• 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.

    -faithlessgod,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    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.

    -Hermes,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    [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,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    [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.

    -Eneasz,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    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,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    ...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.

    -Zeb,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    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…

    -bbk
     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.

    -Dan
     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.

    -Bobaloo
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    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.

    -Cipher
     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!

    -Parker
     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.

    -Lifeguard
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    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...

    -seantheblogonaut
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    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!

    -BZ
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    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.

    -Ritchie
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    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.

    -Ebonmuse
     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.

    -Curtis
     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!

    -PhillyChief
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    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...

    -Brad
     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.

    -PhillyChief
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    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?

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

    -ThatOtherGuy
     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.

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

    -mikespeir
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    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.

    -Eneasz
     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.

    -Pine
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    He's just a jerk
    that likes to argue.

    -KShep
     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...

    -jim
     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.

    -OMGF
     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.

    -Quixote
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    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!

    -Lifeguard
     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.

    -D
     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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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,

…and,

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.

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

You can download the four letters that comprise Round One as a single PDF file, here [131KB]. If you don’t want to download it, simply copy the URL and paste it into your address bar. Or go check it out at VoxWorld. Be forewarned: Dominic’s piece is a bit sloppy grammatically, making comprehension a challenging at times. Vox, on the other hand, is at least articulate enough that intelligibility is not an issue.

This debate concerns the evidence [E] and logic [L] for the existence or nonexistence of “gods,” which are unfortunately defined loosely as, “superhuman beings worshiped as having power over nature or human fortunes.” I’m disappointed that these guys didn’t nail down a specific God concept. By the current definition, ET’s, the traditional monotheist God and superintelligent AI are all fair game for “gods.” I consider it a waste of time to be discussing the mathematical probabilities for ET’s and other such distractions. Hell, why not Criss Angel? This debate should be about God, not some loosely-defined concept of “gods” that may or may not include Terminators and other carbon-based oddities produced by the very theory Vox dedicates so much energy to denigrating elsewhere. Oh well. I signed up for this sideshow, and I can’t back out of it now. For the record, I wrote this before reading the other judges’ pieces, or any of the commentary over at VoxWorld. I also rushed a little bit, but, real life takes priority.

Dominic argues that E/L ->no gods. Vox argues that E/L->gods. I’ll offer my summaries, followed by extended criticism. Bracketed strings indicated spelling corrections and paraphrases in the interest of brevity. By all means, please assume I’m a lying, deceitful snake, because if you don’t, you won’t fact-check to make sure I’ve accurately represented the arguments. Oh wait—that only applies to atheists! LOL!

Opening Argument Summary

It’s been said that a screenplay is underdeveloped if it cannot be distilled to a single sentence. I think the same is true of any good story or argument.

Hence, Dominic’s opening arguments can be summarized as, “E/L->no gods because a rogue study, deja vu and precognition provide sufficient grounds for rejecting the vast body of E/L suggesting that cause always precedes effect, and this undermines Prime Mover arguments, which I find too convenient and simple.”

Vox’s opening arguments can be summarized as, “E/L->gods because mathematical probability supports the notion, we have a plethora of E/L that no skeptic can summarily dismiss without committing egregious special pleading, and shadows require light.”

Extended Commentary: Dominic’s Opening Arguments

In the first half of his opening argument, Dominic expresses incredulity concerning the various “Prime Mover” arguments which he incorrectly lumps together as “all basically the same.” Seemingly sensing the strength of classic cosmological arguments, Dominic argues that, “the existence of the supernatural is necessary only by taking it as axiomatically true that cause [precedes] effect, and therefore space-time is causal and linear.” As Dominic himself concedes, “the majority of our experience confirms [that cause necessarily precedes effect] as self-evidently true, from daily living down to events only quantum physics can describe.” Given such a tacit concession, one would expect Dominic to give very strong reasons for overturning cross-disciplinary empirical consensus. He attempts to do so with a Matlockian appeal to four exhibits: Daryl Bem’s paper Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect, my post from 2009 titled A Precognitive Reality, the phenomenon of deja vu, and veridical dreaming. Dominic concludes, “Each exhibit presented here is [evidentiary] support to dissuade one from automatically accepting that either cause necessarily [precedes] effect or that time is linear in the strict sense, upon which the cosmological argument and the necessity of gods rests. Time is usually linear and cause almost always [precedes] effect, but not necessarily…”

LOL!

