Sunday, October 07, 2007

Soul or No Soul?

No, this isn't an idea for a new TV game show, but the central question of neuroscience, as described in the book "The Spiritual Brain - A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul" by Mario Beauregard. Bryan Appleyard review the book and describes the difficulties for both camps in the debate, the materialists and the spiritualists:
Neuroscience is a combat zone. It is here, in the human brain, that the final conflict between materialism and, to invent a word, soulism is being fought. For materialists, the outcome is not in doubt. Our minds, our selves, our awareness are merely the outcome of the electrical activity of the few pounds of hyperconnected matter between our ears. All claims to the contrary are wishful thinking or superstitious remnants.

But the materialists have two problems. Their certainty of victory is, for the moment, a leap of faith. There is no clear scientific consensus on how the brain produces the higher functions we call being human. And, second, the great mystery, the ultimate hard question, remains: How does matter produce mind, how can it? Irrespective of religious belief, immaterialism cannot easily be dismissed. What is the nature of what I am thinking and feeling now? To tell me that it is all a by-product of my brain is to tell me nothing. What I am is at least as real as the chair I am sitting on, and what I am seems to be immaterial.

Hard scientists and militant atheists tend to dismiss this as spilt religion or philosophical hair-splitting, a futile pursuit of an artifact of language. But all serious thinkers understand the problem. Most, however, will fall back on what the philosopher of science Karl Popper called "promissory materialism." We will, one day, find the material answers because, in essence, we must. There simply cannot be anything other than matter.


The problem with the spiritualist's position is that it can't be disproved. It posits a parallel reality, totally invisible to the material realm, but which is the causal agent behind activities in it. Materialist science can never disprove the existence of the spiritual realm, but it can discover material explanations that make spiritual explanations redundant. I'm not sure how a materialist neuroscience could ever pound the last nail in the coffin of soulism, for it seems there will always be a gap between a description of the interactions of physical structures within the brain and the subjective experience of consciousness.

The great strength of his position is the folly of the materialists. Beauregard continually draws attention to the scientifically dubious basis of their leap of faith. They argue that it must be so and then set about proving it. Their triumphalism - driven by big publishing deals - is their greatest weakness.


Why is it folly? Materialism has continually yielded new knowledge about the universe. It is a winning horse. It may be a leap of faith to believe that this horse will continue its winning ways, but the other horse in the race, spiritualism, never wins at all. It never even leaves the starting gate. The spiritualist leap of faith is to hope that the materialist horse will someday break a leg and be pulled from the race, and the spiritualist horse will win by default.

It is not a weakness that materialism has not yet explained everything. It is a strength that it continues to yield new and better explanations of things. Even if it doesn't provide the final, indisputable explanation for consciousness, it will provide ever better explanations of the mind that will benefit people with mental illnesses. I'm one of those who has benefited. Had the study of the mind never progressed beyond spiritualist hand-waving, I wouldn't be benefiting from the development of anti-depressants. Materialism has made the lives of countless millions of people better. So why are so many people against it?

110 Comments:

Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Materialist science can never disprove the existence of the spiritual realm.

However, materialism can do the opposite: prove the existence of a non-material realm.

Bryan Appleyard review the book and describes the difficulties for both camps in the debate, the materialists and the spiritualists:

Mr. Appleyard committed an astonishing mistake. He completely failed to mention the wide array of brain injuries, both small and large, that make very heavy going indeed for "soulists".

One need not have solved the how the brain produces the higher functions we call being human to find it highly unlikely that solution lies outside the material world.

God of the gaps is not an argument.

October 07, 2007 8:52 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Please define materialist as it's being used in this context -- use small words.

October 07, 2007 9:38 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

erp;

"materialism" is the view that material reality is all of reality.

all;

The development of true material intelligence (either artificial or transferred) would render the soulist view effectively discredited.

October 07, 2007 9:53 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

What? AOG, how so? Do you think the soul is the seat of abstract intelligence? Isn't that just the obverse of the argument that dogs must have souls because they can be jealous?

Though I grant you, if the repository of your material intelligence began listening to Percy Faith's recording of A Summer Place every Sunday after Church and started going on about how it had grown to love that breezy, schmaltzy, waltzy, ethereal tune, we could be in trouble.

October 07, 2007 11:45 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Whoops! This is exactly why I asked for a definition.

It sounds like an interesting topic, so as soon as you all come up with a consensus definition, I'll jump in with my two cents.

October 07, 2007 12:12 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

A consensus definition? That's expecting a lot.

Especially if matter and energy are interchangeable and if energy can be created out of a vacuum.

At bottom then, you get a materialism without any material in it.

However, I can easily define it negatively. Materialism is that assumption about the world that says it runs of itself without ever any intervention by a Big Spook.

In this world, all causes are invariant.

In a soulful world, causes are variant and utterly unpredictable.

Philosophically, this would appear to lead the materialists back to a contradiction, if at bottom events are not predictable.

However, it turns out that events are statistically predictable, even if not individually predictable. There are events that can successfuly be predicted never to happen.

Again, in the variant world, nothing is predictable, ever, in any fashion. Nothing is impossible.

There now, that's not so hard is it? Right out of the OT, too.

October 07, 2007 12:23 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Mr. Burnet;

"Intelligence" means "self aware sentient", not just "abstract intelligence". A true AI would be one that even you would consider a "person", e.g. Lt. Data. That is, one that could end up being a fan of Percy Faith. If we can do that with cold, dead matter, what then is left for the soul?

Mr. Eager;

You're just playing with syntax with matter and energy. For any theory of materialism, those are synonyms. It'd be like saying "your theory of H2O is broken because it can have only ice and no water in it".

October 07, 2007 1:01 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Of course they're synonyms, but if the energy can arise from fluctuations in the vacuum, then you would either have to define the vacuum as matter/energy or admit a more fundamental aspect (called vacuum but hard to define) that can produce matter/energy but does not seem to be matter/energy itself.

I don't know enough to even know what I think about fluctuations from a vacuum. As a plain or garden-variety materialist, I don't worry about it either.

The fact that everything that can be observed is predictable (so far) suits me.

The soulful people who think different have not been shy about claiming unpredictable events, but they are always hard to verify.

October 07, 2007 1:21 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Energy can't arise from the vacuum. The vacuum fluctuations you refer to can happen because the energy level of the vacuum isn't precise. There is a range of values that are "close enough" and fluctuations can occur with in that range. But energy is never created in the sense that it persists and is detectable. That's not to mention that matter fluctuates in the same way for the same reason.

October 07, 2007 3:00 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I'm just trying to anticipate soulful objections.

The status of matter-energy can hardly be said to be settled, although I think its effects in the macro world are. Whatever it may be, its behavior is tightly constrained.

As far as I am concerned mind is, indeed, just a useful arrangement of otherwise unremarkable circuits.

But I was trying to lay a foundation before saying so.

I have no patience for Berkeleyan skepticism, which is, in truth, just semantics.

October 07, 2007 4:14 PM  
Blogger David said...

Ah, the fire is pretty and we're certainly not going to play with it.

October 07, 2007 6:21 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Peter, there is no call for bringing the Maestro into this discussion. All he ever tried to do was to bring lightness and joy into the world. Have you no decency, sir? At long last, have you none?

October 07, 2007 7:23 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

David:

Watching these guys discuss the soul is like what I imagine watching a congregation of the Assembly of God tackling genetic drift would be like.

October 08, 2007 3:48 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

AOG:

A true AI would be one that even you would consider a "person", e.g. Lt. Data. That is, one that could end up being a fan of Percy Faith.

And I'm supposed to worry about what the Muslims are getting up to at night after the curtains are drawn?

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a brilliant techie geek to enter...

October 08, 2007 4:20 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Speaking of techie geeks, has anyone seen The Big Bang Theory a new TV show about four physicists and a beautiful dumb blonde (are there any other kind on TV?)?

It's quite amusing. Although the situations don't ring true, as if their real counterparts would notice if a room wasn't tidy, the dialogue is quite funny.

I hope it doesn't go the way of the short-lived 3 Lbs and other shows we liked.

October 08, 2007 5:43 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Sure, Peter, you guys are experts on the soul, because you talk about it so much, and you have books that tell you it is so. How dare we amateurs question the work of countless generations of theologians! Theologians!!! Men who put aside the pleasures of the flesh to devote their lives to convincing themselves that the images in their minds are objective truths.

Now that I put it that way, they sound a lot like geeks.

October 08, 2007 6:39 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

"And I'm supposed to worry about what the Muslims are getting up to at night after the curtains are drawn?"

You can if you like, but it wouldn't affect the impact of the construct of true AI on the soulist / materialist debate.

October 08, 2007 6:59 AM  
Blogger David said...

I'd be astonished if we couldn't get a computer to the point at which it could pass the Turing test. In fact, I'm a little surprised that we're not there now.

But the Turing test is just a convention, and one based upon the fact that the soul is unknowable. I'm not under any obligation to concede that a computer I can converse with is a person, or intelligent or anything other than cleverly programmed. I'll be much more susceptible to creativity as the proof of a soul.

October 08, 2007 7:05 AM  
Blogger David said...

But, to get back to the point, are you guys really this blind to the dangers of convincing ourselves that people are just meat machines?

October 08, 2007 7:07 AM  
Blogger David said...

Which brings us back to this classic BrothersJudd thread. We seem to have made less progress in four and a half years than one might wish.

October 08, 2007 7:16 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

David,

Progress meaning getting closer to your position?

But, to get back to the point, are you guys really this blind to the dangers of convincing ourselves that people are just meat machines?

And a symphony is just a series of pressure waves in the air. How does a knowledge of the material causes of music make music any less enjoyable? And how does the material causes of human consciousness make human life any less desirable than it is?

It's the same with spiritualists decrying "mere matter". The cause doesn't determine the value of the effect, the effect is valued in its own right.

October 08, 2007 8:51 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

harry eagar wrote: "The fact that everything that can be observed is predictable (so far) suits me."

I doubt that is true.

