Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Strawman atheist or what?

Brad says, " I believe he said one who (i) makes a truth claim about there being no consciousness after death, yet (ii) holds proof as the measure of truth and thus required in any truth claim, is acting hypocritical for making a truth claim that necessarily can't have any evidential basis in this world."

Well, that is your straw-man. Who, in their right mind would wiggle themselves into a situation where any claim they make is a particular 'truth claim' that REQUIRES proof in situations where proof is impossible?

cl might wiggle a 'theoretical' atheist that he is 'challenging' into such a situation though, right?"

17 comments:

Harvey said...

This whole discussion brings to mind an old aphorism: "If you can't blind them with your brilliance, baffle them with your bullshit!" And..... "Obfuscation is the last refuge of a bullshitter." It seems clear to me that such dialectical arguments (ad absurdem) are designed to so confuse a "theoretical atheist" that he or she will be unable to find his/her way back to the real issues under discussion.

The Maze Monster said...

kudos... i think...

Asylum Seeker said...

"It seems clear to me that such dialectical arguments (ad absurdem) are designed to so confuse a "theoretical atheist" that he or she will be unable to find his/her way back to the real issues under discussion."

Works on me....

The problem is simply that the argument intentionally lacked nuance. Atheists, as skeptics of a sort, do not hold, usually, that death HAS to be the end of the consciousness, but we do hold that:
1. consciousness, as far as we can tell, is a description of the processes that occur due to the strictly physical nervous system of the body.
2. we have no information about consciousness surviving death.
3. we have no information about consciousness existing independent of living creatures with functional nervous systems.
4. it is fairly likely, given our present understanding, that there is no consciousness that survives the death of the body and cessation of neural activity.

It is a probabilistic stance, based entirely on present information and readily capable of changing should new information arise. It is not a "truth claim", and I think that he intentionally framed the argument in terms of certainty and as a philosophical/metaphysical claim in order to just score some points. Then again, I have no idea whether there are people who are absolutely certain that the mind (whatever that may be) cannot possibly live on after death. If there are, they are of a less doubt-stricken stock than myself, and must be devastated by the argument.

Harvey said...

Since most Christians mean the survival of the "soul" (whatever that may be) beyond physical death, rather than the "conscious mind", to them cessation of operation of our neural network does not necessarilty equate with the end of everything. In fact, this is a "nuance" which, unless it is rigorously defined makes the entire discussion moot. If our challenger does not define what he means by "survival" beyond death, it isn't possible to answer his challenge, let alone "prove" it. Furthermore, as already has been pointed out, he purposely sets parameters for "truth" that are so rigid that he wins by default. To a believer, probableistic, logical, current evidence based assumptions obviously "prove" nothing about the existance of an afterlife; only faith does. Hence my statement; "If you can't blind them with your brilliance....."

Asylum Seeker said...

Oh, right...forgot that about the fact that they can pull an "amazing expanding definition" trick by tossing souls into the mix, meaning that even if we could prove that consciousness, for any significant meaning of the word, does not exist after death, the ever nebulous soul/spirit/atman/chi can live on, due to the fact that we have no f#$%ing idea what those terms actually mean. I am not sure if cl himself would have pulled that particular trick, but I am sure there could others present who would (perhaps Brad...I have no idea who he happens to be).

(In case it caused confusion, the second paragraph and third paragraph was in reference to the main post and not the quote from Harvey. I just realized that I gave no indication that I shifted focus. Gotta get myself diagnosed for the adult ADD).

pboyfloyd said...

Yea. I'm going with the idea that Ol' Brad and cl think that no-one is paying attention and that they can fend off anyone that 'fails' the 'not-paying-attention' criterion(for a typical cl reader).

I 'called' cl right away that he was a 'debating fool' who had nothing but 'word-magic' and cl was suitably offended!

LOL

cl really ought to change his 'handle' to 'muddywaters'.

I think he and Brad 'get off' on the idea that they are infuriating everyone who bothers to read and reply to them.

sunnyskeptic said...

