Curtain call

(Article: “God Is Not Dead Yet,” by William Lane Craig, published in July 2008  in the online edition of Christianity Today.)

I was planning to start a new series today, but as I mentioned in my other blog, I came across a fascinating quote by William Lane Craig, as reported by The Uncredible Hallq, and today I want to look at the whole article, because there’s some really juicy stuff in there. [Caveat: The discussion that follows is based on a casual/superficial understanding of what Craig meant by "verificationism." Thanks to some informed commenters at my other blog, I now know that verificationism is a highly specific and somewhat esoteric technical term within philosophy, and that Craig's discussion of its implications are somewhat misleading. My remarks below should be understood as addressing the more general principle of verification and its implications for Christianity.]

Craig begins, as usual, with the declaration that atheism is losing and Christianity winning in the intellectual battles of the late 20th century and beyond.

You might think from the recent spate of atheist best-sellers that belief in God has become intellectually indefensible for thinking people today. But a look at these books by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, among others, quickly reveals that the so-called New Atheism lacks intellectual muscle. It is blissfully ignorant of the revolution that has taken place in Anglo-American philosophy. It reflects the scientism of a bygone generation rather than the contemporary intellectual scene…

The face of Anglo-American philosophy has been transformed as a result. Atheism, though perhaps still the dominant viewpoint at the American university, is a philosophy in retreat.

Sounds optimistic, but can he back up those claims? What is this “revolution” that has taken place in Anglo-American philosophy—and why has it only influenced philosophy that happens to be Anglo-American?

Craig tells it like this:

Back in the 1940s and ’50s, many philosophers believed that talk about God, since it is not verifiable by the five senses, is meaningless—actual nonsense. This verificationism finally collapsed, in part because philosophers realized that verificationism itself could not be verified! The collapse of verificationism was the most important philosophical event of the 20th century. Its downfall meant that philosophers were free once again to tackle traditional problems of philosophy that verificationism had suppressed. Accompanying this resurgence of interest in traditional philosophical questions came something altogether unanticipated: a renaissance of Christian philosophy.

Verificationism is the philosophical position that says that in order for a statement to be meaningful and/or useful, there must be some way to tell whether it is true or false. Or to put it slightly differently, verificationism says that in order for a question to be legitimate, there has to be some way to tell what the answer to that question is. That’s a pretty important principle, because if we reject that principle, we end up saying that there are some statements that are meaningful even though we cannot tell whether they are true or false, and some questions that are legitimate even though there is no way to know the answer.

That sounds like two different principles: meaningful statements that cannot be verified, and legitimate questions that cannot be answered. But in fact, they’re two sides of the same coin, because those who reject verificationism put the two together: they ask questions for which there is no means of determining the answer, and then put forth unverifiable claims as the answer to the question. Since neither the question nor the answer need have any verifiable connection to the truth, you can draw whatever conclusions you like. This “revolution” in Anglo-American philosophy, then, consists of freeing yourself from the constraints of truth. You no longer need to limit yourself to the investigation of things that are really true, and your conclusions are just as valid whether or not they have any particular connection with reality.

This, Craig exultantly proclaims, has enabled Christian philosophy to flourish in ways it never could have done when philosophers were careful to make sure they were talking about actual, knowable truth.

Ok. And, um, that’s a good thing?

Craig builds on this foundation of freedom from the constraints of truth by summarizing the currently popular arguments for “natural theology.” These arguments are the cosmological argument, the “kalam” cosmological argument, the teleological argument, the moral argument, and the ontological argument (which ironically proves pantheism rather than Christian theism). We’ve gone over the flaws in these arguments pretty extensively in the On Guard series, so I won’t rehash them here except to point out that the first four boil down to superstition dressed up in philosopher’s robes, and that the last, as I’ve mentioned, actually disproves Christian theology. But oh well.

You might wonder why, if atheism is “a philosophy in retreat,” anybody outside the university hallways should even care about the technical details. The answer, as Baghdad Bob could have told you, is that even though the home team is pulverizing the bad guys, they’re still a very real threat. But that just means the home team is still winning.

Of course, there are replies and counterreplies to all of these arguments, and no one imagines that a consensus will be reached. Indeed, after a period of passivity, there are now signs that the sleeping giant of atheism has been roused from his dogmatic slumbers and is fighting back. J. Howard Sobel and Graham Oppy have written large, scholarly books critical of the arguments of natural theology, and Cambridge University Press released its Companion to Atheism last year. Nonetheless, the very presence of the debate in academia is itself a sign of how healthy and vibrant a theistic worldview is today.

So is atheism really in retreat, or was it just taking a nap? And check it out: “dogmatic” slumbers? Isn’t it awesome the way Christian apologists try to insult atheists by accusing them of resorting to proprietary Christian techniques, even when such accusation is laughably baseless? The horrible, evil, repressive philosophical empire that was keeping Christianity down was called verificationism—the practice of insisting that dogma wasn’t good enough and that you have to check out whether the things you say are true. So naturally, in Craig’s eyes, the people who tell you that you should find out the real truth are the ones who are guilty of “dogmatic slumbers.” Boo, yeah.

If that’s not enough irony and cognitive dissonance for you, check this out. One of the consequences of abandoning verificationism is that you can no longer refer to a common, objective standard of truth. If all statements are to be accepted as equally valid regardless of their verifiability, then there is no absolute truth. Truth is just a social construct, an artifact of people getting together and agreeing to accept unverifiable beliefs as their conventional “truth.” In short, the same philosophical context that opened the door for natural theology also opened the gates for postmodernism as well. And what does Craig think about postmodernism?

