In the armchair with Gerry Rzeppa

19 08 2008

If you’ve been following the book-spammer thread, you’ll have noticed my conversation with one Gerry Rzeppa, whom I’ve blogged about previously. Given my policy on off-topic discussions, and given that my exchange with Rzeppa is beginning to stray from the topic of book-spammers and authoritarianism, and towards the topic of Rzeppa’s opinions on life, the universe and everything else, I thought I’d continue it here. And of course, you’re welcome to participate, too.

Here is Rzeppa’s most recent contribution, with my own responses:

You say, “…at least [I] haven’t sunk to lying.” Is lying a bad thing? How do you know? Exactly what do you mean by “bad?” Apparently you think lying is worse than other things. What do you mean by “worse”?

Gerry, why do you put words in my mouth? I don’t recall using the words “bad” or “worse.” I do find it ironic, however, that those who seek to promote a biblical worldview do so by means of violating what we are told is one of its central tenets (the 8th Commandment if you’re Roman Catholic, the 9th Commandment if you’re Protestant).

I don’t know if would go so far as claiming that lying is in all circumstances something to be avoided. What I am prepared to tentatively propose, and I am willing to stand corrected upon the production of evidence to the contrary, is that given that humans are social animals, a society in which lying is deemed acceptable in all circumstances, and whose members would therefore exist in a state of mutual distrust, would be untenable, and would not survive for long against competitor societies in which it is held that lying, as a rule of thumb, is something to be avoided. I don’t see why anyone would need a “commandment” to figure this out; all you need to do is conduct a simple thought experiment: what would it be like to live in a society whose members exist in a state of mutual distrust, how stable would that society be, and how long is a society like that likely to survive? I also find intriguing what cognitive psychologists such as Marc Hauser are discovering about this issue: the possibility that certain of our moral ideas are hardwired, that we evolved with the belief, for example, that lying is (as a general rule) wrong, and that being animals in possession of such a belief gave us a reproductive advantage. Of course, simply having the belief that lying is wrong is not proof that lying is wrong, and if the possession of such a belief is endemic to our species this would not explain why lying might be wrong.

You also say that defining disciple as “someone who believes and helps to spread the doctrine of another” makes the word practically useless. I disagree. For example, I consider myself a disciple of Jesus Christ and a disciple of master programmer Niklaus Wirth, as well; but I am definitely not a disciple of Mohammed, nor am I a disciple of Microsoft programming hack Charles Simonyi (who, incidently, financed Dr. Dawkins’ chair at Oxford). A word that can make such sharp and “definite” distinctions can hardly be deemed useless. By the way, you seem to think that “usefulness” is a good thing. Why? How do you know? What do we mean by “useful”? by “good”?

There are different connotations and contextual factors to consider when comparing the statements “I am a disciple of Jesus Christ,” and “I am a disciple of master programmer Nicholas Wirth,” unless of course you consider Jesus Christ and Nicholas Wirth to be one and the same person with the same qualities, or you think Nicholas Wirth is the son of a deity, or you hold that Nicholas Wirth is a divine being. “Disciple” in the first statement has a connotation than “disciple” in the second statement.” Richard Dawkins’ position on religion, in combination with the “atheism is a religion too” tu quoque which is a standard trope of religious apologetics (not to mention dead wrong), does make it easy to conclude that to utter the phrase “the disciples of Dawkins” (without qualification) is to commit the fallacy of equivocation, even if one does so unintentionally, as it appears you are claiming to have done.

Why is it useful to use words in such a fashion that their meaning is clear to all participants in the discussion. Let me propose another thought experiment: how about you go away and learn Swahili, and I’ll go away and learn Bahasa Indonesia, and other participants go away and become fluent in Basque, and then let’s all come back and continue the discussion, each in our new languages, and see how far it proceeds.

You’re not persuaded that homeschooling followed by apprenticeship results in a better education, and dismiss the subject with a scornful “That’s nice.” But what if I’m right about this? Not only would it put an end to all the hubbub about what is and is not allowed in publicly-funded schools, but it would result in happier children and more productive citizens. But is happiness a good thing? If so, what evidence do you offer to support your claim?

