Friday, March 04, 2011

Load-bearing Beliefs vs. Cosmetic Beliefs

I've been arguing a lot recently on various other blogs, mostly about the standoff in Wisconsin between the governor and the teachers' union. (I'm for the union, obviously.) Like an idiot, I went in thinking that since my position makes a lot of sense, at least to me, I'd be able to convince the people I was arguing with to if not change their minds than at least see that there was another reasonable point of view.

Instead, I found myself responding to not to just a couple of counterpoints, but to a number of arguments multiplying so fast that I couldn't possibly keep up. I'd attack the first six, and not only would I not have convinced my opponents, but there would suddenly be six more arguments on top. If I attacked those, there would be six more. No arguments were ever conceded, either, so they could cheerfully go right back to the first six arguments if they ever ran out of new ones. This is a not a new insight -- people have compared arguing with certain people to playing Whac-a-mole.

I was thinking about how frustrating this situation is, though, and I realized that not all of the arguments are equally important. Some arguments reflect the genuine reasons the person believes in their position, while others are arguments they just think will help their case. I'd like to call these load-bearing arguments and cosmetic arguments.

Load-bearing arguments

These are the only arguments that matter. If you can convince someone that a load-bearing argument is false, then it will rock their belief. It won't necessarily convince them, because if their belief is psychologically important to them, they'll quickly shove a bunch of other arguments under there and hope they hold, but you're not wasting your time. If you could convince them that the load-bearing argument is false, it's going to at least temporarily shake their confidence.

Cosmetic Arguments

These arguments are just for show. They exist to create the appearance that the belief is supported by a vast and ever-multiplying array of arguments, but they are just decoys. Upon examination, not only do they not hold up, but you realize even this particular believer isn't convinced by them.

It's important to realize that an argument is load-bearing or cosmetic for a particular person -- it's not an objective categorization. One person's load-bearing argument might be another's cosmetic one and vice-versa. There are some arguments, though, that are always cosmetic.

Some examples

Let's take abortion. I think "God says it's wrong" is a load-bearing argument. If (obviously a big "if") you could convince a person who uses this argument either that God does not exist or that He does not say it's wrong, it would shake their belief. Again, it's possible that they would hold onto it by putting other arguments under it, but there would have been a moment when the belief was actually at risk.

"Abortion is murder," on the other hand, is a cosmetic argument for most people. If you could convince someone who says this that abortion and murder aren't exactly the same, they would likely still oppose abortion without ever wavering. That's because they don't really believe this argument in the first place -- their belief rests on a different argument entirely. (As evidence that they don't really believe abortion is murder, they would send a woman who killed a baby to jail, but would never send a woman who has an abortion to jail.)

How about our old favorite, the existence of God. I think some version of the Argument from Design is often a load-bearing argument. I'm not talking about the formal argument -- I don't think formal arguments are good representations of how people actually think -- but the genuine intuition that some intelligent being must be responsible for the dazzling complexity of the universe. If you can convince a believer that the universe *could* have come about without a designer, you will often have genuinely shaken their belief. Again, they might not be convinced, they can shove other arguments under their belief, but there will be that moment of panic. I think that's what happened to my belief in God. Hawking shook it with A Brief History of Time and Dawkins sealed the deal with The Blind Watchmaker.

That's why Darwin was so revolutionary and why he is still so reviled by many religious people -- he didn't just disprove a literal reading of Genesis, he demolished the Argument from Design as it applies to biology and human beings. Even though he didn't explain why the universe exists, how the planets formed, or even how life began, it was enough of a blow to the idea of a Designer that it convinced a lot of people, himself (probably?) included, that God does not exist.

Note that the Argument from Design is not load-bearing for all believers. Some believe that they have personally witnessed God or that they can see him in everyday life. For them, the Argument from Design is a cosmetic argument and this other thing is the load-bearing one. Convince them that the universe could have come about without God and it won't shake them. But if (huge if) you could convince them that what they experienced was a hallucination, for example, or that what they took to be God's influence was really a series of coincidences, then their belief would be rocked.

