Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mark Shea Thinks Scientists Are Stupid, Makes Gaffe

Over at Catholic Exchange, Mark Shea relates an anecdote that demonstrates, for him, that scientists are sadly lacking in emotional intelligence:

Long ago, I remember watching some film about human evolution narrated by Richard Leakey, Jr. It was interesting as such films go, but you got the sense as it went along that it explained everything at the cost of leaving everything out—like scientists in a Far Side cartoon analyzing humor.

The crowning moment of the film, for me, was when Leakey stood in front of the gorgeous twenty-thousand-year-old cave paintings in Lascaux, France and, with genuine puzzlement in his voice, wondered aloud “Why did they do this? What was the purpose?”

I had the distinct impression he would have expressed equal bafflement were he standing in the Louvre. There seemed to be a gene missing somewhere. He was a man who knew a great deal about human origins and yet, however smart he was, there was something about him that was radically out of touch with, well, what it meant to be human. You felt he needed tape on his glasses, a pocket protector, high water trousers and D&D dice in his pocket to complete the image he seemed to project with such earnest unconsciousness.


I'm a little skeptical that the film went exactly as Shea claims it did. People's memories are notoriously unreliable, and events are rewritten in brains to conform to a person's individual narrative: in this case, Shea's commitment to the Catholic faith as the essential guide to understanding the world.

But assuming Shea's memory was correct, he seems to have entirely missed the point of Leakey's question. Shea doesn't seem to have any awareness that there is a debate among archaeologists about Lascaux's purpose. Was it continuously occupied, or only visited periodically? Was it part of a shaman's ritual to improve chances during the hunt, a record of previous successful hunts, or simply a decoration? Why are there no images of reindeer, which formed a major part of the diet of the artists? Do the painted dots really represent an accurate map of the night sky, as suggested by Michael Rappenglueck?

If you have scientific training, then questions like these seem natural and interesting. If you don't, and are immersed in dogma that preaches simple answers to difficult questions, then even asking this kind of question demonstrates some moral failing. I'd wager that Leakey knows a lot more about people, and their goals, desires, and questions, than Mark Shea does.

49 comments:

Amy said...

What do you consider scientific training? I majored in Econ, so I had the required science classes and no more. It could be argued that I don't have any real scientific training--but I would be asking the same questions! Wouldn't it be wonderful to know? :)

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

It is a common opinion, expressed not only about scientists, but about experts of any sort, that they miss something by asking questions. The complaint might be made about astronomers or musicians, that they lose the naive appreciation for the subject. That's silly, of course.

But I wonder whether any "Intelligent Design" advocate has ever suggested something like this as an excuse for never asking anything about what "Intelligent Design" is. I hope that I will never see them doing that.

Tom S.

Kirk said...

I don't know Leakey or Shea, so I can't make any informed comments about them. I have, however, spent a good deal of time both in the halls of science and the halls of philosophy. I have noticed some general trends, and I emphasize 'general'; there are always specific exceptions to the general trends. My observations are that scientists tend to be practical people and, in general, have much less concern for the 'why' questions than philosophers do. Philosophers, on the other hand, are often totally focused on the 'why' questions and practicality often goes right out the window. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Stephen Hawking and Paul Davies, for example, often venture into the realm of philosophy in their writings. Even at that, I find when scientists get philosophical, their arguments are usually not well advanced philosophically. I also find that when philosophers get scientific, they often come up with some jaw-dropping, bogus stuff. It's not because either of them are lacking in intelligence, and neither is stupid; it's likely a matter of what their formal training has been more often than not. People with formal training in both science and philosophy (or the humanities, or fine arts) are not very common at all.

If Shea is taking a shot at scientists from a sampling of one (which may or may not be accurately represented), then his argument does not even qualify as an argument. There are, however, some theists that recognize that there are many difficult questions for which there are good answers, but those answers certainly are not simple. I have also often seen atheists pose difficult questions to theists, expecting the theist to answer the question in one minute (i.e., expect a simple answer to a complex question). Sometimes, the rabbit hole goes vastly further down than the person asking the question ever conceived.

Jonathan Lubin said...

Indeed, in the 23 June issue of The New Yorker, there’s a nice article on the (mostly) French cave paintings, in which a discussion on the uncertainty about their purpose is a significant ingredient.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Kirk:

1. I think there is no particular identifying personality trait of scientists; there are as many kinds of scientists as there are people. I think there's no basis in the claim that scientists are "practical" and don't care about "why" questions. Einstein, for example, is often regarded as the archetype of a scientist; yet there is no way he can be regarded as "practical".

2. I regard the distinction between "why" questions and "non-why" questions as artificial and unimportant. You can see this in the way Shea remembers Leakey's question: “Why did they do this? What was the purpose?” The first is phrased with "why"; the second isn't.

3. The reason why the theologian's answer to an atheist question is complex is because it takes an awful lot of bafflegab to hide the essential inanity of the theist position. Take, for example, the completely inadequate responses to the problem of evil and the problem of sects, both of which theists have had thousands of years to answer and yet neither has a satisfactory answer.

John Farrell said...

That would be a interesting subject for a future post. What is a satisfactory answer to the problem of evil? Is there one?

Eamon Knight said...

I notice that Shea doesn't deign to provide an answer to Leakey's question, beyond a vague handwave about "what it means to be human". Seems to me that to ask why we do stuff (particuarly, "useless" impractical stuff that doesn't immediately produce food or other necessities) *is* to inquire into the essence of what it means to be human -- few or no other animals spend so much time and effort on such pursuits.

Of course, it turns out the whole Leakey thing was just a rhetorical springboard for some anti-atheist snark. Move along, nothing to seee here....

Theo Bromine said...

What is a satisfactory answer to the problem of evil?

Immortality of the soul is an answer* to the problem of evil in the world. If one's perspective is that one's time on earth is just a (relatively) brief portion of one's whole existence, either as a prelude to eternal paradise or damnation, or one in a series of re-incarnated lives, temporal evil becomes irrelevant, or even good for building character.

* Not that I think it's a particularly *good* answer, suffering from a complete lack of evidence, logical foundation, or any basis other than wishful thinking.

Kirk said...

Jeffrey, in regard to your (1), I'm not sure how many years you have spent in philosophy departments, philosophy seminars and philosophy lounges hanging out with fellow philosophy students to be able to observe any generalities. Having spent 4 years in philosophy and 10+ years in physics/engineering/computational biophysics, I can assure you that, in general, there are noticeable differences in how philosophers view life and how scientists view life. Note that I said 'in general', one can always find exceptions. This is not to suggest that one is better than the other; it just simply means that there are differences.

You said, 'I regard the distinction between "why" questions and "non-why" questions as artificial and unimportant.' Jeffrey, you just made my point. The average philosopher would not regard such distinctions as unimportant.

You wrote, 'The reason why the theologian's answer to an atheist question is complex is because it takes an awful lot of bafflegab to hide the essential inanity of the theist position.' From my experience, atheists, with only a few exceptions, have not thought past the first move when it comes to the problem of evil. The first question an atheist has to address is whether objective evil even exists. Unless there are moral absolutes or laws that transcend humanity, evil becomes subjective, a matter of opinion. So if an atheist is going to complain about evil as if it is actually objective, then it behooves the atheist to define an objective standard of values that is strong enough to put teeth into their claim that evil occurs, but not so strong enough to imply the existence of God. Just as it is absurd to complain about the high crime rate if, in fact, there are no laws in existence to be broken, so it is absurd for humanity to complain about moral evil if, in fact, there are no moral laws in existence to be broken.

