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Outcompeting God

By all accounts from Genesis, God is really a pretty boring guy, if not actually evil. All that power, and yet all he could muster was cold, hungry, naked savages who died at very early ages, most often by awful diseases. What an asshole! I’d have done one hell of a lot better than that.

Man himself, being far more benevolent and Good, has managed to do what God couldn’t or wouldn’t by curing lots of those awful diseases that kill children and put adults in early graves. In so doing, man, through his unGodly Goodness, has quadrupled his lifespan. Man: Good. God: a real asshole.

Anyway, because man is good, he continues to strive for progress in accomplishing what God can’t, or won’t.

(link: Paul)

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

50 Comments

  1. Rich on August 24, 2005 at 13:13

    Honesty demands the fullest integration of reality into the widest context possible. That's what I've done, and though harshly worded and offensive to some, it represents the very pinnacle of honesty in such matters.

  2. Richard Nikoley on August 24, 2005 at 18:58

    "to the extent he exists at all…."

    Well, Gary, that's the underlying point, now, isn't it?

  3. Richard Smith on August 24, 2005 at 12:59

    well.. guess you could look at it like that. . .

  4. gary on August 24, 2005 at 15:35

    I like to think of God as more incompetent than evil, to the extent he exists at all….

  5. Kyle Bennett on August 25, 2005 at 07:48

    Eddy,

    One of the more awful things man has done was to invent God. We're still paying for that one after thousands of years.

  6. Rich on August 25, 2005 at 08:53

    Well Eddy, most of the awful things man has done has been in the name of the God fiction.

    Kevin, you're not integrating far enough, man. The point is that all goodness comes from man (where else could it come from). And, as above, a whole lot of the evil is done in the name of God or made-up interpretations of his made-up commandments.

  7. Kyle Bennett on August 25, 2005 at 09:23

    Kevin,

    Yes, the cute furry creatures of the forest live in perfect peaceful harmony. Kumbayah.

    The fact that you complain about what man has done, and that you expect that complaint to have some effect, indicates that you do in fact believe that we've learned something. As Richard says, it is only in the context of man that we even have the concept of 'good'. Man isn't just good, he is the standard of good. Men – *individual* men – are either good or bad or somewhere in between.

  8. Rich on August 25, 2005 at 13:48

    Doug, perhaps you weren't aware that I was a bible student in college, for a time. At any rate, the Genesis reference was simply intended as a loose reference to creation. I'm well aware that the Garden of Eden myth had to be concocted after-the-fact in order to reconcile the real human condition (often miserable) with the myth of a God of goodness.

    So, if you don't believe in God, which is certainly a rational position to take, then what is your standard of good?

  9. Rich on August 25, 2005 at 14:56

    Doug:

    Deeper, please. Note that I didn't say "basis," I said "standard." In other words, by what standard do you determine good from bad and measure good and bad?

  10. Rich on August 25, 2005 at 16:26

    Yes, Doug, but where does it come from? How does it start? What is the constant? What establishes the notion of good? What _defines_ it?

    See, you have to begin somewhere before you can begin application. To say it's good that I enjoy liberty and am happy is to raise the question, what is good? Define it.

    The existence of man establishes the good. Man is the defining standard of the good, or man qua man, I should say.

  11. Kyle Bennett on August 25, 2005 at 17:17

    Doug,

    You're getting there, but it is still circular. Why is maximum liberty good?

    "Good" is a human definition, not a human discovery."

    That is not what "defining standard" means in this context. Defining standard means the objective standard by which good is defined, not as "the guy who gets to make the definition."

    In that sense, it is a discovery, as are all objective definitions. Where this argument usually goes, and I'm not saying you are going there, but just in case, is the idea that if it's not concrete and directly perceivable, it is not a "discovery" in the sense that it is not completely real, not "out there" but in here, in our heads, and therefore arbitrary or subjective. But valid abstract concepts, reducible to perceptual concretes, are just as real even though they are "in here", because they rest entirely on the "out there" reality.

    All valid concepts, including "the good" can be tested to see whether they really do rest completely on "out there" reality.

  12. Kunstemaecker on August 25, 2005 at 10:24

    I never looked at it in this way, lol.

  13. Doug Wolf on August 25, 2005 at 11:33

    Rich,

    First: We all agree (I hope) that the Genesis myth is just that, a myth… yes?

    Rich, your "book review" of Genesis couldn't be further from the mark.

    "God is a pretty boring guy. " "Boring" is truly subjective, so I can't fault you there… but all of the creation myths tell us quite a bit about the cultures that spawned them. If you'd take the time to actually read Genesis, it contains some pretty entertaining stuff! (Nephilum anyone?)

    "yet all he could muster was cold, hungry…"

    In Genesis, God's proto-humans were neither cold nor hungry, at least while they were in the garden. They were literally in paradise.

    … naked savages…

    If you're warm and cozy, since when is being naked a bad thing? 🙂 And according to the myth, they were hardly savages… they were granted all types of knowledge save for one: the knowledge of good and evil.
    …who died at early ages.

    Again untrue. According to the book, they had lifespans in the hundreds of years.

    As far as "the goodness of Man"… the entire proposition is ridiculous. "Man" has never been good (or bad)… it is only individual men and women that hold those qualities.

