Friday, August 01, 2008

The "Critical Thinking Skills" Hoax

Kentucky School News and Commentary yesterday blogged about "creative and critical thinking skills" programs being promoted by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). Modern educators love this stuff. It sounds lofty and progressive, but in reality it is mostly fluff.

Just take a look at the article and then try to summarize what it actually says. The ASCD article is a case study in what is wrong with much of modern educational attempts to teach "critical thinking skills": they come up with a few touchy-feely processes that promise all sorts of New Age benefits but which actually produce nothing.

If schools were serious about thinking skills they would go back to the things that were included in the old classical curriculum--like Latin, logic, and rhetoric.

You want real solid thinking skills? Try to match a Latin oun of a particular declension with one of the several kinds of adjectives in case, gender, and number--and do it in a matter of seconds. You want to think critically? Try to create a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th figure categorical syllogism and reduce it to the more simple first figure using the appropriate reduction rules in traditional logic (there are four) and do it in under ten seconds. Or take an issue that you have formulated from a question and decide which of the topics of invention should be employed in classical rhetoric--and then employ them.

If modern educators really wanted critical thinking skills, this is what they would do. But the problem is that the point of the classical education is acquisition and persuasive expression of truth, whereas modern education is more concerned with things like self-esteem.

"Critical thinking skills" programs like those touted by the ACSD are like so many things in public education these days: they are designed to make it look that the establishment is doing something to move our schools ahead when they really aren't.

101 comments:

kycobb said...

Martin,

I'm glad we can agree on something. Thats exactly the kind of hoax creationists are trying to pull with their "critical analysis" of evolutionary theory scam.

Anonymous said...

[No comment is made regarding the ASCD.]

This is one of the rare occasions on which I agree with Mr Cothran's sentiments: critical thinking skills should be nurtured. Unfortunately his proposed methods don't appear applicable. While rote memorization and application of mechanical rules are essential skills to acquire, they do not constitute critical thinking. Critical thinking requires original thought and consideration of non-explicitly stated issues. Mr Cothran's ideas are similar to a fill-in-the-blank test whereas critical thinking is similar to an essay question. Unlike the former, the latter does not typically have one and only one correct answer.

For example, Mr Cothran earlier raised the interesting question of why most civilized cultures have an innate aversion to cannibalism. Without any explanation, he stated that the only reasonable explanation was religious. He further stated that the fact that non-religious people felt the same revulsion bolstered his first claim. Critical thinking would require him to explain why the behavior of non-religious people affirms his views rather than suggesting a non-religious rationale. Furthermore he would be compelled to address related issues, such as the widespread aversion to eating kittens, why the disgust for cannibalism exceeds that for the more heinous act of murder, and why there are individual and societal exceptions to his claim. He of course has avoided any such discussion.

But Mr Cothran's emphasis here again on rote learning and formal, completely determined systems is completely in character with his past writings. It explains his disdain for science with all its uncertainty, sloppy messes, lack of proof, and creative thinking in favor of ID sentiments. This need for outside authority also explains his thought that humans cannot generate a moral code. Etc., etc., etc. It's a clockwork universe with no deviations allowed.

I learn a lot more from discussing issues with people whose views I disagree with than with those who agree with me. Defending or explaining my beliefs helps me examine why I hold them and exposes me to different viewpoints and arguments. Occasionally I am impressed enough to change my mind. Reading and commenting on Mr Cothran's blog hasn't accomplished much along these lines.

jah

Lee said...

Kycobb, by labeling Intelligent Design as a hoax and its proponents as "creationists" -- without accompanying it with argument and evidence -- is to employ question-begging epithets. With sufficient background in logic, the arguer doesn't need to stoop so low in his/her critique.

> Anonymous: "While rote memorization and application of mechanical rules are essential skills to acquire, they do not constitute critical thinking."

Mr. Cothran advocated returning to Latin, logic, and rhetoric. Of the three, Latin probably comes the closest to "rote memorization", and as you point out, rote memorization is an important skill. The other two, logic and rhetoric, do involve memorization, but neither is *mere* memorization. Some thinking skill is important if one is to distinguish when and how they are to be employed.

> "Critical thinking requires original thought and consideration of non-explicitly stated issues."

Really? Why does one need to be an original thinker, however that is defined, to be a good critical thinker? If you say 2 + 2 = 5, it is perfectly good critical thinking to point out that your math is suspect, but it would hardly be the first time anyone ever made that point.

> jah: "Mr Cothran's ideas are similar to a fill-in-the-blank test whereas critical thinking is similar to an essay question."

You're drawing an analogy here, and one of the things you learn when you study logic is that all analogies are suspect, when you try to use them to prove a point. At best, they are illustrative; at worst, misleading.

> "For example, Mr Cothran earlier raised the interesting question of why most civilized cultures have an innate aversion to cannibalism."

I remember this discussion, and I have my own thoughts on the matter. The materialist view on the origins of ethics/morality holds that, like everything else, it evolved based on the impetus of mutation or change, followed by the feedback of natural selection. Thus, the materialist view would depend on showing somehow that cannibalism somehow makes survival more difficult for human beings.

