Friday, March 09, 2012

You Can Ban/Moderate Me, Uncommon Descent, But You Cannot Silence Me: A Reply to Kairosfocus

Welcome to Uncommon Descent. Feel free to comment.
I shouldn't post comments I make on other sites, but I want to save the following thoughts from a comment that Uncommon Descent decided not to release. They must have resented my uncharitable review of the recent purge of ID questioners.

Still, Kairosfocus had made a "challenge" to me, so it would have been nice if my post was accepted--even if the offending part was snipped. I hate to leave a challenge unanswered.

Dialoguing with Kairosfocus is difficult, and his foggy prose doesn't help. Now, I make no boasts of my own style; I mean only to point out that Kairosfocus has an information-rich and opinionated style that an interlocutor must work through. Kairosfocus gives long, ranging comments laced with snide remarks. For example, he begins his comment to me with this bit:
You of course must know about the recent exchanges here at UD (and in the penumbra of objector sites) that showed that there is a basic clash whereby evolutionary materialist atheists strongly tend to deny the reality of self-evident first principles of right reason; leading them to absurdities such as asserting that quantum physics provides empirical warrant — by contradiction to prior expectations! [oooopsie . . . ] — to dismiss the key laws of thought such as the law of non-contradiction.

See the reductio ad absurdum on denial that is a hall-mark of trying to dismiss self evident first principles?
In only two sentences, Kairosfocus raises many topics:
(1) The recent purge of ID critics from UD.
(2) A "basic clash" between atheists and theists.
(3) Atheists deny "principles of right reason."
(4) Atheists say absurd things.
(5) Atheists say that quantum physics allows "key laws of thought" to be dismissed.
(6) Atheists are forced into reductiones ad absurdum when they do #3 and #5
From the two sentences above, we understand that Kairosfocus writes in emotionally charged terms of attack (exchanges, clash) and irrationality (deny, self-evident, right, absurdities). For this reason, his long posts are akin to the Gish Gallop, a barrage of charges and dismissals that make dialogue difficult, if not impossible.

The charges are totally false, if I must dignify them by pointing this out. Atheists do not deny "principles of right reason." For most atheists that I read and observe, reasoning rightly and well is a primary concern--as well as a factor in why they are atheists. Part of good reasoning includes examining one's assumptions: everything is available for questioning and nothing is sacrosanct. That Kairosfocus and his friends want to surround their parochial version of "right reason" with high, barbed-wire fences--on pain of bannination from UD (the horror!)--tells us that intellectually there are places they refuse to go. Such refusal again makes real dialogue extremely difficult.

Nevertheless, I have aimed to give dialogue the old college try. Here's what I wrote, and you'll notice I gave a long-ish reply to match what was given to me. Your comments are invited.

I do indeed know about the recent exchanges at UD. The purge of ID critics was duly noted. In fact, it became a source of amusement for many folks, myself included, who think UD and its leadership are more bluster and bullying than substance. The “evolutionary materialist atheists” that I read were not denying first principles at all. They were demanding that first principles be considered with proper nuance and not simplistically.

I am an atheist, but I am not an “evolutionary materialist atheist.” I tend to be satisfied that modern biology provides the best available explanation for the diversity of life on earth. I also lean to materialism as being sufficient to account for everything we see and experience in the universe. But I am not an “evolutionary materialist atheist” because I am neither a biologist nor a physicist. I simply do the best I can understanding the information before me and concluding as seems correct. My atheism, if I may be personal, starts with understanding the history of the Bible, the history in it, and the history of the religions that take the Bible as Bible: the point is that evolution and materialism were not and are not the prevailing factors in my reasoning about theism. But I digress….

My questions were directed to jstanley01. The expression “rational foundations of reason” didn’t make sense to me. It would have been like saying “the happy foundations of happiness.” Seems a bit circular, doesn’t it?

I hear your argument that an atheist and a theist equally rely on faith. You say this here:

the vaunted “bright” atheist is just as much relying on faith as the Christian whom he mocks as ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked and/or blindly credulous.
I'll quibble with you on the kinds of faith employed by an atheist as opposed to those of a theist, but I get your larger point: we’re all working as best we can with what we got.

As for my “patent and irresponsible, unfair strawman caricature”: what I said,
Folks here refuse to grant atheism intellectual permissibility.
is either generally true at UD or it is not. We can establish the truth of the statement with a poll:

(1) Is atheism a “reasonable faith”?

(2) Is it possible for atheism to be a “reasonable faith”?

I also hear your objections about atheists. You say we are pretentious and do not face the challenges of building our worldview from the ground up, which I assume is what you feel theists do. Personally, I try to develop and refine my worldview from the ground-up. I think I've done an OK job, and I see many atheists who have done the same. If you disagree, please show me specifically where I or others need to shore up our worldview.

You then say,
If evolutionary materialist atheism cannot stand on its own feet and ground itself as a reasonable faith on matters of accuracy to reality, coherence and in particular accuracy to the reality of ought, then it is not worth holding.
I totally agree. If atheism is not true, then one is better off adjusting her or his thinking. However, I happen to think it’s probably true. You clearly think it is not; what’s more, you think it is incoherent and inaccurate “to the reality of ought” (a difficult phrase to parse). That’s fine. In my opinion, Christianity (speaking generally and for example) is untrue, incoherent, and less than ideal in many of its official moral strictures.

