On the Deceptions of David Wood
By Richard Carrier (2005)
David Wood has written a long and rambling polemic against my book, Sense and Goodness without God (2005), which he titled "Good 'n' Senseless Without God: A Critical Review of Richard Carrier's New Book, Sense†& Goodness Without God" (2005). Wood's critique is a fine example of Christian bigotry. It is essentially a trash-talking diatribe, filled with open disdain and lack of manners or respect, entirely founded on misrepresenting the facts. It is hard to take it seriously. But I must correct the many false statements and impressions Wood gives about my book, and this lengthy reply accomplishes that aim.
In general, Wood has only two nice things to say about my book Sense and Goodness without God: "It is well written, meticulously organized, and broad in scope" and "one of the most thorough and up-to-date defenses of Metaphysical Naturalism available." Nevertheless, he condemns the entire treatise in general as "thoroughly inconsistent, one-sided throughout, and full of false claims and outdated arguments." I shall respond to all the evidence that is supposed to back up these sweeping claims, but first some general observations are in order.
As to my book being "thoroughly inconsistent," Wood consciously chose not to respect my request for intellectual charity in reading my book (pp. 5-6). Wood never once wrote to me to ask whether he misunderstood something I wrote or whether I had indeed erred in some respect, and as his criticisms reveal, he made no effort to follow any of the other instructions given in my introduction. Wood never even told me his critique existed. He clearly has no interest in educating me or advancing our mutual understanding through dialogue and query. His only apparent objective is trying to persuade fellow Christians not to read my book.
As to my book describing a complete naturalist worldview and thus being "one sided throughout," I cannot fathom what Wood expected: the very stated purpose of the book is to represent one side (pp. 4-5). I avoided exhaustive critiques of alternative worldviews, like Catholicism or Shiism, because the book is (as the very subtitle affirms) a positive presentation of one worldview, not a critique of alternatives. It is disingenuous of Wood to expect a book that "surveys my philosophy of life" to survey every other alternative as well, much less his own. Nevertheless, I still addressed the most important critiques of naturalism, and directed readers to all the leading literature critical of my worldview (p. 70).
As to my book being "full of false claims," again Wood ignored my request of all readers that they inform me of mistakes of fact (p. 6), though he apparently did not actually have any real examples (as we shall see). As to my book being full of "outdated arguments," this is a common rhetoric of the Christian apologetics community: because they think they have refuted every argument, they think every argument is "outdated." In actual fact, it is their "refutations" that are outdated, not the arguments as I present them in my book. But readers can judge that for themselves.
Wood's "Entire Review" can be read in one piece, but it was also split into separate web pages for each section. Below I link to each individual section as I address its particular contents.
Art and Politics in Wood's "Introductory Thoughts"
In his "Introductory Thoughts" Wood says my book's subtitle, "A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism," is "somewhat misleading" because, according to him, it "frequently digresses" and "is heavily peppered with speculations that have little to do with defending a worldview." Evidently, Wood has no idea what a worldview is, despite my explaining this, and providing numerous sources for further study (p. 65). He seems to think a theory of aesthetics and a political philosophy have nothing to do with a worldview, despite the fact that I explain how they are integral to the very concept of "worldview" and that no worldview is complete without them. Even Aristotle, the founder of systematic philosophy, regarded them as fundamental.
So, ignoring what I actually said (e.g. pp. 3-5, 351-52, 361-62, 369-70, 381-83) and what in fact has been established by scholars in the field of worldview studies (p. 65), Wood insists that "a treatise on the proper methods of choosing government officials has nothing to do with defending Metaphysical Naturalism," even though in actual fact it has everything to do with it (p. 369). Every worldview entails conclusions about politics, as well as axiology (ethics and aesthetics), so a book that aims to be comprehensive must examine what my worldview entails or suggests in the fields of morality, art, and politics.
Wood then repeatedly violates the principle of interpretive charity in his treatment of my political philosophy, and comes very close to outright lying about what I actually say. Here is a list of his deceptions:
(1) When I say we should maintain an interest in the colonization of space (p. 412), Wood "assumes" without any basis that I mean we should be undertaking the vast expense of colonizing space right now.
I never say any such thing. In actual fact, I don't believe this endeavor should be funded by taxes without a return in revenue, and I never include any space program in my discussion of what I believe is the best political platform (pp. 389-404). For those who want to know, in my opinion space enterprise should pay for itself, with only a minimal subsidy from the government, unless the government invests for the specific purpose of seeking a profitable return on its investment. The potential commercial applications of space technology in mining, manufacturing, and the production of fuels and electrical power, even for populations on earth, is enormous, and should be the primary target of the future space industry. Progress must also be gradual, predicated on increases in revenue and self-sustainability from budding space industries themselves. In short, I believe our current space program is on entirely the wrong track. But with our current debt load and litany of domestic and international problems, we are in no position to implement major changes now, although I do believe private corporations could be doing more than they are.
(2) Wood thinks my political opinions are self-contradictory because I propose abolishing income tax (which our government survived without for over a hundred years, and which was in fact originally unconstitutional) but then propose certain spending increases, including paying off of our national debt.
Wood thus pretends that increasing spending in certain areas entails a net increase in budget--and thus he shamelessly misrepresents my position by completely omitting the fact that I argue for an intelligent program of government cost-cutting (pp. 394-95). Wood further misrepresents my position by pretending that I mean all these changes to take place at the same time, which is ridiculous--indeed, the sequence of changes he presents is completely an invention of his own imagination and nowhere in my book. Obviously, the changes I imagine must take place in efficient sequence (e.g. it stands to reason that the national debt must be paid off before we can end personal income tax), as in fact I argue must be expected for all political change (p. 376), not in the ridiculous "straw man" sequence that Wood contrives. This is a classic example of failing to follow the rules of interpretive charity set out in my introduction: Wood invents policies I never advocated, ignores what I did say, and then invents an absurd political philosophy that bears no actual resemblance to my own.
(3) Wood pretends that I made no distinction between personal income tax and corporate income tax--and thus misrepresents my position yet again by failing to mention that I do not call for ending taxation of the corporate sector, but in fact I argue for preserving it, in the form of a hidden sales tax (p. 394).
I did not elaborate, but my point was at least clear. Naturally, in accord with my political method, I think different models of a hidden tax must be studied before implemented (e.g. exemptions should obtain for necessary living expenses, e.g. domestic utilities and unprocessed food). But in the same fashion, Wood mocks my suggestion that the government should undertake capital investments that would earn it a perpetual return (even though that is obviously sound advice: our entire economy and the success of every corporation is founded on it!) by falsely implying that I meant "a giant yard sale," even though I very specifically argue that the plan must involve the sale of renewable resources (p. 395), not the pawning off of assets, and thus what I had in mind does not even remotely resemble a yard sale.
(4) Wood falsely claims that I called for an increase in defense spending.
I never say this, even despite writing two pages on the subject of national defense policy (pp. 400-01). To the contrary, I call for seeking a decrease in what our current defenses cost, by eliminating fraud and inefficiency (pp. 395, 400). I did imagine that with the savings thus procured we could increase the amount of what we have, without increasing what we spend. But I never once mention increasing what we spend.
In the end, Wood goes overboard by comparing my suggestions to a completely ridiculous policy proposal of solving poverty by printing more money, as if they were at all comparable, and as if I didn't know anything about fiduciary economics. Wood thus paints a deceptive picture in order to justify his denouncing me as an amateur who "doesn't know what he's talking about," yet Wood apparently didn't read or consult any of the sources I provided in my bibliographies (who, then, doesn't know what he is talking about?).
Wood then commits the final and ultimate misrepresentation by claiming I "shake [my] fist at everyone, demanding that the political theorists and philosophers of the world gather round and heed the words of a graduate student in history" despite the fact that, completely to the contrary, I say that my political suggestions are "the most personal and speculative of all" and that we "should permit the greatest scope for honest disagreement" on these subjects (p. 369). And far from "demanding" that anyone "obey" me, I describe my political method as requiring exactly the opposite approach of relying on expert testing, inquiry, debate, and research, before implementing any policy suggestion (pp. 381-83). There is no fist shaking. No demands.
This last criticism is particularly alarming from Wood, because it implies that democracy should be abolished. If we have no right to express informed opinions about how our government and its policies should change unless we are bona fide experts, then no citizen should have the right to vote on how our government and its policies should change, for then they would be the least qualified to make any such decision and therefore would be guaranteed to make the wrong one. Even the right to free speech must be useless in Wood's view, since according to Wood every citizen should be ignored unless they have a Ph.D. in some relevant field. This is the thinking of a fascist, not an American. But it seems to be a rising trend among the religious right, to conclude that ordinary people, no matter how informed or educated, are too stupid and ignorant to make the right decisions or even to understand the issues, and therefore they should be bypassed or manipulated and deceived into choosing what is "actually" good for them. Whether he realizes it or not, this is what Wood's mockery entails. I wholly condemn it.
Are My Methods Shoddy?
In "The Unskeptical Skeptic" Wood then embarks on attacking my epistemology, though he doesn't really address what I say about method, but merely picks at what he thinks are various crazy arguments scattered throughout the book. Yet even from the start he begins with several shameless misrepresentations in a single paragraph:
(1) Wood says that "when someone claims that God created life or that Jesus rose from the dead" I "scoff" and "laugh."
Hmmm. To "scoff" means "to mock at, deride," which certainly describes Wood's manner of discourse. But he fails to point out where any such approach can be found in my book, at least in connection with those two claims. Nor does Wood explain where he finds me "laughing" at them. Nevertheless, I find this is a common reaction among the devout: for them all criticism, no matter how correct or considered, constitutes "scoffing" or "laughing" at them. Everyone who is not with them, is against them. Scary, but true.
(2) Wood falsely claims that I "dismiss" the "claims that God created life or that Jesus rose from the dead" as "socially acceptable insanity."
This is a particularly egregious case of deception bordering on libel. I never say any such thing in the book, and the one link he provides as a source for his quote, does not in fact say what he claims it does. Since he has the URL and quotes the essay, surely he knows that what that essay says is not what he is claiming. And that leaves no reasonable doubt in my mind that he is lying. See for yourself: What Do We Do When Some Theist We Don't Know Sends Us E-mail? (1997), and skip to and read the part titled "Addendum: Debating Online."
(3) Wood says that "when a person argues that the universe formed on its own for no reason or that randomly colliding molecules produced life, Richard believes whatever he is told."
Yet what I actually say in the book is far more cautious. In contrast to Wood's false depiction, see pages 71, 83, 84, and 166-67. Hence Wood misrepresents my book as asserting such things as fact, instead of as hypotheses presented as tentative philosophical conclusions about what the evidence currently suggests, which is how I actually present these claims (pp. 4, 59, 68, 213, 324-25, 411).
Wood goes on to present examples of what he thinks are illogical arguments, but it is clear that Wood has little grasp of the relevant logic or science:
(1) Wood criticizes my use of women's breasts as an example of a feature natural selection would more likely choose than an intelligent engineer (much less one who has tremendous hang-ups about lust: Proverbs 6:25, Matthew 5:28) by proposing that if this were "correct, then men should find a 700-pound female hunchback extremely sexy."
Such a remark betrays a significant ignorance of the science of natural selection, particularly in well-studied cases of sexual competition (like the peacock). If a "700-pound female hunchback" could actually compete with slimmer women for food and resources and survival of hazards and dangers, then an attraction for such a woman could indeed evolve. But in actual fact such a woman would acquire disadvantages so enormous they would far outweigh any advantages such a size would provide. That is, in fact, why humans are the size they are, and why, in fact, breasts do not exceed certain parameters of size--except in extreme cases, which produce an excessive disability, the very reason we have evolved to find attraction to the mean ideal--enough to advertise an overabundance of resources without actually exceeding what those resources can bear (thus see pages 354, 198-99, another example of Wood ignoring the rule of interpretive charity).
In the same fashion, Wood says that if "large breasts act as an advertisement of a womanís health" then "wouldn't men be attracted to healthy women whether those men were created by God or not?"† Certainly. But that does not explain why men have evolved to respond to breast size and why women have evolved such a pattern of sexual dimorphism. The difference between natural selection and intelligent design is that the former operates randomly. That is why human females have large breasts, but female Chimpanzees do not. It is not possible to predict in what random way organisms will develop in competition with each other. We can only predict the patterns that such evolution will take once they are randomly hit upon. Hence, human female breast size is just as crazy an idea as a peacock's feathers, yet just as random a way of achieving the same end. That such outcomes are so random is exactly why we conclude they were not intelligently chosen.
Wood also finds it "odd" that I would dedicate the book to my "buxom" wife if I believe breasts are not intelligently designed, even though I explain exactly why this is not odd (pp. 198-202, 361-63). Yet again Wood ignores what I actually say. He even pretends I didn't say it. Wood also deceives his readers by claiming that I proposed "the existence of buxom women" as "evidence against the existence of God" when in actual fact I never make any such argument. I bring up breast size only in the context of deciding between competing theories of the origin of human biology. Though I do conclude that natural selection rather than intelligent design is the more probable explanation, this does not entail there is no God, nor do I ever say it does. Moreover, I do not come to even this limited conclusion from that single piece of data, as Wood seems to imply, but only after an examination of a vast array of data, of which this was offered as merely a single example (pp. 168-72).
This deception is complete when Wood pretends to argue against me that "natural selection would favor large breasts in either world," whether one with a god in it or not. But my example was used not to argue against the existence of God. I used it to argue against the claim that God created human physiology intelligently. If Wood is conceding that human physiology arose by "natural selection," and not by intelligent design, as his argument seems to do, then I completely agree with him--because my conclusion would then be the same: natural selection explains our existence, rather than intelligent design, even if a god exists.
(2) Wood then engages in logical legerdemain against an unrelated joke I put in the book, "that there are no blue monkeys flying out my butt is sufficient reason to believe that there are no such creatures" (p. 273), which he takes (without any sensible reason) as arguing that there are no blue moneys, or even that monkeys don't exist!
Such an absurd conclusion should have clued him off right away that I meant by "such creatures" not just blue monkeys but "blue monkeys flying out my butt," a conclusion that is not only sensible and correct, but obviously the conclusion intended by the context. This is yet another example of an egregious failure to employ the tools of interpretive charity that I requested of him. And like most hard core Christians I have met in my life, Wood evidently has no sense of humor and is incapable of getting or enjoying a joke, but instead thinks "anyone who would claim that something relating to animals in his butt is evidence that God doesn't exist is not ready for serious academic discussion." What a boring world Wood wants to live in.
(3) Wood attacks my remark about religions that if "on virtually everything else they disagree" then "virtually everything else is probably false" (p. 254) as if this represented my epistemology.
I find it amusing that Wood avoided my entire discussion of method (pp. 49-62) and instead picked a completely isolated remark far later in the book and attacked that instead. The rule of interpretive charity, which I asked him to apply, calls for interpreting my remark here in light of what I say elsewhere in more detail about method (e.g. pp. 49-62, 211-52, 270-72). Wood ignores that rule and instead invents an entire epistemology out of this single comment, which he took out of context, and attacks the "method" he just invented as if it were something I actually advocated.
For example, Wood irrationally claims that I think a unanimous opinion implies a correct opinion, even though I argue that not all opinions are equal and that other standards must intervene (pp. 49-62). Hence one can, as I do, employ unanimity as one kind of evidence in favor of something being true, but only after considering all relevant facts can we conclude whether it is indeed true. Likewise, Wood's claim that "according to Richard...if two different groups have two different beliefs, both beliefs are probably false" is itself false. Again, I do believe one can employ disagreement as one kind of evidence in favor of no one knowing the truth, but only after considering all relevant facts can we conclude whether that is indeed the case. In both respects, Wood surely knows my actual method, so his misrepresentation here certainly seems deliberate.
Most importantly, however, in the particular case at hand I was describing a fictional scenario (pp. 253-54), and not advancing a conclusion I actually agreed with. Wood neglects to tell his readers this, and thus greatly misrepresents the matter. And in fact, when I leave these fictional scenarios behind and finally discuss why I don't buy into them, I conclude later in the very same chapter that, contrary to valuing such simplistic methods in defense of fictional theologies, "the scientific mind analyses, tests, examines, and compares, to get rid of the obfuscation and land on" the truth (p. 272), just as in the preceding section I had already laid out methods that are quite the contrary of drawing conclusions by popular vote (pp. 214-18, 238-41), and just as in my actual discussion of method I outright condemn tradition and popular assumption (pp. 60-61). Indeed, I repeat this very point in the same chapter Wood is quoting from (pp. 261-62). Wood conveniently neglects to mention any of this, and instead fabricates a methodology I nowhere endorse.
(4) Wood observes that "Richard claims the adoption of his view by society would bring an end to religious conflict" and then he claims that I can only mean the circular, and pointless, argument that if everyone agreed, then everyone would agree.
