Quote of the week

July 15, 2011 • 4:03 am

From the site David’s Slingshot, “The arrogance of not arguing“:

I’m going to point out something that tends to get papered over: accommodationalism [sic] isn’t just insulting to the Gnu Atheists; It is insulting to believers, on a profound level. Oh sure, accomadationalism will call out Gnus for being jerks (because of honest engagement with ideas)—but then it will ask for us to understand that even if something isn’t true, maybe those weak minded saps over there need that mental crutch, we don’t, of course, but no need to make others miserable with difficult thoughts and logical discussion, and we should understand that all it will result in is stripped internal gears and headaches. Bull and shite.

If a belief is true, those who believe in it have nothing to fear from it being subjected to a free marketplace of ideas. No argument, no logical or empirical process will show a true belief to be false. And if a belief is false, how can you—without arrogance—claim it is better for others to believe it?

112 thoughts on “Quote of the week

  1. I agree completely. David says it better than I’ve been able to.

    Failure to counter religious ideas in the idea marketplace because one assumes that believers just cannot be rational is an insult to those believers. In the end, a believer may remain irrational, but it’s up to him/her to demonstrate that, not for us to assume it.

  2. Jerry,

    It is human nature to believe things because they are useful, not because they are true. We see this in personal psychological health (where cognitive mechanisms to inflate sense of self and mitigate negative self-evaluation result in greater happiness/well being) as well as in adaptive social functioning.

    I would be interested if you could back up the claim that the greater the truth value of the belief, the greater the psychological utility of the belief is to the average member of our society. Granted there is a correlation, but it is not a solid 100%. Moderate religions and social conventions can benefit both the individual’s and society’s well being. There is always the risk associated with less-than-critical thinking of course. But I would be interested as to how you could deny the very real benefits are there.

    1. I didn’t think the relative benefits of false beliefs vs. accurate beliefs were being discussed here.

      Reasonble people usually think that evidence and reason help us live better lives than ignorance and irrationality. Of course, that might be wrong in some cases, but I think it has to be demonstrated to be the case.

      1. You need to consider how a theist would define “evidence” prior to believing you have a knock-down argument in demanding she provide it. Look over the posts when we atheists have engaged Thomist’s from Feser’s site with no understanding of the history of or the construction of the Thomist Cosmological Argument. We’ve leaped to cries for “evidence” and very often mistook the Thomist version of the argument as the Kalaam version. We also presupposed that the Thomist Roman Catholics ground their religious commitment in a fideism aligned with Pentecostal Christianity that gains power from “Sola Scriptura” (and the revealed knowledge therein.) They don’t but, we think they do, and we bring that bias to the table when engaging their ideas. If we are going to ask for evidence then we need to understand the framework by which those we are speaking with consider evidence. I have yet to see that “evidence” is a brute fact. Brute facts are derived from “evidence”.

        1. Chuck, I’ve been enjoying your posts and your discussions with Ben, and I wanted to comment on what I’ve seen as a common theme in your disagreements over the validity of requiring evidence to support a claim. I think if you would simply read “evidence” as “intersubjective evidence”, it would make the opposing perspective a lot clearer to you. The ability to evaluate the validity of another individual’s personal evidence or revelation is obviously limited, and therein lies the problem. Granted, I’m a biochemist and not a philosopher, and the intersubjectivity of claims is the currency of my trade, so my perspective may be unduly biased . From what I’ve read of your posts I’m sure this distinction is not lost on you, so I would be interested to hear your perspective on this point.

        2. Chuck,
          With regards to your problem with dealing with Calvinists who use experience as evidence, have you tried asking them how they decide it is God providing the experience and not Satan? Could not the great deceiver be stepping in, and how would they discern the difference?

    2. “We see this in personal psychological health (where cognitive mechanisms to inflate sense of self and mitigate negative self-evaluation result in greater happiness/well being)”

      Citation needed.

    3. “Moderate religions and social conventions can benefit both the individual’s and society’s well being.”

      There can be also be costs, particularly when different religious and social world-views clash. Think of the research on TMT when differing worldviews collide. Out-group derogation, aggression, etc. This happens particularly with religion, as that is the mechanism in which people tend to deal with their immortality. I know you said “moderate”, but these effects are found with moderates as well. That hurts individuals and society.

      I’d be interested in looking at the studies to which you refer. I’m guessing it comes from Jon Haidt.

      I cannot really cite any research that states the truer the belief, the more psychological benefit. However, anecdotally(word?), no one likes to look like a tool when they are spewing non-sense. I’m guessing there is only moderate correlation because some truths are not as pleasant as other truths (for example, I am not attractive). If one’s belief is part of one’s self-worth or self-schema, I would predict that it’s truthiness would be beneficial. I guess it would depend if that person found out the “real truth”.

      1. Actually, someone below reminded me of cognitive flexibility. That is, the ability to change one’s mind regarding beliefs. I DO believe there are studies that show that flexibility is related to well-being. Will search for citation.

  3. This is deliciously put. I can’t but agree, and it’s always frustrated me that the snake oil salesmen, sorry I mean religious leaders, of evangelical Christianity in the US come out with stuff they know is not true, because they assume that their followers are too stupid to look it up.

