Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Green Letters Wars, Episode V: Rozumalski strikes back

My most recent fearless theist commenter, Keith Rozumalski, responds again, this time to my response to him (fair enough). One maximum-length, sarcasm-laden comment wasn't good enough for him this time, though. He left four of them. Let's respond, though perhaps with less detail this time (indeed, so much detail last time only because of my experience in not responding to some particular sentence only to be told that I didn't have a response to it... so annoying). Like with other recent discussion partners, by arguing further, Rozumalski helps us out. As before, Rozumalski speaks in green, in quote-indents.
You mention special pleading a few times in this post, and it appears to me that you don’t really understand the concept of the special pleading fallacy. Special pleading is applying a principle to someone else’s case, but not your own. An example would be a Hollywood star who while cutting to the front of a long line says, “I think that people should wait in lines, but I’m a VIP with a busy schedule so I shouldn’t have to wait.”
Special pleading is also when you think your chosen belief system gets special treatment that other non-evidence-based belief systems get. Got any evidence for Christianity yet? Didn't think so.
In this instance you’re referring to the only way I could be committing the special pleading fallacy is if I were ignoring commands in the New Testament to commit acts of violence against non-believers. I know that Jesus commands me to love my neighbor, but I can’t think of any NT verses that tell me to slay infidels. 

Try John 15:6, allegedly from the mouth of the late, great JC himself: "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned." Granted, it doesn't specifically say to do violence to infidels, which you'll counter with, but that's hardly the point. As you go on to interpret the Bible to your uses (just below), many Christians have gone on to interpret this verse (amongst others) to set infidels on fire throughout history. 

Again, Inquisition much? For what it's worth, until you can prove that your brand and interpretation of Christianity is "the true one," you have no authority to say your interpretation is more valid than anyone's else. That's the problem with non-evidence-based thinking. You have no epistemology by which we can distinguish one "theological truth" from another. To believe otherwise of yourself is to commit special pleading for your interpretation.

To pretend that Christianity doesn't have a streak of violence and exclusivism written directly into its scripture (to say nothing of its dogmas or doctrines) is to commit special pleading by saying that in Christianity those verses are to be interpreted metaphorically, whereas doing that would be inappropriate in a religion you don't believe, say Islam.

Maybe you're right, though. Maybe I'm the one that doesn't understand special pleading. I'm not nearly as practiced at doing it as you seem to be.

Rozumalski goes on,

The problem here is that you quoted Matt. 10:34 out of context. Matt. 10:34-37 says, “34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
Thanks for making it worse for yourself. Moral salience failure.
So, with the full context we can see that the sword is the Gospel and is working metaphorically as a divider between the people of Christ and non-believers who could be your own family members.
So with your full context (following Gill, I know, but that's his), not the full context. And all Gill can do is write some apologetics that try to lay the blame on people screwing up Christ's alleged intention here, which he cannot actually know. This is a classic self-depreciation routine played out repeatedly in the Abrahamic (and other) faiths. Instead of assuming that one guy was perfect and everyone else is screwing it up, it's vastly more reasonable to assume that the one guy was screwing it up too--not least because he believed the world was about to end and in the new world order to come he'd be the king of creation. These days, we try to treat mental disorders of that kind, and we certainly do not deify them.

Skipping some, Rozumalski mentions another old favorite, though not to make this point:
Whenever anyone has absolute power there will always be a temptation to abuse it just as the atheists in communist countries harassed, imprisoned, tortured and killed religious people.
Making this argument destroys your credibility as a serious person. You have revealed yourself to be an agendist because you are ignoring the forest for the trees. Atheism is a null hypothesis and cannot motivate such behavior. Totalitarianism not wanting competing totalitarianisms (like theologies!) motivates this behavior.

In related news, did you know that those murderers in communist countries also drank water? As you drink water as well, you are clearly just as bad as they are.

The only reason God doesn't fall for this absolute power problem, for what it's worth, is because He's imaginary. You'll note that throughout the OT, though, He falls for it repeatedly.

Rozumalski's point:
Just because some atheists behaved horribly decades ago doesn’t mean that all atheists are going to try to kill me because of my faith. In fact most atheists are quite peaceful just as most Christians are quite peaceful even though some Christians have behaved horribly at times throughout history.
Oh, right... because my main problem with Christians is that most of them act badly? NO! I already covered that for you in detail, and it resides in my book, which I'm assuming you still haven't bothered to read.

