Thursday, October 01, 2009

More on my letter.

After the press printed it we had a little fun in the comment box at the paper. I cut and paste it here just to remember the good times. I've only reversed the order because I prefer oldest to newest and changed names to protect our precious Internet anonymity.

Posted by: W.E. Sep 30 8:02 AM

cricket’s sermon begs for response. Every sentence cobbled into this pontification is devoid of truth or logic and stands as a testament to why so many atheists simply shake their heads and say nothing. Firstly, the book review in question cites the fact that around 40% of Americans believe that the earth was created, magically, less than 10,000 years ago. I hardly consider 120 million people in an educationally advanced nation to be a 'straw windmill'. Secondly, the tired argument that the support for scientific fact is somehow the same as 'steadfast faith' is contradictory to the point of silliness. Science is faithless. Scientists carefully research and confirm before supporting a theory and, if that theory should later be proven wrong, they acknowledge, learn and move on. And why disparage Fundamentalists? At least these 'bible thumpers' have the courage to stand behind their beliefs instead of ignoring or paraphrasing those parts of the holy books that are inconveniently ridiculous or inhumanly cruel. 'Signs of a creator'? Give me a break. There is a hundred times more proof in the existence of invisible quarks than there is for any 'god'. And, finally, I must dispute cricket' musical analogy. It is the atheist who hears the amazing symphony of life and the universe. The melodic and off-key. The harmonies and dis-chords. The theists hear one conductor with the same sheet of music... afraid to turn the page.

Posted by: J.C. Sep 30 10:07 AM

Allow me to second W.E's cogent remarks cricket recycles the tired canard that evolution is all a process of chance, but anyone with an elementary knowledge of Darwin's writings knows this is untrue. Here's what Richard Dawkins says in a recent interview in Maclean's: "If it [evolution] was all a theory of chance ... you would be right to disbelieve it. People will say, 'You're never going to convince me that something as complicated as an eye could come about by sheer chance.' And the answer is that natural selection is the very opposite of sheer chance. Natural selection is a non-random process."

So, please cricket, do a little more reading. Either Darwin or the wonderfully accessible books on evolution by Dawkins will do the trick. That's much more fruitful than relying on the embarrasing argument by design - an argument conclusively refuted by David Hume over 300 hundred years ago.

Posted by: rt Sep 30 10:30 AM

Well said, W.E.!

Posted by: cricket Sep 30 1:45 PM

Thank you W.E. for your critique of my letter. It allows me to elaborate a little.
1) It doesn't matter how many people hold that the earth was created (supernaturally not magically) since 10,000 BCE. It remains straw man for the atheist since proving them wrong does nothing to disprove the existence of God.
2) I did not say support for scientific fact/method is the same as steadfast faith, but that it is only in blind faith that one can hold the position that science can reap answers from the field of metaphysics--particularly the answer they require, viz that God does not exist.
3) I had hoped that my "disparagement" of B-thumping fundies would be taken rather as gentle ribbing. Certainly many fundamentalist Christians are to be admired for their courage and for their selfless goodness which is beacon to all--just as many atheists are to be admired. That doesn't make them right though.
4) I did not cast doubt on the existence of the quark as you seem to think, but what remains unexplained is the real intelligibility of the Universe.
5)Again you return to your straw men. Yes, there are Christians afraid to explore science honestly. But there are others beginning with the Church father Gregory of Nyssa, continuing through medieval scientists and philosophers Albert Magnus and Aquinas, through to this day, who look at God's creation every bit as clearly as any atheist. We see and hear all the chords and cacophonies you do--and by Grace honor the Composer of your "symphony".

Posted by: J.C.Sep 30 5:51 PM

cricket: Atheists do not claim that it is possible to disprove God's existence in the same way that evolutionists claim it is possible to disprove Intelligent Design. These are separate questions. There is a mountain of evidence, much of it catalogued by Dawkins, that exposes the threadbare nature of anti-evolutionary arguments. When it comes to God's existence, all that atheists point to is the suspicious lack of evidence that he is there at all. Of course, science can't "reap answers from the field of metaphysics", since metaphysics is as bogus a field of human inquiry as theology.

