The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A retort to Warren and Others

Last week, I vented my spleen about comment from Pastor Rick "Repackaging Halfwit Homilies" Warren.

Well, as so often happens wonderfully, someone else, in this case Daniel Meissler, summed it up much more succinctly than I ever could have:

Let me get this straight. You think the Creator of the Universe cares personally about your life, and that you know, with absolute certainty, what he wants for all of humankind.

While I think that we’re basically alone, not very special, and are just fumbling through our random existence trying to do the best we can.

And I’m the arrogant one?


From Ebon Muse, a neat little primer on John Stuart Mill's Method for Critical Thinking. Sweet.

Oh, and from Hemant Mehta, fun with Elizabeth Dole, hoping that prejudice and fear-mongering is thought to be a winning combination in North Carolina.


mnsc said...

Well, I read the screed on Rick Warren, and as such things go, it possessed a level of invective that ranks among the best that evangelicals and their ilk can do. I find it amusing that both sides of the issue have hardened their positions to the point of intellectual mediocrity.

Let me take issue with your syllogism: lack of proof is not a case for non-existence. In my estimation, the best that you can argue for is the agnostic position. Since no proof has ever materialized for the non-existence of a supreme deity, you are left in the position of simply claiming that you do not know.

An example: Einsteins' Theory of General Relativity described certain cases wherein Black Holes could form. Physicists argued for years as to whether these bizarre constructs could actually exist. They now believe that they have such proof and have identified various candidates.

Hmm, theory predicts, but no material proof for a long time. Did the lack of proof establish the non-existence of the thing in question?

It's so curious to me that atheists do their best to portray persons of faith as country rubes two (or more) steps down the evolutionary ladder. How quickly they forget that the some of the most brilliant minds of the last two thousand years were men and women of faith who conducted their lives and thinking under the assumption, however arrogant it may appear, that absolute truth existed, was knowable, and was handed down from on high.

As for you, dear boy, I seem to remember a time when your thinking was more flexible. Alas, age brings with it a necrotizing of the mind as all the pathways of the intellect become sclerotic and calcified. Therein lies the source of all arrogance and self-justification.

Anthroslug said...

Msnc – clearly you know me – but I do not know who you are owing to the screen name. Any chance that you would enlighten me?

I would point out that in your taking issue with what I have to say, you have attributed a position to me that I do not hold. My comments were directed not at all people who believe in a god, but at those who specifically claim that lack of a belief in a god is a sign of arrogance. This is a common position in my experience (in other words, I hear it at least once a week), but I am aware that it is not a universal one, and I have never claimed that it is a universal one among believers. Nor do I hold, as you seem to imply I do, that believers are “country rubes two (or more) steps down the evolutionary ladder” (indeed, those who have been around when others have expressed this view know that I am very vocal about the fact that it is a dumb mistake for non-believers to claim some inherent superiority). I argue against a particular claim, but have never held that I am somehow a superior being.

As for your other point - it would be more accurate to say that lack of evidence is not NECESSARILLY evidence of non-existence. If one postulates a personal deity that routinely interferes in the affairs of humanity, then the lack of evidence is indeed evidence of non-existence, as the very existence of such a being requires that they interfere, thus creating evidence.

If you are to talk of a deistic god, one which creates the universe and then just lets it go, then, yes, the lack of evidence is not evidence of non-existence. However, it should be noted that one can imagine an infinite number of things for which a lack of evidence is not evidence of non-existence, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is no good reason for believing in such things, and that the probability of their existence is exceedingly low. I have heard the “only the agnostic position is intellectually tenable” position many times, and long believed it myself. But as I thought more and more deeply about it, I realized that it doesn’t hold water unless one admits that while absolute knowledge may be unattainable, that doesn’t mean that all possibilities are equally probable. Now, if this is the position that you are in favor of, then we are in agreement.

In the case of the existence of black holes, the analogy doesn’t really work. While the theory predicted them before any had been discovered, people did determine what the physical properties of such a thing would be, and began looking for them. Simply put, if they were out there, then evidence of them should be obtainable, so people began looking for the evidence. As of yet, no such program has begun with the purpose of looking for gods, and given the vague definitions of deities used by most modern religions, I doubt such a program could begin. If one does, I’ll cede the point until information begins to become available.

Oh, and the last paragraph of your comment:

“As for you, dear boy, I seem to remember a time when your thinking was more flexible. Alas, age brings with it a necrotizing of the mind as all the pathways of the intellect become sclerotic and calcified. Therein lies the source of all arrogance and self-justification.”

So, my mind has begun to necrotize? And I’m an arrogant self-justifier? Look, I’ll be happy to debate you and take you on your points. And if you know me, then you will know that if you make a point that I cannot argue against, I’ll cede to you on it. But I am being respectful towards you, so don’t insult or patronize me. That paragraph contains absolutely nothing of substance, and appears to exist simply to take a cheap shot.

Anthroslug said...

Thinking about it, I would add one more point to why comapring the predicted existence of black holes to the existence of a god doesn't work in this case. The properties of black holes had been hypothesized, and therefore the places where they should be became known. If they had not been in those locations, then this would have served as evidence against the theory that predicted them. So, actually, in this case, and absence of evidence would be evidence of absence. Proof, no, but definitely evidence.