that precision historiography is critical to maintaining the important things for us to learn, a tenet which I question.

            • AdamHazzard

              Well, you’re certainly correct that “profound” is difficult to quantify. I would suggest we might look for teachings that surpass in novelty, explanatory power, and utility all antecedent or parallel teachings. But I think you’re still misconstruing the intent of my original comment.

              I was making an observation about what seems to me an interesting vacuity at the heart of Christianity: the lack of any clear exposition of the thoughts of Jesus on systematic morality, ethics, cosmology, the nature of heaven and hell, the nature of moral and natural evil, or any of the countless other issues that have troubled theologians and provoked disputes both intellectual and martial in the centuries since. It puts the church in the difficult position of insisting on the vital importance of matters upon which the faith’s central figure never felt it necessary to pronounce an opinion.

              This is perfectly consistent with secular explanations of the origins and evolution of Christianity. It sits less comfortably, I think, with divine-intervention theories of the origin of the Gospels.

            • labreuer

              I was making an observation about what seems to me an interesting vacuity at the heart of Christianity: the lack of any clear exposition of the thoughts of Jesus on systematic morality, ethics, cosmology, the nature of heaven and hell, the nature of moral and natural evil, or any of the countless other issues that have troubled theologians and provoked disputes both intellectual and martial in the centuries since. It puts the church in the difficult position of insisting on the vital importance of matters upon which the faith’s central figure never felt it necessary to pronounce an opinion.

              You seem to be implying that if Jesus were to have done what you describe, things would be better now. Is this true? I would contest such a counterfactual, on grounds of the naturalistic fallacy, human nature, and the value of humans rationally believing things and ‘properly’ wanting things.

              I’m curious; what do you make of the following account?

              Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:20-28)

              I’m curious about whether the above is at all ‘profound’, given that it would seem to undermine virtually every exertion of power of Christians over their fellow men. Even Pope Francis is jumping on this bandwagon. One could say that this passage alone strongly mitigates against slavery, by saying that if anyone should appear in a slave-like position, it is Christians.

            • AdamHazzard

              You seem to be implying that if Jesus were to have done what you describe, things would be better now. Is this true?

              Only if you define “having a more thorough understanding of the relationship between mankind, God and Jesus” as “better.”

            • labreuer

              You’re speaking as if the Holy Spirit isn’t around, giving exactly that to those who want it. At least, if Jesus were telling the truth as recorded in the gospels. Which we’re kinda assuming when we say that he could have done better.

            • AdamHazzard

              I’m speaking as if we live in a world where Christians with presumably equal access to Holy Spirit nevertheless disagree over such issues as soteriology, christology, free will, the literal truth of scripture, et alia.

            • labreuer

              It’s easier to argue about things than to live self-sacrificially. One of the huge points of Paul’s is that the Jews in his time were a lot more concerned with how to interpret the law than to be sons of Abraham by being a blessing to the world. This isn’t to say that there isn’t true theological knowledge—to the extent that F = ma is ‘true’—but that you’re not going to get very much theological knowledge without living self-sacrificially in the world, participating in the sufferings of Christ. I view much of Christian theology as Aristotelian, in the sense that experimental data is ancillary to understanding God.

              A fun thing to look at is the many interpretations of quantum mechanics. Those who poo-poo all metaphysics think that this is stupid. But different interpretations likely stir people to try different further research; if some interpretations are more likely to spur scientists to make discoveries than others, then there is something ‘more true’ or at least ‘less wrong’ about them. So there is a place for metaphysical thought. But there’s also a place for actually running experiments and interpreting the world in the light of the results.

            • It seems to me that the broader point is that even if Jesus imparted certain decent moral teachings, they are sometimes either implicit or it is not clear which teachings trump others, especially given such contradictions in the Bible. Slavery is a good example. We are supposedly expected to know that certain commands should trump other commands such that we should derive that slavery is inherently bad even though it is biblically countenance. But we empirically know this is a faulty revelatory mechanism since the bible was misused for 2000 years to argue FOR slavery.
              It is not, then, merely a case that some moral guidance is missing, but also the clarity of the guidance which is actually there.

            • AdamHazzard

              True. And presumably — given the limited bandwidth of information transmitted orally to a small group of followers and committed to writing only decades later — a prudent Messiah would have been careful to clearly articulate and repeat the most important moral teachings. But you’re right: the decent teachings are commonplace truisms, they’re adulterated with queasy stuff like Luke 14-25-27, and what seem to us like outrageous evils of the day go undenounced.

            • Andy_Schueler

              And re “. Mt 5:27-28 discusses lusting in your heart being Really Bad.”
              – “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” – this sounds to me just as meaningful as “everyone who is hungry has already eaten a big fat steak in his heart”.

              Even if “looking with lust” were bad, and I see no reason why it should be (Jesus certainly doesn´t explain why it should be bad), what´s the point? Do you think that feelings of lust (whether it is lust for sex or lust for anything else) are a choice and you could just choose when you will feel lust and when you will not? If the history of “celibacy” (I can´t even say the word without laughing…) doesn´t disprove that notion, then nothing can…
              IMO, what really matters is to be honest with your partner about your sexual desires and to embrace your sexuality as long as your desires do not harm anyone (well, at least not against their will :-D ).

            • labreuer

              If you’d like to discuss the lust thing in detail, I suggest taking it to Damion’s blog entry; in the comments he and I already talked about some of what you bring up, here. To give a short answer, I will approximate you as claiming, “Because this simplistic method of not lusting has bad results, there exists no method and I should just make sure that by behavior remains acceptable.” My response is pretty clear in that very statement; we ought to move past simplistic methods.

              What happens when we use less simplistic methods? I think that’s a fascinating question. The Bible has much to say about not being controlled by one’s passions; I’d love to get some scientific data on the ins and outs of this. To what extent can people achieve healthy control of their thought patterns? You seem to be setting a pretty low bar in this domain—or defining ‘healthy’ in a way different from how I would.

              Your last paragraph confuses me; while I suppose one can lust after one’s partner, I’m pretty sure the bigger issue is lusting over people who aren’t your partner, and especially those who are someone else’s partner.

            • Andy_Schueler

              What happens when we use less simplistic methods? I think that’s a fascinating question. The Bible has much to say about not being controlled by one’s passions

              How is that not simply common sense? Here is what Stephen Fry had to say about this issue:
              “It’s the strangest thing about this church – it is obsessed with sex, absolutely obsessed. Now, they will say we, with our permissive society and rude jokes, are obsessed. No. We have a healthy attitude. We like it, it’s fun, it’s jolly; because it’s a primary impulse it can be dangerous and dark and difficult.
              It’s a bit like food in that respect, only even more exciting. The only people who are obsessed with food are anorexics and the morbidly obese, and that in erotic terms is the Catholic Church in a nutshell.”
              => I would not have phrased it as eloquently as Fry did, but this is really nothing but common sense IMO.

              To what extent can people achieve healthy control of their thought patterns? You seem to be setting a pretty low bar in this domain—or defining ‘healthy’ in a way different from how I would.

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ironic_process_theory

              Your last paragraph confuses me; while I suppose one can lust after one’s partner, I’m pretty sure the bigger issue is lusting over people who aren’t your partner, and especially those who are someone else’s partner.

              Assuming that you are in a committed relationship and you see the wife of a friend in a rather revealing dress and think to yourself for a moment something along the line “damn, she´s pretty hot” – I don´t see any problem with that and I would think it is downright silly to feel bad about this. If such thoughts last for longer than a moment however and especially if they become obsessive, then you got a problem – a problem that cannot be solved by trying to suppress these thoughts. That never happened to me, but if it should happen, I would try to think very carefully why I think so much about this woman and if there might be problem with my relationship (and if so, if it is something that I could work on with my partner).

            • labreuer

              How is that not simply common sense?

              First, common sense is not so common. Second, did you mean to say that lustful thoughts could or could not be controlled? I thought you were arguing for ‘could not’, but perhaps you meant to argue “could, but with the right, nontrivial methods—methods Christians tend not to use”.

              Here is what Stephen Fry had to say about this issue:

              “It’s the strangest thing about this church – it is obsessed with sex, absolutely obsessed.

              Agree 100%. Here’s what I said on Damion’s blog:

              With respect to Christianity, I’ve always found the emphasis on sexual purity to be unbiblical.

              […]

              It is my experience that sexuality is elevated when we fail to find ways to bless the world through serving it. We want some sort of satisfaction, so if our ‘work’ in the world isn’t delivering, we’ll get it sexually. This serves an evolutionary purpose and a theological purpose: if you aren’t going to properly take care of the world, at least you’ll leave progeny who might learn from your mistakes.

              It’s a bit like food in that respect, only even more exciting. The only people who are obsessed with food are anorexics and the morbidly obese, and that in erotic terms is the Catholic Church in a nutshell.”

              I think Fry is stealing from C.S. Lewis and/or G.K. Chesterton. :-)

              ironic process theory

              Agree 100%. In Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis has a fascinating section where he has a devil saying that the research labs of hell had tried and tried and failed to produce a desire/passion which was wholly evil. So all they could do was pervert good ones. This theology has a practical consequence: trying to suppress a perverted desire will fail because suppressing it will suppress something good that was merely perverted—God would have reason to not let this work. Indeed, the best thing to do, to identify exactly the perverted part, is to amplify it so that it can be seen more clearly. Funnily enough (ha ha ha) this is what happens! So, the proper response to a perverted desire—according to Christianity—is to attach the core, good desire to something truly good and in a good way. “You think you want X, but if you wanted Y you would find it truly satisfying.” Luke 11:24-26 is quite relevant to this discussion.

              Assuming that you are in a committed relationship and you see the wife of a friend in a rather revealing dress and think to yourself for a moment something along the line “damn, she´s pretty hot” – I don´t see any problem with that and I would think it is downright silly to feel bad about this.

              This isn’t lust.

            • Are we not missing one glaring bleeding great omission? Like, er, slavery….

            • labreuer

              Certain internal beliefs are required to support the belief that slavery is an OK thing to do. The OT and NT undermine such internal beliefs. This is, I claim, more important than external restrictions on behavior. See the status of African Americans in the post-Civil War South to see what happens when you merely change the law without also changing internal beliefs.

              And if you want to argue that those in the American South were following the Bible’s regulations on slavery, can you explain how they conveniently rationalized away the commands to A) never return fugitive slaves to their slaveowners; B) release slaves every seven years, noting that Christian slaves were just as ‘Hebrew’ as non-Jewish white Christians?

            • Andy_Schueler

              First, common sense is not so common. Second, did you mean to say that lustful thoughts could or could not be controlled? I thought you were arguing for ‘could not’, but perhaps you meant to argue “could, but with the right, nontrivial methods—methods Christians tend not to use”.

              I´d say that unless you are the sexual equivalent of an anorexic or a morbidly obese person, you don´t have a problem and you don´t need to “control” anything.
              If you have such problem however, there might be something that can be done about it but I wouldn´t call it “controlling thoughts”.

              I think Fry is stealing from C.S. Lewis and/or G.K. Chesterton. :-)

              If he stole it from one of them, then certainly Lewis. Chesterton is overrated IMO, he was a terrific writer but a shallow thinker (maybe I´m being unfair, I only know his “The Everlasting Man” – but if the rest of his work is not much better than that, I stand by my charge ;-) ).

              In Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis has a fascinating section where he has a devil saying that the research labs of hell had tried and tried and failed to produce a desire/passion which was wholly evil. So all they could do was pervert good ones. This theology has a practical consequence: trying to suppress a perverted desire will fail because suppressing it will suppress something good that was merely perverted—God would have reason to not let this work. Indeed, the best thing to do, to identify exactly the perverted part, is to amplify it so that it can be seen more clearly. Funnily enough (ha ha ha) this is what happens! So, the proper response to a perverted desire—according to Christianity—is to attach the core, good desire to something truly good and in a good way.

              In principle, I agree with that, but there are exceptions of course. What would you say about pedophiles for example? How are they supposed to “attach the core, good desire to something truly good and in a good way”. Their sexual desires are wholly evil and most of them are perfectly aware of this. There was a fascinating article about this (unfortunately in german but I´ll check if there might be an english version) about how some cities deal with the problem of pedophiles. What Berlin does, is offering free and anonymous counseling and behavioral therapy for pedophiles (not with the intent to change their sexual orientation, that doesn´t work – the therapy is designed to teach them how to maximize the chances of never acting out their sexual urges) – and they also offer chemical castration free of charge (which apparently more than half of the clients actually end up choosing).

              This isn’t lust.

              So when does it turn into “lust” – do you actually have to act out a short sex scene with her in your mind´s eye and everything below that doesn´t count as “lust”? If so, ok – then replace the “damn, she´s pretty hot” in my last comment by that.

            • Andy, if you find a translation, please let me know. sounds fascinating.

            • labreuer

              Jonathan, Andy’s comment, directly above yours, is marked as “awaiting moderation” for some reason.

            • labreuer

              If you have such problem however, there might be something that can be done about it but I wouldn´t call it “controlling thoughts”.

              I think we just have different terminology. I’m thinking of mental discipline that allows us to accomplish what we want to accomplish in the world, vs. getting ‘stuck’ and ‘spinning our wheels’. You may enjoy the TEDx talk, The Great Porn Experiment, by Gary Wilson. Remember, my point here is that how we occupy our brains matters—it tends to manifest in reality. Lust and anger are merely two easy to think about examples.

              Chesterton is overrated IMO, he was a terrific writer but a shallow thinker

              I haven’t read enough of him to know, but as my single blog post indicates, I like at least the beginning of his Orthodoxy, on maniacs, which I excerpted. In general, I find that there is an extreme paucity of deep Christian thinkers. But this generalizes: there is an extreme paucity of deep thinkers in general. I would say that these days, Christians tend to be falling behind. Scientists aren’t immune from this kind of error; simply see what many physicists were saying before the quantum revolution.

              What would you say about pedophiles for example?

              I know so little about pedophilia that I can’t say much intelligent, except agree that what you describe some German cities doing seems to be a good strategy for the time being.

              So when does it turn into “lust” – do you actually have to act out a short sex scene with her in your mind´s eye and everything below that doesn´t count as “lust”? If so, ok – then replace the “damn, she´s pretty hot” in my last comment by that.

              Let me rephrase this in a statistical fashion: at what point do you start down the road toward an affair? I’m aware of the experiments showing decisions that are made several seconds before a person is consciously aware of them; I find it compelling to model [marital] affairs in this way, but to greatly inflate the time period. In other words, there is a ‘point of no return’, after which the affair is virtually guaranteed to be consummated. Where exactly is that ‘point of no return’, and what ought a person do to stay sufficiently far away from it?

              Kind of orthogonally, I propose that it is possible to train oneself to consider the whole person sexually attractive, and not just his/her exterior. The latter constitutes ‘objectification’, and trains your brain (or allows it to stay in an evolutionarily-carved path) to base attractiveness on exterior alone. Basing attractiveness of any sort on exterior alone frequently leads to bad results—it’s called “judging by appearances” and allows hypocrisy, deceit, and shallowness. Now, I have no empirically-tested model that “act[ing] out a short sex scene” with someone you find attractive reinforces judgment by appearances. I’m not even sure that is empirically testable [yet].

            • Andy_Schueler

              Remember, my point here is that how we occupy our brains matters—it tends to manifest in reality. Lust and anger are merely two easy to think about examples.

              The very notion that we “occupy our brain” in some way instead of “us” being what it is that “occupies our brain” is problematic. You seem to assume that there is some part of “us” that is not identical to the status of our brains, and this view is scientifically (neurobiology) and philosophically (interaction problem) an untenable view I think.
              I wouldn´t disagree with the notion that it is good to talk and think about these issues, because these experiences of talking / thinking etc. actually do change what “occupies our brain”. But this is yet another point where the sayings that are attributed to Jesus seem to be trivial at best and shallow or pointless at worst IMO.

              Again, the “looking with lust is adultery in your heart” point really is as meaningful to me as saying “being hungry is eating a big fat steak in the heart” – I´m not saying this for rethorical effect, this really is how I see it. Maybe Jesus (or the author who put these words into his mouth) actually meant something more sophisticated by that which I would actually agree with – but then this saying is just way too short and ambiguous to be of any help.

              I think the two of us do have a lot of common ground on this, and probably most other moral issues. But I don´t see how your views would be any more “biblical” than those of the fundagelical “purity” fanatics – they don´t cherry pick, the text does allow for their interpretation. I have read liberal christians saying “the Bible is meant to be read with intelligence / common sense” – that´s cool, but then I don´t need the Bible in the first place because the views I have that correspond to this “common ground” that I have with those christians are completely independent of the Bible.

              In general, I find that there is an extreme paucity of deep Christian thinkers.

              Well, I think the problem here is the subject, not the abilities of the people thinking about the subject ;-).

              Scientists aren’t immune from this kind of error; simply see what many physicists were saying before the quantum revolution.

              But even a shallow thinker can make great contributions to scientific progress. A dude who single-mindedly focusses on one particular problem and never bothers to think about the stuff that happens outside his little academic circle is still very valuable. He might never realize the implications that his work might have for closely related fields and if the problem is hard and requires some out-of-the-box thinking, he will probably never find the solutions he is looking for unless he gets really lucky. But so what? Thousands of scientists are just like that and their work is very valuable. You don´t need many scientists who are truly creative and interdisciplinary for the scientific endeavour to flourish (but you actually do need the single-minded nerds who spend their life solving this one problem IMO – because it is them who contribute most of the data that we actually have available).
              Theology on the other hand allows even a great thinker to contribute nothing of value (IMO – this is because the subject of his / her research is not real and again, because most theological subdisciplines have no method – they cannot evaluate competing hypotheses).

              Let me rephrase this in a statistical fashion: at what point do you start down the road toward an affair? I’m aware of the experiments showing decisions that are made several seconds before a person is consciously aware of them; I find it compelling to model [marital] affairs in this way, but to greatly inflate the time period. In other words, there is a ‘point of no return’, after which the affair is virtually guaranteed to be consummated. Where exactly is that ‘point of no return’, and what ought a person do to stay sufficiently far away from it?

              That´s why I said that if you find yourself having such thoughts and they last longer than some passing moments, it might be wise to think long and hard about your relationship. There are reasons for why you do or do not have these thoughts and the better you understand them, the better you can plan for what to do about it. Maybe you and your partner didn´t work hard enough to keep your relationship “interesting” (I can´t think of a better word than that right now :-D ) or you find some other problem that could be solved by talking to you partner and working on your relationship. And maybe you realize that you and your partner simply drifted to far apart over the years and you don´t actually love her anymore, or some other problem that cannot be solved. If it is the latter case, you could end the relationship before reaching this “point of no return” that you mentioned.

              Kind of orthogonally, I propose that it is possible to train oneself to consider the whole person sexually attractive, and not just his/her exterior. The latter constitutes ‘objectification’, and trains your brain (or allows it to stay in an evolutionarily-carved path) to base attractiveness on exterior alone. Basing attractiveness of any sort on exterior alone frequently leads to bad results—it’s called “judging by appearances” and allows hypocrisy, deceit, and shallowness.

              It seems to me that everyone is naturally attracted to some “exterior” and some “interior” traits – at least for a partner that you actually want to live with (instead of just having a ONS) or a partner that you just want to show off – a status symbol (a trophy wife / trophy husband).
              Many people find a good sense of humor very attractive, or kindness, or intelligence, or being good with kids, and so on and so forth.
              I doubt that you can train yourself to completely stop finding a trait attractive that you currently are attracted to, or start finding a trait attractive that you are currently not attracted to at all. How important you consider these traits relative to each other however frequently does change (I don´t personally know a single person over the age of 20 where this didn´t happen) – we learn from experiences after all.

              Now, I have no empirically-tested model that “act[ing] out a short sex scene” with someone you find attractive reinforces judgment by appearances. I’m not even sure that is empirically testable [yet].

