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Bloggingheads
01-19-2008, 03:57 AM

nojp
01-19-2008, 09:28 AM
yes but how many children do they have and are they having sex?

thprop
01-19-2008, 09:34 AM
Jim attacks the "neo-atheists" for not considering 20th century discoveries like the Big Bang, inflation, etc. But Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Hitchens, et al are not taking on alternative conceptions of "god". They are attacking the idea of a personal god who takes a continuing and abiding interest in the lives of "intelligent" carbon based life forms on a small planet orbiting a small star on the outskirts of a spiral galaxy which is part of a local group of galaxies which is part of a supercluster of galactic groups...........

Is there something other than our universe? Could be. Probably is. Maybe we are just a simulation. Maybe we are all just random quantum fluctuations. Who knows. Note that I use the term "other than". I do not ask what was there before the Big Bang. I do not ask what exists beyond our universe. Time and space as we understand them came into existence with the Big Bang so it is not correct to talk about time and space outside the context of our finite universe. Time and space may be invariant in all existence. But we have no way to determine that.

All we can deal with is our existence and the context in which we understand it. Within that framework, it is easy to dismiss the notion of a personal god who is involved in our lives. We can do it scientifically - read Victor Stenger's (http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/vstenger/) God: The Failed Hypothesis. (http://www.prometheusbooks.com/catalog/book_1867.html)

That framework also lets us worry about earthly problems - we need not concern ourselves with the truth of the reality of the world. It may be a simulation or a quantum fluctuation but it is all we have to deal with at this time. With the continued evolution of our species, dealing with the "reality of the world" may lead to new realities.

thprop
01-19-2008, 09:51 AM
The segment title is incorrect -
John attacks Jimís nuclear fission utopianism

I believe John had an issue with Jim's nuclear fusion utopianism. All nuclear power we have today is the result of nuclear fission (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_plant), i.e. splitting atoms.

Power from nuclear fusion (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusion_power) is the pipe dream.

InJapan
01-19-2008, 09:59 AM
Note: the diavlog tag line says "fission" where I suspect they meant "fusion."

On fusion - I tend to agree with Dr. Bussard's (RIP) low opinion of the huge projects. Whether his own design will eventually bear fruit is open to question - if we are fortunate it will, but again I am not holding my breath. Check the wikipedia entry for "Bussard" for an overview.

John tries to pin his guest down on the theological issue, but he doesn't follow through with the thought. Mr. Holt may be hard to really pin down. The principle of invariance is worth noting here, as it is both a source of strength of an "Intelligent Design" approach, as well as a challenge (for those who believe in miracles.)

thprop
01-19-2008, 10:03 AM
Check out these pics - John may not just feel like Newt (http://brainwaveweb.com/diavlogs/8185?in=00:57:05&out=00:57:25) - he is Newt!

You will have to go to the pics yourself - including them screws up the formatting on the video page.

John Horgan (http://www.stevens.edu/csw/images/john_horgan.jpg)

Newt Gingrich (http://cache.eb.com/eb/image?id=98394&rendTypeId=4)

And if you want to see the problem with being extremely pro-life, check out Vagina. It's not a clown car. (http://cache.bordom.net/images/d2d196f2141095e734dbb747931d677f.jpg)

thprop
01-19-2008, 10:14 AM
John Allen Paulos (http://www.math.temple.edu/~paulos/) would be an excellent guest. And it would be fun to see Jim Holt grovel.

He spoke at Beyond Belief 2 (http://thesciencenetwork.org/BeyondBelief2/watch/). Not very good there - seemed to be rushing through material. I think he would be better in a diavlog.

Paulos blogs for ABC News - here is his entry on Beyond Belief 2. (http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/WhosCounting/Story?id=4086243&page=1)

My fourth post on this diavlog already - and I have not yet given my opinion on mathematics. Later.

bjkeefe
01-19-2008, 10:59 AM
That was great! It felt like John and Jim introduced at least three topics which could launch hour-long diavlogs of their own. I sure hope Jim comes back soon, and I'd love at least one of those appearances to be with John Allen Paulos.

bjkeefe
01-19-2008, 11:06 AM
My fourth post on this diavlog already - and I have not yet given my opinion on mathematics. Later.

I look forward to reading that, and possibly having a conversation. I'm not up for a long post myself, at the moment, but I found the (too-short) segment on math in the diavlog highly provocative. Among the topics for contemplation: is it possible another intelligent species wouldn't share (much of) our math? Would all of our math be a tautology to a more advanced intellect? Do mathematical truths get discovered or invented?

eskinol
01-19-2008, 11:07 AM
Most wonderful discovery...Ed Witten is irritated by John Horgan as well! Now I feel like I'm in good company

bjkeefe
01-19-2008, 11:08 AM
Jim attacks the "neo-atheists" for not considering 20th century discoveries like the Big Bang, inflation, etc. But Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Hitchens, et al are not taking on alternative conceptions of "god". They are attacking the idea of a personal god ...

I completely agree with the above and what followed in your post. Very well said. I am always impatient when highly abstract theologians attack the Four Horsemen on the basis that Jim Holt does. If the wingnuts were like these highbrow thinkers, we wouldn't have any need to attack religion, or at least much, much less. It's the ordinary, everyday forms that the leading monotheistic brands take that are what need to be defused.

Jay J
01-19-2008, 01:55 PM
bjkeefe,

And I'm always annoyed when followers of the Four Horsemen don't take what they say literally and instead water down their message to make it more palatable.

I know, at the very least, that Hitchens engages in polemics so extreme that it's hard to take him seriously at all. As does Sam Harris at times. Dawkins is a little higher up on the scale of presentation, and Dennett higher still. But insofar as Dawkins casts his lot with Harris and Hitchens, it seem like it tars the whole movement, meaning, if the Four Horseman are a group at all, Hitchens and Harris are so crazy as to warrant a dismissal of the group.

Hitchens says "religion" is extremely harmful to society and that we would be better off without it. And he goes out of his way to express his view that religion of virtually any type is harmful. By taking examples which could have various and sundry political and social causes, Hitchens points out how Buddhists in certain Asian countries have participated in atrocities, presumably to show how Buddhists can be just as dangerous as Baptists.

If ya take a look at this website,

http://www.buildupthatwall.com/

and scroll down just a tad, you can see that the Dalai Lama is apparently in the same camp as Pat Robertson. He's standing right by him in the picture, and Saddam Hussein is standing right behind the Dalai Lama!!

This is just a small illustration of what Hitchens does, which is to go out of his way to disallow a distinction to be made with what you refer to as "highly abstract theologians" on the one hand and the worst kind of fundamentalists on the other.

So you ought to be disagreeing with him right? This seems like a fairly serious point...

Jay J
01-19-2008, 02:04 PM
thprop,

As I pointed out to bjkeefe, I think the movement you refer to does more than hone in on one conception of god, or even one conception of religion.

Take a look at where the Dalai Lama is pictured on this website:

http://www.buildupthatwall.com/

I've seen Chris Hitchens say several times things that are similar to the sentiment expressed in the picture, which is that religion (and the varying ideas of "God" that go with them) is harmful, period, and the idea that some aren't is ridiculous.

Allan
01-19-2008, 03:33 PM
Missing from that picture is the visionary prophet
and divine leader

Lev Davidovich Bronstein

whom Christopher Hitchens has followed
throughout his life
with blind adoration and unquestioning devotion.