Dominic’s arguments fail for the following reasons:

1. In startling disrespect for scientific consensus and who-knows-how-many years of human observation, Dominic suggests that a rogue study, one which he admits lacks “rigorous replication,” is sufficient to overthrow the painstakingly-arrived-at conclusions of physics and everyday life. Big no-no. Even if it could be demonstrably proven that causality is not always linear, Dominic’s concession that causality is “almost always linear” is sufficient to leave the theist an out that is far more likely than not. After all, it only takes a single instance of linear causality to get a universe going, and if causality is “almost always” linear, then it’s “almost always” the case that any given causal sequence was linear. Promissory alinear causality is not sufficient grounds to doubt Prime Mover logic or the existence of the supernatural. Dominic would have to provide further argumentation demonstrating why this promissory alinear causality should trump Prime Mover logic, which seems to rest only the assumption that the initial causal sequence was linear [if anybody knows of Prime Mover logic which doesn’t require linear causality, speak up]. Dominic also seems to overlook the fact that a theist could use Bem’s paper in support of traditional theistic predestination and/or spiritual revelation. In short, Exhibit A is fraught with problems. Sans emendations, it deserves to be discarded.

2. That I had a precognitive experience amounts to little more than a hill of beans and doesn’t absolve Dominic’s argument of any of the problems mentioned above. Exhibit B is simply one of many anecdotes, none of which force the conclusion that time is not always linear. Exhibit B is also consistent with theistic predestination and/or spiritual revelation, and Dominic gives no reason to suppose that we ought to doubt linear causality on behalf of Exhibit B. To the round file it goes.

3. The most we can say with certainty is that deja vu is a subjective feeling of disorientation, hardly a phenomenon that favors alinear causality over, say, strictly materialist, spiritual or “parallel universe” conceptions of consciousness. Dominic asks, “If time was completely linear in all circumstances, then how is it that people can have two experiences of the same event bump into each other enough to disorient them?” Eh, I don’t know, but an unanswered question can hardly be sufficient to overthrow the painstakingly-arrived-at consensus of physics and everyday life. Pondering the plausibility of deja vu arising from purely materialistic means, Dominic digs his own grave: “While one explanation could be the processing delays in the brain that occur between a literal sensation and the [conscious] awareness of said event, such that at least two copies of the same sensory stimuli drift through the brain, this is, at best, idle speculation.” Unfortunately, the insinuation that deja vu *might* indicate alinear causality is also idle speculation. Six feet under, Exhibit C goes.

4. Exhibit D was basically a rehash of Exhibit B, and I grant Dominic that veridical dreaming and precognitive experiences have been provisionally demonstrated. Again, though, this bit of evidence simply isn’t strong enough to meet the objections raised in 1. Dominic needs to prove much more than “causality might not always be linear” to make his case.

In short, all four supporting arguments are laughable.

Dominic begins the second half of his opening argument by alleging that, “…the cosmological argument itself is an attempt to eliminate the problem of inifinite regress that suffers from inifinite regress.” Since an eternally existent Prime Mover undeniably solves the problem of infinite regress, I was expecting something spectacular in support of this assertion. Dominic didn’t fail to disappoint. Here is his treatment of the issue, in full:

Now, rather than thinking I’m resorting to the “Then what created God? Ha, gotcha!” nonsense, it’s better to look at the original structure of the argument first put forth, since the summary version that most people are familiar with is vague enough to define God as an unstable particle. God is more than just a source of energy, since the observation is that everything that has a direction was pushed that way, yet an immediately observable exception to this is the phenomenon of conscious intent as a source of motion. A body, (literally, a human body) can be completely at rest, yet spurred to motion through conscious effort. This led to the concusion that God, being defined as the unmoved mover, is by necessity a conscious entity who chose to create the universe, since thought itself is the most readily observable phenomenon that bridges the gap between the purely abstract and the material. And the purest thought, then, would be thinking about thinking, the first act that led to the creation of the universe and needs no material source to give it a push. This, however, does not alleviate the problem of infinite regression that was sought to be solved, as it only addresses infinite regress of particle motion. This first thought, the one about thinking… Thinking about what, more thinking? Infinite regress. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

IMHO, Dominic failed to demonstrate that any given cosmological argument fails to solve the problem of infinite regress. His argument is not refined enough to sustain his claim. Aristotle stands.

Dominic’s closing assertion is simply that he finds the statement “truth is stranger than fiction” persuasive. Big whoop. Dominic then claims that he finds gods “too convenient” of an explanation, using geocentrism and quantum physics as examples of “simple explanation[s] that turned out to be quite wrong.” Again, big whoop. What about all the simple explanations that turned out to be quite right, for example the vast majority of murder convictions sustained by forensic evidence? Dominic gives no reliable criteria by which one might differentiate a true simple claim from a false simple claim. That Dominic finds gods “too convenient” is an indication only of Dominic’s subjective preference and has no bearing on the veracity of God or gods. Dominic’s approach also seems to disregard the general principle that one should not multiply entities beyond necessity. IOW, Ockham’s Razor actually favors the “simplest” explanation, provided that explanation can account for the pertinent evidence. I find it odd that Dominic would seemingly throw Ockham’s Razor to the wind, but, whatever.

Extended Commentary: Vox’s Opening Arguments

Vox begins by supplying clear definitions for the terms evidence and logic. He then alludes to “a vast quantity of extant documentary and testimonial evidence providing indications that gods exist,” while remaining honest enough to concede that “the quality of this evidence varies considerably.” Alluding to cases of confirmed fraud in published scientific papers as a corollary example, Vox argues that the skeptic cannot summarily dismiss the entire body of evidence: “…at least some science is not fraudulent. Therefore, if one is willing to accept the validity of published scientific papers that one has not been able to verify are not fraudulent, one must similarly accept the validity of documentary evidence for the existence of gods that one has not examined and determined to merit dismissal for one reason or another.” This strikes me as cogent and fair, and a great way to force accountability and consistency on the skeptic.

Vox makes quite a few claims without any citation to support them, but this is more a minor annoyance than a major problem. For example, Vox tells us, “Since eyewitness testimony has been variously determined to be somewhere between 12 percent and 50 percent inaccurate, this means that between 50 percent and 88 percent of the testimonial evidence for gods should be assumed accurate, at least concerning the correctly reported details of the divine encounter.” Of course, lack of citation aside, the underlying logic is airtight, and Vox is again fair enough to concede, “The correct interpretations of the specific details, of course, are a different matter.” So far, so good.

Shifting gears, Vox writes, “Science itself lends support to the idea of the material existence of gods in this universe when astronomical evidence taken into account. According to the latest scientific consensuses, the universe is 13.75 billion years old, the Sun is 4.6 billion years old, the Earth is 4.54 billion years old, and homo sapiens sapiens reached behavioral modernity 50,000 years ago. As there are a conservatively estimated 200 billion stars in the galaxy and 100 billion galaxies in the universe, this indicates that there has been sufficient time for at least 7,891 billion alien races to appear, evolve, and reach a higher level of technological development than [man] given the current ratio of 1.18 planets discovered per star.” Unfortunately, we have no way to easily fact-check this, and Vox doesn’t supply any calculations. For all we know he might be pulling this out of his ass. Further, it seems odd for Vox to appeal to evolutionary probability here, as the string “sufficient time” clearly suggests. Again: are we counting “advanced, evolved beings” as gods? Is a highly revered, weather-controlling computer a “god” in this discussion? As I said in my opening paragraph, I’m not interested in debating the existence ET’s and Terminators. I think it is fair to assume the average person doesn’t mean “advanced, evolved beings” when they say “God” or “gods,” although, to his credit, Vox makes a distinction between “Creator Gods” and “gods” during his argument from moral evil. So, on we go.

