Loincloths vs Cassocks

Once upon a time one of my friends, JH, got it into his head that he wanted to DM a campaign for our D&D group. I was our usual DM, but I was extra busy and we were at a good place to put my campaign on hold for a few weeks, so figured we’d let him have a shot.

The main bad guys in his game were some sort of cult of evil monks. We never really found out what they were all about because of events I’ll explain shortly.

The important thing you need to know is this: Our adventuring party got attacked several times by enemies JH described as “monks dressed in loincloths.” So, we pretty much had something like this in our minds:


What we didn’t know is that JH didn’t actually know what a “loincloth” is.  This is what he had in mind, and was calling “a loincloth”:

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Obviously, we were on a collision course for a train wreck at some point.  And it happened the worst way possible.

We encountered a pair of the monks on a road, and as we were getting ready for another fight, JH attempted to reveal them as not really evil monks, but allies who were in disguise, and (probably) had plot information for us.

So what he said was “The monks suddenly rip off their loincloths … revealing a fully dressed wizard and warrior underneath.

I’ll leave you to form your own mental image of a fully dressed wizard and warrior underneath two monks’ loincloths.  We cracked up. We cracked up completely.  And JH had no idea WHY.  And we couldn’t stop laughing. We were, literally, ROTFLing.  JH was pretty sensitive to embarrassment, especially since it was his first time DMing, and everyone was laughing uncontrollably, and couldn’t stop or even tell him why.

There was no going back. That was the end of his first campaign.  As far as I know, he didn’t even try to DM for at least a decade after that. In retrospect, I feel somewhat bad about it, but I’m cracking up again remembering it, so I guess I don’t feel too bad.

Hope you enjoyed a random D&D memory!

Is Belief in God a Delusion?

A persistent atheistic trope is calling belief in God delusional or a delusion.  The most obvious popular example is Richard Dawkins’ pro-atheism book The God Delusion, a book that, while popularly successful, is notorious for its shallowness and lack of rigorous argumentation (interested readers may wish to look at Alister McGrath’s The Dawkins Delusion for a highly detailed account of the many deficiencies under which Dawkins’ book suffers).

Is belief in God a delusion? The most widely used and accepted definition of a delusion comes from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA):

Delusion. A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everyone else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary. The belief is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person’s culture or subculture (e.g., it is not an article of religious faith).

Well, things don’t look very promising for the atheist trope, do they?

To begin with only the most obvious point, delusions are standardly defined in such a way as to exclude articles of religious faith, something for which belief in God obviously qualifies.

Now, an atheist of course could claim that the DSM’s defining delusion in such a way as to exclude commonly held articles of religious faith is an error, a kind of special pleading exemption for religious beliefs, which are not being treated the same as other beliefs. On this basis, the atheist might insist on adopting a different definition of delusion. But this very demand for changing the standard definition appears to be a kind of special pleading on the part of the atheist.   Why shouldn’t religious beliefs be treated in a manner different that other sorts of beliefs? The theist merely needs to note that religious beliefs are not like other beliefs, because they are about a particular part of reality that is sui generis, viz. the divine or transcendent dimension of being.  The atheist could respond that there simply is no such dimension of being, but would immediately fall right back into special pleading and/or begging the question against the theist—unless of course the atheist can bring forth proof that there is no divine or transcendent dimension of being, a proof we still await.

But of course the theist need not rest her case on the specific exemption for articles of religious belief in the DSM’s definition of delusion. Let it go. Let us look at the other factors which make a delusion a delusion.  We see right way that there are three.  To count as a delusion a belief must be

  1. based on incorrect inference about external reality
  2. firmly sustained despite what almost everyone else believes
  3. firmly sustained despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary

Let’s start with criterion 2.  It appears that the authors of the DSM are aware of something which many atheists manage to somehow overlook, namely, the consensus gentium.  What is the consensus gentium? It is merely a technical name for the common consensus of humanity.  And the common consensus of humanity speaks overwhelmingly in favor of theism.

Here too, it is open to the atheist to object that the consensus gentium is not infallible and to treat it as such is to commit an ad populum fallacy (an appeal to popularity).  But the consensus gentium does not, in itself, constitute an ad populum fallacy—it is, in itself, not a proof of a given proposition, but it does constitute evidence.  To dispute the consensus gentium requires one to hold that the majority of human beings are deceived or delusional in their beliefs (as atheists do hold).  But this view seems to be strong evidence for the proposition “human belief formation is highly unreliable,” since it reliably produces false or delusional beliefs.  But the belief that human belief formation is highly unreliable serves as an all-purpose defeater for any belief whatever, including itself and the belief that “belief in God is delusional.” In other words, to dispute the consensus gentium without specially pleading that human belief formation is reliable everywhere except with respect to the divine, seems to be a self-defeating move.

Just on the face of it, it is obvious that theism is the majority belief of human beings, and always has been, just as atheism is tiny minority belief, even if one grown loud and strident in our modern, highly secularized society.  Theism very obviously fails to meet criterion 2 of the DSM’s definition of a delusion, so it isn’t one.  So far, we’ve seen that belief in God is not a delusion twice over. But there’s more.

Things are worse yet for the atheist who wants to use the “delusion” trope.  Criterion 1 specifies that the belief must be the result of some kind of faulty reasoning, an “incorrect inference about external reality.”  And criterion 3 specifies that a delusion is a belief held “despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary.”

In other words, it would need to be shown that theism is (1) irrational and (2) obviously false.

And of course atheism has not met either of these challenges.  It has not even come close. In fact, atheists by and large admit that not only have they not proven either of these things, that they cannot do so, more, that it is impossible to do so.

It is no accident that the vast majority of today’s atheists are “lack of belief” atheists.  They follow philosopher Antony Flew’s 1972 redefinition of “atheism” to mean “lack of belief in God” as opposed to the standard and traditional definition “belief that God does not exist” (which is still held by ~80% of people, according to the Oxford Handbook of Atheism).

The “lack of belief” atheist does not claim that he knows or even believes that God does not exist, but only that he remains unconvinced that God does exist.  Well, good for him. (Actually, it’s bad for him, but set that aside).  That someone happens to be unconvinced that a belief is true in no way indicates that the belief is false.  It isn’t even a statement about whatever the belief is about, but a statement about a psychological property of a belief-holder.  If A says, “I lack a belief that G,” a perfectly legitimate response is to make a psychological report of one’s own and note “And I have one. What of it?”

There are, to my knowledge, only three serious arguments which attempt to show that theism is false, that is, that God does not exist:

  1. The Argument from Evil, which holds that the existence of unnecessary evil in the world is incompatible with an all-good being, which a perfect being, God, must be.
  2. The Argument from the Unnecessariness of God, which holds that God is unnecessary as an explanation for anything, and therefore is merely a gratuitous hypothesis which, following Ockham’s Razor, we ought not to make.
  3. The Argument from Self-Contradiction, which holds that the concept of “God” is self-contradictory, and therefore, God cannot exist.

