The compatibility of pantheism to atheism and theism: Jobar vs. BWE vs. Politesse

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The compatibility of pantheism to atheism and theism: Jobar vs. BWE vs. Politesse

Post by Redshirt » Thu Feb 25, 2010 7:25 pm

Welcome to an Exclusive Engagement!

Jobar, BWE and Politesse will engage in a three-way formal debate. Each participant, representing a unique position and worldview, will debate the compatibility of pantheism to both atheism and theism:

Jobar, claiming to be an atheist/pantheist, will argue that pantheism and atheism are compatible and that pantheism and theism are not.
BWE, claiming to be a pantheist, will argue that theism and atheism are not compatible with pantheism.
Politesse, claiming to be a Christian panentheist, will argue that pantheism and theism are compatible and that pantheism and atheism are not.

The debate will have four rounds and employs a special format (see the proposal thread for details). Jobar will go first.

All members can comment on this formal debate (except for the participants) in the Peanut Gallery set up in the Philosophy & Morality forum.

Enjoy the debate! :)

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Post by Redshirt » Thu Feb 25, 2010 7:53 pm

Round One

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Post by Jobar » Sun Feb 28, 2010 5:00 pm

Pantheism-
New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia wrote:(From Greek pan, all; theos, god).
The view according to which God and the world are one. The name pantheist was introduced by John Toland (1670-1722) in his "Socinianism truly Stated" (1705), while pantheism was first used by his opponent Fay in "Defensio Religionis" (1709). Toland published his "Pantheisticon" in 1732. The doctrine itself goes back to the early Indian philosophy; it appears during the course of history in a great variety of forms, and it enters into or draws support from so many other systems that, as Professor Flint says "Antitheistic Theories", 334), "there is probably no pure pantheism". Taken in the strictest sense, i.e. as identifying God and the world, Pantheism is simply Atheism. In any of its forms it involves Monism, but the latter is not necessarily pantheistic. ...
See http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11447b.htm.

For many years, I have identified myself as an atheist/pantheist. More exactingly, I am a weak atheist/naturalistic pantheist- I have never heard described any god that I found it reasonable to believe in; and I specifically deny the meaningfullness of 'supernatural'.

I've written on this subject quite extensively; talked with atheists who have called my view contradictory, and theists who argued that they could properly call themselves pantheists, while yet holding to some idea of a God 'over' or 'beyond' reality as we humans understand it. Of course, I take exception to both these views. In this discussion, I mainly intend to demonstrate the compatibility of atheism and pantheism; secondarily, I want to show that pantheism, "in the strictest sense," is antithetical to Western/Abrahamic monotheism.

Most of my initial essay will be extracts from posts I made on Internet Infidels, from 2001 to 2007; of course, my subsequent posts will be responses to my interlocutors.

---------------------

I studied physics at Ga. Tech, back in the seventies. I was an atheist from age 15, but my attempts to understand the nature of physical reality, coupled with the study of philosophy and exposure to Taoism, Buddhism and Hinduism (with their radically different god-concepts) led me to think that my professed atheism was not incompatible with the Tao, or a 'Ground of Being'.

I remain a skeptic. I deny the existence, indeed the possibility, of the supernatural. I know that nature itself is so vast that we may never understand it all; but to say that some being or phenomenon is 'supernatural' is to put it beyond any possibility of understanding.

Atheism is not a philosophy or complete worldview- it is the rejection of theism. I see overwhelmingly that atheism is concerned with the Western concept of God- so I feel completely justified in still calling myself an atheist. The personified, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, perfect, external God does not exist.

Ah, but that isn't talking about something internal, and unpersonified. Something which doesn't rule, but supports from beneath. Something which doesn't love, or hate, or speak, or act, save in the guise of the material. Something within nature, not supernatural. Something which provides a unified and complete way for humans to observe the entirety of their universe; something to which all our art and science points, if we look closely.

When I speak of being a pantheist and simultaneously an atheist, many unbelievers object that I can't hold at once the proposition of pantheism ('everything is God') and atheism ('no god exists') without dissonance. However, the 'theos' in pantheism is not synonymous with the 'theos' in monotheism. I use 'pantheism' because English has no better word to express the concept of a non-personal, non-localized 'god'. I have considered calling myself a Zen or Taoist atheist; as some are quite aware, there are also sects of Hinduism which are explicitly atheist.

(I've seen arguments that these Eastern 'religions' aren't religions at all. I find that argument shallow; it appears abundantly obvious to me that Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism *are* religions, even though the god-concepts therein are extraordinarily different from what most Western thinkers conceive.)

If you insist that God must be supernatural- above nature- then what I am talking about here is not God. That's fine; I don't feel any need to define it so. I don't really worship it, though I do revere it and consider it holy. (Here I see eye-to-eye with the Wiccans, and those who worship nature.)

Remember, I'm an atheist pantheist. If I use the word 'God', it's in the pantheistic sense, not the monotheist (omnimax) sense. (That sort of entity is impossible, self-contradictory.) If you like, just substitute 'Brahman' or 'Tao' or 'Ground of Being' or some other similar term in the places I use the word 'God', unless I explicitly say it's in the monotheistic sense. I am aware that some may find this rather grating, or sometimes confusing- but just like the common English uses of such words as 'goodbye' or 'spirited' or 'heavenly' or 'hellish', we can use the meaning we wish without having to carry the superstitious baggage too.

Pantheism is a word coined by believers, who didn't have the option of specifically denying the relevance of 'theos' to any ultimate way of understanding or experiencing reality. But pantheism is non-theistic, in my understanding. *A* god, or God, is always outside one's own self; something to be worshipped, something to be pled with, something to blame. An explanation for the unknown, a comfort in times of no comfort. Always a thing apart.

Few Abrahamic religions are willing to call pantheism anything but black heresy, or atheism. (And to those who need that God-over-all to maintain their power structures, they're quite correct! Pantheism takes away both the carrot of salvation through the good offices of religious officialdom, and the stick of damnation if one denies or ignores the Church. Every human becomes just as holy as any Pope or Panjandrum.)

Back in 2004, Richard Dawkins wrote an article in free inquiry magazine; it was later incorporated into his book The God Delusion. It addresses this problem of the differing senses of the word 'God'.1
Dawkins wrote:One of Einstein's most eagerly quoted remarks is, "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." But Einstein also said "It was, of course, a lie when you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly."

Does it seem that Einstein contradicted himself? [...] No. By "religion" Einstein meant something entirely different from what is conventionally meant. That is why I am making a distinction between Einsteinian religion and supernatural religion.

...

Pantheists use the word God as a nonsupernatural synonym for Nature, for the Universe, or for the lawfullness which governs the workings of the universe.

...