If you just mean that if you drop an object you can predict that it will accelerate at 9.8m/s^2 until it hits the ground (ignoring the drag of air), then sure, those sorts of things are predictable.

However, if you were to take a human and somehow create an exactly identical copy and create an exactly identical world for each human, those humans, because of the enormous complexity of the brain and body coupled with quantum effects would do different things. That would be the materialist explanation.

The "soulful" explanation would be that the humans have a soul and free will.

It is and always will be impossible to distinguish between the two.

October 08, 2007 8:54 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

david wrote: "But, to get back to the point, are you guys really this blind to the dangers of convincing ourselves that people are just meat machines?"

We're not meat machines? That's news to me.

I thought the argument was whether or not the meat machines somehow had a soul added, perhaps in the quantum "gaps".

October 08, 2007 9:03 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

david wrote: "I'm not under any obligation to concede that a computer I can converse with is a person, or intelligent or anything other than cleverly programmed."

Someday a robot will be so complex and intelligent and will welcome quantum effects in its architecture (current computers do their best to reject quantum effects) that it will be impossible to disprove that the robot doesn't have a soul like a human.

October 08, 2007 9:06 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'And how does the material causes of human consciousness make human life any less desirable than it is?'

I dunno. Who's arguing for that, aside from Orrin, who is not a spokesman for materialism?

'However, if you were to take a human and somehow create an exactly identical copy and create an exactly identical world for each human, those humans, because of the enormous complexity of the brain and body coupled with quantum effects would do different things.'

If we were to do that experiment, we would have to be living in a different universe than we do. 'Somehow' is the key word.

You are sneaking Maxwell's Demon in through the side door. That's a materialist no-no.

October 08, 2007 9:22 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

I dunno. Who's arguing for that, aside from Orrin, who is not a spokesman for materialism?

David is.

October 08, 2007 9:33 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

No Harry, I'm only saying that it is and always will be impossible to predict a human's behavior because of quantum effects.

October 08, 2007 9:35 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Someday a robot will be so complex and intelligent and will welcome quantum effects in its architecture (current computers do their best to reject quantum effects) that it will be impossible to disprove that the robot doesn't have a soul like a human.

It's impossible to disprove that now, but it will be fascinating to watch the materialist position shift slowly from "there is no soul" to "we materialists can make one just as good".

October 08, 2007 9:52 AM  
Blogger David said...

Duck: I'm not arguing that at all. I'm arguing that abandoning the concept of the soul will strip yet another layer of inhibition off the temptation to treat people like things.

October 08, 2007 11:46 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

david wrote: "I'm arguing that abandoning the concept of the soul will strip yet another layer of inhibition off the temptation to treat people like things."

I don't think that there's much of a need to worry about that. We don't treat others badly because it's self-defeating to not utilize the skills and energies of those around us in our own path through life to exert and extend our power.

October 08, 2007 12:18 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

I think that it's likely that self-aware robots will have souls.

October 08, 2007 1:06 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Oro,

Does that mean that self-aware robots will face judgment when they die?

October 08, 2007 2:45 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'I'm arguing that abandoning the concept of the soul will strip yet another layer of inhibition off the temptation to treat people like things.'

You mean like how the doctrine of the immortal soul caused Christians not to treat slaves like things?

Didn't the law (that law that we are repeatedly assured was based on Christianity) explicitly define slaves as things, not persons?

How did that happen?

October 08, 2007 8:32 PM  
Blogger erp said...

Self serving ignorance?

October 09, 2007 2:19 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

It happened this way, Harry. Once upon a time, long ago, there was a wonderful world of harmony, reason, mutual respect and cooperation when all men were treated equally and with dignity. Women too, actually. Nobody was greedy or sought more than their due, everybody followed the Golden Rule and no one believed their race, nationality, gender, family, clan or language made them any better than anyone else. Everyone spent their days half-time in ecologically-sensitive labour and the other half seeking material explanations for the world around them.

Then a few greedy, power-hungry, sexually repressed patriarchs came along and tried to take over. They invented a wild tale about this Palestinian carpenter that hoodwinked everybody. The people, lacking undergrad degrees in biology or the social sciences, became thoroughly warped and psychologically imprisoned by metaphysics and objective morality. (Actually, it all started before with another fairy tale called Judaism, but we don't like to say that anymore in polite company). Anyway, soon everybody was enslaving everybody else, slapping the womenfolk around and burning science labs.

This went on for hundreds of years of darkness and oppression. So terrified were the people of their Christian masters that they didn't dare say what everybody suspected--it was all imperialist hokum only the stupid and cowed believed. Finally an incredibly brave group of bright guys discovered something called rationalism and set everything back on the right track. They were surprised at the resistance they met in the face of the blindingly obvious and it's true they lost their cool a few times. They also had implementation problems that cost a few hundred million lives, but that's all been worked out now and, if we're vigilant and don't let the Christian remnants out of their living rooms, we can all look forward to peace, prosperity, cooperation, unfettered intellectual inquiry, freedom, lotsa sex and artificial souls.

That's enough for tonight, Harry. Time to go tucky-byes. Night, night.

October 09, 2007 2:19 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Duck:

If they have souls, then yes.

The Big Spook isn't limited by human imagination and concept.

And "judgment" is possibly a bit less nerve-wracking and awe-inspiring than some Biblical authors would have us believe. In Mormon theology, it's a bit more like facing a thesis committee composed of good-willed examiners.

But for a cult, we're not very Hellfire-loving, so YMMV.

October 09, 2007 3:20 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

it's a bit more like facing a thesis committee composed of good-willed examiners.

Oro, one of the problems with the doctrine of Heaven is that, while the human imagination is wonderfully and terrifyingly creative about the unspeakable horrors of Hell, it is sadly lacking in it's ability to conceive of a paradise that isn't rather boring after a short stay. I see you Mormons haven't done much to solve that problem. :-)

October 09, 2007 3:32 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Heaven used to be a comfortable chair, a good light, an endless library and unlimited yummies which appear on command.

Now the library part has changed slightly from an endless, dare I say it, materialistic one, to a really fast wireless connection to a virtual (soulistic?) endless library on the net complete with blogs galore and on-demand virtual play dates with other bloggers. Everything else stays the same.

Boring only means you need to be entertained by things outside your own head. ;-}

October 09, 2007 4:07 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

I second that, erp - any of it.

October 09, 2007 4:14 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

to a virtual (soulistic?) endless library on the net complete with blogs galore and on-demand virtual play dates with other bloggers.

But, erp, Harry and the Duckians won't be there. I could blog happily with David for years, but an eternity?

October 09, 2007 4:27 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Peter, you forget the beauty of the blogoshere is it can find you wherever you are.

October 09, 2007 5:25 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

The Big Spook isn't limited by human imagination and concept.

Yes, but all we know of him, and all evidence of him, comes from human imagination and concept.

To paraphrase from another religious tradition, the god you can imagine or name is not the true god.

October 09, 2007 6:16 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Heaven used to be a comfortable chair, a good light, an endless library..

For some people this is a vision of Hell. People like my ex.

October 09, 2007 6:17 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Duck, How about you? Do you see it as heaven or hell?

October 09, 2007 7:10 AM  
Blogger David said...

Harry: I'm not going to defend Christianity when it comes to slavery, but the Christian justification for slavery was explicitly that it allowed for the slaves' salvation by bringing them the Gospel. Not at all that they were things, but that they were people with souls who could be saved.

October 09, 2007 7:15 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

David,

That explanation just shows how useless religious sentiment can be from a moral standpoint. Rather than act as a brake on inhumanity, such sentiments just act as an enabling rationalization. How is such a sentiment different in principle from that of communists who are willing to justify the deaths of millions by the promise of the workers paradise to come?

Salvation schemes are all alike. They discount the immediate and real experiences of earthly life for the anticipated vaporware of some imagined paradise. You can keep your salvation.

October 09, 2007 7:39 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I'm glad to be reminded that you are not defending slavery. It's one of the things that separates you from Orrin.

Peter's potted history, though wrong in detail, is generally what did happen: Religion, practically speaking, did and does a really poor job of preventing the commodification or objectification of individuals.

It would be hard to point to any evidence that, in the case of Christianity, it even tried. Such efforts as it did devote to the question were limited to advising the slaves to be patient.

This is rather easier to see in places like India, though, where the de-commodification of individuals was never even imagined until outside influences were forced on an extremely reluctant religious establishment.

It does take special pleading to explain why the correlation between rise of secularism and the decline of slavery is so tight, without attributing the one to the other.

October 09, 2007 9:42 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

harry eagar wrote: "It does take special pleading to explain why the correlation between rise of secularism and the decline of slavery is so tight, without attributing the one to the other."

Not really. Both are related to industrialization and technology. Slavery makes no economic sense today which is why it is on the wane.

October 09, 2007 10:49 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

I agree completely with Bret. We got rid of slavery once it became economically undesirable. The moral justifications always existed, but were ignored until that point. One also notes that it was the UK that spearheaded the anti-slavery effort while it was still very strongly Christian. Does that not count as a try for Christianity?

P.S. I am confused about Mr. Eager's view of history. Does his agreement with Mr. Burnet's sarcastic history that there was a golden age of non-commodification, or that, as he himself writes, non-commodification was "never imagined" until modern times?

October 09, 2007 12:25 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Bret
Why is secularization related to industrialization? I'm not disagreeing, just curious.

October 09, 2007 2:06 PM  
Blogger erp said...

Industrialization allowed workers more choices, so they were less dependent on the clergy to direct their lives.

October 09, 2007 2:42 PM  
Blogger joe shropshire said...

Surely if the decline of slavery correlates closely with anything, it correlates with the rise of the Royal Navy to dominance. But I'm not sure how one goes about claiming that one for secularism, per se.

October 09, 2007 3:37 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

"Why is secularization related to industrialization?"

I think that secularization required a critical mass of information to be moderately widely disseminated amongst the population in order for standing orthodoxies to be adequately forcefully questioned and challenged. That, in turn, required enabling enough people to take the time to be educated which in turn required that they not live a hand to mouth existence which in turn was made possible by the increased wealth and productivity provided by the industrial age. Industrialization itself encouraged a positive feedback loop including the accumulation of further knowledge which fortified the base of knowledge on which secularism thrives.

