Monday, May 26, 2014

How dumb do I think people are?

In a comment, a concerned reader named Esther O'Reilly asked me how dumb I think first century Jews were. I think this is a legitimate question that deserves an answer.

A little background: The question was a response to my statement that I don't think it's surprising at all that early Christians and the Jewish communities depicted in the Bible would define "faith" as "trust (in God)," because they were still superstitious enough to think that deities and magical powers abounded, lacking better explanations for things. (I know, we're still that superstitious, but it's pretty much beyond debate that we're far less superstitious now, even in those regards. Many of the ancient superstitions that served us before we had science have been replaced by scientific explanations.)

Getting our bearings

So, the answer is that I don't think first century Jews were dumb, at least no dumber than people now, and I don't think people now are all that dumb either. Particularly, I don't think intelligence has anything to do with the matter. It's all about tools.

We'd do well to remember throughout this conversation, though, that until only quite recently, relatively speaking, letting leeches suck the blood out of someone was considered a standard element of medical care for a wide variety of ailments. This was based upon superstitions about how the body works--humours--that persisted for at least 2500 years, largely ending maybe a century ago, give or take a few decades. Except for a few legitimate applications in which their anti-coagulating properties were used to help with some surgeries, mostly in the 1980s, medical science revealed the superstitious nature of bloodletting and led to the end of the medical application of leeches. The point here, of course, is that we were largely clueless about how the body works, had a superstition, applied it in consequential cases, and persisted in it until quite recently when science revealed it to be worthless at best and probably a generally bad idea. People are superstitious, and without tools like science to do better by understanding the world, superstitions proliferate and perpetuate.

Looking around at today, well after science has come to a state of relative maturity and dispelled a huge proportion of antiquated, superstitious thought (it's now considered profoundly backward and ridiculous to seek leeching as a form of medical care by nearly everyone, for example), we still see a lot of superstitious behavior and belief. Grown adults are afraid of black cats for no good reason, the origins of this being in ancient Christian beliefs about witches and the Devil. All manners of hocus-pocus "alternative medicine" and trendy dietary guidelines are attended to with what we could definitely call religious zeal. People still wear, and refuse to wash, lucky underwear because sportsball teams are believed to do better for it. Oh, and yes, we're still bizarrely, almost inexplicably, religious. And this is all after science has done its work to cut away a huge swath of our superstitiousness, perhaps decimating it from pre-scientific times or more.

First-Century Jews

Frankly, people in the first century were, as examples of the animal species Homo sapiens, largely indistinguishable from people today. On average, they were just as smart, measured by intelligence, as people are now, and that intelligence was trained on the challenges of the day and trained by the tools they had at their disposal. One tool we have that they didn't is science, and that's very significant. Science is the first truly effective tool that we've developed for cutting to the heart of the matter of how nature, ourselves included, works. In the process of the explosion of scientific thought, as it progressed, save the dominant religions of the day, gods were utterly ruined by the findings of science. They weren't needed to explain lightning, weather, flooding, crop yields, infant survival, or almost anything else. Demons fell away too. They were superfluous to understand disease, geologic catastrophes, bad weather, mental illness, and almost everything else.

First century Jews didn't have this tool at their disposal. Guess-and-check, which is a very weak and informal way to think quasi-scientifically, was their best tool, and the problem with it is that it's immensely susceptible to biases, particularly confirmation bias. This is where superstitions come from (and, incidentally, hypotheses consistent with evolution can easily attempt to explain why it would be advantageous for a sentient animal to become superstitious--this being the key flaw in Alvin Plantinga's famous Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism: superstitions prove that we're very, very good at getting wrong but useful answers to how the world works).

Lacking science and possessing a plethora of mythological and superstitious accounts for the workings of nature, first century Jews weren't stupid, they were misinformed. They possessed models of the working of the world that would lead them to believe certain kinds of stories readily and to make attributions to gods, demons, fates, djinns, and all manner of other imaginary causes for the phenomena they experienced on a day-to-day basis, and even more for rare but significant events (like the ascension of a king or emperor to a throne, a decisive victory in a battle, or the arrival of a figure or movement who upsets the prevailing social order).

