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Introduction - a discussion 
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Post Introduction - a discussion
Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe


Please use this thread for discussing the Introduction. ::204




Mon Dec 19, 2005 9:34 am
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Post Re: Introduction - a discussion
just finished the introduction which was brief and to the point with the author introducing his terminology of "Naturalism" and detailing his own angle on christianity and reasons for his lack of belief in the religion. i did not appreciate the author making his opinions known, i would have preferred the author make his arguements from a neutral point of view. i don't think the author will make his arguements in the book defensively, but theists may likely read some arguements as such based on the authors presentation of his reasons for his lack of believe in christianity. also, the author seems to stick to christianity in his introduction and suggests he will utilize this particular religion throughout the book for examples since it is the one he his most familiar with. i would have appreciated a more broad range of various cultures of belief for comparison sake, but we will see where this goes. perhaps i am reading too much into the introduction::03 i will now break down a few additional thoughts with quotes:

1. the stephen roberts quote on page 10 is humerous and to the point. probably the highlight of the entire chapter. made me think that with so many religions in the world, there can be only two possibilities: either they all have it wrong or only one is right (or as right as could possibly be for trying to understand a supposed being that has yet to make it self and it's purpose known perfectly clear). i believe the former, but wonder how people can believe the later without having explored the rest of the worlds faiths. this is kind of going off topic of the book, but this quote got me thinking about how a lot of theists don't seem to question the possibility that what they believe in may be entirely wrong. this goes more for theists that are a part of organized religion rather than those that have sought their own answers and have actually questioned things. in either case, a great quote that was the highlight of the introduction for me.

2. i don't think the opening paragraph quoting a selection from the movie signs was very well placed. an interesting way to open a book, but the pop culture reference wasn't the best introduction to his defining naturalism.

3. i appreciated the author setting a definition of naturalism, but i wasn't really into his writing at this point. i was thinking about re-reading the passage, but i got the point the first time.

4. on page 5, the author presents three presumptions on the formation of the universe by intelligent design, the first of which suggests some sort of intelligent design created the universe. the author goes on to discard the other two, that the "universe was created by an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being" and that "the christian god exists" while leaving open the possibility of the third which i found interesting. i sometimes consider myself an agnostic-athiest because desite my disbelief in any gods, i am open to the possibility that something set the whole thing off and triggered the big bang. i am highly doubtful of this, but i am open to being shown evidence. something could be alien intelligence or whatever. based on the authors comments, i suspect he may be inclined to either subscribe to this or also be open to the idea if proven.

interesting side note: an old computer game for the commodore and atari platforms in the mid-1980s called alternate reality has always been a favorite of mine. in the video game, people from earth are captured by an alien shace ship and taken away from earth. you awake on an alien world that has various places (the city, the wilderness, the palace, the dungeon, etc - not all components were developed). at the end of the dungeon, you open a door and walk into the alien's shace ship. an entire world being created and maintained by aliens for what ever reason, all made up and run through a ship. great game that was sadly never fully developed, but makes an interesting suggestion that the entire universe could be nothing more than a side diversion of amusement or research for other intelligent beings. do i believe this? no, absolutely not. is the possibility there? certainly interesting to imagine what the universe was before the big bang and why (if there even is a why, which i don't believe there is).

to sum it all about, i really appreciate the premise of the book but wasn't too into the setup. looks like it is going to be a great read though.::80

Edited by: riverc0il at: 12/23/05 7:42 pm



Fri Dec 23, 2005 7:37 pm
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Post Re: Introduction - a discussion
riverc0il: i would have preferred the author make his arguements from a neutral point of view. i don't think the author will make his arguements in the book defensively, but theists may likely read some arguements as such based on the authors presentation of his reasons for his lack of believe in christianity

You may be disappointed. I'm about to start chapter 5, and so far he's dealt almost exclusively with theistic arguments against the plausibility of a naturalistic ethics. Presumably he'll start considering naturalistic arguments in their own right, but for the first half of the book, at least, he's very much tied to the defensive position.

also, the author seems to stick to christianity in his introduction and suggests he will utilize this particular religion throughout the book for examples since it is the one he his most familiar with.

He actually would have done better to have limited it even further. So far, he's read Augustine, C.S. Lewis, Milton and Plantinga as though they were all equal representatives of the same tradition. They aren't, and at times, they can be as incompatible with one another as Lamarck and Darwin could be in their own sphere.

2. i don't think the opening paragraph quoting a selection from the movie signs was very well placed. an interesting way to open a book, but the pop culture reference wasn't the best introduction to his defining naturalism.

Agreed. Looks to me like a bid to give the book a broader audience than it would get on subject matter alone. Personally, I dislike that sort of opening.

