The Sugar-Coated Nightmare

chernobyl-the-destruction-of-the-nightI don’t usually agree with the philosophy I hear out of the atheist novelist Terry Pratchett.

I agree with this:

Rincewind stared, and knew that there were far worse things than Evil. All the demons in Hell would torture your very soul, but that was precisely because they valued souls very highly; evil would always try to steal the universe, but at least it considered the universe worth stealing. But the gray world behind those empty eyes would trample and destroy without even according its victims the dignity of hatred. It wouldn’t even notice them. (The Light Fantastic, p. 256)

On a Christian view, this is the core of all evil–nothingness, the tearing apart of reality, the end of things. And, given naturalism, this is exactly what all things will become, and what much of what we care about already is. The forces, not of evil in the fairy-tale sense, but of unthinking indifference will rip us apart, and rip apart everything we’ve ever known.

Not that I think most naturalists view life this way, and that is my point. Most prefer to avoid the topic of our ultimate fate, proposing instead that we focus on more short term thinking. I have to say that, like most philosophers, I find it hard to accept a position that answers fundamental questions with a kind of denial. It seems both more honest, and more courageous, to face them squarely.

Years ago, I found myself unable to turn away. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to name a piece of writing that reminds me so much of the last months before I became a Christian than the paragraph quoted here. At that time, even more than now, I would have been appalled at the pleasant glosses being put on naturalism. In fact, I was appalled when I was first accused of raising the subject disingenuously–as if the years I spent horrified by this prospect hadn’t actually happened.

But none of this is to say that naturalism isn’t true. It may well be that everything and everyone we’ve ever loved is being slowly destroyed by something that can’t understand the value of life and won’t remember us once we’re gone. But only a failure to face up to the reality of the situation, to stare into the darkness without blinking, could lead one to think that naturalism is anything but bleak.

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52 responses to “The Sugar-Coated Nightmare

  • indytony

    I would be interested in hearing more about how you define “naturalism” (perhaps I need to read more of your posts). The way you describe it here it sounds more like what I would call “nihilism”.

    • Debilis

      I define “naturalism” to mean the idea that only the physical exists.

      But yes, I am describing nihilism. The idea here is that naturalism logically entails nihilism.

  • myatheistlife

    What is it with you. Why are you dissing on nihilism? Who told you that there has to be more? Who told you that nothing-ness is bad? Who told you that life is meaningless without some end of game reward?

    We came from nothing-ness and to it we return. This is the cycle of life. Fear the unknown.. pray for salvation… from the very thing that gives you thought. Fear the dark, fear the unknown. The emptiness does not care more for you or I than for the rabbits and trees.

    Do not go gentle into that good night. Howl at the moon. Throw stones at the devil. Fear the unknown.

    Nothing good comes from the dark nor unknown. Fear it, it is bad, for you cannot have meaning in your life without someone telling you what it should be. Never stand on your own two feet and face the world as it comes because only the gods are permitted this freedom. Never take upon yourself the audacity to know we do not know and that we know it without the blessings of non-existent gods.

    Take comfort in the word of a man made god so that you can safely forget about the coming void. No need to worry once you’ve convinced yourself that you’ll either be eternal slave to a tyrant or eternally tortured for both of these options are much more useful than the void. Both of them give real meaning to this life: preparation for eternal servitude or eternal damnation. Yes, both of these are more comforting than the void.. at least they care enough to hate.

    • Debilis

      This strikes me as odd. Am I not allowed my opinion? Do I need justification for thinking that a bleak view is bad?

      Nor do I see how any of this equates to the fear of the unknown. The thing that bothers me is quite known.

      Adding to the pile of things that I don’t think are justified is the fact that this requires that I need someone to tell me what meaning exists in life. I said nothing about that. I said that, given naturalism life is ultimately meaningless. This has nothing to do with anyone telling me anything.

      I feel that “standing on your own two feet” would mean facing the reality I’ve laid out in the post. Simply attacking a caricature of theism isn’t the same as facing the consequences of naturalism.

      I’m trying to be charitable in my interpretation, but that is all I see here. I can’t find any defense of naturalism, nor a realistic treatment of theism. All I see is the shredding of a strawman.

      • myatheistlife

        “But yes, I am describing nihilism. The idea here is that naturalism logically entails nihilism.”

        “And, given naturalism, this is exactly what all things will become, and what much of what we care about already is. The forces, not of evil in the fairy-tale sense, but of unthinking indifference will rip us apart, and rip apart everything we’ve ever known.”

        “Most prefer to avoid the topic of our ultimate fate, proposing instead that we focus on more short term thinking.”

        Naturalism needs no defense more than it needs people to quit dissing on it without cause. You call it bleak, but can only do so in comparison to some other value. The value of bleak does not stand on its own and so there is unbleak or good. The fabric of space is bleak but is also neither good nor bad. It simply is. The end of life is neither good nor bad, it simply is. You describing it as bad, and the nihilist as bad is an attack on the unknown and dark which is undeserved.

        Of course you are entitled to your opinion, more than one if you like.

        “But only a failure to face up to the reality of the situation, to stare into the darkness without blinking, could lead one to think that naturalism is anything but bleak.”

        This was your opinion and I beg to differ with it. You describe naturalism as “without hope or encouragement; depressing; dreary” and accuse those who disagree of not facing the reality of the situation. That is an undeserved attack. If you choose to think that way of nihilism and naturalism or that is how you feel about it, no problem. That’s not how you stated it.

        Get it now?

    • Debilis

      “Naturalism needs no defense more than it needs people to quit dissing on it without cause.”

      Whether or not there is cause is exactly what is at issue. Thus, it needs a defense before one can rationally say this.

      Nor do I see any moral imperative to not “dis on” naturalism (with or without cause). If it is true, I’m free to decide for myself what I want to insult. If it is not true, then it deserves to be criticized.

      “The end of life is neither good nor bad, it simply is.”

      You need to support this.

      Most people take the end of life to be bad, and this fits right in line with my post. If the cost of naturalism is believing that there is nothing wrong with the death of all things, then they will conclude that there is something wrong with naturalism.

      Certainly, this strikes me as dismissive. The question of meaning is not one that is simply waved off by a simple declarative statement. It has been a core question in human thought for all history.

      I definitely do think that naturalism is bleak, and I explained why. But I did not accuse those who disagree of not facing reality. I claimed that those who disagree without any support other than suggesting that we ignore the question of avoiding reality. That is the definition of avoiding reality.

      If someone legitimately has a reason why we can have hope in the ultimate state of the universe, given naturalism, that person is free to share.

      But simply saying that we shouldn’t care about the question, or recognize that the end of all life is a bad thing, is not answering it.

      And, as I’ve already pointed out, none of this is to say that naturalism is untrue. I’m only “dissing on it” if you think there is something wrong with it being bleak. If naturalism isn’t about being comforting, or moral, or hopeful, then it is no insult at all to say that it is an horrific concept.

      This is only a problem for naturalism for those that believe that life should be good or hopeful.

      • myatheistlife

        There is no evidence that life is more than as naturalism suggests. Stephen Hawking recently wrote ‘.. there is no need for a god in the creation of the universe..’ because the natural laws are more than enough to explain why it is the way that it is. To assert that there is more than is known requires evidence beyond what has been offered. There is no need to defend naturalism. It is what you see when you look at the universe with open eyes and mind.

        You are indeed free to decide for yourself. You do not have the right to not be offended. I said I disagree with you but you keep harping that somehow I’m telling you what you can or cannot think. Then you carry on asking for more of the same by way of defense or explanation. Everything is up for criticism. You can spend your days criticizing how trees grow for all I care. It does them a disservice, but you can do as you like, within the law.

        Life has a cycle, for all living things we know of. The end of it is neither bad nor good, it simply is. To assign good value or bad value to it is to make a subjective decision about it. The process of death has no intrinsic value. Some will say the death of Osama Bin Laden was good, others not so much. Likewise for the death of many people. Christians call the death of Goliath good. I’m thinking his friends and family didn’t think so. Death itself has no intrinsic objective value. It just is. Claiming death as bad is to ignore the truth – we and all that we know will one day die. We do not need fortune tellers for this. Dying before you wish is sad, not bad. Being killed is tragic, but death is not bad. Even in your doctrine, life is not so precious that it is saved at all cost. The god of Abraham built a special place to torture life, to kill it for eternity.

        The question of meaning is not simply dismissed by me. The assertion that life has meaning is dismissed for lack of evidence for the assertion. While it has been a core question, that does not make it necessarily a useful question. Seeking answers does not guarantee the seeker the answer will be the one desired. “There is no meaning” is a valid answer and one that is supported by the dearth of evidence for meaning/purpose.

        I did not claim to avoid reality, or speak only of the near term. You claim that it requires looking unblinkingly into the dark and not finding it bleak is to not face reality. This is untrue. I also asked who told you that there is supposed to be hope or happiness or meaning or any of these things you find good. Who told you that these things must exist? Further who told you that without them life or living is pointless and without merrit?

        The horrific concept here is not that existence is without meaning, hope, purpose etc., but that there are so many who will tell you that it must have these things to be of value so they can sell you their brand of snake oil.

    • Debilis

      If you mean to say that there is no scientific evidence against naturalism, that is hardly amazing. Science assumes methodological naturalism.

      Of course, it may not be true even then, there are some discoveries of science that make it hard to believe that the physical universe is all there is.

      I apologize, though, if I made you think I felt put upon or ordered around. Really, I was simply wondering why it was you thought my position was incorrect. That is: is there any rational reason to reject the common sense view that the death of all humanity would be bleak?

      I agree, however, that we need to do more than ask questions. Really, I wanted support for the idea that “there is no meaning”. I’ve not seen a case made for that.

      I’d also like to know how you are defining the term “evidence”. I’ve noticed that it often gets abused in debates. Do you mean strictly scientific evidence (which would make it irrelevant to metaphysical topics like this one), or do you take a broader view (if so, what is it?)?

      But, I don’t yet see any evidence that it is false to say that naturalism is bleak. Whether or not it is objectively bad, it is clearly bleak. But, objectively, life is pointless given naturalism. You seem to affirm this yourself when you say “The end of life is neither good nor bad, it simply is. “.

      As I’ve pointed out before, none of this is to say that naturalism is not true. So, to answer your questions:

      “I also asked who told you that there is supposed to be hope or happiness or meaning or any of these things you find good. Who told you that these things must exist?”

      Nothing I’ve said here requires any particular answer to these. Here, I claimed that naturalism is bleak, not that it is false. Of course, I’ve also come to believe that it is false, but there are plenty of other posts on that topic (and more to come).

      But, given naturalism, I don’t see anything horrific about people trying to comfort others with their “snake oil”. I certainly don’t like it when people believe comforting lies, but others don’t seem to mind. Who is to say (sans objective morality) which of us is correct?

      But one thing is certain. To claim that a comforting lie is far more horrific than the absolute destruction of everything anyone ever cared about is a stretch, to say the least.

      • Alexander

        I won’t jump into the deep-end with this, but;

        “is there any rational reason to reject the common sense view that the death of all humanity would be bleak?”

        Plenty of reason to wish the demise of humans on this planet, with the massive unjustified destruction of the environment as one of the bigger reasons. From a natural biodiversity point of view, we humans are simply bad news.

        But that’s us as a specie. How about us as individuals? Well, there’s a ton of people I’m sure it wouldn’t be controversial to wish the demise of, from despots, rapists, killers, evil bastards, generals, dictators … the list is long both up and down the tree of history.

        I find the sanctimony of life that Christians hold to be another one of those peculiar things, as the Bible is rather embracing and supportive of murder, killings, rape and incest. In fact, we should turn the question around;

        Is there any rational reason to keep humanity alive?

        • Debilis

          No, I wouldn’t say it is off the deep end. I think it is a very thoughtful response.

          Without getting into the Christian view of life (trying to keep things short), the general view of philosophers tends to be that we trust our basic intuitions until we have a reason not to do so.

