Sadly, a thread I was engaged in at Philosophy Forums was recently locked while I was writing a reply to a delightful fellow called Ruskin. Since both of us had put so much effort in, I thought I might provide my response to his post here (note that I’ve kept all the petty snarkiness that I find more easily identifiable when editing in the cold light of day, because it was what I would have posted had I been able to at the time):
Excellent. Thanks for that Ruskie. You’ve confirmed your hypocrisy vis a vis your bible. It’s an authority, but only once you’ve tweaked it a little. Which basically means that you can believe of it what you will. If you come across a bit you don’t like, it is obviously metaphorical. If you come across a bit you like a lot, then of course it is meant literally.
Can you not see why certain people don’t take your bible particularly seriously? Can you not understand that you cannot use your bible as evidence for your argument? (unless your argument is along the lines of “these words are written in the bible in the book of X”) The bible is no more evidence for your god than Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is evidence of Hogwarts.
Ruskin quoting neopolitan: From what I hear from some of you theists, your god is going to force me into some sort of unpleasant relationship for the rest of eternity.
Ruskin replying: Is a relationship of genuine love unpleasant?
No. The problem you have is that there is no consistent body of evidence, not even your bible, which isn’t evidence as mentioned above, to support your claim of genuine love on the part of your god. Your bible is full of evidence that your god is quite hateful. And, if it were the case that your hateful god exists, since I have not spent my short existence on this planet denying myself based on a flawed set of texts or grovelling on a weekly basis before earthly representatives of your god, I am not likely to be the recipient of your god’s rather creepy love.
Ruskin quoting neopolitan: I don't recall arguing against that particular line of yours. If I had I would have pointed out that "good" and "evil" are terms that you need to explain (are you talking about objective good and evil, or are you suggesting that things are defined by humans as good and evil, where those things might change category over time, or do you mean something closer to Sam Harris where greater well-being is good and less well-being is bad)
Ruskin replying: Well-being according to Sam Harris? What if people disagree with Sam Harris? Or say you have well-being for the majority at the expense of a minority.
I do wish you could read a whole passage of text as a whole. I presume that you don’t mean what Sam Harris might mean by “good” and “evil”. At least we’ve whittled down your options a little. I could ask what do you mean by those terms, but actually I don’t care. I didn’t ask you. I said that if I was addressing a particular line of your text, then I would have asked you to explain. But I didn’t actually ask you … because I don’t care what you mean by “good” and “evil” because the sentence in which you used those terms was incomprehensible.
Ruskin quoting neopolitan: if you mean something objective then you'd need prove the independent existence of good and evil.
Ruskin replying: Prove you exist and you're not some kind of figment of my imagination. Unless you provide objective proof that I could hallucinate I will deny your objective existence in reality.
That’s rather sophomore-ish, isn’t it? I’d have thought you were above that. Oh well, my willingness to see the best in people is a constant source of disappointment to me.
Ruskin quoting neopolitan: I would also point out that the sentence is so poorly structured as to make no sense, which is part of the reason that I didn't address it at all
Ruskin replying: If you're not asking for clarification on whatever it was you didn't understand I'll just take this to be a dodge
A dodge of what exactly?
Ruskin quoting neopolitan: All I recall doing was presenting the tract as evidence that you "like to think" things that you think and that you think it is better to just assume stuff.
Ruskin replying: That was an argument regarding freewill and how atheism would deny it even exists not an assumption.
Let me requote what I quoted for comic effect:
neopolitan quoting Ruskin: There's no point saying what accounts for morality and freewill if you don't even have it. I would say we most certainly do have freedom of will and a genuine choice of good and evil though I can't 100% absolutely sure. It's better to just assume that this is true and that there must be a reason why this is true i.e God. Most people would readily agree I like to think even if they don't accept the Bible or whatever.
I’ve highlighted the bits that were pertinent to my point – that you “base what [you] think on what [you] like to think and on assumptions of what is true” .
You ignored these pertinent items and quoted back to me an extract of the above, namely: “freedom of will and a genuine choice of good and evil though I can't 100% absolutely sure.” Out of context, this makes no sense whatsoever. To your credit, however, you did amplify:
neopolitan quoting Ruskin: If you claim to not have your own freewill or ability to decide anything for yourself then your opinion, which isn't really your opinion, can be easily ignored. It's a simple case of just trying to point out that you're nuts to believe this and bring you round to some relative human sanity and dignity, a bit of basic appreciation for human existence and what have you.
Since I am a nice guy, I will address your comments. Again.
neopolitan quoting neopolitan: You're talking about what I call "strong" free will. I'm pretty sure that when you get down to brass tacks, the sort of free will you are talking about is the sort that allows for decisions to be made that are not completely dependent on pre-existing conditions - so a magic sort of acausal free will. That sort of free will doesn't exist. There is a "weak" sort of free will which I think is totally compatible with materialism and that allows me to have my own opinions, an abundance of human sanity and more dignity than I can handle. I also have an appreciation for human existence, especially my own, of course, but I have no opinion on the Kirkland nut selection - is this somehow related to your free will argument? (Perhaps, because there is a choice between various types of nut, there must of course be free will, otherwise Costco would only produce one of the varieties for their signature range - we could call this the Kirkland proof of free will. It's not a good argument, but that doesn't often seem to be an issue.)
Note that you have already responded to these points, so there is no need to respond to them again.
Ruskin quoting neopolitan: Is "freewill" different to "free will". If so, please explain.
Ruskin replying: No?
I’m going to assume (given later comments) that “freewill”, in your head, is what I refer to as “strong free will”.
Ruskin quoting neopolitan: Yes, you are describing what I call "strong" free will. A sort of diluted godliness, an ability to bypass nature.
Ruskin replying: Yes exactly, so we would have independence from the natural physical process of nature to some degree being partially supernatural in nature yourself and that's where you get freedom of will which ultimately comes from God who is a supernatural kind of guy.
So, this is what I call “strong” free will – and as I have said, this is not a grade of free will, it’s just what I call your definition of free will so as to differentiate it from my own definition of free will, which we could call “weak” free will. Can we at least accept this?
Alternatively we could have “theistic free will” and “naturalistic free will”, if you prefer. What’s not going to fly is a claim on your part that there is no free will other than your free will.
Ruskin: That's not to say we're 100% independent from nature because you're living as this naturally evolved physical body and much of what we essentially do is on autopilot *reads Dianetics* the "reactive mind" you can call it I suppose.
Ruskin quoting neopolitan: If you mean that "strong" free will is freewill, then yes, that is a charade and a pretence that ultimately amounts to nothing.
Ruskin replying: *voice of a child* Why do you do believe that for?
I always think of you talking with the voice of a child, so that was pretty unnecessary. I was just agreeing with you.
Ruskin quoting neopolitan: I should be absolutely terrified by some of the physics and biology things that I am intellectually aware of.
Ruskin replying: Well no you shouldn't be
Way to go with the selective quoting, old boy. Here’s the context for people who can’t be bothered going back to my post:
neopolitan quoting neopolitan: You seem to think since I am intellectually aware that "strong" free will is a charade, that I cannot put that aside and live like most other humans as if "strong" free will were real. In a similar way, I should be absolutely terrified by some of the physics and biology things that I am intellectually aware of.
Of course I shouldn’t be. That was my point. Thanks for getting it.
Ruskin: but...ugh *reads Dianetics* the body is something you own and use not something you are. It's like if you drive a car, you may not be able to control or alter the mechanics of the physical processes of the engine and everything operates a certain way, but are at the same time a separate entity to the car you drive. You can even stop the car and get out though you will be in a different "mode of transport" if you do this no longer on the road. I haven't actually Dianetics btw this just the kind of thing L Ron would write. This is fairly typical of the general idea behind most religions anyway. There are some materialist Christians who believe in a purely physical resurrection but I think they would have the same issue with freewill you would have and what would be brought back to life may be some kind of a copy or clone without a non-material element.
Ruskin quoting neopolitan: Sadly for you, that is not the case.
Ruskin replying: On the outside you're some kind of tough punk but on the inside.
Well, since I don’t exist, that’s not a problem - right?
Ruskin quoting neopolitan: Nor am I consumed by existential despair.
I can't speak for all atheists, of course, but I do suspect that most of them are not consumed by existential despair either.
Ruskin replying: If they're not then there is something wrong with them.
Oh lovely. Is this a variation of the “no true Scotsman” argument? An atheist is either consumed by existential despair, or is defective. I don’t think you’ve provided any argument here other than your opinion.
Ruskin quoting neopolitan: Perhaps theists simply don't have the strength of character that we atheists have
I’m going to stop you there, because again, you are quoting me out of context. Here’s what I wrote:
neopolitan quoting neopolitan: Perhaps theists simply don't have the strength of character that we atheists have, and they would be filled with despair if they released their grasp on their god. But I don't think that this is true, because there are plenty of ex-theists around. Perhaps they could advise as to whether they are consumed by existential despair.
Now back to your fragmented quotes and responses:
Ruskin quoting neopolitan: Perhaps theists simply don't have the strength of character that we atheists have
Ruskin replying: Perhaps theists have a great deal more strength of character? *thrusts Bible in your face* do you think this doesn't present a formidable challenge? Not the easiest thing in the world to have to grapple with but the ultimate purpose of human life is depicted in some form or other right in here. It essentially spells out what on some level at least you already knew, and in this way you are without excuse for not believing in it as the Bible rightly says. To deal with this and accept this truth and point others towards it takes some strength of character it's not for the weak hearted. You do have to put some work into this faith business rather than sacrificing God on the altar of "science" and progress. Atheism has been around in some form or other for thousands of years isn't necessarily some kind of forward advancement in reason or that people living in the past were necessarily more stupid than they are today.
I didn’t think it was true that theists lack strength of character. So you’re attacking a straw man. Largely ignored.
Ruskin quoting neopolitan: and they would be filled with despair if they released their grasp on their god.
Ruskin replying: The denial of the supreme reality of all life and consciousness to which we are all a part is it's own despair. This is what hell will be if you continue to do this beyond your physical life.
Hm, magic chocolate …
Ruskin quoting neopolitan: But I don't think that this is true, because there are plenty of ex-theists around.
Ruskin replying: If by their own admission they were completely deluded as a theist how are we to know that they aren't still deluded as an atheist? There's a credibility issue once they admit to being delusion prone.
I suggest that ex-theists address this. I am not an ex-theist so I have no idea. What I can say is that part of the reason that am not an ex-theist is because I was not indoctrinated as a child. I think it’s a little unfair to call people who are indoctrinated as a child “deluded”. But an ex-theist who has gone through it could address the issue much better than I can.
Ruskin quoting neopolitan: Perhaps they could advise as to whether they are consumed by existential despair.
Ruskin replying: Well it's something God will ultimately know and attempt to reconcile with them, be that in this or the other side of eternity.
If your god exists, sure. But not all of us are assuming that to be true.
Ruskin quoting neopolitan: You assert that we have free will and a basis for morality. I see no evidence from you, yet again.
Ruskin replying: It says right here in the Bible look.
"The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps." Proverbs 16:9
This is the authority we're using here not some man made philosophy some guy made up who doesn't really know Jack.
"Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?" Isaiah 2:22
I’m going to assume that that is a joke.
Ruskin: But this aside how the fricken heck would you be able to prove something like this scientifically? If it's just one opinion against another then even the Bible is going to give my opinion an edge as I'm referring my opinion to something else.
If you can’t prove it, then don’t make assertions that it is true. It’s pretty simple. And no, your bible doesn’t give you an edge, because you’ve demonstrated that you are quite liberal with the interpretation in it.
Ruskin quoting neopolitan: my versions don't include magic sky fairies
Ruskin replying: <video of “brilliant kid” talking about Santa syndrome redacted>
Quoting out of context again. I see that you’ve come up with another great authority. And the kid doesn’t seem coached at all! (<- that was sarcasm, by the way)
Ruskin quoting neopolitan: I am suggesting that what you think free will is doesn't exist.
Ruskin replying: Nope it says we do right there in the Bible *nods in smug self satisfaction*
Another joke? I do note that “free will” is not mentioned in the bible at all. The word “freewill” is mentioned in the KJV 17 times, 16 of which is associated with “offerings”, mostly in Leviticus, so it’s talking about an absence of coercion. The 17th instance is in Ezra 7:13 “I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel, and of his priests and Levites, in my realm, which are minded of their own freewill to go up to Jerusalem, go with thee”. Again this is about an absence of coercion.
Ruskin quoting neopolitan: If it wasn't for you and your sort thinking that free will was something magic, I wouldn't have to delineate.
Ruskin replying: I suppose it would be magic if we're talking about the supernatural powers.
You say “supernatural”, I say “magic”, they are of a kind.
Ruskin quoting neopolitan: True, so there really isn't any free will after all. The choice is illusory.
Ruskin replying: Or so you say. What would make you change your mind?
A true selection to choose from, perhaps including something that is not a nut-based snack. (The example was yours – you know, that Kirkland nut range.)
Ruskin quoting neopolitan: Now all life in the universe is part of a deliberate plan - do you want this to mean that we humans are deliberately designed after all, rather than just growing into template?
Ruskin replying: It's the exact same difference if you mean humanoid life and there say billions of planets inhabited by people look something like us. In a universe this big you can't with a straight face say it was created for our one species specifically but it will still work if you broaden the classification of human to include people who technically on a genetic level wouldn't be.
Um, “the exact same difference”? Are you translating this from another language?
So is it a deliberate plan, or did your god plant the seeds (metaphorically) and then stand back to watch the outcome? You flip-flop a bit on this.
Ruskin quoting neopolitan: I do love the fact that even an old universe theist will return to Genesis and quote it as if it were authoritative.
Ruskin replying: The Bible is the authority right there, fully compatible with evolution and an old Earth. Yes you have to tweak it a bit but you can see that it still would work if applied to the universe as a whole if there are people like ourselves on other planets. That would seem more like a plan of immense design by a supreme being than some kind of coincidental accident by a non-intelligent natural force.
The one thing that you are consistent on is the cherry picking. Well done.
Tell you what. This might convince me. Say that the Vulcans arrive tomorrow, offering us membership of the Galactic Federation (based on our plans to visit Mars). They then introduce us to other parallel evolved humanoids (Ferengi, Klingon, Rakhari, for example) and every single one of them have a similar story about an avatar of a god visiting their planet of origin and dying to absolve them of their sins.
When that happens, I will be convinced.
Will you be convinced that your god does not exist when we meet these other humanoids and they are generally atheist or have wildly divergent mythologies?
Well, that's it. At some stage, I might develop some of the themes in this (and in other threads on that forum).