Posts tagged ‘religion’


Those Born in Paradise

My old Jehovah’s Witness friend, from all those Saturdays ago, stopped by this morning! He says he’s just started doing door-to-door work again since the Pandemic started. He had with him a young Asian man, as they do, always traveling in pairs to avoid temptation and all.

As well as catching up on life and all, and him showing me the latest jay doubleyou dot org interactive Bible teachings and stuff, we talked a little about religion and philosophy.

He talked about how Jehovah has a name (“Jehovah”) as well as various titles (“God”, “Father”, etc), just like people do. (I didn’t ask where the name came from, although I am curious.) He said that, as with humans, Jehovah has a name because Jehovah is a person. I asked what that meant, and it came down to the idea that Jehovah has “a personality”. I tried to ask whence this personality came, and whether Jehovah could have had a different personality, but that was apparently a bit too advanced.

They claimed that one of Jehovah’s personality traits is humility, and this … surprised me. Their evidence for this was two pieces of Bible verse, one which has nothing whatever to do with humility, and the other being Psalms 18:35, which the KJV renders as:

Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great.

but the JW’s favorite translation, the New World Translation has as:

You give me your shield of salvation,
Your right hand supports me,
And your humility makes me great.

Given all of the contrary evidence, about being jealous and wrathful and “where were you when the foundations of the Earth were laid?”, I was not convinced of the humility thing, and we sort of dropped it.

(The Hebrew is apparently “עַנְוָה” (wheee, bidirectional text!), which is variously translated as either “gentleness” or “humility” or “meekness”, with suggestions of “mercy”; imho “gentleness” makes more sense here, as I don’t know by what mechanism God’s humility would lead to David’s greatness, whereas God being gentle and merciful (about David’s flaws) is a better candidate.)

Anyway :) what I really wanted to talk about was the thing I’ve alluded to before, the puzzle where, in the JW theory, once we (well, the good people!) are in the Paradise Earth, there is still free will, and there is still sin, at a presumably small but still non-zero rate, and as soon as the sinner sins in their heart (before they can hurt anyone else) they just cease to be.

(I wrote a microfiction on this theme here, and it’s also a plot element in the 2020 NaNoWriMo novel . Just by the way. :) )

“Those Born in Paradise”, made with MidJourney of course

My concern with this JW theory was that, given eternity and free will, everyone will sin eventually, and so the Paradise Earth (and even Heaven, assuming the 144,000 are also like this, I’m not sure) will slowly slowly ever so slowly empty out! Uh oh, right?

But in talking to my JW friend (who opined that at least people wouldn’t sin very often, even though as I pointed out Adam and Eve were in roughly the same circumstances and they sinned like two hours in), it turns out that there is still birth on Paradise Earth!

That had not occurred to me. He was quick to point out that there wouldn’t be enough birth to make the place overcrowded (perhaps that’s something that lesser doubters bring up?). I said that sure, I guess there’s just enough to make up for the rate of insta-zapped sinners! (I did not actually use the term “insta-zapped”.)

So that solves that puzzle. It does seem inevitable that eventually the only people will be people who were born in the Paradise Earth (or heaven?), and who therefore didn’t have to go through the whole “world dominated by Satan” phase, but only learn about it in History class or something.

Which seems kind of unfair to the rest of us! But there we are. As I say, some interesting stories to be written in that setting.

Neither my JW friend nor the younger person he was going door-to-door with seemed entirely comfortable with my theory, even though it’s the obvious consequences of their beliefs. I hope I didn’t disturb their faith at all, hee hee. (I like to think that there is some sort of warning next to my address in their list of people to visit, not to send anyone unsteady in their faith; it’s not very likely, but I like to think it anyway.)


A priest and a rabbi walk into a stupa…

So I had lunch with my friend the Rabbi the other day (yesterday, actually, how time flies), and she told me this Joke (paraphrased):

A couple of little Jewish kids come home from school, and they are all like, “Daddy, our Catholic friends were talking about this Trinity, and the Father and the Son and the something-or-other else, and what’s up with all that?”.

And the father sighs, and says, “Okay kids, sit down, this is important.”

“We are Jews.

“There is one God, unitary and indivisible,

“and we don’t believe in him!”

I thought this was funny. :) As was her observation that atheism is a major branch of Judaism.

Later on I told this joke to a Catholic from the Midwestern U.S. (to whom no offense at all). The joke, to say the very least, did not resonate.

I guess there aren’t any atheist Catholics? And probably no atheist Christians, even?

(Or Catholic atheists or Christian atheists. Would that be different?)

On the other hand, there are atheist Jews and/or Jewish atheists (the Wikipedia page is currently proposed for deletion, but it’s there, and of course there’s the joke and all).

And there are definitely atheist Buddhists (or Buddhist atheists?). There is reason to think (although I can never find the right sutra) that ol’ Buddha himself was more or less an agnostic (of the “we have more important stuff to think about here on Earth than that” school, like my Mom was).

So there’s that.

Probably I mostly just wanted to write down the joke. :)

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Greece v Galloway: well that’s annoying!

subtle coercive pressuresYou can tell I’ve been busy because I failed to notice this last month:

Prayer that is solemn and respectful in tone, that invites lawmakers to reflect upon shared ideals and common ends before they embark on the fractious business of governing, serves that legitimate function. If the course and practice over time shows that the invocations denigrate nonbelievers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion, many present may consider the prayer to fall short of the desire to elevate the purpose of the occasion and to unite lawmakers in their common effort. That circumstance would present a different case than the one presently before the Court. — Greece v Galloway

Basically the Supremes were given the chance to say that sectarian prayer (“we acknowledge the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross”), or even prayer in general (“blah blah blah God blah blah”), is out of place in government contexts since some of the salient citizens could obviously feel excluded; and they did something close to the opposite, on the amusing and infuriating assumption that this stuff “unites” us in our “common effort”.

There is good coverage of this on Friendly Atheist and very good analysis on ScotusBlog.

Justice Kagan gets it just right in this bit of dissent:

Contrary to the majority’s apparent view, such sectarian prayers are not “part of our expressive idiom” or “part of our heritage and tradition,” assuming the word “our” refers to all Americans.

but also disappointingly does exactly the same thing herself in writing

None of this means that Greece’s town hall must be religion- or prayer-free. “[W]e are a religious people,” Marsh observed.

Not assuming that the word “we” refers to all Americans, eh, Justice Kagan? Hem hem!