Again, you’re putting words in my mouth: where did I say anything about happiness? You’re clearly persuaded that homeschooling plus apprenticeship equals a superior education. I’m simply asking why I should be similarly persuaded.

You ask how capitalizing a word makes it clear that I’m using it in the broadest possible sense? It doesn’t, of course.

So why did you claim that it does?

But it does draw attention to it

I agree

and establishes it as a technical term throughout the rest of the discussion.

I don’t see how. Please explain.

It seems to me that you’re a rather unnecessarily argumentative person, AV.

Perhaps you’re right.

Is that true? What do we mean by “true”?

Why do you ask?

You say, “The study of God presupposes that there is a God to study. What evidence is there to support this?” The evidence of the creation around us, and of personality within us.

How do you know it was “created”? How is the personality within us evidence that a deity exists?

Since a greater thing cannot be caused by a lesser thing (I accept that as axiomatic), there must be a Personality with the intelligence and power to create such a place and such beings — beings able not only to comprehend, but to enjoy it. To paraphrase Huxley: “O brave old world that has such people in it!”

“Greater” and “lesser” are value judgements, and are therefore entirely subjective, and therefore cannot be used to establish the existence of a deity as a fact about the universe that can be accepted intersubjectively. If an individual claims the existence of a pink dragon in his garage, and that the garage is actually an interdimensional portal allowing the dragon to escape the vision and experience of everybody except the person who claims the existence of the dragon, have you been given sufficient reason to believe that the dragon exists, and moreover, should the existence of the dragon be accepted as a fact about the universe such that it can be taught as such in a science classroom?

You appear to reject emotional satisfaction as an evidence that something is true. I think that’s a big mistake.

I don’t, and I wonder if you really do. It might be more emotionally satisfying to believe that Hell doesn’t exist (Yahweh was just joking) and that God is merciful enough to forgive everyone their sins, even after death, regardless of their deeds on earth and regardless of whether they accepted Jesus as their personal saviour prior to shuffling off this mortal coil, but would you thereby accept this as true, given your worldview?

If a good God created both the universe and us, we should expect to find that Truth is not only logically sound but emotionally satisfying and physically useful as well. And we do. Prediction verified.

Do we? You haven’t substantiated this assertion, you’ve simply made the assertion. You’re very good at this, and you’re very good at accsing me of being “unnecessarily argumentative” when I don’t accept your assertions as holy writ. But surely you can appreciate that simply making a string of assertions, while useful in communicating to the world your opinions on x, is not likely to convince many who dont already share your opinions (let’s call them the “elect”).

It is this three-pronged examination of the facts that helps us make better judgments about who we are and why we are here.

How? How is your faith-filtered examination of the facts any better than the faith-filtered examination of the facts that, say, a Jew or Muslim or Hindu might apply?

If you limit your resources to logic and empirical data alone, you’ll never find the answers you’re seeking.

Why?

We weren’t made to think and function that way.

Granted, I don’t think we evolved as a species that functions by reason alone. (See James Alcock’s “The Belief Engine,” or Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational.) That’s not an argument, however, against the usefulness of reason as a method for solving problems.

You say that my paraphrase of C. S. Lewis, “materialism is a philosophy for schoolboys,” amounts to an ad hominem attack on the opposition. I disagree. The subject of the sentence is “materialism,” not those who practice it.

O.K. What if I was to say “theism is a philosophy for illiterate, superstitious tribesmen”? Let’s not yank each other’s chains: the explicit subject is the philosophy, the implicit target is the practicioner.

The quote in context, in case you’re interested, is this:

“You can save yourself time by confining your attention to two systems: Hinduism and Christianity. I believe these are the two serious options for an adult mind. Materialism is a philosophy for boys. The purely moral systems like Stoicism and Confucianism are philosophies for aristocrats. Islam is only a Christian heresy, and Buddhism a Hindu heresy: both are simplifications inferior to the things simplified. As for the old Pagan religions, I think we could say that whatever was of value in them survives either in Hinduism or in Christianity or in both, and there only: they are the two system which have come down, still alive, into the present without leaving the past behind.” [And between those two, by a swift stroke of Occam’s razor, I’m left with Christianity.]