Another important fact about Jews in the first century, and critically in the century before that, is that they were living in a sort of political oppression under Roman occupation. This is exactly the kind of extraordinary outside pressure that increases belief in desperate hypotheses. It's like when someone gets cancer and suddenly starts believing that acai berries have magical powers to cure diseases--the stress of the situation and desperation of the circumstances leads people to cling to potential sources of hope. The Jewish people traditionally were ones who lived in a brutal sociopolitical region filled with turmoil, occupations, genocides, and the like, and so their superstitions contained lots of desperate ideas about a savior-king, a Messiah, who would deliver them from their plight--a recurring theme throughout the Jewish portion of the Bible.

So we had people who were superstitious enough to make magical attributions for phenomena as a matter of course, lacking the requisite tool (science) to do better with a history of a certain kind of desperate hope who found themselves under somewhat serious political oppression. Those people were first century Jews, and they were ripe to believe certain kinds of things. The (fortuitous? maybe not) arrival of an unexpected social movement led by a political dissident, one who was charismatic enough to gather a band of followers through his public lectures, was exactly the kind of event that a whole lot of superstitious baggage ("prophesy") could get unloaded upon, particularly in the dissonance-reducing phase after the incongruously inglorious fall of their charismatic leader.

Superstitious people who believed versions of this particular story started writing it down a few decades later (after it became clear that Jesus' assertion that he was  coming back to start a new Kingdom wasn't going to happen), and as time progressed (including both historical events and the usual development of legends), the stories got more superstitious. The Gospel of John is so much more superstitious than that of Mark that it isn't even taken in the same family as the other three and is often regarded, even by many biblical scholars (but not the most conservative ones), to be a Christian manifesto more than an account of real events. It's often forgotten that the Gospel writers were writing to specific audiences to convince them to believe a certain way, but that's really how that was.

In short, intelligence being completely irrelevant, many Jews in the first century were ripe to believe a story about a figure like the one now recognized as Christ, and some did, but that's not the whole story.

First-Century Romans (and others)

It wasn't just Jews in the first century but also the Romans that surrounded them (and Greeks, among others) that are relevant here. It's very important to realize a great many of the facets of the story of Jesus were ideas that were not considered outlandish in the ancient world: stories of virgin births of important figures, particularly from maidens impregnated by deities, for instance, were rife. No part of the Jesus story would have seemed particularly outlandish, so far as stories about important figures went, to a great deal of the audience at the time. It's critical to realize this, and it's important to understand that some, but not all, is all it takes to get a movement rolling.

This would explain the Gentile conversion, particularly under the tutelage of the zealous ideologue Paul--Saul of Tarsus--who sought to convert people to his hyperreligious position "by any means." That his hyperreligiosity, visions, etc., could not be adequately explained at the time, as they could probably be now (e.g. perhaps by epilepsy in the temporal lobe), his attribution of his conversion and manner to a Spirit wouldn't just have been in line with contemporary thinking, it would have been powerfully persuasive. (One might note that it still is with a large segment of people today when we really should know better, Paul's audiences not having nearly so much of that luxury.)

In the ancient world, superstitions were in competition. The Bible is a veritable tome of competing superstitions, and like surely happened through the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 18, he with the story of the better magic got converts. At first the Romans and Greeks, among others, had no real use for the Jewish or Christian story, save on the small scale (the growing cult of Christianity that was tolerated for a time and then persecuted). Paul could only convert small groups, and by some of his angry Epistles, he clearly had trouble with the affair. As it turns out, even ancient superstitious people weren't immediately gullible to any story that comes along, and they were certainly not stupid.

Fourth-Century Romans

This story cannot be completed without talking about Constantine, because he made Christianity. Again, the populace at large is relevant.

Romans were still superstitious, but the Roman Empire was having problems (largely due to political corruption due, I would venture). The Roman gods, the predominant Roman set of superstitions of the day, were starting to look like pretty bad explanations for things, as gods always do once things start going badly. (Incidentally, gods tend to look like worse explanations for things, often, when things go really well, so long as you have a tool like science to cut away the need for many superstitions.)

So now you have a people, the Roman people, whose superstitiousness was still as high as ever, maybe higher given the decline of their situation, whose superstitions were faltering. You also had a large and significant Christian movement that had been inadvertently strengthened by the attempt to persecute it out of existence. This was creating a major problem for Constantine, who solved it with what might be one of the more deft political maneuvers in all of history. Certainly, that's not indicative of a stupid person.