However all this may be, some might think that the resurgence of natural theology in our time is merely so much labor lost. For don’t we live in a postmodern culture in which appeals to such apologetic arguments are no longer effective? Rational arguments for the truth of theism are no longer supposed to work. Some Christians therefore advise that we should simply share our narrative and invite people to participate in it.

This sort of thinking is guilty of a disastrous misdiagnosis of contemporary culture. The idea that we live in a postmodern culture is a myth. In fact, a postmodern culture is an impossibility; it would be utterly unlivable. People are not relativistic when it comes to matters of science, engineering, and technology; rather, they are relativistic and pluralistic in matters of religion and ethics. But, of course, that’s not postmodernism; that’s modernism! That’s just old-line verificationism, which held that anything you can’t prove with your five senses is a matter of personal taste. We live in a culture that remains deeply modernist.

This leaves Craig in a rather uncomfortable position: to make a distinction between verifiable knowledge (like science and technology) and relativistic/pluralistic “knowledge” (like ethics and religion) is to make yourself a modernist, i.e. a verificationist. To try and conflate the two, however—to treat religious “knowledge” as though it held the same meaning and validity as verifiable scientific knowledge—is to try and create an impossible post-modern culture that would be utterly unlivable. And yet, that is what natural theology seeks and needs to do. Craig’s approach is 100% the wrong approach to take, but he’s going to take it anyway, for the sake of defending dogma. In the process of doing so, however, he’s going to argue as though modernism/verificationism is indeed the correct approach to take.

Seen in this light, tailoring our gospel to a postmodern culture is self-defeating. By laying aside our best apologetic weapons of logic and evidence, we ensure modernism’s triumph over us. If the church adopts this course of action, the consequences in the next generation will be catastrophic. Christianity will be reduced to but another voice in a cacophony of competing voices, each sharing its own narrative and none commending itself as the objective truth about reality. Meanwhile, scientific naturalism will continue to shape our culture’s view of how the world really is.

A robust natural theology may well be necessary for the gospel to be effectively heard in Western society today. In general, Western culture is deeply post-Christian. It is the product of the Enlightenment, which introduced into European culture the leaven of secularism that has by now permeated Western society. While most of the original Enlightenment thinkers were themselves theists, the majority of Western intellectuals today no longer considers theological knowledge to be possible. The person who follows the pursuit of reason unflinchingly toward its end will be atheistic or, at best, agnostic.

Notice: the Enlightenment theists launched a pursuit of reason that led to the majority of Western intellectuals being atheists today, despite starting in a theistic culture. So here is the paradox: Craig’s dogmas need to undo what the pursuit of reason has done. They need a post-modern freedom from verification in order to make the arguments he could not make when people were being careful about the meaning of their questions and the truth of their answers. This same freedom, however, is self-destructive: it does Christianity more harm than good. And yet, to acknowledge the importance of verifiable truth is to doom oneself to eventual atheism, or at least agnosticism, even when starting from a theistic culture. What’s a faithful Christian to do?

The answer, apparently, is to blame atheism on the culture rather than on the nature of the verifiable truth. Such scapegoats are very comforting to the Christian intellectual who has realized where honest evidence-based reason leads. And naturally, this kind of rationalization suggests a way this problem might be resolved: just create a sham philosophy that has the outward appearance of verificationism, all the while denying verificationism in its foundations and premises, in order to create the “right” kind of culture. Re-create the conditions that existed before the Enlightenment, so that this time we can avoid the unflinching pursuit of reason.

Christians who depreciate natural theology because “no one comes to faith through intellectual arguments” are therefore tragically shortsighted. For the value of natural theology extends far beyond one’s immediate evangelistic contacts. It is the broader task of Christian apologetics, including natural theology, to help create and sustain a cultural milieu in which the gospel can be heard as an intellectually viable option for thinking men and women. It thereby gives people the intellectual permission to believe when their hearts are moved.

Con the rubes so that they’ll grow up thinking that “natural theology” is as valid as science, even though it’s really antithetical to it. Fool people. Lie to them. Lie, in fact, to yourself. Denounce the postmodernist idea that truth is just a social construct, all the while you’re really working to build a social construct that you can point to and use as though it were the truth. Replace real verification with fake verification, because you know that genuine verification of your arguments will only serve to falsify them and make atheists of people. Set them up to believe whatever they feel like believing (when their hearts are moved), and then make sure they feel like believing your dogmas.

William Lane Craig is really a smart guy, and it’s tragic to see him waste his life on such desperate rationalizations. And yet, nobody is forcing him to do it. This is a ministry he has taken on under his own initiative, and he’s accountable for it.

So take a bow, Dr. Craig. I’m sure your show is a crowd-pleaser, at least for your target audience. But it’s time to wipe off the make-up, put on your street clothes, and join the rest of us in the real world.

64 Responses to “Curtain call”

  1. mikespeir Says:

    Bill Craig bobs up and down on his hobby horse splashed by the clashing strobing of jillions of garish, variegated lights as the carousel goes round and round and round. Meanwhile, the loudspeakers blare

    I’m in the glory-land way.
    I’m in the glory-land way.
    Heaven is nearer and the way groweth clearer.
    For I’m in the glory-land way.

    Which would be bad enough. But then he frowns at us chuckling onlookers and insists we legitimate his frolic by joining him!

  2. David Roemer Says:

    Craig did not fully explain why the verification principle is irrational. The fact that you can’t verify the principle itself means that the principle is just a rule. But, why follow the rule?