Pantheism is sexed-up atheism. Deism is watered-down theism.
The quotations I gave all suggest that Einstein was a pantheist, and this is what I mean by Einsteinian religion."
Dawkins concluded the article with
I would have preferred it if physicists such as Einstein, Hawking, and others would refrain from using the word "God" in their special physicists' metaphorical sense. The metaphorical God of the physicists is light-years away from the interventionist, miracle-wreaking, thought-reading, sin-punishing, prayer-answering God of the theists and of ordinary language. To deliberately confuse the two is, IMO, an act of intellectual high treason.
Dawkins is scarcely the first skeptic to realize this; perhaps the greatest American freethinker of the nineteenth century, Robert G. Ingersoll, known as the Great Agnostic, had this to say when questioned about his beliefs.2

Question. Are you getting nearer to or farther away from God, Christianity and the Bible?
In the first place, as Mr. Locke so often remarked, we will define our terms. If by the word “God" is meant a person, a being, who existed before the creation of the universe, and who controls all that is, except himself, I do not believe in such a being; but if by the word God is meant all that is, that is to say, the universe, including every atom and every star, then I am a believer. I suppose the word that would nearest describe me is Pantheist. I cannot believe that a being existed from eternity, and who finally created this universe after having wasted an eternity in idleness; but upon this subject I know just as little as anybody ever did or ever will, and, in my judgment, just as much. My intellectual horizon is somewhat limited, and, to tell you the truth, this is the only world that I was ever in. I am what might be called a representative of a rural district, and, as a matter of fact, I know very little about my district. I believe it was Confucius who said: “How should I know anything about another world when I know so little of this?"
In this debate, I don't foresee being called upon to justify my pantheism from a scientific viewpoint; though in the past I have had hardcore atheists who have doubted this was possible, and I therefore have written quite a lot about it. For now, I'll only mention how the thrust of science, over the past two centuries or more, has lead us to concepts that are more and more 'unitary'. Nearly a hundred natural elements turn out to be composed of only three basic particles, and those particles can all be understood as forms of energy; all types of energy reduce to four, then three, and physicists are now searching for a Unified Field Theory, which would describe all matter and energy, space and time, in a single equation or interrelated group of equations.

My pantheism can also be called idealistic monism; I think we can best understand the universe in terms of idea or information, rather than matter/energy. IOW, I believe that the concept "idea" includes the concept "matter"- thus physical or materialistic monism is a subsidiary of idealistic monism. As physicist John Wheeler of Princeton says, "It from bit." (And Paola Zizzi of the University of Padova continues, "It from qubit.")

Though I'm far from being mathematician enough to state this with any sort of confidence, I have a strong suspicion that the Unified Field Theory, if and when it's found, will have considerable resemblance to the equations of information theory.
----------------------

I said that secondarily I wanted to show that pantheism is antithetical to Western monotheism, and much of what I've already written makes that point. Let me add some other supports for that thesis.

When I've spoken to theists who have used pantheistic arguments in an attempt to justify their beliefs, one of the ways I have tested their understanding of pantheism is to confront them with the barefaced claim that I am God. The ones that accept this normally show themselves to be philosophically indistinguishable from atheists; for example, many from II will remember Chili, who was originally known as Amos. A Catholic mystic, he was also a Jesus mythicist; and in one exchange I had with him, where I quoted Pope Pius IX's declaration of heretical views-
"1. There exists no Supreme, all-wise, all-provident Divine Being, distinct from the universe, and God is identical with the nature of things, and is, therefore, subject to changes. In effect, God is produced in man and in the world, and all things are God and have the very substance of God, and God is one and the same thing with the world, and, therefore, spirit with matter, necessity with liberty, good with evil, justice with injustice." -- Allocution "Maxima quidem," June 9, 1862.
-Chili's response (from http://www.freeratio.org/thearchives/sh ... 574&page=3) was
Chili wrote:No problem, if you are right I am wrong but since I do not owe the Church anything and she owes me nothing I do not care either way. I'll never be close enough to be confronted with this, nor is there anyone that I know who really cares.
(The whole thread from which that comes is a worthwhile read for those interested in this subject- and I direct Politesse to it, and the posts of ManM, for some excellent thoughts on panentheism.)

Many theists, though, when presented with the thesis that I am (and they are) God in sober truth, retreat rapidly from their claims of pantheism. I recall one such believer in particular- my interaction with Unum can be found at http://www.freeratio.org/thearchives/sh ... ?p=2140555.

Unum, who in that thread had defended his theism using pantheistic arguments, got *very upset* when I confronted him with the statement "I am God"- from post #184 in that thread-
Jobar wrote:
Unum wrote: I consider myself to be one of the many children of God. I am not God the parent.
Then you don't understand pantheism.

I- this very mind, body, personality- am the All in All. No other facet of reality, no other entity, can claim to be 'more God' than I. And, like the Buddha, I gain not one thing from this realization- except perhaps the 'peace' you use as your sig line.

Like Theosophists or panentheists, I think you want to find some admixture of Eastern and Western theology, some blend of monotheism and pantheism.
From that point, Unum beat a very rapid retreat from pantheism! Quotes from subsequent posts:
Unum wrote:This is where you and I disagree. If you were God you wouldn't need to write a response back to me, you would be able to communicate with me without speaking. You are a part of God, not all of God.
...
I appreciate you sharing your beliefs, but in all honesty, to even claim the label God is the height of arrogance. You may consider yourself a (lesser) god, but you are not God.
...
God is THE One, the absolute singular. I am one (a lesser one), albeit part of the absolute.
...
Just a few words of advice: you might want to hold off on the arrogance and vanity and try humility instead. God has many ways of deflating swelled heads.
My response to that-
Jobar wrote:I'm amused, Unum. After your spirited defense of monistic concepts before I entered this thread, you seem to have turned about and are now defending a dualism. Just what do you think is the difference between one and One?
...
p.s.- And I expect you to go ask the admins to change that capital 'U' in your username to a small 'u' right away, else I'll start accusing *you* of a swelled head.
I quite enjoyed that thread. :D
--------------------

To close, let me quote something I wrote back in early 2004; it may be the single best post I ever have made on any of the many discussion boards where I've been a member.
Jobar wrote:Life and consciousness are inescapable properties of nature, of chemistry and physics.

Our bodies and our minds are powered by nuclear energy from the sun, played out as enormously subtle electromagnetic 'music', self-organizing, self-conducting. If there is a 'life force', it's electromagnetism- the source of all thought and of all metabolism.

As such, we are completely, inseparably part of the fundamental fabric of reality- the waveforms of our lives, superpositions of vast numbers of vibrations, notes played on superstrings.

We are each a tiny riff, near-instantaneous bursts of rhythm and meaning, momentary chords in a symphony of light-giga-years.

Given all of these things- the prosaic reality of cosmologists and quantum mechanics, the echoes of vastness which are our awarenesses, the enchanted em looms which are our brains- how are we to contemplate these things without breath-taking awe, and deep appreciation of the miracle that is everyday reality?