    I mean really, Bill Dembski and your ant trails that prove Jesus? The best you can do is insulting the very people on whom you depend?

    At least we atheists give believers the credit of assuming they are capable of rational argument until proven otherwise.

    1. “the snake oil salesmen, sorry I mean religious leaders, of evangelical Christianity in the US”

      As a non-American, the similarity of those two has long struck me, especially since I went to Marineland in San Diego in 1988 and saw a very similar kind of hypester commentating on Shamu the Killer Whale.

      Sharply dressed, slick, folksy, beguiling, attention-grabbing. Professor Harold Hill of “The Music Man” is the archetype.

  4. Nicely put, but arrogant and self-indulgent in the extreme.

    It’s not about if someone’s beliefs are true or not. Beliefs can and should always be challenged – all of them. Accomodation is about respect for the individual’s RIGHT to be wrong and his/er’s right to refuse enlightenment, no matter how ‘stupid’ we may find that position.(As long as it remains with them, and isn’t trying to force others to the same kneeling and bending over.) It is NOT about telling them that they could be right, who knows…

    I’ll argue atheism in any discipline, if the other person wishes to talk. But I’m not going to walk up to my 97 yr old very Catholic aunt and insist she listen to why I know her faith is utter crap because I think she needs to face up to a lifetime of inerrant thinking. I expect the exact same respect from her.

    1. But I’m not going to walk up to my 97 yr old very Catholic aunt and insist she listen to why I know her faith is utter crap because I think she needs to face up to a lifetime of inerrant thinking.

      Can you offer a single example of a Gnu atheist doing anything remotely like that?

      Can you offer a single example of a Gnu atheist suggesting that that’d be a good thing to do?

      Heck, can you even offer a single example of a Gnu atheist who has never offered such an example as something one most emphatically should not do?



      1. While her illustration is over-the-top, the ethic is the same when atheists here damn Thomist Catholics for their adherence to “revealed truth” when that tradition has a disdain for it. I see that kind of presupposed understanding of a believers epistemology all the time from Gnus who practice reductionism as if it is a form of intellectual honesty. In fact, I’ve done it often. One can challenge theistic claims on its own terms before racing in with “evidence, evidence I say!” as the only means of defeating a theistic argument. The cries for evidence while political expedient are intellectually vapid.

        1. While her illustration is over-the-top, the ethic is the same when atheists here damn Thomist Catholics for their adherence to “revealed truth” when that tradition has a disdain for it.

          I’m sorry, I don’t think there’s much point in continuing a discussion with somebody who argues with as much bad faith as you repeatedly do.

          First, I don’t give a damn what rhetorical nonsense Catholics are spouting about not accepting “revealed truth,” for the simple matter is that you’ll find things such as the Resurrection and Transubstantiation and the Virgin Birth and the Assumption and what-not nowhere outside of revelation.

          Second, to equate our sparring with believers who seek out a Web site named, “Why Evolution Is True” with accosting a random grandmother on her deathbed and insisting she abandon the one thing left in her life that gives her comfort…god damn, but that’s insultingly mendacious.


          1. It was her aunt and that is the type of exhoneration to the ethic of close reading I see all the time with Gnus. We’ve landed on an emotionally pleasing epistemology (and, in my book the most sustainable – atheist materialist naturalism) then, fail to understand the warrant by which our opposition gains their epistemic beliefs. You can make all the appeals to emotion you would like but, I don’t find your upset convincing to counter the evidence we’ve seen here over the past few days. Gnus have misrepresented the argument the Thomists were making and jumped to assume they were arguing for “Jesus” when they were arguing for a first cause. They weren’t engaging with the debate that was happening but rather with the one that was in their head. It is a poor ethic that believes, due one’s foundation for epistemic warrant, comprehension to what is being argued no longer matters.

          2. Okay, that’s enough. Put up or shut up.

            “Evidence, please.” Specifically, evidence of somebody’s true-believing elderly aunt having been accosted by a Gnu atheist attempting to deconvert her.

            “Logic, too.” If we’ve misrepresented the Thomist argument, then that means that it’s logically possible for there to exist a First Cause. Yet the following syllogism proves such is not the case. If you disagree, demonstrate the flaw in the syllogism.

            1) Premise: all entities (events / motions / whatever) require a cause (mover / whatever).

            2) Premise: entities cannot cause themselves.

            3) Per 1 & 2, no entity exists which has not been externally caused.

            4) Definition: Jesus is the uncaused cause that created the universe.

            5) Per 3, Jesus does not exist.


            1) Premise: there exist entities which were not caused by some external cause.

            2) Definition: Jesus is the uncaused cause that created everything else.

            3) Per #1, Jesus did not cause the entities in #1 to come into existence.

            4) Therefore, Jesus did not create everything else.

            5) #4 contradicts the definition of #2; therefore, Jesus as defined in #2 does not exist.

            Unless you can demonstrate a flaw above, it is perfectly reasonable to dismiss, without further consideration, anything anybody ever blathers about unmoved movers or whatnot.



          3. And even if there’s flaw there, premise 1 is already known wrong.

            Yay quantum physics.

