Purpose

chickenpopquizI don’t understand those religious apologists who claim purpose as a reason for their beliefs. Or, more precisely, I find their arguments unconvincing.

There is an example in a post by James at the local Catholic apologetics blog Being Frank (see Audacity of faith). Here he describes his purpose:

“God has put me here to discover Him, to choose to follow and love Him, and to show Him to other people.  Simple as that.  My reward for doing these things?  When I die in this life, I get to exist forever with Him in a state of pure supernatural bliss.”

So Frank believes that this is the reason his god created the universe!

But it’s all very vague. Mission statements should be more concrete.

Getting out of bed

Of course the usual flip side of such apologetics hubris is the assumption that non-theists have no purpose. James goes on:

“What comfort does your belief in a lack of purpose in the universe (and your life) provide you?  If there is no God involved in the creation of existence, and if there is no afterlife, what gets you out of bed in the morning?  When times get tough, since this is all there is, how do you carry on?  What comfort is there in an existence with no purpose?”

Come on James! Look at the facts. The third of New Zealand’s (at last census and growing) without a religion don’t stay in bed all day. And they do “carry on.” There’s just no evidence for large numbers of non-theists topping themselves. And we get regular news of theists committing suicide – usually with bombs and usually taking innocent others with them.

For James to ask these questions suggests he has no understanding of people with different beliefs to his. We all have our own purpose in life – and most of us can describe these more precisely than James has done. And many of us don’t base our purpose on bronze age myths.

What caused the “big bang”?

James also throws out the hoary old question – What caused the Big Bang?” He asserts:

“Either you believe someone/something(s) purposefully initiated it (which I like to do), or you don’t.  Care to try and convince me that what you believe is better?  I know you can’t prove you’re right, just like I can’t, so convince me as to the benefit of changing what I believe.”

But, James, the origin of the universe, just like the origin of our planet and the origin and evolution of life are not a matter of “belief.” They are a matter of objective facts. And many humans have as their personal purpose the discovery of these facts. “Beliefs,” and especially the “god did it” beliefs are of no use in this quest.

James could benefit from considering another cosmological example – Isaac Newton’s problem with the planar arrangement of the planets. (See Isaac Newton and intelligent design). Newton was able to explain much with his laws of motion and gravitation but he gave up on the planar arrangement and “explained” it as created by his god. He wrote: “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent Being.”

This “god did it” “explanation” had two results. It prevented him from persisting with the problem and solving it himself (something he was clearly capable of doing). And it left the discovery of the real reasons to be made by those who came after him.

James commits the same mistake when he says that his god caused the “big bang.” He’s no closer to understanding the phenomenon. But James might feel he is on safer ground here thinking that such a big question is beyond science. Well, they used to say that about lightning and thunder – didn’t they.

Worth getting out of bed for

Currently we have no physical theory applicable to conditions at the very early stages of the evolution of the universe (although we can go back to fractions of a second). But, we are working on it. The fact that we can ask questions about what came before the “big bang”, develop speculative hypothesis about this and the big bang itself, and suggest experimental ways of evaluating these shows we are making progress. For more details have a look at Roger Penrose’s lecture (Before the Big Bang: Is There Evidence For Something And If So, What?). We don’t need James’s “god of the gaps” here – or anywhere else.

Now, I think most people will agree that this and similar research is amazing. It’s certainly worth getting out of bed for in the morning – even if your role is to appreciate rather than directly participate in this human endeavour.

I find this purpose far easier to understand than the vague apologetics mission statement James gives.

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209 responses to “Purpose

  1. It’s doesn’t seem that he is simply intellectually lazy, but I’m at a loss as to why an intelligent person could find it so difficult to imagine that “Ultimate Purpose” is neither a given nor automatically translated into personal purpose.

    For a long time I thought positions like this, along with the “How can you be good without god?” question and the idea that Pascal’s Wager is a knock down argument against atheism were parodies and that real people couldn’t possibly hold such ridiculous view points. Live and learn, and be disappointed.

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  2. Hi Ken

    A well thought out response – I’ve been following the blog over at BF.

    I think in a way you missed a nuance of the original posting – My reading of James’s post was not that he assumed atheists didn’t have a purpose – he was merely asking for a response on what that purpose was, if there was one (as far as I know there are plenty of people bouncing around with no thought of purpose at all). You’ve provided a thoughtful answer – thanks very much. Whether James is converted by your answer is another topic altogether (you’ll have to ask him! :-)).

    I also don’t think it’s so ludicrous that an intelligent person can believe there is a purpose in life beyond science. The quest for the answer to how the universe came into being is a noble purpose for intelligent people to pursue. But the quest for the answer to why the universe began is significant too.

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  3. I don’t think anyone is saying that it is ludicrous to posit purpose beyond science. I have a keen interest in science and science informs much of my outlook but I wouldn’t consider science to be the source of purpose in my life. That is confered by my relationships and personal goals.
    I’m also of the opinion that some questions are not alway legitimate to ask, such as why the big bang happened in the sense of there being a purpose rather than a physical reason.

    James also seems to completely miss the point of atheism, it’s not about comfort or providing benefits. It’s (more-or-less) about evidence and skepticism.

    On James’ assumption of atheists lack of purpose he states it outright:
    “What comfort is there in an existence with no purpose?”.

    I’d also venture that most atheist are not interested in converting theists, so long as they do not impose their beliefs on the rest of us they can go their merry way.

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  4. I agree – I don’t think most atheists/non-theists are in to converting theists, as James seems to assume. I think we could probably agree that we support the human rights issue though, that atheists have as much right to exist, to freedom, to contributing to our pluralist society as theists. Sometimes this seems to be forgotten by the more prosletysing theists. (and it certainly was by the National Statement on Religious Diversity).

    Nor are my purposes restricted to scientific ones. I can have the purpose of appreciating (in the sense of awesome admiring and of attempting to understand) reality – where that reality includes art and history as well as science.

    “Why the universe began?” seems to me a pointless question. Meaningful “why” questions can usually be unpacked into “how” questions. Religionists keep on insisting on the exclusive right to provide answers to “why” questions but never seem to be able to provide meaningful ones.

    It is an empty claim that is continually being justified by circular bafflegabble.

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  5. As one who has had the pleasure of being on both sides of the theistic fence I’d like to assure James that I have felt a sense of ‘purpose’ regardless of my beliefs. Why? Probably because in the end we all create our own senses of purpose.

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  6. “What comfort is there in an existence with no purpose?”

    It ‘s an odd question.
    There are several objections to it but the first one that comes to mind is that creating a fantasy of an invisible sky-person just to give yourself some undefined fuzzy “purpose” so that you can feel “comfort” doesn’t sound like a bright idea.

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  7. Ken,

    I found your response post quite confused.

    You seem to conflate two different ideas;
    (1) There is objective purpose in life.
    (2) It is an objective fact of the world that people believe they have purpose.

    While the theist can affirm (1) – that there is objective purpose in life – the atheist only has justification only for (2) – which gives only a subjective belief about what their purpose is.

    You give no grounded explanation as to why we live like there is objective purpose in the first sense: why our pet-projects, dreams and desires really do matter in the scheme of things.

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  8. Actually, Stuart, I don’t think James made your points 1 and 2 at all. He was purely claiming and describing his own purpose in life and asserting that non-theists had no purpose (without justifying that assertion).

    I think your own assertions require far more justification, or at least elaboration:

    1: An objective purpose to life??
    What could that be. Life implies certain processes including reproduction and evolution – so I guess you can describe them as objective purposes.

    But as intelligent beings we go well beyond such objective purposes. We can have conscious purposes and ones not determined by the life process itself, or by our normal and natural instincts.

    I showed how humanity and individual humans have come up with some pretty awe inspiring purposes – not conditioned by bronze-age mythology.

    But, perhaps you should clarify yourself:

    1: What do you mean by the “objective” purpose to life? Do you mean to apply it to “life” as a phenomena or to a living human?

    2: What do you accept as “purpose?” Does that require consciousness or does all life have purpose?

    3: Tell us what your “purpose” is? Is it the same as others? Is it just the same as other theists?

    4: Do you consider James’s “purpose” – as quoted above -is an objective or subjective purpose?

    As things stand I have no way of interpreting your comments, especially your understanding of (objective) purpose (and why it should be different to mine).

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  9. Ken,

    By “objective” I mean not influenced by personal feelings or opinions; not existing solely in the mind. By “purpose” I mean simply a reason to imbue this life with existential significance and overarching meaning in the scheme of history. By “life” I mean the days and years
    allotted to this earthly existence – “sperm to worm” as they say.

    So if God exists, as James and I believe, all human life has this objective purpose – whether we feel like it or not, whether we believe it or not.

    But if God does not exist, there just doesn’t seem to be any way of rationally justifying any purpose in this objective sense. Actually, it is even stronger than that. It seems that the atheist cannot obtain objective purpose. Thus it becomes right to say that atheist has no objective purpose in life.

    With respect to (4); I would consider it one description of what objective purpose may be, but arrived at subjectively.

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  10. Still confusing, Stuart, but I take from your comment that you consider there is an “objective purpose” (to what?) existing independently of humanity. That exists even if we were not here. Well, you will have to be more precise on this and provide some evidence (as surely one can for an “objective” claim) that this “purpose” exists independently of consciousness.

    But neither James or my post was about that. James claimed that the non-theist had no reason to get out of bed in the morning, or to carry on living. All quite out of step with the facts.

    He claimed that people like me have no purpose in life – again completely out of step with the facts (and an extremely arrogant claim for any person to make about another).

    I guess you also will disagree with James because you do acknowledge “It is an objective fact of the world that people believe they have purpose.” (James was denying that fact for the non-theist).

    James described the purpose he believes he has, I have given an indication of aspects of mine. What is yours? What the hell does “existential significance and overarching meaning in the scheme of history” mean, precisely? And why does it require theist beliefs?

    Your logic seems to be the old familiar Christian hubris – we have argued about this regarding morality (remember your claim that Atheists should not criticise Hitler?). You smugly talk about an “objective purpose” which only you and James have access to – yet can’t say what it is.

    I am quite interested in being specific in this subject – to actually ask people who claim a purpose to specifically state it. In my experience, if one sits back and strips such claimed purposes of the god mumbo jumbo, one usually finds that the underlying logic is almost exactly the same as I would state for my own purpose. However, I claim that because I can state my purpose more precisely, without recourse to the god-bothering bafflegab, that I have more clarity on this subject. But then again I don’t allow myself to be surrounded by such loose mumbo jumbo anyway.

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  11. Ken,

    I don’t see why you don’t get it. The idea is that without recourse to God there is no objective purpose to human existence. All an atheist’s purposes, all his pet-projects, interests and desires, plans and goals, are for nothing in the objective sense. They are only subjective and therefore ultimately have no justifiable reason or outside grounding for them.

    The author of Hebrews writes in him [God] we live, and move and have our being. It take this – at least partially – to mean that God grounds the meaning that imbues our lives with the significance and importance that all humans can testify of from their own experience. Augustine is famous for crying out, “There’s gotta be something more!” Some honest and deep reflection of your own philosophy should hopefully reveal that atheism is truely purposeless and hope-less. This is not Christian hubris. Bertrand Russell poetically and eloquently laments in A Free Man’s Worship;

    “That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; […] that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins–all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”

    [italics mine]

    Sartre, Camus, and many other atheists have also expressed the despair, purposelessness and hopelessness, to which atheism inevitably leads.

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  12. despair, purposelessness and hopelessness, to which atheism inevitably leads.

    Gee Stuart, thanks for telling me, here I was leading a happy and fulfilled life, finding my purpose in life I’ve made for myself, the people I love and the goals I’ve set myself. But know you’ve told. It’s ‘inevitable’, in the final summation the universe won’t care about what I’ve achieved here and really, what other way is there to define one’s life.

    (You don’t thing your declaration is just a trifle arrogant?)

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  13. Do you think Bertrand Russell was arrogant? It was his point as well.

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  14. I’m too busy to read all of the article and the comments, so just a couple a quick loose thoughts from skimming the last few posts.

    Stuart: many religious people have expressed the despair, purposelessness and hopelessness their particular experience of their religion led them to 😉

    to which atheism inevitably leads

    Foisting an argument on others doesn’t make it true. You’ve been told this enough times that you haven’t much excuse for repeating this particular error in my book 😉

    Religious “purposes to exist” are subjective… In particular, they are subject (conditional upon) your assumptions about your religion, gods, etc.

    Anyone can decide/invent some purposes/objectives for their own lives. Others might objective with how other people arrive at them, but it’s a nonsense to say that people can’t define their own objectives (or purposes). It’s also arrogant in a sense: religious people are doing just that in using their religion as their purpose just as others use other things as their purpose.

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  15. Some quick fire comments;

    Religious peoples despair not relevant to the argument. (1) I defend Christianity, not any old religious belief. (2) That is anecdotal evidence. (3) If these people did report such feelings, how can you be sure they were truly knew God as a Christian is supposed to? (4) Likewise, how can you be sure they were not just mentally depressed? Not relevant.

    Foisting an argument: Likewise, asserting that an argument doesn’t stick is not evidence it doesn’t stick. If someone wants to avoid the implications that atheism isn’t objectively purposeless, then someone needs to somehow to find the ground for that objectivity.

    Religious “purposes to exist” are still subjectively perceived, even if they are objective. . .

    . . . And of course they are contingent upon God existing. That’s really the point isn’t it! – no God, no objective purpose in life.

    Final paragraph: I haven’t been talking about subjective purpose. I haven’t been talking about peoples right to actualise (in a Kierkegaardian leap-of-faith style) their own purpose for their lives. I’ve been talking of atheism’s inability to ground the objective purpose for peoples life – the kind of purpose that we all, in out hearts, perceive we need.

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  16. Religious peoples despair not relevant to the argument.

    I laughed out loud at this. You want to dismiss out of hand what doesn’t suit you… Why is that so familiar a approach from some types of religious people. More importantly, in doing this you have missed the point of why I wrote what I did. I was pointing out that your statement equally applied to all, and hence wasn’t specific of any one “side”, as you made out. By the way, the list of “things to do” equally applies, too. (You just have to rewrite the subjects and objects of the sentences appropriately as I did in the sentence you are replying to.)

    Likewise, asserting that an argument doesn’t stick is not evidence it doesn’t stick.

    Missing the point of what I wrote at least twice over! Once, for trying to avoid that you foisting an argument and trying to reply in vein will never make what you wrote right: you’d still be in the wrong. Secondly, for not “getting” that my point was that your claim applies to all in appropriate circumstances, not specifically to atheists. (It’s not specifically about religious people, it’s trying to get you to see that your claim isn’t limited in the way that you make out.)

    . . . And of course they are contingent upon God existing. That’s really the point isn’t it! – no God, no objective purpose in life.

    To write this you have not only missed the point or what your are replying or are trying to avoid what I wrote. Let repeat for you:

    Religious “purposes to exist” are subjective… In particular, they are subject (conditional upon) your assumptions about your religion, gods, etc.

    Your “final paragraph” re-affirms that you are missing the point of what I wrote. Your choosing (subjectively) to base your “purpose” on your religion is just as subjective as anyone else choosing to base their purpose on other things (including other religions for that matter).

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  17. Heraclides,

    Just because a purpose founded upon a religious premise is subjective, does not automatically mean that it is only subjective. If there is a God, then there is objective purpose for human life and existence, both individually and corporately.

    If you are trying to maintain that atheism does provide an objective foundation for purpose in life, then by all means provide it. Until then, I think my claim – that athiesm does not prove this foundation – in concord with the insights of Russell, is a valid inference.

    Until this ground can be demonstrated, then atheism really is a philosophy of despair.

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  18. Stuart – there’s a huge gap in your logic here. If there is a god, or gods, or creator of the universe, etc., etc. (extremely big if) why should this necessarily mean that their is any purpose to the life and existence of any biological species? And why do you think that an individual member of such a species is capable of elucidating what that purpose is (reading the mind of god)?

    Aren’t we in the same old boat of moral relativism which religious claims, divine command theory, etc inevitably leads to? We can make up any old story, claim it is true because it is “the word of god.” Then we have god’s backing for that claim whether it be a moral command or a claimed purpose.

    We can then use this for any desired action or claim (racism, slavery, denying rights to women and same sex relationships, etc., etc – the list goes on and on – or claiming our purpose is to worship a god through the appropriate local agent, of course, and with the appropriate tithe). We can claim this has nothing to do with our prejudices – it is all objective, all ordained by our god!

    But once you tear the blinkers off you see it for what it is – an extreme form of moral relativism. A morality and list of claims that cannot be justified objectively.

    Perhaps we should reverse your assertion. Until it can be demonstrated that there is a specific god, that this being is at all concerned about a specific species let alone a specific individual then “theism is a philosophy of despair.” Stupid isn’t it?

    By the way, along the lines of my discussion of the objective basis for morality (see Human Morality II: Objective morality) I think one can justify purpose objectively. On the basis that we are an intelligent, sentient species with all that implies. It’s worth discussing this idea – it has far more going for it than the vague assertions you are making. And it’s inclusive – it doesn’t childishly exclude a large and growing part of humanity

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  19. So your syllogism is
    1. Atheism offers no objective purpose to life
    2. Without objective purpose humans inevitably fall into despair
    3. Atheism is a ‘philosophy of despair’

    Can I suggest you talk and, this may be a stretch, listen to a single non-religious person (they’re pretty easy to find these days…). No one I know could care less about ‘objective’ purposes in their life, they just get on with it.

    In fact, if I was a little more arrogant than I am I might suggest that the sort of person that requires some external force to give their life purpose ought to take a look at their life…

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  20. (saw this post, was busy at the time and couldn’t be bothered, etc. – but will make a quick comment now)

    Frankly, I don’t care what James said (and it’s always difficult lifting a quote out of context and extrapolating from it, etc.). But this is not a new issue, and Stuart is right to point to Bertrand Russell (he could mention others, such as Nietzsche, Fuerbach, Marx, etc.) as an example of key anti-religious thinkers who acknowledge the lack of any kind of objectively-existing purpose whatsoever.

    The discussion points are simple:

    1 – BEHAVIOR: We all behave purposefully.

    2 – BELIEF: (a) Atheists believe their purposeful behaviour is based on a sense of purpose that is humanly constructed, and which has absolutely nothing to do with non-existant gods, etc.
    (b) Theists believe their purposeful behaviour is a subjective response to an objectively existing creator who has invested reality with purpose, which has an objective grounding in the being of God, but is nonetheless subjectively discerned/discovered/worked-out by humans.

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  21. Dale – are you serious – “Frankly, I don’t care what James said (and it’s always difficult lifting a quote out of context and extrapolating from it, etc.).”

    The whole point of my post was what James said, so why comment if you don’t care? And the quote is hardly “lifted” as it is well hyperlinked – you can check out exactly what James said. Contrasting completely with your use of “authorities” (Bertrand Russell, Nietzsche, Fuerbach, Marx, etc.) without links or even quotes! A serious engagement with my post would surely at least present the arguments these people used! As it is, the references to them are worthless and meaningless. (It has certainly been my experience that when people quote Marx they invariable do it opportunistically, and almost invariably get it wrong. he must be the most misrepresented philosopher ever).

    I think we all agree that our sense of purpose is humanly constructed – whether we are theists or non-theists. No-one has given any justification for the existence of an “objective purpose” – test this by answering the question where that purpose exists.

    However, I think that, as with human morality, we can justify an objective basis for purpose – our existence as independent, sentient, intelligent beings and all that implies.

    Now Dale – at least you are arguing more sensibly than Stuart in saying “Theists believe their purposeful behaviour is a subjective response to an objectively existing creator who has invested reality with purpose” and that theists “discover” their purposes subjectively.

    However, you are still stuck with the huge problem of claiming knowledge of a part of reality to which you have no access (and which you claim it is impossible to find anything about), claiming knowledge of a “being” which you also claim is unknowable and still claiming you can read the “mind” of this being. How else could you than claim this being has a purpose, let alone confidently telling us what that purpose is??

    It’s a pretty weak basis for such strong assertions. And it’s particularly a weak basis for making claims about other people!

    This is what I find so reprehensible about the arguments of James and Stuart. It’s a “them vs us” argument aimed at demonising “them.” We know where that leads.

    As I said, we may argue about my interpretation of purpose and its objective basis or otherwise. But at least my interpretation is inclusive. No-one is being demonised.

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  22. the quote is hardly “lifted” as it is well hyperlinked – you can check out exactly what James said. Contrasting completely with your use of “authorities” (Bertrand Russell, Nietzsche, Fuerbach, Marx, etc.) without links or even quotes! A serious engagement with my post would surely at least present the arguments these people used! As it is, the references to them are worthless and meaningless.

    For goodness sake, it’s a blog comment 🙂 Totally worthless, as is, aye? As if there isn’t easily found content on the friggin web about these men (for anyone who knows about Google and how to cut/paste a flippin’ name). 🙂

    No-one has given any justification for the existence of an “objective purpose” – test this by answering the question where that purpose exists.emphasis mine

    Purpose is a metaphysical entity, which is not found somewhere, but is rather discerned through a continuing combination of things like reason and intuition. It doesn’t have a colour, shape, weight, length, height, nor does it have a location (i.e. as if one could ‘point’ to it – “Oh look! Purpose is there, behind SN1987A!”).

    It’s a “them vs us” argument aimed at demonising “them.”

    Nobody is being demonised here, Ken. It’s merely a re-hashing of an issue that is pretty old.

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  23. Well, Dale. It is worthless unless the argument or quote is given. For example – what about quoting to me exactly what Marx has said on this issue (or provide a link). Although i have read it a bit of Marx directly I wouldn’t know what to look for because nothing has been said.

    Purpose is a metaphysical entity?? Well it’s not objective then, is it. Seems to me we can only talk about purpose as an intent of a concious mind. Subjective to that mind. If you then wish to describe that as objective (because it doesn’t reside in your mind) then we have billions of objective purposes on this planet, don’t we.

    Stuart and his mates are into demonising. They continually try to find a basic difference between theists and non-theists – usually misrepresenting the non-theists in the process. Morality, Purpose. What will they come up with next?

    And James was doing exactly that too.

    Sure, it might be arrogance on their part but is is the classical “them vs us” strategy which causes so much trouble.

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  24. Purpose is a metaphysical entity?? Well it’s not objective then, is it.

    So metaphysical entities are by default subjective? Where is this irreversible law? 🙂

    Seems to me we can only talk about purpose as an intent of a concious mind. Subjective to that mind.

    And how does this in any way automatically rule out the possibility of a transcendent, divine conscious mind?

    If you then wish to describe that as objective (because it doesn’t reside in your mind) then we have billions of objective purposes on this planet, don’t we.

    Are you suggesting that mere disagreement regarding purpose necessitates that there is automatically no such thing as any kind of objective purpose whatsoever?

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  25. On a bit of a tangental note: I would like to call into question the whole idea of purpose itself.

    It seems to me that modern scientific ideas of the way people think and the possible evolutionary basis for those thoughts, has highlighted an absolutely massive blind spot when it comes to purpose.

    That is: Our species seems to see almost everything in the context of causality and agency. It is not too hard to see how an overactive allocation of purpose and causality to unexplained events on the savannah would be selected for as an evolutionary adaptation. i.e its better to have some false alarms of predatory behaviour, and run to live another day, than to have an insensitivity to these signals.

    This sense is so strong that we almost always have big problems interpreting events that are entirely probabilistic or arbitrary. Hence the prevalence of the “woo” style explanations for almost everything.

    Luckily we can fight against these instinctive responses, ignore our “gut feelings” and engage with our modern reality using our evolutionary trump card, that is , through the application of evidence based reasoning, and communication of such through our culture(s). (This is our major advantage, as it allows our species to react at much shorter timeframes than evolutionary changes)

    Finally, for me, it seems clear why the issue of purpose seems important to almost everybody, but it also seems clear that this allocation of importance to our “purpose” comes from our evolutionary inheritance, rather than any evidence or knowledge of a shared purpose or objective outside of the physical laws of the universe, and as such is not really even all that interesting.

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  26. Nick,
    What I hear you saying is that we’ve inherited our sense of “Purpose” from our evolutionary background…” (“it seems clear why the issue of purpose seems important to almost everybody…”) “…but we now (somehow?) know better (all of the sudden?) than to think that there is any real purpose to things (“…but it also seems clear that this allocation of importance to our “purpose” comes from our evolutionary inheritance, rather than any evidence or knowledge of a shared purpose or objective outside of the physical laws of the universe…”).

    I missed the part where you demonstrate how evolution necessitates no purpose 🙂

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  27. Ken,

    I haven’t demonised anyone. I’m sorry you feel that way. .

    Also, the “them vs. us” situation is inevitable in any discussion when people are taking sides. You are also taking a “them vs. us” approach and so there is a double-standard there. For those two reasons I don’t think that is a legitimate complaint.

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  28. Also, the “them vs. us” situation is inevitable in any discussion when people are taking sides. You are also taking a “them vs. us” approach and so there is a double-standard there. For those two reasons I don’t think that is a legitimate complaint.

    Hear hear.

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  29. Ken,

    Your idea that metaphysical entities are not objective is crazy! Unless you are equating the word “objective” with the word “empirical.” The property of “redness” exists objectively – thus is an objective metaphysical entity. “Time” is a metaphysical entity that is objective. “Truth” is a metaphysical entity that is objective. Apparently most professional philosophers today consider morality to be objective – morality being a metaphysical entity.

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  30. Just picking up a few loose threads.

    A few have written trying to grant religion a “special place” with respect to purpose. My point was that it has none. It has exactly the same basis for “purpose” as any other.

