CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

After reading through the chapter on miracles in The Jesus Legend again it seems to me that Boyd and Eddy are conflating two distinct skeptical challenges to the miracle claims of the Gospels. The first uses the mere presence of miracle stories in the Jesus traditions as evidence that the evangelists or their sources concocted them out of thin air, either as a free creative composition or modeled on Old Testament or pagan miracle accounts. They write: "The Gospels claim that Jesus and his disciples performed miracles such as healing the sick and disabled, casting out demons, and even raising the dead. To the thinking of many historical-critical scholars, this is enough to demonstrate that they are substantially legendary." (pp.39-40) According to this line of thinking, the Gospel accounts cannot possibly have their source in the actual eye-witness experience of the disciples, even if they merely record their (confused?) reaction to an unusual event. This amounts to the claim that no one has ever experienced anything which they even believed to be a miracle, so the actual content of the miracle stories must have come, not from direct experience, but from prior literary sources or the evangelists' imagination.

This claim is easily rebutted on the basis of the anthropological evidence that Boyd and Eddy marshal on pp.67-78; clearly throughout history innumerable people have experienced events that they believed to be miraculous, which today we would call 'supernatural', such as possessions, epiphanies from angelic or demonic beings, rapid and remarkable healings, etc. There is absolutely no reason to think that in all or even the majority of cases of reported miracles the accounts originated with the conscious decision of the teller to fabricate an event without any external stimulus whatsoever. It seems undeniable to me that many accounts resulted (and continue to result) from an actual event which took the teller by surprise. A person was going along their merry way when a sudden bright light in the form of (what seemed to them to be) a person stopped them in their tracks, for example. Moreover, even if some miracle stories have a purely literary origin, modeled after previous accounts, we would still wonder where the previous accounts themselves come from. It is hard to imagine miracle stories springing into existence without even one antecedent experience of what seemed to a person or community to be a miracle.

However, acceptance of these facts does not automatically confer the status of eyewitness testimony on any specific miracle story. Many or perhaps even most reported miracle stories result from eyewitness experience, but we still do have miracle stories that are the product of the creative imagination and were either never meant to be taken seriously as a factual account or were deceptively promulgated as such. To complicate things even further, some miracle stories might be fictional but are ultimately based on the memory of a real event or series of events (in the case of Jesus, for example, we might have fictional miracles attributed to him precisely because he was remembered as a miracle worker; Jesus may not have performed the specific miracles attributed to him in, for example, the Proto-Evangelium of James, but that doesn't mean he didn't perform any miracles, and that the miracles he did perform didn't serve as the basis for the new fictional ones).

But distinguishing between fact and fiction, regardless of whether the event described was an actual miracle or only interpreted as such, and only on the level of authorial intent, should be possible regardless of prior world-view commitments. One doesn't have to believe in the possibility of miracles to analyse a miracle story and conclude that it most likely records eyewitness testimony. Alternatively, even if one believes in the possibility of miracles it should be possible to recognize a miracle story as fiction based entirely on historical and literary criticism of the text. For example, even though I believe in miracles I am 100% confident that Randal Flagg's levitation in Stephen King's The Stand never happened anywhere at any time because The Stand is a work of fiction through and through, and there are plenty of external and internal indicators of that fact.

Or for another more relevant example, if it should turn out that we've been misreading the Gospels all along and that originally they were meant to be read as fiction, as some critics like Randal Helms argue, that judgment should result from a careful analysis of the texts themselves, not from an a priori belief that miracles cannot happen. The judgment that the Gospel miracle stories are fictional should only be based on a careful argument to the effect that either: 1) the author never intended the stories to be read as factual, 2) the author did believe they were factual but lacked the resources and ability to verify his sources as going back as close as possible to the life of Jesus and the testimony of eye-witnesses or 3) the author did intend them to be read as factual but he didn't have any good sources and fabricated his accounts for polemical purposes. The point here is that the mere occurence of miracle stories in the Gospels should not prejudge or even cause us to suspect more than usual that we are dealing with any of the above three cases. This is a common skeptical bias: the conviction that fraud, deception and fiction tend to concentrate in a higher proportion around claims to paranormal experience than other claims. I highly doubt this is true in general, as there would seem to be just as many reasons for fabrication or embellishment of ordinary events, such as marital infidelity or incompetence, as for occurrences of the paranormal. Even if the skeptics are right, we should note that the same claim cuts both ways. In fact research shows that if there are many documented cases of fraud or embellishment in paranormal testimony arising from wishful thinking or polemical purposes, there are equally many cases of intellectual dishonesty, trickery and bias resulting from fervent skepticism and the desire to debunk, either as a result of intellectual pride, personal animosity, etc.

But Boyd and Eddy also discuss and critique another skeptical claim, going back to Hume's famous argument against miracles, roughly that eyewitness testimony to miracles could never be sufficiently strong enough to convince the critically thinking listener (or reader) that something actually transcending the natural order has taken place, much less that this something is most plausibly interpreted as the action of a specific religious being, such as God. If someone tells me that they saw another person levitate, I should weigh the likelihood that my friend witnessed an actual levitation against the nearly uniform testimony of my and others' experience that people cannot levitate.

The force of this argument, of course, depends on many questionable assumptions: whether human experience really is as uniformly void of supposed levitation events as Hume and other skeptics think, whether our understanding of the natural order is really stable and comprehensive enough to rule out or at least make highly unlikely the actual occurrence of paranormal events, whether all or even most of the reports of such events are the result of fraud or misperception, etc. The discussion of the merits of Hume's argument is too involved to enter into here. My point for now is that these two skeptical challenges should be kept distinct, and Boyd and Eddy are not so successful at this. At times they seem to be referring to the first challenge, and at other times the second. The question of whether historians are ever justified in inferring that a genuine supernatural event occurred on the basis of written testimony to that event, and whether the mere presence of supernatural events in a story should incline us to think that it is deliberately fictional (or factual but without good sources behind it) are two distinct questions. The answer to the former question depends on the interpretation we give of an unusual event, the latter on features of the textual evidence.

Warning!--a long and dense post is approaching.

Several weeks ago, I posted up (here on the Cadre Journal) a revision of Richard Carrier's deductive anti-theistic argument from suffering, which he attempted during his debate with Tom Wanchick a few years ago (which for reference can be found here at the Secular Web.)

Now comes the commentary, where I take some time to explain the tactical and strategic applications of my revision.

For an even longer commentary, where I discuss in more detail why I made the revisions I did, as well as discuss the level of similarity to Richard’s original argument, please see the doc file posted in the second comment of this thread at The thread’s initial post is the revised argument found here on the Cadre as well.

Note: all argument element references afterward in this article, such as P1 or C1, refer afterward to the elements of my revision of Richard's argument, not to the element labels given by Richard to his original argument. Please see the first link above (which I recommend opening as a second window or tab) for the text of that revision.

I don't foresee proponents of Basic Theism (or varieties thereof) even trying to deny P1, P3, P5, O1, C1, O2, P10, or O3 (even O3a, although in principle O3a isn't necessary for the argument from O3 to obtain).

I can foresee some theists trying to deny P4; but the new phrasing is set up to avoid Molinist rebuttals. The only way out for the theist here is to either deny God is moral at all; deny God may be trusted to act morally; or else deny that God will act in any way that has any bearing to what we recognize as morality. Either way, in trying to deny P4, a theist will have essentially conceded an argument against Basic Theism (as so described for Richard and Tom's debate) either in principle or for all practical purposes.

I can foresee some theists wanting to deny P9, but strictly speaking I think they'd have to accept it pretty quickly or else affirm that God had to create (instead of being free to create): since, strictly speaking, if unfairness is a potential of creation (which can be quickly established if a theist is inclined to deny it), and if God was free to create, then God at least had the ability (from our temporal perspective) to prevent any unfairness from even potentially happening: i.e. by not creating at all.

Once P9 and P10 are accepted, the theist has to accept C5, too. If they insist that God was not free to create, but was compelled to do so by some power greater than Himself, then the anti-theist can tag them on not being ontological supernaturalistic theists at least. (Which may or may not be a problem, depending on whether they're trying to claim that kind of theism elsewhere.)

I can foresee more than a few theists wanting to deny P8, on the ground that once a situation obtains it might be contradictory for some other situation to follow in total disjunction from that situation; mending a particular unfairness would require such a disjunction; and even God cannot do that which is inherently contradictory (which some theists again would deny, but then they have to surrender any attempt at having logical analysis about God--which the anti-theist can then ping them on for the rest of their lives every time they try to have logical analysis about God anyway. And they will! {wry g}) But P9 covers for potential success on rebutting this element; since God could just not have created at all, preventing any even potential unfairness. Or not created persons at all, insofar as only persons can meaningfully be objects of unfair treatment per se; which from the standpoint of persons engaging in argument, like theists, might as well be no creation by God at all.

