Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Friday, March 23, 2012

God Botherers and their Discontents


NPR woke me up this morning telling me tomorrow would be "Woodstock for Atheists," and my first thought was: "Who cares?"

Not "who cares?" because the event shouldn't be reported on, but "who cares?" because the entire raison d'etre of atheists, it seems to me, is to affirm among themselves that theism is something to be "a-" about. Which I've always thought was kinda funny. I mean, if it weren't for theism, what would you affirm you didn't believe in? Love? Beauty? Jumbo shrimp? And apparently, as I always suspected, it's because of us believers.

Mehta, who writes a blog called The Friendly Atheist, says openly dismissing God in the most religious country in the West requires courage: You risk losing friends, family and even jobs because of your nonbelief. In poll after poll, he says, people say they don't like atheists; one showed that people think an atheist is more likely to steal than a rapist.
I guess. If an atheist doesn't get a job, or loses a job, because of their professed atheism, I would have a problem with that. I don't like that politicians are called on, more and more, to describe their religious beliefs in terms acceptable to the lowest common denominator, and to end every public utterance with "God bless you [as if we've all sneezed] and God Bless the United States of America" [as if we suffer from a national case of the sniffles]. I am fine, in other words, with fewer expressions of religious sentiment in public life, and don't confuse those sentiments with religious belief (which is why I'd prefer to see and hear fewer of them.) But what is atheism, that it should be celebrated at it's own "Woodstock"? Is it non-belief on steroids? Is it militant non-belief? Seems to me the valid theological stance, at least since Kierkegaard in the mid-19th century, is that non-belief is the human default setting, and belief is the activity. Isn't it their argument that atheism is simply the human default? If so, isn't "celebrating atheism" a bit like celebrating being a social animal, or walking upright?

I'm a bit confused by atheists who make it their identity to be, well: atheists. It's like the theists in the world somehow impinge on their sense of self, and they must push back against it. In that way they are most like conservative Christians who can't stand the idea that there are people in the world who don't think like they do. If atheists want to talk about putting up with annoying religious people, I could sympathize. I grew up around people like Dennis Terry, and they used to bug the hell out of me (no pun intended). Eventually, though, I realized my identity as a believer wasn't tied up with opposing their beliefs. If they want to deny that I'm a Christian, it's fine with me; there are some thing I can't do anything about. And if the rest of the world wants to move away from theism in all its forms (that's not really happening, but anyway...), it wouldn't really bother me either. Some atheists are openly hoping that will happen:

Silverman, of American Atheists, says atheists have time and momentum on their side. He says the fastest-growing segment of religion in the U.S. is no religion — people who identify as atheist, agnostic or secular. Just look at Canada and parts of Europe, Silverman says; religion there is going "extinct."

"I believe America is not far behind," he says. "I believe in two decades, we will be in a position where secularism is the norm."
But then they are like the dog chasing the car: what do they do if they catch it?

I've just started reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a book set in contemporary Sweden. One character is described as Muslim, but as an adult he "of course" no longer believes in God. Oddly, this doesn't make him an atheist. He just lets the matter go, in other words. Another character, a young girl, tells her father she's started attending church. He's not exactly pleased, but he doesn't seem particularly offended by it. Is he an atheist? Or simply a non-believer?

Which is kind of where I'm going with this: if you are an a-theist, then you have tied yourself rather tightly to theism. If theism truly doesn't matter to you, why do you declare yourself an a-theist? Why not just drop the whole matter and go on about your business?

I mean, what would atheists do as atheists together? Discuss the non-existence of God?

[John] Gray [professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics] argues that this fixation misses the point of religions: "The core of most religions is not doctrinal. In non-western traditions and even some strands of western monotheism, the spiritual life is not a matter of subscribing to a set of propositions. Its heart is in practice, in ritual, observance and (sometimes) mystical experience . . . When they dissect arguments for the existence of God, atheists parody the rationalistic theologies of western Christianity."
The Christianity of TV evangelists and mega-church preachers and pulpit thumpers, is not the Christianity of the world. And Christianity itself is not the only religion in the world. Christians are no more identified solely with people like Dennis Terry than Muslims are identified with the assassin recently shot to death by police in France. Most of us are anti-terrorist, for very good reasons. But we don't feel the need to gather and proclaim our anti-terrorism, and to insist that one day anti-terrorism will be the norm and terrorism will cease to exist. If only because, frankly, it won't.

And the only absurdity in that comparison is that religious belief is not to be equated with terrorism. Well, not by intelligent people, anyway.

