Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Dogfight #3: Don Erler

Welcome to another Dogfight. It's been a while. I've been trying to get away from the ID front for a while, since I haven't been dissecting as much general woo lately. But this column, emailed to me by my brother, contained a few statements that were so amazingly stupid, my inner masochist dragged me to the "New Post" button.

A large majority of Americans celebrated Christmas -- literally, the Mass of Christ -- yesterday, including Christians whose religious services are not called Mass. Even atheists like Richard Dawkins celebrated the holiday for its secular joys.

Don't know if "small blessing" is appropriate, but I am profoundly glad there's no mention of the alleged "War on Christmas," otherwise I'd be typing for a LOT longer. Skipping ahead of some fluff...

Yet here at the end of one year and the start of another, during days of religious significance for most of us, should we not permit ourselves to reflect upon the "big questions"?

If so, start with the smallest of them: Have you noticed that atheism is suddenly front page and big business?

Sam Harris has had two bestsellers attacking religious belief: The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. Add those to Dawkins' The God Delusion, Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great, Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell and Frederick Crews' Follies of the Wise, and believers confront an intellectual assault of dramatic proportion.


It's a good thing that atheists can get published, and that more of us have the courage to do so. Thank the FSM for Blogger, WordPress, and so forth. Text often falls short of implications and tone, but he sounds like he's saying atheists speaking up more often and standing up for their (dis)beliefs is a bad thing.

Jeff Randall, the editor at large of London's Telegraph, who describes himself as a weak believer, recently complained about the "extraordinary ... [and] tyrannical minority" of militant secularists who exhibit "hatred against those who adhere to biblical values."

1. I think we can all safely say, even without prior knowledge, that Jeff Randall is an idiot and/or a liar. Since when was publishing more books "militant?" Granted, my brother used that adjective to describe Deepak Chopra recently, with a touch of exaggeration and humorous irony, but I don't think anyone really knows what that word means anymore.

2. What kind of "weak believer" talks about "biblical values?" Which "biblical values?" Slavery? Genocide? Absolute piety? Fashion? What? Shouldn't "weak believer" imply something about near-agnosticism, and some recognition that values are pretty much universal? It's a weird, nebulous term that I can't parse.

3. Where's this "hatred?" To my incomplete knowledge (Got some relevant books for Decemberween, but haven't started reading them yet), there's no hate whatsoever in those books: Just a lot of emphasis that faith is inherently opposed to reason.

There is, of course, at least another side to this story. Many brilliant people remain both scientists and believers. Even Steven Weinberg, who once wrote that the "more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless," told me several years ago that he finds plausible something like the "Force" of Star Wars movie legend. So this notorious atheist finds a kind of divine reality to be consistent with his explorations of subatomic particles.

My gut says that someone seriously misinterpreted. In case Weinberg actually does believe in that sort of stuff, I have a feeling Infophile would jump to set him straight.

Of course, someone will feel obligated to point out midochlorians or however they're spelled, so I might as well be the one. Please, no groaning in the comments.

Moreover, as Newsweek reported in its Dec. 18 edition, heavyweight cosmologist Paul Davies thinks that those who study nature closely "proceed on the assumption that there is a coherent scheme to the universe to be uncovered. ... That's also an act of faith."

Can you say "Equivocation?"

Sure, I knew you could.

We work on the assumption that the universe follows consistent rules because, so far, the rules we've uncovered are consistent. Also kind of pointless to map something if it keeps changing.

How about this: We'll continue working on that assumption until someone proves the rules we've uncovered aren't consistent.

Readers who think about the words on this page know that intelligence exists in our world. What accounts for it? And why are the "laws" of nature (isn't a lawgiver required?) mathematical?

1. Intelligence is accounted for by evolution, neurology, and so forth. We don't have a complete picture, but I'm not about to put up a brick wall called "magic" because we don't know everything yet.

2. I think we've established that you can say "equivocation." "Law" as scientists use the term doesn't imply any sort of lawgiver. The rules of the universe are the rules of the universe. So far, we don't see any source. There may be no source.

3. The answer to the last question is "Mu." If the laws were different, math would be different in the same way. The concepts are inseparable. Sounds a lot like another nut I've read about. Just imagine him in a basement giggling and saying "Dude!" and "Maaaaan" between every sentence, and you'll have a good idea of how these people sound to me when I read them.

