with apologies to David Hume
Agnostic-in-Principle, background in
Philosophy and Law
This is not
an illustrative dialogue by a single author, but in fact
CORIIHUMIDI: I am a few chapters into The God Delusion, which I have often criticized but never read. It is entertaining and has made me think about what it is that I believe. However, many parts are distressingly thin. Anyone want to take me up on atheism vs. agnosticism round 100?
GRAMMATICUS: Agnosticism in the (incorrect) popular sense of "not sure whether there is a God" or agnosticism in terms of the correct definition of "believes in God, but thinks that God's ways are inherently unknowable and that therefore all religions are false?"
In either case, I guess my opening salvo in any atheism/agnosticism debate is Russell's Teapot. God is just a random thing that people suddenly started saying. So if I randomly start saying "Coriihumidi killed a guy and paid to have it hushed up," and then you say it's not true, should other people say they are "not sure" whether you killed a guy, or say that in the absence of any evidence from me, they will continue to believe that you did not? The answer is B.
CORIIHUMIDI: Lactiscaseique, I have no idea if you are agnostic or atheist, or a believer for that matter. Grammaticus's feelings, however, are well documented.
Grammaticus, I liked that this book helped me clarify some of my thoughts on this subject. Particularly, Dawkins's distinction between a temporary agnostic (we lack full evidence so we can't say for sure) and an agnostic in principle (this is a question for which we can never have evidence to answer it). As I understand the argument, Dawkins says that the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis that can be answered one way or another. We lack conclusive evidence about God's non-existence so we should be temporary agnostics about God, but the burden of proof is on the proponent. So we should be agnostic about God just like we are agnostic about the existence of the flying spaghetti monster or a tiny teapot that revolves around the sun—that is, technically agnostic, but only in the sense that we recognize that it is logically possible though there is no reason to believe it is so. So an agnostic in principle is just punting—probably because they are intellectual cowards.
This is a nice little argument, so long as you gloss over the fact that Dawkins has defined the concept of God downward. In the chapter prior to the agnosticism chapter, Dawkins "clears up" a potential criticism by stating that he is not talking about a bearded man on a cloud, saying that this is a red herring. Nevertheless the next chapter is aimed at a conception of god that is no different from the bearded man in the sky—he just relabels it "Nature's Superintendent."
In fact, the conception of God that nearly every believer has is that God is without limits. God causes things, but it was not caused. A flying spaghetti monster is limited: it is spaghetti and not something else; same for a teapot, etc. But this doesn't work so well when we are talking about a thing without limits. First, when you ask the question "what is your evidence that there is an uncaused cause," the burden of proof does not shift. It is perfectly natural to posit the non-existence of the flying spaghetti monster, but saying there was no thing without limits begs the question of how did the universe start, and if it didn't start... what does that even mean?
Second, the tool we are using to ponder this question, our minds, is obviously limited. So not only is it very difficult to solve these problems, I think it is basically impossible. That is why I am an agnostic in principle, and I think this is the natural conclusion of someone who tries to reason their way through questions about God, and takes those questions seriously—something that Bertrand Russell didn't do and Dawkins doesn't do, as evidenced by the fact that they start off analyzing the question by dismissing it (see: teapots and spaghetti monsters).
In future e-mails I will explain my other problems with the book (so far), such as: defining religion downward to fundamentalism about an anthropomorphic god; making the category mistake of treating religion like any scientific hypothesis; and assuming that everything good that religion has produced would have happened anyway, while assuming that everything bad associated with religion was caused wholly by religious impulses.
One more point about Dawkins’s bad faith: from the introduction it is clear that he is not taking religion seriously and that he hasn't thought very hard about it. This is the most charitable explanation for one of the stupidest things I have ever read in a book written by a smart person. In the introduction Dawkins asks us to imagine a world without religion, in which "the Taliban does not blow up ancient statues." Of course, these ancient statues the Taliban blew up were of the Buddha. So without religion there not only would not have been a Taliban to blow up the statues (though there would have been some residue of the Mujahadeen that resisted the occupation of the atheist Soviets), there would have been no statues to blow up in the first place.
I think the fact that he doesn't think seriously about religion produces a blind spot that allows him to say something so asinine. The only other explanation is that he knows full well what he said and he said it to fool his readers.
I guess I should state for the record what I
think about this. This may or may not necessarily have much
to do with
Dawkins, specifically, but it's just kind of my thoughts on the
am not sure I agree with there being a sharp distinction between
agnostics-in-principle and temporary agnostics. Or maybe I am
Coriihumidi’s definitions. But without further ado:
Basically I think
agnostics-in-principle make (or should make) a conceptual
argument that has bearing on practical questions of
inference-to-the-best-explanation about the existence of god.
are sort of asking the same question in different ways. I
think all the
understandings of religion that demote religion to belief in a Man on a
are straw men. Charitable readings of religion that aren't
arguments make a point much like Coriihumidi is making. I
been exposed to this more sophisticated argument from religion a lot
mom and my stepdad, who is an early Christian Bible scholar and has
published a bunch.
A further iteration of this argument is to say,
"Okay, but what if all
your smartypants semantic mumbo-jumbo about the meaninglessness of
Objects and God-as-a-concept is actually all just wrong, and
existing God is
capable of suddenly 'drawing back the veil of reality' and revealing
and reality-in-itself?" This interlocutor is basically
"Yeah, but what if the terms of this whole discussion are just
Lactiscaseique, Dawkins's position on
the "religion is beautiful like a poem" argument is that he thinks
all world religions should be studied, since they are important to
understanding the development of civilization, as long as
they are not factually true—i.e., we treat the Bible and the
from the Iliad and the Epic of
them, but as literature. The text of Hamlet
is basically the most important thing in the world to me,
but I realize it
didn't really happen, and that whether it really happened is
LACTISCASEIQUE: A quibble, contra Grammaticus: most Buddhists do not believe Siddhartha Buddha was divine. They just like the stuff he wrote/said. In fact his not being divine is the whole point of Buddhism (depending on which sect you ask). The truths that Siddhartha realized were not divine in origin; they were simply profound facts about the human experience that he realized from sitting under a tree and thinking.
Okay, so much the better for my point.
I was responding to Coriihumidi, who said that statues of Siddhartha
would not exist without religion.
Well, the sects vary in interpretation, some
to the point that they are barely groupable under the same heading as
"Buddhism." I don't know enough about Buddhism to be able to
claim any meaningful understanding of the metaphysics of various sects,
but the Four Noble Truths which underlie
almost all Buddhism are certainly
non-metaphysical in nature and carry no metaphysical
import—they just talk
about the psychology of suffering and its origin.
CORIIHUMIDI: Essentially, I think you are both too willing to follow Dawkins's straw-man religion. I agree that people don't talk about god as “the uncaused cause” colloquially—I just like that description. What I like about thinking of god as an uncaused cause is that it is an implication of being limitless—and all believers in God think that it is limitless; this is the essence of God. What you are talking about—a celestial being with thoughts and desires and superpowers—is the Man on the Cloud. Fundamentalists believe in this—and I recognize that it is really fundamentalists that you are after. However, fundamentalism is a subset of religion.
As for the Buddha statues and Buddha being an actual person, I don't see the relevance. Jesus was a real person also; that doesn't make statues of Jesus non-religious. Buddhism is a religion and these statutes were of religious origin. I realize that Dawkins states—not argues—that Buddhism is not a religion but I see no reason to take that statement seriously.
Coriihumidi, your point was that there would
not have been statues of Buddha
to begin with
if it hadn't been for religion. My point was, yes there could
have been statues of Buddha
(like Jesus) he was a real person who could (and
should) simply have been revered as a philosopher, like Martin
CORIIHUMIDI: On Buddha statues: I understand that it is logically possible that giant statues of the Buddha could have been cut into those cliffs for non-religious purposes; it is also logically possible that the Taliban could have formed as a secular group and blown up those statues anyway as a symbol of their disagreement with that philosophy. But there is no reason to think any of this would have happened absent religious belief, so none of this is relevant. Do you actually think Dawkins was thinking "someone may have carved those statues anyway?" Even so, this is a case where the burden is in fact on the proponent because there is no reason to think this alternate history would have happened.
Re Lactiscaseique's Witgenstein/Kant stuff: the point of the private language stuff was not to say that these are questions that are not worth considering. The point was to show that these questions could not be answered by philosophy. I think this is an argument for the usefulness of religion. Dawkins seems to say that we should chuck religion for a combination of natural science and moral philosophy. However, philosophy is reasoning about concepts, but we can't really get a concept of the universe in the way religious people want to talk about the universe, so we need another approach.
Re the Teapot argument: the point of that argument is to show that agnosticism is hollow and unprincipled (at least that is what Dawkins used it for). I said that this is not true unless you subscribe to a literalist Man on the Cloud conception of God. This isn't a conception I believe in, nor do lots of people. The fact that a lot of people do think of god as a super-powerful person is irrelevant. The Teapot argument still fails.
None of us has any evidence of how many people actually believe that god is a conscious agent. Fundamentalist Christians do, and Catholics think that the interventionist God is a facet of limitless being (that is what the trinity is actually about). Even if it is a minority, a major thread in American Protestantism is that God is limitless and fundamentally incomprehensible.
As for "You might as well worship gravity," first of all, gravity isn't limitless. Second, I think preferences, reactions, desires and volition are things that minds do. Minds are something caused by brains, and brains are the limited tools we have to understand the universe. If there is a God, I think it is beyond preferences. As for worship, people do that for different reasons. If you believe in an impersonal God then most of what goes on in church has symbolic importance. We can't understand God, but we can understand these stories that give us some insight into our relationship with the universe. It is analogous to a quantum physicist using an equation to describe a facet of the universe that he can't actually comprehend.
This is getting into another area (i.e., what is the point of religion) so I will pause here to let you concede that the Teapot argument isn't worth shit outside of the snake church.
Coriihumidi, you are trying to dismiss my
about the big picture by dividing them. Russell's Teapot is
NOT only useful versus fundies. The point of the Teapot is
someone proposes something out of the blue that there is no evidence
correct response is to not believe it at all rather than to believe it
little. And this is applicable to any version of "God" you
to propose, not just to an anthropomorphic Jehovah who demands child
Re statues, I will trust you two to fight it
out sufficiently on this. I think counterfactuals are almost
stupid and Dawkins deploying one is probably stupid too.
“The point of the private language stuff was not to say that these are questions that are not worth considering. The point was to show that these questions could not be answered by philosophy. I think this is an argument for the usefulness of religion. Dawkins seems to say that we should chuck religion for a combination of natural science and moral philosophy. However, philosophy is reasoning about concepts, but we can't really get a concept of the universe in the way religious people want to talk about the universe, so we a need another approach.”
my first response is, I either didn't make myself
clear or you have not understood what I meant. So forgive me
rehashes or is tedious:
Re Buddha Statues, I don't want to go in
circles about this forever, but I think Grammaticus is just being
As a matter of fact, these statues were created for religious
Absent the religious inspiration there is no reason to think they would
been built. Those statues were a good thing produced by
Dawkins’s description of their destruction highlights a bad
religious inspiration and glosses over a good thing that was inspired
religion. It is a rhetorical turn designed to make someone
are hearing an anecdote that leads to the conclusion that religion
society, when the actual facts it is describing are much more complex
not in fact lead to that conclusion. I think Dawkins did it
and that you are bending over backwards to excuse it.
Having read every book by Dawkins, I have to
say that while I find him overall massively correct, I do respectfully
with his assessment (in books like The
Blind Watchmaker) that it makes no sense to ask "Why is there
something instead of nothing?" Indeed, I think it is central
"Why is there the phenomenon of existence, from moment to
Coriihumidi, my problem with your
last e-mail comes by virtue of its being so excellent. I.e.,
have successfully argued away the idea of God as a consciousness that
commerce with ethics, I must continue to ask why anyone should bother
to whatever is leftover as "God." You admit towards
end that religion is primarily concerned with ethics and (with the
fundamentalism) only posits explanations of natural phenomena as a sort
warm-up before getting to the ethics part (concerned with "what should
do" not "what is"). So taking these two points together,
you have shown that religion as it has always existed (indeed the only
would/could ever even refer to as religion) inherently has absolutely
to do with God. That, in other words, as someone once said of music
"dancing about architecture."
Re "Uncaused Causes" and infinite
regression issues in cosmology/science, don't count science out just
Firstly, the best available theories suggest that a universe like ours
actually improbable, but was in fact a statistical
inevitability. I can
explain more if you like.
Put another way, spacetime seems to be
able to run "forwards" and
"backwards" equally. Physicists have operationally defined
"time" to be measured by the increase in entropy, but they are all
100% aware that this is an operational definition that is merely useful
solving equations that involve a time component. Nobody
thinks there is
some kind of "energy" or "force" that permeates all reality
which constitutes "Existential" or "Absolute" time.
"Second, the other approach I was talking about was not a separate method of getting concepts (and I think preconceptual reasoning is self contradictory). The approach is centered on the question, "what should we do," rather then "what is." I realize that religion makes a lot of "what is" statements, but they are all in service of "what should we do" conclusions."
So, you are offering actions as being the only way a person could metaphorically describe something they saw in a noumenous perception? E.g., "I saw God's limitlessness, and I am now inspired to do X, Y, and Z by the sight?" Is that right?
Lactiscaseique, I think you are being a
little unfair to Coriihumidi. Much of what you said seemed
someone whose position is "Science is or might be wrong," and I don't
read Coriihumidi as anywhere having said that science was actually wrong
any specific thing—just that it may be inherently limited to
such a point as
makes it not inherently ridiculous to refrain
from rejecting a
Clearly Coriihumidi is not saying that
science is factually wrong on a large scale. However I think
he and I
both agree that science might be wrong.
We can easily conceive of
how human concepts may have limits (which in fact this whole discussion
had about the limits of concepts illustrates).
CORIIHUMIDI: I think Lactiscaseique is misrepresenting what I am saying and that Grammaticus is shifting the terms of the debate to avoid what I am saying.
Lactiscaseique, you are trotting out all the anti-postmoderns to counter a position I don't ascribe to. I never said science might be wrong, with the implication that Catholic cosmology (or something) is right. We agree that foundational knowledge is a pipe dream. We also agree that there is no reason to think that science is wrong.
You then go a step further and say that we have reason to think that science can eventually have a complete understanding of the universe that encompasses all that exists. I think this positivism is unjustified. You dismiss my skepticism based on two premises.
First, "I officially take no position on whether there are things beyond our concepts; I think the question is incomprehensible." This premise is clearly wrong. We already have a bunch of examples of things that we can't conceive of: infinity, 10-dimensional space, events without causation. We can poke around the edges of what we are capable of understanding by assigning these things variables and plugging them into equations, but this is different from actually grasping them. The theoretical physics you are talking about do exactly this: what they provide is a model that maps on to reality, but the further up abstraction they go (and math is our highest form of abstraction), the more we should keep in mind that our model is an attempt at description—not the real thing.
Second, "Conversely, we have no reasons to think there are things beyond our concepts, and in fact have reasons to think such things might make no sense." Sure we do, and no we don't. Why should we think that human brains aided by instruments and computers (which we know are limited) are capable of a limitless understanding, especially because we know there are things we can't understand?
I agree that the argument "skepticism, therefore not natural science" is "cheap"—but I never made that claim. Further it is just as cheap to say that any discussion of skepticism's implications is meaningless (i.e., "shut up," you explain).
Put another way, the statement "It makes no sense to talk about things that are beyond reason" only implies that fanciful theories of what goes on beyond our concepts are fairy tales. That is very different from saying that everything that exists is within our grasp to comprehend and that to say otherwise is stupid.
Grammaticus, you have an interesting point about me dividing ethics from theism; I need to think more on that. In the meantime, you are still not addressing my main point. Instead, you keep asking me to justify ideas I obviously don't agree with, and refuse to respond to my points head on. The basic structure of your arguments have been:
1) I am using an idiosyncratic conception of God, so there is no reason to engage with it, or even recognize the thing I am talking about as God.
You are factually incorrect that 99.9% of people don't share this concept of God. In fact, I bet that nearly 100% of believers agree with the concept that God is infinite. In every Christian service I have been to, I have heard exactly that from the altar. It is true that many religious people believe other things about God that I do not (the specifics of various dogma). Ask them about those things.