          Now, while you rightly point out that there may be reasons to believe that it would be better for some to be dead, I think it is uncontroversial that the destruction of literally everything except fundamental particles goes against our basic human desires.

          In fact, that is why we want to rid ourselves of mass murderers and despots. They destroy that which we are trying to preserve.

          But I wasn’t claiming (here) that there is an objective value to such things. I was merely saying that the loss of them is bleak. I think that should be uncontroversial.

        • Alexander

          ” the destruction of literally everything except fundamental particles goes against our basic human desires”

          I think it’s safe to say it goes against *your* desires, but I wouldn’t be so quick to assert the desires of all people in this world. I am myself questioning what I desire for the human race (with me and my family included), and in some moments I’m happy for humanity to just piss off; we’re clearly bad news for not only the planet, but for ourselves as a specie; we’re mean to eachother, we don’t care about the extended human family nor our common biological creatures, we don’t care to understand enough about our place in the cosmos to avoid problems of our ignorance and so on. I’m not 100% convinced that the human race should go on.

          Now, having said that, I enjoy living, and would like to see my family be happy and thrive, but it almost becomes a practical “dealing with life” situation rather than “what if” scenarios.

          “They destroy that which we are trying to preserve”

          Ah, but here you’re pointing to “meaning”; what are we trying to preserve?

          “But I wasn’t claiming (here) that there is an objective value to such things. I was merely saying that the loss of them is bleak. I think that should be uncontroversial.”

          I think that’s uncontroversial by virtue of people not thinking too much about the issue and going about with natural instinct which, indeed, proclaim that their death is to be avoided. There’s even a hint in your statement; for something to be bleak, you pass judgement onto this thing, a subjective value, yes? Your personal opinion is that the loss of humanity is ‘bleak’. But why?

        • Debilis

          I’d still maintain that the destruction of everything goes against the desires of each of us. Even if someone, personally, were disenchanted with humanity, it is hard to imagine that we should complain that we are bad for the planet, for instance, without feeling that it would be a bad thing for the planet to be destroyed.

          Mostly, I’d say that this isn’t a “what if” scenario. Given naturalism, it is what will happen.

          I agree that we can counter all this with the idea that life is meaningless. But, this only reinforces the point that naturalism entails nihilism.

          So, yes, I meant to say naturalism is bleak with reference to our instincts. And, if naturalism is true, our subjective values are the only place to look for value, meaning that I think the point valid:

          From the basic, human, instinctive perspective, naturalism is bleak.

          Yes, we can think about that long enough until it doesn’t bother us anymore. Yes, we can dismiss meaning as purely subjective (and the subjective as not worth bothering about). But none of this contradicts the essential point, which, to be fair, was aimed less at your position and more at the popular trend of declaring naturalism to be more optimistic or pleasant than theism.

        • Alexander

          “I’d still maintain that the destruction of everything goes against the desires of each of us. ”

          Oh, hang on, maybe we’re talking past each other. I don’t mean the destruction of everything, only everything associated with humans.

          If you meant everything, then my apologies. I can intellectually find reasons for destroying humanity by virtue of being part of it, but I can’t find the same reasons for destroying anything else, other living creatures or the planet or the cosmos.

        • Debilis

          That makes more sense.
          So, apologies for that! Yes, I was referring to the heat-death of the universe. I should have been much more clear.

          Either way, best to you.

  • David Yerle

    Well, I for one share your view that naturalism is pretty bleak. I’m still a naturalist, though. I just have the absurd faith that things will make some kind of sense at some stage. Maybe. Hopefully.

  • Larry Dickel

    And then Jesus came upon his disciples and said, “Brethren, what’s this I heareth about me being a human sacrifice for your sins? May I asketh, Who in the goddamned hell came up with that Neanderthal bullshit!!??

    What are we, living in the fucking Stone Age!!!???

    Blood sacrifice!!!!!!!!???? Brethren, you can taketh that pile of Cro-Magnon donkey shit and shove it straight up thy fucking asses!!!!!!!”——-Jesus H. Christ

    • Debilis

      I’m not sure what this has to do with my post.

      The fact that Christianity acknowledges that people sometimes sacrifice themselves for others (and some modern people don’t seem to understand the reasons for that) doesn’t have any bearing at all on my statements about naturalism.

  • Alexander

    I’ll also take a quick stab at naturalism and nihilism; one has to be very careful trying to equivocate the two. Naturalism is simply the rejection of a) the super-natural and b) dualism as a consequence of a), while nihilism is a whole host of models and ideas.

    Further, nihilism is more of a philosophical stance that puts humanity at the centre (calling upon the very notion of “meaning”), whilst naturalism is completely and utterly neutral on the matter. Naturalism is the observable world, while nihilism is *one* interpretation of what we see.

    And still, even then, as a naturalist I reject nihilism on strong grounds; nihilism (or, existential nihilism, which I think is what we all are talking about) is poorly defined in the human construct of “meaning”, which I think is, at best, poorly understood and even worse used in a context such as this discussion.

    Also, baring in mind both determinism and the result of biological naturalism (evolution, to be specific) it is false to think that “meaning” can’t be created as opposed to created for you. There are simply no good reasons to think “meaning” comes in two opposite flavours like that. It’s similar to the debate on morals between subjective and objective moral laws, for example, where theist handily overlook the fact that their god is a person and hence is also subjective. What they really mean is absolute (final) subjective moral laws, not simply objective ones.

    I think what you’re struggling with here is the concept that you *need* there to be meaning defined outside your own personal context, and a lot of people surely have battled with that one. Death is, as you say, mostly deemed negative and so we yearn for some damn good reason for this death thing, but I’d like to point out that that mostly applies to your own or loved ones or friends death. The further away from you a person is, the least you care about their death. I think this is a cruel property of humanity, but nevertheless true, for atheists and theists alike. So how far away from you does death become irrelevant? The chicken you ate yesterday? Some guy in Syria? A fly you swat? A mosquito buzzing in your ear?

    As a naturalist, I’ve got huge qualms swatting any life, even flies or mossies; by what right do I take life just because they annoy me? And then; the line of evolved creatures on this planet, all the way from bacteria to flies to beetles to rats to donkeys to apes to humans; it’s a massive threshold from things you don’t care about their death to things you really care about their death. Where do you draw the line? For what reasons? Biological reasons, or feelings attached, or distance, or knowledge, or …?

    I’m trying to connect the concept of death to our human experience of it, and how we feel about it. It might be that naturalism – where especially evolution – is defined through death (and, in fact, evolution by natural selection contains unimagined amounts of pain and suffering), and it does look like a most horrible construct – but it only looks like that if you think there is meaning behind it.

    Most likely there is no meaning – only laws of nature and chemical interactions – and in fact – and I’ve posited this before – the reason evolution is a good argument against a god hypothesis is not the origin of species or how it simply kills the idea of Adam and Even and the story of Noah (because genetic diversity have never been that narrow, plus, eh, evolution), but simply because of all the suffering and pain and death that comes through it; what horrible being would conjure up such a framework of suffering as opposed to anything that’s nice and easy if they were all-powerful?

    Again, naturalism does not need meaning (or us, in fact) to be true, but nihilism *needs* meaning as defined by us for it to be true. The distance between these two positions are so huge that calling them the same, or even saying one leads to the other, is misleading.

    • Debilis

      I’d agree with much of this.
      But nihilism, as I understand the term, doesn’t require meaning. It is the position that there is no meaning or objective morality. Whatever name we’re giving to that, I’d say that naturalism entails it.

      You do raise a number of very important (if one assumes meaning) ethical questions. I’ll have to get to them in future posts, as I don’t have time for them at the moment.

      I hope that doesn’t come across as dismissive. I definitely consider them significant questions.

      • Alexander

        Hi, no you don’t come across as dismissive; our conversations tend to get a bit long … I’m still cooking an answer to the “Personal feelings trumps…” post, but I’m tempted to do a shortie one. 🙂

        As to nihilism, my point is that if you are to come to any conclusion about the lack of meaning, you must already have a definition of “meaning.” The concept “nihilism” includes definitions of “meaning.” This is why nihilism requires philosophy; first we define “meaning”, then we say that X doesn’t have that.

        I can’t reject “fiddlefoo” as a concept, because I haven’t defined it, I don’t know what it is, it’s a made up word that I haven’t attached any model of thought to. But I can now; I define “fiddlefoo” to mean “the act of attaching meaning to something.” We’re currently fiddlefooing the word “Fiddlefoo!”

        Now we can use ‘fiddlefoo’ in conversation. And only now, after we’ve defined and talked about it and create a human construct around it, can we claim that “Nothing can truly be fiddlefooed!”

        I could also point out that nihilism is also an act and a framework of thought, which also makes it rather distinct from naturalism which has a far simpler model and no acts at all.

        • Debilis

          That does make more sense.
          But I would disagree. I don’t see any reason why we can’t have a definition of “meaning” under naturalism–unless one is going to go as far as the Verificationists and simply reject all of metaphysics.

          Of course, Verificationism has been universally rejected by logicians as self-contradictory. That being the case, I’d need a reason why we couldn’t give certain words a definition under naturalism.

          But I agree that naturalism is simple. I didn’t mean to imply that it is synonymous with nihilism, but simply that it logically entails nihilism. This would be true unless it could be shown that it would somehow be a contradiction for naturalists to define certain words.

          That is, I don’t think much of what I’ve said is part of the definition of naturalism, it is simply what follows logically if one starts there.

        • Alexander

          “I don’t see any reason why we can’t have a definition of “meaning” under naturalism”

          But, why? You don’t get to nihilism simply because naturalism hasn’t got “meaning” in it, and it certainly doesn’t become potent if you inject some “meaning” into it, either. Is this your call for “the only way for me to accept naturalism is if it’s got some meaning to it”? Look, the very concept “meaning” has more definitions than we can suss out in one setting. Psychological meaning? Linguistic meaning? Existentialist meaning? Reference or equivalence? Value theory and philosophy? Or, are you conflating “meaning” with “purpose”?

          I don’t agree at all that nihilism logically follows from naturalism. Meaning *is* defined in nihilism, whether you like it or not. Nihilism doesn’t reject something it doesn’t know about. It knows about something called “meaning” and say that the world hasn’t got it.

          We’re coming back to something I find overly important to point out; the concept of nihilism is that meaning is defined outside the human context. That’s it. Naturalism doesn’t even define it, doesn’t need to, never should. Meaning is a human construct. You’ve defined it through your faith, I’ve defined it through the human condition. But it’s a construct in your thoughts, in your mind, and you attach it to things, from rocks to gods.

          How to put this? Your faith is secondary to the concept of “meaning”; first and foremost is you, your brain and – in your belief system – your soul, and with these instruments you derive what “meaning” means. Second to that is the claims of your faith and what it means to all of us. These are things we can present as facts, as things I think we both can agree to.

          Next, let’s agree on what “meaning” means in the context of this discussion. Most people say “purpose”, for example, while Kierkegaard and Sartre would talk about the worth of life (still distinct from “the meaning of life”) for the individual, and yet others wax lyrical about ontological mapping, linguistic mapping, semantic mapping … heck, even Aquinas don’t say “purpose” but talk about something between semiotics and ontology.

          I should point out that since we’re talking about nihilism and philosophical existentialism, Sartre’s famous “Existence precedes essence” should be our guide, which is what I base my explanations over on, btw; first there is the person, then there is his life and experiences, and he applies his meaning to that outside world [which, for purists, also includes newly formed memories and thoughts].

          So, again; why does naturalism need – or you want it to have – meaning? Because in the context of nihilism I fond the statement incoherent.

    • Debilis

      I completely agree with you that meaning is defined in nihilism, and that it must have a definition before one can coherently discuss nihilism.

      But I can’t think of any definition of the word “meaning” that wouldn’t be threatened by naturalism (I’m getting there with my posts on Rosenberg).