              What about the reverse? Lets say I find a woman to be sexually very attractive, not primarily because of her looks, but rather because she is whip-smart, has a terrific sense of humor, is very kind but also has the guts to call out Bullshit and injustice when she sees it, and loves cats, books, arguments and cheap horror flicks – is that “lust”? Does this reinforce judgment by things other than appearances? If I think that about a woman that is not my girlfriend or wife, is it more, less or equally bad than finding her sexually attractive for her looks? (it would certainly be a much bigger “danger” to your current relationship if you think that about another woman compared to merely finding her sexually attractive based on her looks if you ask me ;-) ).

              There is a lot to say about this subject and many wise words have been said or written, these:
              “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
              are not among them.

            • labreuer

              The very notion that we “occupy our brain” in some way instead of “us” being what it is that “occupies our brain” is problematic. You seem to assume that there is some part of “us” that is not identical to the status of our brains,

              Ehh, is this inferred assumption really required by the point I was making? I’m sniffing some CFW in the assumption I’m now inferring from what you say, that we aren’t in control of which thoughts we let have lots of brain-cycles. Let’s clear up this error-prone inference. :-)

              But this is yet another point where the sayings that are attributed to Jesus seem to be trivial at best and shallow or pointless at worst IMO.

              I would challenge you to read You and Your Research, and then say that there aren’t powerful ways to control your thoughts such that they go very interesting places. If you agree with Hamming, then I wonder what you mean by claims of triviality, shallowness, or pointlessness. Hamming wouldn’t be saying what he says if it were obvious or unimportant.

              Again, the “looking with lust is adultery in your heart” point really is as meaningful to me as saying “being hungry is eating a big fat steak in the heart” – I´m not saying this for rethorical effect, this really is how I see it.

              Try this on for size: the more you occupy your mind with a class of thoughts, the more likely those thoughts are to manifest in [related] actions.

              But I don´t see how your views would be any more “biblical” than those of the fundagelical “purity” fanatics – they don´t cherry pick, the text does allow for their interpretation.

              Any given body of evidence allows for an infinite number of interpretations/models, so it shouldn’t at all be surprising that their interpretation seems to fit the text. The question is really: which interpretations/models lead to new, interesting, good things? Some interpretations are dead-ends. Creationism and evolution both model the data. Creationism is unable to point us toward new and exciting discoveries; evolution is.

              I have read liberal christians saying “the Bible is meant to be read with intelligence / common sense” – that´s cool, but then I don´t need the Bible in the first place because the views I have that correspond to this “common ground” that I have with those christians are completely independent of the Bible.

              Why does this matter? People were able to know God and do good things before the Torah was allegedly given. If you can bless the world without needing the Bible, why would God care? Arguably, the New Covenant is all about people graduating from the Bible.

              You don´t need many scientists who are truly creative and interdisciplinary for the scientific endeavour to flourish (but you actually do need the single-minded nerds who spend their life solving this one problem IMO – because it is them who contribute most of the data that we actually have available).

              It is likely that this is ceasing to be true. A sociologist is studying my wife’s lab and he is focused on precisely this problem. Specialization is becoming a very iffy business, unless the specialist is deeply integrated with those in other fields—somethign which traditionally hasn’t happened a whole lot. Just FYI. :-)

              I do understand that you don’t need very many people who are looking for all the bits of the various experiments which don’t fit current ‘science dogma’. At least in our current paradigm, where running those experiments is so tedious. Knowing some details about such experimental work, I can say that there are ways to vastly speed it up, but they require robotics and software development which is currently too expensive.

              Theology on the other hand allows even a great thinker to contribute nothing of value (IMO – this is because the subject of his / her research is not real and again, because most theological subdisciplines have no method – they cannot evaluate competing hypotheses).

              There is such a thing as applied theology, whereby one tries to build a theology by applying the Bible to day-to-day experiences. I’ve done a lot of this and not only is it extremely rewarding, but it’s a way to actually respond to evidence. Pretty much any theoretical branch of science is useless if it cannot feed into a practical one.

              That´s why I said that if you find yourself having such thoughts and they last longer than some passing moments, it might be wise to think long and hard about your relationship.

              Ok, so we’re really just quibbling over a moment of length ∆t, with you saying that 5·∆t is ok and me saying that only 2·∆t is ok. With maybe some futzing about the content of the moments: I think appreciating attractiveness is ok, while you think acting out a short sexual fantasy is ok.

              Does this reinforce judgment by things other than appearances?

              Yep. Now try adding ‘loyalty’, ‘faithfulness’, and ‘honesty’ to the mix…

              There is a lot to say about this subject and many wise words have been said or written, these:

              “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

              are not among them.

              Something tells me that you haven’t fully grokked what ‘lust’ is. It involves believing that my life would be better only if e.g. I could have that woman, even if only for a ONS.

            • Andy_Schueler

              I’m now inferring from what you say, that we aren’t in control of which thoughts we let have lots of brain-cycles. Let’s clear up this error-prone inference. :-)

              Well, I think that “you” is identical to what goes on in your brain – where is this control instance that controls which thoughts get how many brain cycles supposed to be? ;-)

              If you agree with Hamming, then I wonder what you mean by claims of triviality, shallowness, or pointlessness. Hamming wouldn’t be saying what he says if it were obvious or unimportant.

              Will read it, but before that – where are the “powerful ways to control your thoughts” according to Jesus, I accused him, not Hamming ;-)

              Try this on for size: the more you occupy your mind with a class of thoughts, the more likely those thoughts are to manifest in [related] actions.

              Yes. But if I think too much about eating and thus actually do eat too much, to the degree that I actually can be considered to have an eating disorder – the solution is not to “stop thinking so much about food” – just like “think positive!” doesn´t help for depression.
              The same with anger management issues… According to the Bible, these feelings are simply bad, no nuance whatsoever (and I wouldn´t consider either “lust” or “anger” to be categorically bad – anger is one of the most powerful motivators to fight against injustice and it only becomes a problem when there is too much of it (I think the same can be said about most other emotions…)) and for those people that actually do have problems with these issues – people with anger management problems for example, I don´t see how the Bible offers any help.

              Any given body of evidence allows for an infinite number of interpretations/models

              That, if true, would completely undermine our criminal justice system. If you have a mountain of evidence that supports the claim “the accused murdered the victim” and no evidence to the contrary, this would be compatible with an infinite number of minute variations of how exactly the accused murdered the victim. It would not be compatible with “the accused is innocent and the victim was actually murdered by someone else”.

              Creationism and evolution both model the data. Creationism is unable to point us toward new and exciting discoveries; evolution is.

              Nope, all forms of creationism are as conclusively refuted by the available data as they could possibly be, unless you count theistic evolution as a form of “creationism”.

              Why does this matter? People were able to know God and do good things before the Torah was allegedly given.

              Which people? The first pages of the Bible are mythology – Adam & Eve, Noah and Abraham never existed.

              There is such a thing as appliedtheology, whereby one tries to build a theology by applying the Bible to day-to-day experiences. I’ve done a lot of this and not only is it extremely rewarding, but it’s a way to actually respond to evidence.

              Problem is that you have no controls – how could you know if the good results are due to what you perceive to be Bible teachings instead of simply due to being who you are, without controls?

              Ok, so we’re really just quibbling over a moment of length ∆t, with you saying that 5·∆t is ok and me saying that only 2·∆t is ok. With maybe some futzing about the content of the moments: I think appreciating attractiveness is ok, while you think acting out a short sexual fantasy is ok.

              If by “ok” you mean “no reason to worry over it” – then yes, I guess we can agree on that.

              Yep. Now try adding ‘loyalty’, ‘faithfulness’, and ‘honesty’ to the mix…

              You can add as many traits as you like – it´s just an example. Point is, that this apparently doesn´t count as “lust”, and might even be a good thing from your vantage point given that you seem to agree that this “reinforce[s] judgment by things other than appearances?”
              But wouldn´t you agree that thinking something along that line about a woman other than your girlfriend is a much, much bigger danger to your relationship then merely finding another woman sexually attractive for her looks? (or even fantasizing about her for > 2·∆t or wherever you want to draw the line). Even if this doesn´t count as “lust” it seems to be a much more likely reason for “adultery” to me. Would it still be “adultery” if you break up the relationship with your current wife / girlfriend first? And if not, where is the biblical support for that?
              Again, this issue doesn´t seem to be even nearly as easy as NT morality makes it out to be…

              Something tells me that you haven’t fully grokked what ‘lust’ is. It involves believing that my life would be better only if e.g. I could have that woman, even if only for a ONS.

              Well, that is… interesting… then I think I can actually live a life completely “free of sin” :-D.
              Seriously though, going by that definition, I doubt that I ever felt “lust” at all… Sex is awesome, but I honestly cannot remember ever thinking anything along the line “my life would be better only if e.g. I could have that woman, even if only for a ONS.” (particularly the word “only” makes this sounds rather obsessive – certainly doesn´t sound very healthy to me. If it wouldn´t be about sex (“even if only for a ONS”), this would rather sound like being madly in love than “lust” to me…).

            • labreuer

              Well, I think that “you” is identical to what goes on in your brain – where is this control instance that controls which thoughts get how many brain cycles supposed to be? ;-)

              Higher-level supervisory mechanisms, of course. A more interesting question might be: is it possible to always add an even higher level supervisory mechanism?

              Will read it, but before that – where are the “powerful ways to control your thoughts” according to Jesus, I accused him, not Hamming ;-)

              Well, you’ve first got to get people to believe that maybe one can control one’s thoughts, and that maybe uncontrolled thoughts can run wild and cause corresponding actions. I get the sense that you believe these claims now (we seem to disagree merely in degree), and thus they’re trivial to you, but what about to the ancient Jews?

              But if I think too much about eating and thus actually do eat too much, to the degree that I actually can be considered to have an eating disorder – the solution is not to “stop thinking so much about food” – just like “think positive!” doesn´t help for depression.

              Agreed. You’ve got to see what the actual desire is, and satisfy it a different way. Otherwise you’ll bury it for a while and it’ll come back a kraken.

              The same with anger management issues… According to the Bible, these feelings are simply bad, no nuance whatsoever

              False. Ps 4:4 and Eph 4:26 say to be angry, but they say to do it in a specific way. Rom 12:9 says to “Abhor what is evil”; I’m pretty sure that includes anger. Among other things, anger is a strong signal that what we observe in the world has transgressed our idea of how things ought to be. It might be that our idea of how things ought to be should be changed, so we must not immediately think that anger means the other party is in the wrong. But the more we tune our idea of what ought to be, the more often we are not the ones in the wrong—unless we keep getting presented with more and more complex cases. But we have ways of knowing when we’re in situations which require new analysis.

              for those people that actually do have problems with these issues – people with anger management problems for example, I don´t see how the Bible offers any help.

              I know someone who has severe issues with anger and the Bible is terrifically useful to him. A huge issue with anger is when we don’t know who it is who is in the wrong. Humans have a default of assuming it is the other, but for those who haven’t become utterly arrogant, there is this nagging question of whether I am the one who’s actually screwed up. The moral compass the NT gives on such matters is surprisingly sophisticated. I don’t mean it to be the be-all and end-all—I view the Bible as a constitution, not a finished set of laws—but one can go quite far with it. Furthermore, the NT calls for self-sacrifice, which is yet another way to deal with anger when it’s the other person who is the problem. Self-sacrifice isn’t “just letting things go”, although there is that, it’s usually used with a purpose in mind. We demonstrate to others what it could be like if we all lived by the law of grace instead of ‘deserve’. I could go on if you’d like.

              That, if true, would completely undermine our criminal justice system.

              False. Not all interpretations/models are equally valid. And yes, the data restrict which models are valid. You still have an infinitude of them left. I’m pretty sure the infinity isn’t even countable.

              Nope, all forms of creationism are as conclusively refuted by the available data as they could possibly be, unless you count theistic evolution as a form of “creationism”.

              Last-Thursdayism is not refutable.

              Which people? The first pages of the Bible are mythology – Adam & Eve, Noah and Abraham never existed.

              Irrelevant. According to the Bible, people could be righteous and holy and all that without Torah. So any Christian who bases his/her idea of what is required on the Bible will have to agree. It doesn’t matter if said people existed.

              Problem is that you have no controls – how could you know if the good results are due to what you perceive to be Bible teachings instead of simply due to being who you are, without controls?

              By comparing data with others. In the end all you ever have is intersubjective agreement. But it’s the same with science. We just hope that if we keep our ideas open to falsification, we’ll eventually see some bits falsified and thus be led to better models.

              If by “ok” you mean “no reason to worry over it” – then yes, I guess we can agree on that.

              At this point, I think actual empirical research is required. :-)

              But wouldn´t you agree that thinking something along that line about a woman other than your girlfriend is a much, much bigger danger to your relationship then merely finding another woman sexually attractive for her looks?

              This gets into what I think sexual union is. Does it have a spiritual element? Many don’t seem to think so, but does that mean the signal is just small for them? If it seems much more than just physical to some, is that because of the meaning they imposed on it, or is that because they amplified a signal that was already there?

              I probably agree with you in a sense. The more intense things are, the more grave the possible sins/errors/mistakes. So maybe acting out a sexual fantasy if it’s just a physical thing is much less dangerous than acting out a sexual fantasy if the fantasy is much more. Maybe as intensity → ∞, x → 0 in x·∆t, where we want to allow a ‘safe’ amount of time fantasizing/whatever.

              Seriously though, going by that definition, I doubt that I ever felt “lust” at all… Sex is awesome, but I honestly cannot remember ever thinking anything along the line “my life would be better only if e.g. I could have that woman” (particularly the word “only” makes this sounds rather obsessive – certainly doesn´t sound very healthy to me).

              This sounds like you let a lot of your actions lack an intention for ‘the good’ or ‘betterness’. I find events more enjoyable if they are part of a larger story which is headed toward ‘betterness’. A Christian would say that things were meant to be enjoyed in this way, and not merely for their own sake.

            • Andy_Schueler

              Higher-level supervisory mechanisms, of course. A more interesting question might be: is it possible to always add an even higher level supervisory mechanism?

              That is precisely what I asked you…

              Well, you’ve first got to get people to believe that maybe one can control one’s thoughts, and that maybe uncontrolled thoughts can run wild and cause corresponding actions.

              I´ve read it now, and I didn´t see anything that I would call “control one´s thoughts”… Seems to me about how advice + certain behaviour feeds back into the way you think. And this I never disagreed with and pointed out myself several comment ago – it´s like that for many other things as well, what you do can influence what you think. What I always disagreed with (and still do) is that this has anything to do with biblical teachings or can reasonably be called “control one´s thoughts”.

              I don´t think we disagree strongly about any details in this context, you seem to be aware that the “simple” approach of telling people [“just think positive!, just don´t think so much about food!, just don´t be so angry!”, etc.] doesn´t work at all, but you said there were more sophisticated / powerful methods. Since you pointed to Hamming´s speech, I guess we could also agree on what these more “powerful” methods are. Now, what the hell does this have to do with biblical teachings? How are biblical teachings not exactly the “simple” approach that does not work?

              False. Ps 4:4 and Eph 4:26 say to be angry, but they say to do it in a specific way.

              “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.”
              Colossians 3:8
              “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret–it leads only to evil.”

              Psalm 37:8

              I don´t know how exactly biblical hebrew and greek distinguish between anger, wrath and rage – but based on the english translation, this is extremely bad advice… “Anger + wrath” apparently only lead to evil (Bullshit…) and rage and anger are apparently equally bad (very nuanced…).

              I know someone who has severe issues with anger and the Bible is terrifically useful to him.

              That is a complete mystery to me, but if it works…

              False. Not all interpretations/models are equally valid. And yes, the data restrict which models are valid. You still have an infinitude of them left. I’m pretty sure the infinity isn’t even countable.

              Again, I gave the example of the murder trial to point out how this is completely misleading. You might have an infinite number of possible interpretations if you count two interpretations as “different” as soon as they differ by one quantum state at one point in time. But if all of those “infinite interpretations” involve the accused murdering the victim on the same day at the same time (give or take an hour) at the same location (give or take a few meters) with the same weapon, then you are really stretching the meaning of the phrase “different interpretations”…

              This I would call distinctions without a difference. If I compare the differences of expert opinions regarding established theories in my field (the stuff that goes into textbooks, not the current controversies) most of it will appear to a layperson as exactly that – distinctions without a difference. For theology on the other hand, you don´t exactly have to be an expert to realize that there are some rather fundamental differences between a Jehovah´s Witness, a greek orthodox Christian and a Pentecostal…

              Last-Thursdayism is not refutable.

              Neither is creation by the flying spaghetti monster (because it created life in such a way that all the evidence points to evolution being true) – but neither that nor last-thursdayism are commonly referred to as “creationism”.

              This sounds like you let a lot of your actions lack an intention for ‘the good’ or ‘betterness’. I find events more enjoyable if they are part of a larger story which is headed toward ‘betterness’.

              Again, your definition of “lust” was:
              “It involves believing that my life would be better only if e.g. I could have that woman, even if only for a ONS.”
              => and this, to me, seems to be a) rather obsessive (particularly because of the word “only”), b) very idiosyncratic and c) a little confusing, because if it were not for the last six words, this would sound much more like being madly in love than “lust”. And this particular combination, being so obsessed that you think only by having this woman could your life “be better” + this apparently only being about sex (“even if only for a ONS”), is completely alien to me. And I strongly doubt that you would find many people who would either agree with you that this is a good definition of “lust” and I would be even more surprised if you find people who actually ever felt something that could be described in this way….

            • labreuer

              That is precisely what I asked you…

              This is one of the things I’ve been chewing on since I left a few free will posts by you and Jonathan unanswered. Is there always a single, unchanging, highest-level supervisory mechanism? How could such a supervisory mechanism drive us toward infinitely complex understanding of is or ought? It’s not clear that any finitely defined supervisory mechanism could do that, given that there may be no upper bound to how to define ‘better’. So let’s say someone ends up understanding science or justice or ethics better and better and better. How do we explain the continual progression? The only answer I have is that the person is constantly operating on more and more sophisticated supervisory mechanisms. This would be an infinite progression, vs. an infinite regression. What would explain such a progression? CFW would seem to fall short.

              Since you pointed to Hamming´s speech, I guess we could also agree on what these more “powerful” methods are. Now, what the hell does this have to do with biblical teachings? How are biblical teachings not exactly the “simple” approach that does not work?

              The Bible doesn’t just contain Jesus’ discussion of lust and anger. The NT is all about building a community of people who reinforce good behavior and good thought patterns. But, as I said in the quotation you responded to, it is first important to recognize that undisciplined thought leads to bad places. There are a lot of people living now who don’t seem to believe this!

              “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.”
              Colossians 3:8

              “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret–it leads only to evil.”
              Psalm 37:8

              I don´t know how exactly biblical hebrew and greek distinguish between anger, wrath and rage – but based on the english translation, this is extremely bad advice… “Anger + wrath” apparently only lead to evil (Bullshit…) and rage and anger are apparently equally bad (very nuanced…).

              Ok, so we’ve each provided verses that appear to contradict each other. So do we throw up our hands and say that the Bible is full of contradictions and thus should be thrown out, or do we look to see how the two ways of thinking about anger might be consonant? We could look at Ja 1:20, which says that “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God”. So some kinds of anger lead to bad places. This is well-known and we ought to expect that the Bible will condemn those kinds of anger. We find that Col 3:8 is qualified by Col 3:5 “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you”. Ps 37 talks about how to conduct one’s thought-life in the presence of evildoers; how would being angry all the time bring about more good than harm? The two passages I mentioned indicate that anger is good when short-lived and acted upon appropriately, but not good when allowed to persist or explode. These are consonant with the two verses you quoted.