2) What God actually means is the Man on the Cloud, which is a ridiculous thing to believe in.
For the last couple thousand years, virtually no religious people have had a conception of God as being less than infinite. For the Teapot argument to work, your definition of God has to be "God is powerful but less than infinite." As I explained in previous emails, the absence of some cause without a cause is just as paradoxical as its presence.
You keep restating the Teapot argument as if I don't understand it. However, ghosts, vampires, Bigfoot, Atlantis, witches, God the Warm Puppy, and whatever other Teapot Replacement you have in mind are dissimilar from the nearly universal understanding of what God is. Bigfoot is limited. He is a big forest ape, not a desert ape and not a forest lizard. As such, Bigfoot is not infinite. God—as it is universally understood—is infinite.
For the same reason, your “God's God” infinite regress makes no sense. By definition an uncaused cause has no cause. BTW, Dawkins briefly talks about an uncaused cause. His counterargument, in its entirety, is "sometimes infinite regresses have a stopping point." ("Shut up," he explains.)
You and Dawkins both import probability talk to characterize an agnostic’s viewpoint in a way that just distorts it. An agnostic does not think that there is a 50% chance God exists and 50% chance it doesn't. An agnostic thinks that in principle we can't know. As neatly as I can put it, infinity is something we know is there, but it is too big for us to actually conceptualize. God is infinite, and as such we can't form a concept of it. If we can't conceptualize it, we can't reason about it. Therefore, we can't know if God exists.
I think that that both the statement "God 100% exists" and the statement "God 100% does not exist" are the equivalent of saying that "the infinite is perfect." They are grammatically correct sentences that don't mean anything.
As for "God 100% does not exist," of
course you are right that as a point of honor science does not admit of
certainty. Even Dawkins says that on a scale of 1-7 where 7
"100% certain that God does not exist" he is a 6. In other
words, he is as sure that there is no God as he is that a
hydrogen atom has one proton and one electron, that the flowers are
not paper flowers souped up by a wizard, etc.
LACTISCASEIQUE: When Grammaticus says this:
"We can construct the sentence "Before the Big Bang, there was a singularity with infinite mass and infinite density," as an answer to the question "What was up with the thing that existed before the Big Bang?" Whether we can successfully meditate on (which seems like an emotional state way more subjective than the math or the language) what infinite density is "like" is immaterial—we can still answer the question."
...he is saying something physicists think is totally wrong.
CORIIHUMIDI: Grammaticus, you say:
"My problem with what you are doing is that you are starting with 'theists agree that God is infinite' and then proceeding from there to logical implications of limitlessness that you are smart enough to figure out but they are not, and then acting like they all also believe the logical implications too, when they don't."
But this is not at all what I am doing. I am defending my own position. You are just wishing I were defending a much weaker position so you could trot out your collection of anti-theist arguments.
I am a motherfucking agnostic. AGNOSTIC! Jesus fucking christ.
Lactiscaseique, sorry that my reading on the
pre-Bang universe is not up to date, and thanks for the correction, but
case that example was just obiter dicta. My point
speak a sentence that is the answer to a complex question even
contemplating what the words mean blows our minds") stands.
My answer to your question is that I refer to
the supreme being as God because that is the common conception of god
think is most interesting. It is stripped down and entails
little or no
dogma, but it is the one I think is most relevant. I
definition with at least the entire
The notion of god as the supreme being is not unique to me nor particularly rare. Just browsing this Wikipedia entry it comes up about a dozen times, and it is not like Wikipedia is some elite publication. I can think of about two dozen people I know who go to various churches and synagogues and say they think God is the supreme being but that beyond that we can't say much. I think Lactiscaseique described his mom and stepdad as believing that a few e-mails ago.
You insist that the only thing "those people" believe in is an anthropomorphic deity. If that is all you are interested in discussing, fine, I agree that there is no reason to believe in it and I am convinced by the five or six versions of the Teapot argument you have used. If you won't acknowledge my conception of god as valid, maybe we are done here.
Grammaticus’s outdated big bang stuff, no harm no foul.
I simply seized on that as
a handy example of
something Coriihumidi and I can quibble about if we want
to—namely that certain
specific examples of the limits of our concepts are less problematic
thinks, and when we look carefully at things like infinity,
spaces, and causality infinite-regression problems, these "problems"
pretty often turn out to be pseudo-problems.
am pretty much solidly with Coriihumidi on the
considerations I've been talking about.
“I never said science might be wrong, with the implication that Catholic cosmology (or something) is right. We agree that foundational knowledge is a pipe dream. We also agree that there is no reason to think that science is wrong. […] You then go a step further and say that we have reason to think that science can eventually have a complete understanding of the universe that encompasses all that exists. I think this positivism is unjustified.”
most of the disagreements I might have had.
Once you accept that foundational knowledge is a non-starter and that
is the best method we have available of arriving at
beliefs about the world, you have basically rejected the Man on the
all its iterations, which I do. Further, I also agree with
(perhaps pro forma as Grammaticus’s
"point of honor," perhaps
not) that there may be things in existence, somehow, that we literally
form any concept of at all, and that God may be lurking somewhere among
things. I guess that makes me an agnostic-in-principle.
However, I think Grammaticus is
factually correct that most of the
people of the world have a concept of God that is partly the Man on the
and partly this limitless transconceptual God that Coriihumidi admits
theoretically exist. God is a supreme being with limitless
limitless knowledge, limitless benevolence, and is just generally
limitless. This is definitely the God I was supposed to be
in Sunday school when I was growing up. God was both
limitless and deeply
interested in humanity and our fate, so much so that he went out of his
save us, etc. This
is the God my parents
insist they believe in, as far as I can tell. I run these
arguments we've been on about since the start of this thread and the
is, "God is not limited by your logic, either." So much for
consistency, I guess. Their God is a Limitless Man on the
Cloud. I think such
a God is chimerical. It
incorporates stuff I think is possible ("limitlessness,"
"transconceptuality") with stuff that is empirical and extremely,
extremely implausible Man-on-the-Cloud stuff (interested in the fate
CORIIHUMIDI: I think the other point you two are making is there is no reason to think that there is a limit to what we are able to have a concept of. I think that this is self-evidently false. We know there are things out there that we can't conceive of. Because we know they are there we can give them a name, but that does not mean it has any meaning for us other than a variable. When Lactiscaseique says the universe is finite, this entails that there is something beyond it. The universe equals everything that is. What does that mean? I have no idea, nor does anyone. Lactiscaseique also was talking about a part of space where time doesn't occur and there is no causation. We might be able to write a formula about that, but we have no concept of it. If we visited that corner of the universe (I know that is impossible, but this is a thought experiment) nothing that came in through our sensory organs would produce any concepts because they evolved to deal with our corner of the universe.
As for Grammaticus's point that there are smarter and dumber people, I say that all these people are using a brain, which is limited. Why should I suppose that a tool that evolved to help us find food and fuck should be capable of actually understanding 10-dimensional space?
Finally, I am calling bullshit right now on you two calling your arguments "natural" and mine positing something "supernatural." All natural means is "part of nature." If god exists, it is a natural god (because, after all, it exists). All three of us agree that the best method we have for understanding nature is science. To say that god is beyond science is not to say it is supernatural; it is just saying it is beyond our ability to understand it.
Even if you equate “natural” with what is described by science, you two's optimistic claims about the perfectability of human knowledge are no more or less naturalistic than my agnosticism. To say that we are capable of obtaining a complete understanding of our universe is not a statement supported by observable evidence that can be falsified by running an experiment. That is, it is not a scientific statement. So your positivism is every bit as non-naturalistic as my belief that an infinite being cannot be shown to exist or not in principle. You support your belief with induction (science is doing great so far). I support my belief with a deductive argument about the nature of the concept of God. Neither of these gets to enjoy any special claim to our scientific patrimony.
Drawing the distinction between the empirical Man on a Cloud and analyzing the concept of infinity makes the point I have been trying to make for a while in a much more crisp way. As for "I think he should acknowledge that there is a gulf between him and a lot of religious folks on what role God plays in cosmology," I absolutely acknowledge that there are huge numbers of dogmatic literalists. Fundamentalist Christians, Conservative Catholics, Jews and Muslims, to name a few. These are a lot of religious people.
But they are not all religious people. Have you guys seriously never heard of a religious person saying he interprets the Bible figuratively? [Our religion professor at college] was one of these people. In Sunday school I was taught Bible stories without the caveat that they were stories, but that caveat came pretty quick once I graduated on to the regular services. Many churches have services in which the pastor takes up a bunch of time saying stuff like "Noah actually and literally had two of each kind of animal on his boat," but I guarantee there is a church within walking distance of each of you where this story is treated wholly figuratively.
I will happily concede that theists and agnostics with a pared-down concept of god like mine are in the minority. They are not, however, de minimus, which is what Grammaticus wants me to concede. And I think Lactiscaseique's parents are right that a limitless being is not constrained by logic, but we are arguing about stuff so it is just a non-starter to go down this road.
A couple things in response:
our ability to come up with new
concepts is pretty impressive in its scope, but the
argument you are making is rock-solid and almost impossible to
think that science will continue to be very successful in coming up
concepts to explain the problems it encounters when the concepts of
theory is in the lead develop problems. But that doesn't
your main argument.
CORIIHUMIDI: I haven't gotten into what I think the value of religious institutions is because I don't want to move off Teapot stuff until we have had it out. Lactiscaseique says "I have to admit that what they say is possible conceptually (which is different from saying it's possible empirically), but there is little reason to believe that they are right," and I think this is also what Grammaticus’s position is. I think that when we are talking about God we are talking about a label for a thing we can't actually conceive of (the more I think about it, the more I like the Private Object analogy). A precondition to say X is more or less likely, or that I do or do not have reason to believe in X is that you have some concept of what X is. When X is God I think that is impossible in principle.
I think I see what you're saying but am not
fully sure. I may disagree with you, but before I do I want
to make sure
I'm understanding you. Is this a fair way of rephrasing what
saying: You are saying that, basically, we cannot fully conceptualize
infinity is, but we are able to imperfectly
conceptualize it. This
is what you mean when you say that you have “some concept of what
Finally, you are saying that because the best we could ever possibly do is imperfectly conceptualize an infinite being, then although such a being may exist, we cannot really recognize it or talk about it if it does exist. Therefore, one cannot really form an opinion either way about whether it exists, since we are too limited to understand a question that involves an infinite being. Accurate, Y/N?
Lactiscaseique, a few e-mails ago you
suggested that to be an atheist you have to believe that science
explain everything. This is not true, because God vs. Science
is not a
zero-sum game (and atheists are not ipso facto 100%
we do tend to be, but it is not a
part of the definition—technically someone could
disbelieve in God but
believe in vampires or in astrology or in dreams that predict the
future). The warrant underpinning your statement was "If
cannot explain everything, therefore God exists," which is
fucked up. There can be things science can't explain without
being "God." Especially since, as I pointed out already, per
definition of God we are talking exclusively about what did/didn't
one specific event in the past (Coriihumidi's questions are all "what
started the universe" and nothing about what "God" is doing currently—which
is another good question). So
you could just as easily say "Science cannot tell us who wrote Beowulf; therefore God exists."
You keep saying that my arguments are powerless against everyone but "fundamentalists" or "dogmatic literalists." Bullshit. Even people who interpret scripture very figuratively (or people who are spiritual but don't really hold to scripture at all) would answer "yes" to the general question "Is God 'good'?" In your definition, God is mutually exclusive to concepts of good/evil, has no desires or agency, and (I presume) is not even self-aware, since self-awareness is a "function of a brain" just like a host of other stuff you have conceded. So there goes the term “supreme being,” since to call something a "being" rather than a "force" at least some of that stuff is necessary—even an earthworm or bacterium or virus that is not really "thinking" still behaves instinctually based on the fact that it is an organic thigamajig trying to perpetuate itself, whereas gravity is not.
If you ask all of these people you keep claiming are in your corner "If there is some force that started the universe and that’s it, and it is not self-aware, has no desires/preferences, cannot even make choices, has absolutely nothing to do with morality and is utterly indifferent to everything that happens, should we call it God?" they would say no (again, except for a few Unitarians). In fact they would find the idea insulting. They might say yes if they realized it was their only choice and the only other thing is to admit there is no God, solely so as not to give atheists the satisfaction, but this is not people seriously defining "God;" it is just sour grapes.
The entire historical process of this conversation is, religion defines God as A, science disproves A, religion goes Just kidding God is B, science disproves B, religion goes Just kidding God is C, science disproves C, etc., etc. So if we are now at "God is Z" and you have managed to articulate a definition that is impossible to disprove, then congratulations but what is the point? Don't say this is just the Teapot again—I guess it is Teapotesque, but that is because you are doing a form of God-of-the-Gaps and any response to a form of "God of the Gaps" has to be Teapotesque. I'm sorry that you are "sick of" Teapotesque responses, but then maybe you should stop making claims that demand them.
I am reminded of when in college you would be prevailed upon to explain philosophy tracts to people who had not done the reading, in exchange for beer. You would explain it, they would say "that's too hard, give me the short version," you would give them the short version, they would say "dumb it down again," you would do so, they would ask for it to be stripped down even more, and you would finally have to say "okay, but keep in mind at this point it's wrong."
My point is that with your “limitless force” definition you have passed the border of "Okay, but keep in mind at this point it's not God." And not just according to me, but according to the vast majority of the people who use the term God (not just fundies, because it is not like only fundies think God has desires/morality), in terms of their main reason for using it—which is morality, not limitlessness. If you ask them "limitlessness means you can't be self-aware or have preferences, so which is God, limitless or self-aware?" they would say self-aware. Actually, they would just say "God can do anything, so ha ha ha," but if you could somehow force them to answer they would say self-aware—which is another thing: an essential part of all these other people's definition is "God can do whatever it wants," and you are saying that "God" does not want anything and cannot even "do" anything in the sense of "choose to."
What you are positing is "there is some limitless force that created the universe." Okay. That is a physics hypothesis, not a theological one. It could be true just like some version of M-theory could be true. But when you say "created the universe," you are not saying it chose to create the universe. You are saying by virtue of its existence it governs certain occurrences in certain ways (which I am assuming are—in theory if not practice—predictable). So what you are positing is a force or a process, like electromagnetism or radioactive decay. I.e., if we knew enough we could develop an equation about it, but we don't know enough, and it may be inherently impossible for us to ever know enough. That is all fine with me. I am not signing off on Lactiscaseique's (former?) degree of scientific positivism that we have to eventually be able to. My point (explained here quite clearly so please don’t just tell me again that it is only useful against Pat Robertson and Kirk Cameron) is that if this is just an (in theory) predictable force (or even if it is chaotic, it still has no agency), even a really really really big and cool one, there is no reason to call it "God" rather than some science name, unless you just want to call something "God" for the sake of calling something "God," just so atheists can't say they won.
CORIIHUMIDI: I am saying we can not conceptualize an infinite being. I don't really know what the difference is between an imperfect conceptualization and an incorrect conceptualization. I would point out that an infinite number is a different concept from an infinite being. The former is more finite than the latter.
Grammaticus, you are conflating two things I said. My argument for agnosticism is not "something had to create the universe." My argument for agnosticism-in-principle is this: 1) If God exists it is a limitless being, 2) Our minds are finite, 3) Therefore, if god exists it is beyond our capacity to conceive of it.
The stuff about "god may have created the universe" is an illustration of why the Teapot argument does not work against an agnostic that has a (admittedly) minimal conception of what God is, i.e., either there was an uncaused cause (theist position), or there wasn't (atheist position). Nether of these things makes any sense because we can't form a concept of the subject or either sentence. At this point we are (I believe) beyond the reach of our conceptual capacity so we can't (literally can't) say anything about it.
Am I just making up a weird definition to fuck with you? First, I think, in your own pugnacious way, you concede that the Teapot argument does not work against my conception of God. Rather your argument is that the definition of God I am using is not valid. Please confirm that this is so. Second, you have admitted that my definition of God is not completely idiosyncratic since you have allowed that "a few Unitarians" share it. So the number of people who share it is at least enough that it counts as a genuine belief that people have and not my ad hoc redefinition employed to piss you off. Beyond that, the number of people who share it is irrelevant.
