Where are all the dead gods?

<rant>

In a very famous essay, “Graveyard of the gods,” H. L. Mencken made a huge list of deities that are no longer worshiped, including Osiris, Diana, Cronos, Elim, Astarte, Huitzilopochtli, and so on. It’s a very short piece and well worth reading since it’s often cited.  Mencken was an atheist, so his point was obvious:

All these were gods of the highest eminence. Many of them are mentioned with fear and trembling in the Old Testament. They ranked, five or six thousand years ago, with Yahweh Himself; the worst of them stood far higher than Thor. Yet they have all gone down the chute. . . ask the rector to lend you any good book on comparative religion; you will find them all listed. They were gods of the highest dignity—gods of  civilized peoples—worshipped and believed in by millions. All were omnipotent, omniscient and immortal.

And all are dead.

This is a problem for theologians, for what if this graveyard is to be the fate of Jesus, Yahweh, and Allah?  And of course, the existence of thousands of different deities in currently active religions is also a problem—that is, if you’re one of those modern and “sophisticated” theologians unwilling to claim that your god and religion are right and everyone else’s is wrong.

We’ve dealt with this before, though only with John Hick’s insane speculations about how he thinks that all non-Christians—Muslims, Azetcs, Hindus, and the like—will ultimately get a chance to become Christian.  But many sophisticated theologians won’t even go that far, and are unwilling to assert that, in the end, their faith is right, even though it’s the one they’ve chosen to practice.

John Haught is one of the really sophisticated ones (don’t worry, I’m nearly done with him)—a Catholic who refuses to say that non-Catholics were wrong, much less bound for Hell.  So how does he justify not only the disparity among faiths in their gods and beliefs, but also the huge graveyard of dead gods?  This way, in his book Deeper than Darwin (pp. 136-141):

If God does exist, it would not be surprising that the divine depth would insinuate itself into human consciousness by a kind of informational feedback. . .

. . . In addition to all the genetic and evolutionary causes that Darwinians are conditioned to look for, religions are simultaneously information systems attempting to adjust to the negative feedback emanating from the inexhaustible depth toward which they are oriented, but to the bottom of which they can never conclusively arrive.  Because of its own boundlessness, an infinite depth could never be adequately represented by any particular set of symbolic portrayals.  There would always and forever be a distance between the ultimate depth of the universe on the one hand, and the finite religious systems that seek to model and codify it on the other. . .

. . . the eventual death of various gods, then, is not inevitably a signal of religion’s silliness but perhaps an indication of the inexhaustible depth to which religions seek to adapt—without ever completely succeeding. Religions, understood as evolutionary information systems striving to adapt (always inconclusively) to an infinite depth, would possess, by virtue of a kind of negative feedback, an iconoclastic impulse that at least occasionally urges us to discard all our god-images as inappropriate. . .

. . . The evolutionary information systems perspective, however, allows us to conclude that the births and deaths of gods recounted by Mencken are just what we should expect if the universe is grounded in the inexhaustible dimension of depth that religions refer to by the name “God” or by countless other designations of ultimacy.

In other words, religion is like a thermostat that never gets the temperature right. Isn’t it convenient, once again, that what we see is precisely what we expect? And what exactly is the “negative feedback” we get from the Inexhaustible Depths that tells us that the Abrahamic gods are better than the Greek ones?

Try telling the exponents of those other faiths, Dr. Haught, that their beliefs are merely an erroneous stab at the truth, and that belief in Jesus may not bring salvation. After all, he’s just one of those “inadequate symbolic portrayals” that will eventually go down the tubes.

I can’t believe that smart people get paid real money to crank out stuff like this.

</rant>

136 Comments

  1. Linda Grilli Calhoun
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    “. . . the eventual death of various gods, then, is not inevitably a signal of religion’s silliness…”

    Well, yes, it is. L

    • Posted August 22, 2011 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      The truth is that the greatest enemies to the doctrines of Jesus are those calling themselves the expositors of them, who have perverted them for the structure of a system of fancy absolutely incomprehensible, and without any foundation in his genuine words. And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with all this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this the most venerated reformer of human errors.

      – Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, April 11, 1823

      The full letter is a quick read and well worth it.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted August 22, 2011 at 11:19 am | Permalink

        Erp…sorry. Not meant to be a reply to you, Linda….

        b&

  2. CarlosT
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    They took their populations off-world, but were later tracked down and killed by SG-1.

    • Mark Plus
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      A friend of mine once said: “‘Stargate’ is right: God IS our enemy!”

  3. transmogrifier
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Surprisingly, changing the word “depth” to “bullshit” doesn’t alter the “meaning” of the paragraph you quoted. Watch:

    If God does exist, it would not be surprising that the divine bullshit would insinuate itself into human consciousness by a kind of informational feedback. . .

    . . . In addition to all the genetic and evolutionary causes that Darwinians are conditioned to look for, religions are simultaneously information systems attempting to adjust to the negative feedback emanating from the inexhaustible bullshit toward which they are oriented, but to the bottom of which they can never conclusively arrive. Because of its own boundlessness, an infinite bullshit could never be adequately represented by any particular set of symbolic portrayals. There would always and forever be a distance between the ultimate bullshit on the one hand, and the finite religious systems that seek to model and codify it on the other. . .

    • Ro Kess
      Posted November 24, 2013 at 7:35 am | Permalink

      There, you fixed it. :)

  4. Posted August 22, 2011 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Note also that in the graveyard of the gods lie a number of gods that are far more awesome than the rather uninspiring Judeo-Christian figure cast as the supreme being and all that. Sometimes I get sentimental about the idea of growing up in a culture that believed in the Greek gods rather than Yahweh. If you’re going to be wrong, at least be wrong interestingly.

    • Marella
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      Not only more awesome but more credible too. Bad tempered, selfish, lacking impulse control, a bunch of gods like this would explain a lot!