              That is a complete mystery to me, but if it works…

              When something makes you angry, is the problem with the something or with you? A good measure of peace can be obtained when you are able to identify what, if anything in yourself is wrong. People are forever trying to project their problems onto others; how can we properly attribute responsibility? The Bible offers a system for doing this. It might or might not be right, but it allows us to build up a system of right and wrong, which can order one’s emotions instead of leave them to be irrational and lawless.

              Again, I gave the example of the murder trial to point out how this is completely misleading.

              Okay, but you’re unduly restricting the argument to simple situations when much of life is not simple. Was the murderer clinically insane at the time of the murder? Was the murderer under the influence of unwittingly-taken, mind-altering drugs? Did the murderer avert a much larger amount of death? When the situation gets complex, the number of possible interpretations explodes.

              For theology on the other hand, you don´t exactly have to be an expert to realize that there are some rather fundamental differences between a Jehovah´s Witness, a greek orthodox Christian and a Pentecostal…

              Why is this surprising or a problem? If you want to get a diversity of answers in a secular way, simply poll people: “What constitutes the good life?” If you want a lower diversity of answers, ask whether it’s ok to rape. You’ll still get some diversity, but you also will with murder across cultures and across time.

              Again, your definition of “lust” was:

              “It involves believing that my life would be better only if e.g. I could have that woman, even if only for a ONS.”
              => and this, to me, seems to be a) rather obsessive (particularly because of the word “only”), b) very idiosyncratic and c) a little confusing, because if it were not for the last six words, this would sound much more like being madly in love than “lust”. And this particular combination, being so obsessed that you think only by having this woman could your life “be better” + this apparently only being about sex (“even if only for a ONS”), is completely alien to me. And I strongly doubt that you would find many people who would either agree with you that this is a good definition of “lust” and I would be even more surprised if you find people who actually ever felt something that could be described in this way….

              You’re discounting my ‘e.g.’, so I’ll restate without it: “Lust involves thinking that my life would be better if I could have a one-night-stand with that woman, if not more.” The more we tell ourselves that our life would be better if we did X, the more likely we are to do X. ‘Coveting’ is lusting in ways that aren’t exclusively sexual. The last word in the Decalogue says not to covet, so we can include that in the conversation if being specific to sex is tripping up the discussion. In my original comment, I meant to indicate that I was talking about more than just lust.

            • Andy_Schueler

              How could such a supervisory mechanism drive us toward infinitely complex understanding of is or ought?

              This would be an infinite progression, vs. an infinite regression.

              How do you justify the usage of the words “infinitely” and “infinite” in here?

              So let’s say someone ends up understanding science or justice or ethics better and better and better. How do we explain the continual progression? CFW would seem to fall short.

              1. I fail to see any problem or mystery here…
              2. What does free will have to do with this in the first place? And why do you explain more (I´m not even sure what you are actually trying to explain) by adding some contradictions (LFW) on top of that?

              The Bible doesn’t just contain Jesus’ discussion of lust and anger. The NT is all about building a community of people who reinforce good behavior and good thought patterns. But, as I said in the quotation you responded to, it is first important to recognize that undisciplined thought leads to bad places.

              How do you make people recognize that by giving them advice that doesn´t work?

              Ok, so we’ve each provided verses that appear to contradict each other. So do we throw up our hands and say that the Bible is full of contradictions and thus should be thrown out, or do we look to see how the two ways of thinking about anger might be consonant?

              I can only repeat what I said before, this is a complex subject (like lust was as well), and many wise words have been said and written about it – the biblical contributions do not belong to that category. The contradictions are not what I would criticize most, what I would criticize most is the simple-mindedness. But yes, IMO the contradictions alone would be more than enough reason to “throw it out”.

              We could look at Ja 1:20, which says that “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God”. So some kinds of anger lead to bad places.

              Not “some” (when it comes to humans), the verse neither says nor implies that. “Yahweh angry” = righteous! “Humans angry” = bad human!
              Black-and-white simple-minded moralizing…

              These are consonant with the two verses you quoted.

              Assuming that this were true – that wouldn´t be a good thing, because all these verses are simple minded but the two I quoted are much worse than the ones you quoted. Yours at least could be read in a way that they actually do have one reasonable point, by trying to reconcile them you drag the verses you quoted down to the level of the verses that I quoted.

              When something makes you angry, is the problem with the something or with you?[1] A good measure of peace can be obtained when you are able to identify what, if anything in yourself is wrong. People are forever trying to project their problems onto others; how can we properly attribute responsibility?[2] The Bible offers a system for doing this.

              The spots I marked (1+2) are very good questions – what is the biblical system for answering these questions? Not your interpretation, where are the Bible passages that describe a good systematic approach to answer these questions in everyday life?

              Why is this surprising or a problem?

              It isn´t to me. Because I believe that all religions are made up by men for men.

              You’re discounting my ‘e.g.’, so I’ll restate without it: “Lust involves thinking that my life would be better if I could have a one-night-stand with that woman, if not more.” The more we tell ourselves that our life would be better if we did X, the more likely we are to do X. ‘Coveting’ is lusting in ways that aren’t exclusively sexual.

              I´m confused. I honestly can´t tell what we are even arguing about at the moment in this strand of the discussion… What I wanted to say re “lust” is essentially the same as what I am currently saing re “anger” – a complex subject, which is treated in a black-and-white, simple minded, moralizing and completely unhelpful fashion by the bible authors.

            • labreuer

              How do you justify the usage of the words “infinitely” and “infinite” in here?

              I could say ‘without bound’ instead of ‘infinite’, if you’d like. What I’m trying to avoid is claims like, “I’ve figured out how reality really works” or “I’ve figured out The way for humans to thrive”. Such claims constitute a glass ceiling on progress toward betterness, in my opinion. Some will object, saying that perhaps there really is a finite true description of how reality really works, and a finite true description of the best kind of human thriving.

              1. I fail to see any problem or mystery here…
              2. What does free will have to do with this in the first place? And why do you explain more (I´m not even sure what you are actually trying to explain) by adding some contradictions (LFW) on top of that?

              1. There is probably no mystery if how the world works and what constitutes human thriving are finitely definable. What would be mysterious would be a culture which as a whole says it never has enough knowledge, and not just in pockets.
              2. It’s not at all clear that any deterministic account can be given for progressing without bound. The further progress went, the less good would be any account which depends on randomness. Neither determinism nor traditional indeterminism would pose sufficient explanations. I am not convinced that CFW is a good description of spontaneous and continually growing order.

              How do you make people recognize that by giving them advice that doesn´t work?

              You’re confusing stating a fact, “what you do in your mind has consequences in reality”, with how to go about changing what you do in your mind. If you don’t admit the fact, why would you ever go about changing?

              I can only repeat what I said before

              Fair enough. In that case, the real test is which sources are most effective at being lived out. Things that sound nice are irrelevant if they have no power to transform. I don’t have any such test data, so we’ll have to leave it there.

              Not “some” (when it comes to humans), the verse neither says nor implies that. “Yahweh angry” = righteous! “Humans angry” = bad human!
              Black-and-white, simple minded, moralizing, useless…

              If you were to examine Ja 3-4, you’d see that James characterizes the results of what he is criticizing. A is bad because it leads to B, C, D, E, and F. Always fully qualifying things (“some anger leads to bad things”) loses out on elegance and pointedness. We should always question generalizations, to see if they have exceptions. Ceteris paribus is very important to keep in mind.

              The spots I marked (1+2) are very good questions – what is the biblical system for answering these questions? Not your interpretation, where are the Bible passages that describe a good systematic approach to answer these questions in everyday life?

              First, a note about ‘simple-mindedness’. One of the things I’ve learned in life is that the principles for living are remarkably simple; the trick is which ones to use and how to combine them in a given situation. This is called wisdom, and no amount of text can teach it to a resistant mind. Narratives are one of the most effective way to teach wisdom—think of them as applied wisdom.

              Next, I’m at a bit of a loss to pick just a few passages. You’re asking for which passages demarcate between right and wrong. If I want to know whether I’m angry at wrongness outside of me or wrongness inside of me (or some of each), I need to know what is right and what is wrong in sufficient detail on the relevant topic. Without knowing details, I can throw out scripture like Mt 7:15-23 (judge a tree by its fruit and be careful about thinking you believe things you don’t) and characterizations of good vs. evil (Ja 3:13-18, Gal 5:16-26, 2 Tim 3:1-5, 1 Cor 13:1-7). But this is, of course, only one of many attempts to demarcate between good and evil.

              I’ll channel MacIntyre’s After Virtue here and say that good vs. evil only makes sense within a telos. This telos is to be found in the ‘kingdom of heaven’, which Jesus announces in his first public proclamation, and tells us to pray for in the Lord’s Prayer. The kingdom of heaven is a place where people love those who don’t love them back (Mt 5:43-48), a kind of unity which threatens to require a supernatural explanation (Jn 13:34-35, 17:20-23). What morality is required to support such a community? That which is good works toward such a community (see Paul’s responses to “All things are lawful”); that which is evil works against it.

              1 Corinthians is probably the most dense book dealing with threats to unity. In the first chapter Paul lambastes the Corinthians for forming parties following the various evangelists who had visited them. The equivalent criticism today would be identifying as a Catholic over identifying as a Christian. Chapter six criticizes the lack of trust that results in lawsuits being brought to secular authorities—clearly the Corinthians weren’t acting as a team. Chapter eight discusses potential divisions over conscience, calling members to not offend the conscience of the weak and thus divide. Chapter nine is an exposition of Paul surrendering his rights so that the gospel can be maximally spread: there are things more important than me. Chapter eleven contains a scathing criticism of the rich in Corinth doing the thing they’ve always done—partying with themselves and letting the poor starve. This was not what Christ taught. Chapter twelve teaches that unity does not mean uniformity; on the contrary, diversity is required and good, but must be handled correctly. The famous chapter thirteen immediately follows, noting that the definition of ‘love’ offered precludes the problems previously noted.

              Contra contemporary individualism, Christianity offers a distinctly communal morality, whereby members sacrifice for one another as well as those outside the community. What is good is understood in relation to what is good for the community, with individuals taking their proper value—not rounded to zero, but not elevated above the community, either. What is good is what advances such a kingdom of heaven; what is evil is what opposes it. Anger would be understood in this context: is it merely my individualism which is being compromised, or am I being used as a means to an end, instead of treated as an end myself? I don’t recall this being addressed head-on anywhere. 1 Jn 4:20 gets at it: “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

              I’m not sure I’ve really answered your question well. You asked one of the most difficult questions possible; a huge purpose of the entire Bible is to help us distinguish between good and evil.

              It isn´t to me. Because I believe that all religions are made up by men for men.

              I’m suggesting that you adopt a weaker presupposition which still leads to the same result. Moreover, it would teach you that merely removing religion is unlikely to solve the problems we see today. Conflicting ideologies can be held in the absence of religion. We might remove the ability to say “God told me to do it”, but we also remove any sense of God ensuring justice will be ultimately obtained. The diversity of opinion on human thriving is due to the fact that it is an extremely complex topic, not because people like believing in things you say are imaginary.

              I´m confused. I honestly can´t tell what we are even arguing about at the moment in this strand of the discussion… What I wanted to say re “lust” is essentially the same as what I am currently saing re “anger” – a complex subject, which is treated in a black-and-white, simple minded, moralizing and completely unhelpful fashion by the bible authors.

              Have you ever been taught something first at a simplistic level, and after you’ve grasped that approximation, at a more complex level?

            • Andy_Schueler

              I could say ‘without bound’ instead of ‘infinite’, if you’d like. What I’m trying to avoid is claims like, “I’ve figured out how reality reallyworks” or “I’ve figured out The way for humans to thrive”. Such claims constitute a glass ceiling on progress toward betterness, in my opinion. Some will object, saying that perhaps there really is a finite true description of how reality really works, and a finite true description of the best kind of human thriving.

              We are finite beings in a finite world (even in a putative infinite multiverse or in a past-eternal cosmological model – this claim would still be true, because other spacetimes spacetimes that exist or used to exist would be causally disconnected from the one we live in).
              The reason for why final claims about physical reality cannot be rationally justified has nothing to do with “infinite descriptions” – it´s simply due to the fact that you can not possibly know with absolute certainty that any claim about physical reality is true. Even if your explanation is “complete”, you could not possibly know with absolute certainty that it is complete (“unknown unknowns”…).

              1. There is probably no mystery if how the world works and what constitutes human thriving are finitely definable. What would be mysterious would be a culture which as a whole says it never has enough knowledge, and not just in pockets.

              No idea what you are talking about.

              2. It’s not at all clear that any deterministic account can be given for progressing without bound.

              Again, no idea what you are talking about.

              The further progress went, the less good would be any account which depends on randomness.

              ???

              Neither determinism nor traditional indeterminism would pose sufficient explanations. I am not convinced that CFW is a good description of spontaneous and continually growing order.

              I don´t even know what you are trying to explain… Again, how is any form of will even relevant to what we were talking about and how do you explain more by adding some contradictions (LFW) on top of that?

              You’re confusing stating a fact, “what you do in your mind has consequences in reality”, with how to go about changing what you do in your mind. If you don’t admit the fact, why would you ever go about changing?

              Have you ever been taught something first at a simplistic level, and after you’ve grasped that approximation, at a more complex level?

              I already addressed this. If I tell a friend who suffers from depression “just think positive!”, then I didn´t “teach him something on a simplistic level”, and I certainly didn´t help him to change his mindset, all I did is giving him some useless advice that doesn´t help him at all and that, if anything, would convince him that he cannot change his mindset because he already tried an approach that didn´t work.

              If you were to examine Ja 3-4, you’d see that James characterizes the results of what he is criticizing. A is bad because it leads to B, C, D, E, and F.

              I read Ja 3-4 and I see no connection to the verse re anger we were discussing at all.

              Always fully qualifying things (“some anger leads to bad things”) loses out on elegance and pointedness.

              “All Bible verses are completely stupid” – this might be totally wrong, but it is “elegant and to the point!”. Do you see the problem with that approach?

              We should always question generalizations, to see if they have exceptions. Ceteris paribus is very important to keep in mind.

              This is your opinion and it doesn´t follow from James or any other verses we were talking about.

              First, a note about ‘simple-mindedness’. One of the things I’ve learned in life is that the principles for living are remarkably simple; the trick is which ones to use and how to combine them in a given situation.

              1. “simple” != “simple-minded”
              2. Irrelevant for everything I said re biblical teachings on anger + lust – I can totally agree with what you said here and it wouldn´t affect any of my preceding statements re biblical teachings on anger + lust at all.

              This is called wisdom, and no amount of text can teach it to a resistant mind. Narratives are one of the most effective way to teach wisdom—think of them as applied wisdom.

              Again, I can totally agree with what you said here and it wouldn´t affect any of my preceding statements re biblical teachings on anger + lust at all.

              Contra contemporary individualism, Christianity offers a distinctly communal morality

              There can be no such thing as an “individual morality” – in a hypothetical alternative universe where there would only exist one sentient being and no other being that has any attributes that would be relevant for moral systems in common with him / her / it, “morality” would be completely meaningless. Any form of “morality” is “communal”.

              I’m suggesting that you adopt a weaker presupposition which still leads to the same result.

              This was not a presupposition. This is the explanation for human religious beliefs that I subscribe to. If you have a better explanation or if there is something that remains inexplicable within this framework, I´m open to that.
              As far as I can tell, the notion that any religion is not made up by humans can only be defended with a legion of ad hoc hypotheses – think about the excuses you would come up with to explain problems like divine miscommunication, divine hiddenness or the evidential problem of evil. From my perspective, I never have to invent any ad hoc hypothesis to save my explanation from being refuted. In contrast, all these problems are not only explained within the framework of “they are all human inventions”, they are even predicted. Example: divine miscommunication is not only not a problem within this framework – it couldn´t be any other way if there is no “creator” and the whole thing is just made up“.

            • labreuer

              We are finite beings in a finite world

              What is your basis for saying that we live in a finite world? I see no guarantee whatsoever that e.g. the true physical laws that govern our universe are necessarily finite in description. Indeed, if induction tells us anything, it is that no matter how complex we think things are, they are actually more complex. What is your reasoning for supposing that at some point, we will cease finding more complexity?

              The reason for why final claims about physical reality cannot be rationally justified has nothing to do with “infinite descriptions” – it´s simply due to the fact that you can not possibly know with absolute certainty that any claim about physical reality is true. Even if your explanation is “complete”, you could not possibly know with absolute certainty that it is complete (“unknown unknowns”…).

              ‘absolute certainty’ is not required; see Loftus’ Who Cares About Certainty? We Have Virtual Certainty! We only have to look at physicists at the end of the nineteenth century to see that they could be ‘virtually certain’ that all the interesting physics had been done. Or, a friend of mine was told not to go into physics in the 1970s for the same reason.

              The point is that perhaps there really is a finitely definable universal equation which really does govern all of reality, precisely down to the noise, with no further pattern to be found in the noise. No, we couldn’t know this with ‘absolute certainty’, but we could know it with ‘virtual certainty’. Scientists would become increasingly confident that e.g. some version of M-Theory really is the be-all and end-all. This is a plausible scenario. We’ve been there before. Both in the realm of science and in the realm of ‘the good’.

              No idea what you are talking about.

              Until we iron out the bits about whether or not we should consider that the physical laws governing our universe could be infinite in description (this is different from there being an infinite amount of matter/energy), I suggest we put this and some of the following tangents on hold.

              I already addressed this.

              Are we completely talking past each other? I’m under the impression that a lot of people think it doesn’t matter what they think about, as long as their actions are considered acceptable by society. This would go directly against Jesus’ words. If, for example, someone thought being depressed was a perfectly fine state of mind to be in, then what reason would he/she have to consider that there is a better way to think? There would be no reason to try and find a way to productively ‘think differently’ (vs. do the simplistic thing which probably won’t work) if one did not accept the prerequisite that ‘some ways of thinking’ statistically lead to bad places.

              I read Ja 3-4 and I see no connection to the verse re anger we were discussing at all.

              First, it’s hard to have quarrels and fights without anger (Ja 4:1). Next, anger tends to lead to words which set things burning, metaphorically speaking. Finally, the ‘anger of man’ often manifests via ‘selfish ambition’ and ‘jealousy’. If you don’t want to see this stuff as qualifying what Ja 1:20 says go ahead, but you’ll be adopting a very ‘local’ hermeneutic, one which won’t allow you to get much of anything interesting out of the Bible. It’d be like trying to do science while refusing to do anything interdisciplinary—you’d hit steep walls at some point.

              “All Bible verses are completely stupid” – this might be totally wrong, but it is “elegant and to the point!”. Do you see the problem with that approach?

              No, I actually don’t. Most human language is context-specific. Many words have multiple different meanings. Some, like Nietzsche, attempt to ‘shrink’ language by saying things such as: “There are no facts, only interpretations.” He wanted to say that ‘fact’ = ‘interpretation’, which is tantamount to deleting ‘fact’ from one’s lexicon. Much comprehension comes by figuring out when two concepts are sufficiently similar and when their differences need to be articulated. Why you won’t allow this in the Bible confuses the heck out of me. You seem to be pretty smart, and one of the things required for that is a certain ‘looseness’ with language. The opposite of Lojban.

              There can be no such thing as an “individual morality”

              There is “individual morality”: rules others must follow because you have the power to punish them if they do not. I accept MacIntyre’s argument in After Virtue that any morality which is not defined by a shared telos/narrative is a Nietzschean imposition of will by the few upon the many, hidden by the façade of the word ‘morality’ or ‘virtue’.

              As far as I can tell, the notion that any religion is not made up by humans can only be defended with a legion of ad hoc hypotheses – think about the excuses you would come up with to explain problems like divine miscommunication, divine hiddenness or the evidential problem of evil.