My main problem with Christians is that they believe something they cannot establish to be true, and that that sets the context for the lunatic fringe to be horrible while having their beliefs protected from the criticism they deserve and while adding false force to their agenda (a la "most people believe this but King Obama is trying to take it away!").

Rozumalski goes on with the sarcasm in full effect next. I'd ignore all of it, but he deserves a little correction here.
You said: "I'm not saying, nor have I ever said, that all religious people are dangerous and evil. That's nought but straw, and moldy straw at that. I also don't think that most religious people are violent in general."

Good, we’re making progress in sounding out your motivations for wanting to destroy all faith. We can cross fear of religious violence off of the list. I’m glad that you realize most religious people are peaceful.
No, Keith. You're making progress in understanding my position. I haven't had to move yet. Stop pretending I have.
You said: "My main issue, though, isn't political."

Good, we’re really making progress now. We can cross politics off of the list too. So, what left?
No again, Keith. You're the one really making progress now. I haven't had to move yet. Stop pretending I have.
Even supposing that you’re right about naturalism how is a religious believer’s life marred by their faith especially if they get meaning, comfort and peace from their beliefs? It’s not like they are ever going to know that they’re wrong—when they die they’ll just cease to exist. At least their brief, little life was imbued with purpose and happiness even if it was just a fantasy. It’s not like their life was wasted as there really is no way to waste your life in an entropic universe that is going to wipe out all traces of our existence. 
It's not about whether or not I'm "right about naturalism." It's that I know you're not right about theism because it requires you to believe something on insufficient evidence. "I don't know" is a good answer to questions when it is the true one.

How are their lives marred by their beliefs? READ MY BOOK! CHAPTER 11. I already told you that. It's a nuanced argument that I already made and published.

It doesn't matter if they ever find out that they're wrong. It matters how they live the life they know they have. Having unsubstantiated beliefs in an afterlife, for instance, modifies how that is treated. Having unsubstantiated beliefs in a judgemental God who cares what they do with their sexual organs, choices of curses (spoken to the air to relieve psychological pressure), many other activities (dietary restrictions, dancing restrictions, etc.), and thoughts modifies how that is treated. They end up throwing away much potential value in their lives chasing smoke. That's why it matters on one level. It matters on another level because they are personally, scripturally, doctrinally, and societally pressured to push all of this unsubstantiated nonsense on everyone else, sometimes frequently even by screwing with public policy. Oh, and then there's that creating and maintaining the context for David Koresh and the 9/11 hijackers kind of thing.

The thing about purpose is dodgy. If there really is no God, their lives were not imbued with purpose but rather with false purpose. That's important.

Happiness? Maybe. Seems to me like that's not the case. Most deeply religious people I see are perpetually confused about why God keeps sending them so many trials because they aren't permitted to have the perspective that it's just how things go and that no one is sending them trials. Normal people don't blame themselves when a storm blows shingles off their roof causing expenses that are hard to cope with, but religious people who believe that the only reason bad things happen is because sin is in the world have to blame themselves for happenstance.

You're thinking in black and white here. It's not a matter of totally wasting a life or not. It's a matter of doing less well than otherwise. Of course religious people don't waste their entire lives (read the book). They just live it necessarily suboptimally because of their unsubstantiated and influential beliefs (read the book).

In comment #3 (the above was #2), Rozumalski addresses the fact that his arguments are helping the cause of antitheism, predictably by doubling-down on them. Really, these kinds of arguments aren't helping theism at all. Theists would be better off to stop making them.
Remember that it is your worldview that says that we are nothing more than highly evolved animals living on a rock surrounded by a vast, indifferent universe. We are just here by chance. Entropy is going to destroy the earth and all life in the universe will be exterminated. There is no meaning to life other than what you come up with, and that meaning will cease to exist once our ephemeral life is over.
Um, right, and we have evidence for that worldview, however sad it makes you feel (we'll get to that briefly, or you could READ MY BOOK where I cover it). Do you have evidence for yours? Oh, that's right, you don't.

Now, that chance thing.... Sort of. Sort of not. This is a favorite point of equivocation for theists, which is why it helps us every time you make that argument because it reveals you as a bunch of equivocators arguing against people who are trying to be vastly more careful than you are.

This is too complicated to get into in full detail here. The anthropic principle plays a role (anywhere that "chance" occurred well enough, we might expect sentience to be able to raise this same argument, and thus the seemingly low probability is actually probably not that low at all). Evolution is usually warped into this, but while chance plays a role in it, so does a mechanism that is not simply chance.