Of course, we can make up our own moral laws, but any free thinker will soon realize that the made-up moral laws exist only in our own minds. Some atheists may attempt to come up with a Darwinian explanation for morality but, again, a free thinker will realize that this Darwinian-originated morality only exists within our brain, and that there are no objective moral laws 'out there'. Furthermore, in a Darwinian world, things evolve and change, so moral violations are not violations at all, just a moral sampling of moral evolutionary space.

Another simplistic notion that, in my own experience, almost all atheists have is that we are actually in a position to know what an omniscient being should or should not allow. I can't see how an intelligent person would need more than one or two minutes of thought to realize the inanity of that proposition, given the complexity of history, with its billions of interaction causal chains, where every event spawns an increasing number of consequences, modifying an increasing number of causal chains. For anyone interested in thinking about the problem of evil, here is a good start.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Kirk:

1. You've got a real arrogance problem that you need to work on.

2. You completely misunderstood my point with respect to "why" questions. My point is that it is not sensible to make this kind of distinction, because one can always rephrase a "why" question in some other way. I gave an example, which you didn't even bother to address.

3. You make a false dichotomy between "moral absolutes or laws that transcend humanity" and "subjective, a matter of opinion". To name just two: evolutionary ethics, and the view that ethics are determined by an evolving societal consensus.

4. You say it is "inane" to believe "we are actually in a position to know what an omniscient being should or should not allow". In doing so, you assume the existence of entities not proved, and you also destroy your own position, since Christians claim with certainty that they do know what their omniscient friend allows.

5. "I can't see how an intelligent person would need more than one or two minutes of thought to realize the inanity of that proposition." Kirk, time to work on that arrogance problem again.

Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers said...

From my experience, atheists, with only a few exceptions, have not thought past the first move when it comes to the problem of evil. The first question an atheist has to address is whether objective evil even exists.

I'm not sure if I'm misunderstanding you, Kirk, or misunderstanding something else, but I'm not getting this. The problem of evil is supposed to be a proof by contradiction of the non-existence of a god. Assuming there is a god implies (supposedly) an objective standard of evil. Whether or not the atheist believes there is an objective standard of evil or not doesn't matter - the atheist has assumed that there is for the sake of argument, regardless of her own stance on the issue. Could you please clarify?

386sx said...

Whether or not the atheist believes there is an objective standard of evil or not doesn't matter - the atheist has assumed that there is for the sake of argument, regardless of her own stance on the issue.

Yeah, and that's kind of obvious isn't it?

Could you please clarify?

Sure. Kirk is a desperate theist making desperate arguments that will change shape at a moments notice. Hope that helps!

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Kirk:

I read your article. You did not even consider the most obvious objection, namely, that if one assumes your argument about limited access to immense causal chains, then one also has absolutely no basis to conclude that your god's action in the world is good, either. Any actions that seem good might actually be pure evil, because they result in horrible consequences down the line.
Since the usual definition of Yahweh requires that he be all-good, it seems you have a contradiction.

Kirk said...

atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers said:

Whether or not the atheist believes there is an objective standard of evil or not doesn't matter - the atheist has assumed that there is for the sake of argument, regardless of her own stance on the issue.

That is a good move. It absolves the atheist from having to explain or defend a set of moral absolutes and puts the ball square in the theist's court. Such a position solves one problem but introduces others if the person is ever going to complain about certain instances of suffering that he/she feels are objectively wrong. However, that is another discussion.

Once the atheist has made the move you have outlined above, then the next move by the atheist is to advance the idea that, as you have put it, " The problem of evil is supposed to be a proof by contradiction of the non-existence of a god."

You did not outline any argument that follows from this, but there are plenty around, based on the premise that the existence of evil is logically incompatible with the existence of God (defined in philosophical discussions of the problem of evil as 'all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good'). (There are technical variations of this, of course.) Based on that premise, the following argument can be advanced:

1. If evil exists, there is no God.
2. Evil exists.
therefore,
there is no God

Having made their initial move, it is now the theists' turn. The standard theists' response is Alvin Plantinga's famous Free Will Defense, which has been reprinted in a variety of forms, but one such is found in The Problem of Evil, Oxford University Press, 1990, 83-109. Plantinga gives this summary statement,

The essential point of the Free Will Defence is that the creation of a world containing moral good is a cooperative venture; it requires the uncoerced concurrence of significantly free creatures. But then the actualization of a world W containing moral good is not up to God alone; it also depends upon what the significantly free creatures of W would do if God created them and placed them in the situations W contains.

The general consensus among philosophers is that Plantinga's FWD has solved the logical problem of evil. Occasionally, an objection is published, but thus far, such objections are relatively easy to deal with. The real discussion has moved to the evidential or probabilistic problem of evil, which acknowledges that God and evil and compatible given the FWD, but God is not likely (does not exist with a probability greater than 0.5). All these arguments turn on the assumption that we are in a position to identify, with a reasonable high degree of probability, gratuitous evil. I show, in the paper I linked to in my last post, that reflection upon the consequential complexity of history falsifies that assumption. The atheist is then left in a position of agnosticism regarding whether any instance of evil in this world is gratuitous and all evidential arguments from evil collapse.

Jeffrey wrote:

You did not even consider the most obvious objection, namely, that if one assumes your argument about limited access to immense causal chains, then one also has absolutely no basis to conclude that your god's action in the world is good, either. Any actions that seem good might actually be pure evil, because they result in horrible consequences down the line.

Jeffrey, if all we have to go on is our miniscule knowledge of future consequences to the end of history, and our even more limited knowledge of alternate futures, (which is all I assume for that paper), then you are right ….. instances of good (say, intervening to stop 6 people from being killed in a car crash, or discovering a cure for cancer), may actually lead to a net moral evil when all the consequences to the end of history are considered. This is why you will note that I argued that the most rational position to hold is agnosticism, given our miniscule knowledge of the consequential complexity of history. My paper did not argue for the existence of God, but for the failure of all evidential arguments from evil against the existence of God, in the face of agnosticism. My paper says nothing about whether or not God exists. Rather, it neutralizes arguments against God's existence that depend upon instances of evil.

That being said, I do actually discuss your very point in another paper . I also further advance my argument in a, third paper published in a journal for which distinguished atheist philosopher, Quentin Smith, was editor at the time.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Kirk:

You "solve" the problem of evil at the cost of denying one of the fundamental attributes of your own god: namely, that he is all-good. But if that's what you want, fine with me. I have always said that the evidence is completely incompatible with the existence of the Christian god, but reasonably compatible with a sadistic god who loves to torment us. Since that's the one you apparently believe in, more power to you!

P.S. I do not accept your claim that is the consensus of philosophers that Plantinga has "solved the logical problem of evil". And I also do not accept your bizarre contention that the most reasonable probability for the existence of your god is 0.5. The problem with you is not that you don't know, but that you know so much that isn't so.