In typical fashion, Wood takes this summarizing comment from my book's conclusion yet ignores everything it refers back to, especially my actual discussions of why religions produce disagreements that harm society (e.g. pp. 16-19, 204-05, 258-72, 295-96, 300-01, 369-70). Those same discussions show why naturalism would not produce such harmful disagreements--even though it would continue to produce disagreements, a point I repeatedly take pains to emphasize, and yet which Wood completely ignores: that even naturalists will continue to debate and disagree with each other (e.g. pp. 69, 369-70), though without violence or intimidation or other intolerant behaviors. This will follow precisely because of the methodology of knowledge, assertion, morality and politics that naturalism entails, which together make intolerant behaviors irrational, as all the relevant sections on those subjects make plain. In contrast, it is common to employ religious ideologies to rationalize intolerant behaviors, even outright immoral behaviors, on a foundation of dubious or unconfirmable assertions.
(5) Wood repeats the same fallacy when he compares the above bogus point to my argument that abolishing income tax would be good because it would free up a great deal of our legislators' time.
Wood says this is silly because it could be applied to advocate any policy change, but he is once again misrepresenting my actual argument. I do not argue that income tax should be abolished in order to save time, but that income tax serves no public benefit that cannot be gained in more efficient ways, and therefore it is a waste of time. In other words, saving time is one of the benefits of eliminating income tax, not the only benefit, and it is only a benefit worth seeking because the whole process is not necessary, i.e. the same revenue can be gained without the contentious and unjust system of taxing the incomes of private citizens. This is obvious to anyone who actually reads my discussion of the subject, so I can only suppose Wood intentionally aims to mislead his readers into not bothering to read my book--thus inoculating them against the actual sensibility of my arguments by discouraging them from ever being exposed to them.
(6) Wood claims I must be ignorant of the actual contents of the Bible when I say God's "only purported purpose for sex was procreation, not lust or entertainment" and that the Bible "contains hardly a hint of . . . any mature acceptance of sexuality."
His evidence to the contrary? The Song of Solomon. Try as you might, you will never find one word from God in that text, nor even one word about what God wants or expects of Solomon, nor one word about why God instituted sex. If you want to know what God said about that, the best you will find is Genesis 1:27-28, which states no other purpose for making us "male and female" except to procreate, and though Genesis 2:18-25 tells a completely different story, it only says the purpose of women is to be man's "assistant" and that Adam and Eve didn't have sex until after they ate from the tree of knowledge, regarded nudity as shameful, and were cursed by God (Genesis 3:16-4:1). That doesn't look like a very mature acceptance of sexuality to me. Even what hints there are that sex served the purpose of inspiring marriage (e.g. Genesis 1:24, though said by Adam, not God), marriage still seems to have no stated purpose but procreation, though I grant this is open to interpretation.
Wood also mischaracterizes both of my statements. He left out the context of the first remark, which was that large breasts were hard to fathom as something an intelligent engineer would come up with, "especially an engineer whose only purported purpose for sex was procreation, not lust or entertainment" (p. 172). In other words, I did not assert that every conceivable God held such a view, nor did I assert this of any particular Biblical God. Rather, I only said that such a design made no sense especially from such a God. I make no mention of the Bible there, so while Wood says "I still donít understand why he would say that the Bible teaches that sex is only for procreation," I still don't understand why Wood thinks I said the Bible teaches that sex is only for procreation. I never once do.
I can forgive Wood for perhaps getting confused and mistaking the meaning of such an offhand remark, given that his bigot-colored glasses prevent him from reading anything I say charitably. And being a bigot, he naturally thinks his Biblical God is the only one anyone believes in. But it is harder to understand why, in quoting my second remark (p. 17), he would take "hardly a hint" to mean "no hint." Is he incapable of understanding the difference?
On the other hand, I can understand why someone, who acts so childishly as Wood does throughout his rude rebuttal, would at the same time fail to grasp what a "mature" acceptance of sexuality means. It does not mean declaring to the public a ribald laundry list of how hot your wife is and how badly you want to grab her melons (Song of Solomon 7:1-9), especially with nary a word for any of her better qualities as a person--or even her name! Though I do think this poem is rather insipid by aesthetic standards, and its content somewhat juvenile, even a bad sex poem is no evil--and it's surely a lot more accepting of human sexuality than anything else in the Bible (which is why it is the only thing Wood can find). Yet it is still not accepting enough to discuss sexuality or any sex act without hiding it under obscure innuendo. So I must ask where Wood finds a mature understanding of human sexuality here. Isn't this just another figleaf of metaphors covering those "shameful" genitals? Indeed, isn't this "song" the same cheap line Solomon supposedly delivered to seven hundred different wives, while he continued to bang three hundred private hookers besides? What exactly is Wood's point?
Wood then claims, from a strained exegesis of other passages, that the Bible "does" contain a mature acceptance of human sexuality, because it (supposedly) says "sexual pleasure can strengthen the marital bond between a man and a woman, which is certainly good for marriage," though in fact no such statement or anything much like it can be found in the Bible (note my observations on such ad hoc efforts to squeeze these kinds of conclusions from the Bible on pp. 301, 10, 16). Of course, the possibility of "interpretations" like his are the reason I said "hardly any" rather than "none," giving at least a charitable nod to efforts like Wood's to find some meager hints. But that is all they are.
In contrast, the Bible does not explain that sexual pleasure is important to human happiness (as in fact it is), or how neither nudity nor natural sexual desires are shameful (not even when felt for the same sex), or how the dominant ethic of sexuality should be respect for the desires, happiness, and consent of both parties (instead of commanding, for example, that female captives be compelled to have sex with their captors and that rape victims marry their rapists: Deuteronomy 21:11-14, 22:28-29). That is what I mean by a mature acceptance of human sexuality. When conducted compassionately and respectfully, sex is okay, even a positive human good, and is not shameful or sinful. The Bible never says even so simple a sentence as that.
Finally, Wood's proposal fails to make sense of the design question. If, as Wood himself concedes, an intelligent engineer could accomplish the aim of procreation without inventing sex--and indeed he could have and most likely would have--then the only purpose for sex that Wood has left is "strengthening the marital bond between a man and a woman." But that could be accomplished without sex, too. In fact, it would be accomplished far more effectively without it, since in actual point of fact, sex is the leading cause of destroying the marital bond between a man and a woman. An intelligent engineer who aimed to strengthen the marital bond would sooner make sex pleasurable only between officially married couples--which, incidentally, would be an example of a natural law that would provide significant evidence for the existence of a compassionate God (see my discussion on pp. 273-75).
(7) Wood falsely claims that I "argue that atheists are the most persecuted minority in the world."
Even the one sentence he quotes does not assert such an extreme conclusion, nor does the context afford any plausible basis for Wood's claim (p. 269). Thus, when he concludes from this fabrication that I "seem deluded" even to "the epitome of egocentrism" he is outright inventing evidence on which to hang these insults. It is hard for me not to conclude here that Wood is a deliberate liar, once again trying to persuade prospective readers that my book is too delusional and egocentric to warrant reading--lest they actually read it, and discover that it makes a lot more sense than he pretends.
Since these were the only examples Wood offers against the merit of my methods, and none amount to a valid criticism, we can conclude that Wood didn't really have any worthwhile objections to my epistemology. Instead, he had to fabricate false claims and then use them to build a straw man to tear down. Is this the dishonesty that Christian fanaticism all too often breeds in its adherents?
Am I Inconsistent?
In "Consistently Inconsistent" Wood claims my book is "possibly the most inconsistent work I have ever read." Yet, once again, he has to fabricate contradictions in order to support this claim:
(1) Wood falsely claims that I "seem" to be arguing in my book's conclusion that "Let's all join together and destroy Christianity, our greatest enemy, until it is gone from the earth! But for those of you who don't agree with me, let's all be tolerant and understanding toward one another."
Of course, his bigoted mind once again assumes only Christians exist, so even his fabrication contains no contradiction. After all, can't Buddhists, Taoists, and Deists join naturalists in any purported "war" on Christianity? Hence even from the start Wood is talking nonsense. But he is also lying. I never once call for any "battle against Christianity." It is Wood, not I, who assumes that "the foes of reason, truth, and liberty" means all Christians. I never make this equation. There are many Christians who are my allies in our fight against these common foes, and though I do criticize them (e.g. p. 19), I do not call them my enemy.
Likewise, nowhere do I claim "Christianity" is "our greatest enemy" nor do I talk about "destroying" or eradicating Christianity. To the contrary, I speak of living freely together while we each try to persuade each other with reason and evidence (pp. 369-70, 376-77). Indeed, were I to name a "greatest" enemy, I would choose apathy before Christianity. But even if I had to choose an actual worldview, I would name certain trends of conservative Christianity, not all of Christendom, and then only as our nearest and most pressing foe. On the world stage, conservative Islam is far scarier.
Ultimately, contrary to Wood's deliberately misleading rhetoric, to say that I aim through honest and nonviolent means to persuade everyone of the truth of my convictions in no way whatever contradicts my call for mutual tolerance and understanding among those who continue to disagree. It is typical of hard line Christians to equate all criticism as "intolerant ridicule," so Wood's accusing me of the same is just more of the usual. Despite his pointless tirade on the difference between real persecution and mere name calling just one section earlier, now Wood reverses course and elevates what he regards as mere name calling to evidence of "intolerance." Hence he changes what I mean by "tolerance" as it suits him: when I actually mean liberty and civility, he means shutting the hell up.
(2) Even what Wood purports to be examples of "ridicule" or "intolerance" are nothing of the kind.
Wood claims I "ridicule in the harshest terms the views of those who disagree with" me, which is wanton hyperbole. It describes himself, perhaps, but nothing in my book. Consider his examples:
(a) Wood says I call Christianity "the ultimate memetic virus," a phrase that contains no bad language, nor any obvious insult, especially in context (pp. 258-67, with pp. 175-76), where I carefully define what I mean by "memetic virus" and show how Christianity does in fact meet the criteria for it--at least in the pre-modern era, since the context of the remark is not the present state of the Christian religion as a whole, a nuance I am not surprised Wood completely missed. At any rate, Wood might take offense at the facts. I can't help that. But to call this "ridicule" is completely off base, and to call it "the harshest terms" is simply absurd--I am sure Wood is aware of the many vitriolic diatribes that have been written against Christianity, and he must surely know my book isn't even in their league. And in no way can my discussion here be regarded as "intolerance," unless all criticism is intolerant, which is not a view I would ever endorse.
(b) Wood falsely claims that I said Christianity is "a genuine plague upon the earth." I actually said that a "religion" becomes a plague upon the earth if it breeds people who want atheists to suffer for no other reason than being reasonable (p. 287). I never say that "Christianity" breeds such people, and indeed I doubt it does--I know many liberal sects that contain no such persons in their membership (e.g. p. 9). Hence the context of my remark is that of irrational Christians and Muslims who refuse to discuss the evidence and simply threaten me with hell instead. It is an undeniable fact that certain sects of Christianity and Islam do breed such people. So if Wood finds that fact insulting, he has no right to blame the messenger.
(c) Wood falsely claims that I define "memetic virus" as a meme that "impairs or kills your mind, your power of reason." To the contrary, I define "memetic virus" as a meme "such as nationalism or racism or religious fundamentalism" that "fights against the advantages of careful and tolerant reason" by placing the task of "silencing competing memes, and stirring purely emotional attachment to other memes instead" higher in importance than discovering "the truth" (p. 176). Instead, in the passage Wood quotes, I do not state a definition, but merely repeat the point that a memetic virus can impair or kill one's power of reason--but then I immediately point out that it does not always do so, a fact Wood curiously omits (p. 258). Likewise, a virus that "impairs" one's "reason" is hardly "a mind-destroying cancer" as Wood would have it. Moreover, I do not merely assert that this definition applies, but I present hard evidence that certain religions actually conform to it, which obviously means certain sects (pp. 258-269).
(d) Wood then offers as another example of "ridicule in the harshest terms" my statement of the undeniable historical facts that Christianity and Islam have endeavored throughout their history to condemn doubters and believers in other creeds, "fostering war and violence of every kind" (p. 270) and have proved themselves "the most warlike and intolerant religions in history" (p. 264). Again, where is the alleged ridicule here? These are facts of history, and maybe the truth is "harsh," but it can never be "intolerant" to declare it. I even concede religious efforts to accomplish the reverse, and only remark that in practice religion has failed to achieve what it hopes for, but has in fact produced many evils instead (p. 270). So once again, Wood pretends that criticism is "ridicule" and thus invents evidence of "intolerance."
(e) Though Wood reports that I call for a war "to defeat the nonsense and lies" that Christians have spread, he neglects to mention that the context of my remark clearly distinguishes those Christians from other Christians, whom I only accuse of a lack of moral courage--since, although they do not engage in the deceptions I battle against (of which Wood's entire review is a good example), they often fail to stand up to them (p. 19). And indeed, as Wood claims, I say this failure to battle dishonesty and irrationality is immoral and that such a battle ought to be a crusade, as it has become for me. But still there is no evidence here of "ridicule," much less "in the harshest terms," nor any evidence of intolerance--unless, again, he wants us to believe all criticism is intolerant.
It is ironic that while Wood claims I ridicule Christianity in "the harshest terms" he nevertheless consistently comes up with far harsher ways to word things than I do. I never call Christianity "a horrible disease," I never say it "has trapped humanity in perpetual darkness," I never call it an "ultimate mind-destroying cancer," yet Wood has no trouble contriving those phrases himself, and others besides--clearly harsher than any you will find in my book. Not only are they far harsher, they are misleading and exaggerated, which is why I would never employ them. But to make me look like an intolerant monster, since I never said anything bad enough, he has to invent them, and then take other things I said out of context, and string quotes together that are nowhere near each other in the book, thus creating a false context that suits him--and then he fails to inform his readers of what I actually say that contradicts his fabrications.
(3) Wood falsely claims that I imagined "Jesus suggesting that family members should hack one another to death with swords."
I never said this. I merely quoted the Bible, without interpreting its meaning (see p 16). And though Wood defends the violence Jesus is said to have engaged in, that does not rebut the fact that he engaged in it, and that is all I refer to.
(4) Wood completely misses the point, and gets the facts wrong, when he tries to defend the New Testament's acceptance of slavery.
Of course, he doesn't even try to defend the Old Testament. But even in the New, though Wood points out the obvious meaning of the stories in which Jesus employs slaves as examples, he completely misses the point that Jesus thought it fine to use slaves as examples, without ever once pointing out, "Oh, by the way, there shouldn't even be slaves and the way they are treated in these stories is wrong." That constitutes an acceptance of slavery. Indeed, his examples require that he accepts the treatment of slaves in these stories. Otherwise, those stories would fail to represent what Jesus really believed will be God's proper treatment of people generally. Think about it: if beating and mutilating slaves is wrong (and it is, though Jesus never says so), then how can a story that depicts what is wrong convey what God thinks is right about his treatment of his own servants?
Wood also falsely claims that I expected Paul to call for a slave rebellion. Hardly. All Paul or Jesus had to do was say that we ought not to purchase or keep slaves. Wood claims that such a moral could have "adversely affected the spread of the Gospel" by causing the public to ask "You want me to believe in this stuff that's destroying our society?" But this amounts to saying that Christians were moral cowards and said and did what is morally wrong merely for the expediency of spreading the faith. Granted, that does seem to be what Wood believes, since he himself has no qualms about lying or misrepresenting the facts for the same apparent purpose. But it is surely not an ethic I endorse.
Wood's remark also means he doesn't know much about the Greco-Roman slave system, in which freeing one's slaves was an acceptable, even praiseworthy act of charity, hence freed slaves were a staple feature of ancient society. No one thought it was "destroying society," except perhaps when done to excess, but even then it was still done, and to praise it even more than usual would hardly have been thought a public evil. More importantly, it would give no offense to anyone if Jesus or Paul had simply required members to stop purchasing slaves--yet neither Paul nor Jesus call even for that. Instead, while the Christians had no problem insisting that members surrender all their wealth to the Church, it appears they couldn't muster the moral courage to insist that they surrender their slaves as well (Acts 4:32-5:11).
Finally, Wood falsely claims that "in his letter to Philemon, Paul does ask a slave-owner to free his slave." There is no such request in that letter. Of course, the letter only pertains to a single individual in a unique circumstance--there is no discussion of how people ought to regard or treat slaves generally, and the letter represents only Paul's own personal interests in this particular case, not an example or a teaching voiced anywhere by Jesus or the Lord (in contrast, see 1 Cor. 14:37). And though one might see here a veiled suggestion of the possibility of freeing this one slave, all Paul really says is that this particular slave should not be punished for having run away and served Paul for a time without his master's permission.
Nevertheless, I grant that Paul says here and elsewhere that masters should treat their slaves well--and I never said otherwise in my book--but Wood goes too far in claiming that Paul imagined this meant treating slaves as equals, since despite Paul saying "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female," Paul still insists that women must be subservient to men in every significant respect (1 Timothy 2:11-15; 1 Corinthians 14:34-35), and he surely thought the same of slaves (Ephesians 6:5-8). Wood is also incorrect to suggest that the Founding Fathers got the concept that "all men are created equal" from the Bible (which contains no such phrase), since in fact it derives from Roman legal philosophy, which adopted from the Stoics the belief that all men are brothers and citizens of the world who share the same natural rights.