    An example of an unverifiable question and answer is: What is the relationship between myself and my body? It is a good question because humans have a drive to know and understand everything. The answer supported by the evidence and judged to be true by rational people is that there is no answer. It is a mystery. The evidence is that all the alternative answers have little evidence: dualism, materialism, idealism.

    According to the verification principle, the answer can’t be a mystery because that answer can’t be verified. What is the evidence that the verification principle should be followed?

    • mikespeir Says:

      Exactly. Why shouldn’t we draw the line just beyond what’s provable and say that what’s on this side is reality and what’s on that side is fantasy? Hey, maybe we’re not entirely right. Maybe there’s something on the far side that is real. Just because it seems to me that an Ultimate Being couldn’t be as petty as the Bible’s God doesn’t prove there’s not an Ultimate Being that really is just that petty. The woefully inadequately answered question is, Why should we think so? And Craig and his ilk don’t merely suggest the possibility, either. They say we must agree with them or we’re bad people. That’s outrageous, a class of arrogance beyond compare!

      • David Roemer Says:

        @mikespeir
        If Craig thinks people who don’t believe in Heaven and Hell have poor judgment he is quite wrong. There are two kinds of knowledge: religious faith and reason. In reason we know something is true because we can see the truth of it. In faith, we know something is true because God is telling us. Faith is both a decision and a gift from God.

        Christians are summoning people to believe by giving their reasons for believing. It is not a demand. It is wrong to criticize someone for not believing something the truth of which can’t be seen in the light of reason.

        This being said, I am demanding that you agree the human mind is an unsolvable mystery. If you don’t, I will think you of have poor judgment.

      • Sunny Day Says:

        “In faith, we know something is true because God is telling us.”

        This sucks, I cant hear God talking to me over the yammering of all the other Gods.

        David can you get the Real God to step forward and raise it’s hand or do something to distinguish itself from all the other ones.

    • mikespeir Says:

      And why should I think faith is a gift of God, David? Haven’t we been through all this before? Haven’t you already demonstrated to us here that you have nothing to offer but unfounded assertions?

      And your “demand”? Hoo, boy, you do have some nerve, don’t you?

      • David Roemer Says:

        @mikespeir
        I said Christians are summoning people to believe, not demanding it. Christians shouldn’t criticize people who don’t believe because people believe exactly what God wants them to believe. I am however criticizing you for not admitting or not understanding that humans are embodied spirits.

        Faith is a gift from God because it makes life meaningful. If our purpose in life is not to get to heaven, what is it? Life without God has no meaning.

      • mikespeir Says:

        I have no reason to “admit” humans are embodied spirits, if by “spirit” you mean something supernatural. But you said, and I quote, “I am demanding that you agree the human mind is an unsolvable mystery.” What on earth would cause anyone to “admit” something like that? We’ve solved so many mysteries, and for each one I suspect there was somebody like you who insisted they couldn’t be solved. Fortunately, such people didn’t prevail. Neither will you.

      • Sunny Day Says:

        “Christians shouldn’t criticize people who don’t believe because people believe exactly what God wants them to believe. I am however criticizing you for not admitting or not understanding that humans are embodied spirits.”

        Sense, you make none.

      • Len Says:

        @David

        Faith is a gift from God because it makes life meaningful. If our purpose in life is not to get to heaven, what is it? Life without God has no meaning.

        Why do you limit yourself to only seeing a reason for life if it’s to get into heaven or to be with your god? My life has meaning for me now, without any gods being involved. My view is much bigger than your god.

  3. g Says:

    It may be worth noting that the term “dogmatic slumbers” is not something WLC has made up to describe atheism, but Kant’s famous description of his own state of mind before encountering David Hume’s skeptical writings. (Russell remarked that, having been awakened, he took pains to put himself back to sleep again.) The dogma Kant had in mind wasn’t particularly religious, and I’m not convinced that *on this particular occasion* Craig is playing the familiar game of Christians attacking atheists for being like Christians.

    (What exactly *does* Craig mean? I suspect he means only “atheism is getting more scholarly”, and that he chose the particular phrasing he did because he expected some of his readers either to be impressed that he knew the Kant quotation or to be flattered that they did.)

  4. David Roemer Says:

    @mikespeir
    All the mysteries we solve are scientific questions, that is, questions that arise from what we see and hear. We do not know we have free will because we can see it. We know we have free will because we can make ourselves the subject of our own knowledge. There is no track record of success in questions about the human mind. Rational people judge the mind-body problem to be an unsolvable mystery. A way of expressing this is to say humans are embodied spirits.

    • mikespeir Says:

      You keep saying that. I haven’t bought it yet. “No track record”? How are you making that judgement? We know a lot about the human mind we didn’t know before. We will learn more. Inevitably. Furthermore, I’ll counter by averring that rational people say the human mind is not an insoluble problem.

      But what if we never figure ourselves out? What will that prove? Why, nothing more than that we haven’t figured ourselves out! It won’t even show that, given another hundred years of trying, we might not. It’s like reaching down into a well, not being able to feel the bottom, and declaring, “It must be bottomless.” By what logic? The bottom may be 100 feet down, 10 feet down, or within a centimeter of our fingertips. But of the various possibilities the least likely is that the well is bottomless. We know of 100-foot wells and 10-foot wells. We have no experience at all with bottomless wells and no reason to suspect any such thing exists.