At least now I see where your penchant for making ambit assertions comes from. In Lewis’ opinion, materialism is a philosophy for boys, Stoicism and Confucianism for aristocrats, Islam and Buddhism are heretical, and Hinduism and Christianity for adults. That’s fantastic. Now I am better apprised of C. S. Lewis’ opinions than I was before. Thank you. I am none the wiser about the grounds on which Lewis, or indeed yourself, believes anyone else should share his opinions.

You ask, “What evidence is there that ‘the human spirit’ exists?” I reply, Who is asking?

Um . . . me. I’m asking.

You say, “Goodbye Christianity, then, unless you want to repudiate the notion that Yahweh is good.” Hardly.

Why? You claimed that “whatever divides the ‘good’ from the ‘evil’ must be over and above either of the two.” If Yahweh is over and above good and evil, then he can be neither good nor evil. Yet Christianity holds that Yahweh is good. If Yahweh is good, and not evil, and if whatever divides the good from the evil must be over and above either of the two, then there must be something over and above Yahweh. Yet Christianity holds, does it not, that nothing is over and above Yahweh.

The universe around us — and we ourselves — bear all the marks of a good thing gone bad.

Do they? How?

And our good God has provided a great redemption, now in progress, to restore and glorify both the universe and those of us who are willing to participate in that regeneration.

I accept that you believe this. I just don’t see any reason why anyone else (who doesn’t already share your beliefs, or isn’t completely credulous) should believe it.

Finally, you close with a jibe: “How fitting that an authoritarian follower would close with an appeal to authority.” Are you suggesting that I should attempt to live without appeals to authority? I contend that such a thing is utterly impossible. Authority is one of the four basic sources of information we have (for the complete list, see http://blog.coincidencetheories.com/?p=93) and acceptance of authority is a necessity for everyday living.

There are appeals to authority that are useful (from a survival point-of-view), such as, for instance, when parental authority is invoked to prevent a child from touching a pot of water boiling on a stove, and possibly discovering in a more scientific way what happens when young human skin comes into contact with extreme temperatures. And there are appeals to authority that are unvoidable, such as when you appeal to the expertise of others when you lack such expertise yourself. That’s why you visit a doctor when you’re sick, and not a greengrocer or a mechanic. The Nizkor Project, which in my opinion is a fairly useful online critical thinking guide (though you may have reason to disagree), suggests that an acceptable appeal to authority meets the following criteria:

  1. The person has sufficient expertise in the subject matter in question.
  2. The claim being made by the person is within her area(s) of expertise.
  3. There is an adequate degree of agreement among the other experts in the subject in question.
  4. The person in question is not significantly biased.
  5. The area of expertise is a legitimate area or discipline.
  6. The authority in question must be identified.

Nizkor argues that appeals to authority which meet these criteria may be considered non-fallacious, but I’m not so sure about that. Appealing to expertise is no substitute for having such expertise yourself, in my view; it’s just that, practically-speaking, appealing to the expertise of others may be the best we can do, given our limited time and resources. In any case, while a theologian may be considered a legitimate authority on matters of theology, I see no reason to consider theologians (or priests or popes or pastors) legitimate authorities on the workings of the natural universe.

Advertisements

Actions

Information

11 responses

19 08 2008
ozatheist

oops sorry AV, I just posted in the ‘bring-out-the-gimp’ post, so I’ll re-post here.

You say, “The study of God presupposes that there is a God to study. What evidence is there to support this?” The evidence of the creation around us, and of personality within us.

What evidence is there for creation? I see none, why can’t blind chance have produced everything we see?

Are you insinuating that a god produces everyone’s personality?
If so, why would he produce people with personality disorders?

19 08 2008
Gerry Rzeppa

ozatheist asks, “What evidence is there for creation?”