(5) Wood falsely claims I go to the Bible "searching for the most unfavorable interpretation" I can find, in violation of my own request for interpretive charity.
In actual fact, I explain that the Bible may have some good things in it, and that it is not my point to describe its merits, only to show that it has flaws (pp. 270-71). My book is, after all, a defense of naturalism, not Christianity, and therefore it must only explain why I have not adopted popular alternatives like Christianity. It would be an irrelevant digression to discourse on the remaining merits of alternative worldviews, hence I do not spend time doing that. Wood seems to expect me to double the book's page count defending Christian Theism--though the same reasoning entails I should multiply its length tenfold, since to be that fair I would have to give every other major religion the same shake. Indeed, even to "fairly" distinguish among the countless different sects within each, I'd have to increase its length a hundredfold.
Strangely, the only example Wood offers of my finding imaginary "contradictions" in the Bible doesn't even come from my book, though he gives the false impression that it did (for anyone who doesn't check his footnote). But even more astonishing about this is the fact that he devotes over 600 words to "rebutting" my claim, which again isn't in my book, yet he fails to mention to the reader that he has removed and thus ignored a full half of my argument! He puts a "..." where in fact I put the remaining evidence, all in the same sentence, that together supports the claim he aims to rebut. Apparently, Wood can only win the argument by cheating. At any rate, though it has nothing whatever to do with my book (where I actually avoid claiming these contradictions in the Bible), those who are still keen to see how ridiculous Wood's defense is, see my unrelated discussion in my Plausibility of Theft FAQ.
Finally, Wood's claim that my treatment of the Bible outside my book is an example of violating "interpretive charity" is simply incorrect: unlike my book, the Bible was not written by the same author. Therefore, we have no prima facie reason to expect every book to agree--or even for every author to be aware of any of the others, much less to have taken extraordinary care in agreeing with each other. I make every effort to apply interpretive charity within, for example, the authentic letters of Paul, and I would even make some effort to extend this to letters attributed to him that are of doubted authenticity. But there is no sense in acting as if Paul's letters and the book of Acts were written by the same person or that either author was even aware of the full content of the other's work. For the same reason, there is no basis for requiring a rule of interpretive charity between the Gospels, although I would make every effort to apply it, insofar as I can, within the same Gospel. Wood does not seem to grasp the distinction here, or else has nothing to accuse me of except that I reject the dogma that God inspired the entire canonical Bible and ensured it was entirely without error. Yet if I were convinced of that, I would be a Christian!
(6) Wood claims it is hypocritical for me to argue that "since some Christians have done bad things, Christianity must be bad" and "any bad deed that a Christian does is evidence against Christianity, even if the deed is contrary to Jesus' teachings" but then allow that "nothing an atheist does counts against atheism."
Wood's analogy is bogus. The proper comparison is not between "Christians" and "atheists" but between "Christians" and "Secular Humanists," a point I already address directly in the book (on pp. 306-07 and 309). Wood seems unaware of this--or else deliberately conceals this fact from his readers. For Wood to ignore this and instead equate Marxists like Stalin with Secular Humanists like me is just as improper as assuming the behavior of Al Qaeda is the product of a Christian worldview. In the same fashion, maniacs like Jeffrey Dahmer do not credit their deeds to being Secular Humanists, but to having no worldview at all, which I already denounce in my book as a dangerous state of affairs (3, 23-26, 269-72), another fact that Wood curiously fails to mention.
As I already noted above, I do not argue that all Christians are bad or that Christianity as such is evil, but I do argue that Christianity's failure to improve society, and its frequent historical lapses into making things substantially worse, is evidence against it being true. I do not pretend this is in itself sufficient proof of that conclusion, but it is one piece of evidence supporting it. And I do argue that I myself have encountered so many mean, dangerous, deceptive Christians, that I think it is unconscionable not to stand up against their particular "interpretation" of the Christian religion, which has had widespread and harmful effects on the world. But I am also careful to point out that not all Christians subscribe to such ideologies.
(7) Wood repeats the popular but false claim that Hitler was an atheist.
Even if he was, that would be irrelevant (as just noted above), since he wasn't a Secular Humanist. But the fact of the matter is that Hitler actually considered himself ordained by God to eradicate atheism, declaring that "the most marvelous proof of the superiority of Man, which puts man ahead of the animals, is the fact that he understands that there must be a Creator," and that "I am here due to a higher power" in order to ensure that "Man shall be able to develop his God-given talents" by crushing atheism in all its guises (which he repeatedly identified as Marxism and Judaism), and he even expected to meet in heaven after his death "the most illuminated spirits of all times" (Hitler's Table Talk, entry for 27 February 1942). Even in general, Nazism was a fundamentally Christian movement.
(8) Wood completely invents another bogus "contradiction" by once again cheating, omitting words from my sentences and stringing disconnected sentences together to give the false impression that I regard as bad any calling to spread a true belief around the world.
Wood thus completely misrepresents the actual argument of my book, which is that political and social suppression of competing views is wrong, not mere efforts to educate and persuade others to agree with you, which in fact I defend (pp. 370, 376-78). Once again, Wood takes what I say about real intolerance, and pretends I said it about mere criticism and debate.
To deceive his readers into thinking this, here is the quotation that Wood constructs in his underhanded way:
Christians view their faith and ideology as "right" and all other religions as just superstitions, whose followers are misguided....Most religions in history had plenty of room to accept other views as valid....[T]he three most widely practiced religions--Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism--root themselves in the idea that the "faith" must be spread to all people....So the new idea that only one religion is true and all others are evil or false, and the idea that this true faith must be carried across the globe in order to save everyone from doom, are the very attributes that guaranteed the survival of Christianity and Islam, and the elimination of nearly all other religions in the world.
But here is what I actually say (pp. 266-67), with material he omitted now reinserted in italics:
Christians view their faith and ideology as "right" and all other religions as just superstitions, whose followers are misguided--or misled by Satan, as many Christians still seriously believe--even though they know virtually nothing about those other religions, and hardly much more about their own. Ultimately, most Christians generally accept the "fact" that non-Christians will not be saved, since by definition "salvation" belongs only to those who have faith in Christ (this is the very heart of the New Testament teaching, as stated in Matthew 10:28-40, 12:30-32, Mark 16:16, John 14:6, etc.).
[...then I say something similar about Islam, and then...]
Most people think this has always been an attitude common to religion in general, but that is not true. Most religions in history had plenty of room to accept other views as valid. Even Taoism and Buddhism, to their eternal credit, have rarely opposed or attacked competing religions, and have co-existed happily and constructively with each other, and with countless folk beliefs and festivals, for over two thousand years. Sadly, attacked and infected by Islamic-Christian doctrines of brutal righteousness, violent fundamentalist movements are now rising among Indian Hindus and Sri Lankan Buddhists, but these remain unusual exceptions in the history of religion.
In contrast, the intolerance among the two fiercest Western religions, Christianity and Islam, very often led to the permanent elimination of competing faiths. Because of their intrinsic exclusiveness and intolerance, countless other religious ideas--ideas that might have been nobler or even truer--never had a chance to grow or survive. Thus, today it seems that other religions are small or rare or obsolete, when in reality this is only because they have never been tolerated or given a chance. However, though this intolerance has paved the way, it is the missionary aspect of these religions that is the most significant reason for their pervasiveness in the world today. For the three most widely practiced religions--Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism--root themselves in the idea that the "faith" must be spread to all people. It is probable that without this missionary calling Americans would almost certainly be polytheistic, having accepted and adopted many of the religious and cultural ideas of the Native American peoples, perhaps having imported many of the old Greco-Roman deities as well. Instead, we wiped them all out in our 'god-sanctioned' zeal. This was the fault of a new breed of intolerant, missionary religion called Christianity.
So the new idea that only one religion is true and all others are evil or false, and the idea that this true faith must be carried across the globe in order to save everyone from doom, are the very attributes that guaranteed the survival of Christianity and Islam, and the elimination of nearly all other religions in the world. Both these characteristics are much more plausible explanations for the widespread acceptance of Christianity and Islam than the claim that "they are widespread because they are true" or "this is evidence of God's design." How could both Christianity and Islam credit their spread to their unique truth? Clearly, at least one of them has to be false, proving that such vast success does not need truth behind it. And they can't both be the result of God's design, unless God is confused.
Now with the actual context put back in (of violence and political and social oppression), readers will see how Wood has chosen to deceive them, and outright invented a contradiction in my book that does not in fact exist. Wood outright lies when he says I argue in the above passage that "Christianity is bad because Christians believe that it's true and that all other systems of belief are false." That is clearly not the argument I make in the above passage! Contrary to what Wood claims, at no point in my book do I "condemn" Christianity because Christians believe they have the truth and are trying to persuade everyone else of this. As the above passage very clearly illustrates, I condemn Christianity (and here only, in fact, pre-modern Christianity) because it hasn't relied on persuasion, but has employed force, intimidation, and coercion instead.
(9) Wood falsely claims that "when Richard is attacking Christianity, he notes that it encourages arrogance by making man the most important thing in the universe."
I do not say this, not even in the quotes he presents. Observe:
- Wood himself inserts "i.e. Christianity" in the first quote, even though I never mention Christianity there at all, but instead "nationalism or racism or religious fundamentalism," which certainly would not include all of Christianity nor is it limited to Christianity. And even then I say only that some memes play on human arrogance, not that all do (p. 176).
- In the second quote I also don't single out Christianity nor do I generalize to all Christians, but instead I say that "often what people get out of the popular religions" are various superstitious beliefs, only some of which, "sometimes, play to one's selfish ego" (p. 258). Take note: often, not always; some, not all; sometimes, not every time. Wood ignores my every qualification in order to fabricate an appearance of extremism.
- In the third quote, even as Wood presents it, I say only "theism," thus again not singling out Christianity, and I say only that it often "encourages arrogance," not that it always does, or that every form of it does (pp. 258-59), and in fact the context of this remark is a response to theists who accuse atheists of wanting to make themselves the center of the universe.
Indeed, in the second quote, Wood works his deception by cleverly replacing a comma with a period. Wood has me say:
...viral memes, which, sometimes, play to one's selfish ego--like memes that tell a man he has the authority of Truth behind his every desire, and is the center of the universe, the purpose for which the whole cosmos was made.
But what I actually wrote was (emphasis now added):
...viral memes, which, sometimes, play to one's selfish ego--like memes that tell a man he has the authority of Truth behind his every desire, and is the center of the universe, the purpose for which the whole cosmos was made, and that he will get everything he wants later if he plays the sheep now--or, other times, play upon one's fears--like memes that tell a man he will never really die, or that there really is no senseless chaos, but every boon and every misfortune is the intended outcome of Other Beings who can be blamed, thanked, or bribed.
I list two things, separated by a comma and a dash and the very clear phrase "or, other times," thus clearly indicating one or the other, not necessarily both. By replacing the punctuation, Wood creates the appearance that I never mentioned the other possibility, and thus he pretends I didn't, and thus creates the false impression that I said Christianity always plays on one's arrogance.
(10) Wood deliberately confuses my belief that human beings are important to the human race with a belief that human beings are the center of the universe.
I say this is deliberate, because in the very passage he quotes on pages 258-59 it is quite clear I distinguish between the features of an arrogant cosmocentrism and personal worth. Even Wood himself quotes me saying that we are "special in no sense to anyone but among ourselves" (emphasis added). Thus, for him to use this very quote as if it contradicted my fuller discussions of how and why we are special among ourselves strongly indicates a deliberate effort to deceive his readers. At least, I cannot believe Wood is so dense that he doesn't see how these statements all say the same thing, and don't contradict each other after all--especially considering what he knows to be my theory of value (pp. 313-30). To say that we value our own existence above all things is not at all the same as saying we are "the purpose for which the whole cosmos was made" and that we have "the Authority of the Almighty behind" us. Yet by pretending they are the same, once again, Wood deliberately fabricates a contradiction in my book that does not exist.
(11) Wood falsely claims I argue "that Christianity is far too passive" because it "would have us believe that letting people rob and beat us is moral" (p. 342, in reference to Matthew 5:38-42).
Wood surely must assume his readers won't look at my book, since I make no such point about "Christianity being far too passive," here or anywhere in the book. In context one will immediately see the discussion is not about passivity or even in fact Christianity as such, but merely that what Jesus says (regardless of whether anyone actually follows his advice) is on my moral philosophy not wrong but beyond the normal call of duty, hence not what we have a moral right to expect from anyone (hence I do not say, as Wood deceitfully claims, that such behavior is "appalling," as I further show below). There can be no contradiction here between this, which is a mere logical point about what is entailed by different moral propositions, and the actual facts of history, such as that Christians have in actual practice been extraordinarily violent. And that is the very point I make in the chapter where I say the Bible "taught a morality that is unlivable" (p. 17), as Wood quotes me saying, because, as Wood fails to mention, I had observed that Christians routinely fail to live by these teachings and instead in actual practice adopt values quite the opposite (p. 10).
(12) Wood then takes his fabricated claim that I called surrendering property "appalling," and fabricates yet another false claim that I considered it "horribly wrong," and uses this lie to "invent" yet another contradiction, by correctly pointing out that my moral values in fact do not place a high premium on material goods.
Since I never say that letting property go is even wrong, much less "appalling" or "horribly wrong," this is certainly an example of a blatant lie. Wood is consciously telling people I said exactly the opposite of what in fact I said. What I actually said is that such surrender was "supermoral," in other words, doing more than you need to, which is not wrong. To the contrary, I state that it is simply not fair to demand that people do it. And I don't. There is no contradiction between saying it is wrong to expect people to do x but that it is okay to do x if they choose. So yet again Wood invents another bogus contradiction.
The final irony is that Wood's "seventh" and last alleged "contradiction" is the claim that all the arguments I never made, but that Wood deceitfully claimed I made, are absurd, and since I argue--quite rightly--that any belief system that requires absurd arguments in its defense is not credible, then I am a hypocrite for not recognizing that my belief system is not credible. But as we've seen, Wood can only pull this argument off by actually fabricating absurd arguments. And since he had to invent them, that stands as pretty good evidence that there actually are none. And as if that weren't irony enough, after completing his edifice of lies, "bearing false witness against his neighbor," he accuses me of being immoral, a "rebel" against God. Go figure.
Problems of Origin?
In "A Carriocentric Universe" Wood mainly often waxes on about how he doesn't understand my cosmology or doesn't like it. But all his substantive points rest on false claims:
(1) Wood says he doesn't "deny the possibility of something uncaused and eternal" but "on the contrary, this is what theists believe about God," yet "the physical universe is a different matter altogether."
No, it isn't. See my discussion of this very point on pages 81-83, which Wood glosses over--and by doing so, almost everything in this section of his review is rendered irrelevant by what I actually say. Just read my book and see.
(2) Wood notes that I allow that our universe could either be infinitely extended in time or have a finite beginning (we don't yet know), but then asserts that the former possibility entails that "we have crossed an infinite amount of time, events, and universes to get where we are today" which "of course, runs into all of the problems addressed by the Kalam Cosmological Argument."
The Kalam Cosmological Argument has not been accepted by any nontheist philosopher nor by any scientific cosmologist that I know of, and it remains highly suspect. For example, the very idea that "we" have crossed an infinite amount of time is plainly false: we have only existed for a very short time. Any infinite timeline will obviously contain some finite events, and one of those events can just as well be our existence as anything else. And since by definition there is never a "time" when an infinite timeline "starts" and then begins accumulating events like Wood irrationally imagines, all transitory episodes on that timeline will eventually exist--from a point of view outside of time, it is inevitable. And this is especially the case on a B-Theory of time, which is the theory I adopt (pp. 88-96). Thus, the Kalam provides no valid argument against my cosmology.
(3) Wood falsely claims that I criticize "an infinite regress of causes."
I never criticize an infinite regress of causes. I only criticize an infinite regress of explanations, which is not the same thing, as one will clearly see who actually reads what I say on this point (p. 73). There I even accept the possibility that a god has no cause (though Wood gives the false impression that I didn't), and then I point out that it is not causes that are the problem, but explanations, making clear the distinction. And contrary to Wood's misrepresentation of my argument, the conclusion I arrive at is not that a series of explanations cannot be infinite--to the contrary, I allow for that very possibility. Rather, I conclude that even if the series is infinite, there will still be something left unexplained, and that therefore it is irrational to demand an explanation for everything: logically, there must always be at least one unexplained thing in any cosmos, whether it's God or something else, and whether that cosmos is infinite or finite.
(4) Wood says he "must have missed the part where [I] proved that chaos can produce our universe" and that rather than being "simple," my "chaos" must have many convenient properties.
The only way Wood could say this is if he either doesn't understand theories like the Smolin or Linde cosmologies, or he is deceitfully pretending not to. For they both explain how a chaos can produce our universe, which is my very reason for discussing them (pp. 75-93), and I know Wood did not "miss" this. If, on the other hand, he expected me not to demonstrate their possibility but to actually "prove" these theories true, then he is deceitfully concealing the fact that I do not claim to have proved the truth of any cosmological theory but instead I specifically explain why that cannot yet be done, even by theists (e.g. pp. 71, 75, 83).