      Neither do we have any reason to suspect our own minds are bottomless–or fathomless. You’re making the mistake of taking what is at present an admitted mystery (which, as I pointed out before, is a question, not an answer) and jumping to the wholly unjustifiable conclusion of “insoluble.” There’s simply no conceivable way we could ever know it’s insoluble.

      • David Roemer Says:

        @mikespeir
        I’v already told you the evidence that I have marshaled to make the decision that the human mind is a mystery. What we know a lot about that we didn’t know before is the human brain, not the human mind.

        What it proves is that human beings are embodied spirits and finite beings. Hence, an infinite being exists. This means it is possible that the infinite being (God) has revealed to mankind that our purpose in life is to get to Heaven after we die.

      • mikespeir Says:

        Nope. You haven’t demonstrated that the human mind is anything but the product of the human brain. (Truth be told, you haven’t demonstrated anything at all.) And among the various questions you haven’t been willing to address is how numinous spirits would solve the mystery. Again, all you’ve done is added yet another entity to the pile, one that itself needs explanation. Craftily moving the problem out of the natural into the supernatural doesn’t solve the problem, it only compounds the problem.

      • a different phil Says:

        What it proves is that human beings are embodied spirits and finite beings. Hence, an infinite being exists.

        Even if we accept your first sentence, the jump to get to your second sentence needs a LOT of support.

  5. David Roemer Says:

    @mikespeir
    I don’t know what you mean by the human mind being a product of the human brain. Is this the theory that consciousness is an epiphenomena? Is this the theory that free will is an illusion?

    The evidence that the human mind is a mystery is that there is no evidence for dualism. There is somewhat more evidence for materialism, and even more evidence for idealism. The only theory left is that the human mind is a mystery and humans are indefinabilities that become conscious of their own existence.

    • mikespeir Says:

      And for all your words, David, you still haven’t said anything of substance. Yet again, simply pointing to the “mystery” of the mind doesn’t answer any questions. It certainly doesn’t argue for any god. As I pointed out before, that would basically be an argument from ignorance. And, once again, you make the unjustifiable leap from “mystery” to “indefinable.” Yes, I’m happy to agree I don’t understand the “mystery” of consciousness. I’ll also agree that probably nobody does at this point. But what you seem to be wanting to do is throw up your hands and say, “Oh, well, there’s no way we can ever know, so let’s all just believe in God.” You, yourself, wouldn’t buy that kind of reasoning in any other context. I hope not.

      • David Roemer Says:

        @mikespeir
        Since the human mind is a mystery, human beings are mysteries. We can comprehend the human mind because we know everything that we do and everything that happens to us. But we can’t explicate or define the human mind. Saying humans are indefinabilites is equivalent to saying the human mind is a mystery.

        But we know that other humans exist, which means that humans are finite beings. Assuming or hoping that the universe is intelligible means that an infinite being exists (God).

        This means we all have to decide whether or not our freedom is before God and whether or not our past will somehow be gathered up when we die and become the defining moment of our lives.

      • mikespeir Says:

        Tell you what, David. Write a book. That way you’ll have to spell out your argument such that it proceeds from first principles to your conclusion. So far, you haven’t come close to doing anything like that. I’m sure you’ve hit upon a way of looking at things that makes sense to you according your beliefs. But unless one starts with those beliefs there’s nothing compelling in what I’ve seen so far. So write a book. I’ll try to be on the lookout for it. (And I mean you write your book. I don’t have time to read every book that some believer is just sure would just change my mind. Whenever I’ve done that I’ve come away shaking my head at the inanity of the argumentation.)

  6. David Roemer Says:

    @Len
    There are four possible answers to the question of what is the meaning of life or what is our purpose in life:
    1) Get to heaven. 2) Life has no meaning. “Man is a useless passion” is the way Jean-Paul Sartre put it. 3) Self-realization. 4) Be happy.

    There is a considerable amount of evidence for No. 1, and there is some evidence for No. 2. There is no evidence for No. 3 and No. 4.

    No. 3 fails even at the level of intelligibility. We can realize ourselves in different ways. The problem of life is deciding how to realize our potentials.

    The trouble with No. 4 is that everybody knows that people whose goal is to make themselves happy tend to be miserable. But people who try to make others happy tend to be happy. This is the great mystery of life.

    • Len Says:

      There is a considerable amount of evidence for No. 1…

      Actually, there is none. No-one has died and come back to tell us (long tunnel and white light stories notwithstanding) that we can go to heaven. The only “evidence” some people are gullible enough to believe is what other people have told them and/or tricks perpetrated by charlatans. Neither constitute actual evidence.

      Option 2 seems the most likely – we should make the most of this life because it’s the only one we know that we have. Option 3 implies the existence of someone or something that directs us and wants us to achieve self-realisation, for which there is, again, no evidence. Option 4 is not a meaning of life, but it can be a satisfactory goal. Especially if you achieve it (at least partially) by helping others, as has been said above.

  7. Janney Says:

    The trouble with No. 4 is that everybody knows that people whose goal is to make themselves happy tend to be miserable. But people who try to make others happy tend to be happy. This is the great mystery of life.

    The idea does seem to confuse Christians.

    • mikespeir Says:

      I don’t know that I’d challenge that particular statement, but I think David fails to see why it’s so. By doing good for others we gain allies. Our worth is raised in the eyes of those we’ve helped and others. (And, BTW, what we think of ourselves is largely what we see in the mirror of the opinions others have of us, especially the opinions of those close to us.) Thus we fortify ourselves. So we feel more secure, and freedom from our feelings of insecurity is virtually the definition of happiness. To the degree we don’t feel under threat we do feel happy. (They’re really opposite sides of the same coin: the more of one side is visible, the less of the other.) I think most of the time we aren’t even conscious of what’s going on. We’d like to believe our altruism springs from some higher source; that it’s pure, selfless. But ultimately it all comes of an instinctual–not rational–urge to survive. So we’re driven to those characteristics that generally enhance our chances of survival. Not that Nature’s aim is always so accurate. After all, it’s completely mindless.

