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Ask a Theologian II

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, May 9, 2008.

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  1. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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    Certainly, that's why they're satirical as opposed to honest.

    Militant Atheists?

    What exactly do you mean by that?
     
  2. holy king

    holy king Chieftain

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    are the crusades officially called off or could i still save my soul by conquering jerusalem?
     
  3. Miles Teg

    Miles Teg Nuclear Powered Mentat

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    If I may but in here, the events from Judges and beyond, excluding the more obvious propagandist pieces such as the tale of Gideon, are pretty badly anchored to surrounding history. Ancient Palestine had some relevance as a buffer zone between Egypt and the kingdoms of the east, but otherwise it was a backwater, with little mention in the histories of the above, and leaving little archaeological evidence of it's own.

    In essence, the position of any non-expert on the level of historical accuracy in these accounts says as much about the observer as it does about the books. There does seem to be some confirmation of the existence of David, or at least an approximation of him, but that's about it.

    Pretty sure you need the Pope's blessing.
     
  4. Dachs

    Dachs Hero of the Soviet Union

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    And the interesting stuff that is verifiable via non-Jewish sources, like Qarqar, doesn't pop up in the Tanak at all.
     
  5. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I mean the anti-religious ones who seek to ridicule religion by portraying it in the most absurd way they can and then beating it with any available stick. Those who aim not to understand but to break down.
     
  6. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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    Surely these are not meant as serious portrayals of the entirety of religion but a collection of arguments against certain religious explanations. Does arguing against religious explanations qualify one as militant?

    "beating it with any available stick"? I can think of many "sticks" that people you characterize as "militant atheists" don't beat religious people, the biggest of which is actual sticks! Is it really fair to judge someone who merely argues against religion with the term "militancy" which in my mind implies the advocacy of force to be used against religion?

    Can't one both be persuasive against religious belief, yet still seek to understand better that which is religion?
     
  7. Erik Mesoy

    Erik Mesoy Core Tester / Intern

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    Is this thread full of "Utter rubbish", as you so succinctly put it? Favored sample:
     
  8. boogaboo

    boogaboo Josef Popper 4ever

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    Nop. More than half of the locations mentioned in the bible are known and real, even if there is no "Israelite is me and I've been here" records at some places.

    Actually, some of the kings have been verified to exist in one way or another, but I sense that you don't know the subject.
    What you are saying is like saying "WW2 didn't start in a german attack, since we have no photographic evidence - it's all just hear-say".
    Again, some of it was changed over time, but many of the characters were actual people, and SOME of their descriptions are historical.
    Saying NOTHING is true until proven otherwise is as thoughtless as saying it is ALL true. There is SOME middle point, which we can never know, which is true.
    Basic logic is required, and experts do help, but ignoring it all as a legend is not so smart..
     
  9. Miles Teg

    Miles Teg Nuclear Powered Mentat

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    Locations are relatively static, as you well know. In the Middle East in particular, if a location was inhabited in ancient times, it's been inhabited ever since. It's not the background that interests me, but the people and what they did.

    You're attacking a strawman Boogaboo, and judging by the quick lapse into insults, finding it quite challenging.

    I don't believe that the historical records in the Old Testament are simply legend, or that it's so suspect as a source of information that it shouldn't be referenced and consulted. I'm simply pointing out that the vast majority of the story does come from one source, complied centuries after the fact, most likely by someone with access to the records and court histories.
     
  10. boogaboo

    boogaboo Josef Popper 4ever

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    ok, I was a bit over the edge on you..
    We quite agree in the end. :)
     
  11. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    This is going to be quick as I'm posting from my hotel room in Barcelona. Pretty hot here - nothing compared to Singapore though!

    I'm not sure precisely what the official status of the crusades are, but given that John Paul II did apologise for them at one point, it seems a good bet that there are more reliable ways of achieving salvation.

    Also, as I'm sure you know, neither the Crusades nor any other form of indulgence was about saving your soul. The idea was that they reduced your time in purgatory. If you weren't ultimately going to heaven anyway, no amount of crusading or anything else could change that.

