• 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

Study Suggests Atheists Suppress The Truth

There’s been a lot of hubbub over this “Atheists and Asperger’s” study that recently surfaced at the Scientific American blog. For me, this was the interesting line:

In a second experiment, Heywood and Bering compared 27 people with Asperger’s with 34 neurotypical people who are atheists. The atheists, as expected, often invoked anti-teleological responses such as “there is no reason why; things just happen.” The people with Asperger’s were significantly less likely to offer such anti-teleological explanations than the atheists, indicating they were not engaged in teleological thinking at all. (The atheists, in contrast, revealed themselves to be reasoning teleologically, but then they rejected those thoughts.)

Romans 1:18-20 reads,

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (ESV)

Obviously, my title is loaded, in that I take it for granted that God is the truth. Though only a single study and by no means sufficient to justify broad conclusions, these preliminary findings seem to directly confirm Scripture. The study suggests what the Scriptures declare: that atheists have internal access to the truth of God’s existence just as much as anyone else—that they naturally reason teleologically—but that they “reject” or “suppress” it.

Who would have thought?

The PZ Myers Memorial Debate, Round Two: And The Winner Is…

The interlocutors submitted their second round of arguments and this time, they limited themselves to one piece each. You can read both pieces in their entirety over at VoxWorld. If you don’t read their arguments first, my judgment won’t make as much sense.

Opening Argument Summary

Vox’s argument can be summarized as, “E/L->gods because I can’t think of any better way to explain alleged moral consistency.”

Dominic’s argument can be summarized as, “E/L->no gods because first attempts at explanation are almost always incorrect.”

Extended Commentary: Vox’s Argument

In a move that can only be described as a strategic blunder, Vox spent 500+ words—over 15% of his total argument—trying to justify this loosely-defined “gods” concept as the subject of the debate, as if he hadn’t already covered this ad nauseum in the comment threads. Interestingly, even though Dominic admitted to “the mistake of overlooking the topic of the debate,” Vox reminds the less intelligent, “The atheist position that Dominic is championing is not defined as disbelief in the existence of the Christian God, but as disbelief in the existence of all gods. To his credit, Dominic understands and accepts this, and everyone would do well to follow his example.” For Pete’s sake Vox, we get it already. This would be much more enjoyable were it not so obvious that Vox thinks practically everybody besides himself is a complete moron worthy of talking down to.

When Vox gets around to debating, he wisely opts to strengthen his argument from moral evil, which I criticized as “fancy poetic metaphor” the first time around. Unfortunately, he doesn’t give the argument the support it needs. Specifically, Vox attempts to prove A) that the existence of evil requires the presence of a source of good, and B) that the only entity capable of dictating an objective and definitive good is the Creator or His agent. He proved neither, and honestly, aside from his comments about pedophiles, I found his argument bloated, boring, and non-sequitur, filled with naked assertions to boot. Reference to an “internal brake” doesn’t prove anything. The failure of psychoanalysis doesn’t prove anything. Repeated allusion to the “failures of the materialist consensus” doesn’t prove anything. Vox simply asserts a “relatively small range of variations in moral sensibilities,” but a semi-educated person must wonder what planet he’s referring to. IMHO, the variations throughout history cannot be called anything but gaping. People used to toss others to lions for entertainment. Slavery used to be a-okay. Even the Israelites used to stone people for things we teach in elementary school. Need I go on? Hell, Vox himself seems to think that the “Law” is arbitrary. Even if we granted Vox’s claim—which we ought not—moral consistency doesn’t prove an external Law or a Lawgiver. Moral consistency is just as consistent with common evolutionary and biological underpinnings, as Dominic noted in Round One.

Returning to the creative writer within, Vox writes, “The Law can only be broken if the Law exists. Evil can only exist in the presence of the Good.” Spare me! This is the same poetic nonsense I rejected the first time around. People exist. They do things. There are some things most people like. There are other things most people dislike. None of this proves any sort of “law” or “evil” or “good” or “lawgiver.” Since this is the only argument Vox offers in this round, I have no choice but to conclude that he has not advanced his case.

