Home » Intelligent Design » The Real Threat Is “Absolutism” — Yes, Absolutely!

The Real Threat Is “Absolutism” — Yes, Absolutely!

Slumming at Talk.Origins (go here), I ran across the following remark in reference to the Ruse-Dennett Briefwechsel (discussed on this blog here):

I wonder if Ruse has actually watched “The Root Of All Evil?”.

And if childen were indoctrinated with the most extreme forms of racial
bigotry by parents who were Nazis or supporters of apartheid, would we
not consider that to be abuse? Is it not abuse only where we agree
with the doctrine which is being imposed on the child?

The only point on which I would differ with Dawkins is that his focus
on religion is too narrow. The real threat is absolutism – the
unshakeable conviction that one is in possession of an Absolute Truth,
be it religious faith or political ideology, which justifies any act,
no matter how vile, in its furtherance.

Ian H Spedding

Is “the real threat of absolutism” itself absolute? If not, why consider absolutism a threat at all? Can you say “fallacy of self-referential incoherence”? In plain English: If you’re going to make a test, be sure you can pass it yourself.

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46 Responses to The Real Threat Is “Absolutism” — Yes, Absolutely!

  1. “The real threat is absolutism – the
    unshakeable conviction that one is in possession of an Absolute Truth,
    be it religious faith or political ideology, which justifies any act,
    no matter how vile, in its furtherance.”

    I understand the logic behind this, but I’m also scared of the lack of absolutism–the belief that there are no absolute moral laws, thus making any act, no matter how vile, permissible.

  2. William Dembski wrote:
    “Is “the real threat of absolutism” itself absolute? If not, why consider absolutism a threat at all? Can you say “fallacy of self-referential incoherence”? In plain English: If you’re going to make a test, be sure you can pass it yourself.”

    This objection is itself incoherent. Spedding’s belief that the threat of absolutism is not an absolute truth doesn’t oblige him to regard absolutism as innocuous.

    I believe men landed on the Moon. Is that an absolute truth? No, it’s possible (though unlikely) that I am mistaken. I am open to evidence and argument against my belief. Does that obligate me to believe that they *didn’t* land on the Moon? Of course not.

    Spedding is perfectly justified in considering absolutism to be a threat. Logic allows it, and history has amply demonstrated it.

    [[I'm afraid not, Valerie. The objection is eminently coherent. If the threat of absolutism is not absolute, then there are forms of absolutism that are okay. Spedding gives no indication that any form of asolutism is okay. If some forms are okay, then how does one distinguish between those that are and those that are not? Would such a criterion for distinguishing forms of absolutism be itself absolute? There is an absolutist regress here. But beyond that, ask yourself, since Spedding is keying off of Dawkins, Is there any form of religious belief that Dawkins regards as valid or healthy? Other than Darwinism, which he would deny is a religious belief for him (though not as Michael Ruse would attribute it to Dawkins), I'm unaware of any. Are you? --WmAD]]

  3. I fail to understand why is absolutism (in Spedding deffinition) a threat. Don’t we all hold some things as absolutely true? And how does possession of an Absolute Truth or Truths, lead one to “justify any act, no matter how vile, in its furtherance.”?

  4. I will not tolerate intolerance!

  5. As I have heard: ‘There is no dogma like no dogma’

  6. The key clause is the last one, which I have capitalized for emphasis:

    “The real threat is absolutism – the
    unshakeable conviction that one is in possession of an Absolute Truth,
    be it religious faith or political ideology, WHICH JUSTIFIES ANY ACT,
    NO MATTER HOW VILE, IN ITS FURTHERANCE.”

    There is nothing wrong about having an unshakable conviction that one is in possession of an Absolute Truth. I am absolutely, unshakeably convinced that 2+2=4. I’m also unshakeably convinced that man possesses certain natural rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is because of that conviction that I am unshakably convinced that no legitimate political or religious program can justify dissolving or ignoring those rights. In other words, it is an absolute, unshakeable truth that the rights of man are absolute.

    The danger is not absolute truth, but the conviction that there might be ends that justify any means, no matter how “vile”. And this only becomes a possibility when we consider the rights of man as merely relative rather than absolute. Relative to a particular culture, a particular politics, a particular philosophy, or a particular religion. The proper response to ideological absolutism is not relativism, which is merely philosophical unilateral disarmament, but the confident assertion of the rights of man as absolute.