    No, but the manner in which one does so might. You described them as "satirical" before - satire is not an argument or collection of arguments, but just a form of mocking. So I don't see this sort of thing as a contribution to rational debate.

    I don't think that the term "militant" implies actual force, but if you think it does then I apologise. Again, however, my point was not about "someone who merely argues against religion". It was about those who "argue" against it through the use of mockery, misinformation, and strawmen. The difference is that between J.L. Mackie, for example, and Richard Dawkins. Both argue against religion, but I would characterise only one as "militant" in that sense. And I would characterise the other as far more effective and rational.

    Of course. Did I say anything to suggest otherwise?

    The first page looks reasonable enough, but I really, really have neither the time nor the inclination to trudge through the rest. Winner's quote there is reasonable enough, at least on one definition of "theology". Of course it's not reasonable on another.
     
  12. Thoughtful Thug

    Thoughtful Thug Chieftain

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    I see satire as a tool for to create an awareness of the already pre-existing flaws about religion in general. To say that itself not a contribution for a rational debate, then you are most likely to uphold the attitude that religion must prevent itself to change into a much better system of beliefs.
     
  13. Ayatollah So

    Ayatollah So the spoof'll set you free

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    I'm with Thoughtful Thug on this one. Dividing satire from reasoned communication smells like a false dichotomy to me. :nono: Voltaire must be rolling in his grave.

    New question for you: is there any precedent for Mark Johnston's claim that "supernaturalism is idolatry"? What kind of theism is possible within a purely naturalistic framework? To put it mildly: that's a new one on me.
     
  14. Fifty

    Fifty !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    I don't think it would be too particularly difficult. You'd just hold that God is a natural, non-physical, concrete particular. After all, it isn't clear that naturalism entails physicalism. Its just that most naturalists are also physicalists.

    I'm not sure if this is what the author actually does.
     
  15. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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    Mockery/Satire can be useful in providing an exaggerated version to which one may draw parallels. There are certainly ways to say things without using it, but it's a quick and effective tool.

    It often does. It has a flavor of force and intimidation, which most of those denigrated as "militant atheists" don't deserve.

    It's not as if Richard Dawkins is arguing dishonestly saying things he doesn't actually believe; he's not out to misinform people or anything! You may say he unintentionally does so, but I think it's a pretty bad idea to separate atheists into "militant" versus "non-militant" based on how good or bad you believe there arguments are!
     
  16. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

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    Of course. The sensible thing would be reject the extraordinary claims unless they accompanied with extraordinary evidence, accept the bits accepted by historians, and say "maybe" to the rest. But who's going to do that?
     
  17. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Perhaps, but then, Voltaire's satires weren't really rational discussions, were they? We all know about Candide and its satire on Leibnizian optimism. The problem with it is that Voltaire didn't really know much about Leibniz, or even Wolff as far as I can tell, and certainly didn't understand Leibnizian optimism, with the result that his satire on it utterly misses the mark. Satire is a blunt instrument; it is to reasoned argument what rhetoric is to logic.

    I don't know about Mark Johnston, but non-supernatural theism of one kind or another has been around for a long time. You may remember the case of Anthony Freeman, an Anglican priest who got sacked for being an atheist. He was part of the "Sea of Faith" movement associated with the book of that name by Don Cupitt, the granddaddy of "Christian humanism". Cupitt argues that thinking that "God" refers to a thing at all is a big mistake, a hangover from primitive superstition. Rather, "God" expresses one's values. There is no God "out there", but the way we use the word "God" is all-important. On this view, all the metaphysical elements of religion, such as the objective existence of God, life after death, and all that stuff is just mythological flavouring which should be rejected; religion boils down to ethics and nothing more. Cupitt rejects the label "atheism" for this on rather drastically non-realist grounds: he argues that, yes, "God" is just a word, but then so is everything else.

    It may make a point simply and forcefully, but that doesn't mean it makes a good point.