    Readers, please don't think for one second that I am purporting that Genesis is in any way true… I'm just a strong believer that before slamming a book, one should actually read it.

    — DW

  14. Eddy on August 25, 2005 at 07:34

    So your beef is with God not with interpretations of God…

    PS Man has done some pretty awful things–very awful things!

  15. Doug Wolf on August 25, 2005 at 14:44

    The basis of "goodness"…

    First, though I'm quite certain I'm opening myself up to ridicule, I *do* feel that God exists. (Note please that I've used the word "feel" and not "think". They are two different things.)

    I feel pretty strongly (again, note the word feel) that the rational basis of goodness is in recognizing that each of us *only* does what we judge to be in our own best interestss, and in taking a very objective look at what *is* in our own best interests.

    If I give assistance (money, time, a ride, etc) to someone in a jam, it's *not* because "I'm a nice guy" or because "the bible (or any other book" tells me to. It's because I want to live in a world where a decent person in an understandable jam can occasionally get a hand up.

    I feel that "goodness" is this: so long as I take reasonable care not to impinge on the freedom of others, I am free to think, feel, spend, hoard, build, destroy or take any other action whatsoever (along with the consequences) with anything that belongs to me. (Yep… I just equated "goodness" with "the rights of property ownership".)

    If one is willing to accept a broad definition of the word "property" (i.e., my life is my property), is there any more workable definition of the word "good"?

    — DW

  16. Kyle Bennett on August 25, 2005 at 21:58

    Doug,

    I may be mistaken, but I believe the verdict is still out on whether Godel's theorem applies to anything but formal symbolic systems. It does not automatically aply to conceptual heirarchies founded on concrete perceptions. But even so, using it to back up an argument that concepts are not reducible or testable is a cop-out. For Godel to apply in this context, there need only be one such statment. You've shown no such statement, let alone whether it is foundational to any argument either of us are making.

    Your argument vis-a-vis liberty is circular in that it presupposes that liberty is good., and therefore should be maximized. All maximization arguments or minimization arguments are at their root utilitarian, and as such evade any atempt at finding logical principles. They all rest on some axiomatic good that is to be maximized, or some axiomatic disvalue which is to be minimized, without addressing why the value or disvalue considered is what it is.

    Your disareement about "good" being perceptually based addresses the value of a particular event, and even then it still rests on the fallacy that the measure of it is subjective and therefore not objectively testable. That is, as you noted, circlar, though without it, I don't know on what basis you continue to disagree.

    When we talk about "the good" here, we are talking about good as it pertains to *man*, the class, or more accuratly, to *all* individual men in that class (not to be confused with good for the collective whole, which is itself a fallacious concept). The universal good is a subset of what is particularly good for an individual man, and it is a very narrow range of values. You are correct that the particualar good is, for practical purposes, subjective in that it rests on conceptual facts that no one but the individual has any access to.

    The universal good rests on objectively observable attributes of the class "man", or "rational animal". The prinicples involved (I'm simplifying this) are 1. As with all animals, man must act for his own survival. It does not come automatically as it does with plants or even rocks. 2. Man, as a *rational* animal, only acts as a consequence of concepts. No action, aside from a small class of autonomic reactions such as eye blinking or the infamous knee jerk, is possible until a concept is formed that contains the necessity of that action. and 3. The concepts contained in an individal mind are completely inaccessible to another mind. They can be communicated, but only by words and gestures, which are proxies for the concepts, not the concepts themselves. The person receiving the words still has to construct the concept for himself from scratch.

    Thus, the good, for every man – individually, yes, but true for *every* individual – is what allows him to act for his own life. The means by which he does this is the conversion of elements of his environment into forms that he can use to further his life. The form this conversion takes is, like all actions of man, determined by his concepts. The result is more commonly known as property. Such property is an extension of a man's life and his conceptual conciousness, not separate from it. Liberty is good because it is the condition (not a discrete event) that allows conceptually guided action. The right to property is not additive to the right to life, it is an inseperable part of it.

    The right to convert parts of his environment to property to be used for his own ends *is* the right to life. The right to property necessarily includes the right to determine how that property is used, which leads directly to the right to trade that property with willing traders. Trade is the means by which a conceptual consiousness multiplies value beyond what can be directly produced by the individual. That is the good. That's prety much all of it, in a universal context. Beyond that, any particualar instance of property, or trade, or relationship with others is a subjective good as I described above.

    The testability of any claim against that conceptual heirarchy, which ultimately rests on the concepts enumerated above (which are only slightly removed from direct perceptual concretes) is hardly arguable. Yes, there remains the seemingly eternal "ought from is" problem, but once life is accepted as good, as a value that ought to be pursued, the rest follows. Denial of that is possible, and that perhaps is where the Godelian abyss lies, but if we can't just stipulate to that, well then there is little purpose in continuing this conversation. And by the way, the political left of the world have been reduced to questioning just that, and understanding that that denial is and always has been at the root of their ideology makes their actions and words much more understandable. And that understanding makes it all that much more horrific.

  17. Doug Wolf on August 25, 2005 at 15:21

    Rich,

    "Good" : That which results in the greatest liberty (and attendent happiness) in the self while minimizing the restriction of liberty in others.