      I should mention that I disagree with the idea that nihilism means the conscious rejection of meaning. One can fail to have any definition of this word and still be nihilistic. The only difference would be that one couldn’t know that one is a nihilist.

      And this was a major part of my criticism of many of the naturalists I’ve met. Their philosophy entails nihilism, but they simply haven’t defined their terms clearly enough to notice this fact.

      But, as much as I can understand why someone might think that naturalism is true, I don’t see why one would think it can escape this criticism simply by failing to define the term “meaning”. Similar methods would definitely not support Christianity (for instance, arguing that the objection that miracles are impossible doesn’t work because Christianity doesn’t define “impossible” outside of a theological context). Words have meaning whether or not a particular philosophical system chooses to acknowledge them.

      So, is there any reason to have hope for the ultimate future? Naturalism says there is not, and that is bleak. A lack of a specifically naturalistic definition of “meaning” would not change this.

      And none of this requires any consideration at all from a religious perspective. This was my position when I was a naturalist.

      But, for purposes of the discussion, I have no quarrel with using Sartre as a guide (though I don’t personally take that view). Let us assume that first people exist, and then we apply meaning to the outside world. From that perspective, the heat death of the universe is very disheartening to any basic human goal.

      Sartre himself famously said “Atheism is a cruel, long-term business”.

      That is to say, given that there is nothing outside of nature that could potentially preserve some of the things we care about from the heat death of the universe, the distant future looks bleak.

      None of this requires some concept of meaning that is external to humanity.

      • Alexander

        “I disagree with the idea that nihilism means the conscious rejection of meaning”

        I think this is code for “meaning defined by a god”. As I was explaining earlier, in order for you to make such a statement you need to start with the perception of the mind; you. Existentialism needs you. We *cannot* talk about existentialism outside of the person you are yourself. That’s implicit in its definition; your existence. From there we can move on to define what your existence mean.

        Even within the Christian world-view it must be so; you exist for your gods big plan, not the other way around, yes? In your view, you were conceived and born according to some bigger plan. However, you, as your own person, cannot comprehend any meaning in terms of existentialism until you understand many of the concepts we’re here talking about. Before then, you’re just “part of a plan” as opposed to “my life has meaning to something outside of my personal context [family, friends, community]”. First comes what we know, then comes all that stuff we don’t know (but think we know, or hope we know, or feel we know).

        And here comes naturalism. It points to nature, saying; here it is, and this is how it works, all that stuff we see and know. But it says nothing of meaning. Meaning is what you make of it, or your context make out of it, including your Christian culture and belief system. If you want a super-natural explanation for why naturalism is even there, that’s your prerogative, your choice, your belief. “Meaning” is neither defined in naturalism, nor should you feel it a threat to any other meaning you so wish to impose on it.

        Are you sure your beef with naturalism is not jaded by what you’ve been told its about? I’d say that naturalism surely puts certain challenges to a literal bible interpretation (evolution, Adam&Eve, Noah, scientific wrongs, contradictions, etc.) and that a lot of “naturalism is bad!” comes from that threat of nature being *enough* to explain a lot of things the bible has taken credit for. But the history of the Church and of Christians have shown that the fall of geocentricism didn’t destroy their faith as proclaimed.

        Anyway, I think the main beef is this;

        “the heat death of the universe is very disheartening to any basic human goal”

        No, it is disheartening to you. It might be disheartening to others as well, but I think it’s *mostly* disheartening to people who have other goals.

        I don’t worry too much about the end of my own existence; we’re privileged beings being able to even contemplate and having this discussion, and perhaps there’s a part of me that would like this to go on for a longer time, but I feel it’s verging on egoistical megalomania to think that the collection of atoms that make up me are more important than any other similar collection of atoms. I’m happy for the time allotted to this collection of atoms to give it a sense of self and intelligence to comprehend the stupendous universe it lives in. Knowing what I do know about evolution and the limits it places on the creatures that crawls out of it, I’m happy with this right here. I’m in fact over delighted to be able to type this on a computer with some guy on the other side of the world. It fills me with great joy to be alive.

        But I don’t know of or see any further plan or goal or purpose, but most importantly; I don’t need one. I’ve created meaning for myself (mostly defined through evolution and knowledge) that sits on top of naturalism. People who *need* further purpose, now, I understand why they think that way and how scary this nothingingness must look like, however that fear does not equate that it can’t be true.

        Put differently; if your bible didn’t promise you that things would go on forever, and if you didn’t live in a culture that continuously talks about forever and ever, would you be still be afraid of the finite, or even question its validity?

    • Debilis

      Greetings once again!

      From an existentialist perspective, the only way of getting around the idea that the distant future is bleak is to point out that one will be dead by then. That is exactly the option I discussed in the opening post. It does not deny that the future is bleak from a human perspective, but merely argues that, by the time that future arrives, there will be no humans there to consider it bleak.

      This would leave us with the counterintuitive conclusion that the future is bleak now, but will simply be meaningless once it actually arrives.

      Personally, I don’t find that a comforting thought, whether or not one can argue in court that, technically, it can’t be shown to be bleak. And it definitely offers no comfort for the idea that the prospect of one’s death is horrific.

      But I think you misunderstand the Christian view. “Part of a plan” in Christianity is synonymous with “my life has meaning outside of my personal concept”. That is precisely what talk of “God’s plan” has always meant in Christian circles.

      But naturalism doesn’t say “meaning is what you make of it”. It isn’t laisse faire about meaning. It stipulates that there is no supernatural meaning (in that it rejects the supernatural), and that there is no teleology in nature. These are two concepts of meaning that naturalism specifically rejects.

      And yes, I am sure that I’m not getting my information about naturalism from the Biblical literalists. I am not a literalist myself, nor do I put any stock in their position. I’m referring to naturalism in this sense.

      Yes, the heat death of the universe is mostly disheartening. I did not mean that it was utterly incapacitating, simply that it is a bleak view of the future if one insists that there is nothing else but nature.

      But you suggest that we turn our attention to other things, which is exactly the reaction I claimed naturalists give in my original post. I don’t, therefore, see how my comment was off-base. Naturalism offers one no other way of addressing this issue but to ignore it.

      There’s no way to answer “what if” questions decisively, but I was concerned with the ultimate state of the universe long before I became a Christian–and I don’t recall anyone “continuously talking about forever” around me. I don’t think there is any reason to believe that I wouldn’t be bothered by it.

      And, as I pointed out in my posts, none of this was to say that naturalism is untrue (I’ve argued that elsewhere). It was simply to say that its view of our ultimate destination is bleak. Naturalists can turn their attention to other things, to be sure, but this makes them (personally) positive people. It doesn’t make the philosophical position of naturalism any more positive.

      • Alexander

        Oh, I was so wanting to respond in full to this, however I can’t for the life of me get past that little thing we’ve been talking about all along, namely;

        “It [naturalism] stipulates that there is no supernatural meaning (in that it rejects the supernatural), and that there is no teleology in nature.”

        Again, no it doesn’t. Go back through the link you provided, and there is no such thing in naturalism. It doesn’t reject any meaning. In fact, it doesn’t even reject the supernatural; it simply doesn’t talk about it, because we haven’t found it, we can’t prod it, and naturalism doesn’t talk of it. In naturalism, the supernatural and the teleological doesn’t exists.

        This is not the same as nihilism defining something it rejects. This is something not mentioning some other thing at all, and the “rejection” part happens in your own mind.

        Look hard; naturalism doesn’t define meaning. At all. Never has. Never will. What you *might* find is people being humans and deriving all sorts of meaning *from* it. Even Popper does that. Heck, you and I both do that. But naturalism don’t care what we think.

        Look up trusted sources on “naturalism”, and you’ll find the word “meaning” almost never appear, and if it does, it is the meaning that some people derive from naturalism itself.

        Again, naturalism doesn’t define any meaning.

        So, with that in mind, and if you concede to it, I’d love to respond to your post with this “meaning” business revised, either you correct it, make a new response, or allow me to respond pretending it didn’t say it. Otherwise … well, we’re going about this discussion on very wrong grounds. 🙂

    • Debilis

      Yes, I agree that there are legitimate definitions of naturalism that do not stipulate the lack of anything other than the physical, but merely set such things aside. I will incorporate that into the definition for the purposes of this response.

      I don’t know that this is terribly significant, however, so long as we are discussing naturalism as an approach to life. That is, naturalism instructs us to think and act as if the supernatural does not exist–whether or not it actually stipulates this.

      However, I would reject the idea that we “haven’t found” or “can’t prod” areas other than the natural. Obviously, that is another topic, but I don’t think that position is nearly as well supported as most naturalists claim.

      In many ways, I completely agree that ignoring or not defining a thing is different from defining and rejecting that thing. However, if the former is being embraces as a whole life philosophy (as opposed to a methodological stipulation for a particular activity–such as science), then it is taking the position that such things should be ignored. And that position would need to be defended.

      So, if naturalism isn’t defining meaning, then it needs to defend itself from the accusation of incompleteness as a life-approach. It needs to give us a reason why meaning does not need to be defined (presumably because the concept either doesn’t exist or, if it does, has no bearing on life). I’ve not yet heard an argument from naturalists that could shoulder that burden. Perhaps there is such a thing, but the (current) point is that it does not escape that burden simply by refusing to define the key term on this point.

      In fact, a naturalist, by this definition, would not argue with the claim that naturalism is meaningless and bleak because she would not understand the claim being made. It cannot be either true or false for her, but simply incomprehensible, and pertains only to those who do define these terms.

      I hope that addressed naturalism by a definition you find more agreeable.
      But, either way, best to you out there. I’ll (hopefully) get to your other comments soon.

      • Alexander

        “we are discussing naturalism as an approach to life”

        No, we’re talking about naturalism as one part of a larger life. Naturalism has implications only for people who take it seriously. Naturalism has consequences for me by choice, not by virtue; there’s evidence to back up the naturalistic model, but feel free to reject the evidence for it.

        We’re discussing – truly – a) the rejection of evidence, and b) the limits of naturalism. If you’re fine with the evidence for naturalism, but don’t like the limits, or even the constraints within and need something on top (like the super-natural), that is your choice. But naturalism, as a defined entity, says nothing which is outside its scope.

        We’re discussing the scope of naturalism. And trust me, there’s many people who think that meaning and implications are sort of part of the naturalist package. It’s not; all of that is humans making personal choices based on what naturalism is, and what evidence we have for it being true.

        “naturalism instructs us to think and act as if the supernatural does not exist–whether or not it actually stipulates this”

        It most certainly does not instruct us to do anything. No instructions, no orders, no implications, no directions, no exclusions, no stipulations.

        I’m really not sure where you’re getting this from, but naturalism defines something that is testable and observable. Outside of that you – as a human being – can define what that means and how that will inflict on your life, but naturalism itself simply does not hold these things you think it does.

        “a naturalist, by this definition, would not argue with the claim that naturalism is meaningless and bleak”

        I feel we’re running around in circles. Again I must point out that you’re simply wrong on this. I, as a naturalist, do indeed argue against that claim as I don’t find naturalism meaningless nor bleak, unless you mean that naturalism as an entity don’t find itself meaningless or bleak, which would be absurd and a heavily anthropomorphised view of what it is. Naturalism is defined by humans, and there is no other entity that can make some meaning out of it.

        Anyway, I get the distinct impression that this is something you’re not going to change your mind about, no matter what? You’re making biased category errors through your extra-homo sapien definition of the universe in your definition of “naturalism.” You simply can’t have the religious mindset when you define it, only in how you define the context of it.

        Does that makes sense to you? Naturalism is only meaningful to humans. As soon as you proclaim it to have human properties (like the notion of “meaning”) you’re overstepping into human and/or religious definitions, and immediately there’s more than simply naturalism that you use. We humans make it what it means. In itself it’s just a definition of scope. It has no meaning. Until you work out what it means to you.