      • Tim
        Posted August 22, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

        I’d say the guy who tortured Job, ordered unspeakable slaughter in his name, drowned almost an entire planet, and dreamed up the idea of sending his son to be tortured to death in order that he could forgive everyone else is bad tempered, selfish, and lacking in impulse control.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted August 22, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

        a bunch of gods like this would explain a lot!

        in fact, it did.

        It was a clear indication that the very concepts of gods were nothing more than human projections.

  5. Hempenstein
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    In addition to all the genetic and evolutionary causes that Darwinians are conditioned to look for, religions are simultaneously information systems attempting to adjust to the negative feedback emanating from the inexhaustible depth toward which they are oriented, but to the bottom of which they can never conclusively arrive.

    What a fucking gasbag. This guy is the justification of the silly admonishment to limit a sentence to 29 words (sorry, I believe I repeat myself).

    And in re.

    I can’t believe that smart people get paid real money to crank out stuff like this.

    One thing’s sure – they’ve never spent a dime on a copy editor to parse this stuff.

  6. lamacher
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Yet another example of the ‘ineffable deepities’ spun out by Haught and his ilk. I’m sure Feser hearts this crap.

  7. Jim Jones
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    “I can’t believe that smart people get paid real money to crank out stuff like this.”

    They aren’t. Smart people don’t believe crap like this. Sadly, I estimate only 2% are smart – the rest are dumb as a sack of rocks (really, they just learn to fake the appearance of intelligence).

    “If God does exist, it would not be surprising that the divine depth would insinuate itself into human consciousness by a kind of informational feedback. . .”

    The same sort of ‘informational feedback’ that gives me the urge to squeeze a cute girl’s butt? (Just asking!)

    • Steersman
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      The same sort of ‘informational feedback’ that gives me the urge to squeeze a cute girl’s butt? (Just asking!)

      Or hit on some poor defenceless girl in an elevator at 4 in the morning … ;-)

      But if you read A Splendid Feast of Reason (highly recommended) by the noted biologist S. Jonathan Singer you’ll note that he argues that the percentage of rationalists is somewhat higher at 8%.

      • Mark Plus
        Posted August 22, 2011 at 11:51 am | Permalink

        How many movies have we seen where a man propositions a woman he just met at a place like a hotel, and she says yes? Just about every James Bond movie, for starters.

        • Marella
          Posted August 22, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

          So, if you’re James Bond go right ahead!

          • Posted August 24, 2011 at 1:49 am | Permalink

            Or rather, if you’re Daniel Craig.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted August 22, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

        Okay, this topic is one that will ignite flame wars, so let’s just drop it, okay?

        • Ichthyic
          Posted August 22, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

          of course, equating the Abrahamic God with the imaginations of those that came before won’t generate any flames at all.
          :)

  8. Mark Plus
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    This reminds me of the scene in the Alexander the Great movie a few years ago where Alexander’s father tells him as a boy that his people worship the Greek gods, despite their shabby treatment of humanity, because the gods vanquished the Titans, who treated humanity even worse.

    • Marella
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      Hmmm, that’s a new one, our god is less evil than your god so we win. Actually I think this might be at the heart of the Satan thing, Yahweh is clearly an arsehole but Satan’s worse, so you better worship the former.

      • Posted August 22, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

        In the Bible, at least, Satan isn’t particularly evil, while YHWH is such an over-the-top villain you couldn’t even write him into a James Bond movie. And he takes such positive delight in the most personal, painful, humiliatingly fatal tortures…even “sadism” doesn’t come close.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Posted August 24, 2011 at 1:51 am | Permalink

          “YHWH is such an over-the-top villain you couldn’t even write him into a James Bond movie.” How about an Austin Powers movie?

          • Posted August 24, 2011 at 7:10 am | Permalink

            Nah…Austin Powers villains are cuddly. YHWH is a mean motherfucker.

            Cheers,

            b&

      • Ro Kess
        Posted November 24, 2013 at 7:42 am | Permalink

        I don’t even see why Xians consider Satan to be bad. He punishes the people that god doesn’t want in heaven. I thought that’s what they wanted.

  9. Mark Plus
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Let’s apply Long Now thinking to this problem: Assuming that humanity survives for another 10,000 years, would people who live 100 centuries from now even know about christianity? The handful of scholars who study ancient languages and literature might not even know about it if all the bible paper rots or burns eventually without reprinting. The Epic of Gilgamesh went missing for a long time, for example, but scholars could recover much of it from durable clay tablets and Rosetta Stone-like inscriptions to help translate it. The bible might disappear for good without those advantages.

    • Chris Granger
      Posted August 23, 2011 at 2:27 am | Permalink

      The ubiquity of paper copies of the Bible, plus the ease with which we can make digital copies, I suppose strictly speaking it’s possible that the Bible might vanish into history, but I can’t really see it happening without some huge catastrophe that affects the written word as a whole.

  10. Tulse
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    All were omnipotent, omniscient and immortal.

    Mencken isn’t correct here — almost none of the pre-Jewish gods were actually omnipotent or omniscient (e.g., Zeus deceived Hera on a regular basis, so Here clearly was not omniscient). And even the god of the Old Testament isn’t alway omniscient or omnipotent — he seems to get tripped up by iron chariots, and can be surprised and angered by human behaviour. As I understand it, it is really only Christian theology that posits a truly omnipotent, omniscient god, and even that is a fairly late “innovation”.

    • Mark Plus
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      We see this happen in cults. No cult member wants to admit that an ordinary schlub founded his cult, so cultists have a tendency to attribute more and more excellencies to the cult’s founder, even to the point of absurdity. We’ve seen this happen to both L. Ron Hubbard and Ayn Rand; their followers have turned into competitors with the Dos Equis beer mascot.

      Christians just grabbed the top spot in this process by attributing all power and knowledge and wisdom and goodness to Jesus.