386sx said...

Kirk, you're pretending as though granting a premise for the sake of argument is some kind of an unexpected bold maneuver or something!

Reginald Selkirk said...

Immortality of the soul is an answer* to the problem of evil in the world. If one's perspective is that one's time on earth is just a (relatively) brief portion of one's whole existence, either as a prelude to eternal paradise or damnation, or one in a series of re-incarnated lives, temporal evil becomes irrelevant, or even good for building character.

But the existence of a paradise with no evil raises problems of its own

Reginald Selkirk said...

My paper did not argue for the existence of God, but for the failure of all evidential arguments from evil against the existence of God, in the face of agnosticism. My paper says nothing about whether or not God exists. Rather, it neutralizes arguments against God's existence that depend upon instances of evil.

I don't know what you mean by "neutralize." It might be possible to counter the argument from evil as a formal disproof of God's existence, but you do not neutralize the argument from evil as a convincing nonconclusive argument, and it comes at some cost as to what sort of God could exist.

Besides, this "free will" that the theists offer sounds very shallow and unappealing, it seems to consist of the right to make bad decisions based on insufficient information. That's not something I would get all het up about.

I was also going to make a second point about theists, not atheists, being the ones who claim to know what moral standards God wants, but I see Shallit has already made that point. Since you spent 4 years hanging around philosophy departments, I will also presume you are familiar with the divine command dilemma, and its implications for theistic moral absolutes.

Kirk said...

Jeffrey wrote:

You "solve" the problem of evil at the cost of denying one of the fundamental attributes of your own god: namely, that he is all-good.

I'm a bit mystified as to how you read that into my argument. That is certainly not in my paper(s).


Jeffrey wrote:

'I do not accept your claim that is the consensus of philosophers that Plantinga has "solved the logical problem of evil".'

It's certainly not just my claim. Survey the literature since Plantinga's FWD. You will find the rare dissenter but most have moved on to the evidential argument. William Rowe is one of the most well respected atheist philosophers involved in discussions of evil. Here is his opinion published in endnote (1) of William Rowe's "The Problem of Evil & Some Varieties of Atheism," The Evidential Argument From Evil, Daniel Howard-Snyder, ed. (Indiana University Press, 1996), p. 10. The endnote is more extensive than the short except here, but here are the opening sentences ….

"Some philosophers have contended that the existence of evil is logically incompatible with the existence of the theistic God. No one, I think, has succeeded in establishing such an extravagant claim. Indeed, granted incompatibilism, there is a fairly compelling argument for the view that the existence of evil is logically consistent with the existence of the theistic God (For a lucid statement of this argument, see Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil ….)"

Keep in mind that one of the most prominent atheist philosophers involved in this discussion published that, not me.


Jeffrey wrote:

I also do not accept your bizarre contention that the most reasonable probability for the existence of your god is 0.5.

Jeffrey, this is not my contention. Rather, it is standard procedure in papers dealing with the existence of God to begin from a position of agnosticism (i.e., probability that God exists = 0.5). It is seen as objective to neither assume God exists, nor does not exist and then argue from that starting point. If you don't accept this, I'll be happy to post a few references, but for starters, check out William Rowe's 'The evidential argument from evil: a second look', The Evidential Argument From Evil, Daniel Howard-Snyder, ed. (Indiana University Press, 1996), 262 – 285.


Reginald Selkirk wrote:

I don't know what you mean by "neutralize." It might be possible to counter the argument from evil as a formal disproof of God's existence, but you do not neutralize the argument from evil as a convincing nonconclusive argument, and it comes at some cost as to what sort of God could exist.

What I meant by 'neutralize' is that my argument from the consequential complexity of history defeats the four types of evidential arguments from evil. To clarify, evidential arguments against the existence of God all fail. The beauty of my argument, is that it does not assume God's existence nor argue for it. It is an argument that any atheist or agnostic might have put forward. The end result, is that evidential arguments from evil are impaled by the arrow of agnosticism regarding whether any event (good or bad) should be permitted by an omniscient being.

Reginald Selkirk wrote:

this "free will" that the theists offer sounds very shallow and unappealing, it seems to consist of the right to make bad decisions based on insufficient information. That's not something I would get all het up about.

There is a formal definition of free will in philosophy held by the consensus of atheist, agnostic, and theistic philosophers. A free agent (i.e. a being that has free will) is defined as an agent that can make decisions that
a) were not determined by any antecedent conditions and,
b) the agent could have decided otherwise.

There are a minority of philosophers that argue for a modified version the above definition, usually by dropping (b). However, dropping (b) essentially changes free will decisions to random events. Most philosophers would hold to the definition I present above.

Incidentally, an atheist who refers to herself/himself as a 'free thinker' but does not believe in free will, has a problem on her/his hands.


Reginald Selkirk wrote:

I will also presume you are familiar with the divine command dilemma, and its implications for theistic moral absolutes.

Yes, I am very familiar with that dilemma, also known as Euthyphro's dilemma, from a dialogue in Plato between the character Socrates and Euthyphro. This is a problem for Greek Gods, who may disagree among themselves about what they like, but it is not a problem for the Judeo-Christian God. The dilemma essentially boils down to two possibilities regarding what it is that makes something 'good' (το οσιον).

1. It is good because the gods like it (problem: the gods disagree about what they like, not to mention that the gods may change their minds about what they like)
2. The gods like it because it is good (problem: then the gods have nothing to do with defining what is good …. there is something else out there that defines it.)

For the Judeo-Christian God, the answer is essentially (1). To be more specific, the definition of good that I would hold to is as follows:

Good: An activity is good if, and only if, it corresponds to the way God is.

Since there is only one God, there is no disagreement about 'what the gods like' and since God is immutable (unchanging in His essence), the standard of good will never change.

I see moral laws given to humanity by God as a set of operating instructions that are designed to reduce suffering and maximize our long term fulfillment. Of course, we are also given free will to make our own decisions so that ultimately, we are all unique individuals, defined by the decisions we made during our training period (to use a neural network analogy).

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Kirk:

1. "I'm a bit mystified as to how you read that into my argument."

Well, gee, it follows logically from your argument. If causal paths are so complicated we can't determine if an action is good or bad, then we can just as well say that apparently good actions are actually bad, as the reverse. So you have to discard the view that your god is all good.

2. "It's certainly not just my claim. " Well, go read the Stanford Encylopedia entry on the problem of evil. They certainly don't agree with you. As I said before Kirk, the problem with you is that you are so arrogantly confident of views that are just plain wrong.

3. "Rather, it is standard procedure in papers dealing with the existence of God to begin from a position of agnosticism (i.e., probability that God exists = 0.5)." Frankly, I don't care if it's "standard procedure" or not. This is just a version of the principle of indifference, which has long known to be problematic. By the same argument, Zeus exists with probability 0.5, as does the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Loki, and any other god you can name. Get real.

Erdos56 said...

Going back to Kirk's original contention that there are distinctions between the sorts of questions scientists and philosophers ask, I believe the cross-over is much stronger than he suggests.