    Religious people seem to want to make “purpose” some pre-destined (or pre-defined) thing, leaving out that they chose to follow a particular religion in the first place and in doing that they chose a particular arbitrary framework as a basis of “purpose” for themselves. Others choose to give their lives some kind of focus in the same general way with out religion. In the end they all have in common that the person chose for themselves some particular focus/aims/framework. In that sense they are all much the same.

    Nick, you’ve raised a good point (to my mind, anyway!). Perhaps as a species we have a need to have a “basis” (i.e. “purpose”) for actions, since that’s the wiring of our brains. Perhaps for behaviour that’s not essential (in the sense of survival), we try create a “purpose framework” that supplants (or at least extends) that used for more basic activities.

    Dale, my reading is that Nick’s key point was that a need for “purpose” may be a feature of the way our brain works. This shouldn’t be conflated with evolution itself in the way you’ve done. (You’re also mixing two different meanings of “purpose”.)

    Stuart, you seem to be starting a familiar pattern for you of diving off into philosophy to try justify what you want to be true. There is no need to. This habit of yours strikes me as a smokescreen to hide from yourself fairly straight-forward objections to what you propose. In this particular case, all you need to do is note that you are trying to grant religion an “exceptional” position and a “special argument”, then ask if that’s valid or ask yourself why you are doing that. It’s very easy to show it’s not justified. This is why I took this approach I did in the first place.

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  31. Heraclides,

    I agree (surprisingly) with you on your basic point above: That on traditional atheism – i.e. if there is no god – we are all on the same platform, there is no privileged position for those that claim to be theists.

    My other point is this: if there is a God (especially that of the Christian religion) there really is a objective purpose to life, as opposed to atheism that can’t seem to provide one (I’ll have a look at Ken’s claim for a foundation for objective purpose later, but from the few comments here, it doesn’t look promising).

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  32. How else could you than claim this being has a purpose, let alone confidently telling us what that purpose is??

    Ooooh, I know this one.
    Pick me.
    Pick ME!!!

    (breathless pause of excitement)

    The Bible, right? Yeah???
    Okay, what do I win?
    😉

    If there is a God, then there is objective purpose for human life and existence, both individually and corporately.

    If there is a Flying Spagetti Monster, then there is objective purpose for human life and existence, both individually and corporately.
    (yawn)

    My other point is this: if there is a God (especially that of the Christian religion) there really is a objective purpose to life.

    My other point is this: if there is a special, secret, mysterious invisible plate of pasta (especially that of the Pastafarian religion) there really is a objective purpose to life. No really there is. Trust me.

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  33. …as opposed to atheism that can’t seem to provide one.

    Not believing in Pink Unicorns also does not provide an objective purpose in life.

    Not believing in Bigfoot also does not provide an objective purpose in life.

    Not believing in Pixies also does not provide an objective purpose in life.

    Not collecting stamps also does not provide an objective purpose in life.

    Actually, lots of things do not provide an objective purpose in life.
    It’s a funny old world.

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  34. What amazing and relevatory engagement!

    I’d NEVER thought of it THAT way! God is exactly like a lump of pasta in outer space!

    Of course! Why didn’t we see it before!

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  35. My other point is this: if there is a G-d (especially that of the Christian religion) there really is a objective purpose to life

    Three points:

    1. Your statement says that your position (now) is that religious “purpose” is subjective. This seems correct to me, as I have written earlier, but it contradicts what you wrote earlier, which I objected to.

    (You are saying that it is (only) objective if you can prove that G-d exists; since no-one can do this, it must be subjective. More practically, since all gods are made-man mythologies, any “purpose” derived from believing in them is subjective anyway.)

    2. There is for “especially that of the Christian religion”. Pleading special cases again, etc.

    3. As you know I have little interest in pure philosophy, but as a pure philosophical point I suspect you’d find that “if there is a G-d there really is a objective purpose to life” won’t hold true.

    Cedric has the right idea. Just try substituting the words and you’ll see how the logic of your arguments look…

    It has as much relevance as saying ultimately we are the result of the laws of nature, therefore we have “purpose”. Substitute “G-d” for “laws of nature” and the statement is just as empty. Or consider sun-worshippers. The sun certainly exists… but you’d hardly say that the sun gives sub-worshipper’s lives objective “purpose”…

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  36. Stuart and Dale
    I am not claiming a “privileged” position for non-theists along the lines that Stuart and James have done – that non-theists cannot have a basis for a purpose or morality. Quite the contrary, I see everyone (theists and non-theists) in the same boat on these matters, even though that may “rationalise and justify” differently. My understanding is inclusive, not exclusive. I am not demonising theists. However, I certainly have the right to debate with anyone about these issues and tell them where I think they are wrong. And I don’t put all theists in the same bag here as I know many actually will agree with what I say. I actually think Stuart and Frank are very much a minority (who many other Christians see as giving Christianity a” bad name”).

    I think it is important to engage with the positions advanced by Stuart and Frank precisely because they encourage a “them vs us” argument and involve demonising. I know most members of the public just ignore such arguments (maybe making vague circular movement in the vicinity of their ears in the process), but I feel that they should not go unchallenged in the public square. I think Goebels had something to say about the technique of constant repetition of false ideas.

    The dogmatic insistence of these false ideas is also something that concerns me. I am more used to ideas being treated as ideas rather than rigid beliefs and think the latter can be dangerous.

    Re “objective purpose”. The metaphysical arguments are a diversion. But from what I can gather you both define the purpose identified by a conscious being as being objective. In the sense that the content of someone’s mind is objective to the outsider – I repeat that there are over 6 million identified objective purposes on this plant. That has nothing to do with a god, elves, spaghetti or unicorns.

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  37. they encourage a “them vs us” argument and involve demonising.

    Honestly, Ken. Drop the demonising stuff. No such thing is happening here. It’s not demonisation, it’s discussion. 🙂

    The metaphysical arguments are a diversion.

    No Ken. Purpose is a metaphysical entity. (this next bit is key) Any statements about purpose (any affirmations or denials of it, any judgments as to its objectivity, subjectivity, silliness or rationality, divine or human origin, etc.) are in the domain of metaphysics.
    Indeed, even the judgment that purpose is only a human mental activity is a metaphysical judgment.

    That has nothing to do with a god, elves, spaghetti or unicorns.

    Again – these are ridiculous. If anything is truly a diversion it’s these. I’ve never known anyone to posit that elves, pasta, or unicorns (or orbiting tea-pots) are the objective source of purpose; though not a few people have posited that a divine creator of all things could be.

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  38. Dale – I am not accusing you of anything so there is no need to be defensive. But both Stuart and James have made unwarranted assertions about non-theists and seek to put theists in a privileged position with respect to purpose (and morals in Stuart’s case). Look at that and the context of what other distortions they present on their blogs and I think my claim of demonising is justified.

    And I think your rejection of my point that all this has nothing to do with a god is frivolous. I imagine that one can find incidences of other supernatural entities (besides the Christian god) invented by humanity that are given a role in purpose. All these have equal relevance.

    Responding to aspects of what Nick said I am reminded of some of the research on subconscious and conscious action and its relevance to ideas of “free will.” The findings that we can detect a “neurological decision” to, say, move an arm some time before the apparent “conscious decision” is made. I can understand how this system has evolved and how it is an effective adaption.

    But this does raise the question – how real are our conscious purposes? I think one can make a good argument that many of our “purposes” are after the event rationalisation to explain away what has happened quite naturally in our subconscious brain. I am sure many of the things attributed to god, spaghetti, ancestors, elves, devils, etc., are rationalisations.

    Of course, this in no way denigrates our ability as sentient, intelligent beings, to actually ruminate and develop well thought our purposes. This is as well as that which goes on in our unconscious mind/brain.

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  39. Ken,
    I’d defend anyone (theist or non-theist) if I felt it necessary. My point here was not so much in defense of Stuart, James or Frank, but just that the incessant ‘demonisation’ language was annoying – given that what is happening is simply a discussion. Discussions have (at least!) two sides: side a (‘us’/’them’) and side b (‘them’/’us’). What other form can we expect a discussion to take?

    And in fact, it seems to me that all the theists here are quite happy to acknowledge that non-theists can/do indeed live purposefully and morally/ethically (which is anything but demonisation!!!), but are simpy engaging in the issue of whether or not theists or non-theists can provide a rational basis for the purposefulness, etc.

    This. Is. Not. Demonisation.
    It. Is. Discussion.

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  40. Dale,

    I’d have thought “special pleading” arguments are a form of “us vs. them”. Likewise, I’d have thought the same of asserting invalid things of others, “framing” their “opposition” in a way that creates an unwarranted “special” position for themselves.

    Purpose is a metaphysical entity.

    I can’t see how it can be, “purpose” isn’t a thing to start with.

    Again – these are ridiculous.

    It’s not the things being named, but how replacing the original thing named with other things shows up the (poor) logic of original argument.

    Ken,

    I wonder if we need to separate actions that arise from instinctive behaviours and long-term “goals”. “Purpose” as too many meaning to my mind! I agree that the “purpose” of a lot of more immediate things are less rational and more instinctive that sometimes appreciated. You could also think of “purpose” as longer-term goals driving someone’s life such as, say, an artist showing what they consider to be beauty, a war journalist showing to others the idiocy of war, a scientist determining the reality of things and how the world “works” and so on. Then there is considering “purpose” as in the context of, say, ‘there “must” be a “purpose” for our existence’, which to me is simply a man-made assertion secondary to using some religions as a “long term goal”. In particular, it’s a form of special pleading that makes the people of the religion “special”, a sales trick if you like.

    Anyway, enough babbling! 🙂

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  41. I’d NEVER thought of it THAT way! God is exactly like a lump of pasta in outer space!

    Well, yes.
    Why have you never thought about it that way?
    That’s the whole point.

    “I’ve never known anyone to posit that elves, pasta, or unicorns (or orbiting tea-pots) are the objective source of purpose; though not a few people have posited that a divine creator of all things could be.”

    Exactly. People have indeed poisted what you have poisted. However, it’s as wierd to somebody that does not share your beliefs as going with elves, unicorns or pasta.
    They are functionally exactly the same.

    Vague assertions that there is an unknowable, invisible person somewhere in the sky and that therefore there’s a “purpose” (???) or whatever is no different from making the same claim for pasta, unicorns or whatever.

    If an Iroqois claims that Sky Woman give them “purpose” or teaches them right from wrong then…how strong an argument do you think they are making?

    Hop in a time machine and have a chat with the Aztecs…
    The local priest make the same claims about their collection of gods.
    Plenty of people in their culture poisted that in their culture too.
    So what?
    Doesn’t make it real.

    People invent gods all the time.
    All cultures do.
    They all operate the same way.

    Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of gods….
    MEGA LIST OF GODS! Over 10,000 to choose from.

    How many of those invisible people do you find credible?

    It’s all pasta.

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  42. “I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
    …Stephen F Roberts

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  43. Cedric,
    You’re not getting it. The point is that there are no kinds of gods/Gods/goddesses which don’t have at least something to do with purpose, and conversely there are no people who have ever (seriously) asserted that for pasta, teapots, etc.

    It’s idle-talk and distracts from the real points of philosophical differences that are far more interesting than such straw-mannery

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  44. The point is that there are no kinds of gods/Gods/goddesses which don’t have at least something to do with purpose…

    (facepalm)

    Saying that there are gods/Gods/goddesses which have whatever you want to attibute to them is as useless as saying that Pixies, Big Foot or Ralien aliens have purpose or something.

    This isn’t philosophy, this is just fantasy.

    …there are no people who have ever (seriously) asserted that for pasta, teapots, etc.

    It doesn’t matter how many people seriously assert something. Millions of people have seriously asserted all kinds of religious nonsense in all cultures.
    Reality is not decided by poll.
    Judging the value of a religious belief by how many people take it seriously is a bad, bad, BAD argument.

    Vishnu is a very popular god. Worshipped by hundreds of millions.
    Do you really care?
    Do you really think that there is a Vishnu?
    Or is Vishnu the stuff of make-believe invisible people like all other make-believe invisible people?

    It’s still all pasta.

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  45. Perhaps a bit of a clarification of my previous comment:

    Our predilection for finding agency in places where there is none speaks to this strange obsession with these why questions. Without agency, it is much easier to rephrase these at what/how questions as Ken previously suggested. In any case, this does not stop the infinite regression problem with the “prime mover” hypothesises. I.e. What moves the prime mover?

    I think this blind spot, coupled with an obvious egotism lies behind some of the religions ideas about origins. This actually seems quite childish to me. What is the age range when kids are constantly asking why, why, why?

    Consider the following human origins story.

    It is possible to descrive the life on this planet as nothing more than a statistical outlier of the probabilistic decay of the universe from a state of low entropy to high entropy.

    This raises some interesting questions, such as: How did the universe come to be in a state of low entropy? What forms the particular probabilistic distribution that the decay accords to, and that gives us time and us?

    I mean c’mon, against those sorts of questions, what does “A white guy with a beard did it” sound like. Pure ego boosting anthropomorphizing .

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  46. @Stuart. As Cedric has pointed out, you can construct any hypothesis that you like and say that that gives us an objective purpose, but I fail to see any evidence that the christian population holds any shared/objective or purposes any more than the rest of the population.

    It would seem to be a similar distribution of things such as: Raising a family, making money, achieving sporting success, finding things out, obsessing about our place in the universe etc… that anybody else can have. I think that Ken has made this point in relation to moral values, in that religion(s) is not the source of these values, rather a co-opter of them.

    Again we get hung up on words such as objective. I think, to find the source for our individual/shared/whatever purposes, or driving forces, the most obvious place (probably the only place) to look, is our evolutionary history. This seems to be the place where some actual answers lie.

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  47. Rereading my posts, I can see that I have not really hit my point. One last attempt:

    What this really comes down to, is: Probability. An assessment of relative probabilities of events lies behind all of these origins questions.

    What I am trying to point out, is that humans (as a whole) have an obviously, demonstrable (and previously demonstrated in many studies) skewed natural sense of probability that clearly seems to be evolutionarily adapted to a range of particular predator/pray niches.

    This skewed sense of probability affects our ability to comprehend the causative forces in the universe which from the evidence, doesn’t work along the lines of our gut feel probability sense.

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  48. Cedric,
    Re: unicorns, pasta-gods and tea-pots: I wasn’t suggesting popularity = actuality. But honestly I’m not going to give that tangent more time than it deserves.

    Re: Vishnu: Can you put your point here in logical form? What is the logical connection between a) the popularity of the god Vishnu and b) the non-existence of ANY kind of purpose-endowing divine entity?

    Nick,
    Re: Prime Mover infinite regress: It only takes .75 seconds to get even the faintest whiff of where the regress leads – namely to an Unmoved Mover… but wait… gee… fancy that… that’s probably what is meant by a prime mover after all… oops, the ‘problem’ of the infinite regress is, it seems, no problem at all.

    Re: ‘white guy with a beard’: (sigh)

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  49. The prime mover argument is, to me, silly. It’s a way of stopping enquiry. A god of the gaps in full force. Just answer this – “Where do you go from there?”

    One would never do this sort of thing in honest scientific enquiry precisely because it closes down enquiry.

    It just replaces the problem of infinite regress with an even bigger problem. And all without even the thought of checking against reality.

    For some people it is a white guy with a beard. (I can still remember being told as a child at Sunday School that heaven had streets paved with gold – so these childish characterisations do have their origins, don’t they?)

    I agree with Nick – these sort of answers, and the mental gymnastics like “prime movers” required to patch over the logical breaks, are really pathetic alongside the genuine, honest speculations, hypotheses and theories that we now have about such things.

    But back to purpose.

    I think its obvious that there are objective reasons why humans (independently of any religious beliefs) do come up with a limited range of answers to the question “What is your purpose.” Some of these do arise consciously from our situations (families, jobs, sexual lust) and others are rationalisations “explaining” our intuitive, unconsciously originating, behaviours.

    James and Stuart are being disingenuous in claiming that non-theist don’t get out of bed in the morning or have no reason to live. And blind because those claims are obviously false.

    However, if they are just mistaken, misinformed, and interested in discussion rather than demonising, I expect they will acknowledge their mistake and move on with the discussion.

    I think there are some fascinating issues to be covered in discussing purpose, or indeed questions like decision making and “free will.”

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  50. The point is that there are no kinds of gods/Gods/goddesses which don’t have at least something to do with purpose,

    I find this hard to believe. I also don’t think that was your earlier point either 😉 It seems to me that plenty of gods have nothing to do with people wanting to define a “purpose” to satisfy their needs (which is what the “purpose” in Christianity is about, just as it is for non-Christians).

    For me at least, it only takes .75 seconds to get even the faintest whiff of the idea that an “Unmoved Mover” is a contradiction in terms 😉 Methinks: if your “prime mover” had no motivation (i.e. nothing directing them in any particular way), it seems hard to make that consistent with particular outcomes… But, whatever 🙂

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  51. A few things to clear up:

    (1)

    Purpose is a metaphysical entity.

    I can’t see how it can be, “purpose” isn’t a thing to start with.

    I know this will sound like playing with words here, but its not. It’s a plea to think things through before you say it. Metaphysical entities are things – and just because you can put them in a test-tube and look at them under a micro-scope doesn’t make them any less real.

    To press the point: Truth is a metaphysical entity. Is truth a thing? Yes, of course its some-thing! – even though you can’t see it or feel it, you can certainly study it and affirm that there is such a thing as truth: that truth exists. The list of things that are metaphysical entities goes on and on, and that list includes “purpose.” Else how else can we even be discussing purpose if it wasn’t a thing!

    (2)

    James and Stuart are being disingenuous in claiming that non-theist don’t get out of bed in the morning or have no reason to live. And blind because those claims are obviously false.

    I don’t know about James, but I never said any such thing. Ken, that is blatant misrepresentation and “strawmannery”. It is the justification for purpose in life that I have been trying to discourse on and elucidate.

    I guess the question that frames the discussion for me is this; Does purpose have an ontological foundation in reality, or is it just a useful fiction?

    (3)
    I also haven’t been using the term non-theist. I’ve been talking of atheism and have been quite clear that I mean by that the belief that there is no god.

    (4)
    Now I’ve said nothing about knowing if there is objective purpose for our lives. But if there is objective purpose in life and it is known, then we certainly arrived at there subjectively. But I have not been arguing that anyone can know if we have objective purpose.

    All I’ve tried to show is atheism is a philosophy that is purposeless in the objective sense – that failing to provide a ground for objective purpose leaves atheism in the morass of subjectivity and with a personal purpose that serves only as a useful fiction: a mere distraction to the fact that one day die you will die. With God (with of course the qualification if he exists, and if he is the God described by Christianity) then there is objective purpose to life: a significant meaning for existence.

    (5) Re: the prime mover.
    This is either complete ignorance or a joke that isn’t funny. The prime mover is a synonym for the unmoved mover which just is the stopping place – by definition! – the necessary being that grounds the contingent beings in existence. Who moved the unmoved mover? Its like saying, What caused the uncaused cause? It’s UNCAUSED!

    Those issues cleared up, I hope to see more fruitful discussion.

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  52. Stuart,

    I guess the question that frames the discussion for me is this; Does purpose have an ontological foundation in reality, or is it just a useful fiction?

    Well phrased. And of course, the follow up question if the latter is prefered is: how do we know a useful fictional purpose from an un-useful fictional purpose?

    Stuart & Ken (re prime mover, etc.)

    (Stuart said) The prime mover is a synonym for the unmoved mover which just is the stopping place – by definition!

    …to which I can hear Ken returning to this:

    The prime mover argument is, to me, silly. It’s a way of stopping enquiry. A god of the gaps in full force. Just answer this – “Where do you go from there?”

    To which I’d want to say: For one to accept that a Prime/First (thus unmoved/uncaused) Mover (cause) is where the logical regress leads does not at all mean that one “stops” thinking about God or reality. That’s merely the beginning of things. It’s merely a first step on a journey of endless questions – a bit like empirical science 😀 Religion or belief in God doesn’t stop people from thinking and questioning – cognitive laziness does.

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  53. Stuart,

    2.
    I don’t know about James, but I never said any such thing. Ken, that is blatant misrepresentation and “strawmannery”. It is the justification for purpose in life that I have been trying to discourse on and elucidate.

    You said that atheism was inevitably a philosophy of despair. I don\’t see how that\’s so different from Ken\’s painting of the picture.

    (5) Re: the prime mover.
    This is either complete ignorance or a joke that isn’t funny. The prime mover is a synonym for the unmoved mover which just is the stopping place – by definition! – the necessary being that grounds the contingent beings in existence. Who moved the unmoved mover? Its like saying, What caused the uncaused cause? It’s UNCAUSED!

    Right, but the first half of the argument is that everything has a cause and the second half \’except the first one\” so it\’s obviously not true that everything has a cause. You can change it to \’everything that has a beginning has a cause\’ (which might be true nut can\’t ne logically proven ) but then you are making the assumption the everything but the unmoved mover has a beginning. Which brings you to the *other* problem, even if you could prove there was a first cause there is no reason to call that God which gets all the way back- if God doesn\’t need a cause then why does the universe? Pretty silly argument.

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  54. I wasn’t suggesting popularity = actuality.

    Glad to hear it.
    However, in that case, I have no idea why you bothered to mention …though not a few people have posited… and \”…there are no people who have ever (seriously) asserted…\” .

    Numbers, as you now seem to agree, have nothing to do with anything.

    If more that a few people poist something…then so what?

    If nobody seriously asserts something…then so what?

    Reality cannot be measured according to T.V ratings.

    What is the logical connection between a) the popularity of the god Vishnu and b) the non-existence of ANY kind of purpose-endowing divine entity?

    It doesn\’t matter if Vishnu is claimed by people to give \”purpose\”(??) to their lives.

    Vishnu is just one more invisible, magic sky person just like all the other invisible, magic sky-people.

    Attributing your sense of \”purpose\” or \”moral compass\” or whatever else to Vishnu makes no more sense than crediting Ra…or Vulcan or Baal or any one of the other several thousand or so others out there in the \”gods-r-us\” unemployment queue.

    Try this on for size….

    A: Not a few people have posited that Vishnu (creator of all things) could be.

    B: So? Who cares how how big Vishnu\’s fan club is? He\’s functionally the same as a big plate of magic pasta.

    A: Strawmannery. Vishnu has something to with purpose, conversely there are no people who have ever (seriously) asserted that for magic pasta!

    See? Sound like a solid argument? Nope.

    …the non-existence of ANY kind of purpose-endowing divine entity?

    (Awkward pause)

    Dale, are you serious?
    Are you asking me to prove the…non-existence of something?
    As opposed to…you providing evidence FOR something?

    Such a vaccuous postion is not what I would expect from you.
    From James, (our unlamented slow-witted troll) perhaps. In fact, he did this several times.
    From you? No.
    You are better than that and you know it.
    Come on.

    You know perfectly well that I\’m going to mention Carl Sagan and his dragon in the garage.

    There\’s a REASON why magic pasta, Vishnu, unicorns, Parvati, Rhea, Tlaloc and tiny pink invisible demons sitting just behind you all sound suspiciously similar.

    When their supporters get huffy that outsiders don\’t take them seriously, they all do the same shop-worn ritual arguments.

    This time around you\’ve decided to go with (drum roll please)
    Argument Number #109
    ARGUMENT FROM LACK OF DISPROOF, a.k.a. ARGUMENT FROM SHIFTED BURDEN OF PROOF
    (1) You can\’t prove God doesn\’t exist!
    (2) Therefore, God exists.

    Just in case you can\’t draw the connection to what you referred to, let me just insert the appropriate words.

    (1) You can\’t prove a kind of purpose-endowing divine entity doesn\’t exist!
    (2) Therefore, a kind of purpose-endowing divine entity exists.

    Alternate wording…

    (1) You can\’t prove a purpose-endowing Vishnu doesn\’t exist!
    (2) Therefore, a kind of purpose-endowing Vishnu exists.

    And one more for good measure…

    (1) You can\’t prove a purpose-endowing Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn\’t exist!
    (2) Therefore, a kind of purpose-endowing Flying Spaghetti exists.

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  55. For some people it is a white guy with a beard.

    Michelangelo and all of his thousands of imitators have a lot to answer for.
    🙂

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  56. Right, but the first half of the argument is that everything has a cause and the second half ’except the first one” so it’s obviously not true that everything has a cause. You can change it to ’everything that has a beginning has a cause’ (which might be true nut can’t ne logically proven ) but then you are making the assumption the everything but the unmoved mover has a beginning. Which brings you to the *other* problem, even if you could prove there was a first cause there is no reason to call that God which gets all the way back- if God doesn’t need a cause then why does the universe? Pretty silly argument.

    Not that this on topic at all.

    Three issues:

    First:
    That everything that begins to exist has a cause cannot be logically proved is correct. But it doesn\’t need to be logically necessary. It just needs to be more probable that its contradictory, namely, that something that came into existence with no cause. There are two reasons that I would say that first premise is more reasonable than its contradictory: (a) It is based on the metaphysical intuition nothing comes from nothing. This principle is necessary for the success of science. (b) The principle is empirically verified and never been falsified.

    Therefore, I think denying this premise is proof to something Plantinga has said – a good argument will force your opponent to denying a premise he really should accept.

    Second:
    Aquinas, after describing what the unmoved mover must be (a necessary being, a unique being, a simple being, immaterial, changeless, unlimited, omnipresent and eternal), said \”and that is what everybody calls God.\”

    Third:
    The universe need a cause because; 1) it began to exist – according to the second premise of the Kalam Cosmological argument, according to at least 2 good philosophical proofs, and according to modern science; and 2) because the sum total of contingent beings need an independent being for their continuing existence – according to Aquinas\’ cosmological arguments from existential causality, and according to good philosophical reasoning and logic.

    So in summation: not all that silly.

