• About TWIM

    The Warfare Is Mental (TWIM) reflects the mental warfare of an author, screenwriter, publisher and member of the Writer's Guild of America. Family, friends, health, humor, art, music, science, faith, fun and knowledge are some of the things that are important to me.

    TWIM is the first and only theist blog listed on the Atheist Blogroll, which currently contains over 1,000 blogs. It goes without saying that I don't endorse hardly any of the views of any of them. Contact Mojoey for more information.

    Ironically, TWIM won an award for "Best Atheist / Skeptic Site" from this site. Much obliged.

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    You and your commenters are a feast of thinking — great stuff.

    -C.L. Dyck
    I have no need to engage with racists, so will ignore cl’s further diatribes.

    cl resists following through on a thought even to provide a solid opposing position, and thus stifles many conversations. It’s a shame since it seems like cl has some brain power that could be applied to the topics at hand.

    [faithlessgod and Hermes] fit my definition of trolling. I didn’t take any of those attacks against you seriously, and quickly categorized them as trolls.

    -JS Allen,
    [cl] is, as many have noticed, a master of this warfare. I’ve been following him for quite some time and he’s one of the most effective Christian trolls out there. No one can completely destroy a conversation as effectively as he does, and with such masterful grace and subtly that he rarely gets banned. This isn’t a blunt-force “U R Hitler!” troll, this is the Yoda of trolling.

    This seems to imply that cl is, at least in part, disingenuous in terms of how he responds/what he claims. Is this most likely true, supported by evidence, or merely a subjective claim?

    -al friedlander,
    ...I wanted to get a message to you outside of the context of specific discussions on CSA. You make good, insightful contributions to that site, and since I often agree with you I'm glad there is someone else there defending my positions better than I sometimes can. However I don't think anything of value would be lost if you stopped engaging in personal combat with juvenile snipers.

    Thank you for your wonderful response - so reasoned in the race of [Waldvogel's] blustering.

    -Annie Laurie Gaylor
     Freedom From Religion Foundation
    Thanks for a great Op-Ed.

    -Marianne Ratcliff
     VC Star
    ...as atheists we need to make sure that someone like cl and any Christian readers of [An Apostate's Chapel] don’t come away with the perception that the atheists caved in or were incapable of responding. I’m sure that a lot of Christians who find cl incomprehensible at times and don’t even bother reading him themselves will come away with an assumption that cl is that sort of rare intellectual theist who can prove that gods exist. And that’s how those inane rumors about the feared xian intellectuals start…

     An Apostate's Chapel
    You are in so over your head here, you are embarrassing yourself...
    I am well versed in many aspects of evolution biology, through my academic background, and my professional life. Unless your academic degrees and background match mine, cease and desist. Return to philosophy and rhetoric, or whatever it is you perceive your strengths to be. They are definitely not science, even at the high school level.

    -R.C. Moore
     Evangelical Realism
    You're doing a fine job.

    -Prof. Larry Moran
     Dept. of Biochemistry
     University of Toronto
     re: R.C. Moore & others
    Phyletic change and vicariance (or, drift and selection versus population isolation), as cl points out, are much better ways of describing what are unfortunately more commonly known as micro- and macro- evolution, respectively.

     Biology postdoc
     Univ. of Cyprus
     re: R.C. Moore & others
    cl says, “The minute you call yourself a Christian or an Atheist or whatever the heck else, you automatically get painted by other people’s interpretations of those words, which are almost always different and almost always distorted.” cl’s point couldn’t be more on. As cl points out there is an important reason for not claiming any real religious (or lack thereof) belief. It puts logical constraints on one's arguments due directly to the bias of the individual that is translating the English to mind ideas of what it means to be religious.

    Just who in the bloody hell do you think you are, you Christian piece of garbage, to come here barking out orders? You're an arrogant, condescending piece of shit. You seem to think you're an intellectual of sorts, when all you are is a Christian who's read a few books. John, everyone, this really is the limit. BR, I'm more than a little annoyed that you continue to engage him. I'm out of here. I have better things to do than to waste my time with these cretins.

