Sunday, June 21, 2009

Longwinded tardery of the category fucked

There's nothing especially horrible per se about fucktard's Michael Liccione's arguments against atheism (nothing particularly good), but his sheer long-windedness, his inability to get to the fucking point without driving around Robin Hood's barn, earns him a mention in my hall of fucktardery. I dig through the verbiage so you don't have to.

His "refutation" of the Problem of Evil is banal. "Given the natural order God has willed, it is logically impossible to prevent such presumptively disproportionate suffering without divine intervention so regular as to destroy the natural order of things." Translation: God created a world with evil in it, it's therefore logically impossible for that world to not have evil in it. In other words, STFU and GBTW.

Liccione gets off on the right foot.
Metaphysical naturalists typically hold that the sorts of explanation of the world's existence proffered by classical theists—chiefly, by means of a posteriori cosmological and teleological reasoning—cannot do the sort of work that explanations in general do, and should do. If so, then citing God as creator and/or designer of the world fails to explain anything; therefore, there is no reason to hold that God as explicans exists. But what does it mean to say that theistic explanation of the world's existence doesn't do the sort of work that explanations do?

Classical theists should not, and the most intelligent among them do not, argue that presenting God as creator and/or designer does better explanatory work than the natural sciences. ... The theistic argument is, rather, that citing God as explicans does a different sort of explanatory work than natural science.
So, we must ask, precisely what sort of work does God as creator/designer actually do?
To explain something is to account for why it thus and not otherwise. In order do that, one must show that the explicandum would have been different if the explicans had been different. But classical theism does not claim that the world would have been different if God did not exist; the claim is that the world would not exist at all if God did not exist.
This passage is pure sophistry. First, the existence or nonexistence of the world is the difference the theistic explanation is trying to account for. Second, if a theist is going to propose a God as an explanation, that explanation must account for why God created the world as He did, instead of somehow differently. Even if we let Liccione off the hook for explaining why the world is as it is and not different, he still has to do the ordinary work of any explanation of explaining the difference between a world existing and one not existing.

Liccione goes through a tedious but mostly accurate analysis of the problems of coming up with an explanation of the world as a whole. It boils down to: There is some simplest or best natural, scientific explanation of the world, beyond which no further reduction is possible. This simplest natural explanation cannot be naturally explained; if it could, that explanation would be the simplest and itself not naturally explicable. Alternatively, by going "outside" the existing universe for an explanation, the "outside" would have to be added to the totality of everything that exists, and we would have a new universe to explain.

After eliminating all the easy answers, Liccione finally wanders around to a point: "The only honest way for the theist to proceed is to argue that the question 'Why does T [the totality of everything that exists] exist?' is meaningful in such a way that one could reasonably entertain a non-trivial answer to it." In other words, he stops looking for explanations and satisfies himself with an "answer". Theism essentially provides scope for bullshit, which is the only "honest" way for the theist to proceed. But the big question is left hanging: why should we prefer one answer over another? Liccione's only response is that "one cannot rule out that T's existence embodies an intention, because... intentional explanations need not be thought reducible to causal explanations." But why should we believe that intentional explanations are not reducible to causal explanations? Regardless, to accept something because one cannot "rule it out" is just stupid: no logically coherent structure can be ruled out, however bizarre and rococo, so long as one is free to add arbitrary supporting premises or axioms to support the core axioms (it's even easier when one can invoke "mystery"). The Invisible Pink Unicorn and the Flying Spaghetti Monster are perfectly acceptable on this basis.

Of course, bullshitting is fun, but at the end of the day one can invoke the Universal Philosophical Refutation and render the bullshit artist theologian speechless. On the other hand, if you deny the notion that pain hurts, well, I have a baseball bat, you have a knee, we can put your assertion to the test.