Extended Commentary: Dominic’s Argument

Dominic attempts to falsify Vox’s claim that it is ahistorical and unscientific to dismiss the plethora of testimonial evidence for gods, but his attempt strikes me as hair-splitting hypocrisy: “The true statement would be that it is ahistorical to dismiss all testimonial evidence out of hand.” Dominic tries this “out of hand” distinction thinking it saves him, yet, astonishingly, he uses “cultural influence” as a reason to dismiss the testimonial evidence for gods out of hand! No longer does one need to evaluate case-by-case as Vox correctly suggested in Round One, Dominic can just dimiss it all categorically because of “cultural influence.” The support? “…show me someone who is possessed by a demon that spits on both the cross and the name of Christ who has never heard of Christianity or been exposed to anything Christian. Show me someone recounting an experience of being sexually molested by little grey aliens with big heads and huge hypnotic eyes who’d never heard of or been exposed to Hollywood films or other popular culture sources that tell us what aliens do and what they look like. There has been no such showing yet.” Pure chutzpah. Dominic should have done the research. If he or anyone else wishes to accuse me of unduly swift dismissal, we can have it out in the comments. I will supply what Dominic claims has not been shown.

Along similar lines, Dominic writes, “[testimonies of alien abduction are] a class of testimony that is equivalent to and practically indistinguishable from testimony of interactions with gods, as opposed to testimony of interactions with the mundane.” Dominic still doesn’t seem to understand that alien abduction testimonies are indistinguishable from testimonies of interactions with gods because they are testimonies of interactions with gods, according to the loose definition of “gods” supplied. Trying to draw this line of distinction is a failed endeavor. Further, to claim the two classes of testimony are “indistinguishable” is to completely undermine Dominic’s conclusion that “Gods are not real because the true reason for the eyewitness testimony that they are based on is something else entirely.” If he can’t distinguish between the testimonies of gods and aliens—as Dominic undeniably admitted—on what grounds does he distinguish enough to claim that testimonies of gods are based on something else entirely? This just isn’t adding up. Dominic didn’t show A3 false, and actually committed the error he sought to establish.

In response to Vox’s analogy from Round One, Dominic writes, “That it would have been silly for a hypothetical group of Aztecs to deny the existence of hostile Spainards before ever meeting a white man is intentional obfuscation, because Vox’s own argument is entirely dependent on the idea that the gods have in fact been met.” Good point, but to say Vox is “intentionally obfuscating” is presumptuous. Dominic doesn’t know that. After all, it remains possible that despite his MENSA membership, the “internet superintelligence” might have simply missed the obvious. After all, truth is stranger than fiction, right Dominic?

Turning towards Vox’s argument from moral evil, Dominic claims that Vox dashes his own argument to pieces by stating both:

…[the moral sense] is something that is simultaneously internal to the consciousness and outside the desires and the awareness of consequences,


It could also be a pre-programmed implant, in which case we would speak of the implanter rather than the transmitter.

Dominic creates the impression that these two statements are mutually exclusive. They are not. “Internal to the consciousness” doesn’t mean “generated / sustained / informed entirely from within.” It seems Dominic was too swift in his dismissal there. He did not show B3 false.

As for B4, whether or not man’s moral sense has changed much over time unfortunately depends on an arbitrary idea of what “changed much over time” means. As we’ve briefly explored, history shows a significant moral trajectory. On the other hand, some things have remained fairly constant, e.g., our concept of a “good” person is one who abstains from the seven deadly sins. Dominic uses vengeance to argue that our moral sense reverses polarity even in the here and now, but he overlooks the reason the death penalty is not murder. Murder is the taking of an innocent life. A true reversal would be Joe murdering an innocent person, then demanding justice when somebody else murders his wife. Even then, that wouldn’t necessarily prove a reversal. Joe may have had the “internal brake” present when murdering. Additionally, one might say the universal recognition of and desire for justice is a powerful argument in Vox’s favor: people have historically shown an unshakeable belief that the world should be—or at least could be—just. That’s beside the point. Vox didn’t show B4 true, but Dominic didn’t show it false.

Turning to his argument for the non-existence of gods, Dominic attempts to clarify and strengthen his “truth is stranger than fiction” argument. He appeals to phlogiston, ether, and geocentrism as examples proving the hypothesis that, “For any new experience or phenomenon, when man attempts to explain the phenomenon using the tools for understanding at his disposal, the first attempt at explanation is almost invariably wrong.” I grant that this seems intuitively true. After all, Darwinian gradualism was wrong much to the dismay of twentieth-century atheists, but what of Lyell, Kepler, Einstein, Hubble, and the Herschels, to name a few? Each of these individuals made first attempts that appear correct. It seems easy to offer examples that challenge his hypothesis, which makes one suspect Dominic is simply cherrypicking his way to the goal line. Regardless, Dominic doesn’t give any analysis to prove his point. How many “first explanations” have been correct? How many have been incorrect? He needs to give us a reason to believe that “the first attempt at explanation is almost invariably wrong.” That some first attempts have been wrong doesn’t entail that they are almost invariably wrong. Additionally, even if we grant his hypothesis, that almost all first attempts are invariably wrong doesn’t entail that any particular first attempt is necessarily wrong.