    Fair enough?

    The "minimizing the restriction of liberty in other" is to put an immediate end to the "so I can keep slaves if it makes me happy?" argument.

    — DW

  18. Kevin on August 25, 2005 at 08:35

    Nowadays we consider early death and diseases to be hellish, but back then it was a fact of life. Just like today we consider cancer and AIDS deadly "weapons", in a few hundred years it will all be laughed at.

    And you can't possibly think that Man is good, let alone saying God is an Asshole. We're basically the only creatures that have managed to kill and hurt each other, NEVER learning from our mistakes.

  19. Doug Wolf on August 25, 2005 at 16:37

    Rich,

    "Man is the defining standard of the good"

    Agreed.

    "Good" is a human definition, not a human discovery.

    — DW

  20. Doug Wolf on August 25, 2005 at 18:42

    Kyle,

    I really didn't make a circular argument… I stated a definition. (i.e., "Good = That which yields maximum liberty".) Were I to define "water" as "H2O", the reader does not get to then ask why H20 is water. I wasn't making a supposition, I was presenting a definition.

    All valid concepts, including "the good" can be tested to see whether they really do rest completely on "out there" reality.

    Kyle, with respect (truly)… that's not true, not even mathematically. *Every* non-trivial formal system is either inconsistent or incomplete. In every formal system, there either must be some theorem such that it and its negation are simultaneously true (inconsistency) or there must be some theorem which is true but unprovable (incompleteness.) I'm not suggesting that we abandon critical thinking as a way of life, but pointing out that we are forced to accept that there will be some valid concepts which we *can't* test out.

    I think our real epistomological difference is that I view "good" in much the same way that I view "mile", "second", and "kilogram": as human definitions. "kilogram" is as valid a concept as "pi", yet we'll not find a testable notion of a kilogram inscribed anywhere into the laws of the universe.

    If I interpret you correctly, I believe you (and probably Richard) feel there is an objective, testable concept behind the word "good" ? (Objective meaning that, relativity aside, all observers starting with the same set of axioms can independently reach the same conclusion.)

    But valid abstract concepts, reducible to perceptual concretes, are just as real…

    And I disagree (for the moment) that "good" is reducible to a perceptual concrete, precisely because the measure of an events "goodness" is dependent on the observer.

    I'm eager though to hear how you would objectively define "good".

    As always, I appreciate the thought-provoking conversation!

    — DW

  21. Doug Wolf on August 25, 2005 at 18:53

    A minor retraction…

    After a little reflection, my statement:

    And I disagree (for the moment) that "good" is reducible to a perceptual concrete, precisely because the measure of an events "goodness" is dependent on the observer.

    ..is obviously circular. I'm still not yet agreeing that there is an objectively testable notion of "goodness". 🙂

    — DW

  22. Doug Wolf on August 26, 2005 at 00:16

    Kyle,

    I may be mistaken, but I believe the verdict is still out on whether Godel's theorem applies to anything but formal symbolic systems.

    My personal belief is that there is no such thing as abstract mathematics. Every single time we've stumbled upon a concept that was "obviously abstract with no corresponding real-world representation"… we've been wrong. Negative numbers, irrational numbers, complex numbers, Hamilton's quaternions, Cantors monsters (functions that are everywhere continuous and nowhere differentiable)… they've all turned out to be accurate models of some naturally occuring law.

    But even so, using it to back up an argument that concepts are not reducible or testable is a cop-out.

    I wasn't trying to use it as a cop-out. I only meant to point out that your assertion that "all valid concepts can be tested" was not strictly accurate.

    In any case, what we're really discussing here is whether "good" is a subjective measure to be defined, or a concept that exists a priori, waiting only to be arrived at by the the light of reason.

    The right to convert parts of his environment to property to be used for his own ends *is* the right to life.

    You'll need a better definition for "right to life" than that. Your "right" to convert my automobile to your property to be used for your own ends isn't your "right" at all… it's grand theft auto. (And deprives me of my liberty.)

    For the record, I get nervous when anyone starts discussing their "rights". I feel very strongly that the only "rights" that exist are those that are either mutually agreed upon by the society in which one lives (i.e., the Constitution), or those that one is capable of enforcing for themselves. (i.e., one's right to a salary extends exactly as far as one's ability to provide a service worthy of such compensation.) I don't feel this is a personal philsophy, I feel this is a self-evident observation of the natural world. (You may feel free to disagree, but then you're obligated to demonstrate the source of these "rights".)

    If the definition of "good" is a logical proposition you should be able to start with one or more axioms and use the rules of inference to arrive at a conclusion while making only statements that are either previously derived or are one of the axioms. You've succesfully used the axiom "life is good" to show that "property rights are good"… but you haven't done anything to show what the nature of "good" is. I'm perfectly willing to grant the axiom "life is good", but anyone attempting to derive by logic what is already given by axiom is engaging in our previously mentioned circular argument.

    Your argument vis-a-vis liberty is circular in that it presupposes that liberty is good.

    That's not true, because I didn't make an argument that liberty is good… I axiomatically defined goodness as liberty. (Actually "the maximum liberty that minimizes the restriction of liberty of others".)

