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Richard Dawkins v Rowan Williams

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William Crawley | 12:46 UK time, Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Dr Richard Dawkins, the world's most famous atheist, recently engaged in a public dialogue about human origins with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, at Oxford University's Sheldonian Theatre. Dawkins and Williams are former Oxford professors, and the event was chaired by the distinguished philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny, who describes himself as an agnostic and "a representative of ignorance". Please use this thread to discuss the arguments they marshall in the debate and share your views on who proved most persuasive. You can watch the debate here.

Comments

Page 1 of 4

  • Comment number 1.

    Did Charles Simonyi endow Rowan Williams chair as well?

  • Comment number 2.

    I thought they were both acquitted themselves well, though I must admit to being more confused by some of the Archbishops responses. When the Archbishop talked of the soul surviving death he did so in terms of the Aristotelian notion of the soul. The proportion of Anglicans attending churches who would view the soul in the terms described by Williams would, I think, be quite small. Would I be right in saying that if a minister gave a sermon on this idea of the soul a lot of parishioners would be very disappointed?

    I liked Dawkins' point about their being no "first man" and the Church's insistence on teaching the story of Adam and Eve given this fact. Williams agreed that we humans have non-human ancestors but I am not clear about when humans in his view acquired their Christian souls.

    "Non-random death before reproduction is what natural selection is all about."

  • Comment number 3.

    I was fortunate enough to attend the Dialogue and it was certainly a thrill to be there in person. While neither Dawkins nor Williams made any proactive remarks that wasn’t really surprising given the natures of both people. The Archbishop is highly intelligent and even when pressed on the issue of ‘soul’ in a room full of theology proponents he had to fumble a bit and tried evasion rather than commitment. I do wonder if after he retires if he’ll also come out as an agnostic as Dr. Kenny did.

    The organizer, Dr. Margaret Yee, planned an event for civil discourse and that was certainly achieved. If Dawkins had been put against others such as the evangelical W.L. Craig or other loud mouthed protagonists then fireworks would have happened and of course made the papers. There were many reporters perched in the choir loft hoping for a scoop that never came. While some may have expected a ground breaking historic event it was more like a genial afternoon tea party with nice Oxford folk.

    The reception afterward was very pleasant and a rare opportunity for my husband and me to meet Rowan Williams. He is a very approachable, friendly, welcoming, engaging person who was intrigued to find two Canadians there. (We were on our way home to Canada from India). My husband had lots of questions of course but there were many wanting to meet the lovable man too.

    Overall the outcome is that agnosticism is the general rule of thumb for thinking people.

    One of the topics was a brief attempt to define consciousness, an elusive as yet aspect to our existence. The GU is presenting a podcast on the topic this week:

    "Science Weekly podcast: Can science ever explain consciousness?

    Three leading researchers and thinkers on consciousness discuss the emerging scientific understanding of this mysterious human faculty":

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/audio/2012/feb/27/science-weekly-podcast-consciousness

    The Cif comments on consciousness again show the divide between trying to define what happens from a scientific viewpoint versus invoking the old 'god did it' excuse without evidence to support the assertion.

    Why is it so hard to say 'I don't know' but will try and figure it out instead of taking the easy god road that more and more seems a shabby excuse for anything.

    Given that the audience at the Sheldonian were mostly drawn from various theology departments I did wonder if any people understood the comment about neuroscience and the potential to answer more questions in time. Too many expect that all puzzles be solved by this time in our evolution without looking to the future for wisdom. Also making a point about A Universe from Nothing may have escaped those not familiar with Lawrence Krauss and the work of other contemporary physicists. While it does seem a complicated idea, when Krauss explains it is perfectly rational.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo

    I am astounded that a man like Williams would feel the need to consult the bible on any matters other than to read the King James as literary fiction, who can argue with that?

    I am an atheist as there is no evidence of anything supernatural.

  • Comment number 4.

    Actually, LucyQ, there is amble evidence of things supernatural. Thomas Aquinas probably laid it out most rationally in his Five Ways, although others have done as much; what there is not is PROOF of the supernatural, but that is not the same thing at all. The point is that theism is NOT an unreasonable position. I suspect this is what gets up the noses of atheists, and that irritation is what is really driving the New Atheist movement in particular, rather than their official manifesto position of rationality. If it is not unreasonable for the believer to think as he does, where is the ground for the atheist's coveted superiority?

  • Comment number 5.

    @Casur1 - Aquinas didn't prove anything supernatural, imaginary works are fantasies and unless facts are posted should be filed under the heading 'Fiction'.

    Believers who are not conditioned into this or that terrible and mean religious ideologies would simply grow up free. If Rowan Williams was my son he'd be an Atheist*, if he was born in Pakistan the cultural indoctrination would be Islam.

    * note - My son wasn't conditioned to be an Atheist as there was never any attempt to indoctrinate. As a man he has of course encountered those who hold religious beliefs and discovered for himself that they are antiquated and drawn from the fears of antiquated peasants.

    @ Will - I am dismayed whenever listening to your show and the discussion of sectarian violence over there? Take religion out of the social mix and discourage testosterone fueled violence, this stuff is so antiquated and frankly insulting in the 21st century. We all bleed red.

  • Comment number 6.

    4 Casur1

    In this week's edition of Start the Week Karen Armstrong made the point that Aquinas after "proving" the existence of god said that he did not know what exactly he had proved. He had only proved the existence of a mystery which cannot be given meaning.

  • Comment number 7.

    Casur1 (@ 4) -

    ...what there is not is PROOF of the supernatural...


    I disagree. There is proof of the supernatural, but, of course, it depends what we mean by "proof".

    I suppose if someone tried to claim that logic was inherently invalid, then they could perhaps say that nothing can be proven. The only problem with that is that they would have to use logic to draw that conclusion!

    On the assumption that logic gives us insight into reality (and if it doesn't then "bye bye knowledge", including science), then there is proof of the supernatural, if by "supernatural" we mean "that which is above nature".

    For example, consider the argument concerning the origin of the universe. Either the universe had a beginning or it did not.

    If it did not have a beginning, then we are faced with the problem of an infinite regress, considering that the universe is subject to a chain of causation, which operates according to what we know as "time". The problem with an infinite regress is that no point in time can ever occur because it would always be preceded by an infinite sequence, which, by definition, could never end in order for that particular moment in time to occur. (By the way... Zeno's paradoxes have nothing to do with this problem, as they concern infinitesimals, not infinity by extension).

    Therefore the universe had a beginning in time.

    But a beginning in time, of course, implies that nothing came before. So therefore the (philosophical) naturalist would have to conclude that everything came from nothing - as Krauss suggests with his argument, that looks like he is confusing the "zero" that is the result of the cancelling out of opposing (actually complementary) forces in perfect equilibrium, with "nothingness". This is, of course, a fallacious argument. If nothing can ever create something, then that is the end of science, because we could never predict anything (which, ironically, is one of the accusations often levelled against ID, by the way!!). Every experiment would automatically become invalid, because we could never know if some new force wouldn't suddenly pop out of nothingness and mess up the result.

    Clearly the belief that "nothing can produce something" is so irrational, that anyone who affirms such an idea has really lost all intellectual credibility; if you are prepared to believe this, then you are prepared to believe absolutely anything! In fact, how could someone who affirms this idea possibly reject the supernatural? After all, if "nothing" can produce something, then literally anything (fairies, leprechauns and the lot) could just "pop out" of nothingness and into reality!!!

    So obviously "infinite regress" and "the universe from nothing" are both arrant nonsense.

    Therefore we are left with the only logical option, which is...

    The universe had a beginning in time, but was caused by a reality above time, and therefore above the chain of causation which characterises nature. In other words, the first cause had to be a supernatural reality. This solves the problem of infinite regress, since that which caused the beginning of the chain of causation of nature was above time. And, of course, it solves the problem of "something from nothing".

    I know the atheists will gnash their teeth at this conclusion, but I prefer not to get into an argument with irrefutable logic.

    Proof that the philosophy of naturalism is inherently irrational.

  • Comment number 8.

    LucyQ, you're not nearly as frustrated by sectarian-fueled violence as those of us who live in Northern Ireland. Just remember: most communal violence in the world is, in the widest sense, sectarian.

  • Comment number 9.

    newlach

    "When the Archbishop talked of the soul surviving death he did so in terms of the Aristotelian notion of the soul."

    He did? That's not what I heard, and there may be more Anglicans than you imagine who heard what I heard.

  • Comment number 10.

    7. logica_sine_vanitate:

    It appears that the only way we can garner proof of the supernatural is to suspend all notions of logic?

    I thought as much.

  • Comment number 11.

    LSV,

    Having myself stated that Aquinas's Five Ways do not constitute proof, LucyQ then immediatly replys that Aquinas's Five Ways do not constitute proof; when you put forward a closely argued logic of the supernatural, newdwr54 asserts that arguement for the supernatural is a suspension of logic.

    It should be obvious that neither contributor read or engaged with what either of us actully wrote, but merely awaited an opportunity to assert their own cleverness. It is unfortunate that this self-congratulatory narcissism is the fashion of the time. Atheism tends to breed in such soil. I'm sure you'll agree it's annoying, though?

