Date: May 23, 2013 08:24PM
As promised, I have written a new introduction to kick things off in this dedicated forum.
In this thread I will begin, for those who might be interested, an extended, constructed Q&A to address outstanding questions and concerns from other, previous threads, particularly dealing with philosophical questions and concerns regarding the approach used in the book to deconstruct Mormonism, as well as criticisms of Kai Nielsen’s work. At the end of the Q&A I provide the guidelines I for one would like to practice and advocate moving forward to make this process as enjoyable as productive as possible.
After the Q&A I will repeat the conditions for participating in this forum, with the assurance from Admin. that those who do not comply will be blocked from participating.
Finally, I will conclude this thread with a request from those of you who desire to participate in this forum to please post your commitment to comply with the conditions and indicate when you will be ready to begin with the next thread on the FP and Chs. 1 and 2 so I know when to start that thread.
“Gathering the Fugitives”:
A Constructed and then Open Q&A to “Clear the Slate” and Start Over.
Q: What needs to be known up-front to understand, apply and evaluate the approach presented and used in the book to deconstruct the Mormon faith?
A: From my perspective, all one needs to know to understand and apply the analytical approach advocated and used in my book is contained in the Introduction, FP and Chapters 1 and 2 , as well as what I consider to be the nine fundamental assumptions summarized below, which are also included in the book, though not in this specific format.
Beyond this understanding, what remains is the reader’s determination of its efficacy as applied in his or her actively imagined participation in the “Instructive Deconstructive Conversation” provided in Ch. 1, and the analysis performed in Chs. 3-6 to Mormonism, and on his or her own theistic beliefs, if any.
Q: How much formal background in philosophy does one need to have to be able to understand and evaluate the philosophical remises and assumptions of your approach?
A: The formal study of comparative Philosophy (capital P) in the traditional disciplines of Meta-physics, Epistemology and Ethics, as well as in the Philosophy of Religion, is not a pre-requisite for understanding and evaluating the efficacy of the philosophical (small p) approach I advocate and use in my deconstructive conceptual analysis of the Mormon faith. Nor do I think it is relevant to it at a pragmatic level.
Still, I do think the reader’s appreciation for the contrasts, differences and disagreements between Foundationalist Philosophical Theories (or systems of thought) and the pragmatic philosophizing without foundations advocated in the approach used in this book is important to those, like me, desiring such, though this pursuit is for a different time and a different forum.
For those uninterested in such a pursuit of such deeper philosophical appreciation at this time, or at all, I do not think it is either necessary or relevant in order to appreciate and establish the nature and weight of the arguments made and conclusions reached in the book on the basis of what is contained within it. The perceptive reader will, I think, get a good sense of the relevant differences between Foundationalist Philosophy – which is at the core of Theism and the Philosophy of Religion – and the analytical, pragmatic approach and related premises and assumptions used as a tacit repudiation of it.
Q: By “repudiation of it,” what are you referring to?
A: My analytical, pragmatic approach is merely an aspect of the “contextual, ahistorical, non-scientistic, fallibilistic naturalism without meta-physical foundations” shared by Nielsen (1996) and other notable philosophers who have, for good and valid reasons I think, abandoned the Tradition and have worked effectively to discredit it and move past it, or transform it. This makes my approach neither justified by, dependent on, nor refuted by the Theories (or Doctrines) of the above Traditional branches of Philosophy. Nor, again, is such approach itself a “Philosophical Theory,” per se, where the concept “Theory” denotes a set of foundational doctrines, or principles, accepted by adherents to a particular system of thought as being true, or worse “True”. On the contrary, the approach espoused and used in DM rejects as unintelligible and incoherent such Theories (or Doctrines) – including Meta-Physical Realism – which are, in one form or another, at the heart of the Philosophy of Religion, as it does certain “scientistic” forms of Realism and Atheism that argue against the “Absolute Truths” of Theism on the basis of the “Objective Truth of Reality” through some reified conception of “Scientific Truth” and the “Scientific Method” (note the caps).
All this said, if you or others have questions regarding the methodology and its underlying assumptions as premises used in the analysis and "a priori" Atheistic argument my book, please ask. That's what this forum is for. And if, after you and others have obtained an adequate understanding of the practice I use and its rationale and conclusions through a careful and thoughtful reading of the book, there are concerns or disagreements, please express them. That's also what this forum is for.