The conservative Justices are saying, as conservative Justices tend to, “people like us have no problem with this, and people who aren’t like us don’t really matter much.”

And that’s always bad.

But it’s sad that, as ScotusBlog notes, even the dissenters seem to assume that government prayer is just fine, and the only thing that might make anyone feel unacceptably excluded is if it’s the wrong kind of prayer.



The buzzing of distant bees

Is there evil in Heaven? And is there free will?

I know it doesn’t really make sense to spend too much time wondering about the details of fictional universes (“if Peter and his friends could only fly when they were having happy thoughts, why did Tinkerbell, who was after all the source of the pixie-dust that let them fly, seem to have no trouble flying even when she was upset?”), but I am somehow fond of these questions at the moment.
Heaven, the flowchart
It’s a subject that I don’t remember coming up in the average Internet discussion of (Judeo-Christian) religion, and it seems to me like a real quandary.

Seems likely that there is free will in Heaven (otherwise why give it to us on Earth?), and seems unlikely that there is evil (it being Heaven and all); and yet if God can make a place where there is no evil even though there is free will, why didn’t he do that on Earth?

(I started to wonder about this after hearing a couple of different theist types talk about their ideas of Heaven on NPR or something: the Jewish one said that there must be a wonderfully just afterlife because he strongly believes that the universe is just, whereas the evidence he has suggests that life isn’t just, so there must be some really very just stuff after life to make up for it; and the Christian one says that Heaven is a place where we all get whatever we truly want, and we all have learned to live together in harmony. Ha ha funny people, I thought, and also thought the “well if God can make it happen in Heaven, what’s his excuse for not doing so on Earth?” thought that we consider here.)

(Ooh, here they are! The Rabbi and the pastor; so you can judge for yourself how badly I’m misreporting their statements above.)

The usual answer to the Problem of Evil, that is comes about as a direct and inevitable result of imperfect beings with free will, seems to sort of evaporate if (as seems hard to avoid) Heaven is a place where imperfect beings have free will, and yet there is no evil there. So evil can’t really be the inevitable result of free will. So the Problem of Evil, it would seem, remains.

I did have a rather detailed discussion of this with my Jehovah’s Witness friend back in the day. He (and therefore I assume the JWs in general) have a pretty complete and interesting (if maybe sort of creepy) picture of life after the umm Big Thing, where (in the case of the JWs) the 400,000 special people or whatever it is go to live with God in Heaven or something, and all the other good people live on Earth under their direct governance more or less.

He said that yes in that world people would still have free will, and that in fact they would be able to do evil. They wouldn’t do it very much, because they would be good people living in a great environment, but it would still happen, and in that case God (i.e. Jehovah) would look into their hearts, and between the time they made a really bad decision and became evil and the time they were able to actually do anything bad as a result, He would stop them, in a very final way.

Since the JWs don’t believe in Hell, and think that all the stuff about burning and fire and stuff in the Bible is just a way of talking about ceasing to exist altogether, what happens to you if you freely chose evil after the Big Thing happens is that you just cease to exist.

Pretty weird, I thought!

And this got me thinking of a story set in that world, which I’ve never gotten around to writing, but which I think I will try to set down a general idea of here.

And in the meantime, you can ask your local rabbi or pastor or Judeo-Christian friend whether there is free will in Heaven, and whether there is evil there. I wonder if that is a hard question…

“I cannot follow the Elders anymore,” he’d said, that night, as they walked back from the orchards where they had been picking the perfect fruits that Jehovah provided for them in this perfect Earth.

“Jeremiah,” she’d exclaimed, “what can you mean, you cannot follow them? How could anyone do anything but follow them? We know that they are the appointed ones of Jehovah, that they have only our welfare at heart, that they are good and wise men. You cannot doubt, when you have seen Jehovah and His Son moving about on the Earth with your own eyes.”

“I have.” They were walking close together, hands brushing each other now and then, innocently, like brother and sister. “And I do not doubt that the Elders are those chosen of Jehovah. But…”

“But what? What is it that you can doubt?”

He’d taken a deep breath. He looked, she remembered thinking, like someone who was not quite sure of what he was saying, and speaking as much to convince himself as to convince her.

“I do not doubt the facts. The Elders are the chosen of Jehovah, and they do truly intend the best for me. But I doubt, no, I reject, their authority over me.”

“What can you mean by that, Jeremiah? Jehovah is the source of all authority, of all rightness, and He has given them their authority! It cannot be doubted, or rejected.”

“But I do reject it,” he’d said, his voice louder but still with an undercurrent of uncertainty, “I reject it as I am free to do, using the free will that Jehovah has given me. It is my right!”

She’d stopped, and taken his hands, looking very seriously into his face. The others walking in the same direction continued along, and were soon out of any danger of hearing.

“This is blasphemy,” she’d said, “this is not the use we are supposed to make of the freedom that has been given us. Can you truly do this? Do you truly, of your own free will, reject the authority of Jehovah?”

She had meant it rhetorically, really, or so she told herself afterward, saying it only so that he would say no, of course not, not that. But his face said that he took the question very seriously, and was considering it, somewhere deep inside. When he spoke again, the uncertainty was gone from his voice.

“Yes, Sarah. Yes, I d–“.

And before he’d finished that last word, her head was filled by a strange sound, like the buzzing of distant bees, and her hands were empty. And Jeremiah was gone, forever.

So now, in her bed at night, she lies curled tensely after her prayers, telling herself, telling Jehovah who can see into her very heart, that she does accept His goodness and His authority, that she is His true daughter, and that she would never reject Him.

And she cries until sleep comes.

Something like that, anyway…


Paging Dan Brown…

Pope And CardinalsSo there’s this so far adorably unsourced bunch of stories saying that the Cardinals (the Roman ones, not the baseball ones) are going to ask the new Pope to pledge in his first Papal (not Paypal) address, that he will serve for the whole rest of his life, and not like resign suddenly or anything.

And that strikes me as just bizarre.

I mean, this last Pope just now says that he resigned because after deep contemplation and all he realized that God wanted him to. So the cardinals must either think that he is mistaken about that (this guy who is supposedly God’s own chief representative on Earth, and who is officially infallible about various things, although admittedly not very many and not this, but still who you have to think must be supposedly Very Good At figuring out what God wants), or they want the next Pope to pledge not to resign even if God wants him to.

Ya know?