I was looking for anything I'd written earlier about Christopher Hedges and his book I Don't Believe in Atheists. Instead, I found this. I flipped it open to where he made this point:

The atheists and the fundamentalists speak in slogans. Atheists ridicule magic, miracles, and an anthropomorphic God. They remind us that the world is not 6,000 years old, that prayer does not cure cancer, and that there is no heaven or hell. But these are not thoughts. They are self-evident tautologies. These two camps never step outside their narrow intellectual boundaries. The atheists believe they know religions' inadequacies, although they have never investigated religious thought. They delight in critiques that are, to any first year seminarian, shallow and stale. Hitchens assures us that "the unanswerable question of who...created the creator" has never been addressed by theologians. Theologians, he says, "have consistently failed to overcome" this conundrum.
This is the declaration of an illiterate. Aquinas, along with many other theologians, addressed at length the issue of who created the creator. God, Aquinas argues, is not an entity. God is not a thing or a being. Creation is not an act of handicraft. Creation is a condition there being something rather than nothing. Creation didn't happen long ago. Creation is constant in human existence. It is part of life. And this is why "creationism"--the belief in a single, definitive act of invention by an anthropomorphic god--is pseudoscience and pseudotheology. But stepping out of the cartoonish and childish taunting of religion to a discussion of the writings of Aquinas, Augustine, Paul Tillich, Karl Barth and Reinhold Niebuhr is beyond the capacity of these atheists. They haven't read them and they don't want to.
Christopher Hedges, I Don't Believe in Atheists, New York: Free Press, 2008. pp. 70-71.

To be fair, this isn't necessarily the attitude of the people interviewed by NPR. But I doubt any of them could identify the major works of any of those writers, much less their major ideas. They are too busy being "against," and identifying themselves as such, to be for even the acquisition of knowledge. Which is where I really kind of wonder about such professed atheists, and their profession of reason and rationality: why do they bother?

58 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the subject of the caricatures that some atheists and fundamentalists are so found of denouncing: I read somewhere that a former chaplain at Yale, when informed by a student that they no longer believed in God, used to respond "Great, tell me about the God you don't believe in any more. I bet I don't believe in that God either."

9:10 PM  
Anonymous JCF said...

Today's anti-theists (a better description than a-theists) are SO hung up on the G-word. "I don't believe in ANY god!" they'll proclaim...

...AS IF the mere absence of calling their ultimate value "god" made them any less of a worshipper!

I believe in (my ultimate value is) Love, Personified. How is that somehow more contemptible than Money, (soul-less) Sex, Drugs, Violence, Escapist Entertainment, or (esp) Monotonous Ideology, that many anti-theists have paid "temple tribute" to?

[How could I have missed Hedge's book? I read "War is a Force..." just before then! O_o]

4:10 AM  
Blogger The Thought Criminal said...

what would atheists do as atheists together?

I've read a lot of stuff by atheists and I think it's accurate to say that a lot of what they do is express how superior they are to religious believers, how stupid everyone else is. That's not unique to atheists but, really, there's not that much more to it. I think it was Jonathan Miller who I heard saying that he never talked about his atheism because there wasn't anything to say about it.

I've been studying the materialist denial of free will, inherent rights, and other basic, founding concepts of liberalism and I, seriously, don't see how materialism is compatible with liberalism. I think that a kind of liberalish libertarianism is a replacement for it these days but it's really not at all the same thing. I used to find the new atheism annoying and politically foolish but the more I read about the denial of even consciousness, as Marilynne Robinson pointed out in Absence of mind, I'm convinced it is a lot more dangerous than that.

Anthony McCarthy

2:03 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

I used to find the new atheism annoying and politically foolish but the more I read about the denial of even consciousness, as Marilynne Robinson pointed out in Absence of mind, I'm convinced it is a lot more dangerous than that.

I haven't looked at Robinson's book, but David Hume pretty much denied consciousness in an almost rabidly extreme empiricist bid, where he conjectured that all those empirical sensory perceptions entered the brain and crashed around and gave the impression of a "self" which was conscious both of itself and of the sensory impressions. This central impression, of a perceiver doing the perceiving, Hume considered an error.

Which always struck me (in a metaphor Hume couldn't imagine) as a room with a TV playing, but no one watching. Does the room, in that case, have an illusion of consciousness?

I find the whole denial of consciousness laughable, and comparable to Kierkegaard's observation about Hegelianism: a man who becomes so abstracted from this own existence by his assurance in the validity of systematic (i.a., abstract) thought that he awakes one day to find he has abstracted himself out of existence. It does underline, however, why atheists would be so anxious to define themselves by being against another identifiable (and crudely defined) group.

6:52 PM  
Blogger The Thought Criminal said...

When I get the time, I'm going to review Hume's skepticism about the reality of causality, which you would think was a keenly important problem for the humeophiles among materialists as it would negate the validity of science. Or that's what I'd suspect.

AM

8:32 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

When I get the time, I'm going to review Hume's skepticism about the reality of causality, which you would think was a keenly important problem for the humeophiles among materialists as it would negate the validity of science. Or that's what I'd suspect.

Science is basically saved by the idealism of Kant.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Grandmère Mimi said...

Rmj, I sometimes wonder why you and MadPriest post fairly often about atheists, even as I think about them only infrequently and even more rarely write about them. However, as I read your words here, I came to see that once you define yourself against a particular concept, which atheists do, then you give credence and gravitas to the very concept against which you establish your identity.

If I make any sense here is another thing altogether...

11:46 AM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Rmj, I sometimes wonder why you and MadPriest post fairly often about atheists, even as I think about them only infrequently and even more rarely write about them.

I think it's a tedious weakness on my part that I should resolve by remaining silent unless I have something else to write about.

In my defense, at least I'm down to doing it because of the news I hear.

But still, it's a burr under my intellectual saddle that indicates I need to refocus my attention. Especially since it's rather clearly becoming a source of identity, at least on the blogging level.....

2:33 PM  
Blogger Grandmère Mimi said...

No, no! Don't stop! You risk losing your identity, and I don't want to be responsible for THAT. ;-)

2:39 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

No, no! Don't stop! You risk losing your identity, and I don't want to be responsible for THAT. ;-)

Oh, I do have better things to be upset about. ;-)

2:44 PM  
Anonymous Jay said...

Thoughtcriminal wrote: what would atheists do as atheists together?

Nothing much, which is why we don't have Atheist Church.

I've been studying the materialist denial of free will, inherent rights, and other basic, founding concepts of liberalism and I, seriously, don't see how materialism is compatible with liberalism.

Nature is what it is, and it's not obliged to support your political views.

Clinical psyciatric practice has established very clearly that damage to the brain results in corresponding damage to the mind (see a book called "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat"). It seems reasonable to extrapolate that total brain death results in total cessation of the mind.

Natural rights, on the other hand, are whatever you can convince the people around you to grant you. Materialism neither grants nor denies them; they result from negotiation between people. If the people around you won't recognize a right, then for all practical purposes you don't have it.

6:47 PM  
Anonymous Jay said...

Thus typed Thoughtcriminal: When I get the time, I'm going to review Hume's skepticism about the reality of causality, which you would think was a keenly important problem for the humeophiles among materialists as it would negate the validity of science.

Postmodernism has come and by now mostly gone, yet science continues to work, indisputably, and so ubiquitously that we scarcely think about these electrical typing boxes and their solid-state-physics based cores that can do more math in a second than any human ever will in a lifetime.

Face it, science gave people a measure of control over nature. Admittedly, this is a bit like giving a box of grenades to a troop of monkeys, but we try to make the best of it.

6:57 PM  
Anonymous Robert said...

Stumbled over your blog via the slacktivist - you do realize that, at least in the US, atheists do not really have a say in whether or not they choose it as their identity, right? Whether they like it or not, belief, or the lack thereof, is a Big Deal in the US, and for many non-believers, it's a reaction to that. As for what atheists discuss at their meetings, it's a matter of record - politics, philosophy, science, culture. You know, the various things that matter to people.

7:44 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Clinical psyciatric practice has established very clearly that damage to the brain results in corresponding damage to the mind (see a book called "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat").

Now if science could just give us a definition of "mind."

After that, it can define "love."

Anyway....

8:17 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

you do realize that, at least in the US, atheists do not really have a say in whether or not they choose it as their identity, right? Whether they like it or not, belief, or the lack thereof, is a Big Deal in the US, and for many non-believers, it's a reaction to that.

Stuff and nonsense. Who is the master, you, or the world? I have spent my entire life in opposition to the majority of religious thought in my community and among my peers, be they seminary professors or lifelong friends or church members. Am I defined by them? Is my theology, my belief, my doctrine, defined solely by what they believe, and of that what I don't believe?

Sounds more like a psychosis, to me; or at least a neurosis. Sounds like small children who have not yet differentiated themselves from their parents and their surroundings. You don't believe in a deity? Fine. Try establishing a belief based on thoughtfulness and attention to what you consider most important in the scriptures, and what you find sound and true, most of which is in direct opposition to what other Christians tell you is sound and true.

It would be easier to be an atheist, and care not a bean what believers believe.

8:21 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

we scarcely think about these electrical typing boxes and their solid-state-physics based cores that can do more math in a second than any human ever will in a lifetime.

I'm not sure how that improves my understanding of "soul" or makes me love my daughter any more.

I mean, it's a grand thing; I guess. But is it worth it, given the costs? (Heaven knows, we're just starting to pay those....)

8:23 PM  
Blogger Grandmère Mimi said...

If I didn't believe in God, I would call myself a non-believer rather than an atheist. If you don't believe in a deity, what is there to be against?

Other folks can believe whatever they like, and, with Rmj, I am not defined by what others do or do not believe.

Admittedly, this is a bit like giving a box of grenades to a troop of monkeys, but we try to make the best of it.