      • David Roemer Says:

        @mikespeir
        The question is not: Why are people altruistic? I consider it a mystery, but your analysis sheds light on the matter and maybe it is not as mysterious as I think. The question is whether our purpose in life is to be happy in this world or to get to Heaven.

        Thinking our purpose in life is to be happy is just as irrational as saying our purpose in life is self-realization. We can be happy in many different ways. The problem of life is deciding what path will give us the most happiness.

      • mikespeir Says:

        I don’t start with a belief in Heaven, David, so I don’t see any need to introduce it into the discussion. BTW, I said our impulse to free ourselves from feelings of threat–and that that freedom is what happiness is–isn’t a rational thing. It’s instinctual, pre-rational. That it isn’t rational is not argument against it.

  8. Janney Says:

    I don’t know that I’d challenge that particular statement…

    You wouldn’t challenge “People whose goal is to make themselves happy tend to be miserable, but people who try to make others happy tend to be happy”? Or you wouldn’t challenge “This is the great mystery of life”?

    • mikespeir Says:

      The former. Myself, I don’t see the mystery in it. I think it’s all pretty explainable in naturalistic terms, with no need to insert the element of the supernatural into the mix.

  9. dcortesi Says:

    Craig describes verificationism in a simplistic way that does not do it justice (and it ain’t dead). As I found out be querying the Stanford IEP, subsection of the article on Logical Empiricism (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/logical-empiricism/#EmpVerAntMet):

    “Over the years a great many different formulations of verificationst principles ensued. Most of them came to a bad end rather quickly, and this is sometimes taken as a convincing argument that any form of verificationism is utterly misguided. Perhaps, but… The central idea behind verificationism is linking some sort of meaningfulness with (in principle) confirmation, at least for synthetic sentences. The actual formulations embodied… particular accounts of confirmation as well. Now confirmation is a complex matter, and it is unlikely that we shall have the final satisfactory account any time soon. This should not persuade us, however, that there are no satisfactory accounts of confirmation… even a string of failures in formulating verificationist principles may mean no more than that the embedded accounts of confirmation are too simple but the link between meaningfulness and confirmation is nevertheless sound.”

    These waters quickly get deep as one follows links in the IEP (for instance to Fitch’s Paradox of Knowability, which either refutes verificationism or is self-contradictory, and nobody knows which) and it turns up in many other fascinating articles. Well, there goes another morning, wasted…

    • David Roemer Says:

      I don’t agree with the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy that “confirmation” is a complex matter. By paying attention, humans make observations. Intelligent humans ask questions about what they observe and invent theories or insights to explain the observations, see the connection between them, or the relationship between them. To me, “confirmation” just refers to marshaling the evidence and deciding whether or not a theory is true. I don’t see anything “complex” about this.

      • g Says:

        The question SEP is saying is complex is what constitutes a *good* way of “deciding whether or not a theory is true”. David, perhaps you find it sufficient simply to think about it for a moment and see which way your inclinations run, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing complex about it for those of us with higher standards.

  10. David Roemer Says:

    @says
    I judge statements to be true by evaluating the evidence. I don’t know of any good or bad ways to evaluate the evidence. All I know is that some people have good judgment and some people bad judgment. People who think Earth is 10,000 years old have bad judgment. People who think free will is an illusion have bad judgment. People who think only statements that can be verified empirically are true have bad judgment.

    • Len Says:

      People who think only statements that can be verified empirically are true have bad judgment.

      Once again, a rather simple view. Or at least, an over-simplified statement.
      I can say that I’m happy, and that statement can’t be verified empirically. But it’s true nonetheless. However, the statement only applies to me, so its truth is only relevant to me.

      Two things you’ve said above:

      hoping that the universe is intelligible means that an infinite being exists (God).

      and

      What it proves is that human beings are embodied spirits and finite beings. Hence, an infinite being exists.

      are your opinions, that also cannot be proven empirically. But they relate to something – a being – that is greater than you and that you say (or at least, imply) exists outside of you. That in itself is no problem – you can believe whatever you like. But that does not make it true – and certainly not true for everyone, just for you. That being remains your imaginary friend.

      • David Roemer Says:

        @Len
        The statement, “Humans have the conscious knowledge of humans, not the sense knowledge of animals” is true and its truth is relevant to everyone. It cannot be empirically verified, but it is still true. In other words, people who don’t agree with this statement have bad judgment. Another statement like this is: Humans have free will.

      • mikespeir Says:

        “…people who don’t agree with this statement have bad judgment.”

        Thus saith the David.

      • Len Says:

        @David
        Perhaps I’m missing something deep, but I think that the “truth” of your statement may rather depend on how you define “conscious knowledge” and “sense knowledge”.

        I would say that my girlfriend’s dogs are consciously aware of each other and of us. So are her cats (they just choose to ignore us). If you say that conscious knowledge is knowledge through concious thought, then I’d have to say that the dogs and the cats have such thought – as opposed to unconscious thought, which I guess comes close to dreams. Which they also experience. They also sense us (better than we sense them), so they have that too.