              These problems erupt because of presuppositions about what an omni-* deity would/should do, presuppositions about what communication is inherently like, and presuppositions about the blank in the following.

              sufficient evidence : believing an is :: sufficient ___ : believing an ought

              So when you say things like this:

              From my perspective, I never have to invent any ad hoc hypothesis to save my explanation from being refuted.

              Either you aren’t trying to justify as many truth-claims—thus requiring fewer axioms, a la Gödel—or your presuppositions are hidden from your own introspection. Or both, which is what I vote for.

              I´m not interested in “removing religion”. […]

              Fair enough. I probably agree with much of what you’ve said, although I’d want to chase the relevant logical entailments before saying for sure.

              Why should that be a bad thing? What would that do except for increasing the felt need to make the world a better / more just place? (if this view is correct – that there is no God who will ensure that justice will be ultimately obtained – it means that if we won´t make the world a more just place, no one else will do so either)

              If you care about things being just. Many, deep down, don’t, because they don’t want to pay the cost required. “All that is required for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing.” Many—most—humans don’t care about the rest of the world if they feel safe and comfortable.

            • Andy_Schueler

              What is your basis for saying that we live in a finite world?

              As I already said, even in a putative infinite multiverse or given a past-eternal cosmological model, that would be irrelevant because the spacetime we live in (which is finite) would be causally disconnected from this stuff and thus still effectively finite.

              I see no guarantee whatsoever that e.g. the true physical laws that govern our universe are necessarily finite in description.

              Then you need to explain why you would need an infinite description for a finite thing.

              Indeed, if induction tells us anything, it is that no matter how complex we think things are, they are actually more complex. What is your reasoning for supposing that at some point, we will cease finding more complexity?

              1. What does that have to do with induction?
              2. As I already said, the world we live in is finite, which means that it cannot require an infinite description.

              ‘absolute certainty’ is not required; see Loftus’ Who Cares About Certainty? We Have Virtual Certainty! We only have to look at physicists at the end of the nineteenth century to see that they could be ‘virtually certain’ that all the interesting physics had been done. Or, a friend of mine was told not to go into physics in the 1970s for the same reason.

              http://chem.tufts.edu/answersinscience/relativityofwrong.htm

              Are we completely talking past each other? I’m under the impression that a lot of people think it doesn’t matter what they think about, as long as their actions are considered acceptable by society. This would go directly against Jesus’ words. If, for example, someone thought being depressed was a perfectly fine state of mind to be in, then what reason would he/she have to consider that there is a better way to think? There would be no reason to try and find a way to productively ‘think differently’ (vs. do the simplistic thing which probably won’t work) if one did not accept the prerequisite that ‘some ways of thinking’ statistically lead to bad places.

              Yes, we are talking past each other but sorry, I don´t know how to express what I said any clearer.

              First, it’s hard to have quarrels and fights without anger (Ja 4:1). Next, anger tends to lead to words which set things burning, metaphorically speaking. Finally, the ‘anger of man’ often manifests via ‘selfish ambition’ and ‘jealousy’. If you don’t want to see this stuff as qualifying what Ja 1:20 says

              Be precise, Ja 3-4 qualifies Ja 1 in such a way that the whole actually means that anger isn´t always bad and can often even be a good thing (even if it isn´t Yahweh who is obviously only “righteously angry”) – how exactly?

              No, I actually don’t. Most human language is context-specific. Many words have multiple different meanings. Some, like Nietzsche, attempt to ‘shrink’ language by saying things such as: “There are no facts, only interpretations.” He wanted to say that ‘fact’ = ‘interpretation’, which is tantamount to deleting ‘fact’ from one’s lexicon. Much comprehension comes by figuring out when two concepts are sufficiently similar and when their differences need to be articulated. Why you won’t allow this in the Bible confuses the heck out of me.

              I really don´t know what you are talking about here and how exactly it relates to anything I said. Which double standard do I apply by not allowing something in the Bible that I would allow in any other text? (Example?) How does this affect what I said re biblical teachings on anger + lust?

              There is “individual morality”: rules others must follow because you have the power to punish them if they do not.

              That is not how “morality” is defined…

              I accept MacIntyre’s argument in After Virtue that any morality which is not defined by a shared telos/narrative is a Nietzschean imposition of will by the few upon the many, hidden by the façade of the word ‘morality’ or ‘virtue’.

              And how is the “shared narrative” any different from “shared virtues”, “shared values”, “shared norms”?

              These problems erupt because of presuppositions about what an omni-* deity would/should do, presuppositions about what communication is inherently like, and presuppositions about the blank in the following.

              The only way to not run into these problems is to refuse to make any statement about God (no statement about its nature, powers, intentions, actions etc.pp.) and thus have a deity that is fundamentally indistinguishable from a non-existent one. You don´t believe in such a deity, you do make statements about the deity you believe in, which means that you have to make ad hoc assumptions about it in order to fit your God idea to empirical reality.

              Either you aren’t trying to justify as many truth-claims—thus requiring fewer axioms, a la Gödel—or your presuppositions are hidden from your own introspection. Or both, which is what I vote for.

              I believe that all religions are made up by men, which is why I predict that all alleged miracles, divine communications etc.pp. will appear to be the only way they could appear if there is no deity and the whole thing is made up. If I smuggled any presuppositions in there without noticing, feel free to point them out.

              If you care about things being just. Many, deep down, don’t, because they don’t want to pay the cost required. “All that is required for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing.” Many—most—humans don’t care about the rest of the world if they feel safe and comfortable.

              I think it is the other way around, the more safe and confortable we are, the more we tend to help others. Which I don´t find surprising, if you have to struggle day in day out to maintain your own survival and that of your family, then you neither have the time nor the ressources to help strangers – every choice you make to help a stranger would literally mean that you have to take something away from your own family which is already struggling to survive as it is. The single best predictor for how “healthy” and happy a society is (“healthy” as measured by crime rates, suicide rates etc. and “happiness” as determined by polls etc.) is income equality, which itself can be interpreted as a measure of economic safety, a high degree of income equality means that the overwhelming majority does not have to struggle for the basic necessities of life – and this does seem to make people nicer to each other and happier.
              This can be observed in the animal kingdom as well, I was at a conference a few months ago where someone presented research on cooperation in Bonobo populations. Cooperation (as measured by observing behaviour like sharing food with non-relatives for example) in Bonobo populations seems to depend to a very large degree on food availability, under conditions where everyone has to struggle to survive, cooperation is much less pronounced than it is otherwise.

            • labreuer

              As I already said, even in a putative infinite multiverse or given a past-eternal cosmological model, that would be irrelevant because the spacetime we live in (which is finite) would be causally disconnected from this stuff and thus still effectively finite.

              Are you differentiating between there being an finite amount of matter/energy, and there being finite description of physical laws? These are two different aspects; I hesitate to call an infinity of the second kind a ‘real infinity’, with all the alleged trouble that brings.

              Then you need to explain why you would need an infinite description for a finite thing.

              Induction. Whenever we think the universe is of some level of complexity, we find it to be more complex. This is a pattern that induction tells us will continue. On what evidential basis would we conclude that actually, this pattern will ultimately stop? I can see none. I can only see metaphysical bases for concluding this.

              The Relativity of Wrong

              I’m not sure what your point is. Where have I ever treated truth and falsehood like the author of the letter which Asimov received? I’m virtually certain (lol) that I have made many statements explicitly to the contrary—inline with Asimov.

              Yes, we are talking past each other but sorry, I don´t know how to express what I said any clearer.

              You seem to think that what Jesus said about lusting in your heart was also a command to not do this, with no more detail than merely: don’t think that way. I see it as a truth-claim, that what you think about matters, even on the level of lusting for a few seconds. My interpretation doesn’t require it to tell us how not to do the bad thing; it merely points out something which is bad. There is plenty of other scripture about how not to do the bad thing, Phil 4:8 probably the most famous among them. Phil 4:8 is remarkably similar to some aspects of You and Your Research.

              Be precise, Ja 3-4 qualifies Ja 1 in such a way that the whole actually means that anger isn´t always bad and can often even be a good thing (even if it isn´t Yahweh who is obviously only “righteously angry”) – how exactly?

              It sheds light on how ‘the anger of man’ manifests. If I get angry in a way that doesn’t set metaphorical forests on fire, doesn’t cause fighting and quarreling, doesn’t look like cursing people, etc., then one has reason to believe that James isn’t talking about that kind of anger. James very clearly cares about the consequences of things; just look at his famous treatise on live vs. dead faith in chapter 2.

              I really don´t know what you are talking about here and how exactly it relates to anything I said.

              Here’s the original interchange:

              Always fully qualifying things (“some anger leads to bad things”) loses out on elegance and pointedness.

              “All Bible verses are completely stupid” – this might be totally wrong, but it is “elegant and to the point!”. Do you see the problem with that approach?

              I don’t understand how your reasoning flowed from what I said. To me, the fact that there are two kinds of anger is completely obvious. I can tell you why if you’d like. Being able to discern the two kinds is important for wise living; if the Bible never challenges you to do that, IMHO it is doing you a disservice.

              That is not how “morality” is defined…

              I guess I care less about how it is defined by analytic philosophers, and more about how it actually plays out in real life.

              And how is the “shared narrative” any different from “shared virtues”, “shared values”, “shared norms”?

              Shared other things lack full definition without a shared narrative. What do we do with all the exceptional cases? A shared narrative also allows for questioning the virtues, values, and norms, in a way that doesn’t require not-all-that-dependable empathy. I should really read After Virtue again, at which point I’d be able to give you a better answer.

              The only way to not run into these problems is to refuse to make any statement about God (no statement about its nature, powers, intentions, actions etc.pp.) and thus have a deity that is fundamentally indistinguishable from a non-existent one. You don´t believe in such a deity, you do make statements about the deity you believe in, which means that you have to make ad hoc assumptions about it in order to fit your God idea to empirical reality.

              You seem to think that letting reality shape my idea of God is somehow ‘bad’; would you elaborate on this? From where are you getting such an idea, if you are? This is different from your idea of the problem of evil being founded on your idea of ‘the good’, which is grounded in a set of presuppositions. You don’t get to treat your presuppositions as the preferred ones, so if I suggest that different presuppositions greatly alleviate the problem of evil, I’m not doing something which requires any more justification than you need for your own presuppositions. Your presuppositions don’t get special privilege; it seems that you’re including in your idea of ‘ad hoc hypotheses’ any needed deviation from your presuppositions. Perhaps I misunderstood you.

              I believe that all religions are made up by men, which is why I predict that all alleged miracles, divine communications etc.pp. will appear to be the only way they could appear if there is no deity and the whole thing is made up. If I smuggled any presuppositions in there without noticing, feel free to point them out.

              It’s not this which I question, it’s your presuppositions which come into play when discussing e.g. the problem of evil. “If an omni-* deity existed he/she/it would have done things this way, which is different from how things were done.”

              I think it is the other way around, the more safe and confortable we are, the more we tend to help others.

              There’s a difference between loving people who love you back, and loving people who don’t. There’s also a difference between giving out of excess and giving that will require personal or societal sacrifice. These differences allow what you say to be entirely true, and also allow it to be e.g. powerless to stop things like the Rwandan Genocide, for which we had plenty of information about what was going on before the killing reached its maximum. People definitely care about their nearby neighborhoods—those will impact their safety and comfort. Genocide in Africa probably won’t.

            • Andy_Schueler

              Are you differentiating between there being an finite amount of matter/energy, and there being finite description of physical laws? These are two different aspects; I hesitate to call an infinity of the second kind a ‘real infinity’, with all the alleged trouble that brings.

              The only way you can have an infinite description of a finite thing is by the description being infinitely redundant. Or do you disagree?

              Induction. Whenever we think the universe is of some level of complexity, we find it to be more complex. This is a pattern that induction tells us will continue. On what evidential basis would we conclude that actually, this pattern will ultimately stop? I can see none. I can only see metaphysical bases for concluding this.

              Induction or not, unless the universe we live in is infinite in scope, a complete description of it cannot be necessarily infinite in scope as well – it can only be infinite in scope by including redundancies.

              I’m not sure what your point is. Where have I ever treated truth and falsehood like the author of the letter which Asimov received? I’m virtually certain (lol) that I have made many statements explicitly to the contrary—inline with Asimov.

              Then I must have misunderstood what you said, sorry.

              You seem to think that what Jesus said about lusting in your heart was also a command to not do this, with no more detail than merely: don’t think that way. I see it as a truth-claim, that what you think about matters, even on the level of lusting for a few seconds.

              All he allegedly said was, that looking with lust is morally equivalent to adultery.

              My interpretation doesn’t require it to tell us how not to do the bad thing; it merely points out something which is bad. There is plenty of other scripture about how not to do the bad thing, Phil 4:8 probably the most famous among them. Phil 4:8 is remarkably similar to some aspects of You and Your Research.

              Erm… “how not to do the bad thing” according to Phil 4:8 is “do the good thing!”, that is not exactly useful as a how-to advice. It´s also way to brief to have any practical relevance, if something bad happened to your kid, should you try to not think about that at all given Phil 4:8? That would obviously be nonsense – but that´s exactly what I point out all the time, the biblical teachings, even those that don´t suck, are simply way too brief to cover any real-life example that is not completely trivial.

              It sheds light on how ‘the anger of man’ manifests. If I get angry in a way that doesn’t set metaphorical forests on fire, doesn’t cause fighting and quarreling, doesn’t look like cursing people, etc., then one has reason to believe that James isn’t talking about that kind of anger.

              It really is not difficult to write in a way that your readers don´t have to make such guesses. Aristotle could do it, centuries before the NT texts were written – why couldn´t the NT authors do so?

              James very clearly cares about the consequences of things; just look at his famous treatise on live vs. dead faith in chapter 2.

              So you assume that he probably understood anger in this way as well, but he didn´t write that. Again, it really is not that difficult to write in a manner that your readers don´t have to guess all the time.

              I don’t understand how your reasoning flowed from what I said. To me, the fact that there are two kinds of anger is completely obvious. I can tell you why if you’d like. Being able to discern the two kinds is important for wise living; if the Bible never challenges you to do that, IMHO it is doing you a disservice.

              It is completely obvious to me as well. But it isn´t obvious at all in the writings of the NT authors – all you have are guesses, James cared about the consequences of things, so he might have believed that anger can be a good thing depending on the consequences it leads to, but he didn´t write that, not explicitly and also not implicity.

              You seem to think that letting reality shape my idea of God is somehow ‘bad’; would you elaborate on this?

              In a nutshell, I think your God died the death of a thousand qualifications.

              This is different from your idea of the problem of evil being founded on your idea of ‘the good’, which is grounded in a set of presuppositions. You don’t get to treat your presuppositions as the preferred ones, so if I suggest that different presuppositions greatly alleviate the problem of evil, I’m not doing something which requires any more justification than you need for your own presuppositions. Your presuppositions don’t get special privilege; it seems that you’re including in your idea of ‘ad hoc hypotheses’ any needed deviation from your presuppositions. Perhaps I misunderstood you.

              There is no problem of evil for me, just like there is no problem of divine miscommunication or any other problem that apologists tackle. I don´t have to make any presuppositions about what a God would or wouldn´t do – I don´t believe that there is any such being and that everything will thus look the only way it could look if religions were made up. From a christian perspective, this is very different – many times Christians learn something new about the world, you have to invent new ad hoc hypotheses to keep your God idea compatible with what is observed. When christians started accepting the idea that the earth is very old and that life evolved gradually – they had to come up with new ad hoc hypotheses to explain why a benevolent and powerful deity who was interested in humans would choose a method of creation which is radically different from what Christians used to believe before that about how God created the world and humans. I don´t have to make any presuppositions about God to explain that, Christians do.

              It’s not this which I question, it’s your presuppositions which come into play when discussing e.g. the problem of evil. “If an omni-* deity existed he/she/it would have done things this way, which is different from how things were done.”

              I make no presuppositions at all. All I say is that everything will look the only way it could look if all religions are made up and all deities are imaginary – and I never have to add any further corollaries to that, it predicts (instead of merely explaining) everything that is observed about religions.

            • labreuer

              The only way you can have an infinite description of a finite thing is by the description being infinitely redundant. Or do you disagree?

              I don’t see why this is required. Why must the true physical laws which govern the universe have finite[ly compressible] description? It seems to me that they could be either way: finite or infinite. It doesn’t seem to me that we have a way to distinguish; the only way we ever could would be if science started to ‘finish’. You seem to have an epistemological preference for going with ‘finite’ over ‘infinite’, but that seems to be merely a preference, unless you can show that e.g. assuming some level of finitude—even if it is never reachable by us—is necessarily more brain-efficient than going with infinitude.

              I kind of have two points here. One is that people have a habit of saying, “I’ve really figured it out!”, when they haven’t. When this is done with respect to what would make a good moral system, or a good way to structure society, the system always decays in the end and hurts people involved. The other is that epistemological claims are being made which seem to both (a) a priori rule out God as ever being the best (or an equally good) model; (b) not be based on any sound reasoning.

              There’s a third reason for preferring the infinite-in-description option: God could easily have encoded every possible response he would have to human action in the very fabric of how physical reality works, which would not make him a deist god at all, but merely a god who works through largely subtle means. Interacting with something potentially infinite in description is, as far as I understand, a necessary condition to be interacting with another rational, sentient agent. The instant the agent can be completely described by a formal system, I think it’s no longer possible to describe it as a ‘person’. Now, strict infinity isn’t required here; we really just need to posit “no reachable bound”. As far as I know, there is no difference between that and infinitude.

              Induction or not, unless the universe we live in is infinite in scope, a complete description of it cannot be necessarily infinite in scope as well – it can only be infinite in scope by including redundancies.

              You’re still conflating a description of every extant particle and field, and a description of how they can change in time. Pretending HUP away (and thus the following may be nonsense), I can see how refining our knowledge of the positions and velocities of every particle is a very ‘mundane’ kind of infinity, if indeed it is infinite. That kind of infinity is probably boring if it exists; scientists would only ever be making more and more measurements, which I think is precisely what nineteenth century physicists meant when they said that all that was left was janitorial work.

              All he allegedly said was, that looking with lust is morally equivalent to adultery.

              I just don’t interpret what he said that way. Calling both the same thing is often used for dramatic effect, and we know that Jesus used hyperboles, as he said to cut off parts of our bodies that incorrigibly make us sin. If you want to see more nuance, see the preceding several verses on anger.

              Erm… “how not to do the bad thing” according to Phil 4:8 is “do the good thing!”, that is not exactly useful as a how-to advice.

              Actually, it is. Merely trying to avoid bad behaviors is a great way to fail. Replacing bad behaviors with good ones is much more likely to succeed.

              It´s also way to brief to have any practical relevance, if something bad happened to your kid, should you try to not think about that at all given Phil 4:8?

              When you noted other sources on anger, they were very brief; did you consider their brevity ok and the brevity of Phil 4:8 not ok? I don’t understand what you want from the Bible for it to be relevant to you. Regardless of what I say, you take issue with it. I feel like I’m playing whack-a-mole. The Bible isn’t a field manual; it’d have to be orders of magnitude larger. It’s more like a constitution; consider how the US Constitution is absolutely dwarfed by federal law, in size and specificity.

              It really is not difficult to write in a way that your readers don´t have to make such guesses. Aristotle could do it, centuries before the NT texts were written – why couldn´t the NT authors do so?

              Life requires that we make such guesses. What, precisely, are you referencing when you say that Aristotle didn’t make us guess? I’m aware of there being multiple, largely different ways of interpreting his ideas. That sounds like there is significant wiggle room in what he said.

              So you assume that he probably understood anger in this way as well, but he didn´t write that. Again, it really is not that difficult to write in a manner that your readers don´t have to guess all the time.

