Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Scott Pruett's 10 Questions for Atheists: Part 3

6 comments
This is part 3 and the final part of Scott Pruett's 10 Questions for Atheists, following from part 1 and part 2, yesterday.

6 Meaning
In the atheist worldview we are products of time, chance, and blind forces - there is no objective meaning and value to our human existence. Yet our deepest longing is for our lives to count for something. We intuitively know that humans have rights and dignity.Does life really have no point other than what you pretend for your own sake? Will you say, like atheist philosopher Albert Camus, that the only serious question is "suicide?" What values and purpose will you instill in your children? Will you be honest with them, or will you borrow ideas from some non-atheistic belief system so as not to disappoint?
No there is no such thing as an "atheist worldview" and there are many naturalist worldviews. For all naturalists, we are wholly part and parcel of the natural world but this does not necessarily imply there is no objective meaning or value, far from it knowing that we are fully part of the natural world provides a more plausible and realistic basis for meaning and purpose than supernatural alternatives.

The longing for our lives to count for something is more easily met with such naturalistic worldviews than the type of theistic worldview that Pruett espouses. Indeed such theistic worldviews deny there is any objective meaning in anyone's lives, instead making it be dictated beyond our control or wishes by some non-existent entity whose existence can only be subjective known, making us serfs, slaves or mere cogs in the machine to serve some purpose of some imaginary being. And this is meant to provide meaning in our lives!!! Such a view makes any of our interests, projects, goals, count for nought, there is no point seeking a cure for cancer, helping a person cross the road, giving the impoverished tools to climb out of poverty, providing music or art for the enjoyment of many, communicating ideas to educate and edify, all of it means nothing, according to Pruett's theism unless one is primarily operating according to the direction of some god which has often actively sought to suppress and deny such benefits to all. What a truly impoverished and demeaning view of anyone's life. Thank goodness there is no evidence that it is true.

As usual the burden is on Pruett to provide a satisfactory answer to is own question. I don't think he can do it.

7 The Mind
In the world of atheism, where there is no soul or transcendent "self," humans are simply biological machines, and our minds are just computers made out of meat. With this in view there is really no room for something like freewill, since we are all just operating according to our "programming" and our environmental influences. And there are great difficulties in conceding that chemistry can produce something as abstract as "consciousness," or at least anything qualitatively different from what we ourselves might ultimately produce using computer technology. Are you prepared to accept the idea that no one is really morally responsible for their bad behavior and, conversely, that virtuous behavior is not commendable? In what way will you seek to convince me that I am really not a conscious and self-aware being; that it is just a complex biochemical illusion? Can you accept that computer programs may one day be just as much "persons" as you, yourself?
There are so many mistaken presumptions in the preamble and then the questions do not really follow. Anyway:

Most importantly Pruett is labouring under a misc-conception that free will is required for moral responsibility. As far I know it is the opposite, that with such a conception of free will that Pruett espouses there can be no moral responsibility. So yet again it is up to Pruett to show how it is even possible to have moral responsibility with contra-causal supernatural free will.

Why should I seek to convince you that you are not a conscious or self-aware being, as far as I know you, I and everyone is and such capacities are due to being part of the natural world. The real question is why is Pruett is not using this capacity but then my whole set of answers here is addressing that. Others like Barefoot Bum can quite correctly ask why I bother.

As for computer "programs" I doubt it, as for some form of bio-electronic devices it is more likely. Then again I failt to see what being conscious has do with being a moral agent, we already have intelligent agents systems and questions of moral interactions can be applied there just as they can amongst us and such intelligent agents are no conscious. More pertinently it is beholden on you Pruett to endeavour to understand these issues before you could make explicit or implicit pronouncements on this matter. Why should anyone care what you think given the amount of ignorance displayed in your questions?

8 Supernatural Experiences
Every known time and culture is rich with stories of near death experiences, ghosts, angels, demons, prophetic dreams and visions, and miraculous healings. While some of these are certainly spurious or not well documented, others have reasonable experimental support. In addition to this, humans seem to be incurably religious; the idea of God and the spiritual is deeply entrenched in the human psyche, if not in its actual experience. What are we to make of all this? If man is simply an adapted biological organism, then how is it that we did not manage to adapt to our natural environment in this area - why are we not "naturalists" rather than theists? Can't any of this be a hint toward reality, or must we think that the bulk of humanity flirts with insanity?
Really there is not very much here. I have no doubt that many have had supernatural experiences and there is a reasonable amount of research on such phenomena. However the issues is over what those experiences entail and the answer is pretty much zilch, that is there is no supernatural world we have been able to detect and test. Not even those who have such experiences can agree on these entailments and we have no independent means to discriminate over these differences.