     Debunking Christianity
    How old are you CL? I'd guess you have not yet experienced much life. I'd say you were under the age of 21, too young to be here. I don't give a damn what you think of me or my deconversion at all. You're too stupid to realize that regardless of it you must deal with the arguments in the book. They are leading people away from you [sic] faith. I'm seriously considering banning you cl, as I've heard you were banned on other sites. You are much too ignorant for us to have a reasonable discussion.

    -John Loftus
     Debunking Christianity
    I admired the way you handled yourself in the discussion on John's blog. I'm not patient enough to keep my sarcasm in check with some of them blokes, but appreciate those who are.

    -David Marshall
     re: Debunking Christianity
    cl, I have to say, while I fundamentally disagree with you, you are an individual which I highly respect. I think your responses are always well thought out and your insights always well thought out and pertinently derived.
    [Y]ou have made me a stronger atheist in my regards to critical thinking and debating. I really can’t wait to hear more from you. Hell, I’d even buy you a drink, good sir. Cheers!

     Evangelical Realism
    Bottom line? Sometimes I think he's right about certain arguments, and I don't have a problem admitting that. Other times, however, I think he's wrong, and I've called him on that. But I have found he can be pretty reasonable if you (1) don't overstate your case, (2) make concessions when you have, and (3) insist he do the same.

    I like it when [cl] makes me stop, think and question if I am making unfounded assertions or if I am being sloppy. What has been annoying me about cl of late is that he is being excruciatingly anal...

    I really can't thank you enough for catching me on my error in rhetoric. I always love a good debate! And I always enjoy your posts, as well! Keep up the great writing and the excellent eye for detail!

    You make me smarter...

    -Mike G.
    ..thank you, cl. I discovered your blog on a random web search and saw it as an oasis amidst a vast desert of seemingly intractable theist-atheist debate.

    -Sung Jun
    It's good to be able to discuss with people who are open and respectful, and know that disagreement does not mean disrespect... You are to be congratulated, not only for your patience, but also your ability to hold an ever-growing debate together with an impressive degree of structure.

    My tone is derogatory... [cl is] ignorant and credulous and deserves to be mocked... In the time he's been here, he's shown a consistent pattern of antagonizing everyone he comes in contact with, monopolizing threads, derailing discussions with perpetual complaints, quibbles and demands for attention, and generally making arguments that display a lack of good faith and responsiveness... it's become intolerable. I'm not banning him, but I'm putting in place some restrictions on how often he can comment.

     Daylight Atheism
    This is no defense of the annoying cl, but what a self-righteous, prissy atheist you turned out to be, Ebonmuse. I'm disappointed in you, stealing a strategem from the theists.

    -The Exterminator
     to Ebonmuse
    I certainly didn't get any bad impression about cl, and I can't relate his comments with any of the things (Ebonmuse) said above. I actually thought it was quite interesting to have him around.

    -Juan Felipe
     Daylight Atheism
    Please continue to allow
    cl to post his views and make it clear that he is still welcome. And let me be clear, cl is not a lunatic.

     Daylight Atheism
    With one exception, you are the most coherent and intelligent theist I've seen on this site...

    -Steve Bowen
     Daylight Atheism
    I'm rooting for cl. I hope he perpetually manages to skirt the rules enough to do his damage, forcing rule revision after rule revision, ad nauseum. Awesome! Let's watch as Ebon, ever more frustrated, continues to struggle to figure out how to keep his precious private blog neat and tidy as cl keeps messing up his papers while one by one, readers leave due to an every increasing administrative presence. Outstanding! Well I won't go. The thought of this sounds like the most entertaining thing that probably would have ever happened on Daylight Atheism. Hot damn!

    Your visit has been something of a reality check to me. It seems that when you present rational arguments and criticisms, many commenters feel territory slipping and then work up vaporous or leaky responses. I also want to remark that your presence here has considerably moved me to try being a more careful and understanding debater...

     Daylight Atheism
    I do have a lot of respect for you too. You seem to be a very intelligent and thoughtful individual with a knack for getting to the bottom of a problem, cutting through all the bullshit rhetoric on the way down. The fact that many other atheists seem to unreasonably despise you bothers me a lot, because I think that maybe they aren’t acting in good faith.