There's other reasons as well but I won't get into those now.

October 09, 2007 5:01 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Mr. Appleyard's review contains a sentence that, unwittingly, highlights the god-of-the-gaps emptiness upon which the soulists stand:

And, second, the great mystery, the ultimate hard question, remains: How does matter produce mind, how can it? Irrespective of religious belief, immaterialism cannot easily be dismissed.

This "hard question" has within it an implicit, but unacknowledged, and much more foundational question: How does matter produce life, how can it?

No one knows how life got started, but even assuming some Big Spook was responsible for introducing fuel, spark, and compression to start the motor does not propel the argument towards soulism.

What is worse, it in no way alleviates the "meat machine" issue, as it succeeds only in moving determinism from the right pocket to the left, while running the risk of making the putative determinism of materialism a real, Divine, deal. See various strains of Christianity, and all of Islam, for examples.

Insisting upon perpetual and selective -- humans for sure, what about dogs? -- soul infusions not only puts The Big Spook in a box of the soulists making, it also gut-shoots the whole notion of free will.

David said:

But, to get back to the point, are you guys really this blind to the dangers of convincing ourselves that people are just meat machines?

What do you mean by "machine"?

I doubt you can supply anything like a commonly accepted meaning for the word without highlighting how pejorative that rhetorical question is.

In other words, accepting that producing mind from matter is a completely natural facet of some life forms does not lead to the consequence that said minds can be categorized, no matter the rack, as machines.

You also neglect to mention the proven dangers of the alternative. History is replete with the dangers of convincing ourselves that the Big Spook has specifically revealed Himself to some, while excluding others.

Regarding that classic BrothersJudd thread, I believe we can say that progress has been made on a couple fronts:

t's not possible to obey the dictates of Judeo-Christianity and have a truly immoral society ...(posted by OJ)

In fact, it is. There is no way to say that two millenia of Catholic anti-Judaism was both contrary to the dictates of Christianity and moral.

Let's posit, for a moment, a truly athiest culture. (Although, given the failure of the USSR to establish one, with all the tools an unfettered state could bring to bear for 70 years, it may not be possible.) posted by David Cohen

May we conclude that the USSR was not attempting to establish an atheist, but rather a communist, culture?

To pick but one example from many, the Ukrainian famine was most assuredly not a consequence of attempting to establish atheism.

And never mind positing, of what help is divinely inspired morality when it is deterministic at its core?

... Nazi Germany [was] godless. posted by OJ

No, it wasn't; not by a long shot.

What's more, the Holocaust came to fruition on ground made fertile and watered by Christian anti-Judaism; asserting otherwise belongs in the same category as Holocaust denial itself.

And, finally:

I believe that the inability of atheists to accept the very basis of our Republic could be sound grounds to deprive them of suffrage ... posted by OJ

Perhaps it is possible to agree the discussion has advanced beyond that parcel of religious nonsense.

All of these are material statements about which it is possible to defend specific, evidence based, conclusions.

Doing so advances the argument substantially.

Bret:

Not really. Both are related to industrialization and technology. Slavery makes no economic sense today which is why it is on the wane.

Echoing my assertion that morality is what works. Invoking the Divine is nothing more than slathering God-gloss over what is already there.

Eli Whitney's cotton gin was the death knell of slavery.

Duck:

Why is secularization related to industrialization?

Here is my guess.

One of the first instances of industrialization (i.e., mass production of a given product to a standard specification) is Gutenberg's press.

Mass production of books led to, for the first time, a material advantage to literate societies.

However, widespread literacy is highly corrosive to reliance upon clergy as authorities on, well, anything.

Why take a priest's word for what God (aka the Bible) says when the words are available for one's own inspection?

October 09, 2007 5:48 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I hardly know where to start.

Are you guys really under the impression that slavery is gone from Christian countries?

It took David Brion Davis 2 700-page books to describe 'the problem of slavery in western society,' so I won
't give my version here.

But the first governmental attempt to abolish slavery by law occurred not in England but in the USA, when it was a wholly agrarian society. So industrialization cannot be it.

There's something to the argument that increasing wealth (not necessarily industrial, it worked first with just increasing agricultural and trade wealth) devalues inefficient slave labor.
But the dictum 'the air of England maketh a man free' was judge-made law, not Parliament.

The air of Barbadoes did not make a man free, not then nor for a log time thereafter, although Barbadoes stopped being a profitable place to own a slave more than a century before slavery ended there.

SH asks if Christianity gets an attaboy for its late efforts. Only if it can be shown that it was not piggybacking on secular notions of individual liberty. I don't think that can be shown.

Even if it could, Christianity came rather late to the party, so the idea that ensoulment is somehow inherently individualistic or liberating cannot be correct.

As my favorite sermon topic has it: 'The only true freedom is in slavery to Jesus Christ.' This is probably the most popular sermon in US churches these days.

It speaks for itself.

October 09, 2007 11:54 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

My, but you fellows will have your meta-narratives, won't you?

A) So, Christianity was an agent of slavery although medieval Christendom was about the only place in the world without slavery although it had been common in pre-Christian pagan times.

B) Christianity was an agent of slavery despite the fact that none of the aboriginal peoples in the New World were enslaved and the early missionaries often protected them against settlers, and lost their lives doing so;

C) Slavery is an incident of anti-modern, anti-materialist, theocratic thinking, even though the trade in African chattel slavery (which is really what we are talking about and what so stains our consciences) didn't get going until about the time of the Renaissance, the Reformation and technical advances in agriculture, shipbuilding and navigation.

D) Slavery disappeared inevitably when it was no longer profitable? Talk about libertarian mojo! To believe that you would have to believe all those Evangelical junior officers in the British Navy who were prepared to die stamping it out and often did, as well as folks like the Boston Anti-Slavery society, John Brown and that nice lady who wrote the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" were just secret materialist utilitarians one step ahead of the CFO's of the joint-stock companies. Also, that the Civil War was an disastrous, ignoble mistake--think of all the lives that could have been saved if they had just held on and waited for the inevitable.

But, Duck, if slavery became immoral and was eradicated because it no longer "worked", doesn't that imply there was a time previous when it did "work" and was therefore moral?

October 10, 2007 3:12 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

And BTW, seeing as Skipper has returned to his favourite theme of Christian history as a two-thousand year straightline effort to eradicate Judaism and Jews, not only did they fail horribly at it, they didn't even try to enslave them even though Christianity was also the prime agent of slavery.

Talk about a theocratic gang that couldn't shoot straight!

October 10, 2007 3:34 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Medieval serfs were just as much slaves as the Africans bought and sold in the new world. Capturing enemy peoples and forcing them into slavery was the rule all over the world including ancient Greece and Orient and the many indigenous tribes here.

To our modern eyes, slavery in any form is an abomination, but we can't damn our ancestors because they weren't as well informed and sanctimonious as ourselves.

October 10, 2007 5:34 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

"To believe that you would have to believe all those Evangelical junior officers in the British Navy who were prepared to die stamping it out and often did, as well as folks like the Boston Anti-Slavery society, John Brown and that nice lady who wrote the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" were just secret materialist utilitarians one step ahead of the CFO's of the joint-stock companies."

Not at all. As I noted in my comment, such people existed all along. It wasn't economics that motivated them, it was economics that enabled them to gain traction.

October 10, 2007 5:44 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

[P]erpetual and selective [soul infusions] gut-shoots the whole notion of free will.

Yes? How so?

There can be free will in the context of carnal existence regardless of whether there is or is not such in the spirit world.

[T]he Big Spook has specifically revealed Himself to some, while excluding others.

Excluding no one. While only some get a "specific reveal", nobody's barred from insight and spiritual enlightenment. It need not come in the context of Judæo-Christian concepts.

Olde tyme Wiccan hermits and Druids, for example, had their links to God.

As my favorite sermon topic has it: 'The only true freedom is in slavery to Jesus Christ.'

That's just a (nominally) clever play on words. Objecting to that is as trifling as objecting to the old Coca~Cola slogan "Coke is it", on the grounds that whatever Coke might be, it surely ain't the epitome of "it".

[N]one of the aboriginal peoples in the New World were enslaved...

Maybe not north of the Rio Grande, but in ALL points south, they were, often to the point of near-extinction. A cursory glance at the histories of Mexico and Brazil will substantiate that.
Three cheers for Catholicism.[/sarcasm]

[I]f slavery became immoral and was eradicated because it no longer "worked", doesn't that imply there was a time previous when it did "work" and was therefore moral?

Yes. As erp notes, enslaving enemy combatants was common, and in my view, moral.

October 10, 2007 7:23 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'enslaving enemy combatants was common, and in my view, moral.'

I rest my case.

Why isn't it moral now? Or do you say it still is?

Christians certainly continued to practice this morality until recently.

Factually, slavery was not absent in medieval Europe, the American indigenes were enslaves (both sides of the Rio Grande), and African chattel slavery was well-established a millenium (or more) before the Renaissance.

There are three (at least) Christian countries and one Christian state in an otherwise unchristian country where slavery is common right now.

October 10, 2007 9:37 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

I think that enslaving enemy combantants is still moral, although only for as long as the conflict lasts.

For instance, WW II POWs in America worked to grow their own food, and in various other capacities in the communities around the prison camps.

October 10, 2007 9:45 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Slavery satisfied their morality and how can we fault them for it?

Tribes north of the Rio Grande may not have been enslaved by Europeans, but there was plenty of warfare among them after which the winner took slaves from the defeated.

Now that Indian tribes have become very wealthy from their tax-free endeavors, I'm waiting for some Navahos to demand reparation from Apaches for enslaving their ancestors (or was it the other way around).

October 10, 2007 9:50 AM  
Blogger David said...