All three arguments are notoriously weak and easily refuted:

  1. The Argument from Evil can be highly persuasive as an appeal to emotion.  One points to some horror or tragedy, personal or historical, and demands “How could a good God let this happen?” The honest answer, and the rational one, is that we don’t know, and we aren’t in a position to know the thoughts of an omniscient, omnipotent, and perfect being. Most theists believe that, since God is good, He does not cause or will evil, but only permits or allows it for a sufficiently good reason, which we simply do not (yet, fully) understand.  Nor can the atheist rule out the possibility that whatever evil he regards as “too much” is not, in a way beyond human understanding, for the best when seen from God’s point of view.  The most an atheist could do, it seems, is what Ivan Karamazov does in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, and willfully refuse to accept some evil or another (Ivan cannot accept the suffering of innocent children).  Yet, one of the basic elements of faith, as Christians use that term, is trust in God.  The Argument from Evil may well test one’s faith, but if it convinces, it does not do so as a rational argument. Christians trust that in the end, even though we do not understand how, in the words of St. Julian of Norwich “All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well.”
  2. The Argument from the Unnecessariness of God fails for two reasons.  As in the Argument from Evil, we simply don’t know enough to be sure that God is not necessary; on the contrary, there is a very strong case that God is necessary as the only possible answer to “The question of Being” namely “Why is there anything at all, and not rather nothing?” But even if we could be sure, which we cannot, that we need not invoke God as an explanation, to infer the nonexistence of God from this is simply a non sequitur.  At most, this argument could aim to show that belief in God is an unreasonable postulate to make, in which case it collapses into the Evidentialist Argument (see below).
  3. And as for the Argument from Self-Contradiction (and also it’s cousin, the Argument that Religious Language is Meaningless), well, no one has ever succeeded in making anything close to a good argument for the notion.  There are of course ways one can define God such that the concept is self-contradictory (and it causes the theist no pain to admit that God so defined does not exist), but no one has ever shown even a good candidate for contradiction in the traditional conceptions of God. The “paradox of omnipotence” which sometimes impresses philosophical beginners is not a paradox at all, once one grasps the fairly basic point that “power to do anything possible” ≠ “power to do things that are impossible.”

With the failure of the only robust atheistical arguments on the table (and they are not very robust), in our time we have seen atheism retreat and retrench from ontology to epistemology, and the rise of the “lack of belief” atheist, which brings us to the Evidentialist Argument.

The Evidentialist Argument is not an argument that God does not exist, and does not attempt to prove that theism is false. It merely argues that belief in God is not sufficiently warranted by the evidence to count as a reasonable belief.

Before taking this up, we should note that even if the Evidentialist Argument turned out to be 100% successful, it would still fail to establish that belief in God is a delusion, since by definition, a delusion must be “firmly sustained despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary,” and as we have just seen, the atheist has no such “incontrovertible and obvious proof” of the falsity of theism.  He doesn’t even have a remotely plausible one.  Nowadays, the typical atheist doesn’t even try to make an argument.

As we have already seen, belief in God is NOT a delusion, since criteria 2 and 3 cannot be met by the atheist who claims it to be one.  But what about criterion 1? Is belief in God based on an “incorrect inference” about reality? Can the atheist at least meet one out of the three criteria that establish delusion?

No, he cannot. The best the atheist can do is appeal to his own personal incredulity.  He looks at the evidence (or doesn’t look, commonly) and says “I’m not convinced.” The theist looks at the evidence and is convinced.  What sort of epistemic error is the theist making? Why is her belief absurd or rationally unwarranted? These questions have simply never been answered in a way that is non-question-begging, that is, in a way that doesn’t assume from the beginning, tacitly or explicitly, that belief in God is absurd or rationally unwarranted.

The best case the atheist has, it seems to me, is a specularly weak one, but one which happens to sell fairly well in our age. I mean the Appeal to Scientism. Science is so highly regarded today as a way of acquiring knowledge, that unreflective persons can sometimes be induced to accept the claim that “scientific knowledge” is an absolute touchstone of all knowledge or knowledge as such, and so “only scientific knowledge is valid knowledge” which, joined with “there is no scientific evidence of God” would indeed yield the desired result, so

  1. Only scientific knowledge is valid knowledge.
  2. There is no scientific evidence of God
  3. ∴ It is unreasonable to believe in God.

This is the Argument to Scientism in a nutshell. It’s valid and premise 2 is true. The argument fails because premise 1 is obviously false. Science is not the only source of knowledge we have. Science itself makes use of extra-scientific knowledge, and does so necessarily and constantly: it is part of the scientific method to use both mathematics and empirical observation (i.e. experience)—and neither mathematics nor experience, which science seeks to explain, are cases of scientific knowledge, just as such. One is not “doing science” when one is having experience. Another instance of a proposition that is not a scientific one is Premise 1 of the Argument to Scientism itself. Scientism, as a doctrine, is notoriously self-refuting: if it is true, we must reject it as true, on the grounds of itself, because it isn’t itself scientific knowledge.  It fails its own truth test.

The Argument to Scientism also falls to a simple objection of common sense (another often valid source of knowledge, and indeed, the root of the consensus gentium spoken of above): we know that science studies nature (or nature plus human activities, if you count the social sciences as full sciences), and we also know that God, as traditionally understood, is transcendent of nature. God simply doesn’t fall under science’s domain, any more than goodness does, or for that matter, logic and math do.  Why on earth would a  very excellent method for studying nature discover something it neither looks for nor can see, given what its method and scope are? The short answer is: science simply has nothing to say about God; it studies nature. Period.  So appeals to science, including bogus appeals to principles that aren’t scientific but look vaguely “science-y”, as in the Argument to Scientism, fail because they cannot succeed without unreasonably making science omni-competent in every sphere of knowledge, which it obviously is not (Who should you vote for, according to the scientific method?), and reducing all other sources of knowledge to nullity, which would would destroy mathematics and logic and experience as valid kinds of knowledge, and so take science down with it.

To bring this to a close, even if we charitably overlook the DSM’s explicit distinction between delusion and articles of religious belief (one that is entirely reasonable, as I argued), belief in God is still not a delusion: the atheist who claims that it is a delusion cannot meet even one of the three criteria needed to establish a belief as delusional.

I conclude that the atheist trope of calling belief in God “a delusion” amounts to nothing more than name-calling. It doesn’t have the slightest amount of rational weight behind it.

Planet of the Apes and Prejudice

Not quite a Jane Austen title, I know, but this is something I have found very fascinating for years.

Human beings seem to have a natural “love of their own.” Call it prejudice, if you want, but the truth seems to be that it is both deeply human and at the same time, superficial.

But let’s get to the story!


PLANET OF THE APES, Charlton Heston, Linda Harrison, Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall, 1968, Tm & Copyright (c) 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved.

During the filming of Planet of the Apes in 1967, Charlton Heston noted “an instinctive segregation on the set. Not only would the apes eat together, but the chimpanzees ate with the chimpanzees, the gorillas ate with the gorillas, the orangutans ate with the orangutans, and the humans would eat off by themselves. It was quite spooky.”

James Franciscus noticed the same thing filming Beneath the Planet of the Apes in 1969. “During lunch I looked up and realized, ‘My God, here is the universe,’ because at one table were all the orangutans eating, at another table were the apes, and at another table were the humans. The orangutan characters would not eat or mix with the ape characters, and the humans wouldn’t sit down and eat with any one of them.

“I remember saying, ‘Look around — do you realize what’s happening here? This is a little isolated microcosm of probably what’s bugging the whole world. Call it prejudice or whatever you want to call it. Whatever’s different is to be shunned or it’s frightening or so forth.’ Nobody was intermingling, even though they were all humans underneath the masks. The masks were enough to bring out our own little genetic natures of fear and prejudice. It was startling.”

(From Joe Russo and Larry Landsman, Planet of the Apes Revisited, 2001.)