Most importantly, even if we're here by chance, so what? What is lost? What makes us less special in our own eyes at that point? Nothing! (Especially if you bother to spend the time researching how that had to happen, which is nothing short of fascinating: cf. "starstuff.") Indeed, like very rare baseball cards, we're kind of more special if we're really rare stuff. "God made us" is, in a sense, like when a kid's dad makes him a fake Favorite-Player rookie card because he can't find it in a pack. Less special.

Now the destroyer... entropy, not Siva. Actually, your science is wrong here. Entropy isn't going to destroy earth, the sun running out of hydrogen as  its primary nuclear fuel is way before entropy has anything to do with it (I'm not getting into the thermodynamics of whether or not entropy is behind this or not so that you can pretend you still made a point). This is a big deal, though. How big? Big enough so that I covered it IN MY BOOK!

Theists like to get all bent out of shape about objective this and objective that. Objective purpose is one of those things. I hear it all the time. Theists argue that if the entire universe isn't set up specifically to give their lives meaning, there is no meaning in life. Arguing that without ultimate purpose there is no purpose is such sorry solipsism and displacement of humanity that the only emotion I can muster when I hear it now is profound, nearly bottomless pity.

For what it's worth, my editor told me that my section on purpose is perhaps the best section in my book. Maybe you should bother reading it.

Rozumalski continues to ask to be pitied:
What flabbergasts me is atheists who will give lip service to being adult and bravely facing the serious implications of naturalism, and yet they scurry around like ants busily building a nest that is about to be torched. 
A nest that we will conceivably live in (supposing we don't blow each other up first or poison it with our quest for inequality) for thousands of generations before that happens, and a nest from which we can move if the need arises if we develop the technology to do so in the intervening time. "About to be torched..." in about five billion years. Do you not see how you embarrass yourself? Your argument is many times worse than saying "in a thousand years, and earthquake will knock down the house you lived in, so why bother putting a roof on it?"
The ant has an excuse because it is completely oblivious to the fact that it and all its relatives are doomed—it doesn’t know that its work is futile. You don’t have that excuse; you should know that, if naturalism is true, then our existence is ephemeral.
You can't be serious. "Theists believe that there's no point to trying to make a living if we don't get to live forever in a magical place, and we won't hesitate to point to things that won't affect us at all to try to make that point." Nice work. Please, keep making these asinine arguments. Your thank-you card is in the mail.
Imagine if you had burned your book manuscript right after you finished it—there was the moment of triumph when you finished it, but it fades out of existence as if it never existed. If naturalism is true then this is what ultimately happens to all our memories and projects—our existence gets burned away.

When it comes to meaning in an entropic universe the burden of proof is in your court. How does all life in the universe ending tomorrow different then it ending 10,000 years from if all traces of our existence will be wiped out either way?
Wat? Back to your inability to make sense of subjective and local purpose. You really should read that section of my book.

Thanks for highlighting the theistic preoccupation with death and destruction as opposed to an approach that centers on living and flourishing while we can.

In part four, Rozumalski turns it up, debunking "New Atheist nonsense" and going on to make himself out to be the exception (that still can't prove his religion is true but wants people to accept it on... special pleading that his interpretation is better than theirs):
I oppose fundamentalist positions that I believe are harmful and unbiblical. I have actually written posts criticizing Christians who were dirtying Christ’s face by spreading hate in their community.
So did all of the heretic-hunters, including the Inquisition, without the "written posts" part. What makes your interpretation better than theirs? There are over 40,000 distinct denominations of Christianity that you have to rationalize being superior to, along with 20 other major world religions. You know the other Christianities say the same thing about you and quote the same book to do it. What makes you think you're right? Could it be special pleading?
I have written posts defending science and theistically driven evolution.
Oxymoron.
I have also spent hour debating Christians on a Christian blog that was advocating making abortion illegal. In that debate I saw the fundamentalist quickly dismiss the advice of an atheist just because it came from a non-believer. As a Christian I was able to stay in the debate much longer. I wasn’t able to convince the fundamentalist that their ideas were harmful, but at least I got somewhat of a hearing. 
So what you're saying is that people should be Christians so that they can hang in debates with Christian fundamentalists for longer periods of time without changing their minds?
If fundamentalists can be reached then they’ll be reached because of the efforts of moderates. Fundamentalist wall themselves off from non-believers, but they just might be willing to listen to people of their own faith.
I disagree. Indeed, the first post of mine that you commented on pointed out that I think that if their minds can be changed (I don't think that in many cases, actually, and expect that the deeply entrenched ones might simply have to die out as their minds are too warped already), it will be because of increased social pressure--just like with racism. It wasn't almost-racists that changed their minds, it was a rising tide of social pressure. And indeed, recent evidence indicates that most of their minds weren't changed, only their outward behaviors. My thesis stands: social pressure plus the dying out of bad ideas (which comes because social pressure keeps them from being perpetuated to younger generations).