        Naturalism isn’t bleak. *You* think it is bleak. *I* don’t. Naturalism isn’t meaningless. *You* think it is meaningless. *I* don’t. Naturalism doesn’t instruct anything. *You* infer instructions. Naturalism doesn’t exclude the super-natural. *You* don’t find it in it.

    • Debilis

      “we are discussing naturalism as an approach to life”
      “No, we’re talking about naturalism as one part of a larger life.”

      That being the case, one is not a metaphysical naturalist. I completely agree that anyone who accepts more than what naturalism allows will not fall into the traps mentioned here. It is only the person who does not accept any more than the physical in any part of life to whom I refer.

      “there’s evidence to back up the naturalistic model, but feel free to reject the evidence for it.”
      I honestly have no idea what that evidence would be. When I have asked for it in the past, I’ve only received evidence that the natural world exists. But that is not the contention, what is the evidence that nothing other than the natural exists?

      “We’re discussing the scope of naturalism. And trust me, there’s many people who think that meaning and implications are sort of part of the naturalist package.”
      I agree, which is why I began with that. As you insist otherwise, I’m willing to work with your definition for purposes of this discussion.

      “naturalism instructs us to think and act as if the supernatural does not exist–whether or not it actually stipulates this”
      “It most certainly does not instruct us to do anything. No instructions, no orders, no implications, no directions, no exclusions, no stipulations.”
      Please try to read this one more charitably. I agree that naturalism doesn’t literally come with orders. Rather, naturalism is the position that the non-natural either does not exist or has no influence on us. That being the case, the logical consequence of believing naturalism is true would be to behave as if the supernatural does not exist.

      “a naturalist, by this definition, would not argue with the claim that naturalism is meaningless and bleak”
      “I feel we’re running around in circles. Again I must point out that you’re simply wrong on this. I, as a naturalist, do indeed argue against that claim as I don’t find naturalism meaningless nor bleak”
      I never claimed that you did. I have never claimed anything at all about what you (or any naturalist) considers naturalism to be. Rather, I claimed that the naturalist cannot claim that naturalism is not meaningless or bleak (completely apart from how one, personally, finds it.

      And this was based directly on your insistence that naturalism does not define these worlds. You claimed that these words would not apply to naturalism on the grounds that they were not defined within naturalism. My response was to point out that this would not make my claim false from within that system, but incomprehensible.

      I’m going to cut out the accusations of bias. I don’t think we know enough about one another’s personal lives to intelligently discuss those points.

      “We humans make it what it means. In itself it’s just a definition of scope.”
      Yes, and it’s scope does not reach into meaning.
      Thus, unless one is willing to supplement a vision of the natural with something else, there is no meaning.

      This is what I have been claiming from the beginning. I apologize if that has not been clear.

      “It has no meaning. Until you work out what it means to you.”
      This presumes naturalism.

      “Naturalism isn’t bleak. *You* think it is bleak. *I* don’t.”
      Assuming there is an objective standard of “bleak”, one of is correct, and the other wrong (and naturalism would be wrong in that case).
      Assuming there is no such standard, then the statement “naturalism isn’t bleak” isn’t universally true. My thinking it is would not be any less true than your thinking it is not. To state that it isn’t bleak is as opposed to your position as any statement that it is.

      But, on what basis are you arguing that all that exists is personal opinion on this matter? To insist that this is the case would be to presume naturalism.

      • Alexander

        Much here to agree with. I’ll only comment on the little bits I have to pick nits with;

        “Please try to read this one more charitably. I agree that naturalism doesn’t literally come with orders. ”

        I agree, I should be a little more flexible, and I know you didn’t think it came with instructions. I guess I’m just a little persistent in pointing out that any meaning or guiding or controlling factors that comes from it (see, I did it now, too) is a human interpretation of the facts. Naturalism don’t need nor have interpretations in order to be complete. Anything sprinkled on top is human bias and interpretation, and I feel that this is such an important point to make that I guess I was carried away by anal-retentive winds.

        “Assuming there is an objective standard of “bleak””

        I obviously don’t think there is; everything is subjective.

        “My thinking it is would not be any less true than your thinking it is not”

        But that depends on the statement being a generic “this is a fact” or a “this is my opinion”. Your blog post has a lot of “this is a fact” statements about it, and this is what I reacted to. You presented certain things as universals, like naturalism is a bleak prospect. I pointed out that as a universal, that ain’t so, and can’t possibly be so.

        So, perhaps that is the crux of this part of the argument. You’re making big brush statements, which I feel you should make clear are subjective to not only you, but a host of contexts.

        “But, on what basis are you arguing that all that exists is personal opinion on this matter? To insist that this is the case would be to presume naturalism.”

        Naturalism is the one thing we can agree upon, yes? I claim it’s the only thing there is, and you claim there is more on top, but at least there is naturalism (ie. the natural world and natural laws) as a basic, foundational platform for agreement. And I think we’re in agreement that science is doing a great job of finding out how it looks and works.

        I’m basing the argument on what we – as a humanity – know about this world. We can agree upon what we see, and make a stack of claims and consequences from it, like that if you fall off a big mountain you’ll get hurt, and if you go under water you’ll likely drown if you don’t get out quick, and so forth. We know why these things happen (gravity, biology, chemistry, and so on), and we can make pretty dang accurate predictions based on that knowledge. So far so good.

        Enter words like “bleak” and “meaningless”, and you immediately are in the domain of personal opinion. You tried to make a case that nihilism logically follows from naturalism, but that simply can’t be true; you can’t have personal opinion as a universal, logically following something else. It’s personal opinion. Or, at best, when there’s a framework that defines universals you can’t say that something that doesn’t contain those universals are derived from the same. There’s some big logical chains being broken here, hidden under this personal vs. universal dichotomy. You claim that it is a failure of reason to “face up to reality” of the heat-death of the universe making it “bleak”, but why would it be so? You somewhere along the way need to define the meaning of why heat-death of the universe is good or bad. Naturalism doesn’t contain it, but nihilism does. Logically, naturalism doesn’t lead to nihilism, but nihilism can perhaps be said to logically lead to the future being “bleak” and “meaningless”.

        Does that make sense?

    • Debilis

      I’ll agree to your points that naturalism doesn’t contain purposes or orders. I also agree that it is “complete” in the sense that it is not about these things, and therefore does not need them.

      My disagreement would be with any implication (not to say that you’re making it) that naturalism is complete in the sense that it could be a complete approach to life. It is with the idea that we don’t need to “sprinkle on” other ideas that I was arguing, actually.

      I’ll agree that the tone of my original post is clearly written from a non-naturalist perspective. And it is worth mention that naturalism, in itself, does not have a way of speaking about these things.

      I’m not sure, however, that this is inherently wrong of me to do. We seem to agree that humans sprinkle extra things onto naturalism, meaning that no one is just a pure naturalist–with no concept of meaning or bleakness.

      That being the case, one could summarize my original statements by saying “I don’t think there is any logical justification for naturalists to sprinkle on the things they typically do”. Rather, it seems that what is added is simply a set of emotional impressions which are not intellectually defensible.

      “Naturalism is the one thing we can agree upon, yes?”
      I would say “no”. The statement to which I was reacting presumed that there was nothing other than the physical. That is, it presumed my position is false. And this is naturalism: the belief that there is nothing other than the natural.
      If it were simply the belief that the natural universe is real, then I agree that my criticisms would not apply.

      “And I think we’re in agreement that science is doing a great job of finding out how it looks and works.”
      Yes, we agree on this.

      “Enter words like “bleak” and “meaningless”, and you immediately are in the domain of personal opinion.”
      This presumes my position is false. It assumes that there is no objective standard for these words.
      This may be the case, given that only the physical exists, but I do not accept that, and would want to see some support for it.

      “You somewhere along the way need to define the meaning of why heat-death of the universe is good or bad.”
      I agree, and it is bad assuming my vision of objective meaning. It is also bad under nearly every “sprinkling” that even naturalists add on top of their naturalism. I don’t think it is all that odd, then, for me to call it bleak.

      That being the case:

      “Logically, naturalism doesn’t lead to nihilism”
      It does so long as “meaning” is defined. This is true whether or not there is an objective standard out there (whether or not my position is correct). So long as the person doing the evaluating has a concept of meaning, she can determine whether naturalism includes that in what it allows within reality.

      I think it is fair to say that, by any reasonable understanding of the term “meaning”, the answer would be “no”.

      Okay, one more down. I’ll get to the others later today.
      Best to you until then.

      • Alexander

        Just one nit;

        “And this is naturalism: the belief that there is nothing other than the natural”

        No, no, no, no, no. It is not a belief. It doesn’t dictate anything, especially that there isn’t more “out there.” That’s the point I’m trying to make; naturalism defines what we see, what is observable, and what we know in an epistemic way of empiricism. It says; here is some stuff, and here is how that stuff works. If naturalism hasn’t defined it, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, it just means we haven’t got any evidence for it or not sufficient for consensus, and hence we don’t’ define it in naturalism.

        On *top* of naturalism you can now put whatever you want, from the plausible to the crazy. Naturalism won’t mind; go right ahead. Don’t think that naturalism is a showstopper for further exploration of whatever notion you’ve got.

        I guess one thing we’re bumping against is what *is* defined within naturalism which a religious explanation grates against, so for example the notion of a physical Adam/Eve couple about 6000 years ago as the source for all humanity grates up against empirical evidence quite a lot, and I can understand that people will look at naturalism hence not as a platform for agreement. However, that’s when people reject science over their dogma, which I don’t think you would be prepared to do. Or, maybe you would? I guess it depends on just what those notions are.

    • Debilis

      Greetings once again!

      “It is not a belief. It doesn’t dictate anything, especially that there isn’t more ‘out there.'”
      I’m definitely not one to argue definitions. I’ll only say that that position (whatever we call it) is the one I consider bleak. If you are referring simply to methodological naturalism (such as is used in science), I’ll completely agree with you on this point. I’ll even agree that it is not bleak.

      My target on this topic was never naturalism as you’ve described it, but the idea that there is nothing that affects our reality save the physical.

      I hope that is more clear, and apologize for not noting that sooner.

      However, I do disagree with this:
      it just means we haven’t got any evidence for it or not sufficient for consensus
      Actually, I agree insofar as we insist that evidence be empirical, but since “it” refers to the non-empirical, that would be unreasonable (and seems arbitrary, in any case).
      Rather, for your explanation of naturalism, I’d just drop this line and stick with “naturalism doesn’t investigate into whether or not there is more out there”. That seems perfectly agreeable.

      “On *top* of naturalism you can now put whatever you want, from the plausible to the crazy.”
      Under definitions as we are now using them, my claim is essentially twofold:
      1. If we claim that we put meaning in a purely subjective human sense, and make many life decisions based on these subjective impressions, we are agreeing that we need not have evidence or support for all claims in order to believe in them.
      2. If we put nothing at all “on top of naturalism”, then our view becomes bleak.

      But, just to answer your question: no, I do not believe that the earth is 6,000 years old–I’m not a literalist. I’m more a fan of Francis Collins and his “Biologos” movement.

      • Alexander

        “My target on this topic was never naturalism as you’ve described it, but the idea that there is nothing that affects our reality save the physical.”

        So, when you say “naturalism” you are talking about it not through what it defines / outlines, but you are talking about the reality if that is the only thing that there is in its *current* definition and state? In other words, you’re not talking about naturalism, you are talking about the meaning if the current natural model is true, and is the only one that there is?

        ““naturalism doesn’t investigate into whether or not there is more out there”. That seems perfectly agreeable.”

        Hehe, you *knew* I couldn’t agree with that either, didn’t you? “) First, naturalism doesn’t investigate anything, science does; naturalism is pretty much what science discovers. Second, what goes into the box called “naturalism” is constantly changed by what science discovers. I think I’ve talked about this before, and it’s an important point to make, because it points to how strange it is to say that we can’t find that super-natural thing because it’s outside of the natural. I need to clarify this a bit better (because it’s also a big part of your latest comment in https://fidedubitandum.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/the-mindless-defender-of-reason/#comment-508);

        Nature is what we find around us, and we find it to be true. If we discover and can reproduce and explain telepathy, it automatically enters the domain of the natural world. If magic spells are discovered and explained, they, too, become part of the natural world. If your god is found to be true, and its existence is the only plausible answer for a host of unknowns or problems, then it, too, becomes part of the natural world.