What is so interesting about this (to me) is that the actors self-segregated based entirely on their costumes, their outward appearance.  It made no difference if the actor was black, white, or asian; what seemed to be the sole determining factor (for the duration of filming) was whether he or she was chimpanzee, orangutan, gorilla, or human.

On the one hand, this seems like bad news: it suggests that a certain level of prejudice against people who “aren’t like us” in an obvious visual way will always be a part of human nature.  I’m certain it is the sort of thing that can be overcome with practice, but it seems to be our default state.

On the other hand, it strikes me as good news: it seems to show that in most cases racial prejudice is an incredibly superficial thing, that it is literally all surface, and that the greater part of this kind of behavior is not rooted in any deep antipathy or hatred of other races.

I suspect this common tendency is part of human nature, and we should certainly be aware of it—but that also means not making more of it than it is.  It should caution us about labelling every kind of tendency towards self-segregation as “racism”—assuming that word carries connotations of racial hatred or prejudice.

Philosopher_Twilight’s Take on God

[This is a response to Philosopher_Twilight’s (aka @TwiSparkPhil) “My take on god” on TwitLonger.  I’ve included his entire text, which you can read without my commentary here.]

You use the honorable word “philosopher” in your name. A philosopher is above all a seeker after truth. A philosopher inquires, asks questions, and if we follow Socrates, has an ineradicable belief that there is some truth of the matter, however much we prove inadequate to finding it.

So I hope you don’t take this as an attack. I am going to go through your “take on god” and offer some replies, responses, and criticisms however. Hopefully, we will both learn something in the process.

Let’s go.

My take on god.

Let us consider for a moment that god – or Allah, Yahwe, or any of the other thousand gods – exist. What kind of god is he? Why should we worship him or her? What kind of god would judge his creation on whether that creation believed in the existence of its creator and not based on how that creation lives its life among other creations?

I notice that a lot of your post consists of questions. That could be good, if the questions are serious.  If there are only rhetorical questions, leading questions designed to skew one’s perception of God, that is not good.

You should be aware that classical theism understands God to be a perfect and all-good being. What follows from this, among other things, is that God cannot, by definition, be or do evil, nor injustice, nor exhibit vices such as vanity, etc.

You are mistaken that God first and foremost requires one to believe in His existence. As the Epistle of James notes,

James 2:19: You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder.

Demons believe in God. They know He exists with certainty.  And yet they rebel against Him. “Belief” is not what is at issue in theism.  It is wrong to understand “faith” as “belief” in this sense.

Of course God certainly does judge a person on how he lives his life.  That is why God prescribes we live in a certain way, e.g. love your neighbor as yourself.

According to classical Christian theism, it is, however, not possible for a human being to live in such a way that is entirely good. We are flawed beings, thanks to sin, which an affliction of our own making.  We need God’s help—His freely given help, His grace—to be good, and in both senses of “being morally good” and “being in the way that is truly good for us.”

Some might say he gave us free will so we can choose to either follow him or not. If we don’t follow him – or religion’s interpretation of him – we are punished for all eternity versus only a limited punishment of, say, a year or two in prison for our transgressions. Imagine if we did that for every little crime: “Oh you cheated on your wife? off to prison you go for all eternity.” or “You ate shell fish when you weren’t suppose to? eternity in prison.”

Again, you have a very narrow and incorrect understanding of the issue. Sin is not the breaking of an arbitrary rule; it is an objective action that puts one in a state of being in disunion with God (Who, remember just IS goodness and happiness).  Hell is the state of being separated from goodness and happiness.  No one, ultimately, finds himself in Hell against his will.  Hell is not a punishment inflicted by God, but the consequence of rejecting God. To reject God is to reject goodness and happiness, because God just is those things. Hell is therefore necessarily a bad state and an unhappy one. God does not “inflict” Hell in His creatures: the choose it, because this is the only way they can be free of obedience to God. You are a very poor student of human nature if you think it is impossible to willfully choose freedom in the form of having one’s own way over happiness.

How the hell do we think that would be fair? Seriously, religion needs to stop pretending to speak for god based on a book – or books – written a long time ago by people who didn’t understand their role in the universe or had any understanding of science, logic, and reason. I’d also like to add that those books were probably written as a way to cope with life back then; meaning they were fiction used as an outlet for frustrations. We do that today.

You are simply begging the question here.  If holy books are fiction, then they are fiction. But if they are truly holy books, then they are not fiction, but divine revelation.  And if they are divine revelation, it doesn’t matter if they were written “back then,” since the source of what is substantial in them is God—an all-knowing, all-truthful being.  You cannot actually have better evidence than this.

Yes, I am aware that alleged holy books do not “self-authenticate.” But as with all things, it does not follow from the fact that some are not authentic that none are.

How many of us cope with our day-to-day lives by writing or watching T.V. or reading a book. We do that to escape reality for a few hours or minutes or however long it takes. I get the feeling someone had the bright idea to start using those books as a way to control people through fear but that’s just the logical and reasonable conclusion this agnostic asshole came to. For all I know I’ll be sent to hell simply because I’m an albino.

The ancients were not stupid. They understood fiction and poetry very well. And they did not think the Holy Scriptures to be fictional or made-up stories.

Many religious people would consider me brainwashed by the likes of Richard Dawkins or Neil Degrasse Tyson, or Carl Sagan, or any number of other big name atheists. The truth is that I personally, was never a believer anyway. Religion just never stuck with me. Now, one could say that I just wasn’t exposed enough to it and it wasn’t shoved down my throat forcefully as I was growing up. That might be the case though I’m not sure if that’s true.

I have no idea about your intellectual history. Religion didn’t “stick” with me at first. My very weak faith was completely destroyed by Nietzsche at age 14.  It took me the better part of 25 years to regain it. Or rather, to acquire an authentic faith, since I still regard what I was taught as a child as an absurd and incoherent version of Christianity.  I suppose my Methodist preacher did his best, but he was not a philosopher or theologian—and I was a child.

Personally I thought my way from Nietzsche and Heidegger back to Plato and Aristotle, and then forward to early Christianity, and eventually came to see Orthodox Christianity as the legitimate continuation and culmination of Greek philosophy.  I have very little doubt Socrates would have been a Christian, save for the fact he happened to live 400 years before Christ.

I’d like to say because it was due to my intelligence that I never got into religion but that would make me sound arrogant and I don’t want to come off that way. Ultimately, I do not know why I am the way I am and why religion just never stuck to me. I guess some people are born more susceptible than others.

This is probably true, but consider that the word “susceptible” is usually a blame word. We are “susceptible” to propaganda, to disease, and to other evil influences.  It might be the case that some people are more receptive to God and the divine (to pick a different word), and some of us have greater problems with it.  There are some people who, by accident of birth or early childhood, have difficult relating to others emotionally, and this fact causes them great suffering.  I don’t think we would call people of healthy emotional make up “susceptible” to things like love and friendship, but “receptive” to them. To be “susceptible” to a good thing is not a bad way to be.

I am only noting that “being less susceptible” could be a weakness rather than strength.

Now to get to the real reason I wanted to write this. Were I to die right this second as I was writing this, and stood before god, I’d like to think he would judge me based on how I’ve lived my life up to the point of my death. Yes, I’ve made mistakes in my life; who hasn’t? But they are not that earth-shattering. I’ve stolen candy once or twice in my life, lied to someone, other mistakes I can’t think of right now but never anything serious. I’ve never raped or killed anyone, I’ve never physically abused anyone or anything else that we would consider evil and morally wrong. If he can’t do that – judge me based on how I’ve lived my life rather than my lack of belief in his existence – than he does not deserve my respect. Such a god seems like a tyrant demanding respect from his people and when he doesn’t get his way, throws a tantrum and punishes them for no reason.