And secondarily, it seems that the cure could well be worse than the disease here, imagining a Pope with Tourette’s and dementia, in the middle of his Easter address or whatever launching into an obscenity-laced rant about how the Prince of Wales has stolen his slippers again or whatever, on international teevee.

After a little thought, and M pointing out that they were afraid something like the latter might happen with Pope John Paul or somebody just before he died, it occurs to me that if one were deeply cynical it’d be pretty easy to explain, thus:

  • The Cardinals and the Curia and all of course don’t believe any of the teachings of the church to speak of (that’s just for the rubes), so all that stuff about the Pope doing things because he wisely determines what God wants is just irrelevant to them, and this fact occasionally slips out; and
  • If some Pope did get Tourette’s and/or dementia, he would just conveniently die of oh-so-natural causes just like John Paul or whoever conveniently did, before it got too embarassing.

Which brings to mind all sorts of questions about Papal Poisoners! Are the Poisoner To The Pope and the Poisoner Of The Pope the same office, or different ones? (venefica ad papam versus venefica pape, perhaps?) If they are different offices, are they always / sometimes / never held by the same person? If at least sometimes by different persons, do they tend to be respected colleagues, arch-rivals, or something in between? Have there been any occasions where the venefica ad papam was used to head off the venefica pape? (Not counting the Borgia Popes and their set, who presumably did this sort of thing regularly just to pass the time.) And exactly what sort of authorization does the Poisoner Of The Pope need to be given before he sets to work? And, does he wear cool robes?

Of course one would have to be not only deeply cynical, but probably some sort of lunatic to actually believe that any of this is true, but it does sound like a rollicking good yarn.


Dan, Bubbeleh, give me a buzz; we’ll talk!

Update: just so I don’t lose it I meant to link to this story here (credit again to M): Daily Mail speculation on why he really resigned. More source material for Dan!


Dumplings, Dastards, and Drivel

(Before I decided that the dumplings really belonged in here, I was considering titles like “Douchebags and Bullshit”, which is somewhat coarse, or “Rotters and Rubbish”, which wasn’t bad.)

So this year we made 203 New Year’s Dumplings. The little daughter having come home special for the ceremonies, and the little boy being home from school between terms, we were four healthy adults, and the leftovers of that 203 didn’t even last through the end of January Second.

(See prior New Year’s post for prior history of dumplings.)

Here is my New Year card over on the Secret Second Life weblog. The sentiments apply to all Real Life friends too also. :)

On dastards (cads, bounders, douchenozzles, arseholes), see quite a few of the comments to this Asher Wolf posting on why she left the CryptoParty movement that she founded or co-founded, and how the hacker community contains too much, and too much tolerance of, sexism and misogyny and general nastiness.

Many of the comments are supportive, but many are also just facepalmingly awful. (I posted what I thought was a satire of that kind of comment, and despite my having tried to make it obviously absurd, it was enough like the run of actual negative comments that I had to put in a followup saying that it was intended as satire, because people were responding to it as though it, well, wasn’t.) And the evil-density in the twitter comments was even higher (if harder to link to).

I understand why people come in and carefully and condescendingly explain how she is all wrong, and bad things happen to everyone, and it’s not misogyny, and rape hardly every happens, and things like that; they are just blind to their various degrees of privilege, and are shoring up the bulwarks of the protective walls they have up around their egos.

Pretty standard human stuff.

I less understand why people come in and say that someone “needs to shave her pits”, or says that some particular person attacking her is “way hotter” than someone else is. I mean, wut? How is that even remotely relevant to anything?

Either (1) this is actually the way that they think, (2) they are just rather nastily trolling, or (3) talking about the way they “think” is a bit of an overstatement, and they are basically being Eliza machines in this instance.

Also pretty standard human stuff, I suppose, as are the strings of obscenities and the attacks on her website; I just don’t understand it as much, and it makes me (even) sadder.

And on drivel (or rubbish, or bullshit), I am reading Belief or Nonbelief, and while I’m not done with it (despite how short it is), I cannot keep myself from fulminating, or at least weblogging, about it. It’s a series of public letters between Umberto Eco and Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, who is a Cardinal (a Hat Cardinal, not a Wings Cardinal, obviously).

Eco is sort of The Semiotics Guy, so he is all into signs and how and what they signify (if at all), and so on, so it’s not too surprising that he can wander up big ethereal staircases of language until he gets so far above the concrete that his words not only fail to signify anything material, but fail to signify even any identifiable concepts. And of course Martini is an intelligent person in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, and spending most of his thought-time in environments as far from real life as possible is probably one of the few ways it’s possible to be one of those for very long and stay sane.

Hilarity ensues.

The first bit is about hope and life and ideas of the end of the world and stuff; it was written somewhere in the late 90’s. Eco, referring to the last book of the New Testament, writes

Revelation can be read as a promise, but also an announcement of an end, and thus gets rewritten at every step, even by those who never read it, as we await 2000.

Say what? People who have never read the book are constantly rewriting it? Squinting at the whole paragraph really hard, what he means is something like “people are always thinking about how the world might end, and Revelation talks about trumpets and hailstorms and stuff, but nowadays we think more in terms of acid rain, nuclear waste, global warming, and stuff”.

It does sound cooler and less obvious if you talk about the constant rewriting of a book by people who have never read it, but that way of talking has the disadvantage of being incoherent and/or wrong.

Here’s another great passage:

In this way, each one of us flirts with the specter of the apocalypse, exorcising it; the more one unconsciously fears it the more one exorcises, projecting it onto the screen in the form of bloody spectacle, hoping in this way to render it unreal. But the power of specter lies precisely in its unreality.

Yowza! We unconsciously fear the end of the world, so we flirt with it by projecting it (“hey baby, ever been… projected?”) onto the screen (does that mean “we imagine”? or “we make movies about” or…?) in the form of bloody spectacle (we imagine global warming as bloody spectacle? could well be true of the movie version, I spose) in order to (unconsciously, still?) render it unreal (because things on the screen are unreal I guess), but in vain because (as our unconscious is apparently not clever enough to recognize) making it unreal just makes it more powerful.

And the sentence just before it is about “irresponsible consumerism”, which is somehow linked to all that other stuff.

There’s probably some unpacking of this that is actually making a coherent truth-claim that might perhaps be falsifiable, but in essence I think it’s more like poetry; a bunch of words piled on each other not to make some coherent truth-claim, but for some more diaphanous aesthetic reason.