I think the Ontological Argument is a rare argument that is *always* cosmetic in all its forms:
When we hear the words "that than which a greater cannot be thought", we understand what the words convey, and what we understand exists in our thoughts. This then exists either only in our thoughts or both in thought and reality. But it cannot exist only in our thoughts, because if it existed only in our thoughts, then we could think of something greater than it, since we could think of something than which a greater cannot be thought that exists both in thought and in reality, and it is a contradiction to suppose we could think of something greater than that than which nothing greater can be thought. Hence, that than which a greater cannot be thought exists both in thought and in reality. Therefore, that than which a greater cannot be thought really does exist, and in later chapters of the Proslogion Anselm argues that this being has the traditional attributes of God like being the omnipotent creator.

I can't imagine anybody's belief rests on such an obvious gimmick.

How to Tell the Difference

Again, most arguments can be either load-bearing or cosmetic, depending on the believer. It's all about the genuine reason the believer believes, and that might be ultimately unknowable. However, I think there are some clues.

Cleverness

Some arguments are clever, and the believer might be proud of them. This is usually an indication that it came after the belief already existed and is used simply to score points -- that's why the believer is proud of it. The Ontological Argument, discussed above, is a prime example.

When I was in yeshiva, we were talking with our rabbi about the "apparent" contradiction between an omniscient God and free will. (In Orthodox Judaism, playing Resolve that Contradiction! is a popular pastime, both in casual conversation and in Torah study.) I came up with an analogy. I said we people living in this century can look back at people living in the last century and know that they chose X instead of Y and yet they still had free will. So, since God exists outside of time, it's pretty much the same thing.

The rabbi was delighted and the other students smiled and nodded and I was really proud of myself for coming up with such a clever argument. The argument, though, now that I don't believe, is obviously bullshit. Even if we allow for a God that exists "outside of time," he also must be "inside of time," because he allegedly interacted with the universe in the past. Therefore, he knew about people's choices before they made them and the contradiction still stands.

If someone had pointed out the flaw in my argument to me then, I would have shrugged and been like, "Oh yeah, good point" but my underlying belief in God (and free will) wouldn't have been shaken for even an instant. That's what makes it a cosmetic argument.

Tentativeness

Oftentimes, a believer will offer up an argument or several tentatively. Now, obviously, there's nothing wrong with offering an argument tentatively rather than confidently, especially if it's a bad one or one not yet investigated or challenged, but it's on obvious indicator that it's not load-bearing. Either the person does not yet believe the conclusion of the argument (hence the tentativeness) or the person already believes the conclusion and the argument is just cosmetic.

For example, in this thread at the great XGH's, commenter Thanbo offers four "solutions" to the same problem - the conflict between the Documentary Hypothesis and the belief that God dictated the Five Books to Moses - and adds "I'm sure there are others I haven't thought of." Clearly, regardless of the merits of the individual arguments, they are all cosmetic because if you knocked them down, it won't affect Thanbo's belief. He's sure there are others.

I find that a lot of believers who think of themselves as more open-minded (but not so open-minded that their brains fall out!) do this. They see a contradiction in their beliefs and are too "open-minded" to either pretend it doesn't exist or to pretend that any particular argument resolves it, so they'll say well this could be a solution or that could be a solution, etc. Ultimately, if you destroy every "solution" they offer, they'll just shrug and concede that it's an issue, but it won't shake their faith in the slightest.

Arguments that don't directly support the belief

Some "arguments" don't really support the belief in question. For example, Pascal's Wager is more of an attempt to convince the audience that it's in their self-interest to believe than it is an argument that the belief in question is true. Arguments that not believing would have adverse effects (religion makes me happy and healthy or it keeps me behaving) might point to explanations for a person's belief, but they aren't load-bearing because knocking them down would not directly affect the person's belief.

Conclusion

Engaging with cosmetic arguments is a waste of time if you're trying to convince a believer (in anything) that they are wrong. In the best case, defeating a cosmetic argument might cause the believer to start questioning the source of that argument, but in no case will it directly lead to a change in belief. It's probably still a waste of time to engage with a load-bearing argument since it's so hard to convince anybody of anything, but that is where you should direct your efforts if you decide to argue. It's the only one that matters.

21 comments:

Human Ape said...

This is off-topic so delete this comment if you want.

I just want to say a real atheist would throw out the religious label "Jewish". I used to be a Catholic but I don't call myself a Catholic atheist.

I know "Jewish" can mean something other than a belief in Judaism, but still a real atheist would throw it out.

http://darwinkilledgod.blogspot.com/

G*3 said...

This post is very good.