    If I'm reading correctly, your argument for an objective good can be paraphrased thus:

    Axiom [1]: Life is desirable. (Agreed)
    Axiom [2]: Man must act for his own survival (taken with axiom [1] implies that those acts which contribute to surival are desirable. Agreed)
    Axiom [3]: Man acts only as a consequence of concepts. (taken together with axioms [1] and [2] implies that those concepts leading to survival-encouraging actions are desirable. Agreed.)
    Axiom [4]: Concepts can be communicated only by proxies. (Agreed, though I'm not sure it's germain to the argument)

    Inference: the good, for every man is what allows him to act for his own life.

    And that's where we disagree. It is entirely possible for two men, acting in their own best interest, to have diametrically opposing goals. Those opposite goals can't *both* be "good"

    (thinking aloud here) I suspect your response will be that it is not the goals themselves that are good but that the attendant liberty that allows the pursuit of those goals is the source of "goodness". If I've correctly paraphrased your thoughts (I'm not saying I have), then we've just arrived at my earlier definition of "good = liberty for all".

    At this point you likely think I'm being intentionally obstuse… I'm not. If there is *truly* a logical, objective method of arriving at the definition of "goodness", it is possibly the most important philosophical concept I (or anyone else) will ever encounter… but I'm not willing to grant it simply because I find the notion comforting.

    If you have the patience and time, let us continue the dialogue. (And thank you Richard both for the forum and for the seed of thought that germinates these discussions!)

    — DW

    P.S. Political philsophy:

    And by the way, the political left of the world have been reduced to questioning [that life in general is good and desirable]

    I wholly disagree. *I* tend to lean to the left, and I will grant in a heartbeat (pun intended) that life in general is good and desirable. We can argue that later though… experience tells me I'm more likely to benefit from our above exploration of epistimology than I am from both of us tossing out political opinions. 🙂

  23. Kyle Bennett on August 26, 2005 at 08:02

    Doug,

    I don't have much time now, but I will get back to this soon, probably after work tonight.

    In the meantime, I agree that mathematics is not bastract in the sense that it is devoid of concrete basis. What I meant is that Godel's theorem applies to formal symbolic systems, IOW to the *systems* themselves, not necessarily to the underlying concepts that the system represents. I'm not knowledgable enough about it to really argue it, though.

    I can't take your auto because you have already made it your property. My right to convert my environment applies to those things which are not owned, or which I have acquired by trade. I'm using Locke as the basic idea behind converting unowned resources to property. Also, your mind and body are property in this sense, so even in the absence of physical unowned resources to convert (the circumstance almost all modern humans find themselves in at birth), that "property" can be used to acquire resources via trade.

    "we've just arrived at my earlier definition of "good = liberty for all"." — stop before "for all". Good is an individual consideration. This is why my last "axiom" (they're not really axioms) is relevant. It provides the reason why all these considerations are wholly individualistic, not collective. It is not valid to talk of good in a collective sense.

    In terms of the universal good, goals cannot conflict. It is only when we go to the level of individual "subjecive" goods that conflict is possible. But rational men realize that violating the principles that are good for both of them to resolve these conflicts is no good for either party.

    You say: "I feel very strongly that the only "rights" that exist are those that are either mutually agreed upon by the society in which one lives (i.e., the Constitution), or those that one is capable of enforcing for themselves."

    –Please don't burden me with your feelings. Your thoughts are worthy enough to be identified as thoughts, so don't hide behind feeling. But aside from that, you are very close to correct. Libertarians routinely and almost universally get it wrong on the nature of rights. For all their individualism, they still want to collectivize the notion of rights, seeing them as some kind of self-enforcing metaphysical given, or worse, some collective obligation. Rights are logical deductions that are determined by the physical world, but they aren't entities or attributes in any sense. Rights are only those things the individual uses as a guide to his actions. You are under no obligation to another person to honor his rights, nor is anyone else under any obligation to you to protect them for you. You are under a moral obligation *to yourself* to protect your own rights and to honor the rights of others.

    But you are correct in saying that whether or not you can actually excecise these rights is determined by only three things (two of which you list): agreements with others to mutually honor them; your ability to force others to not violate them; and other's recognition of their own obligation to themselves to honor the rights of others.

    The last is the most desirable means, the second is always your own responsibility, even when you trade with others for their assistance, and the first is good enough when it works, but not reliable due to the fact that even the idea of agreement rests on either the second or third being present.

    I got to go to work, more later.

  24. Rich on August 26, 2005 at 08:51

    "For the record, I get nervous when anyone starts discussing their "rights"…I feel this is a self-evident observation of the natural world. (You may feel free to disagree, but then you're obligated to demonstrate the source of these "rights".)"

    Pressed for time, so this has to be quick. Tell me, Doug, can you think of any _natural_ choices we have, i.e., choices that arise soley because of our natures as human beings. If so, what is subsumed by that fact of choice?

  25. Rich on August 26, 2005 at 10:33

    A choice or choices that are open to you by virtue of your nature as a human being, i.e., a metaphysical-level choice, if you will, not one that arrises out of society.

    Can you think of any? If so, what does the fact of that choice of choices subsume?