And incidentally, there's nothing terribly "remarkable" about a science fiction movie grappling with issues of faith. It's practically a truism that science fiction can and often does work as a metaphor for the divine. Take the interventionist evolution of "2001", for example, or the revelation of "Close Encounters".

looks like it is going to be a great read though.

Eh...

I'll post some more in depth comments later on, probably after the holidays. Assuming I don't get caught up in something else, I should be done reading by the turn of the year.




Sat Dec 24, 2005 6:23 pm
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Post Re: Introduction - a discussion
Quote:
but for the first half of the book, at least, he's very much tied to the defensive position.


hmmm...I wonder why those who reject god would be on the defensive...think about it. We are pretty much forced to deal with the crap theists put forward...we are backed into a corner for the most part, so a defensive approach should be inderstandable, no?



Quote:
He actually would have done better to have limited it even further. So far, he's read Augustine, C.S. Lewis, Milton and Plantinga as though they were all equal representatives of the same tradition. They aren't, and at times, they can be as incompatible with one another as Lamarck and Darwin could be in their own sphere.


But is it not better to examine various traditions? The Xtian faith is fractured, consisting of MANY different sects...so any examination of such SHOULD invlove those of differing POV's. But all in all...XTIANITY is the tradition in question...so these people DO have something in common...and that is the same Fictional Character.


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Tue Dec 27, 2005 3:22 pm
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Post Re: Introduction - a discussion
General argument

Before I get started, let me go ahead and explain my position. I've finished the book, burned through it in a little over a week, and the arguments and comments I'm about to set forth are culled largely from the notes I took as I went. Some of you have seen posts I have made in other threads which run largely in contradiction to Wielenberg's arguments in this book; don't mistake that for a commitment to the opposing argument. My ideas on whether or not a purely secular ethics is possible have not yet taken permanent form, and if my arguments here are largely in opposition to Wielenberg's, it's because I see serious logical and philosophical problems in the way he argues for his thesis.

Put briefly, I think this is a poorly argued book. It may have some charm in its appeal to sentiment and in its attempt to canalize naturalism towards a hopeful message, but I think Wielenberg fails in his attempt to substantiate a purely naturalistic ethics. So far as I can see, the book is riddled with contradictions and poorly substantiated claims, and most of my initial responses will be geared towards situating those in a proper logical context. If you have no interest in seeing the argument that Wielenberg's thesis is backed by poor reasoning, you may want to skip my posts.

That does not mean that I think it's impossible to successfully argue a purely secular ethics, only that Wielenberg has failed to do so.

I plan on arranging my initial responses in two sections for each chapter. The first section will outline my major responses; the second section will deal mostly with minor points. If you're not interested in the minor points, you won't hurt my feelings by skipping them. However, if you're really interested in the validity of of Wielenberg's arguments, I do suggest you read through my major points, as I think I've located some serious problems with Wielenberg's thesis as it's presented in the book. You're invited to check out the minor points as well; some of them may seem less minor to you than than have to me. I've arranged my initial responses this way mostly to make it easier for you guys to focus on the points that I think are most serious as challenges to the book, not to dismiss the problems I've listed as minor.

I hope that puts my initial responses in the proper context. Once we get down to actually discussing the topics raised in this book, I plan to be a great deal more informal than I will be in these initial responses. Just because I think this was a poorly argued book doesn't mean that we can't make the best of the discussion that arises therefrom, and I'm still hoping that this will turn out to be worthwhile as a big, friendly conversation.

Introduction
I don't have any major points for this section. There's no heavy argument put forth here, and the only important thing to note, so far as I can tell, is Wielenberg's objective. Incidentally, for my own convenience, I'm going to be abbreviating Wielenberg's name as "W" for the most part, though I won't promise to be consistent.

Minor point
Page 6: Hume's maxim may be "concerned exclusively with testimony" but it is constructed such as to invalidate testimony regardless of its truth. Thus, the maxim could be levelled just as effectively against claims made from a naturalistic viewpoint. And because it concerns itself with what is "likely" rather than making any claims about what is "possible," naturalists hoping to use it as a carte blanche dismissal of any claims as to the veracity of the miraculous may ultimately be frustrated at how easy it is to use the maxim to conclude that events to which they can testify have actually happened are actually quite unlikely, thereby invalidating their testimony. The problem with Hume's maxim ends up being that, if we're already capable of determining what's likely, then testimony usually isn't of much use to us. The experience of the person judging the evidence thus becomes the criteria by which all testimony is considered, and Hume's maxim gives us no reason to accept any testimony that conflicts with what our own limited, individual experience has led us to accept as normative. We don't judge what is "likely" according to some objective standard, but according to what we've already seen.




Tue Dec 27, 2005 4:16 pm
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Post Re: Introduction - a discussion
misterpessimistic: we are backed into a corner for the most part, so a defensive approach should be inderstandable, no?