And contrary to the impression Wood gives, I do explain why a primordial chaos would not have to have the "convenient" properties Wood imagines. Wood says the chaos must beget a self-replicating universe, but a chaos by definition will constantly spew up many random combinations of properties, and a self-replicating universe is one random possibility. Thus, as I explain in the book (pp. 86-87), it is simply a matter of knowing the probability of this happening in any given outcome, and how many different random outcomes the chaos produces, neither of which is at present known for certain. But if we follow current cosmological science, every random set of physical constants will produce a self-replicating universe.
This is exactly what Smolin demonstrated: every conceivable set of constants will produce either an expanding or static universe, in either case with at least some black holes, or a collapsing universe, which entails at least one black hole (at the point of collapse). If every black hole entails the production of a new random universe (which is the Smolin hypothesis), then what we have is an eternal universe generator, which will keep randomly trying different combinations of constants, forever, until every possible combination is tried. The combination we find our universe to have is therefore inevitable, even if we begin with nothing but a random chaos--indeed, if Smolin selection theory is true, combinations like ours will be far more common than any other (pp. 75-80). The Linde hypothesis produces similar conclusions. So until we actually rule these theories out, we cannot assert that only a God can explain our present universe.
Wood then says that a primordial chaos "can't produce universes exactly like itself, for this would allow no variation," but by definition a chaos can't produce uniformly identical universes--unless only one universe is possible, in which case, since our universe obviously exists, it must be the only possible universe that can exist (some cosmologists actually do propose such a theory). Otherwise, a chaos can only produce randomly varying universes. One can theorize that a black hole can only produce a universe exactly like its parent, and if that were found to be true, then indeed Smolin's theory would be refuted. But until it is actually thus refuted, we cannot pretend it already has been. And even if Smolin's theory is false, as I explain in the book, most cosmologists already side with the Linde theory instead (p. 76), which holds that every Big Bang will generate a large array of randomly different universes simultaneously, and again as I explain in the book, the evidence we have so far suggests that this is what would happen (pp. 76-77). We have no evidence arguing the contrary, and therefore we cannot consider this theory refuted, either.
In exactly the same fashion, while Wood points out that Smolin's theory requires black holes to produce universes that are not too different from themselves (and that is indeed his theory, which has yet to be ruled out by any evidence), Linde's theory does not have any such requirement, and yet still produces the same outcome (our universe), which is why most scientists side with Linde, and why I included the Linde theory in my book, as yet one more theory that remains a real possibility. But because properties themselves are randomly selected when we start with a complete chaos, one of the properties that could randomly arise is the Smolin Inheritance property, while another is the Linde chaotic inflation property. Thus, it is actually possible both theories are true.
So in neither case do "we need a spectacular universe-producing machine" right from the start, as Wood pretends. All we need is a completely random, unintelligent universe generator, a true chaos, with only one property: the endless generation of random combinations of physical constants. The rest is logically inevitable, as the product of random outcomes attempted countless times. When we compare this with the relatively spectacular complexity of any proposed god, any preference for simplicity counts against adopting God as the most likely explanation, exactly as I explain (pp. 82-83, 71-75), an explanation that Wood completely--and probably deliberately--ignores.
(5) Wood falsely claims that "based on all our scientific knowledge, whatever has a beginning must have a cause."
I challenge Wood to find any actual cosmological scientist today who has arrived at such a conclusion. To the contrary, from the converging implications of the observed breakdown of causality at the quantum scale and the fact that the Big Bang Theory entails the entire universe was previously crushed to a size below that scale, cosmologists have concluded that all bets are off when it comes to predicting which principles of causality would apply to the universe before the expansion event. And though I personally suspect that some principles of causation might yet be found to operate within that scale (pp. 98-99), I already explain that those principles can only apply within time, not to the origin of time itself (pp. 84-85), and all honest scientists would agree. As I explain in my book, the very concept of a "cause of time" is inherently illogical, and there is certainly no "scientific" support for it.
(6) Wood allows me to "claim that the immense degree of fine-tuning in our universe was inevitable" but asserts that "we have no reason to think that such a pattern of forces and constants couldn't be avoided."
So what? Obviously some other theory of events is possible, but that does not rule out alternatives. And that is the problem: the only evidence anyone purports to have that a god is responsible is the alleged absence of plausible alternatives, since no one has any actual evidence of divine activity (hence p. 75). Therefore, the existence of other explanations that are at least as plausible is sufficient to refute the argument that only a god can explain it. If you respond, "Okay, but a god could explain it," I will be the first to agree with you. But "maybe, therefore probably" is not a valid argument. Hence I do not have to demonstrate any theory to be true, all I have to demonstrate is that we have no evidence it is false nor any evidence favoring the relevant alternatives. Even so, I go one further and actually present evidence favoring my theories and evidence against the god hypothesis. Wood has nothing substantial to offer to the contrary, which is evidently why he instead engages in misrepresenting the actual method and content of my cosmological arguments.
(7) Wood objects that "we donít observe such finely-tuned systems arising out of chaos."
This is not a valid objection. We don't "observe" atoms, either, or black holes, or quarks, yet their existence is effectively a scientific fact. Science does not require that we actually observe electrons in order to prove they exist, either. The idea that we have to "see" everything we are warranted in believing is not only a ridiculous fancy, it is an unlivable policy, and not anything I endorse (see pp. 219-20). Even Wood does not "see" god, or souls, or indeed China, yet I imagine he believes they all exist. And in this particular case, it is impossible to "observe" other universes, since they are separated by unpassable barriers of space-time, and therefore observing them can never be a requirement for believing in them. Instead, the evidence we have for their existence is indirect, but still significant (pp. 75-80), and indeed we could one day have enough evidence along those lines to consider their existence as much a scientific fact as the existence of quarks. That hasn't happened yet, but the fact remains that it is no more a valid objection to multiverse theory that "we don't see them" than it is an objection to the god hypothesis that "we don't see him."
(8) Wood argues, rather lamely, that†"these constants could have been different" and†"in all probability, they should have been different" so†"the fact that they are as they are implies that they were finely-tuned for a purpose--life."
It is not clear what constants Wood thinks "could have been different," or on what scientific evidence he concludes that they would "probably" be different.†Fine-tuning arguments always rest like this on enormous gaps of information that people like Wood fill only with their imagination. Nevertheless, I agree there are probably some constants that can vary from Bang to Bang, at least one or two, from which the others derive. But it doesn't make much sense to conclude that these have been tuned "for the purpose of life." As I demonstrate, the evidence suggests the contrary, that if these constants were tuned at all, it was for the production and sustenance of black holes, with little regard for the needs and interests of living organisms (pp. 77-81, 72-73, 74-75, 273-75, 276-82).
(9) Wood makes several false or misleading claims about protobiology, and ignores all the sources I directed readers to on the subject of biogenesis.
(a) Wood claims "when molecules join to form amino acids in nature (usually in extraordinary circumstances), they form equal proportions of left-handed and right-handed amino acids," but he cites no source for this claim. The claim is false, or at least very misleading. As one will learn from reading the sources I provide in my book (pp. 167-68), not only are such chains still produced in random proportion, when equal amounts of either are available (so that the proportion is maintained on average, but still with random variation in length of homochiral sequences), but there are known natural forces that can produce homochiral chaining (from crystal lattices to serine clusters), and, of course, when there is a superabundance of homochiral amino acids, long homochiral chains are inevitable--and we know of natural forces that can produce such a superabundance (supernovae and comets). Homochirality could also be an evolved feature, since self-replicating heterochiral proteins are known to be possible yet homochiral versions are more stable. If Wood knew what he was talking about, he would know all this--which means he is either ignorant, or willfully deceiving his readers by omitting this information. For this is all standard science, covered in the books and articles I directed my readers to.
(b) Wood then claims "amino acids react with a number of other molecules more readily than they react with one another, so Richard must explain how his pool of left-handed amino acids arose free from contamination by other molecules," but this claim is also false, or again very misleading. And again, he cites no source. But in the sources I provide in the book, you will learn that amino acids do not produce chains in combination with any other chemical, thus the only chained sequences that can arise are of connected amino acids. Though amino acids can still bind to other chemicals (and in fact have done so: DNA incorporates amino acids that have been "contaminated" by phosphorus and sugar), this does not often prevent their chaining together with other amino acids, and in fact such contaminants can actually assist amino acid chaining (for example, by binding to crystal lattices, amino acids are naturally encouraged to chain homochirally, and by binding to any of a number of different phosphates and sugars, the chains that arise become much more stable). Again, this is all standard science, and hardly anything I need repeat in my book.
(c) Wood then claims that "the rate of amino acid polymerization (amino acids joining together to form chains) in water is extremely low," although he never says how low or even how low it would have to be to make natural biogenesis improbable, a common fault of creationist attempts to argue against existing scientific theories. He also does not mention how catalysts and certain heated or charged environments increase the rate of protein formation. Examine the sources I provide in my book to learn all about this. In the same fashion, Wood correctly notes that "each increase in the desired number of amino acids decreases the probability of formation dramatically," but he still doesn't say how much, or how much it would have to decrease for natural biogenesis to become improbable, or even how large a protein must be to get life started. Wood also observes that "peptides (chains of amino acids) tend to break down in water," but again he does not say how quickly they break down and whether this rate of dissolution would always exceed rate of replication (and, of course, once metabolism evolves, or a protein becomes "contaminated" with a backbone of other chemicals, the threat of dissolution diminishes considerably). So these are all empty arguments that establish nothing--except to prove my own point that life has it rough in our universe, which is why it is so rare, which entails quite the opposite of Wood's previous claim that the universe was well-designed for life (pp. 78, 165-66).
(d) In the same way, Wood's claim that I need to "provide evidence" that "the right proteins were forming in any significant quantities" is another empty demand, because he himself cannot tell me which proteins are the "right" ones, or how many different proteins would be equally suitable. Until he can prove the number of suitable proteins to be "too small" to have any significant chance of arising naturally within the known age and expanse of our universe, he cannot argue that the number is too small. And for that reason, I do not claim in my book that natural biogenesis is proven, only that so far it is indicated by the available evidence, that it is sufficiently possible given what little we do know, and that no one has yet proved it improbable (pp.166-68), so it can't be ruled out in favor of any alternative theory. Hence Wood ignores my actual argument.
(e) Ultimately, all attempts like Wood's to claim that natural biogenesis is "too improbable" have so far stood on no valid or reliable evidence or assumptions, as I've demonstrated in a peer-reviewed article I wrote for Biology & Philosophy. This is especially true for his unproven claim that DNA or a complex cellular metabolism must have arisen with the first self-replicating protein, which is not what any scientist believes to be the case. When the actual scientific facts are examined, as I show in my article (which I cite in my book), the best information we have suggests that though the origin of life is indeed very improbable, the universe is so large and old that even such a low probability becomes a near certainty. Though we have not proven this to be the case, the evidence does point to it being the case, and so far no evidence refutes that conclusion, and that is all I argue in my book (pp. 165-68).
(10) Wood then says, "As for Richard's claim that once 'reproducing chains of amino acids exist, mutation inevitably takes hold', I challenge him to provide evidence that such mutations will result in an increase in complexity, or that these mutations would ever give rise to life."
Wood's second "challenge" seems odd, since a reproducing chain of amino acids is life. But I must assume he means by "life" complex life, or as he puts it, "Would such a cell, by random mutation and natural selection, ever produce the variety and complexity of life that we see all around us?" which is a mere restatement of his first challenge, to show that a simple self-replicating organism can "increase in complexity" so as to produce the much more complex "life" that we observe on earth. However, this amounts to a challenge to evolution theory, not biogenesis theory, and on this point the whole of modern science is against him.
Certainly, the simplest known natural organism is a highly evolved, extremely complex entity, and not at all what would have arisen at the start. All scientists agree that the very concept of cellular metabolism must be an evolved feature, not original to the first life. We know the first life could have survived without cells long enough to evolve them, but we also know that life could have arisen precisely where amino-acid chaining would be most stable, within already-existing "cells" in nature (vessicles in rock, for example), then gradually evolving greater control over this niche until it became independent of it. But either way, we're looking at the same assumption shared throughout evolution theory: the ability of random mutation to increase complexity. As far as I can tell, that is all that Wood is really challenging. But this challenge has no scientific merit.
Contrary to Wood's assertion, even William Dembski, the world's leading expert on this challenge, admits that complexity can increase naturally without intelligent design: "small amounts of specified information can be produced by chance," up to as much as the equivalent of 500 bits of information. Of course, evolutionists do not propose that any mutation driving evolutionary development has ever produced more than 500 bits of new information, so Dembski must concede that if this is correct, then all observed increases in complexity in nature can be explained by evolution theory without any intelligent involvement. Even the human genome, a sequence containing the equivalent of over a million bits of information, can arise by numerous random but sequential steps of less than 500 bits each. So there is no problem here: evolution theory can explain all observed increases in complexity.
Dembski knows this well enough, which is why he argues that certain developments must have required a sudden increase of information greater than 500 bits, which is the point of attempting to locate "irreducibly complex" organs. However, no none has scientifically demonstrated the existence of such an organ--candidates have been advanced, but no peer-reviewed research has been conducted that establishes any of those candidate organs as in fact irreducibly complex. Since it has been demonstrated that apparent examples can be illusory, hard scientific evidence is required before the existence of any such organ can be established. And until it is, the burden remains on the claimant, not on the scientific community (pp. 221-22).
(11) Wood says I "expect [my] readers to believe that random collisions of molecules can produce coded information" even though "this isn't what we see in nature," rather,†"information always comes from intelligence, and we have no reason to think that it was any different in the beginning."
Wood is wrong on every single count. Of course, I must say this is an odd claim for Wood to make, since if God finely tuned the universe to produce life, why would he have to violate the laws of that finely tuned universe in order to get life started? To argue that life would never arise in this universe without divine help is to say that this universe was specifically designed not to produce life. Wood has to choose. He can't have both a universe finely tuned to produce life and a life that can only arise by miraculous intervention. But once he has chosen, he will have to get the facts straight:
(a) I do not expect my readers to believe that "random collisions of molecules" produced the first life--to the contrary, as I explain in my book, only the particular properties of amino acids made the origin of life possible, and not through random collisions, but through natural physical forces that cause chains of amino acids to form. The only role randomness played here, at the biological level, is that the chains themselves contained random sequences, until one of those random sequences was an arrangement that copies itself. The questions here are: How many arrangements of amino acids within a certain length self-replicate? And how many chains of those lengths were randomly fused together throughout the entire age and expanse of the universe? Wood cannot answer these questions, and therefore he cannot claim the answers favor either him or me. All I say is that the evidence we do have suggests the answers are probably more on my side of the equation (pp. 165-68). But at the very least, there is certainly no evidence refuting my theory that they are.
(b) It is not the case that we never see coded (or "specified") information arising randomly in nature, nor is it the case that such information "always" comes from an intelligence. William Dembski himself concludes that coded information of up to 500 bits can arise at random in nature, and he says that this has even been empirically observed. I make no greater claim than that. I agree with Dembski that the first organism had to contain less content than a 500-bit string of code, but there is no good reason to believe it didn't. And once random processes stumbled on this string (or what may be any of numerous equivalent strings) a functional protein would exist that natural selection could work upon. As long as no single random mutation added more than 500 bits of information in any one step, even Dembski would agree that evolution by natural selection would be able to explain all life, no matter how complex, including the development of DNA and its particular "code," which all biologists agree evolved and was not original to the first life.
In exactly the same way, when Wood says the idea "that consciousness arose as the natural byproduct of mutation and natural selection" is implausible because "we donít see this sort of complexity arising on its own," he never explains how much of a sudden increase in complexity he thinks this involved, or how he could know that. Even according to Dembski, so long as every single step in the evolution of consciousness involved less than 500 bits of new information, then natural selection operating on random mutation would be able to explain it--because we do see this sort of complexity arising on its own: we've seen it in computer simulations, we've seen it in the lab, we've seen it in nature, and even Dembski's extensive mathematical calculations prove that it can and will happen.
(12) Wood claims that my "section on 'The Evolution of Mind' is just a page in length, and it merely describes [my] view of what a mind is, rather than providing a reasonable evolutionary pathway for the development of consciousness."
This is misleading, since that same section refers readers to where I actually do discuss the issue in greater detail (pp. 173-74). I refer readers to several other sections that relate to the issue, especially my section on "The Nature of Mind" which breaks down exactly what I believe a mind evolved to be (and thus what exactly it is that has to be explained by evolution), with well over ten pages on that subject (pp. 135-57), and my section on "The Nature of Reason," which devotes over ten more pages to the subject (pp. 177-92), often specifically addressing issues pertaining to the evolution of the human mind. I add additional information in still other places, such as my discussion of the evolution of our beauty response (e.g. see pp. 358-59) and our emotions (e.g. pp. 193-97).