The very next paragraph deserves copying down here also (perhaps only because I’m getting more into the spirit of the thing):

I’d be willing to bet that the notion of the end of time is more common today in the secular world than in the Christian. The Christian world makes it the object of meditation, but acts as if it may be projected into a dimension not measured by calendars. The secular world pretends to ignore the end of time, but is fundamentally obsessed by it. This is not a paradox, but a repetition of what transpired in the first thousand years of history.

Leaving aside the absurdity of referring (as I think he is doing here, but really who can tell) to the years 1-1000 CE as “the first thousand years of history”, it’s hard to say what most of these words might plausibly mean.

Just how common is “the notion of the end of time” in “the secular world”? He has presumably said “the end of time” rather than “the end of the world” for some reason, but I don’t know what it could be. “The end of time” is a notion that barely makes any sense at all in “the secular world” (since time is not something that can end, absent something really weird and non-secular happening), much less being extremely common. The dimension that is “measured by calendars” is time; I’m not sure what it means to say that the Christian world acts as if the end of time occurs in (or “may be projected into”) something besides time. Is he saying that most Christians think of the Apocalypse is a metaphor for something moral or aesthetic, rather than something that will actually take place at some point? That is most likely true, but as far as I know the Official Story of the “Christian world” is that it’s going to happen (for some value of “it”) at some actual time, perhaps any day now.

Maybe he’s just saying “your typical actual Christian person doesn’t actually believe that the world is going to end, or at least doesn’t act that way, whereas your typical secular person worries alot about global warming”. But he sure says it funny if so.

Here’s another character-string, that I don’t think I’ll even try to tease a meaning out of (although the first few words seem like a real screamer, in the “obviously false unless it means something different than it seems to” sense):

Christianity invented History, and it is in fact a modern incarnation of the Antichrist that denounces History as a disease. It’s possible that secular historicism has understood history as infinitely perfectible — so that tomorrow we improve upon today, always and without reservation, and so that in the course of the same history God reconstitutes himself and in a manner of speaking educates and enriches himself. But the entire secular world is not of the ideological view that through history we understand how to look at the regression and folly of history itself. There is, nonetheless, an originally Christian vision of history wherever the signpost of Hope on this road is followed.

On rereading, I’m suspecting more and more that Eco, that wag, is using some prose generator here. (Secular historicism has understood that God reconstitutes himself? Orly?)

Cardinal Martini’s response to this first burst of words isn’t quite up to this standard, but he does use a huge number of words to basically say “oh, well, Christians don’t really have to worry about the end of the world because God is going to take care of them, after all, so naturally the secular types are the ones who obsess about it”.

He does, though, note that

History has always been seen most clearly as a journey toward something beyond itself and not immanent… this vision does not extenuate but solidifies the meaning of contingent events into an ethical locus in which the metahistorical future of the human adventure is determined.

which is getting there.

(And which, once one spends a few minutes picking it apart, turns out to box up considerable volumes of likely-false assumptions inside words and passive-voice constructs like “always” and “most clearly”, “been seen” and “is determined”, which are just the post-graduate version of sprinkling one’s Internet postings with “clearly”, “obviously”, and “certainly”.)

(And for that matter uses a quaintly archaic sense of “extenuate”. Hm, is this a translation, or is the English the original?)

In the next exchange (and the only other one I’ve finished reading), Eco turns the discussion toward the meaning and beginning of life, and the question of abortion, not so much as to get closer to real concrete questions as to show that even on a subject like this he can mostly avoid them.

Here is Eco:

When the banner of Life is waved, it can’t but move the spirit — especially of nonbelievers, however “pietistic” their atheism, because for those who do not believe in anything supernatural the idea of Life, the feeling of Life, provides the only value, the only source of a possible ethical system.

which is bullshit in both common senses: it’s false, and it’s not clear that it’s actually concerned at all with true and false, but just wants to sound good.

(The quotes around “pietistic” in reference to atheism are rather bizarre, as it suggests that “pietistic atheism” is a term that someone else has used, and that Eco himself is using referentially, although he has shame-quote-level reservations about it. But in fact the term “pietistic atheism” is actually pretty rare, so… I dunno.)

And of course just “waving the banner of Life” doesn’t necessarily move the spirit; some people’s spirits are (quite healthily) resistant to being moved by the waving of any banners, and there are all sorts of sources of possible ethical systems besides “the idea of Life, the feeling of Life”.

And so on and so on.

Eco then makes the very good point that a key question is exactly when a human life begins, that we don’t have a really good answer to it, and that it seems like a question that we may never have a really good answer to, even though it’s so important. (I like him saying this, because in my own analysis of the whole abortion issue, these facts are at the core of why it’s so hard.)

The Cardinal responds by subtly taking issue with Eco’s emphasis on “Life”, saying of course that it’s really all about God, and “the life of a person called upon to participate in the life of God himself.”

“Participate” is a great word there, like when the news says that a person is “linked to” some terrorist group. The postmodern “informed by” is another one. They all let you sort of draw a narrative line between two things without actually making any truth-claim that might turn out to be wrong. I have no idea what it actually means to “participate in the life of God himself” for Cardinal Martini, and I’m not convinced that he really does, either. At the high cloudy levels that he’s talking, “participate” is all that’s needed.

Moving on to just when there starts to be “a concrete life that I can label human”, Martini uses some more “obviously” words:

But we all know that we have … a clearer sense of genetic determination starting from a point that, at least in theory, can be identified. From conception, in fact, a new being is born.

There ya go! “We all know” that “in fact” a new being is born at conception.

Here “new” means as distinct from the two elements that united to form it.

This may be a nice definition of “new”, but the more important term is “being”. When someone ingests a couple pieces of food and they start to dissolve in the stomach, there may be some point at which they squish together and there is a “new” food-glob which is distinct from either the hotdog or the bun, but there’s no “new being” here to worry about, unless and until the relevant molecules make their way into a developing fetus which is (say) eventually born.

So he’s doing an end-run to try to slip “identity begins at the moment of conception” (something that the Church has believed for only a small fraction of its history, as Eco mentions and Martini ignores) into the discussion as though it was something we now know as a fact.

Okay, that’s par for the course. :)

Here is some more novel and amorphous stuff, on the topic of why the product of conception matters, and why we should protect it:

Beyond these scientific and philosophical matters lies the fact that whatsoever is open to so great a destiny — being called by name by God himself — is worthy of enormous respect from the beginning.