I have seen more than one theist deny P7; but their attempts to do so amount to trying to claim that there is fair reason in allowing an unfairness that by choice will not be mended later, i.e. that the one allowing the unfairness and refusing to mend it later is still being fair and not unfair. (Notice that P8 helps block a move against P7.) This is a subtle point, but it's a vulnerability where a theist insists on it. At worst the anti-theist can tag the theist with a total logical disjunction here. Otherwise they'll have to accept P7. (Even if not emphatically so. {g} Though in my experience most people who accept P7 do so emphatically--so long as they don't see it as being a problem for their own beliefs elsewhere.)

It's possible that a theist may try to deny P11, depending on how gung ho they are about original sin, i.e. whether they consider suffering (even of original sin itself) dependent on inheriting original sin to be fair to the sufferer and not unfair to the sufferer. But I don't think most theists will deny P11, though--not even ones who would in theory claim to deny it, when it comes time for practice! And if the ones who do so use a variety of denying P4 (which seems extremely likely), then the anti-theist has got them there.

A theist may reflexively try denying P12, mistaking this for a denial of a chain of reasoning incorporating P2; but strictly speaking that would be no reason to deny P12, since the hypothetical connection can be granted without granting the actuality of P2. If the theist accepts P11 (and if he doesn't the anti-theist has probably got him anyway), he might as well accept P12 hypothetically at least.

There are theists who would deny P14 (that the Golden Rule also applies to God); but so long as it is made clear that the statement is not trying to say that God is obliged to obey (or else be in rebellion against) a more fundamental reality than Himself, the only way the theist can deny P14 is by either denying P4 or else by seriously severing the connection between the Golden Rule and P4. Few if any theists (not to say anyone else!) would find the latter move coherent; and a theist who denies the former will have ceded this argument relevantly already (by denying P0 as defined).

Up to this point, the anti-theist should have little to no trouble defending elements. After this, defense of elements becomes a little more problematic.

P13 may be deniable by a theist on various technical grounds. If the anti-theistic appeal is to the principle that with more details in the character of existence, more vulnerabilities are at least potentially introduced, the theist can reply that this ignores the other side of the equation--that with more details in the character of existence more positive options are at least potentially introduced, too. I think it would be difficult (though perhaps not impossible) for the anti-theist to appeal more than merely suggestively to the idea that there will necessarily be more disadvantages introduced than advantages introduced.

The anti-theist can properly avoid this kind of rebuttal, however, by reconfiguring the focus onto the question of ontological vulnerability to unwilling suffering, i.e. if a created mind requires some kind of environment to which it is necessarily vulnerable to some degree (whether it chooses to be vulnerable to that environment or not), then it doesn't matter whether the mind has a brain or not, or whether it is even physical or not. I have made some initial steps in this direction elsewhere in the argument, but I also thought I should try to keep as much formal similarity to Richard's argument as possible (at least on a first run-through). Thus for at least one premise I kept his claim entirely unaltered. Ideally, though, I would recommend revising it to the broader topic of ontological unwilling vulnerability, which ought to be quite doable.

After such a revision, a theist could only deny it by affirming naturalistic theism (i.e. pantheism, which is not Basic Theism defined for Richard's debate, thus denying P0); or by affirming some relevant variety of P2 (which would involve denying supernaturalistic monotheism--not perhaps denying BT so defined for the debate, but then the theist must allow for P2 to be deployed later in the argument.)

Most theists may try to deny O4 (or a premise equivalent thereof); but since it can hardly be denied that some humans have been observed to die without their disability being mended (possibly leading to the death itself), the theist can only reply by noting that the argument thus points toward some kind of healing and restoration being true, even beyond death, if Basic Theism is true (aside from the question of whether the theist already has that belief as part of his overall set of worldview beliefs).

This could be avoided by eliminating consideration of whether the mending of a temporary unfairness necessarily allowed prevents the allowance of the temporary unfairness from being intrinsically unfair itself. (Such as, perhaps coincidentally, Richard does not consider in his original argument.) But once the topic is broached, such a move could only be ad hoc on the part of the anti-theist. It would be better for the anti-theist to fairly anticipate the move and incorporate the topic into the argument. (The anti-theist could appeal to P2, for example, shifting the debate to the question of why God wouldn't bother to create multiple independently invulnerable God-type entities in the first place; without having to deny, or worse merely ignore for his own convenience, the principle of the theist's rebuttal here.)

Meanwhile, if a Basic Theist denies there is a 'heaven' (loosely speaking) for created persons after death, then he affirms O4 in principle and cannot object to incorporating O4 per se later. Most BTers won't do this, but some do.

More pertinently, especially for the anti-theist: a variant of O4 (though probably in premise form) can be designed such that, insofar as a BT proponent also believes in a hopeless condemnation where, among other things, restitution necessarily can never be made between sinners and victims, the theist will be affirming O4a in principle (except in premise form) even if also affirming heaven for some people. This would require more argumentation than I cared to get into for the revision, but I consider it a legitimate move for the anti-theist to make here. Its main weakness is that it still can be denied by those theists who the deny the hopeless condemnation of sinners (in various ways, some of which may still be vulnerable to other portions of this argument or to other arguments). Such a theist would avoid C9 and so Con4, but might not affect other conflicts detected by the argument.

So those elements, while more problematic, I wouldn't call seriously so for the anti-theist.

Incidentally, I would affirm the following elements myself: P1, P3, P4, P5, P7, P8, P9, P10, P11, P12, P13, P14, O1, O2, O3, C1, C5. As noted, some other theists might also affirm O4 (or the anti-universalism variant rather).

This leaves over three (or four) key problems--which aren't any better put in Richard's original argument, but which are still seriously problematic here, too.

In roughly increasing order of importance:

O4. Already largely discussed above. As a universalist I would reject this. (And, not-incidentally, my universalism follows as a logical corollary from my orthodox trinitarian theism, disputed though that may be by other theists. {wry g} The point being that the position is not ad hoc against this argument.)

I would also reject this by believing both in some kind of heaven (bodily resurrection or mere spiritual survival, either one) and that heaven counts as a mending to relevant unfairnesses which follow from living in this kind of reality. If I derive this belief from acceptance of referent authority (e.g. religious scripture), the denial isn't ad hoc to this argument (problematic though such acceptance might be for other reasons). If I derive this belief as a conclusion from this argument, this might or might not be ad hoc, depending on whether or not I have prior rationales for previously accepted premises and/or observations. If I lack sufficient prior rationales, then my acceptance here would be ad hoc in order to protect one of those other elements from being equivalently threatened by the argument. (I happen to think I have superior rationales for the relevant elements, logically prior to this argument; but I thought I should mention this qualification in favor of the anti-theist.)

The anti-theist doesn't have to attempt O4, of course, thus conceding that non-universalism makes no difference to the morality of the situation; and/or conceding that future improvement, development or compensation would make a difference to the morality of the situation. The question of process then leads to:

P6. Richard's original presentation simply ignores the question of whether mending an unfairness that had to be necessarily allowed for a time, makes a difference in the morality of allowing that unfairness to occur even temporarily. Thus there is nothing in his original argument corresponding to P7 & P8.

Most people in my experience, though, including anti-theists, agree in principle that if an unfairness has to be temporarily allowed, the morality of doing so is not necessarily endangered so long as the allow-er believes (and especially is acting so) that the unfairness will only be a temporary condition. Since I agree with that in principle, I deny P6: one way or another it requires that allowing any unfairness at all must be intrinsically immoral regardless of development of the situation later. (Admittedly, an appeal to deferred mending of temporary unfairness can be abused; but this does not in itself abolish the propriety of the principle.)

I have still kept P6 in, since Richard's argument tacitly requires ignoring the topic. (P6 explicitly attempts to claim that it is proper to ignore the topic, even if the wording of P6 could still stand improvement.) But Conflicts 1, 2, 3 and 4 currently rely on P6 being agreed to (i.e. that allowing any unfairness to occur at all is itself necessarily an immoral act regardless of intention.) Ignoring the topic practically amounts to agreeing to it, if someone not ignoring the topic challenges it. At that point, the anti-theist is the one making the ad hoc maneuver.

That being said, it is possible that some theists would want to affirm P6 (if only begrudgingly) under the mistaken impression that developments of natural conditions must imply some kind of substantial alteration in God Himself. Also, I suspect the argument can be revised so that it can proceed without P6 being tacitly or explicitly required.

So, while it's a serious problem, it's probably fixable. And of course if a theist insists on it, then anti-theist could hardly be to blame for incorporating it into his argument!--whether or not he agreed with it himself.

O5. This (or a premise equivalent thereof) is only a problem if the anti-theist is going up against theists who affirm the Incarnation and Passion of God. Which, admittedly, was not part of the "Basic Theism" characteristics agreed upon being debated between Richard and Tom. It is also only a problem to the extent that the anti-theist makes an application of the Golden Rule crucial (pardon the pun {g}) to his argument. In my revision, the GR only comes into play specifically toward the end (since it isn't really necessary earlier for the force of the argument, even in Richard's original form).