    Cheers,
    Dave T.

  7. I maybe wrong but wasn’t it G.K.Chesterton that said something like’an open mind is like an open mouth, only any good if you close it on something.’?
    Where does a lack of Absolutes lead?
    Is relativism a better option -with 51% vote deciding whats right, for that moment?
    When there are no absolutes there has alays been something that has acted like an absolute to take its place -just think of the failed Communist experiment’s in Russia,China & North Korea to name a few.
    Without Absolutes there is no true Truth and so there is no value in anything in the long run -no value in suffering or any other pursuit.
    Oh Im getting all Poetical.. a sea without a shore.

  8. Some relevant quotes from Bertrand Russell:

    “The essence of the liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held but in how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment. This is the way opinions are held in science, as opposed to the way in which they are held in theology.”

    “Most of the greatest evils that man has inflicted upon man have come through people feeling quite certain about something which, in fact, was false.”

    “Dogma demands authority, rather than intelligent thought, as the source of opinion; it requires persecution of heretics and hostility to unbelievers; it asks of its disciples that they should inhibit natural kindness in favor of systematic hatred.”

    “The fundamental cause of trouble in the world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”

  9. Can such a liberal perspective be held liberally? The paradox of freedom shows that complete freedom is not viable. Instead, maximal freedom is typically regarded as an optimum. Is such an optimum to be held absolutely?

  10. It would be interesting to post a response to the talk.origins quote and see what happens. It has been my experience that when these obvious logical fallacies are laid bare, the response is usually something like “you’re just playing word games” or “that’s just so much sophistry” or something like it. People tend to hang on to their dogmas at any price… including the surrender of logic and reason.

    This reminds of something that I wrote a few years back in a rare fit of creativity.
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  11. The logical extreme of moral relativism is an anything-goes, anarchist culture. There’s no escaping this. Darwinism and moral relativism go hand-in-hand, since Darwinism teaches that life is accidental, without meaning or purpose. Therefore, anything you do is OK, because it ultimately doesn’t matter.

    But in reality, are there ever truly moral relativists? Is it better to torture a child, or to hug that child? I think most people would conced that the former is the “right” option. There seems to always be an absolute objective standard.

  12. Dave T., you wrote:

    “The key clause is the last one, which I have capitalized for emphasis:

    ‘The real threat is absolutism – the unshakeable conviction that one is in possession of an Absolute Truth, be it religious faith or political ideology, WHICH JUSTIFIES ANY ACT, NO MATTER HOW VILE, IN ITS FURTHERANCE.’”

    Spedding has no beef with Christianity, then, but with how it has been used to justify vile acts, correct?

    Jesus: “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.”

  13. Not so much a formal fallacy (in my thinking) as running afoul of the law of non-contradiction.

    Yes, consistent Darwinists/atheists would be moral relativists. No, I know of no consistent atheists.

  14. Dear Valerie,

    Re: the Bertrand Russell quotes. It’s impossible, really, to be a perfectly consistent relativist. For, as soon as you say “there are no absolute truths, including the one expressed by this sentence,” you are making a claim that, by its very form, is supposed to be simply, that is, absolutely true, even if the content of the claim is that there are no absolute truths. This is a fortiori true of the Russell quotes, which actually advance a weaker claim than “there are no absolute truths, including the one expressed by this sentence.”

    What Russell is really saying is: “look, dogmatism is dangerous, let’s stick to the scientific method.” It seems to me that if you want to argue for that position, you’d do better NOT to tie it to the claim that there are no propositions that are absolutely true. Of course, someone may insist on defining absolutism as “unverifiable belief in some arbitrary Absolutre Being,” but that definition just obscures the issue. The issue is simply where there are any propositions that are true simpliciter and, if so, what sorts of propositions might they be.

    Obviously, there are fanatics who would rather see the world blow up than compromise on their principles. But we’d be setting up a straw man if we claimed that the only people with non-negotiable principles are dangerous fanatics.

    To illustrate: if you were a prisoner of war whom the enemy believed had valuable information—just to take a random example—in whose hands would you rather fall: (1) those of an enemy officer who is an absolutist about not torturing prisoners of war or (2) those of his colleague who considers not torturing prisoners of war a rule of thumb that may be broken when one of them has valuable information?