Mayr's work on teleonomy versus teleology, Don Campbell's evolutionary epistemology, Eliot Sober's work with David Sloan Wilson on levels of selection, and then Sober's further work on inference and abduction--all are fully in the realm of the philosophical consequences of scientific theory itself (to distinguish from philosophy of science, per se).

But any distinction between science and philosophy doesn't seem to be what Shea is hinting at. He seems to want an affective realization--a gestalt--that can perhaps only be responded to via song or poetry or perhaps worship. Well, gee, I am sure Leakey likes those things, too, but that doesn't invalidate thinking about topics like the purpose of cave paintings.

Reginald Selkirk said...

This is a problem for Greek Gods, who may disagree among themselves about what they like, but it is not a problem for the Judeo-Christian God...
1. It is good because the gods like it (problem: the gods disagree about what they like, not to mention that the gods may change their minds about what they like)
...
For the Judeo-Christian God, the answer is essentially (1). To be more specific, the definition of good that I would hold to is as follows:

Good: An activity is good if, and only if, it corresponds to the way God is.


For someone who has spent so much time hanging out in philosophy departments, you don't seem able to distinguish between a substantive philosophical argument and apologetic BS.

...and since God is immutable (unchanging in His essence), the standard of good will never change.

Very strange that you would refer to an "immutable God" and the "Judeo-Christian God" in the same post, since the Judeo-Christian God, as described in the Bible, is most certainly not immutable. You are attempting to switch back and forth between the Judeo-Christian God and the vague, abstract "God of the philosophers." Let's reflect this back on your definition of good. Since the God of the Judeo-Christian Bible commits genocide and encourages others to do so, then genocide is good. Also, the commision of genocide, an action, does not seem compatible with the description of God as immutable. Please stick to one God, either the Judeo-Christian God or the God of the philosophers, but stop mixing and matching when convenient.

I could also mention that the standard of good has changed. Many practices considered acceptable in Biblical times (genocide, slavery etc.) are today not considered good, so that your invokation of immutability for the concept of good, as well as as a description of God, is in bad shape on evidential grounds.

I see moral laws given to humanity by God as a set of operating instructions that are designed to reduce suffering and maximize our long term fulfillment.

But to quote someone earlier on this page,

"Another simplistic notion that, in my own experience, almost all atheists have is that we are actually in a position to know what an omniscient being should or should not allow. I can't see how an intelligent person would need more than one or two minutes of thought to realize the inanity of that proposition, given the complexity of history, with its billions of interaction causal chains, where every event spawns an increasing number of consequences, modifying an increasing number of causal chains."

In this person's opinion, your notion that we can know what God wants us to do is simplistic and inane.

Reginald Selkirk said...

There is a formal definition of free will in philosophy held by the consensus of atheist, agnostic, and theistic philosophers.

I learned something new. I was under the impression that the redefinition of "free will" was a regular activity of philosophers.

Incidentally, an atheist who refers to herself/himself as a 'free thinker' but does not believe in free will, has a problem on her/his hands.

Not unless he/she has difficulty in distinguishing between different definitions of "free."

larryniven said...

"Since there is only one God, there is no disagreement about 'what the gods like'..."

Is that so! In that case, I guess that all the various branches of Christianity and Judaism have just been putting on a very elaborate show in which they pretend to disagree vehemently about what God likes - well done, Christians and Jews! Also, Kirk, please note that atheists don't have to be able to explain objective evil on an atheistic view in order to use the problem of evil: the only way to show a system to be internally inconsistent is to adopt that system's premises and then show a contradiction. In this case, that system is Christianity, one of the premises of which is some kind of objective morality or other, so atheists (or whoever) get that much for free.

The problem with generalizing about scientists and philosophers in context - even if one has spent a lot of time around them, as Kirk claims to have done - is that they're in context. Sure, in a philosophical context, philosophers will almost certainly concentrate on philosophy, and in a scientific context (like, oh, I dunno, a movie about evolution), scientists will almost certainly concentrate on science. This does not, however, say whether they will maintain that concentration when placed in other contexts (i.e., whether they "really are" more philosophical or scientific as people). Shea seems to be determined to create an other to slander; Kirk just seems to be confused.

Kirk said...

Jeffrey Shallit wrote:
If causal paths are so complicated we can't determine if an action is good or bad, then we can just as well say that apparently good actions are actually bad, as the reverse. So you have to discard the view that your god is all good.

Jeffrey, I see two problems here. The first sentence badly misrepresents my argument, and the last sentence does not follow from the first (i.e., your conclusion is non sequitur).

Regarding misrepresenting my argument: The main point of my first paper is to show that, even though we are in a position to know if a particular event is good or bad, and can even assign an intrinsic moral value to it, the complexity of history makes it impossible for us to know if the net moral value of all the consequences of that event to the end of history, relative to the net moral value of the best possible alternate world is positive or negative.

I'm still mystified as to why you think it logically follows that, because we do not know the net moral value of all the consequences of any event (good or bad) to the end of history that, therefore, God is not good. There is no logical link whatsoever.

Jeffrey Shallit wrote regarding William Rowe's claim, and mine, that the consensus among philosophers is that Plantinga's FWD has defeated the logical problem of evil:
Well, go read the Stanford Encylopedia entry on the problem of evil. They certainly don't agree with you.

Jeffrey, appealing to one article to support your position is very risky. As I said from the outset, "Occasionally, an objection is published, but thus far, such objections are relatively easy to deal with. The real discussion has moved to the evidential or probabilistic problem of evil…". That is William Rowe's conclusion as well, which I referred to earlier. In preparing for my Masters thesis, I did two reading courses on the problem of evil that included reading every paper published on the logical or the evidential problem of evil since Planting published his FWD. I can back William Rowe's conclusion (which I quoted in my last post) that there is no longer any serious defense of the logical problem of evil. I still check out any interesting papers that surface on either of these two subjects. There is still the occasional one that shows up, but an occasional paper by no means undoes a consensus. You do not have to take my word for it, just take all the papers on the two problems, stack them up side by side, and you will have a very large stack dealing with the evidential problem, and less than a dozen papers attempting to defend the logical problem of evil.

Better still. If you or anyone else on this blog discussion, thinks you have an argument that defeats Plantinga's FWD, then let's see it. If you cannot produce a good argument, then you have no rational grounds for your position. I'm asking for an argument here, not yet another appeal to authority. Let's see one. Time to ante up.

Jeffrey Shallit wrote, regarding the standard convention of beginning with the assumption that the probability of God's existence is 0.5 and then arguing from that:
By the same argument, Zeus exists with probability 0.5, as does the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Loki, and any other god you can name. Get real.

Jeffrey, this is not my convention, it is a standard one often used in philosophy papers dealing with the existence of God, especially those that use Bayes' Theorem. If you are going to argue that God does not exist, and begin with a probability less than 0.5, then you are essentially assuming your conclusion in your opening premise …. obviously a fallacy. Of course, there are plenty of arguments that are deductive in nature that make no opening assumption about the probability that God exists.

Reginald Selkirk wrote, regarding my response to Euthyphro's dilemma:
For someone who has spent so much time hanging out in philosophy departments, you don't seem able to distinguish between a substantive philosophical argument and apologetic BS.

What, exactly, is the problem that you see? From the context of your post, your comment immediately follows my definition of 'good'. Normally, in philosophy, you come up with a counter argument, or a defeating proposition. It does not logically follow that, because you refer to a person's response as 'BS' that, therefore, you have refuted the person's response. You are going to have to do some work. What is wrong with my definition of 'good'?

Kirk wrote:
I see moral laws given to humanity by God as a set of operating instructions that are designed to reduce suffering and maximize our long term fulfillment.

and Kirk also wrote:
Another simplistic notion that, in my own experience, almost all atheists have is that we are actually in a position to know what an omniscient being should or should not allow. I can't see how an intelligent person would need more than one or two minutes of thought to realize the inanity of that proposition, given the complexity of history, with its billions of interaction causal chains, where every event spawns an increasing number of consequences, modifying an increasing number of causal chains."

In response, Reginald Selkirk write:
In this person's opinion, your notion that we can know what God wants us to do is simplistic and inane.

Reginald, of course, by 'this person' you are referring to myself. Your conclusion does not follow from what I wrote. If you will read carefully the parts that you quoted, you will notice that:
a) we can know what God wants us to do (assuming He has given us a set of moral laws) and,
b) we are in no position to know what God should or should not allow on the basis of the consequential complexity of history.

If you think there is a contradiction between the two statements, then show it. It does not logically follow that because we know what we should do that, therefore, we should know what God should allow. Nor does it logically follow that because we do not know what God should allow that, therefore, we do not know what we should do. We are morally obligated to act on the basis of what we could reasonably be expected to know. What we 'could reasonably be expected to know' is a lot different from what an omniscient being 'could reasonably be expected to know'. What an omniscient being should allow is the Being's problem, not ours. We simply do not have the information to know what God should and should not allow. We only have enough information to know what we should do.

I am leaving in a couple hours and will have limited access to the internet over the next 4 weeks, so I will attempt to check in here when I can to see if I can respond to any further comments. However, it may be a little tardy.

Bayesian Bouffant, FCD said...

the only way to show a system to be internally inconsistent is to adopt that system's premises and then show a contradiction.

Kirk Durston does not understand that, as evidenced by the thread on time and infinity.

Reginald Selkirk said...

Good: An activity is good if, and only if, it corresponds to the way God is.
..
What, exactly, is the problem that you see? From the context of your post, your comment immediately follows my definition of 'good'. Normally, in philosophy, you come up with a counter argument, or a defeating proposition. It does not logically follow that, because you refer to a person's response as 'BS' that, therefore, you have refuted the person's response. You are going to have to do some work. What is wrong with my definition of 'good'?


To start with, it is a definition that no nontheist would agree with, since it presupposes the existence of God; otherwise "good" would be incoherent. (I.e. it begs the question that goodness is dependent on the existence of God.) Second, it does not get you clear of the arbitrariness which is the first point of the Euthyphro dilemma. If for example, God committed and advocated genocide, then genocide must be good. I don't think there are many people who could agree with that, although you may be the rare exception.

386sx said...

I.e. it begs the question that goodness is dependent on the existence of God.

Even so, who says God has to be good? God? God says God is good, so therefore God is good? Must be a really honest dude I guess!!

Reginald Selkirk said...

For the Judeo-Christian God, the answer is essentially (1). To be more specific, the definition of good that I would hold to is as follows:

Good: An activity is good if, and only if, it corresponds to the way God is.



A few years ago, I was having a deep philosophical discussion with a colleague of mine from down the hall, as to the possibility of the existence of non-black crows. We were deeply divided on this issue; he for the possibility and me against. Finally I turned the tide with this argument: "I am going to define black as the color of crows. Therefore it will never be possible for a non-black crow to exist. My colleague is not gifted with superior skills as a master logician, as I am, and expressed much perplexment before finally acknowledging that I had indeed won with an airtight logical argument. I went on to explain to him the breadth of my intellectual achievement, because now we could proceed to a discussion of whether it might be possible for non-crows to be black.

My friend is of a scientific bent, and so rather than hang around to be enlightened by my profound thoughts on that matter, he instead left on a worldwide search to find a non-black crow. Over the last few years I received postcards from three continents as he pursued his quest.

Finally, just a few days ago, I arrived at work to find this note on my desk: "I am back, please meet me in my office for a chat. - T." I strolled down the hall, and soon after I entered his office, he withdrew the cloth cover from a bird cage to reveal a completely white crow. "This specimen should finally make my case for non-black crows," he crowed.

"Quite to the contrary, my dear chap," I replied, "That argument was settled years ago when I came up with my definition for black. However, I must now congratulate you on your own intellectual achievement: you have proven that white is black."

His reaction to this was rather impolite and violent, so I shall not describe it.

Mark said...

I don't suppose Shea considered the possibility that Leakey was asking the question in order to lead into a discussion about what we know or don't know about human motivations. Shea gives me the impression that he is a rather shallow thinker himself.

386sx said...

I don't suppose Shea considered the possibility that Leakey was asking the question in order to lead into a discussion about what we know or don't know about human motivations. Shea gives me the impression that he is a rather shallow thinker himself.

That's the point, I think. Leakey doesn't know much about human motivations, but Shea does. (Probably something to do with Jesus and souls, I'm sure.) Therefore Leaky is a godless intellectual, and therefore stupid.


Shea also wrote, regarding the "Beware the Believers" viral video:

However, I discovered that, thanks to the same sort of bizarre lack of elementary social aptitude that Leakey displayed in the film I saw decades ago, the humor and satire are indeed lost on… Richard Dawkins.

I don’t mean that Dawkins got angry about being spoofed. I mean that Dawkins was too thick to figure out if he was being spoofed or not. On his blog, after discovering the video, he pleads for enlightenment from his fellow Brights:

"If anyone can understand a single word of this, don’t bother to translate, just tell me whose side it’s on."

That would be funny enough, given that Dawkins is our natural moral and intellectual superior, according to his own press releases.


Yeah, and Michael Edmondson, the creator of the video has already said about it: "I suppose the answer is that I tried to make something that was funny to me and It's not really meant to convince anyone of anything."

"Funny enough", yeah, hardy har har.

Reginald Selkirk said...

RS: "this "free will" that the theists offer sounds very shallow and unappealing, it seems to consist of the right to make bad decisions based on insufficient information. That's not something I would get all het up about."

kirk: "There is a formal definition of free will in philosophy held by the consensus of atheist, agnostic, and theistic philosophers..."

Some apologists claim that if God were to provide ample evidence of his existence, that would make it impossible for anyone not to believe in Him, and thus would take away from the "free will" of skeptics.

Kirk said...

Well, it's been longer than I thought. As I mentioned at the end of my last post, I'm traveling for the next several weeks, and have only occasional access to internet.

Response to Baysian Bouffant's contribtion to this discussion:
BB, your comment is bizarre in light of the thread to which you refer. What can I say but to suggest to interested parties to go back and read through my arguments in that thread.

Response to Reginald Selkirk's objections:
First, I must say that I am pleased to see to honest objections, and a very interesting Crow analogy. Good stuff! Much better than contemplating the letters 'BS'.

Black crows and a good God: Just a couple quick thoughts. Although it is commonplace to define God with the essential attribute of being 'perfectly good', it is unusual to define crows as 'perfectly black'. Crows may be thought to be black, but is it an essential attribute that they be 'perfectly black'? Furthermore, Alvin Plantinga has raised the bar one notch in his definition of God to include maximal excellence, that degree of excellence beyond which it is not logically possible to be more excellent. Maximal excellence, argues Plantinga, is entailed by the attribute of maximal greatness, which is a generally granted attribute of God. Maximal excellence, therefore, is a necessary attribute of God. No one has claimed that a necessary attribute of crows is maximal blackness, that degree of blackness beyond which it is not logically possible to be more black.

Occam's razor: Instead of having both a Maximally Excellent being and something 'out there' that defines excellence (or goodness), why not just use Occam's razor and go for one being who, in virtue of being maximally excellent, also defines excellence? Furthermore, a being who is both maximally excellent and the ultimate standard of excellence is greater than a being who is just maximally excellent. Therefore, if God is maximally great then, necessarily, he must not only be maximally excellent, but he becomes the definition of excellence.

Euthyphro's Dilemma: First let me state once again Euthyphro's Dilemma for the sake of those who may not have read my last post. Essentially, the two horns of the dilemma are as follows:

1. Something is good because the gods like it (Problem: the gods disagree among themselves about what they like. This also raises the problem of arbitrariness.)
2. The gods like it because it is good (in which case, the gods are irrelevant; what we're really interested in is what it is that makes something good.)

Kirk's Solution: In option (1), it is the gods that define what is good. I'm going with option (1), but to solve the two problems, we can use Occam's Razor and reduce the number of gods to just one, and postulate that the one God is immutable in essence. Thus, there is no disagreement among the gods as to what they like, since there is only one God, and since the one God is immutable (unchanging in His essence), there is no arbitrariness. So what we are left with is a variation of option (1); it is the immutable God that defines what is good. With that in mind, I adopt a correspondence theory of 'good' as follows:

Good: an activity (or entity) is good if and only if it corresponds to the way God is.

Selkirk's first objection: " it presupposes the existence of God

Reginald Selkirk, Euthyphro's Dilemma is not a discussion about whether or not God exists; it is a discussion about what it is that makes something 'good'. Euthyphro's option (1) not only assumes the existence of one or more gods, but it also assumes that it is one or more gods that define what is good (by what they like). All I've done is refine option (1). If we do not assume the existence of one or more gods, then option (1) disappears and Euthyphro's Dilemma vanishes. You need two horns for a dilemma and one of those horns assumes the existence of one or more gods. Now if I were attempting to argue for the existence of God and assumed the existence of God in my opening premise and from that concluded that God exists, then that would be a circular argument which would, indeed, be invalid. But we are dealing with Euthyphro's Dilemma here, which assumes the existence of one or more gods in its first option. Therefore, it seems to me that your first objection fails.

Selkirk's second objection: it does not get you clear of the arbitrariness which is the first point of the Euthyphro dilemma. If for example, God committed and advocated genocide, then genocide must be good. I don't think there are many people who could agree with that, although you may be the rare exception.

You may need to clarify what you mean by 'arbitrariness'. In your genocide example you imply that if we do not like or agree with The Entity that Defines Good (whatever it might be), it must be arbitrary. But whether we like it, or agree with it, is irrelevant to the question of whether it is arbitrary. So as it stands right now, I think your second objection fails as well.

Perhaps, by 'arbitrary' you mean 'without grounds or reasonless'. I think I could grant this additional meaning to the concept of 'arbitrariness'. However, if we grant that God must be maximally great, then it follows that he must also be maximally excellent. Maximal excellence, it would seem to me, would provide sufficient and necessary grounds for defining goodness.

Equivocation between 'goodness' and 'God: If one grants my definition of the good, then 'perfect goodness' or 'maximal excellence' merely become descriptors of God. The concepts of 'good' or 'excellence' are of no personal use to God in the same way that the concept of 'Kirk-ness' is of no personal use to Kirk. It is useful to other people only. For example, 'Kirk-ness' might be of use to other people when they are attempting to construct an effigy of Kirk or mimic Kirk. In the same way, the concepts of good are only useful to other beings besides God if God is what defines perfect goodness. Sayings like 'God is good' are equivalent to saying, 'God is what he is'; they tell us nothing. However, if we say Bill is good, this means something. It means that Bill has something about him that corresponds to God, or maximal excellence. So when considering whether we like goodness, or beauty, or excellence, the ultimate question becomes, 'do we like God?'

Reginald Selkirk wrote:
Some apologists claim that if God were to provide ample evidence of his existence, that would make it impossible for anyone not to believe in Him, and thus would take away from the "free will" of skeptics.

Well, that certainly would not be me.

I don't know when I next get to check this thread out, but hopefully sometime next week.

Reginald Selkirk said...

Furthermore, Alvin Plantinga has raised the bar one notch in his definition of God to include maximal excellence, that degree of excellence beyond which it is not logically possible to be more excellent.

Interesting. Didn't Plantinga's famous Free Will Defense against the argument from evil entail that God must value Free Will for the wicked more than the suffering of innocent children? Wouldn't a maximally excellent being not have to make such compromises?

Occam's razor: Instead of having both a Maximally Excellent being and something 'out there' that defines excellence (or goodness), why not just use Occam's razor and go for one being who, in virtue of being maximally excellent, also defines excellence? Furthermore, a being who is both maximally excellent and the ultimate standard of excellence is greater than a being who is just maximally excellent. Therefore, if God is maximally great then, necessarily, he must not only be maximally excellent, but he becomes the definition of excellence.

Apparently "Occam's Razor" now means "circular reasoning." Once again I learn something. Embedding your conclusion in your definitions is question-begging. I suppose from your perspective it sure beats work, though.

386sx said...

Occam's razor: Instead of having both a Maximally Excellent being and something 'out there' that defines excellence (or goodness), why not just use Occam's razor and go for one being who, in virtue of being maximally excellent, also defines excellence?

Anything else you want to throw in there? How about tomato plants.

One being who, in virtue of being maximally excellent, also defines excellence, and who is made outta tomato plants.

Occam's razor!

Reginald Selkirk said...

Kirk: Black crows and a good God: Just a couple quick thoughts. ...
If one grants my definition of the good...


------

Mr. Durston, I'll make it very clear for you: you've been beaten. And I'll file you're excuse as to why you would not grant the same liberties of rhetoric to a black-crowist that you yourself demand as a theist under special pleading.

-----

Quintus: People should know when they're conquered.
Maximus: Would you, Quintus? Would I?

(From the movie Gladiator, screenplay by David Franzoni)

------

Kirk said...

Well, it looks like some of the latest responses to my previous posts have replaced the art of thinking with the more primal chest-thumping. In response to my suggestion that we don't need both a maximally excellent God and an ultimate standard of excellence when just one will do the job, Reginald Selkirk wrote,

Apparently "Occam's Razor" now means "circular reasoning." Once again I learn something. Embedding your conclusion in your definitions is question-begging. I suppose from your perspective it sure beats work, though.

Maximal excellence does not entail that an entity possessing such an attribute is the ultimate standard of excellence. A being might be maximally excellent simply because of a perfect correspondence between it and the ultimate standard. But why have two entities when one will do the job?

It is only when maximal excellence is conjoined with maximal greatness that such a being must, necessarily, become the ultimate standard of excellence. I'm assuming that you have read Plantinga on the concept of maximal greatness and what follows from it, so I only provide a skeleton argument as follows:

1. God is maximally great (that degree of greatness beyond which it is not logically possible to be greater).
2. If God is maximally great, then necessarily, He is maximally excellent
3. If God is maximally great, then necessarily He is the ultimate standard of excellence.
therefore,
God is both maximally excellent and the ultimate standard of excellence

It follows from this that an activity is good if and only if it corresponds to the way God is.

Next, 386SX wrote:
Anything else you want to throw in there? How about tomato plants. One being who, in virtue of being maximally excellent, also defines excellence, and who is made outta tomato plants. Occam's razor!

Occam's razor is about eliminating unnecessary things, not adding them.

Finally, Reginald Selkirk wrote, in response to me pointing out that crow's don't have the same qualification for defining 'black' that a maximally excellent being has for defining excellence:
Mr. Durston, I'll make it very clear for you: you've been beaten. And I'll file you're excuse as to why you would not grant the same liberties of rhetoric to a black-crowist that you yourself demand as a theist under special pleading.

By gum, Reginald! Ignoring your tendency for chest-thumping, do I have to do your thinking for you, my good man? There is no special pleading here; God and crows are not even remotely in the same category. Your problem is that you arbitrarily made crows the ultimate standard of blackness without any good argument to support your assertion. I've at least sketched out an argument from maximal greatness to the conclusion that such a being must be the standard of excellence. Where's your argument as to why crows, of all black things, should be the ultimate standard of blackness? You are not even in the game until you come up with a good argument as to why crows should define blackness rather than coal, or the absence of electromagnetic radiation, etc.

Tomorrow I'm heading into the remote wilderness for a week of canoeing and camping. I may have occasional access to the internet during the week after that, so it may be at least two weeks before I can respond to any further comments.

386sx said...

Occam's razor is about eliminating unnecessary things, not adding them.

Right. We eliminate the tomato plants. If God is maximally great, then he would be everything.

If God is everything, than he's a tomato plant too. I don't see why you have a problem with that. But for some reason you don't want to say that calling God a tomato plant is "eliminating unnecessary things."

Reginald Selkirk said...

By gum, Reginald! Ignoring your tendency for chest-thumping, do I have to do your thinking for you, my good man?

I don't think you're up to the task.

You should be grateful to me for not accepting your attempts to embed your conclusions in your definitions. If you were allowed to do that, the actual argumentation phase would be pointless, and we know that pointlessness gives theists the heebie jeebies.

Kirk said...

386sx, you do raise an interesting question as to what is entailed by the attribute of maximal greatness. I've not thought about your particular criticism before, but as I sit here thinking about it, it seems to me that maximal greatness does not entail that such a being 'is everything'; there could be other entities that are not maximally great. Here is an argument …

1. A maximally great being is a maximally excellent being (entailed by maximal greatness)
2. Some Tomato plants can be diseased (empirical fact)
3. If some Tomato plants can be diseased, then everything is not necessarily maximally excellent. (analytically true)
4. Everything is not necessarily maximally excellent (from 2 & 3)
5. A maximally great being cannot be both maximally excellent and not-maximally excellent (law of non-contradiction)
therefore,
6. A maximally great being is not necessarily everything. (from 1,4 & 5)

Since a tomato plant is included in 'everything', it follows from (6) that a maximally great being is not necessarily a tomato plant. There are some things that are entailed by maximal greatness, such as omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, eternal and maximal excellence, but other things that are not entailed, such as being a tomato plant. Note, also, that this argument does not prove that a maximally great being cannot be everything, just that it is not necessarily everything.

Reginald Selkirk said...

kirk: Your problem is that you arbitrarily made crows the ultimate standard of blackness without any good argument to support your assertion. I've at least sketched out an argument from maximal greatness to the conclusion that such a being must be the standard of excellence. Where's your argument as to why crows, of all black things, should be the ultimate standard of blackness? You are not even in the game until you come up with a good argument as to why crows should define blackness rather than coal, or the absence of electromagnetic radiation, etc.

Thank you for acknowledging that you are playing a "game." Since pointing out that what you are doing is question-begging, I am not interested in any further explanations as to why you should be allowed to beg the question, especially when you deny that privilege to others. In the interest of following through with the same maximal excellence you have displayed, I ran a Googlefight between "black as a crow" and "black as coal." The former won, 117 to 88. I would think that even you had heard of "brown coal." Perhaps I should have written my story with ravens rather than crows, then I could use the fact that raven is a synonym of black. Based on your line of argumentation, that seems like the sort of trivia that might convince you.

Regarding my black crow story, I can only apologise to any readers for the lack of imagination in using such an exact analogy of your argument.

Bye now, sophistry doesn't hold my interest as it seems to hold yours.

John Farrell said...

I don't mind saying I'm enjoying both sides of this discussion thus far, so I hope it continues.

larryniven said...

Ta dah! And thus Kirk disproves Christianity:

"1. A maximally great being is a maximally excellent being (entailed by maximal greatness)
2. Some Tomato plants can be diseased (empirical fact)
3. If some Tomato plants can be diseased, then everything is not necessarily maximally excellent. (analytically true)
4. Everything is not necessarily maximally excellent (from 2 & 3)
5. A maximally great being cannot be both maximally excellent and not-maximally excellent (law of non-contradiction)
therefore,
6. A maximally great being is not necessarily everything. (from 1,4 & 5)"

3 is a bit of a leap and 4 is stated wrongly - what he really meant was

3a. If some kind of thing can be diseased, that kind of thing is not necessarily maximally excellent. (I take it this is definitional for Kirk)
3b. Tomatoes are not necessarily maximally excellent. (2 and 3a)
4'. Not everything is necessarily maximally excellent. (from 3b and quantifier logic - note, Kirk, that this is substantively different from your 4; note, moreover, that 4' actually follows whereas yours doesn't)

Sure, Kirk's proof suffices to show that God can't be everything, but it also is strong enough to show that God couldn't be Jesus - just replace "Tomatoes" with "Jesus." Jesus could have been diseased (assuming Jesus existed), so these same premises demonstrate that God couldn't have been Jesus in any way, shape, or form. It follows trivially from this that Christianity is false. Thanks, Kirk!

386sx said...

2. Some Tomato plants can be diseased (empirical fact)

That's okay, they're still maximally excellent. Tomato plants that are diseased are stll maximally excellent. (Just like when "good" has some "bad" in it it's still maximally excellent.)

Kirk said...

Well, having got home last night after a week in the remote northern Ontario wilderness, I'm now changing gears from focusing on food, shelter and avoiding problems with Black Bears and Cougars to thinking once again about the higher things in life such as philosophy. LarryNiven has technically tuned up my argument and I accept his improvements. The improved argument reads as follows:

1. A maximally great being is a maximally excellent being (entailed by maximal greatness)
2. Some Tomato plants can be diseased (empirical fact)
3. If some kind of thing can be diseased, that kind of thing is not necessarily maximally excellent.
4. Tomatoes are not necessarily maximally excellent. (from 2 & 3)
5. Not everything is necessarily maximally excellent. (from 4 and quantifier logic)
5. A maximally great being cannot be both maximally excellent and not-maximally excellent (law of non-contradiction)
therefore,
6. A maximally great being is not necessarily everything. (from 1, 5 & 6)"

The above argument is not very pretty and can certainly be improved upon, but it does the job for now.