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  57. Cedric,
    I\’ll be brief. My reference to lots of people believing in a purpose-ful creator and no people believing in purpose-ful pasta WAS NOT a) to assert the existence of a creator based on numbers/popularity, but WAS b) to show the pasta/unicorn/tea-pot stuff to be the red-herrings they are.

    The point (again) was not that numbers prove existence, but that it isn\’t useful for discussion to use examples of things nobody actually believes in. that\’s all.

    And also, nobody\’s using the \”you can\’t prove it doesn\’t exist, so therefore it does\” logic. Rather than asking you to prove the non-existence of something, I was challenging your \”a + 17 = red\” logic (i.e. \’Lots of people believe in Vishnu, so therefore non purpose-ful creator can exist)

    And…

    As for Michaelangelo and others, I\’d be fairly certain they believed that God is not a visible, physical, bearded \’man\’. My guess (what a shocking idea!) is that they were doing art. What a concept…

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  58. btw, what the heck is the deal with back-slashes preceding every use of an >> \’ << ??? I didn't type those and I'm guessing Cedric didn't either!

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  59. Stuart,

    Entity means a thing, in the sense of something that can be substantiated, e.g. \’a thing with distinct and independent existence\’. Neither \”truth\” nor \”purpose\” are of that nature. So please don\’t try to tell me how English words are (miss-)defined.

    The term \’metaphysical entity\’ is in it\’s essence a contradiction in terms.

    So, yes, you are playing with words.

    This is a fine example of why bothering with (pseudo)philosophy with you is a waste of time.

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  60. Hmm, this blog has started added backslashes before quotes… ugh!

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  61. Heraclides,
    On thing-ness,
    So what ontological category would you place something like truth? …or (say) the law of non-contradiction(L.N.C.)? If truth or the L.N.C. are not entities, then what are they? How would you describe them?

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  62. And yes, I am equally annoyed at the back-slashes!

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  63. David W,

    On atheism as the philosophy of despair and the difference that all atheists are despairing, I\’ll refer you to my first comment here. You need to differentiate between these two different claims,

    (1) There is objective purpose in life.
    (2) It is an objective fact of the world that people believe they have purpose.

    While the theist can affirm (1) – that there is objective purpose in life – the atheist only has justification only for (2) – which gives only a subjective belief about what their purpose is.

    So atheists can live a life full of purpose, and can get out of bed in the morning, excited that they are alive and enthused about the day ahead. I have never disputed that. But an atheists purpose can only be subjective – that is, unless s/he can find a ground for objective purpose.

    Dale,
    I think the follow up question should be is there objective purpose? or else, how would we know it? 🙂

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  64. Dale,

    Do you think its worth arguing with someone who avers that truth cannot be substantiated?

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  65. Stuart,
    (tongue in cheek) If truth can be substantiated by your (pseudo) philosophy, than so can the pasta God! Blah, blah, blah…

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  66. Stuart,

    Quite a bit of the remainder of your post is word games to which you have arrogance to finish claiming—speaking to yourself it seems—to have \”cleared up\” things. This reads to me as you trying impose your (incorrect) definitions on others.

    Regards\”All I’ve tried to show is atheism is a philosophy that is purposeless in the objective sense\”: you did more than that, you tried to foist silly claims on atheists, as just one example.

    then there is objective purpose to life I already pointed out this isn\’t most unlikely to be that case. Come on think. Anything at all existing, doesn\’t imply \”purpose\” for anything. You only get \”purpose\” from it because you first choose to believe in a particular religion; your particular \”purpose\” aspect is secondary to that, as I tried to point out earlier. Your \”purpose\” cannot be objective: it is based only only your choosing a particular religion first. Perhaps you could try thinking about what other\’s write, instead of just repeating yourself? Would it hurt?

    And so on. I\’ll shorten my reply by simply saying that your pseudo-philsophy is as silly and as incorrect as ever. *Sigh*

    Well phrased.

    Not at all. All he\’s doing is precisely what I pointed that he would do: dive off into psuedo-philosophy to throw up a smokescreen to avoid facing other\’s points. Essentially he\’s talking to himself. (Or perhaps trying to talk himself into something?) I wrote earlier (and to which Stuart appears to be avoiding):

    Stuart, you seem to be starting a familiar pattern for you of diving off into philosophy to try justify what you want to be true. There is no need to. This habit of yours strikes me as a smokescreen to hide from yourself fairly straight-forward objections to what you propose. In this particular case, all you need to do is note that you are trying to grant religion an “exceptional” position and a “special argument”, then ask if that’s valid or ask yourself why you are doing that. It’s very easy to show it’s not justified. This is why I took this approach I did in the first place.

    You will know that \”special pleading\” arguments don\’t work, and the earlier pleas that religion has a \”special\” status for \”purpose\” is just that, special pleading.

    (You also haven\’t replied my point about the \”Unmoved moved\” being a nonsense, as being \”unmoved\” it would have no motivation, etc…)

    Religion or belief in G-d doesn’t stop people from thinking and questioning – cognitive laziness does.

    Erm, religion encourages a particular kind of cognitive laziness 😉 I wish this weren\’t true, but in my experience it\’s unfortunate reality is that almost all religions encourage \”followers\” to not question things that would contradict the religion. Some things are \”allowed\” to be questioned, so long as the eventual answers lead in the \”desired\” direction; others things are \”taboo\” and not \”allowed\” to be questioned at all.

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  67. As you know very well I\’m not interested in silly of trying to make everything about \”ontological categories\” or the like. As I pointed out, the religious use of philosophy is too often used as a smokescreen, as such is a waste of time.

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  68. There is objective purpose in life.

    Erm, that’s an assertion (not a truth), which you tactically admittedly earlier that you can’t know, or for that matter prove. I’ve also pointed out more than once why it’s a fallacy in another way too… 😉

    Do you think its worth arguing with someone who avers that truth cannot be substantiated?

    Who are you referring to? If it’s me, I never said any such thing. So, it it’s me you’re referring to, you obviously are not on the right page. (Dale seems to get what was being said, though.)

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  69. You can’t dismiss philosophy by using philosophy!

    If you want to prove that the philosophy I’m using is pseudo then show how it is.

    Well, its a fair bit off topic,

    (You also havent replied my point about the “Unmoved moved” being a nonsense, as being “unmoved” it would have no motivation, etc…)

    Response 1: Equivocation. The “unmoved” in unmoved mover speaks of movement itself and not motivation to move.

    Response 2: Aquinas’ cosmological argument isn’t dependant on a causal sequence in time, but uses the principle of existential causality – that is a logical and not chronological sequence.

    Response 3: If you mean by this to actually say – from a timeless state of affairs it is impossible for a being to choose to bring into existence the universe and then do it, for that would require that such an event happened in time – then that is a better argument. But not unanswerable I think.

    One way to deal with this is to point out that there is such a thing as simultaneous causation, such that the moment of God’s choosing to create the world was the moment of creation. In that sense, you may say that God’s creative decree was from eternity.

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  70. Heraclides,

    Excuse me!

    Entity means a thing, in the sense of something that can be substantiated, e.g. ’a thing with distinct and independent existence’. Neither ”truth” nor ”purpose” are of that nature.

    Please allow me to put this syllogistically.
    1) An entity is something that can be substantiated – with distinct and independent existence.
    2) Truth is not an entity in this sense.
    Therefore,
    3) . . . – fill in the blank yourself – . . .

    Therefore,
    4) Reduced to absurdity? I think so.

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  71. Dale, I don’t follow you at all.

    You wanted to ” show the pasta/unicorn/tea-pot stuff to be the red-herrings they are.”

    Ok. Fine. Go for it.

    You did this by saying lots of people believing in a purpose-ful creator and no people believing in purpose-ful pasta.

    I don’t get it.
    I’m not kidding around.
    This makes NO sense.
    😮

    How does pointing out what people believe or don’t believe somehow demonstrate that Vishnu or Thor or Bast are not in the same basket as the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

    It isn’t useful for discussion to use examples of things nobody actually believes in.

    Why?
    Who cares what people believe in?

    You don’t like the Flying Spaghetti Monster?
    No problem.
    It’s just a place-holder for any god/demon/pixie/alien spiritual entity you like.

    Insert any god (past or present, current or defunct) you like. I don’t mind.
    It’s all EXACTLY THE SAME.

    That’s the point.

    Take any discussion you like about your brand-name god and rearrange the topic material with some other fellow’s god living in a village in the Hindu Kush somewhere.

    There’s no practical difference.

    Insert pixies or the FSM…same thing.

    My guess (what a shocking idea!) is that they were doing art.

    Yes. It was art. Which is why people’s first instinctive image of the Christian god always seems to be 1) bearded, 2) kinda old or at least middle-aged 2) a man and 3) kinda European looking.
    When was the last time you ever saw a church approved piece of art depicting god as a tattooed black woman? That would be art too but… somehow nobody seems to have gotten around to that version of a visual representation of god.
    (shrug)

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  72. (Normally, I’d just insert the FSM where the “god” part is but due to objections from the audience, I’ve decided to go with “real” gods that “people actually believe in”.)

    Case in point.

    One way to deal with this is to point out that there is such a thing as simultaneous causation, such that the moment of God’s choosing to create the world was the moment of creation. In that sense, you may say that God’s creative decree was from eternity.

    One way to deal with this is to point out that there is such a thing as simultaneous causation, such that the moment of Vishnu’s choosing to create the world was the moment of creation. In that sense, you may say that Vishnu’s creative decree was from eternity.

    One way to deal with this is to point out that there is such a thing as simultaneous causation, such that the moment of Zeus’ choosing to create the world was the moment of creation. In that sense, you may say that Zeus’ creative decree was from eternity.

    One way to deal with this is to point out that there is such a thing as simultaneous causation, such that the moment of Sri’s choosing to create the world was the moment of creation. In that sense, you may say that Sri’s creative decree was from eternity.

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  73. The problem with naming all these different gods is that it distracts from the subject at hand – whether or not there is divine (objectively grounded) purpose.

    If I wanted to contrast Vishnu with Yahweh (which is the same as contrasting polytheism with monotheism), I’d do that. But instead, we’re talking about purpose and whether or not it has any kind of divine grounding. at this level of discussion, the argument works whatever name you give to the divinity. What is annoying is the continual (random, actually) reference to things that nobody believes in (FSM, orbiting tea-pot, etc.).

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  74. …even more annoying, the continual assumption that monotheism is (automatically, by default, no argument necessary, just assertion) as silly as FSM-ism.

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  75. …whether or not there is divine (objectively grounded) purpose.,/i>

    You’re putting the cart before the horse.
    There is no point in discussing the purpose of the divine when nobody is producing evidence of the divine in the first place.

    There’s no point in talking about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin if you have not produced evidence that angels actually exist.

    If I wanted to contrast Vishnu with Yahweh (which is the same as contrasting polytheism with monotheism), I’d do that.

    Well, you could but I wouldn’t recommend it.
    😉

    That’s about as useful as comparing the Energizer Bunny to the Jolly Green Giant or Bigfoot to the Loch Ness Monster.

    …the continual assumption that monotheism is (automatically, by default, no argument necessary, just assertion) as silly as FSM-ism.

    I assume that there’s no Bigfoot.
    I assume that there’s no tea-pot in orbit around Mars.
    I assume that there’s no tiny pink demon sitting behind me.
    I assume that 9/11 was not an inside job.

    Assuming that something isn’t real is normal when nobody seems to be very keen on presenting evidence to the contrary.

    Take a god of any religion you like.
    Polytheistic or monotheistic or anamistic, whatever.

    Pick a god, ANY god at all.

    Compare that particular god with something that people believe(ed) in but which you personally know is crap.

    Choose a god that is a Total Fabrication.

    A god so ludicrous that you have to sit back and say “Wow, what were those losers thinking to have thought up a kooky god like that.?? Talk about a fevered imagination. Bet the local priests were sniggering up their sleeves as they passed the collection plate with THAT particular scam.”

    Now compare that total joke of a god with a random choice from over the 10,000 or so other gods on that list. The chances are that you’ll find any one of those gods as make-believe as the first god that you know is not true.

    Repeat the process as often as you like.
    You’ll get the same result.

    However, you remain convinced that your particular brand-name god is different somehow.

    Well, so does the other guy. Only his god ain’t your god.

    To the non-believer, they are both equally worthless.
    Your god and the other guy’s god are no different from all the others that you comfortably assume don’t exist.

    I’d NEVER thought of it THAT way! God is exactly like a lump of pasta in outer space!

    Not just your god. It’s nothing personal. Any god you like fits the description.

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  76. It seems as though my prime mover comment pushed a few buttons.

    To clarify: Q) What do people mostly use the primer mover argument for? A) Positing some form of causative agency or entity. This is exactly what I am talking about, the human propensity for seeing causation and agency where there is no evidence of any.

    Using logic to create categories of things that have causes and things that don’t have causes is all very well, but I agree with Ken in that the more useful approach is to assume that things do have causes and then to try and determine what they are. Where is the utility in assuming that something does not have a cause, unless perhaps you are trying to insert a suspiciously human like causative entity.

    The other point here, is that some of you guys seem to think that because somebody can think of an idea, that that simple fact gives the idea meaning and existence (cue Stuarts metaphysical reality). A case in point being the so called ontological argument for god. I think that Cedric is right to keep calling you guys on this.

    Finally, Stuart. Is it any wonder that you have trouble with anybody having objective purpose without god. The definition of objective that you are using is predicated on your god. In your definition, the only objective things are things defined by your god. As I have previously stated on Ken’s blog, my definition of objective includes the concept of context and as such doesn’t presuppose that I know what is objective at the level of the universe.

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  77. Nick,

    The arguments for first cause, and prime mover include within their premises the evidence for positing the prime mover and first cause as causative agents.

    If there was a cause of the universe, or a ground for the sum of all contingent beings, what properties do you thing that cause would it have?

    Is truth demonstrable? Does it exist? This isn’t the ontological argument here, its an example of one thing (one of many) that you cannot touch or feel, but is nonetheless very real. Purpose I would say, is one of those things that we experience, know to be real (even if its just subjective and a useful fiction), but has no physical locale, no material components, etc. i.e. is a metaphysical entity.

    The defintion of purpose I’ve been using is, as stated above, simply a reason to imbue this life with significant, overarching meaning in the history. Theres no God imported into the concept. Plus, I haven’t claimed to know on this thread what objective purpose is. I’ve been talking about its existence or foundation in reality.

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  78. Stuart,

    What is this evidence for something without a cause that you speak of. I am unaware of anything of the sort. Are you sure you are not mistaking an idea/concept for reality?

    In terms of a cause for the universe, I think that modern scholars are doing pretty well in that regard. Big bangs, inflationary cosmology, and as I outlined in an earlier post, the probabilistic decay of our universe from a low entropy state to an high entropy state are all interesting ideas with differing degrees of empirical support.

    On your final point, if we are talking about a purpose with overarching historical meaning, then there’s no need to get complicated about it, one word: Reproduction.
    But thats not really what you are after, you are not looking for an objective purpose, you are looking for something that makes us special and the centre of the universe. Sorry, but I see no evidence for that.

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  79. Stuart, I’m afraid that “prime mover include within their premises the evidence for positing the prime mover and first cause as causative agents.” is just bafflegab. This is the sort of rubbish that makes theology so laughable. How will proponents of such rubbish get anywhere with understanding reality if all they are interested in is defending a preconceived prejudice with circular arguments (or by any means possible).

    Quite the opposite of scientific enquiry – which, after all, is the only way we will ever reach an understanding of such issues.

    By the way, Stuart – I must apologise. I did misrepresent you re the getting up in the morning bit ( Stuart // June 17, 2009 at 7:12 pm). That was just James.

    However, along with James you are denying the possibility of non-theists having purpose (or “objective” purpose as you put it). It is a bit rich now to claim “Theres no God imported into the concept.” If so, why make your claim of theist privilege? What is the argument?? Surely you are just agreeing with me that we all have the same access to the objective basis for our purposes and that one group doesn’t have special purposes denied them.

    Are you now saying that there is an “objective” purpose – but you have no idea what it is??

    I have noticed that you refuse to say what you consider your purpose in life is. I’m quite interested in getting an answer to that question.

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  80. Nick,
    None of those theories (big bang, inflationary cosmology, states of entropy) do away with the logic of a necessary cause.
    The universe is either:
    1) an illusion
    2) eternal
    or
    3a) created (self-creating)
    3b) created (‘other’-created)

    I think we’re arguing between 3a and 3b here. We’ve never seen something come from nothing, much less everything come from nothingness.

    But I actually think we should try to focus on what purpose is and what kind of evidence there is for it.

    When we talk about purpose, we’re talking about the activity of a mind, yes? And we’re postulating that there is a purpose that is not limited to human minds. This kind of ‘non-human-mind’ (NHM) purpose would thus be a non-physical/material thing – a metaphysical entity (‘thing’, etc.).

    What kind of evidence could we expect to find? Well, certainly not physical, material evidence, correct?

    One immediate example would be the mixture of human reason/experience/intuition/tradition. This admittedly non-empirical and/or ‘subjective’ sense of purpose to reality is very strong. So strong that we take it for granted most of the time in our every day choice-making and reacting to this/that.

    We assume that things are supposed (pur-posed) not merely to ‘function’, but to function in this way, instead of that way. We don’t feel the need to argue precisely why slipping a few drugs in a girls drink at a bar and then taking advantage of her ‘willingness’ that night is something that is not supposed (pur-posed) to happen – we just assume it. (and by the way, there is NO empirically-supported argument for our near-universal response to that action – we’re ALL metaphysicians when it comes to this stuff)

    Indeed, neither theists nor atheists want to live without purpose/meaning. So we do construct/build/discuss/debate/etc. But the theist believes that humanity is not merely constructing purpose/meaning on its own, we believe that we are (continually, unceasingly, on-goingly) uncovering something that was there already – a bit like discovering the resonance of musical harmony (“This sounds wonderful! Wow! This was just waiting to be found!” etc.) or discovering mathematical laws (“The symmetry and congruency here is astounding! Check it out!”) or –to give a moral example– discovering that slavery is wrong (“This just makes sense. Human dignity is not contigent upon skin colour!” etc.).

    Now, if we can ‘uncover’ things, then we certainly can also ‘cover’ things as well. I think religious extremists who refuse to allow their sense of God’s direction to be tested by their faith communities, and by tradition/reason/experience/etc. (i.e. “don’t touch the Lord’s anointed”) are an example.

    But it remains that we reach conclusions for which there cannot be empirical evidence for (i.e. human ‘dignity’ – whatever unit of measure would you use to measure that!?), but which we nonetheless are certain are true.

    The atheist sees this as convenient, and the theist sees this as the (slow, patient, endless, yet real) discovery of divine truth.

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  81. I think we’re arguing between 3a and 3b here. We’ve never seen something come from nothing, much less everything come from nothingness.

    Umm, you may want to read up on the quantum vacuum.

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  82. Re quantum vacuum:
    This is manifestly not self-creation out of nothing. This is a current (and yes, fascinating!) description of the behaviour of matter – matter that was still brought into this mode of existence/behaviour either by itself, or by an other.

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  83. matter that was still brought into this mode of existence/behaviour either by itself, or by an other. or has always existed

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  84. Dale – you are wrong there.

    A lot of these sorts of problems in discussion arise from different understanding of what “matter” is. This also goes for words like “materialism” – they mean different things to different people.

    Dale – I think you understand “matter” in the old mechanical way (and “middle world” “common sense” way). That’s not the way we understand it scientifically any more – and that current understanding is changing rapidly also.

    I recommend Frank Wilczek’s book Lightness of Being: Mass, Ether, and the Unification of Forces for a flavour of the current thinking. There are also a number of videos of his recent presentations on the web. In my own mind I had begun to see “matter” as a property of space-time. After reading this book I see “matter” as a property of something even more basic (Wilczek calls it “the grid.”).

    With that modern understanding it seems that cosmologists don’t really have a problem of “creation of matter out of nothing”. (In fact, it can be argued, and justified, that in net terms nothing comes out of nothing and that is exactly the situation with this universe – in net terms.)

    However, the formation of “matter” doesn’t seem to be a problem for modern cosmologists. Our understanding of the process that initiated this is another matter. There’s a lot of speculation. But, understandably, this is a realm which is so far from the understanding of current science that it will be a while before we have a good theory to describe it.

    But we won’t get there by postulating prime movers and then walking away – will we? We will only get there by constantly interacting with reality and avoiding circular, self-defeating, arguments.

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  85. “…or has always existed”

    going for option 2, aye? eternal physics?

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  86. Ken,
    yes, the whole point is what initiated the universe as we know it (however we describe it’s behaviour).

    And (YET again) postulating a prime mover does NOT mean “then walking away”. It’s NOT a “stopper” of science or thought any more than science is a “stopper” of theology. Rather than stopping anything, postulating a prime mover just gives the conversation another dimension.

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  87. and as for interacting with ‘reality’, the force of some metaphysical truths are pretty freaking ‘real’ – certainly as real (or more!?) as those virtual particles in quantum theory 🙂

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  88. I’m not really plumping for either, I’m just saying that modern physics is very happy with the creation of matter as we know it for no reason from the quantum vacuum (which is important for ideas like inflation where the ‘big bang’ can be a rapid local expansion in space within a much larger universe). If you really believe there must be an unmoved mover (I don’t) I still don’t think you can call that evidence for any god – again why does the quantum vacuum need a cause if god does not. (Aquinas is hardly convincing on that topic)

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  89. Stuart,

    I’m not interested in “proving” your poor use philosophy. Why on earth would I?! I’ve already said many, many times, it’s a waste of time.

    Several times I have pointed out a practical alternative for this issue. That you steadfastly ignore it I think that speaks for itself and backs up my suggestion that you use “philosophy” to as a smokescreen to avoid facing others’ counterpoints to what you write. That, in turn, shows why it would be pointless dealing with your “philosophy”: your intent with it isn’t to deal with the subject but run away from it.

    When I referred to not replying to my point about his referring to an “Unmoved mover” I was writing to Dale (I quoted him after all). Your “philosophy is shot here, too. Note you start with word games, redefining it away from what was written. Something you keep saying that you don’t do, but constantly do…

    I find it weird that you now more-or-less repeat what I have already pointed out re ‘entity’. Previously you claimed “truth” was a metaphysical entity, now you try to “prove” it’s not, by repeating what I wrote in more wordy fashion. Well done.

    The problem with naming all these different gods is that it distracts from the subject at hand – whether or not there is divine (objectively grounded) purpose.

    It’s on topic, you’re just looking at the wrong aspect of it, despite Cedric and me trying hard to point that to you. As I tried to say earlier, it’s not what is referred to that matters, but how changing what is referred to shows up the (poor) logic. No offence in this, but I find it interesting that you continually focus on the things being referred to and not the logic of the statements and thus miss the point that is trying to be made.

    I agree with Nick that the “prime mover” concept rests on first choosing to follow some particular religion. (I hope I’m reading you right!) I tried to say something similar earlier, but referring to G-d. Stuart, etc., first chose to follow a particular religion. It follows that anything secondary to that choice is subjective to their choice to follow that religion.

    Ken, you’re right: Stuart’s definition is a circular as it gets! It’s a fine example of why I can’t be bothered dealing with his “philosophy”. Calling it theology as you did is probably a good move too; calling it “philosophy” gives it too much credit. (Maybe it reveals that G-d is a circular argument? Whatever!)

    Dale, while I’m sure it interests you, I don’t think your latest post says anything I can see as useful as it boils down to you wanting assume a “necessary cause” and to try find a place to insert it (a variant of the G-d of the gaps). I honestly think the simplest solution is to just to note that people get their “purpose” by first taking up some particular decisions to base their lives around: they then derive purpose secondary to that. Once you note that, all “purpose” is secondary to your man-made choice of “life framework” (or whatever you want to call it) and thus subjective.

    It seems a hell of a lot simpler that all this philosophic waffle! (Alternatively, you can just look at the logic of the statements, as Cedric is trying to point out.)

    Religions wanting to lay down some kind of “ultimate purpose” that suits their religion strikes me as self-aggrandisement of their religion. Non-religious “purposes” can do the same thing, too, so there is nothing new there.

    (Bear in mind that I think you need to separate “purpose” derived from instinctive behaviour and “purpose” in the sense of what someone has set as their goals in life and their moral framework, etc.)

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  90. My post crossed over everything after 10:05 am! 🙂

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  91. The word objective has been used a lot here. Here is a brief dictionary definition of its philosophical use: “philosophy existing independently of the individual mind or perception”

    Dale, tell me what scientific work has been done with the “prime mover” hypothesis. How has it been tested against reality? What proposals are there for testing against reality? Or have it’s promoters just walked away from science?

    Sure – it’s probably been of great use to theology – but that’s my exact point.

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  92. david w,
    Indeed the universe may be much larger than our current theories have models for – but the logic still always leads back in the same direction it always has… universe, multiverse, uber-multi-verse, something has to cause ‘the whole show’.

    And the phrase “the creation of matter as we know it for no reason from the quantum vacuum” is a very slippery use of the word ‘creation’ (and probably also ‘reason’!) 🙂

    Creation (proper) is ALL things coming from a time-less and space-less state of NON-existence.

    This quantum behaviour is ONE (tiny, very hard to detect/track) thing appearing to go in/out of ‘existence’ (or in/out of detectability with current methods!?) WITHIN already created time and space.

    Two VERY different things.

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  93. Ken,
    You don’t test metaphysics “against” physics. Metaphysical method is not empirical method – though logic/reason is used in both.

    Metaphysics (literally “after” physics) is essentially reflection (‘rumination’) on physics.

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  94. …and you’re using ‘reality’ in that all-encompassing way again… but we’ve been round and round on that one, haven’t we?