      • Claimthehighground
        Posted August 23, 2011 at 4:48 am | Permalink

        I’ll see your schlub and raise you one, you heathen! Ha, my schlub makes yours look like a baby. Take that, you non-believer! Well, la de freakin’ da, my schlub is the only schlub – the schlub supreme. My schlub created the world…no, the whole universe, and he loves me, too. Probably not you because you don’t give him his props. So I’m going all in. Top that you miserable sack of crap. But if you’ll just believe in him, he’ll love you too. Oh, and have a blessed day.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted August 23, 2011 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

          that was like… the entire history of xianity paraphrased in a single paragraph!

    • Circe
      Posted August 23, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

      As far as I can recall, parts of the Rigveda also mention an omni-* god like being who is the source of the power and creation of the Vedic pantheon. In fact, a famous verse called the Nasadiya Sukta also questions the notion of the omniscience of any such Creator.

  11. Posted August 22, 2011 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    I think the “thermostat” metaphor is a little over-harsh and not particularly apt for what Haught is getting at here. A better metaphor might be that he is comparing it to discarded scientific theories. Science attempts to model reality, but it cannot ever do so perfectly, and so we get closer and closer — with outdated theories discarded and left to die.

    There’s nothing particularly wrong with Haught’s vision of religion as striving towards an unachievable ideal, nonetheless evolving and improving along the way… well, nothing wrong except for the complete and utter lack of epistemic underpinning for its claims, or for even the idea that it is seeking something of “depth”.

    Haught’s model would be just fine if it were justifiable in any sense.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      The main problem is that there really isn’t any feedback from God telling people when they’re getting closer. The only feedback is from science, telling them when their religious assertions are WRONG.

      • Posted August 22, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

        Right, so it’s less like a thermostat that doesn’t work… and more like a device that is claimed to be able to balance the Qi in your house by sensing the Qi level and then selectively activating or deactivating a Qi generator in your basement — except really it’s just a goddamn thermostat :)

      • Matthew Dickinson
        Posted August 23, 2011 at 2:56 am | Permalink

        The other source of feedback could be selection on meme-complexes competing for brain/behaviour resources. Haught’s quote reads quite differently in this context, at least that’s the only way I can make sense of his ‘evolutionary information systems’.

      • Kevin
        Posted August 23, 2011 at 6:38 am | Permalink

        It’s a game of “Marco Polo”, except nobody’s saying “Polo!” back.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      Science attempts to model reality, but it cannot ever do so perfectly, and so we get closer and closer — with outdated theories discarded and left to die.
      There’s nothing particularly wrong with Haught’s vision of religion as striving towards an unachievable ideal, nonetheless evolving and improving along the way…

      yes there is. It’s nothing more than the realization that science works in its corrections, while religion does not.

      IOW… like all theologians (and I do mean ALL of them), Haught has science envy.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted August 22, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

        oh, and science does not attempt to model reality.

        rather, it attempts to explain and predict, sometimes by simplifying things to test ideas, but the goal is not to model reality.

        reality is the thing that is trying to be explained, not a model of it.

        in fact, it is RELIGION that attempts to model reality.

      • Posted August 23, 2011 at 8:02 am | Permalink

        Yeah, try reading the whole comment first. :p

  12. H.H.
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    And what exactly is the “negative feedback” we get from the Inexhaustible Depths that tells us that the Abrahamic gods are better than the Greek ones?

    “Negative feedback” constitutes things like the Inquisition, I imagine. Pagans who worship other gods are negative, so Christian fed them back into the ground.

  13. Marco
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    I didn’t know where else to post this — but, in any case, here is a good article in today’s NY Times:

    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/confessions-of-an-ex-moralist/?hp

  14. E.A. Blair
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Without reading Haught’s book, I am unaware of what mechanism leads to the death of a deity. Is it the loss of worshippers? If so, what happens if, as happened linguistically with Hebrew and Cornish, someone goes and re-creates an ancient cult? Does that god somehow come back to life, and is it actually a reconstitution of the original or some kind of spiritual clone? Can a previously non-existent deity somehow condense around a group of suitably dedicated fanatics? If so, things are going to get pretty interesting when Cthulhu, Azathoth and Yog-Sothoth show up to claim their respective dues.

  15. Steersman
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    This is a problem for theologians, for what if this graveyard is to be the fate of Jesus, Yahweh, and Allah?

    Yes, I quite agree, at least for those, as you suggest, who have some pretention to intellectual honesty. Which reminds me of a statement of P.B. Medawar when he was reviewing a book by Teilhard de Chardin (The Phenomenon of Man):

    Yet the greater part of it, I shall show, is nonsense, tricked out with a variety of tedious metaphysical conceits, and its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself.

    But while I argue that there is no proof for the non-existence of god – maybe god really did create the universe last Thursday? (which would entirely justify the Jewish aphorism that if Jehovah lived on Earth people would break his windows) – the bare existential fact of that graveyard and its large population makes it highly probable that Jehovah and his ilk and all of the variations created by his apologists are of the same nature and destined for the same fate.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      But while I argue that there is no proof for the non-existence of god

      which is entirely dependent on one’s definition of “god”.

      similarly, there is no proof for the non-existence of flying unicorns, or any other imaginary construct, necessarily.

      but then, it would be silly to ask for proof of such things.

      Instead, we employ this thing called “reason”.

      We reason that there is currently not a herd of rampaging bison stomping through our bedrooms when we wake up in the morning, even if that hangover from the previous night’s excesses might suggest otherwise…

    • Steersman
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

      Ichthyic said: “But while I argue that there is no proof for the non-existence of god”

      which is entirely dependent on one’s definition of “god”.

      Yes, that was my point: absent having all possible definitions for god and absent having provided proof and / or strong evidence for their non-existence – as the “graveyard of the gods” does for anthropomorphic versions – then it would seem rather presumptuous to insist that one has categorically disproven, and provided strong evidence for the nonexistence of, all possible concepts and definitions of god. Or maybe you think those anthropomorphic versions exhaust all the possibilities. If so you might want to take a look at the Wikipedia articles on pantheism and panentheism for starters.

      similarly, there is no proof for the non-existence of flying unicorns, or any other imaginary construct, necessarily.
      but then, it would be silly to ask for proof of such things.