It only seems like it on this construal. You are speaking as if sin and damnation were a decision that God makes to punish people. This is a heavily anthropomorphic version of things (and I note you always say ‘god’, which as I’ve tried to explain, is an error), usually used to explain the idea of Hell to children and very simple persons.  It does convey the basic and crucial point: it is all-important to one’s eternal happiness to be right with God, but it is also misleading. Remember, God, by His very nature, just is justice, and so logically, necessarily, cannot be unjust.  The key phrase in your paragraph is “seems like.” But not only does Christianity not teach that God is an arbitrary tyrant demanding respect who, when he doesn’t get it, punishes them “for no reason” (even though that doesn’t even make sense: wouldn’t he be punishing them for not giving him the demanded tribute of respect?).  In fact, Christianity at least teaches that God could not be so.  I am less sure that this description doesn’t fit the Islamic understanding of God, which is one reason (among many others) I reject it.

If you were to die in the near future, the question would be about the objective state of your soul in relation to God. According to the Christian tradition, which we of course hold to be a revelation from God, your soul is not in the right state with respect to God. You would need to repent (μετάνοια), which means “turn around,” in the sense Plato uses this term in the Cave Image.

Orthodox Christianity far more commonly uses the metaphor of sin as a sickness in need of healing than of a crime in need of punishment.  What is key to understand is that both ARE metaphors.  If you are sick, you may freely refuse offered healing.  It is against the nature of God to be a tyrant (as you say).  God will not force you to health or happiness against your will, not even for your own objective good. You must accept God’s grace of your own free choice.

But hey, these are just thoughts of a disturbed mind living on a rock flying through space with other disturbed minds who do not realize they are disturbed and think they know everything because a book says it’s true. You could say we believe everything written in a science book, which would make us hypocrites. You’d be wrong of course, since that book provides evidence and logic. But no, by all means, continue to think you have all the answers and never grow thus not taking Socrates’s challenge seriously: “The unexamined life is not worth living” which means question everything and realize as much as you think you know, you don’t know shit.

And yet, Socrates does claim to know a few things, such “justice is better than injustice”, “It is good to know the truth” and “The God cannot lie.” As he says in the Apology, in answer to the charge of atheism,

“But that is far from being so. For I believe, men of Athens, as none of my accusers do. And I turn it over to you and the God to judge me in whatever way it is going to be best both for me and for you.”

The fact that we know very little of all there is to know doesn’t mean we don’t know anything. Socratic humility spurs one to philosophical inquiry. Complete skepticism is the opposite: it only paralyzes, in the belief that no matter how hard we try, we can never know—something the skeptic can never know, and of course, something the skeptic will never learn better than, if he does not inquire.

Pascal, a very profound Christian philosopher, put it very well:

We know too much to be skeptics, and too little to be dogmatists.

I can’t think of a statement more Socratic or more Christian.

Reblog: William Lane Craig on the Definition of Atheism

Here is an exchange between a querent and Christian philosopher William Lane Craig about the definition of atheism.  Original found here.  Of special interest is Antony Flew’s admission that he is using the word “atheism” is a highly idiosyncratic manner.  Flew’s usage has become more widespread, but it is still decidedly a minority usage, although some dictionaries have begun to include it. Here is the exchange:

Definition of atheism


In my discussions with atheists, they are using the term that they “lack belief in God”. They claim that this is different from not believing in God or from saying that God does not exist. I’m not sure how to respond to this. It seems to me that its a silly word-play and is logically the same as saying that you do not believe in God.
What would be a good response to this?
Thank you for your time,

[Dr. Craig:]


Your atheist friends are right that there is an important logical difference between believing that there is no God and not believing that there is a God. Compare my saying , “I believe that there is no gold on Mars” with my saying “I do not believe that there is gold on Mars.” If I have no opinion on the matter, then I do not believe that there is gold on Mars, and I do not believe that there is no gold on Mars. There’s a difference between saying, “I do not believe (p)” and “I believe (not-p).” Logically where you place the negation makes a world of difference.

But where your atheist friends err is in claiming that atheism involves only not believing that there is a God rather than believing that there is no God.

There’s a history behind this. Certain atheists in the mid-twentieth century were promoting the so-called “presumption of atheism.” At face value, this would appear to be the claim that in the absence of evidence for the existence of God, we should presume that God does not exist. Atheism is a sort of default position, and the theist bears a special burden of proof with regard to his belief that God exists.

So understood, such an alleged presumption is clearly mistaken. For the assertion that “There is no God” is just as much a claim to knowledge as is the assertion that “There is a God.” Therefore, the former assertion requires justification just as the latter does. It is the agnostic who makes no knowledge claim at all with respect to God’s existence. He confesses that he doesn’t know whether there is a God or whether there is no God.

But when you look more closely at how protagonists of the presumption of atheism used the term “atheist,” you discover that they were defining the word in a non-standard way, synonymous with “non-theist.” So understood the term would encompass agnostics and traditional atheists, along with those who think the question meaningless (verificationists). As Antony Flew confesses,

the word ‘atheist’ has in the present context to be construed in an unusual way. Nowadays it is normally taken to mean someone who explicitly denies the existence . . . of God . . . But here it has to be understood not positively but negatively, with the originally Greek prefix ‘a-’ being read in this same way in ‘atheist’ as it customarily is in . . . words as ‘amoral’ . . . . In this interpretation an atheist becomes not someone who positively asserts the non-existence of God, but someone who is simply not a theist. (A Companion to Philosophy of Religion, ed. Philip Quinn and Charles Taliaferro [Oxford: Blackwell, 1997], s.v. “The Presumption of Atheism,” by Antony Flew)

Such a re-definition of the word “atheist” trivializes the claim of the presumption of atheism, for on this definition, atheism ceases to be a view. It is merely a psychological state which is shared by people who hold various views or no view at all. On this re-definition, even babies, who hold no opinion at all on the matter, count as atheists! In fact, our cat Muff counts as an atheist on this definition, since she has (to my knowledge) no belief in God.

One would still require justification in order to know either that God exists or that He does not exist, which is the question we’re really interested in.

So why, you might wonder, would atheists be anxious to so trivialize their position? Here I agree with you that a deceptive game is being played by many atheists. If atheism is taken to be a view, namely the view that there is no God, then atheists must shoulder their share of the burden of proof to support this view. But many atheists admit freely that they cannot sustain such a burden of proof. So they try to shirk their epistemic responsibility by re-defining atheism so that it is no longer a view but just a psychological condition which as such makes no assertions. They are really closet agnostics who want to claim the mantle of atheism without shouldering its responsibilities.

This is disingenuous and still leaves us asking, “So is there a God or not?”

by William Lane Craig

[Emphasis is Eve’s]

Reblog: Trent Horn’s “Is Atheism a Belief or a Lack of Belief?”

Original post is found at Strange Notions.  Trent Horn’s book is Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity.  His blog is The Counsel of Trent.

Is Atheism a Belief or a Lack of Belief?

by Trent Horn

When asked to prove atheism is true, many atheists say that they don’t have to prove anything. They say atheism is not “belief there is no God” but merely “no belief in a God.” Atheism is defined in this context as a “lack of belief” in God, and if Catholics can’t prove God exists, then a person is justified in being an atheist. But the problem with defining atheism as simply “the lack of belief in God” is that there are already another group of people who fall under that definition: agnostics.