That said, the minimalist conception of God is way more prevalent than you suggest. There is an elite/academic and a popular version of it. There have been about a dozen thick books written about this conception since the middle ages. Aquinas and Maimonides both wrote a few. Descartes talked about a minimalist God, as did Bishop Berkeley. In many cases they went on to talk about other things they believed about God, but usually these were believed on faith alone.
In a more popular sense, there are a lot of people who say they believe in God, but that it is so far beyond us there is not anything more we can say about it. They understand stories in the Bible figuratively, so while talking about God as a person is not a literal description of the truth, it helps them to think about God. I suspect that you don't hang out with a lot of progressive people who go to church, but they exist and many of them believe this. Thus all your thought experiments about how "these people" will react are unconvincing. When you say “these people” you are imagining a Long Island Catholic and George Bush. I am imagining my old boss.
Whether they have worked out all the logical implications of limitlessness is not the point. And btw, I did not say that it is impossible for a limitless being to have agency; I said that the words you use to describe a person don't apply to something that is limitless. Something that is limitless both is and is not capable of agency—but this gets us to angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin stuff so I don't want to get into it. Like I have said, if god exists it is limitless so we can't conceive of it, period.
It may be
that in the past there
was consensus that God was at a
minimum both limitless and an agent of some kind. But
The 10-dimensional space Lactiscaseique was talking about
would have been
Re a minimalist conception of God and morality: if God is not an astral judge and lawgiver, this does not entail that it has nothing to do with morality. The cafeteria Catholics I know would say something like “God created the universe, and there is such a thing as right and wrong in it, so even if we can’t say much about God, we can say something about his creation.”
Agnostics don't believe or not believe one way or the other. However I think there are ethical implications to the possibility of God’s existence. In our day-to-day life we experience ourselves as the center of the universe because, of course, everything we are directly aware of is happening to us. The idea of a limitless force draws a contrast between us and it. This begins us thinking about what is right and wrong without reference to ourselves. I realize that this process is compatible with being an atheist. But a traditional way people do this stuff is in religious services—and by and large we are better off for it, I think.
Re “God of the Gaps,” as I understand it God in the Gaps is arguing that whenever science doesn't explain something God does explain it (until science catches up). That is not what I am doing. You will note that I don't try to say God explains anything—as I have said a dozen times now, if god is beyond our concepts we can't say anything about it. I am not sticking God in the gaps between things that science has settled. I am saying that I think there are things we can't conceive of. If we can't even form a conception of something, we can't run an experiment about it, or even meaningfully think about it. So I am not saying that God is in the gaps; I am saying that god (if it exists) is beyond what we can rationally know (science being one of the tools we use to get rational knowledge). I could be wrong that rational thought is limited, but I am pretty confident about this one.
GRAMMATICUS: Re "either there was an uncaused cause (theist position), or there wasn't (atheist position)." Wrong. An atheist can easily say "there was an uncaused cause, but it was not God." Saying that any uncaused cause by definition equals God is stacking the deck, and is totally a God-of-the-Gaps argument, which you keep saying you are not doing.
"the number of people who share [my definition] is at least enough that it counts as a genuine belief that people have and not my ad hoc redefinition employed to piss you off."
It is a genuine belief, but it is motivated by people's desire to apply the term "God" to something. No-one who defines God this way is indifferent to whether there is a thing that gets called God—they want there to be one (as you admitted re yourself by saying "I think this is a good thing" about church attendance). No-one who was impartial would choose to apply the term "God" to the thing you are positing. That is why my "God of the Gaps" accusation is relevant—even though you are not using your "God" to explain something, you are retreating not with the motivation of being probably right about the explanation for the universe, but with the motivation that there gets to be a thing we call "God."
"In a more popular sense there are a lot of people who say they believe in God, but that it is so far beyond us there is not anything more we can say about it. They understand stories in the Bible figuratively, so while talking about God as a person is not a literal description of the truth, it helps them to think about God. I suspect that you don't hang out with a lot of progressive people who go to church, but they exist and many of them believe this."
I assume you are conceding, as per your definition of "God," that it is inherently random bullshit that these people read the Bible as opposed to Shakespeare, Moby-Dick, Harry Potter, etc. I guess you will point out that as "progressives" many of them read these things too, but they are still privileging the Bible. I guess you will say it is a work of literature about the literary character of "God," but I (and Dawkins) have already admitted that it is valid as great literature. At this point we are talking about whether religion is a social good and not about whether God exists.
"I did not say that it is impossible for a limitless being to have agency; I said that the words you use to describe a person don't apply to something that is limitless."
You said that it is impossible for your "God" to have preferences since they are features of a material brain. That makes it impossible for this thing to "choose" to do something unless it is flipping a cosmic coin or something.
"If we say a minimalist idea of God is no longer meeting the definition of God, why say that Hawking, Coltrane and Pollock are a physicist, a musician and a painter? Why are ideas about God, alone among human ideas, etched in stone and can never change?"
We are defining "physicist," "musician," and "painter" by specific actions that a being we have sensory evidence of is definitely performing (or, more accurately, by what they receive money for doing, since your examples are all professionals—there can be an amateur "musician" who sucks and we would have to argue about whether to apply the term, but whatever). In the case of "God," there has never been any evidence and the term was invented to explain things that we can now explain in other ways, but the term has stuck around just because people like it.
"The cafeteria Catholics I know would say something like ‘God created the universe, and there is such a thing as right and wrong in it, so even if we can’t say much about God, we can say something about his creation.’"
This is pretty cheap. Right and wrong aren't features of the universe; they are features solely of human existence. It is neither right nor wrong when a star goes nova or when a lion eats an antelope. And your "God" did not sculpt Adam from 100 pounds of clay; it just caused there to be such a thing as spacetime or something. Then a thousand trillion other things happened and eventually there were—totally by accident—people. I assume you are conceding that in the universe of your minimalist "God" it is 100% a random accident that there is such a thing as people (or life at all)? If you are not, then your definition is suddenly very different.
"I think there are ethical implications to the possibility of God’s existence. In our day-to-day life we experience ourselves as the center of the universe because, of course, everything we are directly aware of is happening to us. The idea of a limitless force draws a contrast between us and it. This begins us thinking about what is right and wrong without reference to ourselves."
It is true that contemplating the fictional character "God" can effect this in humans, as can contemplating the fictional characters King Lear, Captain Ahab, and Superman. These are not "ethical implications to the possibility of God's existence"—they are ethical results of the fact that people believe in it. Whether the statement "God exists" is true is 100% independent of this stuff. There are other spiritual traditions that effect the same stuff by having people contemplate nothingness or their own belly buttons. The ability to make people go into a trance and feel motivated to be nice when they get out of it hardly has an exact correlation with God. Getting a massage does the same thing.
Obviously, I cannot disprove your agnosticism-in-principle. But I still think the "If X exists it is beyond our understanding, so therefore the positions 'X exists' and 'X does not exist' are equally rational/logical/defensible" position is fucked up. I am sure if I look for them I could produce sources that posit ghosts are beyond our understanding.
As far as I can tell, our positions now are:
"Thing XYZ may well exist, and it is a good idea to call it God."
"I guess I have no authority to say it is any less likely that Thing XYZ exists than any number of other possible explanations, but it is silly to call it God, absent qualities QRS."
If this is so, then I don't think we can proceed any further, but we have done quite an impressive thing: reached the point at which conceptual arguments about the existence of God segue by force into pragmatic arguments about the usefulness of religion, since we would now need to determine exactly what is/isn't useful or essential about religion in order to determine what is/isn't a necessary quality (my "QRS") of a thing to be called "God."
CORIIHUMIDI: I agree that we are probably done, but I am less impressed. This is my summation of where we are. I infer that you agree that Dawkins’s use of the Teapot does not in fact demonstrate that my agnosticism is vacuous. Rather, you think my definition of God is invalid.
I think you also concede that this conception of God is shared by a nontrivial number of people (it is, after all, used by a slew of theologians and is in a fucking Wikipedia article). However, you feel free to ignore this position because you assert it is inspired by “people's desire to apply the term "God" to something.”
I am not going to argue with this because you are speculating about the bad-faith motivations of complete strangers, from Thomas Aquinas to my uncle. Unless you have gone psychic, you don't have a scintilla of evidence for this. Because you have posited that anyone who has the most defensible position is acting on ulterior motives, you have given yourself permission to not take seriously two concepts that are important to my position: the notion of a "limitless being" and how conceptually that idea has different properties from every other idea, and the notion that our concepts have limitations. Because you assume that everything I say about a limitless being is in bad faith, you have again defined it downward.
You say that God can only authentically be defined as something like a very powerful person. You are characterizing my position as talking about some weird kind of quasar or some far-out astrophysics shit, which we shouldn't arbitrarily label god. Both of these things are limited; they are one thing and not another. I am talking about a limitless being. I am at a disadvantage because I don't think anything useful can be said about the properties a limitless being has or does not have. So please just do me this courtesy: pretend for a second that I am not motivated by a controlling desire to deprive atheists of victory or a pathological urge to label something God. Then think for at least 30 seconds about how "limitless" is different from "ghost."
1) I said: "The cafeteria Catholics I know would say something like God created the universe, and there is such a thing as right and wrong in it. So even if we can’t say much about God, we can say something about his creation."
You responded: “This is pretty cheap. Right and wrong aren't features of the universe; they are features solely of human existence. It is neither right nor wrong when a star goes nova or when a lion eats an antelope. And your "God" did not sculpt Adam from 100 pounds of clay; it just caused there to be such a thing as spacetime or something. Then a thousand trillion other things happened and eventually there were—totally by accident—people. I am assuming you are conceding that in the universe of your minimalist "God" it is 100% a random accident that there is such a thing as people (or life at all)? If you are not, then your definition is suddenly very different.”
I respond: Be clear I am talking about other people's beliefs, not mine. As I understand this line of reasoning, God created the universe and all its laws, forces etc. In this universe humans came about, so if morality is just a "feature of human existence," it is nevertheless part of God's creation. Let’s not get on too much of a side track with this. Things get confused when I am both arguing for what I believe and what others believe by proxy. I was only citing this as a common thing that people with a minimalist conception of God often say (as evidence that a fair number of people actually share this conception), and thought maybe you had heard it.
2) I said (in part): "If we say a minimalist idea of God is no longer meeting the definition of God, why say that Hawking, Coltrane and Pollock are a physicist, a musician and a painter? Why are ideas about God, alone among human ideas, etched in stone and can never change?"
You responded: “We are defining "physicist," "musician," and "painter" by specific actions that a being we have sensory evidence of is definitely performing (or, more accurately, by what they receive money for doing, since your examples are all professionals—there can be an amateur "musician" who sucks and we would have to argue about whether to apply the term, but whatever). In the case of "God," there has never been any evidence and the term was invented to explain things that we can now explain in other ways, but the term has stuck around just because people like it.”
I now respond: You only quoted half of what I was saying. As a result you are way misinterpreting what I said. I was not arguing for the existence of painters or something. I was disputing your insistence that any definition of God that does not involve agency is no longer a definition of God. I was conceding that this might have once been true, but the idea has evolved, just like the idea of a painting has evolved.
As I see it this debate has moved from "Is Dawkins’s attack on agnosticism sound" to "Is my definition of God valid." On second reading of your last e-mail I think that is what you are saying in the last paragraph, so maybe I am a little more impressed than I said.
LACTISCASEIQUE: Grammaticus, your entire entire first paragraph appears to be in response to me saying this:
“Re confidence in science's ability to eventually "complete" its understanding of the universe, maybe someone who thinks that science can craft a comprehensive account of the universe (though this project is not yet complete) is an "atheist-in-principle." I don't know. I'm certainly not willing to go that far just yet.”
In which I specifically say I do not think what you're on about.
Lactiscaseique, my infamous "entire
first paragraph" was a response to your saying this:
LACTISCASEIQUE: Grammaticus, I am totally confused. I said, specifically:
“Maybe someone who thinks that science can craft a comprehensive account of the universe (though this project is not yet complete) is an "atheist-in-principle". I don't know. I'm certainly not willing to go that far just yet.”
"A few e-mails ago you suggested that to be an atheist you have to believe that science can/will explain everything.”
did not suggest this. I said that maybe,
theoretically, someone who thought that science can explain everything
universe is an "atheist-in-principle"—which is a term I am
inventing. I do not know and do not care whether my invented
in any contemporary discussions of atheism or anything. I
because Coriihumidi and I were discussing whether I thought that
comprehensively explain the universe, i.e, he was not sure whether I
while science has not at this time affirmatively disproved the
God, it is possible in principle."
GRAMMATICUS: Lactiscaseique, I don't get what is confusing to you. I will explain it again in one sentence:
Your statement implied that
beliefs about X (where X = "science can
explain everything") and beliefs about Y (where Y = "God
exists") are in some way linked or dependent on each other, when
they operate completely independently of each other.
LACTISCASEIQUE: First of all, no-one else seems to think I was implying whatever you think I was implying. This makes me think you are just reading what I wrote wrong. This is neither here nor there, because second of all, what you are saying about how these two beliefs are compatible is true. It is correct. Congrats. But you keep presenting it as though you are objecting to something I either implicitly or explicitly said. But I never explicitly said whatever it is you thought I said, and I have now twice confirmed I didn't meant to imply what you thought I said. So I don't understand how it has relevance to anything.
CORIIHUMIDI: Grammaticus and Lactiscaseique, this quibble about what Lactiscaseique said is the least interesting thing ever. Grammaticus, just accept that this is not what he meant. The "maybe"s and "I don't know"s pretty well couch this statement as musing or speculation. In any case, we are not trying to convict Lactiscaseique of perjury, so even if he was inconsistent about something, who cares.
Lactiscaseique, I have no idea what your position is on this stuff at this point. You seemed to agree with my extrapolation of the Private Object stuff, and I am not sure where that leaves you. So why don't you positively tell us where you are at, which will be more interesting than commentary on what Grammaticus and I are saying anyway.
Re Grammaticus's last e-mail, alright, I think I see where we are better. Honestly, it wasn't until this last e-mail that I was convinced that you understood what I was saying about the Teapot argument.
First minor point, can we just drop this stuff about people's motivations? Just assume I am saying things because I believe them. You are suggesting that I am crafting my arguments only to get at atheists for some reason. Realize for me this is not an emotional issue. As applied, your atheism and my agnosticism are identical—neither of us thinks revelation is a genuine source of knowledge, both of us realize that there is no good reason to believe that miracles have happened or that there is intervening super-intelligence. It is true that I don't like Dawkins, but it is not because he is an atheist. It is because he arrogantly dismisses the viewpoints of very smart people with (often) bad arguments and rhetorical flourishes. So let’s just drop the speculation about why people hold beliefs and concentrate on the beliefs themselves.
To help me structure my thoughts, I'd phrase Grammaticus’s response like this: He admits that the Teapot argument does not work against my conception of God. However, to pull this off he says I have to adopt a definition of God that 1) is too minimal to apply to God and 2) is in any case vacuous. I disagree with 1) and kind of disagree with 2). You say my conception of God is a God-in-the-Gaps bobbing and weaving, and that it is equivalent to "pink unicorns and square circles." On these points I think you are completely out to lunch, so I'll start with them.
Re what is and isn't conceivable: first, an invisible pink unicorn is obviously conceivable. Imagine a horse, put a horn on it, make it pink, now make it invisible (though I guess now you have undone the pink part, but I don't think that is what you are after). There, you have just conceived of an invisible pink unicorn—it is conceivable, stupid and irrelevant to what I am talking about. Further, a square circle is inconceivable only because it is a contradiction. That fact that it is inconceivable is irrelevant because it is also impossible. Limitlessness is different: it is just as inconceivable as a square circle, but it also might be a thing that exists. But unlike a pink unicorn, we have as good reasons to think it exists as reasons to think it doesn't exist. If the universe has no limits: wow, cosmic. If the universe has limits, it has a border, beyond which is nothing: wow, cosmic.
Re God in the Gaps, I see where you are coming from with this, but I think you are misapplying it for two reasons. It is a good argument against theists because they affirmatively say, God explains this unexplained phenomena, so don't bother looking for a natural explanation. I am saying something different. I am suggesting that there are limits to what we are able to conceive of and thus reason about, and the concept of limitlessness is one of them. If we can't reason about it, it can't be the subject of scientific analysis.