I reply, (1) the universe, and (2) we ourselves. Both have all the known hallmarks of something that was designed for a purpose. Ask any unbiased child.

ozatheist asks, “Why can’t blind chance have produced everything we see?”

Because blind chance never produces anything of significant interest. Tossing scrabble tiles might result in a tiny word or two, now and then, but it will never produce novels. Or even short stories!

ozatheist asks, “Are you insinuating that a god produces everyone’s personality?”

I’m saying that only personality can beget personality.

ozatheist asks “Why would [God] produce people with personality disorders?”

Personality disorders are the result of the Fall of Man. They were not part of the original creation. But you’ve got me curious. The term “personality disorder” implies that you have some idea of “personality order.” How does an “ozatheist” define such a thing? On what grounds?

Here’s how I see it, friend. Either the universe is good, bad, indifferent, or something else. It’s clearly not all good, because it includes things like personality disorders. But it’s clearly not all bad, because it includes things like fresh-squeezed orange juice. And it’s certainly not indifferent because we — who are part of that universe — can’t help but feel so strongly about so many things (like personality disorders and orange juice).

So I conclude that the universe (and we ourselves) have all the marks of a good things gone bad and go looking for others who think so too. And when I find them, I find them in the Christian tradition, past and present. And good news! They claim to have discovered a fix for the thing, to boot. Here and now, and hereafter as well. I’ve found no other worldview so consistent, so practical, so full of hope. It is logically sound, physically useful, and emotionally satisfying.

19 08 2008
AV

I reply, (1) the universe, and (2) we ourselves. Both have all the known hallmarks of something that was designed for a purpose.

It looks designed, therefore it must be designed? How, then, are we to distinguish things that are designed from things that are not designed, if everything is designed?

I’m saying that only personality can beget personality.

Why? And how do you know? And what reason do we who don’t share your beliefs have to accept this?

ozatheist asks, “Why can’t blind chance have produced everything we see?”

It didn’t. Natural selection is not a blind chance process.

Personality disorders are the result of the Fall of Man.

What evidence is there to support this?

And it’s certainly not indifferent because we — who are part of that universe — can’t help but feel so strongly about so many things (like personality disorders and orange juice).

I don’t see how the fact that human beings, one species on one world among all the worlds in the universe, have strong feelings about things would falsify the hypothesis that the universe itself is indifferent.

I’ve found no other worldview so consistent, so practical, so full of hope. It is logically sound, physically useful, and emotionally satisfying.

I’m glad that you personally find your worldview so logically sound, physically useful and emotionally satisfying. (Join the queue of myriads of individuals who feel the same way about their own worldviews.) You haven’t given us an reason to share your view. (Neither have they.)

19 08 2008
Gerry Rzeppa

Av says, “It looks designed, therefore it must be designed?”

Essentially, yes. Especially something as complex, interrelated, and remarkably functional and the universe and everything in it.

AV asks, “How, then, are we to distinguish things that are designed from things that are not designed, if everything is designed?”

What’s to distinguish? Everything — including the so-called “laws of chance” — have been designed. “Known unto God are all His works from the foundation of the world.” That’s why the whole thing works — and so easily assimilates even “chance” events. It was made that way.

AV asks, “Why [do you believe that only personality begets personality]? And how do you know? And what reason do we who don’t share your beliefs have to accept this?”

Because, as I said before, I take it as axiomatic that a lesser cannot produce a greater. Why? Because I’ve never seen anything else. And why should you accept this? Because you’ve never seen anything else either. C’mon, guys. You know how things are made. And you know that nothing gets made unless somebody makes it. Is your next post going to write itself? Stop being silly.

AV correctly says, “Natural selection is not a blind chance process.”

True, it is a filter. It selects. It reduces the domain to a smaller set. And since blind chance can’t possibly produce the kind of variation required by natural selection to account for anything, it doesn’t matter anyway.

AV asks, “What evidence is there to support [the Fall of Man and it’s consequences]?”

Look around you. Do you have an explanation that is more logically consistent, practically useful, emotionally satisfying, historically attested, and empirically testable?