If, as Weinberg quipped, nature is "pointless," then it is also, as Davies countered recently, "incomprehensible." But scientists who probe its mysteries keep uncovering additional layers of its comprehensibility.

Pointlessness and comprehensibility are separate concepts. Just because Erler can't deal with a pointless universe doesn't mean it's incomprehensible. We'll keep uncovering more knowledge about the universe, but it seems likely we'll eventually bump into that little curse of Gödel's.

And the fortunate faithful believe that they know what ambivalent philosophers and agnostic scientists seek to learn.

If they're so fortunate, I'd like to see them prove it.

See also: AA's take

50 comments:

austinatheist said...

Thanks. I feel better.

And the fortunate faithful believe that they know what ambivalent philosophers and agnostic scientists seek to learn.

Notice Erler didn't say "And the fortunate faithful [] know what ambivialent philosophers and agnostic scientists seek to learn."

Also, Austin Cline singled out Erler a while back.

austinatheist said...

Here's my two cents worth.

Standing On The Intellectual High Ground

Rev. BigDumbChimp said...

Jeff Randall, the editor at large of London's Telegraph, who describes himself as a weak believer, recently complained about the "extraordinary ... [and] tyrannical minority" of militant secularists who exhibit "hatred against those who adhere to biblical values

That's just great. Building up the false icon of total and perfect goodness that are the "biblical values" and then having those nasty secularists sneaking around in the shadows with their long pointy teeth and copies of Dawkins under their arms, just looking to destroy them. Of course mom and pop six pack will fear us. What kind of monster wouldn't subscribe to "biblical values" perfect perfectness? [whisper] yes yes, you're allowed to ignore "those" parts.

Rev. BigDumbChimp said...

I can bet the comment moderation on this post is going to be fun.

Rockstar Ryan said...

Just another Fundie blowhard spouting the same B.S. they've all been spouting. Meh.

Good take-down though.

Bronze Dog said...

Yeah, he's fairly typical, but something about this nut just got me extra-riled. Think one thing that may have contributed was that he got ink, instead of some copy-paste post.

I'm kind of reminded of an episode of That 70's Show where the crew decided to record themselves while they were high, thinking they'd be catching profound insights. Unlike Eric Foreman and friends, this guy doesn't seem all that embarrassed. Neither is the Star-Telegram, to my knowledge.

Infophile said...

So far, we don't see any source. There may be no source.

Trace it back far it enough, and there can be no source.

Rockstar Ryan said...

It's turtles all the way down!

Weapon of Mass Instruction said...

That's just great. Building up the false icon of total and perfect goodness that are the "biblical values" and then having those nasty secularists sneaking around in the shadows with their long pointy teeth and copies of Dawkins under their arms, just looking to destroy them.


Just read all the comments on this thread and that's the exact picture I get.

Thanks.

Weapon of Mass Instruction said...

You mean the same equivocation that you monkeys give to evolution.

adpatation= evolution


Oh, I forgot only evolutionists are allowed to do that.

Bronze Dog said...

Translation: Waaaaah, waaaaah, they didn't accept the oversimplified soundbite-sized definition I quoted, so I'll once again repeat a lie.

Weapon of Mass Instruction said...

Ha!


May I need say more.

Bronze Dog said...

Nope. You've already hung yourself for doing a retrofitting. The definition you quoted didn't include the foundations of radioisotope dating. So, Humpty Dumpty all over again.

You've also been caught quoting something that was intended to be a simplified soundbite, rather than a comprehensive definition. Hi-ho, hi-ho, off to the quote mines we go.

Weapon of Mass Instruction said...

Sounds like the itchy twitchy dance all over again.

Bronze Dog said...

If it itches, don't do it.

Tom Foss said...

Oh wow, making the "turn to dirt not monkeys" argument must have broken what passes for his brain. He's not even writing halfway coherent idiocy now.

Bronze Dog said...

Yeah.

...I wonder if he believes that people turn into their parents when they die? Would that be somewhere around ages 30-40?

The Ridger, FCD said...

Whenever one of these folks says something like "doesn't there have to be a lawgiver?" I feel like saying, "Omigosh, you're right. We'd better stop calling them "laws" since you can't deal with polysemy. Let's call them "axioms" of nature. Does that help you?"

Christian said...