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  95. universe, multiverse, uber-multi-verse, something has to cause ‘the whole show’.

    And I still don’t agree, and don’t think calling that cause god tells us anything about the universe or god. I think we might be done here…

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  96. well allow me to suggest a couple things it would imply:

    -that creation was not purpose-less, but intentional (or ‘on purpose’). It provides a foundation for the ‘value’ (another metaphysical concept) of creation.

    -that this cause is creative, preferring existence to non-existence, and order to chaos, etc.

    …as I say, it’s merely the beginning of metaphysics.

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  97. Dale – “You don’t test metaphysics “against” physics. Metaphysical method is not empirical method – though logic/reason is used in both.

    Metaphysics (literally “after” physics) is essentially reflection (’rumination’) on physics.”

    If “metaphysics” isn’t mapped against reality it is never going to answer any question – let alone what caused the big bang, is it?

    These words are just devices to enable theologians to pretend to answer these basic questions (and they have never produced a realistic answer, have they?).

    Meanwhile cosmologists and particle physicists get on with the job and they are producing answers. And humanity supports them in the process – as evidence by the international investment in the LHC.

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  98. on ‘value’ of things:
    Interestingly I’ve seen Ken react to calling soil ‘dirt’. His working background involved some kind of research (ask him!?) with soil, etc.

    The key difference here is the connotation of the terms. The term ‘soil’ carries more ‘dignity’ than ‘dirt’.

    The point here is that agency (another metaphysical concept! if you can believe all that nonsense about free will, choice and agency!) inbues things with value. We observe things and declare them of ‘interest’ or ‘value’ (the metaphysical cup is overflowing with all this talk of ‘value’ and ‘interest’!). ‘Dirt’ becomes ‘soil’. In terms of the universe/mulitvere/whatever-verse, we can say that with a Creator causing it, “nature” becomes ‘Creation’.

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  99. Ken,
    Metaphysics doesn’t impede science. However, I do think we can say that even science is built upon a metaphysical assumption (that things will behave the same way under the same conditions, etc.; the law of non-contradiction, etc. – without these experimentation would be pointless… “Oh well, run the test again, maybe it was just mis-behaving that time…”).

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  100. An attempt at diagramming the relationship between “physics” (empirical investigation of nature) and “metaphysics”…

    (one level of enquiry)

    /\ relation of metaphysics to physics |
    | relation of metaphysics to physics \/

    (another level of enquiry)

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  101. whoops – that didn’t work – some bits left out – disregard… 🙂

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  102. Dale,

    Your “metaphysics” is secondary to you choosing to believe in your particular religion. That is, it follows from a man-made choice you made, one you feel a need to “justify”, not from “the real world”.

    It occurs to me that a fairly large component of religious “purpose” is about giving the religious people a sense of self-importance. It would be interesting to explore the role of self-importance in people’s sense of “purpose”; the two do seem to be linked.

    In one sense metaphysics doesn’t impede science simply because it doesn’t contribute to it either, but it seems to me that wasn’t what Ken was referring to. He was saying that metaphysics doesn’t answer questions, and can’t.

    Your claim of “that things will behave the same way under the same conditions, etc” being something that science assumes simply shows you don’t understand science. This is not assumed, but something that has been observed and is controlled in experiments.

    It is a good example of how theological use of “philosophy” messes things up, though.

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  103. the “real world” we all live in is the world where we all believe things we cannot “prove” empirically (like human rights, dignity, beauty, truth, justice, fairness, equality and lots of other metaphysical nonsense, huh?)

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  104. honest question – do atheists reject all metaphysical entities?

    Is that what you guys mean by a metaphysical ‘entity’ not even being a ‘thing’?

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  105. Some thoughts about “dirt”.

    Subjectively we can value soil and hence find “dirt’ inappropriate. (It’s like calling a women a “shelia” I guess with the implication of devaluation.) While our value is subjective it is clearly (specially for any conscious NZer) objectively based. Our economy and human lifestyle is intricately linked to a proper valuation of our environment.

    Being objectively based it’s possible for all of us to value soil – theists and non-theists alike. Our religious beliefs are irrelevant.

    We can extend that to the cosmos. In fact there is a popular use of the word “creation” meaning all of reality which implies value – not a creator. We can all have that subjective, but objectively based, value of the cosmos. Religious beliefs are again private and irrelevant.

    Extending that to purpose. We all have subjective, but objectively based, purposes. being objectively based our religious beliefs are, again, private and irrelevant.

    It is just plainly stupid for someone to accuse me of having no purpose (as James does) just because my religious beliefs are different to his.

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  106. Ken,
    I’m going to have to press you on the value of soil example. I’d like to see you ‘do the math’ (or “show us your logical out-working”) of how the value of ‘soil’ is objectively based (including how it has anything to do with conscious NZers). My contention is that you will have to make the assertion using a metaphysical construct – i.e. there is no purely empirical reason for distinguishing ‘dirt’ from ‘soil’, etc.

    The ‘value’ of ‘soil’ is not empirically measurable – there is not empirical unit of measure for ‘soil dignity’ (or any kind of dignity, FTM). So how do you arrive (empirically and objectively) at the ‘value’ of soil?

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  107. Dale – might I suggest that is a diversion, even though it might be tempting go go off at that tangent. I don’t think that most NZers have any problem, after due reflection, recognising the value of our soils, or the rest of our environment.

    The real issue here is the claim made by James and repeated by Stuart that non-theists have no access, no grounding, for what he calls and objective purpose. (A purpose he cannot describe, but James clearly did). Leaving aside the “metaphysical” diversion – do you accept the claim of James and Stuart – or do you find my argument convincing?

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  108. Ken – I don’t think it’s a diversion at all. It’s a useful parallel example of how “real” metaphysical things can be. Our “due reflection” and “recognising the value” is ‘doing’ metaphysics – and it’s the same with purpose. I’m still keen to see you do it.

    As for the claims of James/Stuart, I agree with them in that I think that human exploration of purpose is (knowingly or unknowingly) an exploration of the purose with which things just “have” (objectively, as in they had purpose/value/meaning before we figured out that they did – i.e. their purpose/value/meaning is independent of human minds).
    As for your argument, I may have lost it somewhere in the foray of comments – could you restate it?

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  109. Dale – you agree with them “in that.” Still not clear.

    Stuart and James are claiming a purpose that is inaccessible to me – purely because of my religious beliefs. Do you agree with this theist privileged understanding? My point is that religious beliefs are irrelevant. The objective grounding, basis for purpose is accessible to all (I’m being inclusive – not exclusive, and I think that has consequences for how we treat each other),

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  110. Ken,
    I’m not actually sure they are saying that pupose is “inaccessible” to you. We theists are all quite happy agree that atheists indeed have just as open access to purpose as theists do. What I hear them saying is that atheists cannot demonstrate the basis/source/grounding for this purpose.

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  111. To repeat the quote from James above:
    “What comfort does your belief in a lack of purpose in the universe (and your life) provide you?”

    But, do you agree with them when they say either this or “that atheists cannot demonstrate the basis/source/grounding for this purpose.”

    Very simple questions to answer.

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  112. Ken – James’s rhetorical question (above) answers itself, which is why I wouldn’t personally use that kind of rhetorical question. My agreement with James is not with the form of his question, but with what I discern to be his opinion regarding atheism and purpose.
    My words (also above) are in the form of a statement, which I’d assume that James would agree with.
    I think that’s a clear enough response for how I respond to his words.

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  113. No – it’s clear to me what James’s position is (have a look at the original quote or his original post).

    But why is it that some people cannot give a clear answer. All I can do is interpret what you say and draw my own conclusion which is:

    Atheists cannot demonstrate the basis for their purpose.

    I suppose that is not as arrogant as claiming, as James did, that atheists have no purpose. But, to me it’s still an incredibly arrogant (and divisory) position. One I bet you can’t substantiate. And you are effectively saying I am not telling the truth when I say that I have a basis for my purpose(s) in life.

    It’s a “them and us” position and it is demonising because you are claiming there is something wrong with non-theists, compared with you. Their inability to justify their purpose.

    Now, I apologise if I got you wrong – but you have hardly left me any alternative with your avoidance of the real issue.

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  114. Ken,
    On position statements and answers:
    I think you’ve pretty much got it. The central contention we theists all seem to share (though we word things in different ways and approach them from different angles and with different emphases) is that “Atheists cannot demonstrate the (objective) basis for their purpose.”

    Now, on arrogance and divisiveness:
    Ken, this is how all kinds of discussions go. Nobody holds a position that they think is wrong, and (duh) if you disagree with someone, then you obviously think you are right and they are wrong. Disagreement does not equal demonisation. All disagreements have (at least) 2 sides. This shouldn’t be a problem – nor a surprise – nor an offense. 🙂

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  115. [off-topic]

    honest question – do atheists reject all metaphysical entities?

    You shouldn’t make your question about all atheists, there are atheists who ascribe to metaphysical beliefs. It’s a little like asking why all Christians believe the bible literally, when plenty don’t. You’d have to ask each person individually.

    Is that what you guys mean by a metaphysical ‘entity’ not even being a ‘thing’?

    Look up the definition of ‘entity’. I tried point you to this earlier, so try re-reading my posts, perhaps. I also pointed out that ‘metaphysical entity’ as a term is essentially a contradiction in itself. (Following from the usual definition of ‘metaphysical’ and ‘entity’, metaphysical things can’t be entities, at least not in the sense that most people mean by these terms. Certainly “purpose” and “truth”, etc., can’t.)

    Essentially “metaphysical entities” (accepting the contradiction in term for a moment) can at most be completely abstract “concepts” or “working assumptions” as part of purely abstract philosophical thought experiments. They have no use in dealing with the “real world” until you can ground them in reality one way or other, at which point they of course promptly stop being metaphysical! You need to first establish that the metaphysical thing actually exists—and thus is not metaphysical—for anything arising from them to be of use. But “of course” people who believe in metaphysical things duck that one…

    Seeing people can’t, or won’t, “prove” the “metaphysical things/concepts/whatever” exist, any exercises involving them are moot and basically a waste of time if you’re interested in reality.

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  116. the “real world” we all live in is the world where we all believe things we cannot “prove” empirically (like human rights, dignity, beauty, truth, justice, fairness, equality and lots of other metaphysical nonsense, huh?)

    Ignoring that you are persisting in not distinguishing real actual things and those that are abstract: you can’t prove these things that follow from your religious beliefs either. So you have no objective basis either. Your position isn’t “special” because you have chosen to belief in a particular religion.

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  117. found a decent article about metaphysics here.

    Most philosophers would agree that metaphysical claims are not scientific and that contradictory metaphysical positions cannot be tested empirically to determine which is false. For example, materialism and dualism are contradictory but both theories are coherent and consistent with experience, and there is no empirical event that could falsify either theory.

    See also:
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/metaphysics/

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

    ((aside: saw an interesting little advert while on the “skepdic” website… –> “to love in spite of all is true greatness… …Scientology.org ” 🙂

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  118. btw, the quote is from the “skepdic” website, so don’t say it’s biased 🙂

    As for the other comment, I’m merely making the point that metaphysical issues are not utterly ‘abstract’: they’re as practical, everyday and ‘down to earth’ as dirt/’soil’ and human rights. Whatever we think about metaphysics, it’s not a bunch of pie in the sky. It’s deeply intwined with human thinking, living and acting.

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  119. Dale, it’s arrogant to insist that you know better than the other person what is in their mind

    It actually shows you, yourself, have a closed mind and wish to avoid a give and take discussion where you might actually learn from the other.

    I’m now not surprised at your unwillingness to give a clear answer – I would be ashamed too. But I guess when one wants to hold to a dogmatic position this is where it leads.

    I must say, I have been unaware that my theist friends think like that about me. But, then again, most of them haven’t been of a dogmatic persuasion so perhaps not.

    I am disappointed but I live and learn.

    But to go on:

    I think the previous discussion of “prime mover”, etc about the origins of the universe have another interesting aspect. That is to do with Gould’s NOMA concept.

    Now I know this is largely discredited – but there is still an argument that religion and science should keep to their own knitting and hence avoid conflict. It’s often felt that conflict has arisen because one side intrudes onto the other side’s terrain.

    I think this does show that NOMA doesn’t work. Religious claims to understand/explain the origins of the universe , prime movers, etc., are clear intrusions into the science arena. (Stuart even goes as far as to claim that the origin of the universe is outside the field of science and belongs to theology. Fortunately the rest of humanity ignores him.)

    The Metamigician has a very interesting post on this (Metamagician and the Hellfire Club: NOMA no more – the great accommodationism debate). I basically agree with him. Religion does have the right to put forward their claims – after all if their story of revelation were true it could really provide answers and we could substantiate them.

    But, of course, to be involved in science means one must participate in the scientific process, be exposed to criticism, justify ones claims etc., And, importantly, be tested against reality.

    When this is done 0f course religious claims are shown to be false. (Most reasonable theologians realise this and have sensibly been in retreat. But there are others who attempt to confuse the issue with bafflegab, vague words, vague & circular arguments, mysterious interpretations of scientific theories, etc.

    However, the fact that religion does persist in intruding into the scientific arena with its claims about reality, does show that it means to fight. They cannot then claim that there should be no science-religion conflict. Nor should science step back and let them make their claims. After all we don’t do that with real scientists do we?

    Science is very much a “gloves off” process where everyone must justify their own claims and criticise others. If religion wants to participate by making claims about the real world then it must do so according the the well established scientific process. It can’t make up it’s own rules for this engagement. It can’t avoid the request for evidence.

    And it would be childish to whine about the “lack of respect” when their claims are put to the test.

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  120. Ken,
    In a thread about Purpose, (a metaphysical concept) we simply cannot avoid the topic of metaphysics. It’s not a distraction, or a diversion.

    In this last comment, you raise the science/religion (supposed) ‘conflict’. But surely we’ve established that “purpose” is not in the domain of the “scientific”. Purpose is thus a “religious” concept (in the broadest sense of the word “religious”).

    Further, you accuse religion of “intruding” onto science. This can only be possible if religious statements and scientific statements are at the same level/mode of enquiry, such as:

    ‘religion’ – – – – > (conflict)

    < – – – – – – – – – – 'science'

    If religion wants to participate by making claims about the real world then it must do so according the the well established scientific process.

    This comment assumes that religious claims about the real world are at the same level/mode of enquiry as science! Most (possibly even some atheists?) would agree that they are not.

    ***

    I still, by the way, think it would be most fruitful for you to demonstrate the (objective) logic of how dirt should be called (and valued as, etc.) ‘soil’. Would you mind?

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  121. ((looks like my comment has been caught? can you retrieve it Ken?))

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  122. Ken,
    In a thread about Purpose, (a metaphysical concept) we simply cannot avoid the topic of metaphysics. It’s not a distraction, or a diversion.

    In this last comment, you raise the science/religion (supposed) ‘conflict’. But surely we’ve established that “purpose” is not in the domain of the “scientific”. Purpose is thus a “religious” concept (in the broadest sense of the word “religious”).

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  123. Further, you accuse religion of “intruding” onto science. This can only be possible if religious statements and scientific statements are at the same level/mode of enquiry, such as:

    ‘religion’ – – – – > (conflict)

    < – – – – – – – – – – 'science'

    If religion wants to participate by making claims about the real world then it must do so according the the well established scientific process.

    This comment assumes that religious claims about the real world are at the same level/mode of enquiry as science! Most (possibly even some atheists?) would agree that they are not.

    ***

    I still, by the way, think it would be most fruitful for you to demonstrate the (objective) logic of how dirt should be called (and valued as, etc.) ‘soil’. Would you mind?

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  124. Further, you accuse religion of “intruding” onto science. This can only be possible if religious statements and scientific statements are at the same level/mode of enquiry, such as:

    ‘religion’ – – – – > (conflict)

    < – – – – – – – – – – 'science'

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  125. Further, you accuse religion of “intruding” onto science. This can only be possible if religious statements and scientific statements are at the same level/mode of enquiry, such as:

    ‘religion’ – – – – (conflict) – – – – ‘science’

    But if they are at different levels, they are both able to exist and progress on their own terms:

    ‘religion’ – – – – – – – – – –

    – – – – – – – – – – ‘science’

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  126. If religion wants to participate by making claims about the real world then it must do so according the the well established scientific process.

    This comment assumes that religious claims about the real world are at the same level/mode of enquiry as science! Most (possibly even some atheists?) would agree that they are not.

    ***

    I still, by the way, think it would be most fruitful for you to demonstrate the (objective) logic of how dirt should be called (and valued as, etc.) ‘soil’. Would you mind?

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  127. ((apologies about the multi-comments – I tried splitting up the comment to not get caught as redundant – figured out along the way that my ‘arrows’ were the problem))

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  128. I’m merely making the point that metaphysical issues are not utterly ‘abstract’

    Erm, they are abstract actually. It’s part of the reason the quote you gave is worded as it is. Consider: they can’t be tested, never mind compared, because they are abstract…

    In a thread about Purpose, (a metaphysical concept) Note you’re shifting it from “purpose” to Purpose. In doing that, you’re limiting it to your particular religion’s concept of “purpose”… (I find the capitalisation thing that some religious people do silly by the way, it’s religion trying to self-aggrandise.)

    You personally might well want to make this about metaphysics, but that’s only secondary to you choosing to believe a particular religion. It is simple that religion’s way of ensuring that you don’t question it’s dogma.

    But if they are at different levels

    Special pleading again. Trying to make your particular religion “exclusive” from criticism or analysis. Either you can examine the issues or you can’t. If you can’t (e.g. by using “they are metaphysical” as an defence/excuse) then it’s moot with respect to claims about reality.

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  129. Hey Heraclides,
    I’ve got a religious, metaphysical claim that I’d like you to analyse: “Men are not supposed to slip drugs in women’s drinks and take advantage of them.”

    Go ahead. Be really ’empirical’.

    Has it ever occured to you that the idea that some real things cannot be analysed with science might possibly NOT always be an attempt for special pleading or religion choosing, but (shock, horror) might actually be the case?

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  130. …some real things cannot be analysed with science might possibly NOT always be an attempt for special pleading or religion choosing.

    Easily fixed.
    If that’s the case, then when somebody calls you on special pleading, then all you’ve got to do is demonstrate that your particular instance is not really the case.

    So go ahead and do it already.
    Enough with the waffle and and handwaving.

    Address it head on. Don’t get all snippy and go off on a tangent.

    If you think there’s a divine purpose or something then…produce evidence that there’s a divinity.

    If you seriously believe that your brand-name god is not from the world of make-believe and wishful thinking like all other gods then…put forward your evidence.

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  131. Ken,

    . . . Religious claims to understand/explain the origins of the universe, prime movers, etc., are clear intrusions into the science arena. (Stuart even goes as far as to claim that the origin of the universe is outside the field of science and belongs to theology. Fortunately the rest of humanity ignores him.)

    Thank you for misrepresenting me again Ken. I actually say the cause of the origin of the universe, if the universe is all matter, all energy, all space and all time, belongs to the realm of philosophy. (That also goes for prime movers) This is because science studies nature and the laws that underlie nature. But the scientist is probing, in the case of the cause of the beginning of the universe, beyond nature – as in above or after – and not nature itself. The scientist is engaging in meta-physics – vis-a-vis certain cosmogonies being criticised as unduly metaphysical.

    Dale, tell me what scientific work has been done with the “prime mover” hypothesis. How has it been tested against reality? What proposals are there for testing against reality? Or have it’s promoters just walked away from science?

    Tell me, who made the scientist the priest and king of the kingdom of truth? This unabashed scientism is degrading! I’ve written on the ineptitude of scientism before, so I won’t waste heaps of time on it, only to respond with a few barbs – which scientific experiment tested the scientific-method itself? What microscope or telescope examined “the value of soil/dirt”? What scientist discovered the properties of “nothingness” or the properties of actually infinite sets. What test tube held an aesthetic or moral judgement? What petri dish held the laws of logic until they were delineated? Who hypothesised and “mapped against reality” the proposition “I am now thinking about science” or “he past was not created five minutes ago with the appearance of age”? and who peer-reviewed the Bill of rights?
    Truely, Nicholas Rescher, University Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh was right when he said;

    The theorist who maintains that science is the be-all and end-all . . . . is not to celebrate science but to distort it by casting the mantle of its authority over issues it was never meant to address.*
    *Nicholas Rescher, The Limits of Science (Berkley, University of California Press: 1984).

    Regarding Dale’s request for Ken to justify the objectivity of the value of soil, Ken says:

    Dale – might I suggest that is a diversion, even though it might be tempting go go off at that tangent. I don’t think that most NZers have any problem, after due reflection, recognising the value of our soils, or the rest of our environment.

    Ken, that is the very heart of the issue and discussion!
    In response to Dales summation Atheists cannot demonstrate the basis for their purpose.

    Dale, it’s arrogant to insist that you know better than the other person what is in their mind.
    It actually shows you, yourself, have a closed mind and wish to avoid a give and take discussion where you might actually learn from the other.
    . . . I must say, I have been unaware that my theist friends think like that about me. But, then again, most of them haven’t been of a dogmatic persuasion so perhaps not.

    To that last: you are conflating two very different ideas again, (1) Atheists cannot demonstrate the basis for their purpose and (2) Atheists have no purpose in life. I think it has been sufficiently clear for anyone to understand by now that I do not hold to, or believe claim 2. However, you have given no reason as yet on this thread for me to disbelieve 1.
    To the rest: Unless you demonstrate a basis for objective purpose which an atheistic position can rationally affirm, then Dale and I are correct no matter how dogmatic we are or have been, no matter how unfair you think it is, no matter how adversarial (“then vs. us”) you perceive it. Stop avoiding the pressing and important questions.
    Does the atheistic framework provide purpose with an ontological foundation in reality, or is it just a useful fiction?
    Or perhaps answer Dale’s request and “demonstrate the (objective) logic of how dirt should be called (and valued as, etc.) ’soil’.”

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  132. Cedric,

    when somebody calls you on special pleading, then all you’ve got to do is demonstrate that your particular instance is not really the case.
    …If you think there’s a divine purpose or something then…produce evidence that there’s a divinity.

    One need not prove a divinity to simply observe that metaphysical issues are not empirical ones. Read the quote from the skepdic(tionary) on metaphysics I quoted above.

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  133. …who needs special pleading when we can simply acknowledge what science can measure and what it can’t!?

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  134. Stuart,

    This is because science studies nature and the laws that underlie nature. But the scientist is probing, in the case of the cause of the beginning of the universe, beyond nature – as in above or after – and not nature itself.

    Prepare to be told (probably by Ken) that science studies “reality” and that any “real” thing can be potentially investigated by science. (groan) 🙂

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  135. (groan understood) . . . and they accuse us of circular reasoning!

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  136. One need not prove a divinity to simply observe that metaphysical issues are not empirical ones.

    If you are going to assert that there is a divine “purpose” then you need demonstrate that there is a divinity.

    Before you can seriously discuss how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, you need to present evidence that angels actually exist.

    If you assert that your brand-name god is real and totally unlike all the other fake ones then…you need to demonstrate it.

    Otherwise you’ve got nothing more substantial than the FSM.

    Going off and asking people to analyse men slipping something into women’s drinks doesn’t help you.

    Tell me, who made the scientist the priest and king of the kingdom of truth? This unabashed scientism is degrading!

    Wow.
    That’s worthy of Bnonn the tool.
    Bring on the 6000 year old Earth.
    Come to our church, leave your brains in the lobby. You won’t need them.

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  137. Cedric, it’s been a long comment thread (this is the 135th comment!), and I’m sure along the way that ‘divine’ has indeed been linked with ‘purpose’, but regardless of a proven divinity or not, it remains a simple distinction that purpose is not an empirically demonstrable thing. Not special pleading. No need for proven divinities (at this point). Just a recognition of a distinction of what is measurable by empirical methods and what isn’t.

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  138. No need for proven divinities (at this point).

    Not at this point. Not at some later point. Not ever.

    You can no more prove a divinity, ANY divinity, than you can that the FSM exists.

    All that you have done is indulge in an endless series of hand-waving that brings comfort and joy only to the anti-science crowd.

    The rest of us who live in the reality-based world fail to see any difference between your brand-name god and pixies, demons, talking donkeys, The Great Pumpkin, angels and sightings of Elvis in a shopping mall.

    “God has put me here to discover Him, to choose to follow and love Him, and to show Him to other people. Simple as that. My reward for doing these things? When I die in this life, I get to exist forever with Him in a state of pure supernatural bliss.”

    Pure empty pap.

    Let’s try it with a little pasta.

    “The FSM has put me here to discover His Noodliness, to choose to follow and love the Meatballs of Him, and to show the Gnocchi to other people. Simple as that. My reward for doing these things? When I die in this life, I get to exist forever within the Great Italian Bistro in a state of pure supernatural bliss. Ramen.”

    No need to change anything except the labels.
    Leave the statement itself untouched.

    Try it for yourself.
    Next time you hear somebody pontificating on some aspect of their make-believe god (e.g. Vishnu or Sri or Ralien aliens) just insert the FSM place-holder label and you’ll find it works just as well.

    Don’t change the logic of the statement!
    Only the labels.
    Don’t tamper with the “evidence” presented with the statement!
    That defeats the purpose of the exercise.
    Just fiddle with the label a bit.
    😉

    You’ll find it works really well to show up any nonsense that a cultist or some deluded foreign worshipper of a heathen faith might peddle.

    Have a good chuckle at their expence.
    I certainly do.

    Just don’t be surprised when others ask whether you’ve gone that one god furtherlike the rest of us have.