Posted by: cricket Sep 30 6:32 PM

I would like to point out with respect that . J.C. has misinterpreted my letter. I nowhere stated that evolution is (necessarily) a matter of chance. As a matter of fact I conceded, arguendo, that evolution may proceed to its end via the very pathways that Dawkins suggests in his book. Further implied in my note is that even though evolutionary theories say nothing as to the origin of life, I might even allow that it may in future be discovered to have begun in a series of naturalistic processes as well. It remains that an intelligible universe in which even the tiniest particle has meaning (think about the word "meaning"), and the aggregate of which even such an atheist as W.E. refers to agreeably as a "symphony", can only have come about in the first instance either through mere chance or through some outside Agent, and only the latter actually "accounts" (in my letter, I chose that word quite categorically) for it. To stubbornly insist it is rather the former thus takes great faith. None of W.E.'s "carefully researched" science can lead to this conclusion, nor can it be reached by philosophy. Hence it is irrational--though please note I do not use "irrational" as a term of disparagement but merely descriptively.

Having written, I see now . J.C. has posted a second response. I wish we could find a way to discuss this that didn't involve the delay imposed by "comment moderation". I will try to answer him later.

Meanwhile, May God Bless J.C. and W.E. both.

Posted by: Darsh Sep 30 7:01 PM

Thank you cricket for standing up for our Creator, Odin! It's obvious to us that the world was created by the powerful Odin, and we all hear His wonderous orchestra of swords and shields on the battlefield!

May Odin rain many blessings on you and your family, cricket, and allow you to reap the rewards of many battles to come!

Posted by: J.C. Sep 30 7:28 PM

cricket: In your original letter you disparage those who believe that "godless chance accounts for not only the existence of both life itself but of ends and purpose in life's rich garden." I assumed you were referring to evolution in the last part of that sentence and suggesting that evolutionary theory means believing that everything that currently exists came about through accident. If you didn't mean that I apologize, but surely I wasn't the only one who had difficulty with your phrasing.

At present, we cannot tell what took place at the beginning of time, although Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" provides some tantalizing conjectures about the period starting about five seconds after. But to say that only God "accounts" for all that we see around us is to say, with all due respect, precisely nothing. We are once more back to the most easily refuted of all theological arguments: the argument from design. I won't bore readers by going over what so many philosophers have said about this "proof" over the last 400 years, but if anyone wants to examine this argument more closely they need only purchase a copy of Hitchens' "God Is Not Great."

Anyway, I have to go since I am a bit late performing my daily rituals for the gods Zeus and Hera.

Posted by:W.E. Oct 1 8:14 AM

Nothing quite electrifies the 'soul' as spirited debate! Such arguments do always tend to reel and do-se-do, however, because two different languages are being spoken. If belief in any ‘god’ were approached from a purely scientific position, it would have been discarded as nonsense two centuries ago. Religion, of course, places itself beyond scientific proof. Theists have been brainwashed since childhood to simply accept that their bibles / korans / whatever, are simply, unquestionably 'true'. Faith dictates that the words of the gods cannot be disproven. This ensures that there are very few people who will be swayed from their beliefs, even when (from a scientific perspective) such beliefs should be in the same corner of the history books as tarot cards and astrology. If we remove blind faith from the equation, the argument for religion cannot even stand up on the moral / philosophical level (as more eloquent men than I have demonstrated!) As a young teen, I recall asking myself a simple question : The god of the bible is an active god. He DOES things. His reported actions in, for example, helping Moses' tribe escape from Egypt are very 'hands on'. The question remains ... Where was he at Auschwitz? Were the Jews of Moses' time more important? I would have given my life to save even one child from the Holocaust. Why hadn't this super-magical god lifted a finger to help a million children? Am I morally better than god? Heaven forbid!

Posted by:rt Oct 1 9:01 AM

Clueless. {cricket's note: I think he means me but I'm not sure because rt was commenting on another letter as well}

Posted by: cricket Oct 12:45 PM

So much to say, so few "characters left".
Re J.C.@5:51
1) With respect, I have no eggs in the intelligent design or anti-evolution basket so you're wasting your own "characters left" swatting at it.
2) The evidence is the music that is reality in many thousands of ways we can draw out for days. My tone-deafness theory still stands.
3) Metaphysics may be bogus as you say but unfortunately whenever we look out on the world in wonder we bump our heads against metaphysical questions. Unfortunately whenever we make a moral decision it is fraught with metaphysical assumptions as well. "How does the world work" is a scientific question, but "how is it that the world works" is a metaphysical. In the end, though, if metaphysics is bunk you cannot say, "God does not exist," for that is a conclusion in the very field you deny. You CAN say, "I just don't know if God exists--maybe he does; maybe not." But then you might be forced to examine the claims of people who met a man who said he was God, was crucified, died and (they say) rose from the dead--people who then strangely died martyrs' deaths rather than just admit they were lying or mistaken about him.