    Cordially,
    Adrian

  15. This issue is something that has always puzzled me about atheists. Whenever I have observed them confronted with the question of morality, (in other words, why be moral?) they always seem to respond with an attitude of incredulity, as though only a total imbicile would ask such a question. I don’t remember ever seeing any kind of reasoned response to the question, most often just a sort of dumfounded blankness.

  16. Adrian wrote:
    “It’s impossible, really, to be a perfectly consistent relativist. For, as soon as you say “there are no absolute truths, including the one expressed by this sentence,” you are making a claim that, by its very form, is supposed to be simply, that is, absolutely true, even if the content of the claim is that there are no absolute truths.”

    I think you and Prof. Dembski are making the same error. You’re correct that it is self-contradictory to assert that there are no absolute truths. However, that is not at all what Spedding and Russell (and I) are saying.

    I distrust absolutism because people are fallible, not because I believe there are no absolute truths.

    Here’s what’s dangerous about absolutism:
    1. People are fallible.
    2. There are many more ways to be wrong than right.
    3. Absolutists who are wrong stay wrong.
    4. Absolutism causes people to act more drastically than they would otherwise, sometimes much more, as in suicide bombing.

  17. Ian Spedding asks: “I wonder if Ruse has actually watched “The Root Of All Evil?”.”

    What I love about this is the implication that Ruse, a professor of philosophy, could not possibly understand religion unless he watched Dawkins’(an erstwhile professor of zoology) execrable piece of anti-religious propagana, “The Root of All Evil.”

    Yeah Ian, a PhD in Philosophy could not possibly qualify one to make judgments about religion, but watching a two-hour BBC special written by a cranky zoologist with an axe to grind does.

  18. Jacktone,

    They have obviously studied DonaldM’s material well. Just look at what 19.95/month will purchase.

  19. Dear Valerie,

    I understand that you’re worried about people who claim a kind of infallible certainty—on the basis of which they are then sometimes willing to commit atrocities. I applaud your empistemic humility. No argument there. I’m not sure, though, that the way in which you (and Russell and Spedding) express this epistemic humility doesn’t make bring you perilously close to the self-referential problem Dembski brings up. Why? Because, when you say, “absolute claims are to be greeted with a certain suspicion,” you’re making an absolute claim that you don’t think needs to be greeted with any suspicion. So the issue is not: should we be suspicious of absolute claims? but: which ones should we be suspicious of. Now, you (and Russell and others) surely have some type of absolutist claims in mind. So why not just say—for example—”we can’t have certain knowledge about whether there’s a God, so we should suspect people who claim to know God’s will,” or something like that. Why confuse matters by framing the issue in terms of absolutism?

    And: what do you think of my POW example? Does it have any merit? May there not be some “good absolutisms”? Absolutism about not torturing prisoners? Absolutism about being reasonable and not dogmatic? Absolutism about arguing fairly in order to reach the truth? And so forth.

    Cordially,
    Adrian

  20. Dear Valerie:

    Clarification: when I say “you have some absolutist claims in mind,” I mean: “you are worried about certain sorts of absolutism,” such as religious fundamentalism.

    Cordially,
    Adrian

  21. Valerie,
    Of course it all depends on your source of absolutes.
    1. Absolutely, people are fallible.
    2. There are SOME ways to be right.
    3. I don’t believe this at all – sometimes people have complete reversals of their “absolutes”.
    4. and sometimes in estabilishing hospitals and orphanages.

  22. This issue is something that has always puzzled me about atheists. Whenever I have observed them confronted with the question of morality, (in other words, why be moral?) they always seem to respond with an attitude of incredulity, as though only a total imbicile would ask such a question.

    Yes, the problem there is that the answer is obvious to them, so they naturally assume that it’s obvious to everyone else, too.

    Anyway, here’s the short version of the answer: Suppose you had some kind of device that let you look back in time. And imagine …just for the sake of argument…that you looked at some of the key incidents in your religion’s history, and found out that they’d been completely made up.

    How would that discovery change your life? Would you decide that you’d been completely liberated from any and all moral codes, and start gleefully raping and murdering people whenever you felt like it?

    I’m guessing that you probably wouldn’t. Even if God doesn’t exist, you’d still have a desire to be happy and a sense of empathy for your follow humans. Atheists have those too, it’s just that they think they have a physical cause rather than a spiritual one.

