Gary Gutting interviews Michael Ruse and asks him why he coddles religion

Gary Gutting is a philosophy professor at the University of Notre Dame, and has been interviewing various academics about religion at his website The Stone at The New York Times. Interviewees have included Alvin “I Haz True Beliefs” Plantinga and my friend the philosopher Philip Kitcher. This week Gutting’s subject is the philosopher of science Michael Ruse, now at Florida State University. The introductory notes say that Ruse is about to publish a book, Atheism: What Everyone Needs to Know, which, according to Amazon, will appear in January of next year. I can’t say I’m looking forward it, for Ruse is a very faith-friendly atheist, and I’ve crossed swords with him a number of times. I’m not sure he’s the best person to define atheism for the general reader.

Ruse is an odd duck, for it’s hard to pin him down on what he thinks about things. In other words, he tends to waffle a lot.  That shows up in his new interview with Gutting, “Does evolution explain religious beliefs?“.  Ruse admits, at the end, that he often takes positions either derived from his religious upbringing, or simply out of perverseness—to squabble with his nemesis Richard Dawkins. These motivations partly explain Ruse’s lack of consistency. (When did Dawkins become Satan, by the way?) But they aren’t good motivations for philosophical discourse.

It’s a long interview, so I’ll just note a few things that intrigued me:

1. The fundamental question of metaphysics.  Ruse says this:

So with the world. I think the machine metaphor rules out an answer to what Martin Heidegger called the “fundamental question of metaphysics”: Why is there something rather than nothing? Unlike Wittgenstein, I think it is a genuine question, but not one answerable by modern science.

Coming now to my own field of evolutionary biology, I see some questions that it simply doesn’t ask but that can be asked and answered by other areas of science. I think here about the natural origins of the universe and the Big Bang theory. I see some questions that it doesn’t ask and that neither it nor any other science can answer. One such question is why there is something rather than nothing, or if you like why ultimately there are material substances from which organisms are formed.

Of course one could say either “We don’t know,” (the honest answer) or “God did it” (the dishonest answer) or “‘Nothing’ is unstable” (a tentative scientific answer, depending on your definition of “nothing.”) If by “nothing” you mean “the quantum vacuum of empty space,” then the question is not beyond science. But to say that God is a rational answer to that question is simply wrong. For then then another question naturally arises, “Well, if God did it, where did God come from? What was he doing before he created the universe?” Ruse regards this as a nonsensical question (GG is Gutting, MR is Ruse):

G.G.: What do you think of Richard Dawkins’s argument that, in any case, God won’t do as an ultimate explanation of the universe? His point is that complexity requires explanation — the whole idea of evolution by natural selection is to explain the origin of complex life-forms from less complex life-forms. But a creator God — with enormous knowledge and power — would have to be at least as complex as the universe he creates. Such a creator would require explanation by something else and so couldn’t explain, for example, why there’s something rather than nothing.

M.R.: Like every first-year undergraduate in philosophy, Dawkins thinks he can put to rest the causal argument for God’s existence. If God caused the world, then what caused God? Of course the great philosophers, Anselm and Aquinas particularly, are way ahead of him here. They know that the only way to stop the regression is by making God something that needs no cause. He must be a necessary being. This means that God is not part of the regular causal chain but in some sense orthogonal to it. He is what keeps the whole business going, past, present and future, and is the explanation of why there is something rather than nothing. Also God is totally simple, and I don’t see why complexity should not arise out of this, just as it does in mathematics and science from very simple premises.

Traditionally, God’s necessity is not logical necessity but some kind of metaphysical necessity, or aseity. Unlike Hume, I don’t think this is a silly or incoherent idea, any more than I think mathematical Platonism is silly or incoherent. As it happens, I am not a mathematical Platonist, and I do have conceptual difficulties with the idea of metaphysical necessity. So in the end, I am not sure that the Christian God idea flies, but I want to extend to Christians the courtesy of arguing against what they actually believe, rather than begin and end with the polemical parody of what Dawkins calls “the God delusion.”

I don’t usually impute psychological motivations to people, as I can’t know what’s in their heads, but Ruse has made it pretty clear over the years that his animus towards Dawkins is motivated largely by jealousy. That’s because he repeatedly refers to Dawkins’s huge book sales in comparison to Ruse’s fairly tepid sales. But there are other reasons, as we’ll see below.

But let’s leave motivations aside, for what’s important here are the claims. And I think Ruse’s snark towards Dawkins is unwarranted. It seems to me a perfectly valid question to ask where God came from, nor do I think that question is answered definitively by saying, “Well, God, by definition, doesn’t need a cause.” One could just as well say that “The cosmos, which produces multiple universes, was always there, and it by definition didn’t need a cause.”

And I’d need to be convinced that God’s existence is a metaphysical “necessity.” Where does that come from?? It seems to me perfectly reasonable to ask: “If there were a Big Bodiless Mind hanging around eternally before he actually did anything, where that Bodiless Mind came from?”

Finally, where on earth did Ruse get the idea that “God is totally simple”? Yes, some theologians have said that, but I don’t buy it. Making an analogy between god and mathematics doesn’t settle the issue. How is a bodiless mind able to create a universe “simple”? And how can God twiddle every electron,  know everyone’s thoughts, see the future, and uphold everything, by being “simple”? The answer must surely involve theological wordplay.

What is odd about Ruse is that he doesn’t seem to believe any of this stuff, but is compelled to tell Christians why and how they should believe it. He is, in other words, constantly making what reader Sastra calls “The Little People Argument”, the one that goes: “I’m smart enough to see through this stuff, but you aren’t, so if you’re determined to believe it, allow me to give you some philosophical rationales.” That is what bothers me most about Ruse’s writings. He rarely argues against what Christians believe when he’s talking to them; rather, he’s telling them how they can find philosophical grounding to believe what they find comforting. It’s especially disturbing since he sees much of religion as dysfunctional.

But is it really a courtesy to tell Christians how to justify beliefs that Ruse considers fallacious, like “the Christian God idea flying”? Isn’t it the job of a philosopher to point out people’s fallacious thinking rather than give them reasons—reasons that the philosopher himself rejects—to believe in superstition? Ruse, it seems, wants people on both sides of the fence to like him.

2. Theodicy. The same goes for suffering. First Ruse rejects theodicy (the theological explanation for why an omnipotent, omniscient and loving god permits suffering), but then says he has “good theological reasons” for the unwarranted suffering that, to me, makes the entire idea of the Christian god untenable:

M.R.: Although in some philosophy of religion circles it is now thought that we can counter the argument from evil, I don’t think this is so. More than that, I don’t want it to be so. I don’t want an argument that convinces me that the death under the guillotine of Sophie Scholl (one of the leaders of the White Rose group opposed to the Nazis) or of Anne Frank in Bergen-Belsen ultimately contributes to the greater good. If my eternal salvation depends on the deaths of these two young women, then forget it.

So Ruse thinks the argument against the Christian God from evil is unassailable, right? But no, for he continues:

This said, I have never really thought that the pains brought on by the evolutionary process, in particular the struggle for survival and reproduction, much affect the Christian conception of God. For all of Voltaire’s devastating wit in “Candide,” I am a bit of a Leibnizian on these matters. If God is to do everything through unbroken law, and I can think of good theological reasons why this should be so, then pain and suffering are part of it all. Paradoxically and humorously I am with Dawkins here. He argues that the only way naturally you can get the design-like features of organisms — the hand and the eye — is through evolution by natural selection, brought on by the struggle. Other mechanisms just don’t work. So God is off the hook.

What? It’s humorous to agree with Dawkins? One could make a statement like that only if you think that everything Dawkins says is a priori wrong, so it seems funny to agree with him.

But that aside, Ruse’s argument doesn’t hold water. First of all, the Christian God didn’t do everything through unbroken law. I call to your attention Jesus and his miracles, as well as many other violations of “unbroken law”—including God’s intervention in evolution, which is what most evolution-accepting Americans believe. So, for most believers, God clearly didn’t do everything through unbroken law. But even if he did, one can rightly ask, “Why?”  What’s the advantage of God not preventing unnecessary suffering if he’s able to do so? Is God’s refusal to interfere because maintaining “unbroken natural law” is a huge but mysterious good that outweighs all the suffering of sentient creatures? If that’s the claim, then philosophers need to explain it. What’s so great about unbroken natural law?

For a good refutation of the “God off the hook” claim of Ruse, read the philosopher Herman Philipse’s God in the Age of Science? A Critique of Religious Reason. It’s the best attack on theism I know, and though it’s occasionally a hard slog, it’s well worth it. I can’t recommend it highly enough, and if a theist says he/she hasn’t read it, you can rightly say, “Well, then, you can’t bash atheism, because you haven’t dealt with Its Best Arguments.”

So Ruse doesn’t accept theodicy, but then says that Christians can go ahead and accept it.

3. Where does religion come from? Ruse does this again with the “evolutionary byproduct” theory of religion: that religion may just be a spandrel piggybacking on evolved tendencies. It’s likely that that’s true, but doesn’t that argue, then, against the reality of God? Ruse again plays both ends against the middle:

G.G.: Of course, evolutionary explanations are empirically well established on the biological level. But is the same true on the level of social and cultural life, especially among humans?

M.R.: I include society and culture here although I would qualify what I say. I don’t see being a Nazi as very adaptive, but I would say that the things that led to being a Nazi — for instance being open to indoctrination as a child — have adaptive significance. I would say the same of religion. The biologist Edward O. Wilson thinks that religion is adaptive because it promotes bonding and he might be right. But it can go biologically haywire, as in the case of the Shakers, whose religious prohibition on procreation had an adaptive value of precisely zero.

So it is true that in a sense I see all knowledge, including claims about religious knowledge, as being relative to evolutionary ends. The upshot is that I don’t dismiss religious beliefs even though they ultimately can be explained by evolution. I think everything can! I wouldn’t dismiss religious beliefs even if you could show me that they are just a byproduct of adaptation, as I think Darwin himself thought. It is as plausible that my love of Mozart’s operas is a byproduct of adaptation, but it doesn’t make them any the less beautiful and meaningful. I think you have to judge religion on its merits.

Mozart’s operas are not the same thing as religious beliefs.  Yes, they are beautiful; and religious ceremonies, or even some of religion’s moral strictures, can be beautiful as well. Certainly much of the world’s best art is imbued with religion.  But that doesn’t mean that God is real or that religion’s existence claims are true! If religion, to be meaningful, must be true—that is, for Christianity there must be a personal God, that he must have sent Jesus to Earth, who then did miracles, and that Jesus died and was resurrected to save us from sin—then its “merits” involve knowing whether those claims are true. As an atheist, Ruse, I presume, would deem them untrue. His equating religion with Mozart is bizarre, and unworthy of a rigorous philosopher. If he finds Mozart beautiful, than that is his opinion: a subjective truth.  But many of religion’s claims involve objective truths.

4. Why coddle religion if you reject it? There’s some similar waffling about morality, but you can read that for yourself. What I want to end with is Ruse’s answer when Gutting asks him the really important question: why does Ruse defend religion if he’s an atheist? Pay attention to his answer:

G.G.: There seems to be a tension in your thinking about religion. You aren’t yourself a believer, but you spend a great deal of time defending belief against its critics.

M.R.: People often accuse me of being contradictory, if not of outright hypocrisy. I won’t say I accept the ontological argument for the existence of God — the argument that derives God’s existence from his essence — but I do like it (it is so clever) and I am prepared to stand up for it when Dawkins dismisses it with scorn rather than good reasons. In part this is a turf war. I am a professional philosopher. I admire immensely thinkers like Anselm and Descartes and am proud to be one of them, however minor and inadequate in comparison. I am standing up for my own. In part, this is political. Religion is a big thing in America, and often not a very good big thing. I don’t think you are going to counter the bad just by going over the top, like in the Battle of the Somme. I think you have to reach out over no-man’s land to the trenches on the other side and see where we can agree and hope to move forward.

I should say that my Quaker childhood — as in everything I do and think — is tremendously important here. I grew up surrounded by gentle, loving (and very intelligent) Christians. I never forget that. Finally, I just don’t like bad arguments. In my case, I think I can offer good arguments against the existence of the Christian God. I don’t need the inadequate and faulty. In “Murder in the Cathedral,” T.S. Eliot has Thomas à Becket say, “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.” Amen.