Even so, it is true that I spend a lot more time explaining how a physical organ can produce the properties of a conscious mind (altogether, throughout the book, over thirty pages cover various aspects of this), since if one can be persuaded of that, the question of how such an organ could evolve becomes relatively less important--no more crucial for my worldview than resolving how we evolved to walk on two legs: still important, but not a philosophical problem. So it is not clear to me what Wood is asking for. If he wants to know how scientists account for the evolution of human consciousness, I provide a more than adequate bibliography on that very subject (p. 174). To save space, I often stand on current science, without seeing any need to defend it beyond referring readers to it (see my very relevant remarks on pages 65-68, 411). On the other hand, if Wood wants to know how a physical organ can exist (however it arose) which can produce consciousness, I discuss that issue quite extensively.
More importantly, however, I am content to present the evidence that our mind did evolve naturally, which provides a sufficient circumstantial case that it did, even without knowing exactly how. Once again, that's the difference between philosophy and science: that we don't know exactly how opens the door to many hypotheses, naturalistic and theistic (and beyond), so our job as philosophers is to weigh the available evidence and decide as best we can which hypothesis is most likely to be true. Our conclusion obviously does not equal scientific certainty, only a reasonable and flexible degree of confidence. Theists can't do any better than that themselves, so they have no right to complain when I do. Yet Wood fails to inform his readers that even my "one page" on the subject presents some of the evidence that our minds did evolve naturally, no matter how exactly they did, and I don't rest on that: I devote many more pages elsewhere in the book to arguing the same conclusion (see pages referenced above).
(13) Wood claims "it would be difficult to imagine an explanation that has more undemonstrated assumptions than" my worldview.
As usual, the exact opposite is the case. Wood never mentions or addresses my extensive argument that the god hypothesis entails far more undemonstrated assumptions than anything I propose (pp. 71-84; see also pp. 156, 221-26, 239-41, 253-89).
(14) Finally, Wood falsely claims I say "that we shouldn't believe something until it's been proven."
I never say that. To the contrary, I allow for six different degrees of a sufficient reason to believe, a fact that Wood never addresses (pp. 49-60), and what I actually conclude is that we must adopt "a belief system based on applying proven truth-finding methods to basic, direct, undeniable experiences" (p. 60). In other words, our methods must be proven to discover the truth more often than not, and so long as we correctly apply such methods we will have warranted belief (pp. 43-47).
Otherwise, I allow beliefs to contain unproven elements. I argue only that our beliefs "should contain as few unproven elements as possible" (p. 71); I explicitly declare that "a theory of philosophy or speculation" which is "a merely plausible inference, an unproven hypothesis, or a 'best guess'" can be a valid part of one's belief system (p. 216, and see pp. 59-60); I argue that when things that are proven to exist are capable of explaining some fact, then we have no sound reason to explain that same fact by appealing to things that have not been proven to exist (p. 72, and see pp. 221-26); and I argue that the government should constrain itself to "proven" facts in the strict sense, not that we should.
I specifically wrote:
It is not wrong for the law and the government to support and promote the facts. What those facts might imply or entail about the correct philosophical worldview is not the government's business to dictate. But it is the governmentís business to be fair and honest, and that means agreeing with what is proven, with abundant objective evidence. (p. 403)
Thus, clearly, what I mean by "proven with abundant objective evidence" is a much more limited field than what I otherwise believe we can each be warranted in believing, with lesser degrees of conviction.
Thus, instead of presenting what I actually argue about method and warrant, Wood plays games with his readers:
(a) When Wood quotes me saying that "when there is no trustworthy evidence of something and no valid reason for it, you should not believe it" (p. 255, emphasis added) he pretends he didn't read the two instances of the word "no" in this sentence and thus pretends that I said we should only believe what is "proven" (in the sense he takes that to mean--though I define "proof" more loosely than he seems to do: p. 61). Yet, contrary to the impression Wood gives, my statement is consistent with the converse, that "when there is some trustworthy evidence of something and some valid reason for it, you should believe it," which does not support the point he wants to make. Of course, my actual methods are more complex than that, but Wood shows no interest in discussing my actual methods.
(b) When Wood quotes me saying that "[W]e have confidence only when the evidence is and remains overwhelming" (p. 217), he deliberately takes my quote out of context: this was originally stated in reference to science, not philosophy or history or indeed any of the other four sources of confidence I establish that I explain are all inferior to science in the certainty of their results (pp. 55-60). Thus, this statement does not apply to them, and therefore Wood is engaging in deception when he presents this quote as if it described my entire epistemology. Indeed, to work his deceit, Wood erased the first half of my sentence: "All this is a symptom of the very tentativeness we are talking about as science's virtue: we have confidence only when the evidence is and remains overwhelming" (emphasis added). Even if that wasn't clear enough, anyone who looks at the entire paragraph will see that there can be no mistake what I was referring to: the standards of science, not philosophy.
(c) In the same fashion, Wood then quotes me saying that "when scientists make extraordinary claims, they are expected to fork over evidence well beyond ordinary demands" and†"when they fail to do so, they are not believed" (p. 223, emphasis added). Note the context: I am talking about claims to scientific fact, not just any claim we are warranted in believing. Once again, by erasing half my sentence Wood thus deceives his readers. My actual sentence read "...they are not believed
(witness the fiasco over 'cold fusion'), but when they succeed, their extraordinary claim becomes ordinary science," which shows I was contrasting confirmed scientific facts with unconfirmed theories.
Indeed, the context of the latter two quotations was clearly established on p. 217 where I wrote:
Science sets the highest bar, requiring the highest standards of verification, employing the most experienced and well-trained judges, who are encouraged to be as self-critical as they can be. And that is what makes science scientific.
Thus, when Wood concludes after delivering these quotes that I "[haven't] proven [my] view," he is clearly playing games with his readers, leading them to think that I set out to present my philosophy as scientific fact and thus undertook all the burdens of evidence that would entail--the "highest" burdens, burdens I obviously did not meet, because I never intended to, nor claimed to.
I know Wood cannot think I set out to scientifically prove my worldview true. In numerous places throughout my book I explicitly disavow this aim (most explicitly on p. 59). He must know that. All I claimed to do is demonstrate that the most reliable evidence we do have points toward naturalism, and that the mysteries that remain unexplained by science have available naturalistic hypotheses that at least have some reliable evidence in their favor and none against. Thus, contrary to Wood's criticism, it is fully in accord with the aims of my book and of philosophy itself to propose multiple alternative hypotheses, especially when we lack sufficient evidence to decide between them. Doing this is not being inconsistent. Likewise, presenting evidence establishing the credible plausibility of a theory is more than sufficient to achieve the goal of my book and meet the needs of philosophy (as I say outright on page 71, for example). If Wood expects more than this, then to be consistent, he should expect more from theology, too. Yet theologians can't do any better than I have, at least with the actual evidence presently at hand.
Hence in all my theories of origin, from cosmology to biogenesis to the origin of mind, the claims I actually make in my book are far more modest than Wood pretends. In each case, I argue that we do not yet know the truth (thus, I concede that theists might eventually be proven right some day and our theories refuted). Instead, I argue that all we can do is look at which theories seem more likely to be true given what little we do know, which is all that honest theists can claim to do, too. And then I show how the evidence we do have, though not scientifically conclusive, nevertheless supports naturalism more than any alternative, which is what theists purport to do, too. And then I point out that so far no one has presented any evidence that refutes these naturalist theories of origin or that argues for something else, and therefore we cannot conclude that some other theory is more likely true--even if it is.
That is the difference between philosophy and science. Though science could prove or even refute my philosophy some day, until that happens all I have is the evidence available to me, and as a philosopher I draw what conclusions I can from that. But I am not dogmatic. I hope and expect science will test every claim I make, as soon as it can. Then our theories will depart the halls of philosophy and enter the arena of scientific fact--either as what is almost certainly true, or what is almost certainly false. But it is deceitful of Wood to give the impression that I argued this had already been done.
What's the Meaning of Life?
In "Meaning in the Multiverse?" Wood essentially argues that theism is a more "satisfying" explanation of things. That may well be so. There is no reason to expect the truth will conform to what we want to be the case, or to what we think is "satisfying." I certainly desire to live in a body and in a universe of very different design, and would find such an existence more satisfying, but alas, that is not where I live, and I must acknowledge and accept that as the truth. Anything else is to embrace delusion as your way of life (p. 298). Maybe that is okay for Wood. But I'd rather know the truth and learn how to make the best of it, than pretend things are different than they are. Perhaps that indicates a fundamental difference between atheists and theists (see pp. 204-05, 268-70).
Wood is certainly correct that I believe "life is ultimately meaningless," because the "ultimately" cannot be established. "Ultimately," even God's existence would be meaningless, because there is no other God around to give his life meaning--his actions do not matter for anyone else but himself, and apart from his own arbitrary or unchosen opinion of the matter, even his existing "forever" would be meaningless. Yet if God can thus find meaning without appealing to someone else, then so can we. And that is the difference between an "ultimate" meaning and an actual meaning. Life does not have "ultimate" meaning, but it does have actual meaning, a distinction I discuss more than once (not only on pp. 161-64 but also on pp. 345, 301-02).
Wood might want his "deeds" to matter for an infinite amount of time, but if the truth is that they only matter for a finite amount of time, by affecting a finite number of other conscious lives, he should be prepared to accept the truth. If he is not able to do so, then he may well believe in God for emotional, not rational reasons. And that does seem to be the case, since he clearly believes atheism rationally entails suicidal depression--which suggests a mere fear of death will guarantee his belief in God, the evidence be damned. On the other hand, if he is able to cope with such a reality, then he cannot criticize atheists for doing so.
Wood's irrational fears begin when he claims that even "if we spend our entire lives improving society, we will all soon be wiped out, and it will be as if we had never existed," even though he does not know that for a fact (see what I say about this assumption on pp. 157-58, 162, 405-08). Though I argue it is very likely each of us as individuals will cease to exist, it is not certain whether human society will ever cease to exist, and we can certainly do what we can to help ensure that it doesn't, even if it's a gamble. Since we can only really be happy by becoming compassionate (pp. 316-22), what we do, we will do as much for the benefit of others as for ourselves, including those who come after us.
Nevertheless, it may well be that humanity will one day cease to exist. So what? Does Wood think the kindness and happiness I bring to people today is of no value simply because it is temporary? Only an uncompassionate man could think so. And that is the very point I make--and that Wood ignores--in my section on the meaning of life (pp. 161-64). Hence Wood is wrong to claim that "whether we feed the poor or eat them, whether we raise a family or murder a family, whether we fight crime or sell crack, the end result is the same," because the "end result" includes what has happened: in the one world there are more happy people than in the other, and that is a very big difference. In no way are these two worlds "the same."
In contrast, Wood declares that he would never do anything nice or kind unless "there are eternal consequences for our actions," by which he means for himself, because he says only then would his "decision to feed a person instead of eating him really make a difference." That means Wood does not act morally out of concern for the happiness of others, but only out of concern for his own future fate. That's scary. I would not want such a man as my friend or even my neighbor (see my comparison on pp. 294-302). Do we really want a world full of people who don't really give a damn about each other unless they are threatened and paid to? Or do we want a world full of people who do give a damn about each other and are good to each other because they genuinely enjoy making others happy? Obviously the latter. But if we produce the latter, then no one will need an "infinite reward" to be good, much less a threat of "infinite punishment." The joy our actions create will be sufficient reward, no matter how temporary, just as the misery our actions can cause will be sufficient deterrent.
To be perfectly clear, I do not believe there can ever be a truly selfless act--by definition we always do what we want, whether what we want is base or noble, material or abstract, and therefore it is logically impossible to have a world where people act only for the benefit of others. Thus, I am not criticizing Wood's proposal that God might reward good and punish bad deeds. Rather, I believe moral action should be motivated by the mutual happiness and mutual avoidance of misery that our actions bring about: to ourselves and others. Thus, even in my book I argue that we all have self-interested reasons to be compassionate, but once we are compassionate, we are no longer selfish (see pp. 347, 326-27, etc.). The significant distinction is that our reasons for acting are the effects we have on ourselves and others in the here and now, which are no less desired by us because they are only temporary. Though we can act toward future goals, even the prospect of eternal goals, most of our actions are and should be motivated by the immediate effects of what we do. There is no need of eternal outcomes here...except to someone who doesn't give a damn how others feel.
Wood then thinks I argue on page 162 that only "if there were a timeless observer, which there isn't, our lives would have meaning," but that is not the argument I make. I do not posit the existence of any "viewer" but ourselves, and all I ask us to do is accept the actual facts. And the actual fact is that every event in time exists eternally: it never disappears, there is never a time when it ceases to have happened (in accord with my argument on pp. 88-96). Hence, for example, a good deed done makes our universe, as an eternal collective being, fundamentally different from an otherwise-identical universe that lacks that good deed. That is the argument I make, though I can understand why Wood's childish and bigoted eyes were incapable of grasping my point. But when he gives the false impression that this is the only argument I made for meaning in our lives, he appears to be engaging in conscious deception.
Wood also asks "Why should an emotion that was programmed into us during our evolutionary development because it aided our survival be a foundation for meaning?" even though I answered this question (pp. 193-201), which again he fails to tell his readers. Contrary to Wood's ridiculous claim that "anything" can be the basis of meaning, there could not be any worthwhile meaning derived from a pursuit that brought us a balance of misery rather than happiness (p. 339). And in actual fact--regardless of why or how it came to be that way (though see pp. 326-27)--it is in our nature that the pursuit of love, boadly defined (pp. 197-201), is the only thing that brings us a balance of happiness rather than misery, and happiness (ours and others') is in the final analysis the only thing worth living for (pp. 313-44). This is an actual fact, and not just something I cherry picked out of an infinite grab bag.
Thus, contrary to Wood's bogus tirade, the pursuit of "power, or big breasts, or loyalty, or selfishness, or puppies" will, as a matter of actual fact undermine our own balance of happiness in life, and therefore could not, in and of themselves, be worth living for. I make this point quite extensively throughout my book's many sections on emotions, meaning, and morality, so Wood cannot claim ignorance here. Instead, Wood chooses to misrepresent what I actually say, and to attack a ridiculous straw man instead.
Do My Morals Have No Foundation?
In "Morality In Metaphysical Naturalism?" Wood seems to be running out of steam. For example, he criticizes me for stating what it means for my theory to be an objective theory of morality by accusing me of stating what it means for my theory to be an objective theory of morality. Huh? Then he criticizes my theory because it entails that we cannot always know everything we would need to know to be certain whether we are doing the right thing, but that is true of every moral theory, including his. Then he criticizes my theory because it entails that persuading people to morally reform themselves will be difficult. Well, duh! When has it ever been otherwise?
Wood essentially hangs everything else he says on the following three-pronged argument against my moral philosophy:
First, it suggests that in order to reach [a] state of agreement, we will have to be "fully informed of all the true facts."†But how can we ever know that we are in full possession of the facts?....Second, it is difficult to believe that people will agree on moral issues as soon as they are in possession of all the facts. No matter how many facts we learn, people still disagree about things like abortion and homosexuality.† Will a few more facts change this disagreement?†Third, Richard says that there will be moral agreement as long as everyoneís cognitive faculties are working.†But who is to decide whose faculties are functioning properly?†That is, if I say that abortion is wrong, and Richard says that it is right, we will be at a standoff.†He will say that my faculties are malfunctioning, and I will argue the same about him.
None of this follows a correct understanding of my moral theory.
(1) First, even Wood must agree that we can only know what's right if we are "fully informed of all the true facts."
So Wood can't claim this as a special fault of my moral theory. After all, on his view we can only know what's right after we know that we are supposed to obey the commandments of God and know what those commandments really are and what they actually mean, and know the actual circumstances we are in (e.g. Will killing the man before us constitute murder or self-defense? Do we know the woman we intend to marry is not our mother or daughter?). Thus, he can't criticize my theory for demanding exactly the same thing. Whether we're talking about him or me, we can only be certain we are doing right when we know all the facts. This does mean we will often do the wrong thing by accident (in myth, Oedipus married and bedded his mother without knowing it, while Caiaphus thought Jesus had committed a capital crime by claiming the authority of God, not knowing Jesus was really granted authority by God).
This is true on every moral theory. That is why we must not act rashly, but endeavor to acquire as much accurate knowledge as we can, given our circumstances. Wood would surely say the same. Hence all I do is explain how we, as naturalists, would go about doing that. Wood will certainly claim his own equivalent theory as to how we, as Christians, can increase our certainty that what we are doing is right, again within the limitations of our circumstances, but even he would never pretend we will always have all the correct knowledge we need in order to be certain. We can only approach probable knowledge, in morality as in any other endeavor. Since I know Wood read my discussion of moral error and thus knows the validity of this very point (pp. 336-37, and see 339-41), he must be trying to pull a fast one on his readers.
(2) Second, Wood either fails to understand the issue, or is deliberately pretending not to, when he asks whether "more facts" can produce agreement "about things like abortion and homosexuality."
If God himself came down from Heaven and personally told Wood that what I say about abortion and homosexuality are factually correct and these things are not in fact immoral, certainly Wood would then agree with me about homosexuality and abortion. If not, then there is clearly nothing that could ever change his mind no matter what the truth was. So there can be no rational doubt that having "all the facts" (which means the truth) will produce agreement, even between us. Hence Wood's scoffing at this claim is clearly disingenuous.