The “I Don’t Know’s”

Agnosticism (from the Greek word for knowledge, gnosis) is the position that a person cannot know if God exists. A strong agnostic is someone like skeptic Michael Shermer, who claims that no one is able to know if God exists. He writes, “I once saw a bumper sticker that read “Militant agnostic: I don’t know and you don’t either.” This is my position on God’s existence: I don’t know and you don’t either.”1

A weak agnostic merely claims that while he doesn’t know if God exists, it is possible that someone else may know. Agnosticism and weak atheism are very similar in that both groups claim to be “without belief in God.”2

Pope Benedict XVI spoke sympathetically of such people in a 2011 address

“In addition to the two phenomena of religion and anti-religion, a further basic orientation is found in the growing world of agnosticism: people to whom the gift of faith has not been given, but who are nevertheless on the lookout for truth, searching for God. Such people do not simply assert: ‘There is no God.’ They suffer from his absence and yet are inwardly making their way towards him, inasmuch as they seek truth and goodness. They are ‘pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace.’”

A Difference Without a Distinction

Because agnosticism seems more open-minded than atheism, many atheists are more apt to describe themselves like agnostics, who likewise have “no belief in a God,” even though they call themselves “atheist.” They say that an atheist is just a person who lacks a belief in God but is open to being proven wrong. But saying you lack a belief in God no more answers the question, “Does God exist?” than saying you lack a belief in aliens answers the question, “Do aliens exist?”

This is just agnosticism under a different name.

For example, can we say agnosticism is true? We can’t, because agnostics make no claims about the world; they just describe how they feel about a fact in the world (the existence of God). Likewise, if atheists want us to believe that atheism is true, then they must make a claim about the world and show that what they lack a belief in—God—does not exist.

Belief on Trial

An illustration might help explain the burden of proof both sides share. In a murder trial the prosecution must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the murder. But if the prosecution isn’t able to make its case, then the defendant is found “not guilty.” Notice the defendant isn’t found “innocent.”

For all we know, he could have committed the crime, but we just can’t prove it. Certain kinds of evidence, like an air-tight alibi, can show the defendant is innocent. But it is the responsibility of the defense to present that evidence.

Likewise, even if the theist isn’t able to make his case that God exists that doesn’t show God does not exist and therefore that atheism is true. As atheists Austin Dacey and Lewis Vaughn write:

“What if these arguments purporting to establish that God exists are failures? That is, what if they offer no justification for theistic belief? Must we then conclude that God does not exist? No. Lack of supporting reasons or evidence for a proposition does not show that the proposition is false.”3

If he wants to demonstrate that atheism is true, an atheist would have to provide additional evidence that there is no God just as a defense attorney would have to provide further evidence to show his client is innocent as opposed to being just “not guilty.” He can’t simply say the arguments for the existence of God are failures and then rest his case.

(This blog post is an excerpt from my newly released book, Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity.)

Nocturnal Daylight Atheism

I ran across a blog post by Daylight Atheism titled “The Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists.”  It is mostly devoid of interest, repeating a warmed-over scientism, but I noticed a wild non sequitur in the opening paragraph that deserves comment.

Here is how Daylight Atheism starts off:

In several years of debating atheism and theism, I have made an observation. Ask any believer what would convince him he was mistaken and persuade him to leave his religion and become an atheist, and if you get a response, it will almost invariably be, “Nothing – I have faith in my god.” Although such people may well exist, I personally have yet to meet a theist who would acknowledge even the possibility that his belief was in error. Many theists, by their own admission, structure their beliefs so that no evidence could possibly disprove them. In short, they are closed-minded, and have been taught to be closed-minded.

The argument is

  1. Theists will not specify conditions under which they will give up their belief in God.
  2. Therefore, theists are closed-minded.

Consider the following parallel arguments

  1. P will not specify conditions under which he will give up his belief that he exists.
  2. Therefore, P is closed-minded.
  1. P will not specify conditions under which he will give up his belief that he is conscious.
  2. Therefore, P is closed-minded.
  1. P will not specify conditions under which he will give up his belief in minds.
  2. Therefore, P is closed-minded (!).
  1. P will not specify conditions under which he will give up his belief in reality.
  2. Therefore, P is closed-minded.
  1. P will not specify conditions under which he will give up his belief in truth.
  2. Therefore P is closed-minded.
  1. P will not specify conditions under which he will give up his belief that there are beliefs.
  2. Therefore, P is closed-minded.

What Daylight Atheism seems to have overlooked is that there are many beliefs which are rationally incorrigible even if they are not rationally demonstrable.

It is useful to begin from Descartes’ famous principle Cogito Sum: “I think; I am.” The principle that I exist and am aware so long as I am aware of myself as thinking and therefore existing (a condition of the ability to think) is both rationally incorrigible and completely indemonstrable.

I cannot give an irrefutable demonstration that will rationally compel another person to conclude with anything like certainty that I am a conscious being, with thoughts and subjective awareness.  The move is always open to him to regard me simply as a body, mechanically making sounds, which have the outward appearance of claims that I am conscious. For all he knows and I can prove, I could be an automaton, utterly devoid of any subjective conscious awareness. (This is what we in philosophy call “a zombie”, or sometimes “a philosophical zombie”—to distinguish this concept from the walking dead type of zombie).

At the same time, I know, beyond any possibility of doubt, that I am conscious. I know in advance that no possible argument he could bring to bear could convince me otherwise—since my being conscious is not only directly evident to me as a basic reality, it is also the precondition for my entertaining and being convinced by any arguments whatsoever.

In short, with respect to the existence of MY consciousness, someone else and I are not in epistemically parallel situations.  Any attempt to maintain that we are, and that in order to be rationally warranted in believing that I am conscious, I must have evidence that would convince a third party that I am conscious is a fallacy of false equivalence.

And this is precisely the case with the theist and the atheist.  While it is the case that I was initially led to my belief in God at first as a purely intellectual matter, on the basis of metaphysical arguments, since then I have had experiences of God sufficient to make the matter of God’s existence rationally incorrigible for me.  When God makes His presence known to you, He sometimes does so in such a way as to leave you without any doubt. The nonexistence of God is, to use William James’ term, not a “live option” for me, no more than is the nonexistence of reality in general or my own present nonexistence.

I am aware that atheists have (presumably) not had such experiences and that my experiences do not constitute strong evidence for anyone else, since to anyone else they are merely testimony (which is, pace many atheists, actually evidence)—but to me, they are not merely testimony.

Daylight atheism is making use of a suppressed premise, namely, that “the only reason that one would refuse to specify conditions under which he would give up a belief is closed-mindedness”, that is, a willful refusal to give up a particular belief.  This suppressed premise is false.  Another perfectly good reason not to specify conditions under which one would give up a belief besides “closed-minded, willful blind faith” is “a belief’s being rationally incorrigible for me due to my privileged epistemic position with regard to this belief.”

Theists are not acting irrationally in not being willing to give up belief in God when they have direct evidence of God which is “first personal.” We know we are right; whether this sureness annoys atheists is completely beside the point. The only way an atheist could reasonably object to this is to call into question the reliability of all “subjective” experience as belief-warranting, which of course he cannot do, since all “objective” knowledge is founded upon subjectivity, that is, thought and experience.  At most he could try to argue that “only those experiences which are common to all should be considered belief-warranting”, but this is also a non-starter: it crashes and burns right away on cogito sum.