As I have said before, however, I am not interested in debate because I consider debate adversarial, argumentative and not productive in, or conducive to, fostering mutual understanding, and/or in self-reflectively creating new perspectives and insights. With debate we tend to compete to win and not lose an argument. With dialogue (and, to a lesser degree, discussion) we seek for shared understanding, and to enlarge the circle of understanding though the creation of greater insight and knowledge through vertical inquiry into underlying assumptions, the use of language, and our own reactions.
Q: If the approach you present, advocate and apply in the book is not based on a Philosophical Theory, what is it exactly, and what is it based on, if anything?
A: The practice of analytical inquiry advocated and practiced in the book is, as I conceive of it and represent and use it, a practical and therapeutic way to test one's faith (or any theistic or religious belief system, appropriating Loftus' OTF. It also serves as an "a priori" argument to argue for the abandonment of all theistic faith, and a return to our natural Atheism.
As for what this approach is based on, I would say the thoughtful, systematic commitment to attend to the real problems of real people struggling with real doubt in their lives about the ‘Way of Life’ (i.e. system of doctrines or belief) they have chosen or been indoctrinated to, and the “Meta-physical/Ontological”, “Epistemological” and “Moral” (i.e. Philosophical) underpinnings of such ‘Way or Life’.
The hope and goal, for those struggling with real doubts – who have been bitten by the "wolves of disbelief" – is that the reader will test the approach as he or she is carefully reading and reflecting on what is written. And the intended and desired "outcome" of the writer and the book is, as was correctly stated in one posting, "deconversion."
Q: Earlier you wrote of the nine fundamental assumptions underlying your approach that serve as premises of your arguments in the book. What are those assumptions?
A: Specifically, and roughly, such assumptions might be summarized as follows:
1. While the external objects and natural phenomena that constitute the world we live in are certainly known and knowable directly by experience through direct sensory contact or ostention, there is no knowledge "about" such reality, or what we believe to exist or be real, without language. What we assert, state (or believe) to be “factual”, “true”, "truth" or "Truth" regarding a particular subject or object of inquiry is ultimately language dependent.
2. "Truth" (or "Absolute Truth") is something we cannot have, given the fact of fallibilism and the language, context and historically dependent nature of human knowledge. There simply neither is nor can be any intelligible, ahistorical, non-contextual (or historically and contextually transcendent) "Archimedean Point" from which we as fallible, language dependent, historical human beings can objectively perceive -- or assert to objectively or truthfully or "Truthfully" know -- the subject or object of inquiry as it "really is".
3. The most we can intelligibly strive or hope for, or expect, given 1 and 2 above, is the best knowledge, or justified beliefs, we can reasonably get, if any, about the subject or object of inquiry (in this case the Mormon 'God' and its referents, or attributes, as a referring expression).
4. For a stated truth claim, or belief, to be justified, or warrantedly assertable, as such, it must, necessarily and in principle, be justifiable.
5. For a stated truth claim or belief to be justifiable, the referents of the alleged existent (e.g. those primary, secondary and relational attributes of 'God' that answer the question “What does the term ‘God’, the way it is used in a particular "language-game" [i.e. 'God-talk' within a given faith or belief system] refer to as the referring expression it is?”) must be intelligibly specified with specific, intelligible (understandable or comprehensible) truth conditions that can, at least in principle (or possibly), be confirmed or disconfirmed as being true (or probably true) or false (or probably false).
6. For the alleged referents of the alleged existent (i.e. 'God') to be intelligibly specified (as required in 5 above), they must be specifiable in a way that is understandable or comprehensible sufficient to determine their truth conditions, or what would count for or against their existence as specified.
8. If the alleged existent, as referring expression, has no intelligible reference range or specifiable referents with specific, intelligible truth conditions, the assertion or claim of its existence is factually vacuous, and therefore unjustifiable as a fact, making it a factual non-reality as conceptualized, asserted and believed.
9. If, conversely, it is determined that the asserted truth claim is justifiable, and the belief is subjected to the appropriate justificatory process(s) and methodologies in an attempt to achieve wide intersubjective (i.e. objective) consensus (WRE), and is found to be false or incoherent in relation to our best justified beliefs, or knowledge, then such a claim is unjustified.