Larry then makes the most interesting suggestion that the above argument disproves Christianity, if we grant that Jesus contracted a disease at some point in his life. Since the New Testament documents affirm that Jesus endured the same hardships the rest of us endure, then I'm certainly willing to grant that he contracted one or more of a variety of diseases during the course of his life.

Although I accept Larry's technical improvements to my initial argument, Larry's conclusion that 'God couldn't have been Jesus in any way, shape, or form' does not follow from the above argument if we substitute 'Jesus' for tomato plants. The phrase 'not necessarily' is key here. I used 'not necessarily' in my argument intentionally. Premise (4) allows that the state of 'being diseased' might be logically compatible with the state of being 'maximally excellent'. All that follows about Jesus would be found in premise (4) where it would state, 'Jesus is not necessarily maximally excellent.' It would not follow that 'Jesus is not maximally excellent.' The difference between 'not necessarily' and 'not' is critical here.

Highly relevant to the discussion is what is entailed by the concept of maximal excellence (that degree of excellence beyond which it is not logically possible to more excellent). Let us say for the sake of argument that

A. The only way humanity can be rescued is if a maximally excellent being becomes human (where 'human' includes 'gets diseased', 'gets dirty and needs a shower', etc.).

Given (A), which of the following beings are more excellent:

Being #1: knows that A is the case, desires to rescue humanity but not wishing to 'get dirty' decides against becoming human, with the result that humanity is not rescued.

Being #2: knows that A is the case, desires to rescue humanity, and in spite of becoming dirty becomes human for the purpose of rescuing humanity. (a central premise in Christianity)

Of the two beings, it seems to me that Being #2 would be more excellent than Being #1. Ultimately, it seems to me that a maximally excellent being would do everything in such being's power to rescue other beings just so long as whatever 'getting dirty' required was still logically compatible with maximal excellence. Premise (4) allows for cases where certain types of 'getting dirty' may be logically compatible with maximal excellence.

larryniven said...

Oh, this is so sad, seeing you flail around like this. You agree that "Jesus is not necessarily maximally excellent," Kirk, but somehow then disagree that Jesus could not be God. God, on your definition, is necessarily maximally excellent, so the two clearly cannot be the same, nor one a part of the other (or, if you reject this latter conclusion, you must give another reason as to why tomato plants aren't included in God; if a not-necessarily maximally excellent thing can be part of a necessarily maximally excellent one, then prima facie tomato plants can be part of God). But then again, it doesn't seem like you even believe any of this, because you say that it's central to Christianity that God "become human," which means by any reasonable interpretation of "become human" that, by now, God is dead: no human could possibly have survived for over a thousand years. (It's worthwhile to note, here, that if I wear a hand puppet of a snake, my hand has not become a snake - that, in fact, there is no real snake involved in that process. So while you may try to argue that God didn't become totally human but rather just human enough to be Jesus, what you're really saying is that God stuck part of itself inside a puppet of a human: there is no real human involved, just the appearance of one.) I look forward to your next comment so that you can clarify what it is, exactly, you think you mean.

Kirk said...

Larry, there is no 'flailing around'. I simply pointed out that your conclusion that 'God couldn't have been Jesus in any way, shape, or form' does not follow from the improved version of the argument in my last post, nor my initial, argument. So your excitement over the demise of Christianity is not founded.

The conclusion that 'Jesus is not necessarily maximally excellent' says nothing about whether he actually is or not. Therefore, it says nothing about whether Jesus is or is not God. The same goes for tomato plants. Recall that all I had to do to respond to 386's suggestion that maximal greatness meant that God had to be, among other things, a tomato plant, was to argue that such is not necessarily so.

I do not see a problem with a maximally great being acquiring the additional property of becoming a human, in addition to what He is already. Your suggestion that God would be dead by now is only true if God lost all his other properties and became nothing more than a human. But that is not what Christianity holds. Under Christianity, God retains all His properties and adds an additional property …. becoming a human being. If the human aspect of God dies, then all the other properties still remain. Furthermore, under Christianity, death is not the end of a human being. Some humans will undergo a change of state into an immortal and excellent form. Given this, if God does add the property of 'becoming human' to His other properties, and the human aspect of God dies, it is not necessarily the end of the humanity of God if Jesus did rise from the dead in an immortal and excellent (in his case, maximally excellent) form. Of course, whether this is all actual or not is a different question.

larryniven said...

Just a quick rundown, and then I'm done with this: I didn't really think your argument disproved Christianity, mostly because it's a really silly argument that misunderstands pretty much all of its key concepts; rather, the point was that it was too strong for you to use to defend Christianity because, if it works, it works in the case of Jesus as well, because it's strong enough to show that God could not have been Jesus; in attempting to reconcile this, you tell me that the most excellent of all possible sequences of events was for God to play with a Jesus-shaped puppet, let the puppet die, and then resurrect it immaterially to live forever. If that's your story, you can have it - I can tell when I'm talking to a brick wall.

Kirk Durston said...

Larry, you started off so well but you don't seem to understand that 'not necessarily' is a lot different from 'not'. For example, the premise

P1. If a person is of Jewish descent, then he is not necessarily of English descent.

is a lot different from the premise

P2. If a person is of Jewish descent, then he is not of English descent.

The mistake you are making is thinking that P1 is equivalent to P2. It is not. Given P1, a person of Jewish descent could still be of English descent, though not necessarily, which is the case for me. Since my mother is of Jewish decent and my father is of English descent, P1 is true for me and P2 is false. Your contention that my argument is 'strong enough to show that God could not have been Jesus' is simply false, for the same reason pointed out above. This should be patently obvious to a person who believes they are knowledgeable enough to pronounce arguments as 'really silly' and who suggests that his fellow discussant 'misunderstands pretty much all of its key concepts.'

You are also mistaken when you state that my argument was 'too strong' ('too strong' and 'really silly' …. hmmmmm.). The argument is not making a strong inference at all; it is simply a defense against 336's claim that a maximally great being must be everything, including a tomato plant. The argument simply concludes that it is not necessarily so. That is certainly not 'too strong'. Concluding that Jesus is not necessarily God, or that I am not necessarily English says nothing about whether or not Jesus actually is God, or whether I am actually of English descent. Please tell me that you see this and that I am not 'talking to a brick wall.'

You wrote, "you tell me that the most excellent of all possible sequences of events was for God to play with a Jesus-shaped puppet, let the puppet die, and then resurrect it immaterially to live forever."

If you will review what I wrote, you will see that I said no such thing. You have misrepresented what I said, and that is dishonest. There is a very large difference between 'becoming a human' and to 'play with a Jesus-shaped puppet'. Dishonestly misrepresenting what a person says and then claiming you are 'talking to a brick wall' is a sign of a person who seems to be flailing around.