This portion of the argument, though, even in Richard's original version, only works if O5 (or a premise thereof) is accepted as true: there are two ways of fulfilling the Golden Rule, one of which is to share in the hardship required of others. So I have made this tacit qualification explicit.

Since non-Incarnational Jews, and all Muslims (by definition), as well as all non-Incarnational Christians (of whom there are several varieties) and even some Incarnational Christians (such as docetists) as well as most (if not all) other supernaturalistic theists, are required to affirm O5 (or its premise equivalent; but they might actually consider it an 'observation' via revelation, which is why I phrased it like that)--then this is not really much of a problem for Richard's appeal to the GR, in most cases. If Tom moved to bring this in later in the debate, then the proper reply is indeed that he was only supposed to be defending BT; if Richard's argument inadvertently points toward orthodox Christianity being superior to BT, great for Tom, but it's nevertheless outside the boundaries of his debate parameters. Hopefully Tom had enough sense to mention this as an amused aside. But it isn't Richard's problem if he didn't.

Similarly, if Richard (or the anti-theist more generally) has already established before arriving at this argument that God, even if He exists, could not possibly be expected (for this or that reason or reasons) to fulfill the Golden Rule by subjecting Himself to the same P13, P12 etc. that He has chosen to otherwise allow or enact; then he could import that conclusion here as a premise. It wouldn't be immediately unchallengable, but a discussion of it would have to take place on other grounds.

Still, for an orthodox Christian, this portion of the argument will be instantly rejected as dealing with false data (or, in regard to Richard's original argument, ignoring data we consider to be true). Nor would that rejection necessarily be ad hoc. If the Christian has already established on previous grounds a belief in the Passion of the Incarnation, then he is bringing this to the argument. Yet again, a theist who considers the other relevant premises and observations, including P0, to be already solidly established, leaving a premise version of O5 for consideration of acceptance or rejection; might well conclude (deductively even!) from an anti-theistic appeal to the GR that we ought to expect God to do such a thing sooner or later in our history. If the theist insists on O5 (or a P-version thereof), however, then by the validity of the argument some other relevant truth-claim will have to be revised elsewhere.

So while this is a very significant problem depending on who Richard is deploying even his original argument against, and on how insistent he is on incorporating the Golden Rule per se (which incorporation, as I've shown, isn't necessary for the strength of his argument in principle), it isn't the most fundamental problem; even if Richard insists (as he does) on GR being primary in his argument.

It might be replied against the relevance of O5, that it is not that God never gives Himself a brain, but that even if He did, He did so for a specific limited purpose that was situationally unique, and thus not relevant to the design of human beings.

If a theist thereby insists that the Incarnation (if it happened) has nothing to do with God loving humans as He loves Himself, then of course the anti-theist is home free!--against that theist. Assuming that the anti-theist is uninterested in the question of whether the Incarnation (despite what that particular theist or theistic group may think) does in fact fulfill the Golden Rule (along with any other purposes to it). Or assuming that the anti-theist has already established elsewhere, apart from this argument, that voluntarily sharing vulnerabilities with humans could not possibly involve God loving humans as He loves Himself. (Richard certainly didn't make that establishment in the argument, as presented in his opening statement.)

Most orthodox Christians of my acquaintance and experience, though, think that the Incarnation and Passion had something to do with God loving humans as He loves Himself. As do I. Quite a few of us would affirm that the Incarnation wasn't only for a situationally unique specifically limited purpose, either, although that concept is admittedly more common among Christians, at least at a popular level. But even those Christians who think God only Incarnated as some kind of emergency last-ditch expedient to save us from sin, still usually think that God lived and died (and rose again) because He loves us and so chose to act in some kind of solidarity with us.

P2. This represents the most fundamental problem for the argument as it stands, whether in the current revision or in Richard's original attempt. The particular form Richard has given it, is itself dependent on the concept that suffering occurs unwillingly when the sufferer is intrinsically dependent on an overarching system of causation. As I've noted earlier, he might as well revise to that broader concept; which the wording of my P2 is a first attempt at doing.

However, whether he revises the scope or not, Richard is going to be running into the problem, that any Basic Theist who is also an ontological supernaturalistic theist (which is most of them, in principle) is talking about God alone being the final independent fact of reality. To claim that God could have created other equally independent entities (thereby preventing even the risk of them suffering involuntarily), is tantamount to denying ontological supernaturalistic theism. It would be like claiming that a merely naturalistic Nature could produce of itself entities equivalent to itself existing separately and independent of itself--which is to deny philosophical naturalism, where the Natural system (even if portions of it are undetectable from within this portion of it) is the one and only substantial system of existence.

Put shortly: P2, or the equivalent thereof (including Richard's original way of putting it), is simply not addressing the theology that most of Richard's targets are supposed to be holding and defending. While denying P2 simply to avoid the strength of Richard's argument would be an ad hoc maneuver (and so proportionately weak), denying P2 due to positive content of a previously established religious belief is not an ad hoc maneuver--personally annoying though that may be to the anti-theist.

Trying to paint most theist's denial of P2 as only ad hoc to save themselves from the force of this argument (my revision or Richard's original either one), would be like an anti-evolutionist admitting that genetic mutation would ruin his deductive argument against evolutionary theory, and then trying to get around this by stating that he has never heard of evolutionists appealing to genetic mutation before and cannot imagine how genetic mutation would work or even why it would be brought in at all except as an ad hoc defense against his anti-evolutionary argument (therefore weakening a Bayesian evaluation of biological evolutionary theory by adding a further implausibility for no reason other than to defend against the anti-evolutionist's deductive argument). And then expecting neo-Darwinian gradualists to be impressed by this tactic.

Richard's argument here and hereafter, whether in his original version or my revised version, utterly depends upon accepting the concept that God could have created derivative persons with minds of the sort that occur at His own level of existence (whatever that is, but by terms of BT it is superior to Nature and being unembodied it doesn't suffer from the list of ailments Richard mentioned, at least). If Richard, or an anti-theist more generally, insists that we accept the terms of BT, in order to bring out a conflict with accepting the terms of BT, then we're going to insist that Richard accept the terms of BT, too, for those same purposes of hypothetical analysis. The BT God exists (hypothetically) outside Nature in an unembodied mind. Richard's complaint is that the BT God could have given derivative minds the same kind of mind that He exists with, but didn't, and so was acting unjustly since the result of this is that God did not do unto others what He would have done (and does do) for Himself.

But in order for this to obtain, the derivative person would have to exist in total independence from any overarching natural system: 'outside' of the system, in that regard. The question then is whether BT theists (or particular kinds of theist agreeing with at least BT) agree that God could have created equally independent God-entities like Himself.

Supernaturalistic theists (including certainly orthodox trinitarians) would typically say no. A Mormon or cosmological multi-theist might say yes; whether they count as BT so defined for Richard's debate with Tom, though, is their problem. Not ours.

So, to recap: elements of my revision of Richard's argument which I currently accept are P1, P3, P4, P5, P7, P8, P9, P10, P11, P12, P13, P14, O1, O2, and O3. Thus also C1 and C5 by logical consequence. (To which I would also add that I accept P0 for reasons logically prior to the topic of this argument, intrinsically related to this or any argument being 'an argument' at all instead of only being an illusion of argument; but be that as it may.)

Elements I currently reject are P2, P6, O4, O5. Thus also C2, C3, C4, C6, C7, C8, C9, C10, Con1, Con2, Con3, Con4 and Con5. (Insofar as this particular argument goes, anyway. It is conceivably possible that I might agree with, or be required to agree with, these elements as a result of other consequential inferences.)

The same goes for where either set is tacitly as well as explicitly included in Richard's original argument.


This relates to my recent posts on some social benefits of Christianity in the U.S., which were prompted by a commentor who argued that Christianity offered nothing based on his dubious representations of social science data. In this post, I look at the relationship between attendance at religious services and health.

First, to launch things off, I start with a quote from an article in the Southern Medical Journal:

The beneficial effects of church attendance on all-cause mortality rates is the most solidly established positive effect on religion and health.

"Methodologic Issues in Research on Religion and Health.” 2004, vol. 97, no. 12, pp. 1231-1241. This issue of the SMJ contained a number of articles on the relationship between religion and health.

Next, the above-referenced issue of the SMJ contained a helpful review of related studies, "Religious Involvement and Adult Mortality in the United States: Review and Perspective." 2004, vol. 97, no. 12, pp. 1223-1230.

The study reviewed a number of recent studies exploring the effect of religious involvement on health and mortality rates. They concluded that:
A large number of recent high-quality studies--using data from specific communities, from nationally representative samples, and from different demographic subpopulations--have shown that attendance is related to lower mortality risks above and beyond controls for demographic, socioeconomic, and health-related risk factors.

Since one of our current resident atheists writes about the purported horrors of living in areas of higher religiousity, I will start of with a comparison of counties of differing religiousity levels:
Recent studies indicate that counties with high concentrations of Mormons and evangelical Protestants tend to have lower suicide and/or cancer mortality rates, and those with Catholic concentrations also have lower suicide rates. In contrast, counties with concentrations of Jews, liberal Protestants (eg, Episcopalians, Presbyterians), and nonreligious persons tend to have elevated suicide and cancer mortality rates, statistically controlling for numerous covariates.