More importantly, “first explanations are usually wrong” only carries weight against explanations, which are distinct from experiences and observations, which are the prime constituents of testimonial evidence. The “plethora of evidence” Vox alludes to is mostly—perhaps even entirely—based on experiences and observations. With the exception of philosophers, the “plethora of evidence” wasn’t people saying to themselves, “Gee, I wonder what created the world, oh it must be this thing called God.” Rather, these were people going about their business then suddenly T-boned by the “supernatural” and miraculous. Granted, these things were explained as “gods,” but if gods are superhuman beings with control over nature, it doesn’t take much explanation to verify an instance. In contrast to celestial quandaries where definitive answers often elude, superhuman beings have either appeared and controlled nature, or not. No imagination is necessary. No explanation is required to observe this phenomenon, therefore it doesn’t seem vulnerable to the “first attempts at an explanation are almost invariably wrong” objection.

Dominic writes, “The response received so far to this argument has been a dismissive wave of obvious to Dominic does not make it true. The counter examples being perfectly mundane references to Starbucks and Internet porn. No imagination is necessary to postulate the existence of either, and the retort so far has been remarkably asinine. There is no need to rely on extrapolation to paint a complete picture when acertaining either Starbucks or Jenna Jameson is real.” That’s not entirely fair, as his claim has evolved a bit. The first time around, he said he finds “simple claims too convenient,” and although Vox’s rebuttal missed the mark, mine did not [murder convictions sustained by straightforward forensic evidence; Ockham’s razor]. So there was more than a “dismissive wave” behind the rejection of his first claim, and there is more than a “dismissive wave” behind the rejection of its descendant: myopic focus on incorrect first attempts doesn’t demonstrate the hypothesis, which itself is not germane to testimonial evidence.

In Conclusion

Vox did not persuasively demonstrate his argument from moral evil. Dominic failed to show A3 and B3 false. B4 seems irrevocably tied to subjectivity hence still up for grabs. Dominic did not persuasively demonstrate his hypothesis that the first attempt at an explanation is almost invariably correct, nor did he attempt to account for the fact that testimony is distinct from explanation. I declare this round a draw.

The Evidential Problem Of Evil

An evidential POE argument from Peter Hurford of Greatplay.net:

1. Needless suffering, by definition, is any suffering that doesn’t exist because of a higher good.

2. Needless suffering, by definition, could be eliminated with no consequences.

3. Any all-good entity desires to eliminate all needless suffering.

4. Any all-knowing entity would know of all needless suffering, if any needless suffering exists.

5. Any all-powerful entity would be capable of eliminating all needless suffering.

6. Our world contains needless suffering.

7. Therefore from 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, and 6, an all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing entity cannot exist.

8. God, as described by the major religions is all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing.

9. Therefore from 7 and 8, God as described by the major religions does not exist.

I recently said that all the POE arguments I’ve heard reduce to arguments from incredulity, and this argument is no different. Inability to conceive of a higher good is the only thing grounding the claim that any given instance of suffering is needless. 6 is a naked assertion sustained only by incredulity. That alone invalidates the argument in my opinion, but I can make a stronger case.

One thing I find troubling about POE arguments in general is that both sides rarely tailor them to a specific theology. This promotes generic arguments and rebuttals, so let’s identify some specific theologies and evaluate each against Peter’s argument. I will paint somewhat broadly to avoid getting bogged down in theological disputes.

On universalism, all sufferers eventually inherit eternal paradise, and no sufferers suffer eternally. On exclusivism, only a minority of sufferers inherit eternal paradise, and the majority suffer either finitely [annihilation], or infinitely [eternal torment]. The argument map varies according to the ontology under consideration, and I’d like to avoid appealing to a subjective value judgment [e.g., Peter might not think the suffering is worth it, but God might]. Though certainly a valid reply—and perhaps ultimately inevitable—I think we should attempt an “as objective as we can get” method of evaluation.