As a general proposition, I agree with erp about the futility of judging our predecessors by our own standards of morality. However, this is not that case. The Founders were perfectly aware that slavery made them hypocrites, but they found themselves in a position they couldn't (or weren't willing to) escape. This reached its nadir with Jefferson trying to include in the Declaration of Independence the charge that the Revolution was justified because the monarchy had introduced slavery to the New World. Thankfully, wiser (or more easily embarrassed) heads prevailed and that complaint was left out.

October 10, 2007 5:52 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Whoa, my head's spinning!

'our own standards of morality'?

That's my line.

Yours is supposed to be 'morality is imposed from outside'

October 10, 2007 10:32 PM  
Blogger David said...

Yes, because you guys completely misunderstand our point about religion and morality, focusing instead on OJ's point about religion and morality.

October 11, 2007 6:17 AM  
Blogger erp said...

David, I'm just as confused as Harry. Pls. a concise one line definition of your point.

October 11, 2007 7:14 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

It is dangerous to forgive past offenders on the grounds that their moral understanding was not like ours.

We have to ask, why not?

To stick with slavery, the concept behind moral antislavery is not that difficult. The Golden Rule has been around for a while, and all you have to add is enough sympathy to conclude: 'Hey, I wouldn't want to be a slave; therefore, I shouldn't keep a slave.'

Don't need a Big Spook's intervention to figure that out. Preachers are not necessary, either, and, as history shows, saw it as their duty to warn thoughtful people off that simple calculation.

Besides, if you give people a pass for having lived earlier, then you have to give them a pass for living under a different culture. Then you get appeasement of Turks, to rip an example from today's headlines.

October 11, 2007 9:30 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

harry eagar wrote: "We have to ask, why not?"

Let's say in the future that it's (nearly) universally decided that eating meat is immoral. Or that even owning pets is immoral. Or that any of our current behaviors that we consider to be perfectly okay are immoral. After all, sensibilities change over time.

Should our descendents judge us as immoral? Would that make our current behaviors immoral now?

October 11, 2007 9:58 AM  
Blogger joe shropshire said...

An easier question to answer: should we care about what some blowhard is going to think about us 300 years after we are dead? I know how I'd answer that one. But it is certainly an interesting take on the Golden Rule, that anyone would think they are applying it whilst lording it over the dead, who after all are not here to defend themselves. With that kind of manliness on display it is a wonder the Mohommedans aren't whipped already.

October 11, 2007 10:45 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Christianity was an agent of slavery despite the fact that none of the aboriginal peoples in the New World were enslaved ...

Not for lack of trying. Unlike Africans, however, aboriginal Americans preferred death to the slavers' whips.

Also, for reasons obscure because reason didn't enter into it, the Church decreed that aboriginals had souls, while Africans did not.

Anticipating Bret's objection of shifting moral standards, I in large part agree.

Which makes it a tremendous shame that a timely divine revelation didn't make the mistake clear.

Slavery disappeared inevitably when it was no longer profitable?

You make a category mistake. The efforts to end slavery predated its demise in the West.

However, slavery's disappearance was a done deal when reliance upon subjugated labor yielded inferior results to free market industrialization.

You forget widespread slavery reappeared in the Soviet Union.

And re-disappeared for the same reason.

... if slavery became immoral and was eradicated because it no longer "worked", doesn't that imply there was a time previous when it did "work" and was therefore moral?

You are mixing is and ought.

However, SH put it best: "... such people existed all along. It wasn't economics that motivated them, it was economics that enabled them to gain traction."

And BTW, seeing as Skipper has returned to his favourite theme of Christian history as a two-thousand year straightline effort to eradicate Judaism and Jews ...

I defy you to find even a single quote of mine that gets within shouting distance of my asserting Christianity's goal was to eradicate Judaism.

Since you cannot, I assume you will rethink this reply, keeping in mind the following questions:

Which organized religion prohibited intermarriage with Jews?

Where was the longest lived Jewish ghetto?

Which religion officially held Jews collectively guilty of deicide until the middle of the 20th century?

Which religion intended the ongoing suffering of Jews to demonstrate the punishment that goes along with deicide?

Which famous component of a major religion prohibited (until very recently) membership to anyone having any Jewish blood within the previous 10 generations?

If you were to have read more carefully my post, you would have noticed I asserted that the Holocaust was not invented out of whole cloth, but rather "...came to fruition on ground made fertile and watered by Christian anti-Judaism".

Which part of that did I get wrong?

Oroborous:

[P]erpetual and selective [soul infusions] gut-shoots the whole notion of free will.

Yes? How so?


Because soulists can not have it both ways.

Take soulists at their word: we are mere deterministic meat machines without the supernaturally provided soul.

Fine. Is that essence of soul identical for all people, or does it vary? If it is identical, then the variance among people is due solely to the deterministic "meat machine" element; if not identical, then it is predetermined by the soul itself.

Perhaps I should have said soulists can't have neither way.

Never mind the fatalism inherent to Islam, or Christian Election.

[T]he Big Spook has specifically revealed Himself to some, while excluding others.

Excluding no one. While only some get a "specific reveal", nobody's barred from insight and spiritual enlightenment. It need not come in the context of Judæo-Christian concepts.


True, with two caveats.

First, you must be willing to toss all revealed religions into the deep blue sea. As someone who has no opinion whatsoever on the existence or characteristics of G-d (other than concluding religions are equally clueless), I have no problem with that. However, for those who insist upon the revelatory knowledge of both, and that would include the great majority of soulists, I suspect they would find that to be something of a problem.

Second, when you say "excluding no one" you asserting a negative. Speaking only personally, either spiritual enlightenment does not exist, or I am barred from it. Consequently, your assertion is wrong.



David:

Yes, because you guys completely misunderstand our point about religion and morality ...

I suspect that is because you either have hidden your point behind Delphic statements, or don't really have the point you think you do.

So perhaps, as erp suggests, you should reiterate.

Bret:

Should our descendents judge us as immoral? Would that make our current behaviors immoral now?

That depends on the crucial question: What did they know, and when did they know it?

I don't think it makes sense, for instance, to hold Catholicism responsible for concluding Africans did not have souls. After all, the Church's position was, at least in part, derived from the biblical Ham (as was Mormonism's attitude towards Africans, since reversed by recent revelation).

Morally, that lets Catholicism off the hook. But it leaves very much hooked and floundering assertions about revealed objective morality.

With regard to your specific examples, what about the concept of morality is implicated in eating meat, or keeping pets? I'm not asking you to provide an answer, only to reflect that those questions are categorically different from those regarding slavery, or treating women as nothing more than uterine life support systems (or, worse, the source of original sin).

As Harry said The Golden Rule has been around for a while, and all you have to add is enough sympathy to conclude: 'Hey, I wouldn't want to be a slave; therefore, I shouldn't keep a slave.'

I don't eat veal anymore. But I have no qualms about our golden retriever, Rusty, The Alaskan Wilderness Adventure Dog.

In his mind -- ensoulled, or soulless? -- anyway.

October 11, 2007 4:53 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

hey skipper wrote: "...those questions are categorically different from those regarding slavery..."

Why?

October 11, 2007 5:04 PM  
Blogger David said...

Skipper: Find a single statement made prior to the Civil War by somebody using Christian sources to suggest that slavery was OK because blacks don't have souls. I doubt you'd find it. I can find you any number of statements that slavery was justified because it led to the saving of black souls. A few seconds of googling led me to this statement by a Baptist convention in 1822:

This is the religious interests of the Negroes For though they are slaves, they are also men; and are with ourselves accountable creatures; having immortal souls, and. being destined to future eternal award. Their religious interests claim a regard from their masters of the most serious nature; and it is indispensable. Nor can the community at large, in a right estimate of their duty and happiness, be indifferent on this subject. To the truly benevolent it must be pleasing to know, that a number of masters, as well as ministers and pious individuals, of various Christian denominations among us, do conscientiously regard this duty; but there is great reason to believe, that it is neglected and disregarded by many.

Also, I have no idea why you guys think that slavery wasn't economically viable. Contemporary research suggests that it was perfectly viable, with slave-worked farms being more profitable than similar free-worked farms.

As for my point, I've made it a thousand times here, and at BrothersJudd and at the Secret Blog. At some point, it's not my fault that you ignore it.

October 11, 2007 8:43 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Bret:

They are categorically different because both questions (presuming we are excluding cannibalism) refer to species that are incapable of either forming, or acting upon, moral questions.

That's why.

David:
Find a single statement made prior to the Civil War by somebody using Christian sources to suggest that slavery was OK because blacks don't have souls.

The Catholic Church did so in the 1500s, in distinguishing between African and indigenous slaves in the new world.

It concluded that the native American slaves had souls, and therefore should be the beneficiaries of salvation instead of slavery.

I don't have the specific source with me, but it is in Wealth and Poverty of Nations.

Also, I have no idea why you guys think that slavery wasn't economically viable. Contemporary research suggests that it was perfectly viable, with slave-worked farms being more profitable than similar free-worked farms.

Economically viable, yes.

But successful is a relative thing.

After mechanization, starting with Eli Whitney's cotton gin, slavery may have been economically viable, but a losing proposition compared with the alternative.

As for my point, I've made it a thousand times here, and at BrothersJudd and at the Secret Blog. At some point, it's not my fault that you ignore it.

No need to repeat yourself, a link will do just fine.

October 11, 2007 10:26 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Hmmm. If we cannot pass moral judgment on slaveholders for bad morality 300 years ago (or, in the case of my great grandfather, 140 years ago), then we have to throw out the Calendar of Saints, too.

Fair's fair.

David, I don't think that quotation is helping you with the ensoulment argument. Getting slaves to heaven would be one argument. Getting slaves freed would be another.

I reckon the second would not necessarily exclude the first (granting, for the moment, that the first is possible), although, to me, that would be bad marketing.

Historically, most people have not reacted like I would have, but still . . . if you put it to anybody, 'Would you agree to be a slave if I promise you go to heaven?' I don't think even the most credulous Duckian would sign up.

October 11, 2007 10:33 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Also, for reasons obscure because reason didn't enter into it, the Church decreed that aboriginals had souls, while Africans did not.