Note that Ruse stands up FOR the ontological argument, which is a dumb argument for God if I’ve ever seen one, simply because Dawkins dimisses it! Ruse dislikes the man so much that he will argue for what he doesn’t believe simply to oppose what Dawkins thinks.

And really, a “turf war”? What is that about? Granted, philosophers do tend to guard their turf and dismiss those who do philosophy because they don’t have Ph.Ds in that area (e.g., Massimo Pigliucci), but I find that whole attitude ridiculous. I can learn evolution from Dennett and from Philip Kitcher, and they are philosophers. Do I say they have no right to pronounce on consciousness, on evolutionary psychology, or on intelligent design, simply because they don’t have Ph.Ds in biology? Hell, no! And philosophy, which began in ancient Greece as an avocation of citizens, not academic philosophers, should be especially wary of saying that laypeople have no right to make philosophical pronouncements.

Ruse also asserts that accommodationism is the way to reach the faithful. Well, that hasn’t worked, has it?  And sure, you can be nice to believers and not mock them (to each his own); but I find it unconscionable to actually tell believers how they can reconcile religion with science if you find those arguments personally unacceptable. It’s a form of intellectual dishonesty, and it’s condescending. But that has always been Ruse’s way. Let me say that again: if you try to bring believers to science by giving them arguments that you yourself reject, you are being intellectually dishonest. You are lying for Darwin.

As for one’s upbringing helping form one’s views—in Ruse’s case, making him confect arguments for Christianity he doesn’t accept himself—that itself is a bad tactic. One should overcome one’s childhood if it conditioned you to respect what’s false. If as Ruse claims, he “can offer good arguments against the existence of the Christian God,” and if he “doesn’t need the inadequate and faulty,” then why does he write book after book telling Christians why it’s okay to believe?

Riddle me that, readers.

 

 

 

162 Comments

  1. NewEnglandBob
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    I hear by strip Ruse of any claim to being an atheist.

    Someone needs to toast him then apply butter and maple syrup on him.

    I admire immensely thinkers like Anselm and Descartes and am proud to be one of them, however minor and inadequate in comparison.

    Zero is quite minor and inadequate.

    • jbrisby
      Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      -ugh- Learn to spell. ‘Hear by’?

      • darrelle
        Posted July 10, 2014 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

        I can’t tell if this was intended to be a joke or not.

        If so, maybe it’s an inside joke? Otherwise, kind of flat.

        If not, I sort of feel sorry for you.

  2. Posted July 10, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Yeah, the overwhelming number of problems in Ruse’s arguments here is especially troubling considering he ‘just doesn’t like bad arguments.’

    In regards to theodicy, I find that arguments regarding the problem of evil are better at converting people away from religion than just about any other scope of argument.

    I like to start by asking believers if they think that God dictated reality from scratch or if they think that God *and* reality existed together and God created some scope of phenomena within that reality. If they choose the former (which they almost always do), I start by asking them to really internalize what that means – that God ‘created’ something without existing in a reality where ‘creating’ or ‘doing’ *anything* would make sense. I think it’s helpful to get people to internalize that this realm where God would have had to ‘exist’ from which to create reality is perfectly unfathomable by human minds. It kind of helps to get people to consider the extraordinary complexity of their claims.

    The most important part of them answering in this way, though, is that if they believe God dictated the nature of reality from scratch, then the problem of evil is absolutely inescapable and there simply don’t seem to be any conceivable arguments that can or ever could overcome it. If God dictated the nature of reality from scratch, then any conceivable justification for suffering would only be justifiable because of the specific way that God dictated the nature of reality. For instance, even if ‘free will’ could only exist with suffering; even if this was an absolute fact (which I absolutely don’t think it is, and I think it’s a pretty myopic argument, especially since I don’t believe in the folk definition of free will anyway), it would only be a fact because of how reality works. This would be true for any fact and any argument, because all of them would be dictated and shaped around the way that reality has been dictated to work. If God didn’t want suffering for its own merits, then it wouldn’t exist.

    If they answer that God existed in a reality that already contained certain laws, then not only would be not be omnipotent, but he’d be absolutely unnecessary. If conditions can exist without being created by God, then there’s no reason to think that the necessary conditions required to lead to reality as we know it now couldn’t as well.

    Usually at this point, they say that God is just unknowable and we could never hope to understand through this type of argument. This is the best way they can respond for me, because it’s true. It is a rational conclusion. And it’s a conclusion that should lead them to reject their initial premise that God exists in the first place. Of course convincing people that their beliefs are irrational is a long and tedious process that shows little results.

    • Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:28 am | Permalink

      +1

    • rickflick
      Posted July 10, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      Very nicely put. But, what kind of theists do you have available to you? I envy you. What interesting discussion you have. Most of the religious I know don’t even answer questions like yours. Religion is like breathing to them. Questioning them about premises is like asking them to hold their breath for the rest of their lives.

      • Posted July 10, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

        Thanks, I appreciate the compliment!

        I live near Seattle and it’s a pretty liberal area in general. If I were to try this line of questioning with my more conservative relatives outside of the state, I wouldn’t end up getting very far.

    • Kevin
      Posted July 10, 2014 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      Evil is a knock out punch for the masses. But if you want to get them to think, just ask them “What is god?” The vacillations will make you almost want to pray for them.

      • Achrachno
        Posted July 10, 2014 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

        Yes! But you have to keep insisting that they tell you what God is — and not let them get away with just making vacuous claims about what God did. They really want to talk about what God did or can do, but they can’t say anything about underlying “object” that performs these wonders.

        “What is this God thing that you think made the universe?”

        “Of what sort of stuff is God made?”

        I have a lot of fun with this approach and NONE of them can give rational answers.

  3. Hempenstein
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    then he “thinks of good theological reasons” for the unwarranted suffering that, to me, makes the entire idea of the Christian god untenable:

    Seems to me that the current idea of the Xtian god is not the same as 100yrs ago, and that their god became a lot more lovey-dovey shortly after the development of antibiotics.

    • Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      Yeah, god doesn’t seem to send Pestilence out on missions as much as he used to.

      • rickflick
        Posted July 10, 2014 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

        Mission? Oh, like Mormons and such. Good point.

  4. thh1859
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    The answer to the riddle is in the name, it’s a colossal ruse.

  5. Diana MacPherson
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    I may be cynical, but believing sells way better than not believing and you can write sloppy crap and people will buy it. I suspect the stance taken is simply an easy one to write about and one that will win love and book sales.

    Nothing else makes any sense.

    Oh and Dawkins became the devil here.

    • darrelle
      Posted July 10, 2014 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      And more specifically, trashing Dawkins while writing sloppy crap like this has become quite lucrative. The Ruses and other fleas of the world should all be sending Dawkins royality checks.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

        As long as they cross the “king” square.

        • Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:32 am | Permalink

          I think the Dawkins trashing angle as marketing ploy is on point. He makes it pretty clear that he’s jealous of Dawkins book sales. “Turf war” was probably the most honest thing Ruse said in those excerpts. We should come up with a name for these atheist butter philosopher who look at new atheist authors as a rival gang in some silly publishing beef. Maybe the fleas, perhaps?

  6. Posted July 10, 2014 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    “One should overcome one’s childhood if it conditioned you to respect what’s false.”
    __

    Fondness for truly nice people who happened to be Christian does not require being so shackled to that positive feeling that unmindful tiptoeing around their non-evidential beliefs becomes de rigueur, especially for a so-called lover of wisdom, a philosopher.

    Foundational, fundamental, or basic perhaps is what is meant by god being simple?

    • rickflick
      Posted July 10, 2014 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      Right. And creating universes is what is meant by god being complex.

  7. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    “…if you try to bring believers to science by giving them arguments that you don’t accept yourself, you are being intellectually dishonest. You are telling lies for Darwin.”
    I absolutely love statements like that. It can be the Best Argument Against Accommodationism.

  8. Posted July 10, 2014 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    I also find that many believers have never even considered the idea that reality may be cyclical in some way; that there may have been another reality before ours or one might exist outside ours that caused ours and that in one of those realities, phenomena like time (and therefore orders of events) might not exist, so the idea of an infinite regress would only exist in this reality. This is a must simpler and (seemingly) non fallacious hypothesis.

  9. noncarborundum
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    (it is so clever)

    Then I’m certainly not the philosopher that Michael Ruse is, because the ontological argument has always seemed like a bad joke to me and I’m amazed that anyone ever takes it seriously.

    • couchloc
      Posted July 10, 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      Well at one point Bertrand Russell took the argument seriously, and said the argument was sound. Further, the brilliant mathematician Kurt Godel wrote his own version (google “Godel’s ontological proof”). So to suggest that only naifs would take it seriously seems historically wrong.

      • Posted July 10, 2014 at 9:58 am | Permalink

        Bertrand Russell said he took it seriously for about five minutes and then realized that it was stupid. But you can reject it on first principles, even without seeing the logical errors, for you can’t prove an existence claim without empirical evidence.

        Nowadays only naifs DO take it seriously. And if Ruse thinks it’s convincing, then he’s a philosophical naif.

        What are you trying to say, that the argument has credibility to smart philosophers TODAY?

        • couchloc
          Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:11 am | Permalink

          Nowhere does Ruse say the ontological argument is “convincing”. He explicitly says (as you quoted him above) that “I do have conceptual difficulties with the idea of metaphysical necessity”. So he rejects the argument. His point is just that rejecting it takes more work than many people think, which I don’t see is such a bad point to make given the likes of Godel. I don’t know any philosophers who take the argument seriously, no.

        • rickflick
          Posted July 10, 2014 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

          “Bertrand Russell took the argument seriously”

          There has got to be a special name for false Bertrand Russell factoids. Its some kind of intellectual abuse of the dead.

      • David Evans
        Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:24 am | Permalink

        You can dress it up using modal logic. The argument seems to be:
        1 God is defined as a necessary being.
        2 It is possible that God exists.
        3 Therefore, God exists in one possible world.
        4 But if a necessary being exists in one possible world, it exists in all possible worlds.
        5 Therefore, God exists in all possible worlds.
        6 Therefore, God exists in the actual world.

        My view of this is that #2 begs the question. If #2 implies that God exists, then accepting #2 is already accepting that God exists, and we are not obliged to accept it.

        • Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:29 am | Permalink

          Oh, I’d say the problems begin right away with #1.

          • David Evans
            Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink

            Well, it’s plausible that some things exist necessarily – mathematical entities, for instance. The trouble comes with the other properties that are smuggled in by calling it “God”

            • Posted July 10, 2014 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

              That trouble is no small thing and demonstrates the need in addressing this question for empiricism. How do they know god has all those characteristics that are part of their “definition”, such as it may be? If you’re going to use it in a proof, you’d better be damn sure that the definition is accurate.

              But the question I really had in mind was “why do they simply get to define god as necessary? Why should I give that a pass?” How do you arrive at the assertion “god is necessary”? That is by no means assertable. Books have been filled, hell, the threads here at WEIT have been filled, with explanations for why the stop-gap “god” is not necessary for addressing any of the problems posed by theologians across the ages.

      • Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        noncarborundum didn’t suggest that. S/he only wrote that s/he is amazed that people do take it seriously. A philosophy student should be able to see the non-equivalence there.

        That aside, what point do you make? Intelligent people are sometimes mistaken. We know that. That doesn’t bear at all on the idea about which they are mistaken. If we were discussing alchemy in a dismissive tone would you remind us that Newton took it seriously?

  10. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    MR: Also God is totally simple, and I don’t see why complexity should not arise out of this…

    A perfect example of Theologian Chess. God is simple when it is necessary to argue against unexplained complexity, but this is conveniently forgotten shortly afterwards as all manner of complex properties are assigned to God.

    Consider gravity. Gravity is fairly simple; it is a property a particle may possess, and if so, that particle attracts all other gavititious particles in the universe. Or perhaps you prefer to think of it as a field. TAnyway, the consequences of gravity can be expressed in reasonably simple formulae.

    But: No one proposes that gravity is the source of all meaning, or of all morality. No one claims that gravity loves you even while it is condemning you to an eternity in Hell. No one dishonestly confuses Christian gravity of the Bible with the omni-gravity of philosophers.

  11. Greg Esres
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    ” I don’t by it.”

    by = buy

  12. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    (RE theodicy) More than that, I don’t want it to be so.

    (RE: ontological argument) but I do like it (it is so clever) and I am prepared to stand up for it when Dawkins dismisses it with scorn rather than good reasons.