  11. David Roemer Says:

    @Len
    Yes, you are missing something. The sense knowledge of animals can be defined. The conscious knowledge of humans cannot be defined. I know what it is because I can make myself the subject of my own knowledge, but I can’t explicate what it is.

    • Len Says:

      OK – you’re trying to bring the discussion down to questions of semantic smoke & mirrors.

      You just want to keep your imaginary friend (your “infinite being”) without requiring any empirical evidence for its existence. Fine by me. Just don’t expect me to believe you – because I do ask for evidence for such an extraordinary claim.

      • Len Says:

        I say semantic smoke & mirrors because what you’ve said essentially boils down to “blue is blue and apples are apples, therefore I’m correct about my imaginary friend”. Yeah – that works.

  12. David Roemer Says:

    @Len
    Referring to the truths of metaphysics as “smoke and mirrors” is consistent with an understanding of metaphysics. That humans have “free will,” are embodied spirits, are finite beings, and that an infinite being exists is much different than saying the sky is blue.

    But the decision that we have to make is not whether or not an infinite being exists, but whether or not that infinite being has revealed itself to mankind. One the reasons to believe this is that non-believers call the truths of metaphysics “smoke and mirrors.”

    • Len Says:

      Referring to the truths of metaphysics as “smoke and mirrors” is consistent with an understanding of metaphysics.

      I’m guessing that you meant there to be a negative somewhere in there. Then again, I don’t know much about metaphysics, other than that it mainly seems to be a way for charlatans to make money from the sheep. I guess I’m missing something again. Or maybe it’s quantum.

      That humans have “free will,” are embodied spirits, are finite beings, and that an infinite being exists is much different than saying the sky is blue.

      Free will: seems generally reasonable.
      Embodied spirits: no evidence. Unknown.
      Finite beings: seems likely.
      An infinite being exists: no evidence.
      The sky is blue: demonstrable and explainable. So yes, a lot different from the smoke and mirrors of metaphysics.

      But the decision that we have to make is not whether or not an infinite being exists, but whether or not that infinite being has revealed itself to mankind.

      It seems pretty pointless worrying about an infinite being revealing itself to makind if we don’t even know whether such a being exists. If it had revealed itself, then we’d know. It hasn’t and we don’t. Unless you have evidence to the contrary (ie, real evidence, not just some variation of “it feels right, so it must be true”). To make up myths and fairy tales about such a being without any evidence of its existence also seems pointless.

      I’d rather read about real physics than metaphysics. And I’d rather be riding my bike (which relies pretty heavily on real physics) than reading about physics.

      • Len Says:

        Just realised I missed the last sentence of my post (yay C&P):
        I’d rather read about real physics than metaphysics. And I’d rather be riding my bike (which relies pretty heavily on real physics) than reading about physics. And seeing as the sky is blue (because we have an atmostphere containing water vapour, but not so much that there are clouds here), I’m off to ride my bike :-)

  13. David Roemer Says:

    @Len
    I didn’t leave out any negatives. The way the atheist Sidney Hook puts it is that metaphysics has no content. To me, this is the same as saying it is “smoke and mirrors.” An example of the “smoke and mirror” nature of metaphysics is the definition of knowledge: Knowledge is the openness of being to the self-manifestation of being. I don’t know of any corresponding metaphysical definition of free will.

    That humans are embodied spirits or spirited bodies is another way of expressing the mysteriousness of the human mind.

    Finite beings exist because I am not you and you are not me. We are two different beings. Our existence is limited to ourselves.

    What are your reasons for saying an infinite being doesn’t exist? Do you agree that a being that begins to exist at some point in time needs a cause? Do you agree that a finite being can’t be the cause of its own existence?

    • Len Says:

      It seems that I agree with Sidney Hook – at least, as far as there being no real content in metaphysics.

      That we don’t yet understand how our bodies and minds work together is no reason to make up unsubstantiated stories of spirits. Unless, of course, you then want to introduce evil spirits, so the church can make more money and gain more control over gullible people by having a service to drive them out. Atheists are allowed to say “we don’t know”.

      Why should I say that an infinite being exists? I know of no credible evidence that one does. Do you? That you can take logical or illogical steps towards believing in such a being – based on possibly flawed propositions – doesn’t prove that it exists. It also doesn’t prove that it necessarily doesn’t exist. Again: we don’t know. Until we know – if we ever will – I will take the position that there’s no reason to believe in such a being.

      Feel free to show me evidence that such a being exists. Real evidence mind you, not that “it must be so because it feels so right”.

      • David Roemer Says:

        @Len
        What makes you think we ever will understand how the mind works? It is reasonable to assume that all scientific questions will eventually be answered. But questions about the human mind are not scientific questions. Scientific questions come from knowledge obtained from seeing, hearing, touching, etc.

        The reason an infinite being exists is that finite beings need a cause. A finite being can’t be the cause of its own existence because it can’t exist except as finite. A finite being can’t limit itself. If every being in the universe needed a cause, the universe would not be intelligible. Hence, an infinite being exists.

      • Len Says:

        David, you really are hoping that the universe is intelligible, aren’t you? Because to you that would count as proving that some infinite being exists. That we don’t know stuff about the start of all things temporal doesn’t mean we have to attribute it all to ceiling cat. We may know all about that one day or we may not.

        Is the universe finite? We don’t know. We can theorise and make up stuff, but we don’t know. We can observe and we may come to the conclusion that it could be. But we don’t know. Will we ever know? We don’t know that either. We can observe that the expansion of the universe appears to be accelerating. But into what is it expanding, if not more of the universe? So what is actually expanding – just the observable bits? What’s beyond them? What’s driving that expansion? What can’t we see? Why do some people like to just say goddidit?