There are at least two ways to try this: we can evaluate tokens of suffering vs. tokens of joy, or we can evaluate the number of agents experiencing suffering vs. the number of agents experiencing joy. For simplicity’s sake, I might use U for universalism, E/A for exclusivism with annihilation, and E/ET for exclusivism with eternal torment.

Peter attempts to buttress 6:

If suffering is not needless, then eliminating that suffering also eliminates the higher good, and we are worse off overall by eliminating that suffering. This means that any suffering we are better off without is needless suffering. And it turns out there is a lot of suffering we are better off without; any notion that suffering exists for some greater good is a notion that crippling polio and smallpox was necessary, and that the world is now worse because we eradicated these diseases. Clearly, “God allows suffering for greater good” and “God wants us to work to ameliorate suffering” are entirely incompatible statements.

From there, he formulates the following supporting argument:

10. If an instance of suffering that is necessary (because of a higher good) were prevented, then that higher good would also be prevented.

11. Therefore from 10, preventing necessary suffering makes us worse off.

12. There are some instances of suffering that were prevented where we did not become worse off.

13. Therefore from 11 and 12, needless suffering exists (and 6 is true).

I’m fairly comfortable granting 10 and 11, but how can anyone know that we are better off without polio and small pox? 12 appears to be a naked assertion with no evidence or argumentation to support it. It might seem intuitively true, but many things that seem intuitively true are apparently false [cf. geocentrism]. Conversely, many things that seem intuitively false are apparently true [cf. quantum mechanics]. Like 6 in the main argument, 12 is a naked assertion sustained only by incredulity: “I can’t imagine how we would be better off with polio and small pox, ergo we were better off preventing them.” There is more that could be said here—for example, we could talk about whether the higher good has to follow every instance of suffering and obtain in this life, as I explore here—but per Peter’s definition of “needless suffering,” the truth or falsity of 6 hinges on one criterion only: whether or not suffering entails a higher good. For the sake of argument, I will grant the fallacious premises.

Peter clarifies 1:

If someone gets more benefit from the suffering than they suffer, then the suffering is not needless — instead it exists because of a higher good.

On that logic, if tokens are the primary criterion and tokens of joy outnumber tokens of suffering, the scale tips to the “higher good” side and the argument seems defeated. Conversely, if tokens of suffering outnumber tokens of joy, the scale tips to the “needless suffering” side and the argument seems intact. This is an evaluation of net suffering vs. net joy.

If agents are the primary criterion, as long as agents experiencing joy outnumber agents experiencing suffering, the scale tips to the “higher good” side and the argument seems defeated. Conversely, as long as agents experiencing suffering outnumber agents experiencing joy, the scale tips to the “needless suffering” side and the argument seems intact. This is an evaluation of net sufferers vs. net jubilants [with jubilant being used atypically as a noun denoting those who experience joy; I’m open to a better word if you can think of one].

It seems safe to say that by any conceivable unit of measure, a sufferer who inherits eternal paradise “gets more benefit” in comparison to their temporary suffering. Therefore, no sufferer who inherits eternal paradise experiences needless suffering [according to Peter’s definition]. Consequently, if universalism is true, the argument is irrevocably defeated whether we evaluate by tokens or agents. If all agents eventually inherit infinite tokens of joy, then finite tokens of suffering entail a higher good and the discussion ends there.

What if exclusivism is true? What if only a minority of sufferers inherit eternal paradise? Is a minority in eternal paradise “worth” the majority who aren’t? The answers vary according to whether we evaluate E/A or E/ET. They also vary according to whether we use tokens or agents as the primary criterion.

If E/A is true, and tokens are the primary criterion, the argument seems defeated again, even if only one person inherits eternal paradise. After all, no matter how many tokens are experienced before God annihilates sufferers, that number is necessarily finite and therefore less than the infinite number of tokens experienced by the one who inherited eternal paradise. The discussion ends there.

However, if E/A is true and agents are the primary criterion, things start to get a little fuzzy. I defined exclusivism as the ontology in which a minority inherit eternal paradise, and the majority suffer either infinitely or finitely [finitely in this case]. Is 10 agents experiencing infinite joy “better than” 100 agents experiencing finite suffering before annihilation? I think so, but unfortunately, that seems to reduce to a subjective value judgment. Can anyone think of a more objective way to judge this case?

Moving along, if E/ET is true, tokens of suffering and tokens of joy are both infinite. This seems to force an evaluation of agents, and unfortunately, this progression also seems to lead inevitably towards a subjective value judgment. Is 10 agents experiencing infinite joy “better than” 100 agents experiencing infinite suffering? I don’t think so, but at the same time, I can’t deny the possibility. God might think so, but I’m skeptical, and I lean towards calling that a loss. IOW, the argument would seem provisionally intact [presuming we grant the fallacious premises].

So, to recap: this argument contains fallacious premises, and even if we grant them, U undeniably falsifies 6 and defeats the argument as currently stated. Evaluated by tokens, E/A also undeniably falsifies 6 and defeats the argument as currently stated. Evaluated by agents, E/A seems strong enough to provisionally defeat the argument, but I would not say it undeniably does so because one might object to the subjective value judgment [that 10 agents experiencing infinite joy is “better than” 100 agents experiencing finite suffering before annihilation]. We cannot reliably evaluate E/ET by tokens, but an evaluation by agents seems to leave the argument provisionally intact [presuming we grant the fallacious premises and accept the subjective value judgment]. At best, this argument contains fallacious premises and only makes a provisional case against E/A and E/ET when evaluated by agents. At worst, it can’t even get off the ground [because it contains fallacious premises].

Where might we go from here?

Request, As Distinct From Compulsion

C.S. Lewis concisely and eloquently explains the folly of drawing conclusions from so-called “scientific” prayer studies:

The question then arises, “What sort of evidence would prove the efficacy of prayer?” The thing we pray for may happen, but how can you ever know it was not going to happen anyway? Even if the thing were indisputably miraculous it would not follow that the miracle had occurred because of your prayers. The answer surely is that a compulsive empirical Proof such as we have in the sciences can never be attained. Some things are proved by the unbroken uniformity of our experiences. The law of gravitation is established by the fact that, in our experience, all bodies without exception obey it. Now even if all the things that people prayed for happened, which they do not, this would not prove what Christians mean by the efficacy of prayer. For prayer is request. The essence of request, as distinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted. And if an infinitely wise Being listens to the requests of finite and foolish creatures, of course He will sometimes grant and sometimes refuse them. Invariable “success” in prayer would not prove the Christian doctrine at all. It would prove something much more like magic — a power in certain human beings to control, or compel, the course of nature.

So brilliant, so timeless.

The Problem Of Evil: Where I’m At Today

While I’ll still gladly engage anybody on the issue, these days, I’m leaning towards the conclusion that the atheist’s problem of evil arguments are fatally flawed. In the end, all variants I’ve encountered reduce to incredulity: reasoning from premises derived at via conceptual analysis and intuition, the atheist disbelieves that a morally sufficient reason can exist: “There’s no way a good God would allow this much evil in the world.” That’s it. I’ve not seen a single POE argument that doesn’t reduce thus, and I’ll leave it to you to decide whether disbelief is sufficient to warrant skepticism in this regard. I say no. I mean, people said the same thing about QM and all sorts of other stuff: “There’s no way light can act as both particle and wave!” “There’s no way an airplane can fly!” “There’s no way man will walk on the moon!” Etc. This is why I like what they attribute to Archimedes: with a long enough lever, one could move the Earth.

Is anybody aware of a POE argument that doesn’t reduce thus?

Coloring Death With Hope: Jesus & His Kingdom, IV

In this installment, we’re going to briefly cover three chapters, because 4 and 5 are mostly background information Mike wants readers to absorb so they can be aware of biblical context. If you’re interested, you should read or at least gloss them over them yourself, instead of relying on my interpretation of what Mike wants to say. Chapter 6 is titled, Coloring Death With Hope.

Mike begins chapter 4 by noting the importance of oral tradition in history, a point often overlooked or underplayed by those fond of the “but all we have are a bunch of stories” when it comes to evaluating the integrity of historic documents. It’s an off-the-cuff type statement, but he makes a humorous point related to hyper-skeptics and their demands:

If I want to know who brought the first airplane into existence, I am satisfied when I hear the names Wilbur and Orville Wright. I do not need to know the kinds of wrenches they used or where they bought the raw material before I can accept the answer. Even if I was interested in such detailed information and could discover it, this still would not change the answer to my original question – no matter how much detail I did or didn’t uncover.

Recall from our recent discussion on materialism that reality is composed primarily of intangible constituents, with a negligible bit of tangible stuff. About halfway through chapter 4, Mike summarizes the Hebrew division of reality, and the entire chapter seems aimed at supporting a simple point: Sheol–the ultimate destination of all who died in the Old Testament–exists in the spiritual, unseen realm:

[the Bible] presents a view of creation as existing in two dimensions: visible and invisible. We could also say “seen and unseen” or “flesh and spirit.”