Whether or not I can produce a demonstration sufficient to convince an atheist that God exists, the atheist has no rational case that my belief in God is unwarranted.  It is entirely reasonable that my or anyone else’s belief be warranted by their experience of God.


Excerpt from Feser’s “Walter Mitty Atheism”

Edward Feser is not only an excellent philosopher, whose books The Last Superstition, Aquinas, Locke, Scholastic Metaphysics, and Philosophy of Mind are all well worth reading, but also a very fine blogger, whose blog is well worth following.  Along with Bill Vallicella’s Maverick Philosopher, Feser’s is one of my favorite philosophical blogs.  Unfortunately, Blogspot doesn’t seem to have a ‘reblog’ function, so if I want to share something of Feser’s, beyond just giving you a link, I have to do it by hand. I wrote him and asked if it would be all right for me to share parts of his blog, and he  graciously said it was fine.

I find his post “Walter Mitty atheism” to be very insightful about the psychology of at least a good number of contemporary atheists, especially those who identify as New Atheists, so here’s a lengthy excerpt.  Of course you should read the whole thing, which has details about Feser’s personal experiences with the marvel of intellectual insipidity that is Jerry Coyne, but this portion seems to me to get at the heart of something crucial, namely, that many atheists are driven, at bottom, by emotion and imagination, rather than reason.  Of course, having had long experience with Ayn Rand cultists, also known as Objectivists, I know very well that endlessly professing one’s adherence to reason is an entirely distinct thing from actually being reasonable, so it is hardly surprising to see this dynamic at work elsewhere.

Here’s Feser on what makes at least some ‘New Atheists’ tick.  I think his analysis is dead on:

Needless to say, there is something truly pathological going on here. And that, by the way, is one reason Coyne, Krauss, and company are worth at least a little of our attention. Some readers have asked me why I bother replying to people who are so extremely irrational and dishonest, and therefore unlikely to respond well to serious criticism. Part of the reason is that though Coyne, Krauss, Dawkins, and many of their fans are indeed impervious to rational argumentation, there are onlookers who are not impervious to it. And those people are reachable and worth trying to reach. After all, Coyne, Krauss, Dawkins, and some of the other better known New Atheists are, though irrational and dishonest, not stupid. In their own fields, some of them even do interesting work. For that reason, some people who know as little about philosophy and theology as they do but who are rational and honest might falsely suppose that these New Atheists must have something important to say about those particular subjects. Hence it is useful now and again to expose Coyne et al. for the frauds that they are, so that well-meaning third parties will see that they are not to be taken seriously on philosophical and theological questions. The more they make fools of themselves, the more they should be discussed rather than ignored, at least so long as there is any intellectually honest person who still somehow thinks the New Atheism is anything but a bad joke.

Another reason for paying them some attention, though, is that Coyne, Krauss, Dawkins, and company are simply genuine curiosities. Again, they are not stupid, and indeed have serious intellectual accomplishments to their credit. And yet on the subjects of religion and philosophy they are incapable of seeing that their self-confidence is laughably, cringe-makingly out of proportion to their actual competence. They exhibit exactly the sort of stubborn, bigoted closed-mindedness and ignorance that they smugly condemn when they perceive it in others. What exactly is going on here? What makes these weird people tick? That is a question of real intellectual interest.

The answer, I would suggest, is sentimentality. I use the word in a semi-technical sense, following the analysis offered in The Aesthetics of Music by Roger Scruton (who was in turn building on some ideas of Michael Tanner). A sentimental person, according to Scruton, tends to be quick to respond emotionally to a stimulus, will appear to be pained but will enjoy his pangs, will respond with equal violence to a variety of stimuli in succession, will nevertheless avoid following his emotional responses up with appropriate actions, and will respond more readily to strangers and to abstract issues than to persons known to him or to concrete circumstances requiring time, energy, or personal sacrifice. In short, a sentimental person is one whose emotional life becomes an end in itself and loses its connection both to the external circumstances that would normally shape it and to the behavior that it ought to generate. Feelings of moral outrage, romantic passion, and other emotional states become valued for their own sake to such an extent that the actual moral facts, the well-being of the beloved, etc. fade into the background.

For instance, someone who constantly chats up the plight of the homeless, but without any real interest in finding out why people become homeless or what ways of helping them are really effective, might plausibly be described as merely sentimental. “How awful things are for the homeless!” is not really the thought that moves him. What really moves him is the thought: “How wonderful I am* to think of how awful things are for the homeless!” His feelings of compassion function, not to get him to do what is necessary to help those who are homeless, but rather to provide him with assurance of his superior virtue. His high dudgeon functions, not to prod him to find out whether the homeless are really being victimized by evildoers, but rather to reinforce his assurance of his superior virtue by allowing him to contrast himself with the imagined evildoers. This kind of onanistic moralism requires a fantasy world rich enough to sustain it. Poignant or dramatic images of suffering and of injustices inflicted are far more likely to foster such fantasies than are cold statistics or the actual, mundane details of the lives of homeless people. Hence someone who is merely sentimental about homelessness might prefer movies, songs, and the like to social scientific study as a source of “information” about homelessness and its causes.

Now, the New Atheism, I submit, is exactly like this. The New Atheist talks, constantly and loudly, about reason, science, evidence, facts, being “reality-based,” etc. Equally constantly and loudly, he decries dogmatism, ignorance, wishful thinking, whatever is merely “faith-based,” etc. And he relentlessly denounces “religious” people, whom, he imagines, are central casting exemplars of the latter vices. But it is not reason, science, etc. that really move him. What really moves him is the pleasure that the thought of being paradigmatically rational, scientific, etc. gives him. Nor is he really moved by what religious people actually think. After all, he not only doesn’t trouble himself to find out what they actually think, but often will expend great energy trying to rationalize his refusal to find out what they actually think. (Consider e.g. P.Z. Myers’ shamelessly question-begging “Courtier’s reply” dodge.) Rather, what moves him is the self-righteous delight he takes in his belief in his intellectual and moral superiority over “religious” people. His “rationalism” consists, not in actually being rational, but in constantly chatting up rationality and constantly badmouthing those who, at least in his imagination, are not as rational as he enjoys believing that he is.

Here too, we have a kind of moralistic onanism which requires a rich fantasy life to support it. Finding out what thinkers like Aquinas, Leibniz, et al. actually said would completely destroy the fantasy, because they simply don’t fit the New Atheist’s caricature of religion. Hence the New Atheist nourishes his imagination instead with made-up examples of purportedly theistic ideas and argumentation, which he typically derives from reading other New Atheist writers rather than by reading what religious thinkers themselves have written. He repeatedly calls these examples to mind when he wants to reassure himself of the stupidity of religious people and of his superiority over them — especially when he encounters some religious opponent who doesn’t seem to fit his stereotype. He thinks: “First cause arguments start from the premise that ‘everything has a cause’; all such arguments founder on their inability to answer the challenge ‘What caused God?’; theism is incompatible with science, or at least presupposes outdated science; theism always ultimately rests on appeals to faith, or the Bible, or emotion…” and so forth. None of this is true, and it is all easily refuted simply by consulting the actual writings of religious thinkers. But the New Atheist is able to keep himself from seeing this by translating everything an opponent says into something he pulls from his mental bag of clichés about “what theists think.”