        In fact, religious people are kinda doing themselves a disfavor by insisting that a) their god is super-natural (as it’s a way of saying it doesn’t exist), and b) science can’t prod it (for obvious reasons of claims of natural interference by this super-natural force). Saying that something is part of the natural world is another way of saying that the thing is real, that we can agree to some way of knowing of its existence. (It wasn’t *that* long ago that we thought what we today call “air” was “nothing”; that “nothing” turned out to be something, and perhaps one of the most important somethings we depended on)

        If I was an apologist, I would start claiming my god (or power) to be a natural phenomena that simply hasn’t been discovered yet. At least then you’re being honest about your belief, instead of shadowing the mysterious part of your belief in some vague natural/super-natural dichotomy that doesn’t actually exist. Even the definition of super-natural is bunk; no one knows what that’s supposed to be, so insisting on it gives rise to more problems than I think it solves, philosophical as well as empirical.

        “If we put nothing at all “on top of naturalism”, then our view becomes bleak.”

        No, then *your* view becomes bleak. We *must* get this right. 🙂 “Bleakness” is your opinion, not something that anything objectively can be.

        “I’m not a literalist”

        I kinda knew that, but it’s hard sometimes to know just where the religious person will draw the line and say “No way, *that* would be crazy!” about their belief system. “No, burning bush! Yes, resurrection! Yes, Noah! No, Adam and Eve! Yes, Jesus in hell after death! No, Jesus killing 2000 (!!) pigs!” There are so many denominations and personal versions of what “the truth” is, it’s easy to get things mixed up.

        However, my point has a serious note to it, and I think it’s at the core of why we’re dancing around trying to define naturalism and decide whether it is bleak or not; some time naturalism (as defined as what science discover) will have stuff in it that will go counter to some aspects of the religious story, and surely this must be on your mind a lot? Surely there’s a process of reconciliation between your faith, your tradition and new discoveries?

    • Debilis

      In other words, you’re not talking about naturalism, you are talking about the meaning if the current natural model is true, and is the only one that there is?
      Yes, exactly.

      Hehe, you *knew* I couldn’t agree with that either, didn’t you? “)
      I didn’t, actually. Just wishful thinking, I suppose. Apologies.

      First, naturalism doesn’t investigate anything, science does; naturalism is pretty much what science discovers.
      Fair enough.

      Second, what goes into the box called “naturalism” is constantly changed by what science discovers.
      But since methodological naturalism determines what science is allowed to investigate and propose, there are clearly defined limits to how much change can occur.

      If we discover and can reproduce and explain telepathy, it automatically enters the domain of the natural world. If magic spells are discovered and explained, they, too, become part of the natural world.
      Telepathy and magic are already within the investigative range of science. That is, they are already “natural” in the sense that they are (proposed) physical events.

      God is not such an object. He is metaphysical, more like a platonic form than telepathy.

      Saying that something is part of the natural world is another way of saying that the thing is real
      This is what we mentioned earlier as the insistence that nothing be added on to naturalism. I see no justification for that.

      Science has carefully defined limits on what it studies. On what grounds would you assert that nothing exists outside those limits?

      If I was an apologist, I would start claiming my god (or power) to be a natural phenomena that simply hasn’t been discovered yet.
      That is essentially what the young-Earth creationists do claim. I find their presumptions to that end far off-base. No good reason has ever been given to assume that science has no limits to what it can study (which is what I think is the core of our disagreement here). It clearly does.

      “If we put nothing at all “on top of naturalism”, then our view becomes bleak.”
      No, then *your* view becomes bleak. We *must* get this right. “Bleakness” is your opinion, not something that anything objectively can be.

      “Bleakness is your opinion” presumes your opinion is true. I’ve not seen any reason to believe that the idea that these are simply opinions is automatically true.

      But, yes, assuming that we put nothing on top of naturalism, then the current view is that everything either one of us care about is going to be destroyed. If you don’t personally want to call that bleak, I’d be interested in what emotion you’d (personally) attach to it.

      I kinda knew that, but it’s hard sometimes to know just where the religious person will draw the line
      I can understand your position here. And, I must admit, mine is as complicated as any. The Bible is a collection of very different books from very different genres.

      But, I don’t think much of this should come up in this discussion. I’ll try to be clear as things are mentioned, and am otherwise grateful for the patience.

      some time naturalism (as defined as what science discover) will have stuff in it that will go counter to some aspects of the religious story, and surely this must be on your mind a lot? Surely there’s a process of reconciliation between your faith, your tradition and new discoveries?
      Indeed. It has gotten increasingly nuanced over the years, but a very rough version of it is this:
      1. There is more to reality than what science attempts to discover.
      2. The Bible requires a less literal reading than fundamentalists presume.
      3. Very few discoveries of science show even the slightest conflict. More often, it is metaphysical claims passed off as science–or claims about what science will one day discover–that are the source of conflict.

      I hope that was clear, but let me know if it didn’t answer your question.

      • Alexander

        Hi again,

        “But since methodological naturalism determines what science is allowed to investigate and propose”

        No, again it must be pointed out that methodological naturalism is a set of tools, not constraints on scientific exploration. It has been pointed out again and again that anything can be explored, and that all sorts of evidence can be brought forward. There are no real limits to what can be done here, there are only formal limits if you wish to ask the question about what constitutes *good* evidence for something. This is where the answer “empiricism” comes from; a consensus that empiricism is good evidence, and that all other evidence is, well, not so good. It doesn’t then mean that evidence is not useful, but, yeah, it’s not as good as empiric evidence.

        So perhaps this is the butt against which we battle; when I say “evidence” and “science” in the same sentence and mention “empiricism” as a sprinkle on top, I’m asking for good evidence, good evidence that has the power to convince me of otherwise and evidence that’s capable of creating consensus when lots of smart people scrutinize it.

        Any evidence is not good enough for me. I would never build my life’s philosophy and meaning based on poor evidence.

        “Telepathy and magic are already within the investigative range of science. That is, they are already “natural” in the sense that they are (proposed) physical events.”

        If there is no evidence for said physical events, I think the word we use is “non-existent” rather than “physical.” 🙂

        ““Bleakness is your opinion” presumes your opinion is true. I’ve not seen any reason to believe that the idea that these are simply opinions is automatically true.”

        I don’t think I’m understanding you here. Are you saying that the statement “the subjective X is your opinion” is somehow false? Are you saying that “bleakness” don’t carry any value judgement? Or that value judgements aren’t subjective?

        “If you don’t personally want to call that bleak, I’d be interested in what emotion you’d (personally) attach to it.”

        1. We’re talking here about the heat-death of the universe, not my pet dog or something any human being can even remotely have a conceptual understanding of at this time. We won’t be there, it has no reflection on the life we will live, it has no bearing even on the future state of how we define “being human”, nor is it well defined how this heat-death implicates the physical world that we currently are trying to grasp. The distance between “now” and “then” is so great, both in terms of time and meaning, that I find it hard to believe anyone can even begin to understand what it means.

        2. What does “bleak” even mean? Do you mean “wind-swept” and devoid of features? “Hopeless”? Grim? Some of the definitions of bleak has a very strong correlation with meaning defined through current semantic constructs that are not going to be around for long, nor are they consistent throughout current history. But for the sake of argument, let’s choose “grim”, that there’s some negative outlook involved. Again, back to where we started, “grim” for me, grim for my family, grim for my future children’s children? Grim for future generations a thousand times removed? A million times? Those people so removed from me are fantasies at best, and it’s very hard to feel emotional about things so far removed. But let’s be charitable, and choose a kind of ideological grimness I think you’re referring to, where “the future of the universe” is somehow interlocked with my current emotions and projections, whereas I’d say that you are projecting a sense of “now” onto the death of the universe in the “future.” It *isn’t* grim as much as it perhaps is going to be, unless you are choosing a platform of grimness that I’m simply unfamiliar with, one in which whatever living specie will be there in the future are going to experience the demise of the universe. But that will never happen, that’s not the way the universe will die. It will be a slow extinction process until the universe reaches the ultimate equilibrium in which nothing actually can exist.

        I think you’re seeing the grimness of that ending with the eyes of losing some value you’ve got here and now. You’re measuring that loss in something here, something in your life, something you understand, or, perhaps more apt, in something you believe. So, your own belief, in which the heat-death doesn’t actually mean anything (because heaven isn’t in the universe) is measured against a belief platform in which the universe will die, however I don’t have a problem with that; the universe may or may not have some solution to its own existence we don’t know about, but that extinguishment is not bleak as it is uncomfortable for some people to accept. And that’s a different issues.

        Finally;

        1. “There is more to reality than what science attempts to discover”

        False; science tries to establish everything that exists.

        2. “The Bible requires a less literal reading than fundamentalists presume”

        Which is a theological problem, of course.

        3. “Very few discoveries of science show even the slightest conflict”

        Hmm. So, when science finds no Adam/Eve super-couple, it has no bearing on original sin? I think your statement was a bit hasty as there is a constant stream of stuff that even is conflicting with prime dogmas of the Christian faith. The question is really how to reconcile them, and saying there really aren’t that many is, umm, a bit simple?

    • Debilis

      Greetings!

      No, again it must be pointed out that methodological naturalism is a set of tools, not constraints on scientific exploration.

      I’d say that it is both. It is a limitation on science’s area of inquiry, but one that has given it an incredibly useful focus.

      The scientific method has always limited itself to the empirical and measurable.

      That being the case, science simply does not investigate whether or not there is anything other than the empirical. I’ve never seen any reason to believe that it does.

      But I don’t know what empirical evidence you feel that you have for your life philosophy. Certainly, you aren’t claiming that there is empirical evidence that answers questions of meaning?

      I agree that magic is “non-existent”. But it is a non-existent thing that is within the purview of science. That does not make everything within the purview of science.

      As to value judgments, my position is that there are objective standards of value (including bleakness). You need not agree, but to say “that is only bleak in your opinion” is the declaration that my position is false.

      This is important in that I know of no empirical evidence that would support this declaration.

      1. I agree that it is a vast concept. But, surely, you have some kind of opinion about whether or not the heat death of the universe is a good or a bad thing?

      2. I do mean hopeless; which seems appropriate. Surely, it is odd to say that it isn’t hopeless, but will be. Hope is inherently about the future.

      As such, saying that the heat-death of the universe is, in itself, more inspiring of hopelessness than anything else seems uncontroversial.

      False; science tries to establish everything that exists.
      I’d be much more inclined to believe this if we could name any scientific experiment which tested for the metaphysical.

      “The Bible requires a less literal reading than fundamentalists presume”
      Which is a theological problem, of course.

      I think so, but I’m not sure why you do.

      If it is not a scientific problem, then there is a subject of study that is not science.

      So, when science finds no Adam/Eve super-couple, it has no bearing on original sin?
      I agree that this would be one of the few areas in which science will have some bearing on theology, but not as much as you might think.
      At least, I don’t see that evolution contradicts this idea. But let me know if you want to discuss it.

      The question is really how to reconcile them, and saying there really aren’t that many is, umm, a bit simple?
      Indeed it is. Nearly everything I write here is a simplification of a much more nuanced view. It would take me quite some time to give the full answer.

      But I can say that I don’t see any place where core doctrines of Christianity are in conflict with science.

      Okay, I think I did better at avoiding the rambling that time. I hope it was more readable as a result.

      Otherwise, best to you.

