Robert M. Price and I are Interviewed on The Enlightenment Show.

[Redated Post] This show was produced by the Freethought of Ft. Wayne, Indiana, August 2008. First Episode. And Second Episode.

21 comments:

kiwi said...

I'm listening to the first part, and so far I don't follow you at all, especially that part:
"(...) If the universe happened by chance, (...) then that's why we get all those explanations, because
you cannot explain a chance event. At that point I thought, I don't think there is a God at all" or something similar.

First, random events can be explained. Also, "I don't think there is a God at all" is a complete non-sequitur, given what you've said previously. Could you clarify?

John W. Loftus said...

kiwi, if you flip a quarter ten times and it turns up heads 7 times in a row, can you explain why it did?...that is, why it didn't turn up equally heads and tails, or why it didn't turn up tails 7 times in a row instead?

kiwi said...

Okay, so you mean, you cannot explain in a random event with X, Y, Z, ... as possible outcomes, why the result is X instead of Y, Z, ...

Now could you make the link between that line of reasoning, and the conclusion "I don't think there is a God"?

The only way I can make sense of the conclusion is if you assume the universe did happen by chance. If that's the case, then of course the God - defined as a creator who created the universe purposely - does not exist. But that's begging the question; we don't know if the universe happened by chance or not.

Maybe that is not the reason you conclude "I don't think there is a God"? If that's the case, then, what is the reason?

John W. Loftus said...

kiwi said...But that's begging the question; we don't know if the universe happened by chance or not.

You'd have to grant the arguments of John Hick, Huston Smith, and Terence Penulhum, that the universe is "religiously ambiguous" capable of being interpreted in a number of rational ways. If you grant that argument then you're an agnostic, as I was. What tipped the scales for me was the argument you claim begs the question. I do not assume the universe happened by chance for the argument. That's the conclusion of the argument, that it did. And the reason is that if it did that best explains why the universe is religiously ambiguous.

Cheers.

kiwi said...

So you're saying...

1) The universe can be interpreted in a number of rational way.

2) Agnosticism follows from (1).

But how? One could very well acknowledge there is more than one way to interpret the universe rationally, but at the same time the person could also think there are very good reasons to believe in God, or that the evidence is overwhelming, so that would make a person a theist.

For example, maybe there might be a couple of rational explanation if we find a dead body (suicide, murder, etc), but one explanation could be much more convincing than the others, so we would not be agnostic.

John: "I do not assume the universe happened by chance for the argument. That's the conclusion of the argument, that it did." `

And how do you get to that conclusion? What's the argument? I'm afraid I don't understand the argument, and whatever it might be, I suspect the non-existence of God as a conclusion is a non-sequitur.

Could you write your argument in a more rigorous way (perhaps in a logical form)?

One more question: is it still the argument that makes you an atheist, or was it just an argument that initially led you to atheism?

John W. Loftus said...

Kiwi, it was indeed the argument that initially led me to embrace atheism when I was an agnostic. As an agnostic I was a true skeptic because I argued against all answers to why something rather than nothing exists, including atheism/naturalism. An agnostic does not think there is any answer that is defensible, although as an agnostic I admitted that many (though not all) of them can and are rationally held views, especially deism, pantheism, atheism and some kinds of theism. The fact is that no answer is initially more plausible to the question of why something rather than nothing exists, otherwise we’d all be persuaded of that answer due to the evidence. This forms the basis for what I argue, and unless you accept this premise then my argument has no force against you. But since I am writing to devout Christians it will have force. You see, as Christians they already reject all other views. So after debunking Christianity I point them in the way.

In this sense skeptics do not like my argument, but I still maintain it. It’s a philosophical argument. I maintain that the universe is initially religiously ambiguous even today as an atheist. This puts me at odds with many scientifically minded atheists, and it calls on me to show why I think these other views are rationally held, and I can. I just do not like making their arguments for them. If anyone thinks these views are not rationally held, or that they do not have good answers with some evidence for them, then go on their respective blogs and argue with them. I maintain that I was indeed rational when I was a believer and that I had some good answers to the question of why something existed rather than nothing at all. I am the same person. So why would I turn around and say that I wasn’t rational all of a sudden? I cannot do that. I won’t. It’s not true.

There’s so much I cannot say in a short comment here, but I made this argument in a whole chapter of my book. It’s the reason why I am an atheist rather than an agnostic, and I’m sure there are leftover questions.

The argument can best be put in typical Thomas Aquinas fashion. He repeatedly started out with “It seems as though…” and supported this with a few arguments, and then he would say “But I say…” and argue for his position against what seems to be the case.

Here then is the argument:

I would seem as though no one can claim to know why there is something rather than nothing at all (the agnostic default initial position—a true skepticism), because…

…the universe is religiously ambiguous, capable of being rationally interpreted by a number of mutually exclusive views.

…there is no compelling persuasive case on behalf of any of these particular views since they all have some serious intellectual difficulties—all of them.

But I say…

…when we try to rationally figure out why there is something rather than nothing at all we fail because chance events cannot be rationally figured out. So the best explanation for why we cannot rationally figure out why there is something rather than nothing is because the universe came about by chance.

kiwi said...

John, first thanks for your answers.

1) I agree with you when you say that the universe is "religiously ambiguous", capable of being rationally interpreted by a number of mutually exclusive views.

2) "there is no compelling persuasive case on behalf of any of these particular views since they all have some serious intellectual difficulties—all of them."

Justifying that premise would take a lot of work!

I disagree, but I'm just trying to figure out your argument, so I'll leave it at that.