    To clarify: of course one can construct an exaggerated or evidently absurd proposal or idea or thought-experiment, and then draw parallels between that idea and the claim you're attacking. And that can be a rational and reasonable way of arguing. But I wouldn't call that satire. The reason is that satire, as such, does not seek to evoke a rational response - it seeks to evoke an emotional one. It's about trying to make your audience react in a visceral kind of way to what you're attacking. I don't think that's helpful as a tool in rational argument. If you really care about the issues and you really care about the truth, as opposed to making your opponent look silly, you'll strip away that stuff and use reason, not mockery.

    It's not a case of distinguishing simply on the basis of how bad their arguments are. It's a case of distinguishing on the basis of their manner of argumentation. Dawkins' method is that of ridicule, battering endless strawmen, and misinformation. That is different from the patient and careful arguments of Mackie and his ilk, and indeed from those on any side who don't seek endless proselytising. I remember a short piece on TV that Dawkins did ages ago about Mendel. He had to go and mess it up by ending it with a homily about how brilliant Mendel was, but how strange it was that such a great scientist could have been stupid enough to be religious, and if only he'd realised how idiotic religion was, he could have been an even greater scientist. That was wildly out of place and unnecessary. And there is a militancy about it, a real aggression, that is lacking in most atheists, indeed in most people.

    Finally, it may be true that Dawkins doesn't say things that he believes to be false, but there is such a thing as culpable ignorance.
     
  18. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Interesting comparison. Ridicule may also utterly miss the mark. But if a scientist and philosopher with the stature of Leibniz bluntly poses that we live in "the best of all possible worlds", I'd say a little satire is called for. (I'm not sure how Leibniz, in an attempt to reconcile evil, suffering and injustice with free will, God's own free will and God's apparent omnibenevolence, omnpotence and omniscience, can come up with the conclusion that we then must be living in the best of all possible worlds. Such a conclusion would such suggest something wrong with the premises.) Voltaire ridicules religion, theologians, governments, armies, philosophies, and philosophers in general though. So perhaps we live in the best of all possible world for satirists.

    As an afternote: as Leibniz published his treatise as Essais de Théodicée sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l'homme et l'origine du mal (Essays on Theodicy, concerning the goodness of God, the freedom of man, and the origin of evil) it is possible that Voltaire, who knew French - and English and German - and was well-read, was familiar with the original. However, in the satirical narrative of Candide the protagonist Pangloss is a mere archetype. At any rate, despite it being widely banned for its content, the novella enjoyed huge success and is probably Voltaire's most read work.
     
  19. Thoughtful Thug

    Thoughtful Thug Chieftain

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    Satire may be considered as a blunt instrument for some, while for others may see it as something a necessary tool to provoke a change in the direction on whatever it may be.

    Not a lot of intellectuals during that time knew Leibnitz fully since most of his unpublished materials was not discovered until later in the 20th century. I suppose he didn't want some of his materials to be somewhat offensive to certain noble families that he had worked for (or it was entirely too advanced and ahead of their time). And maybe these materials (mainly in the subject of logic) that was unpublished was something unfashionable since it has nothing to do with the subject of rationalism and system-building. If they had read it, they (and maybe Voltaire himself) would probably prostrate to his creative genious.

    I am curious as to why you see that Voltaire's Candide is not an accurate attack against Leibnitz's view of we live in the best of all possible worlds.
     
  20. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Well... if you read the Theodicy as well as quoting its entire title in French you can find out for yourself how Leibniz managed to maintain his view. As for Voltaire, I am no expert on him, but as I understand it, although he was perfectly capable of reading Leibniz, he didn't. In fact very few people read Leibniz in the eighteenth century. Voltaire would have known of "Leibnizian optimism" primarily through the works of Wolff, which were much more widely read. To him, "Leibniz" is just a name associated with the doctrines of maximal perfection and the principle of sufficient reason. And he obviously didn't understand the principle of sufficient reason either, at least judging by the way he goes on about it in Candide. If Voltaire really did read Leibniz then he was either too stupid to understand him or too dishonest to have any intention of treating his ideas fairly. Since Voltaire was obviously neither stupid nor notably dishonest, I'll take the charitable interpretation of guessing that he wasn't familiar with Leibniz first-hand.