Bronzedog, from my perspective, the general reason that people aren't talking about the war on Christmas, is that it's eased off lately, at least in the public sphere. People seem more confortable again saying Merry Christmas or Happy Hannukah. If anyone actually celebrated Kwaanza, we'd say happy Kwaanza too. A few years ago, everyone in school seemed afraid to say the word Christmas without the words "or Kwaanza or whatever" immediately following. Even with 1/3 of the school district african-American, no one knew anyone that celebrate Kwaanza. You were supposed to assume that African Americans celebrated it, but outside San Francisco, few did.

If anyone has Kwaanza stuff up, I'll wish them a happy Kwaanza.
So anyway, surprise! When some people stop stomping on Christmas so much, other people stop complaining about it so much.

The anti-Christmas nuts aren't the only grinches to let up. The last two years I haven't heard anything from the fundie grinch that stole Halloween. Maybe we're taking steps towards pluralism?

Yes, Christmas used to just refer to Christ's Mass. But if Christians can get over the fact that the word "Easter" is derived from the name of the pagan goddes Ashtaroth, surely we can appreciate that Christmas isn't just for Catholics anymore.

Christian said...

While we're at it, the word "Christ" in Christmas, and in my name, Christian, might have referred to Jesus for the last 2000 years, but before that, it was a greek term, not a hebrew term. The early Christians adapted the term to refer to the Jewish messiah, but the greek word Christos, may come from the same roots as the vedic "Krishna."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christos

"Both Krishna and Christ are said to have lived a life of a shepherd (metaphorically in the case of Jesus). In both stories a king seeks and kills children, hoping to kill Krishna / Christ. There are similarities in their deaths too - Krishna is killed by an iron-nailed arrow piercing his feet and Christ crucified by iron nails."

So Dogfight could argue that this proves that Christian religious concepts evolved from the pagan story. WOMI might argue that the Krishna story derived from an earlier prophesy, and that Jesus fulfulled ancient prophesy, after all kings from the east knew about him in the story.

I think it's interesting that you could see whole different fact sets from a religious or from a secular perspective, and it still adds up either way.

But here's what I don't get, WOMI. What's your whole beef with the monkey thing? Even if you go with the Bible, you don't know how God created the earth. It says God created adam from the dust, but doesn't say how many intermediary steps there were. And it only says that God created the parts that were created. That implies there's stuff that even God didn't make. Why is the modern religious story so much narrower than the one the Bible tells?

I can't think of Jesus saying anything to disprove evolution, either.

To my knowledge, no scientist has tried to tell us didley about the human spirit, or whether there is free will, or what is right and wrong, or about our duty to help the poor, be better people. Why can't religion be about that stuff, and science be about science? If we're wrong about the chimps being our distant cousins, I can't see a loving God getting all pissed off just because we got some of the details wrong.

Science shouldn't be about proving God's existence. Isn't that kind of like that guy Uzzah that stuck his hand to hold up the ark?

Bronze Dog said...

Just to make my stance clear: If someone makes testable claims, you test them. The big annoyance I've had with the more trollish theists is that they want to have it both ways: They want to make testable claims about their deity and to have him be untestable.

But overall, yeah, there's no inherent conflict between evolution and theism, just like there's no inherent conflict between gravity and theism: It's just getting a natural explanation for events that some people don't want to be explained.

Small note on morality: Game Theory covers a lot of it: Teamwork is beneficial, so that's one reason we work together and try to maintain a team cohesion, so to speak.

Christian said...

Oh, I wasn't taking the position that religion was the sole source of all morality. I'd be hard-pressed to think of moral principles that grew out of secular thinking that could compete with the pagan "do no harm" or the hebrew "love thy neighbor as thyself" or even the mormon "teach the people correct principles and let them govern themselves" -- if you can think of any, please let me know. But that's an unfair comparison since religious writers have several thousand years head start on the secular philosophers; it doesn't prove that religion is inherently more capable of exploring moral issues than secular philosophy. It just shows that currently, they have more practice and proficiency.

Bronze Dog said...

Sorry if I missed nuances, or failed to communicate some. I tend to think of religion and morality as two completely separate subjects, minus one overlap at Divine Command Theory: They tend to get tangled up more often than they should.

I'm in agreement with most takes on the golden rule, which works without any need for the supernatural elements of religion. Some add on the Heaven/Hell types of things to add an additional incentive for people who don't understand that helping others is an effective, if somewhat roundabout, way of helping yourself.