      It would definitely be silly to ask for the proof of the existence of things which we have at the outset asserted to be non-existent. But asking for proof of or evidence for the existence of things which might exist but which might never be adequately confirmed – the various extra dimensions of string theory for one example, and the other conceptions of god mentioned above for another – is an entirely different kettle of fish.

      Instead, we employ this thing called “reason”.

      True enough. But there are modes of thought or theories which are “counter-intuitive” – quantum mechanics for example, which challenge our concepts of reason or at least the premises we start from.

      We reason that there is currently not a herd of rampaging bison stomping through our bedrooms …

      I can sympathize …

      • Ichthyic
        Posted August 22, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

        “which challenge our concepts of reason or at least the premises we start from.”

        no, they don’t.

        they simply challenge our preconceptions.

        if they challenged the very concept of reason itself, we never would have been able to make them into testable hypotheses to begin with.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted August 22, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

        It would definitely be silly to ask for the proof of the existence of things which we have at the outset asserted to be non-existent.

        there is nothing more tenable or reasonable in the concept of a deity than there is in any other imaginary idea.

        so, by your own reasoning, it is silly to ask for things which at the outset we must presume NOT to be existent.

        any current or past definition of an actual, specific, deity is the same.

        if you want to go the way of spinoza, then you simply define a deity as that which already IS, and thus, have simply relabeled an already proven to exist thing which requires no further evidence of its existence.

        If I call my car “God”, I have not proven the existence of a deity in any meaningful sense, even though it is well supportable that my car actually exists.

      • Steersman
        Posted August 22, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

        Ichthyic said: if they challenged the very concept of reason itself, we never would have been able to make them into testable hypotheses to begin with

        The Wikipedia article on Reason – which suggests otherwise – has this, among other comments on the issue:

        Reason is often said to be reflexive, or “self-correcting,” and the critique of reason [the title of a major work by Kant as you probably know] has been a persistent theme in philosophy. It has been defined in different ways, at different times, by different thinkers.

        if you want to go the way of Spinoza, then you simply define a deity as that which already IS, and thus, have simply relabeled an already proven to exist thing which requires no further evidence of its existence.

        The question is then what are the characteristics of an “already proven-to-exist thing”? For example, we “know” that “reality” exists and that it apparently has three dimensions – the questions are then whether there are some additional ones curled up where we can’t see them but which could still have some relevance to our understanding and future.

        If I call my car “God”, I have not proven the existence of a deity in any meaningful sense, even though it is well supportable that my car actually exists.

        Not at all the same kettle of fish which I think more akin to the putative extra dimensions of physical, observable reality.

        • Posted August 22, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

          May I jump in here? Because I think y’all’re making this harder than it needs to be.

          The one-and-only defining characteristic of a god that I’ve been able to find universal agreement on is that the entity in question must be capable of performing miracles. Sure, that might not be enough in all cases, but you can be damned sure that, if it can’t do miracles, whatever it may be it’s not a god.

          Okay? With me so far?

          So, then, the next obvious questions is, “What’s a miracle?” And, simply, it must be an instance of the impossible. Raising the dead, walking on water, water into wine, Obama’s ratings over 5% amongst self-identified Tea Party members — that sort of thing.

          But here’s where we see that it all falls down, hard.

          For, by doing the impossible, the gods demonstrate that it actually is possible, after all. Oops — it’s no longer a miracle, just something we don’t understand…like, say, gravity, credit default swaps, or Donald Trump’s hair. If it were truly impossible, even the gods couldn’t pull off the feat.

          So, without miracles, there can be no gods — and we know there can be no miracles.

          Now, might there be some super-powerful entities that we can’t understand? Well, sure — but that’s no different from if James “The Amazing” Randi were to use his legerdemain to set himself up as a tinpot god to some back-bush tribe. Though it might be important to the locals, it’s of absolutely no cosmic significance whatsoever. (Not to mention, of course, there’s absolutely no evidence whatsoever of any such critters infesting our neck of the universe.)

          Cheers,

          b&

          • David Evans
            Posted August 23, 2011 at 4:07 am | Permalink

            By defining a miracle as an instance of the impossible, you can prove that it’s impossible. Congratulations. Hume did approximately the same thing, and he’s wrong too.

            I would define a miracle as something that is impossible within the world-view of the observers. If an honest observer is convinced that such a thing has happened, he/she ought to revise his/her world-view. Whether the revision extends as far as allowing supernatural intervention will depend on the particular miracle, but it would be dishonest to rule it out in advance.

          • Kevin
            Posted August 23, 2011 at 6:49 am | Permalink

            I’m gonna disagree with your definition of “miracle”, Ben.

            A miracle isn’t “impossible”, it’ something that violates the all-natural laws of physics, chemistry, and biology.

            So, Captain Sully flying the plane into the Hudson River is in no way a miracle. If they plane had flown directly toward the geese and they had been magically transported unharmed to the other side of the jet, leaving the plane to go on its merry way, that would have been a miracle.

            Similarly, spontaneous remission of dread diseases after visiting places like Lourdes aren’t miracles…and as I pointed out earlier, the statistics declare that a spontaneous remission is FAR more likely to occur if you’re nowhere near Lourdes. A miracle would be a death row inmate invoking the name of his god and not being able to be killed by lethal injection, poison gas, electricity…and on and on.

            The Appalachian snake handlers cool their snakes into a stupor before they handle them. Just goes to show how much faith they really have in that particular miracle.

            • Posted August 23, 2011 at 9:36 am | Permalink

              A miracle isn’t “impossible”, it’ something that violates the all-natural laws of physics, chemistry, and biology.

              One such natural law, I presume, would be the inverse-square, right?

              It should be immediately apparent that that’s simple geometry, and violating said law is exactly as impossible as squaring the circle. Granted, one can hypothesize about Matrix-style changes to the geometry of spacetime, but that simply means that said geometry is more complex than we currently understand — much like how Einstein explained how it’s more complex than Newton understood.