    -Peter Hurford
    I am not going to waste any more time parsing your comments to decide if they've crossed the line or not... So I banned you.

    -Greta Christina
    Be rude... cl invites rudeness. Would you want an incontinent little puppy coming into your house?

    -(((Billy))) the Atheist
    Note to all my regular readers: Since An Apostate’s Chapel is a free-speech zone, I don’t censor conversations.
    As it appears that cl is a troll, please note that I will not be responding to him any longer. I ask that you refrain from doing so, as well. Please don’t feed the troll!

    -The Chaplain
    …I can’t reconcile being a "freethinker" with banning speech. [cl's] comments are not offensive in the normal understanding of that term, and he poses absolutely no threat except perhaps to some imagined decorum. Why can’t atheists lighten up, for no-Christ’s sake?

    -The Exterminator
    Is it going to distract from my meal when crazy uncle cl starts blathering out nonsense, pick his ears with a carrot or start taking his pants off? No. In fact, it might actually heighten the experience in some amusing way. So no, I don't see cl's work as damage.

    I am beginning to suspect that you are a troll cl. Albeit an evolved troll, but a troll nonetheless. Perhaps we should all stop feeding the troll?

     Evangelical Realism
    [cl is] is either a sophist or an incompetent when it comes to the english language... (sic)

     Evangelical Realism
    I’d say cl is pretty sharp... it may be tempting at times to think that “the other guy” is arguing out of some personal character flaw rather than a sincere desire to acknowledge the truth, I still think it’s better to debate respectfully... It is disrespectful to make unsupported accusations against people, e.g. by suggesting that their views are caused by an intrinsically corrupt and immoral nature.

    -Deacon Duncan, 3-9-09
     Evangelical Realism
    [cl] cannot refute my facts, so he needs must find (sic) some scapegoat in order to claim that he has confronted the enemy and proven them wrong... cl, sadly, has proven himself to be the sort of guest who comes into your living room and sneaks behind your couch to take a crap on the floor, just so he can tell all your neighbors how bad your house smells and what an unsanitary housekeeper you are... an interesting case study in the negative effects a Christian worldview has on a reasonably intellectual mind.

    -Deacon Duncan, 6-17-09
     Evangelical Realism
    I strongly discourage discussion of the character, abilities, motives, or personal ancestry of individual commenters, as tempting as such comments may be at times. I discourage the posting of comments that make frequent use of the pronoun “you,” as in “you always…” or “you never…” or “you are just so…”, when directed at a specific individual.

    -Deacon Duncan, 4-9-09
     Evangelical Realism
    I won’t be publishing your most recent comment because it’s a return to the same sort of schtick you’ve pulled here before: re-writing other people’s arguments to make yourself look misunderstood and/or unfairly accused, taking “polyvalent” positions so that when people address your points you can claim to have said something else, distorting other people’s arguments, trolling for negative reactions, and so on.

    -Deacon Duncan, 10-8-09
     Evangelical Realism
    [E]gomaniacal troll.
    You win... You’re a disingenuous sophist through and through, cl. And a friggin’ narcissist to boot! Since I’ve thoroughly and purposefully broken the Deacon’s rules of engagement, I shall consider my right to post henceforth annulled, and move on - dramatic pause, lights out.

     Evangelical Realism
    He either thinks in a very weird way or he's quite the con artist.

    I will gladly admit that I have a boner for cl. Maybe some day I’ll even earn a place of honor on cl’s Blog of Infamy.

     Evangelical Realism
    Long time reader first time poster... I like reading what you
    have to say over at Daylight Atheism so I figured I'd pop in here.

    He's just a jerk
    that likes to argue.

     Daylight Atheism
    You’re not a reasonable thinker in my book. You’re simply an arguer, for better or worse. I’m Michael Palin, you’re John Cleese. You’re just a disputation-ist, bringing everything into question...

     Reason vs. Apologetics
    Motherfucker, this is an interesting blog... Quite the group of commenters.

    -John Evo
    You are very articulate, and I can only assume that it's a result of high intelligence; an intelligence that's interested in, and can understand, healthy debate. However, at every turn, that's not what I or others seem to get.

    -ex machina
     Daylight Atheism
    You are a troll, a liar, and a useless sack of shit. Not only that, but you're still wrong even after moving the goal posts and trying to re-write history. So, you can stop cyber stalking me now and trying to provoke me. I know what you are doing, and you are doing it so that you can whine about how I'm being irrational and mean to you and stroke your pathetic martyr complex. You're a pathetic attention whore and I've already given you too much attention. So, back the fuck off, stop following me around the intarwebs and trying to provoke me, and fuck off.

     Daylight Atheism
    I would just like to say that, OMGF, having read the debate as a neutral observer, some of the things cl says about your style of argument are true, IMO. It is quite hasty, which means you occasionally haven't got the central point cl is trying to make...

    -John D.
     Daylight Atheism
    ...this is a difficult question that deserves more than a kneejerk reaction, not to imply that you're kneejerking. You're the least kneejerking person I've met.

    If you’re here playing devil’s advocate, then, hey, you do a great job at it, it’s a service, keep us sharp... You’re a smart guy, but those are exactly the ones who give the worst headaches!

     An Apostate's Chapel
    You are a waste of time, cl. A big fat black hole of bullshit sucking in everyone who comes into contact with you.

    -Spanish Inquisitor
    As for all that harsh invective that's come your way, umm... I gotta say, I've seen some of the invective, but I haven't seen the behavior on your part that called for it. Maybe I've just not seen enough? I don't know... from what I've read, I can tell that you're a smart person, and whether you deserved any of that treatment or not is quite frankly immaterial to me; I just want to deal with the smart person at the eye of that storm.

     She Who Chatters
    I now think that you’re an atheist, just having fun at other atheists’ expense. If that’s the case, kudos.

    -The Exterminator
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How Would You Define A Miracle?

In the past few months, via several discussions with a variety of learned skeptics and religious people, I've come to better understand the disparities in our concepts of miracles, and specifically, I've been thinking about how falsifiability and confounders diminish the extent to which an alleged miracle can be considered authentic. It may very well be that proving a miracle is impossible, and on this matter I haven't quite decided yet, but I've certainly concluded that there is a wide range of skeptical positions one might take concerning the concept of miracles, and what we can justifiedly say about them, if and when they do occur.

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome regarding alleged healing miracles is developing a reliable method for excluding confounders of spontaneous remission and the placebo effect. Hitherto unexplained, either of these mysterious phenomena would provide good confounding cover for a genuine miracle, and that's not to say that all instances of spontaneous remission and placebo effect are intrinsically miraculous, either.

Some skeptics are fond of claiming that only repeatable, observable, systematic instances of miracles would be sufficient to convince them that they were unjustified in their skepticism. This is sounds more like magic than miracle.

Miracles as described in the Bible are best defined as disparate and discontinuous acts of God, not predictable acts of cause and effect. The definition of a miracle is an event that purportedly breaches the natural order of things, so how can we reasonably expect such events to be repeatable, let alone to the degree needed to draw an affirmative conclusion from reliable, systematic and consistent data? The person who demands that miracles be repeated asks for something that did not even occur amongst the original apostles. There were times when for some reason or another even they couldn't affect the desired phenomena, and to demand that God work miracles on our terms for our purposes was certainly not the way it went down in scripture. Nowhere in the Bible is God alleged to be a magic genie.

On EvangelicalRealism, when asking for particular definitions and criteria that would constitute a miracle, the best I could get was a series of vague criteria that were difficult to accurately quantify. For example, the word "unambiguous" certainly implies something eminently clear, of course, but just how out of the ordinary does something have to be before somebody is justified in assuming it to be a miracle? The same goes for the word "extraordinary" sans further precision. Another criteria given was that the alleged miracle be "stringently verified," and my objection that such terms were insufficient and subjective was met with scorn.

I assure you I proceeded in earnest. I offered what I thought were reasonable preliminary definitions of those words. I said I would classify something as "stringently verified" when three or more independent sources have corroborated the story, and these sources do not always necessarily have to be eye-witnesses. By "independent sources" I said I meant disparate sources with no discernible conflicts of interest or questionable corporate, scientific, religious or political agendas or lobbies. These sources can be described as more or most independent if they share conflicting world views, and they can be described as less or least independent if they share the same world views.

I said I would classify something as "unambiguous" when standard naturalist explanation cannot account for the evidence, but even that is totally shaky, because the range of evidence that naturalist explanations can account for is always increasing. We might say today, “Oh, that girl was healed in a way naturalist explanations cannot account for,” then a year later science may in fact turn that stone over. We can seemingly always wave potentially miraculous healing away as spontaneous remission or the placebo effect.

As for "extraordinary" well, I said I would take this word at face value – not ordinary – but would you consider spontaneous remission and/or the placebo effect to be ordinary, or extraordinary? Why? What types of healing will you accept as ordinary vs. extraordinary, or potentially miraculous? Why?

Other proposed criteria included, "something that doesn’t easily fall onto the skeptic’s side of Occam’s razor," but again, the fulfillment of this is to a large degree in the eye of the beholder, no?

What about our particular definition of God? Is God falsifiable or not? If so, can we reasonably demand that God perform miracles on our terms for our purposes, for example, the repeatable and testable miracles? And if we say God is not falsifiable, what of the difficulty in excluding the potential action of an unfalsifiable God?

On the other hand, an isolated yet unambiguous and extraordinary instance of the miraculous might be much easier to stringently, objectively verify. Are any skeptics or atheists willing to accept one or more isolated events as sufficient? There are at least two positions, those who would accept even one
sufficiently corroborated miracle, and those who would only accept
repeatable miracles. Do you fall into either one of these positions? Something else? How would you specifically define a miracle, and would an isolated instance persuade you to recant or at least honestly doubt your atheism, or would you need something more?


4 Responses

  1. As hard as this might be to believe, I thought using the word “unambiguous” would make my post automatically clear (as a point of interest, it appeared to be clear along party lines). In retrospect, I suppose I was being naïve. I will try to make my point with a little more precision, because I think it’s the source of a big part of the past-each-other talking over there.
    Imagine someone who believes that miracles have no basis in reality. Imagine that this skeptic has any number of arguments at his disposal, none of which, needless to say, are convincing to you. A little back-and-forth with this guy would make it obvious that you will never even agree to disagree: he cannot be made to concede that any occurrence in the real world can reasonably be construed as a miracle because he doesn’t believe the word “miracle” refers to something real. Actually, I’m sure this doesn’t require your imagination at all.
    At the end of the day there is only so much you can do, because you’re just another person talking, after all. Nonetheless, it will still-and-always be true that the skeptic could become convinced (and he and every other skeptic knows it) if God exists, and He wants the skeptic to be convinced.
    That is my definition of “an unambiguous miracle”: one which would change the above skeptic’s mind. I don’t mean that, on some fine day, for some random reason, some skeptical individual might suddenly be persuaded of something. I’m talking about, simply, an event which could not fail to be convincing—whatever that might be.
    If this sounds like a lot of unreasonable bluster, remember: we’re talking about people who don’t already believe in God, and who have no inclination to give Him the benefit of the doubt. I’ve really only stated the obvious (I think): that, to be convinced, such people need to see something that can’t be understood in more than one way. It’s not God being commanded to jump through hoops; it’s a simple statement of fact.

  2. Arthur,

    As hard as this might be to believe, I thought using the word “unambiguous” would make my post automatically clear…

    Well, that’s not an entirely unreasonable assumption most of the time, because after all, the meaning of the word is something that is clear or unmistakable. Pregnancy is pretty unambiguous, but certainly no ironclad proof that a woman’s virginity has been abandoned.

    In retrospect, I suppose I was being naïve. I will try to make my point with a little more precision, because I think it’s the source of a big part of the past-each-other talking over there.

    I’m presuming your not being sarcastic here, and thank you. The internet is tough because we lack pictures and non-verbal cues to communication such as inflection and posture. It’s really easy to talk past each other. And I can always respect a desire for further precision. In fact, I often wonder why so many people quibble about this and say I’m “obfuscating” or “muddying the waters” by attempting to establish precise and agreed interpretations of language. I mean, trying to read one another’s mind is always a laugh, but I want to make some actual progress in these discussions. So thanks for being a good sport about things.

    Actually, I’m sure this doesn’t require your imagination at all. At the end of the day there is only so much you can do, because you’re just another person talking, after all.

    No, the paragraph was clear and well-reasoned, and you’re correct – at the end of the day we’re all just other people talking.

    Nonetheless, it will still-and-always be true that the skeptic could become convinced (and he and every other skeptic knows it) if God exists, and He wants the skeptic to be convinced.

    I agree, and would add that such requires an act of God, the skeptic, or possibly both.

    That is my definition of “an unambiguous miracle”: one which would change the above skeptic’s mind. I don’t mean that, on some fine day, for some random reason, some skeptical individual might suddenly be persuaded of something. I’m talking about, simply, an event which could not fail to be convincing—whatever that might be.

    Of course, and that’s certainly reasonable. But it should also be readily apparent that what you or I are willing to accept as unambiguous might certainly differ, and what either one of us thinks is just as likely to differ with whatever the next person thinks. So sans precise and equally understood definitions and criteria, the whole exercise cannot even get sufficiently off the ground. Commenters jim, GaySolomon and one or two others chided me quite strongly on this point, yet here we are a week and a half later verifying it.

    I’ve really only stated the obvious (I think): that, to be convinced, such people need to see something that can’t be understood in more than one way.

    I agree, but we certainly have to concede the subjectivity here. For example, education and cultural time periods play a huge factor in all of this. A person living 3,000 years ago would have likely worshipped a 747 or a television were either to have suddenly flew into a wormhole and reappeared in their time. We’d have a Bible where Boeing or Sony was God.

    It’s not God being commanded to jump through hoops; it’s a simple statement of fact.

    Depending on the scope of this statement, I can both agree and disagree. An individual unbeliever is not commanding God to jump through hoops by simply wanting an unambiguous sign of God’s existence. An individual unbeliever might be commanding God to jump through hoops if their particular definition is framed as such – for example, demanding that God’s sign be videotaped is certainly comparable to asking God to jump through hoops. Or take those silly prayer experiments as other examples. By even raising the bar, we’re asking God to jump it, right?
    What I’m saying is that if any unbeliever merely wants an unambiguous sign from God, such is not asking God to jump through a hoop, but when we start demanding that the sign be this, that or the other thing, then the situation changes.

  3. I think it is only human intuition and nothing more that makes us think there’s something exceptionally rude about asking God to “jump through hoops”. Like, if I were to ask Barack Obama to prove he can shoot a basketball, that would be impertinent, because he’s the president and has more important things to do with his time. (Plus, there’s plenty of empirical evidence that he can anyway.) But an omnipotent god has no such limits, and either he wishes for his presence to be known or he doesn’t.
    “Silly prayer experiments” exist precisely because people have repeatedly made the claim that (intercessory) prayer can cure, which would logically lead to prayer, you know, curing. Even with the pressure of someone watching, and writing the results down. Apparently, as it turns out, prayer doesn’t cure. Or at least, our universe is no different from one in which prayer makes no discernible difference.

  4. Lenoxus,
    Well, I agree with you that God either wants to be known or not.
    I don’t think it’s rude to ask God to jump through hoops (say, in the form of prayer experiments); I believe it’s arrogant and narcissistic, for the same reasons you allude to with Obama.

    Apparently, as it turns out, prayer doesn’t cure.

    I wouldn’t expect prayer studies to reveal anything otherwise. The Bible says 1) that the majority of those who say “Lord, Lord” have not the power of God; 2) that putting God to petulant testing (as opposed to genuine, personal request for confirmation) is an affront; 3) that Jesus responded not with more miracles but criticism of those who demanded more miracles.
    I believe prayer studies prove only that a magic genie doesn’t exist, but I don’t need studies to confirm that a magic genie doesn’t exist. I simply disbelieve that the God of the Bible is a magic genie.

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