* This phenomenon has become so widespread today that we have developed a name for it: virtue signalling.  James Bartholomew, a writer for The Spectator, takes credit for the term, in this article, and expressing his surprise and pleasure to have introduced a new term to the English language here.  He writes:

I guess the reason that ‘virtue signalling’ has been used so much is that it fulfils a need. For years, people have noticed the phenomenon but did not have a word or phrase to describe it. One person tweeted, ‘Love it when you find out something that’s irritated you for years has a name #virtuesignalling.’ The lack of a phrase obstructed open discussion of what was going on.

I personally would like to thank Mr. Bartholomew for enriching the English language with this much-needed term, one that names the phenomenon perfectly.

To end where we began and put Feser’s thesis in a nutshell: A great many atheists are just as dogmatic and irrational as the most fanatical religious fundamentalists, but are even more insufferable because they combine their evident irrational dogmatism with incessant virtue signalling about how rational they are. 

The Word “Sex”

I’m afraid this post isn’t going to be very “sexy.” It is going to be about language.  It is going to about what I consider one of the most momentous events in the recent history of Western Civilization, not anything big, like a war or other mighty achievement, but a small event, the gradual change in the meaning of a word, and the consequences thereof.

It is an error, however, to suppose that momentous changes are always big and loud and noisy.  As Nietzsche observed, the opposite is true.  The big, loud, noisy events are always set in motion beforehand:


What does the word “sex” mean? Here is the Oxford English Dictionary:

sex, n.1
Pronunciation: Brit. /sɛks/ , U.S. /sɛks/
1. a. Either of the two main categories (male and female) into which humans and many other living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive functions; (hence) the members of these categories viewed as a group; the males or females of a particular species, esp. the human race, considered collectively.

▸a1382 Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) (Bodl. 959) (1959) Gen. vi. 19 Of all þingez hauyng soule of eny flesch: two þou schalt brynge in to þe ark, þat male sex [L. sexus] & female: lyuen with þe.
▸a1398 J. Trevisa tr. Bartholomaeus Anglicus De Proprietatibus Rerum (BL Add.) f. 303, In suche Wormes is no sexe of male and femele.
?c1400 (▸c1380) Chaucer tr. Boethius De Consol. Philos. (BL Add. 10340) (1868) iv. pr. vi. 137 Þilke same ordre neweþ aȝein alle þinges growyng and fallyng a-doune by sembleables progressiouns of seedes and of sexes, þat is to sein, male and female.
c1447 Queen Margaret To King in R. Willis & J. W. Clark Archit. Hist. Univ. Cambr. (1886) I. Introd. p. lxiii (MED), Docteurs sentences..parformyd daily twyes..to laude and honneur of sexe feminine.
1532 T. More Confutacyon Tyndales Answere ii. p. clii, I had as leue he bare them both a bare cheryte, as wyth the frayle feminyne sexe fall to far in loue.
1559 J. Aylmer Harborowe sig. E4v, Neither of them debarred the heires female..as though it had ben..vnnatural for that sexe to gouern.
a1586 Sir P. Sidney Arcadia (1590) ii. ii. sig. P3v, The sexe of womankind of all other is most bound to haue regardfull eie to mens iudgements.
1600 T. Nashe Summers Last Will sig. F3v, A woman they imagine her to be, Because that sexe keepes nothing close they heare.
1612 R. Johnson Crowne-Garland Goulden Roses sig. E8v, Our sex are given to range.
1615 H. Crooke Μικροκοσμογραϕια 274 If wee respect the..conformation of both the Sexes, the Male is sooner perfected..in the wombe.
1671 Milton Samson Agonistes 774 It was a weakness In me, but incident to all our sex.
a1704 T. Brown Satire against Woman in Wks. (1707) I. i. 82 Thy Sex are all Pandora’s; Mischiefs all.
1730 Swift Let. to Mrs. Whiteway 28 Dec. You have neither the scrawl nor the spelling of your sex.
1763 G. Williams in J. H. Jesse G. Selwyn & his Contemp. (1843) I. 265 It would astonish you to see the mixture of sexes at this place.
1768 O. Goldsmith Good Natur’d Man iv. 54 Our sex are like poor tradesmen.
1780 J. Bentham Introd. Princ. Morals & Legisl. (1789) vi. §35 The sensibility of the female sex appears..to be greater than that of the male.
1839 H. Malcom Trav. (1840) 40/1 Neither sex tattoo any part of their bodies.
1846 Ecclesiologist Feb. 41 The propriety and necessity of dividing the sexes during the publick offices of the Church.
1847 Thackeray Vanity Fair (1848) xxv. 210 She was by no means so far superior to her sex as to be above jealousy.
1864 Dickens Our Mutual Friend (1865) I. ii. i. 161 It was a school..for both sexes.
1914 Amer. Med. 9 531/1 By nature all human beings are psychically bisexual—capable of loving a person of either sex.
1958 Listener 27 Nov. 891/2 By using this technique of ‘colour-ringing’ the author was able to record the histories of some forty birds of each sex.
1980 Times 22 May 12 Once you put them on a horse the female sex are far more deadly than the male.
2007 J. Mansell Thinking of You v. 30 Gavin was an enthusiastic chatter-upper of the opposite sex.

The word ‘sex’ in English originally meant the dimorphic biological distinction between males and females, based on their nature, more specifically their role in the reproduction of the species.  The term is not limited to human beings, but is used particularly for them.  There are two sexes, male and female, man and woman.

This usage goes back into the earliest English and is in turn derived from the Latin sexus, the

state of being male or female, specific qualities associated with being male or female, males or females collectively.

So, there are two sexes, and the basis for the distinction between the two is grounded primarily in their respective roles in biological reproduction.

Now, it should be obvious that, in reproduction, males and females engage in a characteristic act.  We could call this the reproductive act, or in understanding that in human beings this act is not merely an animal act, but also an act with transcendent implications, indeed in the Western Christian tradition, a sacred and sacramental act, the marital act.

We could also, with not too much linguistic drift, speak of “the act that is the characteristic act done together by the two sexes” as “the sexual act.

But now notice what happens. “The sexual act“, that is, “the act which is the characteristic act done together by the two sexes” becomes shortened simply to “sex”, which is now the name of the act, rather than the name of a fundamental characteristic that allows those participating in the act to do so.

In this usage, “sex” is now the name of “the characteristic act done together by the two sexes in reproduction.”

From here, “sex” then becomes “any act done together by the two sexes involving their reproductive organs, even if it is not the reproductive act.”

And from here, “sex” becomes “Any act done by any person or persons involving the reproductive organs, even if it has nothing whatever to do with reproduction.”

Let us return to the O.E.D. “Sex” is also defined as

b. Physical contact between individuals involving sexual stimulation; sexual activity or behaviour, spec. sexual intercourse, copulation. to have sex (with): to engage in sexual intercourse (with).
Now the most common general sense. Sometimes, when denoting sexual activity other than conventional heterosexual intercourse, preceded by modifying adjective, as gay, oral, phone sex, etc.