    What perfectly awful reasons for supporting positions. The universe does not care what Michael Ruse wants, and cleverness is not nearly as good a reason to favor an argument as a) it is logically compelling or b) it is backed by lots of evidence.

    When Neil deGrasse Tyson says bad things about the uselessness of philosophy, it is possible that Michael Ruse or his sophistic kin are the image of bad philosophy he is rejecting.

    • noncarborundum
      Posted July 10, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      A successful con man is clever. That doesn’t mean you should believe him.

    • reasonshark
      Posted July 11, 2014 at 1:10 am | Permalink

      I think the point he was trying to make was more that Dawkins did not give the arguments a fair trial, on the premise that they had to be tackled with reasoned arguments rather than “scorn”.

      Which ignores the fact that he did (and he did tackle Aquineas’ other claims), up to and including citing Russell’s and Kant’s observations on the argument’s soundness. When you reread that part of the book, you realize Ruse simply does not like Dawkins’ tone, which is not charitable to the argument.

      In a sense, it’s similar to the part Ruse mentions on “the causal argument for God’s existence”, considering Ruse claims that the counters to the counterargument (that God is too complex, that the argument invokes special pleading for excluding God from the causal chain, etc.) by calling him simple and necessary were already anticipated and refuted by Dawkins in that same chapter.

      I think Ruse is the one giving a polemical parody, given that he’s already:

      – Claimed to defend religion from any criticism that comes from someone he doesn’t like, simply because he likes religious arguments that strike him as “clever” (though not correct).

      – Claimed bad argumentation in Dawkins’ book, and revealed that he hasn’t actually read it (or didn’t pay attention when he did, or didn’t care).

      – Claimed to prefer (or think more effective) the tactic of accommodationism, as if this were an issue of intertribe hostilities needing “balance” against atheists or “reconciliation” with both sides, rather than an intellectual issue with one stronger side.

      – Claimed to be defending philosophy from bad atheist arguments/approaches, when he is writing “book after book telling Christians why it’s okay to believe” even though he himself doesn’t accept those reasons. (Jerry is right to point this out at the end).

      – Claimed that a factor in his defence is that he knows nice Christians, again as if this were an intertribal conflict claiming both sides are evil, and not a question of intellectual scruples.

      – Claimed intellectual scruples, despite the above problems.

      • reasonshark
        Posted July 11, 2014 at 1:14 am | Permalink

        Sorry, my third paragraph was an ungrammatical mess. Let me try again:

        When Ruse says “the great philosophers, Anselm and Aquinas particularly, are way ahead of him here”, he doesn’t seem to recall the part of The God Delusion that shows Dawkins was, in turn, way ahead of them. Memory fails me, but I think Ruse or someone like him was mentioned in that part of the book, too, claiming that God was simple?

  13. MAUCH
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Do I stand in the middle between Coyne and Ruse? I try not to rankle the faithful just on pure principle but I will not sit quietly when the faithful try to impose their peculiar beliefs on my government and the rest of society. I will tell them that as an atheist I will defend their right to think what they want but thank you I have no need for them to force me to be made right with god.

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted July 10, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      Do you honestly think Jerry tries to rankle the faithful on pure principle? I’m pretty sure that every time I’ve seen him go after someone religious it is because they have tried to foist their beliefs where they are not wanted.

    • rickflick
      Posted July 10, 2014 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      The point, for me, is rankling is not the issue. To avoid spending so much energy trying to keep religion out of government, how about just reducing its influence from basic principles? That seems much more economical. Why should atheists have to spend millions of hours writing books about reasonable ways of thinking? Make the state of Mississippi religiously more like Scandinavia and we can relax and go back to enlarging our butterfly collections.

      • Diane G.
        Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

        Oh, piece of cake.

  14. Greg Esres
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Note that Ruse stands up FOR the ontological argument, which is a dumb argument for God if I’ve ever seen one, simply because Dawkins dimisses it!

    Not quite what he said. He stands up for it when Dawkins dismisses it for the wrong reasons. I get that. I would do the same thing when someone agrees with me for what I consider the wrong reasons.

    But it does suggest that Ruse’s motivations are out of whack. It’s hard to take his positions seriously because he seems to come by them so unseriously.

    • reasonshark
      Posted July 11, 2014 at 1:17 am | Permalink

      In Ruse’s books, does he tell his audience that the argument is unfounded?

  15. Posted July 10, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Ruse has always had subjectivist leanings. His early book _Taking Darwin Seriously_ is not quite as good as it could be because of the sloppiness in this area. Similarly he has been too sympathetic to pomo for my tastes.

    The stuff about Dawkins in the interview is odd: he hasn’t always been so. For example, I remember reading some of Ruse’s very early stuff on human sociobiology (written in the 1970s) which seemed to be fair enough to folks like Dawkins (unlike the hatchet jobs from some circles).

    • darrelle
      Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      In the 70s Dawkins had not yet made himself the pernicious gadfly and irresistable target of apologists and accommodationists that he is today. He didn’t really come into his own in that respect until he wrote The God Delusion.

      • Kevin
        Posted July 10, 2014 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        But time has permitted the influence more than the people. After 2004-2006 there was a huge rise in a fixed minority willing to not only read and follow authors (Dawkins/Dennet/Hitchens/Harris) against religion but also demand that things change.

        In the 1970’s people lived rather secular lives even if religion was ubiquitous. Thankfully today, no one can quietly shove religion around. In another universe, this trend could have been supported thirty to forty years earlier. In this sense, who leads discussion is not as important as making sure discussion continue. It is only getting better for secularism.

  16. eric
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    They know that the only way to stop the regression is by making God something that needs no cause. He must be a necessary being.

    Right. Which is about as good of an example of ad hoc reasoning as one can imagine. “Hey, we gotta save our God idea. But it doesn’t work unless he’s a necessary being.” “Well then, let’s make him a necessary being. But, uh, we can’t let anything else be called a necessary being, otherwise we’ll be back to square one.”

  17. darrelle
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    It seems to me that Ruse’s defense of religion always comes down to, “If you grant the premises then it makes sense.” And he accuses Dawkins of philosophical naivety. This is the kind of bullshit that gives philosophy a bad name.

    • Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      That’s theology in a nutshell: “look at these fantabulously logical conclusions; they just fall right out of all the premises we’ve posited (whichwewillalljustassumearetotallysound).

  18. gluonspring
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    “When did Dawkins become Satan, by the way?”

    This is a very good question. Why is he treated as being so important? I read The Selfish Gene about 25 years ago and it made a favorable impression on me. I don’t think I’ve read anything Dawkins has written since. I haven’t even given Dawkins a passing thought in the intervening 25 years except when he is thrown in my face as though he is the atheist Pope who speaks for all atheists. It always strikes me as very bizarre and disconnected from my own reality. He seems like a fine fellow to me, but my atheism has almost nothing to do with Dawkins in any way. So it’s strange to constantly hear him bandied about as though he were my leader.

    • Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      Yeah, I agree. I like Dawkins’ writing on science but I don’t think he does all that much for atheism. I also think he’s not very good in public debate and he often comes across as a bit of a douche on Twitter where he seems to have a thing for calling random people stupid or retweeting people who do. Something about a world class intellectual taking time out of his day to insult average people rubs me the wrong way.

      I still follow him, of course, and appreciate his work, though.

      • Scientifik
        Posted July 10, 2014 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

        “Yeah, I agree. I like Dawkins’ writing on science but I don’t think he does all that much for atheism. I also think he’s not very good in public debate ”

        Obviously, you must be talking about some other Dawkins…

      • Posted July 10, 2014 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

        Doesn’t do that much for atheism? The God Delusion has not only sold millions of copies, but converted thousands of people away from religion. Look at his “Converts Corner”, now archived. Look at the ex-preachers, like Jerry DeWitt, who say how important Dawkins’s writing was to wean them from faith, and now go around doing the same thing. Name ONE other person who has done more to advance nonbelief in the modern world than Dawkins.

        You are, I’m afraid, speaking out of ignorance of what Dawkins has really accomplished. There is a reason why he’s seen as the voice of atheism, as is the one person singled out for hatred by theists. Why? Because they know what he’s done, and how dangerous he is.

        And, please, you are complete mischaracterizing what he says on Twitter. First, he does not call “random people stupid”. He engages in debate with the benighted.

        Finally, you will apologize for calling him a bit of a douche. That’s not only sexist, but language we don’t use on this site, and it also insults a friend of mine.

        • Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

          //Doesn’t do that much for atheism? The God Delusion has not only sold millions of copies, but converted thousands of people away from religion. Look at his “Converts Corner”, now archived. Look at the ex-preachers, like Jerry DeWitt, who say how important Dawkins’s writing was to wean them from faith, and now go around doing the same thing. Name ONE other person who has done more to advance nonbelief in the modern world than Dawkins.

          You are, I’m afraid, speaking out of ignorance of what Dawkins has really accomplished. There is a reason why he’s seen as the voice of atheism, as is the one person singled out for hatred by theists. Why? Because they know what he’s done, and how dangerous he is.
          //

          You’re right. He has done quite a bit in the past and what I said was absolutely incorrect. The best justification that I can come up with for how I feel about him is that in my mind, I see him as more of a scientist and less of an atheist. From everything I’ve read of his, I’ve been far more impressed with his writing on science than his arguments against religion. To be fair, The God Delusion was the first book on religion that I ever really read and I barely remember it. I read The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation and God is Not Great right after and they really resonated with me (each for different reasons) on a completely different level than The God Delusion did. Then I went on to basically consume everything that Hitchens and Harris wrote or said and Dawkins was always kind of in the background for me. I watched a couple of his debates on YouTube and just wasn’t very impressed by them. He didn’t seem to have the patience that oral debate requires. It is a fact that The God Delusion sold a ton of copies and is probably responsible for converting countless people from religion, though, and that fact absolutely refutes what I said.

          //
          And, please, you are complete mischaracterizing what he says on Twitter. First, he does not call “random people stupid”. He engages in debate with the benighted.
          //

          I have seen him do this, though. A quick search for his name and the term idiot yielded these: https://twitter.com/RichardDawkins/status/341702781524135936 https://twitter.com/RichardDawkins/status/367546688426094592 https://twitter.com/RichardDawkins/statuses/396987087511359488 https://twitter.com/RichardDawkins/statuses/397105463658946560

          I should concede that now that I’ve actually searched his profile looking for examples, it seems less pervasive than it did in my mind when I wrote that post but it’s still definitely there to some degree. I have a ton of respect for intelligence and seeing someone as brilliant as him call normal people stupid, or idiots or give a platform to other people who do so really rubs me the wrong way. It strikes me about the same as if a MLB player went to a little league game and started deriding the players there.

          //
          Finally, you will apologize for calling him a bit of a douche. That’s not only sexist, but language we don’t use on this site, and it also insults a friend of mine.
          //

          I will actually apologize. I just started posting on here yesterday and I admit I didn’t take time to read the rules. I’m used to posting on forums that are much less strict regarding profanity and rudeness. If I was in your living room, and said what I’ve said about Dawkins, it would be extremely untactful and I’d expect you to ask me to leave.

          I do want to make one distinction, though, that I’m confident you’ll think is overly pedantic: I don’t think he *is* a bit of a douche. I think he comes across that way. I’ve never met him and casual conversations I’ve seen him have in interviews and on the 4 horsemen videos make him seem pretty decent. I was actually taken back by his persona on Twitter when I first started following him some years back. Maybe the fact that there is so much vitriol directed at him on Twitter causes a lot of what I’m seeing.

          So yeah, I regret what I said about him here and I apologize. It was vague, reflexive and thoughtless. If you want to block me from the site, I’ll totally understand.

        • reasonshark
          Posted July 11, 2014 at 1:32 am | Permalink

          To be more polite in my criticism, I will say that Dawkins’ forays into online commenting have tended towards the needlessly controversial and provocative. I don’t think he does it to rile people on purpose – just to make a point that gets lost in the resulting hubbub – but he doesn’t handle himself nearly as well on Twitter, say, as he does when he has a full book to explain where he’s coming from.

          As for needlessly controversial, there was the awkward moment involving Rebecca Watson a few years back. I did get what he was trying to say at the time (that, for all the hand-wringing Watson did over the elevator incident, no one was actually hurt), but his Appeal to Worse Problems was a fallacious starting point, his parody style was misjudged, and he wasn’t as graceful and tactful as I think he could have been. Moreover, the Twitter format really doesn’t suit someone who produces his best arguments in book form, since he can’t elaborate on points that, as presented, could easily be seen more as potshots than reasoned stances, even if they strictly aren’t.