          4. Here’s the warrant by which religious people obtain their “epistemic beliefs”

            a. personal revelation
            b. what their parents told them
            c. what they heard in church
            d. what they WANT to be true

            I’m sorry, but evidence to us means scientific evidence, and there isn’t any. And no, we haven’t all misrepresented the Thomist argument (which, you imply, is understood only by you), and yes, we all know that it’s supposed to be “proof” of God, but doesn’t constitute evidence for, say, the Christian beliefs that people like Feser espouse. There was no misunderstanding there, it was that even if the Cosmological Argument were convincing (which it’s not, and you don’t seem to be acquainted with the evidence for that), it gives no support to the more specific beliefs of different faiths.

          5. None of those means would be where a Thomist Catholic would argue for their epistemic warrant (from the very little I understand of their position).

            My disagreement still stands relative to the way many gnus (including myself) argue as if we are given license to caricature our interlocutor’s position due to our disbelief.

            Your comment here Jerry seems to prove too much and illustrates what I mean.

            I think arguing from one’s epistemic grounds is valid but that also seems to demand we consider philosophical charity when debating.

            The reason Sam Harris is so effective is that he has studied the philosophy he is debating. The reason Eric MacDonald’s blog is so substantive is that he has studied the theology he addresses. The reason Robert Price can deflate a biblical inerrantist’s position is because he knows the bible. There are many illustrations of atheists who dismantle theistic belief, not by deposing the theist with cries for scientific evidence but by challenging them from within their argument (e.g. JL Mackie, Michael Martin).

            I don’t think it is an accommodation to theism to consider with charity the starting point of the believers epistemology prior to countering it.

            It simply is practicing the art of philosophical charity as a means to expanding knowledge.

            This seems to be a virtue when engaging differing philosophical positions which, seems to be often absent from our camp’s first move in countering philosophical claims.

            We immediately jump to the presupposition that the theist is arguing for Evangelical Jesus (as you do above Jerry) when they may be arguing for Christian Atheism, or Classical Deism or, the B’hai faith. I’m not saying any of those world-views are any more tenable to me than Evangelical Christianity but, when we fail to understand the worldview approaching us it seems we undercut our position.

          6. You didn’t answer my question.

            1. Do you understand (as you say nobody else here does) Aquinas’s Cosmological argument for God? If so, please explain this to all of us who don’t seem to grasp it.

            2. If you do grasp it, do you consider it strong evidence for God?

          7. I’ve got an epistemic warrant right here in my pants.

            Apologies to all — I know that was childish and stupid, and doesn’t add anything to the discussion. But, daggone it, it just seemed FUNNY.

          8. Chuck, what is the point of arguing from a false premise. I despise getting into arguments that assume a god (of whatever kind) exists.

            If this is not what you are saying, I apologize. However, that is how it comes across to me. Why should I start my argumentation from a position, I do not believe to be true, and there is no evidence from.

            If you are just saying that we should look at their point of view, based on whatever psychological benefits they draw from it fine. However, I think you need to realize that many “GNUS” were once of faith. In fact, I was once a strongly christian conservative. Therefore, I know first hand where most (not all) theists are coming from.

            In short, what good does it do me to learn, in deep depth, to learn their point of view if the basic and fundamental premise of it is false?

          9. Well Kirth it made about as much sense as Chuck ever does. I’m amazed anyone bothers to respond to him at all as I find him quite incoherent.

        2. Sorry, but the claim of “revealed truth” is an oxymoron of the worst kind.

          There is no such thing.

          “Revealed truth” = “shit I made up in my own head without the slightest idea of whether or not it actually works.”

          Nobody, but nobody, has ever had a truth “revealed” to them by an invisible supernatural entity. Because such creatures do not exist.

          It’s a lie, pure and simple, to claim that “revealed truth” is the same as “truth”.

          1. And there would be many Christian traditions that would agree with you, as well as many super-naturalists. Your appeal to “revealed” truth as the only way to practice a religious belief reduces religious belief to Mega-Church fideism (a real and dangerous thing) but, not the only way religious believers rationalize their epistemic warrant.

          2. All the Christian denominations are based on revealed truth. They may find other ways to justify it, but they’re all trying to justify beliefs that were alleged to come from revealed truth.

          3. Name one Christian denomination that doesn’t believe in:

            A creator God that has some interest in humans

            A Jesus who was, at the very least, inspired by this God if not an incarnation of it.

          4. OK Chuck, if they aren’t based on revealed truth, you can point to the concrete origin of the Bible?

          5. @Truthspeaker:

            I just thought of why Christian denominations may not be based on revealed truth. It actually put things in a worse light for them though.

            It’s a fraud.

          6. Why on Earth are you so passionate about defending each and every possible flavor of insanity? What makes you think a one-size-fits-all approach to countering said insanity is even possible, let alone a good idea?

            And, bluntly, who the hell are you to tell us how to argue our own positions?


          7. Bluntly, who the hell are you to tell me how to argue mine?

            Your implication that a believer’s argument can be easily knocked down through mockery has not shown itself to be true in my experience nor, am I aware of any studies or historical cases that show it is.

            If you want to hold yourself to the same standard you hold Mooney to then present data on how mockery and reductionism lead to rational religion?

            Please provide data points that I can examine with independence and, avoid anecdote (it is bad data).