These assumptions and the related practice based on them, as presented, alluded to, and illustrated primarily in the FP and Ch.1 of the book, and applied in Chs. 3-6, do not, again, constitute any particular Philosophical theoretical framework. Nor are they based on a particular Philosophical Theory of Truth.
They merely provide the working premises of a particular analytical practice-in-use utilized to test truth claims for intelligibility, coherence and factual significance; a therapeutic practice of conceptual analysis that can profitably be applied to any metaphysical belief or belief system that makes transcendental truth claims that are allegedly representative of Reality or Truth, i.e. "things as they really are;" a practice of critical inquiry used to determine if Mormon truth claims inherent in Mormon 'God-talk' are indicative of factual reality (or 'Truth') as conceived and believed; a practice used in this book specifically to create the fertile soil from which the seeds of real doubt can take root and sprout into awareness; a practice that I have concluded exposes Mormon and other theistic belief systems as the factually empty nonsense they are (where the meaning of the term “fact” is confined to the way it’s presented in Ch. 1, p. 46).
Q: What would you say to those who criticize you for not arguing in your book against the Philosophical criticisms of your approach?
A: Assuming such critics have actually read the book, inclusive of its footnotes and citations, I would say what I have said above in this Q&A, such “arguing” has already been done in many of the references cited and listed in the References section of the book, as well as many not cited or listed. Moreover, such “arguing” is neither relevant to the purpose or credibility of the book based on its above stated assumptions.
Others no doubt would have written a very different book on the subject if they were once informed insiders, or are now informed outsiders to the Mormon faith, but that as well is irrelevant to this forum.
What is I think relevant to my purposes for writing the book, and is primary to this work, is the analysis and assessment of the Mormon faith performed, the arguments and conclusions reached, and the justification presented. Beyond that, you and I or others might disagree on the philosophical underpinnings (or lack of Philosophical underpinnings) of the work, or the pedigree or work of those sources I have chosen, or the style of the writing, or the underlying assumptions and fundamental premises of the work, but such disagreements are, I would argue, of secondary concern to the actual analysis and psycho-social assessment performed in Chapters 3-8 of the book. (Fallibilism, as I'm sure we would both agree, cuts both ways, and no one has access to "The Truth," or to a privileged point of view or linguistic representation of reality or right and wrong.)
I would also say that this book is not the appropriate place, to litigate such philosophical differences, just as this forum is not the appropriate forum, as intended, to engage in Philosophical debate, or showcase as fact our personal or collective knowledge ( or pretended knowledge, or ignorance) of the current state of Philosophy vis-à-vis the task at hand in this particular book.
The focus of this forum, as I understand it, is to allow those who are interested in reading the book and understanding it to have access to its author; to ask questions to check or deepen their understanding of the book, and to exchange views regarding the analysis and assessment performed, the arguments made, and conclusions reached; to, in other words, capture, expand, apply and critically evaluate by their best lights what has been presented in the book for whatever personal reasons the readers might have in reading it. Beyond that, every reader, every member of this forum, will make their own assessments and/or investigate their own areas of interest to satisfy their own appetites for learning.
Q: Can we shift the subject now to Kai Nielsen? How would you characterize his work?
A: Nielsen would perhaps not object to my characterization of his work in Atheism or the Philosophy of Religion as merely an analytical inquiry into theistic 'God-talk' (and formal doctrine) that is not intended to falsify or disprove such talk and related truth-claims, but rather to determine if the various concepts of god, i.e. the ways 'God' is used in different theistic language-games, can reasonably be considered to be intelligible and coherent, and factually intelligible (i.e. confirmable or disconfirmable in principle as stated, and therefore even probably true or false, or justifiable, as truth claims worthy of rationale belief).
This "a priori" approach, and related argument, just seems like good commonsense to me.
Nielsen's work has evolved with advancements in philosophical thinking, particularly in the areas of analytical philosophy and pragmatism. In the venue of the philosophy of religion, he has primarily been challenged by the likes of Hicks, Alston, Plantinga and those whom he characterizes as "Wittgensteinian Fideists," i.e. those who apply the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein to the question of "God-talk." See in this regard: Nielsen (1982, 2001, and 2006; "Wittgensteinian Fideism?").