It still reminds me of the hate mail we received at home, where one paragraph began with 'let me tell you what you think'. To me, that is amazingly ignorant and ballsy.

Do I think anything happens after I die? No. Do I have proof? Of course not. Does that make my opinion or idea invalid? No. Am I prepared for anything? Sure thing, I'm ready... I sometimes wish there was just a second of an afterlife, enough to go, "Nope, see, told you!" :)

cl said...

Fellow human beings: I'm reading this stuff laughing because you are all completely misunderstanding the point of the post. You've let pboyfloyd's inaccurate distillation become the status quo.


Harvey,

You said, "It seems clear to me that such dialectical arguments (ad absurdem) are designed to so confuse a "theoretical atheist" that he or she will be unable to find his/her way back to the real issues under discussion," yet your comment in the other thread indicated you didn't know what the real issue under discussion was.

And in this thread, you also said "If our challenger does not define what he means by "survival" beyond death, it isn't possible to answer his challenge, let alone "prove" it." Again, this question shows you've interpreted my post through pboyfloyd's lenses. The point of my post was not related to proving atheism.

Asylum Seeker,

You said, "The problem is simply that the argument intentionally lacked nuance."

Perhaps it seems incomplete because our host here just ripped it completely out of context? My original argument was catered to a specific kind of atheist, the atheist / materialist / naturalist who claims that consciousness ceases upon death. I'm not surprised that pboyfloyd failed to include that distinction.

And I would love to talk with you regarding your points 1-4. Feel free to pick up discussion on it here, because I'm not willing to invest large amounts of time in comments on pboyfloyd's 'blog'.

pboyfloyd,

You said, "I 'called' cl right away that he was a 'debating fool' who had nothing but 'word-magic' and cl was suitably offended! "

Oh gee! What points you won!! Here's the thing pboy - debate is not a matter of victory by illusion, and it's quite funny that you cry and whine about all this obfuscation, yet it is you who is more than willing time and time again to depart from rigorous logic into the world of ad hominem immaturity.

Now I can't speak for everyone, but to me, when somebody criticizes the man and not the argument, it's a sure sign they're firing blanks.

What a joke.

pboyfloyd said...

"Oh gee! What points you won!!"

I call all you intellectual types on the fact that you have NOTHING but word-play.

This is no better than Creationist Christians who use John to equivocate that "The Bible is The Word and the Truth is Jesus."

"Right out of the gate', these guys are equivocating simply about what we all mean by "TRUTH".

Not saying that you necessarilly do that, but you can see that it is impossible to tell if we are distinguishing honesty from lies or Jesus from things-not-concerned-with-Jesus.

All commentry is not necessarilly part of a debate in which we are supposedly constrained to 'stick to the point' while YOU use 'debate skills' to distract when YOU choose.

I said, all you have is word-magic to conjure miracles and such into our minds, and that's exactly how it is.

No 'points scored'.

pboyfloyd said...

Oh, yea, suddenly cl, suddenly you are distancing yourself from Brad's summary.

You DID say that it was excellent paraphrasing!

pboyfloyd said...

Another thing cl, my saying that I called it that you were a 'debating fool' had nothing to do with this specific argument that you are making with your challenge.

Actually, it wasn't even meant in the sense of being 'stupid' when I said 'debating fool', it was in the sense of calling someone a 'dancing fool'(someone who loves to dance, A LOT!)

Try not to be so thin-skinned!

Seems to me that you are trying to say that there ARE atheists and such who place themselves in the situation that you outline.

But this is a "Public challenge to atheists..", not to "atheists as I imagine them to be..".

cl said...

I don't use debate skills to distract. I use them to understand and explain, and to try to understand and explain.

And it's not a matter of thick or thin skin. In normal life I could care less if some person is spewing their unsubstantiated vitriol about me. This "dancing" that you speak of is exactly what begins to happen when a person like you shifts focus from logic to all sorts of silly little smart-ass remarks that you somehow think are funny. I'm not on the internet to relive high school, I'm here because I'm trying to think some things out.