            In short, be what you wish to seem and make your case as you expect others to make their cases.

          8. I’ll be happy to address all your points, as soon as you can demonstrate that they’re relevant to me.

            You can start by answering a simple question: who is my audience?


          9. “If you want to hold yourself to the same standard you hold Mooney to then present data on how mockery and reductionism lead to rational religion?”

            Disagreeing with a wide held belief does not equal mockery. Many people make this mistake. I’ve been accused of mockery even from my significant other. When asked to point out my mockery; no one seems to come up with anything. Why? Because the simply act of disagreeing with a wide held belief often looks like mockery.

      2. Ben, are you not on Facebook? I see posts daily from hard line (gnu/new) atheists – which I am, too – who advocate going on the attack against any theist you encounter. I don’t believe an atheist should say anything less than we know there are no gods, and I’ve written columns saying so.

        However, I won’t advocate bitch-slapping folks who are incapable of grasping why they’re beliefs are incoherent – as I said, as long as they aren’t trying to enact laws or otherwise place their irrationality squarely in my lap.

        Obviously, if someone comes HERE to argue, they deserve whatever they get (in the form of argument.) I used the example of my aged aunt because there ARE many people out there who simply don’t want to engage the question, let alone the facts.

        I do advocate being uncloseted, I do advocate uncompromising argument – when it is sought or in response to behaviors which threaten equality – on all counts.

        So, yes, sadly, I HAVE seen many atheists who are downright offensive in their zeal for the unprovoked attack. I won’t publicly name names, however if you wish to email me for examples, I’ll be happy to oblige.

        1. ARRRGH. Their, not they’re beliefs.

          I’ll also add that if I have misunderstood the quote, I’m happy to be enlightened myself on why it didn’t mean what it apparently said.

        2. No, I’m not on Facebook.

          I’ve never encountered any atheist who advocates going on the attack against all theists. If I did, I’d tell them that they’re every bit as rude, uncivil, and deserving of ostracization as the door-to-door Jesus salescritters.

          And it’s certainly the case that no leader of the movement advocates any such thing. Indeed, Richard Dawkins often uses your exact case as an example of what not to do.

          I do, of course, agree with the sentiment already expressed by others that, if your aunt engages in public advocacy, she’s fair game.

          But if it’s in private and she’s asking you to join her in prayer, whether you smile and nod or remind her, “Oh, auntie — you know that’s not my thing,” is up to you and your family dynamics. Unless she’s the type who gets a kick out of knock-down drag-out philosophical debates, I simply can’t see how anything more confrontational could possibly be appropriate.



          1. Ben, we’re in complete agreement.

            I’m truly delighted to hear that no one else posting here has ever encountered asshole atheists. Wish I were able to say the same.

            In any case, you’ve all explained that what I perceived to have been said is not what anyone else ‘heard’, so I will no longer respond to this, which is only distracting from the point.

          2. I know it’s important to lots of people, but I never did get the point of facetwitting and friendspacing.

            For that matter, I still mourn the demise of USENET, but….


          3. Heh. While I remember–but hardly mourn–bulletin boards. (The, uh…we didn’t say ‘online’ then…the modem-based kind. The sort of modem you put your phone handset onto…)

          4. Hmmm…I never did get into the BBS scene. My first forays into the networked world of computers was with BITNET — though I still vaguely remember the “guess-my-number” game (it would play either side, as I recall) I wrote for an Apple ][ back in junior high school….


          5. That was my first program in Atari Basic! Even though I typed in the words myself (along with everything else), I still got a charge out of the computer “saying,” “That’s it! You guessed my number!” each time I played or conned someone else into playing. :- )

          6. When I was teaching intro to CompSci at Mesa Community College many moons ago, I used that as the big programming assignment — and at least a few of the students got that same kick we did. It mostly made up for the other kids who thought writing their name at the top of a sheet of paper and handing it in was too much work….


        3. “One more thing.”

          I won’t publicly name names, however if you wish to email me for examples, I’ll be happy to oblige.

          Please name names. Publicly.

          If your allegations are supported, these people need to be slapped down, and that slapdown needs to come from within the movement. And that slapdown should be public.

          If your allegations aren’t supported…well, we’ve already been through this plenty of times before, most notoriously with Phil “Dick” Plait.


    2. So it’s okay for Gnus to say what they do as long as your aunt doesn’t have to read or hear it. If we extend that “courtesy” to everyone’s aunt, do you not see how you’re basically telling us to sit down and shut up?

    3. Should we assume that religious people speaking and acting in the public sphere are the intellectual and emotional equivalent of your 97-yr-old aunt?

      Is she campaigning for prayer in public schools or for ID to be given equal time to science in the classroom? If not, then why do you put her forward as an example?

      1. Ray, please see my reply to Ben. I have never said that we ought not to fight any sort of attempt to push beliefs on others, to the contrary, I not only support such actions, I actively participate in them and have done so for nearly 50 years.

        I put my aunt forward as an example precisely because she does not do those things, and I encounter atheists daily who still feel they need to straighten people like her out.

        The quote implied just as much – and following the link to the site, I see nothing in that post which discriminates between types of theists ‘deserving’ of being challenged. If the author is more clear elsewhere, then we have an excellent example of how quotes alone can be misunderstood when the full context of the argument is not there.