We need to disagree, then.

Your points on Hawking and Lewontin are noted, but don’t carry much weight with me. Generally, you criticize these folks for what you wish they would have said and not what they actually say. You may now wish to retort that I am being unfair, obstinate, twisting words, lacing in red herrings and the like. I get it. But you now know my opinion, and I think that opinion is highly defensible, if you care to press me on it.

Thanks for the playbook on right reason. Yes, I think atheism works well for [1] through [6]. Atheism also does a better job than theism on [5] and [6]. Your footnote tries to answer, but does not, the questions that I know you know are coming:
Are gods something “that are”? If so, can it be found why they are? If so, how can it be found (what methods) why deities exist?

Do gods have a beginning or may cease from being? If so, can it be found why they begin or cease from being? If not, can it be found why they do not begin or cease from being?
So, we arrive where we started: atheism seems quite reasonable to me, and not to you. And theism seems quite reasonable to you, and not to me.

But I never asked for atheism to get a free pass from you. Don’t ask that theism get a free pass from me.

Finally, you may be aware that UD moderators typically hold my posts for several hours (when they allow posts to pass). This is frustrating. I will therefore not engage further on this conversation, not because I don’t want to but because it’s too irritating to be moderated all the time. Thanks for understanding.


  1. Anonymous10:03 PM

    From the two sentences above, we understand that Kairosfocus writes in emotionally charged terms of attack (exchanges, clash) and irrationality (deny, self-evident, right, absurdities). For this reason, his long posts are akin to the Gish Gallop, a barrage of charges and dismissals that make dialogue difficult, if not impossible.This is why I mostly ignore his comments and posts.
    I am an atheist, but I am not an “evolutionary materialist atheist.”
    Well, lots of luck with that. I'm in about the same position - neither a materialist nor a Darwinist. But they never let that interfere with so labeling me.
    The expression “rational foundations of reason” didn’t make sense to me.
    I think they see logic (their version of logic) as coming directly from God. They would probably quote John 1:1 to support that. They seem to take logic as applying directly to things in the world, rather than to descriptions of those things. As literalists, they probably see language as also coming directly from God (as in the Tower of Babel story).

  2. LT et al: Kindly observe the notice of my reply, here. Good day. GEM of TKI

  3. Kairos,

    Thanks for replying. Once question on something you say: "is it turtles all the way down [an infinite regress of warrant], or turtles in a circle [circularity], or do you accept that we can only go so far down, and rest on first plausibles that we take on trust and may compare on principles of comparative difficulties?"

    Is WHAT turtles all the way down? I cannot make sense of the question/choice you are offering me.

  4. Ugh. "once" should be "one"

  5. Kairos,

    You say: "I started by laying out the issue of worldviews warrant on comparative difficulties, in light of the inevitability of starting from first plausibles, which LT has yet to cogently address."

    Again, your prose is confusing. What exactly is the issue that you think I've failed to address? The expression "worldviews warrant on comparative difficulties" is difficult to parse. Are you basically talking about justifying worldviews, as in "you can't get to worldview-X if you start from first principles"?

    Is this your point, that if I start with "first principles" then atheism gets ruled out as a possibility?

  6. OK, I think I see what KF is getting at:

    (a) the "turtles" question is basically: do you, LT, accept first principles. The answer is yes.

    (b) The "worldviews warrant" point is that, according to KF, one cannot conclude atheism (in the sense of denying a capital-G god) if one builds a worldview on first principles.

    Of course, I may have misconstrued KF's questions/points here. If so, I await correction. Otherwise, I trust that my original post asserts clearly enough that (b) is incorrect: one can indeed begin at first principles and build an atheistic worldview.

    To be more specific, not one of KF's 6 principles is inconsistent with atheism. If KF thinks there is inconsistency, I wish he'd say which principles are problematic for the atheist and why.

  7. LT et al,

    I came here to notify of my onward comment and pointers on links, here.

    I see some belabouring that perhaps some brief comments can clear up. In that spirit, I simply note that:

    (i) Through alluding to the "turtles all the way down" story, I have laid out the challenge of warrant that any chain of reasoning or worldview faces, leading to the principle of reasonable faith expressed as first plausibles and to worldviews being assessed on comparative difficulties. The conclusion is that any worldview has reason and belief inextricably intertwined in its roots, so worldviews are assessed on intrinsic and comparative difficulties. This is Phil 101 stuff, as one of my linked notes will make clear.

    (ii) I have in the previously linked, given a place where I give a 101 on how a generic theistic worldview can be grounded [and starting from the turtles story], here it is again.

    (iii) In the comment I just put up at UD, as already linked, I have given -- again -- linked discussions on the sort of difficulties that are faced by evolutionary materialist atheism, on self referential incoherence and grounding morality on anything more tenable than might and manipulation make 'right.' (Note, the last goes at least as far back as Plato in The Laws Bk X, in light of the misadventures of Athens at the hands of Alcibiades and co.)

    (iv) I have already pointed out, with links to actual cases, just how much trouble atheists seem to have with first principles of right reason, including on failing to recognise the LNC, LOI, LEM import of the empirical testing context of Quantum Theory.

    The linked should be enough to make the matters clear at first level. GEM of TKI


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