And if you think all there is to this is "word-play" why do you even blog?

pboyfloyd said...

cl, you say, "In normal life I could care less if some person is spewing their unsubstantiated vitriol.."

Well, the expression is that you 'cound NOT care less' unless you're implying that you couldn't care less in this 'abnormal'(or 'subnormal') life.

Yes, blogs ARE nothing but word-play, and it's your choice whether you could or could not care less in different aspects of your life, but you can't talk spiritual realms and magical beings into existence no matter how you twist the language.

Hume said something about apologists have all the logic and flowery language that they'd like but that not changing one single matter of fact and I am inclined to agree with him.

I'm sure that your athoritarian attitude will serve you well in some circumstances.

Not so much with me, dude.

cl said...

Regarding "could care less," I think you know what I meant.

"Hume said something about apologists have all the logic and flowery language that they'd like but that not changing one single matter of fact and I am inclined to agree with him."

I would agree too, except I would add that logic and flowery language don't change one single matter of fact regardless of who employs them.

"I'm sure that your athoritarian attitude will serve you well in some circumstances."

Ha! That's hilarious. Annoyance with ad hominem immaturity does not entail an authoritarian attitude. Similarly, I'm imagine your Spicoli / Rodney Dangerfield approach to debate will serve you well in some circumstances, but not so much with me.

pboyfloyd said...

"Ha! That's hilarious. Annoyance with ad hominem immaturity does not entail an authoritarian attitude."

Sure it does, cl, sure it does. He-he.

Brad said...

Obviously you do not hold proof to be required to evaluate all claims, pboyfloyd. But that's not the case with a broad spectrum of self-described atheists and skeptics, including myself. cl's might be a straw-man if it was solely framing your own POV - but cl is referencing a large subset of self-described atheists and skeptics, and there in fact are many that hold proof as the only way to evaluate claims and yet make claims for which proof is impossible.

@Harvey: Apparently bullshit is in the eye of the beholder. Elucidation = obfuscation depending on the audience's vocabulary. Obviously we're all just using big words to make it impossible to trace our thought processes! You've figured out our grand plan!

And as far as I can tell, we've been talking about consciousness, and not referencing any 'soul' concept. Why the hell - excuse the pun - would you bring that up? Because you're bolstering your impressions with expectations?

@Asylum Seeker: A lot of people don't frame it as 'probabilistic', as you think you've framed it. A lot of people just frame it as a simple truth claim, there is no life after death, "end of story". Oh - and trying to apply the notion of probability to life after death, based on absence-of-evidence <=> evidence of absence, is like trying to compute a Feynman integral by intuition. The space of possibilities is just not conducive to setting up a rigorous probability measure on.

@sunnyskeptic: I agree that cl had made broader categorization that should have been done. The 'materialist position' that says there is no consciousness after death is not logically a part of the 'atheist position', lots of atheists just happen to adopt materialism. I said this on the original thread, and cl said he used what he called the 'clunky word-trinity' ("atheist / skeptic / materialist") in an effort not to "argue caricatures", but here we are doing so anyway - obviously cl's attempt was a failure.

So... if anyone here thinks they're being caricatured, just count themselves off of the candidates for cl's challenge. And lastly, to whomever it may concern, online psychoanalysis should be done cautiously as it tends to backfire on its users.

cl said...

"..cl said he used what he called the 'clunky word-trinity' ("atheist / skeptic / materialist") in an effort not to "argue caricatures", but here we are doing so anyway - obviously cl's attempt was a failure."

Hmmm... Not quite sure if that's totally fair, Brad. Was my attempt a failure? Or did people fail to comprehend the distinction, even when prefaced by "the Epicurean idea that death entails the complete and final cessation of consciousness?" My intent was to show the question did not apply to all atheists, and I succeeded in not making a caricatured argument - it's just that some readers failed to realize the distinction being drawn.

Either way, a writer can never be too clear, so next time I'll go to even greater lengths to preclude knee-jerk reactions from hasty debaters.