Note that you didn't succeed in changing any fundamentalist minds. You did support their context as another believer in God and ultimate purpose, morality, and a perfect afterlife, though.
Do I have to remind you that you wrote this, “when people on the fence read the arguments of antitheists and see that they make sense, they're more likely to start repeating them,”? Clearly it’s not the case that atheists only cross their arms and say, “No, that’s not enough evidence, try again.” By your own admission atheists have formulated their own arguments, and in my opinion those arguments have fallen short of showing that God doesn’t exist.
Do I have to remind you that the burden of proof is on the claimant, not on the null hypothesis? No atheist, or anyone else, has to show that God doesn't exist. Theists have to show God does exist. It's central to theology to try to get the burden of proof backwards.
However, I do claim that the various cosmological, teleological, axiological, and ontological arguments taken together along with historical evidence and religious experiences are capable of persuading some rational people to believe.
Which is why you should read my book. I'd recommend John Loftus's books as well, and perhaps even some Christian historians (if we accept your thesis that believers can influence other believers more). The historical evidence--not credible evidence, at least not according to historians including Christian historians. Religious experiences--not credible evidence, not least since they happen in all religions, in no religion, and under the influence of some drugs, certain classes of seizures, some traumatic brain injuries, and by wearing devices that send various electrical impulses through certain parts of the brain.

You should also read my post about how faith is a cognitive bias, which is why it sill mislead some otherwise rational people to believe.
Few arguments are as conclusive as this one:
1. If square circles are logically impossible then they don’t exist.
2. Square circles are logically impossible.
3. Therefore square circles don’t exist. (from MP)

This valid argument is obviously true based on the definition of a square and circle.
Indeed, based on the definition of a square and circle. There are metric spaces that can be defined in which squares and circles are identical (and not just ad hoc ones), in which case your syllogism is crap in step 2. That's the problem with these axiomatic formulations--they depend upon the axioms. Logic doesn't determine reality. Reality determines logic, and logic is just a formalistic construction that exists in our minds in order to better interpret reality.

Let's try this one, though: Chickens exist because there's a chicken (incidentally, I can see one out my window at this very moment, so I'm not just saying that). Where's your God?
However, most arguments are not this clear. I can’t even prove that to you the people surrounding me exist outside of my mind. My conviction that they do comes from the properly basic beliefs that the world exists independent from my mind and that I can trust my senses. If I can’t even prove that people I interact with exist how could I possibly convince all people that an immaterial God exists?
Right, you can't prove that. Hence two of my other claims. One is the whole "almost surely" construction in Chapter 5 of my book, which you clearly haven't read because I address this exact issue in it.

The other is that philosophy has probably reached its limit of application to most of the big questions. Where it dwaddles there, it produces naught but twaddle, like this crap which is easy to mistake for being profound.

Rozumalski concludes,
I am satisfied with being able to rationally believe that God most likely exists.
Clearly you're satisfied, but based on what? Do you have evidence?

Thanks again, Keith! Seriously, though, read my book.



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7 comments:

  1. If I'm understanding you correctly you're saying that atheists don't need to make any arguments because the burden of proof is on the theist's side, and since the theist has not been able prove that God exists we should conclude that God doesn't exist. Since the theist hasn't been able to prove that God exists it is obvious that theists are wasting their lives worshiping gods. Am I understanding you correctly, James?

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    1. You're playing a little hyperbolic, but you've got the general idea.

      To wit: "Since the theist hasn't been able to prove that God exists it is obvious that theists are wasting their lives worshiping gods."

      I'd say "wasting their lives" is probably a huge exaggeration. I mean, it's a waste of time and it seriously messes with how someone approaches life in this world, while creating other problems, but to call that a "waste of their lives" is a bit exaggerated.

      Is this how you open the door to Pascal's Wager. I really hope it is. (You could read my thoughts on that in Chapter 6, fwiw.)