For those unaware, Constantine came up with a way to make Christianity the state religion while effectively making it seem to the pagans that he hadn't really changed anything except which pagan construct deserved most of their attention. As their operating emperor, which is to say earthly incarnation of deity, changing the focus of the pagan beliefs wouldn't have been overwhelming, perhaps even matter-of-course, and Constantine knew it. Meanwhile the Christians benefited hugely, not just socially but also politically as the bishops immediately gained considerable political power that even outlived the Holy Roman Empire and became the basis for the future realm referred to as Christendom, one of the most potent political forces the Western world has ever been under the control of. It's worth noting that had Constantine made his decision differently, we might be having this conversation about Mithra instead.

Once Christianity became politically installed, there's almost nothing regarding intelligence that has anything to do with belief in the ridiculous Christian precepts. They were the fabric of the worldview pressed into every mind under its thumb, and shaking off an entire worldview is really, really hard.

So, Not Dumb

Hopefully, what I've done here is make a plausible case using a rough historical outline of circumstances for why I think it wouldn't have been ridiculous for ancient people to believe in things like God. If one believes in God with the whole fiber of his being, even if God is not there, it isn't patently ridiculous to believe that one can trust God. All that said, the first century Jews, first century Near Eastern non-Jews, and up through the fourth (and nineteenth and present-day) people didn't believe these ridiculous things because they were dumb, they believed them because they were superstitious and, later, raised to believe them. The difference now is that we have a tool, science, and a body of knowledge procured through it that makes it look quaint, antique, superstitious, and silly to buy into that stuff now--though billions still do.

So, no, I don't think Jews in the first century were dumb, but to answer the question I was asked--how dumb do I think they are?--I have to reply, "roughly the same as us."

The difference

Science, a reliable method for picking apart what's going on and how it works, has changed the game completely. We don't blood-let anymore. The educated scoff at astrology. Nobody is an alchemist anymore except a crank here or there. But lots and lots of people believe that if you believe in the right kind of magic, you're automatically a good person and get to live forever in a paradise. What's going on?


  1. Thank you for this long response. However, I'm not really concerned with the people who were the next degree removed from the disciples, I'm concerned with the likelihood that the disciples themselves were deluded or deceiving. How did you reach the conclusion that either one of these is the best explanation for their behavior and the events reported?

    Which kind of seizure are you thinking Paul was afflicted with---simple partial, which isn't linked with behavioral/personality change, or complex partial, which commonly produces amnesia of the whole event? And how do you account for the other witnesses Paul claims for the event and its after-effects?

    1. Hi Esther, if you think it was the least bit surprising that disciples of a charismatic teacher would believe something, I cordially invite you to use those same standards while explaining why Heaven's Gate, Moonies, Seekers, Millerites, and other devotees believed. Perhaps they all were dumb, if I am to believe your insinuations.

      Of course, a simpler and more charitable explanation is that when people get caught up in a movement, they'll believe pretty ludicrous stuff. If it happens to take place in a society or culture that's predisposed to believe certain kinds of superstitions, the movement that arises following the collapse of the core belief can take hold, e.g. the Mormon (LDS) Church and Seventh-Day Adventism, within Christianity.

      This is essentially how I reached this conclusion. It's simply far more mundane, which is to say that it's also more likely, to suggest that a group of people got wound up believing in a charismatic (apocalyptic) movement at a time when such ideas were common and ripe, and that given the nature of that movement, it had the kind of traction to stick as a plausible story in the broader community later even after being turned into a legend, than it is for anyone to say that some Yeshua character for whom we have no conclusive evidence legitimately is the child of a God we do not actually know exists and did all kinds of impossible things, so far as we know what is actually possible. The cult-figure, superstitious-legend explanation is more consistent with everything else we know about the world than is the Christian belief structure. That's how I made that determination.

      As to Paul, I don't have to think he was afflicted with a seizure to suggest it as a plausible explanation for his "affliction." Trying to blind with science or get me to admit that I'm not an expert on seizures doesn't lessen the impact of a suggested plausible alternative hypothesis. If you want my opinion, which I'm pretty sure you don't really, I expect Paul's affliction is unlikely to be much different from that of Ellen G. White's (Cf. the Millerites and the Seventh-Day Adventist movement). Again, it isn't required that I prove that White had epilepsy, it's just enough to point out that it's a relatively modern case that strongly matches what we see. It's currently known that there exist types of epilepsy that affect the temporal lobe of the brain that create precisely these symptoms in some people. Again, this is more plausible and thus easier to believe about Paul than is the idea that he was getting otherworldly messages from God.