As a philosopher (with a small "p") Nielsen's body of work, of which its application to the philosophy of religion is but one (and not primary) aspect, tends to be influenced by the works of Dewey, Peirce, Rorty, Davidson, Quine, Putnam, Wittgenstein, G.E. Moore, Rawls, Daniels, to name a notable few, and others from the disciplines of analytical and pragmatic philosophy. As a philosopher, he might characterize himself as a pragmatic, analytical, commonsensical thinker committed to a contextualist, historicist, non-scientistic (not non-scientific), fallibilist naturalism without metaphysical foundations.
Q: How would you characterize the criticisms of Nielsen’s body of work in philosophy and the philosophy of religion?
A: Perhaps it's fair and reasonable to say, without anticipated objection from Kai, that his critics, whoever they might be, would be, apart from theistic believers who disagree with all views or arguments that question their faith (or cause them to so question), those philosophers – theists or not – who remain firmly rooted in, and committed to, the pre-Enlightenment Foundationalist Tradition of Platonic, Cartesian and Kantian thinking, as well as those who would consider themselves Wittgensteinians (including Wittgensteinian Fideists), Metaphysical Realists, postmodern Relativists, and those Scientific Realists in search of ‘Objective Truth’, or knowledge of the world as it "really is" on the basis of "word-world" correspondences or fittingness.
More specifically, and on the basis of my studies of his works and criticisms of them, I would say that the primary, or most notable criticisms of, or disagreements with, Nielsen’s body of work in the philosophy or religion can perhaps be reduced to the following three areas of concern:
1. Nielsen’s initial criticism of ‘God-talk’ as incoherent on the primary basis of “verificationist” requirements and methodology, and its primary criterion of factual significance as a determinant of the factual meaningfulness of religious truth claims.
(Note: This criticism, if used, is outdated or used as a straw man given Nielsen’s more recent work (2001, 2006) where such criticism has been adequately addressed through the inclusion of a modified version of such an approach that is unhinged from the objectionable aspects of logical positivism, and framed and utilized as a proposal for testing theistic truth claims in the larger, justificatory context of intelligibility and coherence with our best justified beliefs about the world and the universe and how they work; which modified version and broader context is consistent with the above listed assumptions of my work as premises for my a priori Atheistic argument presented in DM.)
2. Nielsen’s rejection of naturalism with Meta-physical Foundations; particularly those forms of naturalism that advocate, or are based on any form of Meta-physical Realism (See Nielsen 1996.)
3. Nielsen’s argument for the need to “transform” philosophy, and his corresponding rejection of speculative and transcendental (a priori synthetic) meta-physics and skeptical and foundational epistemology (1995). Such transformation proposes a meta-philosophy that focuses instead on a minimalist regard for truth as a goal of inquiry, and the pragmatic pursuit of solutions to the real problems of life and the real doubts of human beings, as well as the pursuit of the best justified beliefs (i.e. knowledge) we can get, given the historical context we are working in, and the fact of fallibilism (2006).
These positions or views of Nielsen’s are understandably criticized by philosophers embedded in the Tradition of Meta-Physics and Epistemology, although from my perspective as an objective outsider to such Tradition (even if infected by it as one enculturated in Western civilization through socialization and education), they make sense to me.
Still, I have no ‘skin in the game’ so to speak, as I do not regard myself as a "P"hilosopher by profession. I, like Nielsen and others of like mind, am not concerned with what I regard to be the incoherent pursuit of Truth, but rather with what makes sense to believe given our best justified beliefs, and what statements of belief can, at least, be shown to have factual significance. Any pursuit beyond that is, to my mind, a futile endeavor, and any rationale for sincerely holding such a view, beyond what is presented in my book, is to me, psychologically suspect, if not perhaps a betrayal of doubt.
Q: How has Nielsen’s work influenced your life and your thinking and writing this book?
A: My post-deconversion study of Nielsen's work was very therapeutic for me, as was the writing of the book, which I disclose in the Introduction. My appropriation of Nielsen's approach to Mormonism comes with his late-in-life endorsement and generous collaboration and review of my work. For me, his "a priori" Atheistic argument is, among all forms of Atheism I have studied over the years (including the notable work of the so-called "New Atheists"), the only approach that can effectively neutralize Mormon apologetics and promote the real doubt necessary to break the vicious "double-bind" of Mormonism.