              Using that as an example, it should start to become apparent that all true natural laws are expressions of equally-fundamental geometric or other properties of the universe. For example, your immortal death row inmate would be an example of violation of conservation, an exercise in trying to make 1 + 1 = 3. “Good luck with that,” as the saying goes.

              Cheers,

              b&

        • Steersman
          Posted August 22, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

          Ben Goren said: May I jump in here? Because I think y’all’re making this harder than it needs to be.

          Sure, more the merrier – Jerry’s board – still a free and sane (more or less) country (at least until Perry or Bachmann are leading the hit parade). But I might argue that you and many others are making it simpler than it really is.

          The one-and-only defining characteristic of a god that I’ve been able to find universal agreement on ….

          But that seems as restrictive and as narrow as that of the most rabid Baptist fundamentalist. Did you read the articles on panentheism and pantheism that I provided? Seems some fairly credible concepts for god held by a great many individuals and which, at least from the little that I know, are not supposed to be doing any miracles. In addition even Spinoza’s god – subscribed to by Einstein I might add and which Ichthyic referred to – wasn’t into any that either. As Dawkins’ phrased it:

          The metaphorical or pantheistic God of the physicists is light years away from the interventionist, miracle-wreaking, thought-reading, sin-punishing, prayer-answering God of the Bible, priests, mullahs and rabbis, and of ordinary language. To deliberately confuse the two is, in my opinion, an act of intellectual high treason. [The God Delusion; pg 41]

          So, without miracles, there can be no gods — and we know there can be no miracles.

          Again, one particular conception of many possible ones. And one might suggest the very fact that we are here now is, in itself, a mind-blowing and virtually unfathomable miracle from square one …

          Now, might there be some super-powerful entities that we can’t understand? Well sure ….

          Ever see or read Sagan’s Contact? Once again, other concepts, other possibilities. And you probably know A.C. Clarke’s comment about any sufficiently developed technology being indistinguishable from magic ….

          • Ichthyic
            Posted August 22, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

            Ever see or read Sagan’s Contact? Once again, other concepts, other possibilities. And you probably know A.C. Clarke’s comment about any sufficiently developed technology being indistinguishable from magic ….

            an intellectually dishonest comparison, since reason would still apply, as would naturalistic explanations, so long as sufficient knowledge of the mechanics involved had been obtained.

            what you are saying is the equivalent to saying that 50 years ago, postulating the higgs boson would be equivalent to saying it’s nothing more than magic.

          • Daniel Schealler
            Posted August 22, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

            Actually, you’re reminding me of the original arguments I heard for ignosticism (not a typo).

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

            Normally when someone says ‘God’ without providing context I naturally assume they’re talking about the monotheistic Judeo-Christian-Muslim God. And I think that this assumption is a fair one.

            If someone says ‘gods’ I assume some kind of pantheon of entities. Which pantheon comes from context: Greek, Nordic, Hindu, whatever.

            In the cases above I can be a confident atheist.

            But if the context that is submitted along with the term is different to this – perhaps even novel or entirely unfamiliar to me – then my position has to change accordingly.

            In the absence of a precise and coherent definition the only reasonable position is ignosticism.

            Also: Epicurus’ God(s) didn’t perform any miracles either.

            • Ichthyic
              Posted August 22, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

              “In the absence of a precise and coherent definition the only reasonable position is ignosticism.”

              better known as…

              *shrug*
              ;)

          • Steersman
            Posted August 22, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

            Daniel Schealler said: In the cases above I can be a confident atheist. …. In the absence of a precise and coherent definition the only reasonable position is ignosticism.

            I think that is a reasonable position and, more or less, the point I was trying to make. And which is, in part, something along the line of what even Dawkins was promoting – he notes at one point in TGD that even he is only 6.9 [or so] on a scale of 1 to 7 with 7 being a dead-certain atheist. As I mentioned the “graveyard of the gods” seems to make it highly probable that any currently promoted god similar in any way – virgin births seem to be a very common motif – to any of those “deceased” residents is of a similar nature and can be dismissed the same way: it really puts the onus on current believers to show how their concept differs in any substantial way from those residents.

            In passing I notice in the article on Ignosticism that Sam Harris “employs ignostic arguments criticizing the ambiguous and inconsistent definitions of ‘God’”. However, he also “… finds debating about the existence of God to be both absurd and ascientific yet still an inconvenient necessity when speaking in defense of reason and science.”

            And the only way that seems possible is by trying to pin-down the definition used by those who insist on trying to justify their attempted hijacking of the body-politic by the claimed existence of their god. Which ain’t easy as they seem remarkably evasive on the point – probably because they recognize, in “their heart-of-hearts”, the basic incoherence of their position.

            Also: Epicurus’ God(s) didn’t perform any miracles either.

            Sensible fellow; sensible outlook – in many ways.

          • Posted August 23, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

            Einstein’s god is a *metaphor*. Spinoza’s (more or less the same) is an ass-covering move. Not to say that S. was a cryptomaterialist like some claim – but panpsychism is still heretical in Judaism and Christianity …

        • Ichthyic
          Posted August 22, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

          The question is then what are the characteristics of an “already proven-to-exist thing”?

          oh come on, seriously?

          you really want to review what constitutes saying we know something exists?

          what a waste of time.

          Not at all the same kettle of fish which I think more akin to the putative extra dimensions of physical, observable reality.

          saying something is not directly observable is NOT saying it is not naturalistic, or amenable to reason. After all, the postulate of multiple dimensions/universes is a consequence of equations, not randomly pulled from someone’s imagination.

          I think you are confused on this point.

        • Steersman
          Posted August 22, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

          Ichthyic said: what you are saying is the equivalent to saying that 50 years ago, postulating the Higgs boson would be equivalent to saying it’s nothing more than magic.

          You’re talking of unproven scientific theory – Clarke was talking of technology, the application of proven scientific theory.

          Ichthyic said: “The question is then what are the characteristics of an already proven-to-exist thing”?
          oh come on, seriously? You really want to review what constitutes saying we know something exists?

