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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Monday, July 12, 2010

ABC Religion and Ethics Portal

Now here's an interesting new resource, complete with an attached blog. Predictably, the whole shebang is edited by a religious bloke, whose credits include a stint as a Protestant pastor, lots of background as a theologian, and some experience in writing about "modern atheism's dependence on the Christian legacy" (that's what it says, right there on the portal, expressed uncritically). None of this entails that's he's not a good bloke. Maybe he is. At this point I could go into my usual song and dance routine about how I always like to have a beer or two with any genuinely moderate Christian who's prepared to shout. But still ...

I suppose they didn't think of the idea that this portal might have more credibility if set up so that it at least looks neutral about all the current religious controversies. I mean, all those Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Daoists, and so on, might think it's not really going to represent them if it's run by a Christian theologian and pastor who even has specific views about Christianity's contribution to atheist thought. Let alone all of us actual atheists, agnostics, humanists, sceptics, etc. And especially as it's a religion and ethics portal - some people would say those two things are opposed, or at least orthogonal, to each other ... and it would be nice if ethics were represented by, say, a moral philosopher. Yeah, I know someone's gotta be in charge, but it would have been easy creating something that looks more like, I dunno, a religious studies department and less like a faculty of theology. There's a big difference.

And of course it hasn't escaped me that this thing is being paid for by public revenue, so I'll be pretty cross if it ends up looking like a taxpayer-funded religious propaganda site.

But then again, let's not carp too much quite yet. I'm getting ahead of myself. The new portal should at least provide some interesting news from around the world. I'll wait until it has some material of substance before I judge its fairness and effectiveness. And then I'll probably carp - let's face it - but all things in their own good time.

52 comments:

Colin said...

I'm looking forward to a Christian writing an article to explain why followers of Christ don't have to give up all their worldly goods and donate everything they have to the poor.

Will be keeping my eye on this new blog.

Eamon Knight said...

Well, given that Christianity dominated European culture (including its colonial offshoots) from, what, the 8th (or so) century on, and that modern atheism came out of European culture, it's pretty much inevitable that it would in some sense depend on "the Christian legacy". Of course, Christianity in turn depends in many ways on the Graeco-Roman legacy (notably, the neo-Platonic contribution to theology), as well as incorporating bits of pagan traditions surrounding winter solstice and spring equinox celebrations. In culture, everything depends on what came before it; there is very little that is absolutely new under tha sun.

Someone wake me up if this guy says anything on the subject that isn't either trivially true, or trivially false.

RobertofBrisbane said...

I suppose Atheism comes out of Christian Culture like skyscrapers come out of Cathedrals, or mushrooms out of manure.

At least they are leaving our comments there..so far

Brian said...

and that modern atheism came out of European culture, I'm sure atheists who are not European and all that but are contemporary would agree.

Eamon Knight said...

Brian: No disrespect intended to atheists from Asia or Africa (and note my use of "European" includes the former colonies in the Americas and Australia & NZ), but I think I'm safe in saying that the bulk of the current secular/atheist movement does arise out of the European Enlightenment tradition. Of course, this may be myopia due to the fact that due to where I live, I mostly hear stuff from British and American sources (and anyway I'm willing to bet the atheism Stephens means covers that same ground).

If there are Asian or African equivalents to Hume, Ingersoll, etc, I'd be happy to hear about them.

Brian said...

If there are Asian or African equivalents to Hume, Ingersoll, etc, I'd be happy to hear about them.
I'm ignorant too. I remember an Asian guy posting on the Dawkins site who hated philosophy (ring a bell Russell?) and reckoned that Hume said nothing new because ancient Chinese sages were doing the same thing 2000 years ago. That's just anecdotal of course.

David said...

Colin,

"I'm looking forward to a Christian writing an article to explain why followers of Christ don't have to give up all their worldly goods and donate everything they have to the poor."

That would be easy.

Brian said...

David, anything to do with the meaning of Jesus' returning within the lifetime of his generation not being literal?

Rupert said...