  26. Kyle Bennett on August 26, 2005 at 13:35

    God,

    Your comment doesn't exist.

  27. Doug Wolf on August 26, 2005 at 10:23

    Doug,

    I don't have much time now, but I will get back to this soon, probably after work tonight.

    Thanks for taking the time. This discussion is interesting and important.

    Please don't burden me with your feelings. Your thoughts are worthy enough to be identified as thoughts

    I assure you, I'm not hiding behind my feelings. 🙂 I'm trying to draw the distinction between those concepts that I take axiomatically by faith ("feelings") and those concepts that, given the previously accepted axioms, I can arrive at by rational methods. (Thoughts). I take, axiomatically, with no evidence at all, that the world I experience through my senses exists independently of me. Quantum theory aside, when I leave a room, the room still exists. I cannot say "I think the outside world is objectively independent" because I *didn't* "think"… I arrived at that notion by pure faith and through no rational process. Trust me… when I can back up an assertion with facts and rationale, feelings won't enter into it. 🙂

    Anyway, this discussion began as an attempt to derive a definition of "good" through logic alone. (My assertion being that it can't be done.) We're straying from that discussion, but I'm ok with that, as I feel we're on to other concepts that are equally important.

    "we've just arrived at my earlier definition of "good = liberty for all"." — stop before "for all". Good is an individual consideration.

    And this is where we disagree. I don't think I can buy into any definition of "universal good = liberty" that doesn't include the notion that *you* are not at liberty to deprive *me* of my property.

    Good is an individual consideration… It is not valid to talk of good in a collective sense.

    Which is another way of saying "Good is a subjective concept."

    Given certain axioms (that we both accept), you've shown that liberty is neccesary for life… but you haven't shown *who's* liberty is neccesary. Observation tells me that a prisoner can be kept in a holding cell more or less indefinitely so long as *his jailor* is at liberty to feed him and to provide certain neccesary comforts.

    Again, the place we differ is in the source of the assertion "goodness is defined as liberty" (or in my case "liberty not at the expense of others"). I take this assertion on faith… you feel this assertion can be shown logically to be true. As yet you haven't done so (at least not in any way that has made it thru my skull.)

    But rational men realize that violating the principles that are good for both of them to resolve these conflicts is no good for either party.

    Observation tells me this isn't true. The treatment of the native Americans by the United States *certainly* wasn't beneficial to the natives… but was hugely beneficial to the state and citizens of the United States. Numerous examples can be found on an individual scale as well.

    On a slightly different note, your previous post asserted that rights exist independently of ones ability to enforce them (either by mutual agreement or by force.) Can you show this *logically* to be true? I'm quite willing to contemplate that notion, but if it can be shown logically (from first principals on which we can both agree), there's no need for contemplation. 🙂

    I think, in the name of intellectual honesty, it behooves every man to be able to distinguish what he knows on the basis of reason from what he knows on the basis of faith.

    Work calls… and if I can get out of here early enough to get to the coast, flying calls!

    — DW

  28. Doug Wolf on August 26, 2005 at 10:26

    Rich,

    Tell me, Doug, can you think of any _natural_ choices we have, i.e., choices that arise soley because of our natures as human beings. If so, what is subsumed by that fact of choice?

    Chalk it up to me being dense… but I don't understand the question. What is a "natural" choice (as opposed to an "unnatural" choice)?

    — DW

  29. God on August 26, 2005 at 10:49

    I don't appreciate you talking about me like that.

    God

  30. jamal on August 27, 2005 at 12:06

    It is a falsehood to say that man can do what god can't, when in actual fact man strives to do what god can. I suggest you read the Holy Qur'an.

  31. Herakles on August 29, 2005 at 11:27

    The only gripe I have is that you are referring to God as a 'person' (or a human being) and referring to him, her or it as a 'human being'.

    Well, God cannot be a human being since we cannot self-create. Therefore, is God an alien (since all non humans are alien)? Or, is God a thing?

    You see how difficult this gets? The whole problem in thinking about a creator is that we try to understand this in human terms, which is going to be clearly impossible. Despite our technological advances, etc. humans basically know squat.

    I think we should focus more on solving the planet's problems – like how to get rid of all the wasteful armies and weapons and divert the money spent for killing one another to instead feed the hungry millions on the edge of survival and to replace the polluting fossil fuel technologies with clean sources of energy, get rid of all politics and politicians, do away with all boundaries and divisions – no race, color, creed or even country.

    One planet, divided into zone 1, zone 2, zone3 .. etc. One government and local 'authority' of some sort to resolve / investigate / settle / crimes, disputes and other stuff that humans will keep doing to each other.

    If people stopped worrying so much about who created and worked on solving some real problems, the world will be a better place.

  32. Richard Nikoley on August 29, 2005 at 20:13

    Chris,

    This is all beside the point. The onus of proof is upon he making the assertion. The only argument an atheist need make is that the existence of God has not been substantiated. And it has not, by design, because it relies upon faith — by design.

    As a man of reason, there is zero place for faith for me. Hope, trust, inspiration, yes, but never faith.

  33. Kyle Bennett on August 29, 2005 at 20:17

    "Goodness is not looking out for what fits ones own best interest, but true goodness is looking out for the other."