              I completely disagree. This returns us to the infinite description vs. finite description discussion, where my real point is “no reachable bound”. When you say that a moral stance (like on anger) can be much better articulated than e.g. what James said, you head toward the territory of saying that you’ve really figured it out, it’s not that complex as long as there’s enough paper and ink to describe it. I don’t think that’s how morality works. Ultimately, I think we have to be purpose-driven, and I’m not sure such purposes are finitely definable. Or rather, anyone whose purpose is to establish a finite version of human thriving is someone I probably want to stay away from, because such a society would end horribly.

              In a nutshell, I think your God died the death of a thousand qualifications.

              Heh, I’ve come across the garden bit in a philosophy of religion anthology. I find it odd that scientific hypotheses and theories are allowed to be shaped by experience, but if my idea of God is shaped by both experience and the Bible, that is somehow bad. This just doesn’t make sense to me. Something more is needed to sustain the criticism you and Flew are offering and I don’t know what it is.

              There is no problem of evil for me, just like there is no problem of divine miscommunication or any other problem that apologists tackle.

              C’mon, if someone claims that God exists and this ‘resurrects’ some of your presuppositions, which you use to contest his claim due to the problem of evil that was resurrected due to his/her belief, then you have presuppositions in this area, even if they are dead most of the time.

              many times Christians learn something new about the world, you have to invent new ad hoc hypotheses to keep your God idea compatible with what is observed.

              This happens in science as well—I’ve seen it. When you’re just learning, you adopt a simple model which is probably wrong, but at least helpful for finding more complexity. Again, the problem isn’t in the behavior you are describing, but elsewhere.

              When christians started accepting the idea that the earth is very old and that life evolved gradually – they had to come up with new ad hoc hypotheses to explain why a benevolent and powerful deity who was interested in humans would choose a method of creation which is radically different from what Christians used to believe before that about how God created the world and humans. I don´t have to make any presuppositions about God to explain that, Christians do.

              Before uniformitarianism and Darwin, was there a need to differentiate? I’ve already argued that Genesis being different from Babylonian creation myths in only the important ways is valuable. You are bringing a presupposition to the table in your very criticism: you’re saying that your conception of an omni-* deity doesn’t explain why any factually wrong statement would be put in a holy text. And when the Christian tries to correct this conception, you call it an ‘ad hoc hypothesis’. Why?

              I make no presuppositions at all. All I say is that everything will look the only way it could look if all religions are made up and all deities are imaginary – and I never have to add any further corollaries to that, it predicts (instead of merely explaining) everything that is observed about religions.

              This isn’t how it works, though, because surely you have attempted to falsify your idea, and the only way to falsify it is to consider what things might look like if at least one deity weren’t imaginary. Don’t be a verificationist—or if you are, tell me so that we can end several tangents which are going on.

            • Andy_Schueler

              I don’t see why this is required. Why must the true physical laws which govern the universe have finite[ly compressible] description? It seems to me that they could be either way: finite or infinite. It doesn’t seem to me that we have a way to distinguish; the only way we ever could would be if science started to ‘finish’. You seem to have an epistemological preference for going with ‘finite’ over ‘infinite’, but that seems to be merely a preference, unless you can show that e.g. assuming some level of finitude—even if it is never reachable by us—is necessarily more brain-efficient than going with infinitude.

              Again, how could an infinite description of a finite thing not contain infinite redundancies?

              I kind of have two points here. One is that people have a habit of saying, “I’ve really figured it out!”, when they haven’t. When this is done with respect to what would make a good moral system, or a good way to structure society, the system always decays in the end and hurts people involved. The other is that epistemological claims are being made which seem to both (a) a priori rule out God as ever being the best (or an equally good) model; (b) not be based on any sound reasoning.

              That would be all irrelevant if the universe is finite.

              There’s a third reason for preferring the infinite-in-description option: God could easily have encoded every possible response he would have to human action in the very fabric of how physical reality works,

              That would mean that the universe would be infinite in scope on some level – which contradicts what physicists have to say about it.

              which would not make him a deist god at all, but merely a god who works through largely subtle means. Interacting with something potentially infinite in description is, as far as I understand, a necessary condition to be interacting with another rational, sentient agent. The instant the agent can be completely described by a formal system, I think it’s no longer possible to describe it as a ‘person’.

              I cannot parse this.

              You’re still conflating a description of every extant particle and field, and a description of how they can change in time.

              No, I don´t conflate that. As I already mentioned, the universe is not infinite on a temporal scope either, and the possible changes that a finite number of things can experience over a finite amount of time is still finite. You will never get an infinity by multiplying any finite number by any other finite number, so you would need to disprove the evidence that the universe is finite on every scale.

              Actually, it is. Merely trying to avoid bad behaviors is a great way to fail.Replacing bad behaviors with good ones is much more likely to succeed.

              Well, it seemed to me that you agreed that just telling a depressed person to substitute the sad thoughts with happy thoughts is very bad advice, and to me, that completely contradicts what you say here.

              When you noted other sources on anger, they were very brief; did you consider their brevity ok and the brevity of Phil 4:8 not ok?

              When did I do that? Which other sources did I even mention besides Aristotle? (and he isn´t exactly brief compared to the gospels)

              I don’t understand what you want from the Bible for it to be relevant to you. Regardless of what I say, you take issue with it. I feel like I’m playing whack-a-mole.

              Did the thought that you might be overrating the Bible even occur to you? ;-)

              The Bible isn’t a field manual; it’d have to be orders of magnitude larger. It’s more like a constitution; consider how the US Constitution is absolutely dwarfed by federal law, in size and specificity.

              Aristotle didn´t write a whole library about anger and what my mother taught me on this issue would also fit on a few pages. It´s really not that difficult to give useful advice that requires no guesswork along the line “well, in a later chapter the author wrote x about y, so maybe he thought the same about z as well although he never explicitly wrote or implied it”.

              Life requires that we make such guesses. What, precisely, are you referencing when you say that Aristotle didn’t make us guess? I’m aware of there being multiple, largely different ways of interpreting his ideas. That sounds like there is significant wiggle room in what he said.

              I already mentioned the anger example. Aristotle thought that every virtue is the golden middle between two vices, no anger at all (=indifference, I think Aristotle called it “spiritless”) is just as bad as uncontrollable rage (=the opposite extreme) and in between those two extremes, which he considered vices, lies a golden middle.
              You don´t need a lot of space to communicate this clearly. Just as you don´t need a lot of space to communicate clearly that it is very dangerous to be angry at people for what they did without considering the circumstances that led to their actions, and that it is often much more fair (and productive) to direct your anger at those circumstances instead of the people that were driven to commit bad deed because of them.
              You really don´t have to write an entire book about this issue to explain non-trivial things about anger and give useful advice.
              And most of the Bible verses that we talked about re anger are so ridiculously oversimplying the issue that I don´t see how they are of any use at all.

              I completely disagree. This returns us to the infinite description vs. finite description discussion, where my real point is “no reachable bound”. When you say that a moral stance (like on anger) can be much better articulated than e.g. what James said, you head toward the territory of saying that you’ve really figured it out, it’s not that complex as long as there’s enough paper and ink to describe it. I don’t think that’s how morality works. Ultimately, I think we have to be purpose-driven, and I’m not sure such purposes are finitely definable. Or rather, anyone whose purpose is to establish a finite version of human thriving is someone I probably want to stay away from, because such a society would end horribly.

              I really think you interpret way, way too much into me saying something that boils down to “x is both more thoughtful and also better written than y”…

              Heh, I’ve come across the garden bit in a philosophy of religion anthology. I find it odd that scientific hypotheses and theories are allowed to be shaped by experience, but if my idea of God is shaped by both experience and the Bible, that is somehow bad. This just doesn’t make sense to me. Something more is needed to sustain the criticism you and Flew are offering and I don’t know what it is.

              Flew´s point is very simple, you can make an assertion compatible with every conceivable state of things by simply adding qualifications to your assertion. And the problem with that is, that somewhere along the line you are actually not asserting anything anymore – your assertion and it´s negation become indistinguishable. You have reached this point when you can no longer describe what your assertion denies. Progressive theology has reached this point IMO.

              C’mon, if someone claims that God exists and this ‘resurrects’ some of your presuppositions, which you use to contest his claim due to the problem of evil that was resurrected due to his/her belief, then you have presuppositions in this area, even if they are dead most of the time.

              I really don´t think I have any, I´ve encountered many different concepts of “God” over the years. I don´t believe in any of them, so why would I prefer any one over the other?

              This happens in science as well—I’ve seen it. When you’re just learning, you adopt a simple model which is probably wrong, but at least helpful for finding more complexity. Again, the problem isn’t in the behavior you are describing, but elsewhere.

              “ad hoc” was the key phrase here. Some ad hoc hypotheses here and there are completely acceptable, no scientist would discard a powerful theory just because it doesn´t make sense of some new data. When ad hoc hypotheses keep accumulating however, that is a sure sign that the theory is dying. That´s how it works in science at least, in theology, you can keep making up one ad hoc hypothesis after the other for centuries and no one gives a damn.

              Before uniformitarianism and Darwin, was there a need to differentiate? I’ve already argued that Genesis being different from Babylonian creation myths in only the important ways is valuable. You are bringing a presupposition to the table in your very criticism: you’re saying that your conception of an omni-* deity doesn’t explain why any factually wrong statement would be put in a holy text. And when the Christian tries to correct this conception, you call it an ‘ad hoc hypothesis’. Why?

              I don´t have a conception of “God” and I don´t presuppose anything about “God”. I also didn´t argue that your God probably doesn´t exist because the Bible is wrong on questions of human and cosmological origins. I merely contrasted the difference of what Christians did when they realized that the Bible is wrong on this count (making up ad hoc hypotheses) with what I would have needed to do (nothing whatsoever, I consider the Bible to be a human fabrication so I predict that the Bible authors did not know any more than any other dude in the ancient near east would have known). It is conceivable that some observations would require that ad hoc hypotheses would have to be invented to save the explanation that I subscribe to (that all religions are human fabrications) from being refuted, but this has never happened. Quite the opposite – pretty much all of the stuff that Christians needed to reconcile in an ad hoc fashion is predicted by the explanation that I´ve picked. And that, to me, are very clear signs that it is by far, the better explanation.

              This isn’t how it works, though, because surely you have attempted to falsify your idea, and the only way to falsify it is to consider what things might look like if at least one deity weren’t imaginary.

              There are countless possibilities for how my explanation could be refuted. Prayer could work. Prophecies could be real. Miracles could happen (even in the weak sense of the word miracle “something very improbably” instead of “something impossible” – this could still constitute evidence against my explanation as long as there is a statistically significant pattern to those events). Holy books could contain information that would not have been readily accessible to people that wrote them without any divine assistance. And so on and so forth.

            • labreuer

              Again, how could an infinite description of a finite thing not contain infinite redundancies?

              It’s hard for me to answer, because I don’t know why you default to there being redundancies. Supposing that a Turing machine could do ordinary math on uncomputable numbers, does the Turing machine which perfectly models our universe have finite or infinite table and state register? (see Turing machine#informal description) I just don’t understand why you inherently prefer a finite true description of how particles and fields evolve over time. Why do you think such a [modified] Turing machine would necessarily be finite (or that we could generate the infinite version I’m talking about from a finite Turing machine—which is way I sometimes say “incompressibly infinite”)?

              That would be all irrelevant if the universe is finite.

              Why? Do you think there is no danger of people thinking they truly have things figured out? Anyone who says that there is no way that society needs to change—or that the only ways are minor—are committing the error I describe.

              That would mean that the universe would be infinite in scope on some level – which contradicts what physicists have to say about it.

              As far as I understand—and I’ve made it halfway through Theories of Everything—physicsts say much more about there being finite space/time/particles/energy, than finite description of how the universe operates. Not everyone seems to think that there is a knowable theory of everything, or set of theories which together describe everything. Note that there is a crucial difference between perfectly describing the state of all particles and fields, and perfectly describing how they evolve over time.

              I cannot parse this.

              What differentiates interacting with a person and interacting with a non-person? The only answer I have yet found is that interacting with a person has unbounded potential of interaction—there is always new possible variety of interaction, of new kinds. Interacting with a non-person, on the other hand, has the potential to exhaust all the different kinds of behavior. At some point, you’ve seen everything there is to see when interacting with a non-person.

              When I interact with the universe (by doing science), will I exhaust the possible behaviors? If so, then it’s a non-person. If not, then what disqualifies my interacting with it (I poke it and it pokes back) from being described as interacting with a person? The universe can surprise me, anger me, etc. In order to get interesting responses from it I have to speak the right language, but such is true for interacting with people, too.

              What you and others seem to want to say is that my assuming that God exists is distinctly suboptimal if my goal is to understand reality. I’m pushing back on this by saying that perhaps my doing science very much can be described as a personal interaction. It’s certainly different from how I interact with other people, but we have no problem considering how humans might interact with aliens; so agents don’t need to have human DNA to communicate. We simply need sufficiently shared concepts and sufficiently shared symbology.

              What I’ve omitted so far in this post is the interaction of purposes—I’d say that the deepest personal interaction is composed of having a common purpose. This goes beyond science and into objective morality. This is why I think that God doesn’t really show up until we show interest in what he wants. Plenty of holy books give us ideas of what God or gods might want. Contra John Loftus and others, there’s a lot of overlap between the various holy books.

              the possible changes that a finite number of things can experience over a finite amount of time is still finite.

              This doesn’t follow from anything you’ve said. You need to also assume that the quantum state of a finite number of things can be described finitely. After thinking for a while, I think I have to reverse my stance that the positions/velocities of particles being infinite would be ‘mundane’. If there are only finitely many possible configurations of particles, then you are correct (modulo noise, which I hope we can continue to safely ignore). But we are not given that there are only finitely many possible configurations.

              Well, it seemed to me that you agreed that just telling a depressed person to substitute the sad thoughts with happy thoughts is very bad advice, and to me, that completely contradicts what you say here.

              Good grief, let me work in terms of simplicity.

                   (1) don’t do the bad thing
                   (2) replace the bad thing with a good thing
                   (3) here are some strategies for doing (2)

              Sometimes telling someone (1) is sufficient. Sometimes we need to do (2). Sometimes we need to do (3). But trying to do (3) without the person knowing (1) is likely problematic. It is useful to understand the issue at multiple different levels of complexity.

              When did I do that? Which other sources did I even mention besides Aristotle? (and he isn´t exactly brief compared to the gospels)

              My apologies, I mistook AdamHazzard’s comment for your own.

              Did the thought that you might be overrating the Bible even occur to you? ;-)

              Sure; when you asked somewhere for what would falsify the Bible, evidence that I’m overrating it was my response. But as of this point, I have no idea what you would consider not overrating. As I said I feel like I’m playing whack-a-mole, with nothing being ‘good enough’. I’m starting to wonder whether anything is ‘good enough’. That is, perhaps I am trying to demonstrate something which does not exist on a priori grounds. That is always a tedious task; being set up to fail is never fun. Perhaps you didn’t do it on purpose, but ignorance is often a poor excuse.

              Aristotle didn´t write a whole library about anger and what my mother taught me on this issue would also fit on a few pages. It´s really not that difficult to give useful advice that requires no guesswork along the line “well, in a later chapter the author wrote x about y, so maybe he thought the same about z as well although he never explicitly wrote or implied it”.

              How about some examples? I’d like to know some concrete particulars against which I am supposed to argue, and not just vagueness.

              I already mentioned the anger example. Aristotle thought that every virtue is the golden middle between two vices, no anger at all (=indifference, I think Aristotle called it “spiritless”) is just as bad as uncontrollable rage (=the opposite extreme) and in between those two extremes, which he considered vices, lies a golden middle.

              From Ecclesiastes 7:15-18.

              In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.

              When I showed this passage to an older friend of mine (who is a professor at a prestigious university, to give you an idea of his required competence level), he was able to give a lengthy exegesis off the top of his head. He’s an atheist. To directly address what you said: “the one who fears God shall come out from both of them”—the wise person does not lose a grip on either extreme, but intelligently chooses between them.

              And most of the Bible verses that we talked about re anger are so ridiculously oversimplying the issue that I don´t see how they are of any use at all.

              When I come across “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God”, two questions immediately present themselves: why does this say ‘of man’, and how does God’s ‘righteousness’ differ from man’s? This easily draws us into the Pauline distinction between flesh and spirit (flesh = ‘of man’, spirit = ‘of God’). The OT prophets offer descriptions of God’s righteousness vs. man’s righteousness.

              You simultaneously argue that individual Bible verses oversimplify, and that one shouldn’t need greater context to understand them. Or at least, as much greater context as compared to e.g. Aristotle’s virtues. I’m just not convinced that this criticism is valid; do you hold that the Bible teaches nothing more than what Aristotle taught, and with much greater volume? I am tired of trying to guess at the true nature of your criticism; my guesses so far have been bad.

              Flew´s point is very simple, you can make an assertion compatible with every conceivable state of things by simply adding qualifications to your assertion. And the problem with that is, that somewhere along the line you are actually not asserting anything anymore – your assertion and it´s negation become indistinguishable. You have reached this point when you can no longer describe what your assertion denies. Progressive theology has reached this point IMO.

              This could be said more simply: if a statement is not falsifiable, it is metaphysics. Logical positivism attempts to say that metaphysics is meaningless, which is of course self-defeating. I’ve pointed to how Christianity can be falsified; you seem to be ignoring that and I don’t know why.

              I really don´t think I have any, I´ve encountered many different concepts of “God” over the years. I don´t believe in any of them, so why would I prefer any one over the other?

              Look, whenever you accuse someone’s conception of God being prey to the problem of evil, you’re saying that premises P = { p } lead to a contradiction. Rarely does your interlocutor give you an exhaustive P, which means that some of the ps are added by you in order to reach the contradiction. This process is clearly visible in Plantinga’s Free Will Defense, where he shows that the logical problem of evil never obtains because no defensibly missing premise which would create the contradiction can be found.

              It is not valid for you to consider every correction of your inserted/clarified ps to be an ‘ad hoc hypothesis’.

              That´s how it works in science at least, in theology, you can keep making up one ad hoc hypothesis after the other for centuries and no one gives a damn.

              Sure, there are ways to get into useless ruts, just as there are with science. Kuhn, in Structure of Scientific Revolutions, describes how some scientists have to die in order for their perma-misunderstandings to be removed from controlling, scientific prominence. But this doesn’t mean that all such efforts will be useless ruts.

              For example, I’ve introduced the idea of one having ‘sufficient reason’ to believe in given moral propositions. We accept that there is such a thing as ‘sufficient evidence’ to believe a given scientific theory; I say that the same exists for believing that certain ways of acting are good, and some are bad. While this has connections to the soul-making theodicy, it is a idea I think has been woefully neglected. A lot of evil which people say is gratuitous seems to be explainable by people not having enough ‘moral evidence’ that some course of action is right/wrong. We’ve covered an example of this in the propaganda & Nazi Germany issue. If you don’t correct a bad course while the signal is small, enough momentum can be built up that it is very hard to correct that course before a long of terrible results are produced.

              I freely admit that theology has gotten into a lot of useless ruts. But it doesn’t have to (in particular: if it pays attention to the book of nature instead of just the book of revelation), and theology isn’t the only thing that gets stuck in ruts.

              Prayer could work.

              By what definition of ‘work’? The studies that are done treat it as a kind of magic that, if it were demonstrated to exist, would not show that God exists, but merely that reality is more interesting than we thought. What kind of prayer would give evidence of a person (God) making it work? Only if prayer only works for certain purposes—how can one have evidence of personality, without purpose? And yet, science doesn’t study teleological things. At least not now.

              Prophecies could be real.

              Plenty of things can be predicted. There is no guarantee that time travel is impossible. This wouldn’t be evidence of an omni-* deity. How would we even know when prophecy is not possible for humans to do?

              Miracles could happen (even in the weak sense of the word miracle “something very improbably” instead of “something impossible” – this could still constitute evidence against my explanation as long as there is a statistically significant pattern to those events).