I love my ABC. I watch it twice as much as the rest of the networks combined. SBS used to be a strong second but all their good shows get nicked and they started that whole ads in programs bizzo.

But the ABC does make mistakes. The product placement and soft sponsorship controversy some years back. Johnathon Shier. I'm betting they'll find this venture a bit of a mistake too.

OK I haven't investigated it yet but from what you say, it has to be suss. There may be some fun ahead ;-)

I also see this morning that the good old 'Catch the Fire in Your Underpants' ministries has come out deploring Gillard's lack of 'christian' values and the fact that The Lodge may become a house of fornication!

Deepak Shetty said...

@Eamon
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism_in_Hinduism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C4%80stika_and_n%C4%81stika

You'd have to read up on some more detail of the above .. dont know about the Chinese though

David said...

Brian,

David, anything to do with the meaning of Jesus' returning within the lifetime of his generation not being literal?

Not from me. I am a preterist--I think when Jesus placed the terminus of the prophecy given on the Mount of Olives to be within a generation that he meant exactly what he said.

Brian said...

David:

I am a preterist

Oh bugger, better get googling....

Found this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preterism

Is this it? So, the end of the world has been and gone in the 1st century? That must've come as a shock to those enjoying the then new millenium. Just kidding, I learned a new word, just have no idea how it fits into your understanding of history.

Deepak Shetty said...

@David
"That would be easy"
Care to try? Preferably only post a link.

David said...

Deepak,

Colin in the first comment wrote:

I'm looking forward to a Christian writing an article to explain why followers of Christ don't have to give up all their worldly goods and donate everything they have to the poor.

I believe a fair paraphrase is that Colin is saying that the bible states that Christians must give up all their worldly goods and donate everything they have to the poor. I suspect he had the story of the rich young ruler in mind, see Mark 10:17-22.

If that is fair, then it is the word must that is problematic. That makes it an imperative—you must do A in to achieve B. I am guessing the B that he had in mind is salvation. But the New Testament, on at least one point, is crystal clear: there is no work required to obtain salvation it is, in its entirety, a gift. You can defend that you should give everything away (or everything you don't need, since you are also commanded to provide for your family) but you cannot defend that you must. Quite simply, such a statement is at odds with the gospel—which sates that only faith is required, and even that faith is not self-mustered but rather it is a gift.

Now if Colin is indeed referring to the story of the rich young ruler, that passage is in fact is teaching close the opposite of the point being made.(*) The rich young ruler(**) claims to have obeyed all the law. Jesus, in order to show the futility of using obedience to the law to obtain salvation, gives the young man another law, one which he cannot event pretend to keep. But this was a teaching moment. Jesus never instructed anyone else to give away everything—clearly Peter, for example, kept his fishing boat.
-----------------
(*) Let me just make the standard counter argument to save time:

Simple Biblical Critic: But in Mark 10:21 Jesus states: "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." That is unambiguous.

Heddle: But you have to view that verse in context and in relationship to the rest of the NT--which clearly denies any sort of salvation by works. And also the circumstantial evidence that Jesus never made this a requirement for anyone else, or ever repeated it.

Simple Biblical Critic: Cafeteria Christian! You must take verses of my choosing, in isolation, literally!

(**) Contrary to the common view, that the rich young ruler was lost, I think—while he was used for this teaching moment—he was saved. For the version given in Mark stated that Jesus loved him, which, in my opinion is synonymous with being saved. I don't think anyone God loves is, ultimately, lost.

DM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wowbagger said...

David wrote: 'That would be easy.'

Of course it would; as you demonstrate, you can take Christianity and, with the generous application of sophistry, make it mean whatever the heck you want it to mean.

The hilarious part for us is that someone with the exact opposite view to yours could do exactly the same and be just as 'correct' by any objective measure.

It's so nebulous as to be completely useless beyond providing post hoc support to reinforce an existing opinion.

Anonymous said...

"the bulk of the current secular/atheist movement does arise out of the European Enlightenment tradition."
Yes, Mr Knight, but it isn't even a "trivially true£ claim. The enlightenment arose as a reaction against christianity. The stoics and epicureans were the strong positive influences on it.

John Fox said...

What on earth is the problem? That nothing can look appropriately neutral if it's edited by someone with some opinions many religious people don't share? That would rule out all editor: anyone who accepts any one of the religions would disagree with all the others, and even atheists are known to disagree with some religions. That the idea of modern atheism's dependance on the Judaeo-Christian legacy is absurd or offensive? Well, it was certainly true of the great 19th century atheists. Feuerbach made it clear his did; Marx, Bakunin and George Eliot were Feuerbachians; even Nietzsche, who hated Christianity deeply, thought the passion for truth that marked him and his fellow freethinkers was very indebted specifically to Christianity. Feuerbach and Nietzsche are longer be so influential, but they had a sense of history, and I find them vastly more impressive and knowledgeable than, say, Hitchens or Harris.

John Fox said...

What on earth is the problem about the program having an editor with background as a theologian who's written about "modern atheism's dependance on the Christian legacy"? Two issues seem to be raised here. One is that such an editor isn't appropriately neutral. But anyone with a religious allegiance (and anyone without one) will have different opinions from anyone with a different allegiance. Indeed, anyone with an opinion on anything. The other (I know, not stated) seems to be that this interest is stupid or ignorant.

But think of the great 19th century militant atheists, who got the tradition going. Feuerbach was clear his stuff was rooted in Christianity; Bakunin and still more Marx were Feuerbachians; even Nietzsche, a great hater of Christianity, considered he and his fellow freethinkers inherited from it precisely their extraordinary high valuation of truth.

Some of the newer atheists - e.g. Dawkins, Harris, Myers - may not be in or be interested in this tradition, but why should one get one's knickers in a twist because some theologian is?

DM said...

john fox - none of the names you mentioned were atheists, except for the last three idiots...


this is the trouble when no-names use real names

Anonymous said...

Oh man, you know it's bad when DM scores a point on you...

-Dan L.

Deepak Shetty said...

@David
"that only faith is required,"
Just to confirm - This is what you believe? Actions don't matter?

Brian said...

ust to confirm - This is what you believe? Actions don't matter?
I'm not David, so I can't answer for him. But on some theologies, God bestows his grace on some 'elect' and they'll go to heaven whether they slash or burn or are nice. The rest can expect eternal flambé chez Satan.

David said...

Deepak,

Just to confirm - This is what you believe? Actions don't matter?

The simplest way to put it is that actions are effects rather than causes. That is, if you are saved, which will have zero to do with your deeds, you are not simply given a get-out-of-jail free card. You are changed, so that your life reflects your rebirth.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph 2:8-10)

Brian said...

David:


The simplest way to put it is that actions are effects rather than causes.


As a physicist, how do you reconcile modern physic's (and philosophy's) not having nor needing causation with your beliefs. Now, correct me if I'm wrong (I usually am)) but all causation is just how we see things and not something metaphysical or necessary according to Quantum Mechanics (or Hume).

David said...

Brian,

As a physicist, how do you reconcile modern physic's (and philosophy's) not having nor needing causation with your beliefs.

There is a cause, a supernatural cause--the cause is regeneration.

I'll also accept that your question arises from my lack of clarity in my previous comment. I did not mean to imply that the law of causation is violated. What I meant was this:

It is not that:

good works(actions) --> salvation

but rather

salvation --> good works (actions)

To summarize, there is no violation of cause and effect. But when unbelievers consider the relationship in Christianity between "good works" and salvation, many get it bass-ackwards.

Deepak Shetty said...

@David
That doesnt answer anything.
Again - if you have faith but no (or bad)actions or effects as you put it (and Im sure you can find as many examples as you want of people who have faith but problematic actions) then are you saved? Yes or no - and please no true scotsman arguments.

David said...

Deepak,

Again - if you have faith but no (or bad)actions or effects as you put it (and Im sure you can find as many examples as you want of people who have faith but problematic actions) then are you saved? Yes or no - and please no true scotsman arguments.

How the hell should I know if someone is saved? I do know that the bible teaches you can have no assurance of your own salvation if all you do is believe. The bible has many examples of people who believed but were lost. Faith without works is a dead faith, as James writes in his epistle.

Now, instead of hinting at a "no true Scotsman" charge, just come out and level it. It's the last refuge of all internet arguments on Christianity. Sooner or later it always comes out. Always. Just get it over with.

Anonymous said...

@David:

Do you think that Christians who disagree with you and think that salvation depends at least partially on works are not real Christians?

How far can someone's beliefs deviate from yours before they cease to be a Christian?

Or do you allow that anyone who identifies him- or her-self as a Christian qualifies, and that membership in the class of Christians can only be determined a posteriori?

I'm not trying to be difficult at all, you do have a rather unique theology (at least I've never come across anything quite like it). I am a little curious as to what it would take for a Christian with whom you have a theological difference to convince you that his or her interpretation is correct, or whether that would even be possible.

FWIW, I think I get what you're saying about faith, works, etc. One cannot conceivably be saved without faith. Works undertaken for the purpose of salvation aren't really good works; to be good, a work has to be inspired by salvation, and so ultimately inspired by the will of God. Thus, only those who are already saved can truly perform "good" works in this sense, and salvation (and therefore faith) must be prior to good works. That about right?

-Dan L.

David said...

Dan L,

Do you think that Christians who disagree with you and think that salvation depends at least partially on works are not real Christians?

No I don't think that--though in truth I don't know any such mainstream denomination. Some denominations will accuse other denominations of salvation by works, but I don't know of any mainstream denomination that proclaims it. Some Protestants will make that claim about the Roman Catholic Church--but the RCC will say that that's slander--that they do not teach salvation by works.

How far can someone's beliefs deviate from yours before they cease to be a Christian?

Or do you allow that anyone who identifies him- or her-self as a Christian qualifies, and that membership in the class of Christians can only be determined a posteriori?


I don't get to say who is a Christian. I get to say whom I will regard as a Christian based on what I understand as criteria found in the bible. My personal circle of orthodoxy is large--at least I think so. I regard as a Christian anyone who affirms the historic creeds, such as the Nicene, and they show, at least over time, some fruit of their faith. So in that sense I don't regard Mormons or JW's as Christian because they can't affirm the Nicene creed. And I don't regard Fred Phelps as a Christian because while he may affirm the creed I see no evidence of fruit in his life. Could be that I'm wrong.

I'm not trying to be difficult at all, you do have a rather unique theology (at least I've never come across anything quite like it).

Not so unique. Hey, we are a top ten idea changing the world today according to Time Magazine.


I am a little curious as to what it would take for a Christian with whom you have a theological difference to convince you that his or her interpretation is correct, or whether that would even be possible.


Logic. My theology has changed radically since I became a Christian (as an adult.) It still changes though not so drastically. It changes because I come across arguments counter to my going-in position that are stronger than the ones I've been making.

Thus, only those who are already saved can truly perform "good" works in this sense, and salvation (and therefore faith) must be prior to good works. That about right?

I view that as correct. The bible says, about unregenerated man, that all his righteous deeds are like filthy rags, and that no man seeks god and no man can please god. That is essentially the doctrine of Original sin.

Brian said...

David:
There is a cause, a supernatural cause--the cause is regeneration.

Come again....

I did not mean to imply that the law of causation is violated.

There is such a law? I thought QM had uncaused effects all the time. Virtual particles now here, now not here. As I understand it, it's neither philosophically (logically) true, though Kant tried to frame it so it was with his synthetic a priori, nor scientifically true that there is a law of cause and effect. Perhaps we're arguing about different things.

Wowbagger said...

David wrote:'To summarize, there is no violation of cause and effect. But when unbelievers consider the relationship in Christianity between "good works" and salvation, many get it bass-ackwards.'

Except that you've got no idea whether they've got it 'ass-backwards' or not, since scripture can mean pretty much anything - as demonstrated by the fact that not all version of Christianity agree with this position.

So, unless you can show - objectively - that your interpretation is correct, please stop insisting that anyone who doesn't agree with you - believer or unbeliever - is 'wrong' because you don't have the faintest idea that you're 'right'.

'Now, instead of hinting at a "no true Scotsman" charge, just come out and level it. It's the last refuge of all internet arguments on Christianity. Sooner or later it always comes out. Always. Just get it over with.'

Similarly, when all you've got to based your definitions on is completely subjective, you have to face the reality that those definitions are going to seem, well, convenient to those looking at it objectively.

David said...

Wobagger,

So, unless you can show - objectively - that your interpretation is correct, please stop insisting that anyone who doesn't agree with you - believer or unbeliever - is 'wrong' because you don't have the faintest idea that you're 'right'.

Your statement "can show - objectively - that your interpretation is correct" is a red herring. Just like with any other book, one can take the bible at face value and ask: does it teach A or not A? The question is not whether I can prove I am right, the question is whether I can make a compelling case for my position. If one argument, to the sense of a reasonable neutral jury, is more compelling then while you haven't proved it, (an impossible standard, what exactly can you prove outside of mathematics?) you have nevertheless exceeded your "faintest idea" threshold.

Would you like to backup your contention that you can make the bible say anything and so you can't claim any one view is superior?

I'll make a challenge, and not an absurd challenge. Consider the reasonable doctrinal question: Are good works, in addition to faith, necessary for salvation?

I'll take the "no" side and you take the "yes." If your contention is correct--that the bible can say anything, then you should be able to create an argument, based on the bible, comparable in strength to mine. I say you can't, because your hypothesis is muddled. I say I can blow you out of the water. And I'll even let the people on here, who have no sympathy for me, be the judge.

David said...

Brian,

thought QM had uncaused effects all the time. Virtual particles now here, now not here.

I don't about philosophy but from a physics standpoint virtual particles are not uncaused, except in the ultimate sense that we don't know what causes the laws of physics. But in that sense everything is uncaused. Perhaps you are confusing random with uncaused. And maybe that even makes sense philosophically. But the laws of quantum field theory predict the existence of virtual particles, and predict their effect to an astonishing degree of accuracy (e.g., the Lamb Shift.)

Wowbagger said...

David wrote: 'I'll make a challenge, and not an absurd challenge. Consider the reasonable doctrinal question: Are good works, in addition to faith, necessary for salvation?'

No problemo.

Two minutes with Google gives me Luke 1: 23: 'And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.'

'Ministration' can be interpreted to mean works, 'departed to his own house' can be interpreted to mean heaven, 'accomplished' can be interpreted to mean 'required'.

Sure, in contemporary English that's not what those words mean - but because of bad translations, metaphor, and the traditions of literature at the time that's what they meant then.

I know this, because I have faith that it is so. Can you demonstrate otherwise? Got a way to measure faith, have you?

Now, you're going to claim that it's got to be taken in context - but until you have an objective way to demonstrate that a bible passage can't be taken out of context then that claim is irrelevant.

You're also likely to cite a passage that contradicts what I've found, but until you have an objective way to demonstrate that one bible passage is superior to another then that claim is irrelevant.

Heck, you might even find a hundred that contradict it - but until you have an objective way to demonstrate that the weight of a hundred bible passages is greater than a single bible passage the claim is irrelevant.

Remember, heddle, objective is the key word here. Not popularity, not consensus, not tradition. Objective.

Brian said...

Random, as in truly random, implies no cause or intention. I understand that we can only assign probabilities that some x will occur during some span. We cannot say what caused x to occur now or not now because there is no cause for it. I guess when an excited electron releases a photon and goes to a lower state of excitement there is no cause for that, we can only say it's happen sometime. Forgive me if I've mangled the physics. I'm just an interested amateur.

Interestingly I would have thought that you'd think that the laws of physics where caused by God. ;)

David said...

Wowbagger,

Two minutes with Google gives me Luke 1: 23: 'And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.'

'Ministration' can be interpreted to mean works, 'departed to his own house' can be interpreted to mean heaven, 'accomplished' can be interpreted to mean 'required'.


Nice try. (I mean for you, that is.) Here is what I predict. No reasonable person would agree that you backed up your claim that the bible can be made to say anything. But keep falling back on the impossible standard that I have to prove it vice making a stronger argument. And tell yourself that you actually just made some kind of cogent argument. You know, whatever helps you validate yourself.

You have to do better that.

Brian--

What causes a rock to fall if you drop it: gravity--meaning we can write down equations called the law of gravity and they predict with high accuracy the path of the rock.

What causes a radioactive nucleus to decay? Initial and final states coupled by a potential. That is, the laws of quantum mechanics predict, to a high degree of accuracy, the lifetime of the nucleus.

There is just as much, or just as little cause in one as in the other. At least in my opinion--but it is already too metaphysical for my tastes.

Brian said...

I thought gravity was the curvature of space time. Rocks fall into the gravity well of the Earth when there's nothing to stop them (like the surface of the Earth). That doesn't seem at all random or uncaused. But perhaps I'm begging the question with the above. I don't know that what I've said is anything other than a sound byte.

Deepak Shetty said...

David
Ill use the term "saved" to mean Jesus approves . Or we can say it means you'll be granted some reward in the afterlife but I guess that too means Jesus approves of you. I'm also assuming that a *true* Christian will want to do stuff that Jesus approves of and not do stuff that he disapproves of (irrespective of whether he accomplishes it). Simple enough?

The question asked of you was do actions matter for Jesus to approve of you ? does your faith count? must you have both? Your first answer was that faith effects change (hence actions) but you and I could give enough examples of faith that doesnt effect (positive) change. So clearly we do have people who have faith in Jesus but have no actions to back the faith up. Since you dislike the true scotsman fallacy I assume you wont say that they don't have true faith.
Now you say faith without works is dead. So can I then conclude that for Jesus to approve, you must have faith in him and also perform actions he would approve of? Is that correct?

"How the hell should I know...."
I know that you dont *know*.
Im asking you your opinion.

Wowbagger said...

David wrote:'No reasonable person would agree that you backed up your claim that the bible can be made to say anything.'

Let me guess - a person's reasonability is determined by whether or not that person agrees with you, correct?

Like I said, heddle: popularity and consensus is not an objective measure. As nonsensical as what I twisted that passage into meaning, you've no way to determine that it isn't just as true as any other interpretation of any other passage.

But you've disappointed me. I expected you'd treat the readers here to one of your world-famous, arduously choreographed, combination tapdance and handwave routines.

'And tell yourself that you actually just made some kind of cogent argument. You know, whatever helps you validate yourself.'

I don't need any validation, heddle. You're the one insisting that there are correct and incorrect interpretations of the bible; I'm just pointing out that you shouldn't make that claim unless you've got a way (an objective way) of backing that up.

I mean, you believe that your god magically changed you into a believer - why the heck can't you just claim that your understanding about what that entails was downloaded into you as well? That way you wouldn't have to fight the uphill battle to try and make following the bible seem logical and rational.

David said...

Wowbagger,

Let me guess - a person's reasonability is determined by whether or not that person agrees with you, correct?

No, that's in your fantasy what you want me to mean. But in the real world I mean any reasonable person, atheist or believer of any religion or sect or denomination.

In fact, it could even be a reasonable person who agrees with your claim that the bible can be made to show anything, but would be willing to fairly judge whether they find your example compelling. Would they quote your example when arguing your common cause? Or would they be reluctant, because of its insipidity, to use your magnum opus to help bolster their argument?

Deepak,

Ill use the term "saved" to mean Jesus approves .

So can I then conclude that for Jesus to approve, you must have faith in him and also perform actions he would approve of? Is that correct?

If I can interchange, as you suggest in the first sentence, "approves of" and "save" then the answer is, again, no. To be saved requires no action that God approves of.

If it did we'd all be lost, because (according to the bible) no fallen man can please God, or seek god, or obey god, or be righteous, or have understanding or exist any spiritual state other than spiritual death before being regenerated. Since we can't do anything that pleases god we'd all be in deep kimchee if we had to do something that pleases god.

Now defining good works (rather than "saved") as things god approves of, we have the possibilities:

1) Good works -> salvation + faith
2) Good works + faith -> salvation
3) Faith -> salvation + good works.

I don't know how to make it clearer than to say that it is my belief that the bible teaches #3.

"How the hell should I know...."
I know that you dont *know*.
Im asking you your opinion.


And I answered that. I regard people as Christians if they, at a minimum confirm the Nicene creed. And, if I know them or know about them, if their life gives evidence of bearing fruit.

Wowbagger said...

David wrote: 'In fact, it could even be a reasonable person who agrees with your claim that the bible can be made to show anything, but would be willing to fairly judge whether they find your example compelling. Would they quote your example when arguing your common cause? Or would they be reluctant, because of its insipidity, to use your magnum opus to help bolster their argument?'

Ah, there's the scrabbling, the desperate attempt to avoid the point.

Say, does the bible include anywhere the specification that insipidity precludes an interpretation from being correct?

No?

How about a passage that goes something like 'X number of people must find the interpretation compelling for it to be so'?

No?

Perhaps you don't understand what the word 'objective' means in this context. Here's a link to the dictionary.com definition; the pertinent one is this: 5. not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased: an objective opinion.

I don't see that your handwaving of 'Well, someone else might not choose to use that as an argument' as meeting that criteria - do you?

Anonymous said...

Brian:

Random, as in truly random, implies no cause or intention.

Not necessarily. I think there are very good reasons to believe that "random" or "undetermined" are actually synonymous with "unknown causal structure." It's trivial to show that some of our more common examples of randomness are like this.

Take a deck of cards in a known order (say, a fresh deck). Shuffle them. Is the order random or undetermined? No, there is a definite order to the cards. The probability of the top card being an ace is not 1/13, it's 1 if it's an ace and 0 if it's not, and it's definitely one or the other.

What makes the order seem random is that we destroyed the information we had about the order when we shuffled. But in principle, we could record the shuffle with a high speed camera and say definitively what sort of card is on top.

Looking at a more extreme form of indeterminism like QM is pretty interesting too. The uncertainty principle doesn't seem to imply that any particular system doesn't have a definite position and momentum, just that we can't know both with perfect precision. Is this inability to know what prevents us from determining the precise results of an experiment rather than a range of probabilities for different results? Or do quantum-scale phenomena fundamentally behave probabilistically? I don't know, but I don't think anyone else does either. Though if anyone knows of any in-depth analysis of this sort of thing, I certainly wouldn't mind being corrected.

@wowbagger:

I agree that, depending on your presuppositions, you can interpret the Bible to mean just about anything you want. But you seem to be insisting that to justify an interpretation, you have to approach the Bible with no presuppositions. Which I think is technically impossible, but whatever. Do you have a problem accepting the notion that David's interpretations are at least apparently internally consistent, and that it's the presuppositions underlying that interpretation with which you disagree?

-Dan L.

Deepak Shetty said...

@David
"3) Faith -> salvation + good works.
I don't know how to make it clearer than to say that it is my belief that the bible teaches #3."

Except that , that belief is disproved by evidence. Take for e.g. the Pope. Recites Nicene creed, yes? Has faith, yes? Good works? Well, Lots of evil works as well(even if you disagree with the specific example , Im sure you can come up with your own). So is he saved?/ Does Jesus approve?/ Does the Bible approve?

Deepak Shetty said...

Anonymous
"The probability of the top card being an ace is not 1/13, it's 1 if it's an ace and 0 if it's not"

You don't know much about probability do you? The probability of any event according to you is 1 if it happens and 0 if it does not.

Anonymous said...

@Deepak Shetty:

You don't know much about probability do you? The probability of any event according to you is 1 if it happens and 0 if it does not.

I have a math degree and I've been reading books on philosophy of mathematics, probability theory, and statistics for the very purpose of thinking about this problem. Maybe you shouldn't jump to conclusions about what I know or don't know.

The definition of "probability" used to motivate odds calculations for, say, drawing a card from a deck implicitly assumes that all events are equally likely. When you take the top card off the deck, in is not equally likely that you will draw a card of any value. There is a probability of 1 that you will draw a card with the same value as the top card (trivially).

Now, if we don't know the value of the top card and if there is no reason to favor any particular answer, we can assume that it is equally likely to be any value, and doing so gives us some great tools to deal with uncertainty (i.e. elementary probability theory). But the fact of the matter is that the top card isn't equally likely to be anything from a set of probabilities. It is a definite card with a definite value. There's no collapsing wave functions here.

-Dan L.

Deepak Shetty said...

Anonymous
I did not jump to any conclusions, I have posted based on your statement.

Given a stack of cards that have been fairly shuffled , what is the probability of the first card being an ace - if your answer is 1 if its an ace and 0 if it isn't, then you need to read the books more carefully. If you want to say that if you knew the original order of the cards and you knew how many times they had been shuffled and where the cut for each shuffle was , your answer will differ, then its not a probability problem.

Anonymous said...

@Deepek:

First of all, I do put my names in my "anonymous" posts. Feel free to use it.

Secondly, you're right -- I'm not talking about a "probability problem." I'm talking about the philosophical problems of applying theories of probabilities to real-world problems. Which is also what Brian was talking about.

On another note, why such a dick about it?
"You don't know much about probability do you?"
"then you need to read the books more carefully."
I had to bite my tongue after your first post to remain civil about it; I know a decent amount about mathematics, seeing as it's both my academic specialty and primary avocation. But I did remain civil, explained why I felt I have some authority to say these sorts of things (you haven't, by the way), and then in the response you went ahead to slag me some more.

If you really need to flame someone over philosophical discourse on probability theory, my email is daniel.lavine@yahoo.com. Not promising I'll respond to anything, since:
a) you don't seem to have anything interesting to say on the subject
b) even if you did, you probably couldn't say it without some kind of cheap shot at my intelligence or education.

-Dan L.

Deepak Shetty said...

Dan L
There is no reason to calculate probability when all the variables are known. Hence the sarcastic remark. Though really I always find it amusing that people who complain about civility always do far worse in their responses.

Wowbagger said...

Dan L wrote: '@wowbagger: I agree that, depending on your presuppositions, you can interpret the Bible to mean just about anything you want. But you seem to be insisting that to justify an interpretation, you have to approach the Bible with no presuppositions. Which I think is technically impossible, but whatever. Do you have a problem accepting the notion that David's interpretations are at least apparently internally consistent, and that it's the presuppositions underlying that interpretation with which you disagree?'

I agree - the bible can't be interpreted to mean 'anything', but it can be interpreted to mean very different things; hence the existence of so many thousands of sects and denominations - and yet not one of those groups can (objectively) show that their understanding is any more correct than anyone else's.

Not to mention the fact that it wasn't too long ago that Christian groups with different interpretations felt it was important enough to kill those who didn't agree - and, of course, Islamic groups are still doing it every day.

I just tend to switch into absurdist mode when David blusters and throws around terms like 'ass-backwards' to describe interpretations that don't match his - and which, as he so generously illustrated, he's got nothing but more bluster to support his position that the bible 'makes sense' and validates his denomination's particular beliefs.

Which I find completely bizarre because, as noted, he (as a Calvinist) believes he's a Christian because his god turned him into one, not because making sense of the bible made him one.

Not to mention that I've read more than one argument from a Christian claiming that non-Christians aren't capable of understanding the bible - so there are even differing opinions on that.

Anonymous said...

@Deepak:

Not really sure why I had to bring up civility...why the hell are you being so hostile in the first place?

Besides that, you spectacularly missed the point of what I was trying to say to Brian. I'm having trouble trying to make sense of your last post, but as far as I can tell you seem to be backpedaling. Why not just let it go? I wasn't even talking to you.

-Dan L.

Deepak Shetty said...

@Dan L
Sigh. It was sarcasm not hostility. Thats it for me anyway.