This is not the same thing as an unfalsifiable statement. I admit that I could be wrong about the limits of our conceptual ability, or alternatively that limitlessness is a concept beyond our conceptual ability. If Lactiscaseique is right that the universe is finite, and that this concept can be explained in a coherent way, then limitlessness is just something we imagine (as the opposite of limited). If there is no reason to believe there is such a thing as limitlessness, then there is no reason to believe that God might exist. At this point I think it is just as rational to believe in an infinite universe as a finite one, but as I said I could be wrong. Thus I am not making unfalsifiable statements.
In my next e-mail I will address your contention that I am not talking about God, and that whatever I am talking about is vacuous.
Some of this may be rehashing, but I will
explain what I see us talking about so far so that I can say what I
1. Has moral preferences w/r/t human behavior ("Thou shalt not kill");
2. Is interested in the welfare of humans ("I wish to redeem humanity, so I will send my Son to you");
effected causal action
on or in the universe
("Let there be
Light," the ressurrection of Jesus of
Nazareth, destroying the walls of
goes a couple
of steps further: He says
first that the views of religious types whose God involves these above
qualities and being a limitless
supreme being involve a logical contradiction. I agree with
on this. I think
you can't have it both
ways—either your god is an existing entity with vast power,
but verifiable empirical
predictions (Galactus from Silver Surfer, basically, or whatever other
iteration of the Man on the Cloud you prefer), or your god is wholly
trans-conceptual and something so utterly alien that humans can't even
concept of what it's like and probably can't even build a sensor to
detect. I think the chimerical view of "Well,
God is so great he's not even constrained by logic!
Ha! He can be both limitless and have
qualities 1-4!" is
a total cop-out and an admission that your argument is out of
This person would now be arguing in bad faith. I say, if
you're going to
just subvert logic at some point in your argument, don't even bother
just be honest that your whole ontology rests on a revelation-based
and move on.
I am stopping to give Coriihumidi and Grammaticus a chance to disagree, but up next I think I need to grill Coriihumidi about what he really thinks can and can't be said about the limits to our concepts, and by extension this supposedly limitless being. My instinct is, nothing. As I have suggested before, I think it's not even worth trying to think about. I interpret the Private-Language argument to be saying that even concepts like "infinity" are fundamentally human concepts, and the notion of a limitless being is a contradictory mashing together of concepts that don't actually fit together—sort of conceptually like a "round square." I think the universe is finite, the phenomena in it are finite, and the notion of something in the universe that is infinite is either a troublesome aspect of a physical theory that deserves to be expunged or is an "artifact" of imprecise language.
GRAMMATICUS: Lactiscaseique, that recap was useful, thank you. Here are my responses to it:
1. My pointing out that limitlessness and preferences are contradictory is not something I deserve kudos for pointing out, as it is something Coriihumidi pointed out when he opened by conceding it. I just brought it up a lot thereafter.
2. "I think the chimerical view of "Well, God is so great he's not even constrained by logic! Ha! He CAN be both limitless and have qualities 1-4!" is a total cop-out and an admission that your argument is out of thread. This person would now be arguing in bad faith." I agree, but unfortunately this is the position of the majority of theists (Coriihumidi, do not call this speculation on my part; you know perfectly well it is). Coriihumidi will bring up the fact that his progressives exist, in however small numbers. Fine. My point is that, whether we like it or not, the statement "It is possible that God exists" would be taken to mean the italicized above by 99% of the human race—so my point that a term other than "God" should be used if you want to signify something other than this is fair.
sorry that my information about what Brights say bores you, but it is
relevant as Coriihumidi's information about what
it that my and Coriihumidi's argument about what we "should call God"
has gotten "bogged down" and is "not useful?" It's
not like it is some sideline—it is the sine qua non of what
we have been
talking about this whole time; the debate cannot exist absent this
CORIIHUMIDI: I think Lactiscaseique slightly misrepresents my position. I think that you two and Dawkins believe that God is logically possible but there is no reason to believe it exists. This is technically agnostic but since you are both 99.99% sure that God does not exist, it is practically the same thing as atheism. I, on the other hand, am a true agnostic. This does not mean, pace Dawkins, that I am saying that there is a 50/50 chance God exists. Maybe a way to phrase my position is this: I agree with an atheist that God talk is in a sense meaningless, because what we mean by God is either a caricature or unintelligible… However, I agree with the "sophisticated theist" that just because something is unintelligible, this does not entail its non-existence. The upshot is that we should say nothing definitive at all about God, including any statements about its existence.
Or put another way: if you think about it, theists have a point when they say that God is not limited by logical possibility; after all, God is (at least) limitless, and being restricted to logical possibility is a limitation. This statement is perfectly logical, and I don't think it is cheap. What is cheap is to say both that God is beyond logic and is further XYZ other things, because God may be beyond logic but we are not. Whatever God's theoretical (lack of) limitations, we humans are limited to the laws of logic if we wish to have coherent thoughts. Thus, if you think God is beyond logic, you should have the humility to admit that you know nothing about him (at least via rational thought). So God's limitlessness should militate our agnosticism.
Also, I emphatically do not believe that "the process of doing science is the best way we've got available for arriving about affirmative beliefs about the world." We get a tiny minority of our beliefs from experimental science and I think it makes no sense to create a hierarchy of what sources of belief are best. On what basis is science superior to direct sensory experience? I would say that a better thing to focus on is that we all agree that faith and revelation are not independent sources of rational belief.
As for Grammaticus throwing down the gauntlet re “force” and “being,” I don't really understand what you are after. I like the term being better than force because being just means "thing that exists" and force seems like a way to categorize the "limitless X" as something like a gravity that we haven't discovered yet. This seems to entail that we will find out about it eventually, which I explicitly rejected.
You both seem to agree that 1) I am not using the word “God” correctly, and 2) the thing I am describing as god is vacuous. Grammaticus emphasizes the 1) (though the force v. being stuff is aimed at 2) I think), and Lactiscaseique emphasizes the 2). So:
1) Is "a
limitless being" a fair definition of God? I still say yes.
concept is not the same thing as a technical term (which has a
definition). A concept almost always captures
a category of
things that share some function or purpose (a chair may or may not have
flat seat, legs, etc.). Furthermore, concepts have the
capacity to have
more or less sophisticated forms, as well as modern and old-fashioned
My point about
A more illustrative example is one Grammaticus mentioned: marriage. Marriage has come to mean, at least in part, a more or less exclusive union between two people based on mutual love. The "two people" part has not always been part of the concept, and the "based on love" part hasn't been either. But as of now, marriage includes both. Most people think that marriage also definitionally means a union between a man and a woman. 200 years ago, I think that would have been virtually unanimous. Nevertheless, many people (including everyone involved in this debate) believe that the heterosexual part of traditional marriage is not at the core of the concept, and that it is arbitrary to exclude gay people from the institution.
In the case of the conception of God, there are similar debates. Thomas Aquinas and Maimonides are the first people I know of to discuss God as simply an infinite being (though I am sure they were not the first). I am saying that the concept of limitlessness is the core concept of God, and that limitlessness gobbles up any other positive attributes that might be applied to it. I know that at least the Catholic Church has incorporated this into their theology. The "fact" that God is both infinite and specific is the holy miracle, and we come to understand the holy miracle through faith. Obviously this is a non-starter for us because we don't believe in revelation as a source of knowledge—but that doesn't mean that the concept of God is different.
Now, if you took a poll most people would say that at a minimum god is infinitely good (though not all for the same reasons). But I don't think this is relevant. The opposite of a straw man is to use the strongest possible version of the idea you are attacking. I am using a conception of God with a long and established lineage. The onus is on you two to tell me why God is not God if it is only limitless.
2) Is a conception of God as a limitless being vacuous: Maybe. Lactiscaseique has asserted that the universe is limited so a limitless being is just some abstractions we have glommed together. This is possible, but 1) my understanding of the current going theory is that the universe will continue expanding forever into whatever is beyond the (this) universe. Thus if we use universe in the colloquial sense (all that there is) then the universe is infinite. Second, the conception of a finite universe is equally baffling as an infinite one. If something is finite, it has borders, and a border has something beyond it. If the universe (i.e., all that there is) has a border with nothing beyond it—what does that mean? By our concepts it means nothing at all. When you are confronted with two mutually exclusive options in a situation where one must be true but neither makes any sense, the appropriate response is agnosticism.
Otherwise the force v. being stuff I addressed above.
Coriihumidi, I think that your last e-mail
was more than was required by my objections, to the point where you
effectively dancing around them.
CORIIHUMIDI: Grammaticus, I have no idea what you mean that I am dancing around your objections as I have addressed them in as complete and head-on a way as I can. I am pretty sure that you didn't read what I said correctly. I basically said what you did about your position, which as you have noted is technically agnostic but only because you concede you can't prove a negative. I.e., you are 99.9% sure that God does not exist. We agree this is just atheism (I'll even call it sophisticated atheism).
My position is different from that, because we can't put a number on the chances of God existing because we don't have that concept in our head. If I ask you to give me the odds of whether a tack line fastens to a clew, you can't do it (if I am right that you don't know much about sailing) because you don't have the concept of a clew or a tack line in your head. Limitlessness is an idea that a) none of us actually has a positive conception of, and b) is implied by other pretty firm ideas we have. Thus, none of us can assign a probability to its existence.
I don't believe I actually ever said "there is no good reason to believe there is a God" other than to characterize your position.
vs. being: Your definition of
"being" as only meaning “living thing” is bizarre
incorrect to any English speaker. Do you
read the sentence,
"The United States came into being
in 1776" as “the
Marriage vs. God: Your disanalogy has shit to do with
anything. When you object that my definition of God is
vacuous, we are
arguing about the possibility that our concept of God can evolve, not
existence. I would use another analogy, but
you would just
point out a superficial disanalogy. So instead I will just
positions: I am saying that human beings’ conception of God,
like every other
human concept, evolves and has more and less
Your position is that the human concept of
God stopped evolving in the middle ages at which
point Aquinas, Maimonides,
Re Stephen Hawking: He doesn't have a clear conception of limitlessness any more than we do. He had a theory as of the time he wrote A Brief History of Time that the universe is limited. If that is correct then "limitless" is imponderable but vacuous because it is only the conceptual opposite of limited. However, my understanding is that his hopes for "quantum gravity" theory collapsed and we are back to a limitless universe that will expand forever (as is alluded to by Dawkins in The God Delusion). It doesn’t really matter because none of us knows enough to have an argument about physics. I conceded in my last e-mail that if it is established that the universe is limited then the concept of limitlessness becomes empty. I don't know why you are throwing this back in my face.
Here is where I see this argument as of now. I am saying that our ability to understand the universe is limited, whereas you say that as long as someone is smart enough, they can explain everything. I have an argument for my position (our brain evolved only to comprehend this corner of the universe, and it evolved only to comprehend mid-sized objects), whereas you have just asserted yours. I have never rested on pointing out that you can't prove God's non-existence and I am offended that you claim I have. At this point I have explained my position in as clear as terms as I can about half a dozen times. So you can address my position head-on and explain why it is indistinguishable from a weaker one, or just continue to pull some straw-man bullshit.
It is correct to say "the
To come back to force vs. being: you
said you are not
positing "some fucked-up
physics shit." This strongly implies that by "being"
you mean something higher than "thing that exists." If all
meant was "limitless thing that exists" then why
would spacetime itself (or what-have-you, if spacetime is in
not fit this definition? Whenever I try to pin down
fall back on "it is inconceivable"—yet you are
conceiving of it
enough to say what it is not (i.e., some fucked-up physics
shit). Here is
my objection as it now stands, as a point by point:
—You also say that by God you do not mean "some fucked-up physics shit"
—You also say that by God you mean something inherently inconceivable
—I point out that a limitless thing-that-exists could easily fall under the heading of "some fucked-up physics shit."
—You say that physics is by definition conceivable in principle, and so the inconceivable aspect of the thing means it can't be part of physics ("physics" here means not the discipline itself, but the object of its study).
—I say that if you truly cannot conceive of this thing, then you have no basis to distinguish it from physics; i.e., you are saying that you have no information about this thing, but also some information about it ("The murderer could be absolutely anyone, but the murderer is not Steve because Steve is no murderer").
—Your exemption from the Teapot requires you to be positing that X and ~X are tied for "the most likely explanation." I agree if X = "a limitless thigamajig," but not if X = "a limitless being that is not a physics dealy, but instead something greater." How can something greater than the simplest possible explanation be just as simple as it?
CORIIHUMIDI: Here is the definition of being from the fucking dictionary. You will note that your definition kicks in at number 5.
LACTISCASEIQUE: A definition of God where God is not limited by logic but in addition has XYZ additional qualities may be the definition of "the majority of theists" in a raw numerical sense. But Coriihumidi has made clear he does not subscribe to this view, so let's just remember who we are addressing—"The majority of Theists" or Corrihumidi. He explicitly disavows this view in saying:
“if you think about it, theists have a point when they say that God is not limited by logical possibility; after all God is (at least) limitless and being restricted to logical possibility is a limitation. This statement is perfectly logical, and I don't think it is cheap. What is cheap is to say both that God is beyond logic and is further XYZ other things, because God may be beyond logic but we are not.”
to me like you keep
trying to drag Coriihumidi back
into being an "unsophisticated" theist, and he isn't one.
argument is basically that his definition of God is not appropriate, on
basis of historical precedent, which precedent admits of only one
definition of God (viz., "God transcends logic but has X, Y, and Z
When Coriihumidi said:
get a tiny minority
of our beliefs from experimental science and I think
it makes no
sense to create a hierarchy of what sources
of belief are
best. On what basis
is science superior
to direct sensory experience?
A better thing to focus on is that we all agree that faith
are not independent sources of
…that's a better way of expressing what I was trying to express: rational argument is where it's at. This is in contrast to revelation, which does not admit of arguments. In revelation-based epistemologies, you don't challenge or show entitlement to belief; you just claim absolute accuracy based on your revelations.
Re Coriihumidi’s saying this:
“Is a conception of God as a limitless being vacuous: Maybe. Lactiscaseique has asserted that the universe is limited so a limitless being is just some abstractions we have glommed together. This is possible, but 1) my understanding of the current going theory is that the universe will continue expanding forever into what ever is beyond the (this) universe. Thus if we use universe in the colloquial sense (all that there is) then the universe is infinite.”
I think the concept of a
limitless being is vacuous, re
whatever definition of being you
to choose, because such entities involve contradictions. It
saying that something exists "that both exists and does not exist,"
or that an object "has a shape and does not have a shape."
Hawking's Brief History of Time was written before we had experimental reason to think that the universe has a positive spacetime curvature. The going conception of the topology of the universe at the time Hawking was writing was that the universe was either flat (Euclidian) or "negatively curved"—i.e., saddle-shaped—when you looked at it from the fourth dimension. If the universe had either of these shapes, it would be possible to travel in a straight line of arbitrary direction and never return to your starting point. Note: This is not the same as the idea that the universe is going to expand forever. "Dark Energy" appears to be driving space itself apart (i.e., adding to the number of points at which things can exist) regardless of what the general topology of the universe is.
around 2004 that we
started to get a better idea of
how to take empirical data on the distribution of radiation in the
make inferences from that data about the curvature of the
is to say, we developed an experimental procedure that let us test
universe was actually curved. The result was, yes, it's
It's basically spherical. This curvature means that the
"bounded" or "limited" by its shape in a higher
dimension—i.e., not limitless.
While physicists may
change their minds about this
bounding, it seems unlikely, since this concept of the universe
PART VI: Whether Apparently Trivial Definitional Quibbles Are Actually Key Elements of Who Gets to “Claim Victory” / Whether Even a Minimalist Definition of God Opens the Door to an Antirational Rhetorical Nuclear Option / The Point at Which Atheists Stop Caring / More Physics from Lactiscaseique
I think stuff about the
nature of the
universe at the level we've brought it to is irrelevant—or
be, to anything that we are calling "God."