Alas, I fear we have not made the the best of it, and a good many of us do not even try and are oblivious to any need to make the best of our science and technology.

9:10 PM  
Anonymous Nathaniel said...

"Now if science could just give us a definition of "mind."

After that, it can define "love."

Anyway...."

Science has. You just reject the answers given.

The mind is what exists so long as the brain functions. Terri Schivo didn't have a functioning brain beyond automatic functions, so no mind, even with her body still technically alive.

Love is various chemicals in parts of the brain that are experienced as certain feelings by the person with the chemicals, just like all other feelings.

Having seen this answers, I am certain you will denounce them as inadequate. Your writing makes it abundantly clear you aren't interested in answers so much as eruditely sneering at such poor, intellectually benighted atheists such as me. If only I read Aquinas Niebur Tillich Augustine Barth C.S. Lewis The Pope Karl Marx Adam Smith Ayn Rand. Then I'd realize how silly and stupid my rejection of Christianity/Anglicanism/Catholicism/Communism/Capitalism/Objectivism is.

Well, I declare that unless you read the entire works of Issac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and Philip Pullman I can dismiss every single thing you say.

3:12 AM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Well, I declare that unless you read the entire works of Issac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and Philip Pullman I can dismiss every single thing you say.

Ah, but I have. I read Asimov extensively when I was young, I have almost every word Bradbury ever published on my bookshelves, and I'm familiar with Pullman's major works (and some of his minor ones).

Next?

And your definitions are reductio arguments, nothing more. They may satisfy you; they don't satisfy me. Wittgenstein would say we are merely arguing language games. But he'd also say there are experiences of life which are not reducible to materialistic terms. You may deny this all you want.

As you say, I simply reject your "answers." Now the question is, which one of us is wrong. And why. And I don't sneer at "benighted atheists like you." I sneer at ignorance.

Quite a different thing.

7:15 AM  
Blogger Rmj said...

If only I read Aquinas Niebur Tillich Augustine Barth C.S. Lewis The Pope Karl Marx Adam Smith Ayn Rand. Then I'd realize how silly and stupid my rejection of Christianity/Anglicanism/Catholicism/Communism/Capitalism/Objectivism is.

BTW: I'm no fan of Barth (I've read him), or C.S. Lewis (also read him). I'm not Catholic and not familiar with the work of Pope Benedict, I'm not a Marxist nor an ardent Capitalist (although Adam Smith did think of himself as dealing in moral systems, not just in ways to enrich certain persons, which is pretty much what "capitalism" means today), and though I've read Ayn Rand's major novels, I despise her philosophy.

Rejecting any or all of the thinking those writers represent is not silly. The grounds on which you do it, however, might well be.

7:37 AM  
Anonymous Nathaniel said...

"As you say, I simply reject your "answers." Now the question is, which one of us is wrong. And why. "

Great. So next time, don't say that science hasn't defined love or the mind or other such things like you did above. You just reject the answers, because, pardon if I misunderstand, they are reductionist?

Well then, how would you define love or the mind in such a fashion that doesn't involve empirical evidence lest we indulge in reductionist science?

P.S. At least C.S. Lewis we can agree on. I find his reputation of intellectual rigor among Protestant circles alternatively amusing and distressing.

9:44 AM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Great. So next time, don't say that science hasn't defined love or the mind or other such things like you did above. You just reject the answers, because, pardon if I misunderstand, they are reductionist?

If that's the definition of "love," yes: it's reductionist.

Well then, how would you define love or the mind in such a fashion that doesn't involve empirical evidence lest we indulge in reductionist science?

Why is empirical evidence the only standard by which anything worthwhile in human existence can be judged? Is there an empirical standard for justice? For beauty? If so, get the standard for justice to the Supreme Court immediately, and change the entire history of the world's legal systems.

Does defining "love" as a set of biochemical interactions really define anything any more than Hume's definition of the self is the interaction of stimuli as received by the sense organs and sent to the brain? It's not a definition, it's a cop-out. I suppose "idea" is equally a set of neurochemical signals. But having said that, you've said precisely nothing.

You've made empiricism your faith, and whatever doesn't fit within it, simply fails to have validity. Godel would say your formal system has raised questions to which it cannot provide answers, and in the absence of a meta-system that will answer your questions, you simply deny their validity.

Feh. At least the original logical positivists had the intellectual integrity to admit they were wrong, and abandon the project.

9:57 AM  
Anonymous Nathaniel said...

So you decline to answer my question? I'm still waiting with baited breath for you to show me how define things without reference reality.

10:28 AM  
Anonymous Jay said...

Fire can be defined and characterized as a self-sustaining exothermic oxidation, but that doesn't make it hurt any less. Love is a catch-all term for several types of brain state, but that doesn't mean it doesn't feel wonderful. To understand a how a thing works is different from feeling it work on oneself, and both ways of understanding bring insights that the other obscures.