Oh, that's just great, Skipper. Africans were enslaved because the tyrannical Church thought they had no souls while aborignals were not because the irrational Church said they did. Yet everybody would have been much better off if the Church had held consistently to the Duckian position that nobody has them. Better still, if there had been no Church at all and we had all trod the materialist evolutionary path together being nicey-nice to one another thanks to that Golden Rule gene. It is one of the strongest genes and has withstood the toughest of survival pressures since time immemorial, although it is no match for Rome.

You guys are one bunch of mystical atheists.

David:

It doesn't matter what you say or what OJ says. Scripture makes it crystal clear and there is no need to think at all. You are commanded to get out there to enslave and slaughter, or at least to undermine democracy, so please stop prevaricating and get on with it. Last warning.

October 12, 2007 2:26 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Skipper:

I defy you to find even a single quote of mine that gets within shouting distance of my asserting Christianity's goal was to eradicate Judaism.

Uh oh. I've taken you out of context again? Sorry, old swot, I just assumed from all those tirades and references to Goldhagen and Constantine's Sword that that is what you meant. But I guess I should parse the meta-narrative more carefully. Had I done so from the beginning, I would have understood that all you were saying was that Christianity was a two thousand- year straightline effort to keep them out of the better clubs.

Sorry, and thanks a heap for delinking Nazism and Christianity so categorically.

October 12, 2007 3:12 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

erp:

Medieval serfs were just as much slaves as the Africans bought and sold in the new world.

You can repeat that over and over, but it won't make it true. I always keep my eyes open for the old serf-markets on my visits to England, but I haven't found any yet.

This is classic Duckian argument style. We start off talking about the stain and horror of the African trans-Atlantic slave trade and, when their nice tight theory of 100% theological culpability starts to unravel, we are transported to different times and places and told it is all part of the same thing. Serfs had it unimaginaly rough by our standards, but they were not without power and enforceable rights, as the nobles found out in 1371. They could not be sold or pledged, had land-holdings, had all the rights of family and were entitled by law to protection and a legal system from the lords. Why, they were even entitled to parties paid for by the boss.

If I were descended from African slaves, the one thing that would drive me crazy would be to see the story of my ancestors analogized to things like feudal serfs or Victorian wives.

October 12, 2007 3:54 AM  
Blogger David said...

Harry: I'm confused as to how an antebellum statement from a religious authority that slaves were men with souls doesn't help me in my argument that the slaveholders thought of the slaves as men with souls. You can think what you like of their position -- I don't think much of it -- but clearly they weren't saying, contra the Ducks, that these black men-looking things have no souls and thus can be enslaved.

Skipper: Landes can say what he likes, but I'm not unfamiliar with the original sources and I deny it. In fact, I'm sure that somewhere in this site-spanning four year debate, I've pointed you towards a statement directly to the contrary but I have no idea where or when.

October 12, 2007 6:01 AM  
Blogger erp said...

"Medieval serfs were just as much slaves as the Africans bought and sold in the new world."

The analogy isn't and wasn't meant to be exact. Serfs were possessions of their lord. They couldn't come and go or do as they pleased. Their labor and the fruits of it belonged to their lord. They were subject to beatings at their lord’s pleasure. Even their women were subject to their lord's lust and they couldn't do a thing about it.

Seems pretty similar to me. They weren’t bought and sold in the same way as African slaves, but they frequently changed owners as the fortunes of disparate kings and foreign invaders ebbed and flowed.

October 12, 2007 6:50 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

hey slipper wrote: "They are categorically different because both questions (presuming we are excluding cannibalism) refer to species that are incapable of either forming, or acting upon, moral questions."

Ah ha! You're a speciesist! :-)

In some seriousness though, once upon a time, racism was not considered immoral. For example, Lincoln's famous somewhat racist quote: "I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality." I know you'll claim that he didn't actually mean what he clearly said, but then, at best, he's reflecting the general attitude in society at the time.

One day speciesism may be considered equally abhorent as racism. Why not? Morality is simply deciding what is right and wrong and there's no reason speciesism won't be considered wrong one day, even if in a different "category".

Also, are you sure animals can't be taught right and wrong (ie. become at least somewhat moral agents). It seems to me that many animals (dogs, for example) have some capacity to be taught right and wrong behaviors.

Lastly, what is the difference as far as moral capability goes between a cow and someone with advanced senile dementia or someone severely retarded? Just because one happens to have human DNA and the other somewhat different DNA can we do what we please with one but not the other? There's a very slight difference between the DNA of whites and blacks too (otherwise our skin would be the same color). Yet it's not okay (today) to exploit that particular difference. Why?

I don't disagree with any of the attitudes and current moral judgements. I do, however, believe that they're perfectly arbitrary and subjective.

October 12, 2007 7:19 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

[If that essence of soul] is identical, then the variance among people is due solely to the deterministic "meat machine" element; if not identical, then it is predetermined by the soul itself.

Again, I fail to see how having eternal personalities supports the contention that there is no free will.

Even if we were simply meat machines, only the strictest and nuttiest behavioralists would assert that personalities cause undeviating behavior patterns.

If we choose how to act, regardless of our propensity to act in certain ways, isn't that free will ?
Some alcoholics don't drink. Is that predetermined, or free will ?

Speaking only personally, either spiritual enlightenment does not exist, or I am barred from it.

You also assert a negative: That, not having experienced the Divine, you are barred from so doing.

My point is that not having had a given experience is no proof that you cannot have said experience.

Perhaps you have not yet hit a moose with your vehicle. Does that mean that you are barred from hitting a moose ?

October 12, 2007 7:27 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

David, I never said soulful Christians ever denied that their serfs, slaves and bondmen had souls.

I denied the original proposition that the belief in souls was of any b benefit to said serfs, slaves and bondmen.

Your quotation supports me.

As or whether you could 'sell' or 'buy' a serf in England. Of course you could. You had to buy the manor along with him, but the transfer was as inalienable as any trade for a pig.

Living in Polynesia, I run into this confusion about property all the time. It is often alleged that Melanesians, for example, did not have a concept of individual property rights because, eg, no one 'owns' the forest. True, in mostMelanesian groups. But a Melanesian could own a tree in the forest, which is something our European-derived property system is not flexible enough to accomplish (although you can lease as sugar bush).

October 12, 2007 9:37 AM  
Blogger David said...

Harry: I never said you did. Skipper, on the other hand, says it explicitly and repeatedly, despite being told, again and again, that it's not so, despite being show primary sources that show it not to be true and despite failing to come up with any support for it.

October 12, 2007 12:54 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Africans were enslaved because the tyrannical Church thought they had no souls while aborignals were not because the irrational Church said they did. Yet everybody would have been much better off if the Church had held consistently to the Duckian position that nobody has them.

It wouldn't matter whether the Church said they did or they didn't, since assuming they did just allows a different rationale for enslaving them, as David pointed out: enslave to save.

Peter, the whole reason we have to drag Christianity through the historical mud of its own making time and again is because your side continues to insist that by virtue of your philosophy that people have souls that you have some immunity to the darker side of human nature. Soullists have run the world from time immemorial until very recently, and the track record has covered the full spectrum from humane to depraved.

So what are we to fear from materialism? At worst humans will act according to their natures, as they always have.

October 12, 2007 3:25 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

duck wrote: "So what are we to fear from materialism? At worst humans will act according to their natures, as they always have."

Religion acts as a keel for the ship of civilization, providing some much needed stability. In the long run, human nature or "whatever works" or will-to-power or whatever, will win out.

In the short run, it prevents some bad ideas from being implemented. Of course, once a bad idea gets "revealed" or otherwise added to the dogma, then it takes longer to correct itself. However, at this point the stability added by religion is probably worthwhile in my opinion.

October 12, 2007 4:09 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Oh, that's just great, Skipper. Africans were enslaved because yada yada yada although it is no match for Rome.

Do actually read anything I write? No need to dredge up posts from recent or distant past; just look a little way up this thread:

I don't think it makes sense, for instance, to hold Catholicism responsible for concluding Africans did not have souls. After all, the Church's position was, at least in part, derived from the biblical Ham (as was Mormonism's attitude towards Africans, since reversed by recent revelation).

Morally, that lets Catholicism off the hook. But it leaves very much hooked and floundering assertions about revealed objective morality.


In other words, holding Catholics morally responsible does not make sense, because they did not have the same information we do. However, for objective morality to hold any water, the source of said morality should have provided that information. It did not.

What would the outcome have been if the Bible explicitly, and unfailingly, insisted upon something like the Golden Rule (or, better yet, the Symmetry Argument)?

Uh oh. I've taken you out of context again? ...

No, not out of context; completely out of fact.

When I reference Constantine's Sword, it is because the bill of particulars is so long, and so damning, that it requires a response of some kind.

One response would be to refute that bill of particulars.

As for the other, should the first response not tally, your mileage may vary. But continuing to insist that the Holocaust was created out of whole cloth by the Nazis, amounts to a benign variant of Holocaust denial.

The link is either there, or it is not. I am happy to hear you demonstrate me wrong, but your sarcastic zingers don't contribute much to that end.

Bret:

In some seriousness though, once upon a time, racism was not considered immoral.

You are absolutely correct. It is worth noting that miscegenation was prohibited by several state constitutions until, IIRC, as late as the 1980s.

Your point is very much a cautionary one, and well taken.

But that raises the fundamental question: what do we know, and when did we know it?

With respect to animals, humans might one day come to the collective decision that some things are immoral. In some cases, we will employ the symmetry argument and decide no thanks on veal. In others, we will make moral decisions based upon nothing more than pointless emotionalism (Illinois (?) recent prohibition of slaughtering horses for meat comes to mind).

Speciesism can only become equally abhorrent as racism, though, if we collectively elevate one, some, or many, species to be human equivalents. PETA and Peter Singer might think that a fine notion, but I don't see how that can survive even superficial examination.

Am I sure animals can't be taught right and wrong? Heck no. From personal experience in the wild, I'm convinced that porpoises clearly qualify as sentient beings, leagues ahead of dogs.