The idea of God (that is a single omniscient, omnipotent, omni-benevolent etc.) is not deeply entrenched in the human psych as anyone who has the slightest knowledge of history and anthropology could tell you Pruett. As could many present day Buddhists, Zen students, Adviata Vedanta practitioners and many others. How about you do some research on your questions before asking them. Is that too much to ask? Or do you have an incredibly high embarrassment threshold?

9 Case for Christ
The case for the Jesus of Scripture is extremely compelling. There is good evidence that the New Testament was written in the generation of the Apostles. We have thousands of copies of these documents in their source language, some of which go back inside of 100 years after Jesus' death. There is no evidence of significant corruption in the known manuscripts. There is no motivation and evidence for fraud among the apostles and church fathers - most died martyr's deaths. The trend of archaeology is toward validation, not denial, of what it is possible to confirm in Scripture. Even non-biblical manuscripts support various key details of Christian theology. The burden of proof is generally on the one seeking to deny historical records.What alternative explanation do you offer to the New Testament documentation and the tradition of the church, and what support do you have for your theory?Is it because of the miracles that you doubt the Scriptures? If Jesus really were God in the flesh, how would you expect Him to confirm that fact?
This is surely the stupidest question yet as it does not follow in any way from the previous 8 questions. If this is a theist addressing an atheist the question would surely be about the challenge of religion per se, rather than Pruett's particular version of religion. Pruett has commit ed the typical category error common in such debates. The question should be, on Pruett's (false) assumption that the atheist has not been able to satisfactorily answer the previous 8 questions (which as anyone could tell Pruett is actually rather easy not hard hard at all) as to what possible basis can an atheist choose one religion over another? The question should be set in terms of selecting a religion that could provide better answers to those previous 8 questions that the atheist is (supposedly) unsatisfied with. Pruett cannot ask that because his Christianity with its most highly questionable evidence - and a red herring here - is an incredibly complex and messy way to answer those questions and many other religions can provide far more satisfactory answers - such as atheistic Buddhism to name one.

There is a repeat pattern here, Pruett is continually asking loaded questions where a straight answer generally affirm the bias he has built in. As usual the riposte is really to see if Pruett can answer these himself in a satisfactory manner, rather than to assume that he already has. This question 9 is interesting in this respect as it hides the huge credibility gap from the previous 8 as I hope my previous paragraph made clear. So Pruett why did you chose this religion over the others, could you please show which is the most parsimonious way to have a satisfactory answer to the previous 8, granted the need for a religious answer?. Since the only way to get to the type of answer implicit in question 9 is to ignore parsimony, on what basis can you reject parsimony and other such criterion - without question begging?

10 Rational Faith
Christians are often accused of being simple-minded, superstitious, or irrational.
Really Pruett you should be wary of generalising from personal experience don't you think? There are plenty of intelligent Christians out there.
Is it so unreasonable for us to believe that the universe had a beginning because it actually was created; the laws of physics are so fine-tuned because it had a designer; people are preoccupied with good and evil because they are real things; we long for purpose and meaning because they exist to be had; life from non-life really is miraculous; consciousness and freewill seem real because they are; people are incurably religious because there is actually something real in religion; and the historical case for Jesus is so tenacious because it is actually true? If there really is no meaning or purpose to life, no objective good or evil, and the existence of "truth" itself is open to debate, by what standard will you condemn the beliefs of Christians?
Since I have more than satisfactorily answered Pruett's questions, indeed far better than his own answers, and in a quite contrary way to Pruett's presumptions about what my answers would be, I have more than I need to condemn Pruett's biased, ignorant and poor reasoning and would similarly condemn anyone who endorses such thinking, Christian or not, but only to the degree such reasoning is used to cause harm to others.

Hat tip to Db0 and I will now go and read his answers.

6 comments:

Tom Gilson said...

Wow. You wrote, "Since I have more than satisfactorily answered Pruett's questions, indeed far better than his own answers, and in a quite contrary way to Pruett's presumptions about what my answers would be, I have more than I need to condemn Pruett's biased, ignorant and poor reasoning."

Allow me to point out from your first post in this series, "I think it is likely there is other life on the universe but it certainly does not remotely look like it is finely tuned for life." Are you aware that it looks that way to informed scientists? You added, "It might appear to be incredibly unlikely but the same would apply to any sentient being asking this question in their universe." You probably haven't read John Leslie's response to that.

In part 2 you wrote, "These might 'appear to stand outside of nature' but where is the evidence that this is actually so. Logic and mathematics are produced - whether discovered or invented - by naturally occurring entities - namely us (well maybe not Pruett :-) ) - and we are certainly part and parcel of the natural world - as far as we can tell to date."

