From an empirical perspective, our understanding of the universe, such as it is, does not require a divine first mover to account for things. However, that a something is not necessary does not entail that it necessarily does not exist, and that is the modal fallacy atheists slip into when they cite that as evidence of for their stance.
So, science can't really provide proof one way or the other. If observed mechanisms may account for everything, a confirmed theist can derive no comfort; if a supernatural origin or intervention cannot be excluded, the atheist is left begging, too. At this point, someone chirps in with William of Ockham's bathroom accoutrements, but let's not go there - it is definitely the topic of a thread unto itself which I am sure already exists.
In terms of philosophy, no knock down argument has yet been forwarded that compels assent through the brute force of logic. I may be wrong about that, and will be most grateful to whomever puts me right if I am.
If science and logic can not provide the 'proof' Ms Atwood alludes to, maybe Tractarian Wittgenstein can help. That which famously cannot be spoken of can, perhaps, be experienced and discussed, even if a logical resolution is not on the cards. Just as we can enter into the beauty (or not) of The Mona Lisa by taking a look, engaging in some introspection and then sharing our impressions, so it is that those who have had a sense of the numinous may compare notes, and patterns may arise that, while not ultimately furnishing definitive proof one way or the other, may persuade us to seek the experience out for ourselves.
This is were I differ from run of the mill agnosticism; if the proof of the pudding lies in the eating, you better go buy you some pudding and a spoon...if you want an answer, get reading, talk to folk who have been there and done it, and if you are really keen do it yourself. Too often 'agnosticism' serves as a word to hide behind in lieu of admitting apathy or ignorance.
In Ms Atwood's case, professing agnosticism while also professing to believe for aesthetic reasons comes across as an artistic conceit or a spur of the moment evasion. She is saying she has no rational grounds to believe but believes because it pleases her to; in that case, she subscribes to a rather superficial theism, and so is not an agnostic.
To clarify that - consider someone who has embraced tradition without reflection and so believes in god. They have no rational grounds for that belief (like Ms Atwood), yet few would term them an agnostic. Likewise, someone who has come to a belief in god through some manner of epiphany has no rational grounds for belief, yet would hardly be termed an agnostic.
An agnostic, surely, is one open to the possibility of a divine presense, yet crucially uncommitted in the absense of evidence, persuasive argument or personal revelation. A meaningful agnostic is one who is actually out to resolve the issue one way or the other, but that is certainly my personal spin on things.
So, to ramble onto a conclusion: Is Ms Atwood an agnostic? No, she is not, demonstrably not, and her saying she is matters not a jot, unless one goes in for the 'this is my truth' line of argument, at which point we had best start fortifying the libraries against the collapse of rational discourse and the advent of a new Dark Age...
Rhetorical mode enters the picture at some point: are we out to inform or to persuade? The two are not the same at all, and the dirty tricks are loaded towards the persuasion end of the spectrum.
Not all discourse sets out to compel consent; we speak of things to stimulate criticism, work out our own thoughts, explore and collaborate - you will, I am sure, be able to develop the list. In so far as that is true, the issue of whether or not we need make the effort to persuade the incorrigible may be a moot point; we may engage them with something else in view.
I feel the best response to barbarity is civilisation backed by force; in this context, poise and wit backed by erudition and rhetorical skill. That is not to say one has to adopt the Wildean pose; Gerard Deperdieu's Cyrano de Bergerac is the model I'd favour - Renaissance geezer , brawling enlightenment person.
Respond we must, as the alternative is to allow the ape-creatures free range with all the ghastliness that is liable to follow on from that. In practise, it is quite easy to run rings around the tree-dwellers, usually encouraging them to give it up and dedicate their energies to discovering fire.
I understand how intimidating it may seem when contemplating posting on a board full of yowling noises, but provided its readership is not entirely simian a good post is the proverbial whiff of grapeshot. Given the choice, most people prefer to read well written, well argued stuff and will back its producers against the branch thrashing chorus of disapproval.
To summarise: debating strategy = erudition, wit, rhetorical skill, brass-neck.
Indeed, David, you are a naughty person, and so I feel it right that be quoted in full.
Now, if we edit that to
it is 1934, the place Moscow, and your destination, David, somewhere in the woods around Omsk.
As Hugo said, there is something about the internet that draws the shreiking denouncer out of us all (except us, of course, for we are just fab). That 'discussion' is fascinating in that it is the spectacle of grown adults breaking open their Ids online for all to fork through - splendid stuff.
Also, interesting to see how Popper pops up as the pin up boy; hasn't he been rather badly refuted on all counts? And he had stupid big ears (but I'm a Wittgenstein kiddie, and would say that, in my open neck shirt and deck chair).
The Paedophile special was a terrific send up of sensationalist journalism in the UK that flew over the heads of the sensationalist media who hounded The Chris for daring to address the issue, and who had themselves been responsible for creating the atmosphere bordering on hysteria in the first place.
Full text here for the curious...
In a sense, those who miss the point and react become part of the satirical act - the audience either digs it or digs it not but responds with indifference.
Jam (Blue Jam, in its original radio incarnation) broadened the scope of the act to encompass an entire society, systematically ripping into hypocrisy at all levels, pretty much no taboo left unbroken. The editors who went onto the offensive over jokes about child murder and abortion missed the point and joined the freak show; they crossed the line between spectator and unwitting actor.
Satire (be it 'The Modest Proposal' or the Brass Eye 'Paedophile Special') assumes the complicity of its audience, which is tantimount to preaching to the converted. Which is not a criticism of it at all; I adore satire. That is just what it is.