  • Comment number 12.

    3. LucyQ:
    I am an atheist as there is no evidence of anything supernatural."
    **
    I think, strictly following biology, one could also say there is really no such thing as love,hope, compassion, etc. if they're simply biologically driven & exist to increase survival either of an individual or a species.Even to a Christian, like me, that would make some sense.At least in a scientific way.

  • Comment number 13.

    The whole category of "proof" has little or no place in theological discussions of belief in God these days. Instead, philosophical theologians, even those in the tradition of "natural theology", tend to make cases establishing the rationality of belief in God. That's a very different matter altogether. And the notion of rationality is more difficult to specify than some contributors here clearly believe.

  • Comment number 14.

    @mscracker

    "love,hope, compassion"

    Are emotional expressions that manifest in the senses and can be observed in brain wave activity.

    There is no evidence of anything supernatural other than in literary fiction. If you have serious, fact based information then go ahead and post it but fanciful inanity doesn't hit the mark.

    @ Will - I wonder if it is the island, isolation and inbreeding and religion that allows tribal violence to continue to fester. Looking around at my Canadian community I feel thankful to live in a place where all races are represented in the neighbourhood and even odd beliefs such as evangelical religious folk live next door beside Atheists in peace. (We walk their dog as ours died a few years ago.) It is disconcerting to see humans that won't accept that we are all, or at least should be equal.

    I just listened to the podcast re: the bright young American teen who simply wants equality and religion removed from a public school. There are plenty of faith schools everywhere. Many of the adults clipped in the piece were soooo Santorum and obviously intellectually stunted.

    Paula Kirby wrote this excellent piece in the Washington Post:

    "Why Richard Dawkins is still an atheist"

    http://richarddawkins.net/articles/645143-why-richard-dawkins-is-still-an-atheist

    Oh and re: belief as a physiological manifestation of certain electrical activity in the brain then look to neuroscience for a rational answer.

  • Comment number 15.

    Will

    And the notion of rationality is more difficult to specify than some contributors here clearly believe.

    What, would you say, are the major difficulties when it comes to specifying rationality?

  • Comment number 16.

    @Will and Andrew

    Are we getting back to Plantinga again, perchance?

  • Comment number 17.

    Casur1 (@11) -

    It should be obvious that neither contributor read or engaged with what either of us actully wrote, but merely awaited an opportunity to assert their own cleverness. It is unfortunate that this self-congratulatory narcissism is the fashion of the time. Atheism tends to breed in such soil. I'm sure you'll agree it's annoying, though?


    Very annoying, but I'm becoming well used to it.

    It's just bluff and one-upmanship.

    newdwr's response to my comment bears no relation to anything I wrote. Nowhere did I say that logic had to be suspended - nothing could be further from the truth!! It seems extremely desperate to twist someone's words so much that he is made to say the very opposite of what he actually said. Appalling behaviour, but it doesn't surprise me in the least.

    Will (@ 13)

    The whole category of "proof" has little or no place in theological discussions of belief in God these days.


    That may be so, but my concern is not whether it has little or no place, but whether that ought to be so.

  • Comment number 18.

    Will, 13.

    So the question is not, "does God exist?", but, "Is it rational to *believe* God exists?" [OED: Rational - based on or in accordance with reason or logic.]

    That is assuredly a very different matter indeed, and I wish the theologians would bother to keep the bulk of the church abreast. But I think they know full well that keeping believers abreast wouldn't be as sexy, because then it might occur to even the most modest intellect that they might as well be discussing unicorns, however much fun the philosophical parlour-games may be. And it basically leaves revelation on the dustheap. Not to get all conspiracy theory about it, but if Joe Churchgoer was kept abreast large vested interests would be at risk. And these parlour gamers's preparedness to engage in such philosophical sleight-of-hand does nothing to reassure me of their integrity. I'm afraid I do think it's as simple as all that.

    It's not a victimless crime either. Philosophy itself has suffered, and continues to suffer, by the mangling of language required to arrive at conclusions that appear to be logical to the question of the orbiting teapot or flying spaghetti monster.

    Pressed on this, the last refuge of believers is the same, whether they are as sophisticated as Rowan Williams or as straightforward as a gravedigger: "Harrumph! You jus' don't geddit!"

    The parlour games are just that - a waste of good minds. Pure distraction. Meanwhile, have you seen the clown who could become the most powerful man in the world? Meanwhile, a condition of my being can be described as "an objective disorder", "toward an intrinsic moral evil". Nobody bothers to tell the believers this too is a conclusion reached in earlier parlour games, when *belief* in God was a given, and we just had to figure out what he wants. Nobody bothers to tell them that, bad though this "intrinsic moral evil" stuff sounds, it's not as bad as it sounds, and nobody leaps to correct them when they misconstrue it as meaning I'm just plain "evil".

    The whole charade constitutes such a grave offence against humanity on so many levels it simply beggars belief. Someone asked me some time ago why I come across as so angry about this. I'd just repeat that if this didn't make me angry I'd have to be indifferent or callous or insane. The day this stops making me angry will be the day I've given up on people altogether. Christ! It would be "a very different matter altogether" if religion wasn't so much bloody trouble.

  • Comment number 19.

    LSV
    "The universe had a beginning in time, but was caused by a reality above time, and therefore above the chain of causation which characterises nature. In other words, the first cause had to be a supernatural reality."
    .........Therefore Jesus.
    Still got all your work ahead of you old chap.

    Casur
    "there is amble evidence of things supernatural"

    I'd be interested to hear some.

  • Comment number 20.

    Rowan Williams could probably be described as 'easy meat' for Richard Dawkins.
    It was during latter part of 2011, that Mr Dawkins sidestepped the opportunity to debate with Dr William Lane Craig.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGWr9qpeKpE

  • Comment number 21.

    It's quite amusing to read the response of someone who doesn't believe that God exists and then uses the name of Christ in exclaimation.

  • Comment number 22.

    @Newthornley

    Richard Dawkins would not demean himself and knowingly be in the same room as WL Craig, a loud mouth evangelical weirdo. The religious right yap dogs are tiresome and seek to enhance their status by riding the coat tails of others.

  • Comment number 23.

    Lucy - you are a funny girl. What a wonderful country Canada - land of the free unless you disagree with the equality agenda or are pro-life.

    Explain this for me rationally - the majority of people in the world, persistenly and consistently believe in God.

    As for when the soul began. Fairly simple to understand. Evolution took man to a certain point and when He was ready God created the first human soul.

  • Comment number 24.

    Fionnula, 23.

    You are a funny girl too.

    "As for when the soul began. Fairly simple to understand. Evolution took man to a certain point and when He was ready God created the first human soul."

    Right. That's that settled then. Except it isn't, because according to one of the previous philosophical parlour games I was talking about above (#18), specifically that set forth by Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Contra Gentiles, Book II, which deals at length with the things that God cannot do, for the purposes of refuting errors against Him. (OK, so it's not fair to say Aquinas was engaged in a mere parlour game, since for him God was a given, and he was one of the ones working out what God wanted.)

    God cannot make man not have a soul, according to Aquinas, in the same way he can't make 2+2 = 3 or 5. In men the soul is united to the body. The whole soul is present entire in every part of the body.

    Are you seriously saying, Fionnula, that God set evolution in motion, sat back and watched it roll for a few billion years, and then at some point though, "Ahh. My creation has now reached its zenith in this ape," and slipped him a soul in much the same way many an Irish father buys his son a pint at whatever age he is decided to have come of age?

    No no. It wouldn't have worked like that, because animals had souls too, but they aren't immortal. He would have had to have had a favourite ape and decided he would make that ape's soul immortal. And all of that great ape's offspring's souls immortal too. But this seems unlikely, because each soul is created afresh, so God really would have had to have decided that people alone among his creation are so good that he would make their souls immortal.

    I don't know. I'm just thinking Nero and Stalin and those boys. And I'm wondering about where this compromise position of yours with evolution leaves Original Sin.

    Tell me you were just joking. Hah! I mean, good one! God thought: "I like this ape so much, I'll show him what my love is. I'll give him an immortal soul and a series of tasks it'll be impossible for him to meet, which will mean that if he truly believes in me, he'll spend all his days in utter turmoil at the thought that I may, as whimsy takes me, cast his immortal soul into a lake of fire for the rest of eternity. But then again I might not. I'll see how well he pleases me." Etc etc.

    Could you for the love of God take a look at this version of events and tell me again, with a straight face, that this is what you would have me believe Fionnula.

  • Comment number 25.

    Fionnuala,

    "Explain this for me rationally - the majority of people in the world, persistenly and consistently believe in God."

    Pffffrt! The argument for an idea from the number of adherents to that idea. Great.

    Over the course of human history, most people probably didn't think the earth was spherical but thought instead that it was mostly flat. By extension of your 'the majority of people persistently think....', are you leaning towards being a flat earther too, Fionnuala?

  • Comment number 26.

    paul james (@ 19) -

    .........Therefore Jesus.


    Ah. I get it. If you can't answer an argument, then change the rules of the debate: "If you can't explain a particular specific manifestation of the supernatural with your argument, then your general point is invalid".

    Errm. Nope.

    Good try though...