Mormonism is very slippery, as are all forms of theism when backed against the wall of faith. Moreover, Mormon apologists are well trained to argue against other theistic attacks on their faith, particularly attacks on Mormon history, scripture and doctrine. But they are, to my knowledge, wholly unprepared to respond to a critical deconstruction of their use of language in making those truth ("Truth") claims that have set them apart from all other faiths as, to their mind, “The Only True Church.” Nor are they prepared to convincingly argue without credible evidence to the contrary from the social sciences of the harmful and potentially damaging and dangerous teachings and methods of enculturation, conditioning and indoctrination built into their beliefs and way of life.
Q: What is your reaction to anyone who seeks to criticize your work by criticizing Nielsen’s work?
A: Kai is quite capable, of course, of responding to his critics, as he has done for many years. He is also, as I think would be evident to any fair minded person who has actually read his works, a person of intellectual integrity who can and does see the value of good arguments and points of view that are different than, or critical of, his own. In this he has been an important role model for me.
In reference to the “swooping,” sweeping, non-specific, presumably uninformed or second-hand criticisms of Kai Nielsen’s work made to discredit my work, I will say first that I regard such “criticisms,” when and as raised without reliable source, context or content, and/or with the apparent intent to merely discredit Nielsen and, by association, me, as the red herrings they are, and as of no import or consequence to those who have followed Nielsen’s work as it has evolved to date and currently is, or carefully read my work as presented.
As I think a relevant aside, I am not aware of any philosopher, no less philosopher of religion, whose work has not been constructively and, in some cases roundly, criticized by peers and religionists, and who has not responded to such criticisms in turn by either attempting to carefully refute the criticism or acknowledge its value, and therefore make changes accordingly.
Substantive, credible criticism is considered the highest praise among informed and respected scholars and professionals; an indicator that what they have written has hit a nerve, so to speak. So to say, as though it was somehow significant as a novel occurrence or indictment, that Nielsen’s work, in this case, or the work of any renowned, published philosopher (as Nielsen is), has critics or has been criticized by other philosophers, is as suspect as it is absurd. There are, to my knowledge, no respectable, reputable philosophers that have not been seriously and roundly criticized by their peers, as well as by amateurs, intellectuals in other disciplines, and the uninformed (or misinformed).
I would also say that perhaps all philosophers today could mention the names of other philosophers whose work or thinking has had a significant and perhaps enduring influence on the way they think about a particular subject. Finally, I cannot imagine any responsible critic of a philosophical work, or body of work, who would directly criticize another philosopher’s work on the basis of hearsay or secondary reviews, i.e. without first reading the work(s) in question. Nor would a responsible, professional critic launch, for any reason, an ad hominem attack of a philosopher in attempt to poison the well and discredit his or her work.
These points aside, Nielsen’s body of work in the philosophy of religion spans, to my knowledge, over 50 years. In that time his work in the philosophy of religion has, as noted above, evolved significantly from a more verificationist practice of analytical philosophy with logical positivist leanings, to a critical, justificatory practice of understanding, in the words of Wilfred Sellars “…how things in the broadest sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term,” i.e. what it makes sense to say or regard as knowledge, or truth, in the context of a contextualist naturalism without Foundations. Such an approach, for those interested in knowing, is deeply rooted in the notable works of Dewey, Peirce, Rorty, Quine, Moore, Hagerstrom, Wittgenstein, Sellars, Putnam, Davidson, Rawls and Daniels to name a critical few.
Criticisms of Nielsen’s a priori, naturalistic argument for Atheism, particularly by notable Wittgensteinian fideists such as Malcolm, Phillips, and Winch, and philosophers of religion such as Alston, Hick, Crombie, Plantinga, MacIntyre, and others have been addressed and sourced in depth by Nielsen (1982, 1989, 1996, 2001 and 2006) for those of you who want to understand and appreciate them for yourselves. I will not, cannot reasonably rehash these published exchanges in this forum or elsewhere, for I would think to be regarded as obvious reasons.