          I really don’t want to sound like I’m insulting him, both considering he’s your friend and considering I admire his achievements in promoting evolution and encouraging atheism. On balance, he does more good than harm. But he’s still human, when all’s said and done, and he has made mistakes and miscalculations.

          I got nothing on that point about his accomplishments, though. You are dead on there.

          • Scientifik
            Posted July 11, 2014 at 7:13 am | Permalink

            “Moreover, the Twitter format really doesn’t suit someone who produces his best arguments in book form, since he can’t elaborate on points that, as presented, could easily be seen more as potshots than reasoned stances, even if they strictly aren’t.”

            Granted, Tw*tter is not a medium for elaborate essays, but it’s what millions of people are using to get news, and communicate. If I remember correctly, even Pope Francis has been using it to preach his superstitious nonsense to the naive.

            Do you think that freethinkers like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, Steven Pinker shouldn’t be using it to advance critical thinking?

            I lost count how many eye-opening links, news articles, videos (all advancing reason, science, and atheism) Dawkins brought to my attention via his tw**ts. With most of the points he’s been making on tw*tter, I couldn’t agree more.

            • reasonshark
              Posted July 11, 2014 at 7:47 am | Permalink

              “Do you think that freethinkers like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, Steven Pinker shouldn’t be using it to advance critical thinking?”

              Not at all, provided they do it competently. Posting links and sources is one thing, but that “fastest growing X” comment is way too simplified a way to describe the phenomenon, and it’s probably also wrong. In his books, a claim like that would at least be accompanied by a lot of cautions, elaborations, examples, supporting evidence, honest speculations and other stuff more legitimate than just bald-faced and oversimplified assertion.

              Also, it does feel a bit like he’s – if you don’t mind the choice of metaphor – preaching to the choir. I wish I could compare numbers, but I doubt the Twitter posts reach many others besides people who have already read the books, much less have deconverted as many as have been from reading the books.

              Also, we know Dawkins’ impact when he wrote The God Delusion, and it works especially well considering he did a good job there of explaining and justifying his position. If I wanted to encourage somebody to understand atheism, I’d point them to a book patiently explaining the issues, not to clumsy Twitter proclamations that don’t represent the man at his best. It certainly doesn’t help that there are those “eager to misunderstand him”.

              • Scientifik
                Posted July 11, 2014 at 8:04 am | Permalink

                “Not at all, provided they do it competently. Posting links and sources is one thing, but that “fastest growing X” comment is way too simplified a way to describe the phenomenon, and it’s probably also wrong.”

                The point he’s making here is that religion is not something you choose after careful study, but rather, are indoctrinated into as a child, when your critical thinking abilities are not really there yet. His observation is dead on.

                As for your preaching to the choir argument, it’s certainly wrong. His tw*tter account has attracted the attention of some of the most delusional religionists out there.

    • darrelle
      Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      I think it is as simple as, he was a fairly visible scientist due to his succesful popular science books and then he wrote The God Delusion.

      What I find disheartening is how many people that are scientists, or in closely related fields, or actively pro science, are as reflexively scornful of Dawkins as any “flea.” Many without knowing a damn thing about what he actually has said / written.

      For a typical example look through this conversation about Dawkins on a forum devoted to science, where religion and politics are strictly prohibited from discussion.

      The Science Writings of Richard Dawkins

      • Posted July 10, 2014 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

        For the life of me I don’t see how people (like Kaye) can be so dense.

        I’m nothing like a biologist, but even I can grasp that The Selfish Gene is neither about a gene for selfishness nor behaviorally prescriptive in any way.

        • darrelle
          Posted July 11, 2014 at 5:22 am | Permalink

          A lot of the time it’s just like a little people argument. “I understand it but the poor illiterate masses can’t.” I am more charitable. I think just about anybody could understand it if they heard or read an explanation.

          Funny thing is how we are always accused of being so obtuse that we don’t realize bible passages are metaphors. If they are so versed in metaphors whay can’t they get this one? That has a book of hundreds of pages devoted to explaining it in great detail attached directly to it?

  19. JimV
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Cosmologist Sean Carroll had a recent post defending philosophers and wondering why Dr. Tyson and others seem to dislike them. The answer is philosophers like M. Ruse (and Plantinga and Sober and all the theological apologists). If philosophy were a results-based discipline, these people would have their philosophy licences revoked.

    A) God is simple? The same numinous god that theologians say is so complex that he passeth our understanding, so that we aren’t capable of judging his acts?

    B) “Paradoxically and humorously I am with Dawkins here. He argues that the only way naturally you can get the design-like features of organisms — the hand and the eye — is through evolution by natural selection, brought on by the struggle. Other mechanisms just don’t work. So God is off the hook.”

    Ruse does not define here (maybe elsewhere?) how his hypothetical concept of God works, but I can’t imagine any reasonable concept that would make this a reasonable statement. Evolution has produced humans, some of whom evolve other things (such as cars, telephones, etc.). As we learn more we evolve ways to simulate things before making them (e.g., numerical simulations on computers). Some things we can simulate in advance in our natural computers (brains), such as chess moves. Natural biological evolution works by random trial and error. Is Ruse saying that his concept of God cannot predict what will happen and must depend on trial and error?

    The closest concept I can come up with is an experimenter god who is running several universes under different natural laws to see what happens, and chooses not to interfere with the course of the experiments. This contradicts A) however, and does not take the god off the hook for running unethical experiments.

    Good luck to him in convincing any of the faithful that these are good arguments, or in convincing just about anyone that they are better arguments than Richard Dawkins makes.

    • David Evans
      Posted July 10, 2014 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      Maybe if your simulation were good enough to show what conscious beings will do, it would itself be conscious?

      • JimV
        Posted July 10, 2014 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

        Ruse is not talking about the development of consciousness, but about the development of hands and eyes. He says his concept of god can be excused for allowing natural selection to proceed because there is no other way to come up with the design of such complicated things. My response is that we comparatively primitive humans have already developed ways to design a lot of things without the need to build millions of variations and see which survive destructive testing (although that in fact is the basic process underlying intelligence in my view, but using it we have evolved ways to speed up the process).

        If you want to say that consciousness/inteligence itself cannot be simulated without creating it, still that leaves billions of years of pre-conscious natural evolution to be explained. Also, when I make a computer model of a turbine to simulate it, I only need to model a single one, not billions.

  20. Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    “He argues that the only way naturally you can get the design-like features of organisms — the hand and the eye — is through evolution by natural selection, brought on by the struggle. Other mechanisms just don’t work. So God is off the hook.”

    Yes, god is off the hook, in the atheistic sense.

    If, to explain evil, you insist on god simply letting things happen entirely according to natural law, what purpose does god serve? I think Occam could do a good job with this little bit of stubble.

  21. couchloc
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    I think the account of Ruse’s views isn’t quite on the mark. There are two things to understand about him in this context. (1) Ruse thinks that it is important intellectually to consider your opponents’ views however they are presented. If your opponent defends the ontological argument, it is not much help to simply dismiss it as unworthy of interest or something. Kurt Godel took the argument seriously and wasn’t a dummy. If the argument is mistaken, then you have a responsibility to explain where the mistake is and why the proof shouldn’t be accepted. This is mostly what’s behind Ruse’s disapproval of Dawkins when the latter adopts a dismissive attitude towards theology. This also is behind Ruses’s view that religious believers should be permitted to make their case (he’s not defending their case, but their right to make it). He thinks this is merely a matter of fairness independent of the theism-atheism debate.

    (ii) The second point is that Ruse is very clear that he’s an atheist and doesn’t accept God, the ontological argument, or whatever. He notes that he has objections to the very idea of a “necessary being”. What he’s trying to make clear is that those objections are PHILOSOPHICAL, NOT SCIENTIFIC. He thinks that a problem with recent atheists is that they often run together scientific issues with philosophical ones. But the problem of evil, the ontological argument, the argument from design, the Euthyphro dilemma, reconciling God’s omniscience with human free will, etc.–all of these raise philosophical concerns that have to be handled at that level. Go ahead an reject the ontological argument, he says–just note that your objections to a “necessary being” are philosophical objections because the issues here are conceptual. Ruse feels that he needs to make this point because so many people are running around saying that the case against God is empirical, and he thinks that is only partly true.

    Put like this, I rather think that Ruse has a good point.

    • Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      Oh really–you think that Dawkins just dismisses the philosophical arguments for God out of hand? You’re wrong; read The God Delusion. There are whole chunks on the theological arguments.

      The boundaries between philosophy and science are thin, and some of the answers to theodicy involve science and empirical argument.

      You’re completely neglecting the fact that Ruse, as I said, spends a lot of his time telling religious people how to find philosophical grounding to their arguments.

      At any rate, you’re just wrong when you say Dawkins simply dismisses theological arguments for God.

      • Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

        Also, regarding the line between science and philosophy, I rather like this quote by Harris:

        “The core of science is not controlled experience or mathematical modeling; it is intellectual honesty. It is time we acknowledged a basic feature of human discourse: when considering the truth of a proposition, one is either engaged in an honest appraisal of the evidence and logical arguments, or one isn’t. Religion is the one area of our lives where people imagine that some other standard of intellectual integrity applies.” (Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 65).

      • couchloc
        Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

        I’ve read Dawkins and yes he spends a little time on the theological arguments I agree. But there is often a whiff of dismissiveness in his discussion, and one often hears from others that theology is not worthy of further thought. It is this sort of thing that Ruse isn’t sympathetic to because it forgoes what he sees as our responsibility to engage people fairly. Here he how he puts it (as you quoted above):

        “So in the end, I am not sure that the Christian God idea flies, but I want to extend to Christians the courtesy of arguing against what they actually believe, rather than begin and end with the polemical parody of what Dawkins calls ‘the God delusion.'”

        Maybe I should have said “parady” instead of “dismiss”, but I don’t see this would affect the larger issue.

        You say that “some of the answers to theodicy involve science and empirical argument”. I don’t deny that some of the answers “involve” science and neither does Ruse. His point is that many of the issues are also philosophical.

        • Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:45 am | Permalink

          “Whiff of dismissiveness”? What you mean is that he’s showing the problems with the arguments. And you accused him, not “others”, for now you drag “one often hears from others that theology is not worthy of further thought.” Do you realize that your argument was about Dawkins, but you’ve just backed off from that completely.

          Look, you made claims that were unsubstantiated. Now you pretend that you claimed something else. It’s time for you to leave this discussion.

          • Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:48 am | Permalink

            Exactly what I was going to say.

            We can’t win. The first criticism we receive is that we’re being completely dismissive. When we show that we actually do take the argument apart, we’re apparently still partly dismissive, for some reason.

            Just how does one achieve this elusive nirvana of demonstrating how an argument is wrong without being dismissive?

            • Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:50 am | Permalink

              *…without being accused of being dismissive* is what I should’ve written.

            • darrelle
              Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink

              The philosopher wants the same freeloader respect that religion demands.

          • couchloc
            Posted July 11, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

            In reply to Coyne: I reread my original comment that I posted yesterday, where I said that Dawkins “dismissed theological arguments.” I see why my original comment sounds like an overstatement on my part and I could have been more precise. So I apologize, and I’m glad to take that back.

        • darrelle
          Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink

          “His point is that many of the issues are also philosophical.”

          Let’s set aside the obviousness of that statement, and that it is non sequitur with respect to this discussion.

          What on earth does it matter that some of the issues are philosophical? This isn’t an art project, the key issue is reality and how we decide which claims are reasonably likely to accurately model some aspect of it. How well something comports with the niceties of formal philosophy doesn’t mean squat until you can demonstrate, by other means that are directly or based on empirical methods, that their is a good reason to suppose that it has something to do with reality.

          • Posted July 11, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

            It also presupposes that there’s a sharp dividing line between philosophy and all other intellectual fields, which many of us (myself included) would deny.

    • H.H.
      Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:28 am | Permalink

      If the argument is mistaken, then you have a responsibility to explain where the mistake is and why the proof shouldn’t be accepted.

      Which has been done countless times already. How many times must an idea be refuted before we may move on?

      • gluonspring
        Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

        Until the heat death of the universe. No more no less.

        • Kevin
          Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink

          Or until some grown ups learn more than a secular seven year old.