  • Comment number 27.

    @ 23, Funnula.

    I can't get enough of this: "As for when the soul began. Fairly simple to understand. Evolution took man to a certain point and when He was ready God created the first human soul."

    On this account, as I've said, Original Sin gets very difficult to insert into the picture. Now I'm wondering about man being created in God's image, which, metaphorical or not, is surely central to the Christian faith. You've said: "Evolution took man to a certain point..." No, evolution took ape to a certain point, then made man by promoting the ape by changing the nature of the ape's (mortal) soul into man's (immortal) soul. What God did in your account must have been to sit up at this "certain point" and go, by jove, that ape there has become an awful lot like me. PING! Soul.

    This theistic evolution business is quite a story. What about our neanderthal brothers? Too stupid? Too hairy? Pygmies? Too small? Are you a fan of Mr Kipling? He creates exceedingly good cakes.

  • Comment number 28.

    Fionnuala (@ 23) -

    Explain this for me rationally - the majority of people in the world, persistenly and consistently believe in God.


    If the materialistic account of reality is true (which, thank God, it's not), then clearly the evolutionary process has caused the majority of people to embrace the idea of "God". Since all ideas within this paradigm arise for reasons of usefulness or utility (whether they are conducive to survival), then the idea of "God" is as valid as any other idea. But, of course, the paradigm itself declares that the "God idea" is false. So here is another logical proof that the philosophy of naturalism is bunk. How can a sensible philosophy declare an idea to be both "valid" and "false"?

    The claim is often made that so called "religious" ideas don't work, and therefore they are invalid or untrue on that basis. But clearly "God" works for billions of people. Of course, atheists will explain that away with reference to indoctrination, culture, upbringing etc. (not that they would apply the same argument to their worldview, of course!). But explaining something away to make inconvenient facts fit into a chosen worldview is not the same as putting a coherent and evidence based argument.

    As for when the soul began. Fairly simple to understand. Evolution took man to a certain point and when He was ready God created the first human soul.


    Well, we know that man has a soul, for the simple reason that if he did not, he would just be a machine, determined by genes and neurons etc. Since this mechanistic view does not and, in fact, cannot explain reason, consciousness and free will (not to mention moral conscience), then at some point the human organism was endowed with a soul and spirit. Given that the macroevolutionary process is gradual, it makes no sense to fit this "endowment" within that hypothetical explanation. It makes more sense to infer that humans did not actually evolve from other species, which is a claim not at all contradicted by any empirical evidence.

  • Comment number 29.

    PeterM2,

    You'll probably find this interesting as an adjunct to our earlier conversation. Bryan Appleyard discusses Dawkins, New Atheism (as "cult", as post 9/11 phenomenon, as fundamentalism), scientism, the Four Horsemen, and intolerance.

    http://www.newstatesman.com/religion/2012/02/neo-atheism-atheists-dawkins

    Appleyard identifies much of what I did as regards the New Atheism, but finds it all regrettable. Appleyard, I would hasten to add, has form here. I have a copy of his book Understanding the Present from 1992, which is an extended, hand-wringing attack on science, and he and Dawkins have been locking horns for years. You can get a flavour of his book from this 1997 review: http://www.scottlondon.com/reviews/appleyard.html

    It's also worth noting who he reports he was having a meal with when the four of them agreed that Dawkins and his cult are unutterably shocking. Draw your own conclusions...

  • Comment number 30.

    Appleyard got it spot on (and Farce's attempt at pinning "guilt by association" on him, can happily be ignored as the obvious irrelevance that it is).

    I rather liked a remark in the comments section: "I like to think the internet-atheists who peddle this middle-class obsession with what other people believe are sixth formers who will one day grow up, but I think a lot of them are middle-aged."

    Or as Dawkins said to a Christian on "The Big Questions" programme recently: "I don't care what you believe."

    Yeah. Right...

  • Comment number 31.

    Lucy Q.

    I take it you bow down to a picture of Dawkins every morning and evening.

  • Comment number 32.

  • Comment number 33.

    Andrew (15), good question. The central problem couldn't be more central: there is no agreed understanding of what constitutes rationality in belief (whether religious or other kinds of belief). The traditional Platonic definition of knowledge (i.e, justified true belief) collapsed in the 20th century and we've been debating the question ever since. Google "epistemology" for more details on that continuing debate.

  • Comment number 34.

    LSV, post 28 demonstrates extensive misunderstanding of both evolution and factors besides evolution that govern human lives. Take the bit from the first part of your post.

    "If the materialistic account of reality is true (which, thank God, it's not), then clearly the evolutionary process has caused the majority of people to embrace the idea of "God". Since all ideas within this paradigm arise for reasons of usefulness or utility (whether they are conducive to survival), then the idea of "God" is as valid as any other idea."

    So if we evolved, then every idea widely held to must be beneficial for our survival and therefore valid? You must be joking. Consider for example that many people think 'Let's use contraceptives before we get into bed', which is 100% counter to the survival of their genes.

    Your error seems to be that you think about human behaviour purely in evolutionary terms, when our intelligence can easily override genetic impulses.

    The comfortable lives we live are another very important factor you seem to have missed. The idea of god has only been around for the latter part of mankind's existence. Because only since relatively recently can we afford all sorts of stupidity, like the resources spent on the rubbish that's on tv much of the time. Not much in there that helps our survival. But despite many people wasting away hours every day behind nonsense on the tele, they still manage to multiply. The god idea has no validity either, but like other nonsense people waste time and resources on, it doesn't stop them surviving long enough to procreate.

  • Comment number 35.

    Will

    Thanks for the reply. I have some familiarity with collapse of the traditional view, but not as much as I would like. I've been working with a rather broadbrush understanding of contemporary epistemology for a good while now. I'm trying to get into more depth this year.

    Lately I've read some of Plantinga's Warrant trilogy, the blackwell guide and SEP entries on various subjects. Are there any solid book length introductions you could recommend? Or any authors you think would be helpful?

  • Comment number 36.

    Peter Klaver (@ 34) -

    So if we evolved, then every idea widely held to must be beneficial for our survival and therefore valid? You must be joking. Consider for example that many people think 'Let's use contraceptives before we get into bed', which is 100% counter to the survival of their genes.


    Of course, I don't accept that materialistic (macro)evolution is true, and therefore I don't believe that ideas have arisen as a result of this process, but IF such a theory were actually true, then it would need to explain the emergence of human rationality. Therefore we would need to look for some kind of method within the only process that materialistically could have formed humanity, in order to explain ideas. Since the human brain would be the only conceivable source of ideas, and since human consciousness and teleology would be driven by the survival mechanism, then it follows logically that all ideas would arise for reasons of "survival" - or, to put it in more general terms - "utility". The fact that ideas do not fit this paradigm - as you have pointed out - rather speaks against the theory.

    I will concede that I should have perhaps explained my use of the term "survival" a bit better. You appear to understand the term purely in terms of reproduction, whereas I am using the term in the sense of "utility". So humans can derive great utility from practising ideas relating to non-procreative sex, even if that practice does not aid reproduction.

    But "utility" tells us nothing about "truth". A lie can be useful. Isn't that, after all, why people tell lies? They are considered useful. That is completely in keeping with the "survival" agenda of evolution ("survival" understood in the broadest of terms).

    So clearly (if the naturalistic view of reality is correct) the idea of "God" has arisen in people's brains for reasons of "utility" (or what I am calling "survival" in its broadest meaning). Otherwise the idea would not have arisen at all. Therefore if the materialistic process that has allegedly formed man (i.e. evolution) produced this effect (namely, the idea of "God"), then the idea is valid, because why shouldn't it be valid within a paradigm in which everything is formed by a mindless and amoral process, in which the idea of "truth" has no meaning, and in which the only conceivable method of epistemological justification is pragmatism? But then the philosophy of naturalism, which affirms and conceptualises this process, declares that this valid idea is not actually valid at all, because it declares it to be "false". That is a contradiction.

    Naturalistic epistemology is a mess; and you can't expect someone, who sees the blatant contradiction, to accept this explanation for the origin and development of ideas.

    Hence I take a different view.

  • Comment number 37.

    Richard Dawkins would love to prove, without a doubt, that there is no God but he knows full well that its pretty much impossible. He has tried to use theories and scientific formula, but what we are speaking of is supernatural and it cannot be explained away with science or philosophy.

  • Comment number 38.

    "Hence I take a different view."

    That being:

    What war on religion?
    3:35pm on 19 Jan 2012


    An eternal intelligent personal creator of the universe and all within it? YES

    Species created "according to their kinds"? YES (although how wide-ranging those "kinds" are is debatable, therefore there is considerable scope for evolution - certainly micro-evolution and perhaps even some form of macro-evolution - but not "fish to humans" nonsense)

    The Bible is essentially true? YES (subject to a coherent interpretation)

    A young earth? DUNNO (The Bible's not clear anyway)

    Heaven? YES

    Hell? YES (BUT with a massive dose of qualification, which I have explained at length on W&T and elsewhere, so don't lump me with the Fundies)

    Jesus Christ existed? YOU BET HE DID (and does)

    Born of a virgin? YES

    Died on a cross? YES

    Rose from the dead? YES

    The penal substitionary theory of the atonement? YES (Wow! Does that mean I'm a proper evangelical? Of course, this needs qualifying, as my understanding of this is rather different from the Reformed position, both Arminian and Calvinist)

    Jesus Christ to return again? YES

    That'll do for now.