But, if you're still wedded to body/soul dualism, I suggest that you read up on the corpus callosum, and on what happens when it's severed. Simply put, the mind is not indivisible. That's a proven fact.

Here's a link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Split-brain

10:32 AM  
Blogger Rmj said...

So you decline to answer my question? I'm still waiting with baited breath for you to show me how define things without reference reality.

Um...right. That's the best you've got? "I'm right, and you're wrong!" Not even an attempt to give me an empirical definition of "Justice"?

Enough.

But, if you're still wedded to body/soul dualism, I suggest that you read up on the corpus callosum, and on what happens when it's severed. Simply put, the mind is not indivisible. That's a proven fact.

Not wedded to it at all. That's the Cartesian split, not mine. I never professed to be a Platonist, either.

Mind indivisible from brain? Who said it had to be divisible? My question is: what is mind? From whence does it come? Is it illusion, as Hume said? Or is it real? If so, under what explanation of reality? Might as well define "Consciousness." There are as many definitions as there are people to define it.

And BTW, definition is, er, by definition (as a term of rhetoric, IOW), a reduction. It reduces the term to it's narrowest common denominator. Very useful for science. But that doesn't mean science is the full and sole explanation for all of human experience.

As I said, even the logical positivists finally faced that one.

Are we creatures of the material world? Of course we are. Is materialism all you know, and all you need to know? Of course it isn't. I'd have thought that was settled by now, as Habermas himself points out (oops, sorry. That quote is on another thread). Then again, this is, as I've identified before, the dispute between Anglo-American schools of philosophy, and the Continental schools. And it's solely a Western concern (don't imagine for a moment that what you think is universally acknowledged). On the other hand, the people in the pews still haven't caught up with the revolutions in thought the Biblical scholars and theologians and religious thinkers and even philosophers of religion, brought to them in the 19th century.

So it's no surprise we're arguing a school of philosophy which (rare for such things, but there we are) has been moldering in its grave for almost three quarters of a century.

And really, our choices aren't nearly as binary as you two seem to think. Ironic, again, that we are playing the game identified by a religious philosopher and minister, and for which he was most famous in his lifetime.

11:16 AM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Fire can be defined and characterized as a self-sustaining exothermic oxidation, but that doesn't make it hurt any less.

Nor does it explain the allure, or comfort, of a wood fire in a fireplace.

Or the horror of a fire when it consumes your home.

It can be defined that way, but when you have done so, what do you have? Something useful for an engineer, I suppose; and that's not a small thing. But the whole and complete sum of the situation?

I think not. Nor do I (necessarily) take you as arguing it should be. But the problem with grand unified theories of everything, is that they have to leave so much out to accomplish their purpose. Especially (again, as Godel established, as a matter of logic) those questions which the theory cannot answer.

They are usually discarded as irrelevant. Which, under empiricism (see, Hume) or logical positivism, means most of human experience that makes human life meaningful.

Quite a bit to throw away, it seems to me.

11:21 AM  
Anonymous Nathaniel said...

So you challenge me to define justice, chastise me when I didn't immediately hup to, while still declining to answer my question?

Inspiring.

As for justice, it is a concept that has multiple definitions because it is for the most part a word with subjective meaning. One person's justice is another one's tyranny. Thus justice is contingent on how a individual or society views what is fair treatment by society or the law.

Sufficiently long winded for you? Are you going to throw more and more phrases my way, or will you deign to make this a two way answer session?

11:22 AM  
Blogger Rmj said...

One person's justice is another one's tyranny. Thus justice is contingent on how a individual or society views what is fair treatment by society or the law.

Not very scientific, is it?

Unless you don't consider anthropology a science.

I thought all reality was definable by empirical claims. Or were you fudging on that?

And so long as you don't understand the terms of the discussion, I decline to participate in a completely pointless language game. And yes, you are free to consider that a "phrase" if you prefer.

You might as well argue that your claims of empiricism are phrases, by the way. Because to privilege your claims, as you are doing, is to avoid engaging the discussion at hand.

11:34 AM  
Anonymous Jay said...

Every theory is incomplete. If it was complete, it would be too complex for the human mind to understand. Heck, even some of our reductionist, materialist theories are incomprehensible to anyone who hasn't been selected for analytical intelligence and then trained for years. E.g. quantum chromodynamics, general relativity.

Empiricism isn't all there is to life, but it's all we can communicate about with strangers. The subjective aspects of life are, well, in the eye of the beholder.

BTW, the corpus callosum is what connects part of your mind to the rest of your mind. People with severe damage in that region of the brain are actually split into two separate consciousnesses.

11:37 AM  
Anonymous Nathaniel said...

"I thought all reality was definable by empirical claims. Or were you fudging on that?"