    Maybe so. But then we're leaving the territory of rational argument and moving into that of political or quasi-political action. And that may be a good thing or it may not - but it's not what I'm interested in here.

    They're still publishing Leibniz' works. I believe they reckon they'll be done by about 2050. However, his most important ideas were certainly readily available to anyone who wanted to read them in the eighteenth century or indeed during Leibniz' own lifetime, in the form of many published papers and of course the Theodicy, which despite its well deserved reputation for dullness does actually encapsulate an awful lot of Leibniz' key ideas. Leibniz himself certainly thought so, since he annotated his Monadology to refer to parallel passages in the longer work. His theories of pre-established harmony, maximal perfection, and all the other things were well known and available. The notion that Leibniz deliberately suppressed his more interesting ideas for fear of annoying influential patrons or theologians was put about by Russell and was comprehensively debunked decades ago; it's unfortunate that Russell's prestige means that one still encounters this claim today.

    The views attacked in Candide are so far from an accurate representation of the real Leibniz that if his name weren't mentioned in the book, I don't think anyone familiar with the real Leibniz would even guess that he's the subject of the satire. In brief, Leibniz believed that the actual world is the best, metaphysically speaking. This means a number of things. It means that it is the world that contains the most moral goodness (this is not the same thing as happiness). It is also the world that contains the most amount of "stuff" (a world with lots of things in it is metaphysically preferable to a mostly empty one). It is also the world with the simplest natural laws, which are productive of the greatest amount of phenomena (the most "fruitful" laws). Now scholars disagree over how Leibniz thinks that these various criteria relate to each other: are they the same criterion expressed in different ways? If they're different, how does Leibniz explain that one and the same possible world happens to instantiate all of them to the maximal degree? Or does Leibniz think that there's a sort of trade-off - the best possible world is the one that instantiates all of them to the greatest possible degree, but not each of them (individually) to the greatest possible degree? And so on. There is also the question whether Leibniz thinks that the actual world is the best by definition without having recourse to the goodness of God. He conceives of possible worlds as clumps of compossible objects. That is, all possible objects could exist, but not all of them could exist together ("Peter, the tallest man in the world" is possible, and so is "Paul, the tallest man in the world", but they are not compossible, that is, they could not both exist; they are therefore members of different possible worlds). For any given possible object, it forms a possible world with all the other possible objects that are compossible with it. Now these "clumps" are of different sizes (they contain different numbers of possible objects). Some of Leibniz' texts suggest a picture according to which all possible beings have a natural tendency to exist (this is known, in rather baroque fashion, as the Doctrine of the Striving Possibles). Given this, Leibniz suggests that the biggest clump of compossibles will naturally and inevitably shoulder the others out of the way, as it were. The largest possible world will exist by sheer force of mass, just as a droplet of water will naturally form into a sphere. On this view, the "best possible world" is the one that contains the most compossible objects (actually an infinite number of them, according to Leibniz' theory of monads) and it is the actual world pretty much by definition. Whether this is compatible with Leibniz' talk of God choosing the best possible world out of an infinitely large selection and deciding to actualise it is a matter of considerable debate.

    Much of the Theodicy is devoted to arguing for the principle of the best (whatever, precisely, it is) and defending it from objections. The basic argument, though, as it appears in the Theodicy, is very simple: God, by definition, always does what is best; God created the universe; therefore the universe is as good as it could possibly be. Personally I'd agree that if you accept these premises, the conclusion follows, or probably does. JEELEN points out rightly that one might just as well suppose that since the conclusion is probably false, the premises probably are as well. But of course Leibniz would not have accepted such an argument, since he thought that God's existence could be proved, and that in many ways.

    Voltaire thinks that the principle of the best means simply that every individual thing that happens in the world is the best thing that could have happened at that point, "best" being taken in a simplistic sense of most happiness-producing. That, at least, is how he seems to characterise it in Candide. Obviously this has pretty much nothing whatsoever to do with what Leibniz said. It may have more to do with what Wolff said (I don't know much about Wolff) but I should think it unlikely.
     
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