Turning to the concept of moral evil, Vox writes, “I am not aware of a single individual who has denied ever experiencing any direct contact with evil. And by evil, I do not mean mere bad fortune, physical pain, or the application of the various principles of physics to suboptimal human action, but rather those self-aware, purposeful, and malicious forces which intend material harm and suffering to others and are capable of inflicting it.” Pure bluster. I know countless individuals who firmly deny that self-aware, evil forces exist. While I agree with Vox that “human evil is partly endogenous,” it’s a Saltarellian leap to go from there to God or gods. After all, many people disbelieve in “self-aware forces of evil,” most notably those people who believe “evil” is just a handy euphemism for desire-thwarting human behaviors like stealing, lying, murder, etc. Not a chance, Vox, not a chance. Your argument from moral evil requires emendations. Burn the dross and resubmit.

Still belaboring the point, Vox’s closing paragraph begins, “As a shadow requires the presence of a source of light in order to exist, evil requires the presence of a source of good.” LOL! Spare me. This is just fancy poetic metaphor designed to objectify what may in fact be purely subjective phenomena. It might be appropriate in one of Vox’s “cheesy sci-fi novels” [PZ’s words, not mine], but it is entirely inappropriate in an ostensibly serious debate. He needs to flesh this out quite a bit if he’s trying to make the WLC-esque claim that objective good exists, ergo one or more Creator Gods.

Extended Commentary: Dominic’s Response

The first half of Dominic’s response to Vox could be summarized as, “gods don’t exist, ET’s almost certainly do.” Disappointed? So was I.

In response to Vox’s “plethora of evidence” claim, Dominic rightly concedes that, “…no amount of handwaving theorizing that so many people throughout history have been merely dishonest, crazy, delusional, or suffering from temporal lobe epilepsy can stand up against the sheer volume of accounts made, so dismissal simply is not an option.” Damn straight, and I’m impressed Dominic didn’t take the denialist path there. He continues, “There is no denying that there is something, possibly of a distinctly external nature, imposing itself on people throughout history causing them to report visitations from gods, angels, demons.” Whoopee! Something, possibly of a distinctly external nature, probably exists!

Wisely, Dominic concedes Vox’s plethora of evidence and spends his next few paragraphs giving us a brief history of alleged extraterrestrial visitations, reminding us that some people see greys, others angels, others demons, etc. So, Dominic clearly accepts that “something is happening,” he just denies that it has anything to do with God or gods [then again, aren’t superhuman entities that can control nature “gods” by definition?]. After a bit of what basically amounts to mumbling, Dominic realizes, “Somehow, I doubt that proving other people exist, though, is the purpose of this discussion.” Exactly what I was thinking. This debate was supposed to be about God or gods, not ET’s, yet both Vox and Dominic spend at least a paragraph talking about ET’s. Oh well. Too bad we didn’t nail down a definition of “gods” or “God” like I suggested in the beginning.

Realizing the futility of arguing over ET’s, Dominic thankfully returns to the central issue, i.e., God. He then turns to Vox’s argument for moral evil, and, astonishingly for an atheist, he agrees with Vox on the existence of “objective” evil, but I think that’s only because Dominic uses objective unconventionally. He writes, “I believe we can all be in agreement that objective evil, as defined as a self-aware, purposeful, and malicious force which intends material harm and suffering to others and is capable of inflicting it, is quite real.” Really? On what grounds? I believe these forces exist, but that’s because I accept the existence of the traditional malevolent deities, i.e., Satan, demons and their offspring. What sort of “self-aware evil force” can an atheist possibly assent to?