Why is that? Is there anything that God himself can’t call by name? Does God have names for people in a way that he doesn’t have names for animals, or fruit, or dust-motes? This is a piece of Catholic doctrine, or something, that I wasn’t aware of. Why would being called by name by God, as opposed to any other aspect of a putative relationship to God, be the thing in particular that makes a person “worthy of enormous respect from the beginning”?

If it turned out that God also had names for individual rocks, would we be morally obliged to make sure that any rock that begins to split off the side of a mountain does in fact split off, and to have “enormous respect” for it from that point on? Why or why not?

And yes, the question seems absurd. But it’s directly implied by the Cardinal’s words, so I will refer him to you on that issue.

We are talking about real responsibility toward that which is produced by a great and personal love, responsibility toward “someone”. Being called upon and loved, this someone already has a face, and is the object of affection and attention.

I think we are still talking about a just-fertilized egg here. The great and personal love must be God’s (since, sadly, not every instance of conception involves great or personal human love), as must be the affection and attention (since, this early in the game, no human is aware that anything exists to lavish affection and attention on).

But the someone already has a face? What could that mean? A fertilized egg most definitely does not have a face; it is too small. Is this a metaphor for something? If so, it’s not clear for what. Does he mean that he thinks the look of the face of the eventual person (if any) resulting from the fertilization is already determined, by the genetics of the sperm and egg? That’s probably not true, certainly not before the gametes are all done fusing (when exactly is “the moment of conception” at this level of detail, anyway?). And why “face” rather than “form” or for that matter foot-size? Are those less important, or is it all just some metaphor and “face” sounds better?

The next sentence is:

Every violation of this need of affection and attention can only result in conflict, profound suffering, and painful rending.

How did we get from the fertilized egg’s being the object of affection and attention (from God), to a need for affection and attention? In fact the fertilized egg, at this point, doesn’t have any need for affection and attention, unless there’s some religious claim here that it needs it from God. But presumably nothing could violate God’s affection and attention. (I’m not sure what if anything it means to “violate” a “need”.)

The claim being made here seems to be that from the moment of conception there is a new being that as a need for affection and attention, and any failure to provide for that need will result in conflict, profound suffering, and painful rending.

But that’s false. Something like half of fertilized eggs fail to implant or are otherwise spontaneously aborted very early (and so presumably their needs aren’t being provided for?), and no one who isn’t God ever knows they existed. No conflict, no profound suffering, no painful rending.

The obvious counter here is that the good Cardinal didn’t mean that. And that’s likely true, but then we’re just left wondering exactly what he did mean.

The end of this letter doesn’t help much, except to suggest that it’s all about faces again.

There is a splendid metaphor that reveals in lay terms something common to both Catholics and laymen, that of the “face”. Levinas spoke of it movingly as an irrefutable instance. I would rather cite the words, almost a testament, of Italo Mancini in one of his last books, Tornino i volti [Back to the Faces]: “Living in, loving, and sanctifying our world wasn’t granted us by some impersonal theory of being, or by the facts of history, or by natural phenomena, but by the existence of those uncanny centers of otherness — the faces, faces to look at, to honor, to cherish.”

Which, I think, is nice, even profound, as poetry, but as any sort of discussion of a subject falls rather flatly short of, well, of meaning anything.

Living in our world was granted us by the existence of faces? You don’t say!


So, I’m an atheist

I’m an atheist.Atheist symbol

But wait, says a hypothetical reader, don’t you call yourself a pantheist? And sometimes a Buddhist? And an Ariadnite? Don’t you believe that there are deep mysteries and weird things going on in the universe, beyond what science knows? Isn’t consciousness itself a profound mystery to you? And haven’t you said that you aren’t 100% certain of anything? Shouldn’t you be at most an agnostic?

And yeah, except for that last question there, those are all very true of me.

But none of that prevents me from being an atheist.

Specifically, I am an atheist because I do not believe that there is a God, where a God is an omniscient omnipotent being, existing prior to and outside of the universe, who has opinions or preferences or plans about what should happen in the universe, and who serves as the basis for morality.

(If by “God” you mean instead “an entity that is significantly more advanced technologically or morally than humanity”, or “an entity that caused there to be life on Earth”, or “a ham sandwich”, then none of this applies. Also, we are speaking different dialects of English, and mine is by far the most common one.)

I will go a little beyond that, and say that not only do I not believe there is a God in that sense, I also believe that there is not a God in that sense.

So I’m an atheist even if “don’t believe” isn’t enough for you, and you insist on “believe that not”. :)

On the hypothetical reader’s questions:

  • I’m a pantheist in that I think the universe (as broadly construed as possible) is worthy of worship. But that involves no omniscient omnipotent thing outside of or other than the universe.
  • I’m a Buddhist to some extent or other, but relevantly for this discussion Buddhism’s attitude toward deities outside of the universe is basically “don’t waste your time worrying about it”, so again there’s no conflict between Buddhism and atheism.
  • I’m an Ariadnite in that my worship of the universe (as broadly construed as possible) involves images of this lady in a white gown, swords and balls of string, and so on; but that is all metaphor, not truth-claims, and in any case the Goddess is not something other than the universe.
  • On deep mysteries, sure. Being an atheist doesn’t mean thinking that our current scientific knowledge is correct and/or complete. Same thing on consciousness. This was driven home to me recently by this very good piece and even some words in this by Sam Harris (with whom I only occasionally agree).
  • I’m not 100% sure of anything (even this!). But being an atheist doesn’t require being 100% sure that there is no God; at most it requires believing that there is no God (and really I think just not believing that there is a God will do).

On Agnosticism, we get into edge cases.

When asked “Do you believe that there is a God?”, someone who says “Yes” is a theist.

When asked “Do you believe that there is no God”, someone who says “Yes” is an atheist.

Someone who says, “well, I really don’t know” to both questions is an agnostic.

But what if someone says “No” to both questions? I would count that person as an atheist, since they don’t believe that there is a God. But if you’d rather call them an agnostic (since they also don’t believe that there isn’t a God), that’s okay with me.

I’m an atheist either way. :)

And of course I could be wrong. I could be wrong about any belief of mine; as I think I’ve said before, anyone who thinks that some particular belief of theirs couldn’t possibly turn out to be wrong just isn’t using their imagination hard enough. But that doesn’t stop me from being an atheist.