      • Alexander

        “science simply does not investigate whether or not there is anything other than the empirical”

        Hmm, we’re going around in circles, and I think I know why; it’s the definition of empirical, which we’ve also brushed up against elsewhere. So let’s recap it here;

        Empiricism is, in short, observation and experimentation, or, more directly, the evidence that comes from such activities, ie. data based in observation and experimentation.

        Now, I think our confusion lies with the latter part, the experimentation part. The first part, observation, is straight-forward enough not to be confusing, but when we talk about empiricism in terms of experimentation science does not put any constraints on to which how that happens. As I’ve explained to someone else in your threads, modeling, projection and probability are staple ways of *producing* empirical data.

        A good example is the dating of fossils in the geological lithosphere. Sure, we use various radiometric methods for determining a rocks age, but we also use the lithographic structure with geographical processes modeled after things like erosion models, continental drift and so forth. It’s those kind of models that are probably correct unless something terribly abnormal has happened, and those abnormalities usually show up in some set of data regardless. Empirical data not only cross scientific domains as the observable, it can also be inferred across those domains. Empirical data is also *created* through experimentations that recreate past events.

        So, why am I talking about empirical data like this? Because I think the confusion lies in what data we can attach the concept of “empirical” to. You would probably say that we cannot make metaphysical empirical data. I say, who not? What stops us from setting up an experiment to convert the metaphysical to physical data? We do it all the time, say, when we ask people to rate a number of feelings in a survey; we’re converting something that’s traditionally not regarded as physical into empirical data. Experimentation can very often be looked at as a way to convert data from one form into another, from one form which is hard to work with, into a form that is. We can make a survey to have people express something about their qualia, to use an example you’re stubbornly resistant to 🙂 to convert their non-physical qualia into something empirical we can work with. There’s nothing unscientific about this. In fact, it’s the opposite; it’s the scientific way.

        “Certainly, you aren’t claiming that there is empirical evidence that answers questions of meaning?”

        Not sure what you mean by this. I think we both agree that empirical evidence feeds our brain so we can make more meaningful decisions from our world, even things like surveys of philosophical / ethical issues which converts “questions of meaning” into empirical data. Could you clarify?

        “I agree that it is a vast concept. But, surely, you have some kind of opinion about whether or not the heat death of the universe is a good or a bad thing?”

        Define good. Define bad. I’m not trying to create a cop out here; to me, the question itself is faulty, even though I understand perfectly well what you’re talking about. I’m not being purposely obtuse, either, I’m trying to explain that the heat-death of the universe is so astronomically distant from us in time and understanding that it is completely and utterly irrelevant to me. The heat-death of the universe is a theory with a great number of variables and outcomes; I have no good or bad associations with it …

        … apart from that one thing I think you’re talking about; death. It’s easy to equate the two, however we only know what “death” is, and I can possibly say that “death” certainly has a negative slant on it, especially on a good day, but the other, the heat-death of the universe, is simply not known. When you equate the two, then I can possibly agree with you, but as two very and absolutely different things, then no; the latter is not good nor bad, but irrelevant at this point.

        “Surely, it is odd to say that it isn’t hopeless, but will be. Hope is inherently about the future”

        No, hope is about a future we know about, and most probably a future we’re a part of, or at least someone I know and / or love is part of. The projected heat-death of the universe is so incredibly far away to become meaningless, a bit like infinity. When we’re talking about stuff like “meaning”, they become personal, the context is our lives and what goes on in and around it. Death is near to us, heat-death of the universe very far away. Whatever good or bad you attach to that far away thing is an illusion, at best.

        “I’d be much more inclined to believe this if we could name any scientific experiment which tested for the metaphysical”

        That’s only because you’ve decided there is such a thing as metaphysical. How do you know that thing even exists? What is it? How can you be sure? And, if you are sure, and you know what it is, why don’t you suggest how to make it empirical?

        If you believe in the resurrection of the Jew carpenter’s son around 33AD, then you have the means to convert that metaphysical event into empirical data.

        “”Which is a theological problem, of course.”
        I think so, but I’m not sure why you do. If it is not a scientific problem, then there is a subject of study that is not science.”

        Analytical literature is always fun, and neither is it abandoned?

        “At least, I don’t see that evolution contradicts this idea. But let me know if you want to discuss it.”

        Of course; if there was no Adam/Eve, there is no original sin, and the tenants of Christianity and Judaism falls apart. I find that interesting, and, uh, are surprised believers wouldn’t?

        “But I can say that I don’t see any place where core doctrines of Christianity are in conflict with science”

        Then I think it’s best you outline what the core doctrines of Christianity is supposed to mean. There’s a strong marriage between the old and new testament, and you need good theology to separate the absurd and evil and anti-scientific from whatever theology you’re comfortable with. And of course that would make an excellent post all in itself.

    • Debilis

      Hmm, let’s see…

      Are you limiting “experimentation” to experimentation with the senses, or would mental introspection and observation count as well? The answer to that would certainly affect my position here.

      What stops us from setting up an experiment to convert the metaphysical to physical data?
      If a metaphysical claim makes physical predictions, we can check for that physical data.

      Regarding the example you give, beliefs are only metaphysical if one agrees with me that the mind is metaphysical. But, even then, this is simply testing for physical effects, it is not “converting”.

      But I don’t object to the idea that some metaphysical things could have physical effects. The classic first cause argument (which I endorse) is based on this idea. Rather I have two problems:

      1. This does not mean that all metaphysical objects can be studied in this way, and

      2. I’d want to know how one proposes to test physically for any of the metaphysical claims either of us have made.

      This last is the more pertinent, I think. It is a very big jump from “there is sometimes physical evidence of certain metaphysical positions” to “science can rule out God”. I’ve not seen a reason to make this jump, but will try my best to be open-minded to any reasons given.

      I suppose many aren’t personally bothered by the heat death of the universe. I maintain that, for any who are interested, a lack of a response to it does not address the issues raised. But, as you don’t seem interested in that discussion, I’ll not press it.

      “I’d be much more inclined to believe this if we could name any scientific experiment which tested for the metaphysical”
      That’s only because you’ve decided there is such a thing as metaphysical.

      Shouldn’t we test for things before deciding whether or not they exist?

      That is, if you agree that no test has been done, on what grounds are you confident that there is no such thing?

      And, if you are sure, and you know what it is, why don’t you suggest how to make it empirical?
      I’m not of the opinion that all things can be made empirical. I’ve specifically rejected that belief.

      Of course; if there was no Adam/Eve, there is no original sin, and the tenants of Christianity and Judaism falls apart.
      Original Sin doesn’t necessarily refer to a single event. Nor does evolution contradict the idea that one pair of individuals were the first to have these metaphysical things called the imageo dei.

      Personally, I see no conflict here.

      • Alexander

        “Are you limiting “experimentation” to experimentation with the senses, or would mental introspection and observation count as well?”

        Empiricism is rooted in shareable test results. So no, your thoughts, unless converted to empiricism, is, kinda, worthless in determining consensus on what is true.

        [skipping a bit]

        “Original Sin doesn’t necessarily refer to a single event.”

        Is this some new theology I’m not aware of?

        “Nor does evolution contradict the idea that one pair of individuals were the first to have these metaphysical things called the imageo dei.”

        Yes, yes it does. Strong evidence suggests that there has never been a smaller genetic diversity pool than a couple of thousand individuals.

        That’s in conflict with the story of genesis. So, now either you a) reject the genesis story, or b) make sense of it using theology. Here I was asking what that process looks like for you.

    • Debilis

      “Empiricism is rooted in shareable test results. So no, your thoughts, unless converted to empiricism, is, kinda, worthless in determining consensus on what is true.”

      My entire contention is that “sharable test results” is not the only path to determining truth. The claim that it is, after all, fails its own test.

      Basically, this seems the direct agreement that this is a boundary, beyond which science does not investigate. We need to look to other things (most obviously, philosophy), when faced with issues that are not answerable with “sharable test results”.

      “Strong evidence suggests that there has never been a smaller genetic diversity pool than a couple of thousand individuals.”
      I agree, but this doesn’t establish that all of them had the imageo dei.

      Nor do I particularly feel the need to take Genesis 2-3 literally (I personally do not).

      • Alexander

        ““sharable test results” is not the only path to determining truth”

        It is when you want consensus. Without that, it can only be true in your own mind, and if that’s the threshold for truth there’s asylums full of Napoleon’s at your disposal who’ll prove you wrong.

        “(most obviously, philosophy), when faced with issues that are not answerable with “sharable test results”.”

        You do realize that philosophy is “shareable test results” as well, right? Philosophers publish their thinking results to further the science of of the mind, and what others agree with sticks while the stuff that’s crazy-talk gets left behind. There is no need to dismiss “shareable test results” to get to some reference point where you can hide some form of the truth that others won’t agree to. It’s not the way to do it, neither in science nor in any human venture.

        “I agree, but this doesn’t establish that all of them had the imageo dei.”

        No, but that’s dodging the issue. Was there or was there not an Adam and Eve, first two humans on this planet, from which original sin came from? If not, where did original sin come from? What’s the significance of original sin if it *didn’t* originate with what’s in Genesis? Why Genesis in the way it was written if it doesn’t depict what happened or how it happened?

    • Debilis

      I’m not actually interested in consensus on this point–only in what is true. I don’t see any reason at all to say that something is false because we can’t form a consensus about it.

      But you are conflating “true in your mind” with “true according to your beliefs”. “I am happy” and “I am thinking about my wife” are true statements so long as they are true in the speaker’s mind. “I have a wife” is a claim about the external world which may be true or false.

      Nor does it make sense to claim that, because minds aren’t perfect, they are not indicators of truth. The senses, too, have been shown to be imperfect.

      Regarding philosophy, you seem to be drifting into the idea that reality is up for a vote. Simply saying that some agree or disagree is not “sharable test results” any more than the arguments I’ve given against materialism are.

      I don’t tend to read the Genesis account literally, no. But why on earth would it be question-dodging to suggest the possibility that these people did exist, but were simply not physically different than those who surrounded them?

      Also, you seem to think the idea that there was a temporal first, distinct sin as crucial to the Christian religion. I’m not sure where you have picked up this idea.

      But the purpose of Genesis is most emphatically not to give us an historical account of particular events. That is really to miss the mark. It is laying the groundwork for understanding the relationship of humans to the divine in a much more general sense. Whether or not there were two people, or two thousand, is not really the point.

      • Alexander

        Aaargh! I tried to be short, and then look what happened ;

        “I’m not actually interested in consensus on this point–only in what is true”

        But hold on now; we’re talking about scientific consensus, not some opinion poll in the Sunday Times; they are extreme opposites (as I go into more here; https://fidedubitandum.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/when-exploring-new-territory-stick-to-the-places-you-know/#comment-877).

        But it’s great that you want to pursue truth wherever it takes you; that’s why we’re still having these conversations. With me, however, it’s fairly easy for me to say how we come to things like truth statements that we can say holds a high degree of truth to the point where they directly impact our lives. But what are yours? What are your rules for truthiness?

        “But you are conflating “true in your mind” with “true according to your beliefs”.”

        I don’t know what you’re trying to say in this section. Are you talking about beliefs as epistemological concepts, or as part of psychological theory?

        “Nor does it make sense to claim that, because minds aren’t perfect, they are not indicators of truth. The senses, too, have been shown to be imperfect.”

        Yes? No scientist trust their senses much at all; that’s why methodology and test results are shared and asked to be re-tested and re-verified and re-checked to make sure that bias (including faulty senses) are ruled out.

        We’re getting back to empiricism again, I feel. Is this because you think empiricism is linked to the senses as opposed to perception?

        “Regarding philosophy, you seem to be drifting into the idea that reality is up for a vote”

        No, I think this is based on your idea that consensus is a voting system (refuted elsewhere and linked to above). However, if you are so philosophically inclined *as*well*as* up to date with neuroscience I think that proclaiming that what we perceive as reality somehow *is* reality rather than a perception is outright wrong. Perceptions (and not senses) matter in that it is the closest we’ll get to reality. In philosophical terms, it is perceptions of reality that we can say anything meaningful about. Heidegger and Wittgenstein and Hume, heck even Sartre, all agreed on that point, even if the former had a far more sophisticated and linguistically mode of it, and the latter was mostly wrong. 🙂

        “But why on earth would it be question-dodging to suggest the possibility that these people did exist, but were simply not physically different than those who surrounded them?”