          Not at all – I think you’re missing my point. You made reference to Spinoza’s god being defined as that “already proven-to-exist thing” which I argued was analogous to the currently accepted conception of space being 3 dimensional. And from there I asked “what are the characteristics of that already proven-to-exist thing” having in mind the question as to whether there were actually other dimensions to “reality” other than those 3. Which would then be analogous to questions about unknown characteristics of Spinoza’s god.

          saying something is not directly observable is NOT saying it is not naturalistic, or amenable to reason.

          It would seem that you’re trying to suggest that Spinoza’s god is not naturalistic which would seem not to be at all what he was arguing. Paraphrasing Dawkins, the metaphorical or pantheistic [and entirely naturalistic] god of Spinoza and the physicists [including Einstein] is light-years ahead of the supernatural conception of typically promoted by most Abrahamic religions or sects.

          And, in passing, I find the term “supernatural” to be rather problematic, if not incoherent: if “god” – of one definition or another – actually exists then that would seem to be an entirely natural state of affairs.

          • Ichthyic
            Posted August 22, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

            “You’re talking of unproven scientific theory – Clarke was talking of technology, the application of proven scientific theory.”

            then you don’t understand the standard model.

            in fact it’s exactly the same comparison.

            back when the standard model was laid out, the technology to test various fundamental postulates of it was only a dream.

            you think 50 years ago people could have possibly imagined the kind of tech we have to crunch protons now, based on the tech available then?

            the tech we have now would indeed have been seen as “magic”.

            by “indistinguishable from magic”, Clarke didn’t mean to imply non-naturalism, but an inability of most minds to comprehend the technology involved, because we had no frame of reference.

            likewise, jet airplanes would seem like magic to someone from the middle ages, but it’s hardly the case that they ARE.

        • Steersman
          Posted August 22, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

          Ichthyic said: then you don’t understand the standard model.

          I will readily concede I don’t understand great swaths of it, but I’m not totally unfamiliar with some of the basic features of it either. And, in addition to a few University physics courses, I have been trying to improve my knowledge of it – Leon Lederman’s The God Particle was an interesting overview and introduction; highly recommended for those, other than yourself apparently, who might be interested.

          But that is not my point which is that the Higgs is “unproven scientific theory” which Wikipedia would seem to corroborate:

          The Higgs boson is a hypothetical massive elementary particle predicted to exist by the Standard Model of particle physics. …. Theories exist that do not anticipate the Higgs boson, described elsewhere as Higgsless models.

          by “indistinguishable from magic”, Clarke didn’t mean to imply non-naturalism, but an inability of most minds to comprehend the technology involved, because we had no frame of reference.

          Agreed. Which was my point: assuming that space actually is as postulated by string theory such “technology” [particularly if it were “implemented” by the “aliens” in Sagan’s Contact] is simply incomprehensible to most minds of today, possibly for the same reason you suggest.

  16. Steersman
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Ben Goren quoted Jefferson: And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.

    That day can’t come too soon and while it’s nice to see evidence of that dawning – Jerry’s posts on the Texas book case and increasing levels of “unbelief” for examples – I think that is, echoing Churchill, little more than the end of the beginning – Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin and company showing how far we have yet to go. And apropos of which I’m reminded of something from an American moralist, Philip Wylie, and his book, Generation of Vipers:

    There are in America [circa 1942] from fifteen to twenty million religious fundamentalists who are dedicated to doctrines incompatible with democracy in that they insist upon their prerogatives as first principles. An even larger group feebly follows the trail of fire breathed by these fundamentalists. They are the most dangerous minority we have because they categorically eschew the reasoned judgments of the majority. Democracy properly allows them the right to worship as they choose. It should never have conceded them the right to establish schools. Education is not a function of any church – or even a city – or a state; it is a function of all mankind. [pg 325]

    Personally I think that right should be heavily circumscribed – possibly through the use of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – which, I might add, America has yet to ratify.

    • tomh
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      Steersman wrote:
      Personally I think that right should be heavily circumscribed – possibly through the use of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – which, I might add, America has yet to ratify.

      Exactly right, there are two countries that have not ratified the Convention, the U.S. and Somalia. The right wing of the GOP, pushed by the Religious Right and others, like the Home School Legal Defense Association, an advocacy group with strong ties to the Christian Right, has consistently blocked ratification of the treaty . A big sticking point is that the UN document bars corporal punishment, and, in general, treats children as if they had rights. This is contrary to American policy, which treats children more as property of the parents with little or no rights of their own.

      • Steersman
        Posted August 22, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

        tomh said: This is contrary to American policy, which treats children more as property of the parents with little or no rights of their own.

        Thanks for the link and story – I’ve been curious about how that was developing.

        But, as you probably know, Dawkins in TGD quotes a British psychologist, Nicholas Humphrey, who was particularly incensed about that situation. There’s a very powerful essay by him – an Amnesty International Lecture – at Edge where he argues, among other very cogent points, that “children have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people’s bad ideas” – even those of parents.

        You might also be interested to know of this paper from James G. Dwyer – published in the California Law Review – on the topic of “Parents’ Religion and Children’s Welfare: Debunking the Doctrine of Parents’ Rights.”

  17. Matthew Cobb
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, reading all this stuff is going to send you bonkers. You should stop.

    • Steersman
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      Clear as mud and it covered the ground and the confusion made the brain go round”.

      At some point it is necessary to confront the religious – and their fellow travelers and enablers, the theologians – on their own home turf and show them – and those they prey upon – the incoherence and improbability of their delusions. Jerry is to be commended for making the attempt and for contributing to the process.

  18. ksmatharu
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, rant away. At least your rants are not mindless.

    The problem with the religious is that most have closed their minds so asking them to accept common sense, rationality and common sense is an uphill struggle.

  19. Posted August 22, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    All the dead gods are alive and well (and damned scary) in Neil Gaiman’s great novel “American Gods”. I highly recommend this novel. The gods came over with immigrants, who abandoned them, so they are prowling around causing a lot of grief.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

      I liked that book.