Dominic then disagrees with Vox’s claim I dismissed as fanciful poetic metaphor, writing, “Objectively real evil is something we intuitively recognize by its qualities, and I don’t see how any of the qualities that defines evil requires a source of goodness to either enable or define it.” My thoughts exactly. As I said, Vox fails in his attempt to objectify what may in fact be purely subjective phenomena [human intuitions about “good” and “evil”]. Further, if Dominic is going to concede the existence of “self-aware forces of evil,” then, unless he means to imply that they are ET’s or Terminators, hasn’t he just conceded the existence of something like demons ala traditional Christian theology?

This is just a minor point, but Dominic writes, “Evil is always unpleasant for someone, that’s what makes it objective, but leaping to the conclusion that it couldn’t exist without the objective and definitive Good strikes me as awfully non-sequiteur, knocking the base out of the argument that our ability to recognize evil necessitates the existence of a custodian of the Good.” Mostly yes, partly no. Mostly yes, because the fact that we all dislike being stolen from doesn’t necessarily lead to God or gods, and this is an appropriate response to Vox’s argument. Partly no, because feelings of unpleasantry are always subjective in that they ultimately supervene on the mind of the subject [note that this does not negate the “mostly yes” logic]. Dominic seems to misunderstand the elementary difference between subjective and objective, as further evidenced by: “We all eat roughly the same things due to the fact we all need the same kinds of dietary input to survive due to the similiarity of our bodies (which is also why its safe so say we all see colors in roughly the same way, philosophers and their ‘what if my blue is your red?’ be damned). Sugar is sweet, 50 degree Farenheit water is cold, and someone who steals from someone else for purely personal gain is evil. The first two are readily accepted facts across the board (thus objective, the only thing subjective is “how sweet” or “how cold”) as being a consequence of our common biology, yet the third gets a free pass as a universal law that we know though our moral intuition, that would hold true even without us around. This makes no sense.” Indeed, Dominic, it doesn’t. Ever heard of Daltonism or any of the many other sense “disorders” in the literature? Farts don’t smell “bad” for everyone. Grass isn’t “green” for everyone. Mass murder isn’t “evil” for everyone. So I’m not sure what that latter bit was meant to accomplish, but it doesn’t matter because Vox didn’t make a strong enough case anyways.

Lest I be dismissed as too flippant, I agree with the meat of his claim. Dominic writes, “I’m not saying that our common biology is the definitive answer as to why we all perceive and recognize flavor, temperature, and evil, but it is just as good an explanation, if not better, than jumping to the conclusion that our recognition of evil is a window into some absolute moral law, much less saying that the very act of recognizing it requires some corresponding Goodness.” With the aforementioned minor reservations aside, I agree. Vox failed to make his case that “self-aware forces” of evil exist, much less that their existence proves the necessity of “self-aware forces” of good. Dominic concludes, “the existence of objective evil is not itself a definitive proof of a lawgiver, it could just as easily be a secondary consequence of our biological reliance on vitamin C or something equally unexpected.” Well-stated, Saltarelli. I concur.

Extended Commentary: Vox’s Response

In response to Dominic’s thoughts on cause and effect, Vox writes, “the assertion that the existence of the supernatural depends upon the axiom that cause precedes effect or that space-time is causal and linear is both incorrect and unsupported.” Yes and no. Yes, because the inference Dominic draws from the assertion remains vulnerable to the problems outlined in 1. No, because the Prime Mover arguments Dominic alludes to have typically been advanced using linear causality. So, Dominic correctly asserted that the traditional Prime Mover arguments require linear causality. There may be Prime Mover logic compatible with alinear causality, but that doesn’t seem to be what Dominic was talking about. Vox is also correct in another sense: although traditional Prime Mover logic seems to require linear causality, this does not necessarily hold for all things “supernatural” [whatever the hell that means, nobody explains]. Vox is justified in dismissing Dominic’s arguments in this regard.