AV says, “I don’t see how the fact that human beings, one species on one world among all the worlds in the universe, have strong feelings about things would falsify the hypothesis that the universe itself is indifferent.”

Let me put it as a simple syllogism. The universe includes us. We are not indifferent. Therefore, the universe is not indifferent. Take care not to confuse numbers and sizes with value. A man standing on a beach by a cliff is greatly outnumbered by the grains of sand, and much smaller than the rocks that overshadow him. But he is of much greater value than either. At least in the Christian worldview.

AV says, “You haven’t given us an reason to share your view.”

Not one you accept, at least. But that’s because, at bottom, your objections to Christianity are not intellectual, but moral.

Now how about giving me a reason for abandoning my worldview and adopting yours? You could begin by finishing this sentence:

Something is good when…

19 08 2008
AV

Essentially, yes. Especially something as complex, interrelated, and remarkably functional and the universe and everything in it.

Please explain how the appearance of design, which is surely a subjective matter, is evidence of design? We know, a posteriori, that human artefacts are designed. What looks designed, on the other hand, is a subjective matter. How could it be otherwise? If you look up at the sky, and see a cloud that looks to you like a dog, is this clear evidence that the cloud was designed to look like a dog? If you point out the cloud to your friend, and instead of a dog he sees a bird, is this clear evidence that the cloud was designed to look like a bird? How can the cloud have been designed to look like a bird and a dog, not simultaneously, but depending on the observer?

If the appearance of design is evidence for design, then the appearance of non-design or poor design (which, given who you think the designer is, amounts to the same thing) surely counts as evidence against design. And the natural universe is replete with evidence of poor design. Ectopic pregnancies and breech births, the products of a flawed female reproductive system. The existence of wings on flightless birds. Congenital diseases and genetic disorders. The mammalian blind spot. The inability of humans to synthesise their own Vitamin C, leading to scurvy. The pharynx, a passage through which we ingest food but also breathe, leading to the danger of choking. And so on.

I will pre-empt the objection that the above is the product of “the Fall” by pointing out (leaving aside the fact that no evidence exists that the Fall ever happened) that this is simply special pleading, an endeavour on the part of apologists who use this objection to have their cake and eat it too. If it’s well-designed, then God designed it. If it’s poorly designed, then we can sheet that home to the Fall. How very convenient. How woefully unconvincing.

What’s to distinguish? Everything — including the so-called “laws of chance” — have been designed.

There is no reason to believe this.

“Known unto God are all His works from the foundation of the world.”

And there is no reason for those who don’t already subscribe to your religion to take its holy book as evidence.

That’s why the whole thing works — and so easily assimilates even “chance” events. It was made that way.

It works because it was made to work. And yet the notion that it was made is the very thing you have to prove. Circular reasoning.

Because, as I said before, I take it as axiomatic that a lesser cannot produce a greater. Why? Because I’ve never seen anything else. And why should you accept this? Because you’ve never seen anything else either.

I don’t know what you mean by “lesser” and “greater.” Are these value judgements? If so, why do you assume that I share your views on what is “lesser” and “greater”? Or do you mean “less complex” and “more complex”? If so, the history of life on this planet demonstrates the emergence of complex organisms from simpler predecessors (though it can go the other way as well).

C’mon, guys. You know how things are made. And you know that nothing gets made unless somebody makes it.

Stop being silly, Gerry. The use of the word “made” presupposes precisely what you are trying to prove (i.e. when you apply it to the natural world), and that’s simpy question-begging.

AV correctly says, “Natural selection is not a blind chance process.”

True, it is a filter. It selects. It reduces the domain to a smaller set. And since blind chance can’t possibly produce the kind of variation required by natural selection to account for anything, it doesn’t matter anyway.

Can’t possibly is a big claim (and, par for the course, unsubstantiated). I’m not making any claims myself about what “blind chance” can’t possibly do. I was simply pointing out that natural selection is not a blind chance process.

Do you have an explanation that is more logically consistent, practically useful, emotionally satisfying, historically attested, and empirically testable?