      How do I account for other witnesses that Paul claims? Well, people could have saw him having fits, and since mental "afflictions" weren't understood at the time and were often superstitiously attributed to communication from gods or devils, or other magic beings, they might have thought it a pretty plausible story from him if he said he had a prophetic vision. It is beyond question that people believed such things were possible, in fact not even that uncommon, at the time. Other details could be fabrications, intentional or not, that give the story more gravity--a particularly important point since Paul's Epistles explicitly point out that his mission was conversion by any means (1 Cor. 9, e.g.).

      One of the after-effects of epilepsy of the temporal lobe is hyperreligiosity and a desperate need to communicate the ideas that the victim believes came as a message from God, what Paul identifies with "the Spirit."

      So, again, in short, we have a plausible counter-explanation that's (infinitely) more probable than "God really did do it!"

    2. So are you contending that the disciples voluntarily underwent various labors, sufferings, radical behavior change, risk of death and/or death for something they KNEW to be false? Or that they all shared exactly the same hallucinations of Jesus after his crucifixion, so that they were actually convinced of the physical fact that he had risen from the dead? And how closely would either of these scenarios resemble the behavior of Muslim terrorists, Heaven's Gate, the Moonies, etc.?

      And by the "other details" in the account of Paul's conversion (passed on to and recorded by Luke), are you including the detail that the men with Paul also heard the voice, or that multiple witnesses saw Ananias lay hands on him and take the blindness away? Are you arguing that all of them were in on the conspiracy as well and thus wouldn't have spoken up at the time even if these details were false?

    3. Please tell me that you're kidding me. Every one of them is likely to have believed the core precepts of the group--this is exactly how cults work. That implies that they didn't think they were believing something false. On your standards, we would have to accept that the Moonies and Heaven's Gate had it right because so many people believed it.

    4. But did the core precepts of those groups include the firmly held, defended to the death belief that they had a tangible, physical, many days long experience of their best friend risen from the grave?

    5. Sorry James, but incredulity is not an argument. In an honor-shame culture, you didn't just accept a new belief that came down the line. You accepted what you were raised in or what had an honorable tradition. Novelty was seen as going against the society as a whole in seeking to undermine that which had always worked. The Christians had a lot of novel ideas that would have been shameful.

      Jesus was supposed to be deity, but He lived a fully human life in a fully human body. The body was seen as a negative. The material world was the lesser world with the impact of Plato. Why did beliefs like Docetism and Gnosticism take hold? Because they found a way to deal with this. Adoptionism and groups like the Ebionites dealt with it by denying the deity of Christ.

      The Christians denied the reality of the Roman pantheon also. The Romans would have quite likely had no problem with worshiping Jesus had you included the Emperor, Mithras, Jupiter, etc. in there. Not for the Christians. They said that only Jesus was to be worshiped. Now if you didn't worship the gods, well the gods were the benefactors of the society and if you did not show them good faith (And faith was the technical term used in the world for the loyalty a client was to show his benefactor) then that would put you on the outs. Worse than that, if your community, land, group, etc. had someone who did not worship the gods and you did not do anything about it, you were giving tacit approval to the action and the gods would not bless you. Therefore, you would shame the person into worshiping the gods or else persecute them. (Makes it sound like it wasn't the Christians who were superstitious but their opponents.)

      Christians were also challenging the emperor. Even John Dominic Crossan has said the opening of Mark could be translated as saying "In your face, Caesar!" The term "gospel" would apply to what the emperor said in announcing his reign. Christians applied it to what Jesus said in announcing his reign.

      Christians also had practices deemed bizarre. Why on Earth would you abstain from sex outside of marriage? What kind of ethical commitment is that? Why do you give to the poor? Don't you know that you can't trust poor people? (This was how they thought in the ancient world. The poor were more likely to steal and do shameful behavior. The rich were your benefactors who could grant you honor.)

      Never mind Jesus Himself as dishonorable! Let's see how He was.

      Jesus was born in a town with no honor status, namely Nazareth.
      Jesus never traveled (Aside from as an infant/toddler going to Egypt), never went to battle, never led an army, never ran for office, never wrote a book, etc.