  20. Stephen P
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    I don’t like the use of the term “dead” for gods, because it implies they were once alive. So far I haven’t managed to come up with a good alternative: “discarded” is an improvement, but maybe someone else can come up with something better.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      I thought of rejected, but really they weren’t. Not rationally, anyway.

      discarded is better. The greek pantheon was indeed discarded, not rejected.

      discarded ideas, instead of “gods” is better still.

      there is nothing more tenable in the notion of a deity than any other bad idea.

    • Claimthehighground
      Posted August 23, 2011 at 5:16 am | Permalink

      All gods are “alive” in the hearts and minds of their believers. Allah, Lord Vishnu and YHWH and his xian name, god, all are real and alive to the faithful theist. There just is no evidence, nor has there ever been, that any of them exist or ever esisted.

      But rest assured, if they all became “dead” overnight, new gods would spring up in their place, and legions of true believers would ascribe all might and power to their new lord and savior.

      “And what rough beast, it’s hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?”

      • Posted August 23, 2011 at 6:00 am | Permalink

        Indeed.
        Those ‘gods’ are just as “alive” as is Sherlock Holmes, or Harry Potter, or an honestly consistent skeptical theist, or any number of purely fictional characters.

        • Claimthehighground
          Posted August 23, 2011 at 7:18 am | Permalink

          Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause…

          • Posted August 23, 2011 at 7:49 am | Permalink

            Hey, you can’ta fool me!
            There ain’t no Sanity Clause!

            (And stop calling me Shirley)

  21. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Because of its own boundlessness, an infinite depth could never be adequately represented by any particular set of symbolic portrayals.

    Mathematicians seem to have no difficulty symbolically representing infinities of all sorts.

    • Posted August 22, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      + ∞

      b&

      • Posted August 23, 2011 at 6:18 am | Permalink

        μπ÷0∉ℛ

        • Posted August 23, 2011 at 6:23 am | Permalink

          Cat got your keyboard? Happens a lot ’round here….

          b&

          • Posted August 23, 2011 at 6:52 am | Permalink

            Prove it, Schrödinger!
            Just like Rick Wakeman, I have an irrational number of keyboards.

            (Insert puerile pussy “joke” here)

          • Posted August 23, 2011 at 7:00 am | Permalink

            (Seriously, you must be aware that your signature “b&” literally transcribes as “bet”?)
            What gives? Is it an Hebrew character already?
            Is it code that you are willing to wager?
            Or — and I understand that I may be embarking along a potentially inclement metaphorical limb here — perhaps you meant it as a cheery contraction of ‘ben’?
            No: Impossiblé, as the Espanolé say.

            • Posted August 23, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink

              Actually, the ampersand and the treble clef are the same shape. The treble clef is known as the “G” clef because it designates the G above middle C based on where you place the curlicue bits. Thus, it’s my initials.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • AR
                Posted August 23, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

                Huh. I always wondered… Neat.

    • eric
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      My thought exactly. The humble sigma (Sum) does the trick. Heck, describe this depth sufficiently quantitatively and a H.S. senior can probably use an integral to tell you it’s volume.

      Theology seems to be stuck in about a 16th century view of the world (if not earlier). Every B must have a cause A – no iteration or feedback loops considered. Infinities are impossible to treat, etc…

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      …and deriving irrefutable truths from them, I might add.

  22. newenglandbob
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    John Haught. Own butt. Smoke. Blowing.

    I don’t know how you read this so-fistic- ated theology without you brain exploding from the inanities.

  23. Platypus
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    See, what Haught’s really getting at is that there is a Darwinian natural selection among the different belief systems, as they all try and explain the things we see in the world. The ones that fail are discarded, the ones that work (or at least fail less) get preserved.

    As the scientific method is the only way we know of to actually learn about how the world really is, Haught is saying that over time all faith will naturally converge on the right answer (that is, the answer science has already given us), much like fish and dolphins converged on an optimal shape for flow through fluid.

    Once they get close enough, the scientific principle of parsimony will kick in, excise all the god nonsense, and we’ll be left with just scientific athiesm as the only belief system left in the world.

    “Can God come up with a proof of his own nonexistence so airtight that not even He can wriggle out of it?”

    • Ichthyic
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      “The ones that fail are discarded, the ones that work (or at least fail less) get preserved.”

      well, the thing to focus on there is what they fail AT.

      they were never intended to explain the world around us, so much as they were intended as group control mechanisms…

      and some are indeed better than others at that, and that, combined with local and contemporary politics, fully explains the “evolution” of religions.

      • Claimthehighground
        Posted August 23, 2011 at 7:56 am | Permalink

        Using the word “never” raises a red flag.

        Religions may or may not form from the same stimuli/urges, and may or may not be the result of numerous needs of homo sapiens: to make sense of natural events, to placate or influence the driver of these events, to give closure to unanswered questions, to derive solace in an infinite mother/comforter, out of fear because of the obvious power the event driver possesses, to allay fears in the valley of the shadow of death by submitting to the protection of the biggest son-of-a-bitch in the valley, to assure that the dead continue to exist in another place, and, yes, for group control by those claiming to talk to the event driver. There are dozens more.

        It could be from some or none of these. It may or may not be that religions are simply an expression of the feelings caused by monoamine neurotransmitters such as serotonin or catecholamine neurotransmitters such as dopamine and/or other brain chemicals that have moved our evolving species to solace in religious belief. If that’s the case, so much for “better living through chemistry.”

  24. John Harshman
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, you’re performing a great service, reading all those sophisticated theologians so we don’t have to. But how’s it working out for you? I suspect it would turn out in argument that you just haven’t read the right sophisticated theologian yet.

  25. Posted August 22, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Magical-religious beliefs had their sway for millennia and produced nothing but witches trials and superstition. Same was true in China, India.

    It seems merchantialism in EU the mid-1800′s is what moved the needle.

    Up until then humanity had maintained a wretched subsistence existence along with magical beliefs systems being very powerful. Only when those dark forces were thrown off did humanity prosper and thrive.