"But I say… when we try to rationally figure out why there is something rather than nothing at all we fail because chance events cannot be rationally figured out. So the best explanation for why we cannot rationally figure out why there is something rather than nothing is because the universe came about by chance."

I have no clue how you reach that conclusion (that 'the universe came about by chance' is the best explanation.). It doesn't follow from the 2 premises.

You say right before that we fail to understand the universe because random events cannot be rationally figured out. Now, right there, you're *already* saying that the universe is random event. So surely this is not your justification of why you think the universe is a random event?

John W. Loftus said...

Kiwi, let me revise what I said:

"But I say… when we try to rationally figure out why there is something rather than nothing at all we fail because if the universe came about by chance then we cannot rationally figure out why the universe came about because chance events cannot be rationally figured out. So the best explanation for why we cannot rationally figure out why there is something rather than nothing is because the universe came about by chance."

Kiwi said...I have no clue how you reach that conclusion (that 'the universe came about by chance' is the best explanation.). It doesn't follow from the 2 premises.

I was following Aqunas' method of arguing. There were no previous premises. It was all argument, on one side and then the other. Many details are not filled in. I do not have the time to do so now.

kiwi, if you flip a quarter ten times and it turns up heads 7 times in a row, can you explain why it did?...that is, why it didn't turn up equally heads and tails, or why it didn't turn up tails 7 times in a row instead?

kiwi said...

I've read a little bit of Aquinas, but I fell asleep reading all those entries on sins and angels. ;)

I'm still totally in the dark. I hope when you get the time you'll write your argument in a more rigorous way. Also, I hope your book is less opaque.

"kiwi, if you flip a quarter ten times and it turns up heads 7 times in a row, can you explain why it did?...that is, why it didn't turn up equally heads and tails, or why it didn't turn up tails 7 times in a row instead?"

No, you can't. But I'm not sure why you're asking me that question as I do agree with you that you cannot explain the result of a random event. My concern is how you arrive at agnosticism or atheism with your argument, or how you conclude the universe is a chance event.

John W. Loftus said...

Kiwi...My concern is how you arrive at agnosticism or atheism with your argument, or how you conclude the universe is a chance event.

By the process of elimination.

Whether you agree or not is another matter.

Cheers.

ismellarat said...

Can you link to the "brilliant" Robert Price article you mentioned in part 2?

John W. Loftus said...

ismellarat, right here.

ismellarat said...

I'd actually been wondering about this very thing several years ago, and had intended to make my own list of things I'd noticed Christians used to say were sins, but now aren't, since "everyone else is doing it". Most of today's Christians would have been seen as apostates in an earlier time.

Check out the 1892 book, "From the Ballroom to Hell":

http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/18759

Did you know that, of 200 "brothel inmates" surveyed by the author, a shocking 163 ended up there after having taken their first steps toward Hell by ballroom dancing? Next came 20, whose downfall could be attributed to "drink given by parents", 10 by willful choice, and 7 by poverty and abuse.

I must say, though, that I came away unexpectedly a little sad, after having skimmed through it. There was an account of a girl who had written a letter saying she had fallen into sin via dance and was so shamed by it that she intended to commit suicide. What a sad waste, if that was true. Like a Muslim woman, who agrees with her own stoning.

I'd hoped to find a much longer list of things that were once seen as sinful, but now are tolerated by Christians.

Such a history would be worth a book.

A similarly interesting exercise would be to imagine going back in time and doing these now acceptable things in front of Luther, Calvin, Aquinas, etc., whom Christians still claim to be their intellectual ancestors.

E.g., if I, a white male, had kissed a black girl in front of them, what would they have said?

An important article that was, but much, much too short.

ismellarat said...

About the girl, I read that a few years ago, and remember a couple more details.

She was planning on spending the last couple of weeks of her life trying to preach a "don't let this happen to you" message to other girls, while believing she herself was already hopelessly condemned to Hell.

If the author made this up, he was one sick bastard.

And if it was true, the blame for all the emotional torments she must have experienced would have to fall on the society that fed her that crap.

ismellarat said...

Another thought (sorry, I'm getting worked up over this):

This reminds me of something I'd read about dogfights. Apparently, the dogs fight more enthusiastically when they're made to believe they're defending a loving master, so they're trained accordingly.

But of course they can't understand the big picture.

Sick.

ismellarat said...

I couldn't find the story in FTBTH, and thought that the book had been much longer.

I was thinking of Faulkner's 1916 "The Lure of the Dance", which includes most or all of the earlier book.

http://www.archive.org/stream/danceman065/danceman065.txt

Search for "suicide" and you'll find the story.

Andy said...

Hi John,

Thanks for linking to the show. You guys were great to interview. Maybe we could have you on again some time to promote your book with a topic such as the problem of evil. The production value has gone way up for the show. Check out our latest show at http://freethoughtfortwayne.org/2009/01/16/enlightenment-show-charles-darwin/

Thanks,

Andy

PS. I wonder if you own a video camera or have one on your computer? In this modern age we could do something remote. Just a thought... The same is offered for all the authors of DC.

Stephanie said...

Wow, I am so jealous of the interviewer! I wish it was me asking the questions. I could shoot the breeze with you two for weeks! It was a very entertaining and educational interview. I learned a few new things. Thanks for posting it!

Andrew Modro said...

John, thanks for providing the links to the show. I greatly enjoyed hearing both you and Dr. Price speak and handle these issues in such a clear and serious, yet light-hearted way. I'd like to pass these links around to some folks I know.

John W. Loftus said...

Andy, any time my friend. I see your group seems to be growing. That's great!

John W. Loftus said...

Stephanie and Andrew, glad you liked it. Apparently Andy and I will do it again sometime.