It subverts as it renders ridiculous what was, perhaps, overlooked or hidden from sight which, as Hugo notes, leads one to look further than perhaps one otherwise would. Good satire also leads one to question assumptions, which is a fine thing indeed.
Case in point: When Chris Morris and his team succeeded in having an MP address a question to the House of Commons on the danger posed by the drug 'CAKE' (...which can be made in a kitchen with ingredients obtainable in any supermarket...), one is led to wonder how such mediocre intellects couıld have been tolerated to enter the chaber in the first place. A simple but effective subversion of the party political system; voting for a faction rather than an indivdual is likely to result in this level of incompetence in a body sanctioned to start wars.
I believe this has more power than a direct accusation because it involves an application of reductio ad absurdum; the worthlessness or evil of the thing satirised has been demonstrated rather than simply asserted. However, being recondite by nature, satire tends to have a limited appeal, usually to those who already get it, so its impact is perhaps not so great.
For me (as a new guy), this is the heart of it; this is one of the few fora I know of that is civil. It is a splendid site that has stimulated some good, very well moderated discussion, and it would be a pity to see it diminshed by the loss of the board.
I've been involved in establishing and moderating a board recently, and can but say that patience pays off. In the end, the word on the cyber street brings in the punters, and the majority will assume the role of spectator for any one of a myriad of reasons. The view count, however, tells its own story, and if the board has an audience, and a regular audience at that, it has made it.
This is the first philosophy board I've participated on (actually, the set of boards of any stripe I've participated on is tiny) as it is genuinely erudite, mature and engaging. Like the site itself, I have the sense that the people behind it care about the things I care about, and are into promoting a Renaissance sensibility through a medium dominated by emoticon soundbite posturing. It has value in that it is a fine thing.
For what it is worth, I counsel patience; this place has enormous potential, and will mature into something to be truly proud of. Links can be posted on kindred sites and boards (hard work for someone, there - something for the community to pitch into), the view count raised and new faces will assuredly emerge.
Shades of Uncle Monty's 'We are, perhaps, the last Island of Beauty in the world', but there we have it. Most of the net is tosh, this place is fab, it is worth preserving, nurturing.
There are two kinds of genteel - tea drinking, curtain twitching namby genteel, and Val Kilmer in Tombstone. I certainly belong to the latter camp, and so I suspect and expect does the rest of this board.
Courtesy and forbearance are necessary on a good board (as they are in life) as the alternatives are ghastly. I know you have a policy against naming and shaming other boards, but [mumbles] is a good example of this. Supposed authorities on the logical black arts get together to discuss [mumbles], and the result is a distopia. Uncivil, charmless wasteland of posturing, chest thumping [mumbles].
They believe 'stupid' ideas should be rejected a priori and their advocates slandered. Me? I believe refuting a stupid idea according to the same rules I'd apply to billet doux from Heidegger is courteous and may actually lead to someplace interesting.
So, one shouldn't give into the Dark Side. Dismiss the speaker if they turn abusive, but never dismiss their speech.
As for playing to the reading public, I believe it pays to assume they possess an abundance of wit and erudition as it may well attract people with an abundance of wit and erudition, and lead those who have yet to acquire it to contemplate getting a move on and getting themselves a hot slice of renaissance sensibility.
I'll be referring students to the essays on rhetoric, logic and the fallacies, as they are a good, friendly introduction to the topic. They provide a good inroad towards the magnificient Sylva Rhetoricae, which despite its lovliness is too damn scary for most people new to the field.
Umberto Eco has taken much that is Borgesian and run with it; The Name of the Rose is a book about men who see the world entirely through books set against the search for a book in a library which is in fact...but there is a thread in itself on what the library really is...
Eco has spoken of the idea of 'background books' - a big part of cultural discourse is reference to shared texts. His own novels are imbued with that notion; they are at once fiction and semiotic tracts exploring or satirising currents in contempory thought. Intertextuality a go go.
Of all Borges's book stories, my fave is The Book of Sand. What would be the consequence of setting a book with infinite pages alight...
I'm always a bit alarmed by people who criticise philosophy for being 'useless'? Must the world only be filled with 'useful' things? Toilet paper is useful - but I do not aspire to it, and seldom if ever dedicate time to discussing it.
Wilde says in the intro to The Picture of Dorian Grey that the sole jusification of a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. That may be enough justification for the existence of philosophical disourse - it enriches life. Useful things may make life possible, but admirable useless things make it worth living.
But then again, if philosophy is the process of attaining clarity through the exercise of reason and imagination, I can conceive few things quite so essential. It enriches life and at once forms the basis of the art of living well.
But then I am a Wittgo-Wildean Borges chile, and would say that.
Indeed - the 'thesis, antithesis, synthesis' thing was apparently ripped from his introduction; people ran with it because they liked it.
I think dialectic reasoning in the sense of 'life consists in the reconciliation of opposing forces' falls for a bag full of reasons. Can opposing forces really be reconciled? Always? Is there really a need? This reconciliation is characterised as leading to 'progress'; well, my inverted commas say it all.
It appealed to Neo Classicists because it was eloquent and to Romantics because it was dynamic, violent, even. Its appeal was aesthetic, rather than rational.
On the other hand, dialectic in the original sense was the art of serious conversation. It provided guidance on how to bring logic to bear on problems as they occur in the field, so to speak. In so far as that is the case, it has tremendous value.