        • H.H.
          Posted July 10, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

          Yep, pretty much. Like creationists, these religious apologists keep recycling the same failed arguments over and over again without acknowledging that they are, in fact, failed arguments. It’s like they want us to be impressed that they tried, even if their efforts don’t ever end up amounting to anything.

        • Chris
          Posted July 10, 2014 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

          Or “heat dearth” depending on what model you’re using!

          • D. Taylor
            Posted July 10, 2014 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

            Hadn’t heard that. That’s good.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      Ruse thinks that it is important intellectually to consider your opponents’ views however they are presented. If your opponent defends the ontological argument, it is not much help to simply dismiss it as unworthy of interest or something.

      But empiricists like Dawkins _are_ taking religious claims seriously. And often gets lambasted for it, re “isn’t involved in evolution” vs “ground of being”.

      If someone claims he can walk on air because of [insert philosophical mumbo jumbo here], the proper response isn’t that the mumbo jumbo claim works. The proper response is that it is unworthy of further interest or someone has to walk out from a 5th floor window and show that mumbo jumbo may work.

      Consider the alternative, to not using our knowledge about the world to give the best response possible – that ontology, metaphysics, philosophy is worthless re factual claims – that would be dishonest. It is Ruse’s “little person” argument.

      And as noted, must we return to this specific tomfoolery all the time? People have given good reason for a long time now, good enough to convince beyond reasonable doubt, that “the ontological argument” is horse manure as an existential claim. The only defenders are non-specialists on existence, such as theologians.

      Kurt Godel took the argument seriously and wasn’t a dummy.

      He was also not mentally stable. “In later life, Gödel suffered periods of mental instability and illness.” That must be put up there with not a dummy re the entirety of his actions. If we can’t say, for example by passing peer review, that his actions were worth consideration, we must be careful.

      And where did he publish is “ontological argument” on the existence of magical agency under peer review among specialists on existence of things (i.e. physicists)?

      The second point is that Ruse is very clear that he’s an atheist

      Is he? Above his “Quaker childhood — as in everything I do and think — is tremendously important here.”

      At the most he is an agnostic or else accommodationist making non-atheist claims such as NOMA (a religious claim) or “coddle believers is good for them and good for us” (a false claim). He is not speaking for any passionate atheist, we can see that.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 10, 2014 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

        Indeed, those who say Dawkins doesn’t take religious claims seriously, I think are really saying that they would prefer that. Dawkins coddle the believers and allow them to go off feeling they are “okay”.

        • Posted July 10, 2014 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

          Yes.

          What a curious inversion: patting the child on the head saying “My, those are lovely arguments! Let’s put them on the fridge” is taking those arguments seriously. But looking at them and straightforwardly telling the child where you genuinely think the arguments go wrong is not taking them seriously.

          I’d say it’s just the opposite.

      • Chris
        Posted July 10, 2014 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

        He may well be an atheist. Cool.

        He’s still, er, confus though.

    • michaelfugate
      Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      So it is philosophical, but is it theological? As soon as theologians can discuss the methods they use for studying gods, then I will take them seriously. I have now read so many of them and am no closer to understanding how they know what they claim to know. God has about as much meaning as “qisechtulsch.”

    • David Evans
      Posted July 10, 2014 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      Godel’s proof is, I think, just an elaboration of what I said earlier, i.e. his premises are essentially:
      1 God is defined as a necessary being (along with certain other properties).
      2 It is possible that God exists.

      And my answer is the same. #2 is not obviously true. It may be possible that some necessary entities (e.g. numbers) exist. I don’t think we can simply assume that God (with all the properties we ascribe to him) is one of those entities.

    • Posted July 11, 2014 at 6:02 am | Permalink

      I find your point 1 puzzling, because the implication is that Dawkins has stifled or parodied religious arguments in some way, and so they have not been able to get a fair hearing in the public square? But for years BD (Before Dawkins) there was actually very little mainstream discussion of theology or philosophy of religion; the fields were pretty moribund. Dawkins and new atheism actually *stimulated* activity in these areas, and still do, afaics. I simply don’t recall the same level of discourse in the media in the seventies and eighties that we have now, on these subjects, and the general public have become better versed in theology and PoR (at least, ime).

      The charge that Dawkins has a dismissive attitude towards theology seems to stem from his *conclusions* rather than from his *practice*. There are many ways to dismiss a theory, hypothesis or discipline. Summary dismissal may be appropriate where one thinks something is not worth engaging with prima facie. But on the subject of theology Dawkins has written books and made films and made television programs and appeared on television programs and conducted debates and hosted web sites and generally been someone who is willing to take believers seriously when they say what they say. He may get the arguments wrong sometimes (even the best do that) but it’s hard to say that he has not taken them seriously.

      This is the very opposite of someone being dismissive. But if, after all this writing and talking and debating, Dawkins thinks there is nothing to the subject, how can that be anything other than a *reasonable* dismissal, in the sense that he has spent serious time considering the subject?

      One can argue with his conclusions, and rail against his analysis, and accuse him of starting from the wrong premises, or whatever, but the charge of a dismissive attitude flies in the face of his life story.

  22. Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Like every first-year undergraduate in philosophy, Dawkins thinks he can put to rest the causal argument for God’s existence.

    Le sigh.

    “Causal arguments” for deities can only even make sense within the context of a teleological Aristotelian metaphysics, and Newton completely and utterly demolished the universality of any and all such formulations. Darwin similarly demonstrated they don’t apply within the domain of life, either, and any last vestiges of hope for applicability to the real world went out with modern physics, especially Relativity (in which events can happen in different orders for different observers) and Quantum Mechanics (in which shit just happens).

    Sure, in certain very limited contexts, it can be informally useful. Why is the water boiling? Because I’m making tea. But push it past that ever so slightly and it collapses into chaos. You probably wouldn’t want tea unless it contained theobromine and caffeine, and those wouldn’t do what they do were it not for the effects of adrenaline in your system. So is the reason you want tea because of the mutation in your incredibly-ancient ancestor that led to the adoption of corticosteriods as a control mechanism?

    …and to extrapolate from that type of chaos to a “simple” (!!!!) universal cause…god damn, but that’s hubris on steroids, brewed into an especially hot cup of tea.

    b&

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      What Ben said, but add Copernicus, Gallileo, Dirac, Einstein, Watson & Crick, etc. to Newton and Darwin.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      Oh, my cup of tea!

      And I have forgotten, or never really grokked the anti-correlation between philosophical teleology and the order reversal that can happen when comparing relativistic light cones.

      My usual complaint is that causality is a process (on quantum mechanics really), not an ordering of classical states. But sure, the ordering is mutable, it is the laws that are immolate.

      I’m so going to steal that!

      Re theories, I think the claims are

      – Relativity: shit happens, we can see that.

      – Quantum physics: shit happens or not happens, did anyone see that?

      – Evolution: shit! you have to love that!

      • Kevin
        Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:51 am | Permalink

        You could spend a lifetime studying a cup of shit. The forensics alone would require advanced degrees in chemistry, biology, some spectroscopy, not to mention medicine and anatomy. And that’s without the shit even moving fast or coherently teleported…then you would need physics.

      • Posted July 10, 2014 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        Steal away! ‘Tis only fair; I’ve stolen plenty from you….

        b&

  23. Prof.Pedant
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    “As for one’s upbringing helping form one’s views—in Ruse’s case, making him confect arguments for Christianity he doesn’t accept himself—that itself is a bad argument. One should overcome one’s childhood if it conditioned you to respect what’s false.”

    I was surprised to see that Ruse claims to have grown up as a Quaker. One of the central tenets of Quakerism is being truthful. Clearly he did not imbibe that tenet.

  24. Mark R.
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    In “Murder in the Cathedral,” T.S. Eliot has Thomas à Becket say, “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.” Amen.

    Isn’t he doing the “greatest treason” throughout this interview? Especially where Dawkins is concerned? Isn’t that what an apologist is all about?
    Ruse is indeed a ruse.

  25. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Some ruse:

    They know that the only way to stop the regression is by making God something that needs no cause.

    I’m very gratified by Ruse claiming “the great philosophers” know nothing, because a) there doesn’t need to be an end to a natural regression and b) causality light cones isn’t a process of regression even though they admit it.

    Ruse, of course, makes the discussion meaningless. But contra Ruse’s opt out, that means science rules.

    Also God is totally simple, and I don’t see why complexity should not arise out of this,

    Ha! Dawkins gives the “God” hypothesis a hearing, while Ruse claims complexity arises out of other means. (But is pretending he didn’t say that.)

    If not magic agency, what else than nature’s observed progression from simple to complex? And so we have to reject the unnecessary hypothesis of magic agency.

    I think you have to reach out over no-man’s land to the trenches on the other side and see where we can agree and hope to move forward.

    I could never agree to lying as a good long term strategy. And I think accommodationism’s failure is one example of that.

    Besides, oh the morality of intellectual dishonesty! Do we really need to be dragged into the religious quagmire of bad ‘absolute’ morals on suggestion by religious minded like Ruse?

    • reasonshark
      Posted July 11, 2014 at 2:19 am | Permalink

      I understand in part why the accommodationist approach is favoured. Some people don’t like coming across as confrontational, and you can see the logic that people might not accept something if it clashes with their views or is presented so bluntly as to seem aggressive. If your goal was to lower these mental defences, assurances of goodwill and cooperation certainly look more diplomatic and helpful.

      Where the problem comes in is where the logic of mutual reconciliation and good behaviour is applied to truth claims and reasoned arguments. I don’t think it’s lying, necessarily, but confusion: the proponents don’t realize what the actual issue under question is.

      In fact, it doesn’t even always apply to behaviour. I doubt the civil rights protesters of the 20th century persuaded more people by saying that equal rights were compatible with the beliefs of racists, sexists, and homophobes. What they did was challenge the established views, expressed themselves, persuaded others, and ultimately sought to turn those contrary views from unquestioned majority policy to marginal and unacceptable practices at least.

      Of course, the conflict between reason-based science and faith-based religion isn’t nearly as serious (in terms of violence and killings involved and immediate ethical stakes) as the ones between civil rights activitists and sexists, racists, and homophobes, but it isn’t a conflict that will resolve itself in the long term by appealing to intellectual truces.

  26. Filippo
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    sub

  27. Myron
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    “Finally, where on earth did Ruse get the idea that ‘God is totally simple’? Yes, some theologians have said that, but I don’t buy it.” – J. Coyne

    To say that God is simple is to say that the mental substance he is is mereologically simple in the sense of lacking proper parts. The divine substance isn’t composed of anything. It is not to say that the mental life of the divine mental substance is simple: God is mereologically simple but psychologically nonsimple. God has a complex mind and complex mental powers. That is, as a (superintelligent) person he is the subject of various interrelated and interacting affective and cognitive states.
    (Of course, how it’s possible for a simple and also immaterial substance to have a complex mind and a complex personality is another question, which is usually dodged by theologians.)

    • Posted July 14, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      Jerry’s question is still a good one, though. Yes, Christian theology for the past 1000 years or so has held that God has no proper parts. So? How was this determined and checked? Since we know that psychological complexity in general requires mereological complexity (to say the least), we also have a prima facie argument *against* the coherence of the notion here. Besides, I believe that the idea that god is psychologically non-simple is itself not always held, either (which is even more special pleading).

  28. Kevin
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    GG: God won’t do as an ultimate explanation of the universe? [Dawkin's] point is that complexity requires explanation

    First, This is very likely not what Dawkin’s meant. Second, complexity does not require explanation, it just happens to be explainable through science and reason. Third, no metaphysical explanation of the universe will ever be satisfactory…that is taught in Philosophy 101.

    • Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      Complexity really just lowers the a priori probability of a hypothesis, because the more complex it is, the more assumptions it entails. This is a huge problem for any hypothesis without evidence about the origin of reality as we know it, especially hypotheses as complex as religious ones tend to be (even if they use word games to try to make them seem less complex).

  29. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    This dispute between god and G.O.B is easily settled.

    Let the theologians/philosophers devise a test ( if they can reach internal consensus ) to atheists and believers that ask basic questions about god/G.O.B’s existence and attributes and compare the religious answers with the non-religious answers.

    In other words, a test that tries to distinguish between modern belief in god and old belief in god.

    There should be a huge disreprancy between the two groups with atheists showing an old understanding of the Christian god and believers showing a modern understanding.

    Furthermore the theologians/philosophers could devise tests that concentrate on the bible and on what is commonly accepted as metaphorical and what is considered literal truth.