        Because you still haven’t said a word about original sin which is the main tenant of your religion and, as far as I can tell, the only reason for your Jesus’ tenure on Earth; you’ve only talked about some people being physically like other people in a pool of some distant evolutionary funnel. What is original sin? No answer. Where did it come from? No answer. What is genesis if not an account if it? No answer. In my eyes such avoiding is dodging the question.

        “you seem to think the idea that there was a temporal first, distinct sin as crucial to the Christian religion. I’m not sure where you have picked up this idea”

        Temporal? Distinct? First? These are not my words, so not sure what you’re trying to do here. But are you going to say that Original Sin is not important to the Christian faith? Because *that* would make for a truly incredible statement.

        “Genesis is most emphatically not to give us an historical account of particular events. That is really to miss the mark”

        What, now? The historical nature of genesis is completely up to the more than 38.000 denominations of Christians out there, ranging from “obviously not historical” to “historical in every word.” All you’re doing here is to proclaim that *you* don’t see it that way, and that’s fine, but genesis happens to be where original sin is defined. Change the definition of genesis, you’re changing the definition of original sin. I’m just asking for your clarification on how you deal with that particular.

        “Whether or not there were two people, or two thousand, is not really the point”

        Fascinating. So, at some point in evolutionary time they all got original sin, or have all creatures (given the evolutionary background) always had original sin? This is why I’m saying you’re dodging the question; what is original sin, and where did it come from? It has massive implications for the faith you proclaim is true, so this is a very, very important point. Jesus whole point is about original sin; you simply can’t brush this aside. (Btw, there’s an aside here that even though we proclaim our specie to be Homo Sapien Sapiens, that’s just a category we’ve invented for something that is roughly what we see as humans now; there are no categories of the past that are clearly cut, it’s a long slippery, shadowy, fuzzy line all the way back to original life forms. Where along this line did original sin come into the picture? And if we share common ancestry with other creatures from that point on, does that mean the current ancestors also have sin today?)

        Now, I’m sure you haven’t brushed this aside in your mind, that you have the answers to this. I’m very interested in how you reconcile Adam/Eve and the source of original sin with the scientific fact that there was no Adam/Eve and no tree in the garden or forbidden fruit from which to get that original sin. Again; what is original sin, and where did it come from?

    • Debilis

      I know the feeling with brevity and clarity. I’d tell you the trick if I knew it.

      I agree that scientific consensus is a reliable source of information, but my objection is with the idea that consensus (even in this sense) is the only source of information.

      My rules for “truthiness” (I think I’ll have to start using that word) are observation (both sensory and introspective) and logic.

      “But you are conflating “true in your mind” with “true according to your beliefs”.”
      I don’t know what you’re trying to say in this section. Are you talking about beliefs as epistemological concepts, or as part of psychological theory?

      I’m saying that “something is only true in your mind” is a good dismissal if it is referring to the content of a belief (i.e. “pigs can fly” is only true in your mind), but it is not a good response when we are specifically referring to the mind as our subject matter (i.e. “happiness feels good is only true in your mind, so happiness doesn’t exist”).

      There are true statements that can be made about what is going on in the mind. I don’t think this is controversial. But, that being the case, I don’t see any reason to dismiss the mind entirely.

      I agree that perception is as close as we get to physical reality, but the same wouldn’t follow for mental reality. I experience my thoughts directly. There is nothing about neuroscience which could, even in principle, refute this.

      I understand that some, such as Hume, would disagree. I simply claim them to be wrong. This is not to say that they are not intelligent people, but that I think they started from false axioms.

      Shifting subjects, Original Sin (in the sense of a literal understanding of Genesis) is hardly the main tenet of my religion. The universality of sin is definitely fundamental, but I know of nothing about evolution which would opposes that.

      This is all to say that I’ve heard many interpretations of “Original Sin” which version are you referencing, why does Christianity stand or fall with it, and how does that run counter to evolution?

      But, it seems I’ve not been as clear as I thought on this point. Let me rectify that:

      1. I don’t tend to take Genesis 1-3 literally
      2. I don’t see how a literal reading is required for Original Sin (by my understanding of it).
      3. I don’t see how Original Sin (again, by my understanding) is a fundamental to Christianity.
      4. I’m not opposed to evolution because, again, I don’t see the conflict.

      I hope that was clear enough, but I’m sure I’m missing something here.

      So, at some point in evolutionary time they all got original sin, or have all creatures (given the evolutionary background) always had original sin?
      Frankly, I don’t know. It could be either of these.

      Or, it could be that only two of some several thousand possessed the imageo dei, and they were the first to sin (their non image-bearing family being irrelevant to the situation). If memory serves, this is the position of the Vatican.

      Or, it could be that each obtained goodness imperfectly, and (as sin is a failure to live up to potential) sin was in no way temporally anterior to goodness (though it would be ontologically anterior). If I were putting down money today, this is probably the way I’d go.

      But, personally, I’m still making up my mind on this particular issue, as I see neither a problem with any of these nor a reason to be think the choice between them is fundamental to Christianity. If you have a reason to think that one of them is clearly false, I’d be interested.

      Jesus whole point is about original sin

      This, I will say, is false. Jesus main point was the Kingdom of God, the second was the atonement (which is based on the universality of sin, not original sin).

      I hope that was more clear. I do apologize if I’m a little obtuse about this issue. I know many debate the point over this, and I’m aware that I’m the odd one out. But I’ve always been a little puzzled about what the issue is. Even the angry Christian fundamentalists I’ve known can’t seem to explain their theological problem with a metaphorical Adam and Eve. They merely assert that, if I don’t see it, I’m obviously not a “real” Christian.

      That’s almost comically judgmental, but doesn’t help me see the issue. I don’t think that “Original Sin” has to mean “the first sin”. I always took it to mean “the most basic sin”. When or how the first sin occurred never seemed important to me.

      • Alexander

        “my objection is with the idea that consensus (even in this sense) is the only source of information”

        Hmm, I think we need to be careful here, and put in words what those other “sources” of information is, because, frankly, we need to have some process to separate good from bad sources of information. Empiricism=good. Insanity=bad. So, how can I distinguish your source of information from, say, insanity? (And I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way; I’m not saying you believe insane things, but how can *I* tell them apart?)

        “There are true statements that can be made about what is going on in the mind”

        Ok, so going back a little, you’re saying ““I am happy” and “I am thinking about my wife” are true statements so long as they are true in the speaker’s mind” doesn’t follow. There is no reason to think that because a person thinks he’s happy he really is happy. “I am happy” is just a linguistic phrase we use for a mind state that may or may not resemble some ultimate undefined mind state, and may or may not be compatible with other people’s definition of “happy”, for example. I don’t think there are any good reasons to say anything is valid for these kinds of thoughts. “I am happy being Napoleon” or even “I am happy because Napoleon is happy and I am Napoleon” are hence, in your definition, true for the person who thinks it. But wasn’t the whole point to say that there are other ways of *knowing* what is real and true through mental capacities? Knowledge is a mental model, and until you connect it to a consensus in reality (or, what we perceive to be reality) you don’t know it outside your mind, and hence isn’t … well, real? I still don’t see that link, but I’m probably still not quite getting what you’re saying.

        “Frankly, I don’t know”

        Now *that* is a viewpoint I can fully respect! And I’m not kidding, either; too many are afraid of not knowing something, not having some clear answer to some position. I find it refreshing to meet people who will say, despite them clearly being knowledgeable, to not know something.

        “This, I will say, is false. Jesus main point was the Kingdom of God, the second was the atonement”

        … and 38.000 denominations were born. 🙂

        But more seriously, the first point you make were known before Jesus, the only thing he added to that was that the Kingdom of God was now also open to the gentiles (and, strictly speaking, Jesus didn’t; Paul and James did).

        I’ve seen this “universality of sin” being used more and more over original sin, but I see that only as a theological resolution to the problems original sin brings with it. I still think you’ll be hard pressed in Christian circles to deny that sin entered the world outside the the concept of Adam, but hey, there are universalists out there, so it must be true. 🙂

        “fundamentalists I’ve known can’t seem to explain their theological problem with a metaphorical Adam and Eve”

        Shouldn’t be that mysterious, though; if you remove the starting point from something, and that thing needs a starting point, then you must move the starting point to somewhere it makes sense. However, from what I can understand, you don’t need there to be a starting point, you have some other framework of belief in place, and that will clash against those who have that starting point as part of their model of belief.

        I guess another post that would be of interest is, what, exactly, is your theology? If original sin isn’t bound by the lack of a starting point (which, remember, is for all humanity), then how do you explain the tenets of your belief as they *clearly* is at odds with, umm, 99% of all Christianity?

        “I don’t think that “Original Sin” has to mean “the first sin”. I always took it to mean “the most basic sin”. ”

        I think people find that hard to understand as the starting point is a biblical and very specific reference.

    • Debilis

      Greetings!

      So, how can I distinguish your source of information from, say, insanity?
      Ultimately, no philosophical view can be distinguished from insanity. But this is no more a difficulty for my view than for, say, materialism.

      My view that materialism is false, for instance, is grounded in argument. This would be distinguishable from insanity in that it is rational.

      “I am happy” is just a linguistic phrase we use for a mind state that may or may not resemble some ultimate undefined mind state, and may or may not be compatible with other people’s definition of “happy”.
      All definitions have this sort of problem. This does not refute the idea that the statement “I am happy” is correct given the way the speaker defines those terms. Yes, this is a clear difficulty of communication, but does not discredit dualism.

      But wasn’t the whole point to say that there are other ways of *knowing*
      It was a key part of the point, but this does not imply any particular level of precision with which this information can be shared.

      Knowledge is a mental model, and until you connect it to a consensus in reality (or, what we perceive to be reality) you don’t know it outside your mind, and hence isn’t … well, real?
      My position is that an individual who experiences something (mind) does not require consensus in order to have rational belief in the thing experienced.

      the only thing he added to that was that the Kingdom of God was now also open to the gentiles
      We’ll be getting into the differences of those 38,000 denominations here.

      I’ll skip over my view and jump to: however much he did or didn’t add, the Kingdom of God was the core of his teaching.

      I’ve seen this “universality of sin” being used more and more over original sin, but I see that only as a theological resolution to the problems original sin brings with it.
      If you’d like to give an argument for that, I’ll be interested. I don’t happen to know what it is at the moment–so I couldn’t say much.

      The main thing is I don’t see that Christianity hangs on the idea that sin entered the world through a literal, single, Adam. The only necessary points are:
      1. That sin entered the world at some point in the past, and
      2. That all humans are infected with it.

      I don’t see how evolution contradicts either of these points. In fact, as “Adam” simply means “man”, it is always debatable how much his name is simply a poetic term for “man” (or, in modern inclusive language, “humanity”).

      However, from what I can understand, you don’t need there to be a starting point, you have some other framework of belief in place, and that will clash against those who have that starting point as part of their model of belief.
      Apologies! I can see how I came across that way.
      I assume there must be a starting point. I’m personally unsure of (and, admittedly, not terribly anxious about) what that starting point was.

      • shelterit

        “no philosophical view can be distinguished from insanity”

        I find that a very solipsist way of thinking, and if that’s your position, then both our arguments are pointless. However, I find your statement puzzling in that insanity, too, is defined in human behaviour, and as such doesn’t even pass muster for your statement, either. It sounds like you’re going to argue against *any* world, real or otherwise, as not rational.

        “This would be distinguishable from insanity in that it is rational”

        Then you have to tell me what you think “rational” is.

        “the statement “I am happy” is correct given the way the speaker defines those terms”

        But that’s pointless. I can define all sorts of stuff in my head, and declare the rest of you crazy. And, indeed, it seems like this often happens. One would think that the only way to truth is a shared understanding of definitions and experiences. To me, it just like to argue that whatever happens in your head is true, because you’ve defined it to be true, no matter what others might think of those definitions. You argument work in a solipsistic world, but not in the shared real one.

        “the Kingdom of God was the core of his teaching”

        But this misses the point entirely. “The kingdom of God” was preached and understood well before Jesus came along. That he based everything on that paradigm means very little to whether he existed or not. But as a sacrificial scape-goat for sin, *that* was his purpose, his role, and the point of his existence on Earth. Not sure how you can argue against this? It’s not even one of the pillars of the Christian faith; it’s *the* pillar; to die for a specific reason. And that reason was original sin. I really, really, really don’t see how you can get around that?

        “1. That sin entered the world at some point in the past, and
        2. That all humans are infected with it.”

        Ok, so let’s talk about that point. Could you elaborate, or don’t you find it important?

        “I don’t see how evolution contradicts either of these points”

        Ok, so it mostly deals with 1. because evolution don’t contain points in which things happen dramatically to the whole specie. We never really changed from Homo Erectus to Homo Sapiens in chunks; we’re folded into the same long slowly evolving path. The only reason we can tell the difference is because we make slots of time into mental categories in order to try to make sense of it. The follow-up here is also the difference between man and animal. Christians proclaim animals to be sinless, at least not in the category of sin traditionally used, however if we’re slowly evolved from earlier animals, where did we “turn to” humans, and where was sin “injected”?

        “I assume there must be a starting point.”

        Ok. Evolution tells us there is no such thing, *unless* you go back to where ever life started from. But it would be strange to think of such incredible primitive creatures delve in “sin”.

    • Debilis

      I find that a very solipsist way of thinking…
      It’s only solipsist if I added a “therefore, I reject all of them”. I was simply saying that we have no absolute proof in the real world. This doesn’t mean I don’t accept positions.

      Then you have to tell me what you think “rational” is.
      Fair enough.
      Adhering to the logical laws of inference and based on reasonable premises.

      But that’s pointless. I can define all sorts of stuff in my head, and declare the rest of you crazy.
      Indeed, good discussion requires agreement on definitions.
      But, this doesn’t mean that the speaker’s claim is false simply because you cannot understand his terms. It simply means you need to learn what he means.

      One would think that the only way to truth is a shared understanding of definitions and experiences.
      I agree with definitions, but similar experiences would also work.
      In fact, this is actually what goes on in the physical world all the time. No two people ever literally have the exact same experience, they simply have very similar experiences.

      It is not fundamentally different, in that respect, when discussing the mind.

      But this misses the point entirely. “The kingdom of God” was preached and understood well before Jesus came along.
      Yes, Jesus himself said something about fulfilling the law.

      The point wasn’t that the statement was novel. The point was that his ministry was the announcement of the Kingdom of God having come. This is definitely significant.

      But as a sacrificial scape-goat for sin, *that* was his purpose, his role, and the point of his existence on Earth. Not sure how you can argue against this?
      That is definitely a very big deal in Christianity.
      But what on earth is it about the statements I’ve made regarding Genesis 1-3 which contradict this?

      Taking any of my proposed interpretations, how is the doctrine of the atonement affected in the slightest?

      “1. That sin entered the world at some point in the past, and
      2. That all humans are infected with it.”
      Ok, so let’s talk about that point. Could you elaborate, or don’t you find it important?
      What would you like me to say? All humans are imperfect. We don’t do what we know we should; we do what we know we shouldn’t. Each of us are a mixture of good and evil, but feel that we should be truly good.

      As to what the literal, physical events that were going on around the time of the first sin, what did you want clarified from my guesses in this comment?

      But, to get to your thoughts:
      Ok, so it mostly deals with 1. because evolution don’t contain points in which things happen dramatically to the whole specie.
      I don’t believe that the change due to sin was physiological (and certainly not genetic).

      I’m not proposing any evolutionary shift, but a spiritual, emotional, and psychological condition.

      Christians proclaim animals to be sinless, at least not in the category of sin traditionally used, however if we’re slowly evolved from earlier animals, where did we “turn to” humans, and where was sin “injected”?
      Personally, I categorize animals this way in the same sense that anthropologists (as you point out) categorize homo sapiens as different from homo erectus. Animals are sinless to the degree that they do not have a morally reflective consciousness. Some animals may have some degree on this (the jury seems to be out on how much cognition, empathy, and whatnot it would take to call an animal morally reflective). As such, I don’t see any reason why there has to be a hard and fast line between “sinful” and “too unreflective to be a moral agent”.

      Of course, that would be necessary if one assumes that Genesis 2-3 is literal, and that there was some distinct person, Adam, rather than the name being a metaphor for humanity, as I’ve suggested.

      You seem to be treating sin as something of an intellectual decision: an evil act committed after a period of indecision about whether one wants to do the good or the bad thing.

      Rather, I’m referring to sin as a failure to live up to one’s potential for goodness. It is a spiritual and psychological condition which affects action, as opposed to an “evil deed”.

      • Alexander

        “we have no absolute proof in the real world”

        Hmm. We can’t have absolute proofs of anything, neither in imaginary nor real worlds (as we can’t even agree on what “the real world” is), so not sure this clarifies anything?

        “Then you have to tell me what you think “rational” is.
        Fair enough. Adhering to the logical laws of inference”

        Hmm. You mean inductive reasoning here? Not the best basis for getting to true conclusions, though? Going with inductive reasoning, you can perfectly well have an internally consistent system of thought, and still be absolutely wrong, and instead of using logic as a definition for how you can tell insanity from reasonable positions, I’d go with epistemology. Logic itself is a human construct, and has isn’t considered a primitive entity that somehow is “true”, it’s just a tool of language to make sense of something within the system of logic, so again, not sure if logic (no matter how reasonable) is going to get you nearer truth of mental models?

        “his ministry was the announcement of the Kingdom of God having come”

        But has it? Matthew 24:34 and all that?

        “It simply means you need to learn what he means”

        How can I do that if he’s crazy?

        “What would you like me to say?”

        I certainly didn’t need a rehashing of what sin is. 🙂 What I’m after is exactly what I asked about; the point in which this enter humanity. The point. When does it happen? Remember we’re talking about the fact that Genesis points out the exact spot it happens, but if Genesis isn’t literal, then when or where is this spot sin enters humanity? It’s important because it’s one of those things that separate man from beast, but evolution has a very different slant on that very separation.

        “I’m not proposing any evolutionary shift, but a spiritual, emotional, and psychological condition”

        No, I get that, I’m just trying to find out how you make the concept of that compatible with evolution. At some point, I assume your thinking goes, either god chose a point to inject this condition into us, or at some point we went from animal to human in evolutionary terms where it happened, or was a natural consequence of evolution, or something else?

        “I don’t see any reason why there has to be a hard and fast line between “sinful” and “too unreflective to be a moral agent””

        Well, nothing in evolution deals with hard and fast lines, so that, at least, fits. So would your position be that we became more and more sinful the more we evolved towards what we are today? And does this evolution continue still?

        “You seem to be treating sin as something of an intellectual decision”

        Well, firstly I don’t believe there is anything such thing as a sin, but secondly, even in this context, I don’t; I treat it just like you; a condition that afflicts humans. I’m trying to find out how something that’s a human trait (knowing of the condition called sin, which involves gods and and other abstract notions) can be uniquely human given our animal background (not to mention the continuous evolution of all species on the planet) given how fluid, fuzzy and dynamic evolution works. It’s such an important part of the Christian dogma that I think it merits some good answers.

        “I’m referring to sin as a failure to live up to one’s potential for goodness”

        That’s a rather non-religious definition even I can mostly agree with, however I think when we leap into definitions of “goodness” we’ll quickly see some differences … 🙂

    • Debilis

      You mean inductive reasoning here?
      No, I mean the rules of inference. These are deductive rules. Induction would only come into play with regard to premises.

      Not the best basis for getting to true conclusions, though? Going with inductive reasoning, you can perfectly well have an internally consistent system of thought, and still be absolutely wrong
      This is a very low view of induction for a materialist (considering that induction is the basis of science).

      instead of using logic as a definition for how you can tell insanity from reasonable positions, I’d go with epistemology.
      I agree. In fact, epistemology is simply a logically rigorous approach to such questions.

      Logic itself is a human construct, and has isn’t considered a primitive entity that somehow is “true”, it’s just a tool of language to make sense of something within the system of logic,
      I’d be highly suspicious, at best, of any position which has to question the validity of logic in order to make its case.

      To reject the value of logic is to reject all math, all science, and all rational discourse. Bluntly asserting beliefs would be the closest kin to rationality were logic abandoned.

      The point. When does it happen? Remember we’re talking about the fact that Genesis points out the exact spot it happens, but if Genesis isn’t literal, then when or where is this spot sin enters humanity?
      In that case, my answer is that I have no idea.
      And, personally, I’m not terribly interested. I honestly have no idea why “when did this happen” is relevant at all to anything I believe.

      From my perspective, that is the real point at issue: why is “when did this happen” a significant question for any crucial point of Christian theology?

      You do say something about this, however:

      It’s important because it’s one of those things that separate man from beast
      I don’t see why the issue of precisely when this happened is important. Surely, there is a difference between humans and other species. And this fact would not change regardless of when that change came about.

      The question of how that change came about might seem, at first, more significant. But I fail to see this, either. Whether the change was instantaneous or gradual doesn’t seem at all relevant to any core teaching of Christianity.

      The only important fact here is that it happened, and all parties seem to agree on this.

      I’m just trying to find out how you make the concept of that compatible with evolution. At some point, I assume your thinking goes, either god chose a point to inject this condition into us, or at some point we went from animal to human in evolutionary terms where it happened, or was a natural consequence of evolution, or something else?
      Yes, those both seem like reasonable positions to me (and there may be something else).

      Personally, I’m not decided on that point. If you could point me to anything about either of these that are incompatible with either evolution or Christianity, that may help me decide. Part of my problem is that there is more than one theory that adequately address all the theological and biological facts, so that it is hard to choose between them.

      Do you know of any reason why I should reject either of these positions?

      So would your position be that we became more and more sinful the more we evolved towards what we are today?
      That is definitely a possibility on the table.
      And there it will remain until I encounter a reason to think it is false (or the alternatives are false, in which case I’ll take it up).

      And does this evolution continue still?
      Evolution in general certainly does, but it is hard to say whether or not humans are more capable of recognizing our moral responsibility now that in a more recent past. Changes on this scale are mostly social, rather than biological. As such, I personally doubt it, but that has nothing to do with Christianity.

      I’m trying to find out how something that’s a human trait (knowing of the condition called sin, which involves gods and and other abstract notions) can be uniquely human given our animal background
      This makes much more sense.

      First, I’m not perfectly convinced that sin is uniquely human. I suspect so, because I imagine that sin requires a certain amount of moral reflection that doesn’t seem to be present in animals. This has nothing to do with a lack of common ancestors, but simply the traits of our species as it exists today.

      I simply don’t see any reason why I need to reconstruct the tree of life to say that humans have greater moral responsibility for our decisions than, say, lions. This regards our current traits, not those of distant ancestors.

      It’s such an important part of the Christian dogma that I think it merits some good answers.
      That homo sapiens have this trait is deeply important to Christianity. I know of no reason why how or when this trait came to be in us is crucial.

      That’s a rather non-religious definition even I can mostly agree with, however I think when we leap into definitions of “goodness” we’ll quickly see some differences … 🙂
      I’m sure we won’t always agree (pleasant though that would be).
      But, much as non-religious people can agree with this concept, it is a religious one. That is, it is believed by many educated Christians to be the correct definition.

      Okay, I hope that was more clear than the last. Certainly, this one was a fun read.

      Best to you.

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