I'm not complaining; I'm just telling riverc0il not to expect much of a change in tone. Wielenberg is building his argument in response to a group of claims which loosely fit under the heading of Karamazov's thesis -- the whole book is a response.

But is it not better to examine various traditions?

It probably would be, yeah. My complaint isn't that he's drawing from various sources, but that he isn't very discerning in the differences between those traditions. He treats them as though they're all part and parcel of the same tradition, and up until chapter 5 (I think) I don't see much recognition that Christianity isn't a monolithic tradition.

But all in all...XTIANITY is the tradition in question...so these people DO have something in common...and that is the same Fictional Character.

If he were dealing with the same character throughout, there wouldn't be a problem. The notion of God that he deals with, however, changes fluidly as the book progresses, and Wielenberg isn't terribly careful to distinguish between different conceptions. I elaborate on that point in the initial responses I've just posted, so I won't bother going into detail in this post.




Tue Dec 27, 2005 4:23 pm
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Post Re: Introduction - a discussion
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It probably would be, yeah. My complaint isn't that he's drawing from various sources, but that he isn't very discerning in the differences between those traditions. He treats them as though they're all part and parcel of the same tradition, and up until chapter 5 (I think) I don't see much recognition that Christianity isn't a monolithic tradition.

excellent point mad. i am working my way through chapter 1 and see exactly what you mean already.




Tue Dec 27, 2005 10:12 pm
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Post Re: Introduction - a discussion
[I'll call the author E.W., since I associate W. with George W. Bush.]

After completing the intro, I was impressed with how clean, succinct, and solid E.W.'s arguments are. Though philosophy and religion are important subjects, I often become lost in the abstractions; this book is a welcome exception to that pattern.

In contrast to riverc0il, I was pleased that E.W. presented and justified his perspective from the start. Had he not stated his religious views explicitly, I'd try to deduce them by reading between the lines. Besides, a "neutral point of view" isn't possible when discussing religion.

The book seems to be a rebuttal to Christian claims that ethical behavior isn't possible without religion. That puts me in the odd position of reading the rebuttal without reading the claims being rebutted.

Part of my favorable impression of E.W. arises from the fact that his beliefs are so similar to my own, though he's vastly more knowledgeable on the subject than I am.

He does omit one major consideration: the importance of faith. Many theologians conclude the faith is an essential part of religious belief, in part because you can't prove religious concepts by purely intellectual arguments. E.W. restricts his analysis to reason alone.




Mon Jan 02, 2006 3:31 pm
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Post Re: Introduction - a discussion
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In contrast to riverc0il, I was pleased that E.W. presented and justified his perspective from the start. Had he not stated his religious views explicitly, I'd try to deduce them by reading between the lines. Besides, a "neutral point of view" isn't possible when discussing religion.

good point and i can understand why folks would want to know someone's bias up front. but i believe an arguement can be made from a neutral point of view, even with religion and specifically this text. having already finished the book, i think it could have been written without tipping the reader off to the author's believes. the author continues to demonstrate his beliefs on the issues throughout the book.




Mon Jan 02, 2006 3:46 pm
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Post Re: Introduction - a discussion
JulianTheApostate: The book seems to be a rebuttal to Christian claims that ethical behavior isn't possible without religion. That puts me in the odd position of reading the rebuttal without reading the claims being rebutted.

Good point. I wonder how many of us have read some of the claims Wielenberg is attempting to rebut. If I remember it, I'll try to find a few neutral synopses to save everyone the effort of reading the Brothers Karamazov and so forth.




Tue Jan 03, 2006 4:55 pm
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Post Re: Introduction - a discussion
rivercOi

l
Quote:
2. i don't think the opening paragraph quoting a selection from the movie signs was very well placed. an interesting way to open a book, but the pop culture reference wasn't the best introduction to his defining naturalism.


I think it was absolutely appropriate for "W" to use this clip from the movie. It not only underlines the historic debate between the supernatural and the empirical POV, but it also shows how our culture still buys into this false dichotomy. "W" also refers to this in his dedication, so it obviously has some import for him personally. So what is the big deal?

I am offended by this monologue from the movie. I resent the conclusion that Shamalyan, through the character, comes to. I, for one and for many others I know, do NOT feel lost when faced with adversity. I look to my family and friends for support. I just do NOT turn to some made up, fictional being. I will stop short of saying that it is quite the opposite that is true. Oops...may I will NOT stop short. Oh well...

The idea that all of us who are atheist or other than followers of so inane a myth as god and religion are lacking the resolve to succeed in life and to find courage within is surely of the same vein as the black pot and kettle.

Mr. P.

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Mon Mar 06, 2006 6:08 pm
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