Just because we see no gods guiding nature like puppets on strings, it's ridiculous for anyone to think that skeptics and scientists and atheists don't revere anything. Existence itself is more majestic than any imaginary overlord, and far more deserving of our reverence and even worship. We offer our prayers not just in words, but in our deeds, and our very lives.


"That, oh Arjuna- That art Thou."

1. Dawkins, R. (2004, Feb. - Mar.). Religion—Einsteinian or Supernatural? Free Inquiry, 24, No. 2.
2. The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, Dresden edition, Vol. VIII, pg. 172; from an interview with The Denver Republican, Denver, Colorado, January 17, 1884.
Last edited by Redshirt on Tue Mar 02, 2010 1:25 am, edited 5 times in total.
Reason: Added missing references (in blue)

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Post by Redshirt » Mon Mar 08, 2010 5:24 am

BWE & Politesse,

I would just like to remind you that your statements in response to Jobar in Round 1 are overdue, but you have a 3-day grace period.

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Post by Politesse » Mon Mar 08, 2010 6:10 am

My opening statement will be brief, largely because I'm not sure there is much to discuss between Jobar's position on my own, except a matter of definitions, for I see the "theos" of Jobar's theism no less theistic than the "theos" of Gregory of Nyssa. To be sure, there are many who define atheism strictly in contrast to whatever they perceive Western monotheism to be- usually something taken from the pages of Anselm, I find, curious though I find that choice to be. But that is not, in fact, what the word means. Atheism connotes the rejection of all forms of theism. It is defined in opposition, not to Christianity, but to theism as a whole. As such, it does and must reject all manner of deity, personal or impersonal. Jobar wishes to reject one form of theism, and this is fine; indeed, it is the spirit in which the modern school of pantheism was founded.

Rejecting a personal deity, or the concept of the supernatural, is good and well indeed. However, all pantheists do thus, and most do not name themselves atheists. No doubt Paul Tillich would be quite surprised to see his "ground of being" described as a non-God. Well no, he wouldn't, for this his opponents often insisted, but he did and still would disagree. The truth is that the God-concept is a deeper well than Jobar might realize. I woud argue that it has always concerned the same thing, which Jobar still recognizes though he has rejected some historical conceptions of it. Gods were not invented to explain the weather, or turns of fortune; they were always a descriptor of the Tao, of the unexplained numinous. Yes, a personal explanation, and I would argue that such a conception is not unreasonable since we ourselves are personal beings and share as much a portion of the divine as anything else. It is analogy, but powerful and entirely legitimate analogy, to speak of God as a person, too. Nevertheless, it is not necessary to have a personal deity in order to be a theist, because that was not the real drive of theism. The pantheists were not creating a new religion, or a new concept of God; they were digging down to the very roots of theism and casting out the dross that had accumulated. The things Jobar credits in his definition of theism were found to be among the dross. To the pantheist, they have found the true subject of theism, or rather rejected what was not the true subject of theism; Yahweh and his counterparts, crowding the lens. But they are theists nonetheless. And of course they found that YHWH and his attributes could not really describe the true ground of being; nothing could. Have you not studied the Tao, and perceived that it cannot be described? That which is spoken- whether in the language of Western monotheism or that of the pantheists- is not the eternal Tao. But the eternal Tao, which is also Tillich's ground of being, which is also Nyssa's divine unknowing and Evagrios' dark cloud, has always been the proper subject of theist thought, however driven aside that train of thought may have become. To embrace this is to be no less a theist than any other. It is to find the root of faith rather than being distracted by the branches.

Is the "theos" of pantheism the same as the "theos" of St Anselm? Of course not. But neither is the "theos" of Mohammed or the "theoi" of Plato. There are many notable theists- let us suggest, for instance, Origen- whose positions were much closer to Jobar's than to the medievalist notions he calls Western monotheism. No concepts are the same, because they are all abstractions of a thing impossible to describe despite being universally manifested. Even pantheism and Taoism are abstractions, unable to describe the true depth of the universe's being and essential unity without falling into concepts that do and must fall short of the full truth.

So I say that the most natural place for the pantheist to fall is among theists, because his own position falls into the realm of things that a true atheist, rejecting not just the clothing of God but the subject of "theos" altogether. Can there be an atheist pantheist? Yes, because could simply look at the depthless, Taoless, groundless materialist universe and call it "God" instead of "The universe", with little reason to make a distinction between the two and no uniqueness to credit the former term with. It has been done, and it is possible. But Jobar is not such an atheist, though he thinks he is, and neither are most who bother to take up the mantle of pantheism. They have winnowed away much description from traditional theism, but not rejected the ding an sich of theism. And so atheists, to my way of thinking, they are not.
"The truth about stories is that's all we are" ~Thomas King

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Post by BWE » Wed Mar 10, 2010 6:39 pm

On theism, atheism and pantheism.

Theism and atheism are both misguided attempts to translate the epic poem of reality into a language of limits, the universe to an Upanishad, the unknown and unexpected cuisine of eternity into bite sized morsels of processed food by-product. Ultimately, both theism and atheism narrow the minds of the porters stuck with the baggage. Like a person forced to wear a hat two sizes too small, like a fundamentalist's child taught to feel shame at the first whiff of curiosity about something potentially interesting, both theism and atheism discourage freestyle boogie on the cranial dance floor. They both attempt to definitively answer the important question, "Why?".

Both theism and atheism are attempts to lay claim to a truth value relating (without warrant) to a cause-effect relationship humans affectionately ascribe to a place we nominally call 'out there'. We want to know why things happen so that we will know what to do to make other things happen. This (quite reasonable to me) demand we place on the universe suddenly exponentially increases once we discover our inevitable impending discorporation. We want to know why so that we can manipulate 'out there' in such a way as to continue to enjoy it with no threat of coitus terminus. Interruptions are far more tolerable than the curtains closing for good.

Humanity's use of the root word 'theos' in the words theism and atheism stems from a misunderstanding based on our very early discovery of our own mortality. Something or someone owes us either a get out of jail free card which we can turn in when it comes time to continue beyond our inevitable expiration or a damn good reason why we aren't owed an extension. When we first discovered our own mortality, the internal self symbol became something more special than a localized area over which our organism exercises a little more control than the rest. Suddenly we took a brief detour from figuring things out here on Earth (She finds some amusement in the venture) and started in on the really critical job of figuring out how to change the rules of the larger game. We began sending our dead off to heaven. We created theos.

Theism, the belief in a deity with specific, nominally known characteristics, is utterly and only a source of explanation; explanation of why the fuck we are born with the mandate of surviving and reproducing yet given a faulty vessel which cannot possibly succeed, and, in some very simple-minded people, an explanation for why are there homosexuals (so there will be something for God to wrath about through the judicious use of hurricanes, lightning and bad moons). That some people get warm and fuzzy imagining a personal relationship with this deity changes that fact not one bit. Deities all explain why things happen at some level. Even if that level has progressed in modern times to a simple 'mysterious and unknown will working in mysterious and unknown ways' the use of any meaningful deity is still an explanation for the huge ass place 'out there'.