      Jesus did miracles, which would have made him be seen by skeptics as the Benny Hinn of his day.

      Jesus was supposedly illegitimate in regards to his birth.

      Jesus, worst of all, was crucified. Crucifixion would have ended everything. He would be seen as a traitor to Rome by Gentiles and under the curse of God by Jews. Yet to be a Christian, one was staking their identity in a man seen like that.

      An individualist modern society has an attitude of live and let live, celebrating new beliefs, and tolerating different beliefs. Romans were anything but.

      So again, why would someone become a Christian with such a strong list of negatives and zero if any perks?

      And remember, incredulity is not an argument. Try using some historical sources.

  2. I did not see any scholarly sources cited whatsoever to back these claims about how ancient Jews thought or how ancient Romans thought. Do you have any scholars you can point to that you've read on the topic?

    1. I at no point made any effort to make the argument that I'm presenting anything scholarly here. Besides being pretty common-sense to anyone generally aware of human beings, one might reference the Bible, read as something of a record of the way ancient people thought the world was ordered. I seem to notice it talking a lot about prophets, spirits, and whatnot, as do almost all sources that run back to the pre-scientific period.

    2. Which ancient sources are you referring to? Are you referring to Josephus, 1st century Jewish historian who "tends to downgrade miracles or to present scientific-like explanations of them or to give the reader the choice as to how to interpret them" [_Studies in Josephus's Rewritten Bible_ (Boston:Brill, 1998), 568-59]? Or Plutarch, 1st century Greek historian, for whom there was "no such Miracle in the popular sense" (B.S. McKay, "Plutarch and the Miraculous," in _Miracles_, 98)? What about the 1st century Roman historian Pliny the Elder, who views miracles with more suspicion than acceptance in his writings? If you want to go back to even more ancient times, how do you account for T.R. Tholfsen's description of an historian like Thucydides' historiographical method as "[characterized by] freedom from mythopoetic ways of thinking, critical realism, an 'eager generality,' and an inclination to penetrate rationally to the underlying order of things" ["Thucydides and Greek Rationalism," in _Historical Thinking: An Introduction_ (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), p. 18]?

    3. Esther, the people you quote are the EXCEPTION in antiquity.

      Surely you are not so ignorant as to be aware of that obvious fact?

  3. This is really third rate stuff...pretending to know things you don't know about history is bad form for a street epistemologist.

    1. Hi Derek. I, yet again, appreciate you offering your extraordinarily Christian-colored, derisive commentary on my blog posts.

      I should indicate to you that I'm not actually a street epistemologist. I do not conduct "interventions" with people, which is what I believe their defining characteristic is. Indeed, I've conducted exactly zero interventions in my entire life, as I find that they are not my style of communication or dialectic. I'm really glad some people, e.g. Peter Boghossian, do possess that skill.

      I don't believe I've pretended to know anything about history here, but you're welcome to think that I have. I intentionally spoke in broad generalizations that reflect what reading I've done about the ancient world, particularly the Roman and Jewish communities at the relevant times, which comports with the kind of superstitious thinking I'm aware of being prevalent throughout other pre-scientific cultures of roughly the same time period. I also point to more contemporary items for comparison.

      Ironically, as I indicated to Nick above, I do think that the Bible is one of the absolute best sources for getting a grasp on the superstitious minds of the people in the times it was written. Have you actually read that book? It's as full of magical thinking as is Harry Potter.

      The fun part for me is that to counter the general idea that ancient, pre-scientific people were more superstitious than us in exactly the way chronicled in the exact book that they wrote chronicling it, one has to anachronistically assume that the products of their culture, instead of being reflected best by the documents they produced, are better reflected by the culture of thought that we find ourselves in now.

      And it's not just relevant how they thought, but how they conducted "scholarship" at the time is pretty poignant. There's a word, pseudepigrapha, that simply cannot be avoided when discussing texts like the Bible under the more cautious rules of scholarship that we embrace today. A pretty good example would be that nonsense about snakes and poison that ends the "Gospel" of Mark--good thing people see right through that and there are no Pentecostals anywhere, particularly the kind that drink poison or handle serpents based upon that known forgery! Another is the entire book of Isaiah, which is known unequivocally to have had several authors at different times, all of whom are apparently "Isaiah." Another good one is the entire Pentateuch, a.k.a. Torah, which I'm pretty sure wasn't actually written by Moses, who might not have existed but certainly didn't chronicle his own death and burial including the tidbit that no one in the world knows where his grave is.