Moving on to the broader studies discussed in the article, one showed showed that "less frequent attendance at religious services was associated with 1.29 times the odds of mortality in follow-up studies compared with individuals who attend more frequently." Another using a nationally representative survey "found that individuals who reported attending at least once a month at baseline experienced a 31% to 35% decreased risk of death in the 6-year follow-up period than those who never attended, after controlling for other religion variables and a range of demographic, socioeconomic, health, and behavioral characteristics."

Some groups appear to benefit more dramatically than others. For example, another national study showed that "whereas adults 18 to 64 years of age who never attended services had more than twice the mortality risk compared with their frequently attending counterparts, adults older than 65 who never attended had just 24% higher mortality." The benefits were also more dramatic when examined by race, "Compared with black adults who reported attending services more than once a week, those who reported never attending services were more than twice as likely to die during the 8-year follow-up period, even after controlling for a range of variables."

Finally, the Institute for Behavioral Research released a study in July 2006, entitled, "Religious Attendance and U.S. Adult Cause-Specific Mortality." This study focused on the specific areas of health that were affected by religious involvement, resulting in the overall lower mortality rates. They found that, "in general, our results show that more frequent attendance at religious services is associated with lower risks of overall mortality, and with lower risks of some specific causes of death, for men and women, and for individuals in various age groups."

Among the specific health benefits, "more frequent religious attendance reduces the risk of death from such causes as circulatory diseases, respiratory diseases, infectious diseases, and lung cancer." Further, "mortality from all cancers and from non-lung cancers, show a similar relationship with religious attendance as mortality from strokes; those who attend less than once per week have lower risks of death over the follow-up period than those who attend religious more than once per week."

To quantify some of this:
  • Those who never attend church have 48% higher mortality than those who attend more than once a week.
  • The risk of dying from respiratory disease for those who never attend religious services was 2.1 times higher than for those who attend services more than once per week.
  • The risk of dying from infectious diseases for those who never attend religious services was 2.6 times higher than for those who attend religious services more than once per week.
These benefits persisted even when accounting for other possible factors such as "socioeconomic status, social integration, behavioral regulation, and health status."

In the comments section of one of my recent posts on religious epistemology, atheist David Ellis asks:

"Of what does a personal relationship with someone who is invisible, insubstantial, and does not speak back when you speak to him consist? Does a personal relationship with such a God (assuming its real) look one iota different from a personal relationship with an imaginary God who one is firmly convinced is real?"

This is a very good question, even though it was made from a standpoint of manifest ignorance of how personal relationships work, with God or anyone else. From the question I infer that Ellis takes the following facts for granted about any 'real' personal relationship: 1) the other person has to be visible, 2) the other person has to be substantial and 3) the other person has to speak back when you speak to him, where presumably speaking is limited to creating differentials in air pressure that are propagated to the ear, where stimulation of the cochlear nucleus is translated into electrical impulses interpreted in the auditory nuclei.

This is an incredibly simplistic and misleading model of how relationships work. Clearly you can have a relationship with a person you've never seen or heard, if the two of you are pen pals, for example. The requirement that the other person be 'substantial' is too vague to be useful. If by 'substantial' Ellis means 'real' then he is begging the question when applying it to the case of a relationship with God. If by substantial he means 'made of elementary particles arranged in a particular fashion' he is still begging the question by assuming that immaterial agents cannot meaningfully interact with material agents. The flaw with all these requirements is the equation of a particular, limited subset of possible human interactions with the set of all the possible instantiations of a personal relationship. In other words, not all real relationships (i.e. relationships between persons that actually exist) satisfy the above criteria, or even most of them. Consider the relationship between an author and her readers: the author presumably communicates something of herself through her writing (how can she do otherwise, unless the writing is particularly bland, generic and technical?) to the readers. The latter in appreciation may write letters to the writer in response which the author may or may not reply to. Is the relationship between them unreal just because the reader may never get a reply from the author?

More importantly, meaningful communication is not limited to words on a page or sounds in the ear. All kinds of gestures, symbols and artifacts can convey one's intentions. For example, by leaving a trail of rosebuds from the front door to the bedroom, where candles have been lit and soft music is playing, one lover might convey to the other their amorous intentions for the evening. No words have been exchanged; none are needed. For a more morbid example, consider the proverbial serial killer who leaves a distinctive calling card at each crime scene. Even if the detectives cannot decipher its meaning, there is usually no doubt that there is a meaning, and that the crime was not a freak accident but the deliberate work of an intelligent agent. This agent may not even have acted in person. He might have gotten other people or robots in some sci-fi scenarios to do his work for him. But if the intention and planning behind the crime can be traced to a single person, then it is with that person that the detectives are dealing.

The common denominator in all the above cases of personal interaction is the following: agents affect their environment in various ways, leaving behind traces of their activity. Other agents perceive these traces and interpret them as such. It is important to note two things: 1) even when a corporeal human person is standing right in front of us speaking or gesturing, the same process of interpreting traces of an agent's activity is occurring and 2) this interpretation does not usually take the form of an inductive argument; that is, we don't consciously pay attention to a particular arm movement or sound coming from a physical mouth and then slowly come to the conclusion that we are probably dealing with an agent. It happens directly and intuitively. As cognitive scientists have argued, agency detection is a basic cognitive capacity that can't be broken up into discrete components (although it can certainly be impaired by damage to one of the underlying brain regions). If you were to ask me why I think the particular configuration of elementary particles standing in front of me is a person rather than a sophisticated automaton, I couldn't point to a series of separate reasons that are easily quantified, for example the frequency of blinking, the numbers of degrees the head tilts when I speak, etc. and which come together in an inductive argument. I see certain changes in my environment and I intuitively infer the presence of an agent.

What, then, does a personal relationship with an immaterial, transcendent but personal God look like? It has the same basic nature as that of any other personal relationship. John Hick in his classic book Faith and Knowledge gives an elegant description:

"The ordinary believer does an awareness of God as existing in isolation from all other objects of experience. His consciousness of the divine does not involve a cessation of his consciousness of a material and social environment...He claims instead an apprehension of God meeting him in and through his material and social environments. He finds that in his dealings with the world of men and things he is somehow having to do with God, and God with him. The moments of ordinary life possess, or may possess, from in varying degrees a religious significance...The believer meets God not only in moments of worship, but also when through the urgings of conscience he feels the pressure of the divine demand upon his life; when through the gracious actions of his friends he apprehends the divine grace; when through the marvels and beauties of nature he traces the hand of the Creator; and he has increasing knowledge of the divine purpose as he responds to its behests in his own life. In short, it is not apart from the course of mundane life, but in it and through it, that the ordinary religious believer claims to experience, however imperfectly and fragmentarily, the divine presence and activity." (pp.109-110)

So the really interesting, fundamental question concerning Christian religious knowledge is not whether a relationship with God has certain features in analogy to a limited number of other human relationships. If anyone lost their faith because they couldn't actually hear the audible voice of God, that's their fault for having too restricted a view of the possible instantiations of personal relationships. Even though I've never audibly heard the voice of God I still believe because I find other traces of His activity in my life, as Hick suggests above. My relationship with God is no less real because of the lack of auditory feedback. The really interesting question is whether Christians are warranted in interpreting certain sudden changes or recurring patterns in their experience of the world as the activity of a personal God.

And I do not want to suggest that, because the process of agency detection is intuitive and non-inductive, that there can be no rational discussion of claims to agency detection, especially supernatural agency. As cognitive scientists have also demonstrated, human agency detection is prone to false positives in many cases. The leaves rustling in the dark might be someone stepping out behind us, but it also may just be the wind. Serious challenges can be raised against the interpretation of particular aspects of our experience as evidence of divine activity. My concern in this post has simply been to refute the idea that a personal relationship has to have certain specific characteristics in order for it to be 'real'. Is God an imaginary friend? If He is, it's not because we can't see, hear or touch Him. Is there any objective phenomenological difference between a relationship with a real person and an imaginary friend? I doubt there's a universal rule for distinguishing them, simply because, as I've stressed over and over in this post, not every personal relationship has exactly the same characteristics. But David Ellis is welcome to generate a fully detailed scenario of a case in which it is clear someone has an imaginary friend who she is nevertheless fully convinced is real and then we can talk about similarities and dissimilarities.

A.N. Wilson -- a noted British writer and journalist -- grew up in the Christian faith. In the 1980s, he deconverted, announced his atheism and published a pamphlet, Against Religion. He also authored critical biographies of Jesus, Paul, and C.S. Lewis. In an April 2008 article in the New Statesman, however, A.N. Wilson explains "Why I Believe Again."