I’m bothering to say this pretty much because of the Bacon Moose post, and because of a certain frustration I have with intelligent people, who I am pretty sure believe the same way that I do, who don’t identify as atheists.

I’d like more people to identify as atheists, because every time someone says they aren’t an atheist, 99% of the people who hear it assume that they are Christian or (theistic) Jewish or something, and that just bolsters the “atheists are weird and rare” feeling, even if what the person really meant was that while they don’t believe there is a god, they have some (generally rather contorted) reason for not identifying as atheist.

When I posted a link to the Bacon Moose posting on Facebook, in fact, I had two friends comment that (although they don’t believe there is a god in the relevant sense), they aren’t atheists. One said she is not an atheist because (if I understand her right) she just doesn’t think the question is all that important, and doesn’t want therefore to bother having a label relating to it. The other said (if I understand him right) that he’s not an atheist because if you change the meaning of the word it wouldn’t apply to him: say if you define “atheist” as “someone who is 100% certain there is no god”, or if you define “god” as “whatever caused there to be life on Earth”.

Needless to say, I didn’t find either of these arguments very compelling. :)

I suspect that, buried deep in the back of most of our minds, there is this ancient inculcated meme that atheists are icky, or grim, or narrow, or closed-minded, and that really one should not identify as one in polite company.

That is a meme I’d love to see wither away.

So here I am! :)


Magic, Mystery, Delerium: Magisterium!

So I’ve been mulling over this whole “Rome vs. Nuns” thing and related issues for awhile, mulling it over in the sense that I wanted to write about it (not so much in the sense of making up my mind about it, because I think I pretty much know what I think, although an insight or two may show up as I type it all up here, but just in the sense that I’ve been thinking about how to write it down in th’ weblog).

And my thoughts never organized themselves very well :) but the topic is aging a bit (Stephen Colbert having covered it on TV for instance, as I noted last month), so I will just sit here while the tiny girls on the TV do scary things on the balance beam (is that really healthy?), and put down the Major Topics as they float to the surface, and then maybe if it isn’t too awful I will publish it.

This all came to my attention the other month when the Catholic Church published its official Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and this made various headlines.

I read the actual Church document (it’s not very long), and when I first read it I have to admit that it struck me as absolutely exuding evil. Evil of the velvet-gloved type, but evil nonetheless. You may not dissent, it says, you may not think for yourself, or decide what is important. You may not help the poor if you do not also work against same-sex marriage and abortion. You must not allow dissenting voices to speak, unless you clearly denounce them as dissenting.

A choice and representative passage:

The documentation reveals that, while there has been a great deal of work on the part of LCWR promoting issues of social justice in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine, it is silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States. Further, issues of crucial importance to the life of Church and society, such as the Church’s Biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes Church teaching. Moreover, occasional public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the Bishops, who are the Church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals, are not compatible with its purpose.

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, that is, has not been fulfilling “its purpose”, which is to submissively and unquestioningly promulgate the opinions of the Bishops, who are “the Church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals”.

I found that utterly chilling the first time I read it; talk about ideological absolutism! Later I saw it more as simply reflecting the hierarchical structure and history of the Roman Catholic Church; but on a little more contemplation I found that pretty chilling in itself.

Also chillingly, the Vatican apparently appointed a group of (male, of course) Bishops to, well, in their own words:

…the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has decided to execute the mandate to assist in the necessary reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious through the appointment of a Archbishop Delegate, who will – with the assistance of a group of advisors (bishops, priests, and women Religious) – proceed to work with the leadership of the LCWR to achieve the goals necessary to address the problems outlined in this statement.

Doesn’t that just make your skin crawl? To “assist in the necessary reform” and “to address the problems outlined”. So wise and God-appointed men (with a few token women, somewhat surprisingly, perhaps to get the coffee) will take these erring nuns in hand, and shove them back into the intellectual bottle where they belong, curing them of this disturbing habit of thought and dissent.

It is of course the consensus of hordes of angry posters to Internet forums that that is by definition the purpose of the LCWR, since that’s what its charter said when the hierarchy set it up, and that that’s what all good Catholics are bound to believe, and if someone doesn’t believe that, or wants to operate in a less oppressive atmosphere, they should just join some more liberal religion.

And to some extent I agreed with that, in that I at least felt that more liberal Catholics must be somewhat conflicted, between their feelings and the official mindset of their Church and all.

But then I heard Christine Quinn on NPR, and was amazed. Here’s a snippet from her interview with David Green:

Quinn: Well, it’s just who I am. I mean, I’m Catholic and I’m gay. There’s not much to deal with. It’s who I am. It’s how I wake up every morning.

Greene: But your church, obviously, doesn’t, you know, officially accept that.

Quinn: Right. That’s kind of their problem, not mine. I mean, I just don’t dwell on it. I’m not really sure what the upside of me dwelling on it would be. I mean, I was raised Catholic, I take a lot of comfort and inspiration and motivation and support from my faith. I get what they kind of see in some political issues. They get that we’re not in agreement on that. But that doesn’t make me not who I am. It’s still who I am.

And I thought that was just astoundingly wonderful. I don’t know if she would agree with this next bit or not, but what I heard her saying was that she knows very well what it means to be Catholic, and what Catholicism is, and if some wizened old men in Rome have some other opinion, well, that’s okay, but it’s not a big deal to her.

Being Speaker of the New York City Council and all probably helps :) but I thought this showed an admirable sense of proportion about just how important someone’s statements are by virtue of being stated with great confidence, on vellum, and in Latin. Eh, she says, that’s their problem, not mine.

(The document on vellum in question, by the way, was written by the Congregatio Pro Doctrina Fidei, in English roughly the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which until 1904 was known as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition. Yeah, those guys. Although if you refer to the CDF as “the Inquisition” on a Talk Page on Wikipedia, one or more persons may take issue with the term, as I found out somewhat to my amusement here; although it being Wikipedia the incident may no longer be on record.)

Relatedly, the Vatican (again in the form of the CDF) issued a statement (a bit later I think) criticizing a book by an American nun: “Just Love” by Sister Margaret Farley, saying (among other things) that it “contained erroneous propositions, the dissemination of which risks grave harm to the faithful”.

Whoa, yeah! Can’t have erroneous ideas out there, people’s heads might explode!

The erroneous statements include the notion that masturbation might be normal and natural and healthy (whereas, says the CDF, “Both the Magisterium of the Church… and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action”), and that in her opinion homosexual persons and acts were really just fine (whereas per the CDF, “tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered… [t]hey are contrary to the natural law”).