The simple-minded among us respond to such a statement with a predictable "Nuh-uh." They say, "God is real. I know God personally." Hopefully, the meaninglessness of such a statement need not be explained to this audience. Theism, the belief in an entity which created our universe and has a personal mind-like capacity which it can use to alter things within the universe is a religious claim which is demonstrably wrong, and it is demonstrably wrong precisely because it attempts to shrink what's 'out there' into a manageable ball with manageable rules - and the rules are simply wishful thinking and wrong.

What may yet need explanation for the somewhat less simple-minded among us is my claim that atheism is a doily fashioned (how do they make doilies anyway? Are they cut? Knitted? Embroidered? Woven?) from the same cloth. At first glance, atheism might appear to be merely a refutation of the simple claim of God, but this is a mistake. A-theism is a word which is not simply 'without' god. It suggests an approach also to managing the scope of what's out there by positively claiming that the universe works a certain way and that the way does not need the demonstrably wrong ideas of theism. Atheism is a rejection of God based on the observation that the explanation 'God', fails to actually explain anything at all.

The reason I say it is not simply 'without' god is that it is not particularly meaningful to say 'without' a specific bit of wrong information. I am not a-phlogiston, or a-aether. An atheist makes a counter claim specifically aimed at the translation of the universal epic. That counter claim too attempts to assign the wild west, out here be monsters, great cosmic fire-dance, poem of the universe a guide such as Dante made of Virgil. What we get from that is akin to being handed the score to west side story as the translation to homer reciting his Iliad in ancient Greek verse.

We can certainly learn things about 'out there' but we do not and cannot say we know the nature of the source of sense data. When we succumb and allow the siren's warble of science to supplant the opium sleep of religion in the little box that leads 'out', out of the humdrum events which we must individually monitor in order to avoid the avoidable messy deaths and discomforts which potentially surround our personal space, we implicitly declare that anything which won't hold still long enough for us to take its picture isn't there. What you see is all there is. An anemic case for that point of view can be made, so in that regard, atheism is superior to theism of which a burbling, stuttering apology is about the best we can hope for. However, the case for atheism will inevitably stumble at the point where reality is defined, that itching-powder of life, 'out there'. Atheism in not simply 'without God'. It is an alternative view for those who might be inclined to mash their brains between the cement slab of religion and the immovable mover, that granite paver of cognitive dissonance. It is a small enough map that an individual can confront 'out there' as if it had boundaries.

Atheism, if it makes no counter claim is a word which means something closer to, "without the naive idea of theism and quite happy not to replace that idea with anything whatsoever." Which is why using the word atheist to replace the word theist (upon realization that the idea of theism is provincial, petty and ignorant) makes no sense. It's like replacing the word 'left' after going round the block with 'right' to reflect better information. It doesn't make a person an a-leftist. Realizing the absurdity of our drive to assign cause-effect relationships to things and to satisfy our need for explanation should ideally lead to pantheism, quite specifically not atheism.

Pantheism, the Champaign of translations for the poem of the universe. Written backwards in invisible ink in iambic limbo-meter on translucent rice-paper and only readable when dancing naked with ten other people -all suitably fueled with psilocybin-bearing fruiting bodies of course - around a bonfire of the vanities atop the one mountain moved to its location by faith alone and illuminated by auburn light of a harvest moon. Pantheism. The only honest answer to the question, "why?". The only response to the oddity of time that allows for the possibility that dealing from the bottom of the deck might in fact be completely within the rules of the game. Pantheism admits that we exist at a cosmically different recursive level than the dealer and that our entire knowledge of the continuum of depth exists because and only because we travel the continuum of time as a point and remember where we've been and try to predict where that means we might be going.

Theos, even 'God' is a perfectly acceptable word as long as it acknowledges that it is an answer written in a script we cannot read. That when an individual grasps a single word's translation he or she is prevented by the mundanity and inanity of humanity from sharing the discovery with others. Perhaps if we combined all the tiny fragments translated from the divine comedy (the real one, not the imposter written by that Italian guy Dante) by mystics, musicians and artists throughout history, we could have a paragraph or two from one of the acts. But perhaps these words attributed by some to Jesus say it in a more meaningful way:
Jesus said, "If your leaders say to you, 'Look, the kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is within you and it is outside you.
As soon as we presume to know how the cards are dealt, we fall into the trap of tunnel vision. As soon as we add any baggage at all to theos, we have framed a portrait and claimed reality to be the objects within. It is no accident that Damn and God are related. When used in the only way which doesn't render either of them laughably ignorant, they mean exactly the same thing. Looking 'out there', the precise word to explain it all can be either, "Damn", or "God". The first is a sign of understanding and the second is a sign of wanting to understand. But as soon as either word collects baggage, just as a stone collects moss, the meaning extinguishes like a quantum particle falls out of superposition.

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Post by Redshirt » Wed Mar 10, 2010 7:11 pm

Round Two

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Post by Jobar » Wed Mar 17, 2010 12:54 am

To all-
I hope to avoid any extremely long posts in this discussion; I've found that attempting to address every point made in post after post leads very quickly to unmanageable lengths, so I try to seek out what I see as the central areas of disagreement. So, if I don't dispute any of your particular points, it's either because I agree with you, or else I don't see those points as vital to the debate.

Of course one of you may disagree, and find that a point I have not addressed is central to the discussion here. Please, if that's the case, don't hesitate to repeat your point in other terms, and indicate that you consider it important.

To Politesse-
DEFINE THEOS. Until we are agreed on the central term, we cannot be sure we aren't talking past each other.

I have stated in many places that it appears every single believer in God, or gods, has a unique definition of "God"; which, considered in toto, will vary in some way from any other believer's definition. So before I can talk to a theist about God or gods, I always have to carefully pin down what meaning they assign to that word. Every atheist has this problem; we have to determine what is meant by the word, before we can say we don't believe in it!

Here's a very general definition of God I've used in the past, which most believers will affirm: "The heavens and the earth and all that they contain owe their existence and continuance in existence to the wisdom and will of a supreme, infinite, self-consistent, perfect, omnipotent, omniscient, righteous and benevolent being, who is distinct from, and independent of, what he has created." - from Sydney Hook's article in Critiques of God, ed. Peter Angeles.

So far as I can tell, the only common ground between this God and the Tao is that both are infinite. And the Tao is definitely NOT "distinct from, and independent of, what he has created".

Politesse says "The pantheists were not creating a new religion, or a new concept of God; they were digging down to the very roots of theism and casting out the dross that had accumulated." But it appears to me that practically all of Western theology is a part of that dross.