Grammaticus, I don't want
to sound dismissive
of what you're saying, but you're just blatantly running a straw-man
now. There are a variety of acceptable definitions of "being"
that are out there. I admit when I hear the phrase, "supreme
my first thought is of a vast extraterrestrial intelligence.
has explicitly said that is not what he means when
he's talking about
this "limitless being"—he is using "being" in the somewhat
more abstract sense we find in philosophical discussions. He
"a thing," whose qualities remain to be cashed out (or whose
qualities can't be cashed out, since they defy human
CORIIHUMIDI: The reason I got frustrated is that your bizarre argument that "a being" only means a living thing is something that someone as smart as you could not possibly believe if you were actually taking something seriously. It was as if you were looking for the first opportunity to dismiss what I was saying with some rhetorical maneuver. As for what being is, you are digging in your heels and are effectively arguing with the dictionary, and so my only response is going to be to cite the dictionary.
As for the definition of God, I have almost literally said everything I have to say about it. If "a limitless being" is unacceptable to you, so be it. All I can say is that you have written out a huge portion of theologians as talking about something fundamentally other than God. All I can say to this is, on what authority do you get to do this?
Re whether God is "some fucked up physics shit," obviously I was being glib here. Here, and in various objections you have to my definition of God, you fail to make a distinction between the thing itself and the concept humans have of that thing. When we are arguing over whether my definition of god is recognizably god and/or is vacuous, we are arguing about the concept, not the ultimate existence of the thing the concept refers to. For the same reason, when I say “God is not some phenomenon described by future physics,” this is not the same thing as saying God exists in some separate realm beyond what is described by physics. “Physics” and the things named in physical theories are not the same thing as the things they are describing. Rather they are the labels we have given things we have observed or inferred to exist in the natural world. So physics is a tool by which we understand the world. For a concept to be included in a physical theory, you have to have a concept of it. For the reasons I stated above, we do not have a concept of limitless, so a limitless being can't fit into a scientific theory.
Put another way: when I say God is beyond science, I do not mean that it exists in some extra-physical, supernatural magic land outside the natural physical universe. I mean that science is something that fundamentally goes on inside our mind. If our mind can't deal with limitlessness, it can't incorporate a being into that theory—and in fact that is what theists do that we both find objectionable.
Lactiscaseique, I have an observation, a small objection and a big objection. My observation is that the view that God is everywhere and imbues everything is pantheism. This idea was supported by Spinoza, and has been incorporated into various Protestant theologies, and to some extent into Catholicism. I'd have to think more about it, but you may be right that an infinite God implies that it is everywhere. But this isn't a contradiction; it is just pantheistic.
The small objection is that infinity being does not entail that there is infinite matter and energy at every point. It only entails that matter and energy at whatever density goes on forever. Mathematically speaking this means that some infinities are bigger than others (mind bending as that is), so a series that goes up by 2s infinitely has a lower value (when added up) than an infinite series that increases by 5s. As you point out, this universe is not composed of an infinite block of infinitely large and dense particles and/or energy, but it could still be infinite nonetheless.
My bigger objection is that although infinity (or limitlessness) entails contradictions, its absence entails contradictions as well. I think we agree that the state of physics now is that the universe will expand forever. Something expanding must have a border, and a border has one thing on one side and one thing on another. If the universe was truly infinite then it couldn't expand into something. As I see it, saying that the universe is positively curved along some dimension that is greater than three doesn't solve this problem; it merely pushes the border out into the 8th dimension or something. This explains why our minds, which can only process three dimensions, will never perceive gazing at the edge of the universe—but it does not rule out the possibility of such a border, with the implication that something is beyond it.
Now, I am fully aware that what I described above may not actually reflect the nature of the universe. Maybe we do expand into a true nothingness. My point is only that it makes no sense, just like it makes no sense to posit infinities. Like I said before, I think our shared conceptual scheme includes a fork in the road: the universe is either limited or limitless, and neither makes sense. The proper response is agnosticism.
Maybe it will help to
explain the reason I
harped on the "being" thing. If you are just using it to mean
"thing that exists," fine, there is no problem, since this would
include forces and processes as well, since they exist. So if
you have no
problem with the sentence "gravity is a being" or
"radioactive decay is a being," then we are done
point. If you do,
we are not. My point was that this "Infinite X" could just be
force like electromagnetism or whatever, and the use of the word
"being" seemed like a way for theism to sneak around that, since it
would not be commonly said that "electromagnetism is a
In other words, if the debate ended with me saying "We agreed that the
existence of an infinite being is
possible," theists would run around celebrating that as a victory,
if I said "we agreed that the existence of an infinite force
is possible," they would not
know how to take that. This is not me "arguing with the
is a huge component of who gets to declare victory at the end of
if you just mean "thing that exists" then be a philosopher and say
"essent" from now on, since theists will not as readily figure this
as something that plans to send me to Hell for porking people I am not
to. Since this is
being published on
1585, what outside observers would take a word to mean is an issue.
CORIIHUMIDI: It is profoundly weird that you want me to use "essent" over “being” so that this several-thousand-word dialogue will be fit for publication on the internet. Otherwise, I will not “be a philosopher and use essent” because I don't know what the fuck that is, other than it looks like a noun form of essential, which is at least as misleading as being. In fact, being is much less confusing because it has a common usage to which I am referring (and is btw what most philosophers use to mean "thing in existence"). “Essent” also isn't in any dictionary I have access to (my OED is in storage).
As for “a force can be a being,” I guess that is true, but in the sense that meatloaf can be a being. The whole thrust of this discussion has been about what the consequences of a limitless being are. You readily observe that limitlessness gobbles up pretty much all dogmas associated with God and is incompatible with the idea of a Holy Rulegiver and Judge. However, you refuse to recognize that it also undoes most of the stock atheist arguments against God’s existence (or, more accurately, against having belief in God's existence). By this I mean, you are happy to strip the concept of God of positive attributes in order to rebut religious traditions, but you are eager to lay on positive attibutes in order to debunk the concept itself.
That is what you are doing by saying a limitless being is the same thing as a limitless force. Force is a more particularized term than being. At its most general it means "strength or energy exerted or brought to bear; cause of motion or change." This is pretty general but it is more particular than “thing that exists.” Once you get particular about what God is, you create a contradiction with the concept of “limitless.”
“The stuff about the universe is interesting but irrelevant, since if we are calling something "God" then we mean it created the universe, not the other way around—i.e., we can't figure out whether God exists by talking about what the universe is like, even if we knew everything about the universe. If it is dependent on the nature of the universe for its existence it is not ‘God.’”
What do you mean by “the universe?” Are you talking about the thing created by the big bang that will expand forever and contains all observable objects and forces? If so you are talking about something smaller than what I am suggesting. I agree that when we talk about things that exist, we are doing so based on the forces and objects we can observe, which are necessarily inside this universe. That means that it makes no sense to talk about what is beyond it, but that is a statement about ourselves, not about independent reality. A "sophisticated theist" would say there is an infinite force beyond the universe (or maybe imbuing everything in this universe—if limitless implies pantheism, which I am still not sure about). A deist says there is a god outside of this universe but he has walked away. An atheist says there is nothing, or just more forces that are identical or of a kind as those observed in our universe. A sophisticated atheist says there is a 99.9% chance that there is nothing, or just more forces that are identical or of a kind as those observed in our universe.
I, as an agnostic, am calling bullshit on all of that. We have no access to anything other than our universe, and even here there is a bunch of stuff that we can't figure out (for example our theories about big things—relativity—is completely at odds with our theories about tiny things—quantum theory). Any statement we make about the fact of the matter outside our universe is less than speculative; it is projecting what we know on to what we can't know.
It’s like Hume's observation: science assumes that one place will be like another and the future will be like the past. In our corner of the universe that turns out to be a pretty good assumption. When we are talking about a place to which we have no access, even in principle, it is an absurd assumption based on absolutely nothing. We should form no beliefs about such a place.
BTW, I am increasingly uncomfortable with us batting around the term "sophisticated theist." None of us knows that much about religion or religious studies, so based on what do we get to separate up theists into “sophisticated” and “not sophisticated” based on their beliefs that we don't know much about?
“Based on this, I think the debate is going on forever because CORIIHUMIDI is being too nice--i.e., there is an obvious next step for CORIIHUMIDI that he is unwilling to take because it is cheap. CORIIHUMIDI, you are positing that your "God" lies outside of physics—as you said, not because he is magic but because physics is limited by our minds. At this point, the distinction between "magic" and "science" disappears, like with that Flash villain who was a magician but was really just from the future and using gadgets that are normal in the future but look to our primitive 20th/21st century minds like magic. So rather than the normal theist sentence "God can do anything" you end up with "Since we cannot know, it makes just as much sense to believe that God can do anything as that it cannot," which is more intellectual but effectively the same. So your response to our physics stuff about whether God is possible could logically be "Ha ha, God can do whatever he wants." Admirably, you are reluctant to do this because it is retarded and you want to argue in good faith. But there is basically no reason for you not to do this. True, you would be basing it on the 8th dimension instead of the Holy Ghost, but you still end up with the position "Nothing is impossible where God is concerned because it's a mystery." For a while, you have just been saying the long version of this so as not to sound like a shithead. So just say the short version, and we are done, because it is impossible for an argument against this to exist (which, obviously, is not the same thing as a positive argument for the existence of God).”
I kind of agree with some of this, but I don't draw the same conclusion. I think it is a logically sound argument to say that “If God is limitless then it is not bound by the rules of logic.” I don't think this is cheap at all. I think it is frustrating because it means that a rational debate is fruitless, but I'd say that the frustration stems from a glimmering realization that our ability to reason does not entail an ability to perfectly understand all of objective reality.
What would be cheap is what potentially gets said next. If one goes on to say "therefore, XYZ tenet of the Catholic (or whatever) faith is true, or at least not disturbed," then I think that is cheap, or at least not rational. I think the statement "If God is limitless then it is not bound by the rules of logic" entails "therefore, we are sealed off from ever being able to make any rational sense of God." Most religious people come back to claiming they “know God through faith”—but that has no sway on any of us. In fact it seems to suggest that what we know by faith makes no rational sense, which is a lot like going crazy. I suppose that there could be "non-overlapping magisteria" inside our own minds, where faith-knowledge and reason-knowledge operate independently of each other according to their own separate grammar. But few religious people seem to be eager to seal off their faith beliefs from their reason beliefs.
So to loop back to what Grammaticus was saying: I think atheists and theists are both going beyond where rational argument takes them. In both cases they make definitive (though opposite) statements about a thing to which they have no access, i.e., God exists or it doesn't. By slapping a percentage onto the odds of God's existence (it is no more likely to exist than fairies), Dawkins & co. only compound this problem by dressing up an irrational conclusion with faux open-mindedness.
Here is another way to characterize my idea: Grammaticus seems to think that I am open-minded to the existence of God and this makes me say that atheists and theists are tied. I would say that I am closed-minded about belief in God: we have no idea, nor could we ever. Therefore both the theists and atheists lose. If we ever move on from the existence of God to the value of religion, I will be happy to explore this more.
I think Grammaticus is going to jump on the “Dawkins’s faux open-mindedness” comment. What I mean is that when Dawkins says he is 99.99% sure that God doesn't exist, he is making it sound like he has run some experiments and he is reporting the results. But in this case the "experiment" was just the Teapot argument, which only shows that the Man on the Cloud doesn't exist. Let’s not go back through that again.
I will do a version
of jumping on
the “Dawkins’s faux open-mindedness”
comment, which you are absolutely right is
exactly what I was going to open with. The reason he admits
thing but in a dismissive way is not to three-card-monte the
between experimentation and the Teapot—it is because he
not care anymore about the God argument when it gets to
the level of
"it is just as logical as not to believe that existence exists as an
aspect of a limitless thingy." Remember why he bought his
this party: he is a scientist and got fed up with shitheads telling him
life "Ha ha you don't know anything, my magic book does."
he is concerned with is demonstrating that Kirk Cameron and
are crazy, and Kirk Cameron and the Taliban are equally as
crazy by Coriihumidi's beliefs about God as they are by mine.
email thread is starting to go places. I am immensely pleased. Not infinitely,
“The small objection is that infinity being does not entail that there is infinite matter and energy at every point. It only entails that matter and energy at whatever density go on forever. Mathematically speaking this means that some infinities are bigger than others (mindbending as that is), so a series that goes up by 2s infinitely has a lower value (when added up) than an infinite series that increases by 5s. However, as you point out this universe is not composed of an infinite block of infinitely large and dense particles and/or energy, but it could still be infinite nonetheless.”
first part of this, I
think you're again misapplying
a mathematical concept. When you are talking about a
things" in math, it can go on infinitely, because in math things are
bounded by reality; they're bounded only by what we're clever enough to
imagine. Math is not beholden to match empirical experiment,
so I think
your analogy is just wrong. When you posit an infinite value
something in an equation that appears in physics, that equation just
describing reality. Like, "F = m*a." If you stick
infinity anywhere in this, you're no longer describing Forces, Masses,
Accelerations that appear in our universe—you're describing
scenario a mathematician cooked up to explore infinity. And
really, really the case when you
stick unexpected infinities into equations that describe things like
“My bigger objection is that infinity (or limitlessness) entails contradictions, but its absence entails contradictions as well. I think we agree that the state of physics now is that the universe will expand forever. Something expanding must have a border, and a border has one thing on one side and one thing on another. If the universe was truly finite then it couldn't expand into something. As I see it, saying that the universe is positively curved along some direction that is greater than three doesn't solve this problem—it merely pushes the border out onto the 8th dimension or something. This explains why our minds, which can only process three dimensions, will never perceive gazing at the edge of the universe, but it does not rule out the possibility of such a border, with the implication that something is beyond it.”
appear to not understand
what I was saying about how
that the universe is "bounded" in the fourth dimension, and maybe
what "space" means when used in physics. The "space"
that physicists talk about as "expanding" in cosmology does not expand
"into" something. You may be basically imagining a sphere
inflating when you say that space is "expanding into
the thought, "Hey look, it's expanding—so what's all this
around the sphere? It's expanding into
that negative space!" This is what you get if you use
"space" with the colloquial English meaning of "a volume in
which things happen." Suddenly, the volume of "emptiness"
around the sphere looks like it matters—and if it's emptiness,
then that is a "thing" that's
the universe." But
that is the
wrong way to visualize this. This visual metaphor of a
is just a metaphor. To your credit, though, you appear to
identified one of the places in which the metaphor breaks down.
uncomfortable with us batting around the term "sophisticated theist."
None of us knows that much about religion or religious
studies, so based
on what do we get to separate up theists into
sophisticated an not
sophisticated based on their beliefs that we don't
absolutely an apt
comparison. I think that
a somewhat logically contradictory definition of God as "both
nothing in particular" is almost the only credible position on which
can claim that God (meaning a limitless essent) has any involvement
natural world. "His Presence is everywhere," and piety is not
so much conformance to a particular belief, activity, or attitude, but
of openness to seeing the divine that involves living
mindfully. This is
pretty much what my mom and stepdad think, as far as I can
tell. Even if
it doesn't make for a coherent belief system, it makes for a nice kind
If "God" is defined as "Man on the Cloud," everyone here is an "atheist." (Grammaticus believes that this is the only credible concept of 'God,' and this may just remain an open point of contention between him and Coriihumidi). Which is to say, we all have no reason to believe in the existence of a Man on the Cloud-esque entity called God.
If "God" is defined as a "limitless essent," I think none of us even knows what that means, since it's sort of inherently contradictory. Maybe this means we are all "agnostics," since we cannot form beliefs about the existence of these essents? "Being a thing" entails limitedness; a limitless thing isn't recognizable from other things because it's not limited by being one singular thing. Coriihumidi didn't even disagree with this train of thought about distinguishability I gave before, so I am going to claim that this sort of "contradictory syllogism" is an accurate example of why a limitless essent entails contradictions. This makes sense nicely with what Coriihumidi said here, which I think is very helpful:
another way, when
I say God is beyond science, I do not mean that it exists in
extra-physical, supernatural magic land that exists outside the
physical universe. I mean that science is something that
goes on inside our mind. If our mind can't deal with
can't incorporate a being into that
theory—in fact that is what
theists do that we both find objectionable.”
I think what
saying here is that rational
constrained by logic, if they're going to be rational. This
does not, in
any necessary sense, entail that rational beliefs are correct.
simply means they are rational. Thus,
when we start talking about objects/essents/whatever that are limitless
beyond our concepts, we are talking about objects that are of no use to
rational argument, because they entail logical
contradictions—and our brains,
arguments, theories, etc. just cannot handle that. "Limitless
objects" entail logical contradictions. That does not
preclude the existence of things
are limitless—but it does preclude our understanding
things that are limitless. Our sense of logic and coherency
at the thought.