Wilson recounts the initial joy he found in the certainty of atheism. A certainty that had eluded him as an adult Christian. He rubbed elbows with New Atheists such as Dawkins and Hitchens, reveling in being in line with the sophisticated intelligentsia of his time. But Wilson realized that he is a doubter by nature, not just anti-religious, and began to question the certainty of the atheists. Yet he struggled to cling to his new-found atheism much as a fragile Christian doubter might:

This creed that religion can be despatched in a few brisk arguments (outlined in David Hume’s masterly Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion) and then laughed off kept me going for some years. When I found myself wavering, I would return to Hume in order to pull myself together, rather as a Catholic having doubts might return to the shrine of a particular saint to sustain them while the springs of faith ran dry.

Ultimately, Wilson came to see that materialism was subject to doubt too and that it failed to explain important aspects of reality, such as love, language, morality, and even music. Wilson has come back to believing that "we are spiritual beings, and that the religion of the incarnation, asserting that God made humanity in His image, and continually restores humanity in His image, is simply true."

It is a worthwhile read.

Jasque Derrida about mid life

Many atheists who have no background in postmodernism do react to this argument as though ti was just a bunch of gibberish. When that happens I just laugh because it's a sure sign they aren't very advanced in philosophy or history of ideas. Of course it's one thing to say an argument sounds stupid, it's another to try and belittle and deride someone because you don't understand what he's saying. Then to try and destroy his ego by saying "this shows why you can't bet published becasue this shows you are so stupid." This argument may be a bad argument or it may be a good one. Two atheists who I respect have told them are facinated with it, but that doesn't mean anything to some.

its' childish to try and save your face by belittling other people's ideas. The obviously manly thing to do would be to either say "this is not in my field I really don't know about it" or to show why its bad.

This argument has been compared to Bansen's TAG argument. I was making this argument before I knew anything about him. Yet I think it is what he was trying to say.

Dave Ellis came to my boards (I invited him) asking to be given God arguments to answer. I told him "I would rather not do that because we have to lay the ground work or my argument will just sound stupid to you." But he kept insisting. So eventually I put some arguments out there. He says:

Have you ever tried to get one of these essays published in any sort of philosophy journal?

I suspect that anyone reviewing your work for publication in any journal of philosophy of even modest standards would have much the same reaction I have.

there's another atheist on the board whose intelligence I respect a lot. He doesn't think the argument is so stupid, look what he says:

e: TS argument

Post by fleet mouse on Tue Apr 07, 2009 10:37 pm
What interests me about the TS argument is how it parallels TAG. It's sort of a more refined TAG, one that doesn't insult the intelligence with that smugness that makes me want to smack someone.

I don't think it falls into the same fallacies that I've seen TAG defenders step in either, and that's because you have a philosopher's understanding of what logic is and not a superstitious yokel's. So instead of ridiculously positing "logic" at the core of everything, you have this much deeper and subtler concept of an organizing principle. And that has an intuitive appeal, because it seems to me that there is a parallel between intellectual organizing principles and the way things in the natural world appear to spontaneously self organize. And so it seems to me that what you're saying complements and extends rather than contradicts the worldview of naturalism.

I'm going to read your background material on Derrida and come back to this later.

edit: your two part essay on Derrida was terrific. I had thought from things you'd said earlier on CARM that you'd misunderstood Derrida but now I see that you just disagree with him, and I think you're performing a rescue-hijacking of the TS, like a philosophical Bruce Willis - Die Hard. :mrgreen:

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What get's me is I asked Dave to read two blog pieces I did on the Derridian background and he refused. he was content to just think the argument is stupid so he doesn't have to deal with it. But I told him that we would think that if we jumped and went to the arguments before laying the ground words. Of course part of that ground work is the stuff he refuses to read. So he would rather be narrow and ignorant and just use bully tactics and incredulity than to actually think about the arguments. so typical of hate group atheism. they get this big rush out of pretending that they are so superior to Christians that they have real strong vested interest in seeing everything we say as stupid. They are really just little ignoramuses because they refuse to read the material so they fill in the gaps.

Here's the arguemnt:

A. Logic of the Argument.


(1) Transcendental Signifier (TS):

The signification mark (word) which refers to the top of metphysical hieararchy; the organizing principle which makes sense of all sense data and groups it into a meaningful and coherent whole, through which meaning can be understood.The corollary, the thing the Transcendental Signifier signifies, is the "Transcendental Signified (designated as TSed)"

(2) Signifier:

The term used of written words in the linguistic theories know as "structuralism" and in the theories of French Linguist Ferdenand Sassure. A signifer is a "marK," that is writing, which designates a concept forming a word, that which points to an object as the thing that it is and no other. ie, a phsyical tree is the signified, the object of the signifier "t-r-e-e."

Preliminary Observations:

(1) Any rational, coherent and meaningful view of the universe must of necessity presuppose an oranizing principle which makes sense of the universe and explains the hierarchy of conceptualization.

(2) Organizing principles are summed up in a single first principle which grounds any sort of metaphysical hierarchy, the Transcendental Signifier (TS)

(3) It is impossible to do without a Transcendental Signifier, all attempts to do so have ended in the re-establishment of a new TS. This is because we caannot organize the universe without a princinple of organizing.

(4)TS functions Uniquely as Top of The Metaphysical Heirarchy.It's function is mutually exclusive.


P1) TS's function is mutually exclusive, no other principle can superceed that of the TS since it alone grounds all principles and bestows meaning through organization of concepts.

P2)We have no choice but to assume the relaity of some form of TSed since we cannot function coherently without a TS
P3) We have no choice but to assume the reality of some form of TSed since the universe does seem to fall into line with the meaning we bestow upon it.

P4) The logical conclusion would be that There must be a TSed which actually creates and organizes the Universe.

P5) The sifnifier "God" is one version of the TS, that is to say, God functions in the divine ecnomy exacly as the TS functions in a metaphysical hierarchy.

P6) Since "God" is a version of the TS, and since TS and God concept share a unique function which should be mutually exclusive, the logical conclusion is that: God and TS share "God" concept is description of the Transcendental Signified.

P7)Since the TS should be assumed as real, and TS and God share identity, we should assume that God is the Transcendental Signified, and thus is an actual reality.

rational warrant for belief in God's existence, QED.

If this sounds like gibberish and Dave says it's probably because you haven't studied Derrida. Which is part of the ground work that must be laid. So given that you need to read the material that Dave wont read. here it is:

This is a summary of Derrida on the Transcendental Signifier and why it "proves" the existence of God (in my special sense of "proof" that I use as "for practical purposes").

Derrida was from French North Africa, 1930-2004. here are two articles on him that will give you a basic run down:

Derrida on Wiki

Derrida in Philosophical Encyclopedia

Derrida was a student of Martin Heidegger. Derrida is the best known philosopher of recent times. Heidegger was an existentialist, then dropped that and began to call himself a "phenomenologist." Everything Derrida says came from Heidegger. Every move of decontracution is found in Heidegger, but Derrida put it together in a different package than Heidegger's.

"Deconstruction" was Derrida's babby. He invented it although one can find it's roots all over Western letters. He's plugging in elements from Heidegger, Sartre, Brintano, Nicholas of Cuza, Charles Sanders Pierce and all over the place.This is the run down on [B][I]Deconstruction.[/I][/B] I was taught Derrida by someone who had been his student in Paris in the late 60s before he moved to Yale.

Phenomenology is an attempt to place the observer at the center of awareness to allow sense data to be understood in ways that are not predetermined by preconceived categories. The idea is that the data will form its own categories. Attempts to gather sense data and heard it all into pre selected categories biases reality. In vernacular one might say "don't pigeon hole but remain open to possibilities for everything no matter how familiar or or obvious we think it might be. This attempt to pre select categories of knowledge is what Heidegger calls "Metaphysics." In this sense even science is metaphysics!

Derrida wants to explicate the end of western metaphysics,(his phrase). What does this mean? It means he, and most postmoderns, believe that the paths along which western metaphics have led us are dead ends. We have run out of metaphysics. We haven't run out of science, in the sense that there plenty of facts to look at, but in a way we have because reductionism has lowered our expectations about what we will find. But Derrida's beef is not with science. A Major segment of of postmodernists tried to attack modern science, but they were swept aside with the Alan Sokal stuff. Derrida was never one of them.

Derrida argues that Western metaphysics has always been predicated upon an organizing principal that orders reality and organizes sense data. William James Sums it up well in his Gilford Lectures:

"Plato gave so brilliant and impressive a defense of this common human feeling, that the doctrine of the reality of abstract objects has been known as the platonic theory of ideas ever since. Abstract Beauty, for example, is for Plato a perfectly definite individual being, of which the intellect is aware as of something additional to all the perishing beauties of the earth. "The true order of going," he says, in the often quoted passage in his 'Banquet,' "is to use the beauties of earth as steps along which one mounts upwards for the sake of that other Beauty, going from one to two, and from two to all fair forms, and from fair forms to fair actions, and from fair actions to fair notions, until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of absolute Beauty, and at last knows what the essence of Beauty is." 2 In our last lecture we had a glimpse of the way in which a platonizing writer like Emerson may treat the abstract divineness of things, the moral structure of the universe, as a fact worthy of worship. In those various churches without a God which to-day are spreading through the world under the name of ethical societies, we have a similar worship of the abstract divine, the moral law believed in as an ultimate object."