Re Darsh@7:01
I would thank you if I didn't strongly suspect you're simply being sarcastic at my expense. However, if you think there's a good argument in juxtaposing God with Odin, it can only be (and, please, I have no desire to offend you) that you've not gone beyond a child's understanding of God as big bearded man in the sky.

Posted by:cricket Oct 1 1:10 PM

Re J.C.@7:28
1) The source of your difficulty may be that you have written “but” where I wrote “and”. The “but”, and hence the real focus, comes after the passage you quoted. Secondly, I did not mean to “disparage” anyone, only to point out that their position is one of faith not of reason.
2) Bryson’s conjectures may provide valuable insight into how meaning was infused into the universe sometime before 5 seconds (a very long time in Creation), but they cannot say why, and the assumption that there exists meaning with no one to have meant it remains an assumption of faith.
3) It is not so much from design that I am arguing but from reality. You are correct that philosophers have refuted Aquinas’ five proofs beginning with their own assumptions (and those taken on faith), however continued drawing out of their arguments has resulted in their leading by modern times inexorably to nihilism and Nietzschean ethics—a denial of reality itself and of truth including moral truth. These may be reasonable positions but they are counter-intuitive given the reality in which we presume to live our day-to-day lives. For example, they're really not the positions I want the guy dating my daughter to live by.
4) Hitchens’ invective against religious people is beneath contempt and his arguments puerile.

Posted by: J.C. Oct 1 2:02 PM

cricket: I appear to have touched a nerve.

1. Thank you drawing attention to my error regarding "but" and "and". This is, however, a distinction without a difference. Even with "and", your phrasing is highly ambiguous.

2. You try to collapse the difference between scientific and religious attitudes by claiming that both depend on faith. This gambit has been tried many times before, and it is as wanting now as it was then. Scientists - and atheists - believe in the principle of falsifiability. In other words, if compelling evidence forces them to reconsider their views they will do so. You claim that "the music that is reality in many thousands of ways" constitutes that evidence. I'm sorry for having to beat a dead horse, but this is the same tired argument from design I alluded to in my last post. At the very least, you have to admit that many intelligent people do not accept "the music of reality" as proof of a deity, and to accuse these people of being "tone deaf" adds insult to injury.

3. Atheists are not nihilists, and it is outrageous to say so.

4. It isn't enough for you to argue for the existence of a deity; you argue that a specific man was God. And the "evidence"? His followers died because of that claim. Oh, my.

5. Your swipe at Darsh is unfair, since there is no more evidence for Jehovah than there is for Odin.

6. Spare me the ad hominems. Instead of referring to Hitchens as "puerile", perhaps you could address his arguments.

Posted by:cricket Oct 1 3:30 PM

Re W.E.@8:14
I don't have time to answer all your points, W.E. and this will be my last comment here. We can continue at my own blog if you like. I'm sure you can find it.
1) It is not that religion places itself beyond scientific proof but rather that it is by its nature beyond scientific proof (just as the claims of atheism are) since it concerns the supernatural and science is only concerned with nature. However religion is subject to the demands of reason insofar as its claims touch on the physical world.
2)Your reference to the Jewish Shoah of the 20th century is fortuitous. If there is no God, then morality is just a combination of epiphenomena of our evolutionary processes and a social construction. The result is you really have no solid moral ground on which to criticize me if I want to kick a dog downstairs, rape a small child, or exterminate the Jews of Europe. You can explain why YOU think I ought not to do these things, but descriptive explanations hold no moral force. I, on the other hand, believe that moral truths are real and the Nazis did real evil. Whether God was at Auschwitz, I don't know, but you can only say he wasn't if you happen to know that none of its victims is now in Heaven enjoying hyper-blessings infinitely beyond any such suffering. Neither of us can say that.

Anyway, thank you and God bless you all and Godwin's law which ends this for me.

I didn't answer J.C.'s last note over there, so in fairness I won't answer it here either, unless he should happen along and wish to continue the debate.

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