        1. I don’t encounter atheists daily who try to push their beliefs on 97-year old grandmothers who don’t want to argue. I consider this just trolling: an attempt to characterize tar atheists with a behavior that, I’ll bet, NOBODY on this website engages in.

          Let’s stop this line of argument because it’s based on completely unjustified assertions.

          1. My deepest apologies. I had no idea we were only speaking of atheists on THIS website. Jerry, you clearly didn’t read a thing I wrote if you’re going to call me a troll trying to badmouth atheists. In any case, I’m out of here, as you request.

          2. I accidentally got into an argument with a 78 year old catholic member of my (secular) choir and shut it down immediately because I like her and I didn’t want to be telling her that her priests have been lying to her for the last 78 years. She’s harmless and as I had already made it clear there was no evidence for Jesus’ existence, I could see no point in getting into an ‘is’, ‘isn’t’ thing. I feel a bit cowardly but it came out of nowhere and I wasn’t prepared. Most of my friends are atheists and I get no practice at this kind of thing. Also I’m complete crap at tact and I didn’t want to upset her. So much for the big bad atheist. :-O

        2. “The quote implied just as much – and following the link to the site, I see nothing in that post which discriminates between types of theists ‘deserving’ of being challenged.”

          And why should we discriminate? That’s exactly the point: unlike you, I think your 97-year-old aunt could handle it if she chose to participate in such a discussion.

    4. I’m not going to walk up to my 97 yr old very Catholic aunt and insist she listen to why I know her faith is utter crap because I think she needs to face up to a lifetime of inerrant thinking. I expect the exact same respect from her.

      And that’s great as long as your aunt isn’t voting for anti-gay legislation or tacitly supporting the cover up of mass child rape due to that faith. Religious belief has political consequences, serious political consequences, and to the extent that political beliefs are about public matters, religion is no longer a private enterprise.

      1. Tulse, that’s precisely the point I was trying to make. Clearly from the replies, all people ‘heard’ was the example I used and not the rest of what I said, which, from my first reply, stated that we SHOULD fight any and all attempts such as those you mention above. Further I have no problem explaining my reasoning even to her if I think she’s supporting prejudice. I simply stop at insisting her belief is ridiculous, though I never will state it is NOT ridiculous, either. It’s a matter of tact, in my opinion.

    5. Caraleisa, I agree with you and the other posters that walking up to a believer and, out-of-the-blue, start picking a fight with them about religion would be a dick move.

      But I didn’t read the quote as stating that we should challenge religious belief under any and all circumstances, only that accommodationalism can be a kind of smug pat-pat on the head to believers and we shouldn’t allow ourselves that, because it is also a dick move.

    6. “Accomodation is about respect for the individual’s RIGHT to be wrong and his/er’s right to refuse enlightenment, no matter how ‘stupid’ we may find that position.”

      You clearly have not been reading the statements of the accomadationists. For Mooney et al, accomadation is about the individual’s “right” never to be exposed to challenges to their beliefs.

    7. Accomodation is about respect for the individual’s RIGHT to be wrong and his/er’s right to refuse enlightenment, no matter how ‘stupid’ we may find that position.(As long as it remains with them, and isn’t trying to force others to the same kneeling and bending over.) It is NOT about telling them that they could be right, who knows…

      I have not seen the accommodationists make that argument contra Gnu Atheism. Besides, Gnu’s aren’t trying to take anyone’s right to be wrong away. That implication is a gross misrepresentation of their stance.

  5. This is an interest quote but, I think there is much arrogance when we atheists engage believers and fail to understand their way of interpreting evidence. The author at the blog, mentions the first cause argument and the lack of evidence therein. In a broad sense, I can agree with his critique but, I often see atheists misrepresent or reduce the argument so that they can move it from a philosophical discussion to an empirical one. The theist making the argument then dismisses the atheist for their misunderstanding of the argument and, the atheist derides the theist for the philosophical crime of “special pleading” (entering again the world of philosophical debate, often without any recognition they exited it with their demand for empirical evidence). I don’t think we accommodate to believers by embracing their way of interpreting information and, think that the demand for evidence in the first cause argument, at the outset of the argument’s use, caricatures human reasoning towards a narrow and preferred viewpoint. I do think that it is perfectly reasonable to request evidence for ontological claims (the move of the Christian apologist as a post-script to the classical conclusion from causation) and there we can shift the discussion towards empiricism but, to cry for evidence at the outset of the argument seems to only communicate that empiricism is the only thing that matters and, that project has shown to be limited when honestly considering history, specifically the Logical Positives. Christians do misuse philosophical discourse towards their own preconceived ends and misplace the power of the argument from causation as one of confirmation rather than rumination but, we too mangle the proposition when we fail to see its purpose. I think that is arrogant.

    1. I can agree with his critique but, I often see atheists misrepresent or reduce the argument so that they can move it from a philosophical discussion to an empirical one.

      No, that’s not what we do. Not at all.

      What we do do is point out all the logical fallacies the theists introduce into their proofs — all the special pleading and what-not. We then show them what remains, which is really a quite simple and elegant proof by contradiction of no first cause. And, since that proof is as solid as one that demonstrates that no bachelors are married, we have further confirmation that it was all those fallacies that let the theists pretend they had something clever in the first place.