    There’s a ton of ways they could back up their assertions with actual data from people on the street.

    All they have to do is ask.

  30. gluonspring
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    “Of course the great philosophers, Anselm and Aquinas particularly, are way ahead of him here. They know that the only way to stop the regression is by making God something that needs no cause. He must be a necessary being. This means that God is not part of the regular causal chain but in some sense orthogonal to it.”

    How can anyone with two brain cells to rub together not see this as the cheap and dishonest dodge that it is? It astounds me to no end. Philosophy has NO standards if this passes muster. Just declare The Laws of the Universe to be outside the causal chain and you’re just as done as he is. What is the freaking difference? Fiat. Make believe. Quoting obscure dead people.

    It’s this kind of arrogant obscurantism that makes me hate most philosophers. They are a pox. The sneering claim that undergraduates *think* they have seen the flaw with this argument, as though he, with his philosophical sophistication, knows they are wrong. But, of course, they are not wrong. It is he who has deluded himself with sophistry. I’ll go him one better, though. It is not only undergraduates who see through the hand waving. When I was 7 I asked my grandmother who created God? She said “God just always existed.”, and I knew then, at 7, that you could cut God out of the picture and have lost nothing in the explanation. Grade school children see the lack of clothes on this particular emperor.

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      +1

    • Vaal
      Posted July 10, 2014 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      gluonspring,

      While I can see how your distaste may arise from the way Ruse phrased his reply, I believe this is hardly grounds to dismiss the character of philosophy, or even of theistic philosophical arguments per se.

      There are dumb, facile arguments in theology but also some more sophisticated arguments – just as in secular debate. I don’t mean “successful” theistic arguments, but rather ones that take more than mere contempt or a few one-off lines to dismiss, ones which take
      drilling down to examining the warrant for our own basic beliefs in order to address them. (E.g. epistemological arguments, metaphysical arguments, even some standard arguments from design drill down into having to defend some basic tenets of empirical reasoning, parsimony, coherence, explanatory value, etc).

      To that end, the arguments that Ruse is in all likelihood referencing don’t simply present the claim “God has always existed”
      as your Grandmother did: they have (often elaborate) arguments for such a conclusion.

      Yes, the arguments end up failing, but to show why you actually have to address them on their terms. “Who created God?” is not the type of objection that addresses the metaphysical arguments for God as a necessary Being.

      There are certainly philosophers making bad arguments – just like bad arguments are made in every other sphere in human experience – but others are making good arguments against those bad arguments. (Where “good” would entail pointing out inconsistencies, incoherency, invalidity etc. of the opposing arguments, and where a good philosopher will avail himself of any scientific knowledge we have gained in order to challenge the premises of bad theistic arguments as well).

      Vaal

      • gluonspring
        Posted July 10, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

        I’m pretty sure that the the metaphysical arguments for God as a necessary being are all dishonest presuppositional bollix, from Anselm to Descartes to Leibniz to Gödel and Plantinga. Even the word “being”, as often used in these arguments is a choice made to deceive, to obscure whether you are talking about a mind or a mindless “something”. The former claim is pure presupposition and runs strongly counter to everything we know about minds (e.g. that they arise from brains, which arise from evolution.. which maybe Descartes can be excused from not knowing, but what’s anyone’s excuse now?). The latter is indistinguishable from atheistic naturalism and so uninteresting.

        My distaste arises not from the way Ruse presents himself. He’s pretty affable, I think. My distaste arises from being served the same garbage over and over as though it were a fine dinner and being told, over and over, that it only tastes like garbage to the unrefined pallet. I used to fall for the philosopher’s pretense, thinking that they must be on to something otherwise why would people keep quoting them and referring to them and acting like they are doing something important. That’s why my bookshelves groan with philosophy books. I used to study them with care, but I haven’t opened any of them in a decade now because, with a few exceptions here and there, they are just not worth much. It turns out that they are better than theologians, but only by a sliver.

        • Diane G.
          Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

          (“Pallet” should be “palate.” :) )

          I couldn’t agree more with both your posts!

          • gluonspring
            Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

            Ack! I’m imagining now a creature with a wooden transport platform instead of a tongue.

            • Diane G.
              Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

              If I’d had any photoshop skills whatsoever I’d have come up with an illustration of your basic unrefined pallet; as the poster here did when someone wrote “Pimping Plover” rather than “Piping Plover:”

              http://www.whatbird.com/forum/index.php?/topic/64133-couple-ids-from-central-alberta/?p=236621

              • gluonspring
                Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

                That’s great! The image in my mind, of a splintered mouth-pallet and a smooth polished one is pretty vivid already.

              • Diane G.
                Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

                :)

                I have a tendency to type homophones on computers, too, something that never happens when writing by hand. I tend to think it has to do with the speed of keyboard typing. Sort of odd to think that our brains are “hearing” the words we are typing…

                (And then there’s autocorrect…)

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted July 11, 2014 at 5:07 am | Permalink

                Yes, I have never made more homophone errors than when writing on this site. I think too blame typing. I remember reading that a study recently confirmed you remember better when you write & from personal experience I agree. This is why I take notes by hand at work with a bluetooth pen that allows me to sync my notes and if I’ve written properly, also convert to type written. The quickness of the typing doesn’t allow you to consider the written word but instead vomits up your thoughts. I’m a fast typer but that means if I’m listening to something, the thinking part of my brain has shut off.

                I wonder what it means for typing your thoughts….perhaps the part of your brain that senses stupid English homophones is impaired. :) There needs to be a study (as I almost wrote “their needs to be a study just now).

        • Posted July 14, 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

          A version of Goedel’s argument has a model, as I recall, consisisting of one Platonic relation, one Platonic uninary property, and two individuals. So, if you’re keeping the Platonism, the universe consisting of: 0,1 and the usual relation of < and the successor function (defined in an appropriate way) has a "being greater than which nothing can be conceived". Note however all the complex metaphysics I need in order to even state the result. (This is due to Zalta and Oppenheimer, or rather their computer aided proof search.) Us who deny Platonic style properties can ignore this argument, and even a Platonist should be adverse to saying that everything is just two numbers and god is one of them. There are also many other problems, but this now shows concretely where the problems with the ontologiacl argument actually are.

          All that said: Plantinga and others are showering their followers with BS. If the followers do not understand a drop of model theory and modal logic (in some cases), they are not even understanding what they are repeating. To me this "encouragement" is itself dishonest beyond belief. My test is for Plantinga's version is: "So, which modal logic governs your use of the necessity operator?" 99.99% or so of all theists I've encountered cannot answer that question in a way that demonstrates they know what they are talking about.

          • gluonspring
            Posted July 14, 2014 at 10:17 am | Permalink

            Yeah, I reject Platonism (and the physical reality irrational measures while I am at it). But even if you accept Platonism, it seems there is a familiar deception hidden in the world “being”. Nothing in this kind of argument prevents “being” from equating to a mindless universe (or meta-universe) of some sort, but the key claim of theism is that there exists some prior mind antecedent to the universe. I am happy to welcome all the theists who don’t believe in an antecedent mind into the folds of atheism, and will not even insist that they acknowledge their obvious atheism. If they want to call some mindless something “God”, have at it. I, along with all real believers I know of, am only interested in claims about some kind mind.

            The most basic theist claim is a much stronger claim that I think appears in the various ontological arguments. I’ve seen some that do explicitly mention mind, but when you introduce a specific quality like that and try to argue for a mind-beyond-all-minds your end up with an argument that can pop into existence the beer-beyond-all-beers.

            Of course, the strongest argument against mind antecedent universe is that it’s strongly counter empirical. All minds we’ve ever observed are products of matter, not antecedents or otherwise independent of matter.

            • Posted July 14, 2014 at 11:30 am | Permalink

              Of course, the strongest argument against mind antecedent universe is that it’s strongly counter empirical. All minds we’ve ever observed are products of matter, not antecedents or otherwise independent of matter.

              Sadly, that’s something that many religious and “spiritual” people explicitly reject. Never mind that it’s incoherent primitive superstition on a par with a flat Earth; they insist that minds are made of some sort of pure essence of mind-stuff completely uncontaminated by this nasty physical world. We even have regulars here who argue this position.

              …and, of course, if you start with “pure mind” as something fundamental, then it’s not at all any sort of a stretch to all the various forms of ontological and teleological bullshit.

              b&

              • gluonspring
                Posted July 14, 2014 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

                Indeed, it’s our key disagreement with the religious/spiritual/theists. It can be helpful to remember that because so much of the other stuff is just irrelevant detail. This is why evolution is so totally corrosive to every kind of theism, not just fundamentalism. When you realize that brains produce minds and evolution produces brains, that undermines the notion of antecedent minds. This is why all theism, not just literalism or fundamentalism, overlaps the realm of scientific hypothesis about the world. That is how I can be so sure that when someone says they are some kind of believer I don’t need to inquire about the details to know that I reject their position. Robbins, for example, never told us what, exactly, he believes. But I don’t really need to know to know he’s embraced an error. The same is true for all the “sophisticated” posturing. Whatever Heart or Plantinga believe, it certainly involves some kind of prior-mind and so is counter-empirical. If it doesn’t involve some kind of prior-mind they are atheists but just don’t know it or refuse to admit it.

  31. Myron
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    As for the concept of metaphysically/ontologically necessary existence (conceived as nonidentical with the concept of logically necessary existence), it is unintelligible to me unless it is identified with the concept of eternal self-existence:

    “A being has ontological or factual necessity if it exists eternally and independently as an uncreated and indestructible unity.”

    (Hick, John. An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent. 2nd ed. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. p. 76)

    If such a “factually necessary” being exists, its existence is logically unnecessary, which means that the question of why there is an eternally self-existent being rather than no such being is not illogical or nonsensical. Richard Swinburne is honest enough to admit that the theologians cannot help but postulate God’s eternal self-existence as the ultimate brute fact. The atheists are certainly happy to hear that, because they may then postulate the existence of nature, matter, or spacetime as the ultimate brute fact.

  32. jumpedupchimpanzee
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    While Michael Ruse is disappearing up his own arse waffling on about quotes from Aquinas, Richard Dawkins is out campaigning against Female Genital Mutilation, stonings, misogyny, forced marriages, bigotry, child indoctrination, child rape, religious privilege, bad education, etc.

    • Kevin
      Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      And the countless defenders of science and reason who today have little to no formal philosophy training and yet are capable of dismantling the unenlightened remarks of god-defenders.

  33. gluonspring
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    “And how can he twiddle every electron, and know everyone’s thoughts, and see the future, and uphold everything, by being “simple”? The answer must surely involve theological wordplay.”

    I think people think God is “simple” because they think minds are simple. They introspect and their own mind seems like one unitary thing, with no moving parts or antecedents, like some magical mind-substance. One’s own mind feels like it simply IS. It is because of this introspective illusion of simplicity that people find it so easy to imagine disembodied minds, why the idea of a soul, or a ghost, disconnected from any physical substrate seems not hard to imagine. That is, indeed, how it *feels*.

    Of course, we now know that minds are complex with many parts, parts that can be selectively damaged with specific effects on the mind. We have lots of evidence that minds come from brains, and brains from evolution. Everything we actually know about minds suggests that a mind-first universe is clearly wrong, that universes without minds precede universes with minds, that minds are complex products, not simple antecedents.

    To ignore everything we know and act as though your naive introspection refutes clear thinking undergraduates is… well, astoundingly naive.

    • reasonshark
      Posted July 11, 2014 at 2:29 am | Permalink

      “I think people think God is “simple” because they think minds are simple. They introspect and their own mind seems like one unitary thing, with no moving parts or antecedents, like some magical mind-substance. One’s own mind feels like it simply IS. It is because of this introspective illusion of simplicity that people find it so easy to imagine disembodied minds, why the idea of a soul, or a ghost, disconnected from any physical substrate seems not hard to imagine. That is, indeed, how it *feels*.”

      Thank you for saying that. I thought there was something of dualistic consciousness about the “god is simple” argument (i.e. that minds work totally independently of material and aren’t subject to the same rules), but I couldn’t put my finger on it. You did, and the point becomes clearer as a result, so thank you again. ;)

      • gluonspring
        Posted July 11, 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

        This is Sastra’s frequent point also. You should google some of her comments as I think she expresses it much better.