      I'm no historian, though. You got me there.

    2. I am well aware of pseudepigrapha, what about it?

  4. James I agree that people believe in stupid things, for instance the the thought that moral value can arise from valueless matter, in a purposeless universe is probably the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

  5. Superstitions don't help your case with respect to the evolutionary argument against naturalism you abject ignoramus. If God doesn't exist and the blind watchmaker fooled humans into believing superstitions, then obviously evolution isn't concerned with truth as it is with survival purposes, so Plantinga's probability premise is supported and now we must ask ourselves what other beliefs are BS put together by the blind watchmaker...evolution lied to us for centuries about religion, so what else is it lying about?...welcome to global skepticism.

    1. All you get is the LOL you deserve.

    2. In other words, you have no objection and you're caught in the dilemma that Plantiga brilliantly puts natureheads in. So does this magical evolutionary process care about truth or not? If yes, then why so many centuries worth of duperstition? If no then why trust any belief at all? LOL all you want, it's not my fault that rejecting Theism leads to stupidity.

    3. No, you great, blundering dunderhead. "In other words," I thought your comment was too stupid to deserve a reply. Since you've persisted, let me show you why.

      The rampant existence of superstitions--including amongst non-human animals--shows us that the distinctly non-magical evolutionary process most certainly does not care about truth. It doesn't care about anything. The chief molecules within it, DNA in this case, "care" in the metaphorical sense about replication, but they don't really even care because that's a category error. They simply replicate, and those that have been the most effective at it are those that employ various other proteins to create systems that effectively gather for them the raw materials to enable more replication. "Truth" doesn't come into it anywhere.

      To your ha-ha non-defeater, "If no then why trust any belief at all?" the whole goddamned point is that trusting beliefs is a bad idea--we shouldn't. That's what the whole effort of science is about, even most broadly construed. Make observations, formulate ideas about the world, check those ideas against more, specific observations to see if you're wrong, and discard all of the beliefs that are wrong along the way, trusting none of them. This last bit is, of course, qualified that we cannot trust our beliefs beyond the merits of their observed usefulness, but where we have established them to be of some good use, we can put our trust in them.

      I could go on and on about specific examples of dumbass beliefs that we've trusted, like that health is dependent upon mysterious humours or that God provides for us, that we should not have trusted. The reason we should not trust those ideas is because there's nothing truly justifying them. Now that we've developed a tool that allows us to understand something of how we can justify an idea, we're doing a lot better than before, and a wide majority of those dumbass beliefs have been replaced with better ones, many of which are still pretty stupid (bought any acai berries lately?).

      Yet again, the stupidity of theism is assuming that somehow we're special and awesome and great, which is one of the most fantastic absurdities possible from a perspective that claims that we're supposed to be as humble as dirt and yammers about it endlessly.

    4. "To your ha-ha non-defeater, "If no then why trust any belief at all?" the whole goddamned point is that trusting beliefs is a bad idea--we shouldn't. "

      Ah so...Do you believe that James?

      If yes, then why do love to contradict yourself? IS that the way of the godless?

      Do you really need to hold to such stupid contradictory beliefs in order to sneak around the implications of a God?

      it does not look as though knowing what's true is all that necessary for survival so it's a huge epistemic leap to think we do. The naturalist has a problem here.
      So naturalism [your worldview] has a very special epistemic problem. How do I know that I am not just evolved PURELY for the purposes of survival and nothing else? This means that what I take to be true is just what my genes want me to take as true because it is best for the heuristic purposes it is being put to task to perform. On naturalism a naturalist has a very good reason to think she may well be permanently deceived about a great many things!

      "That's what the whole effort of science is about, even most broadly construed. Make observations, formulate ideas about the world, check those ideas against more, specific observations to see if you're wrong, and discard all of the beliefs that are wrong along the way, trusting none of them. This last bit is, of course, qualified that we cannot trust our beliefs beyond the merits of their observed usefulness, but where we have established them to be of some good use, we can put our trust in them."

      So which observation supports this methodology in itself?