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  139. I haven’t had much time to check back in on this discusion, and I have just drunk a nice bottle of good New Zealand white wine (Neds), but I was just reading an essay in the book “Whats next, dispatches on the future of Science” that was touching on dualism and mirror neurons (in particular the similarities on activity in certain mirror neuron regions when measured in humans with fMri and more precisely in other primates with single neuron recordings). Something occurred to me regarding this thread here, this is:

    With regards to evolution. I suspect (can’t remember) that Stuart has some problems with evolution. As far as I remember Dale accepts evolution through natural selection etal…

    But, what I don’t think either of them really appreciate, is the implications of this. For example, how near we are to our primate cousins, and how we are not so far from our other animal brethren, even down to the architecture of our brains.

    What does this mean for these posited metaphysical realities and objective purposes? Do you guys also grant the existence of these for our close cousins in the animal kingdom? Or, is it just humans that are party to these qualities?

    Where does your idea of agency start and end?

    Also, given the discussion here, bring in some information on hand that Dale & Stuart have completely ignored my attempts to bring in some research based information on human baises, I have to agree that the happy co-existence of religion and science is perhaps not possible. What worries me, is that there seems to be people that still believe that they have access to privileged “objective” information about purposes and values that the rest of us don’t have. They are the holders of the special unchallengeable (through empirical means) truth. Does this give anybody else the willies?

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  140. Hey Dale,

    You’re so far off on a tangent that you obviously don’t “get” that you’re so far off on a tangent. You “question” has absolutely nothing to do with anything I’ve written. So, not surprisingly, I can’t see the point of even looking at it. Besides silly taunts like “Be really ‘empirical’.” are hardly going to going to encourage me to bother.

    I notice that you have steadfastly ignored all I have written. Perhaps you might like to at least consider the points I have made? Otherwise it’s clear you are not interested in discussing are only interested in either “insisting” on your views or play games like the one you are proposing.

    Besides, I also pointed out that you need to distinguish abstract and real things, but that has obviously slipped past you… Go back and read my posts. You “game” is irrelevant. You need to understand why.


    Hey Heraclides,
    I’ve got a religious, metaphysical claim that I’d like you to analyse: “Men are not supposed to slip drugs in women’s drinks and take advantage of them.”

    Go ahead. Be really ‘empirical’.

    Has it ever occured to you that the idea that some real things cannot be analysed with science might possibly NOT always be an attempt for special pleading or religion choosing, but (shock, horror) might actually be the case?

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  141. Nick,
    First I’ll comment on the evolution point you bring up, and then on your last paragraph. I’ll just also mention that I think it’s useful to stay focussed on the topics central to this thread

    -the nature of purpose and inability of science to assess it.
    -the question of atheist ability to demonstrate a basis for the purpose by which they live

    As for evolution and the abilities of our ‘cousins’, I have no problem with their ‘nearness’ to us. I think it only makes sense. As for whether or not other primates are thinking about (or ‘almost’ thinking about?) purpose or not, I have no idea. I do think we often anthropomorphocise though. For instance, I’ve seen chimps pressing numbers (mostly) in sequence after having been taught to ‘count’. The question here is whether they are actually ‘counting’ or responding to shapes in sequence (look up Chinese Room Argument if you wish). Whatever the case, though, in an analogous way, rather than being afraid of or threatened by the more advanced abilities of other primates, I can celebrate whatever abilities they have in a similar way as I would celebrate the abilities of my human relatives. But I do think it’s good to stay focussed on whether purpose is only neural activity in physical brains, or if purpose has metaphysical ontological grounding – before we ask the subsequent question of how other primates may or may not be accessing this metaphysical thing. We could also ask about dogs, or ants, or plant life?

    Now, re this:

    What worries me, is that there seems to be people that still believe that they have access to privileged “objective” information about purposes and values that the rest of us don’t have. They are the holders of the special unchallengeable (through empirical means) truth.

    Honestly, Nick, you’ve misrepresented what the theists here are saying. Key distinction –> It is ONE thing to say that atheists do not have access to this metaphysical purpose, etc. (which we are NOT saying); and it is ANOTHER thing to say that atheists cannot demonstrate an objective grounding for the purpose which they obviously are living their lives by.

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  142. Heraclides, my request to you was in direct response to what you wrote.

    Special pleading again. Trying to make your particular religion “exclusive” from criticism or analysis. Either you can examine the issues or you can’t. If you can’t (e.g. by using “they are metaphysical” as an defence/excuse) then it’s moot with respect to claims about reality.

    You complain that I’m trying to “make” purpose exclusive from criticism or analysis. So in return, I presented you with the opportunity to try and criticise or analyse a statement having to do with pur-pose (“Men are not sup-posed…” etc.).

    For the moment, forget everything else on this thread and just answer this: Do you really think that science can “criticise or analyse” purpose?

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  143. Thank you for misrepresenting me again Ken. I actually say the cause of the origin of the universe, if the universe is all matter, all energy, all space and all time, belongs to the realm of philosophy.

    Word games and side-stepping, as ever! Is this all you can ever do?

    So you shift from “the origin of the universe” to the “the cause of the origin of the universe”… when most people would think that these things refer the same thing, “how the universe originated”.

    And, of course, you try “set up” things so that your “philosophy” smokescreen is available for you to jump into to avoid facing others’ points. So predictable.

    Go ahead and accuse me of being cheeky: I mean to. It’s be nice to see you face your own actions for once.

    xBut the scientist is probing, in the case of the cause of the beginning of the universe, beyond nature

    Trying to create an artificial “special case”. Why don’t you prove it’s a special case first, so far it’s by fait.

    Tell me, who made the scientist the priest and king of the kingdom of truth?

    Smacks of “us vs. them” as Ken referred to earlier. The strawman stuff you are trying to case on scientists as a whole aren’t worth addressing beyond pointing out that it’s a silly attempt a framing others in an “us vs. them” manner.

    To that last: you are conflating two very different ideas again, (1) Atheists cannot demonstrate the basis for their purpose and (2) Atheists have no purpose in life. I think it has been sufficiently clear for anyone to understand by now that I do not hold to, or believe claim 2.

    I think you need to read Ken’s post again.

    However, you have given no reason as yet on this thread for me to disbelieve 1.

    This up-ends logic. No wonder you’re a mess when it comes to working things out. Making unfounded assertions then saying I see no reason to disbelieve this until shown otherwise is, well, illogical.

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  144. Re-read, you’ve illustrated that you’re not reading what I wrote. Also, please quote if you are referring to specific things. I do. I recognise there are not such thing as psychics 🙂

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  145. Crikey – these Christian dogmatists now want to dictate to me about soil (as well as my purpose in life and what I am permitted to research)!

    It’s quite simple really – refer to the slogan (which I think sums it up succinctly) of the NZ Soil Science Society:

    Never treat soil like dirt

    (By the way – during the 90s we developed this further to “Never treat soil scientist like dirt” as a result of some of the negative effects of the science reforms).

    Now, I think people appreciated/understood the message in that. (Surely you have to be thick not to).

    Might I suggest that you don’t because you let your theology rather than science/evidence dictate your thinking.

    Perhaps you are stuck in the old groove of your god creating the heavens/earth/other species, etc. for “man” to exploit. That it’s “purpose.” Bugger the consequences because we are all going to be caught up in the rapture, anyway. That seems to be behind the attitude to nature, women, small children, climate change, and humanity itself of quite a few dogmatic Christians.

    OK – that might be a caricature. But it is one you deserve with some of the dribble being promoted here. And, after all, what could be a worse caricature than the unsupported (indeed conflicting with the empirical evidence in what I have said) claims you are making about my purpose in life.

    With attitudes like that no wonder you are making such stupid claims about science. Fortunately, your hubris has no influence. We get on and do our job.

    OK Stuart and Dale – go ahead and insist on calling soil “dirt”. Maybe you will feel good about being “theologically correct” and you can go ahead and demonise me for using “soil.” But it only demonstrates your own ignorance.

    This comment thread has obviously gone on too long and is now just producing silliness. I certainly can’t be bothered following it. But I might extract a few concepts and start a separate post – eg NOMA and the science/religion conflict – which could focus the discussion.

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  146. Ken,
    To be clear, I never said that soil should be called dirt. I’m merely saying that the distinction in value/dignity is a metaphysical one, not a scientific one.

    One of the members in our church, Reg Lewthwaite, is also involved with Ecological work, particularly with soil science. You may have heard of him? He spoke at some related conference a while back.

    So I certainly hope you haven’t taken my comments to imply that I think soil is just dirt, etc.

    In the same way that we both live purpose-ful lives, we both also agree that soil is to be cared for and treated well.

    But the point of this whole frickin’ discussion is about a basis for these (metaphysical) opinions which we both share! We both agree that it is ‘right’ to respect soil, and that it is ‘wrong’ to abuse it or treat it like ‘dirt’. Oh wait, perhaps that’s demonising “those” who don’t agree with “us”, aye? Gee whiz. Can we just a) realise that discussions have different points of view, and b) keep the focus on demonstration of a basis for what we agree on?

    It is NOT anti-science in the LEAST to merely observe that purpose is not empirically analysed, or to say that there’s no specifically scientific distinction between calling the same shovel full of earth “dirt” or “soil”.

    I’m utterly amazed at the hesitance to acknowledge this.

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  147. Here’s Reg’s profile page at Unitec (where he’s a lecturer):

    http://www.unitec.ac.nz/pop_ups/staffdetails.cfm?ID=1daca4fa-1483-4246-949c-6d959ca017bd

    Specialist topics include lecturing, research and consultancy in –
    * plant perfomance in horticulture crop production systems
    * soil management (sustainable use of fertilisers, leaching of nutrients, irrigation and soil conservation)
    * plant pruning and training
    * pest and weed management

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  148. Clearly the thread is already absurdly long and the light:ratio is not pretty dismal, but here are a couple of thoughts.

    1. I don’t think a lot of the things Dale is calling metaphysical really are in the the sense that I understand the word. The distinction between soil and dirt is a human construct – like that melancholy (and purposeless) Dane said – ‘nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so’ it has a physical basis in the 1.5kg of tissue we carry around in our heads. I guess it’s subjective in the sense that the value we place on those words is contingent on our own brains which are themselves contingent on accidents of evolution and development but that doesn’t mean it’s not grounded in the physical. The fact we can all agree that humans value this or that thing doesn’t require an abstract entity called ‘value’ it’s simply a property of humans and our brains.

    2. Most of this thread seems to based around conflating two meanings of the word purpose. On the way hand what you teleology – the reason/job/final for which something was made. On the other you have a overriding goal that influences the decisions that we make. If James and Stuart’s ‘comfort’, ‘get out of bed’, ‘philosophy of dispair’ posts have any logical basis it’s because they’ve conflated the two meanings. Most atheists, my self included, have a sense of purpose and it’s no less real because its entire basis is in that 1.5kg of flesh. And has been agreed by everyone (I think) a theist doesn’t have any special claim to objective basis for their sense of purpose since it’s based on their subjectively choosing to believe in whichever god they believe in.

    If the ‘debate’ had been atheists cannot call on any external force to justify their purpose my answer would have been something like ‘so?’.

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  149. Reg’s work has been in the Hort area. I don’t think he was at Ruakura (which had a small Hort area – although as a consultant he may not have had a very obvious base) but his name is vaguely familiar. His lecturing interest in soil management, sustainable fertiliser use, nutrient leaching does cross my background though so he may be aware of some of my work.

    I am glad you aren’t going to insist on using “dirt” – but lets face it you do argue around in circles and will only admit to a specific stand after extreme pushing. You should try to change that habit – I think it leads to rubbing people up the wrong way. At the least, it certainly makes your arguments unclear.

    All this talk about purpose and science is a stupid repeat of a common discussion with you deriving from your strawmannery in insisting science makes claims that it just doesn’t. Clearly (to me anyway) it is your belief that only philosophy/theology/religion is allowed to make such claims. But the honest argument is to forget about science (and your imagined characterisation of it) and present the justification for the role of religion. You don’t – and I realise that you can’t. But it’s hardly honest to present it in terms of criticism of science for something it doesn’t do.

    Discussion does imply participants with different points of view – no problem for me. But it is not honest or respectful to make claims about what the other person thinks/believes/experiences and smugly persist in insisting those claims are true, despite the other person clearly showing that they aren’t. This rudeness seems to be a characteristic (and not an endearing one) of people with dogmatic religious or political beliefs (I have had the same problem with Maoists over the years).

    Now, I believe it shows a lack of respect to me as an individual to insist that I can give no basis, grounding, etc., for my morality or purpose in life – despite the fact that I clearly can, and have done so in several of my posts. Those objective groundings for my morality/purpose may not appeal to you, may not be sufficient for you. But then again your basis/ground for your morality/purpose may not appeal to or be sufficient for me. I am not arrogantly insisting that you have no basis because of that – am I?

    Frankly, when a discussion participant shows disrespect by being sexist or racist towards me – or telling me what I think or that I have no reason for my moral/purpose despite being shown that I do – then can that person expect any respect in return.

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  150. Ken,
    Only time for a quick comment before I’m heading out.

    On respect:
    Not only have the theists here been continually disrespected for believing in something which is said (with no justification) to be on par with pasta or tea-pots, the theists here in the comments have shown respect to the atheists in that they freely admit that they live purposeful, meaningful and moral lives. The point of discussion (I cannot emphasise enough) is not that atheists are horrible people, but rather is about whether or not an atheistic framework of reality can account for an objective basis for a ‘thing’ like purpose. Atheists themselves are not being disrespected; instead atheism is being enquired about.

    The same goes for science. Science doesn’t claim anything. Science is the powerful tool used by humans. We’re not saying “science” can’t claim this or that, we’re saying that humans should not think that purpose can be investigated by empirical methodology.

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  151. Dale – you are rationalising away, justifying and avoiding the issues I raised.

    You and Stuart continue to ignore what has been said and insist that I can’t have an objective basis for my morality purpose. That is disrespectful to me and I draw then obvious conclusions.

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  152. …the theists here been continually disrespected for believing in something which is said (with no justification) to be on par with pasta or tea-pots…

    Dale, I have never met you.
    I have no idea if your a nice guy or a total ratbag.

    I think you hold to a belief that is unsupportable.
    That’s it. Nothing more.

    This is not about personalities or “respect”.
    This is not about making you unhappy.

    Somebody’s beliefs or assertions are always fair game. If they get uncomfortable with that, then that says more about their beliefs than it does about the criticism.

    I don’t just dole out respect for somebody’s beliefs. I challange them. That’s healthy. That’s sane.

    If they can successfully defend their beliefs, then I have always been willing to give credit where credit is due. Heck, if it’s a good enough defence, I’d probably end up joining their belief system.

    If you simply refuse to engage, then…well…what are we supposed to think?

    I have pointed out that belief in gods is no more credible than belief in the FSM.

    That’s not disrespectful.
    That’s reality.

    If you could demonstrate that Vishnu or some other god was real and totally unlike magic pasta…then DO IT!

    Don’t just pout that your not getting any respect around here.

    Engage.

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  153. To respond to Ken in word-replacing style as seen throughout this thread (using the last reply by Cedric):

    Ken, I have never met you.
    I have no idea if your a nice guy or a total ratbag.
    I think you hold to a belief that is unsupportable.
    That’s it. Nothing more.

    Now, that’s not precisely what I’d say, but hopefully you can see the distinction Cedric is wanting me to see between challenging my ideas and disrespecting me.

    Cedric,
    The FSM, Vishnu stuff belongs on another thread, in my view. Suffice to say that different gods are not all understood in the same way – rather they are understood differently depending on the framework of the person (pantheist, deist, polytheistic, monotheistic, etc.). Even someone who summarily rejects all forms of theism can at least acknowledge these different understandings.
    Btw, the first step isn’t comparing this god to that god – it’s asking whether or not there is reason/”evidence” (hint: not empirical evidence) for any kind of theism. And even then, the second step is still not to compare this god with that god, but rather compare different theistic frameworks (pantheism, deism, poly, mono, etc.). Then, thirdly, you can start to compare gods, etc.

    But honestly, I think it’s best to keep this as on-topic as possible. Namely, issues to do with (again):
    -the nature of ‘purpose’ (is it merely mental activity within the physical brain in reference to nothing outside the brain? or is it mental activity involving physical brain activity, but in relation to a metaphysically real ‘purpose’ which has an objective grounding?)

    -the question of whether or not atheists can demonstrate an objective grounding for the purpose by which they enjoyably and meaningfully live out their lives (which is not a disrespectful question, but just a simple engagement between theist/atheist).

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  154. another clarification:
    It’s good to agree on the questions before we ask for / demand answers?

    Can we agree those last two bullet points are the central points of this thread?

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  155. Dale writes: Not only have the theists here been continually disrespected for believing in something which is said (with no justification) to be on par with pasta or tea-pots

    I several times tried to point out to you that it is not the things being named that matters, but that replacing the original named things with others can show up the (poor) logic in the original statement. Cedric has likewise and furthermore volunteered to swop to using Vishnu as his examplar in response to your protests. Thus, I can’t help but read this as a sop to try place yourself on a pedestal.

    Dale later writes The FSM, Vishnu stuff belongs on another thread To me this shows you still “don’t get it” despite having the essence of what is being said repeated to you many times. Either that, or you are trying to “excuse” yourself from having to deal with it. Cederic is not comparing one god to another. Surely that is obvious? After all you, yourself, wrote “To respond to Ken in word-replacing style as seen throughout this thread”. See my explanation above.

    Dale writes: The point of discussion […] Isn’t that for Ken to say? He’s the one who started the topic… You might be better to ask Ken than try assert what “it is” 😉

    Several things that I have gotten out of this, all negative.

    Firstly, I am finding myself with a horribly familiar feeling that I have to write most posts to religious people as if I were addressing seven year-olds and painstakingly make explicit what seems blindly obvious to me for the sake of religious readers who seem determine to not only not even try do this for themselves, but instead actively try to “fit” my words into a their own framework, one that has nothing to do with me! (On this note, I find Dale’s earlier comment that “Religion or belief in God doesn’t stop people from thinking and questioning – cognitive laziness does” hugely ironic, if not perhaps hypocritical. Perhaps his religion blinds him from seeing this? It certainly seems this way to me. Wouldn’t not being able to see this itself be an example of not being able to think and question?)

    Secondly, the religious readers here too often seem inclined not to read what written. Or least that the replies to some of my posts show that they aren’t being read. Reading is more than passing eyes over the text; I am certain that much is happening. But equally it’s clear from some replies that the person replying has not read the post they are supposedly replying to. I get the impression that the person replying is skimming over the posts rapidly, then almost randomly replying to some magic “keyword” within the text that presses a button for them.

    Twice in this thread I have had the bizarre thing of making a point, having a religious replier go off on some only vaguely related tangent, then several posts later put my original point back to me in apparent opposition me, perfectly illustrating that they didn’t read my original point at all.

    Thirdly, I notice a tendency among the religious repliers to completely ignore points that don’t suit them… Not willing to face up to them or perhaps not able to see themselves, etc., etc.?

    David: nice post.

    PS: Excuse my rushed posts this morning, I was very busy.

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  156. Dale and Stuart:

    Ask Ken. He’s the one who raised the discussion.

    I would have thought his original point is closer to the mark, e.g. how can religious apologists claim purpose as a reason for their beliefs.
    To me that’s a circular claim: their religious belief came first, thus this “purpose is a reason” argument is really a circular self-justification of their beliefs. Purpose follows whatever framework/decisions/etc. you have for life.

    The “flip side” with James claiming “atheists having no purpose” comes from, for example James’ words I think the fundamental difference between atheism and…well…theism (as represented by the Catholic Faith) is one of purpose.

    Not only does this not follow from the first, it’s simply wrong. He’d only have to take a moment’s effort to realise that atheists obviously do.

    The Big Bang thing is just a very silly piece of bafflegabble (or whatever) that apologists seem to like to drag out because they think it has a “gap” that they “place” G-d into so that they can then self-justify (more accurately, make an excuse for) their arguments. They’d be better off without it. They’re constantly hitting themselves on the head with it.

    James even brings up Pascal’s Wager (!), which is trivially dismissed. (Goes to show he hasn’t even tried a simple internet search to check to my mind.)

    At least James is honest in writing “I am not a trained and learned philosopher”: he’s hopeless at it in my opinion.

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  157. Check out Dawkins lecture “The purpose of purpose”, via PZ’s blog: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/06/the_purpose_of_purpose_1.php

    And check out the comments.

    If your bandwidth is limited, there is an MP3 version available for download. My time is a bit limited, so I’ll rely on others’ reports for now.

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  158. Btw, the first step isn’t comparing this god to that god…

    No, Dale. We’ve covered this ground before.

    You’ve already stated that…

    If I wanted to contrast Vishnu with Yahweh (which is the same as contrasting polytheism with monotheism), I’d do that.

    I thought I’d made it clear that I considered that to be a pointless activity.

    Well, you could but I wouldn’t recommend it.
    That’s about as useful as comparing the Energizer Bunny to the Jolly Green Giant or Bigfoot to the Loch Ness Monster.

    You go off and say…

    Suffice to say that different gods are not all understood in the same way – rather they are understood differently depending on the framework of the person (pantheist, deist, polytheistic, monotheistic, etc.).

    There’s an elephant in the room that you just don’t want to talk about. Let me draw you a picture…again.
    😦

    Suffice to say that different ghosts are not all understood in the same way – rather they are understood differently depending on the framework of the person (spiritualist, psychic, TV ghost-hunter, grieving relative etc.).

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  159. Thanks for the link, Heraclides. I’ve missed that one.

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  160. Heraclides,

    So many complaints in your posts its amazing to me you accuse us of not addressing the issue.

    I honestly think the simplest solution is to just to note that people get their “purpose” by first taking up some particular decisions to base their lives around: they then derive purpose secondary to that. Once you note that, all “purpose” is secondary to your man-made choice of “life framework” (or whatever you want to call it) and thus subjective.

    In that case you would agree with me that if there is no God there is no objective purpose to life, i.e., all purpose is subjective if there is no God. Is that right?

    If so you would disagree with Ken, who avers there is an objective purpose to life. He fails to (at least on this post) give a basis for that objectivity, but nevertheless he states it to be the case.

    The following is off-topic:

    Your [Stuart’s] claim of “that things will behave the same way under the same conditions, etc” being something that science assumes simply shows you don’t understand science. This is not assumed, but something that has been observed and is controlled in experiments.

    When an experiment performs in X fashion under Y conditions, it is assumed that it will perform in the same X fashion every time it is under the exact same Y conditions. That it is observed many times only serves to confirm this assumption, but it is still an assumption. (Natural science is induction, and does not give the certainty that deductive proofs give). That assumption is a metaphysical assumption that cannot be proved by science. It lies under the discipline in such a way that science could not function without it. It is not empirically proven, nevertheless it is wholly reasonable to believe this philosophical and metaphysical truth given its repeated verification.

    Cedric and Heraclides,

    The so-called Flying-Spaggetti-Monster doesn’t prove the point you are wanting it to. The point, I take it, is to show that the idea of God is ridiculous because it is unjustified, just like all manner of ill-concieved fictional beings. It doesn’t prove this point because the two cosmological arguments that have featured in this discussion start with the world of things and ends though reasonable inferences to posit a transcendent being. Whatever name you give this being (FSM, Vishnu, Barney-the-Dinosaur, God) what happens then is we look to see what the attributes of this being are; its necessary, its immaterial, its timeless, its powerful, etc. If you want to defeat the arguments what you need to do is disagree with a premise – not play this childish replacement-of-a-name game.

    If you think that the cosmological argument is circular in some way (perhaps because it serves to confirm my theistic position and preconceptions) show how the prime-mover or uncaused-cause is smuggled into one of the premises. Asserting that it is circular and not showing how it is, and moreover, writing the argument off a “baffle-gab” or “pseudo-philosophy”, is a poor debating strategy (and one that shows I think a certain obstinate dogmatism that you so-often accuse your theistic dissenters).

    I know the response is most likely going to be something like; “I’m not interested in playing your word games,” or “just like I predicted: irrelevant pseudo-philosophy from Stuart.” You will probably write everything I said off with a sweeping arm gesture and give no reason why it is not responsible reasoning and logic.

    Perhaps after reading this you would like to complain some more. Or maybe – just maybe – by some miracle, you would start to genuinely wrestle with these ideas. Maybe you could start with trying to explain why, if there is only subjective purpose in life, you (or Ken, or anyone else) gets so up-in-arms when a theist asserts that “an atheistic framework cannot give a basis for objective purpose.” The only way I can make sense of the (mistaken) repulsion with this (arrogant? divisive? unjustified?) claim (which is not only a claim from the theist remember – also from Bertrand Russell, the atheistic philosopher) is to think that there is at least one objective purpose in life, namely, to find and to know the truth.

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  161. When an experiment […]

    No, you originally made this out as a blanket statement about all science, one that was false. You are know trying to reword this, limiting it’s scope, in the hope of correcting your error. Actually all you are doing is repeating your error, leaving out the very thing that I pointed out you are leaving out the first time… that you can test that the conditions are the same…

    You’re still trying weave in still “metaphysical” things that aren’t any part of how science is done. You must be incredibly desperate. I notice it is also exactly the “us vs. them” framing issue Ken referred to earlier.

    (By the way, it’s contradiction in terms to say “exactly the same conditions”, then say they can’t be. Either they are the same or they are not.)

    The point, I take it, is to show that the idea of God is ridiculous because it is unjustified, just like all manner of ill-concieved fictional beings.

    No, this wasn’t the point and the point has been repeated told. Read what actually written first, please. It might help, y’know 😉

    If you think that the cosmological argument is circular in some way

    I’ve already explained this. Read what is actually written first, please. (Ditto for James circular argument regards “purpose”.)

    know the response is most likely going to be something like […] Trying to put words in others’ mouths are we? 😉

    why it is not responsible reasoning and logic. This bit is hugely ironic. (Read the explanation given earlier to see why.)