Allan
01-19-2008, 05:19 PM
To say that all mathematics is a tautology
(or 'triviality', as mathematicians prefer to say)
is like saying
that Shakespeare's sonnets are merely grammatically correct arrangements
of the 26 letters of the alphabet
on the page.

The vast majority of tautologies
(99.9999999999....%)
are long, boring, meaningless
and almost indistinguishable from random noise

WilliamP
01-19-2008, 11:48 PM
I found the "why do we exist" portion of this diavlog completely devoid of content, but that could be because there just isn't anything interesting to say. Cosmology says nothing interesting, as John points out, because pre-assuming a four dimensional spacetime with all the baggage we know about our universe (quantum mechanics, relativity, 3 families of particles under the standard model, and so on) doesn't really get us any further.

Does anyone know if any scientific-minded philosopher seriously addresses the question of whether we could be in the simplest (in some sense) framework that allows a conscious observer to exist? Is this dismissable out of hand? Note that our universe could be simpler than a human brain (or whole lonely solar system) spontaneously popping up if the mass of "inflaton" needed to start a universe were less than that.

About whether math is discovered or invented, I just can't see how much of math is not discovered. Much of the time you get more out of math than what you put in. Look at the Mandelbrot set. Is anyone telling me that when Mandelbrot saw the first printout of that infinitely structured and complex thing, arising from a trivially simple equation, that he had created it? They're nuts then. An advanced alien civilization, if it exists, would almost certainly know about the Mandelbrot set, in my opinion. Maybe patterns like that are even deeper than our universe itself?

1swellfoop
01-20-2008, 12:42 AM
Lovely diavlog, though I was puzzled by Jim's refering to Saul Kripke in the past tense, since according to wikipedia he's still kicking...

1swellfoop
01-20-2008, 01:02 AM
One possible counterexample to Jim's argument about theories being tested within a decade: Although uncertainty had found broad acceptance by the time Bell figured out how to test it, I don't think there was any conclusive empirical proof until then, which was in 1964, a good four decades after Heisenberg first figured it out theoretically. (And Bell's thought experiment wasn't actually carried out till in the real world until a good deal later, if memory serves.)

Now granted, uncertainty is only part of quantum theory understood broadly, but still, there you have a very key peice of the system that took a good deal longer to get empirical confirmation.

singlepixelcamera
01-20-2008, 02:15 AM
No to John Allen Paulos! (All due respect!)

Yes to Terry (http://terrytao.wordpress.com) Tao! (http://www.math.ucla.edu/~tao)

If you can get him!

spc

Happy Hominid
01-20-2008, 02:34 AM
Jay J, I guess you will be pleased with me then. I take them perfectly literally. I don't necessarily agree with them without exception on every point, but yeah, they are pretty hard on religion of any stripe.

Let's remember though, that while we call them the Four Horseman let's not be SO literal as to think that makes them a single unit. And I know you were fair in differentiating them - but other than PERHAPS Hitchens I don't think a single one of them has ever not acknowledged that there are degrees of evil associated with religious belief.

I think the part of it that they are unified on can be summed up as: All irrational belief systems can potentially lead to some very bad things, are somewhat bad just on the principle of precluding one from examining an issue rationally and that even the moderates bear some blame for the doings of the extremists.

The reason that they have this responsibility is that once you acknowledge the validity of "faith" and that it is somehow exempt from criticism because everyone has a right to their faith, then you excuse ALL, no matter what they read in to their "inerrant" texts. If I say the bible is the literal word of god, and another person agrees but uses it to kill apostates (which god literally mandates) then I (and my religion) do bear some responsibility.

bjkeefe
01-20-2008, 11:36 AM
Jay J:

And I'm always annoyed when followers of the Four Horsemen don't take what they say literally and instead water down their message to make it more palatable.

I don't believe that I've watered anything down. Dawkins, for example, has explicitly said what I said, both in his book and in talks and interviews -- that he was addressing and/or discussing the typical blind faith-dominated type of person, not the highbrow theologians. Harris takes pains to make clear his openness to the concept of spiritual experiences, for another.

But insofar as Dawkins casts his lot with Harris and Hitchens, it seem like it tars the whole movement, meaning, if the Four Horseman are a group at all, Hitchens and Harris are so crazy as to warrant a dismissal of the group.

As you acknowledge and Happy Hominid augments, there are also degrees of contempt on the part of the Four Horsemen, so anyone who isn't completely turned off by any of their messages will be able to differentiate between them. I, for example, note large differences in attitudes towards Islam among the four. Yes, I do think Harris and Hitchens go a little far in this regard, sometimes, since you asked. But I vastly prefer that they err on the side they do, rather than wimp out with a soft-pedaled message. Sometimes hyperbole is a good thing, at least to raise people's awareness.

So, I don't agree that the whole group risks being dismissed, though, even apart from whether one differentiates among them or not. Sure, some people are turned off by them, including some atheists and agnostics. So what? You can't please everybody. As I've said before: if nothing else, their in-your-face attitude has, at minimum, shifted the Overton window. A lot of people, especially in places like pockets of the American south, have felt a lot more inclined to "come out," as it were, as non-believers. There is a little more acceptance, on average, I think, of the idea that the religious right's control of the Republican Party is not such a good thing. On balance, I think they have done a net amount of good.

bjkeefe
01-20-2008, 11:39 AM
WilliamP:

The Mandelbrot set is a very good example in support of the idea that at least some mathematical truths are discovered, not invented. Nice.

bjkeefe
01-20-2008, 11:41 AM
1swell:

Good point. I felt like John did when Jim was making that argument, that I was sure I could think of counterexamples, but none would come to mind at the moment.

Jay J
01-20-2008, 01:00 PM
Happy Hominid,

Yes, it is nice to see that you don't water it down. I like it when everything is out in the open, and as it is presented straight from the horse's mouth.

There does appear to be a couple of things to clear up though...

I appreciate the summary of the accusation of complicity on the part of religious moderates. I think you summed it up well.

The problem is, if anyone thinks the Bible is the literal or inerrant word of God, then they aren't a religious moderate. If anyone thinks that "faith" in general is exempt from criticism, then they aren't a religious moderate. I guess you could say that there are degrees of fundamentalism...Southern Baptists don't advocate suicide bombings for example. So I suppose even the category of fundamentalism has gradations. I mean, I consider Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney to be fundamentalists. You probably do too, I'm just using them as an example, of the fact that just because someone is educated and well-mannered and the like, they are still fundamentalists by virtue of their belief system alone.

But many religious people don't think that faith is beyond criticism. I think what bjkeefe had in mind are folks you could call religious liberals. I grew up around religious liberals in my Mainline Christian childhood and no one criticizes Fundamentalists more than religious liberals. It's personal for them. Fundamentalists consider religious liberals to be heretics. Some denominations are made up of large percentages of religious liberals, like Barack Obama's United Church of Christ (not to be confused with the Church of Christ).

I think this is getting close to what bjkeefe had in mind when he referred to "highly abstract theologians." These types don't say that faith is beyond criticism and they don't see the Bible as inerrant. Many of them view their faith as private and don't see it as a rational that others should feel compelled to accept as justification for any public issue.

I think the Dalai Lama could be categorized with these "highly abstract theologians" and with some religious liberals in the West. And I don't agree that this type of religious practice is evil in any way at all. So saying that there are gradations of evil in religious belief and/or practice doesn't cut, since not at all religious belief/practice is evil at all, and since not all religious belief/practice would be seen by an objective observer as giving comfort to fundamentalists.