From personal experience with our golden retriever, Rusty The Alaskan Wilderness Adventure Dog, I know that he can learn not to do things he would otherwise desperately love to do. Like eat the cat food, for instance. And, along the way, he also demonstrated something like a 2-yr olds' reaction when he was caught with his nose in the cat food bowl.

However, I see no likelihood that any animal will ever, no matter the instruction, be able to engage in the most basic moral reasoning. They are the recipients of, not participants in, our moral deliberations.

Lastly, what is the difference as far as moral capability goes between a cow and someone with advanced senile dementia or someone severely retarded?

The symmetry argument.

There's a very slight difference between the DNA of whites and blacks too (otherwise our skin would be the same color). Yet it's not okay (today) to exploit that particular difference. Why?

There's a much bigger DNA difference between men and women, yet it is not OK to exploit that particular difference, right?

Well, in some parts of the world, it sure is.

But the reason it isn't OK, once again, is the symmetry argument.

I don't disagree with any of the attitudes and current moral judgements. I do, however, believe that they're perfectly arbitrary and subjective.

Yes, they are. But I think it is also pretty clear that the arbitrariness and subjectivity is much more informed than in even the recent past. After all, there is no denying that, until in the lifetimes of most, if not all, posting here (AOG may be an exception), the Jews were considered collectively guilty of deicide.

Both collective guilt, and deicide are moral judgments we are well shot of. Because we now know better. When assessing culpability, though, the question remains: when did the notion of collective guilt collapse, and why? Clearly, some figured it out sooner than others.

Oroborous:

Again, I fail to see how having eternal personalities supports the contention that there is no free will.

Occam's razor. As I think I demonstrated, invoking eternal personalities gets you not one step closer to free will (or any theory of mind). It does nothing whatsoever to answer the question at hand; in fact, invoking such a thing is a barrier to the answer, whatever it may be, because it masquerades as one.

As I mentioned above, but no one called me on, relentless adherence to materialism is the only way to prove the existence of the immaterial: take the former as stipulated, and the latter, if it exists, will force an irreconcilable contradiction. Invoking "soul" in place of "dunno" is not the answer to a contradiction yet to be demonstrated.

Some alcoholics don't drink. Is that predetermined, or free will ?

Most people are not alcoholics in the first place. Predetermined, or free will? (I vote predetermined).

Some alcoholics have the strength of will to resist drinking. Is that strength predetermined, or free will?

You also assert a negative: That, not having experienced the Divine, you are barred from so doing.

No, I asserted a logical or, in the present tense. Since one of the terms is true, the entire statement evaluates as true.

Perhaps you have not yet hit a moose with your vehicle. Does that mean that you are barred from hitting a moose ?

Having seen moose up real close, and vehicles that have hit moose, and dead moose having been hit by said vehicles, there is a whole lot of evidence to be had there is nothing barring that outcome.

In contrast, spiritual enlightenment may well exist, or it may amount to nothing more than jumped up soliloquies. There is absolutely no evidence that allows preferring one explanation over the other. (Having had a schizophrenic stepbrother, though, I can assure you that at least in some cases, it is the latter).

David:

How about a link to the point we are all failing to grasp?

October 12, 2007 4:30 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

hey skipper,

What is the Symmetry Argument? I'm familiar with an argument by that name in game theory, but it's not particularly similar to the golden rule and I'm at a loss as to how it would be applied to things like veal.

October 12, 2007 5:38 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Religion acts as a keel for the ship of civilization, providing some much needed stability. In the long run, human nature or "whatever works" or will-to-power or whatever, will win out.

Since all civilizations, up until very recently, have been religious, but not all civilizations have been particularly stable, how do you arrive at the judgment that it is religion that provides the stabilizing element for a civilization that is stable?

Your statement is purely speculative. Religion isn't ubiquitous because it was needed to fulfill a specific social function. It is ubiquitous because it is part of human nature to see supernatural agency at work in the natural world. I find it hard to believe that religion is making the Muslim world more stable than it would be without it, or that Reformation Europe would have been more unstable without religion than it was. Humans have experienced inter-tribal and inter-ethnic conflict because we are tribal by nature, thanks to our competitive genes. But rather acting as a counterweight to that tribal nature, religion has become the vehicle for expressing that tribal rivalry, and for justifying tribal violence.

October 12, 2007 7:02 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Stability argument in a nutshell for slaves: We shall not overcome.

I am not understanding why stability is desirable, in itself.

October 12, 2007 10:18 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Duck wrote: "...how do you arrive at the judgment that it is religion that provides the stabilizing element for a civilization that is stable?"

I didn't write that it provides THE stabilizing element. I wrote that it provides "SOME much needed stability." Other factors (famine, war, disease, etc.) can easily overwhelm the moral stability provided by religion. I believe that religious dogma evolves fairly slowly - therefore the morality that it preaches moves fairly slowly.

duck wrote: "Your statement is purely speculative."

Speculation abounds in the comments for this post. Why should I be excluded from speculatin'?

duck wrote: "It [religion] is ubiquitous because it is part of human nature to see supernatural agency at work in the natural world."

What was that you were sayin' about speculatin' again?

duck also wrote: "I find it hard to believe that religion is making the Muslim world more stable than it would be without it..."

Ummm, it looks to me like morally they're still mostly stuck in the 12th century. How much more stable do you want their moral code to be?

duck also wrote: "we are tribal by nature ... But rather acting as a counterweight to that tribal nature, religion has become the vehicle for expressing that tribal rivalry, and for justifying tribal violence."

All this speculatin' is confusin' me now!

So let's see if I've got this. We're tribal by nature. But we need a vehicle to express this nature. So if we didn't have a vehicle we wouldn't be able to express this part of our nature? Therefore, if religion had never developed we would've never expressed our tribal nature and been peaceful? Is that what you're saying? Or that we would've found a different vehicle? Or that we would've still been tribal but we wouldn't bothered justifying the resulting violence?

October 12, 2007 10:43 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Duck:

Soullists have run the world from time immemorial until very recently, and the track record has covered the full spectrum from humane to depraved.

Soullists? OK, whatever. Duck, you are really going to have to come clean and decide whether you are riding an unstoppable crest of truth and materialist light that will inevitably bury the obscurantism and superstititon of a dark past or whether you are a tiny bunch of brave, rationalist helots trying to hold out against the "soullist" barbarian masses at Thermoplyae. That will help you decide who you have to kill.

Skipper:

Do actually read anything I write?

Every morning. Faithfully, even before I check the hockey scores. It's as good as caffeine.

October 13, 2007 5:01 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Harry, I agree with you about stability. It's the megalomania of the left that the present is the exemplar of perfection and should be maintained at all costs, when what we know of the earth and everything on it is that it is in a constant state of instability.

October 13, 2007 5:58 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

As I think I demonstrated, invoking eternal personalities gets you not one step closer to free will...

I think that you've gotten a little tangled-up. I was not asserting that souls/personalities prove free will, you were the one who claimed that the existence of souls would support an argument that there ISN'T any free will.

"[P]erpetual and selective [soul infusions] gut-shoots the whole notion of free will," remember ?

Also "[if we are more than meat machines then] the variance among people is [...] predetermined by the soul itself."

But "a predetermined variance among people" is NOT synonymous with "there is no free will". It just means that under no conditions, (meat machine or more), are personalities fully the product of random chance.

But personalities aren't chains, absolute boundries.
Anyone who works in law enforcement, criminal justice, or psychiatric fields can confirm that.

No, I asserted a logical or, in the present tense. Since one of the terms is true, the entire statement evaluates as true.

That may have been what you intended, but what you actually wrote was "either spiritual enlightenment does not exist, or I am barred from it."

Neither of those conditions can be demonstrated to be true - both are suppositions.

[S]piritual enlightenment may well exist, or it may amount to nothing more than jumped up soliloquies. There is absolutely no evidence that allows preferring one explanation over the other.

I've written this several times before, and you may want to take it on board this time, since this is the root cause of your inability to understand the religionist paradigm: THERE IS EVIDENCE OF THE PARANORMAL AND SUPERNATURAL.

It's just not conclusive, despite being massive and widespread.

October 13, 2007 8:07 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

So let's see if I've got this. We're tribal by nature. But we need a vehicle to express this nature. So if we didn't have a vehicle we wouldn't be able to express this part of our nature? Therefore, if religion had never developed we would've never expressed our tribal nature and been peaceful? Is that what you're saying? Or that we would've found a different vehicle? Or that we would've still been tribal but we wouldn't bothered justifying the resulting violence?

Your last statement comes closest to my position. We would've justified the resulting violence by material arguments.

My point is that society can function as well or better being guided by material arguments and justifications as it can by religiously inspired or "revealed" ones. Take the current conflict in Iraq. Religious believers who support our intervention will say, as President Bush does, that God wants us to spread democracy there. But there is a whole parallel material argument for why we should intervene there, involving the fight against terror, the need to depose Saddam and end the UN sanctions and eliminate the possibility of his harboring WMDs, as well as the need to encourage representative government in the Muslim world. One doesn't need to be religiously inspired to accept these arguments. Indeed one of the most strident supporters of the war in Iraq is Christopher Hitchens, an atheist.

October 13, 2007 8:08 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Harry: I'm confused as to how an antebellum statement from a religious authority that slaves were men with souls doesn't help me in my argument that the slaveholders thought of the slaves as men with souls.

David, don't you see how this undermines your whole argument that it is the recognition of souls in others that predisposes us to humane treatment of others? If one can recognize others have souls and yet still enslave them, then your argument that the soul assumption is critical for the maintenance of a decent society goes out the window.

My main argument in this post is not that soullism is the bane of humanity and must be banished so that a decent society can finally be built, but that the cultivation of a decent society is not dependent on this assumption. Our ability to be decent, or not, is part of our nature that is not dependent on the religious aspect of our nature. Materialism and a desire to cultivate a decent society can coexist. The talisman of soullism is not required.

October 13, 2007 8:21 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

THERE IS EVIDENCE OF THE PARANORMAL AND SUPERNATURAL.

It's just not conclusive, despite being massive and widespread.