      And we demand evidence, knowing full well that none is forthcoming.

      Please stop misrepresenting what we do and using said misrepresentations to accuse us of arrogance.



      1. Ben, the comments I’ve seen from atheists here over the last few days, who have a misunderstanding of the form of the cosmological argument, while crying out for evidence, and claiming that the Thomists preferring that argument have argued for Jesus for the first cause, prior to them doing that, contradicts your assertion to the ethic of the Gnus.

        But a more exact example would be the “thumbs up” Harris gave the prankster at Notre Dame when he proposed that The Holy Spirit told him homosexuality was correct when nothing in Craig’s presentation touched upon The Inner Witness as proof to his argument for moral duties. That is an intellectually empty move and, while convincing towards one’s in-group, does not assist the human project of thinking.

        1. No, the dishonesty lies with Craig who crassly uses his “sophisticated” sophistry as a cover for his sociopathic tendencies — and yours for claiming we must agree that the emperor’s robes are made of the finest silk before we dare protest the cruelties perpetuated in the dungeons.


          1. How is what that kid did any different from a theist coming to the microphone and accusing Harris of moral relativism when he didn’t ever argue for that, simply because most materialists arguing for morality assume that pose? Harris argued as a moral realist and, if a believer came up and disrespected his position with a cliche like that, we’d get pissed but, when we make that same epistemic move, we see it as intellectually honesty, rather than self-serving rhetoric. I am no fan of Craig but, I am a fan of the virtue found in philosophical charity, it allows us to get past language barriers and biases so we can talk about what corresponds to reality.

        2. Oh, so you think that NOBODY hear has understood the cosmological argument? Do you? And if you do, do you think it’s powerful evidence for God?

          1. Jerry all A’s are not B’s.

            I never made mention of anybody NOT getting the Cosmological argument. In fact, I think Ben did and he argued well for why the premises from its own position don’t hold up to modern evidence. He didn’t claim victory by pushing the theist into a corner with a demand for scientific evidence but rather used the argument on its own and defeated its first premise with scientific evidence.

            I admire his mind and think, for the most part, he is an example of the type of philosophical charity I endorse.

            I no longer choose to find much satisfaction in the kind of sarcasm he wields but, find his style of argument sound. I must confess, however that I do get a lot of entertainment from his sense of humor.

        3. There is no “Holy Spirit”. There are no spirits, period, holy or otherwise.

          There is no “Inner Witness”, other than the workings of your own brain.

          If you’re proposing that we first must understand why people believe in Ceiling Cat before we can debunk Ceiling Cat, I think you seriously misunderstand the fundamentally flawed nature of your own arguments.

          You’re engaging the the Courtier’s Reply here. As Ben has said, one does not need to know why half of the courtiers think the robe is flecked with gold and half think it’s flecked with silver. There’s no robe. Period.

          And 13th century arguments that have been debunked since…well, the 13th century, provide no footing to declare that the robe is really there, after all.

          1. I’m not arguing for the Coutier’s Reply. I’m arguing that you will not change the mind of a believer by not understanding, then dismantling, where they gain their epistemic warrant.

            Sam Harris changed my mind not, because he wrote “Hey, idiot Christian, there isn’t any Holy Spirit!” but rather pointed out the claims to knowledge other than those derived from material means are fallacious.

            Robert Price and Richard Carrier have me nearly convinced that there was no person named Jesus, not by saying, “Hey idiot, there aren’t any such things as man-gods!” But by pointing out how the bible was put together and how the remarkable claims that are made from the bible expose Jesus as myth (e.g. the argument from silence where the Epistles of Paul, pre-dating the Gospel accounts, never mention any teachings of Jesus nor, do they ever consider a real Christ. Also, his use of Jesus in Ephesians is that of a Messianic title and not, a person’s name).

            Keep speaking with your in-group and touting how stupid believers are. You remind me of the Calvinists I used to hang with. I’m going to do as Eric instructed Jerry to do — learn the theological premises of my opponent so I might dismantle their superstition from within.

          2. Sorry, but you’re just dead wrong here. Richard Dawkins has changed PLENTY of believers’ minds by his “unsophisticated” arguments against theology and his insistence on evidence. Just look at the testimonies at his “Convert’s Corner.

            Just because you changed your mind via Harris’s arguments doesn’t mean that no other ways are effective. And Dawkins has been remarkably effective, “unsophisticated” as his arguments may be. The God Delusion sold millions of copies, and not all of those were to atheists.

          3. And you are citing a self-selected group of testimonies as evidence to your claims?

            I thought you were a scientist who respected data hygiene. I doubt we could do a T-test on that data set and see that it represents a random sample of the US Population. Why is testimonial anecdote good for our side but invalid for the other side?

            Dawkins doesn’t call the believer an idiot BTW, he makes a reasoned case for an argument against William Paley’s theology, which seems to be the predominant epistemic warrant of the ID movement and, provides a cumulative case from his hypothesis (derived from a clear understanding of that theology) why it is fallacious relative to the evidence.