    The root of all evil, right there.

  34. Doug Wolf on August 29, 2005 at 15:30

    Herakles,

    OK, I have five minutes to spare. 🙂

    …like how to get rid of all the wasteful armies…

    I am no fan of what I feel to be the current administrations waste of money, time, and lives… but to borrow from Orwell "We sleep safe in our beds at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would do us harm."

    …and divert the money spent for killing one another to instead feed the hungry millions on the edge of survival…

    Most of the people in the world that are currently starving find themselves in their present present condition because of the corruption and greed of various thugs, warlords and governments. (Yes, I realize that was redundant.) Somolia, North Korea and the Sudan come to mind as good examples. Know how you effect a change in their conditon? Armies.

    …and to replace the polluting fossil fuel technologies with clean sources of energy…

    Couldn't agree more… so long as you're willing to use the words "cleaner" energy. (And all-electric cars aren't "clean"… they just change the locale where the pollution is generated.") Come to think of it, those alternatives currently exist, albiet at a price. Is your home solar powered?

    …get rid of all politics…

    Human discourse ispolitics.

    …and politicians…

    I second and third that motion. Rat poison seems appropriate. 🙂

    …do away with all boundaries and divisions – no race, color, creed or even country…

    Funny… the last guy who made a serious effort to stamp out differences of race, color, and creed made quite a splash in the world. It was called World War II.

    OK… I'm done being contrary for the day. 🙂

    — DW

  35. Chris - A Pastor - In - Training on August 29, 2005 at 19:56

    Genesis is not entirely a myth, in fact the question of "If it happened this way or not?" is the wrong question. Goodness is not looking out for what fits ones own best interest, but true goodness is looking out for the other. If you truly look at Genesis it is the story of God's desire to have a relationship with His creation, but finding constant rebellion from His creation. God intended for longevity in life, but negative decisions and the selfish nature of man caused for the longevity of life to be shortened to 120 years. Which is the exact age that Moses lived to. Now you may see that as myth, but the question that I ask you is do you believe in the life of Julius Caesar? Caesar Augustus? Plato? Aristotle? The earliest editions that can be found date to around 900 A.D. yet, no one that thinks "rationally" questions their existence. The problem with atheism is that it argues a negative which is a losing argument, it is impossible to prove that something does not exist.

    Agnostic is the Greek equivalent of the Latin Ignoramus.

    I would suggest a great read, "The Question of God" by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr.

  36. Todd on August 29, 2005 at 13:33

    Wow. I'm sure God has thought up an infinite number of things for you to complain about.

  37. Kyle Bennett on August 31, 2005 at 07:05

    Ivy,

    Check your premises. Start with: what is good? Good for what?

    Doug: I still "owe" you an explanation of that myself. Things got ahead of me this weekend, and I couldn't get to it (Couldn't take my eyes off Katrina, for one). BTW, you keep making arguments like your last post, and you're going to find your lean to the left being measured in negative degrees.

  38. Rich on August 31, 2005 at 14:12

    Doug:

    Well, since you don't take seriously enough your own arguments to understand that you have no altertnative to reality and that you are thus _stealing_ the concepts necessarry to make your argument, above, in the first place, then I don't know why I should take them seriously.

  39. Rich on August 31, 2005 at 15:38

    Doug:

    You need to draw distinctions between assumptions and axioms. You have no basis whatsoever to question the validity of sensory perception, and moreover, it is hypocrytical to raise questions of the validity of such while relying on them to make your arguments.

    Also, I stand by: you have no alternative to reality.

    Also:

    we *assume* (without evidence) that our senses are projecting some sort of 'objective reality' to us… but it's just an assumption, beyond the realm of proof.

    Here is how you are stealing, again. All evidence is based upon sensory perception, so it is an inversion of conceptual hierarchy to subordinate sensory perception to that requiring substantiation. By saying "evidence" you are affirming the validity of the senses. Same goes for "proof," except it's an even worse inversion, because proof relies on evidence, and evidence, as I've explained, on the validity of the senses.

    There is no logical way to construct an argument against the validity of the senses, and it makes you look ridiculous to even try.

  40. Kyle Bennett on August 31, 2005 at 17:56

    "And sensory perception is notoriously unreliable"

    No, Doug, it's not. You're confusing perception with conceptualization. You're right, you can't get concepts through your senses. The Matrix was *not* about people being fooled by their senses, it was about them being fooled by their concepts. Which is why Neo and the rest were able to act rationally inside the Marix, they understood the underlying concept.

    You don't hear drumbeats, you hear sounds that have some properties in common with drumbeats, that could be caused by drumbeats. It's up to you to conceptually determine if interpreting them as drumbeats is corresponent with reality.

    What you're talking about is not the evidence of the senses, it is some purely made up idea that is inherently fallacious. And when the internal contradiction comes home to roost, you use it as proof that the thing that your idea isn't is invalid.

    And again, as Richard said, the only way you can even make these arguments is by resorting to the evidence of the senses.

    The part about "at rest" objects is just bizarre, I don't even know what you're trying to say.

    Axiomatic is not the same as faith.