Such an argument has practical difficulties, as it would not explain why so many species flourish and practice cannibalism at the same time. But it may be true for humans, nonetheless, granted.

The bigger question is this: if morality is simply a manifestation of the material, then it follows it is no higher than human beings, who are themselves material. For morality to be what it is, i.e., somehow compelling (not in the sense of what *is* done, but in the sense of what *ought* to be done), it must somehow transcend humanity. How is that possible, from the materialist perspective?

It's easily explained from the religious perspective: morality is a reflection of God's character, and the Creator transcends his Creation. But when morality cannot transcend, it is reduced to mere preferences.

Art said...

"For morality to be what it is, i.e., somehow compelling (not in the sense of what *is* done, but in the sense of what *ought* to be done), it must somehow transcend humanity."

This statement does not flow from any sort of logic or reason. From the perspective a scientist, it is an assertion entirely unsupported by any sort of evidence. In short, it is an excellent example of the sort of (un)critical thinking that permeates conservative circles.

The best way to illustrate poor reasoning is giving the class illustrative examples. Usually, Martin can be counted on to (inadvertently) provide us with examples of uncritical thinking, very poor logic, and abysmal number sense. I am sure he appreciates your contribution, Lee.

Art said...

"Kycobb, by labeling Intelligent Design as a hoax and its proponents as "creationists" -- without accompanying it with argument and evidence -- is to employ question-begging epithets. With sufficient background in logic, the arguer doesn't need to stoop so low in his/her critique."

I'm betting that kycobb knows that Martin does not wish his blog to become yet another science discussion, one that soundly refutes the many claims of IDists and creationists. Which makes the call for "accompanying argument and evidence" sort of an empty gesture.

I also suspect that Lee does not really want to explore the arguments and evidence that dispel ID in every way, shape, and form. Otherwise, he'd be making such remarks in a forum more suited for discussions of the science.

But maybe I'm wrong about Martin and Lee.

Martin Cothran said...

Jah,

Grammar, logic, rhetoric are not longer applicable? Grammatical skills do not constitute critical thinking skills? Logic does not constitute critical thinking? The ability to persuade does not constitute a critical thinking skill?

And where in heaven's name did you get the idea that grammar, logic, and rhetoric involve only rote memorization and mechanical rules?

You make all sorts of claims about what critical thinking involves in this post, including what it requires me to do in the context of the discussion about cannibalism. You seem to have a great familiarity with what constitutes critical thinking.

Maybe you could define it for us. I don't see a definition in your post.

Lee said...

> art: "This statement does not flow from any sort of logic or reason."

Then let me help you out. It follows from the idea of materialism itself. In the materialist view, there is nothing but physics. Matter. Electromagnetic impulses. Gravity. All things, and only things, which can be physically observed and measured; all things that derive from these things, and nothing else. If materialism is reality, then, too, all notions of morality must derived from these things as well (through, say, evolution). Still with me?

Then, since nothing exists that cannot be tied to physics, i.e., "proven", then, too, all notions of a "higher morality" must be presumed not to exist, as -- you point it out yourself -- there is no evidence that it exists. A transcendant morality can't be observed, tied to physical laws, measured, or in any other way be established as "real". That leaves only our notions of morality to be easily explained as a result of evolution and the pressure to survive. This renders it not greater than man, but in fact reduces it to something derived *from* man and the other animals. And if it derives from us, how can it be greater than us? And if it is not greater than us, how can it govern what we ought to do?

There. Hope I've helped.

> art: "In short, it is an excellent example of the sort of (un)critical thinking that permeates conservative circles."

We are mainly in agreement on this proposition: belief in a transcendant morality seems restricted mainly to conservatives or religious folks. Atheists and their fellow-traveling liberals spend half their time scoffing at the notion that absolute moral standards exist, and the other half elevating as morally superior that which are -- by their own philosophy -- mere preferences and conceits.

It's a deft performance, not unlike running onto the field, slapping a couple of labels on someone's argument, asserting without explanation or evidence that the argument is poorly reasoned, and then taking a victory lap in rapt assurance of one's rational superiority. And how scientific is that?

kycobb said...

Lee,

I didn't say anything about ID, did I? In fact, noone is trying to teach ID anymore, the Dover case killed it dead as a doorknob. What creationists (and I don't mean IDists) on school boards and legislatures are trying to do is introduce long debunked creationist arguments against evolution into classrooms pursuant to the "critical analysis" scam, without presenting any alternative explanation for the diversity of life on earth, since there is no scientifically grounded alternative.

Lee said...

> art: "I'm betting that kycobb knows that Martin does not wish his blog to become yet another science discussion, one that soundly refutes the many claims of IDists and creationists. Which makes the call for "accompanying argument and evidence" sort of an empty gesture."

Hey, it's Martin's blog. If he tells me he wants me to stash it, I will do so.

> art: "I also suspect that Lee does not really want to explore the arguments and evidence that dispel ID in every way, shape, and form."

art: Reading your posts, so far, I am reminded of a remark made by a Steelers fan about a tight end that had just drafted: "The next block he makes will be his first." If you have an argument to make, about anything you like, by all means produce one.