Human Ape, what in the world is a "real atheist?"

And while I wouldn't presume to speak for Jewish Atheist, I see using "Jewish" to describe myself much the same way as using "American."

apikores said...

very nice post JA.

Human Ape: I also consider myself a Jewish atheist, and I think my atheism is pretty damn "real" (I ascribe to Dysteleological Physicalism, as Sean Carrol would call it [google it]). As you say, Jewish can mean something other than religious belief, and I'd claim that there are many (if not most) Jews who feel this way. So why would you say that a real atheist would throw it out?

Sadie Lou said...

I love this post. I love learning about debate, reasoning, arguments and tactics. I found this to be quite informational, even though you were using believers as an example of an "opponent".
The first verse in Scripture that resonated with me was Rev. 3:20
"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me."

I had so many questions and I saw this verse as an invitation from Jesus to invite him in so we could eat (and talk...DEBATE). I was on the debate team at school and I have always learned concepts really well by debating with them/against them. It's interesting to me that God used an invite to debate to draw me in and that debating is a thread that He has used in my life ever since. Even now, I have a window on my computer open to Christianity.com where I'm debating on doctrines with other believers.
Paul was a debater. It's all good.
:)

Jewish Atheist said...

Human Ape:

An atheist is someone who does not believe in god(s). A "real" atheist is someone who really does not believe in god(s). Even those wacky Raelians are "real" atheists.

I get where you're going about the Jewish label, and the truth is it is less relevant to me than it was even a couple of years ago, as my social circle includes more and more non-Jews. Still, though, I feel it's a (cultural and/or ethnic) part of me that will always be there.


Human Ape and G*3: thanks! :-)


Sadie,

Thanks for the nudge the other day!

Interesting what you write about that verse -- I'm not sure I've heard other Christians say they were attracted to anything like that about Christianity before. I know that evangelists for Orthodox Judaism (to non-Orthodox Jews) often claim that questions are welcomed and point to the characters in the Torah/OT who argue even with God, but I've found reality doesn't really hold up to those claims. Anybody who asks uncomfortable questions and doesn't immediately accept the "answers" seems to find themselves labeled and shunned, in my experience.

G*3 said...

> Anybody who asks uncomfortable questions and doesn't immediately accept the "answers" seems to find themselves labeled and shunned, in my experience.

mine too.

dbackdad said...

JA -- Great post, as usual. It's an important distinction to separate the "load-bearing" vs. the "cosmetic". I think we have all been in extremely long discussions (on blogs and otherwise) that get caught up in the minutiae of cosmetic arguments. And this is not just a criticism of the opposing viewpoint. Atheists can get caught wasting too much time defending cosmetic arguments. For ex. the question of a defining morality. Christians will posit that without God, how would we know what is right and wrong? Atheists will spend a lot of time explaining other ways in which right and wrong can be decided (Sam Harris' The Moral Landscape is a great one) ... and that is a good and important discussion. But, fundamentally, it has nothing to do with proving the existence of God.

The Hedyot said...

Really great analysis! Thanks.

Sadie Lou said...

"Thanks for the nudge the other day!"
>>> You're quite welcome. I have always enjoyed my time on your blog.

"Interesting what you write about that verse -- I'm not sure I've heard other Christians say they were attracted to anything like that about Christianity before."

I gave my testimony to a group of believers about a month ago and they were all surprised by it too. Although I don't know why the whole debate thing hasn't come up before. The book of Acts is full of it. Paul was an excellent debater and people respected him.

Acts 17:2
And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures,

Acts 17:17
So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.

Acts 18:4
And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.

Acts 18:19
And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.

Acts 24:25
And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.”

Jesus was the very best debater although his audience really didn't want to debate him as much as they wanted to kill him. :)


"Anybody who asks uncomfortable questions and doesn't immediately accept the "answers" seems to find themselves labeled and shunned, in my experience."
>>> Really? I think it depends on the questioning. It's all about the intention and motivation for the questioning. I think sometimes, people question doctrine that is solid and proven and they begin to question it as though they have some "new" enlightenment on the issue and I am always skeptical of folks who "hear from God" in a way that doesn't line up with Scripture. Those people border on false teachings/doctrine and the Bible warns us to test everything.

Jewish Atheist said...

It's all about the intention and motivation for the questioning.