              So, unlikely things could happen according to a pattern and then somehow they would still constitute sufficient unlikeliness to be supernatural? I honestly don’t understand how that works.

              Holy books could contain information that would not have been readily accessible to people that wrote them without any divine assistance.

              Ok, so the equations of general relativity could be found in some ancient text. Or the remaining bits for M-theory could exist somewhere. What, exactly, would this demonstrate? Certainly not an omni-* deity? Then again, I asked you what would falsify your hypothesis, which is a far cry from demonstrating an omni-* deity.

            • Andy_Schueler

              My apologies for the looong delay in answering – I had to get a lot of stuff done before my christmas vacation.

              It’s hard for me to answer, because I don’t know why you default to there being redundancies. Supposing that a Turing machine could do ordinary math on uncomputable numbers, does the Turing machine which perfectly models our universe have finite or infinite table and state register? (see Turing machine#informal description) I just don’t understand why you inherently prefer a finite true description of how particles and fields evolve over time. Why do you think such a [modified] Turing machine would necessarily be finite (or that we could generate the infinite version I’m talking about from a finite Turing machine—which is way I sometimes say “incompressibly infinite”)?

              I don´t see how your Turing example is relevant. You are not talking about realiyt, but rather about abstracta – the set of real numbers is infinitely large and therefore, there is an infinite of real numbers that are not computable, unless you can show that cosmologists are wrong and there is anything in reality that is also an infinite set of objects, you don´t have a point here.
              You can construct infinite sets of abstract objects, like numbers, but there is no evidence of any actual infinite in nature and, again, even if an infinite multiverse would exist or even if our universe is past-eternal, this wouldn´t affect my point, because all parallel spacetimes and all spacetimes that “preceded” ours would be causally disconnected from the one we live in.
              So, in the real world, you have a finite set of things that can change over a finite amount of time. A finite number times a finite number is still a finite number.

              Why? Do you think there is no danger of people thinking they truly have things figured out? Anyone who says that there is no way that society needs to change—or that the only ways are minor—are committing the error I describe.

              1. I´m not going to say that a finite number times another finite number can be an infinite number just because you don´t like the conclusion.
              2. I don´t see any danger at all as long as people understand that even if we had it all figured out, we could not possibly be certain that we have – we can never logically rule out that there are “unknown unknowns”, even if there are no unknown unknowns, it will always be true that there might be.

              As far as I understand—and I’ve made it halfway through Theories of Everything—physicsts say much more about there being finite space/time/particles/energy, than finite description of how the universe operates. Not everyone seems to think that there is a knowable theory of everything, or set of theories which together describe everything. Note that there is a crucial difference between perfectly describing the state of all particles and fields, and perfectly describing how they evolve over time.

              “Knowable” != “not infinite”. Those are two completely different categories.

              What differentiates interacting with a person and interacting with a non-person? The only answer I have yet found is that interacting with a person has unbounded potential of interaction—there is always new possible variety of interaction, of new kinds. Interacting with a non-person, on the other hand, has the potential to exhaust all the different kinds of behavior. At some point, you’ve seen everything there is to see when interacting with a non-person.

              That thought experiment makes only sense if you (and at least one other person) actually were immortal.

              What you and others seem to want to say is that my assuming that God exists is distinctly suboptimal if my goal is to understand reality.

              That was not my intention at all. I don´t think that any God is real so I don´t believe that there is anything for you to understand if you try to understand “God” – that doesn´t mean that this assumption prevents you from understanding things other than “God”.

              What I’ve omitted so far in this post is the interaction of purposes—I’d say that the deepest personal interaction is composed of having a common purpose. This goes beyond science and into objective morality. This is why I think that God doesn’t really show up until we show interest in what he wants. Plenty of holy books give us ideas of what God or gods might want. Contra John Loftus and others, there’s a lot of overlap between the various holy books.

              Sure there is, And I wouldn´t expect it any other way. The progression from shamanism and animism to polytheism and finally monotheism does make sense (if you consider religions to be memes, it´s not surprising that monotheistic faiths would sooner or later pop up and that they will outcompete other faiths – the greco-roman world had no problems with including the Christian God among their own, but Christians were not happy with other Gods still being worshipped (unsurprising for a monotheistic faith) and if you couple that with an idea like the great mission – it´s no surprise that Christianity and Islam are winning). The same applies for morality, we are social animals, so I would absolutely expect that there is significant common ground among the religious claims that different populations come up with but also significant differences. What would surprise me would be total agreement or total disagreement between religions that arose in isolation from each other. What would also surprise me is if religions that arose in isolation from each other would share specific theological notions (if the chinese would have independently come up with the notion of a God who became human to sacrifice himself to himself so that he can forgive humans for their ancestors having eaten a magic fruit, then I would ve VERY surprised (and probably religious as well)).

              This doesn’t follow from anything you’ve said. You need to also assume that the quantum state of a finite number of things can be described finitely.

              Erm… I don´t need to assume that, thats quantum mechanics 101. A state vector for any quantum particle is finite large, so you would need an infinite number of quantum particles for an infinite number of possible quantum states.

              After thinking for a while, I think I have to reverse my stance that the positions/velocities of particles being infinite would be ‘mundane’. If there are only finitely many possible configurations of particles, then you are correct (modulo noise, which I hope we can continue to safely ignore). But we are not given that there are only finitely many possible configurations.

              As long as the number of things is finite, this is a given. You will never get an infinity here unless something actually is infinite. The state vector of a finite number of things changing over a finite amount of time is finite, and the sum of all permutations of a finite set are also still finite.

              Good grief, let me work in terms of simplicity.

              (1) don’t do the bad thing

              (2) replace the bad thing with a good thing

              (3) here are some strategies for doing (2)

              Sometimes telling someone (1) is sufficient. Sometimes we need to do (2). Sometimes we need to do (3). But trying to do (3) without the person knowing (1) is likely problematic. It is useful to understand the issue at multiple different levels of complexity.

              That is your opinion, not what the Bible says.

              Sure; when you asked somewhere for what would falsify the Bible, evidence that I’m overrating it was my response. But as of this point, I have no idea what you would consider not overrating. As I said I feel like I’m playing whack-a-mole, with nothing being ‘good enough’. I’m starting to wonder whether anything is ‘good enough’.

              Sure, the Bible could be significantly better, not worse, than other contemporary or even older sources. But it isn´t. I don´t disagree with you that there is some good stuff in the Bible, but I´m completely underwhelmed by it – Aristotle and Confucius are not perfect, but much more clear and advanced than the gospels are, despite writing hundreds of years before the gospels were written. This is my subjective judgment sure, but I explained why I think that. I also explained why I think my mother was a much better moral teacher than the Jesus character in the gospels was. A “holy book” could certainly be “good enough” for me, but the Bible is certainly not it.

              That is, perhaps I am trying to demonstrate something which does not exist on a priori grounds. That is always a tedious task; being set up to fail is never fun. Perhaps you didn’t do it on purpose, but ignorance is often a poor excuse.

              I don´t see how I did any of that, I explained in great detail why I am underwhelmed by the Bible, I don´t reject it for a priori reasons, I reject it because of what it does and does not say about moral issues.

              When I come across “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God”, two questions immediately present themselves: why does this say ‘of man’, and how does God’s ‘righteousness’ differ from man’s? This easily draws us into the Pauline distinction between flesh and spirit (flesh = ‘of man’, spirit = ‘of God’). The OT prophets offer descriptions of God’s righteousness vs. man’s righteousness.

              Since the original audience had no access to Paul´s thoughts without a time machine, the text must be able to stand on its own (you can interpret younger texts in light of older ones but never the other way around – that would inevitably lead to a fallacious and anachronistic exegesis).

              You simultaneously argue that individual Bible verses oversimplify, and that one shouldn’t need greater context to understand them. Or at least, as much greater context as compared to e.g. Aristotle’s virtues.

              I apply the same standard as I would apply to any other author. If Aristotle would omit a crucial detail d while writing about issue x, but he included a vaguely comparable detail about a completely different issue y in a completely different book that he wrote 20 years later and which doesn´t even specifically refer to his older work in any way, shape or form – then I would never say anything along the line “well, he didn´t mention d about x, but he mentioned something like d when he wrote about y, so he probably actually had d in mind while writing about x, but never explicitly said or implied it”. The only reason I can see for doing that would be an irrational commitment to defend everything Aristotle said at any cost – the rational interpretation to me seems to be that Aristotle simply was not aware of or did not consider d while discussing x,

              I’m just not convinced that this criticism is valid; do you hold that the Bible teaches nothing more than what Aristotle taught, and with much greater volume? I am tired of trying to guess at the true nature of your criticism; my guesses so far have been bad.

              And I´m completely clueless as to why you even have to guess at all because my criticism appears to be extremely simple to understand and unambiguous to me, and I have also no clue what else I could say to make it any more clearer. So it seems that our positions here are so radically different that we cannot even explain to each other what our positions even are ;-)

              This could be said more simply: if a statement is not falsifiable, it is metaphysics. Logical positivism attempts to say that metaphysics is meaningless, which is of course self-defeating. I’ve pointed to how Christianity can be falsified; you seem to be ignoring that and I don’t know why.

              Nope, it means that if there is nothing that a proposition denies, there is nothing that this proposition affirms either and it is thus not really a proposition – this is not logical positivism because falsifiability is not a criterion (what your proposition denies does not have to be testable, but it has to deny something or it is not a proposition).
              I can´t recall where you pointed out how your personal version of christianity can be falsified, could you refresh my mind?

              Look, whenever you accuse someone’s conception of God being prey to the problem of evil

              I don´t have to make any accusation and I don´t, apologists always tried to tackle these problems even long before any such thing as modern criticism of Christianity became possible (because “heretics” were simply murdered) – they seem to arise naturally, without anyone making them.

              you’re saying that premises P = { p } lead to a contradiction.

              Be precise, where did I do that?

              It is not valid for you to consider every correction of your inserted/clarified ps to be an ‘ad hoc hypothesis’.

              “Ad hoc” simply means that the only reason for the hypothesis to exist is that it was invented to save a proposition from being refuted. There are countless examples of that in modern theology. Take theistic evolution for example, the only reason for any model of theistic evolution to exist is to save theism from being refuted, there is nothing intrinsic to theism that requires evolution and there is no observation or argument whatsoever that demonstrates a necessary connection between theism and evolution, the ONLY reason for models of theistic evolution to exist is the undeniable fact of common descent and the contradiction it creates to every single conception of “creation” that humans invented before we knew that common descent is true.

              Sure, there are ways to get into useless ruts, just as there are with science. Kuhn, in Structure of Scientific Revolutions, describes how some scientists have to die in order for their perma-misunderstandings to be removed from controlling, scientific prominence. But this doesn’t mean that all such efforts will be useless ruts.

              That is not a response to what I said, more than a handful of ad hoc hypotheses are a sure sign that a theory is dying (try to find even a single example in the history of science where this did not happen), which is NOT the case for theology – theology allows for an arbitrary number of ad hoc hypotheses.

              For example, I’ve introduced the idea of one having ‘sufficient reason’ to believe in given moral propositions. We accept that there is such a thing as ‘sufficient evidence’ to believe a given scientific theory; I say that the same exists for believing that certain ways of acting are good, and some are bad. While this has connections to the soul-making theodicy, it is a idea I think has been woefully neglected. A lot of evil which people say is gratuitous seems to be explainable by people not having enough ‘moral evidence’ that some course of action is right/wrong.

              What I´ve read about gratuitous suffering always covered things like infectious diseases and natural disasters, never the actions of human beings.

              By what definition of ‘work’? The studies that are done treat it as a kind of magic that, if it were demonstrated to exist, would not show that God exists, but merely that reality is more interesting than we thought. What kind of prayer would give evidence of a person (God) making it work? Only if prayer only works for certain purposes—how can one have evidence of personality, without purpose? And yet, science doesn’t study teleological things. At least not now.

              True miracles (not extremely unlikely events but rather impossible events) could occur but only in response to prayer – which would be very good evidence for prayer to work. Alternatively, miracles in the weak sense of the word (not impossible but merely unlikely events) could happen significantly more often with prayer than without prayer – with the proper statistical controls, this would also be very good evidence for prayer to work.

              Prophecies could be real.

              Plenty of things can be predicted. There is no guarantee that time travel is impossible. This wouldn’t be evidence of an omni-* deity. How would we even know when prophecy is not possible for humans to do?

              If a bunch of bronze age goat herders would have been able to predict specific future events beyond what is trivial (“a war will happen sometime in the future” would be an example of a rather trivial “prophecy”), then they most certainly obtained the knowledge for this prophecy through revelation – either from Gods or from aliens that are so advanced that they would be completely indistinguishable from Gods to us.

              So, unlikely things could happen according to a pattern and then somehow they would still constitute sufficient unlikeliness to be supernatural? I honestly don’t understand how that works.

              Example: spontaneous remission of lung cancer in adult men has a frequency of x, for adult men that pray to the abrahamic God however, the rate is y which is significantly higher than x. Furthermore, comparable rituals (meditation, voodoo, what have you) do not produce the same increase in the rate of spontaneous remission. Voila – extremely good evidence that miracles happen.

              Ok, so the equations of general relativity could be found in some ancient text. Or the remaining bits for M-theory could exist somewhere.

              An extremely simple but correct explanation of where the sun goes at night would already have been EXTREMELY impressive, even if it were as simple as what we learned in 1st grade.

              What, exactly, would this demonstrate? Certainly not an omni-* deity?

              It would certainly demonstrate revelation, whether from some Gods or aliens who would be completely indistinguishable from Gods to us – apologists would have a very easy time in any case.

              Then again, I asked you what would falsify your hypothesis, which is a far cry from demonstrating an omni-* deity.

              I gave you four specific examples now for what would falsify my explanation that all religions are made up by humans for humans.

            • labreuer

              No worries on the delay.

              re: ‘infinite in description’. Do you believe that any given [extant] particle must have computable position and momentum? If this is false (ignoring HUP), then there is some ‘infinite in description’ in the very particles themselves. It would be logically possible for there to be more and more intricate physical laws, as we deal with smaller differences in position/momentum. I see no reason why this process would need to terminate.

              By the way, QM sometimes uses infinite-dimensional Hilbert spaces for quantum state. See the Physics.SE Does the Hilbert space of the universe have to be infinite dimensional to make sense of quantum mechanics? Whether or not the infinitude is a formalism which is laid on top of a universe finite in every way is, as far as I know, unknown.

              That thought experiment makes only sense if you (and at least one other person) actually were immortal.

              I challenge you to come up with a better way to differentiate between interacting with a person; and interacting with a non-person. :-p It might help if I elaborated a bit: people can grow in complexity over time. Your interactions with them can do this. Or you can treat a person (say a cashier) the same way every time, such that you are acting machinelike to them. Then they may not grow at all, but the non-person in such an interaction would be you.

              This definition of ‘personhood’ is interesting, because doing science and understanding how to treat people better and better could be described as a truly personal interaction, as if one were interacting with God. The response might be that we’re interacting with a machine, not an intelligent being. I would beg the question.

              What would surprise me would be total agreement or total disagreement between religions that arose in isolation from each other. What would also surprise me is if religions that arose in isolation from each other would share specific theological notions (if the chinese would have independently come up with the notion of a God who became human to sacrifice himself to himself so that he can forgive humans for their ancestors having eaten a magic fruit, then I would ve VERY surprised (and probably religious as well)).

              Sometimes a given bit of science or math is discovered completely independently, but nonetheless within a few years. Are you saying that if such coincidental discoveries made in theology would be a sort of evidence to you?

              I don’t know enough about comparative religion to know of any surprising coincidences. Although, why wouldn’t convergent memetic evolution explain coincidences?

              Finally, would such a coincidence really convince you to be religious? I’m largely religious not because of historical claims, but because when I apply my interpretation of the Bible to reality, it works and guides me to even better interpretations.

              That is your opinion, not what the Bible says. The Bible doesn´t say anything about any advice / commandments being useful in certain situations but not in others – and I´m not criticizing your position (although I do disagree with what you say here), I criticize the Bible. You somehow seem to think that your personal interpretation of the Bible is somehow identical to the Bible, it isn´t, I don´t see how what you said here (“Sometimes telling someone (1) is sufficient. Sometimes we need to do (2)”….) follows from any biblical text in any way, shape or form.

              […]

              Sure, the Bible could be significantly better, not worse, than other contemporary or even older sources. But it isn´t. I don´t disagree with you that there is some good stuff in the Bible, but I´m completely underwhelmed by it – Aristotle and Confucius are not perfect, but much more clear and advanced than the gospels are, despite writing hundreds of years before the gospels were written. This is my subjective judgment sure, but I explained why I think that. I also explained why I think my mother was a much better moral teacher than the Jesus character in the gospels was. A “holy book” could certainly be “good enough” for me, but the Bible is certainly not it.

              Why would the Bible do what your mother can do just fine? It seems to me that it would be a more efficient use of text to teach you things your mother couldn’t easily teach you. The more the Bible has to teach you instead of assume you know sufficiently well, the more basic it has to be. The Bible doesn’t contain pictures of horses; it assumes you know what they are. The Bible doesn’t lay out my (1-3) explicitly, but when one reads the relevant passages with my (1-3) in mind, they clearly match the text. Just like the bits about horses make sense when you know something about horses.

              I don´t see how I did any of that, I explained in great detail why I am underwhelmed by the Bible, I don´t reject it for a priori reasons, I reject it because of what it does and does not say about moral issues.

              When I tried to get at what would be a ‘profound’ moral statement with AdamHazzard, he was unable to produce anything. Would you be willing to take a stab at what you would consider ‘profound’? An example might be a lesson that was hard to learn, or a truth you didn’t want to accept for a long time.

              Since the original audience had no access to Paul´s thoughts

              Actually, Paul wrote to people he had evangelized in person. They likely knew much more about Paul’s thoughts than we ever will. Many people err by thinking that Paul’s letters were general expositions instead of specific, ‘occasional’ (based on occasion) letters to specific audiences about specific issues that they were struggling with.

              And I´m completely clueless as to why you even have to guess at all because my criticism appears to be extremely simple to understand and unambiguous to me, and I have also no clue what else I could say to make it any more clearer. So it seems that our positions here are so radically different that we cannot even explain to each other what our positions even are ;-)

              You seem to want something very different from the Bible than I do. I want powerful ways to critique the status quo, not basic morality that even the ancients knew. Such criticism doesn’t come easily, and cannot be trivially stated, unless you’re making a thesis statement that requires substantial background for it to even make sense. Almost without fail, whenever there is something deeply different between two ways of thought, even seeing one from the other is difficult. So I don’t expect the Bible to be easily understandable in the way that you seem to.

              I can´t recall where you pointed out how your personal version of christianity can be falsified, could you refresh my mind?

              I can’t find where I originally said this, but I did save the HTML for re-posting. :-) I did quote it at you once before.

              The Bible describes both this possible future, as well as the virtues. Examples are Ja 3:13-18, Gal 5:16-26, 2 Tim 3:1-5, 1 Cor 13:1-7. Jesus ends Mt 7:15-20 with “Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” In other words: the actions one does produce consequences which can be checked against scripture.

              I don´t have to make any accusation and I don´t.

              […]

              Be precise, where did I do that?

              […]

              “Ad hoc” simply means that the only reason for the hypothesis to exist is that it was invented to save a proposition from being refuted.

              You said two things. First:

              As far as I can tell, the notion that any religion is not made up by humans can only be defended with a legion of ad hoc hypotheses – think about the excuses you would come up with to explain problems like divine miscommunication, divine hiddenness or the evidential problem of evil. From my perspective, I never have to invent any ad hoc hypothesis to save my explanation from being refuted.

              Second:

              I don´t have to make any presuppositions about what a God would or wouldn´t do – I don´t believe that there is any such being and that everything will thus look the only way it could look if religions were made up.

