The Great Disconnect

A perennial problem in any exchange or conversation with atheists/agnostics heavily invested in scientism is the complete misunderstanding of the terms and concepts used by Christians specifically, and philosophers in general.  Now, do Christians also misunderstand the terms and concepts used by those who inhabit the narrative of scientism?  Of course.  Do I?  I’m sure I do.  But I would argue it is much more pronounced and there is much less self-awareness on the part of those inhabiting scientism than the other way round (ironically, we may see any comments either confirm this or prove me wrong).  Most Christians outside fundamentalism, who have college degrees, are much more familiar with the terms and concepts of those holding to scientism than those inhabiting that narrative, with similar educational backgrounds, are of Christianity and its understanding of itself.  I want to look at three links that will further unpack my observation of this disparity.
This first is here and it is a short review of David B. Hart’s latest publication, which is a collection of his essays.  Here are some portions that will highlight my point:
“Did Gopnik bother to read what he was writing there? I ask only because it is so colossally silly. If my dog were to utter such words, I should be deeply disappointed in my dog’s powers of reasoning. If my salad at lunch were suddenly to deliver itself of such an opinion, my only thought would be ‘What a very stupid salad.’”
The above, it is pointed out, is Hart’s response to the comments Adam Gopnik made regarding something Hart had written.  And here, along with commentary, is what it is Gopnik wrote that prodded Hart to such a response:
“If that seems smug to you [Hart’s comments above regarding Gopnik], you might not dig Hart. His tone here gets at something else that Robinson and Hart share — a hard-earned exasperation with what passes for intelligent discourse about religion. For here is what Gopnik wrote, in The New Yorker of all places, that moved Hart to rebuke his salad: Unbelievers possess ‘a monopoly on legitimate forms of knowledge about the natural world.’ Why? Because we know that human beings evolved and ‘that the earth is not the center of the universe’; and because we have no ‘evidence’ of a miracle’s ever having taken place.’”
Clearly the above shows how someone like Gopnik simply has no idea on earth what he is talking about.  His comments show a breath-taking ignorance of even elementary philosophy/logical reasoning or Christian beliefs.
The writer goes on:
“The question of how knowing these things — not one of which any religious believer of my acquaintance would deny, by the way — implies a monopoly on scientific knowledge for materialists is, of course, easy to answer: It doesn’t.
There are important arguments to make here about ideology, epistemology and background assumptions, but Hart registers a more elementary objection: As ‘Augustine or Philo or Ramanuja (and so on) could have told’ Gopnik,
God is not a natural phenomenon. Is it really so difficult to grasp that the classical concept of God has always occupied a logical space that cannot be approached from the necessarily limited perspective of natural science?
As Stanley Hauerwas put it in a discussion of Thomas Aquinas, ‘if we could have the kind of evidence of God the evidentialist desires, then we would have evidence that the God Christians worship does not exist.’
This seems like a cop-out to the acolytes of scientism, because scientism just is the belief, in MIT physicist Ian Hutchinson’s definition, that ‘science, modeled on the natural sciences, is the only source of real knowledge.’ Whether or not God exists, expecting science to illuminate the question is a category mistake.”
Normally, to show an even further disconnect, the believer in scientism will reply, “ But, if God isn’t a natural phenomenon, then such does not exist” without even realizing they are begging-the-very-question and simply assuming, by faith, that only that which is natural, that which can be proved empirically, can exist.  Since that is the very point disputed, to simply repeat it over and over is the surest sign one doesn’t understand the conversation.  The bottom line is one cannot have a conversation when one side is this completely ignorant of the other’s meaning and this ignorant of basic errors of logic and category mistakes as noted by the writer.  I frankly do not see that same problem, or rather, see it rise to that level, on the part of Christians as they speak to those atheists/agnostics who repeat comments like Gopnik’s.
Here is the bottom line: The moment we hear an atheist/agnostic, in relation to the question of God’s existence, the truthfulness of Christianity, or similar topic, begin to ask for evidence, for empirical or scientific proof, as if we were speaking of Big Foot or something that would show up on radar, we know the person is simply speaking to a straw-man, who, when that is pointed out, will then just beg the question.  Further, it shows they have no idea what people, whether Christians or philosophers, are actually talking about.  It is a non-starter, a dead end.  No real conversation took place then, no matter how much the atheist/agnostic thought there was an exchange of information.    
The next link is here.  The writer is discussing some reasons why fewer Americans are going to church services.  But this is how the writer begins:
“The standard narrative of American religious decline goes something like this: A few hundred years ago, European and American intellectuals began doubting the validity of God as an explanatory mechanism for natural life. As science became a more widely accepted method for investigating and understanding the physical world, religion became a less viable way of thinking—not just about medicine and mechanics, but also culture and politics and economics and every other sphere of public life. As the United States became more secular, people slowly began drifting away from faith.
Of course, this tale is not just reductive—it’s arguably inaccurate, in that it seems to capture neither the reasons nor the reality behind contemporary American belief. For one thing, the U.S. is still overwhelmingly religious, despite years of predictions about religion’s demise. A significant number of people who don’t identify with any particular faith group still say they believe in God, and roughly 40 percent pray daily or weekly. While there have been changes in this kind of private belief and practice, the most significant shift has been in the way people publicly practice their faith: Americans, and particularly young Americans, are less likely to attend services or identify with a religious group than they have at any time in recent memory.
If most people haven’t just logicked their way out of believing in God, what’s behind this shift in public religious practice…”
What’s interesting here is the writer recites the secular conventional wisdom, basically the “Enlightenment” story of the decline of religious belief and practice but then points out its reductive nature and probable inaccuracy on a purely factual level.  Putting that aside, the problem for those who believe in scientism is the complete unawareness, the total non-reflective assertion of the story as if it were a basic fact or “everyone knows that” type of historical reality.  The writer simply notes it, dismisses it, and moves on.  That is where we are presently and I think it a good thing.  Until those who still, in knee-jerk fashion, just believe this story can realize it is only one view, only one story, and not established “fact” they too should be dismissed.  Again, it is a great example of their unawareness, their obliviousness to how their story is seen by many.  It is embarrassing frankly.  Most non-fundamentalist Christians, however, know their own story is not an established “fact” as if it were just as common and known as the earth being round.  Until atheists/agnostics can come to this same realization regarding their scientism and the “Enlightenment” story, there will continue to be a huge barrier in the ability to hear other narratives of either religious decline or its continued relevance.
The final link is here.  He writes:
“What if reality and unreality are not a one or a zero, a true or false affair? What if there are degrees of reality?
Simone Weil, whose religious philosophy weaves Plato with the New Testament and shows a scrupulous concern with the material world, writes in Gravity and Grace, ‘The mind is not forced to believe in the existence of anything…the only organ of contact with existence is acceptance, love. That is why beauty and reality are identical. That is why joy and the sense of reality are identical.’
Her idea is that something, anything—the Bible, the cross, the person slumped over there in the café or asleep on that park bench—can become more or less real depending on the degree to which we accept them, how much we are open to loving them. She says, ‘Among human beings, only the existence of those we love is fully recognized.’
I’m beginning to accept the stories and symbols of Christianity without expecting they come out of the gate fully real or believable for me. I continue to harbor doubts about them. I’ve experienced them by turns as sites of wonder and as stories whose literal and historical truth I wonder about.
If God is the ultimate transitional object, occupying an intermediate space between our subjective experience and external, measurable reality, so be it. God is both transitional object and provider of the re-enchanting holding environment we all still need, the one in whom Paul says ‘we live, and move, and have our being.’
To live is to be in transit, moving as we do between fleeting people and moments. One option is to let the Great Big, Very Real Disappearing Act make us seek escape in the deadening pendulum swing from private anxious fantasies to external distractions. (Lest I risk succumbing to the temptation of playing the prophet with perfect vision that I discovered in adolescence, here’s where I confess, and halfheartedly repent of, my current “reality” addiction: Season 12 of “The Bachelorette”).
Another option is to trust that with repeated exposure, the signs and wonders of religion—undeniably tarnished by abuse and neglect—can become less rote, more real. And with its increasing vividness, the imagined world that takes shape inside our brains can draw us more fully out into the world of hurting, in-transit humans, who need as much real presence and attentive holding as we can pass along.”
Does the writer mean he believes in the Christian narrative, even though he knows it’s not really true?  I don’t think so; it is more complex than that.  He notes that even though this world takes shape “inside our brains” it becomes “more real”.  How can something be “imagined” and more “real”?  How might we talk about the above?  Fundamentalists can’t quite get their heads around the above, just like many teenagers can’t quite get their heads around the difference between love and sexual urges.  The above is about first accepting something, to be able to really see it.  It’s about loving to be able to perceive.  The above is about beginning to realize that existence is that which always points beyond itself, whether the cross or a person “asleep on a park bench.”  The above is about an orientation to existence, and not a set of beliefs or ideology about existence from a distance.  If we hooked a teenager up to a machine that monitored his heart rate, temperature, and chemical reactions throughout his body, while he was talking to the person he had a crush on, we could just print out the findings and say “this is love”, we are seeing love here.  But that is not “seeing” love.  We can’t see love that way.  We may have an ideology that love can be reduced to the print-out and think we are seeing love, but that is actually to be blind.
Or perhaps that person is “just” a collection of molecules at rest on a bench in a park—another collection atoms and molecules.  Perhaps it points to nothing.  Perhaps the chemical changes in one’s body when one meets that “significant” other is nothing more than that and the songs, the poems, and the literature that well up, that bleed out, that cry out, and laugh out, in response to those changes (as humanity has produced from time immemorial) is some weird palsy, some form of brain malfunction, pointing to nothing (all that literature, all those songs, and poems) other than chemical reactions and matter-in-motion.  And perhaps the only meaning is that which I assign to it, or not assign, knowing all along, either way, it is meaning made up in my head, based upon nothing that is true outside my head.  Perhaps.
What are we open to?  What are we willing to see?  What if we can only recognize the truth when we love and every “fact” and piece of “evidence” is only true to the extent it is seen and understood from a perspective of love, even though we all see the same facts and evidence.  Now the fundamentalist will read this and shake his head; “nonsense” he will mumble to himself.  “All this talk of ‘love’ and ‘acceptance’ to know what is true.  Good grief.  All I have to do is go out and proceed empirically, scientifically, and I will know what is true.  Love and acceptance have nothing to do with it.  The sun is the same distance from the earth whether I love or accept anything” And with this attitude, therein lies the problem, the disconnect, the complete misunderstanding of what is being talked about, the complete act of talking past the other, of not hearing.

I think non-fundamentalist Christians, for the most part, get what the great majority of atheists/agnostics are saying, whether we agree with them or not, although I’m sure we still have much work to do in that area.  We are certainly nowhere near where we need to be in truly “hearing” the atheist/agnostic.  I’m sure I’m more than guilty in that regard.  The question I pose to the atheist/agnostic is: How close are you to hearing the non-fundamentalist Christian?  I think one has to leave fundamentalism before he can “hear” the other.  That is the journey I have been on for the past decade at least.  I have far to go.  For both secular and religious fundamentalism, that is indeed the only way out of this blindness, this deafness, and the only way to get past the disconnect and the inability to even participate meaningfully in these types of conversations with the “other”. 
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37 Responses to The Great Disconnect

  1. Burk says:

    ” Is it really so difficult to grasp that the classical concept of God has always occupied a logical space that cannot be approached from the necessarily limited perspective of natural science?”

    The question is… what constitutes this other perspective? If it is mirages, intuitive archetypes, and delusion, then the point you rail against here, that materialists and scientists arrogate to themselves the only reliable means of knowing about reality, is validated.

    But if there is something more to it, then your point holds. So what could possibly validate this other way of knowing, or this “logical” space? Agreement among like-minded intuitionists is not going to cut it, since we know in all kinds of fields from science to politics and beyond, that bad ideas and false ideas can be highly attractive, to large numbers of people, for long periods of time. You can fool all the people all the time, on some subjects.

    So where is the validation? The logical way to go about this is to ask whether the alternate “logic” has led to reliable predictions about previously unknown / future phenomena, or coherent theoretical explanations of classes of phenomena, or super-phenomena, or whatever the locus of this knowledge is. But nowhere do we see such intellectual progress. We see only intuition run rampant, ever treading over the same ground and pronouncing it profound. We do not even see fulfillment of the most basic prophecy- that Jesus would return.

    I do not see the validation, and nor do religionists of other stripes see the validation of each other's theologies. They tend to bifurcate endlessly, as their intuitions lead to new social structures and more or less reluctant acceptance of secular moral progress. It is great to stand up for human values and archetypes- the true and proper topics of intuition-, but the wish to make of them another, supernatural, “logical space” from reality is, on the evidence, is unwarranted, however tempting from a narrative standpoint.

    “Her idea is that something, anything—the Bible, the cross, the person slumped over there in the café or asleep on that park bench—can become more or less real depending on the degree to which we accept them, how much we are open to loving them.”

    Well, this is the natural reductio absurdum of your “logical space” analysis. That imagination and intuition makes it so! For human values, yes. For a logical reality, no. Your frustration about all this is a sign that you are not defining your terms and categories properly, with sufficient clarity. The story we all have traditionally received is that god is a real being which alters physical reality in some way that has created life, the universe, answers prayers, etc.. etc. If you now say that god is merely a transitional figure (which is actually a term of psychology, like a doll or totem), then we are talking about something far more understandable from a naturalist perspective.

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  2. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    “The question is… what constitutes this other perspective?”

    Well, that should be clear, right? The other perspective is that reality is more than just the physical/material.

    “But if there is something more to it, then your point holds. So what could possibly validate this other way of knowing, or this “logical” space?”

    Well, we’ve been over that about a thousand times, right? We have to ask what validates any perspective in this area, which is not an area of physicality or materiality to begin with. Any philosophical perspective, including philosophical naturalism/atheism/agnosticism/scientism cannot be validated, empirically or scientifically, it can only be inhabited by faith. Here is a good example of where you might not be “hearing” the other. You are probably thinking about validation as in “proving” like we would prove a theory in physics, which is, again, to make Gopnik’s mistake—it is a category error.

    And my take is born out when you write:

    “So where is the validation? The logical way to go about this is to ask whether the alternate “logic” has led to reliable predictions about previously unknown / future phenomena, or coherent theoretical explanations of classes of phenomena, or super-phenomena, or whatever the locus of this knowledge is.”

    What in the world would a reliable prediction be for the truth of the Trinity or Incarnation? The only reliable prediction I think we could muster in the way you might mean, is if we were to consider all the ways we fail to live up to the truths of loving our neighbor as ourselves and loving our enemies. Would that suffice? But, do you see the problem? You are still not “hearing” what the other is saying here, as you continue to read “knowledge” or “knowing” as reliable predictions, which is a way of “seeing” a method borrowed from science, the very method we are saying cannot address these areas.

    The question is does accepting the other and seeing from a perspective of love change the way we see and understand reality? Does that then become the “real” and the “true”?

    The other question is, regardless of whether you agree or not, do you “hear” the other from their perspective and can you converse from that understanding?

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  3. Burk says:

    “Any philosophical perspective, including philosophical naturalism/atheism/agnosticism/scientism cannot be validated, empirically or scientifically, it can only be inhabited by faith.”

    This sounds very much like you are throwing reason out the window. For science, the ability to validate is self-evident. For philosophy, it is a very interesing question whether or which areas of it regard themselves with critical rigor- logic, proof, etc. If it is only a matter of inhabiting a perspective by faith, then critical thought and any concept of validation goes out the window. You can inhabit the Creation Museum by faith, and the Aryan Nation as well. You would be giving up on exactly the discussion you are trying to have here.

    Things do not have to be all scientific, or concrete, or visible. But they have to make sense. It is logic that is missing here. “Inhabiting” things by faith goes against every critical, scholarly philosophy I know of. But not theology, of course. You just have to think carefully about what this gets you. It gets you what your criteria allow- a faith and feeling, but not knowledge. It is simply not a way of “knowing”.

    “The question is does accepting the other and seeing from a perspective of love change the way we see and understand reality? “

    Depends what reality. I am a big fan of literature, and gaining diverse human perspectives. But god is a scientific hypothesis- something that is supposed to be “real”, and do things, and have effects, quite outside our social bonds and ideas. Be careful what reality you make claims for.

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  4. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    “For science, the ability to validate is self-evident.”

    See, you are not listening. Again, you are thinking of validation as in proving a theory regarding the material world. See post.

    “Things do not have to be all scientific, or concrete, or visible. But they have to make sense.”

    Well, the perspective that we cannot reduce everything to the material does make sense and makes sense to the vast majority or educated and non-educated throughout the world, now, and in all times past. And if you are arguing it doesn’t make sense because the material is all there is- then you beg the question. I think it doesn’t make sense to you because you don’t understand what Christians/philosophers are talking about. You have a caricature in mind, a straw-man. This comforts you—it grants a feeling of superiority—it is the way Trump views Hispanics, Muslims, or African-Americans. You need to ask yourself if you have prejudices against people of faith you perhaps aren’t even aware of. I don’t think you “hear” them; you hear what you think they are saying, which is a pre-conceived misunderstanding.

    “Inhabiting things by faith goes against every critical, scholarly philosophy I know of.”

    Then you are unaware of quite a bit of scholarly philosophy. To keep thinking that every view except yours amounts to feelings and intuition “only” is, again, not to hear the other. The way you present your argument is full of category errors, question-begging, and straw-men. It is you who is not reasoning logically here, but you cannot see that until you understand you are doing so.

    “…But god is a scientific hypothesis- something that is supposed to be “real”…

    God is no such thing. Again, clearly, you mean “real” in the sense of an object among other objects or something that can be proved empirically. God is not like that, but, that doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist or is not true (see post). You make the very mistakes here as those noted in the post.

    A thought: Let go the fundamentalism of scientism and entertain the idea what we need to be careful about is thinking reality can only be known in one single way (science). A person with blinders on, who can only see in one direction, is in many ways a blind man. I would be careful about something like that.

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  5. Burk says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    OK, so god is not a natural phenomenon. Then what is it? If it created the universe, it sounds to me like a natural phenomenon. If it hears prayers and selects which to answer, then it sounds to me like a natural phenomenon. If it caused a deity to be born of a virgin, give teachings, die, and be resurrected, and then come back to chat with select followers, (and you still hope for it to come back yet again to separate the sheep from the goats…!), then that sounds to me like a natural phenomenon.

    The point is that you are, individually and as religion collectively, talking out of both sides of your mouth, like any good sales person or candidate, offering all things to all people, without the rigor, evidence or details to back it up. And then you have the temerity to offer the resurrection of Jesus as the ultimate form of “proof” completely playing into the scientistic, evidential mindset you claim not to pay any attention to.

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  6. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    “OK, so god is not a natural phenomenon. Then what is it?”

    See post. It requires you being familiar with the classical concept of God:

    “There are important arguments to make here about ideology, epistemology and background assumptions, but Hart registers a more elementary objection: As ‘Augustine or Philo or Ramanuja (and so on) could have told’ Gopnik,

    God is not a natural phenomenon. Is it really so difficult to grasp that the classical concept of God has always occupied a logical space that cannot be approached from the necessarily limited perspective of natural science?”

    Are you familiar at all with Augustine, Philo, Ramanuja and I could add Plato, Barth, Tillich, and a myriad of others?

    And as you go through your litany of what it “sounds like” to you, you only confirm the point of the post, which is, you do not “hear” what those you are so opposed to are saying. You just don’t. You flail away at straw-men—completely unaware however.

    Again: Let go the fundamentalism of scientism and entertain the idea what we need to be careful about is thinking reality can only be known in one single way (science). A person with blinders on, who can only see in one direction, is in many ways a blind man.

    You need to consider if that man is you.

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  7. Hello Darrell

    I think you're right to suggest that one must be very careful to clarify frameworks of thinking before launching into any attack on them. For example, a pragmatist who believes in God can not be asked 'but where's your evidence' as evidence plays a very different role under pragmatism than under many other philosophical frameworks. Similarly for the idealist. In such cases, the discussion, if there is to be one at all, needs to be about the framework itself.

    Against this, there are still areas for fruitful discussion between opposing frameworks. One can question the validity or at last consistency of the framework itself, and point out awkward consequences of adopting it. One can also point out logical flaws within the individual application of the framework. Perhaps most usefully, within philosophy, is the slow teasing out of the actual definitions and beliefs being defended.

    A number of the discussions we've had, for example, have focussed on these areas. Sometimes it's not at all clear to me what your precise definitions are, or how your logical cases are being built. And many times, to my mind, you are proposing models that make explicit claims that have implications for the nature of the physical world (for example that we are able to gain knowledge of moral realities, or that consciousness can survive death) and at this point it is entirely proper to ask you to play by the rules by which we ordinarily discuss and investigate physical phenomena.

    So yes, Augustine had some interesting things to say about the world, as did Plato, but they were unable to address the implications of their theories for the physical nature behaviour of the brain, for example, because brain science didn't exist at the time they were working. It exists now, and so modern theological theories need to adjust in order to accommodate our knowledge in this area (ditto for modern physics, evolutionary biology and so forth). It's at the point where we try to provide consistent theological interpretations of our current knowledge of the physical world that things get most interesting.

    Bernard

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  8. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    We are in agreement here on much, especially when you note the importance of frameworks (what I call narratives or world-views), which are not founded or proved by empirical means. As you note, it is ridiculous to then ask for the “evidence” for the framework itself and this includes scientism/philosophical naturalism.

    Where we diverge is here: “…And many times, to my mind, you are proposing models that make explicit claims that have implications for the nature of the physical world (for example that we are able to gain knowledge of moral realities, or that consciousness can survive death) and at this point it is entirely proper to ask you to play by the rules by which we ordinarily discuss and investigate physical phenomena.”

    Here you forget your first point, the point we agree upon. The “rules” we play by are still embedded in philosophical frameworks. You (and Burk and JP) also make explicit claims that have implications for the nature of the physical world (for example that we are not able to gain knowledge of moral realities, or that consciousness cannot survive death). But here, like Burk, you are unaware you are doing so and is why you think only I am doing so. The fact, rather, as noted in your first point is that we all are doing so from within these philosophical frameworks. The problem is that you and Burk (and JP) confuse your own views here with “science”. You conflate your philosophical views with science, while I do not. Even if one’s view is that we cannot know if moral realities exist or if consciousness survives death, that isn’t a scientific view—it is a faith view—a view that comes from a philosophical framework.

    I believe, by faith, that God exists and therefore is that moral reality and that we are souls who do survive death. But these are not (see post) scientific or empirical claims. And “science” is silent on these issues (science hasn’t proved either false because science has not proven God does not exist) and when we are told that, no, “science” is not silent on these issues—what we find every time is the person’s philosophy talking and not “science”. You miss this crucial element.

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  9. Burk says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    “science has not proven God does not exist”

    Ah, that old chestnut of negative desperation. Science has indeed proven the many, many gods do not exist. The one that hurls lightning has been disposed of. The one that answers prayers has been (statistically) disposed of.. and innumerable others. The result of all this dynamic philosophy is that you are reduced to a god that does nothing and everything simultaneously, does not exist in this world, yet undergirds it, founds our morality without touching our bodies or brains. And to answer the critic, your best answer is, like some kind of addict, “you just don't understand”.

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  10. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    What is desperate about stating a fact? Anyway, paradox, both/and thinking is indeed hard for the fundamentalist where all is either/or, black and white. Or…see post.

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  11. Hi Darrell

    You're right to say I often make specific claims about the nature of the physical world. I'm quite aware I'm doing this. What's more, I would propose it is quite sensible to look at what the current science tells us about the physical world when we are doing this. And sometimes. what the science does indeed tell us makes it quite hard to sustain particular metaphysical beliefs.

    Not wanting to rehash any of our previous discussions here, but I think they have often been about how we work out what is consistent with current science, a difficult and philosophy laden area indeed, and have not in general fallen into the trap of missing the other's philosophical framework. Rather, a great deal of the time we have simply been trying to get a more detailed sense of just what your framework is, a process you find a little tiresome at times, I suspect.

    Bernard

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  12. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “What's more, I would propose it is quite sensible to look at what the current science tells us about the physical world when we are doing this. And sometimes. what the science does indeed tell us makes it quite hard to sustain particular metaphysical beliefs.”

    See here again is where I don’t think you are aware as I’m not sure how you can write the above and be aware at the same time. So, I will suggest again that it is not “science” telling you anything; it is your philosophical framework telling you what the science means—how it should be interpreted.

    And I disagree that most of the time you are trying to understand the framework. A good example is the time we spent dozens of comments where you would not even admit that the issue was a clash between two different philosophical frameworks and insisted it was a clash with “science”. In fact, every discussion has been basically along those lines. We have never actually discussed frameworks—we have only ever discussed how mine is supposedly a problem with “science”. When I suggest that the problem is I clash with philosophical naturalism (something I readily and happily admit), there is silence and I’m told again the problem is I clash with “science”…or there is a logical fallacy…or something other than actually talking about the frameworks, that we all have them, and that none of them can be founded empirically or scientifically, thus they are held by faith.

    Or…see post.

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  13. Burk says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    “… frameworks, that we all have them, and that none of them can be founded empirically or scientifically, …”

    This is actually a trivial point. We always start (“found”) the epistemological process by making a guess- a hypothesis, whether you want to call it faith or not. The question is what happens next. Do we stick with faith through thick or thin, or do we measure it- the guess, the model, the framework… against data and evidence?

    If we hypothesize a god who returns in his lifetime to set the world aright, and that prophecy does not happen, does that impair that faith? In the jargon of statistics these days, this is called Bayesian analysis, where later information is applied to inform prior hypotheses, altering their probability post-hoc based on evidence. When you throw out evidence, then you are going on faith alone, which is not a framework- it is a fantasy. In fairness, the evidence you are applying seems to be your feelings and indoctrination / tradition, which say to keep the faith, despite all evidence to the contrary. That is a form of evidence, but not about external reality, as usual. It addresses something quite different.

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  14. Hi Darrell

    You're exactly right to distinguish between attacks on science and attacks on naturalism. I say this as someone who is not a naturalist. I think the evolutionary argument against naturalism is strong.

    As such, our arguments have never been about the foundations of naturalism. In fact we're both on the same side there. Rather, we've been trying to ascertain when your arguments are consistent with current science, and when they're not. If we remember the arguments on moral knowledge, for example, you are a moral realist who believes we can gain knowledge of the moral reality.

    I argue, that under current scientific understanding, there is no way for the brain to reliably configure to reflect that knowledge. This is not an argument about naturalism. I'm happy to play the hypothetical line and say, if there is this non-naturalistic entity called moral reality, can the natural entity (the physical brain) align with it, without breaking the established physical relationships of science? I can't see how, and you've never been able to offer a mechanism.

    Autonomous moral reasoning, which you offered as a possibility, can bring us knowledge of constructed moral systems, so if one relaxes the realist assumption there's a pathway there. But, your framework, which assumes both moral realism and moral knowledge, appears incompatible with our current understanding of physical states. So that's the type of discussions we've had. A lack of understanding of the perspectives involved, and the roles they play, has never been the issue.

    Bernard

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  15. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    “This is actually a trivial point.”

    Hardly. It is the very defining line between modernity and postmodernity. It is recognize as one of the most significant moves in philosophical perspective of the last century at least–whether people agree with postmodernism or not.

    “We always start (“found”) the epistemological process by making a guess- a hypothesis, whether you want to call it faith or not.”

    That is not what I’m talking about, which is why you think the idea trivial—you don’t understand what is being posited. You are still looking at this from a perspective that assumes we are investigating the idea of God from a scientific and empirical point of view.

    “The question is what happens next. Do we stick with faith through thick or thin, or do we measure it- the guess, the model, the framework… against data and evidence?”

    Wow. How can you write the above given the conversation and the very point of the post? Amazing. Burk, you are the very point of the post. You are not listening—you make the very same mistakes noted. The fact you would then not address that issue and just keep making the same mistakes is why there is never really a conversation taking place. Your comments are confirmation of the very disconnect noted.

    Like

  16. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “I argue, that under current scientific understanding, there is no way for the brain to reliably configure to reflect that knowledge. This is not an argument about naturalism.”

    And I argue that such is not the current scientific understanding. Such is the current philosophical naturalist assertion of what the scientific findings mean or should be interpreted. Again, you miss this critical difference. Whether or not we can reflect that knowledge is a philosophical question, not a scientific one—that is the point. You conflate a philosophical view with “science”. And this is something you do in practically every exchange, which is why there is never really a discussion of frameworks. Here we see you want to talk about “mechanisms” and the “science” and not philosophical frameworks, when the very point is that “science” cannot address these issues. And, if one asserts that science can and does address these issues/questions, or poses a problem, he aligns himself with philosophical naturalism/scientism.

    Thus, you make the very same mistake, like Burk, as addressed in the post and, indeed, is the very point of the post. The comment section here becomes then the very positive “proof” (how ironic!) of the very point I was making and is made by the three writers and links noted.

    Like

  17. Hi Darrell

    I do think you're misrepresenting the arguments somewhat. But rather than rehash the past, we can try again.

    You need to be very clear on what is not the current understanding. the argument I presented relied upon only two pieces of scientific understanding. The first is that states of mind match physical brain states (note no assertion of causation) and that the components on which the physical brain state are built (down to the subatomic particles) can have their states predicted by the equations that underpin quantum mechanics.

    Do you argue against either of these being the current scientific understanding?

    If not (and previously you didn't) the argument we had became a philosophical one, looking at how one could logically get from these two premises, to a method by which brain states could alter to reflect moral realities.

    At no point did my argument align itself with naturalism (indeed it starts with the non-naturalistic hypothetical… 'if a moral reality exists').

    So, the point here is that while arguments often do founder because participants fail to acknowledge the other's philosophical foundations, we must not simply assume this is happening. I've been scrupulously careful not to take the naturalistic line in these discussions, and the fact you think I have may speak to a rather different problem, one where a participant uses foundational differences as insurance against true engagement. I'm not denying your foundations, but rather am interested in how they then marry with the science you claim to also accept.

    If the pathway to one's foundations to conclusions are not open to rigorous examination, there is no philosophy happening.

    Bernard

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  18. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    You are not listening. The current science is irrelevant to the questions. See post. It was irrelevant in the past conversations and is now, which is why I had to tell you about a million times the clash was with another philosophical view and not “science”. Or, just keep repeating yourself and proving my point. Your choice. The questions of a moral reality and our awareness of such are intrinsically related to the question of God’s existence and the truth of the Christian narrative. And neither of those questions are scientific ones nor does any current scientific finding (in any area) address those questions as far as proving anything either way. None. See post.

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  19. Hi Darrell

    There is a certain fundamentalism creeping into your responses now. In the question of how our philosophical stance can be integrated with scientific knowledge, science is of course relevant. In the case I offered as an example, that of gaining knowledge of moral realities, once we accept two premises, those of brain states equating to states of mind, and of the predictive models of particle physics, then an interesting question is raised. How does the physical mind align with moral realities.

    So, the scientific knowledge shapes the nature of the philosophical question, and constrains the nature of responses available (in our previous discussion your final resort was 'it's a miracle').

    We can not simply say God is a different kind of question than those answered by science unless we yield to God no influence on the physical world. As soon as we wish to answer questions of influence, for example souls or moral knowledge, interactions questions naturally arise, and the science is of course pertinent to the physical aspect of these questions.

    Bernard

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  20. Burk says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    Let's look at the post, then, shall we?

    1. misunderstanding of the terms and concepts used by Christians

    2. Gopnik is stupid/wrong for presuming that unbelievers have a monopoly on legitimate knowledge

    3. God has always occupied a logical space … separate from science.

    4. Asking for evidence … shows they have no idea what people, whether Christians or philosophers, are actually talking about.

    5. Religion is still believed in, therefore … someone still belives in it.

    6. Her idea is that something, anything—…—can become more or less real depending on the degree to which we accept them.

    7. What if we can only recognize the truth when we love and every “fact” and piece of “evidence” is only true to the extent it is seen and understood from a perspective of love, even though we all see the same facts and evidence.

    What you are saying here, and what I am hearing, is that your “logical space” might better be called a space of illogic, where the criterion is not outside at all, but inside- your feelings, such as love. There we find evidence aplenty, just not evidence that proves anything. As William James said, it can be dispositive to only one person- the one doing the feeling.

    In the end, you make the same case as Gopnik, really, that your claims to “knowledge” are based utterly differently (i.e. on faith and on gauzy conjecture) than any reasonable espistemology / philosophy of reality has set forth. Which leaves the field of *legitimate* knowlege about outside reality to those who actually evaluate that outside reality and have the epistemological apparatus to do so rigorously (i.e. empiricists).

    You have work to do to show that what you have is “knowledge” at all, let alone legitimate knowlege.

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  21. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “…In the question of how our philosophical stance can be integrated with scientific knowledge, science is of course relevant.”

    In the context of this post, it is not relevant. Here it is again:

    “The question of how knowing these things — not one of which any religious believer of my acquaintance would deny, by the way — implies a monopoly on scientific knowledge for materialists is, of course, easy to answer: It doesn't.

    There are important arguments to make here about ideology, epistemology and background assumptions, but Hart registers a more elementary objection: As ‘Augustine or Philo or Ramanuja (and so on) could have told’ Gopnik,

    God is not a natural phenomenon. Is it really so difficult to grasp that the classical concept of God has always occupied a logical space that cannot be approached from the necessarily limited perspective of natural science?

    As Stanley Hauerwas put it in a discussion of Thomas Aquinas, ‘if we could have the kind of evidence of God the evidentialist desires, then we would have evidence that the God Christians worship does not exist.’”

    Now, obviously, I could just keep copying into my responses what I already note in the post. But, that would be a waste of time. So, see post.

    What you are really getting at is another question, which is do (or should) philosophical frameworks take into consideration the best science as they address these types of questions. And I have always asserted, yes, they do, or should. But that changes nothing as to the main point of this post, which I still don’t think you quite get. Your responses seem to indicate you indeed do believe that “scientific knowledge” does have a “monopoly” as to these types of questions. As the writer notes, “it doesn’t” and I agree. Clearly, you do not. We disagree. That is fine.

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  22. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    What you “hear” and what I am “saying” are two different things entirely, which again is the point of the post. The great disconnect. You are a clear example.

    Like

  23. Hi Darrell

    What I do think is that science provides our best bet when describing physical phenomenon (and I understand that in the case of miracles, you do not). When your conception of God contains implications for physical phenomenon (say brain states in the case of moral knowledge, or life after death) then one must seek to find a philosophical standpoint that accommodates the science, or simply reject it.

    If you restrict your definition of God such that there are no implications for the physical world should God exist or not (so no views on life after death, for example) then your post's comments are quite valid. The trouble is you wish to both assert your God is not that kind of entity, while also using your notion of God to underpin your beliefs about souls/brains et al. So, it is you who perhaps should heed your own post, and attempt to neuter your God conception to the point where these issues are separate.

    Or, perhaps more honestly, simply be up front about your belief that often times ( in the case of any miracle for example) you believe science does not best describe/predict the state of the physical world.

    Bernard

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  24. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “What I do think is that science provides our best bet when describing physical phenomenon…”

    Agreed.

    “When your conception of God contains implications for physical phenomenon (say brain states in the case of moral knowledge, or life after death) then one must seek to find a philosophical standpoint that accommodates the science, or simply reject it.”

    Disagree. Brain states have nothing to do with moral knowledge. Life after death, by logic alone, would not be a physical phenomenon. My philosophical view does accommodate the science. What it doesn’t accommodate is philosophical naturalism. That you confuse the two is part of this disconnect in communication—in hearing the other.

    “If you restrict your definition of God such that there are no implications for the physical world should God exist or not (so no views on life after death, for example) then your post's comments are quite valid.”

    Disagree. The post’s links and all that is noted would not mean there were no implications for the physical world in the least. Again, you do not seem to understand what is being noted by the three writers/links.

    See post. For all your attempts to distance yourself from Burk and the rest, at the end of the day, you end up making the very same arguments or arrive at the same conclusions. Again, clearly you think science has a monopoly on knowledge, not only in the areas of describing the physical, but even in describing these other areas. That is the very point of the post and the very disconnect noted.

    And if you don’t think science has this monopoly, please tell us an area where it doesn’t, where some other discipline gets the last word. If you cannot do that, then take your place with Burk and the other philosophical naturalists (which is not “science”—the thing still being missed here). And, if you can, then what is the problem? Because such is all I am saying—we would be in agreement. It is you who needs to be honest here—so which is it? Unpack that for us.

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  25. Burk says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    “Life after death, by logic alone, would not be a physical phenomenon. My philosophical view does accommodate the science. What it doesn’t accommodate is philosophical naturalism.”

    This is not a philosophical view, it is a fantasy. By logic, life after death is a non-sequitur, an oxymoron. Many people wishing it doesn't make it so, or make it “philosophical”.

    I understand that you have a “view”. That is clearly heard and understood. The question is whether that view is just rank speculation and wishful thinking, or whether is has any warrant that would merit applying the high appellation “philosophical”.

    Doing that would require some basis in evidence, (as mature philosophical fields use after they turn themselves into sciences, having come across *data*), or in logic or other reasoning. Feelings do not make philosophy, and nor does intuition, by itself. And the remaining logic behind life after death is based on pure intuition, (not to say baser psychological motivations), increasingly and sharpy at odds with a large body of knowledge of how our minds/brains/bodies work. It is thus defunct, kaput, and not worthy of being a philosphical view.

    Or perhaps you have a lower view / bar for what it means to be philosophical? It would help to ask what exactly, you base your view on, in reason and logic. That would help to illuminate the nature of your philosophy and the worth of its products.

    Like

  26. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    See post. Read.

    Like

  27. Hi Darrell

    Science is next to useless in any number of fields. We can't use scientific knowledge to write a play, flirt with a stranger or enjoy a sunset. It is emotion, not science, which gets us in touch with our moral intuitions, and instinct, not science, that guides the painter's brush. No trouble here at all.

    My point is only that it is a mistake to presuppose a disagreement is always one of perspective.

    “Disagree. Brain states have nothing to do with moral knowledge. Life after death, by logic alone, would not be a physical phenomenon. My philosophical view does accommodate the science. What it doesn’t accommodate is philosophical naturalism.”

    Now, you and I can disagree on whether brain states have anything to do with moral knowledge, but the disagreement is not one of foundational beliefs. Rather, it is either a disagreement over what the current science shows (I think the currently held view is that mental states map directly to physical brain states: which is to suppose nothing about causation or equivalence). Either you and I disagree over this scientific assumption (a disagreement about science) or we disagree over the logical path that I propose takes us from this scientific assumption to an inability for brains to align themselves with mental states consistent with true moral knowledge. We've been over this at length, and need not relitigate. The point is, we don't disagree because I misunderstand something fundamental about your belief system. Rather, we disagree because we read the science differently, or we are constructing different logical arguments regarding this knowledge.

    Bernard

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  28. Burk says:

    Hi, Bernard-

    You are being far too generous here. Darrell has not constructed an argument at all. He simply claims his perspective out of faith, and for no other significant reason, indeed contrary to all other detectable reasons and arguments. And then claims additionally that we do not “understand” or “hear” him, because we do not credit his unreason and unconstructed non-arguments as a legitimate philosophy and epistemology. This all used to carry water during the Middle Ages, (the Byzantine dream, perhaps), but no longer.

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  29. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “Rather, we disagree because we read the science differently, or we are constructing different logical arguments regarding this knowledge.”

    Yes, we agree here, which is why the issue has never been about a clash with “science” but a clash with different “readings” and the construction of those readings—it is a hermeneutical/philosophical issue, not one of not understanding the science or getting the science wrong—or not taking the science into consideration. It is one thing to note that science is useless in any number of fields, it is quite another to then square that with all the times in the area of God existing or not (and the logical implications thereof), you have told us science gets the last word. The whole point is that “science” doesn’t have a word to begin with—only people “reading” the science do—only they have “words”. To equate their reading as “science” telling us—and not their personal philosophical view (reading) telling us is something I’m still not sure you quite get. I’m sure in future posts, we will see.

    Anyway, I agree wholeheartedly with your above comment. Thanks for the input. Cheers.

    Like

  30. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    It is you who is far behind the philosophical curve here. Again, see post.

    Like

  31. Hi Darrell

    “Yes, we agree here, which is why the issue has never been about a clash with “science” but a clash with different “readings” and the construction of those readings.”

    Be careful here. If we have a clash over the application of logic, then that is an area in which one can be mistaken. If my logic is correct, as I think it is, the the implication of that argument is that your point of view clashes with science. You don't get to decide this issue in advance. That would be called question begging.

    Bernard

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  32. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    Logic is always in play, but it also doesn’t decide if one’s views clash with science as opposed to the clash being a different philosophical reading of the science. Formal logic has to do with the structure of one’s arguments internally to the question at hand; it doesn’t speak to the issues noted in the post or my further comments. Let me be clear. There is no implication of anything that flows from my view of the world that clashes with science, only philosophical naturalism. If you think otherwise, you would have to make some argument that lifts what you thinks is “science” to the level of monopoly of knowledge in areas, as noted in the post, it has none over. And to lift it as such, is really philosophical naturalism. I maintain that you confuse the two.

    For instance, to say something like “Yes, God may exist, but we can know nothing of such a being because of what we know about biology, physics, and science in general” is a philosophical assertion, not a scientific one. Further, it gives science a monopoly of what we can know about God or how we should be able to know something about God, it simply does not have (see post). The errors of logic are made by those such as Gopnik, who addresses a straw-man creation of god, who is more like Big Foot and also a category error. And if you indeed still hold to the above “God may exist, but…” then your statement about all the areas science is “useless” did not apply to anything pertinent to this conversation and was an attempt to just elude the point. It is also the exact same thing Burk would assert, he is just bolder and says, thus, God probably doesn’t exist instead of “may” exist.

    Another example: Science gives us the best picture of how the physical world operates, except when God as a free agent acts upon or within that world—just as science would give us accurate trajectories and time with a ball in motion, until I as a person interrupted the experiment and knocked the ball down. That is perfectly logical and depends upon if I as a person exist and can act. The same logic follows for God. It also says nothing about science not being great at what it does. If one disagrees, his disagreement is philosophical, not scientific. Anyone who would think their disagreement was scientific, or the view of science, is fooling themselves. Science could care less. There is no ethereal being or voice in the heavens called “science”. There are only people. And the people who would object to my statement in this example object from a philosophical point of view, not a scientific one.

    Now, we have been over the above before and we are not going to re-visit all that here in the comment section of a post speaking to something different. But it serves to show I still see no difference between you and Burk or any other philosophical naturalist or believer in scientism.

    This is the problem Bernard. Every time we think we agree upon something, you usually reveal at some point that we actually do not—it is almost as if you can’t help yourself—you just keep on talking (writing). This is why I noted the jury is still out as to if you understand what it is I and these other writers are getting at and if there is any true agreement. Given your comments here, that jury is indeed still out.

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  33. Hi Darrell

    “Let me be clear. There is no implication of anything that flows from my view of the world that clashes with science, only philosophical naturalism. If you think otherwise, you would have to make some argument that lifts what you thinks is “science” to the level of monopoly of knowledge in areas, as noted in the post, it has none over.”

    This is itself a claim about the logical state of the world, and as such need sot be justified. One can in fact make an argument that does not lift science to the level of monopoly, but rather simply points out an inconsistency.

    Remember we have slightly different uses of the phrase 'clashes with science'. You would say that no belief can clash with science, by definition (as technically, any belief can be made to accord with science simply by expedient ad hoc additions). your miracle argument does exactly this, and you are right, it does not clash with the science in exactly the same way that a person's belief that women having sex out of wedlock causes earthquakes does not clash with science (insert miracle capable God who, upon being so affronted, causes the earthquakes, whilst cleverly covering all traces, also miraculously).

    If, however, we grant that some beliefs could feasibly clash with science (in other words, make the phrase clashes with science meaningful) and your views do indeed clash with science. Your idiosyncratic use of the phrase is therefore misleading, and if you do so knowingly, dishonest.

    Bernard

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  34. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “This is itself a claim about the logical state of the world, and as such need sot be justified. One can in fact make an argument that does not lift science to the level of monopoly, but rather simply points out an inconsistency.”

    If one can, you never have. Whether or not something is inconsistent would be disputed by both sides. And why? Because it would be inconsistent with the other’s philosophical framework, not the science itself. That is the point you keep missing.

    “Remember we have slightly different uses of the phrase 'clashes with science'. You would say that no belief can clash with science, by definition (as technically, any belief can be made to accord with science simply by expedient ad hoc additions).”

    The above is a perfect example you do not understand the point of this post or my comments. The great disconnect is right here before us. Again, the comment section proves the very point of my post. And your example of earthquakes and what would logically follow from God existence (my point about an agent) is laughable. If you are worried about logic, look no further than your own statements here for there is indeed cause for concern.

    I’ve never said that some beliefs could not be inconsistent with the science. In fact, I’ve spoken of them. The belief that the earth is only 6000 years old is inconsistent with the science. But the examples you have given in the past whether how we can grasp moral knowledge, or miracles, or consciousness, you name it, none are clashes with science, but with philosophical naturalism and scientism. Again, you just keep missing this key difference. If you truly think those areas are clashes with science, then take your place with Burk and every other philosophical naturalist out there.

    I maintain that your views are no different than any other run-of-the-mill philosophical naturalist, believer in scientism, or those like Gopnik. I also maintain that such manifests the same type of fundamentalism we see in religion. And that is fine. To each their own. However, to hint that you agree as you did here, “Rather, we disagree because we read the science differently, or we are constructing different logical arguments regarding this knowledge”, but then tell us in the next breath, that “your [mine] views do indeed clash with science” is where we see either something misleading or dishonest–or, as I suspect, a huge disconnect in understanding.

    I am closing this comment thread out, please do not respond (I fear a hundred comments of people simply repeating themselves). On my blog, I get the last word. You are welcome to post a response on your own, which I would happily respond to, where I will also happily give you the last word. Cheers.

    PS- Also, my next post I’m sure will give any out there plenty of opportunities to re-visit these same areas and any comments will be much welcomed.

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  35. JP says:

    Hi Darrell,

    You raise a very important issue and I do agree that there is often a lack of understanding between theists and non-theists – and this certainly goes both ways. I think a blog like yours should be, in principle, a place where your world view could be explained to the rest of us.

    How does one understand another's view? Well, two very common approaches are asking questions (precisions, less ambiguous definitions and so on) and rephrasing what the other say in one's own words to see if it was well understood.

    On many occasions, this is exactly what I have tried to do (and Bernard as well). I must say that you have not shown much enthusiasm for this and this has always puzzled me. It is true that many of these questions have addressed tangential or relatively unimportant points. But – it so happens that the best way to probe and understand a view consists in precisely those secondary questions. In large part, because they are simpler.

    Another point. How does a non theist naturally goes about understanding the theistic world view? How does one get a “handle” on this? For me, the easiest and most natural approach is through the effect that the existence of God and souls and all that may have on the natural world. How does a world with souls (for instance) differ from a world without?

    This is not to say that God/soul must be studied as a natural phenomenon. But it seems to me that we have these two possibilities: (1) the existence of God and souls and so on has no effect at all on the physical world; and (2) they have an effect.

    I don't think you would agree with (1) because, for one thing, it implies that the mind is embodied in the physical world, making souls irrelevant.

    But, if (2), then we hit the interaction problem. And, by looking at how the theist handles this issue, the non-theist can certainly get a better understanding of what you're talking about.

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  36. Darrell says:

    JP,

    I would qualify that my enthusiasm is mostly stifled, not by the questions, but by the sense that rather than seeking understanding, there is an attempt to just repeat the very assertion, objection, or point that was questioned to begin with. It is also stifled by straw-men arguments, non-sequitur, and question-begging arguments and assertions. However, I agree with most of what you are suggesting here and the tone in which it is offered. For sure, I need to do a better job of communicating and getting my point across. I am as much a problem as to communicating in this forum as anyone. We all need to be reflective here and see where our part lies.

    I am going to close this comment section out, but I’m sure it will continue with my next post.

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