I think what I've said so far applies to Harris, and Dawkins. But Richard Dawkins does explicitly align himself with Chris Hitchens. I think the people who see themselves as a part of this movement have a choice to make. They can either,

A) Exclude Chris Hitchens from the movement, or

B) Not allow "highly abstract theologians" or religious belief of ANY type any leeway at all, since Chris Hitchens goes out of his way to disallow such distinctions and engages in polemics which categorize the Dalai Lama in with Saddam Hussein.

These 2 options seem to be the only way to maintain integrity. I certainly hope that a movement which prides itself on truth and intellectual honesty wouldn't uncritically align themselves with someone simply because he had a certain amount of fame or notoriety or simply because they could gain a large following through him. I would hope that the internal coherence of the movement's position would be the most important thing...

Jay J
01-20-2008, 01:15 PM
Brendan,

I would like a response to the polemical device Hitchens employs on his website...meaning, he puts the Dalai Lama right there in a picture beside Saddam Hussein and Pat Robertson.

Also, I already know you see a little hyperbole as a good thing...as much as this nauseates me, I know this about you.

Moving on...I suppose I would like it if you would answer these questions:

1) In engaging in this hyperbole, things are said which you literally don't agree with, right?

2) Some of these things include statements which are not at all friendly to the category of the so-called "highly abstract theologians" you refer to. Right?

3) Don't you think that if the hyperbole goes beyond the specific category of monotheistic fundamentalists or what have you, that you have to live with that and not pretend that the movement is careful in who it targets?

Basically, you have said that the "Four Horsemen" obviously aren't targeting the "highly abstract theologian" types, but then when I point out examples which seem to counter this, you say that you see a little hyperbole as a good thing. But see, this isn't the way the argument should run. At this point in the argument, you should be saying something like,

a) Oh, OK, you're right, the movement I refer to (since Chris Hitchens is one of the Four Horsemen) does go beyond just targeting dogmatic (or even moderate) monotheism or fundamentalism, I was wrong to say otherwise.

b) The movement I refer to shouldn't be held accountable for everything it says, since some of what it says is hyperbole, and that shouldn't count.

c) I deny that the movement I refer to would ever go so far as to target anyone who believed in some "highly abstract theology."

OK so I think "c" is off the table right? It seems to obviously be off the table, at least I hope we see reality this way. That leaves A or B. Or of course some magical option I haven't considered.

I'll be our of pocket for most of the rest of the day...I'll check in later.

Jay J

e511
01-20-2008, 01:26 PM
re: math..
if by "discovered" you mean "universal" (as holt seems to imply) then of course it isn't discovered.
but if the word means existing in some sense independent of humans, then i don't see how you can say it's not discovered.

Bloggin' Noggin
01-20-2008, 03:48 PM
This was excellent -- though I really wish that John hadn't stepped in to keep Jim from explaining the Riemann zeta hypothesis!! I'd love to hear more about math -- at a somewhat less philosophical level than John's question.

I think William P is right that Jim buys into the idea that math is "invented" rather than discovered without very seriously considering the problem of our own mental finitude.
Also, Jim's liking for cosmological explanations sits oddly with his disbelief in mathematical realism. Mathematics is supposed to be a system of necessary truths -- true in all possible worlds, and true of the relations between possible worlds. If you hope to have any answer to "why is there something rather than nothing", you're going to need some kind of "trans-world" truths, truths of at least natural necessity. Why the skepticism about mathematical necessity?
A realist view of math does not require the extreme Platonist position that numbers are concrete objects, like tables or people. According to a reasonable platonist view, mathematical truths would be extremely abstract properties and relations among actual objects and limitations on the possibilities for seemingly conceivable objects (e.g., the greatest prime).
I'm not sure what Jim's problem with Platonism is. If it is the view of numbers as concrete objects, then that's not a form of platonism that current platonists would be likely to accept. If it's that he doesn't believe in a necessity not based in mere convention (bachelors are unmarried), then how can he hope for any kind of answer to his cosmological question?
Let me add that the purely conventional view of mathematical truth seems to run into the problem that Saul Kripke discovers in Wittgenstein http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kripkenstein. Kripke's own "solution" to the problem doesn't seem to recognize that conventionalism is the problem -- but it seems to me that an account of reference to mathematical functions like Kripke's own account of reference to natural kinds http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naming_and_Necessity#Lecture_III:_January_29.2C_19 70 would do a lot to resolve the problem.

I certainly don't see how he thinks alien beings could wind up with a totally different mathematics from ours -- could alien beings somewhere else in the universe could possibly come up with a mathematics that permitted square circles or greatest primes? -- I'd like to hear Jim explain how that could ever be possible. I guess he just thinks that they would have other interests and so they might study an entirely different area of math than we ever thought of. But are we to imagine that these beings have no interest in counting or in dividing things into equal shares or measuring out areas? And if they have discovered some new part of mathematics, why couldn't we incorporate that into our own mathematics? Would it be inconsistent with our math? That seems inconceivable.

Anyway, I hope Jim does come back and talk about interesting mathematics (rather than philosophy of mathematics) for a whole hour on BloggingHeads some time soon.

Bloggin' Noggin
01-20-2008, 04:05 PM
re: math..
if by "discovered" you mean "universal" (as holt seems to imply) then of course it isn't discovered.


Well, I agree with you that Holt doesn't distinguish a lot of things, but I'm not clear what you mean by "of course math isn't universal".
Do you mean there are aliens somewhere who can make square-circular silos or make the ratio of circumference to diameter of a wheel (or of their planet) equal to 4?
Or are you just saying that other species may not have looked into these relationships, and may therefore not know about them? If that's all it means to say it's not universal, then I don't know of anyone who would expect oysters to know about pi.

1swellfoop
01-20-2008, 04:50 PM
Correct me if I'm wrong on this, but Kripke's arguments about linguistic skepticism would apply regardless of whether or not platonism is true. The issue is that language itself would be incapable of expressing specific meanings (including reference to things like numbers) were it not for the broader linguistic context that holds them in place... This means that even if platonism is true, we would be totally incapable of saying anything conclusive about it, since whatever we could say would be understandable as the outcome of any language game and skepticism suggests we can never be sure which game it is we're playing in the first place...

(Maybe this makes more sense in your comment about natural kinds, but I didn't follow the connection there)

bjkeefe
01-20-2008, 09:58 PM
Jay J --

Before I get to your post addressed to me, I want to comment on part of your response to Happy:

I think the people who see themselves as a part of this movement have a choice to make.

I don't accept the limits that you seek to impose with your dichotomy, nor do I accept the absolutist requirements of either of the options you list. And what, exactly, is this "movement" you're talking about?

I don't see any need to fully embrace everything Hitchens says, nor do I see a need to completely disavow him because I disagree with him on some things. I've never bought into the philosophy of "You're either with us or you're against us."

I'm not sure what your hope is here. Is it to pigeonhole all people who dislike the sway religion holds over society so that they appear as just another rigidly defined group of people who share the exact same beliefs? Forget about it, if so. That pretty much goes against what it means to be a free-thinker.

These 2 options seem to be the only way to maintain integrity.

Pardon me if I don't depend on your evaluation of my integrity. In fact, reducing everything to black and white seems to me the very antithesis of intellectual integrity.

I certainly hope that a movement which prides itself on truth and intellectual honesty wouldn't uncritically align themselves with someone ...