I stated in my OP that "pantheism" was a word coined by people who did not have the option of flatly denying the validity of "theos" when discussing the universe as a whole. Remember that they were still burning witches at that time! But the New Advent Encyclopedia entry makes it plain that the theologians of that day weren't slow to label Socinianism as "antitheistic" and "simply atheism".

If that were the only backing for my POV, I would not be as certain of it as I am; I know that plenty of religions have been labeled 'atheistic' by those who espouse some competing dogma. (Christianity among them!) But this isn't the case; some of the most powerful voices of unbelief, both present and past, are in complete agreement with those Catholic theologians. I refer you back to the quotes by Ingersoll, and by Dawkins, in my OP.

Here's another way of thinking of this. If I say "everything is a miracle", then what have I said about *anything*? I have provided no way to define the word "miracle" so that we can understand it apart from any other word or concept. Likewise, if I say "everything is God", it contains just as much meaning as if I say "nothing is God"!

There is a "school" of atheist thought called non-cognitivism, or igtheism- "the word "god" is meaningless, conveys no information." It appears to me that this POV is in agreement with pantheism; such beliefs as Taoism and Zen Buddhism speak of "emptiness" and "suchness" and "the Tao which can be named is not the ultimate Tao." In a very real sense, pantheism declares that the word 'god' is meaningless, in that there is no God apart from the totality of existence.

To BWE-
You, sir, are a mystic. I recognize you; as is said, "When two thieves meet, they need no introduction." ;)

If I am properly understanding your point of view, my only real disagreement with you is that you *seem* to be unfairly equating atheism to some simplistic form of materialism, or logical positivism. When you say-
BWE wrote:When we succumb and allow the siren's warble of science to supplant the opium sleep of religion in the little box that leads 'out', out of the humdrum events which we must individually monitor in order to avoid the avoidable messy deaths and discomforts which potentially surround our personal space, we implicitly declare that anything which won't hold still long enough for us to take its picture isn't there. What you see is all there is.
-it appears to me that you are assigning meanings to 'atheism' which I do not. Atheism, in and of itself, is a rejection of God(s); a-theos-ism, 'no-god-belief'. It does not imply any other philosophical stance or paradigm. (I freely admit I may be taking your meaning wrong; if so, then perhaps all we disagree on is a small matter of semantics.)

I don't deny that atheism is inextricably tied to theism; both depend completely on how the central term is defined. Pantheism, OTOH, equates 'god' to 'all', and thus renders the term meaningless; undefined, indefinite, infinite.

I would argue that atheism is not a basic philosophy, worldview, or paradigm, in and of itself; rather it is a single facet of a larger philosophy, worldview, or paradigm. But pantheism *is* basic; it can be seen as the root or foundational thesis for an overarching philosophy/worldview/paradigm, in that it unifies all existence in a single monism. (Although, like some as-yet-undiscovered Theory of Everything, 'unpacking' the total meaning of pantheism may require a lifetime of study!)

You say
BWE wrote:As soon as we add any baggage at all to theos, we have framed a portrait and claimed reality to be the objects within.

I think I prefer the words of Meister Eckhart, the 14th-century Catholic mystic; "Even if I say, 'Thou! Oh, Thou!' I say too much." (Quoted in Aldous Huxley's book The Perennial Philosophy, 1945 edition.)

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Post by Redshirt » Thu Mar 18, 2010 2:02 pm

BWE & Politesse,

I would just like to remind you that your Round 2 statements are overdue, but you have a 2-day grace period.

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Post by BWE » Thu Mar 18, 2010 10:18 pm

Round 2 Response
Wherein I offer a few rebuttals to Politesse's and Jobar's attempts to tie the provincial chieftains of theism and atheism to the cosmopolitan free-spirit of pantheism as if the three ideas all fell along a single continuum. I believe they do not. Of course, I could be wrong. I run that risk every time I try to pull philosophy out of my ass. :) I hope you enjoy.

Both theism and atheism taken within any context which renders them meaningful at all are blatant and less blatant attempts at camouflage and subterfuge - attempts to attach themselves to the coattails of the universal wow-factor, to use "holy shit!" to support either holy shit or just shit, depending, I suppose, to which particular privy the individual assumes he is privy. Either way, pantheism, though sharing the unfortunate root word, effectively removes from 'theos' all the baggage associated with either the acceptance or the rejection of Theo as an actor in our universe of measured (and measureable) reality by recognizing the primitive nature of our instruments. The word pantheism leaves the other two with only baggage and no theos.

Any atheism or theism which would ride pantheism's legitimacy to bolster their own, to use the universal wow-factor to remind us of the need for a definition of the boundaries of reality fails at the point of attributes. Neither can make a single positive claim without severing the link, so they are stuck with gently suggesting potentials rather than boldly asserting nonsense like the 'Fundamentalist Churches Of' theisms and atheisms do. I think both Jobar's and Politesse's versions are of the first more genuine and honest category rather than the fundamentalist persuasion, but rather than being compatible with pantheism, I believe their approaches are near the center of a spectrum moving from fundamentalist atheism to fundamentalist theism with nary a hint of pantheism along it.

Of the fundamentalist ends of the spectrum I will say this now and offer some general criticism later. Any fundamentalist position wrt theos which deliberately excludes pantheism fails on lack of imagination and easily collapses by its own foundational assumptions. Those assumptions are sold to an audience by poseurs, snake-oil salesmen, or the simple-minded, in other words, fundamentalists. Anyone who knows how 'it is' with certainty is likely among that group. Despite their distancing themselves from the edges of the bell curve, both Jobar's and Politesse's use of the words, I will argue, are the supported by the same assumptions ultimately although they hold their truths in a somewhat looser grasp.


--------------------------------------------------------------------

First, Politesse's attempt to link theism to pantheism since it is the easier target.

Politesse, your argument hinges entirely on the validity of the following claim from your opening post:
Gods were not invented to explain the weather, or turns of fortune; they were always a descriptor of the Tao, of the unexplained numinous.
Aside from being close to ridiculous outside of a very narrow point of view, the claim is not valid in its own point of view. The ability to form the statement demonstrates its own falsehood. In order to understand why, try to explain the point of searching for the numinous. Try as you might, I bet you can't come up with any reason other than as the desire for an explanation for something. That is a challenge by the way. The 'unexplained numinous' is the part we can't see, here, touch, smell, taste or imagine. IOW, If God is an explanation, it isn't the Tao.