What empirical evidence demonstrates that a Fall of man took place? How can your claim that a Fall of man transpired be tested? Why is the concept of a Fall of man practically useful? How is the concept of a Fall of man logically consistent, when it seems to be a form of special pleading to evade the problem of evil? We know that people historically believed that a Fall of man transpired. How does that prove that it did in fact take place?

The universe includes us. We are not indifferent. Therefore, the universe is not indifferent.

That’s a fallacy of composition. Cats are composed of atoms. Atoms are colourless. Therefore, cats are colourless.

A man standing on a beach by a cliff is greatly outnumbered by the grains of sand, and much smaller than the rocks that overshadow him. But he is of much greater value than either. At least in the Christian worldview.

That’s nice.

But that’s because, at bottom, your objections to Christianity are not intellectual, but moral.

They may be both. Certainly many of my objections to Christianity are intellectual.

Now how about giving me a reason for abandoning my worldview and adopting yours?

How about “no?” I’m not interested in whether or not you abandon your worldview. As long as your worldview makes you happy, and doesn’t cause you to harm people, or make poor choices, and keeps you safe on the interwebs arguing with heathens, whether you abandon that belief is not my concern. I’m interested in why you believe what you believe, and on the other thread I was interested in why you, in your capacity as a book-spammer, have felt it necessary to spam comment threads and email inboxes.

Something is good when…

. . . it promotes the minimisation of suffering. I’m not claiming this as a capital T truth, by the way, but I think it is a good rule of thumb. Let’s return to the example of lying cited above. Is lying good? In certain circumstances, it may be. But a society in which it is deemed that lying is always good will be a society whose members exist in a state of mutual distrust, is not likely to be a stable society, and is therefore likely to cause harm to a great many of its members, or to produce a state in which its members—existing in a state of mutual distrust—cause a great deal of harm to each other. (I think it likely that evolution has provided us with a failsafe against this kind of society at any rate, possibly in the form of a hardwired sense that lying should be avoided, but that is a different matter.)

19 08 2008
William Wallace

Vacuous poetry.

19 08 2008
Gerry Rzeppa

Too many scattered points for me, AV. But I’m pretty sure we’re not getting anywhere anyway, and I know I’m scrolling too much. Especially since you’ve decided to reply in both the main article and the comments!

The problem, as I see it, is that we have no common ground. We can’t even agree on what “good” and “bad” are! I say something is good when it is used as it was intended to be used, and functions as it was intended to function; you say something is good when it promotes the minimization of suffering. With such divergent views about such fundamental concepts, how can we ever hope to agree?

Nevertheless, if you (or any of your readers) would like to continue this discussion, you can write me directly — gerry@someofthepartsbook.com –and we can converse using the editors of our choice (which undoubtedly surpass this tiny, buggy, scrolling window in both reliability and convenience).

19 08 2008
William Wallace

Well, it was interesting while it lasted, but I agree that it’s not getting anywhere. Might be interesting if Gerry wrote something up from the perspective of a sincere but hard hearted (closed eared) atheist.

20 08 2008
AV

Vacuous poetry

Vacuous comment.

Especially since you’ve decided to reply in both the main article and the comments!

I didn’t mean to confuse you. Initially I had posted your comment alone in the main article, free of my replies, while I left a notice in the other comment thread directing any further replies to Gerry Rzeppa here. (Given that the discussion there was veering off-topic.) I was still in the process of editing the main article of this comment thread, replying to your remarks, when Ozatheist and yourself made further contributions.

With such divergent views about such fundamental concepts, how can we ever hope to agree?

There are probably many things we agree upon; we just haven’t discovered what they are in the course of this discussion.

Nonetheless, this has been enjoyable, even for a hard-hearted atheist. 😉

23 05 2011
mac comestic

It is my great pleasure to visit your website and to enjoy your excellent post here. I like that very much. That is very kind of you to do this for us. Thank you very much. If you are looking for mac cosmetics , here is the right place. We are engage in mac comestic

4 08 2011
hotfix rhinestones

I’m like you write something, really very good!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




%d bloggers like this: