Sunday, April 08, 2012

Acharya S as a Hindu guru

The other day I was confronted with two wild claims by people who seemed quite well-informed.  One came from a physicist who had written some 60 articles, but believes in Young Earth Creationism -- that the world is only some 6,000 years old, never mind the Grand Canyon, T Rex or light from distant stars.  The gentleman seemed coherent and to the point, and I felt little compulsion to try to disuade him. If the combined observations of nearly every astronomer, biologist, geneticist, paleontologist, geologist, and even archeologist on the planet, are not enough to convince an intelligent, educated man that the planet has been around for a while, what could my voice possibly add to the din?

The same day I also heard from a disciple of the famous Christ-mythicist, Acharya S (D. M. Murdock), who claims that Jesus never lived.   

The title "acharya" is defined by Wikipedia in part as follows: "In Indian religions and society, an acharya . . . is a guide or instructor in religious matters; founder, or leader of a sect; or a highly learned man or a title affixed to the names of learned men."

Bhagwan Rajneesh was also called Acharya Rajneesh.  I don't know if that's what he called himself, or if he preferred "Bagwan Rajneesh," that is, "Lord Rajneesh."

Anyway, I get something of the same feeling, reading Murdock's web-site.  A photo of Ms. Murdock appears in a kind of aural glow.  Hindus often place high value on such photos, which are often worshipped as images of the guru.  (I learned this years ago from the panic the devotee of another guru expressed when I misplaced the photograph she lent me of her guru, to publicize a coming conference in which I had invited him to speak.  She tried to explain to me how important such photos are for devotees.  I eventually tracked the photo down, and got it back to her, to the relief of both of us.) 

Under the glowing photograph of Acharya S appears the legend, "Great Minds of Our Time: D. M. Murdock." 

Who says that about themselves?   Of course we all THINK it, especially those among us who are cats. 

My one fleeting contact with Murdock came when I was teaching in Japan.  I had been taking part in an ecumenical on-line discussion, involving some pretty bright atheists, Christians, and New Agers.  Someone brought her into the conversation, she made some nasty comments about someone, dismissed the whole group rather abruptly, in a way that told me more about her than a mere refutation of her arguments might have.  Sometimes people open the doors to their souls, and let outsiders peak in: so it seemed at that moment.  Everything I have seen of her since, has reinforced the impression that she is not a person with an intense (if amateur) interest in ancient history, but the leader of a cult.  She reminds me of a woman I met in Taipei who told me her home was the New Jerusalem, and (while chain-smoking and ranting), she the only pure one.  As Kenny Rogers put it, you got to know when to walk away, and know when to run, and I kept my "mouth" shut at the time.   

Nevertheless, my recent exchange with her disciple -- a much nicer person, as disciples often are -- made me think how character often reveals itself in first impressions, and how stubborn people can be in belief. 

The disciple (let us call him Mr. L) linked me to an article Murdock from Tueday responding to Bart Ehrman's new book, which rebuts "Christ mythicism."  Mr.  L repeated many of the effusive blurbs on Murdock's site, where she is called, for instance, "The ranking religious philosopher of our era!"  "A shining light of truth in a sea of deceit!"  "The voice of reason!"  "Hollywood Jesus" also claims (for Lord knows what reason) that her scholarship is better than that of a triple PhD!

But this is how, on Monday, that genius revealed itself:   
Monday, 02 April 2012 22:58 Acharya S
In his recent interview with NPR (April 1, 2012), Did Jesus Exist? author Bart Ehrman comments:

"Mythicists' arguments are fairly plausible... According to them, Jesus was never mentioned in any Roman sources and there is no archeological evidence that Jesus ever existed. Even Christian sources are problematic – the Gospels come long after Jesus' death, written by people who never saw the man.... Most importantly...these mythicists point out that there are Pagan gods who were said to die and rise again and so the idea is that Jesus was made up as a Jewish god who died and rose again.... The mythicists have some right things to say... The Gospels do portray Jesus in ways that are non-historical."

The odd thing about this quote, is that Murdock apparently expected her readers to accept it at face value, and not even bother clicking on the link, to verify that she cited Ehrman accurately.

She did not. 

Here's how the paragraph actually reads, on the site Acharya S links to:

Mythicists' arguments are fairly plausible, Ehrman says. According to them, Jesus was never mentioned in any Roman sources and there is no archeological evidence that Jesus ever existed. Even Christian sources are problematic – the Gospels come long after Jesus' death, written by people who never saw the man.

Do you see any quote marks, here?  I don't.  It's not because the article doesn't use quotes -- in fact, it quotes Ehrman directly many times, and indicates those direct quotations, per convention, with quote marks every time.  But Murdock has added quote marks to the passage above -- they are not in the original. 

And what do the three dots in the first sentence of Murdock's version of this citation represent?  ("Mythicists' arguments are fairly plausible... According to them, Jesus was never mentioned in any Roman sources and there is no archeological evidence that Jesus ever existed.") 

Those are the little dots where "Ehrman says" used to be. 

That's right, Murdock actually takes the words "Ehrman says" out of that sentence here.  She then inserts the quote marks, to make it sound as if these words were Ehrman's own, rather than the reporter's second-hand summary of what Erhman actually said. 

Does that make a difference?  Obviously, it makes a world of difference, which is precisely why she did it.  The whole weight of her post rests on these words being accurately ascribed to Ehrman himself.  Good scholarship depends heavily on accurately ascribing sources. But these are not his words.  Murdock is not engaging in scholarship, she is engaging in  a rather silly form of fraud.  Murdock simply lies to her readers, by misquoting the target of her wrath.

What difference does such a mis-attribution make?  The unnamed reporter may not be an authority on this subject.  She may summarize Ehrman's views inaccurately, as perhaps happens more often than not, among journalists who seldom understand the nuances of a subject as well as the experts they interview. 

In any case, those are not Ehrman's words, and Murdock deceives her readers by representing them as such. 

What did Ehrman really say here?  One can only guess.  But it could be that he said something like, "Mythicists arguments seem plausible enough, at first glance, but . . . "  That would jibe with the rest of his comments in the interview, and the argument he makes in his book.   

If Murdock can't be trusted to accurately quote even an article she has just linked to, why should we trust any of her other quotes -- say, the fawning blurbs her disciples supposedly give, or the credit various scholars, journalists and pastors are cited as giving her?  Maybe those quotes, too, are misattributed.  Or her own citations of obscure ancient authors on the allegedly ahistorical Jesus?  Why should we trust them?  (Indeed, many of them, too, seem to be fake.)

Engage in fraud once, and there's a good chance you'll do it again.

Acharya S tries to leverage this phony quote for all it would be worth, were it genuine:

When I passed along that excerpted quote to Dr. Robert M. Price, another mythicist who, like me, was the subject of Ehrman's wrath in DJE, Bob exclaimed: "Wow! That sounds like a retraction!"

Is it? Did Bart Ehrman retract his hastily composed screed, in which he tosses out calumny that could be construed as libel?

It may sound funny to accuse of a mythicist of this, but really, Dr. Price ought to be more skeptical of his sources.   

With the word "libel," perhaps, we come to the heart of the matter.  Ehrman dismisses Acharya S in no uncertain terms in his book.  The sting, obviously, hurts.  It might be an interesting trial, to see Acharya S make the claim that Bart Ehrman has ruined her scholarly reputation! 

The gospels were written long after the purported events by people who never saw Jesus - on that fact Bart Ehrman and I concur wholeheartedly.

And on that "fact," or rather two alleged facts, both would be mistaken.  (I say "would be" rather than "are," because S has demonstrated that her citations should be accepted only with great caution.)  The Gospels were, almost all scholars concede, written within the normal life-span of Jesus' first disciples.  The distance in time between Jesus' ministry, and the authorship of the first Gospels, is according to virtually all scholars, about the same or perhaps less than that between, say, the invasion of Normandy and when accounts like Band of Brothers were written from first-hand eyewitness, in the early 1990s.  (And first-hand accounts of World War II could still be written today from people in my circle, and no doubt in yours, as well, 20 years later.) The Gospel of John was almost certainly based on an eyewitness account, and the Gospel of Mark, on the testimony of St. Peter.  Luke apparently interviewed a wide variety of witnesses for his gospel.  So "long after" is not true in any relevant sense, and probably neither is the claim that none of the writers of the gospels ever saw Jesus. 

In any case, as I show in Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus from diverse patterns of internal evidence, the gospels are clearly based on early and substantially accurate testimony.   

Acharya S goes on to dispute Ehrman on points that would require actually reading her books to evaluate.  I tried that once, and am loath to try it again -- like touching a slug in the garden, one wants to not only wash one's hand afterwards, but scrape it with steel mesh.  So I pass on further details. 

At the end of the post, someone says -- I am not sure if this is from Murdock, or from one of her disciples:

Bart Ehrman has just ruined his reliability and credibility with this book and he will pay for it for a very long time. Shame on him.

This is the first time I have heard of someone "ruining their reliability."  The usual claim is that someone proves less reliable than supposed, reliability referring to the character of what is reliable, rather than the attitude one who relies on it adopts. 

But the language of "paying for it" seems to get at the heart of the matter.  Admittedly, debate often functions as a kind of substitute for armed battle.  A critical comment against something you write may feel like an "attack," and you may be tempted to respond as if it were. 

But ideally, scholarship is about seeking truth, not about protecting one's "hide" from "assault."  In the best of worlds, a true philosopher can never lose an argument, she can only learn something she didn't know, and praise God for what she has gained by "losing."  That's how arguments that are worth anything to begin with, are made stronger.   

Of course, being human, real-world scholars often defend their territories as fiercely as wolverines.  But recognizing the ideal, they tend to couch shafts and barbs as something less primordial, in terms of objective concern for intellectual verities and cogent reasoning, which unfortunately one's opponent seems somehow to have transgressed. 

"Scholars" like Murdock reveal themselves, not just with bad arguments, or erroneous data, or even by cultivating a cult of obsequious followers, but with the snarl that comes when confounded or rebuked.  "You will pay!"  This is not wit or reparte, it is more like a threat from a wounded beast. 

What should one do when confronted with an Acharya S?  Generally speaking -- the wisest course might be to keep one's distance.

But also, for those looking on and who don't recognize the character of the cult leader, making clear why one does so.   


James VW said...

I think Kenny Rogers said that, not Willy Nelson.

David B Marshall said...

Thanks for pointing that out, James. So much for my career as a pop culture commentator.

Crude said...

So long as we're nitpicking, Bark Ehrman sounds like a rascally schnauzer.

Crude said...

I should also add on...

Great post, David. It's funny that the latest turn for self-described "free thinkers" involves devotion to and defense of these sorts.

David B Marshall said...

Intuitively, that sounds about right. A well-educated and prosperous schnauzer, whose rascally bark the marble flooring and plush sofas have failed to tame? Who imagines he's taking down cariboo on the North Slope, when he's actually just chasing little black moths from drape to drape?

David B Marshall said...

Thanks, Crude. I think Chesterton had some funny things to say about free thinkers. Let's see, here some of it is:

"The freethinker is not free to question monism. He is forbidden, for instance, in the only intelligible modern sense, to believe in a miracle. He is forbidden, in exactly the same sense in which he would say that we are forbidden to believe in a heresy. Both are forbidden by first principles and not by force. The Rationalist Press Association will not actually kidnap, gag or strangle Sir Arthur Keith if he admits the evidence for a cure at Lourdes. Neither will the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster have me hanged, drawn and quartered if I announce that I am an agnostic tomorrow. But of both cases it is true to say that a man cannot root up his first principles without a terrible rending and revolutionising of his very self. As a matter of fact, we are the freer of the two; as there is scarcely any evidence, natural or preternatural, that cannot be accepted as fitting into our system somewhere; whereas the materialist cannot fit the most minute miracle into his system anywhere. But let us leave that on one side as a separate question; and agree, if only for the sake of argument, that both the Catholic and the materialist are limited only by their fundamental conviction about the cosmic system; in both thought is in that sense forbidden and in that sense free. Consequently, when I see in some newspaper symposium, like that on Spiritualism, a leading materialist like Mr. John M. Robertson discussing the evidence for spiritualism, I feel exactly as I imagine him to feel when he hears a bishop in a mitre or a Jesuit in a cassock discussing the evidence for materialism. I know that Mr. Robertson cannot accept the evidence without becoming somebody quite different from Mr. Robertson; which also is within the power of the grace of God. But I know quite well he is not a freethinker; except in the sense in which I am a freethinker. He has long ago come to a conclusion which controls all his other conclusions. He is not driven by scientific evidence to accept Materialism. He is forbidden by Materialism to accept scientific evidence."

The more things change.

Brian Barrington said...

Whilst I don’t object to people having supernatural beliefs, I personally disagree with Chesterton that “we [i.e. supernaturalists] are the freer of the two [i.e. freer than naturalists]”.

In my view, being a humanist and a naturalist is a joyful, liberating experience because it enables you to live without false fears and without false hopes, enjoying the real world as it actually is. In contrast, supernaturalists are trapped in a prison of false and irrational beliefs from which they have been unable to escape - they are tormented by false fears and their lives are distorted by false hopes. Thus their ability to make rational, reality-based decisions is impaired by superstition. They often have to pretend to believe things that, on some level, they know are false. This is psychically damaging. They are more vulnerable to exploitation and manipulation. They are not as free as the free-thinker.

Think about the things we tend to regard as supernatural - fairies, ESP, unicorns, leprechauns, miracles, ouija boards, prophecy, alchemy, faith healing, astrology, angels, demons, deities. What do they all have in common? What they have in common is that we all know, at least on some level, that these things do not exist or do not happen - they are not real. So in practice the term "supernatural" is used to describe entities that we know do not exist, and events that we know do not occur.

Life is richer, more exciting, more joyful and more beautiful for those who have the strength and the courage to reject the supernatural, and thus live in truth and in reality. Surrendering to supernatural beliefs and supernatural non-explanations is, at the end of the day, a failure of intellect, a failure of courage, and a failure of character.

In the final analysis, naturalism is merely love of reality, and therefore love of life and truth, whereas supernaturalism is hatred of reality, and ultimately hatred of life and truth.

Brian Barrington said...

There is another sense in which supernaturalism can make people less free. Tribalism is frequently based upon and justified by supernatural beliefs. Tribalism separates groups of humans from each other, into hostile and warring camps, and these groups frequently distinguish themselves from each other based on superstitious and irrational supernatural beliefs that emerge from claims of special revelation, tradition and authority, rather than from universal reason and universal observation. This can lead to the dehumanisation and demonisation of "out groups". If you think about it, the distinctive beliefs of any particular tribe MUST be irrational, since if they we're based on reason or evidence, they would be readily acceptable to people everywhere and they would no longer distinguish the tribe!

Humanism and naturalism are the only means we have for fighting against this tribal tendency, and for creating free societies. Truths about the natural world based on reason and empirical observation tend to be the same for humans everywhere. Scientific truths are an example of this. There is really no such thing as Muslim science or Christian science or Chinese science. There is only science, and it is the same for all human beings everywhere.

Thus, the humanist and naturalist is in a good position to recognise our common humanity and our common human nature, which is essentially the same everywhere and among all groups of people. Human problems are only ever really solved by applying reason and science. They are not solved by superstition or supernatural thinking. Humanism, naturalism and reason are the best hope of mankind.

David B Marshall said...

Brian: I might buy that with you, Dr. H, and some other skeptics of my acquaintance, who really do seem cheerful enough. But the large majority of atheists whom one meets on-line, I'm sorry to say, seem really grumpy about something. They seem to feel the slightest concession to any believer in anything, no matter how obvious, is going to cost them a pound of flesh, and spit and fume and seem to have little radioactive clouds over their heads all day long. Many also seem quite sure he or she is the smartest person who ever lived, including some of really dumb ones.

And I've met so many like that -- hundreds, and they fill popular blogs like Pharyngula, vying to make the snarkiest comments -- that I can't believe this is some marginal phenomena in the skeptical world.

Granted, there are lots of jerks who are Christians, and lots of head cases who are Buddhists or New Agers. But writing a book about the New Atheism, then interacting with Dawkins' disciples for many years, has revealed a large community of people to whom happiness (or rationality) are not the first conditions I would ascribe. Maybe the last.

David B Marshall said...

Your post on tribalism is interesting. I agree with you about the importance of the phenomena, but I disagree, of course, belonging as we do to separate tribes, about which tribe really better embraces humanity.

Maybe I'll post on your comments; as often, they are illuminating. You might also find my chapter, "John Loftus and the Outsider Test for Faith" in a new e-book entitled True Reason, interesting. The book as a whole may trigger some reactionary impulses in you, but I think you'll find that chapter interesting. The whole book is only $3.

Brian Barrington said...

The “Mythicists” might be good examples of people whose grumpiness and bitterness towards Christianity seems to have caused them to lose their marbles. They are choosing to have an unecessary argument with Christians that Christians will win. By making dubious, questionable and unsustainable claims they ultimately just weaken their case. You should be thanking them :-)

Crude said...

In my view, being a humanist and a naturalist is a joyful, liberating experience because it enables you to live without false fears and without false hopes, enjoying the real world as it actually is.

A) There are plenty of atheists whose experience is neither joyful nor liberating (indeed, some are pretty famous philosophers and scientists.) There are plenty of theists and non-naturalists whose experience is one of joy and liberation. This is particularly relevant because...

B) You don't have privileged access to what is or is not a "false fear" or "false hope". You have, at absolute best, your current view of what is true or false. But - surprise! - the theist has these too. Since you have no, zero, direct access to 'the truth', only an indirect and imperfect access, the result is clear: "The truth!" and "Reality, as it really is!" isn't playing the role you're assigning it. Ultimate truth and reality can be radically different from you believe it to be, and you'd still have whatever feelings you have - because it's the belief, not the truth, doing the work.

C) It's an open question whether you, as some kind of neutral monist/quasi-panpsychist, can even be called a 'naturalist'. You certainly privilege mind in a way that the naturalism of, say... Alex Rosenberg does not.

D) Your amateur psychoanalysis is pretty boring. I'll do my standard bit and turn it around - your forced, imaginary cheerfulness is manufactured, precisely because you know, deep down, that you are wrong about naturalism and theism both. Just as with North Korean schoolgirls smiling frantically for the camera, you're living a lie. This has to be psychologically stressful, maybe even physically damaging to you. You should really stop pretending, and embrace the truth.

Thus is the fun of the conversational show-stopper.

E) Given naturalism, it's not clear that any individual should care about the "best hope for mankind". Indeed, more than a few suggest that such grand hopes have no privileged place in naturalism. Others see the emotional advantage of naturalism as liberating them from such concerns - they can care only about themselves, thank you very much, and the rest of the world can rot.

F) Finally (not that I couldn't poke even more holes in this silliness), you keep going on about how naturalism makes life more beautiful and joyful and glorious and... etc. You spend an inordinate amount of time on this pap, whereas if it were true - certainly if it were demonstrably true - you wouldn't need to. It strongly suggests that you believe, or endorse belief in, naturalism and atheism because of how it makes you feel or what hope it gives you, with its actual truth being entirely secondary.

Brian Barrington said...

Crude, If naturalists only have "imperfect and indirect access to the truth" and if "ultimate truth and reality can be radically different from" what naturalists believe it to be, it also follows, of course, that supernaturalists only have "imperfect and indirect access to the truth" and that "ultimate truth and reality can be radically different from" what supernaturalists believe it to be. Nor do supernaturalists have any "privileged access" to what is or true or not. Then again, absolutely everyone believes that the natural word exists, since everyone experiences it and lives in it every moment of their lives - it requires no " privilege" to gain access to it, for the simple reason that it is real. The contrast with the "supernatural" is obvious.

Now, I doubt you are some sort of relativist or extreme sceptic who thinks that all beliefs are equally plausible and credible. For example, either heaven and hell exists or they do not. Either the Trinity exists or it does not. Either Jesus turned water into wine or he did not. In each case, where one person believes and another person does not, one of them is wrong and the other is right - one believes truly and the other falsely. Unfortunately for you, as a christian, the evidence for heaven and hell or the trinity is about as good (possibly not as good) as the evidence for alien abduction, faeries or ouija boards.  Do you really personally believe otherwise? Maybe it's you who is living a lie.

Brian Barrington said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian Barrington said...

Crude, You say that naturalists  "can care only about themselves, thank you very much, and the rest of the world can rot"

 Is there evidence for this claim? If anything, the evidence suggests the opposite. The least religious places in the world (Japan, Hong Kong, Scandinavia, much of Western Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) are often the most stable, safest societies in the world, with the lowest crime rates, and the highest levels of social trust. In contrast, the most religious places in the world (Sierra Leone, Burundi, Nigeria, the Congo, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Liberia, Haiti etc.) are very often some of the most backward, dangerous, least stable societies in the world.  This could indicate that people who are well-educated and leading full, decent and reasonably prosperous lives, tend to voluntarily reduce their belief  in the supernatural and embrace reality. At the very least, there is no good evidence that humanism or naturalism makes people crueler or more selfish.

In my view, the recipe for the happiest life is as the epicureans say:
Do not fear god,
Do not fear death,
What is good is easy to get,
And what is evil can be endured.

Crude said...

it also follows, of course, that supernaturalists only have "imperfect and indirect access to the truth" and that "ultimate truth and reality can be radically different from" what supernaturalists believe it to be.

In a non-qualified sense? No kidding. I'll put aside for a moment, say, 'direct revelation from God' - obviously at least in principle available to the theist, if theism is true. Totally unavailable to the atheist, for obvious reasons.

Nowhere did I suggest, or even imply, that it's possible for naturalists to be wrong, but it's not possible for non-naturalists to be wrong.

Then again, absolutely everyone believes that the natural word exists, since everyone experiences it and lives in it every moment of their lives - it requires no " privilege" to gain access to it, for the simple reason that it is real.

No, this is deeply confused thinking on your part.

1) Whether 'everyone has access' to the 'natural world' is disputed - hence everything from solipsism to skeptical scenarios (Brains in vats), etc.

2) Even if you put aside the objections in 1 (and putting them aside or ignoring them is not the same as acknowledging or addressing them), you are left with radical differences of opinion on just what 'the natural world' is. Is it what Bishop Berkeley took it to be? Is it what Aristotle took it to be? How about Democritus? Panpsychists? Materialists? Neutral monists? Property dualists? Atheists? Christians? Teleologists?

3) Even granting that everyone has experiences, just what they experience - or better yet, what they think they experience - need not be, and in many cases, manifestly is not the same. Some people are certain they have experienced miracles. Their 'experience of the world' is quite different from yours, right or wrong.

Maybe it's you who is living a lie.

You mean it's *gasp* possible that I may be wrong? Granted. The point is that it's possible for you to be wrong. And that very possibility skunks your earlier claims about having direct access to The Truth(tm) and knowing reality 'as it really is'. I've pointed out that you have no such access - at best, you have a belief. So does everyone else. (And if naturalists like Rosenberg are right, you don't even have that.)

Unfortunately for you, as a christian, the evidence for

Unfortunately for you, you're pretty terrible at evaluating ideas and evidence, so your estimation of these things is little more than a bug fart when it comes to value.

You can't even target my comments right. You bungled Spinoza pretty terribly. And I should trust you with evaluating God's existence? Come now.

Is there evidence for this claim?

You are asking me for evidence that it's possible for naturalists to care entirely about themselves, rather than prioritize 'the rest of the world'?

You cannot possibly be that naive.

The least religious places in the world

Are irrelevant to my claim, and once again, your evaluation of evidence leaves a lot to be desired.

My claim was very modest: that one can be a naturalist and decide to be self-serving - that this is entirely consistent with naturalism. I nowhere said or implied that naturalism guarantees selfishness. It's enough to note that the two are entirely compatible. Really, you can be beyond selfish - you can be entirely cruel, unjust, etc, and you're still operating in a way that's consistent with naturalism.

North Korea is, like it or not, an example of a secular state.

Brian Barrington said...

Crude, Can we think of an actual real person who denies the existence of the natural and who thinks that everything that exists is supernatural? Even a person who thinks he is a brain in a vat (and to the best of my knowledge no such person actually, really exists) thinks he is a brain, which is a natural organ. The concept of supernaturalism makes no sense unless one first accepts the natural, since to describe something as "supernatural" means it is beyond nature or outside nature or above nature,- a concept which would be meaningless unless one first accepts the existence of nature.

Some beliefs can be more justified, based on objectively available evidence, than other beliefs. Or do you disagree? You'd have to be a fairly radical relativist and sceptic about the possibility of human knowledge to say that all beliefs are just equally plausible opinions. Take a person who says he believes that he saw the sun rise this morning and a person who believes that he saw a leprechaun or the Virgin Mary - both could conceivably be wrong, but would you say both claims are equally likely to be true and equally likely to refer to actual reality?

Brian Barrington said...

Crude, It's possible for both naturalists and supernaturalists  to care entirely about themselves and to behave selfishly and cruelly. But in general naturalists don't appear to behave, for example, more cruelly than supernaturalists. And places and countries where naturalists are more predominant do not overall appear to be more lawless, unstable, sociopathic or screwed up than countries where supernaturalists predominate. If anything the contrary is the case. So I don't see much of a point here. 

Where did I "bungle" Spinoza, as a matter of interest? 

Crude said...

Can we think of an actual real person who denies the existence of the natural and who thinks that everything that exists is supernatural?

Berkeleyan idealists may fit your standard. And I don't need someone who 'thinks that everything that exists is supernatural'. My point goes through by pointing out that, despite your claims that 'everyone has access to the natural world', what they consider the world they experience to be - what they consider themselves to have experiences - can differ radically. Even if their views could only differ in principle but didn't in fact, my point would go through. Unfortunately for you, they differ in fact as well.

The concept of supernaturalism makes no sense unless one first accepts the natural

So close, Brian. So close.

The real lesson to take away is that the division between 'natural' and 'supernatural' is, and has been for some time, extraordinarily confused. What is 'natural' has shifted repeatedly (Is action at a distance natural? How about instantaneous action? What about seemingly indeterministic action? How about a beginning of time? What about our universe being caused by something outside of it? Etc.)

You need 'the supernatural' more than I do. I'm entirely comfortable with recognizing all talk of God and gods, minds and brains, miracles and otherwise, as 'natural' - because I'm well aware of just how unlimited that word actually is, or at least has become. But if the distinction doesn't in fact exist, or is pretty arbitrary, then a major plank of your skeptical rhetoric goes into the toilet upon the instant.

Some beliefs can be more justified, based on objectively available evidence, than other beliefs.

Congratulations! You're making progress!

But 'more justified' does not mean 'I have access to the complete and infallible truth!' Which was precisely where you were coming from earlier - and where you've demonstrably faltered.

In reality, what you have is your belief(s) which you have high confidence in. Good for you! I've got far less confidence in your beliefs, and think mine are superior. The difference is I don't make the mistake of insisting that I know, certainly and infallibly, 'The Truth(tm)', or worse, that 'The Truth(tm)' on such a broad scale is certainly accessible by everyone, so everyone who disagrees with me must be actively lying.

And places and countries where naturalists are more predominant

First, you're making a rookie mistake: You're mistaking 'non-Christian' or even 'non-theist' for 'naturalist'. What would you call a country where 39% of the respondents said they believed in God, 49% said they believed in some sort of universal spirit or life force, and 19% said they don't believe in any God, spirit or life-force?

Would you call it a country where naturalists predominate? Seems odd to say that, unless 'spirits and life-forces' are compatible with your view of naturalism.

Me, I know what I'd call it: Denmark.

Second, a closer but still imperfect metric would be to use countries where state atheism was enforced / adhered to was 'where naturalists predominated'. Care to run the numbers there?

Again: North Korea is an example of a secular state. I'd say it illustrates that atheism and humanism doesn't walk hand in hand, but the fact is the North Korean leadership may consider themselves humanists.

Where did I "bungle" Spinoza, as a matter of interest?

Tell me this, Brian. How much of Spinoza have you actually read? Did you get past the wikipedia entry and a few choice quotes about how he thought knowledge was spiffy?

Brian Barrington said...

You seem to be making the argument that naturalists somehow claim “privileged access to reality”, and that they are therefore arrogant or dogmatic - presumably in contrast to people who believe in the supernatural, who are more humble and more sceptical?

 Well, the naturalist position can hardly be considered more arrogant or dogmatic than, for example, the Christian position. Christians dogmatically believe some dogmatic supernatural claims made by Christians (the Incarnation, the Trinity, Hell, the Resurrection, the existence of the angel Gabriel), all based on flimsy evidence. And they do not believe the vast majority of other supernatural claims, of which there are millions. And they dogmatically reject naturalism. Does that really make them less dogmatic and less arrogant than a naturalist? Of course it doesn’t.

 As it happens, I (and naturalists in general) do not claim to possess access to any level of reality, or realm of reality, that everyone else does not also have access to – this is a key point. If anything, unlike people who make supernatural claims, I do NOT claim to have privileged access to any realm of reality – I just have access to the same realm of reality that everyone else also has access to. What’s privileged or arrogant about that?

When anyone claims to have had an experience that you can't have, and which allegedly demonstrates the existence of another realm of reality apart from the one we all experience, the chances that they are deceived or deceiving are very, very high. There are all sorts of supernatural claims that you do not believe in – a very large majority of such claims, I bet – perhaps nearly all of them.  In nearly all cases, you do not believe the claims – in reality, you believe that the people making the supernatural claim are incorrect, and deceived or deceiving, Does that make you arrogant and dogmatic? No. It just makes you are a reasonably sane, reasonably sceptical, person.

Brian Barrington said...

I got my figures on the importance of religion from here -

Only 18% of Danes regard religion as important in their daily life, the third lowest figure in the world. According to the UN the Danes are the happiest people in the world, followed by Norway (20%), Finland, and the Netherlands, which are also notably irreligious, as well as extremely stable societies with high-levels of social trust and low levels of crime and low homicide rates. Other relatively irreligous places that are notable for being successful societies are Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand. In contrast, some of the societies where religion is most important to people are places like Angola, the Congo, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Burundi, Myanmar, Cambodia. In all these places over 90% think religion is important to them. Well, I know where I'd rather be! There are exceptions but the overall positive correlation between irreligion and societal success is notable. 

I've read Ethics and most of the Theologico-Politcal Treatise, as well several books about Spinoza. So nice try. Remind me again where I "bungled" Spinoza?

David B Marshall said...

I knew that comment about Denmark would get to Brian. He's in love with all young Danish women -- and who can blame him? :- )

Me, I'll cop to having read no Spinoza at all. I'll also admit that if I ever visit the Congo, I'll be inclined to 'cling to guns and religion' with the best of them. I know a pastor from the Congo, and he showed us some slides of what the savages do to the civilized, there. God help them.

Brian Barrington said...

Now, now David, I am married to an Irish girl! Although now that i think about it, people do sometimes mistake her for a Scandinavian or a Russian.

You should read Spinoza though - he basically invented biblical criticism.

Rhology said...

May I ask why you felt the need to throw YEC under the bus in a barely-relevant post? It's not as if YEC doesn't have easy answers for the Grand Canyon, T Rex, and starlight 'problems'.

Just curious.

David B Marshall said...

Rhology: That is how the subject came up. But frankly, I don't think YEC has good answers to anything, and I think you would be better off not believing so ridiculous a theory. The analogy to Archarya S is close: Murdock and Carrier look for clever (or not so clever) ways to deny all serious biblical criticism, while YEC advocates similarly deny (whether they admit it or not) all serious astronomy, physics, paleontology, genetics, and even archeology.

I don't think Christians should toss out whole fields of knowledge. And I don't think you can believe either hypothesis without cutting yourself off from the best-informed part of the human race -- as Augustine warned, long ago.

Rhology said...

I don't think YEC has good answers to anything

Yes it does. So there! Hahaha.

It just seemed like a weird place for a swipe at YEC to pop up. Next time I comment on a debate I'm having with a Muslim or something, I'll be sure to kick some dirt OEC's way.