  • Comment number 39.

    AboutFarce (@ 38) -

    Correct. That is what I affirm to be true.

    And your point is?

  • Comment number 40.

    Perhaps I caused confusion using the term "man". I think Aqinas is fundamentally correct that man by definition is body and soul. Here's the thing. Christians (and others) believe that God creates each human soul - an individual creation. And that He does that in cooperation with humans engaging in sex - hence the ghastliness of contraception and IVF. We also believe that God intervened in specific instances in a special way - in His own incarnation and in the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. So it's not really much of a stretch to see something similar happening with evolution. You remember the children's joke about belly buttons? God poking you in the middle like a pie and saying "you're done". I think when evolution had reached a certain point God directly intervened to create Man, with a soul, an image of God, and an intellect far above other animals. That's why there is no missing link. Where does the Fall come in then? The usual place. Man's free choices lead him in different direction. Obviously if you don't believe in God or the soul then this is just rubbish. But I think it is consistent.

    I don't think there was ever a widely held view on a flat earth - that's one of those myths that never go away. People have believed in a sphere for a long time. I didn't say belief in God proved there was a God. But atheists have to explain the persistence in the belief from a social science point of view. The stuff people throw around about tiny tea pots in space or spaggheti monsters always ignore the fact that while billions of people believe in God, no one believes in tiny tea pots in space.

  • Comment number 41.

    That you've got some neck on you.

  • Comment number 42.

    Well Fionnuala,

    There is a wealth of solid scholarship on why humans, being creative, are inclined to imagine gods going back millennia if you'll just look. Modern science is also now shaking off the taboo around such investigations and making its own suggestions too, if you'll just look. Since you obviously haven't, and probably haven't any intention, your condescending to people who are more curious, questioning, discerning about the information they're given, who think twice and check themselves when they find themselves inclined to belief (the default state of the human mind) that just looks a bit rich. Particularly when your offering amounts to a just-so story with as much explanatory or "truth" value as the teapot one.

    Perhaps the flat-earth likening could be topped by the stationary earth one. Everyone did, for a long time, believe the earth was stationary. What was the moving light show on display every night? What was thunder? Lightening? Why disease and crop failures and volcanoes and earthquakes. Why do we kick flat tyres as though they got punctured to annoy us or curse an oven that's mysteriously gone off? Aren't we overwhelmingly inclined to see intentionality and agency in lots of things that simply just happen. Why did cargo cults emerge among separate people who had never come across one another and didn't even know of each others' existence during World War II? Island peoples in Micronesian and Melanesia and remote parts of New Guinea all developed distinctly similar rituals when cargo from torpedoed ships started washing up on their shores. They were inclined to believe that certain practices would bring more goods to them, and the mythologies continued after the cargo stopped coming. Why wouldn't we come up with pretty similar notions about gods faced with natural phenomena we didn't understand? Because we're curious? Because we like to know things. Because we are to a large extent fearful creatures and rituals are comforting? Because we are more alike than different and however sophisticated our knowledge has become we are still in our infancy?

    Hmmm?

  • Comment number 43.

    None of which explains your rudeness in calling me condescending.

    The examples you mention are all very well, but they are based on limited information and the explanations which people adopt which are reasonable until further information becomes available. I don't think any of that explains the persistent belief in God. For most believers he's not there to fill the gaps which science can't explain.

    Suggesting we are in our infancy as a species sounds very close to there being a plan - something other than natural selection.

  • Comment number 44.

    Fionnuala,

    If you weren't being condescending to LucyQ, I don't know what condescending is. I hinted at maybe five or six areas on which there are practically libraries full of scholarship. Further information IS available. If you want a list for starters you say the word. I've got quite a lot here if you're really interested and can give you still further pointers from the bibliographies in those. In all sincerity, just you say the word. I'll be up for a couple of hours yet.

  • Comment number 45.

    And when I said we're in our infancy I meant the infancy of knowledge. You need not infer I had some grand plan in mind. How would I know?! What am I a prophet? I meant only that the more we find out the more apparent it becomes how little we know and how much there is yet to find out. Each discovery yields yet more questions. Religion is by now a dead weight and the "answers" it seems to think it can provide are frankly inane. It is ludicrous to be towing an old plough with a spacecraft.

  • Comment number 46.

    Aboutfarce.

    Could I ask whether you believe in the supernatural or would you be able to provide an explanation that, you believe, would dismiss those who have experienced or witnessed something of the supernatural.

  • Comment number 47.

    You can't really condescend to LucyQ - she's so far above us all. As for the libraries full of scholarship, that's fine but hardly useful in the midst of a blog thread. William might as well begin his posts by telling us all to go and read books and stop discussing things. And science isn't suppose to suggest things.

    I just thought it was interesting that you'd used the word infancy. Darwin never used the word "evolution" because he knew the origin of the word and that it suggested something akin to intelligent design. Infancy does the same, like acorns and oaks.

    I've nothing against science - but it is limited. Of itself it provides no ethics, no direction.

  • Comment number 48.

    LSV, post 36,

    You come very close to having worked out the answer yourself. As you correctly point out, a lie can be useful. And you also correctly point out, what is useful to believe, is not always necessarily true. The only failing in your post is that you don't take the obvious next step and apply those correct insights to the god idea. Sure, Sunday morning church provides a nice social occasion to many. Sure, the idea of an afterlife may help those with terminal illnesses cope more easily with the idea of dying. But as you say, that doesn't make those ideas true.

    And neither does it work in the opposite direction. Suppose Sarah Palin became a late entry in the Republican primaries and she wins, then becomes president. Her being a stupid, raving christian with a thirst for the end times, she helps along their coming by pressing the nuclear button and wiping out all life on the planet.
    From the point of multiplying genes, mans evolution would at that point be a disastrous failure. The same intelligence that helped us multiply for a long time, would have eventually lead to understanding and ideas and actions that wiped life from the planet. However, unwanted as that idea may be, that doesn't make it untrue. You could say that in terms of reproducing it would be a failure, but evolution would still be a thing that did happen. Contrary to what you say, there is no contradiction there at all.

  • Comment number 49.

    Fionnuala,

    "I didn't say belief in God proved there was a God. But atheists have to explain the persistence in the belief from a social science point of view."

    Well that is something we agree on then, that belief by many in god doesn't prove there being a god. And a better explanation for belief in god being a social phenomenon. You'll hear no argument against that from me.

  • Comment number 50.

    Peter Klaver (@ 48) -

    You come very close to having worked out the answer yourself. As you correctly point out, a lie can be useful. And you also correctly point out, what is useful to believe, is not always necessarily true. The only failing in your post is that you don't take the obvious next step and apply those correct insights to the god idea.


    But within the philosophy of naturalism, where all ideas must have arisen for reasons of utility (or according to an entirely subjective method) how would you know that the "God idea" was not true? Please show me your method by which you arrive at that conclusion.

    If all ideas are merely an emergent property of an entirely mindless process, then they are inherently subjective. Even the idea of "objectivity" itself becomes subjective. It is not mere sophistry to say this, because we see the subjectivism of the naturalistic understanding of "objectivity" all too clearly in the debates we have on the theism - atheism issue. We are constantly told that an idea can only be considered objectively true if it has been successfully tested by the scientific method. Science is therefore viewed as the arbiter of truth. Unfortunately for "scientistic" types, this method of verification is not validated by its own rules.

    Interestingly, Dawkins employed the same reasoning in his introductory remarks in the dialogue with Archbishop Williams. He rejected the intelligence explanation on the basis that, in his opinion, it is not useful for science. Nothing to do with whether that explanation is actually true! (And yet he admitted that human beings display an "overwhelming" appearance of design - but apparently observation is no longer a factor in his thinking, unless, of course, "appearance" supports his evolutionary hypothesis, and then the rules magically change!) A blatant example of the kind of utilitarian and subjective epistemology that I am talking about, in which truth is sacrificed to some practical agenda.

    So I reiterate my earlier point: a purely naturalistic process - being mindless - simply causes certain effects, and makes no value judgment as to the "truth" or "falsehood" of those effects (since truth and falsehood are meaningless concepts within a mindless process). Some of those effects are the ideas that form the content of the human mind. These ideas would have arisen for reasons of utility (because there is no other conceivable reason why such ideas would have arisen - a point Dawkins would have to agree with, considering his little foray into epistemology in his TED talk on the "queerness of the universe"). Therefore all ideas become equally valid - especially those ideas that are widespread and work for billions of people. But the philosophy of naturalism cannot then turn round and start passing judgment on some of those ideas by declaring them "untrue". It simply has no basis to do so. Within naturalism "utility" is the only conceivable method of verification. If the "God idea" works, then it's valid. That's all that naturalism can say. But the problem is that this philosophy has to declare the idea "false", because the idea itself is supernaturalistic. But if the only method of verification is pragmatic - or utilitarian (as it must be within naturalism) - then how can it arrive at this conclusion, considering that the "God idea" has passed the necessary test (i.e. it's useful for billions of people)? It's a contradiction, which demonstrates that naturalistic epistemology is totally incoherent.

