Monday, October 30, 2006

A Jim Lazarus paper on atheist arguments

Jim Lazarus put a draft of an interesting paper on the Infidels discussion board. And, someone wondered if he was a real atheist. Kind of reminds me of what happens in some Christian circles when you doubt the Archbishop Ussher chronology, or the literal truth of the Balaam's ass story.

14 comments:

Jim Lazarus said...

I refer to that as my "bad paper" because I wrote it in about twenty minutes, and there was in fact one mistake in it that I have not bothered to correct. Bobinius - the rather hostile skeptic that you're referring to - pointed out that gluons have not been directly observed. Apparently, I've misread the Wikipedia article. We can, however, replace this example with another: germs.

Besides that, most of the counter-criticisms were question begging, based on misunderstandings or semantic differences, or they suffered from the same uncharitable attitude that I was complaining about in the paper.

Realizing that, I stopped responding to them.

Anonymous said...

Bobinus didn't seem that hostile to me.
Nor did I see you address his quite legitimate question:
which arguments do you think work against theism?

Jim Lazarus said...

Anonymous,

If you check my blog, you'll see that I think the argument from suffering still remains a problem for believers.

If you don't think that was hostile in any sense, then I wouldn't want to interact at all with what you would really label "hostile".

- Jim

HiveMaker said...

I'd still like to know why that thread came to an abrupt halt immediately after someone questioned whether one of the questions had any coherently defined scope at all.

Anonymous said...

"If you check my blog, you'll see that I think the argument from suffering still remains a problem for believers."

I see that as a problem for Abrahamic theists, but why should it be a problme for other theists? I think Bobinius was correct in pointing out the difference between a belief in a particular God like the Christian one and theism in general. Each requires a different set of arguments.
Not that hard to present a case against the Abrahamic God who often acts like a petty tyrant. Much more difficult to argue against theism in general.


"If you don't think that was hostile in any sense, then I wouldn't want to interact at all with what you would really label "hostile"."

I generally consider hostile posters those who rely on ad hom and vulgar language to make their points. Bobinius seemed to me to be a tough critic rather than hostile one. But then these sorts of judgements are very subjective by their nature.

Jim Lazarus said...

Hivemaker,

Johan asked about why there was an "extensive detour/derail in criticizing it". The answer is that it is still defended by several respected atheistic philosophers - e.g. Michael Martin and Kai Nielsen.

Yes, perhaps we should've more strictly defined the scope, but if Bobinius wanted to object to what I was saying from a different perspective of how religious language was meaningless, then I'm sure he would've made that clear. Furthermore, when we approach the issue by arguing over George Smith's views or the positivists, it is assumed that we are taking it from the same scope. So there wasn't that much of a problem.

______________________

Anonymous,

There are still other arguments that you might use to disprove theism other than from the perspective of the claims that I critiqued. For instance, there is still the argument, as used by Austin Dacey and Barbara Forrest, that the success of methodological naturalism in the sciences is good inductive evidence for philosophical naturalism. Likewise, Buddhist arguments for emptiness count as arguments against theism. Whether or not these arguments are good ones will be decided by further arguments back and forth with believers, but the claims that I critiqued are hardly the only ammo that an atheist can have.

- Jim

Jim Lazarus said...

Grr. Typos.

To Hivemaker,

Yes, perhaps we should've more strictly defined the scope, but if Bobinius wanted to object to what I was saying from a different perspective of how religious language is meaningless, then I'm sure he would've made that clear. Furthermore, when we approach the issue by arguing over George Smith's views or the positivists, it is assumed that we are taking it from the same scope as they are. So there wasn't that much of a problem.

Steven Carr said...

To be honest, I was not so impressed by Laz's article. It was mixed.

For example, Laz wrote
Claim #6: The existence of God could provide us with no additional ethical obligations from the ethical obligations we would have if God does not exist.

And , your number 7, the fact that we have never seen a non-physical mind, and have pretty good evidence that mind is destroyed when the body is destroyed, is pretty good evidence that the idea of a mind that can work without material to record information is a bad idea.

I believe that Claim #6 is clearly false for very straightforward reasons. I believe that just as we believe that we have certain obligations to friends and family members, we could have similar ethical obligations toward God.'

In a trivial sense, I do have extra ethical obligations towards my friends, each time I make a new friend, so if God exists, and wanted to be my friend, I would have extra ethical obligations.

But that is hardly the sense in which theists say that God causes ethical obligations, is it now?

And , your number 7, the fact that we have never seen a non-physical mind, and have pretty good evidence that mind is destroyed when the body is destroyed, is pretty good evidence that the idea of a mind that can work without material to record information is a bad idea.

HiveMaker said...

The referent of "it" in the post was Logical Positivism. Everyone and their grandma knows that Logical Positivism is dead. What about the rest of the questions that had nothing to do with LP at all?

Here they are again:

"There is a distinction between the terms 'some', 'most', and 'all'. What is the scope of the claim being debated when James and Bobinius are arguing whether "religious language" is meaningless? Some of it? All of it?

What is the nature and justification of the assumption that there even is a distinct domain of speech, with its own proprietary syntax, semantics, and epitemology called "religious language"? Someone mentioned "pure" religious language -- pure as contrasted to what? Is the filioque a "pure" religious notion, as opposed to the "impure" religious notion of the resurrection of the dead? Supposing there is a distinction (and suppose the debaters supply some very clear ferinstances about what falls on which side of the divide) -- is the claim that "pure" religious language is intrinsically meaningless, or is the claim that "pure" religious language just contingently has consisted of a lot of errors?

Suppose it is shown that there is a distinct linguistic domain (as opposed to a distinct subject matter) called "religious language", and suppose furthermore that it is shown to be noncognitive. Why suppose that cognitive meaninglessness entails meaninglessness tout court? Aren't exclamations or statements in the optative mood meaningful without being cognitively meaningful?

Can someone please tell me what specific sorts things are under examination for their degree of meaningfulness, so I can tell one way or the other whether the claim "religious language is meaningless" has any merit?"

Jim Lazarus said...

Hivemaker,

The problem is that *not everyone* and 'their grandma' realizes that logical positivism is dead. That's exactly what I said in my earlier response to you. There are still philosophers who defend it - e.g. Michael Martin and Kai Nielsen, and on the non-professional level you might be surprised that there are a bunch of people who find it very convincing.

Jim Lazarus said...

Steven,

Exactly how theists suppose that God is related to ethics (and in fact, I doubt there can be a real generalization here, because there are several prominent believers who disagree with what may be the majority view regarding divine command theory) is unimportant to the point that I was addressing. Several critics of the paper thus far have extended the scope of my paper to argue for something that it is not arguing about at all - I'm not at all concerned with how God related to the basis of ethics (in that paper), and more concerned with arguing that there are additional ethical obligations that we would have if God in fact does exist.

With regard to the mind-brain dependency argument, I was trying to emphasize that while we may have scientific research that suggests such a thing as mind-brain dependency for living beings in the universe, this is no way entails any sort of metaphysically necessary relationship, and we would need to demonstrate or argue for such a relationship if we're going to use it as an atheistic argument.

HiveMaker said...

The problem is that *not everyone* and 'their grandma' realizes that logical positivism is dead. That's exactly what I said in my earlier response to you. There are still philosophers who defend it - e.g. Michael Martin and Kai Nielsen, and on the non-professional level you might be surprised that there are a bunch of people who find it very convincing.

OK, great, but why won't you answer the other questions that have nothing to do with Logical Positivism (here or in IIDB)?

Jim Lazarus said...

Hivemaker,

You asked,
"OK, great, but why won't you answer the other questions that have nothing to do with Logical Positivism (here or in IIDB)?"

I didn't answer the question on the IIDB because I felt that the conversation was fruitless. I haven't answered the question here out of laziness.

Johan's question is essentially inquiring into what makes religious language distinct from any other type of language. Well, if there is no distinction, then that may actually help the conclusion that I reach in my paper - where there's simply no distinctions in the language that we use as a whole.

However, maybe there is a distinction, and perhaps we can only specify that by particular examples. For instance, "God exists", "God is sovereign", and "God is all-knowing" are examples of religious language because they are theological statements, whereas "Jesus was kind", "Jesus died in 30 C.E." and "The Apostles preached about Jesus" are not religious statements, even though they refer to religions, because they are not theological statements and do not really refer to any theological ideas.

Now, Johan was asking whether all religious language is meaningless or just some. The typical debate has assumed that it is just some religious language. For instance, Michael Martin and Kai Nielsen feel that talk about Greek gods and goddesses are clearly meaningful, because they are anthropomorphic beings, mere superhumans. But the God of contemporary philosophers, they would say, is not a meaningful notion, for whatever reason a critic would say (e.g. statements about this "God" are not analytic or empirically verifiable, or the notion of "God" is without any cognitive meaning at all, as argued by George Smith).

the metaphysician said...

Jim, you seriously wrote that in about 20 minutes? Man you type fast! I wish I could type half as fast.