I'd be interested to hear what you consider evidence for the paranormal and supernatural. I'd suspect that pretty much all of what you would cite can be and has been explained by natural, material causes.

I think what Skipper and I object to is the notion that you account for internal, subjectively felt "soliloquies" among the evidence for the supernatural. Such soliloquies are certainly widespread, but their very ubiquity and self-referential nature should be evidence enough that these purported revelations are more of the nature of mentally generated wish fulfillment experiences.

I'm currently reading several books on the latest findings in Biblical archeology. These efforts were mainly started by Christian groups in the 19th and early 20th centuries to uncover physical confirmation of the events recorded in the Bible. After the creation of the state if Israel in 1947, the Israelis continued the task with the same goal in mind. Unfortunately this was an exercise in being careful what you wish for. The physical evidence on the ground pretty much refutes the idea that the Exodus from Egypt and the conquest of Canaan by Joshua ever could have happened as described. The digs uncovered the inconvenient truth that the entire region from the Sinai to Syria was Egyptian occupied territory up until the early iron age.

How does this fit into my earlier point? Just that it seems that all so called revelations serve the interests of those to whom the revelation was made. If Israel was the chosen people, why wouldn't God have revealed to the Canaanites that were to be displaced that they weren't chosen, and should vacate the region. It would certainly further the believability of the phenomenon of revelation if once in awhile there were those groups who held to revelations that actually benefited some other group. Imagine a religious group that held to the conviction that they were the runner-up to God's chosen people, that God made a covenant with them that if the chosen people were ever to be incapable of fulfilling the duties as the chosen people, that they would assume the title of chosen. It just doesn't happen.

October 13, 2007 8:43 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

I'd be interested to hear what you consider evidence for the paranormal and supernatural.

I'll gather some cites, but it won't be until next week.

I'd suspect that pretty much all of what you would cite can be and has been explained by natural, material causes.

My objection is to the addition of "has been" to "can be", which changes a logical statement into a statement of faith.

Like any other body of inconclusive data, it can be interpreted many ways. You have FAITH that there is nothing to the Universe beyond that which you've experienced.
I find that conclusion to be a little, um, provincial.

Further, let us note that the paranormal is completely natural, and often material. It's just not common, and defies easy explanation.

But lightning used to be inexplicable, and before that the solar system and the stars, and it's only yesterday by historical standards that we learned to see through solid matter with X-rays, MRIs, and CAT scans, which would have been "supernatural and paranormal" before the 20th century.

* "When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong."

* "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

~ Arthur C. Clarke

And it would be easy to come up with a list of hundreds of things that have been accomplished, or that we now commonly do, that in the past were specifically denounced as "impossible", including heavier-than-air flight, travelling at faster than 35 MPH, climbing Pike's Peak, and building a bridge across the Mississippi River.

So I tend to think of those who insist that all has been defined as sophisticated, urbane, modern versions of those Medievalists who knew, and argued with complete certainty, that the Earth was the center of the Universe, around which all else revolved.

I think what Skipper and I object to is the notion that you account for internal, subjectively felt "soliloquies" among the evidence for the supernatural. Such soliloquies are certainly widespread, but their very ubiquity and self-referential nature...

...are the same basis upon which the fields of psychology and economics are built.

Do you deny the veracity of those arts as well ?

October 13, 2007 10:13 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Duck, the titles of a couple of the best of your books, please.

++++

'My point is that society can function as well or better being guided by material arguments and justifications as it can by religiously inspired or "revealed" ones.'

Not only can but almost always does. This is why I don't believe in sin.

People never do what they really believe is wrong (sinful). They always do what they really believe is right, even when it contradicts what they say they believe is virtue.

It is this refusal to embrace sin that makes religion so tedious to me.

And, in the long run, what people believe is right to do is always based on material, not spiritual, considerations. You can defy the Big Spook, but you cannot for long defy Mother Nature.

October 13, 2007 11:17 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Harry

Theres "It Ain't Necessarily So" by Matthew Sturgis and "The View from Nebo" By Amy Dockser Marcus.

October 13, 2007 12:43 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Bret:

What is the Symmetry Argument?

What I term the Symmetry Argument (I am certain that someone far more distinguished, somewhere, has reached the following argument far earlier, and better, than I. However, having never having actually seen it anywhere, I am working from the basis of independent invention.) addresses the profound shortcomings in the two most widely cited single-sentence exhortations to moral behavior: Love your neighbor as your love yourself, and treat others as you would treat yourself.

Love your neighbor rolls off the tongue ever so pleasantly, but is, thankfully, impossible in practice because its results would be ridiculous. A quick hypothetical will demonstrate: Two adjoining units in an apartment building catch fire. If I love my neighbor as I love myself, and, by necessary extension, my neighbor's family as my own, who do I rescue first? Who do I rescue if I can't rescue everyone? The only response consistent with the exhortation is complete paralysis. And even if I somehow avoid that, how do I explain to my wife I am going to save one of my neighbor's children for each of our own?

The Golden Rule isn't quite so allergic to reality, but it is fatally prone to self-referential reasoning. I will use Peter's favorite, understandably so, example of rampant immorality: unfaithfulness. The Golden Rule just as easily justifies playing around on my wife as the opposite. How? All I have to do is insist on treating her as I desire her to treat me. I, therefore, can easily justify my philandering by asserting I would be completely happy were she to fool around on me.

What I term the Symmetry Argument avoids the Golden Rule's nod towards solipsism. Briefly, it goes like this: There are no privileged viewpoints: an act's morality cannot be dependent upon whether one is the subject or the object. Taking the philandering example from above, my straying can only be moral if an object of such a decision, my wife, is as happy that I play around as I am to do so. The criteria is no longer on how I wish to be treated, but on how she wishes to be treated. (It is left as an exercise to the reader to determine how the Symmetry Argument, when I first had some inkling of it in my late 20s, relentlessly drove the conclusion that the only morally acceptable choices were either celibacy or marriage.)

When invoking universal entitlement to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, the underlying reasoning is the Symmetry Argument.

In contrast, by creating morally exclusionary communities (Islam is the most egregious current example; Christianity's long standing persecution of Jews is another), religion completely violates the symmetry argument, by allowing acts upon those outside the community that are otherwise prohibited within the community, based solely upon immaterial considerations.

Maybe I should have made this a separate post, for fear of derailing this thread. However, since it has already jumped the tracks, crossed a ditch, joined a dirt road before heading up the hill to fetch a pail of water, perhaps I shouldn't be too concerned.

October 13, 2007 1:41 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Oroborous:

I think that you've gotten a little tangled-up. I was not asserting that souls/personalities prove free will, you were the one who claimed that the existence of souls would support an argument that there ISN'T any free will.

Yes, I make that claim. Because invoking souls can be just as easily used to contradict free-will as invoke it, doing so is a completely empty exercise. If there was ever an instance for relying upon Occam's razor, this is it.

That may have been what you intended, but what you actually wrote was "either spiritual enlightenment does not exist, or I am barred from it."

Neither of those conditions can be demonstrated to be true - both are suppositions.


Wrong. The latter is a fact. The former might also be objectively true (whether that objective truth is knowable is a different matter, but one thing is certain: that truth is binary. Either spiritual enlightenment from an immaterial source exists, or it does not). Consequently the statement evaluates as true, and the first argument merely states the binary nature of the objective truth of spiritual enlightenment.

I've written this several times before, and you may want to take it on board this time, since this is the root cause of your inability to understand the religionist paradigm: THERE IS EVIDENCE OF THE PARANORMAL AND SUPERNATURAL.

No, there isn't, as your subsequent examples demonstrate.

When I say there isn't any evidence, by that I mean (aside from your conflating things we have learned about the material world -- invariant, to use Harry's lucid formulation -- from suppositions about the spirit world -- completely variant) no piece of evidence can be used to arrive at a conclusion that is in any way preferable over its opposite.

In Objectively Moral I raised this objection to what you consider evidence:

... there are statements -- revelations -- within any religious belief system (never mind across them) which are false, but cannot be proven false within the system. What is worse, because there is no determining which revelations are false, there is also no way whatsoever, within the religious belief system, to determine which are true.

The paranormal falls precisely into this trap.

And which economics certainly, and psychology possibly, does not. They at least occasionally make truth claims whose truth value is materially ascertainable to anyone, independent of viewpoint.

October 13, 2007 2:27 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Because invoking souls can be just as easily used to contradict free-will as invoke it...

...therefore, if souls exist, that existence cannot be used as support for an argument that free will does not exist.

If I understand your argument correctly, it's that because you believe that ensoulment can support both free will and predetermination arguments, then Ockham's Razor indicates that we should go with "predetermination".

But I still don't understand why you think that ensoulment must mean predetermination. The only argument for it that you've presented so far is that eternal personalities must mean carnal predetermination, but as I wrote earlier, I don't accept that predilection = fate.

To support my rejection of your hypothesis, I've suggested that the real-world experience of cops, courts, and shrinks is that they see people all the time who've done things that nobody expected that they'd do, or be capable of doing.
Do you dispute that ?

Further, it boggles me that you can argue at other times that centrally-planned economies can't work as well as do capitalist ones, because no person or organization can make the bazillion daily decisions that lead to most needs being fully met, as in market economies. And yet, when it comes to matters spiritual, you posit that central planning is the most simple of the alternatives, and thus most likely to be true.

Finally, if we assume that God exists, wouldn't such an entity know that central planning, aka predestination, is a less-efficient alternative ?
And why would such a being want to spend time and energy plotting out every minute detail in the lives of tens of billions of people, over time ?

Sure, it might be a hobby, like building model ships in bottles, but assuming that God settles our hash in Her spare time isn't the most-simple explanation.

Neither of those conditions can be demonstrated to be true - both are suppositions.

Wrong. The latter is a fact.

There are three possible explanations for your condition:

1) Spiritual enlightenment from an immaterial source does not exist.

2) Spiritual enlightenment does exist, but you are not allowed any.

3) Spiritual enlightenment does exist, although you haven't experienced any, but nothing prevents you from so doing at some future time.

You cannot prove which of these three cases is most true. They are all possible.
Therefore, the statement that "either spiritual enlightenment does not exist, or I am barred from it" contains no facts.

You don't know whether you're barred or not, you only know that you haven't experienced it yet. Perhaps you've never been to the Antarctic; you're not "barred" from going. You just haven't.

When I say there isn't any evidence, by that I mean [...] no piece of evidence can be used to arrive at a conclusion that is in any way preferable over its opposite.

In the first place, negative proof is not proof of a negative.

Secondly, there is evidence of spiritual feeling and religion in humanity for as far back as humans have left permanent traces - e.g., paintings, carvings, statues, totems, formal graves.
If neither conclusion has overwhelming merit, then Ockham's Razor, (make as few assumptions as possible), should prefer the theory that there's a reason that religion is universal and eternal among humans.

Is it just cross-chatter between human brain lobes ?
Could be.

But believing that it must be is faith, not science.

...aside from your conflating things we have learned about the material world [with] suppositions about the spirit world...

My examples are merely meant to illustrate the dynamic of discovery and/or accomplishment: The inexplicable or impossible eventually becoming the commonplace.

Betting against humans doing the impossible has been a losing proposition for at least 5,000 years.

For instance, the stone features at Stonehenge were constructed over hundreds of years, using only bone, wood, and stone tools. A project like that seems rather improbable, yet the remains exist.

X-rays have been around for far longer than humans, but they were "paranormal" until the cusp of the 20th century. Now they're everyday, unremarkable. And I already used the example of lightning.

As you yourself have written, "materialism can [...] prove the existence of a non-material realm."

Not allowing for the possiblity of the paranormal is, in effect, a claim that humans already know at least the outlines of all there is to know.

That strikes me as hubristic and, based on human history, foolish.

October 13, 2007 10:35 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

hey skipper wrote (regarding the Symmetry Argument): "Taking the philandering example from above, my straying can only be moral if an object of such a decision, my wife, is as happy that I play around as I am to do so."

So, does it follow that drinking a beer can only be moral if my wife is as happy that I drink it as I am to do so? Or is my wife not an object of that decision? But if not, why does my interacting with some other entities, for example other women, make my wife an object of that decision but not the decision to drink a beer? If it's because other women are human, then how about the decision to go bowling with my buddies?

Perhaps a separate post is a good idea.

October 14, 2007 8:36 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

X-rays have been around for far longer than humans, but they were "paranormal" until the cusp of the 20th century. Now they're everyday, unremarkable.

Oro, you're conflating two separate phenomenon. X-Rays weren't paranormal because there were no seers or mystics making claims to having x-ray vision prior to their discovery. X-rays weren't even "on the radar", so to speak. By paranormal we aren't speaking of future scientific discoveries to come that no-one is making claims to at present, nor are we discussing scientifically grounded speculations of future potential inventions or discoveries, such as warp drive or matter transporters. We're talking about claims of supernatural or supernormal experiences in the past or present that have no scientific basis in truth, but have compelling alternate materially based explanations.

It is interesting that you bring up the area of psychology, because increasingly psychology is demonstrating that the human mind has a propensity for creating experiences that did not happen.

One recent example is the phenomenon of false memory syndrome. In the 1980s many adult men were put on trial and convicted of rape based on "recovered" childhood memories of their daughters, who as adults were suddenly troubled with memories of traumatic assaults at the hands of their fathers.

Another recent example is the phenomenon of alien abduction experiences. Many of the people who become convinced that they have been abducted that have been studied by psychologists were shown to be neither insane or lying. Their experiences are so real to them that one Harvard psychologist, John Mack, came to the conclusion that their stories were objectively true. Do you believe that they are? You either have to believe they are or you have to believe that the human mind is a false experience generator.

Not allowing for the possiblity of the paranormal is, in effect, a claim that humans already know at least the outlines of all there is to know.

That strikes me as hubristic and, based on human history, foolish.


Why is it either? It is possible to admit that humans don't know all that there is to know while simultaneously dismissing certain claims of supernatural experience that have demonstrated themselves unreliable. A mind that is open to every possibility is a mind that cannot learn. The process of learning is a process of gradually closing off possibilities. Learning that 1 plus 1 equals 2 means also learning that 1 plus one cannot equal three. Learning that the Earth's age is measured in the billions of years is also learning that the Genesis account of creation cannot be literally true.

Such a process is by the same token not dangerous. If we were to accord every theory equal weight with no thought given to its probability, then we'd be following hundreds of blind alleys, and losing out on the opportunity to follow the most promising avenues of research. Has paranormal research yielded any results of any value? I've been hearing of scientific studies into the paranormal since the 1970s, but I've yet to hear of any breakthroughs on any front.

Scientific investigations following a strictly materialist set of assumptions have proven wildly successful. I can think of no research project based on supernatural, paranormal or extra-material assumptions that have yielded any knowledge. Why is it hubristic or dangerous to expect this trend to continue?

October 14, 2007 8:48 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I think paranormal is being used in incompatible ways.

The undiscovered country is not unnatural, just not yet discovered. That would be Oro's 'paranormal.'

The undiscovered country -- which we think is imaginary -- would not adhere to all the other natural rules that the hitherto discovered country adheres to. This is Skipper's paranormal.

It's the difference between Roentgen's X-ray vision and Superman's.

October 14, 2007 11:17 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Well said, Harry.

October 14, 2007 12:18 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Oro:

If I understand your argument correctly, it's that because you believe that ensoulment can support both free will and predetermination arguments, then Ockham's Razor indicates that we should go with "predetermination".

You don't understand my argument correctly, which is perfectly forgivable, given this labyrinthian thread.

My argument is that since invoking the soul to explaining either the existence of mind or free will, then Occam's razor not so gently suggests dumping the soul as an unwarranted proliferation of entities.

That doesn't mean choosing between free will and determinism, or mind and whatever the heck soulists pose as an alternative should it turn out we have no souls.

Rather more pointedly, relying upon the soul as an explanation raises the suspicion that the explainer has some way yet to go in defining both mind and free will, while also being shockingly susceptible to argument by incredulity. Where not specifically motivated by scripture, Creationists also rely heavily on the same argument. The review Duck posted relies upon precisely the same reasoning, if I may abuse the term.

There are three possible explanations for your condition:

Therefore, the statement that "either spiritual enlightenment does not exist, or I am barred from it" contains no facts.


Wrong. You missed a critical phrase in my previous response: my statement is written in the present tense. That means that at this and all previous moments, the statement "I am barred" is true. It says nothing whatsoever about any moment that has yet to arrive.

In the first place, negative proof is not proof of a negative.

Well, that is certainly true, but that wasn't what I was asserting, which is ... no piece of evidence can be used to arrive at a conclusion that is in any way preferable over its opposite.

Duck's example of alien abduction stories is completely appropriate here, and should be very troubling for those insisting upon proof of a realm beyond the reach of natural laws, but not beyond reaching nature.

Alien abduction stories are completely materialistic; they insist upon beings very much a part of our universe, who are capable of using technology that is both consistent with natural laws, and far beyond the limits of our current knowledge. All that makes those stories even more plausible.

Yet unless you are willing to insist that all of those stories are objectively true, then you must admit two things: some are not, and you have no way to tell which. There is absolutely no reason -- no evidence -- to prefer the reliability of one abduction story over another. Inescapably, then, the existence of alien abduction stories alone provides no basis to conclude alien abductions actually occur.



Your pointing to the pervasiveness of spiritual feeling does not allow you to call upon Occam's razor as you do. True, there must be some reason, or reasons, that religion is essentially universal.

What is also true is that insisting upon the brain as the sole explanation provides several overwhelming advantages:

1. It avoids adding an entity that explains nothing.

2. Instead of prematurely assuming an answer, which at the moment of its assumption renders all further investigation pointless, it allows materialism to prove the immaterial by contradiction. In other words, if there truly is an immaterial explanation for the prevalence of religion, then at some point materialist reasoning will conclusively demonstrate its existence by materially demonstrating a contradiction that can be resolved only by immaterial means. There is no such contradiction, yet.

3. The materialist explanation is completely consistent with one irrefutable piece of evidence: the fecund proliferation of mutually exclusive religions. That puts religious belief in the same behavioral category as speech. All humans do it, but the endless variety of religions, just as with languages, strongly suggests that both are characteristic behaviors of the human mind, not imposed upon the mind from the outside. Also, if you won't insist upon a supernatural explanation for speech, despite it being based upon precisely the same evidence as what you cite for religion, than perhaps more caution is in order.

Therefore, believing religions are human constructs with market share is not "faith"; just as with alien abduction stories, unless you are willing to grant all of them as true, then at least some are false. Yet separating the true from the false religions is a fools errand. The moment you conclude any religion is false (that is, the result of delusion or deception), then you have instantly deprived yourself of the ability to decide which is true. Since just naming all the religions that have ever existed would leave you with a book that might be confused with the phone directory for a medium size city, as a probabilistic matter, does it not make more sense to conclude that religion in almost all cases is just another example of a universal human behavior?

October 14, 2007 1:16 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Bret:

So, does it follow that drinking a beer can only be moral if my wife is as happy that I drink it as I am to do so?

Turn the table, put yourself in your wife's position as best you can (yet another advantage of the symmetry argument, unlike "love thy neighbor" and the golden rule, it insists upon empathy).

Do you, as your wife, have an objection to you drinking a beer? How about a dozen at one go?

No matter what decision of any consequence with respect to your wife (which probably includes just about everything this side of which sock you put on first), is that decision not better made after putting yourself in your wife's position?

Yes, a separate post would be a good idea. But that would be a bloody lot of work.

October 14, 2007 1:39 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

Find a single statement made prior to the Civil War by somebody using Christian sources to suggest that slavery was OK because blacks don't have souls.

I could not.

I did find several sources that asserted such, but none that had any primary source.

This states that before 1500, there was some debate as to whether slaves had souls, but (at least outside Protestantism) not after.

Therefore, unless I stumble over something to the contrary, you are right.

October 15, 2007 12:21 PM  

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