The book apparently makes no claim to be official Catholic doctrine, and according to the Hufffington Post piece “Farley doesn’t identify herself as a member of the Sisters of Mercy on either her official Yale biography or on the book’s cover”, but the Vatican still felt it necessary to point out that it dissents from their horrid oppressive closed-minded beliefs.


Okay, so I waxed a little vehement there. But I mean, “gravely disordered”? “contrary to the natural law”? Seriously?

I think it’s that in some way I expect the Catholic Church to be more intelligent than that. I mean, they have Jesuits, who are supposed to be smart. They run a big international organization, they have Universities that are reasonably well respected, and so on.

So can they really believe all these things? I know various people in the U.S. believe them, but in general I put that down I admit to ignorance or thoughtlessness. Who, in the XXIst century, could actually think about the matter, and conclude this kind of absurd stuff?

And actually that’s another mulling I wanted to write down. There’s this Doctrine of Papal Infallibility, which basically says that the Pope is incapable of error when he makes some pronouncement about faith and morals, and (basically) he says that he’s saying it in the magic infallible way. But there’s also this other doctrine of infallibility, about the infallibility of the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium, which seems to say that if all of the Bishops at any point in history have agreed that some particular point of faith and (and/or?) morals ought to be believed by everyone as infallible, then by gum it is.

And I hope it is clear to all my readers that this is just dumb. I mean, even if we stipulate that there is an omniscient Deity out there, it’s pretty clear that our human minds are fallible, so that any thought process that we use to get to a conclusion has a nonzero chance of being wrong, including any thought process that we might use to get to the conclusion “this here statement is 100% accurate infallible divine wisdom”. Whatever reasoning the Bishops and the Pope have used to conclude that some statement is “infallible”, that reasoning is just fallible human reasoning, so They Could Be Wrong.

And surely they realize that; it’s a simple argument.

So we have the question of just what the Pope and the Bishops actually think about these statements of theirs that they either think are infallible, or at least think are the authentic teaching of the Church that everyone must follow without dissent. Possibilities that occur to me include:

  • They hear voices or otherwise get what seem to them to be more or less direct communication from the Deity, and that gives them faith that these beliefs are correct. This seems wildly unlikely, and even if they did hear voices etc what exactly would lead them to believe it was the Good Guy rather than the Bad Guy speaking? And even if they had what they thought was good evidence that it was the Good Guy speaking, how could they think that their belief of that fact, that the voices they hear are the voices of God, is itself 100% infallible?
  • While they don’t hear voices, they have a deep confidence that the conclusions to which they and their peer Bishops come through due deliberation and thought and Scripture study are in fact the beliefs that the Deity wants believers to hold, and therefore they feel justified in requiring everyone to believe them. This would mean they are amazing egomaniacs, basically (or, perhaps more honestly, douchebags).
  • They don’t hear voices, and they even realize that the conclusions they reach are just those of a small number of fallible humans in a fallible process, but they think it is best for the faithful not to realize this, and to think that something more reliable than that is going on, so they quash dissent not because they are certain that it is wrong, but for the ultimate good of those who might otherwise be confused by it, and so on. This would make them paternalistic condescending douchebags.
  • They don’t hear voices, and they realize that their conclusions are entirely fallible, but they enforce the notions of infallibility and “authentic teaching” just because they enjoy the power that it brings, and gives them sway over lots and lots of human minds, and this floats their boats. This would make them pretty much evil incarnate, and sadly I suspect that it’s the most likely explanation, although the prior two combined might beat it out probability-wise.

And that’s really about the end of the mulling. I conclude that the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church is a Bad Thing, but that’s not exactly a new thought. I get from the words of Christine Quinn (whose political views or other things might by the way for all I know be partially or wholly repugnant to me) a way of thinking about what a religion, or any similar system, might really be about, in a way that isn’t simply by looking at what the Officially Documented Leaders of the system think it’s about. And I get this deep puzzlement about what Catholic Bishops, for instance, who are apparently often intelligent people apparently committed to believing something patently false, must actually think down in their hearts of hearts.

Such a mystery, the world is!

And I want to close, or almost close, with one nice pithy snippet from a piece by Gary Willis in the New York Review of Books. In the current context it speaks pretty much for itself, making a point related to, but not the same as, my mullings above:

Now the Vatican says that nuns are too interested in “the social Gospel” (which is the Gospel), when they should be more interested in Gospel teachings about abortion and contraception (which do not exist).

Nicely said, I thought. :)


Naturalism not actually defeated

So I have been bad about writing down things about this next Plantinga paper, largely because I have been making sure my healer looks good, and related endeavors. And working and stuff.

But anyway! The paper in question here is Plantinga’s “Naturalism Defeated“, dated 1994, which presents an argument I gather first presented in his “Warrant and Proper Function” (1993), and is apparently still one of his big talking points (2012).

The basic argument is pretty simple. If, it says, you believe both in evolution and in naturalism (which is the lack of supernatural things), then you are in trouble, because in the absence of supernatural intervention, evolution doesn’t reliably create creatures that are good at coming to correct conclusions, so you’re forced to conclude that your own conclusions aren’t reliable. This doesn’t mean that evolution-plus-naturalism isn’t true, of course, but it does suggest that one oughtn’t to believe it, in the same way that one oughtn’t to believe solipsism, radical skepticism, or that one is a brain in a vat, even though in some sense none of those can be refuted.

(I actually find it a little amusing here that the argument basically says that you shouldn’t believe evolution-plus-naturalism, because if it’s true your own reasoning processes don’t give you good reasons for belief, and you shouldn’t believe things without good reason; whereas as we saw last month he apparently thinks it’s fine to believe in god without good reason. But there ya go.)

Anyone who knows anything about evolution will have a hard time with that “in the absence of supernatural intervention, evolution doesn’t reliably create creatures that are good at coming to correct conclusions” part. As Plantinga puts it (rephrasing Patricia Churchland):

[T]he objective probability that our cognitive faculties are reliable, given naturalism and given that we have been cobbled together by the processes to which contemporary evolutionary theory calls our attention, is low.

On the face of it this seems silly; it seems immediately obvious that in the usual sort of Darwinian contest, having reliable cognitive facilities is better than not having them, so they will tend to evolve, subject to constraints about how expensive they are to build and operate, how well they are passed along to offspring, and so on.