  41. Richard Nikoley on August 31, 2005 at 17:57

    Doug:

    You're locked in a Matrix of skepticism, if anything.

    What you are describing are errors of conceptualization, or reporting and integrating properly the data provided by the senses. Certainly there are demonstrated examples of people hearing, seeing, smelling and feeling things that don't exist, but this is not the norm. Why would you wish to base your epistmology on the rare and aborrent exception, and not the norm?

    By the way, _faith_ is an exercise in belief without evidence, i.e., without any data provided by the senses, or, even, belief in contradiction to real and accurate evidence provided by the senses.

    That is, of course, not what I'm talking about. You're talking about skepticism for the sake of skepticism, not about faith.

  42. Ivy on August 31, 2005 at 04:52

    In all of our "goodness", man continues to also create new diseases or destroy things only to have to figure out how to cure them. I beg to differ on the goodness of human kind … though I am not big on the idea of god myself. Man is evil … not 100% and not everyone, but basically speaking.

  43. Doug Wolf on August 31, 2005 at 13:10

    Richard,

    As a man of reason, there is zero place for faith for me. Hope, trust, inspiration, yes, but never faith.

    That's not quite true 🙂

    You have taken on faith that what you experience through the veil of your senses bears some semblance to an objective, outside word (which you assume to exist.) You may not be aware that you've taken this on faith because you've grown up with this assumption being taken axiomatically by those around you. To take the point to the extreme, one needs only see the movie "The Matrix".

    The other difficulty with "pure reason" is that you are forced to choose the lesser of two evils. To wit:

    If you believe that every assertion that you posit to be true can be rationalized by a previous assertion that you believe to be true, then you obviously believe that strength your "previous" assertion in turn relies on some antecedent assertion. This "infinite regression" means that you never have any assertion that can be objectively shown to be axiomatically true.

    The common technique of getting around this is to note that we don't really rely on "infinite regression" to prove the truth of an assertion. Mostly we rely on what I'll call a "knowledge net" : we hold a thing to be true (or at least possibly true) if it fits our current theory of the way the world works and does not contradict anything else we think we know. Under this philsophy, there is no infinite regression requires because all reasoning is (in the long run) circular, with an assertion being considered false if at any time it contradicts something else we know. (Either that, or the previous bit of assumed knowledge is now known as false.)

    The obvious difficulty with the "networked" theory of knowledge is that it's possible for every assertion in the network to be consistent… and for the *entire network* to be wrong.

    So… I see two items that a pure rationalist must take on faith:

    1) That the outside universe objectively exists, independent of ones own self.

    2) That the cohesive network of knowledge we take as our basis of argument is not in toto false.

    Then there's also the fundamental physics problem that it's simply not possible to observe the nature of *anything*. It is only possible to observe the nature of two or more things interacting. It is the consequence of the interactions that we observe, not the "things" themselves. It is a great leap of faith to assume that things in a rest-state are indentical (or nearly so) to that same "thing" when it is interaction with something else.

    This is in no way an attempt to convert you to any form of religion, faith, or deism. But it's worth pointing out that the difference between the pure deist and the pure rationalist is not whether they take anything on faith… but in *what* they take on faith.

    — DW

  44. Doug Wolf on August 31, 2005 at 14:09

    Pastor Chris,

    Call me persnickety. 🙂

    Agnostic is the Greek equivalent of the Latin Ignoramus.

    Not even close.

    The Greek "agnostic" is a noun that translates literally to "Lacking spiritual knowledge".

    The Latin "ignoramus" is a verb which means "the act of knowing nothing".

    The two words are in no way equivelant. 🙂

    — DW

  45. Richard Nikoley on August 31, 2005 at 21:35

    I'll own up to having abused the word "axiomatic" a few times, but let's agree on a definition: Axioms are that which is true by definition. (i.e., "parallel lines never intersect")

    So then what's your problem? What we're talking about is the same thing. Sensory data is the basis of all definition. Just because some interpret the data incorrectly does not undermine the basic fact that every argument you've made rests on the validity of the senses.

    In other words, you are simply contradicting yourself. You're telling me that I have no reason to trust sensory data, and in making that argument, you are saying I have no reason to trust your arguments.

  46. Doug Wolf on August 31, 2005 at 15:16

    Rich,

    to understand that you have no alternative to reality

    That sentence cries out for correction: you *literally* have no alternative to accepting what you are told by your sensory inputs. Reality has no bearing in it… we *assume* (without evidence) that our senses are projecting some sort of "objective reality" to us… but it's just an assumption, beyond the realm of proof. (It also happens to be an assumption that I hold to.)

    This is so literally true that there are a number of mental disorders that can be exactly described as one's sensory perceptions being radically different that the sensory perceptions of the people around them. The *only* assurance the afflicted person has that his perceptions are distorted are the persuadings of other people around him. (Assuming of course that those other people aren't in turn a product of his screwed up sensory mechanisms.) John Nash (of the semi-biographical movie "A Beautiful Mind" is a perfect example of this.

    That our senses transmit to us the news of an objective reality is an article of faith.

    — DW

  47. Doug Wolf on August 31, 2005 at 17:38

    Rich,

    All evidence is based upon sensory perception…

    And sensory perception is notoriously unreliable. Even among the putatively sane, disagreements over sensory inputs are common. I can show (both in research and through personal experience) that the senses are often simply not trustworthy in all cases.