Yes, they used that as well. It seemed like if your intentions were to find out the rabbis' answers to a particular question, it was fine, but if you were genuinely skeptical about something, then your motives were impure and they wouldn't engage. In other words, you have to believe before you ask or you aren't allowed to ask.

Sadie Lou said...

"but if you were genuinely skeptical about something, then your motives were impure and they wouldn't engage. In other words, you have to believe before you ask or you aren't allowed to ask."

That just seems ass backwards to me. I was talking about believers and their intentions/motivations.
Unbelievers can ask all the questions they want and we are to be prepared to give an answer for what we believe. To turn away someone who is genuinely skeptical is lame-sauce.

Random said...

First of all, I ain't going to say this is such a good post that it was worth waiting five months for, but it's a seriously good post nonetheless:-) I love the concept of "load bearing" vs. "cosmetic" arguments, and may well steal it some day...

Some thoughts on the detail (you knew this was coming) -

"Let's take abortion. I think "God says it's wrong" is a load-bearing argument."

""Abortion is murder," on the other hand, is a cosmetic argument for most people."

I think I have to disagree with you here. I don't think the first is a load bearing argument and the second is cosmetic, I think they're two steps in the same logic chain. The reasoning is straightforward, AFAIK, abortion is never directly condemned in divine law (though the Church Fathers opposed it from very early times), however what is very firmly stated in the law is "Thou shalt not kill." You therefore have to establish that abortion is murder (or at the very least, homicide) before you can explicitly say that it is forbidden by God. If the second half of the argument falls, so does the first.

I would have thought a cosmetic argument would be something like those cute pictures of a foetus sucking it's thumb - we know abortion destroys something beautiful, thank you. Saying so doesn't prove it's wrong.

"I think some version of the Argument from Design is often a load-bearing argument."

I'm glad you put the word "often" in there, becuse it's always struct me as a cosmetic argument. Frankly, "I can't imgine how this could have happened, therefore God must have done it" strikes me as logically equivalent to saying "I haven't the first clue how an engine could work, therefore my car is being pulled by an invisible horse." Faith needs to rest on more compelling foundations than our inability to contemplate alternatives.

However, this - "I think that's what happened to my belief in God. Hawking shook it with A Brief History of Time and Dawkins sealed the deal with The Blind Watchmaker."

Strikes me as the inverse of the above argument, in that you have found a "design" that satisfies you intellectually, and concluded that it leaves no room for God. This strikes me as equally shaky to be honest, in that it places excessive weight on the subjective inclinations of the observer.

"That's why Darwin was so revolutionary and why he is still so reviled by many religious people -- he didn't just disprove a literal reading of Genesis, he demolished the Argument from Design as it applies to biology and human beings."

Actually Darwin himself seems to have endorsed the argument from design - as he put it in his autobiography he accepted the existence of God due to "the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist."

It's certainly true to say he had long since ceased to be a Christian in any meaningful sense, and did not adhere to any other religion, but he still seemed to retain a belief in God as a first cause. At most he provided the tools for others to use to demolish as they wished.

(To be continued, apparently I maxed out the character count.)

Random said...

Part two...

"Some arguments are clever, and the believer might be proud of them. This is usually an indication that it came after the belief already existed and is used simply to score points -- that's why the believer is proud of it."

I think this is uncharitable. It may simply be the case that the believer has not ceased to think about their beliefs even after satisfying himself of their truth and is develping new layers of meaning and texture as he does so. Have you never had the experience of contemplating something that interested you, and experiencing a sudden flash of insight as something that was puzzling you or you never even considered suddenly becomes clear?

"Either the person does not yet believe the conclusion of the argument (hence the tentativeness) or the person already believes the conclusion and the argument is just cosmetic."

There is a third option - the person believes the conclusion and the argument, but doesn't feel confident to rigorously explain how the former is derived from the latter and is offering it up in the hope that somebody wiser (or at least more learned) can either fill in the argument or show why it's flawed. File this under "there's no such thing as a stupid question."

"Engaging with cosmetic arguments is a waste of time if you're trying to convince a believer (in anything) that they are wrong. In the best case, defeating a cosmetic argument might cause the believer to start questioning the source of that argument, but in no case will it directly lead to a change in belief. It's probably still a waste of time to engage with a load-bearing argument since it's so hard to convince anybody of anything, but that is where you should direct your efforts if you decide to argue. It's the only one that matters."