Derrida begins with Plato's theory of knowledge, this is the basis of Western metaphysics. Plato says that prior to birth we are in contact with the forms, thus knowledge is a matter of remembering, no learning for the first time. But then the question arises is speech closer to what we remember, or is writing? Socrates says the spoken word is closer to the ideas inside us, the memory of the forms, thus spoken word is better (more true, closer to reality) than written word. As he puts it "a writer dies his written words are like orphans since he is not there to defend them." This supremacy of the spoken word sets up a hierarchy of meaning and importance in western culture. We have come to value reason as the organizing principle of truth, as the "natural light" because it's an extension of the concept of this true Platonic knowledge. Reason becomes this overarching truth regime (Faucault's word) that organizes all reality. Everything is paired up into hierarchies, little hierarchies that fit into the big over all hierarchy, these are called "binary oppositions." They they take the form of couplets, consisting of the "true" or "correct" term and it's supplement; the false term or the unimportant addition to the "real thing." Examples are: up/down, black/white/ true/false/ male/female. Reason is construed as male and this resutls in "phalologocentrism."

Derrida's goal is to destroy hierarchies, to show that there is no truth, there is no meaning. We can't know anything. Derridian postmodernism is like archaeologists who try to piece together fragments of a broken vase. Some say "there is a vase here, we just have to fin out how the peices fit." Another says "there may be two vases." The postmodernist says "we don't have all the pieces, they may not have been a vase, it may be 16 vases, we can't know, there is no final answer, it's always going to be a jumble. The Deridian position is a good philosophical justification for nihilism. The difference being a nihilism takes too much effort.. The logical conclusion of Derridianism if one were consist would be to sit in a chair and say nothing until one starves to death. Of course Derrida himself was not consistent. He was one of the most prolific writers. His overall project was to tear down hierarchy and destroy the concept of the TS. Here is his argument against reason:

He asks "does reason ground itself?" Can we use reason to prove reason?

"Are we obeying the principle of reason when we ask what grounds this principle [reason] which is itself a principle of grounding? We are not--which does not mean that we are disobeying it either. Are we dealing here with a circle or with an abyss? The circle would consist in seeking to account for reason by reason, to reason to the principle of reason, appealing to the principle to make it speak of itself at the very point where, according to Heidegger, the prinicple of reason says nothing about reason itself. The abyss, the hole, ..., the empty gorge would be the impossibility for a principle of grounding to ground itself...Are we to use reason to account for the principle of reason? Is the reason for reason rational?"(Derrida in Criticism and Culture, Robert Con Davis and Ronald Schlefflier, Longman 1991, 20.)

Derrida sought to destroy metaphysical hierarchy. How did he intend to do that? He did it by creating a method of reading a text, a critical tool that would allow him to dissect and destroy any hierarchy simply because it was a hierarchy. That tool was known as "deconstruction." To reconstruct one takes apart, in the sense of destroy; destruction = destruction.

Hierarchy is based upon the binary opposition. That means hierarchies are like stacks of couplets, each containing a major term and supplemental term:




the assumption is that the term on top is the "major term" the "real" thing, the one on the bottom is tacked on or er zots, or somehow inferior. A hierarchical metaphysics is constructed out of these binaries. These are among the categories we use to order our perception of sense data; and thus to order the world. We can see this in the atheist metaphysics of scientism:



Derrida inverts the couplets. The "inferior term" is taken as the superior term, and the assumption is made that the hierarchy is false. But what move allows this? He accomplishes this move by the realization of the principle of "differance." This is not my dyslexia at work. He spells it with an "a" in order to out over the point that there is more to it than just "difference" as we understand it. That is, difference is the basis of meaning in language. Meaning of signifier is based upon the difference in one signifier and another. That means we call a "tree" a "tree" not because it is intrinsically endowed with treeness, but because we don't call it a "frog," a "bat" or an "elephant." The meaning of these terms, what they refer to, is totally arbitrary. Thus meaning arises through difference. Derrida uses this point as the staging ground for a multiple assault on all of Western thought. He derives from it the notion that meaning derives from absence (difference is absence) rather than presence. So Plato is screwed, the Platonic theory is crap. This is so because the meaning of truth in Platonic terms is presence, the proximity to the forms, remember? So the presence of the forms in our thinking is our nearness to truth. The closer the ware to what we recall of the forms the closer we are to truth. He sets up a hierarchy of presence in which speaking is closer to truth than writing.

Derrida destroys this hierarchy of presence by demonstrating that derives from absence (difference = absence because there is no presence of meaning in the signifier). He finds that meaning is never present. Meaning is always absent and sought after, always different and differed. He makes a pun on differ and deffer. Meaning is differed in that language has multiple meanings (why he likes puns) and one can never be sure that the meaning of a statement is always off stage waiting to come on, and when it does it only refers to another meaning. Life a child who always asks "why" the answer is never available, it's always in the next question, and the next, and the next. It's flickering away always. He uses the phase "always already," meaning is already absent.

Deconstruction works by finding a contradiction in the thesis and using that to flip over all the meanings. The classic Derridian example is the distinction in Rousseau between nature and nurture, the natural and civilized. Rousseau says that we can have natural morality we can be naturally good and naturally happy by being spontaneous and rooted in nature. He also says, however, that civilization is good because it nurtures us and gives us a basis in education and understanding. This is an inherent contradiction and Derrida exploits it to show that all of Rousseau's ideas are meaningless. In fact he shows that all meaning is meaningless. Everything falls apart, there is no grand edifice of truth that can stand before the onslaught of deconstruction. If one takes deconstruction seriously one must, to be totally consistent, just wind up sitting in a corner and never speaking and never assuming anything.

I ended part 1 with his statement that logic cannot be secured by logical argument He undermines logic and reason in this way and reduces them to ashes. Thus the final step in deconstruction is to show that there is no meaning, there is no truth all lies in ruin. His main objective is to destroy the Transcendental signifier because that is the essence of Platonic meaning,t he big idea at the top of the hierarchy that secures meaning and makes sense of all other marks that make sense of the world.He is quite aware that the TS equals God, he says so himself. This is his ultimate triumph over Christianity. It's a supreme moment for atheism, but of course the American scientifically obsessed, philosophically challenged atheists could never appreciates it. Once you come to truly understand Derrida and your faith survives it, nothing in the nature of an intellectual argument can ever threaten your faith again.

How does one survive it? One of the major pastimes in graduate school for student just encountering Derrida is to sit around trying to deconstruct Derrida. Everyone does this and everyone thinks he's the first person to think of it. You can just tell when student's understanding is reaching critical mass and she/he is about to say "Hey, let's deconstruct him!" Derrida knew this, and he traded in it. Its' one of the features that assured that people wanted to study him more. But it doesn't matter if you deconstruct him because it only proves his point. Since he says there is no truth there is no ultimate reality there is no meaning, ti doesn't matter if what he says is untrue and not meaningful. Except for one thing: you don't have to make the final step. If you are to reverse Derrida then you don't want to prove that he has no ultimate meaning, you want to prove that he does have meaning and he's just wrong. This is can be done by using his method, but not using the final step. Don't conclusion there's no meaning, just show that his meaning is wrong.

Derrdia follows Heidegger in almost everything. Almost every step he makes can be seen in Heidegger's Parmenides book. Both thinkers say that metaphysics is undeniable. Derrida wants to explicate the end of metaphysics, but he also says there is no hope of escaping metaphysics. Even language itself is metaphysical. We cannot help but do metaphysics. That means metaphysical hierarchies are inescapable which means the TS is inescapable. Thus the choice we have is to assume there is a TS or to fall silent and never speak, never try to think coherently.But we cannot live with that choice. Because we have to assume it, we can't live without it, we should assume there is a Transcendental signifier, and as Derrida points out, that's just a truncated version of God.

see now isn't it better to know than to just use incredulity?

now that we know a bit about the background let's put it in context of the argument. This is a explaination of what the argument says. The basic trick you need to know is that I disagree with Derrida. I think he has a compelling point, but it should be reversed and the actual reverse of his ideas are true. His arguments can be reversed with his own logic, just a matter of looking at it right. When that happens we see there is a TS and there has to be, and it's God.

The transcendental Signifier (TS) is the mark that gives meaning to all the marks that make sense of the world; the "zeit geist," the "urmind", the "overself", the "object of ultiamte concern", the "omega point", the "Atmon", the "one," the "Logos", "reason." all the major top ideas which bestow meaning upon the wrold are examples of the TS. People have always advanced such notions. (The word "G-O-D" is the Transcendental Signifier, the thing those letters refurr to is the "transcendental signifyed")

1) All people have some notion the "big idea" which makes sense of everything else.