    Perhaps after reading this you would like to complain some more […] More putting of words in others’ mouths? 😉

    Or maybe – just maybe – by some miracle, you would start to genuinely wrestle with these ideas. Read this addressed to yourself. Seriously, read this addressed to yourself. Try practice what you preach before asking it of others. I notice you haven’t addressed what was actually written… perhaps you might start by doing what you ask of others…?

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  162. If so you would disagree with Ken, who avers there is an objective purpose to life. He fails to (at least on this post) give a basis for that objectivity, but nevertheless he states it to be the case.

    That’s a good point. I’ve sensed that along the way too. I could be wrong, but I think Ken is the only one asserting that there is an objective grounding for purpose. ((He quite often says the same thing for morals/ethics – almost always mentioning the “fact” that we “objectively exist” as sentient, intelligent, etc. beings – though I’ve never seen him connect the dots.))

    It would be good to hear from the various atheists where they sit in regard to Ken’s claim of an objective grounding to purpose.

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  163. ***Alert – new (and hopefully useful) concept for this thread*** 😀

    I think a definition of terms would be immensely useful. Here are some terms I suggest we offer definitions of.

    -purpose

    -objective (+ subjective)

    -metaphysical (+ physical [perhaps] )

    -science

    helpful? no?

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  164. Try practice what you preach before asking it of others. I notice you haven’t addressed what was actually written… perhaps you might start by doing what you ask of others…?

    Seconded.

    It doesn’t prove this point because the two cosmological arguments that have featured in this discussion start with the world of things and ends though reasonable inferences to posit a transcendent being.

    Stuart, does this really make sense to you?
    Or are you just doing a deep-cover Poe?

    …what happens then is we look to see what the attributes of this being are…

    Oh yes. By all means. Lets’ see what happens.

    So what exactly are the attributes of say…Baal?
    Inquiring minds want to know.

    Go for it. Wax lyrical. Don’t spare me any of the details. Give us a blow-by-blow description of your train of logic on the “transendent being” otherwise known as Baal.

    (this should be entertaining)

    😉

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  165. Good thought,

    Though I offered my definitions way up there, near the top, they were never accepted. I just assume people use the definitions as stated in my dictionary, and then clarify if I don’t think people are using them the same way. Objective is often not really understood and obfuscated. And the definition, intention of, and method of science as it is being used here by the “non-theists” and traditional atheists would be interesting.

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  166. Ok Cedric,

    (For my entertainment also) I’ll show you the attributes of “Baal” if you promise to tell me why you think that this Baal does not have these attributes.

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  167. I’ll show you the attributes of “Baal” if you promise to tell me why you think that this Baal does not have these attributes.

    Why impose such an odd condition?

    Why not just show me these attributes, demonstrating clearly that you can do what you claim to do?

    Don’t throw out a counter-challange borne of desperation and inadequacy. That’s kinda sad. Just follow through on what you yourself brought up.

    You made a very clear claim…
    Let me jog your memory.

    Whatever name you give this being, what happens then is we look to see what the attributes of this being are.”

    Whatever name you give this being?
    Whatever name, eh?
    Cool.
    Lets’ call him Baal.
    A rose by any other name and all that good stuff.
    🙂

    Of course, if there’s some…(ahem)…objection you have to the name Baal, we can always go for some other label…
    Nebo perhaps?
    Tartak?
    Too obscure?

    Yeah, doesn’t really have that ring to it.

    Let’s just go with Baal.

    So we have…”This being called Baal, what happens then is we look to see what the attributes of this being are”.

    So, what are his attributes and how did you find out?

    Over to you.
    🙂

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  168. Wow, lots of comments here. Seems like Ken is finally getting the lively contribution from the theist side that he waited for to no avail with regards to his morality posts.

    There are too many different topics on the table to address in one post, so I will restrict my comments to those I find most interesting.

    1.) The limits of science

    By definition, science deals with the realm of the empirical, i.e. what can be discerned through our senses. Questions of morality, aesthetic beauty, subjective value judgements in general are outside its purview in the sense that it can not decide whether they are true or false. What it can do is e.g. to explain the biological basis of our moral intuitions or why most humans find something aesthetically pleasing.
    However, I have the impression that there is also a substantial amount of straw-mannery from our theist friends here, since what I have read from Ken and others certainly does not indicate that they hold the position that every conceivable question can be solved through scientific means.

    Regarding the issue of the origin of the universe, I am afraid that it is simply an assertion to say science can not address it because it was caused by something outside of nature. This would have to be substantiated, since it is not a necessary truth, as current scientific hypotheses about a cyclical universe, a multiverse etc., which are perfectly logically consistent, show.

    2.) Purpose (objective or otherwise)

    David said: “If the ‘debate’ had been atheists cannot call on any external force to justify their purpose my answer would have been something like ’so?’.”

    Well, I think this is the issue the theist side is really aiming for here, although it was maybe phrased a little unclear.

    When they talk about an objective basis for purpose, it is not meant in the sense of having a thing whose existence is uncontroversial, e.g. our brains, as “basis” which produces whatever purpose we choose. Rather, they claim that any non-theistic worldview can not guarantee that the purpose itself is objective, i.e. not subjectively chosen for whatever reason.

    It is equivalent to the argument for objective morality, which means it suffers from the same weaknesses.

    In both cases, the term “god” is merely used as a means to stop the justification regress, because the “objectivity” is purely definitional and can not guarantee its binding character. After all, suppose there really was a deity who has decreed a “purpose” for humans to follow. How would the theist answer the question: “Why should I accept the deity’s purpose for my life?”. The only answer he can give is to say: “Well, because it is your objective purpose by definition. So it can not possibly be further questioned or justified.” But this only reveals the shallowness of the whole procedure, since the alleged “impossibility” is merely the result of an arbitrary definition. Thus, the argument already fails here.

    Moreover, all this talk about an objective basis for purpose disregards the fact, succinctly formulated by Kant, that ultimately it is sentient, rational beings that call the shots on purpose (and on moral questions). Merely postulating an abstract, objective “purpose” floating somewhere out in the ether is not enough. We would still need reasons as to why we should adopt it, introducing a tremendously subjective component.

    Consider the following thought experiment: let us pretend that there really is an entity (supernatural or not) which is somehow capable of defining an “objective purpose” for human beings. However, it turns out that this objective purpose is: “Seek every possible advantage for yourself while making the life of other human beings as miserable as possible!”.

    I am pretty sure that most people would reject such a “purpose”, no matter how “objective” it is.

    It is really a strange coincidence that the “objective purpose” of many theists prescribed by the deity happens to be in alignment with what their emotional/psychological make-up causes them to see as worthy of pursuing in the first place. I have yet to meet someone who is lamenting the fact that he/she has no choice but to fulfill a purpose that goes against everything they hold dear, since the purpose is “objective” and therefore can not be refused.

    The fact of the matter is that theist and non-theist are in the same boat when it comes to justifying their respective “purpose” to life. Neither can guarantee the absolute, binding character of it.

    3.) Science and metaphysics

    Stuart said: “That assumption [the immutability of natural laws] is a metaphysical assumption that cannot be proved by science. It lies under the discipline in such a way that science could not function without it.”

    This is a common misconception.

    Science does not need to make any metaphysical assumptions concerning the immutability of natural processes. While it adopts the notion “Every natural event can be subsumed under some natural law.” as a methodological rule, it does not assume or presuppose it in any way. And as the realm of chance and a-causal phenomena in the sub-atomic world has helped us see, probabilistic laws are the best that we can expect in certain domains.

    Thus, science does not need to contain any assumption which is not explicitly available for testing (though it will inevitably have consequences that cannot be tested, such as the presence of immutable, natural laws). Scientific hypotheses propose order for the world, but do not presuppose it.

    4.) Cosmological proofs

    Although this is completely off-topic, it seems our resident theists are quite fond of Aquinas and his arguments. Thus, I can not resist to briefly address them.

    The Unmoved Mover argument stipulates that since the motion of things can only be induced by other moving things and an infinite regress of movers is inconceivable, there must be a first, Unmoved Mover.

    The problem is that Aquinas fails to provide a cogent argument as to why an infinity of movers should be impossible. There is nothing logically contradictory in it. The idea might be unfamiliar and hard to grasp for us, but this is not an argument as to why it can not exist.

    The same objection can be raised against his First Cause argument. Here we again have no compelling argument as to why an infinity of causes is an impossibility.

    For this reason alone his arguments are weak. There is a bunch of other, equally damning objections, but I will not go into that.

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  169. Iapetus, excellent post as per usual.

    I will (naturally) be pinching a few choice quotes from you for use in further engagements.
    😉

    Saw this a while ago.
    Thought it was rather good.

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  170. Iapetus
    Ht there,
    I appreciate your comments. It was above the usual standard of argument here.
    On science:

    Regarding the issue of the origin of the universe, I am afraid that it is simply an assertion to say science can not address it because it was caused by something outside of nature. This would have to be substantiated, since it is not a necessary truth, as current scientific hypotheses about a cyclical universe, a multiverse etc., which are perfectly logically consistent, show.

    To say cyclical universe and the multiverse hypotheses are scientific is a rather sly move. These have been criticised as being overly metaphysical.
    On purpose:

    […] But this only reveals the shallowness of the whole procedure, since the alleged “impossibility” is merely the result of an arbitrary definition. Thus, the argument already fails here.

    Well that’s not the argument. Your talking epistemology and not ontology. As I have repeated over and over above, I’m not interested in how one know there is objective purpose, I’m interested in if there is objective purpose.

    Merely postulating an abstract, objective “purpose” floating somewhere out in the ether is not enough. We would still need reasons as to why we should adopt it, introducing a tremendously subjective component.

    And why should not my feelings and intuitions be used. That I can’t live without presupposing an objective purpose should be considered good (perhaps not overwhelming) evidence that is one. My experience is properly basic to me.
    On science and metaphysics:
    Lets say your right about the “immutability of natural laws.” Science still requires metaphysical assumptions; assumptions that science needs in order for it to even get off the ground. Science cannot prove, but assumes the laws of logic. Science assumes but cannot prove the cognitive faculties of human beings are truth garnering instruments. Science cannot prove, but must assume that the universe operates in a rational fashion. Etc.
    On the cosmological arguments:
    The impossibility of an infinite regress of things is easy to deal with. Apart from the fact that the universe began to exist and so there is no infinite regression (eternal universe) to fall back on, take the following argument;
    In order for the present moment to occur it requires an antecedent moment. For the antecedent moment to occur it itself needs an antecedent moment. This leads to an infinite regression. If there is an infinite regress we would never had arrived at the present moment. Therefore, there must have been a first, uncaused-cause to break the chain of infinite regression, as we are in the present moment.

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  171. Cedric,

    It was a simple request for you to actually engage with the argument. No an odd condition. This name-replacement game is ridiculous, and a substitute for good thinking.

    So we’ll put aside Aquinas’ cosmological arguments for the moment and focus on the Kalam Cosmological argument. Here are the premises, as I’m sure you are aware of them.

    1) Everything that begins to exist had a cause
    2) The universe began to exist
    3) The universe had a cause

    Because the universe is all matter, time, space and energy, the cause of the universe must therefore be
    non-spacial
    a-temportal
    Changeless
    Immaterial
    Beginningless or uncaused
    Necessary
    – tremendously powerful (omnipotent?)
    – Ockham’s Razor implies there would be only one cause of the universe, therefore unique.
    – Finally and strikingly the cause of the universe must be personal (But this attribute requires additional arguments so we’ll leave it aside for now.)

    And I want to call this ultra-mundane being “Baal.” This being Baal is what everyone else calls “God.”

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  172. It would be good to hear from the various atheists where they sit in regard to Ken’s claim of an objective grounding to purpose.

    Ask Ken, eh? One problem with the approach taken by the religious in this thread is that they keep trying to lump all atheists until the same umbrella, a sort of “framing” of them, the very “us vs. them” that Ken referred to earlier.

    Nice post, Iapetus. I’ll try reply after I have time to digest it more slowly.

    Stuart, I’ll reply more to your earlier post later, but I note parts of your reply are not replying to what I wrote, but something of your choosing. e.g. In that case you would agree with me that if there is no God there is no objective purpose to life, i.e., all purpose is subjective if there is no God. Is that right? is a rather obvious attempt to “twist” what I was saying to bent it to your cause. If you read what you quoted, you’d know I wrote about a more general point, one that actually shows your one to be false at a key point. Also read Iapetus’ post: it explains this too. You might want to look at Dawkins’ lecture too, I imagine he covers some of the same ground.

    To say cyclical universe and the multiverse hypotheses are scientific is a rather sly move.

    There is nothing “sly” about this, but using loaded words says something about the nature of your argument (i.e. that you need to use”emotion” rather than the substance or content to make your argument; this usually reflects having no content to offer).

    I doubt it’s metaphysical either.

    I’m not interested in how one know there is objective purpose, I’m interested in if there is objective purpose.

    Come on Stuart, think. How can you know the latter, without the former…? D’uh.

    Science still requires metaphysical assumptions

    Erm, Stuart you’re imposing this by assertion. Science doesn’t; Iapetus already pointed that out to you. I will repeat that you must be desperate to try force this on science. Notice that it also makes you trying argue against science, rather than “for” some particular point, which would suggest you “true” agenda is anti-science. I’ve seen this elsewhere with creationists and IDists: no argument “for”, just a nonsense claim that if somehow they can be anti-science this is “for” their position. I could go on, but it ought to be familiar.

    This name-replacement game is ridiculous, and a substitute for good thinking. Attempting to dismiss out of hand what you don’t like. Ironically this confirms my opinion about why you are likely doing this that I expressed earlier. I would suggest that you can’t or don’t want to face up to the fact that this shows up the logic to he poor, and so keep seeking a way to dismiss it.

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  173. Herclides,

    Yet more distortion of my points from you, and yet more hand waving. On a balanced reading you’ll find that I give reasons for what I assert, and so my comments pass beyond assertions into arguments. Arguments you need to show invalid in some way, and not just assert are invalid. For instance, to Cedric’s challenge I gave reasons as to why I think his (and your) name-replacement-game is childish. I showed that it doesn’t matter what you call the first cause, this being has a number of very interesting attributes the “non-theist” and traditional atheist should have serious trouble with.

    And to take a leaf from your play book – I was replying to Iapetus, not you.

    Stuart: . . . I’m not interested in how one know there is objective purpose, I’m interested in if there is objective purpose.

    Heraclides: Come on Stuart, think. How can you know the latter, without the former…? D’uh.

    If you had read the preceding sentence and taken my statement in context you would know, that I meant I’m not interested in how one knows ones own objective purpose in life, I’m interested in if there is any objective purpose at all.

    Regarding science:

    You haven’t given a definition, as per Dale’s earlier suggestion, as to what precisely you mean by “science.” – that’s an aside, but I think a useful task if there is going to be any progress made in the discussion, and any assurance that we are not talking at cross-purposes.

    If you can show that science can prove that one should be honest with data while doing scientific research then go ahead. Until then, its reasonable to think that science relies on certain values for its successful operation. If you can show that science can prove the laws of logic, then go ahead. But until then, its reasonable to think that science assumes these are worthy and valid rules of inference to use while doing scientific research.

    With respect to you suggesting I am anti-science; anyone can see that just because I think science relies on some basic assumptions for its successful operation that it doesn’t mean I am “anti-science.” I think science is a useful tool for studying empirically verifiable phenomena.

    I also think that people who discourse on science should realise they are not practising science but are engaged in the discipline of philosophy of science; that therefore how they use terms should be specified and announced; that their claims are vulnerable to philosophical (not scientific) critique; and therefore their claims require arguments to support them if they are to be upheld as rational.

    I’m troubled with the excessive amount of hand-waving and lack of serious engagement. For instance, I don’t recall an actual reason as to why anyone thinks Russell is wrong when he calls the atheistic framework “the firm foundation of unyielding despair.” This is basically synonymous with my assertion “atheism has no objective purpose.” If someone has provided one, I apologise and would you please repeat it in your next comment.

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  174. Thank you Iapetus for your clear and timely summary. I had been disappointed about the lack of response from theist commenters on my Human Morality postings as they had be partly a response to attacks (especially by Matt at M&M) made on my previous arguments for theist “objective morality” actually often resulting in a god -justified relative morality.

    Just a few comments on the way that science gets dragged into these conversations. After 40 years in research I am convinced that scientific research as an extremely creative field. Scientific knowledge is constantly changing, developing, evolving. The scientific ethos is not authority-based. We recognise the tentative nature of knowledge and continually want to contribute to that change.

    We don’t approach scientific knowledge as a dogma. That, and the fact that our ideas are continually tested against reality, are in sharp contrast to beliefs and religion.

    Unfortunately, some theists (certainly not all) really don’t like this creative form of science and wish to tame it. To make it serve their theological interests. So we find these “scientific” justifications for religious positions (Such as Stuart’s Kalam argument).

    Now, I can appreciate that Stuart doesn’t have any experience of scientific thinking and ethos. But he should recognise that and not try to dogmatically cherry pick to incorporate into his own theological dogma. The naivety of his approach is shown by his assertion:

    “Notable Christian scientists today, such as William Dembski, Philip Johnson, Hugh Ross, and Russell Humphreys are all apologists making waves in the scientific community.” (see Introducing Apologetics).

    Really – he is never going to understand scientific issues if he see these people as pinnacles of modern scientific thinking and ethos!

    Currently I am reviewing Victor Stenger’s latest book (Quantum Gods) – an excellent read, by the way. He has a few brief comments relevant to Stuart’s (really Craig’s) Kalam argument:
    “Despite the claims of theologians from Augustine onward that the universe had a beginning in time, nothing we know about the universe from cosmology and physics requires that we stop counting, terminating the sequence sometime in the past.” Very relevant considering possible experimental evidence of a record of a previous universe in the cosmic background microwave radiation. Stenger makes a similar point about space.

    Referring to Craig’s Kalam argument Stenger points out its reliance on the singularity concept advanced by Hawkings and Penrose using relativity theory. However, 20 years ago Hawkings and Penrose admitted that inclusion of quantum mechanical considerations means there is no such singularity. (They developed their science).

    Craig’s arguments ignore the indeterminism of quantum phenomena and rely on an outdated singularity concept. But then again he (and Stuart) don’t have the scientific ethos of honestly approaching such questions. They purely want to use these “scientific” arguments to justify their own theological dogma. I think we could describe that as “scientism’ in the meaning of using science inappropriately.

    Stuart similarly exposes himself when he refers to scientific ideas of “multiverse” and a “cyclical” universe as “a rather sly move.” He characterises them that way purely because he doesn’t (yet) see how he can fit them into his dogmatic argument (come on Stuart – others have been able to do it). So he rejects them.

    But Stuart – the world is the way it is – not the way you want it to be. Concepts of previous universes, and different regions of the universe with possible different physical properties (the “mutliverse” concept) were not invented to confuse theologians. They arise naturally out of current inflationary big bang models.

    Stuart often resorts to what he call the “standard big bang” model. But if he was honest about that he would understand that the standard model is no help. It also implied (in fact seemed to demand) multiverses precisely because it had no way of explaining the formation of the universe and communication beitween its different parts in the very early stages. Inflationary models do explain this, but also show how other regions of the universe (and other, previous, universes) can also form.

    Of course, in my career I have come across scientists who wish to dogmatically hold on to pet theories. It’s only natural – we are, after all, a rationalising species rather than a rational one. But the scientific process does mean that ideas get tested against reality and this, almost always, causes such scientists to give up outmoded theories. I think that is a great virtue and really find the theological dogmatic refusal to accept evidence, and to stick with outmoded ideas, quite unusual.

    I appreciate people do like to hold on to comforting ideas and world views. That’s their problem and if it makes them happy – go for it.

    But I object to the falsification of science that some people resort to in justifying their comfort blankets.

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  175. Honestly, (I’ll ask again) would it not be helpful to define some terms!?

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  176. And I want to call this ultra-mundane being “Baal.” This being Baal is what everyone else calls “God.”

    (Damn, I knew this would be fun!)

    Are you saying that the people who worship(ed) Baal were actually worshipping…God?

    Who are you are refering to when you say “everybody else”?

    Does that include the Hindus?
    The Moonies?
    The Scientologists?
    How about the Vikings and the Egyptians and the Hittites?

    Or are we saying that “everybody else” refers to people that show up at your local church?

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  177. No Cedric, what he’s saying is that a cosmos-causing being can and has been called different names.
    Christians don’t disagree with other religions on everything. There are several monotheistic religions, for example, which share the same beliefs about an ultimate cosmos-causing being.

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  178. Again, definitions anyone?

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  179. Yet more distortion of my points from you

    I didn’t distort anything: I quoted them as they stood. I did comment on them, though, and seems your defence is try dismiss my comments out of hand with this remark. Guess that shows you have no real defence. Well done.

    If you had read the preceding sentence and taken my statement in context you would know, that I meant I’m not interested in how one knows ones own objective purpose in life, I’m interested in if there is any objective purpose at all.

    I knew what you meant the first time and your reply confirms that, which rather suggests to me that I am reading correctly. Unlike your silly remark in reply which strongly indicates that you have not gotten my point at all: your remark was self-contradictory. Go on, read your own remark and my reply to it again.

    Please be aware I am doing what teachers do to students: try lead them to seeing the answers for themselves, rather than handing the answer out. The answer is right there in front of your face, literally as it happens 😉

    (Furthermore, you don’t actually have to “read the preceding sentence” at all, it doesn’t need any more context. Think about that, too.)

    Regarding science:

    I’m not interesting in going around in circles with you on that. I note, though, that you are running away to another topic. (A tactic I’ve seen your crowd do with they’ve lost a point to avoid facing the loss.) You’ve shown in the past that all you do in play games with this particular point and in fact you already have, as my reply pointed out. (You keep trying to “insert” metaphysics where there is none, presumably to create a “gap” for your religious cause.) My opinion is that your actions suggest that you have no interest in being honest with line of “discussion” and until you do, I’m simply not interested.

    (You are illustrating that your religion doesn’t fit in without “unnatural” twisting of the facts, though. You might want to think about that. And why you have to work so hard in dishonest ways to “make it so” and what they implies about your religion.)

    I also think that people who discourse on science should realise they are not practising science but are engaged in the discipline of philosophy of science

    I’d respond “so what?”, except that—as always with you—you seem to think that since you can wriggle the word ‘philosophy’ into the conversation, you are then “allowed” to re-invent the rules to your particular brand of false philosophy and the silliness you do with it.

    Are you blind to how dependent you are on this (dishonest) strategy?

    I’m troubled with the excessive amount of hand-waving and lack of serious engagement.

    Again, look at yourself before you accuse others. It’s a pretty hollow thing for you to say.

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  180. Again, definitions anyone?

    If you read Ken’s article through, it’s fairly clear what he meant by purpose.

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  181. Stuart

    “To say cyclical universe and the multiverse hypotheses are scientific is a rather sly move. These have been criticised as being overly metaphysical.”

    So what? As long as those models predict something which can be empirically verified or falsified, they are scientific.

    See also Ken’s explanation as to why your understanding of this issue seriously needs updating.

    As an aside, I find it rather telling that, while not being an expert in either field, you wholeheartedly embrace one scientific theory (the Big Bang) while rejecting another (Evolution by natural selection), which is at least on the same level, arguably superior, with regards to having survived attempts to refute it, providing an explanatory framework for a multitude of different phenomena and generating research programmes.

    You have to ask yourself why that is.

    “Well that’s not the argument. Your talking epistemology and not ontology. As I have repeated over and over above, I’m not interested in how one know there is objective purpose, I’m interested in if there is objective purpose. “

    I know that this is what you want to show.

    However, it seems that you have not yet realized that the procedure you propose to get an answer to your question whether there is an objective purpose is arbitrary and therefore flawed. So let me explain it some more:

    you are saying that there is an objective purpose if and only if your god exists and has decreed such a purpose. When asked “Why?”, your answer is: “Well, because any purpose decreed by my god is objective by definition“.

    Compare this to the following statement: “There is an objective purpose if and only if a hyper-intelligent slime mould on Omega Prime exists and has defined such a purpose.” The answer to the question “Why?” is: “Well, because any purpose decreed by said slime mould is objective by definition.”.

    In other words, all you have done here is to postulate the existence of an entity which was previously defined in such a way as to achieve the desired “ontological grounding”. It is an arbitrary measure to terminate the justification regress, leading to a pseudo-solution of the problem.

    I know from experience that the result looks intuitively satisfying to many people; however, if you step back and really think about it, you will realize the arbitrary nature of this procedure.

    “And why should not my feelings and intuitions be used. That I can’t live without presupposing an objective purpose should be considered good (perhaps not overwhelming) evidence that is one. My experience is properly basic to me.”

    So by parity of reason, the fact that many people can live happily without presupposing an objective purpose to their lives should be considered good (perhaps not overwhelming) evidence that there is none.

    But then I wonder what the point is in trying to argue for it.

    However, this does not really address what I wrote in the previous post. My point was that “purpose” is not something that can be foisted on us from outside, whether you stick the label “objective” onto it or not. We decide our purpose in life; if a deity (or any other entity) had decreed a “purpose” for us, we may examine and in due course accept or reject it.

    “Science still requires metaphysical assumptions; assumptions that science needs in order for it to even get off the ground.”

    Well, that was not how you originally phrased it. As I said, there is no need for science to presuppose the immutability of natural laws or the rational order of the universe.

    Now, it goes without saying that if you step back far enough you have to start with some metaphysical assumption or other. For instance, if would be kind of pointless to become a scientist if you hold to a solipsistic metaphysics. But this concerns any field of human inquiry (philosophy included). So science is not in any way worse off in this regard.