Any person attempting to make a positive claim about 'theos' only attempts to pin down an attribute of some sort. A theos with no attributes whatsoever is, well, that's what 'God' is when we untie the strings. But that only demonstrates that the use of the word theos alone (as in theist) is an attempt to hang up personal hang-ups in the great illusion of closet space offered by pantheism. It's a slippery spot though and it turns out there are simply no hooks. The hang-ups won't hang up. All people who try can do is carry their theos around draped over an arm and claim that it would go up in the pantheist coat room but for the cold that makes it seem prudent to carry it. Like a fur coat made of an animal whose name you knew, the theos which seems like it ought to stay on the hook in the pantheist coat-room cannot hide what it is without distraction and sleight of hand. The connection is an attempt to define a boundary around some shit that a thinker thinks he can get to hold still long enough to nail down to his portrait. Thinker thinks there's wood behind the canvas for the slippery stuff apparently.

(BTW, as an aside, symbols are compression in the brain's running of the model of the universe. I wonder if I would need to defend that?)

Anyway, once a thinker thinks a boundary line, the thinker has thought himself a thing. In all the esoteric assertions and meanings of theos no meaningful quality whatsoever (i.e. interact-able with, sense-able, measurable, or definable in terms of first principles) can withstand a logical gaze. And, I can and will argue that we have no other means of judging potential truths, potential rules of cause and effect. All positive claims about theism, all potential knowledge about it, is merely personal attempts to explain some element of experience in terms of cause and effect, to add some comforting boundaries to a model of reality, to shrink 'out there' to a less frightening size, and ultimately to impose limits on possibilities.

The typical response to the kind of argument I just made usually involves one of two things. Either the response assembles some vague reference to an experiential activity which one does for some reason - an activity which produces some sensory experience, a positive claim and easily falsifiable - or else it involves backtracking into the murky idea of infinity. That too does nothing. Infinity is a reasonably precise term. In the context of theos, again, quelle surprise, any attempt to define the infinity given as context for theos includes the negation of any positive claim about that theos. Perhaps a nice discussion of the solution to Zeno's Paradox would illustrate the point if you doubt me. I don't know if that is worth going into because it may be a common understanding.

At any rate,
Gods were not invented to explain the weather, or turns of fortune; they were always a descriptor of the Tao, of the unexplained numinous.
is not valid because if they stood for the unexplained, they would have no attributes whatsoever or else they would be fact, recorded measurements which as yet have no explanation -in which case theos is ruled out too. Since there are no measurements of this kind. Also, Gods do have attributes. If your claim was true there would be no possible knowledge of the divine because there would be no symbol with which to understand it. The claim is false. It requires that a measureable event not have an explanation (a contradiction in terms because all events in our model have causes, that's the rule of the modeling apparatus. God is a perfectly good explanation if there is evidence to support it.) or that there is no measurable event in which case there is no theos. And now to segue by means of sledgehammer.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Before addressing Jobar's atheism, I want to spend a minute unpacking the worldview type of atheism.

Atheism like that of the apt pejorative, "The Church of Atheism", often called materialist/reductionism is in fact identical to theism because it makes a positive claim about the nature of the source of sense-data. Not that Dembski or the Disco institute give valid reasons when they make the claim that atheism is a religion, but I think they are right to call it the same sort of belief system as theism. For those who guffaw at the claim but still cover their nakedness, consider this: all models are false.

To any who would rebut my claim in the peanut gallery (please?) :p , Please include in your careful refutation of my claim rebuttals or counter definitions to the following:
  • Truths are simply patterns which hold true in predictive capacity thus far, whether well supported or not. They need not be accurate to be truths, merely produce predictions that correlate with measurements.
  • Fact is only measurement and it need not be accurate to be seen as fact.
  • That being the case, fact is entirely historical data fed into the patterns bundled as truths as real data feeds into a computer model.
  • The only value in a model is predictive. (slightly overgeneralized to avoid trivial wall of text. Still, in all cases the original purpose is to model time, whether fictional or representational.)
  • While it is perfectly valid to judge one model against another on the terms of their predictive power and to discard the worse, that is merely the normal way of modeling.
  • All truth is provisional, all fact is data, and data is the result of measurement.
  • The past does not exist except as data, nor the future except as predictions.
  • 'Now' is a moving plane or point on a continuum which we can only measure by a thing we call entropy and to even measure that we have to pick reference units which we ultimately must assign a nominally privileged reference frame or it would not appear as anything but random flux.
  • Matter and energy are conventions relating only to how we model, not what we model.
Now, what positive claim can you make about 'out there' other than that it appears to be consistent? Ok. Enough with the rant against the argument nobody in this debate made. The point of that is that an assumption of 'out there' beyond "it appears to be consistent" is the fundamental limiting mistake which supports theism and atheism but which pantheism does not make.

---------------------------------------------------

On to the atheism Jobar presents.

Though a little trickier, I think it suffers from the same flaw as theism or materialism/reductionism/atheism. Here goes.

At it's basic level, the level Jobar adopts, atheism can legitimately make a single, positive claim: that there is no theos, that God was an excellent truth with tremendous explanatory power but the facts didn't support it and it failed every prediction it made, so it must be discarded. In that regard Jobar's atheism is one better than theism. But in making that claim, though for the right reasons, that theos is a predictive model with a zero success rate, it severs its ties with pantheism. Here is Jobar's statement:
Atheism is not a philosophy or complete worldview- it is the rejection of theism. I see overwhelmingly that atheism is concerned with the Western concept of God- so I feel completely justified in still calling myself an atheist. The personified, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, perfect, external God does not exist.
If this is really all you mean by atheism, why adopt it as a label? Why not be a-crystalline-spheres? Why not be a-phlogiston or a-aether? Why not be a-time-cube or a-woo? I have to go out on a limb here and make an assumption. I think that the reason is that you want to identify with a particular method of information gathering: hypothesis and measurement. Empiricism.