              From my perspective, you are using the term “ad hoc hypothesis” because you don’t need them. I don’t consider them ‘ad hoc’ because trying to systematize a large set of evidence inevitably requires coming up with linkage between them, theories for said linkage, etc. You think you have a better explanation of the evidence (e.g. the Bible)—that it is completely human-constructed. And thus, you seem to be calling anything I say which deviates from your model as ‘ad hoc’. If that’s not explicitly what you mean to do, that is the overall effect.

              When I said “you’re saying that premises P = { p } lead to a contradiction.”, that applies more to stuff like the problem of evil or divine hiddenness, not ad hoc hypotheses. It happens in discussions like this one, where the author clearly has made assumptions about what an omni-god would do. Maybe I was talking to the wrong person when I supposed that you were doing this; when I’m talking to several different people who are making similar criticisms, sometimes their arguments cross over in my head. :-/

              theology allows for an arbitrary number of ad hoc hypotheses.

              Maybe some theology does. I grow tired of theoretical theology which is not tested by experience. I said this to Daydreamer1:

              2. Much theoretical theology has been done, with little practical theology. What I mean by this is that experimental results (living life) seem to rarely feed back into theology. Imagine if theoretical physics were to never be tested. It would easily hare off into the clouds. The irony here is huge, given that Jesus said to test a tree by its fruit. Predicted outcomes of a righteous life are all over the NT; to the extent that these predictions are not observed, either the Bible is wrong when it says that believing A and doing B will lead to C, or we screwed up somewhere.

              If a given bit of theology does not ultimately manifest in actions, I have little to say about it.

              What I´ve read about gratuitous suffering always covered things like infectious diseases and natural disasters, never the actions of human beings.

              Ok, but those sources will likely ignore the possibility of God actually communicating to people and e.g. telling them what to do to be cured and warning them of natural disasters. Any allegedly gratuitous evil can be learned from if it can be talked about. The biggest question would be whether we were responsible for not doing things to prevent the evil from happening. Assuming ‘yes’ to this leads to interesting places. Assuming ‘no’ can be very dangerous; it can excuse gross negligence in the past, and do nothing to provoke more vigilance for the future.

              True miracles (not extremely unlikely events but rather impossible events) could occur but only in response to prayer – which would be very good evidence for prayer to work. Alternatively, miracles in the weak sense of the word (not impossible but merely unlikely events) could happen significantly more often with prayer than without prayer – with the proper statistical controls, this would also be very good evidence for prayer to work.

              I don’t think you’ve thought this through well enough. How would you know that you saw was more likely to be a ‘true miracle’ and not e.g. a hallucination, and how do you know what is impossible? And let’s suppose that we find certain kinds of prayer to work. Well, we know that mental cognition can affect health; what if prayer is just a systematized way of controlling said mental cognition? I do not believe it would be evidence of what you claim.

              If a bunch of bronze age goat herders would have been able to predict specific future events beyond what is trivial (“a war will happen sometime in the future” would be an example of a rather trivial “prophecy”), then they most certainly obtained the knowledge for this prophecy through revelation – either from Gods or from aliens that are so advanced that they would be completely indistinguishable from Gods to us.

              This is irrelevant unless said source of knowledge has our best interests at heart. Or something close to that. Otherwise you get Devil’s Due-type stuff. All prophecy would do is give you reason to pay attention for a bit. What else could it do? It shouldn’t surprise us that there are greater intelligences out there. But who is to say they want anything good for us at all?

              Example: spontaneous remission of lung cancer in adult men has a frequency of x, for adult men that pray to the abrahamic God however, the rate is y which is significantly higher than x. Furthermore, comparable rituals (meditation, voodoo, what have you) do not produce the same increase in the rate of spontaneous remission. Voila – extremely good evidence that miracles happen.

              Or it’s evidence that you have to think in just the right ways for your health to improve. Which is more likely: that there is a weird connection between how you think and your health, or that an omni-god exists? I’ve been around the block on what would constitute evidence of God existing many times, and I’ve never once come across something that passed critical examination.

            • Andy_Schueler

              re: ‘infinite in description’. Do you believe that any given [extant] particle must have computable position and momentum? If this is false (ignoring HUP), then there is some ‘infinite in description’ in the very particles themselves.

              I don´t follow, why should I ignore HUP given that it seems to be a fact about the way the world works, and what is infinite in the very particles themselves?

              I challenge you to come up with a better way to differentiate between interacting with a person; and interacting with a non-person. :-p It might help if I elaborated a bit: people can grow in complexity over time. Your interactions with them can do this. Or you can treat a person (say a cashier) the same way every time, such that you are acting machinelike to them. Then they may not grow at all, but the non-person in such an interaction would be you.

              But again, I fail to see any problem here when I simply consider the world as it actually seems to be – finite on every scale. That there is a theoretical(!) limit to “growth” / “change” / what have you, is a complete non-issue because you can never exhaust even the tiniest fraction of the possibilities available to you in the ~80 years that you have, you couldn´t even do it if you lived a thousand years, or a million years, why should I even care about this issue when I find the prospect of living for an infinite number of years to be implausible and (even more importantly) completely inconceivable? (And I mean literally “inconceivable”, the prospect of existing eternally is infinitely (pun intended) far away from anything I can imagine).

              This definition of ‘personhood’ is interesting, because doing science and understanding how to treat people better and better could be described as a truly personal interaction, as if one were interacting with God. The response might be that we’re interacting with a machine, not an intelligent being. I would beg the question.

              So what does this mean in practice? Can you give an example for how this view of yours might change the way you think about morality compared to how someone else, who shares every view you subscribe to except for this one, would think about it?

              Sometimes a given bit of science or math is discovered completely independently, but nonetheless within a few years. Are you saying that if such coincidental discoveries made in theology would be a sort of evidence to you?

              Most certainly, because I´m convinced that religions, being completely fabricated by men, do not have anything to discover – they are made up out of thin air. There are certain religious claims that would not surprise me if they emerged independently in different cultures, it wouldn´t surprise me for example if two religions independently arrived at a monotheistic faith and it doesn´t surprise me that different cultures actually did independently come up with variations of the golden rule. But a number of coincidences like different cultures independently coming up with specific theological ideas like the christian notion of atonement (for example) would mean that my view of what religions are is almost certainly false.

              I don’t know enough about comparative religion to know of any surprising coincidences. Although, why wouldn’t convergent memetic evolution explain coincidences?

              It would explain some possible convergences but not all of them. The idea of monotheism emerging independently would not be very surprising, because this idea naturally follows from earlier steps (animinism => polytheism => polytheism with a “chief deity” => proto-monotheism (only the “chief deity” is still considered a deity, all other deities are degraded to lesser celestial beings (e.g. “Angels”, “Jinns” etc.)) => true monotheism).
              Similar explanations are not available for many other possible convergences (e.g. the christian notion of atonement does make sense if one considers the culture it emerged it (just combine jewish ideas about atonement with greco-roman ideas about salvation through dying-and-rising savior gods and you get this Christian idea – but this only explains the emergence of this idea where it actually did emerge, had it emerged independently in China and South America, this would be a complete mystery))

              Finally, would such a coincidence really convince you to be religious? I’m largely religious not because of historical claims, but because when I apply my interpretation of the Bible to reality, it works and guides me to even better interpretations.

              I guess I would be, I´m positively certain that I would not believe that all religions are made up by men if this were true (in such an alternate reality, the view that all religions are made up by men would seem to be very irrational IMO), if I would be religious and if so in what way exactly would depend on the details I guess.

              Why would the Bible do what your mother can do just fine? It seems to me that it would be a more efficient use of text to teach you things your mother couldn’t easily teach you.

              Well, from that point of view, I would have a much(!) lower opinion of the Bible than I do have currently because the stuff that I learned from my mother before I had read the Bible is the only stuff that is worth reading IMO ;-).

              The more the Bible has to teach you instead of assume you know sufficiently well, the more basic it has to be. The Bible doesn’t contain pictures of horses; it assumes you know what they are. The Bible doesn’t lay out my (1-3) explicitly, but when one reads the relevant passages with my (1-3) in mind, they clearly match the text. Just like the bits about horses make sense when you know something about horses.

              Now you assume that your (1-3) is in some way obvious (you refer to them as “basic”), as the nature of horses is obvious to anyone who has actually seen a horse – that is not the case at all. (1-3) are your idiosyncratic notions and not obvious or basic at all (and I don´t agree with them btw).

              When I tried to get at what would be a ‘profound’ moral statement with AdamHazzard, he was unable to produce anything. Would you be willing to take a stab at what you would consider ‘profound’? An example might be a lesson that was hard to learn, or a truth you didn’t want to accept for a long time.

              Been there done that – I explained in some length at least two non-trivial (IMO) insights about anger – that anger can be understood as a continuum ranging from “no anger at all” (=”indifference” (bad)) to “uncontrollable rage” (also bad) with a golden middle, and that it is often both more fair and more productive to direct your anger not at people for the things they did, but rather at the circumstances that made them do what they did (here I gave the example of a high crime rate in a part of a city with rampant poverty and high unemployment rate – being angry only at the people for the crimes they committed instead of also being angry at the system that allows such rampant poverty and unemployment is not fair (it is dangerous even IMO) and also not productive).
              Elaborating on this (I could add a few more points re “anger” that are also not trivial IMO ) to give some useful and unambiguous advice re anger would not take more than a few pages. It´s not rocket science and it´s certainly not the best stance there is (I´m sure there are many people on this planet who have thought this through to much deeper levels than I have), but it´s much better than what the Bible has to offer on this issue.

              Actually, Paul wrote to people he had evangelized in person. They likely knew much more about Paul’s thoughts than we ever will. Many people err by thinking that Paul’s letters were general expositions instead of specific, ‘occasional’ (based on occasion) letters to specific audiences about specific issues that they were struggling with.

              My bad, I thought “the anger of man does not produce…” was from an OT verse when I wrote that response but I just realized that I was wrong about that.

              You seem to want something very different from the Bible than I do.

              I don´t think that I want anything from it in particular, I read the gospels first mainly out of curiosity and I read the complete Bible (skipping some of the OT prophets) some years later after I became involved in some discussions like this one. I didn´t have any expectations in particular of what I would find while reading it.

              I want powerful ways to critique the status quo, not basic morality that even the ancients knew. Such criticism doesn’t come easily, and cannot be trivially stated, unless you’re making a thesis statement that requires substantial background for it to even make sense. Almost without fail, whenever there is something deeply different between two ways of thought, even seeing one from the other is difficult. So I don’t expect the Bible to be easily understandable in the way that you seem to.

              That is not a very humble stance… Do you truly expect the allmighty to reveal itself in a way that its followers would completely misunderstand it for thousands of years until you come along? ;-)

              I can’t find where I originally said this, but I did save the HTML for re-posting. :-) I did quote it at you once before.

              The Bible describes both this possible future, as well as the virtues. Examples are Ja 3:13-18, Gal 5:16-26, 2 Tim 3:1-5, 1 Cor 13:1-7. Jesus ends Mt 7:15-20 with “Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” In other words: the actions one does produce consequences which can be checked against scripture.

              I think my reply back then was something along the line “if the last two thousand years of “fruits” produced by Christians do not refute Christianity, what could refute it then?”

              You said two things. First:

              As far as I can tell, the notion that any religion is not made up by humans can only be defended with a legion of ad hoc hypotheses – think about the excuses you would come up with to explain problems like divine miscommunication, divine hiddenness or the evidential problem of evil. From my perspective, I never have to invent any ad hoc hypothesis to save my explanation from being refuted.

              Second:

              I don´t have to make any presuppositions about what a God would or wouldn´t do – I don´t believe that there is any such being and that everything will thus look the only way it could look if religions were made up.

              From my perspective, you are using the term “ad hoc hypothesis” because you don’t need them. I don’t consider them ‘ad hoc’ because trying to systematize a large set of evidence inevitably requires coming up with linkage between them, theories for said linkage, etc. You think you have a better explanation of the evidence (e.g. the Bible)—that it is completely human-constructed. And thus, you seem to be calling anything I say which deviates from your model as ‘ad hoc’. If that’s not explicitly what you mean to do, that is the overall effect.

              What “ad hoc” means is not hard to understand. It really means nothing but a proposition that is not supported by evidence / arguments and which is invented for the sole purpose of saving another proposition or set of propositions from being refuted by observations / arguments.
              That´s it, period.
              Every time you invent claims about the God you believe in, not because you have evidence or arguments for these claims being true, but rather only because you need them to save your conception of “God” from being refuted, you are inventing ad hoc hypotheses. That´s simply what the phrase means. And in science, these ad hoc hypotheses do occur frequently (no one would discard a highly successful theory just because a handful of observations run counter to what the theory would predict), but scientists expect that these ad hoc hypotheses will sooner or later be supported by evidence (thus no longer being “ad hoc”) and then integrated into the scientific theory that they saved from being refuted. If this doesn´t happen and ad hoc hypotheses keep on accumulating because more and more observations run counter to what the theory predicts, this is a sure sign that the theory is dying.
              The sole exception to this pattern is theology – you can make it up as you go along for as long as you want, even if generations of theologians keep making stuff up for thousands of years and never provide any evidence for any of the countless of ad hoc hypotheses they invented.
              Your accusation that I label everything that deviates from what I believe “ad hoc” is false, the way I use the label is in perfect accord with how it is defined.

              2. Much theoretical theology has been done, with little practical theology. What I mean by this is that experimental results (living life) seem to rarely feed back into theology. Imagine if theoretical physics were to never be tested. It would easily hare off into the clouds. The irony here is huge, given that Jesus said to test a tree by its fruit. Predicted outcomes of a righteous life are all over the NT; to the extent that these predictions are not observed, either the Bible is wrong when it says that believing A and doing B will lead to C, or we screwed up somewhere.

              Have you ever had a discussion with a Jehovah´s Witness? They love to brag about actually having achieved the sort of community described in the NT (ex-JWs beg to differ of course), similar for the amish or the hutterites (although they don´t brag about it and leave the rest of the world alone unlike the JWs). Trying out this “ye shall know them by their fruits” idea in practice is not a new idea – many christian sects have tried it out and are still trying, with the results so far not being particularly impressive IMO ;-) (although I must admit that I actually am impressed by the amazing committment to pacifism that the JWs (and some other Christian sects) have – german JWs almost without exception chose to be sent to concentration camps instead of joining the Wehrmacht).

              Ok, but those sources will likely ignore the possibility of God actually communicating to people and e.g. telling them what to do to be cured and warning them of natural disasters.

              I don´t ignore the possibility but I consider it to be absurd on the face of it. Hygiene 101 is trivially easy to understand and to teach. Jesus could have taught people to prevent unimaginable amounts of human suffering by simply teaching them even just the very basics about hygiene. We had to learn the hard way how to predict natural disasters and how to prevent or even completely eradicate infectious diseases – no one helped us and billions suffered (and still do suffer!) gratuitously because we had to figure this out the hard way.
              I´m sure that you can come up with some ad hoc hypotheses for why Jesus did not teach anyone about hygiene but that would merely be a testament to your creativity.
              Everything, literally everything, can be reconciled with observable reality if there is no limit to the number and sheer absurdity of ad hoc hypotheses you are allowed to come up with.
              Example: I can easily defend the notion of the moon being made out of green cheese if you allow me to invent an arbitrary number of arbitrarily absurd ad hoc hypotheses. Even if you had studied every single particle the moon is made of to prove that there is no green cheese whatsoever on the moon – I could simply go Catholic and claim that the moon only appears to be made of something other than green cheese but what it truly is, it´s substance, is green cheese.

              Any allegedly gratuitous evil can be learned from if it can be talked about.

              And we do learn from it, we learn the hard way, the way where billions have to suffer gratuitously until we finally figure it out ourselves because we are alone and have no one to rely on but ourselves.

              I don’t think you’ve thought this through well enough. How would you know that you saw was more likely to be a ‘true miracle’ and not e.g. a hallucination, and how do you know what is impossible?

              I do have incredibly strong inductive and deductive arguments to support the claim “a resurrection from the dead is impossible”, for example. For “everyday physics” we do have a pretty good understanding of what is impossible and what is not actually.
              Re hallucinations, this would be a complete non-issue for every miracle that leaves testable traces behind.

              And let’s suppose that we find certain kinds of prayer to work. Well, we know that mental cognition can affect health; what if prayer is just a systematized way of controlling said mental cognition? I do not believe it would be evidence of what you claim.

              That´s what I meant by “proper controls”. Prayer does work but it doesn´t matter what you pray or who you pray to and it is just as effective as meditation or any other comparable practice. If there would be a pattern, if prayer to a specific deity for example would be significantly more effective than comparable religious practices, then this would be very good evidence indeed.

              This is irrelevant unless said source of knowledge has our best interests at heart. Or something close to that. Otherwise you get Devil’s Due-type stuff. All prophecy would do is give you reason to pay attention for a bit. What else could it do? It shouldn’t surprise us that there are greater intelligences out there. But who is to say they want anything good for us at all?

              It could be prophecy that is not only turns out to be true but also beneficial for us to be aware of, thus supporting the notion that the source of revelation is benevolent.

              Or it’s evidence that you have to think in just the right ways for your health to improve. Which is more likely: that there is a weird connection between how you think and your health, or that an omni-god exists?

              Oh there are certainly weird connections between the way you think and your health. However, that´s what controls are for, prayer to one particular God does the job but prayer to any other God doesn´t and neither does any comparable religious practice, this would demonstrate that what matters to obtain the effect is not the way you think but rather who you do or do not pray to.

            • labreuer

              I don´t follow, why should I ignore HUP given that it seems to be a fact about the way the world works, and what is infinite in the very particles themselves?

              HUP talks about what we can know about a particle’s position vs. momentum, which is different from whether the actual position/momentum is uncomputable or computable.

              you can never exhaust even the tiniest fraction of the possibilities available to you in the ~80 years that you have

              As long as you consistently act that way, then both you and I would act the same, from our different premises. You want to say that your approach is better than mine, which is interesting, if indeed they don’t lead to different actions.

              So what does this mean in practice? Can you give an example for how this view of yours might change the way you think about morality compared to how someone else, who shares every view you subscribe to except for this one, would think about it?

              We treat machines as means to an end; we treat people as ends in and of themselves. Viewing the entire universe as an end—as God’s creation—makes one less likely to see certain people as expendable or less important. It would also make one more respectful of other lifeforms. If it’s all an accident, there’s no guarantee that there exists a way for all people to e.g. live harmoniously.

              Most certainly, because I´m convinced that religions, being completely fabricated by men, do not have anything to discover – they are made up out of thin air.

              I will have to keep my eye out for such coincidental discoveries. Let me try out a possibility. 1 Corinthians 12 makes a metaphor between people with different talents, and the parts of the human body. If multiple Christians were to surmise that different physical diseases could be metaphors for different societal ills, would you consider this such a discovery? The idea would be that a given disease would have a [mathematical] struture which would match the structure of the societal ill.

              Now you assume that your (1-3) is in some way obvious (you refer to them as “basic”), as the nature of horses is obvious to anyone who has actually seen a horse – that is not the case at all. (1-3) are your idiosyncratic notions and not obvious or basic at all (and I don´t agree with them btw).

              Interesting; you see no natural progression? For simplicity, here they are again:

                   (1) don’t do the bad thing
                   (2) replace the bad thing with a good thing
                   (3) here are some strategies for doing (2)

              What is wrong with these? Are you saying that e.g. (1) is useless with out (2) or (3)? I don’t understand your criticism.

              Elaborating on this (I could add a few more points re “anger” that are also not trivial IMO ) to give some useful and unambiguous advice re anger would not take more than a few pages. It´s not rocket science and it´s certainly not the best stance there is (I´m sure there are many people on this planet who have thought this through to much deeper levels than I have), but it´s much better than what the Bible has to offer on this issue.