    Agreed. Atheists aren’t bad people. They simply have a misplaced unsupportable faith that there’s no purpose in the universe. Fortunately most of them can’t deny their inborn sense of right and wrong and tend to follow it despite their belief of its origin being nothing more than instinct imparted by the cold, cruel, random forces of nature that accidently built them from the dust of the earth. -ds

  23. Dear Valerie,

    Here is another way of putting it. You say, essentially, “absolutism is bad.” But that is (1) an absolute claim (2) about which one can ask you: “is that only a tentative hypothesis, then, which you would be willing to retract if the evidence pointed in another direction”? If you answered No, then you would be guilty of a kind of self-referential fallacy, it seems to me. Of course, if you answer Yes, then it becomes a question, not of rejecting absolutism, but of rejecting the bad kinds of absolutism, as distinct from the good kinds.

    Cordially,
    Adrian

  24. Lutepisc,

    I don’t know, you would have to ask Spedding. Although I have never heard of Christianity being used to justify ANY act, no matter how vile. Certainly some vile things have been done in the name of Christianity, but the open-ended justification of any and all means to pursue an (alleged) good end is a peculiarly modern, IMO.

    Dave T.

  25. Valerie,

    I happen to (partially) agree with you. It is not necessary to be an absolutist to doubt absolutism. So why don’t I chime in on your side for once?

    Adrian – Valerie is (I think) not making the mistake of making an absolute claim that absolutism is bad. She is making the tentative claim that absolutism is bad based on historical evidence. It may be that evidence and argument will, in the future, reverse this judgement, as you suggest. But there is no self-referential fallacy here.

    I happen to think that the evidence already suggests that not all absolutism is bad. Thomas Paine was not “tentative” about the rights of man, for example, and I think that was a darn good thing. No tyrant is ever overthrown in the name of tentative rights.

    But that doesn’t mean that the position that absolutism is bad, held universally but tentatively, is logically contradictory.

    By the way, that distinction may be the source of the confusion. There is a difference between making a universal and an absolute statement. A universal statement applies to all things of that type (“all absolutism is bad”), an absolute statement implies the finality of truth (“this absolute statement is beyond doubt”). I think Valerie is making a universal but non-absolute statement when she says that absolutism is bad. (Of course, she is welcome to correct me if I misunderstand her.)

    Cheers,
    Dave T.

  26. An interesting article which pertains to this discussion:

    http://www.time.com/time/colum.....16,00.html

  27. agree with valerie and taciturnus—no need to write more, I think they’ve expressed the points well enough already.

  28. How about this one: Truth is absolute; confidence is relative.

    All too often, the relativists get the two things confused, particularly in their evaluation of others.

    This is a corolary to the definition of “faith” in religious conversations. Is faith a “blind leap” or a “confident trust”? If faith is the former, it’s virtuous to be sincerely wrong. If it’s the latter, then the value of faith is purely in the object of that faith, that is, what is being trusted.

    From a truth perspective, the value of a statement of “absolute truth” has nothing to do with how “absolute” that statement is. The value of that statement is how well it corresponds to reality. You can be tentatively correct or absolutely wrong. The worthiness of the belief is not in the tentativeness or absoluteness, but in the correctness or wrongness.

    Now, the next step is to extend the discussion to what is the right v. wrong way to interact with someone with whom you disagree. Do we interact with respect and a willingness to be corrected? Or with disdain and disrespect, attempting to shut down the other? (Of course, the answer to the last question is context-specific. If you want to convince me that “torturing babies for fun” is okay, I’ll shut you down fast.) As a rule and as my guideline for civil discourse, I say truth matters and people matter — and that’s my confident statement of absolute truth.

  29. Bertrand Russell: “Dogma demands authority, rather than intelligent thought, as the source of opinion; it requires persecution of heretics and hostility to unbelievers; it asks of its disciples that they should inhibit natural kindness in favor of systematic hatred.”

    This is a perfect description of the NCSE and other Darwinists in their treatment of Richard Sternberg.

    And by the way, those religious bigots shouldn’t judge people!

  30. Dear Dave T.,

    I think your distinction between universal and absolute is helpful—also for expressing the point Valerie is making, which is, as I understand it, this: “it’s not claims that are supposed to be universally valid that are the problem, but claims to advanced with an a priori confidence that the claims are simply unrevisable.” Thanks for bringing your usual clarity into the discussion.

