Friday, June 10, 2011

[ad hoc] Christianity Interview

My interview with the guys at the [ad hoc] Christianity podcast is now available for your listening pleasure (or as a a basis for shouted invectives or mockery, depending on your ideological leanings). Check it out here.


  1. Hi, Eric-

    I enjoyed your interview, and was inclined to leave this topic/post alone. But on thinking about it more, there is a question that comes to mind. I appreciated your consideration of William Lane Craig, for putting his cart before his horse. But then you also state your aim at the outset of your own polemical exercises, which is to show that religion can be intellectually respectable. Statements to this effect pepper your book and blog.

    What if it isn't intellectually respectable? What if you are presuming what you seek to show, for reasons that are palpably emotional and inchoate? Sure, you may wish for intellectual respectibility, but have you gotten there? The whole idea of god is very much in question and remains to be shown in any "intellectual" sense. Thus the various projects of going beyond this towards "him" keeping "his" hand out to all sinners, saving them from "hell" and taking them to "heaven".. it is all risible- very much beneath intellectual respectibility.

    Sorry to get your hackles up yet again, but the question is absolutely central to your project, and to that of all of us who wonder honestly how reality works, based on something resembling evidence. The idea that god communicates to us via mystical, private feelings is far from making all this intellectually respectable, as I think you will understand.

  2. Hi Burk

    I'm not sure I agree with this. I think there is an intellectual respectability to the project Eric describes, even though it doesn't reflect my own beliefs. Let me try to explain this:

    That there is more to existence than our best models currently capture is non-controversial.

    That there are aspects or existence that our best models may never be able to capture still seems most reasonable to believe.

    That we must weave narrative in order to make personal sense of any of our evidence-based models, is also reasonable.

    That these narratives will require leaps of faith, or intuition, also appears non-controversial (for me, I assume regularity, I reject post hoc additions to theories, I put more faith in publicly established models that privately held convictions...)

    That our motivating force in model building is pragmatic, that we seek to know in order to live, is also I think a reasonable stance.

    In essence, these are the standards of 'reasonable' that I apply to myself in building an agnostic/naturalistic model of the world. I don't see that Eric is using standards that are much different. I just think that he is consciously making different leaps than I am at key junctures. I'm reluctant to call that risible.


  3. Burk and Bernard,

    Thanks for your thoughts. Obviously, I lean closer to Bernard than Burk here, but I have some further thoughts which I don't have time to address adequately right now. I may post a further comment in the next few days.

  4. Bernard-

    Thanks for your searching remarks. Imagine if geologists engaged in narrative development and leaps of faith to account for earthquake probabilities that are so hard to predict. They started referring to "he" who sets off quakes, in response to the moral failings of the local communities, etc. They elaborated this narrative with backstories of what past people had done wrong to bring on notorious quakes, and imputed motives about the loving-ness of this "him" who nevertheless reproves us when we go off the moral rails, etc.

    Now this is all in accordance with your certified reasonableness, weaving narratives to make personal sense of evidence-based phenomena, and integrating this with our pragmatic mode of life. Plus it is likely to make us live better & more upstanding lives, in proportion to how seriously we take the narrative. It is all good.

    But is it reasonable? In my understanding of philosophical rigor, "weaving" stories is not reasonable, when evidence is lacking. It is entertaining, and psychologically informative, even therapeutic. Hypotheses are fine, but the key is that their test must in each case be appropriate to the nature of the hypothesis. If the hypothesis is about how to make humans happy by telling stories, then the test is the pragmatic lived life. If the hypothesis is about the nature of the universe and its origin, then it is to that universe and studies of cosmology that we should go. Mixing "pragmatic" personal tests, woven narratives and leaps of faith about personal efficacy when addressing hypotheses of the most broad and significant scientific nature is the very essence of unreasonableness.

    If I may be a bit more direct, Eric is promoting a set of views and traditions that may have been tenuously reasonable in a state of far more profound ignorance than we are in today. These ideas ceased to be reasonable several hundred years ago. Yet we are all aware of how psychologically congenial they are, and thus how durable the corresponding human institutions are. The problem is not that humans are free to do what they wish in the name of their psychological comforts and moral cultivation, but that earnest people can continue to pass it off as "philosophy".

  5. Hi Burk

    I agree with what you say regarding the geologist, absolutely. I'm not yet convinced I hear Eric giving those sorts of extra-physical explanations for physical events, but I may well have him wrong (and to be honest I find it hard to pin this aspect down in his writing). I'll let him frame his own response.

    Certainly it is this point of interface; between the metaphorical/extra-physical narrative, and our physical existence, where I tend to part ways with theists. Hence my confusion regarding their models of consciousness or morality, I don't yet see how they mesh with our understanding of the physical world.

    Dustin assures me I am missing a simple philosophical point here, but I'm still unclear what it is. I look forward to Eric's clarification anyway.


  6. Hi, Bernard-

    Thanks... let me amplify your reservations. I think the origin of the universe is a physical event. And our thoughts are physical events, by any rationally supported current model. And god is itself one big physical event, or if not, then has some magical interface with physical events by which it supports all of reality, programs objective morality, answers prayers, and whatnot.

    I would be only too happy to accept a strict separation between supernatural phenomena (which would then be equivalent to imaginary) and reality, if theists would stay on one side of the boundary. But it is unfortunately essential to the theist program to gain ascendence by placing reality within their supernatural explanatory framework, with more or less magical connections that instantiate the cosmos, evolution, morality, health of loved ones, mystical feelings, etc.

    Conversely, atheists theorize their ascendence over theism through the containment of theism within physical reality, by way of psychologizing theism- making of it a figment of somewhat deluded mental imagination. This latter theory makes far fewer metaphysical and counter-physical demands, so on parsimony alone, it is strongly attractive. Yet of course it makes rather astringent (even lemony) psychological demands on the believer.

    Which of these models is true is the question, and a great deal of the answer has to do with your relationship with Plato. If ideals & abstractions are real, then there is a reality outside our humdrum cosmic reality, that somehow, through some cosmic "mind" or other hocus pocus, was antecedent to that cosmic reality and conceivably created that cosmic reality. (By means entirely unknown, and, it is important to add, with no logical /necessary relationship with any known theology of heaven, hell, "him", prayers, etc...). I think Plato was fundamentally and disastrously wrong, incidentally.

    But Plato aside, the answer also has a great deal to do with evidence, and aside from the Platonic ruminations above, there is zero evidence on the theistic side, to the point that serious theists have become sort of deists or pantheists, citing god as being responsible for, and "supporting" everything, yet not really anything in particular. It sounds more like an herbal remedy sometimes than a theology. At any rate it is a non-theory at the moment, lacking the most elemental forms of evidence. The assymetry is so extreme that intellectual respectability simply isn't warranted, (for anything beyond hypothetical deism), even if one takes Platonic idealism seriously for the sake of argument.