I'm not sure whether you're being intentionally dense or simply blind yourself through impregnable smugness. While justice as a noun is subjective, based on shared definitions of justice people can point to various actions and states that indicate whether justice is had in court or elsewhere.

Note that this can only be done by referring to events that happen in reality, that nasty empiricism. Unless you have in mind a Justice System entirely devoid of findings of facts where perhaps court officials receive divine revelation as to what justice is in a particular case?

And given your repeated refusals for answer in kind with your definitions, some people might suspect you don't have any, and are just sitting back to carp at people who do.

11:46 AM  
Anonymous Jay said...

As far as I can tell, from my empirical study of people, the word "justice" means that those who have more than the speaker should share, and that those who have less than the speaker should shut the hell up.

11:53 AM  
Blogger Rmj said...

As far as I can tell, from my empirical study of people, the word "justice" means that those who have more than the speaker should share, and that those who have less than the speaker should shut the hell up.

Well, that will help in a discussion of jurisprudence, I'm sure.

No wonder you have a problem with my "phrases."

And given your repeated refusals for answer in kind with your definitions, some people might suspect you don't have any, and are just sitting back to carp at people who do.

I dare say Socrates and I have that much in common. But so long as you insist I deal in "phrases" while you deal only in "reality," I don't see the common basis for discourse.

11:55 AM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Empiricism isn't all there is to life, but it's all we can communicate about with strangers. The subjective aspects of life are, well, in the eye of the beholder.

Really? I can't communicate "love" to strangers without appealing to a definition of neuro-chemical states? Well, that tosses out all those love poems I've read over the years.

I'm not trying to slice this so thinly it only has one side. I'm actually trying to argue for the validity of different points of view.

Curious how irrational that apparently is.

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Jay said...

Actually I don't have a problem with your phrases. There are a few people talking here.

Really? I can't communicate "love" to strangers without appealing to a definition of neuro-chemical states?

Actually, go ahead. Try to explain romantic love to a child who hasn't experienced puberty. I'll wait.

Not easy, is it? They don't get it. I'll bet you had to resort to empirical descriptions of what happens (weddings, babies, smiles, whatever).

I do get it, but that's because you chose something simple and common as your reference, and I probably have a vastly different set of mental associations with romantic love than you do (plus some obvious, likely common ones). Also, I'm an English-speaking westerner, and you also seem to be, so we have a lot of shared cultural anchors.

Still, I might have misunderstood you. I understood you to mean romantic love, not paternal love or love of donuts.

If we keep trying to communicate subjective ideas to each other, we'll eventually get to know each other, which is to say we'll get a feel for the other's interpretive framework. But that takes time, and we'll talk past each other quite a bit in the meantime.

12:20 PM  
Anonymous Nathaniel said...

"I dare say Socrates and I have that much in common." In the words of Abraham from Romeo and Juliet "You lie."

"But so long as you insist I deal in "phrases" while you deal only in "reality," I don't see the common basis for discourse."

Are you seriously basing your carping on a single word I used? Would it soothe you to know that in the context of the passage that's got you so sore that "word" could have just as easily been used?

I have asked you numerous times for you to tell me how you obtain knowledge without empiricism. Just as many times you have refused and then accursed me of the one denying dialogue. Draw, if you be man.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Grandmère Mimi said...

Draw, if you be man.

The OK Corrale? How did we get here from there? Or should it be there from here? Empirically speaking.

12:41 PM  
Anonymous Jay said...

As an aside, the name "David Hume" conjures for me pleasant memories of a blonde named Jenny whom I used to sit next to when I took Ethical Philosophy for a lark. It does not, at this point, conjure any memories of what he actually wrote.

12:49 PM  
Anonymous Nathaniel said...

Try more Renaissance Italy. Shakespeare.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

I have asked you numerous times for you to tell me how you obtain knowledge without empiricism. Just as many times you have refused and then accursed me of the one denying dialogue.

And you keep responding that I use "phrases," which obviously means you either don't understand my vocabulary, or you discard it.

Either way, empiricism is not a system for obtaining knowledge. Hume concluded that empiricism yields only two valid forms of statement: analytical, and synthetic. The first tells us about conditions ("This rock is heavy"), statements that are self-evident and really not worth much, except as techne (knowledge of how to make things), and add nothing to the subject of the sentence. Synthetic statements add something ("This rock is in my hand"), but who cares? According to Hume, there are only relation of ideas (synthetic statements) and matters of fact (analytic statements).

And neither yield any knowledge beyond what is known empirically, which led Hume to conclude there is a great deal we simply can't discuss (such as the self. And yet his conclusion about the "self" is self-evidently a load of crap. Which does not establish the validity of the soul, or of a mind/body dualism, but then as I said, this discussion is not about either/or.) That was a conclusion that roused Kant to establish Idealism. Because, as Kant pointed out, everything worth knowing is not simply known empirically, or simply a relation of ideas or matters of fact.