Liccione cites so many objections to theology that one wonders why he has not just thrown in the towel and become an atheist. But finally, after more than 1,600 words, we get to his real argument. Oh wait, sorry. We need almost 500 words to present introductory blather and the banal "refutation" of the problem of evil which says that God is good by definition and without God, there is no basis for moral reasoning. (It's ironic that Liccione characterizes the new atheism as "the old atheism with shoddier arguments.") OK... 2,100 words and we get to his actual argument. In the introductory material scientific thought is presented as a normative standard, a standard that theology does not meet:
In ordinary life, natural science, and especially in formal disciplines such as logic and mathematics, there are reliable, agreed-upon methods for evaluating explanations as successful or unsuccessful. There appear to no such methods in natural theology—a discipline that not even the majority of religious believers find helpful. Given as much, naturalists typically argue that one ought not to expect people to find any of the putative explanations of natural theology cogent as explanations. Expecting people to do so is, in fact, morally defective. For such "explanations" necessarily transcend the sorts of considerations that it's reasonable to count as evidence, and expecting people to go beyond the evidence in forming their beliefs is expecting what's unreasonable. Expecting from people what's unreasonable is a sign of disreputable motives that are themselves all too evident in the history of religion.
Again, he rambles, taking a whole paragraph to get to the point that "the question [is] whether it's moral to go beyond what's generally recognized as evidence is a debate in moral philosophy and psychology."

Unfortunately, having shot his intellectual wad just getting to the point, well pleased with himself, he rolls over and goes to sleep:
About that debate, I shall conclude by noting that the atheist has a lot more work to do than simply pointing out that something called "religion" violates his moral norms. There are many different forms of religion, and some are more capable of moral self-reformation than others. Moreover, before a charge of immorality can be made to stick, there has to be common agreement about what morality requires. A person who believes that the universe is morally indifferent, and that no transcendent lawgiver underwrites morality, is burdened with showing that the moral norms he upholds are objectively binding as such. Unless and until he can do that, his moral arguments against theism can do no more than beg the question.
We've read a total of 2,330 words to hear that — theology not being any sort of an explanation notwithstanding — rationality is a normative standard, that rationality ought to be normative is not proven, therefore God exists.

I stand by my earlier statement: "The theologian... can't tell you what he's talking about, and if he happens to say something meaningful (usually by accident), he can't or won't tell you why he believes it. Theologians will usually try to bury you in doubletalk and ambiguity, hoping you'll think it's all too complicated for your tiny little mind and just accept their authority."


  1. A while ago I came to the conclusion that, wherever you see the word "God" being invoked as an explanation -- whether it's the pathetic idiocies of "creation science", more sophisticated (read: grander-sounding) assertions about the Ground of Being, or arguments about the grounding of morality -- you can and should substitute the word "Magic". On doing so, you will notice that the sentence is unchanged in sense or explanatory power -- except that now, no one over the age of about six will find it a reasonable "explanation".

  2. I do some amateur magic at times. My six year old daughter knows now to look to my other hand and to try to pull back the curtain. It is her natural curiosity natural skepticism. It is the job of all the priests to make sure their followers are trained, like in the Wizard of Oz, to never, ever look behind that curtain.


Please pick a handle or moniker for your comment. It's much easier to address someone by a name or pseudonym than simply "hey you". I have the option of requiring a "hard" identity, but I don't want to turn that on... yet.

With few exceptions, I will not respond or reply to anonymous comments, and I may delete them. I keep a copy of all comments; if you want the text of your comment to repost with something vaguely resembling an identity, email me.

No spam, pr0n, commercial advertising, insanity, lies, repetition or off-topic comments. Creationists, Global Warming deniers, anti-vaxers, Randians, and Libertarians are automatically presumed to be idiots; Christians and Muslims might get the benefit of the doubt, if I'm in a good mood.

See the Debate Flowchart for some basic rules.

Sourced factual corrections are always published and acknowledged.

I will respond or not respond to comments as the mood takes me. See my latest comment policy for details. I am not a pseudonomous-American: my real name is Larry.

Comments may be moderated from time to time. When I do moderate comments, anonymous comments are far more likely to be rejected.

I've already answered some typical comments.

I have jqMath enabled for the blog. If you have a dollar sign (\$) in your comment, put a \\ in front of it: \\\$, unless you want to include a formula in your comment.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.