    Yes, religion is a dark, actually evil, force.

    • Steersman
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      Yes, religion is a dark, actually evil, force.

      A dark force – certainly, but I think “evil” might be going a tad too far. Largely because it more or less closes out a search for the causes.

      Dawkins in The God Delusion – as part of his argument that “the Binker phenomenon of childhood [friends] may be a good model for understanding theistic belief in adults” – discusses a theory by the American psychologist Julian Jaynes in his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Quoting a relevant sentence or two from Dawkins’:

      Jaynes notes that many people perceive their own thought processes as a kind of dialogue between the ‘self’ and another internal protagonist inside the head. Nowadays we understand that both ‘voices’ are our own – or if we don’t we are treated as mentally ill. …. The ‘breakdown of the bicameral’ mind was, for Jaynes, a historical transition. It was the moment in history when it dawned on people that the external voices that they seemed to be hearing were really internal. [pgs 392-393]

    • Ichthyic
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      Yes, religion is a dark, actually evil, force.

      only in the sense that it was never meant to do anything but serve selfish ends.

      as with all ideas, it’s the application of them that can be judged.

      and it’s people that do the applying.

  26. Hempenstein
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Where are all the dead gods?

    Wasn’t there a song about that? “Where have all the dead gods gone,” and then something like “gone to war every one…”

    • Steersman
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      “When will they ever learn; when will they ever learn” ….

    • Ichthyic
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      oh wait, you said GODS, not flowers.

      my bad.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted August 22, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

        ugh. I just earwormed myself.

  27. Nicolas Perrault
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Jerry has been reading too much theology lately. To ask “Where are all the dead gods?” is to sail perilously close to a theological mind set. One must not frame a question which assumes that any god ever existed. Never, not even for rhetorical purposes! By not asking the wrong question a theological problem can disappear altogether.

    • Steersman
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      Just like putting our heads in the sand!

  28. MadScientist
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    The dead gods are as visible as the live gods, nor are the dead gods an inconvenience to christians because they have the One True God – unless they’re a Sophisticated Theologian like Haught – and the ongoing mission of christians is to expurgate the other living gods. As I see it, Haught sees some similarities between disparate (religious) groups of people and he takes the similarities as a sign that there really must be a god and this god magically infuses people with a desire to do good. The magical infusion is nothing new; decades ago I remember priests telling me that all humans will strive for good because their god created humans in its own likeness. The excuse was pretty damned funny even back then.

  29. Daniel Schealler
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    How does he know that the depth is infinite if it cannot be reached for verification purposes?

    • Ichthyic
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

      it’s exactly as infinite as our own imaginations.

      and just look at all the works of fiction that have been produced over the millenia!
      :)

    • YourName's notBruce?
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

      At what point can one conclude that this “infinite depth” is actually empty?

  30. mikeyB
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    For the record my favorite gods are Shiva – the dancing god, Proteus – the god who can morph into anything – and Dionysus for obvious reasons. These gods at least are playful and interesting even if imaginary.

  31. Matt G
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    They’re buried in my basement.

    Did someone already do this one? If so, sorry.

  32. Posted August 22, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    Wow what a great hypothesis. I am sure many religious folks will eat this crap up.

    Genius. All the other religions are dead because they were wrong. Our religion is still alive because it is right.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

      …except for the part where there are still plenty of extant religions bearing no resemblance to xianity…

      and that there are currently well over 38,000 sects of xiantiy itself…

      other than that.

      oh, but you’re right about the religious eating this argument up.

      They always have.

    • Matt G
      Posted August 23, 2011 at 4:00 am | Permalink

      Exactly, the ol’ argumentum ad populum and argumentum ad consequentiam (with a sprinkle of argumentum ad nauseam…).

  33. Posted August 22, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    Mere Christianity had similar sentiment. It wasn’t that all other religions were wrong, but that they all contained some aspect of truth to them – it’s just that the truth should be judged in relation to the truth of Christianity. The only reason I could figure for CS Lewis’ position was that he happened to be Christian – how convenient for him that it happened to be the dominant religion of his culture, I suppose.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted August 22, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

      well, it sure helped him sell books, at any rate.

  34. Diane G.
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    I have a different experience of “divine depth”…

  35. Posted August 23, 2011 at 4:26 am | Permalink

    I am stunned that no-one seems to have mentioned Terry Pratchett!
    Especially with respect to his work: “Small Gods”, in which he clearly exposits the fates of the various neglected gods.

  36. Drosera
    Posted August 23, 2011 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Religions, understood as evolutionary information systems striving to adapt (always inconclusively) to an infinite depth, would possess, by virtue of a kind of negative feedback, an iconoclastic impulse that at least occasionally urges us to discard all our god-images as inappropriate. . .

    Which is an incredibly tedious way of stating that making stuff up about gods independent of any evidence will inevitably fail.

    But, like Jerry, I don’t understand what this ‘negative feedback’ could be. Does Haught mean that there is an objective method to distinguish between right and wrong statements in religions and that we are somehow converging upon the correct religion? But I don’t see any religion changing its dogmas in light of new evidence. Nor do I see that more recent religions make more sense than older ones. Are Islam or Mormonism in any way better than Christianity (ignoring that almost no two Christians believe the same things)?

    The only inifinite depth here is reached by the stupidity of it all.

    • Drosera
      Posted August 23, 2011 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      Or to put it differently: All we see is religions making stabs in the dark, without being able to tell how far off the mark these stabs are, and without knowing if there is even anything there to stab at.

  37. Claimthehighground
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Just one question. Who is this jesus fellow you guys keep referring to?

  38. E.A. Blair
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    Check out the latest at Jesus & Mo.

    • Steersman
      Posted August 31, 2011 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      I think I can at least hum that tune. Is it “Puff the Magic Dragon”? Or maybe “One toke over the line, sweet Jesus, one toke over the line”.


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  1. [...] Jerry Coyne, on theologians [...]

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  3. […] More on HL Mencken and this essay. […]

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