    I do think, though, that it’s POSSIBLE for someone to make such a point and still be guilty of a self-referential fallacy, that is, insofar as he or she thought that the truth of this point is unrevisable. But you’re right: if someone were simply arguing that absolutism has had a historically bad track record, then that wouldn’t involve any self-referential fallacy at all. And if that was what Valerie was really doing, then I’m just wrong.

    I also think that there is a certain “ABSOLUTISM,” and not just universality, having to do with the form of propositions, but, again, that has to be distinguished from the sort of “psychological absolutism” that Valerie is worried about.

    All of which simply underscores the important point you are making: rather than condemn blanketly all forms of absolutism—which, I would still insist, does at least OPEN one to the self-referential problem I just mentioned—it’s better to distinguish between good and bad absolutisms. So I go back to my POW example, which illustrates the distinction.

    So, Valerie, if I have read your tentative claim about historical phenomena as an intended non-revisable claim about absolutism, I apologize. I hope you will look past my lack of subtlety—which the rapid ping ponging of weblogs tends to reinforce—and consider instead the more important point that Dave T. raises about distinguishing between absolutisms.

    Thanks.

    Adrian

  31. Dear Dave T.,

    The form of propositions suggests a kind of absolutism, insofar as when you predicate X of Y, the predication is supposed to hold so true that it absolutely excludes its contradictory. This kind of formal absolutism has nothing to do with universality: the same absoluteness attaches to singular propositions, such as “Dave T. clarified the problem.” Of course, this formal absolutism is different from the psychological certitude that one won’t be proven wrong (or however you would define such psychological absolutism). But it does make it appear that, when you say “absolutism (in the psychological sense) is generally bad,” you are contradicting yourself, because the form of that statement has the kind of formal absoluteness just mentioned.

    Cordially,
    Adrian

  32. reminds me of a cartoon i saw years ago of graffiti on a wall. someone had written “QUESTION AUTHORITY” then afterward someone else wrote “SAYS WHO?”

  33. Adrian,

    You made my point better than I made it myself. Also, the distinction between the universal and the absolute doesn’t help answer this difficulty you pointed out:

    “Because, when you say, “absolute claims are to be greeted with a certain suspicion,” you’re making an absolute claim that you don’t think needs to be greeted with any suspicion.”

    Even if meant merely universally rather than absolutely, that only implies that we should first be suspicious of greeting absolute claims suspiciously.

    A pleasure to hear your voice again.

    Cheers,
    DT

  34. Dear Dave T.,

    Thanks. This exchange has left me with some interesting epistemological questions which I’m looking foward to thinking about a bit more, and I’m grateful for that.

    You know, one of the main reasons I read UC is actually your comments, which are invariably crystal-clear, fair, insightful, and original in their approach to problems. Maybe you should start up your own blog (or have you already?).

    Cordially,
    Adrian

  35. Adrian,

    You flatter me… I don’t have my own blog, and there are already plenty of blogs out there run by people smarter than me. But if you feel like continuing the conversation, or want to discuss anything else philosophically, drop me a line at [email protected]. I’m always game.

    Cheers,
    Dave T.

  36. More quotes from Bertrand Russell or Two Can Play the Quote Mining Game:

    In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.

    Passive acceptance of the teacher’s wisdom is easy to most boys and girls. It involves no effort of independent thought, and seems rational because the teacher knows more than his pupils; it is moreover the way to win the favour of the teacher unless he is a very exceptional man. Yet the habit of passive acceptance is a disastrous one in later life. It causes man to seek and to accept a leader, and to accept as a leader whoever is established in that position.

    The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way

    Almost everything that distinguishes the modern world from earlier centuries is attributable to science, which achieved its most spectacular triumphs in the seventeenth century.

    I think we ought always to entertain our opinions with some measure of doubt. I shouldn’t wish people dogmatically to believe any philosophy, not even mine.

    I’ve made an odd discovery. Every time I talk to a savant I feel quite sure that happiness is no longer a possibility. Yet when I talk with my gardener, I’m convinced of the opposite.

    Men are born ignorant, not stupid. They are made stupid by education.

    No; we have been as usual asking the wrong question. It does not matter a hoot what the mockingbird on the chimney is singing. The real and proper question is: Why is it beautiful?

    One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.