      Secondly, I don't see how observation works without prior beliefs that don't rely on observation, for instance Karl Popper argued that observation does not take place prior to philosophical problems, preconceived ideas are almost always there before any observation. There is no such thing as a "pure" observation, that is to say, an observation without a theoretical component.

      All observation - and especially all experimental observation, is an interpretation of facts in the light of some theory or another.

      For example: This fact that observation cannot precede all problems can be shown by a simple experiment that we can use as experimental subjects:

      The experiment is to Observe hear and now.

      Now if you respond, "what do you want me to observe?"

      If this is your response then the experiment was successful, for what I'm trying to illustrate, is that in order to observe we must have in mind a definite question which we might be able to decide by observation.

      so you're missing something James.. perhaps you should go back to the philosophers who paved the way for your precious scientists. You might learn something

    5. Yet again, the stupidity of theism is assuming that somehow we're special and awesome and great, which is one of the most fantastic absurdities possible from a perspective that claims that we're supposed to be as humble as dirt and yammers about it endlessly."

      First off as C.S Lewis pointed out the idea that life ends at the grave is the biggest psychological crutch IMO, as it entails the mindset of one not being judged. We must also thrown in the fact that there is no one other than myself who I am accountable to, and the idea that no one has the right to judge my life other than myself is an extremely huge comfort to life with. It is extremely possible to live a life of complete selfishness with no other intentions other than to please oneself and get away with it.

      Secondly Theism makes the most sense of the world that we live in. Take personhood and moral value. Pace Paul Copan

      If God doesn't exist, human dignity, worth, and moral duty must have emerged from valueless processes. In fact, and in contrast, from valuelessness, valuelessness comes.

      A Solely materialistic universe might produce in us feelings and beliefs of obligation - like the protection of our children or the survival of our species - but that's a different matter from actually having such obligations we OUGHT to carry out.

      Goodness is bound up with personhood, and without the existence of a personal God (who created all other persons), no moral values would exist, period. Without this personal God, the source of all personhood, why think that moral values should appear on the scene? Moral values and personhood are intertwined.


    6. Cornell, what a bunch of ignorant, unsupported, insipid tripe.

      Kirk Cameron has some competition for the most embarrassing Christian title.

  6. James

    "No, you great, blundering dunderhead. "In other words," I thought your comment was too stupid to deserve a reply. Since you've persisted, let me show you why."

    Which initially was a cop-out, and you shouldn't have replied because now I'm going to make you look like the mouth-breathing ignoramus that you are. Though I was shocked that you finally decided to take me on, considering you've ran from me before and you've ducked out of a challenge put forth by Nick peters with respect to a debate. As cowardly as you are, I'm glad I got you to reply. It's good to see that you're starting to follow your hero Boghossian as he has also finally got the guts to take on non-fundies in a debate.

    "The rampant existence of superstitions--including amongst non-human animals--shows us that the distinctly non-magical evolutionary process most certainly does not care about truth. "

    And that puts you into global skepticism, and your beloved SCIENCE!!! OMG SCIENCE IS EVERYTHING becomes useless now, because it makes claims to truth. I'm going to teach you why philosophy is important and that it can hang with SCIENCE!!! OMG SCIENCE IS EVERYTHING, in fact science goes no where with philosophy underpinning it. Check out how I can take apart everything you say just from the comfort of my armchair.

    first off look what you said, try and ask yourself how this can come back to bite you.

    Use your thinking skills, look how this comes back to bite you

    "distinctly non-magical evolutionary process most certainly does not care about truth"

    BUT YET you're trying to tell me something about the truth. Somehow this magical evolutionary process has developed a purposeless conglomeration of matter, gave it rationality and poof now James Lindsay is telling something about how the world really is, James is telling us the truth about how things really are.

    "The chief molecules within it, DNA in this case, "care" in the metaphorical sense about replication, but they don't really even care because that's a category error. They simply replicate, and those that have been the most effective at it are those that employ various other proteins to create systems that effectively gather for them the raw materials to enable more replication. "Truth" doesn't come into it anywhere."

    On naturalism + evolution, therefore, what we call 'truth' appears to be no more than just information which holds a heuristic benefit to survival. Alvin Plantinga has made a good case for this. If 'truth' is also the product of minds and not a mind then it seems difficult to refute the implication that there is not truth but truths. That it is inherently subjective and not objective [although majority agreements can cause the illusion of the latter].