            He also dismantles Muslim claims to peace by knowing what is in The Hadith relative to the sin of apostasy. His argument is not, “Hey Muslim, Mohammad was an illiterate epileptic who liked to fuck little girls!” but rather, he quotes back at them that the crime for apostasy in the Hadith is stoning. He dismantles their epistemic warrant from their epistemic ground and, in so doing, is effective. He doesn’t make the mistake of pretending that he has a knock-down argument against the Muslim by arguing that Jesus’s divinity is “bafflegab”. The Muslim would agree with him.

    2. “…when we atheists engage believers and fail to understand their way of interpreting evidence.”

      When believers’ way of interpreting evidence provides useful explanations and increased knowledge of the universe, then it will be worth engaging. It looks an awful lot like hand-waving from here.

      1. “Ditto.”

        Why privilege over a discipline that has created the computer you read these words on one whose crowning glory is, “Here, eat this reanimated zombie flesh cracker!”?



          1. Off-topic, I’m switching to word press for my blog and have no knowledge of how to use html tags. Is there an easy to understand source in learning?

          2. Yeah, I know — in favor of CSS markups. But the last time I tried, that got eated, too.

            Oh, well, there’s always the old ^H and ^W standbys…not that anybody but us old geezers know what they mean any more….


          1. Not all theists are Roman Catholics who believe in the Accident of the Eucharist. You’d find a Calvinist would laugh alongside you with that caricature.

          2. Yeah, but we atheists get to laugh at both Catlickers and Calvinists. I’m not giving that up.

        1. Because the theist I might be debating with their use of the Cosmological argument could be a B’hai and, my presupposition to their Christianity would caricature their belief, while undercutting any warrant I may have to comprehending their belief.

          I’m arguing for chess, which many apologist believers engage me to play not, checkers where I’m looking for a quick win.

    3. “I often see atheists misrepresent or reduce the argument so that they can move it from a philosophical discussion to an empirical one”

      Well, of course. That’s because empiricism is the only reliable method for determining truth. When people advance the first cause argument *without* addressing the empirical evidence for it, they are being foolish, and we call them on it.

      It’s not that we don’t understand how theists interpret evidence. We *do* understand, and we are pointing out that their way of interpreting evidence is intellectually bankrupt.

      1. I wonder if JL Mackie would agree with you in how one must dismantle the Cosmological Argument. One can do so without having to stay in the comfort of their in-group. The failed project of Logical Positivism and the inability for many of my fellow materialists to account for moral realism, opting instead for relativism, seems to infer that scientific evidence is not the only way to navigate human knowledge.

        1. We don’t have to account for moral realism because it doesn’t exist.

          This has nothing to do with arguing from the perspective of my in-group. It as an objectively verifiable fact that empiricism is the only reliable way of gaining knowledge.

          1. Then don’t use the Royal “We” because as a New Atheist, I do. As does Sam Harris and Richard Carrier (both very accomplished atheist authors). You are just proving with your assertions that confirmation bias is a human, not a religious, problem.

          2. Please provide objective evidence to support a claim in favour or against euthanasia.

            You think it is possible, so do it. Or least show how you would begin.

          3. Please provide your argument first. That would be the philosophical charitable thing to do. I simply argued that not all New Atheists deny moral facts. I didn’t offer the invitation to provide my moral worldview. Thanks.

          4. You did not answer the question, so I am assuming you cannot.

            I do not appreciate your dishonesty. Do not make claims you refuse to support.

            Begone with you.

          5. You cannot have a “moral worldview” when you argue that morality can be shown objectively true or false.

            I do not hold that view, so I do have a moral worldview.

            Either euthanasia is right or wrong (according to you) and it can be shown as a matter of fact, rather than opinion, to be one or the other.

            All I demand of you is that you explain how you would do that. You claim you can, so show us how. The longer you refuse to do so, the worse things look for you.

        2. Morality is not knowledge.

          That is not to say knowledge cannot inform debates about morality, but that knowledge will come from empirical processes.

          1. Really,

            What empirical process do you use to evaluate Shakespeare’s importance within the Canon of Elizabethan Literature? If you were to use empiricism then you would have to side with the notion that he failed because he chose not to obey the Classical Unities.

          2. Tell how to judge between two competing claims over the importance of Shakespeare first. What objective measure is there ?

            I can see no means of objectively deciding between two competing claims, assuming neither side distorts facts.

            The same applies to morality. How can you arrive at an objective decision as to which moral position is correct ?

            I really am not sure you are arguing in good faith here, since this is a mistake you keep making. Quit making it.

          3. All one needs to arrive at an objective position in regards to morality is an inter-dependent society. I think that proposition is reasonable.

          4. No, one needs evidence.

            We are not idiots, so quit treating us like idiots. We can see through your bullshit.

          5. “What empirical process do you use to evaluate Shakespeare’s importance within the Canon of Elizabethan Literature?”

            Importance is subjective. You could empirically try to determine how much influence Shakespeare had on other authors, and you could empirically determine how popular his work was both in his time and in subsequent generations. So you could gain some knowledge, but the question itself is one of opinion, not knowledge.

          6. “So we derive no knowledge from Shakespeare’s work?”