Emphatically agree. Cosmetic arguments are like the pawns on a chessboard - capable of causing a great deal of confusion and distraction if you let them, but the game is won by smashing through and taking out the king.

I would say with respect to this though -

" It's probably still a waste of time to engage with a load-bearing argument since it's so hard to convince anybody of anything,"

That, at least in a public forum like this you may hope to convince the audience even if you can't convince the person you are debating with, or at the very least you may force the person you are debating with to defend their position more intelligently, which isn't a waste either.

Good to have you back, dude...

Baruch Spinoza said...

About Abortion is murder thing, I know that was just an example, but I have a slightly different argument that I usually do not hear other people use.

When somebody tells me that "Abortion is murder", I may respond back and say "Meat is Murder".

Yes, I acknowledge, I stole that line from certain vegetarian activists who go around saying "meat is murder".

But these vegetarians do have a point. Meat is murder. Eating a cow is murder. But we have reasons to why we do not consider this to be evil.

So I agree that abortion is murder. But my question is so what? Murder is not inherently wrong in and of itself. Eating animals can be argued is okay to do. Killing them in a painful manner for your amusement or an in inhumane manner to eat them can be argued to be wrong. But murder itself was not wrong here. It was what was done that determined that.

In the case of the fetus I would ask the question of why it is wrong to kill the fetus in the first place.

Opponents of abortion say killing is evil so abortion is evil. But you need to make them clarify exactly when is killing okay and when it is not.

Once they answer that part then you can go on and explain why abortion is awesome. I personally think everyone should have at least one abortion in their lives, I had several.

Jewish Atheist said...

Ok, let's try this again.

Hey Random! Good to see you.

I didn't really get into the psychology of these beliefs and probably I should have. (Obviously I'm no scientist, but I have spent a lot of time thinking about beliefs.)

I don't think the human mind is a rational machine and I especially don't think load-bearing arguments are primarily logical. I think genuine beliefs and the load-bearing arguments that support them sit at a deeper level of the psyche. That's how we can have beliefs that we ourselves know on some level are irrational. (e.g. phobias, anxiety, depressive thoughts, etc.)

So when you talk about a causal chain having two steps, I don't think that's the sort of thing that could be a load-bearing argument. It could convince someone to believe, but once they believed, it would be simplified to the load-bearing argument of "God says it's wrong" or something.

I would have thought a cosmetic argument would be something like those cute pictures of a foetus sucking it's thumb

And this is exactly the kind of thing that could be a load-bearing "argument"! I'm sure some people might actually believe abortion to be wrong because they think of fetuses as cute. You write "Saying so doesn't prove it's wrong" but you don't have to prove anything in a load-bearing argument, you just have to believe it.

Faith needs to rest on more compelling foundations than our inability to contemplate alternatives.

Again, I disagree. I think a lot of people's faith rests on those foundations. Perhaps what you mean is that it *should* rest on more compelling foundations, and on that I agree. But I think people who aren't as curious or skeptical as you and I rest all kinds of beliefs on such foundations.

you have found a "design" that satisfies you intellectually, and concluded that it leaves no room for God. This strikes me as equally shaky to be honest, in that it places excessive weight on the subjective inclinations of the observer.

Ah, but I'm trying to describe my internalized load-bearing argument. This is what I think really underlies my belief. Reading Hawking and Dawkins, I imagined for the first time a universe without God and it was just more compelling. BOOM! Paradigm shift, to use the oft-maligned phrase. It's not a logical proof and there's not much I can say to convince someone else that this paradigm makes more sense if they just don't see it that way, but I think that's my real load-bearing argument.

Jewish Atheist said...

(cont.)

Actually Darwin himself seems to have endorsed the argument from design

I don't think so. I think the quote you offer describes his reflection of how he used to think. It's also clear that he censored some of his beliefs at times for his wife and "the masses." He also wrote this in his autobiography:

"The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection had been discovered. We can no longer argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by man. There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows. Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws." (p.87)

I think this is uncharitable. It may simply be the case that the believer has not ceased to think about their beliefs even after satisfying himself of their truth and is develping new layers of meaning and texture as he does so.

The point is, he already believes, so the new argument is not necessary (but may or may not be sufficient.)