Pythagoras is said to have regarded eating beans to be murder, because he supposedly believed beans contained the transmigrating souls of persons, and thus a bean had the same moral status that a fetus has to Wood. The debate between Wood and me about the morality of abortion is identical to the debate between Pythagoras and me about the morality of eating beans: if the actual fact is that beans contain souls and eating them produces real human suffering, then eating them would indeed be immoral even on my philosophy, and as soon as I understood what the actual facts were, I would agree with Pythagoras. And vice versa: if the evidence suggests instead that beans probably don't contain conscious human souls, as soon as Pythagoras understood this, he would agree with me and discard his belief that eating beans is wrong. Surely, then, if Wood discovered sufficient evidence to believe that conscious human souls reside in beans, he would regard eating them to be as immoral as abortion.
Thus the debate over abortion and homosexuality definitely hinges on disputed facts, not a difference in values. Both sides of the abortion debate agree that deliberately killing innocent people is murder. Their values are identical. The only disagreement is whether abortion constitutes killing a person, which is a dispute of fact, not of value. Some Christians claim it is a fact that a fetus contains a human soul and that God disapproves of killing a fetus, but we claim these are not facts, certainly not known facts. It is not even clear that a God exists. But even if he does, it is not at all clear that he disapproves of abortion. Even the Bible is vague on this point, and it is not indisputably certain that the Bible represents God's views in the first place. And there is no evidence at all as to exactly when God puts souls into the fetus. Indeed, there is no clear evidence whether there even are such things as souls. Wood's claim, in other words, can never meet the burden of evidence required of the prosecution in a court of law. Similar problems attend any view Wood might have about homosexuality.
If Wood is even remotely rational, he must surely admit that, however certain he may be, he could be wrong about any of these things. And that means Wood must agree that if he discovers he is wrong about these facts, in other words if he learns the facts are different than he now thinks they are, then his moral beliefs will change accordingly. And that is exactly what I say. So he cannot criticize me for advocating a view he himself must surely hold--unless Wood is so dogmatically irrational that he will never change his mind no matter what the evidence.
(3) Third, even Wood must agree that our cognitive faculties must be functioning in order for us to reason correctly and thus act correctly.
So it is again completely disingenuous of Wood to criticize me for stating that very fact. After all, if Wood met a clinically-diagnosed schizophrenic who hears beans talking to her and thus became convinced that beans have souls and eating them is murder, Wood would argue her moral opinions about beans should not be heeded because her cognitive faculties are malfunctioning. Duh. On the other hand, it is plainly absurd to say, as Wood does, that "if I say that abortion is wrong, and Richard says that it is right," then Richard "will say that my faculties are malfunctioning, and I will argue the same about him." I certainly hope not. For this would be an irrational argument--to simply "invent" facts out of whole cloth and claim your opponent is insane merely because he disagrees with you! I'm not surprised Wood says he would resort to such a ridiculous argument (he even defends its use by William Lane Craig). But he cannot claim I ever endorsed such nonsense. So when Wood says I use "an almost identical argument in favor of [my] moral system," he is lying.†
(4) Wood then invents a completely bogus conversation between me and Jeffrey Dahmer, which misrepresents every single aspect of my moral theory.
Of course, Dahmer was clinically insane, so there could not be any rational argument with him in the first place. But let's suppose (contrary to fact) that Dahmer was sane and thus capable of reasoning coherently and acting rationally, and that he wasn't a psychopath (see my discussion on pp. 342-44). Contrary to what Wood claims (that he ate people because he was "hungry"), Dahmer's actual reason was sexual, which is why his victims were all gay or attractive men. Moreover, contrary to Wood's naive assumption (typical of Christians who see the world only in black and white and rarely understand people different from themselves), Dahmer did not think what he was doing was morally right.
With the correct context in hand, a more accurate conversation between us would proceed as follows (based on actual statements made by Dahmer to the courts, the police and the press):
Jeffrey: I have violent, sexual urges to control and dominate attractive young men. I think I'll go kill one and dismember him.
Richard: Why do you want to hurt someone? Don't you care about how your actions will make them feel, or about the loss and damage you will cause to them and others by taking their life? There are many S&M communities where you can learn and engage in safe and consentual acts of sexual dominance that will satisfy your desires, without doing any real harm. Why not pursue that avenue instead?
Jeffrey: I didn't know that. My parents told me being gay was an abomination, and I kind of hate myself for feeling these wrong feelings. I certainly didn't know there were groups that could teach me how to satisfy my urges safely. No one told me about that, or taught me how to channel and control my urges. Since everyone I knew told me gay feelings were disgusting, I could never bring it up. That's why I want to regain control over my life by totally dominating the young men I desire, by turning them into zombies, so I don't have to face my shame. You're right, though. I can't stand to hurt these people, or hurt their families by taking them away. I just don't know what else to do.
Richard: So you know what you plan to do is wrong?
Jeffrey: Yes. I'm fully aware that the acts I want to commit are wrong. In fact, I feel horrified that I am able to carry out such deeds! Indeed, I have to drink excessively, to try to forget the nightmare I feel I'm living, as I ponder the horror of some of the acts that I'm planning. But I figure, since there is no God to hold me accountable, I can do anything I want.
Richard: No hand of God will stop you, that's for sure. But why would you want to do it? You just admitted that killing these men will actually make your life miserable, even more miserable than it has been. Right?
Jeffrey: Yes, that's true.
Richard: So even if no one will hold you accountable, you actually already have every reason to hold yourself accountable, in the interests of your own happiness. Isn't that right?
Jeffrey: Hmmm. Yeah, I guess that's true.
Richard: Of course, it is not true that no one else will hold you accountable. Society will, since you will likely end up in prison or even get murdered by a fellow inmate, or perhaps one of your future victims will fight back, or someone who adopts your own thinking will decide it is okay to dominate and dismember you. So there is a good chance you will be held accountable for what you say and do even without a god around. But that still amounts to the same thing: how your actions will affect your own future happiness.
Jeffrey: I think I see what you mean. When I talk about someone holding me "accountable" all I'm really wondering is whether someone will make my life miserable or happy as a result of what I do, but even without a god there will always be someone who will make my life miserable or happy as a result of what I do, even if it's only myself.
Richard: Not only that, but the universe itself will react sometimes, since your actions often have direct physical consequences. Like your alcoholism. That is physically harming your happiness all by itself, without any person having to bring about those negative effects.
Jeffrey: That's true. And my urges to kill are causing me to drink heavily. So obviously, to avoid the bad effects that alcoholism has on my happiness, I need to address my urges, and not act on them, since the nightmare my life will then become will only cause my drinking to become even worse!
Richard: Now you're getting it! In fact, instead of killing someone, which will only make your life even more of a living hell, if you search instead and find a safe outlet for your urges, and seek professional therapy for your social and personal problems, and realize that gay feelings are not abominable or disgusting, your life and happiness will substantially improve. So don't you agree the only rational choice for you is to do that, and not go out and dismember some poor guy?
Jeffrey: Yes, that's true. If I start killing and dismembering people, I'll become deeply remorseful for what I've done and I'll wish that I had never started. But if I follow your alternative path, I might actually escape the well of misery I'm trapped in, or at least make life better for myself than I've had up to now. Thank you!
That fictional conversation more accurately reflects my moral philosophy, though not completely. More questions that could be asked here are answered in my book. But contrast the above with Wood's fictional conversation, and you'll see he is totally on the wrong track.
(5) Wood returns to his previous pattern of hypocrisy by falsely claiming that a Christian cannot kill because "he would be acting inconsistently with his worldview" whereas "an atheist, on the other hand, can kill a person without such inconsistency."
Christians can't justify killing? Hmmm. It seems to me Christians have more justifications for murder than atheists do, and have routinely engaged in all manner of killing and cruelty, without seeing any inconsistency at all. For they can simply claim God told them it was okay! Atheists have nothing like that excuse. After all, doesn't God himself say we should murder "witches" and "gays" and "heathens"? Don't those who murder doctors who perform abortions have a perfectly consistent rationale? If Wood believes it would be consistent with his worldview to kill a man who was about to murder a child in a school, then he must also believe it consistent with his worldview to kill a man who is about to murder a child in a womb. Womb. School. The difference is morally irrelevant.
Then consider the logic of the Westfield Murders. John List murdered his entire family, each with a painless gunshot to the head, in order to save his family from the "sinful effects of poverty" that would ensue as a consequence of his recent bankruptcy. Hence he killed them so he could, as he himself put it, "be sure they are in heaven." He knew this was a good act, because what could be better than giving someone an eternal life in heaven? Think about it. How can the murder of an innocent ever be bad, if it results in the greatest possible good that can ever be bestowed on them? This is a serious ethical paradox that Christianity has no easy solution to.
Even if you say List went to hell, for example, in the Christian system that only makes List's act more admirable. For then not only did he do the greatest thing that could ever be done for his family, but he even sacrificed his own eternal soul to bring them this gift! There is no greater deed imaginable in Christianity: to make the ultimate sacrifice for the ultimate good of another. That's more than even Jesus supposedly did for us. Jesus did not sacrifice his soul to an eternity in hell. But according to Wood's worldview, List did! Thus, his sacrifice was infinitely greater, and for that reason infinitely more compassionate. List also said he knew "he could get forgiveness from God" later. Who could say he wouldn't? After all, Jesus himself says all sins will be forgiven (Mark 3:28; Matt. 12:31; and see p. 299). List even believed that "because" of the Christian virtues embraced by his family, they will forgive him, too, and welcome him into heaven. Isn't that what Christianity teaches they should do? And surely they, mere humans, could not be more forgiving than God!
List's logic was impeccable. And that is a problem. Certainly, Christians can devise all kinds of theoretical systems that somehow serve to "refute" rationale's like List's, but that's all they are: purely theoretical systems. There is no way to prove that those theories of divinity or God's plan are any more correct than List's. Any principle one appealed to could be used by List to draw exactly the opposite conclusion from exactly the same evidence. How is that any better a situation than Wood accuses atheists of being in? It is no better at all. Indeed, it is actually worse. Naturalists cannot go beyond what is demonstrable and most probable given the actual evidence. We cannot invent facts. We can only reason from the facts at hand. But Christians can invent any theology, any god, any interpretation they want--and justify it on the same evidence, using the same methods as any other Christian.
A Secular Humanist has no such recourse. Instead, we are faced with the realities of ourselves and the social and physical world, such as we just had our fictional Jeffrey Dahmer discover. Those facts entail only one rational course for us. We cannot "invent" facts or interpretations to justify alternatives, because the outcome will still be the same: our eventual misery, or even destruction. Thus, we have to look at how certain choices will actually affect our future, and act accordingly. The Christian, on the other hand, has all manner of invisible rewards and punishments and rules and facts that he can call up or dismiss as he pleases.
That's why Christians can never agree on just what is moral or immoral. Wood presents abortion and homosexuality as if these were wrong on the Christian worldview, but plenty of Christians disagree with him. And what facts can he appeal to? They have their "inspiration by the Holy Spirit" and their "interpretation of the Bible" and he has his. No facts exist that will tell us whose "inspiration" and "interpretation" is probably correct. Atheists at least stick to the facts, and when the facts are unknown, concede ignorance. Even at best, Wood cannot claim any more for himself. And he is often in a much worse situation than we are.
(6) Wood falsely claims I argue "that something is immoral only if it interferes with another person's happiness."
This is quite false. I very explicitly argue that many things are immoral that only interfere with your own happiness, even if there is no effect on anyone else. Not only do I discuss this in no uncertain terms on pages 316-18, but Wood's own quote (from p. 317) contains an explicit reference to my requirement that homosexuality not harm the individual homosexual. So Wood seems to be pretending not to have read or understood this.
Though I do suggest that laws be restricted mainly to acts that harm others (pp. 389-90), again I very explicitly distinguish laws from morals (pp. 369-70). Not only does Wood ignore what I actually say about that, but he also doesn't consult my sources on the reasons for various human rights (p. 390). For example, in his convoluted example of child pornography, Wood seems to think that violating a civil right to privacy does no harm. If that were so, then why do people desire that right? Could it be because the consequences of not protecting that right entail real, widespread, tangible harms to a great many people? Perish the thought!
Be that as it may, what should be illegal is only a subset of what I argue should be considered immoral, and I very specifically explain how immoral acts often harm ourselves, not just our victims (e.g. pp. 320-23), and that the motives we need to cultivate for our own happiness, such as compassion for other human beings, already work against the desire to engage in such activity in the first place (p. 323). Wood ignores all three points, and thus deceives his readers into thinking my moral theory is far more simplistic than it really is. He also seems to have no concept of proportion. For instance, he worries over the threat of men taking pictures of masked, unmolested, naked children without their knowledge, which is by no means in the same league as forcing children to engage in sexual acts on camera. Both violate a civil right, and both are uncompassionate acts, but one is far worse than the other.
Wood also does not have any plausible alternative--all he can offer in place of what I say is that certain acts are just "wrong," for no identifiable reason. He offers no reliable method for determining it. There is nothing in the Bible against child pornography, for example. So how does he know it is "wrong"? Did God descend from heaven and tell him this one day? Indeed, Wood says "it doesn't matter whose happiness it affects, it's still wrong," but surely he doesn't really believe that. If God will not even punish the evildoer, so that no harm will ever come to anyone's happiness, then in what sense would such an act be "wrong"? Surely, Wood means it does matter whose happiness an act affects, through its consequences in the afterlife. But that is completely unhelpful as a method for locating which acts are moral or immoral (as I explain on pp. 297-99).
(7) Though I note that any moral "rule" can fall upon an exception, Wood claims he can think of some that don't.
I'll grant that maybe there is some rule I haven't thought of that has no possible exception to it, since I am not omniscient. The point I make does not require the absence of such rare exceptions (p. 340), because even if some such rules exist, we cannot build an entire moral system out of them. Wood offers "Don't torture little old ladies for enjoyment," for example, but what if the little old lady is masochistic and enjoys being tortured and specifically asks you to torture her? Wood might say that S&M is immoral (again, for no discernible reason), but even within his own worldview, what if God commanded him to torture old ladies for fun? Or what if an alien invader gives him a choice, to torture old ladies for fun, or else the alien will exterminate the entire human race? Difficult questions indeed, with no easy answers. The same goes for all his other examples. "Don't molest two-year-old boys." Not even if it would save a million lives? Not even if God told you to? In truth, I would prefer death if ever given these kinds of choices, so I agree, perhaps in that sense these rules admit of no exceptions. But such rules are few and far between.
(8) Wood falsely claims that I "must, if [I am] consistent, conclude that morality is relative."
As usual, Wood neglects to inform his readers of what I actually say to the contrary (e.g. pp. 336-37, 342-44, 326-27). Thus, he frequently says my morals have no "foundation," even though that is quite untrue. Their foundation is the conjunction of three material, empirical facts: the fixed nature of the universe, the evolved needs of human beings, and the logically supreme value of personal happiness. The simple fact of the matter is that moral behavior is what we must do to maximize our chances of securing more and greater happiness in our lives. This is true even in Wood's worldview. The only difference is that he places the relevant effects on our happiness in an unseen world after death, whereas I stick to the observable facts. As to how I arrive from the observable facts to the conclusion that only by cultivating in ourselves the virtues of compassion and integrity will we maximize our chances of securing more and greater happiness in our lives, one should ignore Wood's lies and omissions and instead actually read what I wrote on this subject (which occupies over fifty pages of my book: pp. 37-40, 291-348, 369-70).
Can I Criticize God?
In "If Richard Were God..." Wood begins with the bogus claim that "apparent injustices seem to be Richard's only substantial objection to theism" (thus he pretends pages 71-74, 211-52, 255-57 don't exist). Then he proceeds with more of his usual tricks:
(1) Wood claims that "according to Shermer's Last Law, God could never--even in principle--give enough evidence for everyone to conclude that he exists" because we could always posit a suitably advanced alien being.
This is typical of Wood's deceitful tactics. I myself never make any such claim. To the contrary, I state quite the opposite (e.g. pp. 272, 282), a clear example of Wood deceiving his readers. This is also another case where he deliberately ignores my chapter on method, where one can see what I would find wrong with arguments like this. If the word "God" is to have any actual meaning it must describe how the universe would be different with a God in it from the universe without a God in it (pp. 31-35, 40-42, 288). Otherwise, the word itself is meaningless--it describes nothing. To illustrate this I use the example of The Matrix (p. 32), but the exact same point applies to anything (pp. 33-35, 40-42), including the hypothesis "God exists."
This entails that if the word "God" has any relevant meaning, then it is logically necessary that there will always be something that would be true on the hypothesis "God exists" that would not be true on the hypothesis "God does not exist, although super-aliens do." And whatever it was, that would be something that would prove that any candidate for God was indeed God and not a mere "super-alien." On the other hand, if Wood is saying that there is nothing, not even in principle, that would be any different between a God and a super-alien, then there is no difference. In other words, the word "super-alien" would then mean "God" and the word "God" would mean "super-alien." And if that were the case, then to say "that's not God, because it's a super-alien" would literally mean "that's not God, because it's God," which is clearly not a valid argument for atheism.