But that proof would involve phrases, and I wouldn't want to go there.

As I have said repeatedly, you simply don't know what you're talking about. Until you understand terms like "Empiricism" and "logical positivism" and "Continental philosophy," go away and stop bothering me.

As long as you are going to dismiss such terms as "phrases" (which are implicitly empty, in your estimation), this is not a conversation worth having.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Still, I might have misunderstood you. I understood you to mean romantic love, not paternal love or love of donuts.

Good thing scientists never misunderstand each other, then.

And really? A distinction between "subjective" and "objective," as if one were real, and the other not?

And you accuse me of dualism?

2:17 PM  
Blogger Grandmère Mimi said...

Try more Renaissance Italy. Shakespeare.

Really? Looks like a couple of phrases to me.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Really? Looks like a couple of phrases to me.

Don't poke it. You'll just make it mad.

;-)

2:27 PM  
Anonymous Jay said...

Good thing scientists never misunderstand each other, then.

This can happen, and scientists try to avoid it, which explains their habit of speaking with obnoxious levels of precision.

And really? A distinction between "subjective" and "objective," as if one were real, and the other not?

Did you miss my remark about fire?

The difference arises in communication. I can show you an apple; I can't show you love. This makes communicating about the subjective far more difficult.

That's even before considering that men and women seem to experience romantic love differently.

3:14 PM  
Anonymous Nathaniel said...

Empiricism can also tell you whether that rock in your hand is igneous, made of iron of that you've struck gold.

Is that knowledge you deride ay equally trivial and obvious? How about the doctor who was able to decide based on his tests that my grandfather had a stroke and therefore was able to save his life 2 years before I was born? Is that all trivial empirical fluff?

And please show where I've used the word "phrases" in this post's argument, the previous post, the post before that, or the post before that.

6:37 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

The difference arises in communication. I can show you an apple; I can't show you love. This makes communicating about the subjective far more difficult.

Actually, you can show me an object labelled "apple." Which is one of the issues involved in this kind of discussion: essence v. existence.

Communication involves a great deal more than the distinction between "objective" and "Subjective" (and that's not the defensible distinction you seem to think it is).

Anyway.....

7:00 PM  
Anonymous Jay said...

Mind indivisible from brain? Who said it had to be divisible?

To a Christian, this matters a great deal.

If the mind is indivisible from the body, then resurrection is physical or nothing.

If you hold that believers are physically resurrected, then you hold that the entire nature of physical law, a law that holds as far back in time as the Hubble telescope could see, is about to disappear in a flurry of miracles.

If you abandon the doctrine of life after death, then the fundamental promise of Christianity is false, and the treasures of heaven are less real than Monopoly money.

7:10 PM  
Anonymous Jay said...

More generally, rmj, you seem to think that we atheists believe in science the way you believe in God. I suppose some do.

I believe in science the way you believe in arithmetic. It's a useful set of tools, and it helps to identify inconsistencies, but it doesn't provide a reason for living or promise redemption from our apelike nature.

7:54 PM  
Blogger Grandmère Mimi said...

If the mind is indivisible from the body, then resurrection is physical or nothing.

Yes. Mind you, it's not rocket science; it's faith, and beneath my blog title I say, "Faith is not certainty, so much as it is acting-as-if in great hope."

8:07 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

You really want to argue theology with me?

Your arms aren't long enough, as the saying goes.

And actually, I don't presume atheists believe in anything. But you do. You presume to understand my belief in God. But you don't.

"Believe" is not the construct you imagine it is: it is neither synonymous with "faith" (i.e., "trust") nor accepting what you know to not be true. But here we are, back at Wittgenstein's language games.

I'm not arguing for an either/or, as I said. You won't have to replace "God" with "reason." It would be silly to do so, frankly. But you can't toss around terms like "objective/subjective" without invoking dualism, or at least working on why the former is not privileged over the latter. Objective is not "more real" than subjective, and frankly, it only leaves you with Hume's distinction between analytical and synthetic statements, and nothing more to say about the rest of the world, and life. Except that it's "subjective."

Which really isn't saying anything at all.

As for the resurrection, let us leave it at a miracle. Is it impossible? Perhaps. Is it physical? Even the gospels are unclear on the point. All I can say is, there were plenty of Christians around before the early church dragged neo-Platonism into the picture, so don't presume you have undone the entire basis of Xianity (and it isn't, for me; anyway. The focus of the teachings of the gospels is not, IMHO, either soteriology nor the hereafter.).

I'm quite a bit less interested in where I will, or won't, spend eternity; and quite a bit more interested in how I will live out this life. Which was really the point of the thread above.

But everybody hears what they are conditioned to hear, and getting them to use their ears is a task I've found to be the most difficult of all.