        • reasonshark
          Posted July 11, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink

          Just done so, and I’m impressed. I particularly like this one:

          http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/cnn-piece-suggests-that-cosmic-inflation-finding-is-evidence-for-god/#comment-758619

          “By the simple logic of cause and effect wedded to the well known and universally accepted fact that Minds are magical things!

          Think about it. It’s intuitive. Minds are simple, irreducible, timeless nonmaterial essences (being) which exist outside of the natural universe and don’t need to obey any of the laws of physics. True! They create and move matter around just through the inherent power and force of their agency. True!

          I mean, come on. Look at your own mind. Isn’t it magic? Think “move finger” and the finger moves just by the will to move it. A REAL mind which wasn’t weirdly connected to the brain or physical world would be even MORE powerful. It could just imagine “create universe” and Bob’s your uncle — there’s an actual universe.

          Doesn’t this just feel like the way it has to be? Don’t your feelings point you to the Truth?

          Oh, we sure don’t need science to tell us what we can know directly from our own experience … and what can be extrapolated from that through simple logic. This realization about the magical state and power of the mind — and how only the Mind could be the fundamental substrate of reality itself — is too deep for science to get at.”

          • gluonspring
            Posted July 11, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

            Yeah, like that. Much better than my clunky version. She’s written some great stuff along this line over at FtB as well, I think.

            She’s got a great book in her head if she wasn’t too lazy to write it down and publish it… ;-)

            (I’ve said this before to her and she brushed it off as too much effort or something so I’m trying to egg her on…)

            • reasonshark
              Posted July 11, 2014 at 10:45 am | Permalink

              It certainly captures the problem faced with a species trying to understand something it evolved to take for granted. I think that’s what I like about the comments most: that they help me understand the issue and grasp it better.

              I’d read that book. But what’s the FtB?

              • gluonspring
                Posted July 11, 2014 at 11:45 am | Permalink

                Here, this will help in several ways:

                http://bit.ly/1sHRUZT

                Her comments here and there are among my favorite.

  34. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    And btw:

    M.R.: Like every first-year undergraduate in philosophy, Dawkins thinks he can put to rest the causal argument for God’s existence. If God caused the world, then what caused God? Of course the great philosophers, Anselm and Aquinas particularly, are way ahead of him here. They know that the only way to stop the regression is by making God something that needs no cause. He must be a necessary being. This means that God is not part of the regular causal chain but in some sense orthogonal to it. He is what keeps the whole business going, past, present and future, and is the explanation of why there is something rather than nothing. Also God is totally simple, and I don’t see why complexity should not arise out of this, just as it does in mathematics and science from very simple premises.

    If all it takes to make it great in philosphy historically and currently is the intellectual masturbatoritative exercise of coming up with a concept of everything+nothing that is undefinable yet definable by definition, then what’s with all the thick fucking books?

    Is there no such thing as raw philosophical talent that requires no year long studies of ancient circular thoughts and hypothetical arguments?

    Why the f*ck do so many philosophers and tehologians base the core foundations of their innermost thougths on thinkers who operated in environments with minimal amounts of scientific knowledge compared to the present?

    If G.O.B. really is what the current population of believers perceive of as god ( ignoring Jebus as the only door to it ) then why the adherence to an ancient collection of books?

    Why no new bible in the light of new facts?

    They keep preaching the same stories even though facts change and claim it’s metaphorical. Well, if it’s all written metaphorically then who’s to say that the actual existence of a god isn’t meant as a metaphor for the universe. Why the special need to call it god or G.O.B. if there are no special Christian truths about god or G.O.B. in the bible?

    After all, “Christian” could simply be a metaphor for all homo sapiens and all religions could lead to G.O.B in its essence.

    That’s apparently the intellectual freebie you get when data about reality, missing or not, is of no relevance to your thoughts.

    Old philosophers die hard. What a waste of neurons.

    • reasonshark
      Posted July 11, 2014 at 2:34 am | Permalink

      “Is there no such thing as raw philosophical talent that requires no year long studies of ancient circular thoughts and hypothetical arguments?”

      That hardly seems fair. Bertrand Russell, Friedrich Nietzsche, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Hobbes, Peter Singer, Karl Popper, and Daniel Dennett are philosophers worth looking into, among others.

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted July 11, 2014 at 3:32 am | Permalink

        Not all philosophers fall for circular reasoning.

        My complaint is regarding those that dedicate years of intense studies on the subject only to jump on the nearest bandwagon regardless of the truth of the matter.

        As someone actually considering studiyng philosophy of science it saddens me to see obscurantism elevated to supposed reasoning.*

        Good philosophy, imo, always keeps one eye on reality and draws its conclusions from there, not from mental mirror images solely devised by thinkers to satisfy their own sense of accomplishment hoping for some cash to roll in.

        It’s the click-baiting Chopra’s of philosophy who’s the reason why so many of us are fed up with parts of the field.

        And I’m sorely missing data on the assertions made about belief, believers and non-believers.

        In short, I’m a bit tired of so-called “educated” people drawing vast conclusions based on self-containing arguments that never ends.

        “I agree it isn’t true, but…..” and off we go…. it’s a mental black hole, or the philosopher’s pit as some people call it.

        Anyway, I’m done ranting now so, yes of course, there are by all probabilities many clear-headed no-nonsense philosophers out there ( and here for that matter ) and, no of course not all of them are intellectual narcissists. And as always those who bark the loudest are those most likely to be noticed by laymen like me.

        *The prospect of having to wade through some of this stuff could very well be another primal source of …zzZZzzzzzZZzz… and apathy, I guess.

        Philosophy, here I come! :-)

        • reasonshark
          Posted July 11, 2014 at 4:11 am | Permalink

          Ah, OK then. I misinterpreted what you meant (my apologies), and find myself in agreement with what you were really saying.

          On a side note, I’ve had a look into philosophy as an interested member of the public, not a specialist or as particularly interested in gaining a specialisation, and from that I have to admit way too much of it is insubstantial and faddish. I hardly ever touch theology, if I can help it, given what little I’ve seen of it has all the intellectual rigour of fantasy world-building and even less intellectual value.

          • reasonshark
            Posted July 11, 2014 at 4:14 am | Permalink

            Actually, I take it back. Fantasy world-building potentially has more intellectual rigour, given that someone can write a fantasy story with more consistency and respect for the reader’s intelligence these days.

          • Jesper Both Pedersen
            Posted July 11, 2014 at 4:15 am | Permalink

            No apologies necessary. I was ranting a bit. :-)

  35. Nilou Ataie
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    If my tax dollars are paying him to think, I want a refund.

  36. Vaal
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Jerry,

    I agree with pretty much all your points against Ruse in this post, with a possible exception of this:

    “It seems to me a perfectly valid question to ask where God came from, nor do I think that question is answered in a definite way by saying, “Well, God by definition doesn’t need a cause.” One could just as well say that “The cosmos, which produces multiple universes, was always there, and it didn’t need a cause.””

    (Emphasis mine).

    This part worries me a bit because while “Ok, then, where did God come from?” IS a perfectly valid objection to some common theistic arguments (e.g. common argument from design) , it is not a particularly apt reply to other theistic arguments (e.g. arguments from metaphysical necessity). As you well know, our problem in answering Christianity is that it’s a hydra, with multiple heads offering competing conceptions of God and different arguments.

    It’s why Ruse’s comment here is disingenuous:

    “I want to extend to Christians the courtesy of arguing against what they actually believe, rather than begin and end with the polemical parody of what Dawkins calls “the God delusion.”

    Dawkins critique of adducing God to explain apparent design and complexity is bang on, given that a great many theists adduce God in just the argument from design Dawkins critiques. Ruse conveniently ignores this in order to score rhetorical points against Dawkins, by using “christians” to denote those who appeal to other types of arguments (e.g. metaphysical or ontological). It’s like re-painting the target to ignore Dawkins’ bullseye hit.

    But, anyway, from what I’ve gathered, while many “less sophisticated” theists have slipped into simply accepting/assuming God as not being caused, the groundwork from where that idea springs tends to come from the more “sophisticated (ahem)” Christian thinkers, who have not merely assumed God to be causeless, but who argue for it. For instance Aquinas, whose arguments undergird the metaphysics of the Catholic Church’s view of God, and whose arguments are still championed and augmented now (see Edward Feser and his ilk).

    We atheists are absolutely right to say “Look, you don’t just get to slip in a God defined as not needing a cause to get out of your infinite regress. If you do that we can do that with the universe.”

    But the people who actually tend to promulgate the causeless God arguments will respond: “Yes, you are right. That’s why you need to understand we aren’t simply defining or assuming God as an uncaused cause; we believe we have reasoned to that conclusion and have arguments for this.”

    IF it’s the case that they have such arguments, then it’s also a fair criticism to note that atheists asking “But who made God?” or “Then were did God come from?” isn’t really a response to their conclusion. Because (if successful) the metaphysical arguments are supposed to be the answer, explaining WHY God is actually the “end of the line” in terms of ontological entities and explanations.

    And I’d need to be convinced that God’s existence is a metaphysical “necessity.”

    Exactly! Same here. But then we can’t think we’ve raised an objection to those arguments by proposing an “infinite regress” critique (where did God come from, then?). One turns to the arguments for God’s metaphysical necessity to see if they are sound arguments. (Spoiler for those who may not have read them: those metaphysical arguments suck donkey-danglings).

    I know you’ve already read such arguments as provided in Aquinas’ Summa Theologica and found them wanting (same here, and I find Edward Feser’s and other Thomists arguments to be very unconvincing too). So I’m certainly not implying you haven’t “done the work.” I just feel we ought to be careful that we don’t feed theists ammunition unnecessarily, through ambiguity. In the context of speaking about metaphysical arguments for God, to raise the charge of “defining God as uncaused” can suggest we are confused about the metaphysical arguments, and are straw-manning the position of those who defend them.

    Cheers,

    Vaal

    (runs for cover…)

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted July 10, 2014 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      (runs for cover…)

      LOL.

      For what it’s worth I usually enjoy reading your posts despite the philosophical tendencies. ;-)

    • gluonspring
      Posted July 10, 2014 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      “As you well know, our problem in answering Christianity is that it’s a hydra, with multiple heads offering competing conceptions of God and different arguments.”

      I think Christians are mostly lying when they claim they are embracing all of these different conceptions. They are growing decoy heads to protect the real head that they mostly agree on:

      God is some kind of mind.
      God cares about us in some way.
      There is something we should do, think, or feel in response to these claims.

      No matter how hard they strain, and some have strained mightily, all of these claims are basically bald assertions. I think it’s their basic dishonesty about what they are claiming that really makes them hard to contend with, not the quality or even quantity of their arguments.

      • Vaal
        Posted July 10, 2014 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

        Personally, I want to be very cautious about throwing around the “lying” accusation.

        You only have to look back at the centuries of conflict, or even look into the dialogue among various Christian factions, so see how passionately each of the ‘hydra’s head’ defends it’s particular take on God. I see no reason whatsoever to think they are insincere in this. To do so seems to cast them as cartoons, caricatures – all these people “lying” about what they “really” believe, except us atheists of course who are sincere. When theists accuse atheists of lying about not believing in God we know it’s bullshit and I don’t want to act the same way to Christians.

        I think Sam Harris is right in that theism springs from the standard motive of trying to understand the world and our experience.
        It’s how people *believe* they are making sense of things. Sam has had to spend a great deal of time arguing for this against the “liberal sophisticated” Christians, agnostics and accommodationists who, Sam argues, are making the very mistake of not understanding that Christians REALLY DO BELIEVE what they tell us they believe.

        To go down the path of saying “Nah…they say this stuff, say it’s what they believe, but they don’t really believe it” is I think not only dubious pop psychology, but actually steps on to the path of undermining the arguments of New Atheists: that religious people REALLY BELIEVE much of their doctrines, that their beliefs motivate their behavior, and hence taking their beliefs seriously is key to understanding the consequences of those beliefs.

        Vaal

        • gluonspring
          Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

          Your point is apt and I regret the way I expressed myself.

          If you are talking about the thousands of Christian sects and their individual belief claims then, yes, I agree it’s real belief (more or less… there is a lot of cognitive dissonance in believers). I fully accept that Catholics really believe in transubstantiation, and that the people who fought over the trinitarian doctrine really believed what they were fighting over, and that the Protestants really believed the church had gone off the rails and was promoting evil, and conversely all the way down to Mormons really believing in the golden tablets. In that sense it is a real hydra and the heads are real. And this does pose difficulties. If you try to pin someone down on transubstantiation you have to first make sure they are not only Catholic but also that they are towing the official line. There are clearly thousands of variations of belief and you really would have your hands full if you set out to discredit every variation.