PART VII: Public vs. Private Usage of “Atheist” and “Agnostic” / Why Does the Term “God” Even Exist As a Thing to Posit? / Can a Stripped-Down God Still Be Undiscoverable-In-Principle? / Our Mid-Sized-Object Minds
CORIIHUMIDI: Lactiscaseique, I think your beliefs would entail that you are an atheist: if you think limitless is only a mathematical abstraction, then you think that no actual being has that quality. You keep saying that you don't care about the labels "atheist" or "agnostic." I don't see why this is so. Those words mean different things, though there is some diversity within each category.
I have heard and comprehended both of your objections to my use of the word being. Having understood and considered your objections, your requests are denied. I grant that I am using being in a sense that would be confusing in a mall food court. However, in this context, debating theological questions with two people who have very similar educations to mine, I am using it in a perfectly normal way. Replacing being as it is used routinely in philosophy on this subject with "essent"—which is apparently Heideggerian jargon—is in fact much less clear. Let us never speak of this again.
What this comes down to is
the fact that Coriihumidi's
position actually lies right on the agnostic/atheist line. Agnostic is supposed to mean "I
think there is (or probably is) a God, but its ways are inherently
unknowable." Coriihumidi retains the "inherently
unknowable" part, but never said he thinks the chances of a God are
BTW, here is Bertrand Russell himself on atheist/agnostic:
“As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one can prove that there is not a God. On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.”
CORIIHUMIDI: That Bertrand Russell thing is interesting. I understand why you have a public/private label of your view; I just don't agree that your view (which I understand to be identical to Russell's) is correct. But the spirit of it does point out something interesting: from the standpoint of what many (maybe even most) religious people are concerned with, our viewpoints have the same consequences.
GRAMMATICUS: This is certainly the position of many theists, including the Catholic Church: you can either live as if there is a God, or not, so the agnostic/atheist distinction is an illusion. I understand Coriihumidi's “27th dimension-esque” God (if my analogy was in fact a good one), find it fascinating, and agree that the Teapot doesn't apply to it, just as the Teapot doesn't apply to the 27th Dimension itself.
My problem is, as I've said, the 27th Dimension (or what-have-you science mystery) has a "sure, why not" trail leading in its general direction, and God does not. We know that there is such a thing as Dimensions, and know of the first few for a fact, and know that one dimension implies the next up to a point, but not up to what point, and cannot conceive of any beyond the very early ones anyway. For God (which of course means anything that could be called God, which is why Russell's agnostic/atheist distinction quote does not exactly apply, because it makes clear that by God he meant the Judeo-Christian Jehovah as opposed to Zeus et al.), the best "sure why not" trail we have is that there is such a thing as existence and such a thing as consciousness, and this seems to me to be inefficient. The reason that "27th dimension" is a term that exists for us to posit is because of the factual existence of the first few. The reason that "God" exists as a term for us to posit is because cavemen needed an explanation for thunder and earthquakes, desert nomads thought it would be awesome if bad people who got away with things didn't actually get away with them, etc. Coriihumidi has conceded that everything God was thought up or refined to explain is bullshit—in other words, if everyone in the past had known what we know now, the term/idea "God" would not be around for us to argue about. If the term only exists as a thing to posit because of bullshit, why posit it?
I had a couple of thoughts
won't affect the course of the discussion but feel like saying:
are some additional
thoughts regarding what my own point of view looks like when put into
practice. I think this touches to some extent on what I said
how "agnostic" and "atheist" gloss over subtleties in
belief. Maybe this is tedious, but I've been trying to put my
something with the difference between negative views and affirmative
it comes to God, and I'm going to try to put it into a formulation that
Re Man on a Cloud,
conception of God seems to be
knocked out by virtue of a generally scientific worldview (and I do
scientific, not just rational). The idea of an intelligent
limitless power, knowledge, benevolence, that is somehow corporeal and
incorporeal at the same time, etc., just seems crazy, and "evidence"
for this God is typically explainable as observer bias or just bad
But while I am not
there is reason to believe either of these
exists, this does not imply that I have the affirmative belief that
there is no
God. My rejections of these conceptions of
open the possibility that one of these God exists.
In that sense, my
view is "atheist" and "agnostic" at the same time. I
don't affirmatively believe in the existence of a God; this, according
people, is "atheism." However, based on the conceptual
considerations involved in conceiving of God as being like a Private
do affirmatively think it's possible that Limitless-Being God could
if that involves logical contradictions, and even if I do not have a
think it exists at this particular moment.
This, according to some
people, is "agnosticism," since I haven't authoritatively made up my
on whether God exists. I don't know whether God exists.
dimension stuff was
fascinating, but just fyi I wasn't saying that the 27th Dimension had
been posited. I realize it hasn't officially. And
besides I didn't
even mean specifically the 27th, just "some given high-ass
dimension." I was using it as an example of another thing
Teapot doesn't apply to (i.e., we don't understand it and have no more
to say "I think it exists" or "I think it doesn't").
Apparently it is a moot point if Corrihumidi says this was a bad
analogy for his position.
CORIIHUMIDI: I think a lot of the cosmological implications of cutting-edge theory that Lactiscaseique has raised are really interesting and I am inspired to read The Fabric of the Universe. I am not dismissing what Lactiscaseique has to say, but I am not convinced either.
This discussion has to some extent veered into Lactiscaseique asserting conclusions from a book that only he has read. I don't know the scientific consensus, the author's biases (after all, this is a book for a popular audience), or Lactiscaseique’s own understanding and biases. So the what I have to say to the facts Lactiscaseique is reporting is that I can't really say, but it is an interesting idea and I intend to learn more about it. However, I don't think any of us has enough knowledge to seriously debate this.
That said, I do have a decent understanding of the history and philosophy of science and the state of pop-science as of 2000, when Pecuniaecitro and I took a class in it senior year, and based on that I am suspicious. First, if we'd had this conversation at any point since the 18th century you would have said to me "You make an interesting point about the limit of our concepts, however natural science has fully explained the universe with the exception of [X], which is about to be explained by the cutting edge theory of [Y]." Each couple of years, X is a problem with the current grand theory and Y is the cutting-edge theory proposed to explain it. This process gives us a deeper and greater understanding of the universe but has consistently shown us that whenever we think we are about to explain it all, the bottom falls out and we realize there are a whole new set of problems. The upshot of this is that the statement "we are about to explain the universe" is not a scientific statement—it is a statement of your faith in science. So this is not an argument, it is a conclusion, and a conclusion that is not borne out by history.
Lactiscaseique and Grammaticus have both said that they do not in fact believe one way or another that "science can explain everything." Nevertheless, this belief is implicit in their arguments. Grammaticus has repeatedly said that what I am talking about is just what will be scitntifically discovered by really smart people in the future. Lactiscaseique is leaping on a contemporary hypothesis and going for a ride with physicists about where this theory will shake out. I think Grammaticus is not taking seriously the idea that something can be incomprehensible to us yet still exist, and Lactiscaseique is just getting way out ahead of himself.
Re why I don’t buy Lactiscaseique’s M-Theory shtick, here is my understanding of how science works: science is not reality; it is a description—a model. It is a model we have reason to have faith in, but it should not be confused with reality. Here is how we build the model. We observe something, we infer that the best (i.e., simplest, most coherent with other things we understand) explanation is the correct one. We then design an experiment to test the theory by looking for data that is predicted by the theory or is inconsistent with the theory. We then take that data and incorporate it into the theory. So there is a creative part, and a painstaking gathering part. Every so often, our criteria for what counts as the best theory breaks down. To remain coherent with other theories, the working hypothesis becomes more and more extravagant, so we either have to sacrifice simplicity or coherence. Sometimes this means that reality is complicated, and sometimes it means we are trying too hard to hold onto old theories.
The origin of M-Theory is that it is needed to make the various super-string theories cohere with one another. The reason we have these super-string theories is to make the theory of relativity (which explains gravity) consistent with quantum theory (which explains the other fundamental forces). Relativity and quantum theory are, of course, well-tested and established. There are ideas to test super-string and M-Theory, but they haven't been tested yet. So they are currently only candidates for a solution, not facts.
Treating them as such, as Lactiscaseique did in his last few e-mails, overlooks the likelihood that once these theories are tested (if they ever can be), some new incongruent data will cause some major rethinking. It may even be that that super-strings and M-Theory are just epicycles that we have invented to keep alive quantum mechanics and relativity, when either or both might be wrong in some fundamental way.
To cycle back to our discussion, your description of a graviton pulse expanding the reach of our knowledge into other universes is at this point just sci-fi. The concept of a graviton is describing gravity in terms of quantum theory, which is gibberish until quantum theory and relativity are made consistent.
The move both you and Grammaticus seem to make is that religious understandings are correct that the nature of the universe is explicable, but are just wrong about the explanations, whereas science gives us the correct explanations. However, at the present time quantum theory does not do that at all.
The account you are giving of a future grand unifying theory is notable for the fact that it leaves out the aspects of quantum theory that are most damaging to your position—and most support my idea that our concepts have limits. That is, quantum theory does not claim to give us a picture of the state of the universe as it is independent of us. Rather, it couches the entire theory in the caveat that this is what the universe looks like at this level to us when we try to observe it. So this theory explains our understanding without making the cosmological statements that many other theories do. Maybe the grand unifying theory will say the same thing about really big objects as well—once we get to a large enough scale, the universe doesn't make logical sense, just like it doesn't at a small scale.
This makes perfect sense from a naturalistic point of view. Our brains evolved to help us survive a world of medium-sized objects (i.e., not subatomic and not galactic). This world is adequately described by Euclidian geometry, with time running in one direction at a more or less constant rate, and effects following causes. Our minds are more or less hardwired to understand the universe in this way.
We have the ability to abstract beyond this structure, but like all abstraction, this ability is circumscribed by the everyday reality we are abstracting from. For example, what are we actually talking about when we talk about the 5th and 6th dimensions and how are they different from one another? I realize there is a technical answer for this question, but the terminology is telling. We are saying that beyond a dimension of which we have no real concept there are another several spatial dimensions and the 6th relates to the 5th in a similar way to the 3rd relating to the 2nd. So we have no real idea about what this aspect of reality is other than variables in an equation. We are putting things that are beyond the limits of our ability to conceive into language that makes them seem more manageable.
Another way to think about this is that when we talk about the objective world, what we are doing is talking from a point of view that we have imagined. We start from our own subjective understanding and take several objectifying steps where we remove elements of our own subjectivity. However, our starting point will always be our subjective viewpoint, which will affect where we end up. I don't mean this in a gender-studies sense—I am just pointing out that, however objective we get, we will always be using a brain that evolved to outcompete the other erect apes.
Grammaticus, I didn't say that God could exist in a high dimension but doesn't exist here. I said that if God is a limitless being it exists in all places, both conceivable and not. This idea is usually called pantheism, and I guess it has convinced me that if there is a God it is a pantheistic one. Dawkins says this is just atheism, but since he just asserts this, I don't understand why it is so (I do know he asserts it in order to claim Einstein as an atheist, despite Einstein's claims to the contrary).
If I were saying that God exists in a high dimension it would be a God-in-the-Gaps evasion. What I was trying to do was use spatial infinity as an example of something that we can't conceive of to illustrate that there are things that may exist that we can't conceive of, but then we lost track of this being an illustration and not my main point, and things got confused.
My view is that, if God exists, it is the "greatest" thing, as it is limitless. This would put it among the set of things that exist, but which are beyond our ability to understand. So I would say that it is not logically impossible that God could be known. I do think that it is impossible for us to understand it, given our limitations.
When you and Lactiscaseique say that "I have no reason to believe in God" you are emphasizing the lack of a necessary place for God in our scientific cosmology. You are both willing to concede that, from a scientific worldview, you can't rule out God (or dragons, or fairies), but this is sort of a technicality.
When I say "we can't know whether God exists," I am emphasizing the limit of our abilities. I am not being skeptical of our knowledge because I have to be to be a good scientist; I am skeptical because I think an honest confrontation with what humans are involves acknowledging that we are limited—and this is a huge part of what religion is about.
When you ask, "If there is no good reason to posit that God exists, why posit it?", you are imagining that religion is merely pre-scientific cosmology. I think that the power of religion to explain the natural world is basically nothing. However I think that the point of religion is, and has always been, more than that. The point is to help us understand our place in the universe from another point of view. I think the idea of God helps people do that. Other people might stare at their belly button to get to the same place. Just because this activity isn't scientific doesn't mean that this process is worthless; it just means it isn't science.
GRAMMATICUS: Lactiscaseique, in your
last big e-mail, the
problem seemed to be (Coriihumidi, do you agree here?) that although we
both conceded that the Teapot does not apply to Coriihumidi's God, and
in keeping with this concession in the last half of your e-mail, in the
half you basically give the textbook definition of the Teapot argument
explanation for your stance:
My view isn't the Teapot
because the Teapot
argument is 100% negative in nature. It is all about
view is more subtle than
that. While I think we have no empirical reason to think that
being exists, it is virtually impossible to deny the possible existence
limitless being that science just cannot understand (and maybe for
"reasons to believe it exists" cannot be rationally formulated).
Your response was complex,
but avoided the
question. The Teapot isn't about "impeaching predictions," it
is simply an analogy for "Hey, you are the one who proposed something,
the burden is on you to produce evidence." In the example
predictions about future events aren't being based on the
posited aside from the existence of the Teapot itself. And
doesn't go into whether a space teapot is "impossible in principle"
(of course it is possible in principle—an astronout hucks a
teapot into space
and it ends up orbiting a planet), so admitting God is possible in
does not differentiate your position.
you are now trying to run on me a
version of the straw man
you kept trying to run on Coriihumidi and I'm starting to feel the same
with having to re-explain myself.
point of the conceptual and Private Object considerations of a
that is beyond human concepts is that rational entitlement to
empirical or otherwise, cannot be presented for such a thing.
talking about such a thing may not be possible. So, you
rational arguments about such a thing, because these arguments will
operator (a "limitless essent") that has a nature that is logically
contradictory. That means an object, thus conceived, entails
CORIIHUMIDI: I think the best presentation of my view was my last e-mail. As for the paper trail to the 27th dimension, this is just another way of saying “I have no reason to believe in a limitless being,” which is just the Teapot presented in a more respectful way. Briefly, I would say that the thrust of my theological views is not “God might exist so we should be concerned about that”—it is more like an awareness of how limited we are, which has important moral and epistemological implications.
LACTISCASEIQUE: First of all, Coriihumidi, both your responses to me and Grammaticus were excellent. I am sorry if I somehow conveyed the impression that M-Theory is regarded as scientific fact. It is not. It is a largely speculative theory that uses strings and membranes to effect the unification of quantum mechanics and gravity/Einsteinian mechanics. It has generated a few testable predictions. Once the Large Hadron Collider comes online at CERN later this year, they will test some of them.
M-Theory is not the only new untested theory that proposes a unification of general relativity and quantum mechanics; it's just the one that I know the most about. There are lots, and their credibility varies as whatever new paper comes out. However, there are two that are considered leading candidates: M-Theory and "Loop Quantum Gravity," which Greene mentions tangentially towards the end of The Fabric of the Cosmos. I know much less about LQG, but I am going to read the book Greene recommends once I get through The Selfish Gene (which, by the way, is pretty neat). LQG, by the way, involves zero higher dimensions—just 3 space and 1 time. This is a big mark in its favor.
I do not think science is near to being complete, now or in 250 years' time. That's not just because of generalized scientific skepticism; it is because any even slightly realistic description of the way science works in the real world shows it doesn't yield "completeness," only generates incompleteness and new problems to solve. Scientists eventually get stumped and then work out a big conceptual leap (Kuhn's "paradigm shifts") and then refine the new paradigm down until it's time for the next conceptual leap and identification of new problems. That is why the conception of science as a "body of facts" is wrong. What is currently regarded as "scientific fact" can change, as we see when someone comes along every so often and shakes everything up by framing the same problems in a new way.
am loath to draw some
generalized conclusion from the way science works about whether "our
are incapable of understanding the universe in itself in
I think that is probably a kind of skeptical overreach. I
involves forming an affirmative belief about something (i.e., the
belief is that it is outside our concepts in principle.