1900 H. G. Wells Love & Mr. Lewisham xvii. 144 We marry in fear and trembling, sex for a home is the woman’s traffic, and the man comes to his heart’s desire when his heart’s desire is dead.
1929 D. H. Lawrence Pansies 57 If you want to have sex, you’ve got to trust At the core of your heart, the other creature.
1953 S. Kauffmann Philanderer x. 174 Her arms went around his neck and his hand rested on her waist, and they had a brief moment of friendship before the sex began.
1962 Listener 7 June 1006/2 Why wasn’t Bond ‘more tender’ in his love-making? Why did he just ‘have sex’ and disappear?
1971 Petticoat 17 July 6/2 The most conspicuous consequence of sex before marriage is the possibility of pregnancy.
1991 Locus May 38/3 She strongly disapproved of the sex and violence now making its way into young-adult fiction, under the guise of ‘problem stories’.
2005 Time 10 Oct. 45/3 Multiple studies have found most teens with same-sex attractions have had sex with both boys and girls.

Note the dates.  This usage of “sex,” which the O.E.D. rightly states to be “now the most common general sense” is very recent.  The O.E.D.’s earliest example is from 1900, technically the 20th century, albeit the very beginning. In any event, although there may be some isolated uses as far back as 1855 or so, the point is that this usage of the term “sex” is, historically, an extremely recent development.

Note what else has also happened: “sex”, reconceptualized as any act involving the sexual organs, that is, the reproductive organs, has now become a genus, that is, a class-kind under which fall many species: oral sex, anal sex, gay sex, ‘phone sex’, ‘cybersex’, etc.

The redefinition of the word “sex” forces a reconceptualization of the meaning of “sex.” If “sex” had a legitimate use as the name of an act, “the sexual act,” was synonymous with “the reproductive act,” since only the reproductive act could be “the characteristic act of the two sexes in reproduction.”

Now, however, “the reproductive act, the characteristic act that occurs between the sexes in reproduction” must be viewed as only one kind of sex among others.

Non-reproductive acts, essentially sterile acts which merely make use of the organs of reproduction now become alternate kinds of sex.  The transformation of “sex” into a genus of acts with many species thus inexorably sets up a conceptual equivalence between all kinds of “sex.”  That is, “all sex is created equal.” What was once alone entitled to be called sex, the reproductive act between male and female, the two sexes, is now implicitly placed on a par with any and all non-reproductive acts done with the organs of reproduction, and between persons of any sex.

There was a time, a very recent time, barely a century ago, when “oral sex” or “anal sex” or “same-sex sex” would have been nonsensical terms.  As non-reproductive and wholly unconnected with human biological embodiment, none of these acts could possible count as “the sexual act.”  As is known, the traditional word for such acts was “sodomy.”

I make no comment other than to note that this is how it happened:

  1. The term for the natural division of the human species into two biological “sexes” became
  2. the “characteristic reproductive act between the two sexes”, which became
  3. “any act between the two sexes that involves the reproductive organs, even if it is non-reproductive”, which became
  4. “any act involving the reproductive organs, usually but not always involving two people, sometimes the two sexes, sometimes two people of one and the same sex.”

“Sex” went from being the name of a natural characteristic of a human person, to the name of the characteristic act of the two sexes, and from there, to a genus of acts, with many species, all viewed as somehow equal—because they are all just various species of the (new) genus “sex.”

Much of the catastrophic collapse of Western Civilization which we are witnessing stems from this seemingly innocuous change in the meaning of this little word.  Here is the tiny seed that has grown into the monstrous tree we know as the sexual revolution.

If we were still capable of seeing in the term “sex” only “the reproductive act,” much could be salvaged.  I am pessimistic that this is now even possible however.

You Can’t Prove a Negative

This claim, that “you can’t prove a negative” is a kind of urban legend of logic that floats around the internet.  It isn’t true, however.

First, and most obviously, the claim “you can’t prove a negative” is itself a negative claim, so if it were true, it could not be proven to be true, according to itself, and so anyone believing it would be without rational justification for believing it or asserting it.

Besides the fact the principle is self-defeating, it is also false, and obviously so.  “This sentence does not contain 900 words” or “This sentence does not contain an adverb” are both negative claims that can easily be demonstrated by careful inspection and basic counting. This applies to innumerable negative claims.  My cat, as I write this, is not downstairs.  I know this because my cat is here asleep beside me, upstairs.

Another common way to prove a negative claim true is to prove the contradictory of the negative claim, which will be positive, to be false. This can often be done by a reductio ad absurdum, a “reduction to absurdity,” a strategy which is often used in mathematical proof.  For example, the negative claim “there is no largest prime number” is proven by making the assumption that “there is a largest prime number” and inferring logical consequences until a contradiction is reached, which proves the assumed premise to be false, which in turn proves its (negative) contradictory true.¹

Another type of proof of a negative, one that works especially well with negative existential claims, is to prove that the claim contains a contradiction.  For example, the negative claim “A man taller than himself does not exist” is proven true by showing that “a man taller than himself” is a contradiction.  We can also prove “There does not exist a three-sided square” since a square is defined as a four-sided equilateral plane figure with four right angles.

Or consider the basic logical forms Modus Ponens and Modus Tollens.  Both can easily prove negative claims:

  1. P ⇒ ¬Q
  2. P
  3. ∴ ¬Q
  1. P ⇒ Q
  2. ¬Q
  3. ∴ ¬P


  1. If the President is in Washington, D.C., the President is not in Moscow.
  2. The President is in Washington, D.C.
  3. Therefore, the President is not in Moscow.
  1. If the President is in the White House, the President is in Washington, D.C.
  2. The President is not in Washington, D.C.
  3. Therefore, the President is not in the White House.

I have no idea where this odd logical myth that “you can’t prove a negative” originated or why it is so widely believed and proclaimed, especially since it is so obviously false, and also self-defeating as a rational claim.

If I had to guess, I would say it probably gets its traction from the common perception that positive universal claims may be refuted by a single counterexample, e.g. “All swans are white” can be refuted by producing a single black swan.  But this has nothing logically to do with positive and negative.  A positive universal, an A-statement in traditional terminology, may be obverted into an E-statement, or universal negative: “All swans are white” is logically equivalent to “No swans are non-white,” a negative claim, which is equally refuted by producing a single counterexample, e.g. a black swan.

Every positive statement is logically equivalent to a negative statement, so if it were true that “you can’t prove a negative,” it would be true “you can’t prove a positive” and thus “you can’t prove anything”—which is false.  If any positive proposition whatever can be proven true, the logically equivalent proposition that it is not false can also be proven, which again, would be to prove a negative.

This silly “you can’t prove a negative” claim needs to die.

[ADDENDUM: See also “You Can’t Prove a Negative,” Part 2]



Negative existential claim: “There is no largest prime number.”


  1. Suppose there is a largest prime number, P.
  2. Let N be the number generated by multiplying all the primes from 1 to P and then adding 1. I.e. N = (2 x 3 x 5 x 7 x… x P) + 1
  3. N is either prime or N is not prime.
  4. N cannot be prime since N > P, and P is the largest prime number by 1.
  5. ∴ N is not prime.
  6. Since N is not prime it has a devisor besides 1 and N.
  7. N cannot have a prime divisor between 1 and P, since this would leave a remainder of 1,   by the way N is constructed.
  8. Since N is not prime, it must have a divisor D where D > P and D < N.
  9. If D is a prime factor of N then since D > P, P  is not the largest prime number, contradictory to 1
  10. If D is a non-prime factor of N, it will have a prime factor F > P since any number may be expressed uniquely as a product of prime numbers, none of which can be between 1 and P, since P is prime. So F is a prime number > P, which is contradictory to 1, since P is the largest prime number.
  11. Or N has no factors between 1 and N, in which case N is prime, and since N > P, there is a contradiction with 1, since P is the largest prime number (and also a contradiction to 5).
  12. ∴ There is no largest prime number P.