Still unclear on what you think the "movement" is, but I'm glad to see you working your way around to where I'm at. That's just it: I don't uncritically align myself with Hitchens. (Or anybody else, for that matter. I don't know anyone with whom I agree 100%.) That said, on matters of religion, I find Hitchens to be spot-on the overwhelming majority of the time, and I am very happy to have such an articulate spokesman taking advantage of the spotlight to say a lot of things that need to be said.

=====

Now, to your post addressed to me.

I would like a response to the polemical device Hitchens employs on his website...meaning, he puts the Dalai Lama right there in a picture beside Saddam Hussein and Pat Robertson.

Sorry for not saying anything about it earlier. I just don't know enough about the Dalai Lama to say whether I find anything wrong with Hitchens's graphic. I'll grant that that I haven't heard the DL make the kind of offensive statements that Pat Robertson regularly does, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't have as much blood on his hands as Saddam, if that's what you're asking. On the other hand, the DL does seem to let mysticism command a lot of his thinking, his expressed interest in science notwithstanding, so I can see why Hitchens might want him on the other side of his wall.

Also, as you yourself said, it's a bit of a polemical device on Hitchens's part. I think he's partly being his outrageous self, and partly making the point that it's time to subject so-called religious moderates to some criticism for the role they play as shields for the fundamentalists. Also, I remind you of my reference to the Overton Window.

Also, I already know you see a little hyperbole as a good thing...as much as this nauseates me ...

Pretty weak stomach you got there. That is, if you're not engaging in a little hyperbole of your own.

Moving on...I suppose I would like it if you would answer these questions:

1) In engaging in this hyperbole, things are said which you literally don't agree with, right?

In the particular case of anti-religious diatribes, I would like you to ask me more specifically whether I agree with something or not. In general, I would concede that hyperbole, almost by definition, means that there are some elements that I don't literally agree with, yes.

2) Some of these things include statements which are not at all friendly to the category of the so-called "highly abstract theologians" you refer to. Right?

I guess, but again, I find your question too vague to answer very satisfactorily.

3) Don't you think that if the hyperbole goes beyond the specific category of monotheistic fundamentalists or what have you, that you have to live with that and not pretend that the movement is careful in who it targets?

I don't understand you here at all. As I said above, I don't know what you mean by "the movement." Also, I don't have a problem with Hitchens, or anybody else, issuing a blanket condemnation of faith-based thinking. I may not agree with every last one of his statements, and I may see more gradations than he does, but the last thing I want is for Christopher Hitchens to be "careful."

Basically, you have said that the "Four Horsemen" obviously aren't targeting the "highly abstract theologian" types ...

No. That's not what I said at all. Go back and read my earlier post again. I refuse to accept your attempt to portray the 4H club as speaking with one voice, especially when you get to the edges of their theses.

The rest of what you wrote after this kind of falls apart once you admit the falsity of your premise, but I'll address some of your specific points anyway.

First, to reiterate, I said that some of the "big four" books were written principally to attack mainstream religious beliefs. Hitchens is more sweeping in his criticism than Dawkins, for example, and Dawkins has explicitly said that his intended audience was not Oxford or Harvard theologians.

Second, there is a difference between writing a book not addressed to the upper echelons of theology and responding to the upper crust theologians who reviewed these books. There is also a difference between refusing to engage on abstract theological gnats and criticizing self-professed moderates for being apologists for fundamentalists. I'm not sure why you can't see these distinctions. I'm also not sure how much effort I want to put in on elaborating, here -- it's starting to feel like the attempt to explain different colors to a blind man.

Third, I wouldn't say that hyperbole "doesn't count." I would say, however, that it doesn't seem like too much to ask to distinguish a rhetorical technique from a central thesis.

I don't understand why you seem so bent on binary classification. Hitchens is neither "good" nor "bad;" these aren't the only possible ways to assess him. If you can't stand him, fine. But you're not going to back me into any corner where I have to choose according to your way of thinking. That corner doesn't exist, in my thinking. If you insist that there can only be two sides, then certainly, I'm with Hitch. In reality, there aren't only two sides.

Jay J
01-20-2008, 11:59 PM
bjkeefe,

This is the part of thprop's post that you choose to highlight and agree with:

"Jim attacks the 'neo-atheists' for not considering 20th century discoveries like the Big Bang, inflation, etc. But Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Hitchens, et al are not taking on alternative conceptions of 'god'. They are attacking the idea of a personal god ..."

In response to this, you said,

"I completely agree with the above and what followed in your post. Very well said. I am always impatient when highly abstract theologians attack the Four Horsemen on the basis that Jim Holt does. If the wingnuts were like these highbrow thinkers, we wouldn't have any need to attack religion, or at least much, much less. It's the ordinary, everyday forms that the leading monotheistic brands take that are what need to be defused."

Then I summarized what you said this way,

"Basically, you have said that the 'Four Horsemen' obviously aren't targeting the 'highly abstract theologian' types ..."

But you objected to the characterization this way,

"No. That's not what I said at all. Go back and read my earlier post again. I refuse to accept your attempt to portray the 4H club as speaking with one voice, especially when you get to the edges of their theses."

OK first, I never said the 4H club speaks with one voice. I claimed that you said that you agreed with thprop when he said that it's not alternative conceptions of god that the 4H club was taking on.

Now we know that you agreed with thprop's statement that the FH men were not taking on alternative conceptions of god, and we know that you said that highly abstract theologians were bothering you because of their approach to critiquing the FH club because, according to you, it is everyday monotheism that needs to be defused.

But highly abstract theologians are peddling something other than a personal god. You can simply declare that you don't know enough about the Dalai Lama, but as a leading Buddhist figure, he doesn't teach anything about a personal god.

Now I really don't know where you got your impression that I was talking about two sides, and explaining colors to a blind man, etc...I showed in my original post on the topic that I was aware of the gradations among the 4H club. But you are the one who endorsed the idea that it wasn't alternative conceptions of God that "Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Hitchens, et all" were taking on. Then you denied my characterization when I summarized you as saying that the 4H club was not attacking "abstract theologian types."

Now in trying to see how you could have disagreed with my summary of what you said, I thought to myself, "does bjkeefe think that I mean that the 4H club would never 'personally' attack a high-brow theologian?" Then I thought to myself, "Nah, he can see that what I mean is the content of what "highly abstract theologians" normally teach."

So on the one hand, you say that it is everyday monotheism that needs to be defused, and you say that you agree that the 4H club are not taking on alternative conceptions of god, but you disagree that highly abstract theologians are not targets of the 4H club. Maybe you can clear this up for me.

If you need me to elaborate more...I don't see Daniel Dennett as being responsible for Chris Hitchens. For one thing there is a degrees of separation thing. But Richard Dawkins says explicitly that he aligns himself with Chris Hitchens. Now, I never intended to categorize Daniel Dennett with Chris Hitchens, you did that for me by referring to them as the Four Horsemen.

So I don't think these four people need to agree on everything. But when you refer to them as the "Four Horsemen" and agree with the claim that they aren't taking on alternative conceptions of god, then the most hyperbolic statements coming from anyone in this...group of Four Horsemen...is problematic for the claim that only everyday monotheism is the problem and that only alternative conceptions of god are targeted.

It may be that a rhetorical technique is different from a central thesis. But I have seen Hitchens target things much broader than everyday monotheism. You admit that he is more sweeping in his attacks, so this shouldn't be too controversial. I think the problem is that as long as the hyperbole exists, then they count as claims coming from Chris Hitchens or whoever engages in the hyperbole. Then it is fair game for these high-brow or highly abstract theologians to critique whoever made the hyperbolic comments. It is no defense to say that it is not a part of the central thesis.

I also think that acting as if the central thesis is the only important part of the approach is not...accurate. I mean, I will admit to being "black or white" about one thing, either Chris Hitchens attacks highly abstract theological ideas or not. He either goes beyond everyday monotheism in his attacks or not. It doesn't matter whether it is on the edge of the...group of "Horsemen."

The reason that it doesn't matter is that you and thrope have said that it is everyday monotheism that needs to be defused and that alternative conceptions of god are not being taken on.

BTW, I find it hard to believe that you wouldn't prima facie, think that the Dalai Lama, not matter how "mystical," doesn't belong in a picture next to Pat Robertson, or especially Saddam Hussein. Also, it wasn't mysticism that you said was being targeted. It was everyday monotheism, and you agreed that alternative conceptions of god are not being taken on, then you say that perhaps Hitchens might want to put him on the other side of the wall because the Dalai Lama lets "mysticism" guide this thinking. But see, mysticism is what is being promoted by many "alternative" conceptions of god and by virtually all "highly abstract theologians." So this, according to what you said before, mysticism shouldn't be a crime of any sort.

And the idea that the Dalai Lama is a shield for fundamentalists is laughable. He doesn't even believe in god. He's not even a religious moderate. He's beyond moderate. He's liberal if anything at all.

To iterate my main point, I'm not bent on binary classification. You're the one who said what the Four Horsemen do, and yet you seem to agree that the hyperbole goes well beyond what you say they do. You're the one that created the tension in your position, not me.

bjkeefe
01-21-2008, 12:35 AM
Jay:

As is often the case when you and I tangle on these boards, it seems that we quickly devolve into "what I meant to say, what I understood you to say, what you missed in what I said," etc. It also feels like when you dispute something that I've said, you spend a lot of time focusing on elements that are not at all central to the point I was trying to make. It's like you're being a lawyer trying to poke holes in a deposition, and my own responses to you tend to degrade accordingly.

I'm not sure why we have this characteristic of talking past each other. Maybe you just like to quibble. I know I do, sometimes, but I'm not up for it this time around. I'm tired of you picking up tiny bits of lint from your view of Hitchens and Dawkins and trying to place me on the defensive with them.

If you want to push the reset button and try to start fresh on what points you're trying to make, fine. I'll be happy to do that, if you change your focus to what I think, and away from what I think about what those guys think. If you want to table this particular discussion and wait till the next one, that's also fine.

For the record (if you want to try to start this conversation over again):

o I find religious thinking to be limiting to humanity's progress and, at times, downright dangerous to humanity's existence. To that end, I am delighted that there are atheistic people out there with louder bullhorns and better rhetorical skills than mine, raising people's awareness. If some so-called religious moderates have their feelings hurt about this, I don't care. From where I stand, few of them are innocent. For every one moderate who deplores his fundamentalist brethren, there are ten or a hundred or a thousand who instead act as apologists, or at least give silent acquiescence.

o Apart from the placement of the image in this one picture, I have no idea what Hitchens thinks of the Dalai Lama. I am inclined to guess that Hitchens feels less compelled to invade Tibet as he does most of the Middle East, but that's just a guess. I think you're obsessing over this picture, and I don't see why. If you want me to acknowledge, once again, that I don't think the Dalai Lama is as dangerous as Pat Robertson or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, okay, I do so acknowledge. I will say that Hitchens saw through Mother Teresa long before most people did, so if he's got something in particular against the DL, then I am inclined to listen to his case. But I am not going to discuss any further what it might mean that Hitchens approved the insertion of the DL's face in a picture on his web site.

o Nor do I care what Hitchens, or anybody else, says about other forms of religion. My main concern, as far as religions go, is with the fundamentalist forms of Christianity in the US (I include Mormonism in that grouping.) My secondary concern is with radical forms of Islam and Judaism and brainwashing cults like Scientology. I don't know enough about other religions to care that much about them or to perceive them as a threat, except that I will state that I have never met an avowed Buddhist who wasn't killingly dull.

bjkeefe
01-21-2008, 12:38 AM
BN:

... I really wish that John hadn't stepped in to keep Jim from explaining the Riemann zeta hypothesis!! I'd love to hear more about math -- at a somewhat less philosophical level than John's question.

I strongly second that.

... I hope Jim does come back and talk about interesting mathematics (rather than philosophy of mathematics) for a whole hour on BloggingHeads some time soon.

And that.

e511
01-21-2008, 01:32 AM
well, i just mean that i can imagine-- in fact, find it hard not to imagine-- that there are other systems where our own mathematical axioms don't hold and where other, quite different and inconsistent (with ours) do. other worlds where, say, two points don't make a line. so: the former. do you disagree? by def it's hard for us to imagine..

Jay J
01-21-2008, 04:06 AM
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph...if I'm acting like a lawyer, Brendan, you're acting like a politician!!

I've asked you very specific questions that you refuse to answer.

YOU are the one who endorsed the view that Hitchens, Dawkins, etc, are not taking on alternative conceptions of religion, and you said that it's everyday monotheism that needs to be defused, and you are bothered by "highly abstract theologians" for failing to recognize these things.

But you see Brendan, you're wrong. You're wrong about that.

Because it's not just about everyday monotheism, and alternative conceptions of god are also on the shit-list.

You said

"I find religious thinking to be limiting to humanity's progress and, at times, downright dangerous to humanity's existence. To that end, I am delighted that there are atheistic people out there with louder bullhorns and better rhetorical skills than mine, raising people's awareness. If some so-called religious moderates have their feelings hurt about this, I don't care. From where I stand, few of them are innocent. For every one moderate who deplores his fundamentalist brethren, there are ten or a hundred or a thousand who instead act as apologists, or at least give silent acquiescence."

This conversation did not start out, and I have not asked about, how delighted you are that there are atheists with loud bullhorns and effective rhetorical skills. I also already know that you don't care if religious moderates get their feelings hurt, I already know your position on this, and it is not relevant to this exchange. This exchange is about whether or not Chris Hitchens (as one of the Four Horsemen, a term I had not heard until I saw you use it) goes beyond the bounds that you claimed the Four Horsemen stay within.

And do you really buy into that "if you're not a part of the solution then you're part of the problem" BS? The silence of a religious moderate (or liberal) should not be interpreted by anyone as approval of fundamentalism. If you're saying that there are ten or a hundred or a thousand religious moderates who act as apologists for fundamentalists for every one who deplores his fundamentalist brethren, what are you basing that on? If you wish to expand your claim to all the religious moderates who are silent, then this is really not an interesting claim at all, since almost everyone is silent about this on both sides.

You can say I'm obsessing over the picture, but that's mostly because you won't come to grips with what it means. It means that alternative conceptions of god are also being taken on, and it means that highly abstract metaphysical systems are also on the shit-list.

The problem with that is, you endorsed thprop's assertion that alternative conceptions of god are not being taken on, and you said that highly abstract theologians fail to recognize this and that it is really everyday monotheism that needs to be defused.

Brendan, you can't have it both ways.

Either "highly abstract theologians" have a legitimate bone to pick, seeing how Hitchens takes on highly abstract and even alternative conceptions of god, or Chris Hitchens doesn't do these things, in which case the critiques of Hitchens, et all, are really misplaced.

I only used the picture of the Dalai Lama as a concrete example of a general tendency on the part of Christopher Hitchens, which is to go above and beyond taking on only the idea of a "personal god," or everyday monotheistic conceptions of god. You have practically admitted this about Hitchens, regarding his general tendency, but you have not come to grips with what it means about your claims in response to thprop's earlier post.

This is really simple and straightforward stuff Brendan.

Jay J
01-21-2008, 05:03 AM
Hi Bloggin'

May I interject?

From what you've written, I think you have more experience on this topic than me, or are more informed. But it seems like some general categorization might help...at least me, in understanding the direction of the discussion.

I also see Platonism as positing abstract objects, rather than concrete. But this must mean that even without the matter, even without the physical material, these concepts would somehow still abide. The concepts (or at least the "truths") would have some ontological status, some "existence."

I find this very hard to swallow. On the other hand, I don't think it's satisfying to say that we completely "impose" mathematics on the world either.

It seems to me that the elements of the universe behave in certain...regular ways. We evolved in this universe, and as a result we have an ability to notice this regularity and to develop a language to describe it.

As far as the philosophy of mathematics goes, I don't know what's left out of this basic description. We develop symbols to describe and manipulate our environment, period. That mathematics is successful means to me that we're good at doing this. I also think it is good reason to believe that mathematics is telling us something that is true, but true about this universe.

I don't think an alien civilization would have square circles, but only because we control the definition. They probably don't have any married bachelors either. I don't mean this to be flippant, I only mean to illustrate my point, that insofar as there are "squares," they have a certain shape. The only thing I can glean from this is that a thing cannot be itself and something fundamentally different from itself at the same time. But this seems like a "mental construct" type of truth, rather than a fact we've discovered. To add anything to it seems like a deification of a rather mundane observation.

It seems to me that we have two definite ingredients: consciousness and matter. Consciousness is a whole 'nother kettle of fish, but it is relevant here insofar as we have the ability to notice and conceptualize the behavior of the material world. The material world behaves in a way so regular that we have a tendency to read some absolutes into its behavior, which has been pretty regular for a fairly long time...It's true that math is "out there" because the world is "out there" and behaves in a way which is regular enough for us to make some general assumptions about it. So I guess I'm a mathematical realist in a sense, but probably not a Platonist.

I should probably stop before I dig myself any deeper, but maybe for my sake, I should ask...what is it that we're trying to understand, or better yet, which philosophical question are we trying to solve? I don't mean this as a rhetorical question, I mean, I'm sure I'm overlooking something.

Jay J
01-21-2008, 06:28 AM
Bloggin,

This is a follow up to the longer reply I posted earlier. You'll probably read it first, which is fine, since this should be a quicker one.

I just wanted to say that I neglected to do what I set out to in my reply, which is to try and get some definitional grip on the topic, or even better, construct some usable categories, just for clarity. If the categories and definitions prove to clunky, fine, but for now, maybe it will help...again, maybe it will help me.

Also after reading and considering a few things, I think a good way to proceed is to quote something on another philosophy blog from a commenter:

Question 1. Do math statements correspond to anything extra-linguistic/extra-mental?

Question 2. If yes to Q1, then: are those extra-mental things physical or Platonic or something else?

For the record, if someone answered "No" to Question 1, they would be easily categorized as a mathematical "nominalist" and would believe that we more or less "impose" math on the environment. As for me, I think I can comfortably answer yes to question to Question 1, but I cannot bring myself to answer "Platonic" to Question 2.

I know there are some problems with answering "physical" to Question 2, for instance, where does our concept of infinity come from, since it certainly doesn't seem to be something we observe in our world? Though I don't have this ironed out yet, I have some tiny inklings, too immature to share yet. So I'm not out of the woods.

But I'm pretty confident that the price of Platonism is a little too high for me, such that I don't see what would make it worth paying the cost. With Platonism, I have to not only say that math statements correspond to things extra-linguistic and extra-mental, but I also have to say that math statements are essentially extra-physical.

With making math statements real, but not Platonic, I can account for the historical success and intuitive strength of math, without committing myself to the difficult position of believing in properties that are extra-linguistic, extra-mental, and on top, extra-physical.

bjkeefe
01-21-2008, 09:10 AM
Jay:

First, what part of this paragraph from my previous post --

If you want to push the reset button and try to start fresh on what points you're trying to make, fine. I'll be happy to do that, if you change your focus to what I think, and away from what I think about what those guys think.

-- did you not understand?

Ah, well. I'll give it one more shot.

I've asked you very specific questions that you refuse to answer.

Apart from the last three questions in your last post, which I took as rhetorical (to be polite) or a weak attempt at playing Socrates (to be honest), and therefore ignored (and stated why, last post), which questions have I failed to answer?

YOU are the one who endorsed the view that Hitchens, Dawkins, etc, [...] Because it's not just about everyday monotheism, and alternative conceptions of god are also on the shit-list.

For the last time: I do not think Hitchens and Dawkins (and Harris and Dennett) are identical in their aims. You might watch the videos I linked to here (http://bjkeefe.blogspot.com/2007/12/giddy-yup.html) to verify this.

Also for the last time: I was speaking about the books that they wrote and the views they expressed while publicizing those books. If you want to insist that one or some of these guys have moved on to other or larger targets, or that was the sinister agenda all along, okay, fine. However, I'm a little puzzled how you "know" this, unless you're basing everything on that one picture, a topic which I feel sure we'll be hearing more about.

This conversation did not start out, and I have not asked about, how delighted you are that there are atheists with loud bullhorns and effective rhetorical skills.

Imagine that: I tried to move on. Others might have seen what I wrote as an attempt to summarize where I was coming from.

And do you really buy into that "if you're not a part of the solution then you're part of the problem" BS?

Absolutely. Although, obviously, I wouldn't call it "BS."

And hey, what's the matter? All of the sudden you don't like binary choices?

All right, I'll grant that said statement is more of a bumper sticker than how I really view all things. Even in the case of religion, I will grant that there are a lot of people who are neither part of the problem nor part of the solution, but just part of the landscape. Some don't care and some just don't feel comfortable criticizing other people's faiths. Happy?

The silence of a religious moderate (or liberal) should not be interpreted by anyone as approval of fundamentalism.

Hey, you pass your judgments, and I'll pass mine. As I see it, whatever the reason, their silence enables a lot of craziness. So maybe I really do think they're part of the problem. Apathy is no excuse. Neither is a fetish for tolerance.

You can say I'm obsessing over the picture, but that's mostly because ...

Glad to see you're at least acknowledging your problem. That's the first step, or so I've heard.

... you won't come to grips with what it means. It means that alternative conceptions of god are also being taken on, and it means that highly abstract metaphysical systems are also on the shit-list.

Jay. Walk away from your keyboard and take a few breaths. You're starting to repeat yourself. See the third-from-the-top quote, above.

I don't know how more plainly to put it than this: It's. One. Picture.

So what? And even if it means everything you think it means: again, so what?

Believing in "alternative conceptions of god" is not exactly something that I'm impressed with. It's still faith-based thinking. I will grant that I'm less immediately concerned about some brands of religion than I am others, but it's always a problem for me when people want to make decisions that affect me based on their irrational and evidence-free beliefs.

As for "highly abstract metaphysical systems:" I won't condemn those out of hand, at least not with a sweeping statement. I'm not particularly interested in such matters, but I'm not, on principle, against other people thinking about them. However, I have a feeling that what you're mostly concerned about here is Buddhism, and I've already said my piece on that bit of magical thinking.

However, if you want to say that Buddhism and/or the Dalai Lama was just an example you were using, fine. In that case, I cannot speak to Hitchens's attitude about such matters, because I don't know what it is. If you want to quote or link to some of his writing on the matter, and ask my opinion of it, I'd be happy to offer it. But so far, I'm only hearing about That One Picture.

This is really simple and straightforward stuff Brendan.

On that, we can agree. I just don't see why you're getting so worked up about it. I'm sorry that I'm not going to accept your insistence that I choose one assertion or another that you'd like to make about Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett, with absolutely no other choice. I just don't see things that way.

To me (and this is really the last time I'm going to say this), the principle concern of The God Delusion, God is not Great, The End of Faith, and Breaking the Spell was criticism of common forms of religion as practiced by everyday people. There may well be other issues that the authors of these books touched on in those books, or have since or elsewhere raised. I don't know why making these two statements is "trying to have it both ways" or is anything that I need to "come to grips with."

Wolfgangus
01-21-2008, 10:23 AM
I certainly don't see how he thinks alien beings could wind up with a totally different mathematics from ours -- could alien beings somewhere else in the universe could possibly come up with a mathematics that permitted square circles or greatest primes?

They could indeed, much of our mathematics is an accident of what we choose to investigate and how we choose to frame problems. Pi isn't going to change, but a 3-D society (think octopi) might not recognize Pi as 3.14159265, they might prefer 4.18879, which is 4Pi/3, and the constant used in calculating the volume of a sphere. If they are pragmatic, they might have ignored prime number theory so much as to not recognize the series of numbers as anything other than noise; they might simply be far more interested in wave mechanics and fluid dynamics. They might not have invented anything close to calculus; that is pretty much an accident of how Newton and Leibniz argued it out and decided to phrase the initial problems; and with some alternative rules about characterizing the size of infinities and zeros, all of modern calculus can be recast as something distinctly not-calculus (the obscure arithmetic of infinitesimals is what I have in mind, but certainly other systems would work as well).

A great deal of our mathematics springs from the accident of us being land-dwellers and thus developing a two dimensional geometry of drawing lines in the dirt, and rules that relate to drawing lines in the dirt. One of the most heavily used axioms in mathematics is the Triangle Inequality, for example, which states that in any non-degenerate triangle (in a degenerate triangle all three points are on the same line), the sum of the lengths of two sides exceeds the length of the third side. What is the equivalent axiom for beings that do not think in planar terms? Similarly with the Pythagorean Theorem; it may simply seem unimportant to them, as the number of finite topologies (a definite number that is not currently known for a general collection of points) is unimportant to us; a mere mathematical curiosity we don't know how to compute (last I checked).

The basics of arithmetic seem unlikely to change much, and the idea of certain ratios like Pi are unlikely to change, but if we leave behind arithmetic and start talking about mathematics, I think aliens would have taken a distinctly different route than we have taken. They may not have invented set theory, for example, which is considered the foundation of most mathematics (and still taught to every undergraduate majoring in Mathematics). They might not have discovered binary logic; there are workable systems of logic that apply more universally to the real world that consider everything in terms of probabilities, including things that have already happened. Our sense of discreteness is one of the reasons we had (and have) trouble accepting quantum theory, it is a quirk of the human mind to reject the idea that something is neither alive nor dead.

The same thing with your argument about the circle; we know nothing is perfectly circular or perfectly square, and some alien thought might consider all objects to be both to different degrees, and doesn't adhere to our sense of discrete shapes. For example, a sonar-using water alien might be able to simply reproduce the echo of a shape it has in mind, and thus not communicate in discrete shape concepts like "circle" and "square" at all.

I think a great deal of our arithmetic and the vast majority of our non-arithmetic mathematics is probably peculiar to the human mind. There is some core set of ideas, which we clumsily express in set theory (or a subset of set theory) that is probably common. It seems reasonable to count things, for example. But when we get to ratios like Pi, too much depends on choices which we have internalized as the "right" choices but could just as easily be otherwise. For example, 0.31831 is a good approximation of the inverse of Pi, how to find the radius of a circle given the circumference. Or, if our alien likes to think in squares, .886227 is what he must multiply the diameter of a circle by in order to find the edge of a square with equivalent area. An alien might see 0.886227 as near magical and view 3.141593 with incomprehension.

Steven
01-21-2008, 01:38 PM
This (http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/8185?in=00:44:46&out=00:44:56) threw me for a loop.

bjkeefe
01-22-2008, 02:24 AM
Nice catch. I never even realized the root nature of the word before.

Jay J
01-27-2008, 08:38 PM
bjkeefe,

You said that you see Buddhism as relying on "magical thinking" and that believing in 'alternative conceptions of God' is not something you're impressed with. You also say that you don't know Hitchens' attitude opinion such matters is.

The problem is, you endorsed thprop's post, the one that said that Dawkins, Hitchens, etc, weren't taking on "alternative conceptions of god." As a matter of fact, you said, in response to thprop's post, "I completely agree..." Then you talked about how it annoyed you when "highly abstract theologians" attack the "Four Horsemen" the way Jim Holt did in the diavlog.

OK, bj, do you at least see the tension in your position? You've said that Chris Hitchens doesn't take on "alternative conceptions of god" and that it's annoying when highly abstract theologians apparently overlook this and attack the four horsemen anyway.

Can you at least admit that you lack the relevant knowledge to make such a claim, if in fact you "don't know" Hitchens' attitude regarding such matters?

bjkeefe
01-27-2008, 09:07 PM
Give it a rest, Jay.

Jay J
01-27-2008, 09:44 PM
bjkeefe,

I'm breaking up my posts into several smaller ones, so hopefully this way nothing will be lost, and hopefully you will reply either to each of them individually, or capture the spirit of each in your response. If in fact you do respond, since you stomped your figurative foot and said "this is the last time" several times in your last response.

This post is devoted to the fact that my questions to you have been fairly straight-forward. I never said the Four Horsemen have to agree on everything. I never said any of the people who could be referred to in this group are all good or all bad. I'm not sure why this is the track you have chosen to take.

By admitting that Chris Hitchens engages in hyperbole, and admitting that to a degree, hyperbole would almost by definition include things you don't agree with, I thought that the one picture would be enough of an illustration. I did a google search and came up with a couple more things, but I'll wait to post them in my next post. For the record, I've seen the guys you refer to do more than target 'monotheistic' or 'personal' conceptions of god, but I knew that would be anecdotal. So I did a quick google search, and that doesn't take very much time, so I would imagine that it didn't turn up each and every single relevant comment.

Anyway, the point of this post is to try to disabuse you of the notion that I am claiming that Daniel Dennett is responsible for Chris Hitchens or vice versa, or that any group you refer to is under any obligation to speak with one voice.

What I am saying is that you made a claim, and if that claim is violated by even one member of the group, then the claim you made is false.

For example, if I said, referring to Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and Wesley Clark, "The Three Amigos don't say things which are blatantly untrue about Barack Obama's positions." See all you would have to do to prove me wrong is come up with one statement by Bill Clinton which contradicted my sentence, then the WHOLE statement of mine would be false. That would not mean that you were saying that the three people I referred to must speak with one voice, or that one was responsible for what the other said. If I had said, again referring to the same three people, "The Three Amigos don't say things which are hazy and amorphous enough to give a false impression about Barack Obama," all you would have to do is provide me with a couple of examples of Hillary being vaguely misleading about Obama's record, and that should count as enough for me to retract my statement.

If I said, referring to George W. and Laura Bush, "The Two Peas in a Pod do not order invasions of Middle Eastern countries," all you would have to do is offer up the example of Iraq, and that would mean that I was wrong. If I began saying things like, "I don't know why you think the Bush's must speak with one voice," or "The Bush's are not all good, or all bad," or "I don't see things in this binary way" these would not be appropriate responses since I would have been the one who started out with the specific claim, which set the tone for the discussion.

When you endorsed thprop's position, and you said that it annoyed you when "highly abstract theologians" attack the "Four Horsemen" along lines other than ones having to do with versions of monotheistic or personal deities, you essentially said "The Four Horsemen are only out to critique monotheistic or personal versions of God, they aren't taking on alternative conceptions of god."

OK?

So all it should take is a couple of examples that show religious conceptions which aren't monotheistic or personal being taken on, to cause you to withdraw your claim.

In your last post to me, you said,

"To me (and this is really the last time I'm going to say this), the principle concern of The God Delusion, God is not Great, The End of Faith, and Breaking the Spell was criticism of common forms of religion as practiced by everyday people. There may well be other issues that the authors of these books touched on in those books, or have since or elsewhere raised. I don't know why making these two statements is 'trying to have it both ways' or is anything that I need to 'come to grips with."

Brendan, if you had made this statement to begin with, instead of the one you did, it wouldn't be a problem. Trying to "have it both ways" becomes relevant when you claim that the "Four Horsemen" aren't in fact taking on alternative conceptions of god and that highly abstract theologians should recognize that, then defending a picture of the Dalai Lama next to Saddam Hussein by saying that Buddhism engages in "magical thinking."

Either the "Four Horsemen" show a high level of self-discipline in sticking to the target of monotheistic religion and personal gods (as you said) or they don't. It's an empirical claim, it is not my fault that it is binary by its very nature. We should keep our eye on the ball. In this case, the ball is the very straightforward statement you made to begin this sub-thread.

The examples are forthcoming...

Jay J
01-27-2008, 09:47 PM
I was hoping that a week would give you a chance to see through whatever it is blocking your vision, so you could see what I am saying...I posted another response to you.

I was in the process of breaking up my posts to you so that you could take them one at a time.

I waited a week, decided to come back and post a few responses, and about 30 minutes after my first you shoot back,

"Give it a rest Jay."

LOL...

Well I've already posted another one and I've got another to go...

So rest all you want bj...I'm not finished yet.

Jay J
01-27-2008, 10:51 PM
bjkeefe,

You seem to be allowing that Hitchens or Dawkins or whoever might stray from the party line you laid out in your original comment, but that you are only asserting that they have a sort of main point that is all the same.

The problem is, who is to say what is worthy of response or not? I perceive these guys as making attacks and assertions which go outside of monotheism or personal gods, you perceive them as keeping their attacks relevant only to these categories.

The only thing to do is to cite a couple of examples, and I don't see why it would even matter if they aren't the official party line or something, once they're said, it's fair to respond to them, right? Good, then the "highly abstract theologians" are not unjustified in their participation in the debate, since it's more than just monotheistic or personal god conceptions being taken on.

OK, so here we go:

In God is not Great, Chris Hitchens says,

"Those who become bored by conventional 'Bible' religions, and seek 'enlightenment' by way of the dissolution of their own critical faculties into nirvana in any form, had better take a warning. They may think they are leaving the realm of despised materialism, but they are still being asked to put their reason to sleep, and to discard their minds along with their sandals."

I wouldn't be surprised if one could find examples of localized versions of Buddhism which included several highly superstitious claims, but unlike Western Monotheism, it's not clear at all that this version is predominate. Many forms of Buddhism could be called "alternative conceptions" of god, seeing how there is not a personal god in Buddhism. Much of what "highly abstract theologians" have in mind when they critique Hitchens or Dawkins is Eastern concepts which aren't monotheistic or personal, but nevertheless fall outside materialism. Buddhism is so highly thought of by Sam Harris that he refused to categorize it as a religion at all.

The Wikipedia entry on Hitchens agrees with my interpretation of Hitchens, when it says,

"In his book, God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Hitchens expanded his criticism to include all religions, including those rarely criticized by Western antitheists such as Hinduism and neo-paganism."

If I were you, I wouldn't hang my hat on Chris Hitchens ever staying to close to a central message. Not only does he specifically attack other god-concepts, but he's all over the place in debate...I agreed very much with Bob Wright when he said "Christopher Hitchens is intellectually sloppy."

On Richard Dawkins, he often touts reductionist materialism, and this would preclude ALL religious concepts, alternative or not.

In a 1995 article published in the Scientific American titled, "God's Utility Function," Dawkins says,

"The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference."

In interview with Beliefnet, Richard Dawkins said,

"I've met plenty of people who call themselves religious, but when you actually probe, when you ask them in detail what they believe, it turns out to be this very same awe and wonder that Wilson and Einstein talked about. If they're genuinely intelligent, it does not involve the supernatural. Unless they were brought up that way..."

Ok so Richard Dawkins believes that if anyone who wasn't brought up religious ever includes supernatural thinking in their belief system, they are not genuinely intelligent. He also sees the universe, as having, at bottom, "no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference."

I hope you can see that ANY conception of God, alternative or otherwise, would qualify as "supernatural," since naturalism doesn't tell us anything about divinity. And any conception of god would be ruled out by a universe with "no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference."

I have seen Richard Dawkins on several occasions rely on this kind of reductionist-materialist thinking. And I've seen Christopher Hitchens engage in sloppy thinking on many occasions, and in particular I've seen him clump just about any conception of god, alternative or otherwise, into the same category with Monotheistic or personal conceptions of god.

It took me about 20 minutes using Goodle to find these references, so it follows that if I had a while to research, I come probably come up with more. Along with the picture of the Dalai Lama, and your admission that hyperbole generally means that you don't agree with all of it, I don't see why you can't just admit that your original claim in this mini-thread was off-base.

It doesn't matter if Sam Harris is impressed with Buddhist thought, or if Daniel Dennett remains agnostic on whether or not the world would be a better place without religion. YOU are the one who categorized them all together as "The Four Horsemen." And it doesn't matter if the group you refer to often explicitly claims that they're keeping their claims to everday god-concepts. What matters is whether or not the group you cited goes beyond what you say they do. If Richard Dawkins and/or Christopher Hitchens stray beyond the bounds you claimed they stayed within, then you were wrong to say what you did, and you ought to acknowledge it.

I actually find it hard to believe how you could be so confident that, even if there were a central message, that the personally held beliefs of each..."Horsemen" wouldn't creep in pretty frequently. In Dawkins's case, it is that ANY supernatural concept is not intelligent, and that the universe has "no purpose, no good, no evil, only pitiless indifference." In Hitchens' case, it is that virtually all god-concepts are ridiculous.

In either Dawkins' or Hitchens' case, it becomes apparent that more than only personal or monotheistic versions of god are being taken on, in which case, it is fair for "highly abstract theologians" to respond.

bjkeefe
01-28-2008, 02:52 AM
Give it a rest, Jay.