8:11 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Is that knowledge you deride ay equally trivial and obvious? How about the doctor who was able to decide based on his tests that my grandfather had a stroke and therefore was able to save his life 2 years before I was born? Is that all trivial empirical fluff?

It tells me how to stay alive.

It doesn't tell me how to live. Philosophy comes from the Greek philo sophia: lover of wisdom.

The knowledge you describe is mere techne. The Greeks would have considered the answers to those questions as trivial as Hume did; at least in the grand scheme of things.

Thankful as I am that science (which is not necessarily empiricism; study some philosophy, will ya?) can keep me alive (or my father, for that matter), it is not the whole of life simply to continue functioning as an organism.

Empiricism, as Hume found out, can tell me nothing about that.

8:14 PM  
Anonymous Jay said...

First, you seem to have gotten hung up on my use of the terms "subjective" and "objective". I only used these terms in response to a post of Nathaniel's, and is entirely tangential to what I am trying to say. My point was, simply, that science works, and works well enough to convince skeptical observers. This is widely established.

The focus of the teachings of the gospels is not, IMHO, either soteriology nor the hereafter.

Then we don't really disagree. I don't have a problem with the gospels, except for the bits on soteriology and the hereafter.

But everybody hears what they are conditioned to hear, and getting them to use their ears is a task I've found to be the most difficult of all.

Hold still, dude. You seem to have a beam in your eye.

8:29 PM  
Blogger Grandmère Mimi said...

With Rmj, I rarely think about the hereafter, because I'm concerned with how I live my life here and now.

8:36 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

My point was, simply, that science works, and works well enough to convince skeptical observers. This is widely established.

Of what? The validity of Freudian psychology? Of any of the various schools of psychiatry? Of the various schools of anthropology, or of sociology?

I'm not being picky, or trying to make a determinative point, just to raise the question: What do you mean by "science" and what do you mean by "skeptical observer"? And what are you trying to convince them of?

Science is an old Greek word, it means "knowledge." It doesn't mean "privileged position for observing what is valid about the cosmos" (i.e., all things). But that's the way it is commonly used; and misused. We could easily get into how well the "soft" sciences I've mentioned "convince" the "skeptical observer," a discussion we'd never exit.

And really, the best final point you can make is: "I know you are, but what am I?"

Seriously?

10:45 PM  
Anonymous Jay said...

By "science" I mostly mean the physical sciences; the social sciences are more problematic because humans are far less identical than electrons.

As examples of skeptical observers, I'll note the hundreds of millions of Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and other peoples who have considered our physical sciences worthy of study, adoption, and extension, despite the objections of the more conservative members of their cultures.

Generally, when I use a word, I use the word's contemporary English meaning. For example, although we use an old Greek word for it, "science" does not usually mean "wisdom" in modern English.

The focus of the teachings of the gospels is not, IMHO, either soteriology nor the hereafter.

Um... The "Good News" that these books were named for has everything to do with soteriology and the hereafter. Take those things out, and you're pretty much left with a few warnings against greed and general dickishness.

And really, the best final point you can make is: "I know you are, but what am I?"

You seemed a bit snide, so I responded in kind. Let's try to do better from now on.

8:19 AM  
Anonymous Jay said...

I'd like to take another look at this:

The focus of the teachings of the gospels is not, IMHO, either soteriology nor the hereafter.

Most of the time when I'm at work, I'm not thinking about my paycheck and what I can buy with it. Yet. if the paycheck never comes, I don't have a job. I propose that the relationship between soteriology and religion is similar to the relation between pay and employment; a path to salvation (however conceived) is the difference between a religion and a set of suggestions.

Now, the suggestions may be very wise, but without a soteriology to back them up they don't form a religion. They aren't binding (you seem fond enough of epistemology to know what "religion" means in Latin).

So the choices for a Christian, as I see them, are:

-Belief in the resurrection of the body in an immortal form, requiring physical law to be almost completely and permanently rewritten by divine fiat.

-Belief in the survival of the mind/personality/"soul" without the brain. Neuroscience and clinical psychology make this option increasingly untenable.

-Lack of belief in the resurrection, with the attendant loss of concepts like "redemption", "heaven",
"accruing treasure in heaven", "hell", "blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the Earth", &c. At this point, Christianity is so watered down as to be largely indistinguishable from atheism.

Am I missing something? Declare, if you have understanding.

11:46 AM  
Anonymous Jay said...

Whoops, meant etymology. My bad.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Grandmère Mimi said...

So the choices for a Christian, as I see them, are:

Jay, it's a real problem when you set limits on the choices for Christians.

Am I missing something?

Same answer as above.

And I am done, outta here.

12:52 PM  
Anonymous Jay said...

Mimi, you can believe whatever you want. You don't need my permission.

If you come up with something that makes sense, I'd be grateful to you for explaining it to me.

2:34 PM  

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