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  2. @Keith the burden of proof IS on you, You want the country to conform to your beliefs - you damn well better have proof of the need to for others to believe in your insane fairy tales.

    That humans require an external causation to do justice and kindness to others is absolutely pathetic. The thinking human realizes, instead - that stable society demands common courtesy, moral and fair treatment of all members who abide by agreed upon rules.

    I suggest a thorough reading of Thomas Paine's five opening paragraphs here http://bit.ly/LWSuNz - just for starters. In five paragraphs, it does go a very long way.

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  3. No, this leads to an argument that I have formulated from our dialogue. Here it is:
    1. Antitheists would be reasonably justified in undermining Christian faith if the Christian faith causes Christians to commit acts of violence or if Christianity is obviously false to most rational people.
    2. The Christian faith does not cause Christians to commit acts of violence and it is not obviously false to most rational people.
    3. Therefore antitheists are not reasonably justified in undermining the Christian faith. (from MT)

    During the course of our dialogue about your motivation for wanting to undermine the Christian faith the discussion centered on whether Christianity caused people to behave violently or whether Christianity was obviously false because Christians have not effectively proved to all rational people that God exists.
    You were quite clear that most Christians are decent, peaceful people. You quoted from your book:
    “For example, on p. 303 I write,

    Essentially, the main idea I want to make clear is that the vast majority of believers in the One True Faiths, like the vast majority of infidels, are simply good people that are trying to do their best to live and understand life. Most are pro-humanity. Most are moral and behave ethically. Most are gracious, nice, and kind. Most are sincere. Most are honest and trustworthy. Most are exemplary humans insofar as anyone can be. Many of these positive traits can easily be extended freely to organizations of religious believers as well, and, in most cases, to the leadership of those organizations.”

    Then you said, “On p. 304 I go on to state, 'I think there are ways in which belief in God can be held and expressed in a manner that is unlikely to deserve much negative attention.’” It was also pointed out by me that Matthew 21-22 explicitly commands Christians to not murder or call people names. In addition to all this you were not able to come up with any NT commands that direct Christians to commit acts of violence. So, given all this we can conclude that the first half of premise two is true.

    Now throughout the dialogue you asked me repeatedly to prove that God exits, and have pointed out that I’m not capable of proving to all rational people that God exists. You also said, “It's that I know you're not right about theism because it requires you to believe something on insufficient evidence.” You also said, “Chickens exist because there's a chicken (incidentally, I can see one out my window at this very moment, so I'm not just saying that). Where's your God?” Also, when I asked you to confirm whether I understood you correctly about your assertion that since theists can’t prove that God exists we should conclude that he doesn’t exist you did not deny this claim. The problem with all this is that you’re committing the argument from ignorance fallacy. The only way that you can rationally say that something doesn’t exist is if you’ve made an exhaustive search for that thing and you can’t find any evidence for it. For example if you look around a room and see no elephant then you can rationally say that no elephant exists in that room. We can also rationally conclude that unicorns almost certainly don’t exit on earth since we’ve found no evidence for them.

    Since God is said to be an immaterial entity and we currently don’t have the ability to detect immaterial objects we can’t rationally conclude that our lack of evidence is proof that God doesn’t exist. What’s more it is quite possible that God is the metaphysical cause of the universe and everything in it, so we actually might have indirect evidence of Gods existence. It should also be noted that God is logically possible in all possible worlds unlike contingent beings like us. Humans are not logically possible in worlds without matter or worlds without planets or worlds without heavier elements. God who is said to be a necessary, self-existent and immaterial being is logically possible in all of these possible worlds.

    Continued...

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  4. The only way that something could be obviously false to most rational people is if we have made an exhaustive and conclusive search for evidence of that thing or if that thing is logically impossible. This is not the case with God. What’s more, as I said before theists have formulated several valid arguments capable of persuading some rational people that God exists. Given all this information we can conclude that the second half of premise two is correct.

    Since premises one and two are true and are validly constructed it logically follows that the conclusion that antitheists are not reasonably justified in undermining the Christian faith. What’s more is that you also never demonstrated that a content theist’s existence is really marred if they are wrong. You talked about short term affects, but you never explained how this would carry on past the 0 to 120 years of someone’s life. You never explained how the effects of false belief persist after all traces of human existence has been wiped away from the universe.

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    1. You'll find my reply here:
      http://goddoesnt.blogspot.com/2013/02/green-letter-wars-episode-vi-return-of.html

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