    (By the way... I assume, because my post #7 has not been challenged - apart from newdwr's rather unfortunate misunderstanding - that there are no objections to the proof I offered?)

  • Comment number 51.

    "As for the libraries full of scholarship, that's fine but hardly useful in the midst of a blog thread. William might as well begin his posts by telling us all to go and read books and stop discussing things."

    The way this thread has gone, that probably wouldn't be a bad idea.

  • Comment number 52.

    “Sure, the idea of an afterlife may help those with terminal illnesses cope more easily with the idea of dying.”

    Those with terminal illnesses include everyone and everything. However or therefore, religions are expanding out...past our horizon...or into a big crunch...faster than the universe, I think.

  • Comment number 53.

    LSV.

    I did enjoy reading what you said in post 7 and I agree.

  • Comment number 54.

    What we do know exists is a strong, persistent belief in a personal God. In Dawkins view it's because people are stupid or weak; in mine it's because there's a God, and one who became incarnate, died and rose from the dead.

  • Comment number 55.

    William #51

    "The way this thread has gone..."

    No point in bemoaning the problem; Richard's answer, from the debate, would be, "It's tough. Stuff happens."

    Although he threw in a "tragic", so that probably makes it OK.

  • Comment number 56.

    Will (@ 51) -

    "As for the libraries full of scholarship, that's fine but hardly useful in the midst of a blog thread. William might as well begin his posts by telling us all to go and read books and stop discussing things."

    The way this thread has gone, that probably wouldn't be a bad idea.


    So which books ought we to read?

    And are we allowed to disagree with them?

    (And if not, who says so, and on whose authority?)

  • Comment number 57.

    Before time was Chaos,then came Gaia, Tartarus and Eros, I know this to be true because I have read the Holy Illiad and because I talk daily to Zeus (Blessed be his name) This truth is supported by millennia of theological studies which christianists are too unsophisticated to understand.

  • Comment number 58.

    Paul

    The continuing evasion of (what I might call) human longing, by an obviously deficient, "Stuff happens", or by an impetuous gaggle of words, demonstrates only the incongruity between what some say, and how we all live; get on with an answer (or a least a personal opinion) and stop the 'hand-waving'.

  • Comment number 59.

    @Will 51

    The way this thread has gone, that probably wouldn't be a bad idea.
    Only this thread?

    Anyway, for those whose only exposure to naturalism is via LSV's eccentric expositions on here, "Sense and Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism" by Richard Carrier might serve, followed by, for balance - since our host is the BBC - Alvin Plantinga's "Naturalism Defeated".

    And as for the warmed under Cosmological Argument in #7, well in various forms from Aristotle, through Anselm to Lane Craig, there's a couple of millenia worth of works and refutations to choose from. Showing, if nothing else, that solving the conundrum of how the contradiction inherent in the notion of an uncaused cause is to be avoided without special pleading is a knotty old problem indeed.

  • Comment number 60.

    No, No, No, stuff doesn't happen. I know for a fact that the universe was created by our heavenly father Zeus. Perhaps you would like to prove me wrong.

  • Comment number 61.

    grokesx (@ 59) -

    ...eccentric...


    Do please elaborate.

    Or are you one of those members of the "I can try to appear to refute arguments by making unsubstantiated assertions brigade"? 'Fraid I can't see a single logical argument in your comment that addresses the points I've raised. But perhaps we'll just wait and see if such an argument "pops out of nothing", given that "nothing" is now the great architect of reality (or perhaps just "the right kind of nothing"!) Perhaps some "nothings" are more significant than others? (Sheesh - what were you saying about "eccentric" again??)

    As for appealing to "higher academic authority", you might like to look up the meaning of the phrase "special pleading" some time. (Also meditate on the concept of "freethinking").

    How's the lurking going, btw?

  • Comment number 62.

    We could surely do no better than to consult the Book that has both authenticity and authority - the World's Best Seller, The Holy Bible, the Word of God.

    (Of course, with its 66 books, it is a veritable library on its own!)

    As Jesus Himself said: 'Your Word is truth.' (John 17v17)

    Some may regard this view as 'unsophisticated' (#57), but I say "Come on in - the water's lovely!"

  • Comment number 63.

    LSV, post 50,

    "how would you know that the "God idea" was not true? Please show me your method by which you arrive at that conclusion."

    See previous. I don't claim to know 100% sure that some aspects of the god idea are wrong, I just have never been presented with anything valid that speaks in their favour. So those parts of the god idea go the same way as the tea pot.

    "We are constantly told that an idea can only be considered objectively true if it has been successfully tested by the scientific method."

    Another straw man it seems. See e.g. where I explained to you that the simple case of a stone too heavy to lift shows the idea of an omnipotent god to be a self-conflicting irrationality. Just like the cases of square circles etc that you do seem to understand are impossible. Not resorting at all to the scientific method there to conclude that some part of the god idea is false.

    "Science is therefore viewed as the arbiter of truth. Unfortunately for "scientistic" types, this method of verification is not validated by its own rules."

    Another straw men position that no science-minded atheist here takes. Will you stop that horrendous abuse of your poor keyboard!

    "If all ideas are merely an emergent property of an entirely mindless process, then they are inherently subjective."

    Ideas being valid or not is usually separate from conscious beings thinking these thoughts. 1 + 1 = 2 was valid before there was ever any life on earth. Your posts about thoughts arising from evolved brains etc are as wrong as they are irrelevant. That answer also covers much of the second-last lengthy paragraph of your post btw.

  • Comment number 64.

    LSV @61

    I argued regularly with you over a period of months if not years, during which time you hardly ever chose to address points actually made by me or anyone else, so I'm not about to repeat the experience. I'm just agreeing with Will, reading is good. And reading stuff you are not inclined to agree with as well is better still. I am, you understand, not expecting you to follow my advice, there is as much chance of that as me following yours, but there are possibly others out there reading your blather who may be interested.

    The lurking's good, thanks - I get more sleep, if nothing else.

  • Comment number 65.

    Fionnuala,

    "And science isn't suppose to suggest things." In essence, that's all science actually does.

    I'm a bit greedy when it comes to books and I've pared down what follows from a tumult of what I'd like to suggest in the hope that you'll make a mental note and pick up at least one. With that in mind I've also selected books which are (I think) a pleasure to read.

    For studies of religion as a social phenomenon, two classic works still form the bedrock of pretty much everything done since. They continue to be cited all the time. They are The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James (known as the father of psychology) and The Elementary Forms of Religious Life by Emile Durkheim (known as the father of sociology). Both are magisterial, but for reading pleasure, definitely James.

    Following on from James is a book published in the past year called The God Instinct by the psychologist Jesse Bering, who happens to work for Queen's. (I'd ask you to ignore the indelicate and repeated insistence by publishers to get "God" into titles at all costs. Thank Dawkins, "God" sells.) Bering addresses directly your question of why all people in all times have had some conception of a god or gods. Contrary to what the title suggests, "God" and "religion" hardly feature. This isn't an effort in clubbing religion but an account of an attempt to figure out why the human mind keeps coming up with gods. It's also for a popular readership and Bering is quite a good, entertaining writer.

    For something thought provoking which is if anything an account of a spiritual journey, Matthew Alper's The God Part of the Brain is worth reading. (More "God" in the title...) Again, it's written for a popular audience, and again, it addresses directly your question, why does everybody think about gods? I include it because of the three I've recommended so far, his source material is the broadest so would be a good starter for further reading.

    Also directly relevant to your question is Aldous Huxley's The Perennial Philosophy. Huxley is one of my favourite writers and his erudition is vast. In this book he gives a survey of some twenty-five centuries of religion and the works and thought of their outstanding figures. "If one is not oneself a sage or saint, the best thing one can do, in the field of metaphysics, is to study the works of those who were, and who, because they had modified their merely human mode of being, were capable of more than a merely human kind and amount of knowledge." The sweep of this book is vast, but the writing is brilliant and he works at drawing out what is common to religions - the great and the obscure - as efforts in "seeking".

    I'm going to resist the temptation to go on but hope, as I've said, that you'll pick up at least one and "get the bug" as it were. I can't pick one above the others I'm afraid. They're each very different books. I would say that the "new" ones - Alper and Bering - are the easier reads. Of the four (or five if we're counting Durkheim), James's book is the most important (along well as Durkheim).

    It's probably worth adding that you'll find no hostility to religion in these books. James was a Catholic, Huxley was very much, and famously, a "seeker". Bering and Alper's books also arose from their "life, the universe and everything" questions.

    Digression over. I'll stop with the derailment of William's thread and make an effort to watch that hour-and-a-half video over the weekend. (Sorry...)

  • Comment number 66.

    paul james (@ 57) -

    Before time was Chaos,then came Gaia, Tartarus and Eros, I know this to be true because I have read the Holy Illiad and because I talk daily to Zeus (Blessed be his name) This truth is supported by millennia of theological studies which christianists are too unsophisticated to understand.


    You've inspired me!