        You like to attribute all things to an infinite being – good for you. I don’t. Such a being may exist, but it doesn’t interact with us in any way that can be credibly demonstrated. It leaves no measurable traces in the natural world – ie, the real world. No credible evidence has ever been presented. As I said before, feel free to present some.

  14. David Roemer Says:

    @Len
    You are quite right to call my assumption that the universe is intelligible a hope. It is this hope that drives scientists to expend a tremendous amount of time and effort. We know the universe consists of finite beings. We also ask, “What causes a finite being to exist?”

    A finite being is a composition of essence and existence, and an infinite being is a pure act of existence. We know that the infinite being has knowledge by analogy. Humans exist, and humans have knowledge. Worms exist, and worms have knowledge. An infinite being exists, so the infinite being must have knowledge. We can’t comprehend what that knowledge is like.

    What motivated the infinite being to create finite beings is considered a mystery.

    Whether or not the infinite being interacts with mankind is what you have to decide because of the historical Jesus. Jesus was a Jewish prophet. He was an exorcist and a healer, and his followers swore up and down that he appeared to them after he died. He also saved mankind for meaning.

    • Len Says:

      David, you start from the premise that an infinite being exists. Whichever tortured steps you apparently take to get there, it’s still a retro-fitted conclusion. And you then use that unproven conclusion to conclude more things about the universe. Some of those things may be true, some may be false. And you also say that it’s all about Jesus (another premise that you start from), which is no more proven than anything else you’ve said. And certainly no more proven than any of the other gods that have been worshiped and followed since man started being afraid of the dark.

      Working back from your conclusions is OK if you don’t actually want to understand what’s there – if you just want to reaffirm to yourself that things are fine and dandy. It is typically what religious people, or believers in some deity or other, do. But it’s not enough for me.

      Anyway, we’ve probably hijacked this thread long enough :-) I’m off for a ride. Maybe speak to you later.

      • David Roemer Says:

        @Len
        There is nothing tortured about the steps to the existence of an infinite being: Finite beings exist, and finite beings need a cause. If all beings in the universe needed a cause, the universe would not be intelligible. Hence, and infinite being exists.

        What is typical of atheists is that they don’t know the proof. They think the cosmological argument is that all beings need a cause. They refute the proof by say, “What caused God?”. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry for the cosmological argument does not even mention “finite beings.” The entry must have been written by an atheist. The entry in Wikipedia mentions “finite beings,” but doesn’t mention an infinite being. An atheist must have written this entry too.

      • mikespeir Says:

        Dang, what a waste of time! I’ve given up on this guy several times only to have him come back with something that looks like maybe he’s actually trying to go somewhere that he’ll show us. And then he disappoints me. Every time. Without fail. I’m through for real now. Seriously.

      • Len Says:

        @David

        There is nothing tortured about the steps to the existence of an infinite being

        You wouldn’t say that if you were sitting where I’m sitting and watching what you’re trying (and failing) to do. You state your conclusion, then try to make it seem like you actually got there by rational and logical thinking. If there were a Nobel prize for stoopid, then you’d definitely be in the running.

        Here’s a thought for you: Maybe the universe is unintelligible. That wouldn’t stop people trying to find out what works or how it works. But there may not be a “reason” behind it all. In other words, there may be a what and a how, but not a why. Lots and lots of stuff works because there is a set of strict physical laws (eg, for a given pressure, water freezes at 0c and boils at 100c), but there’s not an underlying reason for it all – it just happens. There’s no answer to the question “why does water boil at 100c?” except that it does because it follows a physical law of the universe. No infinite being is necessary. The answer to life, the universe, and everything may well be 42. We might not like that, but it probably means that we didn’t understand the question.

        Here’s another thought: Maybe the universe is intelligible, but there’s no infinite being behind it. Your first cause may just have been an accidental coincidence of circumstances. That is, accidental in the sense of not being on purpose – because there’s no being for it to be a purpose of. We just started – by chance – and evolution (plus a similar set of universal laws, as in my previous thought) did the rest.

        Introducing an unknown and unknowable infinite being (that doesn’t interact with us in any measurable way), without any evidence that it even exists, makes no sense and seems little more than wanting to grasp for an adult’s hand in the darkness.

        @mikespear
        I agree – it sort of looked interesting, like there’s some substance to what he’s spouting, but then … business as usual :-( Too bad.

    • ted Says:

      Dave you keep making strange assertions without proving anything. There is no evidence for a god, there is no evidence for spirits, conciousness is science and neuroscientists are learning more and more and the use of fMRI machines certainly have lead us to new discoveries. And whether or not we have free will is very much open to debate. I think you, like many christians, ignore science.

  15. David Roemer Says:

    @Len
    God has interacted with us in a measurable way. Jesus was an exorcist and healer. The same sources that he was a Jewish prophet say that he performed miracles. Doesn’t history count? Isn’t history measurable?

    Also, science developed in the west, not in China and India. The East was just as advanced technologically as the west, but they did not have the drive to figure out that planets have elliptical paths. It took Kepler decades to do this. The theory of Pierre Duhem, an historian of science, is that eastern people did not believe in a personal God and did not believe in the intelligibility of the universe.

    • Len Says:

      Yes, David – history counts. Unbiased, neutral reporting of history. Do we have any of that showing that Jesus performed miracles? Alas …

  16. fatalotti Says:

    I wanted to read this comments section, but I see “David Roemer’s” name plastered all over it, and I just decided, not today… Can’t stand reading his circular logic, and repetitive argument over and over again.