Extending his conversation to the New Testament, chapter 5 can be summarized in the line, “all you have to remember is that Hades means Sheol. Everything you’ve learned about Sheol applies to Hades.” Back in the second installment, I cited Gregory L. Little’s book Grand Illusions, where he offers an electromagnetic conception of reality, including Heaven and Sheol:

Heaven lies on the far end of the electromagnetic energy spectrum extending above cosmic rays. It represents the essence of creation, light, and vibration. It is invisible, is the source of all other energy and matter in the universe, and has intelligence as well as intelligent life forms populating its various levels. Sheol, or hell, represents the opposite end of the EM spectrum where movement and energy vibration cease. There is no light there, no sound, no movement, and no apparent escape. It is enfolded into itself, densely packed like a black hole. UFO’s, “angelic beings,” and other paranormal manifestations can enter the visible light range of the EM spectrum from either end depending on their source. Sheol, in a symbolic vision, takes the appearance of a bottomless pit. [Little 1994, p. 226]

I finally got around to scanning the visual depiction out of the book:

Personally, Little’s hypothesis strikes me as plausible and intuitive, and it relates to the discussion on Sheol.

As an aside, there was one other thing in chapter 5 I’d like to comment on, in particular, the final sentence:

So, you may now revise your challenge to me to say, “All you have proven so far is that everyone is going to Hades.” Even as you hear yourself say that, however, you are shaking off the man-made traditions you have been taught. The Bible’s true message is contrasting itself with traditional, though erroneous theories. ”What of hell?” you ask. We’ll get to that in a later chapter. For now, recognize that in all the Bible verses I have paraded before you, the word hell has not appeared. Neither has there been in any of these verses a notion that there was more than one place to go when one died. The notion of some going down at death while others went up is simply not biblical!

I agree there. The Bible is commonly misconstrued as promoting “good people go to Heaven, bad people go to Hell,” but even a quick fact check reveals that this isn’t the case. It’s more accurately described as “all of us are bad people in one way or another, but God has graciously provided a means of reconciliation for those willing to take it.”

I really don’t have much to say about Chapter 6. Towards the end, Mike makes an excellent point:

Like any important truth, multiple analogies are often needed to fully bring it to light. Any single metaphor could be misunderstood, but repeated, varied, and multiple depictions turn implications and hints into substantiated hope. An object perceived from various angles is more clearly perceived than one viewed from a single point of view.

By the end, I got the feeling that Mike’s laid sufficient groundwork, and I expect the arguments to unfold a bit more exponentially as we go along. He writes,

…what I have described to you in the first six chapters of this book comprises the worldview inherited by Jesus and His apostles. They believed in God and in His two-dimensional, three-tiered universe just as the prophets had presented it. Everything spoken by the Lord and written by the apostles in the New Testament uses this framework. To read the New Testament without this Old Testament context is to invite misunderstanding. However, having listened to and embraced the view espoused by Moses and the Prophets, you are ready to better understand just what the Lord and His apostles have declared to us about resurrection.

Seems to me we’re right about at the half-way point.

The God Delusion: Low Hanging Fruit Indeed!

This morning, I stumbled across The God Delusion while deciding which books weren’t worth keeping on my shelf. I was about to simply toss it on the logic that plenty of people have dissected the book for the kitzche that it is, but then something from page 249 caught my attention, even inspiring me to post! Of course, one can pretty much flip to any page at random and find something that’s either outright false or at least fallacious. In reference to the “religious zealots” responsible for “burying” Mecca, Dawkins writes:

I do not believe there is an atheist in the world who would bulldoze Mecca…

My gut feeling is that Dawkins is wrong there, because there are some pretty militant atheists in the world, but I don’t want to waste time scouring the internet for a proof text. Perhaps one of you might have some knowledge you could pass along in that regard. I’m more interested in the rhetorical device that follows in the next sentence:

As the Nobel Prize-winning American physicist Steven Weinberg said, “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.”

Puh-leeze! This is the sort of pseudo-intellectual crap that’s influencing people to become atheists! So, what sayest thou? Agree with Weinberg? Disagree? If you disagree, feel free to provide your favorite examples of good people doing evil things without religion. Obviously, I’m assuming that an otherwise “good” person is capable of an “evil” thing, else this won’t even get off the ground. I’ll share my example[s] in the comments.

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