    You have no basis whatsoever to question the validity of sensory perception…

    A small thought experiment:

    Bob and Joe are on a deserted island (and not likely to find a way off.) Bob claims to hear far off drumbeats from a neighboring (but unreachable) island, and claims to be able to transmit messages back to them using his own drum.

    Joe, on the other hand, here's no such drum-beats and suspects that Bob is desparate, delusional, and hallucinating.

    If, as you claim, the senses are reliable reporters of an objective reality… tell me, if you were either Bob or Joe, how would you determine which of you was correct?

    I assume you've seen the sci-fi movie "The Matrix"? Everyone "inside the matrix" assumes that their senses are reporting the "true and objective" world to them… and they are wrong.

    The only way you can avoid the statement "I accept on faith that what my senses tell me is a true and factual representation of an objective reality" is by define "objective reality" as "that which my senses report".

    I believe strongly there is an objective reality connected to my senses… but I have no way of demonstrating it and must accept it on faith. I can demonstrate that what my senses report is *consistent*, but not that it is in any way *real*.

    And again, there's also the "interaction" problem. My senses can only report to me the interaction of two objects… I have no way of gaining any information about any object "at rest". I take on faith that the rest-state of an object is very, very similar to it's "interacted state".

    — DW

  48. Doug Wolf on August 31, 2005 at 17:43

    Rich,

    I've just thought of something else we both must take on faith: causality.

    We grow up taking causality on faith simply because we (or at least I) have not yet seen a counterexample.

    Lack of a counterexample can hardly be accepted as rigorous proof.

    — DW

  49. Doug Wolf on August 31, 2005 at 18:58

    Rich and Kyle,

    Let's make it *very* clear that I *do* adhere to the notion that our senses report to us some semblance of an objective reality. What we're debating here is *why* we believe that.

    Why would you wish to base your epistmology on the rare and aborrent exception, and not the norm?

    Are you telling me that "popular opinion" is an unfallible the basis for defining which of my sensory impressions reflects objective reality?

    By the way, _faith_ is an exercise in belief without evidence…

    That single sentence may point to source of some of our disagreement. I've been defining "faith" as "belief without proof"… and "proof" and "evidence" are distinctly different notions.

    Still, I'm curious about your insistence that objective reality is always reported by the senses. What evidence do you have of that? More specifically, what evidence do you have that *ANYTHING* besides yourself exists? If an objective universe means never having to take anything on faith, I want *evidence* that what I'm sensing in the "real world" and not "The Matrix".

    And again, as Richard said, the only way you can even make these arguments is by resorting to the evidence of the senses.

    I'll own up to having abused the word "axiomatic" a few times, but let's agree on a definition: Axioms are that which is true by definition. (i.e., "parallel lines never intersect")

    Am I correct in positing that both of you axiomatically define "objective reality" as "that which is reported by the senses"?

    If you agree, then the obvious response is "who's senses?".

    About the "interactive reality" argument:

    There are only two possible ways for the senses to obtain information. The first is to bounch something (photons, sound-waves, etc) off the observed object (which is an interaction) and recording the results in some medium either chemically, mechanically, or electrically (all of which involve further interactions.) In the special case of radiant objects (say, a star) we skip the first part (i.e., bouncing something off it) and record the interaction of the radiated photons with some other medium. (Our eyes, special films, etc.)

    (In your defense, as I read over this it occurs to me that one could assert that since the *only* way we ever experience the universe is via these interactions, whatever the rest-state of any object may happen to be is utterly inconsequential. It will never affect us.)

    — DW

  50. Doug Wolf on August 31, 2005 at 23:40

    Richard,

    Sensory data is the basis of all definition

    So, by now you've realized I'm picky about details.

    So, your statement is not strictly true. Both mathematics and logic exist a priori as does the provable statement "I am". None of these rely on sensory data.

    Just because some interpret the data incorrectly does not undermine the basic fact that every argument you've made rests on the validity of the senses.

    And you have yet to show that assertion to be true. In fact the specific argument I've made is that there is no way to demonstrate that your senses are attached to any objective reality. You can't even demonstrate that *I* exist… only that you exist.

    In other words, you are simply contradicting yourself

    I'm not. And you keep dodging questions. 🙂 So, who's senses were you going to rely on to convey "objective truth"? Also, which knowledge model do you hold to be true? Infinite regression, or coherency? (I'm fairly sure you're stuck with one of those two. If there's a rational third choice, I haven't heard of it. Then again, there's lots of things I haven't heard of, so feel free.)

    You're telling me that I have no reason to trust sensory data…

    At least we can agree on what I'm trying to tell you. 😉

    and in making that argument, you are saying I have no reason to trust your arguments.

    There's a flaw in that logic. The reasoning I'm presenting to you relies on no empirical data, it is strictly a logical supposition and as such does not require the input of your senses. It's not *my* argument, and does not require me to be present in order to arrive at the conclusion. Anyone, at any time, is free to attempt to demonstrate to themselves that their senses are reporting objective reality. Good luck with that. 🙂

    — Doug

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