    “Apart from the fact that the universe began to exist and so there is no infinite regression (eternal universe) to fall back on, […]”

    Again, you are relying on a particular model of the Big Bang theory for this argument that is seriously outmoded.

    Furthermore, we are talking about logical possibility here, not physical.

    “In order for the present moment to occur it requires an antecedent moment. For the antecedent moment to occur it itself needs an antecedent moment. This leads to an infinite regression. If there is an infinite regress we would never had arrived at the present moment.”

    This passage tells me that you have never read the Summa Theologiae, since Aquinas himself raises and refutes this objection. Let me quote the man himself:

    “Passage is always understood as being from term to term. Whatever by-gone day we choose, from it to the present day there is a finite number of days which can be traversed.”

    Therefore, he suggests that the question “If there have been infinitely many previous days, how did the world get to this day?” should be met with the question “Get to this day from when?”

    When this question is answered, the answer to the initial question can simply be “One day at a time.”

    Now, Aquinas offers other reasons as to why an infinity of movers/causes is impossible, but none of them are compelling.

    Dale,

    I do not have the impression that people here use grossly different definitions of terms like “objective” or “purpose”, although there may be nuances in the details.

    However, if you think clarification is needed, why not go ahead and provide those definitions yourself, so everybody else can agree or disagree?

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  182. I agree with the others, good post Iapetus.

    @Dale Campbell // June 20, 2009 at 4:06 pm
    I will have a stab at describing how I see some of these things. Not quite definitive, but here goes:

    Firstly, I don’t really believe that concepts such as purpose and objectivity exist on their own. I regard everything as conditional, and as such, these concepts/words need a context to make them useful/meaningful. For example:

    What is the purpose of something to something else.

    In the sentence above, you lose the meaning of the sentence if you remove either the something, or the something else. Also, there are other aspects of the context here that are being assumed, such as temporal considerations. Perhaps the purpose of the something to something else develops with time, or only exists for a fragment of time. Also, how are you measuring purpose here? Some form of utility function? NB. I absolutely do not include creation in my definition of purpose. It is not necessary for the something to have been created by the something else for it to have a purpose to it.

    So: What are we actually talking about when we are talking about the sense of purpose of an individual human being? I would say that this is a multi faceted thing that changes throughout the life of the person as their relationships and perspectives change. Pretty hard to nail down eh?

    That probably is a nice segue into objectivity. I.e objective purpose. I essentially look at objectivity as a classification concept. For example:

    A particular attribute or attributes are objective to a particular class or group of objects/concepts. For a topical example, I think you could have a good basis for positing an objective purpose for human beings as being reproduction (or at least trying to reproduce :-)).

    Again, in the sentence above, it makes no sense if you remove either the attribute(s) or the class or group of objects/concepts. NB. A logical outcome of the structure above, is that as the classification or group of objects/concepts becomes broader and more diverse, the number of shared attributes becomes smaller. This is why I have extreme scepticism when people start talking about things that are objective at the scale of the universe. Without a complete knowledge of the everything that makes up the universe, how could you possibly know about the shared attributes of the everything?

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  183. @Iapetus. Another interesting and well worded post. If you have the time, I would like to hear your views on the implications of the human understanding of probability on some of these concepts. The prime mover concept for example. My understanding of this is that it dates back to Aristotle and Plato, and that Plato in particular saw this as an entity of some sort.

    My own feeling here is that these ideas speak directly to the human sense of probability, in that, having no direct experience of the infinite and also having a very strong instinctual bais towards seeing agency in causation (ala evolutionarily adapted fear response to a red of claw and tooth environment on the savannah) , people were in some ways weighted towards the consideration of simplifying ideas such as a prime mover.

    From a standpoint of logic, I cannot really see any reason to consider any of the eternal, circular or created causation concepts preferentially. In terms of reality, I agree with Ken that assuming causation without cause can (and is used) as an argument for not investigating the causes of things.

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  184. Ken,

    Just a quick post going back to your objective purpose thing. I’m been ruminating a little on that one and while I’m not sure it’s possible in general right now, it might be something as a worthy goal to aspire to, even if we never quite reach it?

    I think (correct me if I’m wrong), what you’re driving at is that you might be able to define objective purposes, using a similar approach as science does for other things.

    One thing I’m struggling with is if you’d need to first have a very good understanding of the human brain, or if you’d be able to set up testing procedures that would skirt around that.

    The reason I’m concerned about understanding the human brain, or having a sound testing regime, is to get around the fact that our brains are wired particular ways such that we have a lot of instinctive behaviour at different levels. (On top of that, they can be “wired” slightly different ways for different people, but let’s leave that aside for a moment.)

    Another other point that bothers me is that you’d have to set up a collection of “life objectives”, a framework of sorts, to base decisions upon. At this point I sort of give up, because it seems to me it’s not really possible to do this objectives (now).

    While you could potentially make decisions consistent with some sort of framework, I have trouble seeing how you’d make an objective framework, as you’d have to define a set of objectives that benefited everyone or agreed to benefit some particular goal of subset of people, of which some would be “losers”. I doubt there is a way to benefit everyone, so it seems to me that there would have to be some “losers” and then you’d have to ask “what if this isn’t right for the losers”.

    But you could view it as a ultimate objective to aspire to, in much the same as science aspires to work everything out: we don’t know everything, and we do temporarily get some things wrong, but we keep working towards the long-term goal.

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  185. What he’s saying is that a cosmos-causing has been called different names.

    Ok.
    What names? Give a few examples.
    Was Baal one of them?

    Oh, and were there any cultures that just made up totally false gods build upon lies and delusion but nevertheless worshipped them and built temples and financially supported a priestly caste etc?

    Or are all the 10,000 or so gods legitimate?

    Who is the “everyone” that Stuart referred to when he said ” This being Baal is what everyone else calls “God.”?

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  186. @Hericlides. I like the angle that you are coming from there. In relation to science, I have heard the process of science as likened to an evolutionary selection function, where what is evolving is a current understanding (or model) of reality. Of course this process is subject to the same sorts of local maxima as the evolution of species.

    Perhaps the equivalent (could?) exists in the political/economic processes that have a bearing on the purpose/value issues of human existence. What would be wonderful, is if this could me made a little bit more explicit as has perhaps, the scientific process.

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  187. Christians don’t disagree with other religions on everything.

    Oh but I agree. There are many, many similarities between religions.

    We could start with the collection plate, for example.
    It’s kinda tough to find a religion (past or present) that eschewed the collection plate.

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  188. Nick,

    I see your hobby-horse showing it’s head again 🙂

    Curiously, I know something of minimsation (or maximisation) from another area: molecular dynamics.

    Maybe if we could derive a quantitative logical algebra (one with “fuzzy” values, so that “truth” is on a scale, not just 0 or 1) and pop that into a Monte Carlo process… 😉

    This actually brings up something I left out of my post to Ken, that maybe this is really only possible in the context of AI.

    Bring on Hal 🙂

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  189. Here is a link to the Edge website to a video from John Bargh at Harvard. Some of this is directly relevant to discussions of human purpose(s).

    http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/bargh09/bargh09_index.html#video

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  190. Ooops, sorry he is at Yale.

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  191. This thread very long, and so I’ll be making judgment calls (as we all do) as to what is central and what is peripherial; what is on/off topic; what is worth or not worth commenting on; and what will help fruitful engagement.

    I’ll just define a few terms as I see them and then wait for Ken to respond to Heraclides regarding objective purpose / framework / etc.

    Science: This is an english word deriving (as we probably all should know by now) from the Latin scientia (‘knowledge’), which shows up in our english words: conscience (‘with’/’together’-‘knowing’), omniscient (‘all’-‘knowing’), etc. The word ‘science’ is thus a general term simply meaning ‘knowledge’.

    So then, the things we are trying to gain ‘science’/’knowledge’ about, will determine what ‘science’ we are engaged in. Thus, we have political science, natural science, etc.

    As I write this, it seems fair to say that even before the scientific method was established, people could engage in ‘knowing’ things about (for example) nature – for example ancient human agriculture represents a ‘knowledge’/’science’ concerning how crops grow more effectively with ploughing, fertilisation and irrigation, etc.

    Nonetheless, in a conversation like this, the term ‘science’ refers to the activity which scientists engage in with the natural world, exploring natural processes and behaviour. Talk of supernatural causes, etc. ceases to be ‘science’ – more specifically ‘natural science’ (Theology, for example has been called the divine science).
    ((note: I’m fully aware of the lack of regard atheists have for theology so please spare us all the wise-cracks, ok?))

    In the same way that theology is driven by the aim of gaining divine ‘knowledge’/’science’, the natural sciences of all kinds are driven by the aim of gaining natural ‘knowledge’/’science’. (and both are never ‘finished’ with their respective tasks)

    ((and again, I’m quite aware that atheists will rubbish ‘divine science’ as a hopelessly worthless venture and wasteful of time, ink, etc. so don’t bother mocking. At least you can see the point about ‘science’ as the pursuit of ‘knowledge’/’science’))

    Next: purpose
    I think, for our discussion, a distinction is helpful between the question of the nature of purpose, and the question of how knowledge of purpose is developed, ‘acessed’, or discovered.

    As for the nature of purpose – what kind of ‘thing’ purpose is – it is obvious that it is not a ‘physical’ thing (phenomenologically observed as an event in time/space. Rather, it is a metaphysical quality attributed ‘to’ various things (the universe, humanity, or a human finger, etc.). Talking about purpose is not to talk about merely how something fuctions, but rather how it is pur-posed or sup-posed to function. It is not to talk about the thing in-and-of-itself, but to talk about the ‘rightful’ function or goal/end (greek: telos) of the thing.

    Now, as for the question of how knowledge of purpose can be gained, we have (at least) two views: One would be that it is not ‘gained’, rather constructed through our own formation of our own ideas about purpose for us and/or others around us – or for the rest of the world. The second would be that it is ‘gained’ or ‘accessed’ in the sense of discovering (or ‘uncovering’) something that was there waiting to be accessed/discovered/uncovered. A bit like the first ‘note’ played on a stringed instrument or the first discovery of a mathematical equation.

    (I’ll leave it there for the moment. Other definitions out there or points of difference? again, please spare the mockery of theism or theology, etc. Also, rather than accusing me of making special room for my religion/god/metaphysical view/etc., just focus on what I’ve said and if/why you differ in your definition.)

    And – look forward to Ken’s response to Heraclides re: objective purpose.

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  192. Iapetus

    (1) you are saying that there is an objective purpose if and only if your god exists and has decreed such a purpose. (2) When asked “Why?”, your answer is: “Well, because any purpose decreed by my god is objective by definition”. [numbers mine]

    With respect to (1): No, I;m not saying that. I am saying that I can see how the theistic framework provides a basis for objective purpose to life. So to rephrase “there is an objective purpose if god exists and has decreed such a purpose.

    With respect to (2): If asked why I believe the specific purpose I think my life has is objective, I would respond, because when creators create creatures (and moreover create them somehow as a reflection of his own character) and decree purposes for them, these purposes are objective – i.e., these purposes are not influenced by the creatures personal feelings or opinions on the matter. For instance, if I create an abacus for my nephew to learn to count and calculate, that abacus has an objective purpose for its existence. In the same way so would a person who was created by God.

    Now the atheistic framework obviously cannot claim any creator, so I don’t know how such an objective purpose could be supported if the atheist is correct and there is no creator God. Ken seems to think it does. I don’t know about the rest of you.

    Well, I didn’t expect the name-replacement-game from you. For some reason I expected better. But at least you spell out the objection clearly here;

    In other words, all you have done here is to postulate the existence of an entity which was previously defined in such a way as to achieve the desired “ontological grounding”. It is an arbitrary measure to terminate the justification regress, leading to a pseudo-solution of the problem.

    Far from being an arbitrary and pseudo-solution, the postulated entity that grounds ontologically the objective purpose for life is an adequate explanation for the perception that there is an objective purpose to life. Secondly, this postulated entity is also accessible through the other arguments for God’s existence, i.e., the cosmological arguments, etc,. Third, the argument for God’s existence from objective purpose in life is not a smack down argument for God’s existence, I admit. But it could be described – figuratively – as one link in a web that forms a chain-mail shirt, in other words, it could be considered when constructing a cumulative case for God’s existence. Fourth, there is at least two-thousand years of consistent tradition about such a being existing (I know this says nothing of this being actually existing, but it does negate somewhat the suggestion that the postulation of such an entity is arbitrary).

    On knowing there is at least some objective purpose;

    I propose it is reasonable to believe there is objective purpose on the basis of 1) my experience, which is properly basis to me. 2) That I cannot help but presuppose there is some objective meaning to my own existence. Plus I add now 3) I feel an existential need within myself for this kind of purpose (and other things I need generally do exist, i.e., water, food, love, etc.).

    So by parity of reason, the fact that many people can live happily without presupposing an objective purpose to their lives should be considered good (perhaps not overwhelming) evidence that there is none.

    Do you actually mean, “…without realising they presuppose an objective purpose…” ? The real question I suppose is whether it is possible to not presuppose there is some kind of objective purpose. It seems to me that even this discussion is founded upon the presupposition of at least one objective purpose, namely, it is an epistemic duty to know the truth, and once found, live according to it.

    However, this does not really address what I wrote in the previous post. My point was that “purpose” is not something that can be foisted on us from outside, whether you stick the label “objective” onto it or not. We decide our purpose in life; if a deity (or any other entity) had decreed a “purpose” for us, we may examine and in due course accept or reject it.

    Of course one can choose to accept or reject prescribed purposes. But the idea is that if those prescribed purposes are prescribed by a creator, they are objective, hence there is such a thing as objective purpose on the theistic framework. On the atheistic framework, if you found something like an objective purpose, you’d need an explanation for how such a thing came about.

    On science:

    Again, you are relying on a particular model of the Big Bang theory for this argument that is seriously outmoded.

    Not at all. I know the impression is that because there are many alternative theories that cosmology is a quagmire of theories, and the scientific community’s decision is still up in the air. However, the history of twentieth century cosmology has been a history of theory after theory trying to avoid the absolute beginning predicted on the big bang model. Time and again, each theory has had its day in the sun, only to be discredited as new discoveries are made. Its hard to find any other theory so repeatedly questioned, and yet so repeatedly confirmed as new empirical evidence comes to light.

    In any case, it is the current leading theory that, as Stephen Hawkins says, “almost everyone believes.”

    Re evolution: Though I haven’t mentioned evolution here, you’ve attributed me as being anti-evolution. That is a characterisation of my position. Though I’m still sceptical about the grand scheme of evolution (particularly the “undirected” part that is sometimes imported into the scheme) I’m truly willing to accept the theory. My hesitancy and objections for doing so spring from considerations borne from the philosophy of science, and is not based on theological grounds.

    On Aquinas and the impossibility of an infinite regress;

    Aquinas: “Passage is always understood as being from term to term. Whatever by-gone day we choose, from it to the present day there is a finite number of days which can be traversed.”

    Iapetus: Therefore, he suggests that the question “If there have been infinitely many previous days, how did the world get to this day?” should be met with the question “Get to this day from when?”

    By asking the question “from when?” you slice an infinite regress and create a finite regress. So from what you pointed out, Aquinas is actually arguing for the impossibility of traversing an actual infinite.

    Are you suggesting that it is possible of traverse an actual infinite?

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  193. Though I’m still sceptical about the grand scheme of evolution…I’m truly willing to accept the theory. My hesitancy and objections for doing so spring from considerations borne from the philosophy of science, and is not based on theological grounds.

    Nah.
    You hesitancy and objections spring from your ignorance and silly acceptance of creationist talking points for mouth-breathers.

    For example:This is how Stuart views the Theory of Evolution.
    (Repete with The Second Law of Thermodynamics, there ain’t no transitional fossils, the Theory of Evolution doesn’t explain Abiogenesis, DNA disproves Evolution plus assorted quote mines)
    It’s a must read.
    🙂

    But wait there’s more…
    His considerations of “science philosophy” have lead him to believe in a 6000 year old Earth complete with an Ark that held all the species of the Earth and had plenty of room for…the dinosaurs.

    That’s right, people. Stuart believes that “The Flintstones” was a documentary.

    Comedy gold!
    Going beyond bafflegab and hand-waving and moving firmly into insane territory.

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  194. Stuart,

    “With respect to (1): No, I;m not saying that. I am saying that I can see how the theistic framework provides a basis for objective purpose to life. So to rephrase “there is an objective purpose if god exists and has decreed such a purpose.”

    So are you conceding that it is possible to have an “objective purpose” without positing your god?

    “If asked why I believe the specific purpose I think my life has is objective, I would respond, because when creators create creatures (and moreover create them somehow as a reflection of his own character) and decree purposes for them, these purposes are objective – i.e., these purposes are not influenced by the creatures personal feelings or opinions on the matter.”

    By this definition of “objective”, the “purpose” decreed by my intelligent slime moulds would also be objective, since it was not influenced by human feelings or opinions on the matter. Whether they were also the creator of humans is irrelevant in this regard.

    Btw, you may see the name-swapping as childish, but this is not so. It is a useful device to expose the flaws in your reasoning by stripping away the veneer of unconscious awe and reverence theists attach to any argument containing the term “god”.

    However, it seems you are using a rather incomplete definition of “objective” here, namely that which is merely independent of human thoughts and opinions. Usually, “objective” is defined as that which is independent of the feelings, opinions, etc. of any entity, including deities. Take you own example:

    “For instance, if I create an abacus for my nephew to learn to count and calculate, that abacus has an objective purpose for its existence.”

    The purpose of the abacus is only “objective” to your nephew in the sense that he was not consulted when you created it with said specific purpose in mind. However, the purpose as such is not objective, since it was determined by you, based on your considerations. Or to put it in other words: the purpose of the abacus was subjectively assigned and could be different, thus it can not be objective.

    To help you see this, suppose your nephew uses the abacus to stabilize a shaky table. Did he violate an objective purpose here?

    “Far from being an arbitrary and pseudo-solution, the postulated entity that grounds ontologically the objective purpose for life is an adequate explanation for the perception that there is an objective purpose to life.”

    It has the same explanatory power as my slime moulds or, for that matter, any other entity I can concoct, define and postulate. But apparently the arbitrariness of the procedure is still not clear to you. Maybe this will help (and no slime moulds are included):

    Suppose I set myself the task of providing an “ontological grounding” of an objective purpose. I attempt this by postulating the existence of an objective purpose as being an integral part of reality, necessarily woven into its fabric by definition.

    To which you would presumably say: “Hey, wait a minute! You can not simply postulate something like this and then walk away. This is no proper explanation! What is the justification for the existence of this “objective purpose”? Where did it come from? Why should I believe that it exists and furthermore that it is objective and binding?
    I have a superior explanation: said “objective purpose” was defined and decreed by a deity!”

    Now, if I ask the question: “Aha, and what is the justification for the existence of said deity? Where did it come from? Why should I believe that this purpose exists and furthermore that it is objective and binding?”, we both know your answer: because the deity is defined as being ontologically necessary, capable of decreeing an objective, binding purpose etc.

    Do you see the similarities in our two approaches and that both fail to adequately solve the problem because they rely on an arbitrary termination of the justification regress by using convenient definitions?

    Regarding your other points, I will only briefly address them since they are not relevant to the fact that your solution to the problem does not work.

    Proofs for god: none of these arguments proofs what it purports to show, be it a First Cause, Unmoved Mover, Perfect Being or whatever, let alone the existence of the Christian deity. If you find a specific argument especially compelling, feel free to lay it out.

    Your third point is somewhat confusing. Are you saying that the existence of an objective purpose is indicative of your god existing? If so, then it is equally indicative of my slime moulds existing, since both were defined as providing an objective purpose.

    Concerning your fourth point, you already spelled out the reason yourself why it is no argument in support of the existence of your god. By that logic, an even longer Buddhist tradition would speak against the arbitrariness of postulating an impersonal Moral Law governing reality.

    “I propose it is reasonable to believe there is objective purpose on the basis of 1) my experience, which is properly basis to me. 2) That I cannot help but presuppose there is some objective meaning to my own existence. Plus I add now 3) I feel an existential need within myself for this kind of purpose”

    We have already been over this. Let’s reword your paragraph slightly:

    “I propose it is reasonable to believe there is no objective purpose on the basis of 1) my experience, which is properly basic to me. 2) That I cannot help but presuppose there is no objective meaning to my own existence. Plus I add now 3) I do not feel an existential need within myself for this kind of purpose.”

    If you are not convinced by these statements, can you give me any reason why I should be convinced by yours?

    “The real question I suppose is whether it is possible to not presuppose there is some kind of objective purpose. It seems to me that even this discussion is founded upon the presupposition of at least one objective purpose, namely, it is an epistemic duty to know the truth, and once found, live according to it.”

    And why do you believe that the purpose to “know the truth and, once found, live according to it” is objective? Because you think said purpose is worthy to be pursued? Or because everyone you know agrees with you? Again, “objective” is normally defined as “being independent of what any entity feels, wants, thinks etc.”. Thus, even if every person on the planet who ever lived and ever will live would agree to your purpose, the most it would show is that the purpose is universal, but not that it is objective.

    “In any case, it is the current leading theory that, as Stephen Hawkins says, “almost everyone believes.””

    You are conflating the Big Bang theory being false with being incomplete.

    The scientific consensus is that the empirical facts we have gathered from the part of the universe we currently have observational access to are most adequately explained by positing said part having once been reduced to a point of immense density on a very small scale. Anything else you want to press into this framework, like the need for an origin of the universe outside of nature, creation ex nihilo, time and space having a definite beginning etc. is not part of the scientific consensus.

    Now, the problem with the Standard Big Bang model is that a) it leads to a Singularity point, where all variables become infinite and thus nothing meaningful can be said about the state of the universe any more, and b) it fails to take into account quantum effects, which govern the behaviour of reality on the sub-atomic scale. Thus, it can not be a complete and accurate description of the earliest moments of the universe and needs to be expanded/modified. As Ken already noted, the search for these expansions/modifications are not desperate moves of heathen scientists to deny a god, but attempts to further our scientific understanding of the evolution of the universe.

    Since this is completely off-topic, I will confine myself to just dropping some keywords for you to follow up on if you want to bring your knowledge up to speed: Planck epoch, quantum gravity, inflation, string cosmology, branes.

    “By asking the question “from when?” you slice an infinite regress and create a finite regress. So from what you pointed out, Aquinas is actually arguing for the impossibility of traversing an actual infinite.”

    No. Aquinas is explaining that if you single out a particular member of an infinite series and ask how to get there, said question is only intelligible if you determine a starting point. In his words: “Passage is always understood [i.e. defined] as being from term to term.”.

    Or to put the same thing in different words: it is not a meaningful question, i.e. it is gibberish, to ask how a certain state of affairs came about without specifying which preceding state you intend as starting position.

    Nick,

    I saw your posts just now. Since there is also a life away from the computer, I will try to address them at a later time.

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  195. Dale writes: This thread very long, and so I’ll be making judgment calls (as we all do) as to what is central and what is peripherial; what is on/off topic; what is worth or not worth commenting on; and what will help fruitful engagement.

    Oh, really? So it’s your thread to control is it? 😉
    Just a little poke to let you see how this—as it’s currently written—can be perceived as arrogant. As a practical matter, I doubt anyone is going to take much notice 😉

    then wait for Ken to respond to Heraclides regarding objective purpose / framework / etc. My post was really an sideline between me and Ken and so I’m not sure why you’re placing emphasis on it.

    Science: Science is a methodology: giving it’s word origins doesn’t really say much about what modern science is. That you would try define it this was suggests you don’t understand what modern science is (or, potentially, are trying to misrepresent what it is). In one sense you are right, but to conclude The word ’science’ is thus a general term simply meaning ‘knowledge’. is wrong. I do believe this has been pointed out to you many time before.

    You really should know better. For fun I spendt 10 seconds on wikipedia to see what it said and got:

    Science (from the Latin scientia, meaning “knowledge”) refers to any systematic knowledge-base or prescriptive practice that is capable of resulting in a prediction or predictable type of outcome. In this sense, science may refer to a highly skilled technique or practice.[1]

    In its more restricted contemporary sense, science refers to a system of acquiring knowledge based on scientific method, and to the organized body of knowledge gained through such research.[2][3] This article focuses on the more restricted use of the word. Science as discussed in this article is sometimes called experimental science to differentiate it from applied science – the application of scientific research to specific human needs – although the two are often interconnected.

    Thus, we have political science, natural science, etc. This nicely shows up the fallacy of taking the word-origins approach (it ignores the methodology behind the modern meaning). ‘Divine science’ has the same problem; without the methodology it’s not science.

    Theology, for example has been called the divine science Almost certainly inaccurately or falsely, unless you can show that it genuinely uses scientific methodology, which I find very to imagine (for the simple reason that if it did, it’d start tossing out a lot of religious beliefs very quickly).

    I’m fully aware of the lack of regard atheists have for theology so please spare us all the wise-cracks, ok? Pre-emptive cracks at others… ‘Nuff said 😉 FWIW, I don’t like how you keep painting all atheists under the same brush, which strikes me as is precisely the sort of “us vs. them” thing Ken referred to. Its a bit ironic too, given you own protestations about different religions.

    I’m quite aware that atheists will rubbish ‘divine science’ as a hopelessly worthless venture and wasteful of time, ink, etc. so don’t bother mocking. Trying to pre-empt criticism doesn’t make the criticism false; it does show that you are trying to dismiss it out of hand, though 😉 (See also my comment below about it starting from your own actions.)

    As for the nature of purpose There’s a fallacy hidden in what you’ve written: a lot of things don’t have a “purpose” at all; you’re foisting that on them by assertion. Listen to Dawkins’ lecture: he touches on this. It is an understandable error in some ways, but it is an error.

    Also, rather than accusing me of making special room for my religion/god/metaphysical view/etc., just focus on what I’ve said and if/why you differ in your definition If you really want this stop doing that things that people are pointing out. People are only responding to what you do. You really can’t ask people not to respond if you do something, y’know! 😉

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  196. (Excuse me poking at something here.)

    Iapetus wrote: (1) you are saying that there is an objective purpose if and only if your god exists and has decreed such a purpose.

    Stuart replied: No, I;m not saying that. I am saying that I can see how the theistic framework provides a basis for objective purpose to life.

    Stuart, didn’t you earlier write:

    So if God exists, as James and I believe, all human life has this objective purpose – whether we feel like it or not, whether we believe it or not.

    I can’t help thinking you’ve moved your position 😉 I can see how you might, given the “discussion”. It move your position from one with poor logic Cedric was pointing out and shift it to try to “fit” it into “framework” point others raised later.

    But please continue, you’re slowly heading in the right direction. I haven’t read Iapetus’ reply yet, but I think you’ll find that having a (subjective) framework implies your “purpose” is subjective too.

    Far from being an arbitrary and pseudo-solution, the postulated entity that grounds ontologically the objective purpose for life is an adequate explanation for the perception that there is an objective purpose to life. This reads as nonsense to me. Never minding what you are trying to claim, the mere fact that you “postulate” (suggest) something, in itself makes everything following from the “postulation” subjective to the suggestion/assertion made. All subjective…

    (Regards the double inverted commas: why the need for complex words where simpler ones will do? ‘Suggest’, ‘presume’ would do just as well. One reason I can’t stand your particular use of philosophy is that you seem to want to hide your poor logic behind words. You seem to either hope others can’t see your poor logic if you throw enough “terms” around; either that, or you are impressed by the sound—not the logic—of your own words by making them “flowery”.)

    my experience, which is properly basis to me and a subjective basis, at that 😉 Anything founded on that alone will also be subjective. (This is one of the issues that the scientific method tries to combat, so I find a small irony in writing this.)

    That I cannot help but presuppose there is some objective meaning to my own existence. wishing something doesn’t make it true.

    I feel an existential need within myself for this kind of purpose Ditto. It’s not in the same category as water or food, either.

    (When people confuse ‘want’ with ‘need’, I’m always reminded of The Warehouse slogan “more of what you want”; they’re very careful not to say “need”!)

    the history of twentieth century cosmology has been a history of theory after theory trying to avoid the absolute beginning predicted on the big bang model Not so. Trying to find a more consistent explanation, yes; trying to “avoid”… you’re inserting something of you own choosing in there to “colour” the explanation 😉

    particularly the “undirected” part that is sometimes imported into the scheme It’s not “sometimes” imported; trying to redefine what’s said. Again.

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  197. Hmm, just realised my blockquote of what I got from the wikipedia didn’t work. Is there some alternative to to the “proper” ‘blockquote’ tag that I’m supposed to use here?

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  198. Just to reiterate the dictionary definition of objective:
    1: based on facts rather than thoughts or opinions, &
    2: existing independently of the individual mind or perception.

    So I don’t think there is such a thing as “objective purpose” – although if we consider the brain/mind of other people as objective to us I guess we can call their thoughts, feelings, etc., objective and therefore investigate them. Hell, Buddhist meditation practice implies one can even take an objective approach to one’s own thoughts!

    But to answer Heraclides – I don’t claim to justify “objective purpose” – my claim was that I can provide an objective grounding/basis for my purpose just as effectively as any theist can.

    I think that must be self-evident and abstractly I can refer to my series on human morality. But, as you say such personal purpose must change with time (as one’s material situations change) and it must vary amongst individuals. After all there is quite a wide psychological variation in our species. Some people are more prone to magical thinking which may lead them to see purpose in a similar way to James.

    I can say for myself that my “purpose in life” has certainly changed over the years (an obvious example – with a young family one’s purpose is more directed towards supporting and bringing up children. One can have over-riding professional purpose. Nowadays I probably define my purpose more in terms of appreciating reality).

    So the objective basis for my purpose can be seen in my existence as an intelligent, sentient being, part of humanity. The objective facts of jobs, children, time and freedom in retirement, etc., provide a basis for purpose.

    One could go further and discuss the objective facts of an individual’s make up, their brain chemistry, the genetic disposition, etc., and call this an objective basis for purpose. I can’t help thinking that the magical thinking behind the declaration of purpose that James gives has an objective basis in his genetic make up. There is an interesting lecture (Sapolsky on Religion) outlining a possible genetic basis for magical thinking which could be relevant.

    Unfortunately, in this discussion words have been thrown around with sometimes little meaning and claims are made about other’s position which are not factual. So hopefully I have cleared up what I mean by an objective basis for purpose –I don’t use the term “objective purpose.”

    Richard Dawkins’ recent lectures on Purpose are very relevant here. I am posting the video tomorrow. He shows how concepts of purpose have changed. People used to define a purpose for everything according to their human-centric view. Today we don’t say that rock has a purpose, but then they would have (e.g. to “trip up a person so that they learn to look where they are going”). And, of course they came to such silly ideas because of their picture of humans having been created by their god for a particular purpose. They were comparing that “creation” to the act of making a toy abacus – extremely mechanical concept of life.

    The modern view of life is much more informed and useful. Phil Plait describes it very well:

    “Earth seems marvellously tuned to support life, but that’s an illusion: we are the ones who are in fact tuned by evolution, as are all the other forms of life on, below, and above the Earth’s surface. As the Earth has changed over the eons, so has life. It seems almost inevitable that, once life first got its start on Earth, it would flourish.” (See We are “fine-tuned”).

    The opportunist use of terms like “philosophy”, “metaphysics”, etc. by Stuart and Dale reminds me of my first year at university. Many of my colleagues taking Philosophy courses, in my opinion, got carried away – an example of a little bit of knowledge being a dangerous thing. You know the arrogance – “prove to me that you exist”, etc.

    I, myself, am a fan of philosophy – but not it’s childish misuse. The requirement of mapping one’s ideas against reality is very much part of my philosophy – and if I didn’t have that philosophical viewpoint I could never have done the job I did. But I really find the use of philosophy in a childish and opportunist way (to “prove” preconceived positions instead of learning about reality) silly. Further, I think it is extremely arrogant of people like Stuart and his mates to lecture scientists about not understanding philosophy. Most of them probably have an intuitive, if not formal, grasp of philosophy far better than Stuart’s. I have never heard scientists fudge their arguments about the origins of the universe, or to tell outright lies about the development of our understanding of the subject, in the way that Stuart does. But, then again, most scientists are, in the end, interested in the truth rather than promoting a preconceived theological position.

    Stuart refuses to justify his naive concept of “respectable” science as the sort promoted by retired law professor Pillip Johnson and Christian apologists like Craig, Ross and Meyers (or indeed that Walter Mitty-type character Johnson Phillip – a self professed researcher on “inner quark-structure of Protons and Neutrons” but with no scientific publications! – who promotes himself on Stuart’s blog Thinking Matters). With this concept of science no wonder he has so much problem understanding modern scientific theories, knowledge and culture.

    Nor has Stuart, or Dale, actually described this “objective purpose” they keep talking about. They have never described their own purpose or its objective basis. At least James has. Perhaps his declaration is just too embarrassing for Stuart and Dale to publicly accept, even though they privately do.

    And neither of these theists have given one iota of evidence to their claim that non-theists have a philosophy of “despair.” Obviously because they can’t. However, these sort of statements are the typical thing that religious dogmatists come out with in their attempts to demonise. Similar to the silly arguments on morality – atheists have no basis for their morality, they have stolen Christian morality, atheists shouldn’t criticise Hitler, etc., etc. In fact, I get the impression that the word “atheists” is, for them, a simple act of demonising. It certainly is for some Christian and Islamic dogmatists.

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  199. Heraclides, I know I currently don’t seem to have the ability to do things like blockquote in comments. i thought it was due to problems I am having with the Windows operating system – but perhaps there is something more general.

    works with posts.

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  200. (Excuse me for writing too many posts; I’ll kick these off, then get out of the way.)

    But to answer Heraclides – I don’t claim to justify “objective purpose” – my claim was that I can provide an objective grounding/basis for my purpose just as effectively as any theist can. Ah… my error. Different thing, sorry about that.

    Good point about purpose shifting over times and with new needs/positions/etc. Didn’t think of that one, I suspect because my own motivations haven’t changed over time as much as other people’s.

    There is an interesting lecture (Sapolsky on Religion) outlining a possible genetic basis for magical thinking which could be relevant. I hope I can find time for that. I have a range of vague pet ideas of my own that include (epi-)genetic components, so it’d be interesting to see what his ideas are.

    Phil Plait describes it very well I always think of Adam’s puddle when I think of these things; the Plait quote is nicer in that it tackles one of the examples used directly, head-on and explains it.

    I, myself, am a fan of philosophy – but not it’s childish misuse. I’m certainly not against it. Some of those “endless” late-night conversations from my Ph.D. student days were with a friend who was doing a Ph.D. in history of philosophy of science. Some of my science Ph.D. student friends didn’t seem to think her discipline mattered much, but it struck me as quite relevant, in it’s own way. It’s a pity that the history of science isn’t taught more, along with the changing approaches (philosophies, I guess) used by science over time, along with a better explanation of the rationale behind the modern approach that I remember getting. It’s one thing I’ve often felt was a weakness in how I was taught as an undergraduate & filled out some of the history side of my field on my own as a Ph.D. student, helped by a lot of the history arising from the lab I was in and the people around me and their immediate peers.

    I can’t but help think that many issues that philosophy used to look at are now better dealt with more directly by looking at the equivalent issue in physics or whatever the relevant field is, though. That wouldn’t have been true 150+ years ago.

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  201. Iapetus,

    So are you conceding that it is possible to have an “objective purpose” without positing your god?

    Yes, I concede the possibility. But I don’t see how. And on this thread there’s been no explanation of how.

    By this definition of “objective”, the “purpose” decreed by my intelligent slime moulds would also be objective, since it was not influenced by human feelings or opinions on the matter. Whether they were also the creator of humans is irrelevant in this regard.

    Btw, you may see the name-swapping as childish, but this is not so. It is a useful device to expose the flaws in your reasoning by stripping away the veneer of unconscious awe and reverence theists attach to any argument containing the term “god”.

    If an intelligent slime-mould being created a human and assigned that human a purpose, then yes, there would be an objective purpose to human life, just like if God was the instigator.

    The purpose of the abacus is only “objective” to your nephew in the sense that he was not consulted when you created it with said specific purpose in mind. However, the purpose as such is not objective, since it was determined by you, based on your considerations. Or to put it in other words: the purpose of the abacus was subjectively assigned and could be different, thus it can not be objective.

    To the abacus, it would have an objective purpose. To my nephew he would have a subjective understanding of that objective purpose, and – probably because he’s only six months old – may totally miss-apprehend what that objective purpose is. But the purpose itself is intrinsic and unalterable to the abacus, not determined by its own knowledge or opinions about its own self. It is therefore objective.

    To help you see this, suppose your nephew uses the abacus to stabilize a shaky table. Did he violate an objective purpose here?

    No, he did not violate the objective purpose of the abacus. That original purpose remains objective to that abacus, even though it currently is not functioning as originally intended by the creator. My nephew would have, as the owner of that abacus can do, assigned a new, additional purpose. That additional purpose would also be objective to that abacus.

    Suppose I set myself the task of providing an “ontological grounding” of an objective purpose. I attempt this by postulating the existence of an objective purpose as being an integral part of reality, necessarily woven into its fabric by definition.
    To which you would presumably say: “Hey, wait a minute! You can not simply postulate something like this and then walk away. This is no proper explanation! What is the justification for the existence of this “objective purpose”? Where did it come from? Why should I believe that it exists and furthermore that it is objective and binding?
I have a superior explanation: said “objective purpose” was defined and decreed by a deity!”

    Wrong again. I would not argue against the existence of the objective purpose as described above. I think there is objective purpose to life, based upon; a metaphysical intuition; my existential requirements that are properly basic to me; my inability to live without presupposing that purpose is in some way objective. I would look at the ontological grounding for the objective purpose and question if this objective-purpose-giver is an adequate explanation. How was brute nature capable of assigning this purpose? How did a natural thing (an “is”) create a metaphysical thing (an “ought”)? etc. I would then compare both rival hypothesis to see which is the best explanation.

    Iapetus’ (mock?) proposal: “I propose it is reasonable to believe there is no objective purpose on the basis of 1) my experience, which is properly basic to me. 2) That I cannot help but presuppose there is no objective meaning to my own existence. Plus I add now 3) I do not feel an existential need within myself for this kind of purpose.”

    If you are not convinced by these statements, can you give me any reason why I should be convinced by yours?

    In response to the reversal of my statement (in quotes above), I would just have to find a defeater for 2) and thus show that it is impossible to live without presupposing some kind of objective purpose. Once this was done, I’d also have a defeater for 1). Further, there’s a question in my mind as to whether 2) is even coherent.

    But if you want to affirm that there is no objective purpose, and that therefore all the purpose we experience day-to-day is merely a useful fiction (i.e., totally subjective) then that’s one way to break the argument. (If its possible to live like that is another question.) Of course that would mean my original point was correct, and that on the atheistic framework there is no objective purpose.

    And why do you believe that the purpose to “know the truth and, once found, live according to it” is objective? Because you think said purpose is worthy to be pursued? Or because everyone you know agrees with you? Again, “objective” is normally defined as “being independent of what any entity feels, wants, thinks etc.”. Thus, even if every person on the planet who ever lived and ever will live would agree to your purpose, the most it would show is that the purpose is universal, but not that it is objective.

    Your right about the objective/universal distinction, but the point is not whether people agree with what is and is not objective, the point is we can rationally postulate the existence of an objective purpose from our; metaphysical intuitions, properly basic experience, and inability to function with presupposing some objective purpose. We observe all purpose subjectively, but that doesn’t rule out the possibility that it is also objective. What would an objective purpose look like if we couldn’t perceive it subjectively? – answer, it would look like nothing at all.

    I mainly think that axiom constitutes an objective purpose because its presupposed in this discussion, and in life in general. We act as if it is objective, so why can’t our experience inform our beliefs about whether the things in the world we find are objective or not?

    No. Aquinas is explaining that if you single out a particular member of an infinite series and ask how to get there, said question is only intelligible if you determine a starting point. In his words: “Passage is always understood [i.e. defined] as being from term to term.”.

    Or to put the same thing in different words: it is not a meaningful question, i.e. it is gibberish, to ask how a certain state of affairs came about without specifying which preceding state you intend as starting position.

    Its not altogether clear what your point is. By specifying two terms (or points of position) you’ve got a finite series. Are you suggesting that it is possible to traverse an actual infinite series?

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  202. Stuart,

    “Yes, I concede the possibility [of an objective purpose without a god]. But I don’t see how. And on this thread there’s been no explanation of how.”

    But you have already given the answer yourself. See here:

    “If an intelligent slime-mould being created a human and assigned that human a purpose, then yes, there would be an objective purpose to human life, just like if God was the instigator.”

    Now, it is certainly logically possible under a naturalistic framework (which is not necessarily identical to an atheistic framework, btw.) that a space-faring species of slime moulds seeded the Earth with the first replicators and thus “created” human beings. Or that they tinkered with our evolutionary ancestors to “create” human beings.

    Thus, according to your logic, any “purpose” these creator slime moulds assigned to their creations would be “objective”.

    Of course, the likelihood that any of the above really happened is small and nobody is seriously entertaining it at this point; but since we are talking about logically possible scenarios, it defeats your argument on its own terms.

    “To the abacus, it would have an objective purpose. […] But the purpose itself is intrinsic and unalterable to the abacus, not determined by its own knowledge or opinions about its own self. It is therefore objective.”

    The abacus is not a sentient being. Therefore, it can have no knowledge or opinion about its purpose. This is what I stated several times: on matters of purpose, as well as of morality, it is sentient, rational agents who are in charge. Thus, it does not make sense to talk about “objective” or “subjective” purpose from the position of the abacus.

    “My nephew would have, as the owner of that abacus can do, assigned a new, additional purpose. That additional purpose would also be objective to that abacus.”

    Again, this is incoherent. The abacus has no appreciation of “purpose”, objective or otherwise.

    Furthermore, your use of the term “objective” is not in accordance with its normal definition, i.e. being independent of any sentient being’s feelings, needs, desires etc. If an agent assigns a purpose to an entity, this process is inevitably subjective, because it rests on the subjective decision of the agent to assign this and not another purpose.

    “I would look at the ontological grounding for the objective purpose and question if this objective-purpose-giver is an adequate explanation. How was brute nature capable of assigning this purpose? How did a natural thing (an “is”) create a metaphysical thing (an “ought”)? etc. I would then compare both rival hypothesis to see which is the best explanation.”

    Nature did not “create” anything. My explanation defines the objective purpose as being part of reality by definition, i.e. it exists necessarily, it carries the cause of its existence in itself and thus does not need any further reasons.

    You do not find this “explanation” satisfying? You think it is arbitrary and not sufficiently justified? Well, this is how I look upon your “explanation” involving a deity, where questions like “Who created the deity?” or “Why is the deity’s purpose objective and binding?” are answered (or not answered, really) by saying: “This is how the deity is defined.”

    If I wanted to, I could even invoke Occam’s Razor and argue that my “explanation” is superior, since it contains less entities while offering the same explanatory value. But of course, the fact of the matter is that I have not explained anything. All I have done is to postulate something into existence which I have defined beforehand in exactly such a manner that it fulfils its desired function to terminate the justification regress. And you are doing the same.

    “In response to the reversal of my statement (in quotes above), I would just have to find a defeater for 2) and thus show that it is impossible to live without presupposing some kind of objective purpose.”

    And how would you go about doing that? If I tell you that I find it impossible to presuppose an objective purpose because I consider the very idea to be incoherent/unreasonable/whatever, how could you deny the truth of this statement? The only possibility would be to a) identify an objective purpose, b) show beyond reasonable doubt that it is objective and c) show why I and every other human being necessarily have to (and do) presuppose it.

    Good luck with that endeavour…

    “Of course that would mean my original point was correct, and that on the atheistic framework there is no objective purpose.”

    See above as to why you have already defeated your own argument.

    Now, I personally do not believe that there is such a thing as an “objective purpose” for the reasons I have laid out, nor do I see the need for one.

    “[…] the point is we can rationally postulate the existence of an objective purpose from our; metaphysical intuitions, properly basic experience, and inability to function with presupposing some objective purpose.”

    I will abstain from one more round of rewording your statement.

    Look, if we would follow your line of reasoning here, it would mean that by parity of reason its negation is equally justified, since it does not contain a logical contradiction. If you want to see your personal intuitions and convictions as evidence for their correctness, you have to accept the different intuitions and convictions of other people. So of what use is your argument?

    “We act as if it is objective, so why can’t our experience inform our beliefs about whether the things in the world we find are objective or not?”

    Are you seriously asking this?

    Because the interpretation of our experiences might be false/wishful thinking? Because they do not carry an intrinsic guarantee of their own correctness? Because different people have different, often mutually contradictory beliefs based on the same or at least highly similar experiences?

    “Its not altogether clear what your point is. By specifying two terms (or points of position) you’ve got a finite series. Are you suggesting that it is possible to traverse an actual infinite series?”

    Traverse from where to where?

    This is precisely what Aquinas is saying: since “passage” or “traversing” by definition implies a starting and an end point, it is incoherent to ask “How did we get to this present day/cause/mover/whatever?” without clarifying the starting point. I do not know how to explain this any clearer.

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  203. Iapetus,

    As you realise I don’t have formal training in this so apologies in advance any lack of precision!

    If I am following your reasoning properly, for slime moulds to “instill” objective purpose in humans, slime moulds would have to be “instilling” purpose in humans in a way that the slime moulds had absolutely no opinion, etc., in the matter, but were “just doing it”, or the “purpose” would be subjective.

    Put from a different perspective, if our definition of objectivity included a lack of dependence on the existence of another entity or action from another entity, any purpose “instilled” by one entity in another would always be subjective (i.e. dependent on the entity instilling the purpose).

    On a completely different note, but the same general issue, if we are able to choose any aspect of the purpose, or the framework that implies it, then the purpose would have to be subjective, wouldn’t it? The reason I ask, is that on a more pragmatic way of looking at it (to me!) is that we all choose our “frameworks” (for want of a better word) or objectives, and derive our purpose from them. (At least if we are honest about what we are doing.) And as such our purposes are subjective.

    One of rephrasing that would be that our ability to choose in itself destroys any objectivity.

    As a simple worked example: Stuart might choose to take the bible literally, other Christians not. He chose. He had an input on the foundations he uses for as the basis for his purpose, so that purpose can’t be objective. It could only be objective he had absolutely no choice in the matter, that it were completely external to any feeling/opinion/etc of his in a way that he could never alter or choose in any way. (Leaving aside that it also ought to independent of the feelings/opinions of all other entities, too.)

    It wouldn’t matter than he might choose what is “on offer”, without “altering” it, just that he was able to choose otherwise, should be want to.

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  204. Iapetus,

    This is precisely what Aquinas is saying: since “passage” or “traversing” by definition implies a starting and an end point, it is incoherent to ask “How did we get to this present day/cause/mover/whatever?” without clarifying the starting point. I do not know how to explain this any clearer.

    But doesn’t the example point out the necessity of a beginning point, making an eternal universe impossible?

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  205. Heraclides,

    “Put from a different perspective, if our definition of objectivity included a lack of dependence on the existence of another entity or action from another entity, any purpose “instilled” by one entity in another would always be subjective (i.e. dependent on the entity instilling the purpose).”

    Precisely. Which is why the attempt to achieve an “objective purpose” by positing that it was decreed by a deity is doomed. You can try and attach grandiose labels like “ontologically necessary” or “objective by definition” onto it, but this is a completely arbitrary move.

    If there were an objective purpose, it can not be determined by a sentient entity, since it must by definition be independent of such. The most said entity could do is to recognize and communicate said purpose to other sentient entities. But I do not think that theists would be content to demote god to such a messenger role.

    There are some rather obscure and convoluted attempts by theistic philosophers to overcome this fundamental hurdle by playing around with modalities in order to have a necessary, i.e. objective purpose/morality based on the contingent decision of a deity; but none of their attempts is in any way convincing, IMO.

    “On a completely different note, but the same general issue, if we are able to choose any aspect of the purpose, or the framework that implies it, then the purpose would have to be subjective, wouldn’t it? The reason I ask, is that on a more pragmatic way of looking at it (to me!) is that we all choose our “frameworks” (for want of a better word) or objectives, and derive our purpose from them. (At least if we are honest about what we are doing.) And as such our purposes are subjective.”

    I agree that any purpose we decide on for ourselves can only be based on a subjective choice. That is what I was alluding to earlier by saying that a purpose can not be foisted on us from outside, but that we have to consciously adopt said purpose for whatever reason we find compelling.

    However, the theist’s response could be that while the process of deciding on a purpose and also the prior decision of a basis for said purpose might be subjective, the resulting purpose itself can be objective. If my subjectively chosen purpose corresponds to the objective purpose laid down by the deity, it would become objective. And if I have recognized a purpose as being objective, it might be a compelling reason to adopt it, since presumably there could not be a superior/more worthy purpose.

    As I see it, the real problem with this approach is that a) we have no reasonable indication that something like an “objective purpose” for human beings exists and if it did, what it would look like, and b) basing the purpose on the decree of a deity destroys any objectivity.

    Stuart,

    “But doesn’t the example point out the necessity of a beginning point, making an eternal universe impossible?”

    No, it shows why an objection to an infinite regress of causes/days/etc. on the basis of “If there is an infinite amount of causes/days/etc. prior to this cause/day, how did we ever get here?” is untenable.

    The reason is, as Aquinas points out, that “to get here”, or its equivalents “to pass to the present” or “to traverse to the present” inevitably results in a collapse into finiteness, because otherwise said terms would have no meaning.

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  206. Heraclides,

    Dale writes: This thread very long, and so I’ll be making judgment calls (as we all do) as to what is central and what is peripherial; what is on/off topic; what is worth or not worth commenting on; and what will help fruitful engagement.
    (Heraclides responds) Oh, really? So it’s your thread to control is it? 😉
    Just a little poke to let you see how this—as it’s currently written—can be perceived as arrogant. As a practical matter, I doubt anyone is going to take much notice 😉

    Wow. You actually thought I meant “I’ll be making judgments on behalf of everyone here about what’s worth discussion or not!!?? I think this warrants me saying once what you say repeatedly: go back and read what I said.
    Sometimes I think you create problems when they aren’t there. 🙂

    As for continued interaction here, I’ve been fairly busy the last few days, and also have felt that the number of posters (and comments by each) alone (Ken, Stuart, Nick, myself, Cedric, Heraclides, Ipaetus = 7) makes it less than ideal form of working out points of difference (esp. keeping the conversation focused) – especially when one prefers spending time with his family, etc – so I’ll quietly bow out here. Ken, do get a hold of me the next time you’re in Auckland. We’re long overdue for a coffee!

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  207. Dale,

    You actually thought I meant “I’ll be making judg[e]ments on behalf of everyone here about what’s worth discussion or not!!??

    No, and could you please read what I actually wrote, because then you’d know that I didn’t.

    I did not wrote accusing you, I wrote warning you how others might read your words. I gave you the benefit of the doubt that you had unintentionally written in a way that might be read badly to give you a chance to clarify. Dddddd-uh.

    Instead you attack me. Well done. (*rolls eyes*)

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  208. Pingback: As a Recipient of Science Communication | Tangled Up in Blue Guy

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