Plain vanilla QM
as it exists
in 2009 does not favor any one
of these. That lack of commitment is partly why the
General Relativity arises. If you've got an object made up of
that should have mass, but whose constituent atoms have this goofy
status of probably existing at some given location
in space, you can't
calculate something's velocity. Einsteinian mechanics do not
say something is probably someplace—it is
someplace, dammit, and that's where we
start calculating its
—I agree with Coriihumidi that a limitless being is like a Private Object;
—I agree that if a being/essent exists that transcends our concepts, we do not have access to it in principle, and thus we cannot in principle form beliefs about it (Upshot: empirical arguments like the Teapot argument cannot grapple with a limitless being);
—I agree with Coriihumidi that there is an argument to be made that a limitless being/Private Object fits some religions' definitions of "God";
—I think Coriihumidi may be begging the question a little bit if he just flatly asserts that the universe exceeds our concepts in principle, but I am not sure if this is something he really thinks or if it's a view I am imputing to him.
So, unless Coriihumidi cares to object to the above, I think I'm pretty much done.
I am with you on most of
this. Just two
LACTISCASEIQUE: The caveat you mention is real, and what makes M-Theory and LQG novel is that no such caveat is needed. However, for what it's worth, the language that physicists use is not "perceiver" but "observer." This is for a very good reason: things that cannot "perceive" have been shown to be capable of "observing" a particle—for example, a photographic plate or other experimental apparatus that humans are not even aware is operating. What this means for our discussion here is simply that humans don't necessarily need to be involved in acts of observation for the behavior of atomic particles to still be best described by QM. In that sense, QM is not merely how humans are somehow forced to describe particles at the very small scale; rather, quantum mechanical descriptions of particles would seem to be the inevitable conclusion of any species that investigates particle behavior mathematically. I may be splitting hairs, but I think this is an important aspect of QM. Namely, it's not an incidental by-product of humans; it's more like the inevitable upshot when a species uses math to describe particles.
But I'm not sure this matters to your point. Your point is that human beliefs about the nature of matter in the universe, i.e., rational human beliefs, have to involve certain features (like logic, perhaps certain mathematical features, etc.). It is conceivable that there exist life-forms who do not need to deal with the universe using mathematical formalisms, and who interact with it on very small scales and presumably have minds suited to doing so. I am thinking of some kind of life-form that has like a pre-conscious awareness of quantum states of matter and, I guess, “use” that for something. In any case, all this leaves quite open the possibility that human rationality has a limit. So it goes.
In the 1950's the idea of "quantum decoherence" was developed, and it became much more popular in the 80's. Basically it said that when you look at particles in a lab, you're not looking at them in normal situations, and that there is something about the mechanics of particles at that size that makes them, when isolated, go kind of insane and display behavior they wouldn't otherwise. When matter and energy exist in the real world, they are constantly being bombarded with energy, jostling with other matter, etc. "Decoherence" is the idea that the wave functions "decohere" and collapse into a well-defined state when matter is not being bottled up in a magnetic field and having all other particles excluded from the area being observed. This means that classical mechanics emerges from quantum mechanics due to the jostling. In a lab, under heavily artificial conditions, matter looks crazy; in the real world, it does not.
I think just
asserting that the
universe is not wholly open to us (and
you mean in principle not wholly open to us) is
precisely what I was
saying is question-begging. I am going to press this point
because it is
precisely what I think we cannot do: form beliefs about the nature of
that is beyond our ability to reason about it. On what basis
believe that the universe is not wholly open to us? I would
assume it is
based on something more substantive than "Well, we make mistakes
sometimes, which could be attributable to some in-principle
insufficiency"—i.e., general skepticism.
physics stuff was, as
always, damned interesting, but I think we have passed the point where
any reason to engage with it as far as the God argument goes.
does it mean to "use"
something as "a
God?" That you contemplate it in order to feel humbled and
Freud's "oceanic feeling?" As Coriihumidi has admitted, for
some people it is their own navels, and for others it is the
possibility that a
limitless thing exists (which cannot be rejected because it cannot be
CORIIHUMIDI: My reason for starting this discussion was to get into it about Dawkins and his brand of atheism. I had previously just thought Dawkins was obnoxious, but now I think he is wrong; not so much about his conclusions but about how he got there. I also think that, while Dawkins has a more plausible and sympathetic worldview than Ted Haggard, he shares his myopic certainty.
What Dawkins and the new breed of aggressive atheists do is define down an important part of human culture. Rather than actually deal with sophisticated understandings of God and the divine, Dawkins insists that the only genuine definition of god is the one used by the most simplistic religious literalists. Dawkins uses a Man on the Cloud definition of God, and every time he is called out on it he has a little temper tantrum and orders you not to point this out again.
I think this conversation has mirrored this (plus science trivia). As Grammaticus concedes, "my argument reduces to ‘I will refer to [a limitless essent] as God when you give me a reason to use that word as opposed to another.’" My reason for using a limitless being as a definition of God is that this is the understanding used by thoughtful religious people across many monotheistic religious traditions. If you are interested in using arguments as a way to uncover the truth, then you should always consider the strongest possible form of the position you are attacking. Otherwise it is just wisecracks and propaganda. So I guess my argument reduces to “you have no principled reason to use the least plausible understanding of God and no authority to re-write the history of religious thought to fit your preferred argument.”
I think your reason is actually that the people you are really concerned with—the religious right, intelligent-design promoters, etc.—do have an unsophisticated understanding of God. So why don't you just fucking say that?
This “public atheist, private agnostic” stuff just expresses contempt for your audience, as if they can't make a distinction between Pat Robertson and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The fact that you and Russell admit that being an atheist (even an atheist about your impoverished conception of God) makes no sense only amplifies the problem. In effect your position is that you prefer to call yourself something stupid because nearly everyone is so stupid that they will be more impressed with the stupid position you claim to have than the plausible position you actually have.
Aside from its total bad faith, this strategy is an utter failure. The majority opinion (i.e., that held by religious moderates and the religiously uninterested) is that the fundamentalists and the new atheists are mirror images of each other and neither has an appealing world view. Majority opinion is actually pretty easy on the atheist. Fundamentalists at least have a coherent story on how they know what they claim to know: they have a mental faculty, faith, which allows them to perceive religious truths directly. It is not plausible, but it is coherent. Atheism, on the other hand, is just incoherent and unsupported.
The heart of Dawkins’s anti-religious campaign is he thinks that religion (though it is really only fundamentalism) creates bad habits of mind: it trains people to believe things without firm evidence. However, Dawkins exhibits an equally pernicious mode of thinking: rather than taking a topic seriously, he is happy to draw firm conclusions based on cartoon understandings.
Here is an example of why this is bad. When Dawkins and/or Christopher Hitchens discusses terrorism, they say the way to understand terrorists is to take what they say seriously—i.e., that they are motivated by their literal understanding of the Koran. Thus, when dealing with terrorism you should understand yourself to be dealing with people who are unreachable by reason and are motivated by weird legends and myths. So they are shoulder to shoulder with Bush and Cheney on this one. I don't think that Dawkins has thought much about the proper approach to terrorism, but Hitchens’s atheism has led him to be a neoconservative nutjob.
A better approach is to consider the culture and history of the situations that gave rise to terrorism rather than jumping to the easy answers. Bush (maybe) got to the easy answers via religious fundamentalism and Hitchens got there via atheism. For all its faults, non-fundamentalist religion teaches people that they actually don't know most things and should proceed in the world with caution and humility.
Your saying that
Grammaticus and Dawkins like
to fight strawmen seems fair to me (Grammaticus calling theists
“crazy” when he
knows they aren’t, for example), but I thought Dawkins was
fairly to the left
on foreign policy, and that he opposed the Iraq War back in 2002-3. I really don’t
think he is
shoulder-to-shoulder with Bush/Cheney. And
I strongly disagree with the idea that Hitchens is representative of
besides himself (maybe some conservatives who are atheists and just
the savages, I guess—and is atheism at the heart of
worldview anyway?). If
you want more
anti-Islamic atheists, I think a better example is Sam Harris. I would bet there are a lot
of people who are
unwilling to bomb Muslims overseas (so not Hitchens), but who agree
preemptive defensiveness on social issues domestically, particularly in
CORIIHUMIDI: Re the link between atheism and hawkishness, I sort of overstated but mainly underdeveloped my point. Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris all discuss religion as if it is a mental disease. They claim that faith in God forces one to act based on irrational beliefs and harms one's ability to form rational beliefs. Furthermore, they contend that anything bad that has happened in human history that has any religious dimension was wholly inspired and caused by religious influence. The example of Dawkins blaming religion for the Taliban destroying Buddhist monuments, but failing to credit religion for inspiring their creation, is a good example.
Therefore, Isreal/Palestine, jihadist terrorism, and the Spanish Inquisition are all caused or at least abetted by religious thought. If you believe that any conflict with any religious aspect is caused by a mental disease, then you will not inquire into root economic or political causes of a problem—that would be like trying to understand the grievances of a schizophrenic.
Dawkins stops there and does not ask what is to be done if these fanatics attack us. However, Sam Harris and Hitchens (whom Dawkins cites approvingly on all other matters) give the only answer their ideology would allow: you hit them back harder and faster so that they are afraid of you. This "they only respect strength" mentality is militated by their hard atheism and has been a manifest disaster.
may well have been
example is his attack
on multiculturalism. In
Dawkins’s mind this is just a condescending aesthetic belief
that the world is
more interesting if we have different people with different cultures in
Dawkins argues that this toleration condemns the children in
cultures to a life of backwardness and various forms of ritualistic
The assumption underlying this attack is
that Dawkins—armed with
the wisdom of the eminences of the Fellows of the Royal Academy
My broader point is that the new atheism has its own bad habits of mind that are every bit as pernicious as those you get from religion. Dawkins and company are too easily satisfied with strawman understandings of things with which they disagree, and they are far too certain in the virtue of their own beliefs. This is not only unfair to religious people, but also results in manifestly bad policy decisions when put into practice.
Lactiscaseique specifically asked that I comment on the benefit of religion in human society. This is a hard question because the history of human society is inextricably bound to religion (the notion of equal rights under the law is the descendant of the golden rule, etc.). I would instead like to make this conceptual point about the relationship between God and religion. The new atheists treat religion as if it is the result of a false proposition (God exists). This is pretty clearly not true. Religion is a universal human impulse, like sexual attraction. Like lust, it is not rationally derived from various statements of fact, but is just fundamentally part of the human condition.
I would say that the core of religious institutions is the religious community and the ethical message of those religions. For example, in their contemporary iteration, nearly every Abrahamic religion is subdivided into various sects organized by how literally they take their dogmas, ranging from completely literally to completely figuratively. What these various sects agree on is the core ethical teachings of their religion. The golden rule is central to both the Pentecostals and Unitarians. So attacking religion by attacking belief in God is another form of cherrypicking.
A lot was said about the
Atheism," but my response is brief. First of all, I don't
"new" it is. The positions of Dawkins and Hitchens seem
identical to that of, say, Voltaire, but Voltaire was not in a position
he could afford to be as openly flippant.
Being irrational is not
the same thing as
being "crazy." Do
think Gandhi and MLK were merely “nice crazy guys?” I
believe I've ever met an atheist who
thought that way. I
don't even believe
that you believe it. But
it's clear that
it's not helpful for you to keep using these terms. Mockery
of religion is fine, but dishonesty is
not helpful. The
burden isn't on the
theists to prove you wrong; the burden is on you to demonstrate why
theists so hostilely is helpful to society or productive or beneficial
cause. You are
certainly right that even
liberal churches see the Bible as prescriptive—the question
is why you feel so
threatened by that.
BARBAPECTINICULI: I think someone can be crazy and still be a good person.
GRAMMATICUS: What I know about Gandhi and King's beliefs is that they thought racism was bad and nonviolence was good, and I agree with them about those two things. I have no information about their beliefs on other matters. So if they, say, believed that gay dudes could stop being gay dudes by praying a lot and that God wanted gay dudes to do this, then in fact yes I do believe they were nice crazy guys.
huge Prince fan, and
Prince doesn't believe in
bloodwork or dinosaurs.
I don't know who,
attacks. My sense is, "every religious person,"
That said, Grammaticus, I am seriously starting to wonder if you're
deliberately obtuse on this just to spite me and Coriihumidi, because
unable to understand that religious people may think things about the
and think we should do certain things, for reasons other than those
their holy texts. You are once again obviously choosing to
fundamentalists and literalists, the weakest possible definition of
take no official
position on whether Dawkins is full
of shit re multiculturalism, but regardless of what Dawkins
says about it,
I do have positions, because this has caused me some cognitive
before. Basically I
respecting the personal and cultural autonomy of other cultures is more
important than the "sin of omission"—e.g., letting people die
preventable diseases. I think we have a moral obligation to
with the facts as best we understand them. However, the moral
to let them make their own decisions about what to do with the facts is
important than getting them to do what I think is right. That
acting morally is not as simple as just achieving some result: it is
about the means by which you achieve the result.
For the purposes of this
discussion, MLK and
Gandhi believed a) there
is a God,
and b) He wanted them to
injustice in the world. Both
prayed to Him for guidance and strength. I
don't believe you when you claim this is new
information to you. Frankly,
claiming otherwise is bizarre. I
don't believe you mean it when you say that this makes them "crazy." Why are you relying on
irrelevancies about gay conversion and Prince (an actual crazy person)
GRAMMATICUS: As far as strawmen go,
what I have to work
with is what religious people claim to believe with their own
According to multiple polls, a clear majority of Americans believe in
Genesis creation account as opposed to
evolution, and believe that Noah's
but you could just as
easily say "God exists, and
also I am in the mood for Mexican food." If the two things
unconnected, why bother acting like they are connected?
It will take me a
while to memorize
this, but if this is logically what I have to do then I will abide by
dictates of logic and do it.
Paranoid speculation about
what we are trying
to influence you to admit or change your mind about is just
that. All I
am interested in is getting to the bottom of these issues, and
viewpoint on them sounds kind of asinine.
but you could
just as easily say ‘God exists, and also I am in the mood for
If the two things are unconnected, why bother acting like they are
Grammaticus, I challenge
you to apply your
theism/sanity test and rank the following in order of sanity:
CORIIHUMIDI: So my tactic in the last e-mail was to stop defending the various weak points in my theological position and go after Dawkins’s much weaker position. This was all too successful because I guess Grammaticus feels like we can't be friends anymore if we continue. So I will tone down the invective.
As I see it, on the topic of the existence of God, we basically all agree on the facts but we have different takes on them. We all seem to agree that the literal truth of the Bible is as implausible as the literal truth of The Hobbit. We agree that it is at least likely unknowable whether there is a limitless being. And we agree that a limitless being is at least a mainstream understanding of what God is. So therefore we also agree that atheism is actually an unsupportable position. What we disagree on is how interesting or significant the possibility of a limitless being is. I think that the major disagreements we have now are centered on whether religion should have a place in modern society.
Pecuniaecitro, people who
lived a long time
ago don't count. E.g., Socrates did not believe in dinosaurs,
lived before dinosaurs were discovered, but he was not crazy, although
who doesn't believe in dinosaurs today is crazy.
is the inclusion of Hitler supposed to
mean he was an atheist? He wasn't; he was Catholic.
atheist you have on there is Mao, although I am inclined to argue that
Communism of the Mao/Stalin variety is in fact a religion (the same way
that Academic Feminism is a religion—i.e., it mandates belief
disprovable things on pain of excommunication). And
don't understand why you feel the need to obscure your own actual
order to feel like you win arguments with people you know are shitheads
opinions you don't respect."
about it for a second, and you will see that lots of people do this all
E.g., you might admit to your friends that you think rap music is a bad
influence, but wouldn't admit this if you were talking to a
might have been disgusted with Bill Clinton's sexual mores, but would
wasn't a big deal if you were talking to Rush Limbaugh, etc.
"We agree that it is at least likely unknowable whether there is a limitless being. And we agree that a limitless being is at least a mainstream understanding of what God is. So therefore we also agree that atheism is actually an unsupportable position."