But Plantinga attempts to make a case for it. He points out, with Churchland, that evolution selects only for behavior and not (directly) for belief. And Plantinga points out that for any example of a set of desires and true beliefs that lead to adaptive behavior, you can construct a set of different desires, and false beliefs, that lead to that same behavior.

Sure, not wanting to be eaten by tigers and believing (correctly) that they want to eat you will make you tiptoe around that sleeping tiger there, but so will wanting very much to be eaten by tigers, and believing (falsely) that they especially like to devour people who tiptoe! In his words:

Perhaps Paul very much likes the idea of being eaten, but when he sees a tiger, always runs off looking
for a better prospect, because he thinks it unlikely that the tiger he sees will eat him. This will get his body parts in the right place so far as survival is concerned, without involving much by way of true belief. . . . . Or perhaps he thinks the tiger is a large, friendly, cuddly pussycat and wants to pet it; but he also believes that the best way to pet it is to run away from it. . . . or perhaps he thinks the tiger is a regularly recurring illusion, and, hoping to keep his weight down, has formed the resolution to run a mile at top speed whenever presented with such an illusion; or perhaps he thinks he is about to take part in a 1600 meter race, wants to win, and believes the appearance of the tiger is the starting signal; or perhaps . . . . Clearly there are any number of belief-cum-desire systems that equally fit a given bit of behavior.

And that’s quite true. It’s pretty much irrelevant, though, since we’re not talking about the evolution of specific beliefs, we’re talking about the evolution of reliable or otherwise cognitive systems. It’s very hard to imagine a cognitive system which would reliably produce false but adaptive beliefs of this kind. Roughly, if Paul is crazy enough to think that the tiger is a cuddly pussycat that you pet by running away from, he probably thinks that alligators are treasure chests that you open by sticking your head in their mouths, or whatever, so he’s not going to be passing those crazy genes very far.

So that example is not very useful, because it talks about single beliefs, not about cognitive systems or methods of coming to have beliefs.

Plantinga comes close to realizing this, although he doesn’t quite get it.

A problem with the argument as thus presented is this. It is easy to see, for just one of Paul’s actions, that there are many different belief-desire combinations that yield it; it is less easy to see how it could be that most of all of his beliefs could be false but nonetheless adaptive or fitness enhancing. Could Paul’s beliefs really be mainly false, but still lead to adaptive action? Yes indeed; perhaps the simplest way to see how is by thinking of systematic ways in which his beliefs could be false but still adaptive. Perhaps Paul is a sort of early Leibnizian and thinks everything is conscious (and suppose that is false)… Perhaps he is an animist and thinks everything is alive. Perhaps he thinks all the plants and animals in his vicinity are witches, and his ways of referring to them all involve definite descriptions entailing witchhood. But this would be entirely compatible with his belief’s being adaptive; so it is clear, I think, that there would be many ways in which Paul’s beliefs could be for the most part false, but adaptive nonetheless.

This is somewhat plausible, and also somewhat beside the point again. Note that this time all of the false beliefs he gives as examples are (apparently) ones where the false part of the belief doesn’t impact action at all. So now he is pointing out that you can have lots and lots of false beliefs without being maladaptive, as long as those beliefs don’t influence your behavior.

How often does a false belief really not influence behavior? If I am an animist and think that everything is alive, isn’t it likely that I will tend to act differently toward things, and (assuming they aren’t really alive) that that will make me less efficient and effective? This seems likely at least if the predicate “is alive” actually has any content for me. If I think all of the plants and animals around me are witches, won’t I spend time placating them, or hiding my fear of witches from them, or whatever? Or at the very least worrying that they might convert into their true form while I’m not looking and cast spells or whatever it is I think witches do? Seems likely, and maladaptive at least to the extent of wasting time that I could have put to good pro-survival uses.

But again what we should be thinking about are cognitive systems rather than just beliefs. If we think about adaptive cognitive systems, it seems pretty inescapable that they will, to first order, tend to produce true beliefs about things that matter to behavior. And given that they do that to first order, it seems likely that at least some of the methods that they use to pare away false beliefs that impact behavior will also serve to pare away false beliefs that don’t. Not as efficiently, perhaps, since doing that isn’t of direct evolutionary value, but it seems quite plausible as a by-product.

That is, we first learn to find truths about things that will kill us if we get them wrong, but the methods that we use, the cognitive habits and structures and systems that we develop and evolve to do that, are likely to be good at finding truths in general; or at least there seems to be no reason to think they won’t be. So once I learn experimental science in a context where it does impact my survival, I am likely to do an experiment to confirm my belief that all these plants and animals are witches, and much to my surprise I will find they are not! And so I will be rid of that false belief, even if (somehow) the belief itself wasn’t hurting me any.

So it seems that the believer in naturalism and evolution really does have good reason to have a certain amount of faith in his own conclusions, since there is a good story that can be told about how evolution leads to reasonably reliable cognitive systems without any divine intervention.

(It’s an interesting question, actually, whether things are any better for the believer in divinely-infused knowledge, or whatever Plantinga would propose as an alternative to naturalism plus evolution. Is there any reason to think that such a person can tell true divinely-infused beliefs from false divinely-infused beliefs? The argument that the Divine would infuse only true beliefs, because the Divine is good, is very vulnerable to the argument that an evil Divine would likely have infused exactly that same “the Divine is good” belief into one, along with whatever false beliefs tickled the evil-Divine fancy; so one doesn’t really have any rational argument for one account over the other. On this argument it seems that this kind of believer is at least as badly off as the naturalist would be in Plantinga’s original argument.)

It’s perhaps worth noting that the bulk of Plantinga’s “Naturalism Defeated” assumes that the believer in naturalism and evolution actually accepts most of the argument of the paper, but after granting that naturalism plus evolution does yield the conclusion that human cognitive faculties are unreliable, then tries to squirm out of it by claiming in various ways that it’s okay to believe in them anyway. This part of the paper (which makes up at least 75% of it) is full of quaint symbology and meticulously organized discussions of what it means for something to defeat something else, and what kinds of things can defeat what other kinds of things, and whether and how defeaters can themselves be defeated, and so on.

And fascinating as that might be if you’re into such things (and I used to be, but now amn’t), it’s all entirely beside the point, because in fact naturalism plus evolution actually gives us a pretty good reason to believe in the reliability of our cognitive faculties. At least as good a reason, I suspect, as whatever Plantinga’s alternative gives him for believing in his…