          The word “Christianity” should have tipped me off, but I took the topic at hand to be the philosophical defense of theism, such as Heart, Plantinga, or in the immediate case, Ruse, might present. Perhaps I am wrong, but I don’t think philosophers are out there trying to construct arguments in support of the golden tablets or transubstantiation or whether God is remote or close as my hand and waiting to talk to me. They are out there defending a much more abstract notion of God. I was taking the hydra you were referring to to be the various conceptions of God that philosophers defend. A concept of God that is some kind of mind with some kind of interest in us and to which we should do, think, or feel something is the nearly universal concept that Christian believers embrace (Buddhists, Taoist, maybe not so much, so it’s not all religion). So defending a possibly mindless God who takes no interest in us or has no special connection to us, I think, fairly dishonest. When someone like Heart talks about “being”, it is hard for me not to hear in the word “being” a transparent dodge, an attempt to secretly imagine this “being” to be a mind (with probably a whole host of sectarian properties) while allowing the defensive retreat to a mindless something that not even atheists would object to. It is this philosophical hydra that strikes me as a intentionally deceptive fiction. Perhaps “lie” is too strong a word, because I know how unconscious one can become of these deceptions when you make a practice of deceiving yourself every day. It is certainly possible, even, that someone like Heart can simultaneously imagine that the God he worships is some mindless ineffable *thing*, while also thinking that it’s a mind he can have a chat with in the evening. The ability to embrace flatly contradictory ideas simultaneously is a kind of mental survival skill for many people in religion.

          So I retract the word “lie” as both too harsh and unknowable. I still hold, though, that by and large philosophers and theologians are playing a deceptive game with their arguments for God, and that it’s totally fair to call them out on the deception, whether they realize they are doing it or not.

  37. His Shadow
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Ruse is that desperate to spite Dawkin’s that Ruse will claim the “uncaused cause” is a rational defence of gods?

    I’ve gone from not being terribly fond of Ruse to thinking he’s a kook in less than three paragraphs.

  38. Posted July 10, 2014 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    I read the original NYT article before this and concluded that he is the worst kind of philosopher, the kind who defends the autonomy of their profession as an entitlement to play games with words and ideas instead of seeking truth about the world, an enterprise best conducted in concert with science. I didn’t learn anything or gain any insight from Ruse’s words. Dawkins is not a great philosopher of atheism and I personally think the Pascal Boyer cogsci/anthr approach is the only real way to make a positive claim refuting theism, but defending atheism as a negative claim is extremely easily, can be done and has been done in many ways, and Dawkins does a very good job at that, while also being very concrete, relevant and insightful in his choice of ideas. That’s why Dawkins is famous. His arguments are useful and clear. People like Ruse are just professionals at philosophy-as-gamemanship and their arguments are murky and irrelevant.

    • Posted July 10, 2014 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

      He’s been a big disappointment to me. One of the first books I read on the creation-evolution controversy, back in the early 80s was one of his. At the time I liked it very much, though I sometimes think I should find it and read it again to see what my mature self thinks. Sometime in the mid 90s Christians started quoting him to me in debates, and I knew something had gone wrong.

  39. Shwell Thanksh
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    So it seems we can add one more reason to the two proffered to explain Ruse’s juvenile harping on Profs. Hawkins and Coyne (in addition to his jealousy, and his nostalgia for comforting childhood rituals).

    The rest of the world would be saying “Ruse, who now?” if he didn’t.

  40. Posted July 10, 2014 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    The difference between saying a love of Mozart operas can be explained by evolution and religion can be explained by evolution is that Mozart’s operas don’t claim to have any other explanation

    So the psychology behind Mozart-opera-loving can be explained by evolution. Great.

    Religious people, however, claim that religion exists because god exists. When we point out that the existence of religion can be explained by evolution, we’re implicitly pointing out that the theist’s assumed reason for being religious is invalid.

  41. Ryan
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    The beauty of Mozart is about as ‘subjective’ as the greenness of broccoli: they are both objective facts of human perception. If you don’t see broccoli as green, and don’t hear Mozart is beautiful, it is not merely your ‘opinion’ that is wrong, it is your perceptual abilities that have failed somehow.

    Wouldn’t you agree?

    • Posted July 11, 2014 at 2:40 am | Permalink

      No. Beauty like Mozart is not objective And red-green color blind people don’t see brocolli as green. In fact, there is no way you can prove to me that you see broccolli as the same color that I do. We both CALL it “green,” but what looks green to me looks blue to you. You’re on murky ground arguing that some cvomposers or art are OBJECTIVELY beautifu. Some people find Glass beautiful and would maintain as vehemently as you do that it’s objective. THey’re wrong, as are you. How could you possibly PROVE that.

      • reasonshark
        Posted July 11, 2014 at 6:21 am | Permalink

        I think a better angle than the “objective-subjective” distinction is a distinction between why anyone would practically care and why no one would practically care. People would care about your colour vision because it can make it harder to follow colour-coded instructions. To use a fatuous but illustrative example, a person who has difficulties with red and green is going to have difficulties when faced with their first set of traffic lights.

        By contrast, no one would care about your interest in Mozart, since it isn’t relevant to daily living (outside of leisure hours, at least). If you fail to find Mozart beautiful, you’re not going to have the equivalent of accidents at traffic lights, since there are no beauty-coded instructions to follow (for instance, we don’t tell people to follow the beautiful signs to the fire exits and the ugly signs to the boiler room). Paradoxically, the only practical way we could care about whether you care about Mozart would be if we care about people’s musical tastes for the sake of caring (i.e. arbitrarily). Or if it was supposed to signal something else about your character, but it’s kind of hard to make that argument without sounding snobbish.

      • Posted July 11, 2014 at 6:48 am | Permalink

        For beauty, there’s no objective standard. That’s certainly the case with aural beauty; there are professional orchestral musicians who hate Mozart. Even outside of music, there are people who find vocal fry very sexy, and about as many for whom it’s incredibly gating.

        And the question of beauty carries over to vision as well. Just yesterday I described why I find vultures to be some of the most beautiful birds there are, yet most people would disagree with my judgement.

        With respect to color perception, however, there are objective standards that are (nearly) universally agreed upon, and we can be similarly confident that everybody’s perception of color is the same. Given a particular spectral power distribution coupled with specified viewing conditions, it is possible to very reliably and precisely predict the resulting tristimulus response in a “standard observer,” and that tristimulus response is what we perceive as color. The tristimulus response is a pattern of nerve impulses that are processed in a very predictable manner by the brain. That is, everybody’s brain does the same thing when looking at the same color. Short of invoking dualism of one form or another, the only reasonable conclusion is that the experiences resulting from identical brain states is likewise identical.

        This is especially true in this case considering how evolutionarily deep vertebrate vision is and the consistency of physiology across species. It is further supported by the robust adaptability of the visual system, with even non-optical stimuli capable of creating reliable visual perception — see, for example, the various experiments that give perception to the blind through patterned stimulation of the skin or through echolocation.

        So, with concepts of beauty, we find great divergence and controversy; with color, we find mostly agreement and convergence. The former prohibits objectivity, whilst the latter demands it.

        Cheers,

        b&

      • Marella
        Posted July 11, 2014 at 8:01 am | Permalink

        I am not a huge fan of Mozart, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I hate him, but a little goes a long way, especially if I have to sing the damn stuff.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted July 11, 2014 at 8:51 am | Permalink

          What!? Falco can’t be wrong!

          Er war Superstar
          Er war populär
          Er war so exaltiert
          Because er hatte Flair
          Er war ein Virtuose
          War ein Rockidol

  42. Mark Joseph
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    They know that the only way to stop the regression is by making God something that needs no cause. He must be a necessary being. This means that God is not part of the regular causal chain but in some sense orthogonal to it. He is what keeps the whole business going, past, present and future, and is the explanation of why there is something rather than nothing. Also God is totally simple

    Mr. Ruse: Do you, or any of the believers you defend, have any evidence for these claims? How would they change if we were to substitute the which “Allah” or “Vishnu” or “Ra” or “The Flying Spaghetti Monster” for the word “God”?

    Traditionally, God’s necessity is not logical necessity but some kind of metaphysical necessity, or aseity. Unlike Hume, I don’t think this is a silly or incoherent idea

    Agreed; but neither are unicorns or leprechauns silly or incoherent concepts. It is easy to come up with an arbitrarily long list of logically possible entities, but being logically possible does not entail any evidence for actual existence (consider the unicorn). This whole line of argumentation of yours seems so unnecessary; an adequate refutation is a mere shrug of the shoulders.

    So in the end, I am not sure that the Christian God idea flies, but I want to extend to Christians the courtesy of arguing against what they actually believe, rather than begin and end with the polemical parody of what Dawkins calls “the God Delusion.”

    Mr. Ruse: I really hope you’re reading this, because I’m getting a bit tired of posting this excerpt to this website. Richard Dawkins has already responded to this criticism, on page 15 of the second edition of The God Delusion:

    “You always attack the worst of religion and ignore the best. You go after rabble-rousing chancers like Ted Haggard, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, rather than sophisticated theologians like Tillich or Bonhoeffer who teach the sort of religion I believe in.”

    If only such subtle, nuanced religion predominated, the world would surely be a better place and I would have written a different book. The melancholy truth is that this kind of understated, decent, revisionist religion is numerically negligible. To the vast majority of believers around the world, religion all too closely resembles what you hear from the likes of Robertson, Falwell, or Haggard, Osama bin Laden or the Ayatollah Khomeini. These are not straw men, they are all too influential, and everybody in the modern world has to deal with them.

    *

    If you think the kind of religion you are talking about is in any way important, or that it is what Christians actually believe, I’d invite you to any evangelical or fundamentalist church in America. There you will find hundreds or thousands of people who (1) believe exactly what you seem to imagine they don’t actually believe, and (2) do not, in fact, think that the type of “believers” whom you so greatly respect are even Christians at all.

    • Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

      Nice post.

      I think another significant problem with even the best, most nuanced forms of religion is that they almost always entail a very problematic assumption: that faith (or something other than objective reason and evidence) can actually represent sufficient evidence for propositions. This broken understanding of epistemology by itself represents a very significant problem imo. While someone holds this view, it’s impossible for them to coherently argue against the beliefs (and the behavior that rationally follows from them) of any other believers, no matter how atrocioues those beliefs or actions are.

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted July 11, 2014 at 5:53 am | Permalink

        Hi Kevin:

        Agreed; I like to use a quote from Jamie Whyte’s book Crimes Against Logic: “From the point of view of truth and evidence, faith is exactly the same as prejudice. Declaring an opinion to be a matter of faith provides it with no new evidential support, gives no new reason to think it true. It merely acknowledges that you have none.”

        • Posted July 11, 2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink

          I like that quote. I think faith based belief is basically just the embrace of intuitive reasoning and that’s pretty troubling since we can see how incredibly flawed human intuition is. Truth is incredibly difficult (or maybe even impossible) to acquire, even with our most effective tools, so it really kind of boggles my mind to see people use their least effective tool for the beliefs that they purport to care about the most.

          • Mark Joseph
            Posted July 12, 2014 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

            That’s because they don’t really care about truth. They really care about living comfortable lives and, not infrequently, protecting their psyches from having to face the fact that others are smarter and/or better people than they are. So they retreat to “but at least I belong to the One True Religion.”

            Another great quote, this one from Steven Erikson in his novel Gardens of the Moon, “The only death I fear is dying ignorant.”

  43. Bruce Gorton
    Posted July 11, 2014 at 2:01 am | Permalink

    Fantasy fiction does something very interesting with the whole concept of aesthetics – it demonstrates that something doesn’t have to be true to be beautiful.

    Seriously, RR Martin’s work can have moments of clear wonder – even though it is made out of whole cloth.

    Similarly, videogames often include fantastic, impossible scenery – without one iota of it being real.

    One should also note that something being unattractive doesn’t make it untrue either – many people would consider cancer a most unattractive concept, and yet sheer aesthetic distaste has proved entirely ineffective at curing it.

    The criticism from Mozart from my point of view as a fan of fiction – basically illustrates to me that the person giving the criticism lacks any real appreciation of the arts.


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