I also make the point throughout my book that "maybe, therefore probably" is never a valid argument (e.g. pp. 28, 53, 60-62, 188). It is true that any candidate for God could be a suitably advanced alien instead, but it is also possible that beans could contain human souls, that the universe could have been created by a magic tomato, or that you could be on Mars right now, consumed by a psychotic delusion that you are on earth. An infinite number of propositions are possible. That in no way means any of them are probable, and belief is only warranted in the probable, not the merely possible.
Thus, a being who convinced me he was God could be a super-alien posing as God, but with enough of the evidence I ask for in my book (e.g. pp. 256-58, 272-78, 280-82) I would consider the possibility of an alien imposter unlikely, unless I had actual evidence supporting that conclusion over the alternative. Of course, that means a very good imposter could fool me, but that's always true, about anything: even God himself could be duped that way (pp. 49-51), while Wood and I could be the victims of such a trickster already (pp. 45, 50-54, 191-92, 287-88). But so what? We don't believe what is merely possible. We only believe what we are warranted in believing.
Thus, contrary to Wood's ridiculous straw man, there can be plenty of evidence that would lead me to regard belief in God as warranted, regardless of the mere "possibility" that such evidence could be misleading me. And besides that, there must be some possible evidence that would actually rule out the alien alternative, or else there would be no logical difference between God and the alien. The most obvious example would be an array of differences in the very construction of the universe itself (e.g. pp. 273-77, 256, 74-75, 77-81). If the entire universe were as we would expect it to be if God exists, then it wouldn't even make sense to blame this on a super-alien. Such a hypothesis could hardly have any relevant meaning--it would simply be synonymous with saying "God did it."
(2) Wood repeats the absurd claim that the "resurrection of Jesus" constitutes "a sign or miracle such that a truly interested person could only deny it by absurd or implausible speculations."
There is no need to address what he says here, much of which misrepresents what I actually say about this. Beyond what little I already say in Sense and Goodness (pp. 242-45), I have covered the matter in more than adequate detail in another book (The Empty Tomb), and online, and I direct all interested readers to those materials. Though Wood also claims my theories about the resurrection story are "completely inconsistent with [my] belief that Jesus never existed," he is wrong (as I explain in The Empty Tomb, p. 106, my spiritual resurrection theory can be formulated to be consistent with the non-existence of Jesus) and he has his chronology mixed up: I was not fully persuaded of the mythical origins of Jesus until after I wrote everything I had written on the issue of the resurrection (in Sense and Goodness without God, The Empty Tomb, and everything online up to mid-2005). The one earlier quote he provides (from my review of Earl Doherty's Jesus Puzzle) does not say I believe Jesus didn't exist--to the contrary, it says quite plainly that I thought this was only somewhat more probable than not, which was insufficient at the time to warrant a conclusion.
(3) Wood concludes by resorting to the usual ad hominem that I don't get enough evidence from God because I'm such a bad person I don't deserve any.
Of course, this covertly repeats the same absurd arguments I already rebut in my book (pp. 282-90). But Wood's added flourish is to paint God as a petty child, an argument I have heard before, but I left it out of my book because I actually had too much respect for Christians to think they really believed such a thing. Leave it to Wood to prove me wrong about that. Look at the utter nonsense Wood is forced to resort to in a desperate defense of his belief in God:
- Wood says "we" asked God to butt out. But that's simply not true: I didn't. At the very request of Christians, I've tried asking God to talk to me. He refused. Meanwhile, a great many people I know have literally begged God to intervene and yet he refuses all of them, too. He is thus butting out against our earnest request that he not do so. Abandoning all logic and reason, Wood twists that into the opposite request, "God, butt out!"
- Then Wood says "we" asked to live apart from God, so God gave us "earthquakes, disease, famine, bloodshed," and every nasty thing. Again, "I" didn't ask for any such thing, nor have a great many people, who continually ask for exactly the opposite. What jerk, when asked for bread, would give us a stone instead? God, apparently. But even if I did ask God to leave me alone, to then "rebuke" me with horrible treatment that I didn't ask for is simply cruel, petty, and childish--it's not anything a loving friend or parent would ever do, nor anything I would ever do, which means I am a better person than Wood's God (pp. 257, 275, 277-82).
Which brings us to Wood's attempt to dodge the obvious by replacing our actual argument with a fabricated straw man of his own creation. Wood falsely presents our argument as:
||If God exists, then he would do things just as I would do them.
||God doesnít do things as I would do them.
||Therefore, God does not exist.
But our actual argument, which Wood knows he cannot rebut, is:
||If a compassionate God exists, then he would do things just as a compassionate person would.
||God doesn't do things as a compassionate person would.
||Therefore, a compassionate God does not exist.
This is irrefutable. Therefore, it is as certain as there is gravity that no compassionate God exists (see pp. 277-82). This entails that Christianity is certainly false. Of course, some other God might still exist, a God who is considerably less compassionate than I am, but there is no good reason to continue holding out for that possibility (as I explain in adequate detail: pp. 253-57, and 257, 273-74, 281-82). Thus, Wood has done exactly what my book predicted: he cannot justify believing in God without resorting to utterly absurd arguments based on groundless assumptions, false claims, and contradictory assertions (pp. 282, 288).
Am I a Philosopher?
In "Is Richard a Philosopher?" Wood yet again misrepresents what I say about the nature of philosophy and what it means to be a philosopher, and his lies will be wholly exposed by anyone who actually reads my chapter on this subject (pp. 23-26). At the very least, Wood cannot argue against the fact that I am as much a philosopher as Aristotle or Hume. My knowledge, education, and qualifications are comparable to theirs in every relevant respect. If he expects more than that before allowing someone to proclaim conclusions on philosophical subjects, then Wood himself must bow out of the arena and concede that he, too, cannot assert any philosophical conclusions. If I am not qualified to judge a worldview true, he cannot be qualified to judge a worldview true either. That would certainly end the debate, wouldn't it?
Beyond such pettiness, Wood engages in three of his most specious attacks here:
(1) As to whether I "misrepresent" the arguments of Plantinga or Moreland, Wood does not identify any specific case or doesn't present any actual evidence that I misrepresented their arguments.
For example, Wood claims I "misrepresent Moreland's position by declaring that, since libertarian free will states that a person's choice is outside the chain of physical causation, this choice must be a completely random event." But I nowhere credit such a view to Moreland. To the contrary, I expend several pages arguing for that conclusion as a consequence of what Moreland does say (pp. 100-09). That is not misrepresentation. That is criticism. Wood thus deceives his readers again.†In contrast, compare that with how Wood misrepresents what I actually say and argue about the Supreme Court decisions I cite (pp. 109-14). Indeed, he gives the impression that I simply declared conclusions, which in fact I argued for in detail, and yet he never addresses any of my actual arguments.
(2) Wood accuses me of not understanding what a tautology is, yet his example betrays the fact that he didn't understand--or chose to misrepresent--what I wrote.
Wood says "the statement 'Final causes are efficient causes' is not a tautology, nor is the negation of that statement 'a fundamental violation of basic logic'." This looks like a scam, because I never once say that the sentence 'final causes are efficient causes' is a tautology, nor do I ever say that denying that statement (a statement nowhere in my book) is "a fundamental violation of basic logic." Of course, the word "tautology" can refer to "a needless repetition of an idea in different words" as well as, what Wood has in mind, "a compound proposition or propositional form all of whose instances are true" (I am quoting Webster's Dictionary in both cases), and the latter is the use I employ in the passage Wood concerns himself with. But Wood misleads his readers by taking what I say out of context, and then putting his own words into my mouth.
When we look at what I actually say, and in its actual context (see p. 107), it should be clear I am not saying that 'final causes are efficient causes' is a tautology, but that 'compatibilist final causes are efficient causes' is a tautology, since I am taking Moreland to task for asserting that on compatibilism final causes do not exist but efficient causes do, which entails the proposition that compatibilist final causes are not efficient causes, when in actual fact they are. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy says a "tautology [is] a proposition whose negation is inconsistent or (self-) contradictory...[whereas] a proposition that is (or is logically equivalent to) the negation of tautology is called a (self-) contradiction" (p. 788). I never explicitly formulate the proposition I refer to in page 107, so maybe Wood was simply jumping to rash conclusions. I had assumed (perhaps wrongly) that a competent reader would understand I meant the tautology to be "on compatibilism, final causes are efficient causes" (the claim Moreland was challenging), in other words, "compatibilist final causes are efficient causes," whose negation is indeed inconsistent, since "compatibilist final causes" are by definition efficient causes.
For example, "blue monkeys are colored animals" is a tautology because it cannot be denied without contradicting yourself--or, of course, changing the meaning of the words (pp. 188-91), but that would change the proposition, and we're only talking about the proposition that is a tautology, not other propositions the same sentence can denote. And contrary to Wood's frantic hand-waving, it is certainly "a fundamental violation of basic logic" to deny a tautology, since such a denial is by definition a contradiction (as the CDP plainly confirms). Thus, when Moreland denies the proposition "compatibilist final causes are efficient causes," as in fact he does (by stating what is "logically equivalent to" such a denial), he thus contradicts himself, which is the most fundamental violation of logic possible.
(3) A most shocking example of Wood's deceitfulness can be found in his argument that I say "if there exists a proposition 'that can be confirmed as true or false without reference to what it predicts'," then my entire philosophy will have to be reconstructed (though as even Wood's quotation reveals, I qualify that conclusion: p. 29), "But," Wood claims, "such statements are known to exist--tautologies and contradictions."
The shamelessness of Wood's argument is that he completely and deliberately fails to inform his readers that I discuss what I mean by "prediction" in the context of what he means by tautologies on pages 35-37 and 40, I specifically address contradictions in the same regard on pages 42-43, and I very explicitly explain the role of "prediction" in connection with tautologies on page 28 (and see also what I say on pp. 53-54). He never once mentions or addresses any of this material, yet his entire argument only stands if I didn't say what I did on those pages--which means Wood has deliberately left that out in order to consciously fabricate a bogus argument against my book!
Evidently, Wood thinks that he can deceitfully fabricate "evidence" that I am a bad philosopher in order to encourage his readers not to actually take a look and see for themselves. His childish concluding tirade is a case in point: he repeats a litany of insults and opinions designed solely to malign my work. He doesn't actually have any evidence to back up his factual claims (as we've seen throughout, he had to invent every bit of evidence he purports to have), and as for his aesthetic opinions, he completely drops the ball as a critic, doing none of the things that would make an aesthetic critique useful (pp. 39, 363-66), and what little he does that is even relevant (such as assess the tone of my language), he conducts dishonestly (as, for example, in his treatment of my supposed use of "ridicule in the harshest terms," which we examined above).
Is Atheism a Disease?
At long last, in "Is Atheism a Disease?" Wood tries to fabricate an argument that atheism "is a disease," by once again misrepresenting what I say in my book:
(1) Wood falsely claims that "all of the criteria Richard uses to establish that Christianity is a virus are at least as applicable to atheism."
Here are the actual criteria I set out in my book:
The ultimate memetic equivalent of a virus would have nothing to do with things as harsh and difficult as the truth, but everything to do with silencing competing memes, preying upon our fallible intuitions, our ignorance, and our intellectual laziness, and stirring purely emotional attachment to the viral memes... (p. 258)
Naturally, Wood neither lists my actual criteria nor presents any evidence that "atheism" conforms to them (much less that my worldview does). All he says is that atheists "believe that their system is right" and "seek to spread their religion across the globe," which are not the criteria I set for a virus, as one can see above. Indeed, to the contrary, I actually defend the properties Wood names as often valuable in a meme (pp. 309-11). So once again, Wood deceives his readers. In contrast, see my earlier discussion (above) of Wood's misrepresentation of my discussion of pre-modern Christianity as a memetic virus.
Wood again lies when he says atheism "inspires delusions" in atheists like me, because he offers as his only "evidence" the false claim that:
Richard actually believes that there will come a day when the world will completely throw off reason and will adopt Metaphysical Naturalism, and that a utopia will immediately result, and that we will then go out and colonize the universe, and that we will conclude our stay by transferring our minds to computer programs.
I do not assert a "belief" in any of those things. To the contrary, I express reservations about every single one of them (e.g. pp. 413-14, 405-06). Never once do I even imply that if my worldview is universally adopted an ideal society will "immediately" result (to the contrary, it should be clear I think it will take a long and difficult time to improve society to the state humanists are aiming for: pp. 371-87, 405-06). And the possibilities of space colonization and brain transfer I say are "all science fiction, surely" and might "never be achieved in practice," hence I explicitly say these are only what I "hope" one day will be realized (p. 406).
So in order to accuse me of having delusions, Wood has to invent the delusions he accuses me of having! In the same way, Wood falsely claims I think "everyone has been dreaming of" the future I imagine possible, when in fact what I say is "you can ask yourself whether you want to help us achieve" that future (p. 405) and "if" that is the future you want to see realized (p. 406), then join us, otherwise at least don't despise us for pursuing it (p. 414). That's all.
Finally, Wood resorts to the ad hominem tactic of claiming I'm "angry at God" because†my "mind has been poisoned by rage, and this rage has led to [my] irrational war against Christianity." I'm angry at someone I don't even think exists? That's like accusing me of being angry at Darth Vader. Instead, the actual reasons for my "war" against only certain factions of Christianity I quite clearly state on pages 18-19, and "God" is not one of those reasons.
Instead of honestly reporting what I say, Wood invents motives out of whole cloth. While Wood tells his readers that "we have seen that he hates Christianity, the Bible, and the idea of God," I actually present an idea of God that I like (pp. 253-55), so he cannot claim I hate the idea of God; I say there are things in the Bible that may well be good (pp. 270-71), so he cannot claim I "hate" the Bible (even though there are things in it I find disgusting or appalling, "hatred" is a rather different emotion); and I don't lump all Christians together (only Wood does that). Instead, I distinguish conservative from liberal, and express only disappointment and bewilderment over the latter (p. 19), even some appreciation (pp. 9-10), so Wood cannot claim I "hate" Christianity, either.
Instead of telling his readers any of this, Wood prefers to lie instead. But if liars are the only ones who can defend the Christian religion, I think we can dispense with it.
 I have been following research in this area for over a decade, through the journal Space Manufacturing, published by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and summaries can be gleaned from Ann Whitaker's government publication, Space Manufacturing: The Next Great Challenge (1998). And see sources cited in my book on p. 407. I chose to cut from my book a section I had written on the benefits of the commercial exploitation of space, which can be briefly summarized as follows:
The three most immediate advantages that could be gained by commercializing space are an unlimited supply of hydrogen fuel, unlimited solar-electric and safe nuclear power, and zero gravity manufacturing. All have been described and studied by experts.
The first target would lead us to an end of dependence on foreign oil and greatly reduce pollution, and if adequately exploited would produce profitable competition with the fuel oil industry. The military advantages of such a state of affairs are obvious. This is also an example of where the government could invest in an industry and turn a profit by selling an unlimited and valuable resource.
The second target would involve nuclear power facilities in safe locations (such as the dark side of the moon), eliminating fears of accident or terrorist attack, while allowing an unlimited scale of energy production. In fact, we could produce all the electrical power needs for our entire country from the moon, and beam it down for our use by microwave (a technology that also has valuable military applications). Alternatively, solar arrays of vast size could be deployed in space and provide exactly the same outcome with even less technical challenge. Advanced research on exactly such a system has been underway for over a decade. This is another area where the government could join with private industry to invest and sell electrical power in return for national revenue, competing with earthbound electrical utilities.
The third target would involve scaling-up existing technologies in order to combine a large-scale zero-gravity molecular disintegrator (as in gas chromatographs and particle accelerators, this would disintegrate anything thrown into it, separating it into its constituent atomic elements or particles) with an electromagnetic zero-gravity assembly system that would either package the raw elements into transportable units, or reassemble them into actual manufactured objects, exploiting the advantages of zero-gravity assembly in an extreme environment (where unlimited solar heat and near-zero temperatures are available for free). Such a system would allow us to eliminate all garbage and toxic waste: we fly it to the factory, it is disintegrated and remade into useful raw materials, which are then flown back to earth for resale. We would then have pollution-free recycling of all waste, not just metal, paper, and plastic (which are now only recycled at significant cost in energy and pollution). Already the garbage and waste disposal industry operates at a profit. Imagine if it could also take the waste it was paid to dispose of and convert it into sellable commodities (metals, liquids, gases, or even manufactured parts and products).
These are the sort of endeavors the space industry should be looking at--not useless exploratory missions to Mars. To the contrary, once a for-profit space industry is established, the expense of exploring Mars would be greatly reduced and would benefit from greater spacefaring experience. Thus, I believe a mission to Mars should follow the commercialization of space, not precede it. Hence I perceive our current space policy as quite backward. So far, the communications industry is the only for-profit venture in space, and I am not convinced it has paid its fair share of the costs involved. Several industry critics have also remarked on our failure to adequately explore cheaper space vehicles. Superscale stratospheric zeppelins, for example (several patents already exist), could provide a much cheaper launch and landing platform for orbital vehicles, yet our obsession with a hugely inefficient space shuttle remains.