  17. pboyfloyd@hotmail.com Says:

    “What is the relationship between myself and my body?”

    Your body is a living organism with many processes and feed-back loops allowing you to interact with the environment. The ‘myself’ bit which you wish to be separate, is not, in fact separate, but is that part of your living organism which integrates the processes allowing you the experience of ‘living’. The basic processes which you integrate are, sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, balance, and you do this by finding patterns and creating a model to interact with. It is simply these pattern seeking/pattern finding/model creating/model interaction that we call consciousness and ‘mind’.

    You don’t believe yourself that you have one mind. One process may be telling you to eat while another is telling you you ought not to eat, since you’re getting too fat.

    Nevertheless, although anyone can see the truth of this, you wish to oversimplify your question to assert a distinct non-physical ‘you’ that is separate from your body.

    Changing the question to ‘why’ you operate like this is immediately circular since it sets you on course to find a cause, an intelligent cause, a non-physical intelligent cause.

    But we all already knew that you were arguing for a non-physical intelligent cause, didn’t we?

    • David Roemer Says:

      @pboyfloyd@hotmail.com
      You say, “I don’t believe myself that you have one mind.” But, I do. It is a fundamental human observation or experience: “I think, therefore, I am.”

      Being aware of our own existence means we are turning into ourselves and catching ourselves in the act of our own existence. It is a mystery. It means humans are embodied spirits.

      This is not the result I want. Humans have a drive to know and understand everything. We want to understand free will and conscious knowledge, but we can’t. We don’t want to believe it is a mystery. We judge it to be true because the evidence supports this theory.

  18. PhiloPunch Says:

    The verification principle was abandoned 50 years ago because it is far too confining and ultimately self refuting. What the Verification principle holds is that the truth can be known only two ways: 1) by definition or 2) if a proposition can be verified by the five senses. If something cannot be verified by these two methods then the statement is deemed non-sensical. This IS what the Verification principle is, no more, no less. So what’s the problem? Well this principle cannot be verified by either of it’s own two methods, hence the collapse of Verificationism. Understand that this limited science as well, not just philosophy. Craig is very much right in what he said, the Verification principle is intellectual prison and anyone holding to it these days is doing so out of ignorance or because it makes the question of God’s existence meaningless, which makes things easy for the atheist. This is really first year philo guys (maybe second year, depending on the school).

    If you want proof of the Renaissance of Christian philosophy all you have to do is read an article written in 2001 in Philo (secular humanist journal) by Quinton Smith (atheist philosopher); or do some actual research on this yourself. Smith laments the de-secularization of academia particularly in philosophy. He describes how in the last 40 years naturalists have stood by passively as more and more Christians began to enter the field of philosophy and do first rate work. In this article he also estimates that between 1/3 and 1/4 of American faculty in Philosophy are now theists and a large majority of them born again Christians. Personally I think it’s between 1/6 and 1/4, this is according to Plantinga. What’s great about this, is that critical thinkers, brilliant men and women believe based on the evidence that God exists. So now the tactic seems to be atheist scientists such as Hawking, trying to eliminate philosophy. If you can’t make God go away by eliminating the branch of philosophy through self-refuting principles, than you might as well attack the entire discipline, right?

    • mikespeir Says:

      So, verificationism is dead and that shows there’s a God? Or, rather, is your argument that because a minority of philosophy types believe there’s a God we all should? We’re obligated to? Remember, Craig is of the stripe of believer who insists we’ll rightly end up in Hell if we don’t. Are you defending that opinion?

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      The problem for Craig is that he speaks of verificationism as if it were synonymous with atheism, whereas verificationism, in its most specific, technical definition, is largely irrelevant to theism vs atheism. The kind of God Craig asserts is a God Who ought to be able to easily satisfy the most stringent demands of verificationism, and Who, moreover, ought to be willing and even eager to do so. Verificationism only becomes an issue when you have a God Who, despite Gospel claims of His great power and love, consistently and universally fails to show up outside the stories, superstitions, and subjective feelings of men. But a God with such a mythical nature implies a Gospel that is equally mythical, so the problem remains even when verificationism turns out to be too specific and narrow to be of any practical use.

      • mikespeir Says:

        Exactly! Say what you will about the health of verificationism (and what a red herring that’s becoming!), there are some things that ought to be easily verifiable; or, at least, not fly in the face of what’s reasonably expected.

    • ted Says:

      Actually you have it backwards, Craig and his ilk use philosophy as a means to use word games to bypass everything we learned through science. Craif doesn’t use particle accelerators or math or astrophysics to study the universe…he uses words. Nice. Maybe that is why most physicists have little respect for philosophy. Philosophy is dead. When people want to know about time they read Hawking, not Craig. By the way, Craig even admits that if you follow logic to the end you will be an atheist. So what good is philosophy if you even admit you need to skip steps to be a christian philosopher? Craig once said that if evidence is at odds with scripture then you should believe the scripture…is this also advanced philosphy?

  19. pboyfloyd Says:

    “..in order for a statement to be meaningful and/or useful, there must be some way to tell whether it is true or false.”

    And yet Christians and theologian philosophers keep insisting that they are making statements which are meaningful and useful and write entire books telling us why their statements are true. Verificationism must be ‘dead’ just for the atheists then?

    • mikespeir Says:

      WLC does spend a lot of time trying to “verify” things that aren’t subject to “verification.” This whole issue of “verificationism” is just a distraction.


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

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 104 other followers

%d bloggers like this: