Bags of Bran


Apologia #13
April 7, 2012, 11:34 pm
Filed under: Apologioi

Editor’s note: There is some quotation of material going on here that makes it difficult to follow who is saying what. I done gone ahead and fixed it by putting my (quoted) words in a handsome shade of blue while Curt’s words are all in the standard tone of your reader.

To Chris

From Curt

I guess by the definition of ‘transcendent’ that you appear to be using, then ‘truth’ transcends minds because it exists independent of opinion. My worldview is perfectly consistent with this, but I don’t call it the same thing I guess. I just label it objective truth. Basically, if you want to say that the sunset ‘transcends’ minds because everyone with eyesight can see it, you’re allowed to. I will just say that the sunset exists- to claim otherwise, say, to claim that the sunset only exists to people who are observing it, is to commit the subjectivist fallacy. Numbers, then, are just created labels that correspond to objective reality. When you ask ‘how did they get there?’ you appear to be presuming that they had to be put there.  Truths show themselves through testability and repeatabilty, not solely through their ability to be perceived by multiple people. To me, something that is not verifiable is then not verifiably true, and the default position is disbelief until evidence comes along. What you can do is refute positive claims.

It is true that any argument that begins from the standpoint that no objective reality exists begins with false premises (although people have tried). But I’m sorry, I don’t know how that corresponds to my making the tu quoque fallacy. I’m not trying to reject one claim based on another, I am rejecting a claim on the basis that its own premises are flawed. I’m sorry if the ideas got conflated somewhere- but you claimed that creativity was required and used an assumption that it was as a premise for the argument. This simply means that I reject this particular argument.

My definition of a ‘mind’ makes no statement regarding transcendence. It simply asserts that we think, feel, etc. with our brains. Well.. okay, maybe that’s not entirely true- new research suggests that we receive signals- say, fear- from our bodies, which are then interpreted by our brains as such.

When you make a claim that creativity is required, how are you not trying to prove to me that it is? Maybe if you’re not you should be under the circumstances.

You know that it is impossible to prove that forming a sentence is NOT a creative act- nor would I EVER try to claim so. Human brains are capable of creativity. This is a known fact. What is not a known fact and remains to be sufficiently demonstrated is that creativity was required to create creativity. The fact that I can form a sentence proves that I can form a sentence, and maybe there are some other things that could logically be inferred or deduced from that, but one of them is NOT that something creative had to create my creativity… *needs an aspirin after that sentence*

I do not argue that  “materialism is the given, therefore any argument for transcendence is circular.” I don’t see where you get that from what I said. Maybe I’m not seeing it but that seems like a straw man of my position. Could you explain more fully the process you used to simplify my argument to this point? Because it seems like something was lost (or, perhaps, gained) in translation.

3.      What is the difference between the knowledge of apples and the knowledge of persons? What is the difference between Arabic numerals and Roman numerals, and is one “better” than the other? What is beauty: does beauty exist?

The differences are many- for one, people, for better or worse, are much more complex than apples. An apple cannot represent itself to be something that it is not, for one, nor can it wage war on other fruits because they come from the wrong tree. An apple forms no opinions about its world and exerts no control over its surroundings, so ‘knowing’ its mind, intentions, and actions are functionally null.  Also, if you hold an apple over a volcano’s edge you will not know it any better. You’ll just have a tasty roasted apple. :)The difference between Arabic and Roman numerals is pretty much just aesthetic, and therefore ‘better’ is entirely subjective. Certain ones work better for some people than others based on being raised with one as the norm. Personally, though, I find Roman numerals cumbersome once you get into some of the higher or more complex digits. It takes me a long time to decipher the dates at the end of movie reels, for one, not that doing so is necessary. You know me, though- I can’t just look at something like that and NOT try to figure it out- so I end up adding and subtracting my way to the answer where if they’d used Arabic numerals I could have figured it out and taken a bathroom break by the time I figured out they were trying to get the concept of ‘1983’ across. I don’t think that’s a very objective measure, but it certainly falls into the category of a value judgement.

Beauty is, as it has been said, in the eye of the beholder. The vastness of human experience and the sheer number of differences in brains allows for a great deal of variation in what is seen as beautiful. Just look at fashion, for example. The CONCEPT of beauty exists, that is certain, and there is a great deal of agreement in a lot of areas about what constitutes beauty. I don’t, however, think that it follows that beauty exists independent of the human psyche.  And perhaps some animals- many birds, for example, steal shiny things because that species likes to look at shiny things. This, to me, seems like evidence of a concept of beauty.

Some people think there is beauty in concepts that frankly make me sick. Some don’t like sunsets. So there really is no objective reality to what constitutes beauty though there may be as I have mentioned a great deal of consensus in some areas. But we both know it is not consensus that creates reality. You can’t test for beauty. It doesn’t have pH or mass, or any constant properties that can be used to objectively measure it. So here we have another example of something that is ‘extant-as-concept.’

4.      If you want to make internal critiques about Christianity, you’ve already admitted that the Christian worldview is more fundamentally sound than your own. Not true. Simply because I can put my ‘Christian hat’ on and think from a point of view that I once held, does not mean that I am making any sort of positive evaluative judgement about its soundness- or veracity, for that matter. It is helpful, though, to see things from other perspectives, and to incorporate them into your worldview. To point out internal inconsistencies based on my own experience of the religion is not to ascribe to its framework. That’s like saying if I walk into a house, and notice that it’s got no floor, I am admitting that it is better than my own domicile. Frankly I took a small amount of offense at the idea. Maybe the internal critiques I made had the unintended consequence of offending you and if so I am sorry.

Do not ascribe to me the position of moral relativism. There is a practical reason for judgements of right and wrong- and it lines up with the criteria for deciding which is which.  Basically, doing bad for the rest of the conscious beings in the world is both the reason and the criteria for judgements of evil. Granted, some things do necessarily fall on a gray scale, but that is the case for any worldview. And this is NOT a tu quoque-

The legitimate form of the argument is as follows:

A makes criticism P.

A is also guilty of P.

Therefore, A is dismissed (from his/her role as a model of the principle that motivates criticism P).

Is it right to kill one person to save another? What about five others? What about a hundred? A million? What if the person is Moammar Gadhafi? Don’t you think that God would recognize the necessity of killing one man to save the rest of the planet? What if He Himself spoke to someone and told them to do it? Doesn’t that take an end-run around the ‘absolute’ of “Thou shalt not kill?” Even absolutes, it would seem, operate within shades of gray.

It is not, whatsoever, in any way, my intention to compare you with the Westboro cult. They may use a similar label, they may even be reading the same book, but to quote Sesame Street, “One of these things is not like the others.” I hope that if it came off that way you can see that there was no direct comparison meant. There is a slight problem in that they can (and do) find things within the wide variety of value judgements to be taken away from the Bible to support the viewpoints that they came to the table with. That’s something inherent in the metaphor of it being a ‘sword.’ A sword can be a tool of the righteous, and it can be a tool of the wicked. It depends on the wielder. To put it another way, swords don’t kill people. People kill people. (I wonder if this statement was ever made in history? I bet it was actually!) SO I don’t lump you in with them because they perpetrate and advocate evil. Fair?

Okay… I’ve dealt with the objective-evil thing, so I’ll skip that.

a.      Look at the way that you argue: I reject this faith because I know a lot of jerks who ascribe to it is juxtaposed with I reject established, well-supported, consistent scientific theory because some scientists have committed dishonest acts. You’re loading terms and coloring the argument a certain way. Why do you need to do that?

You’re right- the terms are loaded and that wasn’t necessary. The original argument stands, though- it is just as wrong to reject one side solely based on the deeds done by its proponents as it is to do so to the other side. So, I don’t do it. I do feel, however, that there is a great deal of difference between the verifiable and unverifiable, and there needs to be a clear distinction made between the two. It was the wrong place to put that distinction.  Still, please know that my position on the veracity of a faith comes not from a value judgement of its members but a logical analysis of its premises.

b.      The Bible has actually granted you the right to expect a certain type of behavior of Christians. But to what authority would you point out an internal inconsistency?

To myself, to my own conscience, and to others whom I believe to have a conscience [so that leaves out a lot of former bosses 🙂 ] and to be capable of making their own moral judgements. Ultimately in my viewpoint the arbiter of morality is the individual. The individual must then answer to society. There is no delay of consequences until after death, and no means of escaping said consequences by simply asking forgiveness. This touches on another problem I see within many faiths- a lack of distinction between levels of transgression. Someone who dies with the sin of stealing a loaf of bread for their ailing grandmother on their soul has broken a commandment and is, within the paradigm, deserving of eternal torment just as much as a serial killer.  Also, Jeffrey Dahmer was allowed to see a pastor, to repent and to say the prayer- you now, the big one- and be baptized before he died. He- according to my understanding, and please correct me if I’m wrong- will go to an eternal reward while someone who committed the sin of being born in a Taoist culture will experience infinite punishment. And is it right, at any rate, to punish infinitely for a finite crime? These are the kind of questions that originally caused me to start the head scratching process.

6.      I agree: the problem of evil is messy, messy ground, but there is only a non-denial solution in a Christian theistic worldview (and no, most Christians have not thought about it enough to realize that it’s there). But again, it’s only a problem if you are willing to admit that there is a transcendent entity (not a person, a thing) that we can agree upon as “evil.”

Yes, you’re right. That’s why it’s not a problem for me. There is no such requirement for an explanation of evil within my worldview, much like the world itself it doesn’t need to have been ‘created’ by someone to exist. There is only the question of what is to be done about it.

7.       You say “Much of what you have given me as reasons for your belief amounts to the ‘argument from beauty’ line of thinking, with a bit of the Ontological Argument thrown in.” I would say I’m arguing from values in general, with little bits of this and that. Perhaps I’d be more effective if I took up a volume on Natural Theology and stuck to a method, who knows. I’m not trying to win you grudgingly to a logical position by force of argument: I want you to love the good God who created this world and you and me.

You don’t need to stick to a single method, though it might be more coherent and therefore more appealing to some. I think it’s a fallacy to reject or accept an idea based on the coherence of its delivery. Many a time I’ve had people ‘refute’ my statements by pointing out that I was usin’ fancy talky-words what don’t mean nothin atall. But the points, in order to stand a chance of convincing me, must stand on their own- or the conclusion being argued for loses its legs, right?

Please don’t think that I am trying to win you over to my point of view. I hope for your sake that the crucible of these discussions brings you to a stronger understanding of your AND my positions. While there are areas where I think you could look more deeply and have a better understanding that may lead you to change your mind (the age of the universe and the methods used to determine it being the main ones), I don’t want to take your faith- something that is very important to you and around which you have built your life- from you. I do admit that I’ve been trying to get you to admit that it IS faith. And maybe to understand that the logic-and-evidence worldview is quite sound when it comes down to it.  But if you REALLY want me to know and love your God, then you need to pray that He reveals himself to me in some divine and inarguable way, something that can’t be limited to personal experience or explained by natural phenomena. Again, with the standards I have for evidence being essentially set, it should be an infinitely easy task. I am so created that I cannot believe…

8.      The deities you mention: what things do they have in common, apart from merely waving them away? What role do they fulfill in their respective mythologies? What ties them together? Ought their civilizations to have believed differently? If so, how?

Zeus: The ‘father’ of the majority of the Greek pantheon, Zeus represents absolute divine authority- and the power to destroy which many equate to control or ownership. He falls short of true divinity in my book because he shows a lot of human flaws that I refuse to associate with godhood.

Bastet: The Cat goddess of Egyptian mythology, she was associated with fertility, perfume, ointment, and divine deliverance from the ‘plagues’ of mice and rats that inevitably came about as a result of the first granaries in recorded history. She fulfilled a lot of the same roles, actually, as Artemis within their respective pantheons.

Marduk: A bull-god that was later renamed Baal (meaning lord), Marduk was the slayer of Tiamat and thus closely associated with the Babylonian creation myth. As time progressed he was also associated with a lot of different spheres of influence, even performing a few ‘takeovers’ over time of other gods’ territories (most of which had to do with the political climate of the periods during which he was worshiped.)

Vishnu: Often considered the ‘supreme’ among many deities, a ‘god of gods’ as it were. Vishnu is attributed with a divine form that is beyond human comprehension. Vishnu is the ‘maintainer,’ so if you didn’t want your farmland destroyed he was your go-to guy.

Lord Xenu: Created by L. Ron Hubbard as part of a bar bet that he could write a science fiction book, claim it was truth, and that people would be gullible enough to believe it. (He had had people write and ask him if his fiction was ‘real’ in the past apparently.) Yet another supreme ruler of the universe (a pattern begins to emerge!), he locked himself away in a galactic prison for some strange reason.

The things that tie them together I think I have already touched on. One thing is that they are all an outgrowth of people’s desire to put a face on things beyond their control- someone who could at least be petitioned for desired outcomes. This is basically the same as knocking on wood in the end. They also represent, in my opinion, a misfiring of the brain’s ability to have a concept of a character along the lines of my Han Solo example.  They provided a sense of comfort, albeit a false one, to people who lacked understanding in the world around them. They were the reason for many deeds, both good and evil, over the ages. The good could have been done (though it is questionable if they WOULD have been done) without the belief. The same goes for the evil.

Some of them had attributed to them statements that unfortunately normalized actions that I would consider wrong, based on the morality (or lack thereof) at the time of the writings. No, they should NEVER have practiced things like human (or, in my opinion, animal) sacrifice, or waged war on their neighbors because they didn’t worship the same guy/girl/tentacled space monster. They should never have taken their faith as assurance of their superiority over others and used that as justification for things like slavery, abduction, genocide, oppression of women, or the like. They should have looked at their beliefs with a critical eye and objectively assessed the actions they were taking based on them, though in the kind of educational vacuum that existed (still does?) I can see how that would fall by the wayside.

9.      Again, you offer internal critiques for my reasons for belief. You parse my mind on your own terms for evidence which I offered on my terms. All faith is inferior to science, I get it. I just wonder what gives you the right to parse anything for its value, if, again, “mind” is only chemistry and etc.

Yes, I do offer ‘internal critiques.’ Having been there/done that, I have a leg, in my opinion, to stand on. And yes, I ask for evidence, because of the same uncontrollable curiosity that caused me to take broken electronics out of the trash as a child and open them up, to read the entire encyclopedia set and dictionary in whatever classroom I found myself experiencing boredom. I do not, however, wish to label faith as inferior. Diametrically opposed, perhaps, though not necessarily. As far as what gives me the ‘right’ to exercise such curiosity, I will ask: What gives anyone the ‘right’ to climb a mountain? Does it belong to them? Is the mountain an inferior thing to be conquered? In my mind, the having of legs and lungs, muscle and mind, and overall desire to see the top, gives them the ‘right’ to explore it.

Of course, no one holds a viewpoint while believing it to be wrong. But, brother, your belief seems so exceptional, so beyond the pale of what I have seen in many (but not all I suppose) others, that it must necessarily arouse my curiosity. I feel at this point I must iterate the fact that I do not mean any offense by asking for a peek under the hood. If anything, I would hope that on some level you would be pleased that I have chosen you as my authority on what I consider to be the ‘true Scotsman’ of the faith.

10.  My perspective may not be standard: I haven’t asked around. But here goes. A person born without a brain would not be born “alive.” So the body would have the essence of physical humanity (in a partial sense) but there is not enough there to be “soul” because “soul” is “body” plus “spirit.” “Spirit” in human beings amounts to “life.” It is different from the “life” found in animals and plants, for lots of reasons that people argue about at length, often for paychecks, ironically. The real poser in my mind is severely mentally retarded people. I would argue that they are human beings, and therefore have souls. It is not a matter of functionality, but of physical nature plus immaterial nature. Are they culpable for their sins, or for Adam’s? In my thinking, Jesus’ death paid for all of Adam’s guilt. The only people whose sins count against them are people who chose to sin.

So… then, do ALL people that have no means of discerning morality escape hell? If they have no concept of sin then they cannot choose it. What about people who were brought up through no fault of their own in immoral or differently-believing societies? What about unborn children? Do you think there is such a thing as partial culpability?

Some animals have been shown to have an understanding of moral issues. Does this mean they go to hell if they go against morality? For that matter, what is your position on the whole animals-and-souls thing? I hope there’s no tick heaven… though maybe it’s human hell. 🙂

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