Your answer is so far from the relevant question it's unbelievable.

In part 3, "The longing for our lives to count for something is more easily met with such naturalistic worldviews than the type of theistic worldview that Pruett espouses. Indeed such theistic worldviews deny there is any objective meaning in anyone's lives, instead making it be dictated beyond our control or wishes by some non-existent entity whose existence can only be subjective known, making us serfs, slaves or mere cogs in the machine to serve some purpose of some imaginary being."

This is a complete misrepresentation of Christianity. If it were an accurate representation it might count as an answer. But you complained that Pruett misrepresented the "atheist worldview," and the same complaint can and should be leveled right back at you.

Also, "Most importantly Pruett is labouring under a misc-conception that free will is required for moral responsibility. As far I know it is the opposite, that with such a conception of free will that Pruett espouses there can be no moral responsibility."

And "Why should I seek to convince you that you are not a conscious or self-aware being, as far as I know you, I and everyone is and such capacities are due to being part of the natural world."

As far as you know? Do you think that counds as "satisfactorily answering Pruett's questions, indeed far better than his own answers"? Do you realize the philosophical conundrum posed by the question of determinism and moral responsibility? Do you have any awareness of all concerning Dennett's conclusions regarding consciousness? Does "as far as I know" count as an answer?

On question 9, "This is surely the stupidest question yet as it does not follow in any way from the previous 8 questions. If this is a theist addressing an atheist the question would surely be about the challenge of religion per se, rather than Pruett's particular version of religion."

What is stupid about asking a question that doesn't follow from the previous 8? What rule of intelligence dictates that each question must "follow from" the previous ones? (Quick answer to that question: there is no such rule, nor do I think anybody would think of proposing one.) Further: Pruett is not arguing for religion per se but for Christianity. It's entirely appropriate for him to bring in evidences for it. You yourself asked how someone should choose one religion over another. Pruett's question 9 points to his answer (and mine). What on earth makes you think it stupid for him to bring up an answer to a question you consider important?

You absolutely have not answered Pruett's questions. I appreciate your pointing to my blog as an example of thinking Christianity. I would point at Pruett's questions as another very good example of the same. And I would suggest that you be less quick to condemn that which you do not understand. Your lack of understanding is all too apparent here. I would encourage you to do some real study and understand what Pruett is really saying, and what Christianity really is.

faithlessgod said...

Hi Tom

First I am surprised that you endorse Pruett. I woud have expected you, if you had answered at all, to disavow him or at least claim he was a poor representative of your approach. To endorse someone who has displayed some blatant stupidiity - most infamously in his fossils/pre-biotic comment - is very surprising. I had thought better of you.

Fine-TuningMy response was a (deliberately) off the cuff view based on a background as a statistican and mathematical modeller. A quick check seems to be confirmed by others who have spent time on this and have come up with similar points only more researched and argued for. If you provide a link to John Leslie I am happy to see what he has to say.

Transcendent PrinciplesYou said: "Your answer is so far from the relevant question it's unbelievable."Pruett's position is entirely unconvincing and this is a topic I have had great interest in in the past. You have not presented an argument in reply. I have said my answer is in line with Lackoff's and if you wish to make an argument against that then go ahead. Emtpy comments as yours here carry no weight.

MeaningYou said: "This is a complete misrepresentation of Christianity. If it were an accurate representation it might count as an answer. But you complained that Pruett misrepresented the "atheist worldview," and the same complaint can and should be leveled right back at you."Exactly my point. If you want to understand any atheist conception of meaning you have to suspend beleif in your God. If you do not, as Pruett failed to here, yoo end up completely misrepresenting any atheist's position on meaning.

The MindYou said: "As far as you know? Do you think that counds as "satisfactorily answering Pruett's questions, indeed far better than his own answers"? Do you realize the philosophical conundrum posed by the question of determinism and moral responsibility? Do you have any awareness of all concerning Dennett's conclusions regarding consciousness? Does "as far as I know" count as an answer?"
Well since you ask this question interested me so much I did a Masters Degree in it and this was the topic of my dissertation. So, in this case, I have a far better than a well read layman's opinion on this. And since you ask, what do you know?

ChristianityYou said: "What is stupid about asking a question that doesn't follow from the previous 8? What rule of intelligence dictates that each question must "follow from" the previous ones?Of course there is no rule but there was a clear intent in Pruett in forumulating these questions and the only resonable intepretation of them is that the last two provide answers to the first 8 - supposedly better than an atheist can come up with, at least Pruett erroneously repumes. But Pruett's presumption is quite wrong as I and many others have shown.

If Pruett is to assume that religion and theism can provide an answer to these first 8 questions than others then he needs to establish that religion is the way to go and he has not done so.

You said:"You yourself asked how someone should choose one religion over another."Which presumes that religion is the way to go. Have you considered which religion, if that is needed, can best provide the answer to those questions> Surely a more spartan Buddhism and other athesitic ones seem to provide far simpler and clearer answers than the Christianity with its addtional baroque assumptions which appear to overwhelm the issues deslt with in the first 8 questions? That is why it appears question 9 to be such a huge and unjustified leap.

You said:Pruett's question 9 points to his answer (and mine)."Maybe you are so used to this that you cannot see this question sticks out like a sore thumb?

You said:"What on earth makes you think it stupid for him to bring up an answer to a question you consider important?"Why do you think I consider it important? I do not. Since I have more than satisfactory answers to those first 8 question, certainly more than Pruett why would I need to look any further? Why do you and Pruett consider this question important?

You said: "You absolutely have not answered Pruett's questions".The mere fact that I have, as anyone can read, refutes this claim.

ConclusionYou said:"I appreciate your pointing to my blog as an example of thinking Christianity".I am trying not to revise my opinion that you are a far better person, indeed one of the best on the internet, to discuss these issues with someone like Pruett.

You said: "And I would suggest that you be less quick to condemn that which you do not understand.This was my point over Pruett, mkaing presumptions over topisc he did not understand. Are you attempting to include yourself in this category too? The only topic I do not understand in ths list is religion and I noted elsewhere recently that I made a genuine attempt in my youth and wasted fsr too much time on that and have no interest in going backwards.

You said:"Your lack of understanding is all too apparent here. I would encourage you to do some real study and understand what Pruett is really saying, and what Christianity really is."This can only apply to question 9 and 10 I clearly have a far better understanding of Pruett's first 8 questoins than he does - as does every atheist who has replied, at least the ones I have read. In order for me to spend new time on such topics I need to see evidence and a need that this can satisfy and I have seen none. I will study any subject that I am ainterested in, have time for, there is evidence that it an lead to knwoeldge and there is a likely benefit, if only in understanding . Religion offers none of this, and ss the saying goes, been there, done that. My current interst has been ethics and a renewed interest in economics - I used be in quantative finance (I am blowing off the cobwebs on that at the moment my disucssions with you ahve been interesting but distracting from this). Both seem far more relevant to the issues of today's society than anachronistic and antiquated religion.

Given that you seem to surprisingly agree with Pruett and are now displaying the same ignorant arrogance that he does, I suggest you study some physics, biology, psychology, mathematics and philosophy of mind. You dont have to do it to graduate or beyond level as I have done but a genuine effort would be a start. And you cannot do this by presupposing the correctness of your theistic point of view or just from apologist texts. You have to leave such beleifs at the door and see what you find.

faithlessgod said...

I have rebuilt the comment back into blogger without the noise. I have not revised it,in case you read the previous version.

faithlessgod said...

Changed to comments popup. This works much nicer for longer comments, it is easier to cut and past and the prereview look correct.

This seem the best compromise since IntenseDebate, Disqus do not install and JS-Kit Comments install but is brain dead and crashes.

Adam Ricco said...

"Yet our deepest longing is for our lives to count for something. We intuitively know that humans have rights and dignity.Does life really have no point other than what you pretend for your own sake?"

This question strikes at the heart of the theist / atheist debate. Realising that there is no monotheistic god validating our existence, does pose the nagging question what is the meaning of life?

The very clear answer is that our purpose is to reproduce. While it may be difficult to accept that there is no grander purpose to the universe. It is a simple fact that inanimate objects such as rocks and planets have no purpose except what is giving to them by living things.

Accepting our simple reproductive purpose may seem nihilistic, but it is the key to the most rewarding life. If we invest in our children and loved ones, and we do the same for others and they for us, society will benefit and we will lives that are highly fulfilled.

Adam Ricco

faithlessgod said...

Hi Adam

"This question strikes at the heart of the theist / atheist debate. Realising that there is no monotheistic god validating our existence, does pose the nagging question what is the meaning of life?"In my case I never had a mono or otherwise theistic god t validate my existence, This was, and is, a quite alien concept to me. I have never needed it and it does appear as I describe in my answer - the negation of meaning and purpose.

Still I recognise that others do find meaning this way and that is fine. I also disagree that my meaning is determined by the purpose of reproduction. Still I recogniser that you can find that valid.

So I have my answer, you have yours and a theists has hers and that is the end of the matter. Pruett's ignorant mistake, and arrogance, was in thinking that there is only one answer and it is the implications of having that answer thrust upon the rest of us, which is what I was really addressing. That is how dare anyone else dictate to me, or to you, what the meaning of my, or your, life should be.