WRT Dominic’s four exhibits, Vox continues, “although I find them intriguing, I have nothing to say here about the existence or non-existence of precognition, mystery butter, deja vu, or dreaming the future, because none of them are relevant to this debate given the nonexistent logical link between those four things and the existence of gods.” Well, not so fast. Dominic’s claim is that these phenomena justify doubt regarding the proposition, “cause and effect is always linear.” So, there is a link, but the connection just isn’t strong enough for all the reasons I described in 1.

Regarding Dominic’s persuasion by the axiom “truth is stranger than fiction,” Vox writes, “Nevertheless, convenience is not a serious argument against existence. 7-11 indubitably exists. Starbucks seemingly exists on every corner. Few things could possibly be considered more convenient than Internet porn, which is available 24-7 around the entire planet, and yet it too can be confirmed to exist.” Vox conveniently equivocates over Dominic’s intended usage of the word convenient. This is not the type of “convenience” Dominic is talking about, but this, too, is only a minor annoyance. Vox is correct to mention that Ockham’s Razor is “a useful rule of thumb and parsimony is usually considered to be a scientific positive when the relative likelihood of two competing theories is being compared.” Dominic failed to mention this. Vox writes, “While I can hardly question what is or is not obvious to Dominic, I can certainly point out that obviousness to Dominic is not [an] objective metric that is relevant in any way to anyone else.” Exactly. That Dominic finds gods “too convenient” doesn’t amount to a hill of beans logically.

Reiterating his previous appeal to possibility, Vox writes, “With the continued advance of technology and the concomitant changes in [man’s] future understanding of the universe that will come from that advance, it is entirely possible that a belief in the material limits of the universe which rejects the supernatural may well one day look as ignorant and crazy as a belief in Newtonian physics which rejects quantum physics.” Well sure, but you need something more than “X is entirely possible and may one day be discovered” to make your case. After all, the same could be said of unicorns, flying spaghetti monsters, interstellar teapots and all the other silly objects proffered by flippant atheists. Plausibility is certainly an important fact to point out, but ultimately worthless in forcing a positive conclusion for gods. Luckily for Vox, the “plethora of evidence” stands in his favor.

In Conclusion

Overlooking his neglect for citations, Vox’s arguments respected scientific methodology, consistency and consensus, whereas Dominic’s arguments showed flagrant disregard for the same. I’m not being harsh, but Dominic didn’t make a single forceful argument for the non-existence of gods. On the other hand, Vox’s argument from mathematical probability established plausibility, but that isn’t sufficient to force the conclusion that gods exist. Vox’s argument from moral evil wasn’t sufficiently developed to be relevant. The clincher? Dominic conceded the forcefulness of Vox’s “plethora of evidence” argument, which clearly tips the scale in Vox’s favor, but it gets worse for Dominic: Vox’s “plethora of evidence” is also consistent with Dominic’s “alien hypothesis,” and aliens are acceptable given the definition of “gods” we’ve been supplied. So, unexpectedly, both Vox and Dominic seem to have agreed that E/L->gods! Since Dominic was supposed to argue that E/L->no gods, it seems he didn’t make his case and actually conceded Vox’s. Since our loosely-defined concept of “gods” allows for any superhuman being worshipped as able to control nature, I don’t see how Dominic could successfully argue that E/L->no gods, unless of course he attributes Vox’s “plethora of evidence” to an uncannily teleological “Northern lights” -type phenomena. Or mass delusion, but both these guys are levels above John Loftus.

I reluctantly declare Vox Day the winner of round one, but not by much. In fact, it’s almost by default.

Addendum

As this debate proceeds, I’d like to see a narrower focus on the traditional God concept. The definition of “gods” as any “superhuman being worshipped as able to control nature” is simply too wide a goalpost, one that diminishes this debate’s relevance to traditional (a)theist dialog.

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