I propose that if you really only mean that you reject a single hypothesis, a sky daddy, petty, provincial, self-contradictory and not predictive at all, i.e. wrong, then why apply a label at all? Especially one which typically implies a single box within which the universe is fully defined? That is so antithetical to pantheism the way I understand it that they cannot coexist. For example, you write:
If you insist that God must be supernatural- above nature- then what I am talking about here is not God. That's fine; I don't feel any need to define it so. I don't really worship it, though I do revere it and consider it holy. (Here I see eye-to-eye with the Wiccans, and those who worship nature.)
you use the word Nature as a boundary. Nature is what we can experience through measurement. While this seems like a perfect word to describe the things we measure and what we predict, it sounds an awful lot like a map/terrain confusion to me. Reality shouldn't need a boundary, bullshit should need a filter. Those are different things although often they seem similar. Dynamic models are our universe for all practical purposes. On the other hand, accurate prediction is a valuable skill and is the only reasonable metric by which our model can be judged. Requiring evidence for truths and successful predictions from the application of those truths has nothing particularly to do with theos anymore. Pantheism, sure. "Holy Shit!" Not 'holy' shit. But the following quote suggests you don't want to isolate a bit of the cosmos and call it plain shit and claim that the name equals reality either. Symbols are a matter of convenience and truth has to do with models not Truth® on sale at a chemistry lab for the price of a degree or the local church for 20% of your future sin.
My pantheism can also be called idealistic monism; I think we can best understand the universe in terms of idea or information, rather than matter/energy. IOW, I believe that the concept "idea" includes the concept "matter"- thus physical or materialistic monism is a subsidiary of idealistic monism. As physicist John Wheeler of Princeton says, "It from bit." (And Paola Zizzi of the University of Padova continues, "It from qubit.")
And Bart Kosko in Fuzzy Future says, "It from Fit". Or as W. Quine, who really seemed to want to be the ultimate reductionist said,
Our acceptance of an ontology is…similar in principle to our acceptance of a scientific theory…we adopt…the simplest conceptual scheme into which the disordered fragments of raw experience can be fitted and arranged. Physical objects are postulated entities which round out and simplify our account of the flux of experience just as the introduction of irrational numbers simplifies laws of arithmetic.
(copied from this presentation because it googled first):
home.sandiego.edu/~baber/analytic/onwhatthereis.ppt
Though I'm far from being mathematician enough to state this with any sort of confidence, I have a strong suspicion that the Unified Field Theory, if and when it's found, will have considerable resemblance to the equations of information theory.
This seems straightforward and undeniable, yet the same seed, the same first principle forms the substrate from which both theism and this statement appear to emerge. That first principle is faulty. Unified Field Theory will still be a model. A better one perhaps, but still a model. A better God hypothesis will still only be a model too.

In its simplest formulation the atheist position means something akin to, "Hey theists. You did the math wrong." Hardly seems worth a label with limits built in. The pantheistic perspective simply goes with what seems good. Theos is detritus of the larger model shared by humanity. It is a different answer to a different question. Pantheism isn't an answer, it's a method of avoiding self-imposed limitations to experience. It sort of like slipping a sheet or five of good blotter acid into the punchbowl at the policeman's ball. and then going out on the town.


"What peculiar priviledge has this little agitation of the brain which we call thought that we must thus make it the model of the whole universe?"
David Hume


Sorry about the book length post. I didn't have time to write a shorter one.
Last edited by Redshirt on Thu Mar 18, 2010 10:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: fixed vbb tags

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Post by Redshirt » Sat Mar 20, 2010 7:40 pm

Politesse has informed me that he has decided to withdraw from the formal debate. The formal debate, however, will continue between BWE and Jobar.

BWE has also requested an extension for the Round 3 statements to April 1st of which I have granted.

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Post by Redshirt » Sat Mar 20, 2010 7:40 pm

Round Three

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Post by BWE » Fri Apr 02, 2010 7:50 pm

Jobar,

With the withdrawal of Politesse from the debate, the largely semantic issue between us now takes center stage. The rejection of theism as a model of the universe is not the question any more. Now the question becomes, is it appropriate to assign a label "atheism" to the position of rejecting theism and still keep the label 'pantheist'. Your objections to my position boil down to the claim that I am placing a meaning on the word atheism which is inappropriate at least and fully unwarranted at worst.

In your critique of my position, you point out that you are not using the word 'atheism' to mean materialism (or something close), which is what I am admittedly doing. It seems a relatively simple issue of definitions at that point, yet I still maintain that the label is inappropriate to a pantheistic worldview. I also maintain that the use of the label implicitly promotes an alternate viewpoint, which, I assert, means that a simple definition, 'not theist', is incongruous with the use of the word atheist.

A pantheistic worldview implies some greater whole of which our part is too small to be able to grasp. It does not allow for theism/deism because that is a claim to some descriptor of what is unknown. However, it does not allow for a materialist conclusion either because that too is a claim of structure, or underlying form and falls into the same trap. Pantheism allows that we can know what we experience and improve our model of the universe incrementally. It doesn't allow that our model has a claim to truth, merely expedience.

Models are only useful according to their predictive power. The model we are building using empirical testing allows us to reject the God hypothesis as a failed explanation. It allows us to say that, using our current model, our predictions are more accurate then they were under different models. The model we have thus far constructed using the empirical method does not allow us to claim any underlying truth. Just as Ptolemy's model worked well for travelers and planners, relativity and Newtonian mechanics (and quantum mechanics) works well for modern engineers. That does not give them a special category of truth. Just, to coin Asimov's phrase, relatively less wrongness than previous models.

If you accept that a pantheistic worldview forbids a claim of 'truth' as applicable to a model of reality, but allows, 'not accurate' in terms of a constructed model which fails when tested against sense data (actually, a scientific worldview ought to imply the same, sadly humanity has a strong urge to declare truths as absolute), then the claim of atheism, can only mean not-failed hypothesis X. X in this case is God. But in modern usage, that meaning isn't the way we use the word. In fact, we need to specify when we mean it that way because the structure of labels is deliniative. I AM an atheist means I hold some positive belief. Yet we do not hold the rejection of any other simple failed hypothesis as an anti-positive belief. We are not a-Ptolemists.

Of course, people are rarely willing to call themselves Ptolomists any more either. I suppose the reason we still use the label 'atheist' is because there are still people running around calling themselves 'theists'. While it may have been appropriate for a time as humanity discovered its error regarding the theist hypothesis to label oneself as a member of a new emerging consensus regarding the broader model of the universe, the time for that is long gone. Theism is indefensible now. But the lesson in that is that absolutism regarding the truth of models in general is the error of which theism is but one of humanities long list of errors.

For that reason, there is no alternative to theism. Using the atheist label promotes the idea that there could be. That alone should be enough reason to discourage its use. But worse, the belief in the truth of a paradigm of any sort inhibits the ability to improve our model. Accidentally promoting materialism promotes rigid thinking in science, culture and interpersonal communication in general. If there is a truth, then I might be compelled to shove it down someone's throat whether they want it or not. If instead there are inaccurate models, then the problem becomes one of mutual education and cooperation. New models are subject to the rigors of evidence and skepticism but less to the gauntlet of denial inhibiting the development of new ideas.

If that is being a mystic, perhaps you are right in calling me one. However, I think that empiricism's great legacy is the discovery that paradigms are models all doomed to failure as new data becomes available. Sometimes we are incrementally working on the current model and sometimes we are tossing out the whole framework and fitting the existing data to a new schematic. Improvement is science. Belief is religion.

For those reasons, I continue to reject the title atheist as compatible with pantheist despite your well stated criticism of my position.

:D

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Post by Jobar » Mon Apr 05, 2010 1:58 am

I think that my best way of responding here is to intersperse my commentary, in blue, through BWE's previous entry.

[quote=""BWE""]Jobar,

With the withdrawal of Politesse from the debate, the largely semantic issue between us now takes center stage. The rejection of theism as a model of the universe is not the question any more. Now the question becomes, is it appropriate to assign a label "atheism" to the position of rejecting theism and still keep the label 'pantheist'. Your objections to my position boil down to the claim that I am placing a meaning on the word atheism which is inappropriate at least and fully unwarranted at worst.