            I didn’t say that. But what knowledge we do derive from Shakespeare’s work can be empirically verified. Being true to yourself does tend to increase self-respect. Young people in love really do tend to act impulsively. Human lives can be seen as sound and fury signifying nothing.

          7. If I were using an empirical process, I would look at things like how often Shakespeare’s plays are performed, and how many other writers quote him. That’s empirical. Invoking the Classical Unities is arguing from authority, and then marking Shakespeare down for not doing something that Aristotle proposed two millennia earlier for a rather different sort of theatre.

          8. Maybe I can make things clearer.

            Empirical knowledge remains true no matter how many people accept a truth. The Earth does rotate around the Sun, Evolution does happen, and these things happen and carry on happing no matter what arguments are put forward in an attempt to refute them.

            How is that true of moral claims ?

          9. Actually the Earth revolves around the sun, but then it is rotating at the same time so…OK

  6. Jerry,

    You said, “You didn’t answer my question.

    1. Do you understand (as you say nobody else here does) Aquinas’s Cosmological argument for God? If so, please explain this to all of us who don’t seem to grasp it.

    2. If you do grasp it, do you consider it strong evidence for God?”

    1. No. That is why I am going to read Feser’s “Aquinas” to better understand his belief system followed by JL Mackie’s “Miracle of Theism” to educate myself on how an atheist Philosopher of Religion would defeat the argument from the perspective of the theist.

    Also, I never said nobody else understood the argument. I admitted Ben does (or far better than I). I did see theists who do understand it asking many of our fellow atheists to rephrase the first premise consonant with its construction and the responses to be, “you have no evidence for Jesus” when Jesus was never mentioned. I find it insulting, and beneath your intelligence, to twist my words towards an absolutism I never endorsed.

    2. I don’t grasp it (see 1) but, I don’t think there is any good evidence for God. My objections stem not from the Cosmological Argument however, because, I don’t understand it (yet) but rather, from my previous religious commitments (Reformed Theology) and how my mind was changed when I couldn’t reconcile a “good” God with the evidential Problem of Evil, the argument from silence, the argument from non-cognitivism, and, the confirmation bias I saw when believers claimed a risibility with the Holy Spirit while using material cognition to interpret this reason (Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation made me re-think my personal “in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit” as nothing more than cultural superstition.)

    Moving to atheism did not occur for me by having New Atheists beseech me in my belief as unintelligent (which many of them did) but rather, when Sam Harris argued from the inner witness and showed its fallacy. Also, when Bart Ehrman argued against the historicity of the Bible based on his understanding of its construction.

    That’s my point. I don’t think we accommodate believers and tell them Evolution isn’t a fact (it is) but, that truth will be better utilized if we first dismantle their beliefs from where they stand, not where we stand.

    When I was a Calvinist I’d have simply seen you as an arrogant fool who had no insight into reality. I’d have prayed for you, that your anger may be lifted. I would have been silly in doing the latter but, would not have been convinced atheism holds any wisdom at all.

  7. Ben, by posting the Courtier’s Reply, are you arguing that your move to dismantle the B’hai religion will find efficacy in mocking the Roman Catholic sacrament of the Eucharist which, along Reformed Theology, holds to Aristotelian substance-dualism?

    Seems to me that you are misinterpreting the data and undercutting the pride you have in your science.

    1. You misunderstand.

      The Courtier’s Reply is meant to show why it isn’t necessary to argue the details of the Eucharist. Atheism is supported by attacking the assumptions at the heart of Catholicism, B’hai, Islam, and all the others: that there are immaterial, conscious entities who have some kind of interest in humans.

      Once you show that there is no evidence for such entities then all the other details are irrelevant and can be dismissed.

      If I want to demonstrate that Star Trek is fiction, it is not necessary for me to know the details of the Klingon war of succession.

      1. Then how do you counter Theologians who would agree with you on that, like JJ Altzizer and his Christian Atheism? You’d get no disagreement from him about invisible beings yet, a lot of disdain from him in your assumption that they believe in them, and his scholarship is “bafflegab”.

        1. *They are already atheists*. I have no reason to counter them, because they already share my beliefs about supernatural entities.

          And if they call themselves Christian, then they have no right being surprised when people assume they hold the core beliefs of Christianity. And if they don’t hold those beliefs, but spend their lives studying them anyway, and if they call themselves theologians instead of literary critics then yes, their scholarship is bafflegab.

          1. Someone who spends their professional life studying beliefs they do not hold is either a cultural anthropologist or a sociologist.

            Whilst both disciplines have people promoting idiocy, there are also people do going good work.

            So why would someone doing good work call themselves a theologian ? It smacks of a lack of academic honesty.

  8. The entire discussion about accomodationism has been on my mind lately. I would say this quote generally reflects my thoughts. At least, I’m not so inclined to pretend that religious beliefs make sense. If I were to say something like “oh, I see you believe in angels and that’s interesting, but have you considered a scientific explanation such as…”, I would feel like I were lying and being condescending on some level.

    However, this speaks to a discussion of strategy. It may be that the more strident approach is not the best approach to getting converts. I’m not convinced it isn’t, but I’m not sure it is either. This is a generally important question. In reality, it may be the case that the best strategy is actually a mixture of styles. However, determining the optimum minimum is difficult.

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