William James, Gilford lectures:

"Plato gave so brilliant and impressive a defense of this common human feeling, that the doctrine of the reality of abstract objects has been known as the platonic theory of ideas ever since. Abstract Beauty, for example, is for Plato a perfectly definite individual being, of which the intellect is aware as of something additional to all the perishing beauties of the earth. "The true order of going," he says, in the often quoted passage in his 'Banquet,' "is to use the beauties of earth as steps along which one mounts upwards for the sake of that other Beauty, going from one to two, and from two to all fair forms, and from fair forms to fair actions, and from fair actions to fair notions, until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of absolute Beauty, and at last knows what the essence of Beauty is." 2 In our last lecture we had a glimpse of the way in which a platonizing writer like Emerson may treat the abstract divineness of things, the moral structure of the universe, as a fact worthy of worship. In those various churches without a God which to-day are spreading through the world under the name of ethical societies, we have a similar worship of the abstract divine, the moral law believed in as an ultimate object."

2) All Metaphysical Constructs include a TS.

Metaphysics is not merely realms unseen, but the organization of reality under a single organizing principle (this definition comes form one reading of Heidegger). All systems and groupings of the world verge on the metaphysical. Derrida and Heidegger say that it is impossible tto do without metaphysics since even language itself is metaphysical. Everything points to the Transcendental Signifier. ( see Heidegger, Parmenides, and Introduction to Metaphysics, and Derrida, Margins of Philosophy and almost any Derrida book).

3) Science has TS

William James--Gilford lectures:

"'Science' in many minds is genuinely taking the place of a religion. Where this is so, the scientist treats the 'Laws of Nature' as objective facts to be revered. ..."

Science is very Metaphysical. It assumes that the whole of reality and be organized and studied under one central principle, that of naturalism.

"For essential reasons the unity of all that allows itself to be attempted today through the most diverse concepts of science and of writting, is in principle, more or less covertly, yet always, determined by a an historico-metaphysical epoch of which we merely glimpse the closure." [Derrida, The End of the Book and the Begining of Writing, trans. Gayatri Spivak 1967 in Contemporary Critical Theory, ed. Dan Latimer, New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovonovitch, 1989, p.166]

MetaListon Scinece and religion
Stephen Hawking's

"In his best-selling book "A Brief History of Time", physicist Stephen Hawking claimed that when physicists find the theory he and his colleagues are looking for - a so-called "theory of everything" - then they will have seen into "the mind of God". Hawking is by no means the only scientist who has associated God with the laws of physics. Nobel laureate Leon Lederman, for example, has made a link between God and a subatomic particle known as the Higgs boson. Lederman has suggested that when physicists find this particle in their accelerators it will be like looking into the face of God. But what kind of God are these physicists talking about?"

"Theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg suggests that in fact this is not much of a God at all. Weinberg notes that traditionally the word "God" has meant "an interested personality". But that is not what Hawking and Lederman mean. Their "god", he says, is really just "an abstract principle of order and harmony", a set of mathematical equations. Weinberg questions then why they use the word "god" at all. He makes the rather profound point that "if language is to be of any use to us, then we ought to try and preserve the meaning of words, and 'god' historically has not meant the laws of nature." The question of just what is "God" has taxed theologians for thousands of years; what Weinberg reminds us is to be wary of glib definitions."

C. Attempts to Deconstruct TS lead to abyss of Meaninglessness, and back to TS.

1) Derridian Dectonstruction.

The French Post-structuralist Jaque Derrida seeks to explicate the end of Metaphysics which is the final project of Western philosophy. His technique of deconstruction aims at undermining any logos or first principle that would give rationality to the universe by unseating the privileges of reason which under gird all such projects. Even logic itself is undermined.


"Are we obeying the principle of reason when we ask what grounds this principle [reason] which is itself a principle of grounding? We are not--which does not mean that we are disobeying it either. Are we dealing here with a circle or with an abyss? The circle would consist in seeking to account for reason by reason, to reason to the principle of reason, appealing to the principle to make it speak of itself at the very point where, according to Heidegger, the prinicple of reason says nothing about reason itself. The abyss, the hole, ..., the empty gorge would be the impossibility for a principle of grounding to ground itself...Are we to use reason to account for the principle of reason? Is the reason for reason rational?"

Derrida in Criticism and Culture, Robert Con Davis and Ronald Schlefflier, Longman 1991, 20.

Derrida's argument amounts to saying, "logic does not endorse itself." The point of the quotation above seems to be that logic is in a dilemma. If one tries to prove logic by its own terms, one is merely arguing in circle. But, if one does not do this, there is no foundation upon which one can base logic, because logic is the foundation.

[Quotes from Derrida from "The University in the Eyes of It's Pupils" Diactricits]

2) Into the abyss and back out to TS.

Many critics of Deconstruction have noted that if we take this principle seriously we would wind up unable to speak or think, even language requires an organizing principle which orders the world of our thought and speech (of course the basic thrust of Postmodern thought understands us to be trapped in, as Jameson said, "the prison house of language" unable to get at the real things of the world and their understanding because all we can really ever think through is language). But in opening this abyss Derrida creates a safe bridge over it as well, although that is not his intention. He uses the principle of difference (which he spells as "difference" to indicate that meaning is both differing and differing) but difference becomes the organizing principle of a Derridian universe. IT not only explains how meaning is derived from signifyers, not only does it tear down the meaning of all hierarchies, but it actually builds new ones because it becomes the foundation of value in valuing difference.

"The constant danger of deconstruction is that it falls into the same kinds of hierarchies that it tries to expose. Derrida himself is quite aware of this danger--and his response--which is really a rhetorical to multipy the names under which deconstruction traffics..." [--Con Davis,Culture and Critique 178-179]

D. unavoidable nature of TS indicates God is a priori.

Either way, weather we try building a reductionist notion of the universe or whether we tear down the hierarchies of reason that implies a TS, we can never escape the TS. This inescapable nature of the transcendental signifier points to the a priori nature of the God concept. That reality is ordered by a single principle which gives meaning and rationality to all other principles is inescapable, but humanities multifarious attempts to understand that principle, and the frightening conclusion that the principle leads to a creator God is the logic inference. All of the many signs which have been used to understand this uber-sign imply an intelligent ordering rationality which makes sense of the universe, and therefore, logically must have created it in the first place.

1) Transcendental signifer is unavoidable.

As has been pointed out above, there is no possibility of holding a rational view of the universe without an organizing principle, a "thing at the top." This indicates the ultiamte necessity of a TS. In other words, the fact that we cannot get away from the TS indicates that there must really be one.

2) God is the ultimate Transcendental Signifyer.

"Without God, who has been the ultimate Transcendent Signified, there is no central perspective, no objective truth of things, no real thing beyond language." [Nacy Murphy and James McClendon jr." Distinguishing Modern and Postmodern Theologies." Modern Theology, 5:3 April 1989, 211]

E. God is the ultimate unifying principle.

1) Coincidence of Oppossites.

Nicholas of Cuza's concept that God's infinity is a universal set subsuming all finite sets of oppossites. (See Westminster Dictinary of Christian Theology)

"The universe of Nicholas of Cusa is an expression or a development, though of course necessarily imperfect and inadequate, of God--imperfect and inadequate because it displays in the realm of multiplicity what in God is present in an indisaluable and intmate unity (complicatio) a unity which embraces not only the different but even the oppossite, qualities or determinations of being. In its turn every single thing in the universe represents it--the Universe-- and thus also God in its own particular manner; each in a manner different from that of all others, by contracting the wealth of the universe in accordence with its own unique individuality."[--Alexandre Koyre' From Closed World to The Infinite Universe, Baltimore: Johns Hoppkins University press, 1957, 8-9.]

Cuza's vision of a universe taken up metaphyiscally in God in an undifferentiated unity is grounded in the paradoxical nature of geomoetry. One example Cuza gives is of the dicotomy between straightness and curvelinarity. But if one was dealing with an infintie circle, from every point along the circle it would appear that the circle was a stairght line. Or another example; large and samll are opposites in a finite perspective, but in dealing with the infinitely large circle and the infinitely small one the center loses its special qualitie, both are at the same time both nowhere and everywhere, and thus equally meaningful and meaningless.This may not seem like a particularly Christian notion of God, but Paul Tillich remarks that Martin Luther embracced it," one of the most profound conceptions of God ever developed." Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought.

2) God as Being itself.

As being itself God is Metaphysically above the level of existing things in the universe and constitues all the potentiality and all actuality. This the nature of God is to order and to bring to concreseance potentialities. The signifyer 'G-o-d' universally signifies and therefore takes up into itself all concepts and principles of rationality.

3) All people seek TS, therefore, this reflects innate sense of God.

Not only do we seek it, we cannot avoid it. The alternative is a meaingless universe, and more than that, a universe without coherence to reality. Of course we have the rules of logic, and we have science to tell us facts, but those move toward the TS becasue they are both predicated upon organizing reality under a logos, a rationale.

Lee Randolph has posted a catalog of uniformly silly, vulgar and inconsistent stock objections to Christianity. Normally I wouldn't give it a second thought, but since this Sunday is Easter I was struck by the tone of some of the accusations he makes, because he provides an unwitting illustration of the kind of thinking and behavior that Christ came to save us from. So I'd like to take a look at some of his objections, those having to do with Christology, and use them as a springboard to make some more general observations about the meaning of Easter. This will be a two-part series.