 Wood seems to think I made this example up. In fact, I am simply following established hypotheses on the evolution of human female breast size. See Wikipedia entry on "Breast Function."
Note that Bentley's alternative theory is not that of the consensus (which I follow), and it is challenged by evidence stated in the very next section about "Breast Size and Shape," and Bentley herself concedes (in the cited link) that "men may have evolved to find the breast of this shape and size more sexually interesting" once the shape and size started changing to benefit children, such that "the convergence of the two pressures" worked together.
 1 Kings 11:1-3 (or sixty wives and eighty hookers, according to Song of Solomon 6:8).
 See the complete survey of how the Bible treats women in Annie Laurie Gaylor, Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So (1981).
 Compare this with the behavior of Musonius Rufus, in Richard Carrier, Musonius Rufus: A Brief Essay (1999); or, as I say in the book, Gandhi (p. 301).
 Though everyone in antiquity tread lightly on the issue, nevertheless compare Philemon with Seneca's 47th Epistle, and the surviving lectures of Musonius Rufus--see Richard Carrier, Musonius Rufus: A Brief Essay (1999).
 Thomas Wiedemann, Greek and Roman Slavery (1981), § 3, pp. 45-60.
 This is demonstrated by the context of the Declaration of Independence, which in fact says "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." Hence the idea of "unalienable rights" is the foundation here, and yet that derives from Stoic influence on pagan Roman legal theory, and is nowhere to be found in Paul or in fact anywhere in the Bible. Instead, the Founding Fathers saw the equality of man in the context of Cicero's "rights of man" (ius gentium, "right of peoples," and ius naturae, "natural right"), not in the context of God not playing favorites in the afterlife, which is Paul's context, where only those who "have been baptized into Christ" are equals (only they are "one in Christ"), and not only that, but equals only in the sense that they all share the same "promise" in the afterlife (Galatians 3:27-29), not in the sense that they share the same legal rights. Observe:
Centuries before Christ, Zeno originated the idea that "we should regard all men as our fellow-citizens and neighbors, and there should be one way of life and order, like that of a herd grazing together and nurtured by a common law" (Plutarch, On the Fortune of Alexander 329a-b), which the Stoics based on the pagan idea that we are all created by God and share equally in his nature.
A century before Christ, Cicero imported these ideas into Roman legal theory, arguing that:
There is in fact a true law, from right reason, which is in accordance with nature, applies to all men, and is unchangeable and eternal. By its commands this law summons men to the performance of their duties; by its prohibitions it restrains them from doing wrong....To invalidate this law by human legislation is never morally right nor is it permissible ever to restrict its operation, and to annul it wholly is impossible...[For] there will be one law, eternal and unchangeable, binding at all times and upon all peoples; and there will be, as it were, one common master and ruler of men, God, who is the author of this law, its interpreter and its sponsor. (Cicero, Republic 3.22)
For how this pagan idea entered early American political theory, see Heinrich Rommen, The Natural Law: A Study in Legal and Social History and Philosophy, Part I: History of the Idea of Natural Law (1936); and: Michael Zuckert, The Natural Rights Republic: Studies in the Foundation of the American Political Tradition (1999); Allen Jayne, Jefferson's Declaration of Independence: Origins, Philosophy and Theology (1998); Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (1992).
Indeed, read what the Founding Fathers themselves had to say on this subject, e.g. John Adams, History of the Principal Republics in the World: A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (1794), in 3 volumes. In this monumental work, volume 1 is entirely about the example and influence of Greece and Rome, volume 2 is about that of the secular Italian republics of the Renaissance, and volume 3 is about that and the precedent of the British Commonwealth. The Bible is not discussed as the source of any ideas in the Constitution. In the August issue of the 1795 American Monthly Review, a reviewer of Adams' three volumes says:
The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature, and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history....It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had any interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the inspiration of heaven, any more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture. It will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.
Though the reviewer credits "morality and the Christian religion, without the monkery of priests" as helping to sustain America's success, he never once credits any specific principle from the Bible as a foundation for its constitution or the revolution. Instead, Adams named "particularly among the ancients, Plato, Aristotle, Polybius, Dionysius Halicarnassus, Cicero, and Tacitus," and "among the moderns, Machiavelli, Sydney, Montesquieu, Harrington, Locke, Milton, Swift, Hume, Franklin, Price and Nedham." Moses and Paul are conspicuous for their absence. An extensive section in volume 1 was even devoted to Solon's Athens, yet none to Paul's alleged vision of an egalitarian society. Instead, Adams credits the first invention of representative government to Lycurgus of Sparta, and Solon with its improvement. For this reason I argue against the equivalent notion that the Constitution somehow derives from the Ten Commandments in Richard Carrier, The Real Ten Commandments (2000).
Likewise, Thomas Paine, one of the principal architects of the American Revolution, wrote:
Those men, whom Jewish and Christian idolaters have abusively called heathen, had much better and clearer ideas of justice and morality than are to be found in the Old Testament, so far as it is Jewish, or in the New. The answer of Solon on the question, "Which is the most perfect popular government?" has never been exceeded by any man since his time, as containing a maxim of political morality. "That," says he, "where the least injury done to the meanest individual is considered as an insult on the whole constitution." Solon lived above 500 years before Christ. (Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason II, p. 822 of the Library of America edition of his collected works)
So according to Paine, "What Athens was in miniature, America will be in magnitude" (Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, ibid. p. 568).
 On both points, see my thorough discussion of the issue in Richard Carrier, "Was Catholic Hitler 'Anti-Christian'? On the Trail of Bogus Quotes," Freethought Today 19:9 (Nov. 2002), pp. 10-11; in conjunction with the additional articles cited in the notes there, and my formal peer-reviewed study, "Hitlerís Table Talk: Troubling Finds," German Studies Review 26.3 (Oct 2003), pp. 561-76.
 Though Wood's "reinterpretation" of Matthew 5:38-42 isn't relevant to what I say in my book (where I only use my interpretation to make a logical point), he claims that "a more charitable reader would note that Jesus is here referring to someone slapping us, presumably as an insult, and to someone suing us in court," but that is not very credible.
The context Jesus establishes for these remarks is the Torah Law that "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" (Matthew 5:38), which certainly is not limited to "someone slapping us" nor to mere "insults" but encompasses all kinds of injurious assault, up to and including murder (Exodus 21:23-25; Leviticus 24:17-21; Deuteronomy 19:21). Hence Jesus makes no mention of insults or even "slapping." Instead he says, point blank, "I say to you, do not stand up against a malicious man, but whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matthew 5:39), using the verb rapizô, "strike with a stick or cudgel, thrash, to be flogged, slap in the face, and, generally, strike, beat." Thus not only the context (the Torah law against injury and murder), but the very words Jesus allegedly chose entail a universal scope: we are not to resist those who would injure or kill us. Even so, I only chose to say "beat," and there is certainly no way Wood can challenge that interpretation. That's what the word means.
As to the second point, Jesus does say "to one who wants to dispute with you and take your coat, give it up to him, and your cloak as well," but that can mean a legal or personal dispute, even a struggle with a thief, and the obvious point is that you are still not to defend yourself against such people, regardless of the context, even if your opponent is in the wrong--which still amounts to permitting robbery (Matthew 5:40), especially immediately following his stating the Torah law against causing injury and a specific injunction against fighting, which sooner implies a context of physically contending for your coat. Hence Jesus goes on to say "whoever forces you into going a mile, go two miles with him" (5:41) and "give to whoever asks you, and don't turn away anyone who wants to borrow from you" (5:42), clearly indicating a policy of complete non-resistance, predicated on not holding any value at all for your own labor or personal property (e.g. Matthew 10:10).
 See the relevant writings by Quentin Smith and the Kalam section of the Secular Web Library on Cosmological Arguments.
 See my discussion of the various problems in Richard Carrier, Response to James Hannam's 'In Defense of the Fine Tuning Design Argument' (2001).
 For an exposition of this point in the specific context of Christian theology, see Richard Carrier, Why I Am Not a Christian (2005), especially Reason 4.
 See my discussion, and sources, in Richard Carrier, "The Argument from Biogenesis: Probabilities Against a Natural Origin of Life," Biology & Philosophy 19.5 (November 2004): pp. 739-64, esp. pp. 758-59. For an example of the growing theories and evidence, see J. Martyn Bailey, "RNA-Directed Amino Acid Homochirality," The FASEB Journal 12 (1998): pp. 503-507; and Helmut Zepik, et al., "Chiral Amplification of Oligopeptides in Two-Dimensional Crystalline Self-Assemblies on Water," Science 295.5558 (15 February 2002): pp. 1266-1269.
 Richard Carrier, "The Argument from Biogenesis: Probabilities Against a Natural Origin of Life," Biology & Philosophy 19.5 (November 2004): pp. 739-64.
 Several of the sources I cite in my book discuss these issues, and I briefly cover it myself on page 757 of Richard Carrier, "The Argument from Biogenesis: Probabilities Against a Natural Origin of Life," Biology & Philosophy 19.5 (November 2004), where I cite in turn R. Cowen, "Life's Housing May Come from Space," Science News 159.5 (3 February 2001): p. 68; A. Goho, "Clays Catalyze Life?" Science News 164.18 (1 November 2003): p. 285; K. Morgan, "A Rocky Start: Fresh Take on Life's Oldest Story," Science
News 163.17 (26 April 2003): pp. 264Ė266; J. Horgan, "In the Beginning . . .," Scientific American 264.2 (February 1991): pp. 116Ė125, esp. pp. 119, 122.
 William Dembski, No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased without Intelligence (2002): p. 161.
 For proof that irreducible complexity can arise by small incremental steps fully in accord with Dembski's limit of 500 bits per step, see Richard Lenski, et al., "The Evolutionary Origin of Complex Features," Nature 423 (8 May 2003): pp. 139-144. Thus, very good evidence is needed to prove any apparent case is an actual case. For example, Behe claims bacterial flagella are candidate organs. But to prove this, he must conduct (and have peer reviewed and replicated by others) at least six empirical experiments to confirm his suspicions:
(1) Behe must identify all the genes actually responsible for flagellum construction. It is shocking that he hasn't even done this, for only with that data can the actual information content of this development be known.
(2) Behe must identify every function of each of these genes, since many genes have multiple functions. If any of the flagellar genes have multiple functions, those functions provide viable cooptation pathways that greatly reduce the "irreducibility" of the organ, which Behe must take into account.
(3) Behe must identify genes with analogous nucleotide sequences in other organisms that lack flagella and identify the functions of those genes, since this data could indicate additional cooptation pathways or corroborate pathways otherwise established, and this will be necessary to identify exactly how much change was required to produce a flagellum. Indeed, with this data Behe would be able to identify ancesters of the flagellar species and thus fully identify the mutation pathway, which he must know before he can correctly estimate the amount of information increase between each known species. Such data would not prove that these increases were sudden, since there will be many lost intermediaries, but it will at least allow him to pin down exactly how much of an increase in information actually needs to be explained, and by comparing rate of mutation throughout the existing genomes he will be able to estimate, by known rates of mutation, how many steps could plausibly have obtained between the known species, and Behe has to know this before he can make any claims as to rate of information increase.
(4) Behe must compare the genes of all (or at least several) organisms that do produce flagella to determine their genetic similarity and possible indications of ancestry. Only this would allow a reconstruction of a common gene set or the identification of more than one pathway to flagellar construction, either of which he must know in order to calculate the actual probabilities involved.
(5) Behe must identify any genes within the same organism that produces flagella, which share similar nucleotide sequences to the flagellar genes, but which are not involved in producing flagella. Since random gene duplication and mutation is one of the most common pathways to increased complexity, Behe must rule these pathways out, and only such a study can do so.
(6) Behe must perform gene and nucleotide knock-out experiments on organisms with flagella, to observe what actually happens when they lose a necessary gene or a necessary gene reverts back to a hypothetical pre-mutation state. Since his claim entails the prediction that this would fail to produce any benefit, much less a flagellum, he must test that claim against the actual facts.
Obviously, such a research program is very difficult and time consuming, but that is what science is. You can't sit in an armchair and pronounce scientific facts. Every scientific fact has only become such after years of countless, expensive, difficult research just like the above. So to establish the existence of irreducibly complex organs as a scientific fact, you have to roll up your sleeves and actually do the required work. There is nothing stopping Behe from doing this except his own disinterest in actually discovering the truth. Creationists and their supporters have ample financial resources, and they even have their own scientists and universities. There is no reason for them not to conduct this research.
For further and related critiques of Behe and Dembski, see the Secular Web libraries on Michael Behe and William Dembski, and the Talk.Origins Irreducible Complexity and Michael Behe FAQs.
 William Dembski, No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased without Intelligence (2002): pp. 161, 306, 320: "studies show that [natural] selection can increase the specificity of already functional proteins" and "instead of merely shifting around already existing information, selection also introduces new information" and "as a parsimonious account of the origin and history of life, this view has much to commend it." Of course, Dembski does think this theory still fails to explain certain large leaps that supposedly took place--leaps greater than the addition of 500 bits of new information. However, given the actual claims made by evolutionary scientists, I doubt we would need to posit any singular mutation of more than 80 bits of information anywhere in the history of life, while most mutations have been much simpler than that (the only exception being the origin of life itself, which may have involved the random appearance of several hundred bits of information at least once).
 Wood claims my notions of an eternal society are "absurd," yet he seems unaware of the fact that there are theists who agree with me. One theist, a mathematical physicist, has engaged a detailed technical argument in support of my suggestion (pp. 405-08) that certainly outstrips either Wood's or my expertise: Frank Tipler, The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead (1994). I had forgotten about this when I wrote my book, and I certainly should have included it in my bibliography. Though I do not agree with every argument Tipler makes, I believe most of the scientific principles behind his theories are quite sound. Likewise, contrary to Wood's insistance that consciousness and identity requires dualism, many believing Christians disagree with him, and would instead concede the possibility of a mechanical transfer of consciousness: see Warren Brown, Nancey Murphy, and H. Newton Malony, eds., Whatever Happened to the Soul? Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature (1998), which I cite on p. 156. So the question is not at all settled, and therefore so far as we know the possibility remains, which is all that I argue.
 Greta Christina makes the same arguments I do, only she is a much better writer, and her account is well worth reading: check out Greta Christina, "Comforting Thoughts about Death That Have Nothing to Do with God," The Skeptical Inquirer 29.2 (March/April 2005).
 I demonstrate the logical inevitability of there always being some meaning in life, as the atheist contributor to Why am I here? Why do I exist? What is my purpose? (2005).
 See available excerpts from the police interview after his arrest: Dahmer's Confession. In the following fictional conversation I will be using Dahmer's own statements in this confession and in his interview with Stone Phillips on Dateline NBC on March 8, 1994.
 Ex. 22:17; Lev. 20:13; Deut. 13:8-10; see what else I note on p. 16.
 See Timothy Benford and James Johnson, Righteous Carnage: The List Murders in Westfield (2000).
 See Richard Carrier, Why I Am Not a Christian (2005), especially Reason 4.
 First consult The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, edited by Jeff Lowder and Bob Price (2005): "The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb," pp. 105-232; "The Plausibility of Theft," pp. 349-68; "The Burial of Jesus in Light of Jewish Law," 369-92. Then consult Richard Carrier, Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False? (2005) and finally Richard Carrier, Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story (5th ed., 2005).
 Richard Carrier, Did Jesus Exist? Earl Doherty and the Argument to Ahistoricity (2002). As my conclusion there states:
All this is not to say that the historicity of Jesus has been refuted or that it is now incredible. Many arguments for historicity remain. They simply are not as abundant, strong, and coherent as Doherty's thesis, no matter how abundant, strong, and coherent they may be. That Jesus existed remains possible, and if Doherty could take early Christians to court for the crime of fabricating a historical Jesus, they would go free on reasonable doubt. Still, the tables have turned. I now have a more than trivial doubt that Jesus existed, to my surprise. But this stands only by a margin, allowing that I could easily be wrong. This is the impact I believe Doherty's book will have on any careful, objective reader. As an historian, I do not believe truly decisive evidence exists either way...[but] we must entertain the plausible possibility that Jesus didn't exist.
Needless to say, that is not the impression Wood gives of my paper's conclusion. As for my current position and its consistency with my other arguments see my Spiritual Body FAQ.
 This "defense" seems to be uniquely Christian--no other form of theism resorts to so absurd and childish an argument, at least as far as I know. Consequently, you will find a more thorough critique of it in Richard Carrier, Why I Am Not a Christian (2005).
 Note of Correction: I previously used the phrase "no less a philosopher than" with respect Aristotle and Hume, which Wood then took out of context as a reference to my equivalence to them in fame or accomplishment, rather than what the context clearly established as my meaning, which is my equivalence to them in being a philosopher. Wood also ignored the word "relevant" and babbled on about such irrelevancies as my not knowing as much about octopus biology as Aristotle, which has nothing to do with philosophy or being a philosopher. I also changed the word "match" to "comparable" to prevent anyone thinking I ever meant my knowledge is identical to theirs. For those with the patience of Job, Wood's arduously long ramblings about this can be read in Richard Carrier: Equal to Aristotle?