One note: Secular thinkers have probably been around much longer than you'd think. I'll see if I can get my brother to swing by to give a crash course in the history of philosophy or something.

Christian said...

Oh, the thinkers have been around for longer, but the religious folks had a fair chokehold on what was published and circulated, just as the secular folks have on the academy today. That's why I said it was an unfair picture of history to say that religion's been the sole source of morality.

Sure, if you've got some sources of great moral principles articulated first by ancient secular writers, I'd love to see them. I'll be very surprised if your brother can produce moral axions on the level that I've described above, or on the level of Lao Tzu's writings on the Tao te Ching. But "surprise" does not translate to "disbelief" for me. I prefer to keep my theories of history flexible to accomodate the facts as I learn them :D

In other words, relax, I'm not here to convert you, but to challenge you and expand my own knowledge.

Bronze Dog said...

Sorry if I'm still coming across as on-edge or anything like that. It's sometimes hard to get my tone just right, especially since I tend to run into the bad side of Christianity (using the term very broadly) more often than the civil ones like you.

You can help me unwind a little in a humor thread of mine.

austinatheist said...

"I'll see if I can get my brother to swing by to give a crash course in the history of philosophy or something."

That might take me awhile, and my personal library may not be up to the task.

Ethics is not my specialty (I focused primarily on epistemology and philosophy of religion, with frequent excursions into philosophy of history, mind, and science).

First, I would like us all to consider what it means to say that "morality precedes religion," or vice versa.

This is not necessarily an historical thesis. It could very well be true that religious figures formulated moral axioms before secular thinkers. Either way, the chronology is irrelevant. It doesn't really matter who was first, only who is right, and for what reason.

Philosophically speaking, the argument that morality precedes religion simply means that certain courses of action can be justified rationally, and without any appeals to God or the supernatural. I think Plato was one of the first to broach this question when he inquired as to whether or not certain actions were "good" or "bad" before God declared them so, or only after.

But this thesis could be considered historical if we take into account our evolutionary history. Our proclivities toward moral action more than likely developed along evolutionary lines before we were ever able to communicate them symbolically, or at least effectively, much less formalize them into the axiomatic concepts we see in early religious institutions.

That being said, I'm not sure what kind of history lesson is required to answer these questions.

On the one hand, we could try to establish who was first to formulate an axiomatic moral concept, and whether or not they were a secular or religious thinker. But as stated above, the chronology is irrelevant, so I have little interest in making a futile attempt to answer that question. After all, I only minored in history.

And on he other hand, we need a detailed account of our natural history, something that lies well outside my field of study, so I could only give an account from my armchair, so to speak.

What I'm more interested in is the raw philosophical argument, which is timeless, as well as more accessible.

Weapon of Mass Instruction said...

But here's what I don't get, WOMI. What's your whole beef with the monkey thing? Even if you go with the Bible, you don't know how God created the earth. It says God created adam from the dust, but doesn't say how many intermediary steps there were. And it only says that God created the parts that were created. That implies there's stuff that even God didn't make. Why is the modern religious story so much narrower than the one the Bible tells?

Firstly, the Bible teaches that the world was made by the words of his mouth, not by any evolutionary process. If there was any evolutionary process present, God would have simply stated it.

Secondly, evolution requires millions of years. The Genesis account recounts only 6 days of Creation.

Thirdly, if you are not going to believe the Bible and let it speak for itself, you might as well stop calling yourself Christian because Christ condemns those who would add or take away from his Word.

Bronze Dog said...

I'll leave Christian to leave his own reply to Weapon, but one thing I'm curious about:

...Christ condemns those who would add or take away from his Word.

How'd they determine which books were "his Word," and which weren't.

Weapon of Mass Instruction said...

To my knowledge, no scientist has tried to tell us didley about the human spirit, or whether there is free will, or what is right and wrong, or about our duty to help the poor, be better people. Why can't religion be about that stuff, and science be about science? If we're wrong about the chimps being our distant cousins, I can't see a loving God getting all pissed off just because we got some of the details wrong.

Firstly, if you were trully Christian, you would not esteem science above the word of God. Though the Bible is not a science textbook, there is no conflict present with science.

Secondly, the conflict does not lie between science and religion (there are many scientists who are theistic). The conflict is between two world-views(theistic vs atheistic). This is why evolutionists bark about ID being taught in public schools. They want to secularize society while we want to Christianize society.

Thirdly, evolution robs the glory from God. He would indeed be upset (Romans 1). If he created the world in seven days and someone else is attributing his creation to evolution, then I think he would have a problem with that.

Weapon of Mass Instruction said...

Science shouldn't be about proving God's existence. Isn't that kind of like that guy Uzzah that stuck his hand to hold up the ark?

Your right. But neither should it be about disproving his existence.

Weapon of Mass Instruction said...

But this thesis could be considered historical if we take into account our evolutionary history.

Ha!

A history which one has to go to prehistoric times to trace.

Ha!

Bronze Dog said...

Further evidence that Weapon simply doesn't understand the issues or the people involved at all. Either that, or he's repeating all the big lies of the ID crowd.

Christian said...

You're fine, Bronzedog. I understand your situation completely. I didn't realize when I chose my actual name on blogger that I was drawing a big red target on myself. First the atheists assume I'm a fundy, and then the fundies get pissed that I'm named Christian but that I'm not a fundy. I was just trying to preempt possible misunderstandings by making clear that I'm a dolphin, not another torpedo.

Thanks for the quick reply, austinatheist. I'd better warn you on my own background since our approaches are somewhat perpendicular. I favor Aristotle and Cicero over Plato, favor inductive logic and think that deductive logic is mostly a plaything for academics that don't get out much. :D I also think that many of the problems with modern Christianity trace to neoplatonism, and to the idea of basing a theology on axioms and deductive logic, rather than just telling the Christian story and letting people make up their own minds. I guess I'm one of the dangerous poet types that Plato would have banned from his republic. :)

Thank you for explaining what you mean by morality precedes religion. I agree with you that certain courses of action can be justified rationally, and without any appeals to God or the supernatural. I enjoyed Shaw's observation in Saint Joan that every one of her messages from god could alternately have been justified through inductive logic under known facts at the time. Where you might disagree with Shaw, is that Shaw says that because Joan's conclusions were always rational, that we should regard Joan as rational, even though she may have reasoned through supernatural metaphors. Although Shaw was himself an atheist, he seemed to take the "judge them by their fruits" approach.

I think Plato was one of the first to broach this question when he inquired as to whether or not certain actions were "good" or "bad" before God declared them so, or only after."

That seems like a very religious question to me. Plato's parable of the cave (which I love) is also fraught with profound religious implications.


On the one hand, we could try to establish who was first to formulate an axiomatic moral concept, and whether or not they were a secular or religious thinker. But as stated above, the chronology is irrelevant, so I have little interest in making a futile attempt to answer that question.

Here's why it's relevant to me. Dawkins and others currently seem to think that our society would be better off without religion. I don't think that we can accurately evaluate that question unless we start giving credit where credit is due. It also seems immoral to me to claim credit for the discoveries and ideas of other people, while pronouncing those people irrelevant.

The arrogance of some of my fellow-Christians towards the Jews and Pagans has always bothered me -- we've taken so much from them, in theology, myth, law, images, culture, etc. Aside from actual homicide, I see the same arrogance in Dawkins as in the Christians that burnt down the library of Alexander and murdered Hypatia, the chief librarian, a pagan, and someone I'd consider the first martyr to pluralism.

Dawkins makes mincemeat of a couple of dogmatic statements that Christians say that they believe, but most don't really, when you look at other details of their beliefs. And then Dawkins uses those rebuttals to pronounce religion unnecessary and obsolete. You don't set fire to the whole library just because you don't like something you read on the back of one of the books.

That aspect of Dawkins' argument bears a striking resemblance to some of the fundy arguments against evolution. Find some detail that Darwin got wrong, or some other error or questionable issue, and use it to say that the whole theory should be tossed.

Take, for example, Darwin's focus on "survival of the fittest" aspect. Lynne Margullis comes along and shows that the most significant changes in the history of living things had to do with cooperation rather than competition between species. E.g. the integration of proto-mitochondrion microbes with the proto-eucharyotic cell. Does that "refute" Darwinism? No! It expands it, shows us aspects of speciation that Darwin had no idea about.

Likewise, when Dawkins shows that the idea of a god that is absolutely omnipotent, all-knowing, and loving, simply does not fit the facts of our universe, that does not toss out the idea of God, or even toss out anything in the Bible. If one simply qualifies the omnipotence doctrine, and say rather that God can do everything that can be done, but that certain actions such as creating matter/energy out of nothing, etc., remain impossible for God -- that doesn't destroy the Bible story or the whole doctrine of Christianity. Limited omnipotence is far more consistent with the story that the gospels paint of God, and with the actual beliefs of most Christians that the crucifixion was somehow the "only way" that God knew how to save mankind. ("if there is another way, let this cup pass from me", etc.)

So Dawkins poses an interesting challenge to Christianity, but doesn't exactly knock it down. It's not exactly time for a victory dance.

Christian said...

"But neither should [science] be about disproving [God's] existence."

Good point, WMI. I had a middle school biology teacher that, after giving a 1/2 hour introductory explanation to darwinism, announced that pretty much "proved" that the Bible was crap.

Firstly, if you were trully Christian, you would not esteem science above the word of God.

I don't. But the Bible doesn't even say that the whole thing is the word of God. It says that some parts are the word of God, and that some parts are the word of man, and that some parts are the word of the devil. If you say that the letters of Paul were written by God rather than by Paul, then you're calling God a liar, since the text says that Paul wrote them.

When the text says that the devil says X, I don't say that X is the word of God.

As for Genesis, that part talks about God in third person. Since God is not Bob Dole, and does not speak of himself in 3rd person, I presume that someone else is doing the speaking.

The day stuff seems kind of funky. If you take that literally, then you call either God or the Genesis narrator a liar, since God tells adam that on the DAY that he eats the fruit, that he'll die. And yet the Bible says Adam lives hundreds of years after eating the fruit. That's a pretty long day, isn't it?

austinatheist said...

Not only does Weapon of Mass Retardation misunderstand evolutionary theory, he also misunderstands historical inquiry. That's because he believes that much of human history is reducible to what little historical information the Bible contains.

In stating that we need a detailed account of our evolutionary history, I mean that the investigation would rightly not be limited to what early humans either did or did not record. History can be written and even re-written in retrospect by means of both direct and indirect evidence so as to be more accurate.

I suppose he would have to reject even Biblical archeology if he were to be consistent in his reasoning.

Christian said...

"only does Weapon of Mass Retardation misunderstand "

You know, I used to use that word like that too, as an insult, until I had an autistic son. Now I really hate hearing it used that way. Sorry to be hypersensitive, and you're welcome to delete this remark!

Bronze Dog said...

I apologize on my brother's behalf. Sometimes hard to get out of a meme-originating habit. We'll restrain ourselves.

Christian said...

That's because he believes that much of human history is reducible to what little historical information the Bible contains.

I don't know WMI well or even if he's a complete fundy, but fundies I've spoken too often take it beyond history to archeology, geology, and the whole shebang. But here's where it gets odd. They want their science from the Bible, but then they take their religion mostly from sources outside the bible, from various theologians, preachers, etc. Go figure. For example, they say that the Bible contains everything that God wants us to know, but the Bible never makes that claim. Go figure.

In stating that we need a detailed account of our evolutionary history, I mean that the investigation would rightly not be limited to what early humans either did or did not record. History can be written and even re-written in retrospect by means of both direct and indirect evidence so as to be more accurate.

Wow. That's a tough project. Perhaps comparing the movements of mitochnodrial DNA with movements of y-dna would show when peoples moved by war versus by migration. That would be a start. For example, if the history's correct, in Taiwan we'd see polynesian mitochondrial DNA and Chinese yDNA, since the stories say that Chinese came in 3 or more waves, killing the men and raping the women. Comparing mDNA to yDNA in remains that we locate could verify historical claims, and also create a picture where there is no history. What other tricks like that to pick up objective information?

Christian said...

Don't worry about it. I shouldn't come on other people's blogs and tell them how to speak.

austinatheist said...

Your welcome, Christian. And I'm glad you've joined us in this discussion. With WOMI always lurking about a civil debate is quite refreshing.

About Plato and I, I did not mean to imply that I follow in the footsteps of the neoplatonists. I just wanted to offer the earliest example of that question that I could recall.

As for Plato's question, I'm still looking for the dialogue in which it occurred so I can maybe post some of it here. So far all I can say is although Plato assumes the existence of God in the question, he does so purely for the sake of argument (something WOMI has proven himself incapable of understanding on numerous occasions, not that you don't, Christian). The question is intended as a kind of thought experiment, or as one of the peculiar leading questions Socrates enjoyed so much (and knowing Plato's dialogues, those words were probably put in his mouth, so to speak). I would, however, agree that whatever answer can be given to that question will have implications for both philosophical and religious modes of thought.

As for Shaw, I've encountered that logic before, and I would agree so long as we're using a very broad definition of "rationality." Granted, Saint Joan gave "reasons" for her actions, but the merits of those reasons is a whole other question altogether.

By "irrelevant," I only meant to imply that determining who was first is not necessary to answer the philosophical argument as to weather or not morality precedes religion. Credit should be given where credit is due, as you say. Perhaps the answer I'm looking for would be the bare minimum. And maybe the order in which I presented my thoughts was misleading.

And finally, we come to Dawkins. I can sympathize with your criticisms of his work, even though I tend to agree with him on certain things, if only because I've done some of my own homework. I am currently of the opinion that there is something fundamentally (no pun intended) flawed about religious thought, though pinning it down is perhaps more difficult than some people would like to believe. But I'm not sure I want to open that can of worms today. And if it's any consolation, the chapter in which he presents his argument against the existence of God is titled "Why There Almost Certainly Is No God," on account of its reliance on probability (my emphasis). Something about the phrase "almost certain" has always irked me, but I suppose we may all have to qualify our arguments to death one day.

austinatheist said...

I'm sorry if my use of the word "retardation" in my little pet name for WOMI has offended you, Christian. I certainly wouldn't refer to an autistic child as "retarded." That would be cruel. The sense in which I mean "retardation" is that he and his ilk are a hindrance to any constructive debate. He is "something that retards," in other words, he is the cause, not the victim. In my dictionary, that's the second definition, whereas the offensive one is the third. I'm not trying to be pedantic. I had to come up with something to counter his use of the word "instruction." We have other names for him if you like:)

austinatheist said...

"I don't know WMI well or even if he's a complete fundy..."

I hate to say it, but if you ask me, WOMI might be worse.

Christian said...

You didn't offend me, Austin, and it's very kind of you to accomodate my sensitivity to the term. It's fun to spoof internet sigs; that's a game I've sometimes played too.

I wouldn't call an autistic kid retarted either. When my son was three, he was the brightest of my sons. He made up a poem:

"I'm living, I'm living, in the time of the butterfly, and the wind's not going to change me anymore."

Unfortunately, at age 4, he had a bed reaction to a vaccine, and he lost his immune system, then his digestive system, lost massive weight, then started becoming wild and uncontrollable, then started losing his ability to speak. His last words were "Mom, I need some medicine." It's been two and a half years. Recently he started saying "Hi."

He's hard to control and in public (particularly when we sit in hospital waiting rooms) people get impatient and call him a "retard." (Not everyone in Las Vegas is a cold-blooded heartless creep, but the city seems to attract a disproportionate number.)

Anyway, sorry for the longwinded story. Just wanted you to understand why I get so wound up about the word, even though I understand completely that you aren't meaning it in the sadistic sense that I'm always hearing the term.

Christian said...

I hate to say it, but if you ask me, WOMI might be worse.

Would you believe that some psychotic on a WordPress board thinks that WOMI and I are the same person, because we both come from Las Vegas? :D

Christian said...

To be fair, I think after hearing my response to his "word of God" argument, WOMI's probably even more offended to be mistaken for me. BTW, are my challenges to WOMI off topic on this thread and blog? I sometimes wander.

Bronze Dog said...

[Derail]

I hope you don't think that the vaccine caused the autism. It's true that vaccines can cause fevers and other reactions, but there's currently zero evidence to suggest they could cause autism. Most people make the connection based on coincidence: The symptoms of autism tend to show up at the same age that vaccines were schedules for.

If you'd like to know more, you can stop by Respectful Insolence or Autism Diva

[/Derail]

Christian said...

cool -- looks like I'm not off topic:

...Christ condemns those who would add or take away from his Word.

Good point! My understanding though is that those verses in question apply specifically to the Book of Revelations. In fact, the book of John was written after Revelations (by the same apostle), but the Cannonizers put Revelations at the back of the book. Not sure whether this was the editors' intent, but this rearrangement has the effect of making it look like God's warning applies to the whole Bible, rather than just to Revelations.

If the warning applied to the whole Bible, then King James would have been cursed for that glowing introduction to the "King James Bible." [joke]Maybe that editors' curse explains why King James was flamingly gay[/joke].

Christian said...

I don't know whether it did, but I can't dismiss the possibility. The immune problems started within days of the shot, and it just escalated from there. It wasn't until 9 months later when doctors started saying autism that my wife started doing net searches and found the same damned story over and over again.

And I read the ethics board charges against Wakefield on the board's own website. That's a frame-job. Whether he's right or wrong, that ethics board is abusing power to shut him down. Their redefinition of "consent" to pretend that he did the study without patient consent, is the most loathesome exercise in sophistry that I've ever seen. Again, not reading this off a wacky anti-vaccine board, but off the medical ethics board's own account.

Note also after 9-11, Bill Frist managed to sneak a provision into a national defense bill, a provision to make vaccine companies not liable for mental damage caused by their vaccines.

Finally, RFK's article claims that the CDC refuses to allow researchers access to their data unless it's clear up front that they are trying to disprove the link.

I have yet to confirm the last accusation, but the other two are confirmed. This evidence does not prove that the vaccine actually causes the problem, but it does strongly suggest that persons in power believe there may be a connection and are trying to prevent people from looking into it.

I do agree that there are plenty of fraudsters out there trying to take advantage of parents with autistic kids.

Autism Diva annoyed me with the whole "not an epidemic" thing. I don't care for semantic games. When what used to be a rare condition suddenly baloons to destroy the lives of more than 1% of boys (1 in 166 children, 80% of those affected are boys), that's a very serious problem that the country needs to deal with. If epidemic isn't the technical word for that level of destruction, then find a word that makes people wake up and that doesn't pooh pooh our anguish.

More than 85% of families with an autistic kid divorce within a couple years. Some commit suicide together. My son's hopes aren't the only ones that have been destroyed here.

Please don't let the intensity of my feelings on this subject cause you to think that you've said anything that offends me. I'll go back and continue to read AD's site when I get over the "not an epidemic" annoyance. I'm touchy, but I'm not closed-minded. I'm not looking for someone to blame. My son's been buried alive, and I'm trying to get him out.

Christian said...

"The symptoms of autism tend to show up at the same age that vaccines were schedules for."

All of our doctors have told us that autism symptoms almost never show up as late as age 4. My son got his MMR late, and developed the symptoms almost immediately after. In fact, because of that they are hesitant to call it autism even though none of the symptoms (other than age of onset) diverge from autism). Doesn't that kind of sound like reshuffling the evidence against the vaccine connection? Not suggesting they are doing it on purpose, but it seems like bad science to systematically exclude the possibility that this is vaccine related.

Bronze Dog said...

Okay, I'm going to try to stay calm.

#1: The 1 in 166 statistic involves a lot of statistical legerdemain, the broadest possible categorization, and reliance on older diagnoses being less accurate and/or narrower in focus: Comparing apples with all of fruit.

#2: There's no mechanism proposed for how vaccines could cause autism. Those claiming a link between them change their minds about what's causing it every week, as well as which vaccine's allegedly doing it. The ones who conduct experiments seldom involve realistic conditions, and only do things like nerve cells in petri dishes, unrealistically high doses in rats, and testosterone sheets being made in hot benzene, and expecting us to believe the same will happen in the human body.

3. A lot of them like to deliberately confuse "mercury" (the nasty monoatomic ion) and "thimerosal" (A large molecule, which means it has completely different properties).

4. The anti-vaxxers, chelators, and so forth want you to think autism is a hopeless diagnosis without their help. They want you to see the disease first and the child you wish you had. I won't pretend it'll be easy, but autistics can live a happy, productive life without magical miracle cures. You have to adapt to them, and society should be encouraged as well. I believe the natural improvement rate is over 75%, even if you don't do anything special. They try to cash in on the assumption that autistics go into developmental stasis, rather than a delay in some areas.

5. Even if you don't take the ethics violations into account, the data linking vaccines and autism are uniformly shoddy. The ethics violations are just icing on the cake.

And just to note: Since this thread would get very long if this derail continues, I'd suggest you find a thread over on Respectful Insolence, or a blog that specializes in medical stuff to continue.