First, notice the title of the post: The Horror of Easter. I think he meant to say the horror of the crucifixion and Christian adoration of the cross as a symbol of salvation, because I don't see how anyone in their right mind could see something horrific about an event that foretells the eventual transformation of the entire universe into a paradise without evil or suffering. Assuming he is referring to the horror of the crucifixion, the first thing to say is that he's right to emphasize the ugliness and horror of the cross. A man nailed naked, beaten and bleeding to a wooden post is a gruesome sight, right out of the worst torture porn flick you can imagine. And Lee Randolph would be in good company among the ancients. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, the message of the cross was "a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles." (1 Cor 1:23) Cicero described crucifixion as "the cruelest and most disgusting penalty," one which Roman citizens did not even like to think about (Against Verres 2.5.165). Josephus called it "the most pitiable of all deaths." (Jewish War 7.203)

And yet hundreds of millions of Christians now gaze in awe at the 'wondrous' and 'beautiful' cross. They cling to it, wear it in miniature proudly around their necks and gesture with it in affirmation of their faith. Certainly to the non-believer this must seem perverse: how can an instrument of torture have been transformed into a thing of beauty? What would we think if a group of people went around wearing miniature guillotines around their necks or adorned the walls of their homes with pincers, racks and other torture machines?

To understand why the cross is a thing of beauty we have to understand what was accomplished for us on that cross, and what that reveals about the real state of affairs in this world. Because to see the world with cruciform eyes is to have all one's standards of beauty and justice radically altered. What the cross shows us (at least, those of us with eyes to see) is that when the world thought it had judged and condemned Jesus, an innocent victim, it was really the world that was put on trial. When the demonic powers of this world thought they had made a spectacle and mockery of Jesus, it was really the powers themselves that had been defrocked and made a spectacle of. And when the Jews and Romans looked up and thought they saw an ugly, repulsive cross, what really happened is that the world of power and tyranny had been shown to be ugly, while the beauty of God's way of love, humility and truth shone bright and clear (see here for some further reflections along these lines).

But what exactly did Jesus do for us, and why did he have to do it? Lee gives his own asinine summary of what he takes the reason for Jesus' death to have been:

"The principle that all of us have done things so egregious as to warrant the death penalty is itself egregious. Name one thing that you have done that you should be put to death for."

First of all, I don't think the 'death penalty' is the best metaphor for the consequences of sin, even though they do refer to death in some sense. Clearly when Paul says that "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23) he is not referring to mere biological death. Jesus himself had warned his disciples not to fear "those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. Rather, fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28) The death which is the consequence of sin is clearly a spiritual death, a separation from God and captivity to the forces of chaos and ugliness. Human beings lost in sin are hostages to fear, fear for the integrity of their bodies and their spirits (here used metaphorically, I don't necessarily subscribe to a dualistic anthropology) in a world full of forces and institutions hostile to human flourishing. Marilyn Adams describes the basic human problematic as vulnerability to horrors, or "evils the participation in (the doing or suffering of) which constitutes prima facie reason to doubt whether the participant's life could (given their inclusion in it) have positive meaning for him/her on the whole." (Christ and Horrors, p.32; for further summary and analysis of this book, see the excellent series by Richard Beck, starting here)

Before going on to discuss why we find ourselves in such a predicament and what Christ did to release us from it, I want to address Lee's outrage at the notion that "
all of us have done things so egregious to warrant the death penalty." Clearly Lee imagines himself to be a decent sort of fellow. Sure, he's probably done things he's regretted, if pressed he'd probably admit to having harbored malicious thoughts for some of his fellow human beings and possibly even lustful and objectifying ones for attractive women he's come across. Surely, though, he's not all that bad. He leads a pretty average life, perhaps more or less middle class. He doesn't break the law on a regular basis and he certainly doesn't do things like rape children, torture animals or kill people he's angry at. How could he possibly merit the death penalty?

It is at this point when atheists who think they are 'alright' show the most egregious lapse in their self-understanding. They fancy themselves pretty reasonable, decent people who can't imagine getting carried away by a lynching mob or forcing husbands to watch as they rape their wives repeatedly and bounce their babies off bayonets. Here's the bombshell, though: the people who do those things are just as reasonable, moral and sane as the self-righteous atheists, and conversely the supposedly decent and reasonable atheists are just as monstrous and despicable as the people who do those things.

Why? Because even if thanks to the prosperity and stability of Western economies people don't often have occasion to succumb to their fear of death and the dissociation of their socio-cultural identity (likely consequences of famine, plague, wars and other disruptions), that fear is still an integral part of them nonetheless. And when that fear does take over, people suddenly become vulnerable to the allure of various ideologies which promise peace, security and prosperity even if they require the enactment of monstrous atrocities against their fellow human beings. People all too easily come up with scapegoats to vent their anger and frustration at being held captive by hostile forces beyond their control or comprehension. When a particular group of 'other' people becomes the scapegoat (such as the Jews in Nazi Germany), they cease to be fully human in the eyes of their persecutors. While there may be an awareness at some deep level that what they (the persecutors) are doing is monstrous, they find themselves powerless to override their demonic impulses.

But the persecutors just a short while ago may have been perfectly sane, responsible, helpful, law-abiding citizens, which makes their transformation all the more shocking. When rumors first began surfacing in Rwanda about the possibility of a Hutu genocidal attack on the Tutsis, the reason more Tutsis didn't take notice and either flee or make plans to hide is that they could not imagine their Hutu neighbors, who often lived next door to them and had the same kind of middle-class lifestyle as they did, turning into human butchers. To this day it has proven impossible to track down all the perpetrators of the atrocity because the Interahamwe (civilian militia members) were often "the
neighbors, friends and co-workers of Tutsis."

There may be some people with a genetic predisposition to pederasty or sadism. But when it comes to the capacity of human beings to perpetrate monstrous horrors on their fellows there is no neat demarcation, there is no sociological or biological marker of people who would be prone to participating in lynching or genocide. Everyone is equally capable of such acts, and everyone is subject to the fear and the temptation of ideology that turns human beings into monsters and their victims into something less than human. That means everyone is bound in sin, no exceptions, and that means that everyone is cut off from the life of God, because that life removes the fear of death, and only in the absence of that fear can we be truly human, i.e. truly immune to demonic and oppressive ideologies and the tendency to scapegoat.

But even aside from this general capacity to perpetrate monstrous evil, we are all complicit if not actively involved in a huge variety of horrors without our realizing it, because its victims are far enough removed from our circle of benevolence that we take no notice. As Marilyn Adams observes, "Few individuals would deliberately starve a child into mental retardation. But this happens even in the United States, because of the economic and social systems we collectively allow to persist and from which most of us profit. Likewise complicit in actual horrors are all those who live in societies that defend their interests by warfare and so accept horror-perpetration as a chosen means to or a side effect of its military aims." (Christ and Horrors, pp.35-36) We might also mention people's failure to stand up and speak against the injustice of slavery for fear of reprisal or complacency with the status quo, our tolerance of corrupt politicians, our stinginess in donations to charities that serve the poorest people in the world, etc.

The bottom line is that, whether we are (or at least imagine ourselves to be) 'decent' people or not, we are still complicit in monstrous evils and have the ability and motivation to directly inflict such evils on our fellows. Thus we are all violent, ugly creatures fully deserving of God's wrath. That includes you as well, Lee Randolph. The apostle Paul's judgment stands: "All have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)

In the next post I'll look at possible reasons why we find ourselves in this predicament and what Christ did to save us from it.

Further Reading:
-Hope in troubled times, pp.31-60
-The Scapegoat

In addition to church services, egg hunts, and special meals, this time of year brings out those skeptics intent on ruining your Easter festivities. My advice is to ignore them over the weekend, skeptical Easter bloggers tend to have more gusto than merit. But if you find some free time and want to read some Apologetics related to the Easter season, I have a few recommendations:

* The CADRE maintains a page providing the best available defenses of the resurrection of Jesus. The page includes a section devoted to responses to the skeptic assault on the resurrection, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, written by CADRE members.

* Another feature on our website is an article providing 15 substantive book reviews of academic, apologetic, and skeptical books about the resurrection.

* On this blog, I have a series of blog posts responding further to Dr. Richard Carrier's chapter in The Empty Tomb. You can also read my list of best books on the resurrection over at Amazon.

* William L. Craig is one of the foremost defenders of the resurrection. His scholarly and popular articles on the resurrection are available online. There are also transcripts of Dr. Craig's debates on the resurrection and his podcasts. The Q&A and the podcasts include commentary about Dr. Craig's recent debate about the resurrection with Dr. Carrier.

* Dr. Gary Habermas makes his many articles on the resurrection available online.

* J.P. Holding also has a list of links to articles defending the resurrection of Jesus. Some articles are his own work and he links to the work of Christian scholars on the issue.

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