              You realize that the NT was written to people who would be able to draw on the entire OT, right? The hearers would understand that God would be wrathful against continued and persistent evil, but willing to forgive instantly, upon true repentance. You said you skipped some of the prophets, so perhaps you missed some of this.

              Anyhow, it’s not required that the Bible forever remain better than other sources. In fact, I would consider that a sad state of affairs, because I think the Bible was merely meant as a solid starting point. The more interesting thing IMHO would be to try to compare & contrast its stance on anger with some contemporary one, and see where the disagreements are. A potentially large one is that the Bible assumes there is an objective difference between good and evil, and that anger is to be based on this difference.

              That is not a very humble stance… Do you truly expect the allmighty to reveal itself in a way that its followers would completely misunderstand it for thousands of years until you come along? ;-)

              Oh, I expect the Bible to keep offering criticism for a long time. It provided fodder to the abolitionists, it provided fodder for MLK Jr., and I expect it to provide fodder to seriously renovate anything I manage to come up with. If I have an advantage, it is that I have long conversed with atheists and skeptics of many different specialties, so that I have learned to know what I don’t know more intensely than many. I am also pretty conversant in science, which is largely due to the time in which I was born. But I suspect those in the future will have even more advantages. I’d like to be part of providing those advantages. Imagine philosophical, theological, and historical data being all online and cross-linked so that it could be explored and discussed in much deeper ways than is possible now. It would be awesome to, for example, be able to compare & contrast different religions’ conceptions of grace, or even the same religion’s conceptions of grace over time.

              I think my reply back then was something along the line “if the last two thousand years of “fruits” produced by Christians do not refute Christianity, what could refute it then?”

              The fact that most people don’t make excellence scientists doesn’t mean that excellent science cannot be done. It doesn’t even mean most people can’t be excellent scientists; perhaps we just don’t know how to help many become so. I think the same goes for producing good “fruits”. There are plenty of Christians who are that in name only; see the term ‘social Catholic’. I’m aware of statistics about Christians, and how they can change significantly if one e.g. goes to church regularly, instead of once in a while or never.

              I return to the issue of slavery, and the terrible, terrible justifications the American Southerners used to support it. This is from the 1861 Cornerstone speech:

              Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.

              If you look at What I Really Said in the Cornerstone Speech, you’ll see:

              (Slavery was without doubt the occasion of secession; out of it rose the breach of compact, for instance, on the part of several Northern States in refusing to comply with Constitutional obligations as to rendition of fugitives from service, a course betraying total disregard for all constitutional barriers and guarantees.)

              Hmmm, and what does the Bible say?

              “You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him. (Deut 23:15-16)

              On the one hand the slaveholders were happy for their slaves to become Christians, and the slaveholders were willing to use some Bible verses to support slavery. On the other hand, they ignored other Bible verses on the basis that blacks were lesser beings. Such blatant contradiction is the clear sign of rationalization, of using the Bible to support your position, instead of using the Bible to inform your position.

              What we need to do, to test this ‘fruits’ thing, is to look for people who seemed to truly be using the Bible to inform their positions. Then we need to see what interpretation they were employing. This is what we should be looking at for ‘fruits’. Otherwise you’re sampling people who are Christians only in name and people who are using it to e.g. support the Crusades. You include the Pope who had Galileo put on house arrest for offering insults, when Jesus says to turn the other cheek (and he was at least discussing insults, given that you would back-hand slap the right cheek of another person with your right hand).

              What “ad hoc” means is not hard to understand. It really means nothing but a proposition that is not supported by evidence / arguments and which is invented for the sole purpose of saving another proposition or set of propositions from being refuted by observations / arguments.

              I think you’re being far too simplistic in what constitutes ‘supported’ vs. ‘saving’. Let’s say I have an interpretation that is mostly from cultural influence, anecdotal evidence, and reading the Bible. You challenge it with apparently contradictory evidence. If I respond by modifying the interpretation to fit the new evidence, is that ‘supported’ or ‘saving’? A given subset of evidence doesn’t support merely one hypothesis; when combined with other evidence (e.g. contents of the Bible, cultural conditioning), it should probably change one’s hypothesis. But you seem to expect this ‘change’ to be one which discards everything but the presented evidence. This doesn’t make sense to me.

              Every time you invent claims about the God you believe in, not because you have evidence or arguments for these claims being true, but rather only because you need them to save your conception of “God” from being refuted, you are inventing ad hoc hypotheses.

              Can you give me some examples of my doing this? Maybe some of the time I’m interpolating, but I cannot think of instances where I’ve made up things out of whole cloth. For example, I often say that God wants us to be intellectually and morally knowledgeable; that he values rationality and moral character. These are both soundly supported by the Bible. Consider, for example, Jesus being identified as the Logos. In ~500 BC, Heraclitus “used the term for a principle of order and knowledge.”

              Have you ever had a discussion with a Jehovah´s Witness? They love to brag about actually having achieved the sort of community described in the NT (ex-JWs beg to differ of course)

              Sadly, I’ve never had the chance. Based on the ex-JW comment, I found this by Eric McMullan:

              “Eric McMullan is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Seems like a pretty straight-forward sentence, right? Though I wasn’t in attendance that night, I am sure that is the exact statement that was read to my friends on a Thursday evening in November of 2008. Those nine words, though, are far from simple. They are a death sentence of sorts. Everyone in that auditorium knew immediately what those words meant: Eric has been cast off, expelled, excommunicated, disfellowshipped. I was dead.

              I know that Christians have done this, but I know of almost nothing in the Bible which can justify it, and the few bits I know are based on gross immorality (an example today would be pedophilia) or divisiveness (always a dicey issue). The standards for expelling someone are extremely high, and the result of expulsion is to treat others like “a Gentile and a tax collector”, which doesn’t mean “dead to one’s community”. Gentiles and tax collectors aren’t expected to live like Christians; living under expectations you have no intention of heading toward is terrible.

              A great way to evaluate allegedly ‘tight’ communities is to see what happens to the misfits, the people who leave. Sometimes the people who leave are the ones who tried to get their way and failed. I experienced this in a Christian fellowship; the then-president insisted that either another member get expelled, or she would leave herself. The leadership voted to have her leave, because she had no just cause to have the other person expelled.

              Jesus could have taught people to prevent unimaginable amounts of human suffering by simply teaching them even just the very basics about hygiene.

              This doesn’t help if you see other people as below you. Would better hygiene have helped the slaves in the American South? I think Jesus focused on things more fundamental than hygiene. I’ll bet you’ll disagree. :-p

              billions suffered (and still do suffer!) gratuitously because we had to figure this out the hard way.

              I’m pretty sure the vast majority of the suffering in e.g. Africa is more due to the terrible ways that humans treat each other, than lack of available medicine and food. The amount of corruption is ridiculously high. We have more than enough food for all the starving folks, but it can be practically impossible to deliver it.

              Everything, literally everything, can be reconciled with observable reality if there is no limit to the number and sheer absurdity of ad hoc hypotheses you are allowed to come up with.

              Trust me, I understand this. I may still do it—and I’d appreciate being called out on it with specifics that help me understand how I’m doing it—but I try to do it less, every day. One of the benefits of participating in online discussions with people who think very differently from me is that I get challenged to do this less. I do wonder, though, whether your alternative is to assume no order, instead of trying to find an order. If that’s the case, I think I have justification to stand my ground.

              And we do learn from it, we learn the hard way, the way where billions have to suffer gratuitously until we finally figure it out ourselves because we are alone and have no one to rely on but ourselves.

              Ahh, CFW is rearing its head. Two issues come to mind here:

                   (i) How evil are the evils we observe?
                   (ii) How ‘unjust’ is the cost required to avert them?

              What I think you’d have to say is that (i) is ‘very evil’ and (ii) is ‘way too high’. After all, humans are moral, empathic beings who try to avert evil when the cost isn’t too high. They would only fail to avert some level of evil is if it isn’t actually that bad, or if it just costs too much to avert it. I imagine that you’d say that God ought to decrease the cost of fighting evil, or at least heighten our sensitivity to it so we care more and are willing to pay more to fight it? I would like to point out that merely having more knowledge isn’t sufficient.

              I do have incredibly strong inductive and deductive arguments to support the claim “a resurrection from the dead is impossible”, for example. For “everyday physics” we do have a pretty good understanding of what is impossible and what is not actually.

              If you hold this stance, then no Bayesian update can convince you that resurrection from the dead is possible. It would be more likely that the person had an identical twin and that e.g. transporter technology had been invented. Anything possible would be more likely.

              If there would be a pattern, if prayer to a specific deity for example would be significantly more effective than comparable religious practices, then this would be very good evidence indeed.

              What if the important thing were that you have a deity with the right properties in mind? For example, a deity which isn’t disappointed in you, a deity which wants the best for you and intelligently pursues that, etc. If belief in and prayer to that kind of deity were the most effective, would it be evidence that said deity exists? I doubt it! It would be more probable that such a deity would be more comforting and less stressing.

              However, that´s what controls are for, prayer to one particular God does the job but prayer to any other God doesn´t and neither does any comparable religious practice, this would demonstrate that what matters to obtain the effect is not the way you think but rather who you do or do not pray to.

              I disagree; The ‘who’ is inseparable from ‘the way you think’.

              It could be prophecy that is not only turns out to be true but also beneficial for us to be aware of, thus supporting the notion that the source of revelation is benevolent.

              Sure, but now you’re veering into the territory of testing whether we should trust said being because said being has provided beneficial information/tech/whatever. And that is largely the basis upon which I trust said being. :-)

        • Andy_Schueler

          Would you give an example of two or three “moral and ethical teachings more profound”?

          I think a good example would be honesty. The Bible merely has a commandment against lying which that is repeated several times and a few verses that talk about the virtue of being honest, it doesn´t explain to you whether there might be situations where lying is morally acceptable (or maybe even the more moral option than telling the truth) and it doesn´t help you in any way to understand why lying is wrong (“because God says so” is just as helpful as your parents telling you “because we say so, that´s why!” – it´s much more productive to explain to your kids why something is wrong).
          To give you one practical example: my grandfather was pretty much the only devout Christian in my immediate family, and in one of the last chats I had with him before he died, he told me that I should “always trust in God”. I could have told him that I don´t believe in God, but I instead just smiled, nodded and told him that I will do that. This wasn´t a moral dilemma for me, telling the truth would have only worried him and would have accomplished nothing good, and he already had enough to worry about with his declining health. What my mother taught me about lying (which was surprisingly similar to what Sam Harris wrote about it) was much more helpful than the black-and-white stuff that the Bible has to offer.
          This is an issue btw where I would even say that the Qu´ran offers a better moral teachings than the Bible does – the Qu´ran allows muslims to lie about their faith if they would be persecuted for telling the truth, the Bible does not.

          • labreuer

            You were only doing your grandfather a service if he preferred his own comfort over knowing the truth. I am described as ‘devout’ by some of my atheist friends; I hope that no family or friend ever chooses to tell me what I want to believe, over the truth, on pretty much any matter. I prefer to live in the land of truth than in the land of comfort. I’m coming off as judgmental of your grandfather, but I’m really just explaining that there is a paradigm where your lie would have been bad.

            There are two sets of what I’d call ‘ultimate rules’ in the Bible on following rules:

            Mt 22:36-40 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

            1 Cor 6:12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.

            1 Cor 10:23-24 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.

            Among other things, loving God means loving the truth. So I’d say that the extent to which lying reduces the expected amount of truth the world will know in the [near] future, it is very likely bad. Loving someone without valuing the truth ends up in terrible places, as C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces so beautifully points out.

            Now, you’re correct that simple, universal laws are almost always overly restrictive. They are the kinds of things you give to children, as a kind of ‘scaffolding’ until they can understand the spirit behind them. Sort of like driving school, where you learn what it means to ‘drive safely’ via a long list of rules and regulations. The OT was largely written to moral children; the NT is split on this.

            So, which things are helpful/build up/don’t end up dominating? In other words, which things make the world a better place as judged by everyone, minus those who think it’s ok to forcibly take from others? Just as this dichotomy is simplistic, any set of rules for how to make the world a better place will likewise be simplistic. That’s because what is needed is an ineffable ‘spirit of the law’. Anything else will become a prison.

            Given the above, a ‘better set of rules’ will not suffice! It will merely push the problem off by some amount of moral development. For, I claim that ‘human thriving’ is infinite in description, and any finite attempt at description—if held tightly as what is instead of tentatively as a model of reality that will likely need future correcting—will end up as a living hell. At some point, you’ve gotta say things like the quoted Bible passages, and not more rules and regulations.

            • Andy_Schueler

              You were only doing your grandfather a service if he preferred his own comfort over knowing the truth. I am described as ‘devout’ by some of my atheist friends; I hope that no family or friend ever chooses to tell me what I want to believe, over the truth, on pretty much any matter.

              And if I would have had that chat with him some years before it actually happened, I would have told him the truth, because I would not have wanted to risk that he will find out that I was lying and thus suffer both for realizing that I don´t share his beliefs and because the lie would have damaged our relationship. Causing him some discomfort by telling the truth would have been worth it in this situation, but it wasn´t worth it at all in the situation where it actually happened.

              Now, you’re correct that simple, universal laws are almost always overly restrictive. They are the kinds of things you give to children

              You don´t have to. My mother didn´t, she always had a good aswer ready when I asked her why I should or should not do something. And she also taught me that, if you think something is right but can´t explain why it is right, you should think long and hard whether you are actually defending what is “right” or merely “what we always did” (i.e. a mere appeal to tradition).

              as a kind of ‘scaffolding’ until they can understand the spirit behind them

              Problem is that the Bible never reaches this point where it explains this alleged “spirit behind them” (and again, I don´t even think that the biblical approach would be good for children).

              So, which things are helpful/build up/don’t end up dominating? In other words, which things make the world a better place as judged by everyone, minus those who think it’s ok to forcibly take from others? Just as this dichotomy is simplistic, any set of rules for how to make the world a better place will likewise be simplistic. That’s because what is needed is an ineffable ‘spirit of the law’. Anything else will become a prison.

              Given the above, a ‘better set of rules’ will not suffice! It will merely push the problem off by some amount of moral development. For, I claim that ‘human thriving’ is infinite in description, and any finite attempt at description—if held tightly as what is instead of tentatively as a model of reality that will likely need future correcting—will end up as a living hell. At some point, you’ve gotta say things like the quoted Bible passages, and not more rules and regulations.

              I think what you call “spirit behind the law” I would call “common sense + practical wisdom + empathy” – and I learned plenty regarding the former two from my mother, and nothing from the Bible, that was my point.

            • labreuer

              because the lie would have damaged our relationship.

              I claim that lies which would damage a relationship if known, damage the relationship even if not known. You promote living in falsehood and I’m just not convinced that it is possible to ‘cordon off’ white lies and non-white lies in one’s mind.

              You don´t have to.

              For a while, a child doesn’t know how to safely cross a street. Even when teaching a new topic this is sometimes required: “what I’m saying isn’t entirely true, but it’s an approximation that is more efficient to step through than over”. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t provide justifications to kids as soon as they can handle them. I’m saying that we often have to give approximations—things that have wrongness in them—before we set people free on the real world where things are fuzzy and noisy and confusing.

              Problem is that the Bible never reaches this point where it explains this alleged “spirit behind them” (and again, I don´t even think that the biblical approach would be good for children).

              I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I would say that the Bible teaches a tremendous amount about the possibility of orderliness in one’s inner life, and how that is the best way to manifest good behavior and thrive all along. Indeed, it’s the inside of someone which makes him or her ugly or beautiful.

              I think what you call “spirit behind the law” I would call “common sense + practical wisdom + empathy” – and I learned plenty regarding the former two from my mother, and nothing from the Bible, that was my point.

              Might I suggest that your Bible teaching… sucked?

            • Andy_Schueler

              I claim that lies which would damage a relationship if known, damage the relationship even if not known. You promote living in falsehood and I’m just not convinced that it is possible to ‘cordon off’ white lies and non-white lies in one’s mind.

              Nope, I don´t do that. Sam Harris explains very well why these so called “white lies” are usually harmful as well and why it is virtually always best to avoid them (which is exactly what my mother taught me). You however turn it into a dogma, allowing no exceptions under no circumstances. And this, to me, is rather egoistic. The only reason for telling my grandfather the truth in the situation I mentioned would be if I place a higher value on my principles and my wellbeing than on his wellbeing – this is egoistic.

              For a while, a child doesn’t know how to safely cross a street. Even when teaching a new topic this is sometimes required: “what I’m saying isn’t entirely true, but it’s an approximation that is more efficient to step through than over”. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t provide justifications to kids as soon as they can handle them. I’m saying that we often have to give approximations—things that have wrongness in them—before we set people free on the real world where things are fuzzy and noisy and confusing.

              But for the fuzzy, noisy and confusing part – the actual dilemmas – the Bible doesn´t help.

              I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I would say that the Bible teaches a tremendous amount about the possibility of orderliness in one’s inner life, and how that is the best way to manifest good behavior and thrive all along. Indeed, it’s the inside of someone which makes him or her ugly or beautiful.

              That rather contradicts one of your favorite quotes – “by your fruits shall you know them“. If this is actually true, how can someone by beautiful as measured by the fruits of his / her actions but ugly on the inside?

              Might I suggest that your Bible teaching… sucked?

              I had none ;-)

    • sir_russ

      Mum knows who she is in the social context she was delivered into, and she passes that understanding along to me.

      Mum is actually a wonderful abstraction. If I was born inside one social context and then adopted into another, Mum, the abstraction, would do for me in my new social context what my birth mum would have done for me in the old context. If birth-mum imagined Vishnu as part of the world accurately depicted, but adoptive mum in my new social context was an atheist in Sweden, then adoptive mum would rear me according to the expectations in that different-from-birth-mum’s social context.

      Odd it is, that if some religion is true, in the sense that the evidence supports its truth, then mums almost never see that truth through the lens of their social context. If some Christian thing is true, it’s very odd indeed that Hindu mums almost never see it as such. If some Muslim thing is true, Christian mums almost never see that. If Christian stuff is true, then Jewish mums have led their children astray, intentionally.

      As far as I know, absent severe mental illness, mums always want to do the best for their children. If some religion was true, mums would always, even risking their own deaths, lead their children to the right one. But, mums nearly always seem to accept as true whatever religion happens to have been their parent’s religion. Mums are not converging on one religion, the One True Religion, irrespective of social context.

      If it’s true that a god chooses the mum a child will have, then it almost always chooses a mum who passes on to her children the wrong religion. Moreover, it always chooses a mum who finds it impossible to know that she has the right religion, even if she does, by pure chance, have the right one.

      This tells me that either mums are completely stupid or gods are completely imaginary.

      Stupids mums run counter to what we know of mums independent of social context. But, gods being completely imaginary allows us to make sense of a lot of other data.

    • Sergio Paulo Sider

      About a decade ago, when my Bible™ was already ripped up to only show the words of Jesus™ (because I was compelled to believe that at least Jesus was superior to all that barbaric stuff), I noticed that my mum still showed me a better conduct.

      I started ripping apart the “not so nice” Jesus parts, and ended up with the “throw the first stone” and one and other passages.
      It didn’t take much ‘historic verification’ to know that the BEST Jesus’ part was invented long after his supposed death.
      Even the “golden rule” dated about 1000 years before.

      Poor mum, my real one. Short term memories gone badly, but she calls me everyday to “check” if I made peace with the Lord™ (I say it’s all ok between me and the Lord, but I don’t say it’s Lord Vader).
      So, fucking Jesus and his goons, all imaginary, still cause today a lot of pain to my poor mum. She remembers everyday I am an atheist, and her heart is broke on a daily basis. And she will probably die that way.

      And we see again a lot of salive spent to the new D.M. spawn (nicer than the original), the new kid in town with his retorted logic (?). Sometimes I think the oxygen of respect is given because some atheists also need the returned CO2 to get high.

    • Ohhh mumsy!