    I think that I will seriously consider the "everything from nothing" theory. But the trouble is that the word "nothing" is just so boring, so I've decided (not wishing to be outdone by dear Mr James) to give it an exotic name. Let's call it "Zeus".

    So "Zeus" created everything. But the trouble is that "Zeus" is just a made up name, and I admit it. Therefore (according to what I discern could be Jamesian logic), that proves that it cannot be true that "the universe came from nothing"!

    Actually, let's extend this a bit further. Let's call the "Big Bang" by an exotic name. Why not call it "Ra"? Now we know that the "Big Bang" never happened 'cos who believes that "Ra" is real??!

    In fact, why not make up stories about everything?! Then we can prove that nothing at all exists, because (according to Jamesian logic), if someone has made up a story about something, then that "something" must, by definition, be false!

    I wonder if Mr James understands the point I am making...?

    (I await with eager interest the answer to that question).


    grokesx -

    Thanks for effectively admitting that you cannot support your claim that my views are "eccentric". I will take that as a withdrawal of the comment.

  • Comment number 67.

    grokesx (@ 64)

    I argued regularly with you over a period of months if not years, during which time you hardly ever chose to address points actually made by me or anyone else, so I'm not about to repeat the experience.


    That, of course, is just pure bluff. You're not going to, I see, but honesty would actually require someone who makes that kind of accusation to support it with some evidence.

    So I will just go through the motions of asking: what points did I not respond to?

  • Comment number 68.

    LSV
    Call the Big Bang whatever you want but it remains a well tested Scientific Theory. I might also suggest that the Hartle-Hawking state posits that time did not exist prior to spacetime being created after the Big Bang but on reflection I prefer the Zeus thunderbolt theory because the Holy Illiad tells me so.

  • Comment number 69.

    @LSV

    As I said, the remarks were not aimed at you. Anyone who is interested enough can test my claims of eccentricity against the books and any other material out there. To be honest, we are both pretty eccentric in thinking anyone else is interested.

    And no, I won't be drawn into further argument. As I said to someone a while back on here, I derive great pleasure in not banging my head against walls.

  • Comment number 70.

    paul james (@ 68) -

    Call the Big Bang whatever you want but it remains a well tested Scientific Theory. I might also suggest that the Hartle-Hawking state posits that time did not exist prior to spacetime being created after the Big Bang but on reflection I prefer the Zeus thunderbolt theory because the Holy Illiad tells me so.


    I've got no problem with time having a beginning. In fact, it must have done, otherwise we are left with the absurdity of an infinite regress.

    The problem comes when you start arguing that "nothing" can cause everything. If that is so, then that spells the end of science. It's no good Dawkins arguing that the "intelligence" explanation is unsatisfactory, because it allegedly undermines science, when the "nothing produces something" idea fouls up the scientific method far more dramatically than "intelligence" ever conceivably could (although I can't see how the use of intelligence - from whatever source - is contrary to science - but apparently some people think it is!!! Which really is ECCENTRICITY par excellence!)

    If we accept that "nothing" can produce something, then we can never make any predictions at all about anything, because we could never know whether some new factor is not going to pop into existence to mess up the result of an experiment. I can't imagine any idea more contrary to the scientific method than that one. And yet why is Dawkins not prepared to criticise that idea for that reason? It's obvious. It seems that he'll affirm anything as long as it doesn't involve you know who.

    I suppose someone could argue that "nothing" can only produce something in the conditions before the Big Bang. Of course, those "conditions" would have been the conditions of total nothingness. Are we therefore to believe that there are different kinds of "nothingness", and that we have to make sure that we are talking about the "right kind of nothing"?!

    Someone pass me the whisky... please...

  • Comment number 71.

    Peter Klaver (@ 63) -

    "Science is therefore viewed as the arbiter of truth. Unfortunately for "scientistic" types, this method of verification is not validated by its own rules."

    Another straw men position that no science-minded atheist here takes. Will you stop that horrendous abuse of your poor keyboard!


    Excellent.

    Therefore you agree that some knowledge comes to us by a means other than sense perception. Good. If that is the case, then logically it is impossible to say that "only nature exists", for the simple reason that the only epistemic relationship we have with nature is through sense perception. "Strong empiricism" ("all knowledge comes to us via sense perception") and "philosophical naturalism" ("nature is all that exists") go hand in hand. Kill one and the other has to die. Sorry, but that's the way it is, if logic means anything at all.

    Ideas being valid or not is usually separate from conscious beings thinking these thoughts. 1 + 1 = 2 was valid before there was ever any life on earth. Your posts about thoughts arising from evolved brains etc are as wrong as they are irrelevant. That answer also covers much of the second-last lengthy paragraph of your post btw.


    No, I am not wrong about this at all.

    Science looks for explanations. I am sure you agree with that statement. Therefore, it is wrong to take anything for granted, and resort to a circular argument, which goes: "Because that is the way things are, nature must have formed them this way". Actually, we need to look at every aspect of reality, and ask whether a naturalistic explanation does justice to it. In the case of knowledge and reason, a naturalistic explanation simply will not do.

    The example you gave of "1 + 1 = 2" has no meaning at all in the absence of at least one conscious mind "knowing" it. This sum is not a material thing that floated around in space before life appeared. It is an idea that only possesses meaning within the framework of a series of concepts, such as: unity, plurality, distinction, identity, similarity, sets, addition, equality, correspondence etc. Let us suppose that two rocks are hurtling through space in the putative period prior to the emergence of life - or to be more accurate - mind. We know that if we take those two rocks and join them in a set, that set will comprise two rocks. But such an idea only "existed" before the emergence of mind in the form of potentiality.

    So mind then emerges within the brain of homo sapiens, and one particular member of this species happens upon two rocks lying on the ground. Why would he decide to add those two rocks together to form a set of two rocks? It's quite possible that he may not even see those two rocks as "two rocks", but one object. Why not? After all, vision apparently evolved before mind. His "mind" has to interpret the sensations of colour, and why would he impose the idea of distinction on those series of visual sensations? Or if he sees "two" objects, he may not twig that they are "two of the same kind" (whatever "same" and "kind" are supposed to mean in the context of just a mass of visual sensations). And then he would need some purpose to add these two rocks together to form a set. In other words, there would be a utilitarian purpose.

    Now suppose he decides to devise a mathematical system to add these rocks together to form a set. And it so happens that this system develops and "works" within nature. The practical success of this system thus establishes the method by which he calls the ideas of his system "true". This is the pragmatic method of verification. What other method of verification could he possibly have?

    And then things get a bit complicated. As society "develops" (within this alleged evolutionary paradigm), these humanoid animals become aware of a network of relationships, and they then "project" one of these relationships (father) onto "the big wide world" - and construct the idea of "God". And, lo and behold, this idea seems to "work" - it possesses utility. The idea provides meaning, comfort, a moral structure to society etc. Now clearly, this idea has exactly the same status within this evolutionary paradigm as the idea of "1 + 1 = 2". There is no difference. The method of verification is exactly the same: utility.

    So clearly within a purely materialistic paradigm, the only method of verification is pragmatism. What "works" (for whatever reason) is therefore "true". The God idea works and has worked for billions of people throughout history, therefore, for reasons of utility it is "true" within the materialistic worldview, as I have clearly explained. But the philosophy of materialism also declares the idea to be "false", because it is a non-materialistic idea.

    That is a contradiction. And that is why naturalistic epistemology is incoherent.

    Continued...

  • Comment number 72.

    Continued from post #71...

    As for your "God creating a stone too heavy to lift" objection: I have already answered that, and explained that it has exactly the same status as the idea of a "square circle". Try thinking about the nature of cause and effect. You are asking me to believe that an effect can be greater than its cause. That is inherently absurd, because any part of that effect which is greater than its alleged cause would, by definition, not have been the result of that cause. So to say that a cause can create something greater than itself is inherently irrational, and nowhere does the Bible even suggest that the omnipotence of God involves creating anything which is inherently self-contradictory, especially considering that "God upholds all things by the word of his power" (Hebrews 1:3) - showing that behind his power is his "word" (i.e. information, which, of course has to be logically coherent). By the way, this informational basis to reality is affirmed by such an eminent physicist as Anton Zeilinger - a point I made to you, which you seem to have forgotten.

  • Comment number 73.

    LSV
    Now that we finally agree that a thunderbolt from Zeus could have been the First Cause lets examine the original question from Casur. Once time became linear where is the evidence for the supernatural?

  • Comment number 74.

    Once again, the Christian faith has the answer...........the supernatural God stepped into time, in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ.

    Read the 4 Gospels and evidence for the supernatural is all over the place, but especially in Christ's resurrection.

    Pretty much ends the argument, doesn't it?

  • Comment number 75.

    Is there a god?
    Yes.
    How do you know?
    Because the Bible says so.
    How do you know the Bible is correct?
    Because it was inspired by God.

    "Pretty much ends the argument, doesn't it?"
    Yes it does Phillip, yes it does.

  • Comment number 76.

    Phil-leap-Phil-lop. French agnostic.

  • Comment number 77.

    The French philosopher André Comte-Sponville lists six reasons why he does not believe in God. The first three are negative:

    i) The so-called 'proofs' of God are weak. Examples from the three main ones:

    On the ontological argument (God is 'necessary' by definition): "The concept of God remains the same whether God exists or not; thus, it cannot be used to prove that God exists".

    On the cosmological argument (First Cause): "How do we know that reason is right?..." and even if there was a 'necessary being', "...how could we be certain that it is [a spiritual or personal] God..." as opposed to say, the Tao or something?

    On the 'teleological proof' (argument from design): This idea has "suffered greatly from scientific progress", for instance, the theory of evolution. Also, "... general entropy (what would we think of a clock that tended towards maximal disorder)"?

    Referring to all of these, Comte-Sponville adds "...the existence of God remains as conceivable as his inexistence - but not more so." These 'proofs' are not decisive.

    ii) The evidence for God is weak.

    "I cannot help thinking that if God existed, he should be easier to perceive or feel... it would be so much simpler if he would just appear to us!"

    iii) God is an incomprehensible explanation for the universe, life and human consciousness.

    "From a theoretical point of view, believing in God always amounts to trying to explain something we do not understand... by something we understand even less (God)".

    Obviously these are greatly abridged arguments. If anyone's interested I'll post Comte-Sponville's three 'positive' reasons for disbelieving in God. You may find his essay interesting, even if you disagree with it (reviewed here): http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/oct/04/books.atheist.spirituality/print

  • Comment number 78.

    74. pastorphilip wrote:

    "Read the 4 Gospels and evidence for the supernatural is all over the place, but especially in Christ's resurrection.

    Pretty much ends the argument, doesn't it?"
    ______________________________

    Not for me, I'm afraid.

    Taking your last point, the resurrection, what does this 'evidence' amount to? From the four gospels we have three accounts of it (the one given in Mark is a later addition to the text). We need to ask some questions:

    1. Where any of these accounts written by eye witnesses of events?

    The answer is almost certainly 'no'. Luke admits that his account is derived from second hand sources. John claims to have been told about the events by an eye witness, but does not claim to have witnessed them himself - so both these accounts are secondary evidence. John's account also amounts to 'hearsay'; which as far as I know is inadmissible as evidence in court because of its notorious unreliability. As for Matthew - the author relies heavily on Mark. Why would an eye witness to Jesus's life rely so heavily on a third party for most of his gospel's content?

    2. Are there any reliable contemporary and independent accounts of Jesus's resurrection?

    Again, the answer is 'no'. We have a (highly disputed) reference to Jesus's resurrection from Jospehus, c. 93-94 AD, so again, even if it hasn't been altered piously, this is not an eye witness account - it's still secondary evidence. The surprising thing is that, given the dramatic descriptions of the resurrection, no contemporary or near-contemporary source outside of devotional Christian literature makes any comment about it.

    3. Do the accounts agree with one another?

    Again, we have a 'no'. The only way you can get the accounts to agree is to construct your own resurrection story - one that doesn't say what any of the individual gospels say; but rather one that amalgamates them all (in a very unlikely way, IMV).

    For instance, the gospels disagree on how and when the tomb stone was removed; who first entered the tomb; the number and appearance of the angels at the tomb and what they said (and when); whether any of the disciples ever went to the tomb; what they were instructed to do, and where to go; and what the subsequently did and where they went.

    So the gospels by no means "end the argument" over the supernatural nature of the account/s of Jesus's resurrection; at least not for any reasonable person.

  • Comment number 79.

    Oh for goodness sake.

    Count me out of this one.

  • Comment number 80.

    For more miracles, saints, people appearing after death, and a flood of spirituality,
    I recommend The Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda.

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

  • Comment number 81.

    newdwr (@ 77) -

    God is an incomprehensible explanation for the universe, life and human consciousness.


    I could say a lot about your post, but pressure of time has limited me (today) to respond to just one point, namely, that "God is an incomprehensible explanation for the universe, life and human consciousness".

    How so?

    Is "intelligence" more incomprehensible than mindlessness as an explanation for the origin and development of intelligence, and, of course, the most complex systems in the universe?

    Is "personality" more incomprehensible than impersonality as an explanation for the creation of persons?

    Is a "first cause" more incomprehensible than "nothingness" as an explanation for the origin of the universe?

    Is a "moral being" more incomprehensible than total amorality as an explanation for our moral sense?

    Is a "conscious being" more incomprehensible than material unconsciousness as an explanation for the existence of human consciousness?

    Is it incomprehensible to infer the nature of a cause from the nature of the effects we observe and experience?

    Clearly if God is an incomprehensible explanation for the universe, life and human consciousness, then it follows logically that the philosophy of naturalism is even more incomprehensible.

    Ergo... God.

    Simple.

  • Comment number 82.

    Tomorrow's edition of Beyond Belief is on the subject of Atheism.

    'Richard Dawkins has declared that his aim is " To convert religious believers to atheism by helping them to overcome their childhood indoctrination in order to break free of the vice of religion altogether."

    Joining Ernie to discuss Atheism today are Professor Simon Blackburn, Vice President of the British Humanist Association; Mark Embleton, a psychologist and President of Atheism UK; and Lois Lee, founder of the Non-Religion and secularity research network.'

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01cvkc3

  • Comment number 83.

    LSV, post 71,

    "Therefore you agree that some knowledge comes to us by a means other than sense perception. Good. If that is the case, then logically it is impossible to say that "only nature exists", for…….."

    I never mentioned sense perception. And I never said that I'm sure that nature is all that exists. You're having another swell time abusing your keyboard?
    Once you're ready with that, and you've cleaned yourself off a little, why not engage with what people here are discussing, rather than these straw men you keep setting up?

    The paragraph about there needing to be beings to give 1 + 1 = 2 meaning contains lots of nice words, but I fail to see anything other in there than just wishful assertion. Never mind that 1 + 1 = 2 might not be relevant to anyone if there's no one around, that doesn't make it anything less true.

    So the whole lengthy thing that follows about thoughts appearing in an evolved mind etc seems to be as I said last time: as irrelevant as it is wrong.

    And it seems no better re the bit about an omnipotent god in post 72. Well done on spotting that the stone lifting question shows it's on the same level as square circles etc. But the idea of a stone too heavy too lift is not the crazy one. The irrational bit lies in the omnipotent god.
    Close, but no cigar.

    And a bible reference and a name from a scientist. Wonderful. Such lovely arguments from authority.

  • Comment number 84.

    As grokesx has no taste for arguing you at the moment, why don't I temporarily fill in for him, if that's ok with hike and you?
    You asked grokesx what points you had not addressed. One thing that I remember both him and me asking you, is some examples where the creationist account gives a better understanding than the scientific one. Like one of your own favourite subjects, information in living things. Any ideas about the fusing of the chromosomes, that lead to one important difference between mankind and primates? Or other specific bits where the creationist account gives better insight, gives us a clearer understanding of things?

  • Comment number 85.

    And finally, the pope recently had a pop at IVF:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2106392/Pope-Benedict-XVI-tells-infertile-couple-shun-arrogant-IVF-treatment-sex-husband-wife-acceptable-way-conceive.html

    Same old boring stuff really, as even one quote would make clear.

    He told the specialists in his audience to resist 'the fascination of the technology of artificial fertility', warning against 'easy income, or even worse, the arrogance of taking the place of the Creator'.

  • Comment number 86.

    Whereas being the creator's mouthpiece is the very essence of humility...

  • Comment number 87.

    81. logica_sine_vanitate wrote:

    1. LSV: ""God is an incomprehensible explanation for the universe, life and human consciousness". How so?"

    REPLY: Because we don't understand 'God', and we don't understand the universe, life and human consciousness. So using one to explain the other is meaningless.
    _________________________________________

    2. LSV: "Is "intelligence" more incomprehensible than mindlessness as an explanation for the origin and development of intelligence, and, of course, the most complex systems in the universe?"

    REPLY: How did the initial intelligence come about? We know that intelligence can be a product of evolution - we don't know of any other way that it could arise.
    ______________________________________

    3. LSV: "Is "personality" more incomprehensible than impersonality as an explanation for the creation of personality?

    REPLY: Dogs have personality. As do cockatoos. Are there also dog and cockatoo gods?
    __________________________________

    4. LSV: "Is a "first cause" more incomprehensible than "nothingness" as an explanation for the origin of the universe?"

    REPLY: No. And neither is a 'nothingness' more comprehensible than a 'first cause'. Neither makes sense. That's where our reason breaks down. And by the way, what makes the 'first cause', if there is one, *your* particular 'first cause'?
    ______________________________________

    5. LSV: "Is a "moral being" more incomprehensible than total amorality as an explanation for our moral sense?"

    REPLY: You're straying way beyond what I posted here; but is our moral sense not equally well explained by the concept of reciprocal altruism, which has been observed in many of the other animal species, and which can easily be explained in terms of natural selection among animals that thrive in social groups, such as humans?

    You don't have a higher sense of morality than I or anyone else just because you believe in God.
    ____________________________

    6. LSV: "Is a "conscious being" more incomprehensible than material unconsciousness as an explanation for the existence of human consciousness?"

    REPLY: No more than a conscious being is a better explanation for a landslide, or a thunderstorm, or a snowflake, than are unconscious physical events.
    _____________________________________

    7. LSV: "Is it incomprehensible to infer the nature of a cause from the nature of the effects we observe and experience?"

    REPLY: We observe and experience many effects without assigning special attribution to them. For instance, can we infer from your comments that there was a deliberate 'cause' behind the recent tragic tornadoes in the US Bible Belt? If so, what was this 'cause'? I suspect it was blind natural forces. What do you think?
    ___________________________________

    And re your final point: if we don't understand it, God did it?

    (Glad you only had time to respond to one point, btw!)

  • Comment number 88.

    @newlach wrote:

    Tomorrow's edition of Beyond Belief is on the subject of Atheism.

    'Richard Dawkins has declared that his aim is " To convert religious believers to atheism by helping them to overcome their childhood indoctrination in order to break free of the vice of religion altogether."

    I am fairly up to the minute on Dawkins speak and yet have not heard him ever say that he is expecting converts, that isn't his methodology. He may well be seeking to show those who have suffered childhood indoctrination and initiation into religious beliefs that they can break free from the emotional tyranny which is not quite the same thing.

    Mis-characterizing Dawkins is tawdry and only makes those who do it seem as a bunch of whiners who do not having a valid case.

    Dawkins does illustrate nicely that none of us indoctrinated or initiated as infants gave consent. That is wrong.

    Here's an interesting continuation of that:

    Mormons baptizing Holocaust victims

    "In the Mormon religion, the Baptism by proxy of a dead relative is considered a spiritually fulfilling pursuit. But the North American Jewish community is increasingly distressed by the Baptism of Jews killed in the Holocaust. They've baptized Anne Frank as many as ten times. And the very alive Eli Wiesel is on their list. Now he's appealing to that powerful political Mormon, Mitt Romney to stop what some say is nothing short of forced conversion."

    Listen to the podcast here:
    http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/episode/2012/02/28/mormons-baptizing-holocaust-victims/

    No doubt the Mormons will the co-opting Richard Dawkins, me. you and everyone into their imaginary beliefs too, however once one is dead then that is the end of the line so does it matter what crazy stuff people say afterward?

    I'd say that the Mormon action is less invasive than children into religious beliefs that they have not consented to.

    Thanks for the heads up on Beyond Belief, I'll try to give it a listen but the show tends to try the patience of anything thinking person.

  • Comment number 89.

    Was your mind wondering when you wrote that?

  • Comment number 90.

    Whether LucyQ's mind was wondering or not, Stephen Colbert did have an amusing bit about that posthumous mormon proxy baptising

    http://videocafe.crooksandliars.com/heather/stephen-colbert-converts-all-dead-mormons-t

  • Comment number 91.

    51. At 15:36 2nd Mar 2012, Will_Crawley wrote:

    "As for the libraries full of scholarship, that's fine but hardly useful in the midst of a blog thread. William might as well begin his posts by telling us all to go and read books and stop discussing things."

    The way this thread has gone, that probably wouldn't be a bad idea.
    Hear, hear! Let us herald a new age of scholarship! Repent all ye believers and non-believers alike who verily do extract their opinions from fancy and aesthetics without heed to research and considered reading! This is the age of [citation needed]! (www.wikipedia.org)

  • Comment number 92.

    Bald men. Comb.

  • Comment number 93.

    newlach (@ 82) -

    'Richard Dawkins has declared that his aim is " To convert religious believers to atheism by helping them to overcome their childhood indoctrination in order to break free of the vice of religion altogether."


    Imagine no proselytising zeal

    It's easy if you try...

    No "strawman assumptions about other people" beneath us,

    Above us only intellectually honest and morally consistent attempts to answer the question "why?"...


    (Sorry John. I know... I'll stick with the day job!)

  • Comment number 94.

    PeterKlaver @ 90

    I found the Colbert bit funny too. However, using ridicule to undermine something that may be true does not make it false. Recently I have been studying Mormon doctrine and reading the Book of Mormon. As an unattached person (not belonging to any church) who believes in God and Jesus Christ I find their beliefs fascinating and the Book of Mormon refreshing. Most of their beliefs come straight out of the Bible, while some have been better explained and/or came by more recent revelation.

    If the Mormons do not have authority to perform certain ordinances then the baptisms they are performing are of no more validity than the 'circumcision' Stephen Colbert performed on his show and they are, therefore, just wasting their own time. However, just assuming they do have authority to perform such ordinances and those ordinances are valid wouldn't it be beneficial to our ancestors to have them carry out this act on their behalf? I know you are an atheist but you still can't prove that God does not exist and until you do Christianity, and Mormonism in particular, just may be the best religious explanation for our existence here on Earth.

    Just by way of sharing some things I have found out from Mormonism, the principle of proxy was established by Jesus Christ himself. It was He who took upon Himself the pains and sins of the world in the Garden that He could atone for those who would accept His sacrifice and then died that He could overcome death for everyone which had come about because of Adam. You and people like Stephen Colbert may say that you don't want to be included in the vicarious sacrifice Jesus performed in the Garden and you are within your right to accept it or reject it. However, when Jesus reversed the condition that Adam started that was done as a free gift for all God's children - you included.

    Baptism for the dead is mentioned in 1Corinthians 15:29. Paul is explaining points of doctrine regarding the resurrection. It is implicit that there must have arose a dispute amongst those at Corinth that either the resurrection had happened and there would be no more resurrection or whether it was still to come for those still alive. Paul clarifies the situation by pointing to a practice that must have been current at the time when he said, "Else what shall they do which are baptised for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptised for the dead? In fact, Paul goes on in the chapter to mention that there would be degrees of difference among the resurrected. He says, "There is one glory of the sun, and another of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the the resurrection of the dead..."

    I know you don't believe any of this and you may think it sounds more ridiculous than the rest of Christianity but I write that you may see that if there is a God then it is possible that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints may be the kingdom of God on Earth.

    BTW, what do you think of this: http://www.scienceagainstevolution.org/v14i7b.htm

  • Comment number 95.

    Well, it makes praying for the souls in purgatory seem absolutely weak. And what about letting the ‘dead’ bury the ‘dead?’ Geez humans are such control freaks. I thought you had to make your decision whilst alive, or you would be cannon-balled to a place where there’s gnashing of teeth. Maybe we should check the Holy Wikipedia. Are we sure this baptism isn’t just another group trying to convince themselves that they’re right (aka safe), by forcing their beliefs on others – in this case the dead?

  • Comment number 96.

    94. puretruthseeker wrote:

    "...what do you think of this:http://www.scienceagainstevolution.org/v14i7b.htm "
    __________________________

    I know the question is directed at PeterKlaver but I'd like to comment on it if I may. The book asserts that:

    "One of the mistakes Darwin made was that he tried to explain evolution in terms of a single cause—namely natural selection."

    That's utterly incorrect. Darwin only proposed natural selection as the 'mechanism' whereby *variations* within generations were selected for. He didn't know about genetics, but he deduced that there was something that permitted physical variations between generations, and that these variations gave a species as a whole a better chance of survival amid changing environmental conditions.

    Natural selection is just the "means" by which this inherent variability between generations selects the 'fittest' organisms of any given species in any given environment. We now know that what permits this variability is random genetic mutation. In short, the engine of 'Darwinism' is genetic mutation; natural selection is just a random, driverless steering wheel.

    It looks like Fodor's whole book is an attack on a straw man.

  • Comment number 97.

    newdwr54 @96

    I admit I know little about genetics or science for that matter although I am educated to Msc level but I do understand that not all scientists agree and in fact there are competing theories in many fields. You put mechanisms, variations, means, fittest and Darwin in quotation marks as if i'm supposed to know what you know. I don't know what you know. I have been honest in saying what i don't know. What qualifies you in stating what you have just done? The New Scientist covered the book yet you just wrote it off in a few sentences.

  • Comment number 98.

    paul james (@ 75) -

    Is there a god?
    Yes.
    How do you know?
    Because the Bible says so.
    How do you know the Bible is correct?
    Because it was inspired by God.


    How terrible these circular arguments are!

    Here's another one...

    Chancedidit.
    How do you know?
    Answer: Well we're here, aren't we?


    Yep. A wonderful circular argument.

    I could think of many more, courtesy of "the dear philosophy"...

  • Comment number 99.

    97. puretruthseeker:

    I don't think it's important what qualifications anyone has - qualifications don't make us smart, and they don't give any hint of 'authority' in any subject matter. All qualifications show is that you are educated in a certain field; and at best there can only be experts in certain fields.

    As it happens my university education was in environmental science. I am qualified enough to realise that I know practically nothing about anything (something many here will readily attest to). However my education, such as it was, touched, from time to time, on evolution (as it did on many other things). So I have some formal familiarity with evolution. I am *not* an expert on evolutionary biology. But the thing is, I don't *have* to be to see the failings in the book and the review that you linked to @94.

    Charles Darwin did *not* base his theory on natural selection alone. If that is the contention of the authors (and I haven't read the book, only the review you linked to) then in my view they are wrong. I have explained why I think they are wrong @ 96, so there's no point in re-hashing it here. If you can come up with any objection to the points I made @ 96 then by all means do so.

    Meanwhile, if I were you I'd expand on my choice of book reviewers.

  • Comment number 100.

 

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