There is a huge leap in there. If I concede that a "limitless thing" is a "mainstream understanding of God," that doesn't mean I think it is also a justifiable one. Atheism is still supportable if the credo "I don't believe in God" is amended to "I do not believe that anything that exists constitutes a God." And I didn't say we couldn't be friends if you kept arguing—I said we couldn't be friends if the point of this whole thing was to play a prank on me, i.e., you trick me into saying the secret word and then embark on a campaign of introducing me to people as a Christian for the rest of our lives.
CORIIHUMIDI: That is not what atheism means; it is what you wish it to mean to avoid my arguments. Atheism is universally understood to be the belief that God does not exist. Saying "I don't believe in God" is much weaker, and it includes agnostics of all stripes because if you refrain from forming a belief about God then you obviously don't believe in God.
The imagined confrontations you have with dancing/gloating "shitheads" are easily avoided. A big chunk of my family are fundamentalist Christians and another big chunk are serious Catholics. I also interact with other Orthodox Christian types. When I am asked if I believe in God, I say "Whatever God there is, I think its nature is so far beyond me that I can't understand it." Like clockwork, they say that if I let God in he will make himself known to me. To which I respond something like "I hope so" or, if I am feeling more combative, "It hasn't happened for me yet." These conversations nearly always end harmoniously, and with them at least understanding that I have given the mater some thought.
True, this is a little more effort than saying "atheist." But if you stick a corn cob up a pig’s ass 50 times you might get it to make a sound that sounds like “atheist” also—but that doesn't mean the pig is being more clear. And here is the real problem: if you actually get into these conversations, you will come across people who are smarter than you think they are. If you just say that you are an atheist, they will think to themselves "this guy's position makes no sense; he either hasn't thought about it or he is a moron."
And if you actually were an atheist, he would be right, and his belief in god would be far more rational than your certitude of God's non-existence. He thinks he knows God because he has perceived it directly via faith. All you can say about that is that you don't believe in it because it doesn't happen for you (which is also what I believe). But a blind man doesn't understand vision, and that doesn't mean that we can't see. So if you would just be honest about your beliefs people would by and large respect you for them, and fewer people would leave conversations with you thinking that you are dumber than you actually are.
have to go on what
they themselves identify as their beliefs. So "acting as if"
most religious people in this country believe in Noah's
bring this up a
lot, but we all know that this survey is wrong. Only 40% of
adults report going to church most weekends—and you know lots
of people felt
like they should be going to church each weekend but aren't so they
lied to the
pollster. If a "clear majority" think that Noah's
live in a fairly
conservative place. There are at least four fundamentalist
in the area that I can think of. Still, the fundies are a
out here. I am sure that the vast majority around here don't
the literal truth of Noah's
LACTISCASEIQUE: I submit that one of the biggest reasons it is rude is that it exposes inconsistencies, and that makes people feel cognitive dissonance, and sometimes feel dumb. That is why I think it is unfair to most religious people to cherrypick the least plausible thing they think as the definitive religious position.
See, this is
sort of thing I am
concerned about. Coriihumidi, you are an extraordinarily
smart person who
is trying to be logical and err on the side of caution, and even you
been able to stop yourself from taking a mile once you have been given
"All you can say about that is that you don't believe in it because it doesn't happen for you (which is also what I believe). But a blind man doesn't understand vision, but that doesn't mean that we can't see."
…I.e., a politic
admission about the limits of logic re this issue led directly and
the assertion that religious people have full use of their faculties
am retarded. Fuck you in the
ear. Every concession that
I (and for that matter Lactiscaseique) have made in all 100+ e-mails on
subject has been made under the assurances that we were discussing only
version of God so limited that it is exempt from the Teapot.
paragraph quoted above could just as easily be applied to
is not what I call "exempt from the Teapot."
Here is what do you not get about this: I realize I can fucking avoid fights by allowing myself to be categorized in an inferior position to these people, but I don't fucking want to allow myself to be placed in an inferior position to these people. I do not see how logic dictates that instead of saying prayer is bullshit I have to say that I believe prayer works but I am such a retard that I just suck at it. Blow me. What you just told me to do is as offensive as telling a Jewish guy that he can avoid awkward conversations by changing his name and getting a nose job so no-one knows he is Jewish.
CORIIHUMIDI: Grammaticus, chill out. That was not my point at all. My point is that atheism makes no sense by its own terms, but orthodox religion does. I think the atheist’s terms are the correct ones, but that is obscured by the illogical leaps atheism makes. By comparison, fundamentalism ends up looking more plausible than it actually is. I am making a point about your tactics, not your beliefs.
Keep in mind that this is all in the context of you asserting that everyone is too stupid to understand simple conceptual distinctions. What I am trying to do is to suggest that the illogical leaps made by your "public" position undercut your whole project as soon as you talk to an intelligent person.
Let’s be clear on the three positions:
1) Theist: "God exists, and I know this because I perceive it directly through faith." [I don't believe that faith gives one propositional knowledge, but this makes sense. I also observe that my own lack of faith is not an argument against this possibility, i.e. "a blind man doesn't understand vision, but that doesn't mean that we can't see."]
2) Atheist: "I know that God does not exist because...?" [This position that claims to be supported by reason alone is rationally irresponsible.]
3) Agnostic: "I don't know whether God exists." [This is seems to me to be the most rational belief.]
You keep talking about wanting to avoid being put in an inferior position. The way you put yourself in an inferior position is by publicly espousing a belief that is way weaker than both your actual belief and the beliefs that you are so concerned with arguing against.
Most atheist resources
these days distinguish
between "strong atheist" and "weak atheist," with the first
meaning "I know for a fact God does not exist" and the second meaning
"I consider it extremely unlikely that God exists," and even Dawkins
says that the strong atheist position is illogical. I guess
you see this
as a ploy concession on our parts where we admit that the position is
unsound but then don't change anything about what we say or how we act.
In other words, even if “God” is a sufficiently meaningless term to mandate theological noncognitivism as opposed to atheism (which it is), it is impossible to organize around the principle that the central term of the issue is impossible to discuss. It is like how there are feminists who don’t believe that there is such a thing as gender, but in order to advance this viewpoint they have to self-apply a term (“feminist”) that only makes sense if there is such a thing as gender (because if there is no such thing as gender then the word "female" doesn't mean anything).
CORIIHUMIDI: “One problem is, people who don't get that it is more or less atheism would still get to turn to atheists and say ‘Ha ha, Grammaticus doesn't agree with you,’ when I basically do but just have more training at dressing it up.”
I just realized, on e-mail 110 or something, that while I was trying to argue with you about positions and the various dumbshit things Dawkins says, you were arguing with a malevolent imaginary friend.
So I will wrap up with this: I just finished with The God Delusion. As someone with no dog in this fight I was struck that on every third page he makes an egregious strawman argument, flatly contradicts himself, or offers a poorly thought-out policy position. Rely on him at your own peril.
And for the record, Dawkins does not say that only female genital mutilation et al is abusive—he says multiple times that raising a child in a religious tradition is a worse form of child abuse than sexual molestation. It is in one of the last chapters; look it up. If he was serious about this, then society would have a duty to affirmatively protect children from this abuse. We don't combat rape by making arch comments at rapists’ expense—we throw them in jail. If Dawkins took what he himself says seriously then he would have to come up with some way to prevent parents from raising their children in an orthodox religion.
Speaking of myths,
nonprofit that put me on its advisory board has been
working with the
producers of Mythbusters to develop
a zombie-themed episode
of the show. In this
connection, they've asked for ideas for zombie
the Mythbusters could
two I submitted are below, and somebody already suggested "Is it
just to bite through somebody's skull?" But let me know if
any ideas for zombie myths
you want tested, and I will
pass them along. My
LACTISCASEIQUE: I hate to rain on the parade, but they already tested and busted the Beatrix Kiddo from-the-grave myth. They did an episode where they were going to bury Jamie in a coffin under about six feet of earth and turns out it's not even possible to get a few feet of earth onto it before it starts to buckle and crush under the weight. They let him out after his heart rate and blood pressure went crazy because the coffin was about to collapse under three feet of earth.
BARBAPECTINICULI: Hmmm. Maybe we are meant to cover different zombie topics. I will alert my contacts of this fact.
LACTISCASEIQUE: Yeah. I should maybe add that the myth may still be true, but just difficult to test. Zombies wouldn't breathe and supposedly have super-strength, so maybe if they put a robot in a rotted wood coffin if could dig itself out. I'm skeptical though. The pressure from even three feet of earth was enough to visibly (and kind of dangerously) buckle the reinforced steel of the coffin they buried Hyneman in—so it would seem that anything with human-like flesh would be crushed to a pulp if buried underground.
GRAMMATICUS: Wait a minute—so in every case where the cops had to exhume a body, the body/coffin had actually been crushed to a pulp by virtue of burial, and the cops were just bullshitting? Something is off here. There have been many times where someone had to dig up a coffin and they got down there and the coffin was intact. I agree it is impossible to dig out, but I don't think the casket always gets instantly destroyed.
LACTISCASEIQUE: Well, I mean, the general shape of it would still be sort of intact. Coffins are made of steel or lacquered wood anyway and burying one isn't like putting it in a car-smashing machine. But there was a camera inside the steel coffin they buried Jamie in and it was visibly, obviously starting to buckle inside. Maybe the cops just leave out references to damage in such exhumations? I dunno.
GRAMMATICUS: Coffins were not reinforced with steel 500 years ago, and the body was still in good enough shape for people to dig it up and go "There is blood around the mouth and his hair and fingernails look longer—he must be a vampire." Maybe they didn't bury people as deep then?
My questions are mostly
about: "Is it possible to bite a
chunk out of somebody's bluejeans-clad leg?"
I think it'd be hard as shit to do
that, yet zombies do it all the time.
think you would bruise your target, sure, but ripping the flesh has got
CORIIHUMIDI: Three points:
1) Is it really necessary to bury a guy in a steel coffin six feet under to see if he could get out? In modern cemeteries the coffin is inside a concrete tomb.
2) Chainsaws are actually really difficult and boring to use. If you cut into something that puts downward pressure on the blade it pinches and gums it up.
3) I think Pecuniaecitro's barricade idea is workable but would take a lot of planning. If you had too small an area barricaded, the constant stench and moaning would make people inside crazy. You would need some interior space to retreat to. However, that is basically a castle, which would be hard to construct in the period between learning of the outbreak and the appearance of zombies.
about biting is
GRAMMATICUS: My main beef with zombies is how hard they are to "kill." You have to shoot them in or otherwise obliterate the head (in keeping with their general brain-centrism). Zombies are supposed to be science-fiction, not magic, and I doubt the science of a halved body continuing to crawl at you, or a sliced-off arm continuing to flop after you on its own. Scenes where a decapitated zombie head talks somehow (minus larynx, etc.) are obviously also dubious. But I guess these myths are pretty much ipso facto busted just by being uttered.
Grammaticus, you raise an
about what exactly creates zombies. There is less general
you might think. Depending
movie/book/comic/role-playing game, it can be magic, or aliens, or
waste, or religion, or drugs, or something else entirely. I once tried to make a list of all the different things that can
LACTISCASEIQUE: I second this objection. If destroying the brain of a zombie is the way you kill it, severing the connection and having the severed limb flop after you is beyond retarded.
CORIIHUMIDI: Lactiscaseique and Grammaticus...
"I second this objection. If destroying the brain of a zombie is the way you kill it, severing the connection and having the severed limb flop after you is beyond retarded."
Agreed. I thought a plague of dead people advancing on the living with unquenchable desire to cannibalize made good plain sense until [cough] I considered a [teeth suck] cut-off arm coming after you. ASSHOLES!!
But I think Lactiscaseique's idea of a moat is good. You don't even need a drawbridge, just a narrow bridge that a human can walk across carefully and a zombie would stumble off of. The problem is getting stuck behind the moat, because starvation also sucks.
Come to think of it, how
would one go about
getting food in a zombie-infested
large-scale agriculture would cease, so food would be either found
probably the kind of semi-nomadic agriculture that was thought to
transition from hunter-gathering to fixed agriculture, where a nomadic
would just throw down some seeds someplace and move on.
PECUNIAECITRO: Re Lactiscaseique’s "A heavy metal rod would never run out of ammo, it's true, but my sense is that any metal rod heavy enough to be swung and crush a skull (even with gravity assisting) is probably too heavy for a person to lift."
I'm thinking a 15 lb. steel rod, about ten feet long. You don't have to swing it. I bet you could just thrust it downward and punch a hole in their heads. Agreed that the stench would be horrible, but better than being eaten. Food production would definitely be a huge problem. You'd have to have fields and silos behind those walls.
LACTISCASEIQUE: I'm envisioning another problem: zombie pileup. Zombies are definitely too dumb to deliberately form a human pyramid to reach the top of your perch, but they are definitely smart enough to stagger up a ramp made of the dead bodies of their kin. I guess this could be an issue for any zombie barricade, really. It almost makes me wonder if a better means of ensuring zombie-proof openings into a structure would be a tunnel that steadily narrows into a cone shape, with a little human-size trapdoor at the end, with acid jets or giant blades of whirling death lining the corridor and basically a big mechanical dead-zombie squeegee device. If zombies in tunnel, activate mechanism and then squeegee. If not zombies in tunnel, human has plenty of time to crawl on hands and knees through opening, but zombies will eventually bonk their heads and fall over if chasing a human.
PECUNIAECITRO: You're right. Zombie pileup would be a problem. Maybe you could lure the horde to the other side of the castle with the smell of fresh babies or something while you send out a crew to clear the pile on side 1.
GRAMMATICUS: Well, if you have enough acid to install “jets” of it in the tunnel, surely you have enough to simply dump off the side of the castle on the zombie pile.
Plus I don't think a pile of rotting corpses would be that long-term stable anyway. Can vultures, etc., eat from the pile without turning into zombie vultures?
BARBAPECTINICULI: What if the acid were strong enough to dissolve the zombies?
LACTISCASEIQUE: Tha's wot I'm talkin' bout.
This having been legitimately a book-length dialogue—several times over the longest document on The 1585, and quite possibly on the whole damn internet, excluding the genres of Harry Potter fan fiction and stories about female celebrities wrestling in pantyhose—it is entirely possible that no-one will ever get to the bottom and read this. In case anyone does, however, I have prepared these closing statements.
As I specified in Part X, I am happy to identify myself as a Theological Noncognitivist, or simply “non-believer,” rather than an Atheist, if Reason dictates that I do so. Indeed, this decision was made with a precept of my own devising in mind—namely, that one who is beaten in an argument is bound not only logically, but also ethically, to amend his former position. My fondest wish, in so doing, is that I may serve as an example of a man who would rather have his world turned upside-down than be called a hypocrite. It is personally important to me, however, that this clarification in no way be taken as a rebuke by, or to constitute disapproval of, the Atheist community, for the past support of whom I am very grateful, and whose future respect I shall still endeavor to deserve.
Hopefully, it is obvious to everyone that an admission that there are insufficient grounds to reject out of hand the possibility of a limitless essent does not mean that I can’t insist upon the veracity of dinosaurs, make fun of gay-conversion centers, or call Kirk Cameron stupid. My thoughts on these matters have in past works been made clear, and remain so. But what I have been asked more recently to admit, and now do so admit with neither apology nor annotation, is that someone who merely wishes to devote time to thinking about ethics while meditating upon the concept of limitlessness because he or she feels humbled by the implications of limitlessness probably isn’t raring to take a black marker to the science textbook. As far as I am concerned, such an individual is free to go about his or her business with my best wishes. He or she is probably not inclined to join 1585, but neither are any number of others, for any number of reasons, who are probably perfectly harmless people nonetheless.
What this experience has forced me to confront is the sobering fact that, in the absence of Atheism, I have for several years now had no idea of who I was, or why I had any business rising in the morning. At several points over the course of this dialogue, I was panicked—far too panicked, I now realize—at the possibility that I might lose. A strong motivator in my Atheism was the belief that no-one should ever go so far into any “ism” that he or she begins to feel as if existence would be meaningless without it. And I have not always done the best job of remembering that this goes for Atheism too. I have now the comfort neither of religion, nor of the organized opposition to it, and must find some other question within which to store my hopes of its ever having mattered that I had lived and died.
To those who consider themselves to have been at any point enriched by my work here over the last two-and-a-half years, I now ask in return for your forgiveness if I have let you down, and your patience while I take the time to find how best to serve you in the future.
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