Even with the above reply as context, I would say that my work is “my” work, even though it has been influenced by the views and methodological proposals of Nielsen, and the thinking of other notable philosophers that I endorse and have also appropriated in my way of thinking, and in my analysis of the Mormon faith and theism in general. This said, if any of you, or any reader of my book is curious of learning more about the sources I have used in making my analysis and my arguments, I have provided numerous quotations, notes and references for further background and study. (That’s, after all, why such are provided, isn’t it?) Even so, I would argue that, sans any non-criticizable “Philosophical Theory” to test or logically evaluate the analytical approach I use in the book to deconstruct Mormon (or theistic) truth claims, such approach, I think, stands or falls on whether or not the above proposed premises or fundamental assumptions justifying it are defensible as a litmus test for determining whether or not Mormon or theistic truth claims regarding the existence of ‘God’ are justifiable as being, in principle, even probably true (in the minimalist or theoretical or empirical sense), or even if such claims “make sense” per se, or in relation to our best justified beliefs about the world and the universe, and how they work. Again, you can make those determinations for yourself, without being formally schooled in any particular Philosophical Theory.
Q: Moving forward, what do you consider to be reasonable guidelines to adhere to as participants of this forum moving forward?
A: The personal guidelines that I espouse, appreciate and strive to follow (though not nearly as consistently as I would like) for engaging in any serious discussion of a topic or work of interest are fairly basic.
• Be informed. In this case, do the required readings, inclusive of footnotes, before showing up to each forum dedicated to the particular part(s) of the book specified, or either please don’t show up or don’t participate.
• Be respectful of others. For me this does not mean always being agreeable, or not challenging, disagreeing with, or pointing out apparent or obvious concerns or reasoning fallacies. It does suggest, however that I “listen to the listener” (myself and my reactions) first, and then check my interpretations and inferences through inquiry before rushing to judgment and disagreeing. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
• Check my ego at the door (or at the computer) before entering the room (or forum). This implies, to me, that I enter with an attitude of humility and curiosity, with a desire to learn, and not to “win”.
• Avoid "ad hominem" attacks that "poison the well", "red herrings", and "straw man" arguments.
• Use “I” statements rather than “you” statements, and when using “you” statements, make the statement tentative or contingent. (e.g. “I think…”; “I feel…”; “I sense…”; “You seem to be saying (or suggesting)…” etc.)
• In disagreements, try to find common ground, and build from there.
• Remember, “fallibilism is the name of the game.” No one is always or completely right, and all truth is provisional. It’s OK to be mistaken, or not completely right. There’s always more to learn and know.
I think the “principle of charity” is important here, which is that I want to try and give others the benefit of the doubt and cut others some slack, checking things out when someone seems to cross the line intentionally, and working things out if I get cross-wise with someone.
In saying this, I’m quickly reminded of the advice of Hans Selye in his book “Stress without Distress,” to not try to reason with (or befriend) “mad dogs.” I take that advice seriously in differentiating the necessary positive “stress” that naturally accompanies personal living, loving, learning and development, and the damaging, destructive and counterproductive “distress” that makes us sick (and sickening) to be around. Life’s too short, or too damn long, to put up with the distress caused by “mad dogs.”
The conditions for participating in this dedicated DM THREAD are, in effect, the conditions of which I am willing to participate. They have been stated and repeated in another thread, and are listed below again for reference:
For me to participate in any DM thread in this dedicated DM Forum, participants must be willing to:
1. Commit to complete the assigned reading for each thread , inclusive of all footnotes. (The assigned reading for the next thread will be the FP and Chs. 1 and 2, inclusive of all footnotes.);
2. Commit to be serious participants engaged actively (even if only "listening actively") in a good faith pursuit of understanding this book and contributing to mine and others' understanding;
3. Commit to not engage in polemics or debate, but instead keep the inquiries, comments, thoughts, offerings and disagreements civil and RELEVANT to the topics of the various threads as outlined.
Those of you who desire to participate in this forum and agree to these conditions of participation, please so indicate in a post to this thread when you are ready to begin with the next thread on the Foundational Preface and Chs. 1 and 2, please also so indicate so I know when to start the thread.
Now, I’ll open this thread to thoughts, comments, questions and confirmations, if any.
Edited 8 time(s). Last edit at 05/24/2013 07:47PM by Susan I/S.