In your critique of my position, you point out that you are not using the word 'atheism' to mean materialism (or something close), which is what I am admittedly doing.
I would say you're adding meaning(s) to the word 'atheist' which most (IMO) of us who describe ourselves so don't agree with, yes. While I freely admit many atheists are materialists, few would say that the two words are equivalent, or even closely related in meaning.

It seems a relatively simple issue of definitions at that point, yet I still maintain that the label is inappropriate to a pantheistic worldview. I also maintain that the use of the label implicitly promotes an alternate viewpoint, which, I assert, means that a simple definition, 'not theist', is incongruous with the use of the word atheist.

A pantheistic worldview implies some greater whole of which our part is too small to be able to grasp.

I disagree slightly with your wording; I think that the microcosm (the finite) is a reflection or aspect of the macrocosm (the infinite). However, if you had said 'define' instead of 'grasp', I would agree; we cannot reduce the infinite to a finite model.

It does not allow for theism/deism because that is a claim to some descriptor of what is unknown. However, it does not allow for a materialist conclusion either because that too is a claim of structure, or underlying form and falls into the same trap. Pantheism allows that we can know what we experience and improve our model of the universe incrementally. It doesn't allow that our model has a claim to truth, merely expedience.

Again, you're barkin' up the wrong tree, I think; I've specifically said that I'm an idealist, not a materialist.

Models are only useful according to their predictive power. The model we are building using empirical testing allows us to reject the God hypothesis as a failed explanation. It allows us to say that, using our current model, our predictions are more accurate then they were under different models. The model we have thus far constructed using the empirical method does not allow us to claim any underlying truth. Just as Ptolemy's model worked well for travelers and planners, relativity and Newtonian mechanics (and quantum mechanics) works well for modern engineers. That does not give them a special category of truth. Just, to coin Asimov's phrase, relatively less wrongness than previous models.

I've often said that our modern scientific theories approach TRUTH as a hyperbolic function approaches its asymptote; our models may get arbitrarily close to reality if we keep refining them when they don't match our perceptions of reality (which is what science does). IOW I agree; science is a pragmatic method of grinding away the 'wrongness' of our models.


If you accept that a pantheistic worldview forbids a claim of 'truth' as applicable to a model of reality, but allows, 'not accurate' in terms of a constructed model which fails when tested against sense data (actually, a scientific worldview ought to imply the same, sadly humanity has a strong urge to declare truths as absolute), then the claim of atheism, can only mean not-failed hypothesis X. X in this case is God. But in modern usage, that meaning isn't the way we use the word. In fact, we need to specify when we mean it that way because the structure of labels is deliniative. I AM an atheist means I hold some positive belief. Yet we do not hold the rejection of any other simple failed hypothesis as an anti-positive belief. We are not a-Ptolemists.

I disagree. As I've stated, I *am* an a-Santa Claus-ist, an a-Easter Bunny-ist, and, indeed, an a-Ptolemist; but I feel no need to name myself these things, because the damage done to the society I live in by these mythical or simply incorrect beliefs don't compare to the damage done by theism.

If we lived in a society where a considerable majority of the population believed in (for example) the time-cube, and only a small number of oddballs ever gave thought to an ancient myth termed god/theos, I expect we'd see a fair lot of people identifying as 'a-cubists', and none or almost none calling themselves 'a-theists'. Because most societies down through history have been theistic, most of us thoroughgoing skeptics indicate our denial of the prevailing insanity by naming ourselves 'atheists'. The prevalence of that term has its roots in history and sociology, far more than in philosophy.


Of course, people are rarely willing to call themselves Ptolomists any more either. I suppose the reason we still use the label 'atheist' is because there are still people running around calling themselves 'theists'.
Exactly!
While it may have been appropriate for a time as humanity discovered its error regarding the theist hypothesis to label oneself as a member of a new emerging consensus regarding the broader model of the universe, the time for that is long gone. Theism is indefensible now. But the lesson in that is that absolutism regarding the truth of models in general is the error of which theism is but one of humanities long list of errors.
Yes, I agree. 'Absolute' is another aspect of 'infinite', and we can't define the infinite. Our words, our models, are finite, and hence always incomplete; but this incompleteness doesn't mean that words or models are useless.

For that reason, there is no alternative to theism. Using the atheist label promotes the idea that there could be. That alone should be enough reason to discourage its use.


Yes, certainly if we are to understand the word 'atheist', we must understand the word 'theist'. But that fact doesn't imply that there is some 'theos', any more than calling oneself an 'a-calorist' (referring to the old theory that heat was a sort of fluid) implied any existence of caloric fluid.

If one is to correct errors of thought, one must first describe the error!


But worse, the belief in the truth of a paradigm of any sort inhibits the ability to improve our model. Accidentally promoting materialism promotes rigid thinking in science, culture and interpersonal communication in general. If there is a truth, then I might be compelled to shove it down someone's throat whether they want it or not. If instead there are inaccurate models, then the problem becomes one of mutual education and cooperation. New models are subject to the rigors of evidence and skepticism but less to the gauntlet of denial inhibiting the development of new ideas.

If that is being a mystic, perhaps you are right in calling me one. However, I think that empiricism's great legacy is the discovery that paradigms are models all doomed to failure as new data becomes available.

Say refinement sometimes, rather than failure. Although some paradigms, for example theism, may safely be thought of as failures. Just because we present an antithesis to a particular thesis, that doesn't mean that the resultant synthesis must include any significant portion of the thesis. (Or vice versa; if the thesis proves to correspond to reality practically one-to-one, then the synthesis may look almost exactly like the thesis.)

Sometimes we are incrementally working on the current model and sometimes we are tossing out the whole framework and fitting the existing data to a new schematic. Improvement is science. Belief is religion.

For those reasons, I continue to reject the title atheist as compatible with pantheist despite your well stated criticism of my position.

:D [/quote]

While I, for my part, still see this rejection as a misunderstanding of the terms; what you name 'atheism' includes both connotations and denotations which I, and IMO most other atheists, do not include in our understanding of the term.

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BWE and I have decided that, while we have both enjoyed this discussion, the two of us are not sufficiently at odds in our ideas to justify continuing this as a formal debate. So, this is the last post here; but we do intend to continue talking about the subject in the Peanut Gallery thread in the Philosophy forum.

My thanks to BWE and Politesse for participating, and I hope that Politesse may eventually find sufficient time to carry on with his portion of this debate. In particular I'd be much interested in a close examination of the differences between pantheism and panentheism, a subject where I feel that I still have things to learn.

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Redshirt
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Post by Redshirt » Mon Apr 05, 2010 8:17 pm

With Jobar's final statement, BWE has declined to post a final statement for the last word. The formal debate is now complete. Thank you, BWE, Jobar and Politesse for your participation.

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