There is a third option - the person believes the conclusion and the argument, but doesn't feel confident to rigorously explain

Hmm, so it could be a load-bearing argument by someone who's healthily skeptical about his belief. That seems like an unfortunately rare case.

That, at least in a public forum like this you may hope to convince the audience even if you can't convince the person you are debating with

Great point. I was just quoting that awesome dialog from Thank You for Smoking recently:

[Nick Naylor and his son arguing about ice cream]
Joey: So, what happens when you're wrong?
Nick: Well, Joey, I'm never wrong.
Joey: But you can't always be right.
Nick: Well, if it's your job to be right, then you're never wrong.
Joey: But what if you are wrong?
Nick: Okay, let's say that you're defending chocolate and I'm defending vanilla. Now, if I were to say to you, "Vanilla's the best flavor ice cream", you'd say …?
Joey: "No, chocolate is."
Nick: Exactly. But you can't win that argument. So, I'll ask you: So you think chocolate is the end-all and be-all of ice cream, do you?
Joey: It's the best ice cream; I wouldn't order any other.
Nick: Oh. So it's all chocolate for you, is it?
Joey: Yes, chocolate is all I need.
Nick: Well, I need more than chocolate. And for that matter, I need more than vanilla. I believe that we need freedom and choice when it comes to our ice cream, and that, Joey Naylor, that is the definition of liberty.
Joey: But that's not what we're talking about.
Nick: Ah, but that's what I'm talking about.
Joey: But … you didn't prove that vanilla's the best.
Nick: I didn't have to. I proved that you're wrong, and if you're wrong, I'm right.
Joey: But you still didn't convince me.
Nick: Because I'm not after you. I'm after them.



Spinoza:

I agree that "meat is murder" is a good response to "abortion is murder." They are both bad argument for the same reason (circular logic) and hardly anybody believes both.

Sadie Lou said...

*waves at Random*

Hey! Nice to see you again! It's always a pleasure to watch you debate...impressive.
:)

Random said...

"So when you talk about a causal chain having two steps, I don't think that's the sort of thing that could be a load-bearing argument. It could convince someone to believe, but once they believed, it would be simplified to the load-bearing argument of "God says it's wrong" or something."

That formulation I agree with. I think part of the reason for the discussion here is that we are using terms in slightly different ways - I'm using argument in the context of something that supports a larger theorem, whereas you are using it more as a synonym for the larger theorem. At least that'show it seems to me, but it's after midnight here and I'm tired:-)

"I think a lot of people's faith rests on those foundations. Perhaps what you mean is that it *should* rest on more compelling foundations, and on that I agree."

You're right, should is better. If you don't have the foundations though you will struggle to defend it on a level more profound than "it feels right to me."

"I don't think so. I think the quote you offer describes his reflection of how he used to think. It's also clear that he censored some of his beliefs at times for his wife and "the masses." He also wrote this in his autobiography:

"The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection had been discovered.""

I don't think that disproves the point I made - Paley's argument of design is that you can tell the presence of a Creator in the perfection of specific created forms, such as the bivalve mentioned (he was in fact the inventor of the watchmaker analogy which Richard Dawkins famously shot down in one of his earlier works). Darwin still seemed to see a place for a God of first causes.

Darwin variously described himself as a deist and an agnostic, but he always rejected the label of atheist, even when others attempted to attach it to him.

"I agree that "meat is murder" is a good response to "abortion is murder." They are both bad argument for the same reason (circular logic) and hardly anybody believes both."

In the interests of politeness, I was going to ignore Spinoza's post. But, seeing as you've picked it up...

"Murder" is a word with a specific definition, not a catch all term for killing. Specifically it requires criminal intent to deliberately take a life, and I'm happy to accept that in the vast majority of cases the desire to take a life is not in the forefront of motives for people having abortions. This is why I introduce the term homicide in my own response as it allows a somewhat wider range of motivations.

Sadie Lou - hiya! Nice to see you on this thread too:-)

Baal Habos said...

Nice post and I like the distinction between load-bearing and cosmetic!

I_affe said...

I just want to add that a message board is like a public forum. You're not necessarily going to change the minds of the people you're arguing with. But rather it's the numerous lurkers, those who read the board, but never comment whose minds are up for grabs. They greatly outnumber the commenters on any website.

I_Affe said...

Opps, I see someone else mentioned it before me. Disregard my comment.