    We are faced with the paradoxical fact that education has become one of the chief obstacles to intelligence and freedom of thought

  37. How do any of these contradict the earlier quotes against absolutism?

  38. Valerie,

    You are correct if Spedding is ONLY saying that “absolute truths” are a “threat”. However, if he is saying they shouldn’t or don’t exist, then he is in logical trouble. Wouldn’t you agree? I must confess, it is difficult to decipher in his words which one he believes. As a materialist, however, why would we be lead to believe that he thinks there is absolute truth?

    Also, I noticed you like to quote Bertrand Russell. Can you pick out the error in this particular argument made by Russell? “I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, and I there found this sentence: “My father taught me that the question, Who made me? cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question, Who made God?” That very simple sentence showed me, as I still think, the fallacy in the argument of the First Cause. If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument.”

    Saxe

  39. Saxe,

    Spedding doesn’t say that absolute truths themselves are a danger. He says the danger is the “unshakeable conviction that one is in possession of an Absolute Truth.”

    Someone who is unshakeably convinced that a particular truth is absolute has no reason to listen to opposing evidence or arguments, and will have no qualms about acting on the basis of that “truth”.

    And why do you think materialists should be reluctant to accept the existence of absolute truths? Opinions differ, of course, but I am sure that most materialists accept the statement “1 + 2 = 3″ as an absolute truth.

  40. Valerie,

    Spedding sure seems to have an “unshakeable conviction” that he possesses the “Absolute Truth” when he states that it is dangerous to possess an “unshakeable conviction that one is in possession of an Absolute Truth.” He therefore, by his own logic, is a dangerous man. Apparently you are also dangerous because you believe with conviction that 1+2=3. ☺

    I myself, for example, possess an “unshakeable conviction” and hold as an “absolute truth” that murder is wrong. Am I necessarily dangerous?

    I must clarify an earlier position. I believe materialists cannot account for moral absolutes.

    I’m not sure how you came to believe that anyone “[unshakably] convinced” in a particular truth, possesses no reason to listen to opposing evidence. Wouldn’t it logically follow then that no one holding this view has ever changed his or her mind. I don’t think you actually believe that.

    By the way, were you able to catch the flaw in Russell’s statement I posted above?

    Saxe

  41. saxe17 wrote:
    “Spedding sure seems to have an “unshakeable conviction” that he possesses the “Absolute Truth” when he states that it is dangerous to possess an “unshakeable conviction that one is in possession of an Absolute Truth.””

    I (and presumably Spedding and Russell) would be happy to change my opinion of the danger of absolutism were someone to present a strong argument against it. If it can be changed, it’s not “unshakable”.

    “Apparently you are also dangerous because you believe with conviction that 1+2=3.”

    I’ll listen to contrary arguments, if you have any. My belief is not unshakable, but the contrary evidence had better be pretty strong.

    “I myself, for example, possess an “unshakeable conviction” and hold as an “absolute truth” that murder is wrong. Am I necessarily dangerous?”

    Not necessarily, but possibly. Suppose you had the opportunity to kill an evil person whom you knew was about to perpetrate a great horror (say, Hitler before the Holocaust). Your unshakeable conviction that it would be wrong to kill him would certainly constitute a danger to the Jews in Europe.

    “I’m not sure how you came to believe that anyone “[unshakably] convinced” in a particular truth, possesses no reason to listen to opposing evidence. Wouldn’t it logically follow then that no one holding this view has ever changed his or her mind. I don’t think you actually believe that.”

    If she changes her mind, she wasn’t unshakably convinced in the first place.

    “By the way, were you able to catch the flaw in Russell’s statement I posted above?”

    Sure. The problem is in Mill’s statement that the question “Who made me?” cannot be answered. The answer is that noone made me (or my species), at least not directly. Evolution provides an answer with no need to invoke a “who”.

  42. Valerie Wrote:

    “I (and presumably Spedding and Russell) would be happy to change my opinion of the danger of absolutism were someone to present a strong argument against it. If it can be changed, it’s not “unshakable”.”

    My point was that Spedding and apparently yourself, by his definition, must categorize yourselves as dangerous for holding this belief we’ve discussed above. I would agree that some absolutism is dangerous. But to claim all absolutism is dangerous is defining yourself as dangerous for any conviction you may have. That seems to me a radically dangerous worldview.

    “If she changes her mind, she wasn’t unshakably convinced in the first place.”

    Or perhaps she didn’t have all the facts or evidence at her disposal. Why should “unshakably convinced” mean blind or oblivious to any contradictory facts? I don’t see the link.

    “Sure. The problem is in Mill’s statement that the question “Who made me?” cannot be answered. The answer is that noone made me (or my species), at least not directly. Evolution provides an answer with no need to invoke a “who”.”

    Actually Russell’s argument was flawed when he based his argument upon the premise “If everything must have a cause…” It is a gigantic error to base your argument upon a false premise. By definition, a cause is a cause when it has an effect. Every cause, by definition, does not require a cause. Russell saw the First Cause argument as a fallacy, but actually he misstated the definition of a cause. Russell looks pretty foolish to me in this instance.

    By the way, you would have to be god in order to say universally “who made me” couldn’t be answered. You would have to possess all knowledge at all times of all things and all time and space. I don’t recall you ever claiming deity. Perhaps, however, it will be answered one day for you or someone else. It has already been answered for me. To me seems arrogant to make a universal negative claim of this nature. This type of claim, by the way, is impossible to prove.

    Regards,

    Saxe

  43. Saxe wrote:
    “My point was that Spedding and apparently yourself, by his definition, must categorize yourselves as dangerous for holding this belief we’ve discussed above.”

    Why? We don’t hold it unshakably. We’re open to argument. We therefore don’t meet Spedding’s definition of absolutism, and we need not categorize ourselves as dangerous.

    “I would agree that some absolutism is dangerous. But to claim all absolutism is dangerous is defining yourself as dangerous for any conviction you may have. That seems to me a radically dangerous worldview.”

    Where does Spedding state that his belief is unshakable? Look at what he says:

    Spedding:
    “The real threat is absolutism – the unshakeable conviction that one is in possession of an Absolute Truth, be it religious faith or political ideology, which justifies any act, no matter how vile, in its furtherance.”

    We are talking about the mentality that led to the “God said it; I believe it; That settles it” bumper sticker.

    “Why should “unshakably convinced” mean blind or oblivious to any contradictory facts? I don’t see the link.”

    That’s what unshakable means. Why would Spedding have used the word “unshakable” at all if he didn’t have fixed beliefs in mind?

    “Actually Russell’s argument was flawed when he based his argument upon the premise “If everything must have a cause…” It is a gigantic error to base your argument upon a false premise. By definition, a cause is a cause when it has an effect. Every cause, by definition, does not require a cause. Russell saw the First Cause argument as a fallacy, but actually he misstated the definition of a cause. Russell looks pretty foolish to me in this instance.”

    Defining a cause as something that has an effect does not tell you whether every cause is an effect of another cause. You need a different argument to show that not every cause requires a cause.

    “By the way, you would have to be god in order to say universally “who made me” couldn’t be answered. You would have to possess all knowledge at all times of all things and all time and space. I don’t recall you ever claiming deity.”

    Saxe, it was a *joke*. I was tweaking you by assuming the truth of evolution in my answer, knowing full well that you would never accept the assumption. I guess I need to insert smileys from now on…

  44. Valerie wrote:

    “Why? We don’t hold it unshakably. We’re open to argument. We therefore don’t meet Spedding’s definition of absolutism, and we need not categorize ourselves as dangerous.”

    So materialists are able hold convictions that are not unshakable but others cannot, is that correct? How do we then determine who’s convictions are unshakable? For example, Antyony Flew just converted to deism. Would you actually argue that Antony Flew’s absolutes were not “unshakable” when for 50 years he was the spokesman for atheism? In other words, if someone is presented with evidence that changes their mind, you seem to be saying their convictions then must not have been “unshakable”. How do you or Spedding identify an “unshakable” conviction? It seems rather arbitrary.

    “Defining a cause as something that has an effect does not tell you whether every cause is an effect of another cause. You need a different argument to show that not every cause requires a cause.”

    I suggest you check the rules of logic. According to those rules, defining a cause has nothing to do with whether it is or isn’t the effect of another cause. No where in logic will you find a rule that states every cause must have a cause. By definition, every cause has an effect. Also, by definition, every effect has a cause. There is NO rule in logic that defines a cause as you have attempted. Therefore, if there is an infinite being that always was and always is, He could then be the first cause. Logic doesn’t require Him (a cause) to be caused. Notice how neither “infinite” nor being a “first cause” violates any rule of logic.

    By the way, I’ll keep an eye out for your smiley faces. 

    Saxe

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