Martin Cothran said...

Art,

The best way to illustrate poor reasoning is giving the class illustrative examples.

The best way to illustrate poor reasoning is to illustrate it? I'll have to confess that to my unskilled mind that seems like a completely circular statement. I'm sure there's something profound in it that I am missing.

On the other hand, maybe it's just an illustration of poor reasoning--and in a post lecturing other people about poor reasoning no less.

Lee said...

> kycobb: "I didn't say anything about ID, did I?"

Fair enough, you didn't.

> kycobb: "In fact, noone is trying to teach ID anymore, the Dover case killed it dead as a doorknob."

And now you just did. But surely it takes more than the pronoucements of one judge in one trial to "kill" an entire scientific philosophy "dead as a doorknob", does it not? (If only liberals gave up that easily on the occasional trials they lose!) That must be some judge, to rule not only as our legal arbiter but also the final word in scientific criticism as well, no?

> What creationists (and I don't mean IDists) on school boards and legislatures are trying to do is introduce long debunked creationist arguments against evolution into classrooms pursuant to the "critical analysis" scam, without presenting any alternative explanation for the diversity of life on earth, since there is no scientifically grounded alternative.

I don't think the absence of a scientific alternative to a theory is in itself any grounds for cancelling out any and all criticism of that theory. Surely you're not suggesting the theory of evolution has no holes? Not even Dawkins says that. In fact, I distinctly remember when he scolded the late Stephen Jay Gould for admitting some of those holes in print -- not that they aren't there, mind you, but because he didn't want there to be any *doubt* about evolution to come up.

But then, while creationists are always forced onto the defense because of their religious agenda, it never occurs to anyone to mention that Dawkins has an anti-religious agenda of his own.

Martin Cothran said...

Art,

"For morality to be what it is, i.e., somehow compelling (not in the sense of what *is* done, but in the sense of what *ought* to be done), it must somehow transcend humanity."

From the perspective a scientist, it is an assertion entirely unsupported by any sort of evidence.


You are talking like the statement is even amenable to scientific analysis. Maybe you could explain how scientific analysis is even relevant to what is clearly a metaphysical statement.

Martin Cothran said...

I'm betting that kycobb knows that Martin does not wish his blog to become yet another science discussion, one that soundly refutes the many claims of IDists and creationists. Which makes the call for "accompanying argument and evidence" sort of an empty gesture.

Right. I mean ID has been soundly refuted so many times on this blog. Why there's ... Or maybe when ... And then there was that time ... Well, gosh, I'm having a hard time remembering now.

Maybe Jah would like to point out exactly where that happened. And while he's at it, maybe he could tell me where I said that I thought ID was a true theory.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately I am kind of busy right now. But I will be back to this, unlike some. Here's a few easy ones and something to think about. [Partial response to Lee and MC.]


Lee: Why does one need to be an original thinker, however that is defined, to be a good critical thinker? If you say 2 + 2 = 5, it is perfectly good critical thinking to point out that your math is suspect, but it would hardly be the first time anyone ever made that point.

Assume I say 2 + 2 = 5, and you point out that my math is suspect.

a) If you are merely parroting what someone else has told you and did not figure out for yourself >>> original thought <<< that 2 + 2 /= 5, then you have done no real thinking. The thought has to be original to the person making the comment.

b) That 2 + 2 /= 5 follows directly from the axioms and rules of mathematics. No critical thinking (as I am using the term based on web search) is involved. That is precisely the point I was trying to make in my comment. [Although I have seen statements that 2 + 2 = 5 for large values of 2 and small values of 5, but that was mostly humorous, in a scientific context.]


Lee: Mr. Cothran advocated returning to Latin, logic, and rhetoric. Of the three, Latin probably comes the closest to "rote memorization", and as you point out, rote memorization is an important skill. The other two, logic and rhetoric, do involve memorization, but neither is *mere* memorization. Some thinking skill is important if one is to distinguish when and how they are to be employed.

That is a good point. However I never said all three were *mere* memorization. Let's just consider the first example, matching parts of Latin speech. Would you seriously lead off with that as your number one example of how to develop critical thinking? Similarly, some mental acuity is required to play baseball ("Baseball is ninety percent mental; the other half is physical."). If asked what to do to improve mental ability, would anyone lead off with baseball as the number one example? Mr Cothran's examples are just not very appropriate. They are not the worst three, but there are many better. And the first is just awful (and not in the old meaning).

Lee: Thus, the materialist view

Let's forget about the materialist view of cannibalism for now for the sake of argument. I asked about the implications of and reasoning behind Mr Cothran's statement that the only reasonable explanation was religious.

Lee: For morality to be what it is, i.e., somehow compelling (not in the sense of what *is* done, but in the sense of what *ought* to be done), it must somehow transcend humanity. How is that possible, from the materialist perspective?

I am not sure what that means. How about this for a counterpoint: Even assuming that there is some absolute right and wrong, how does that affect humans if they they have no objective means of validating any moral code?
If you are asking why humans often don't do what they think they ought, or even why we have a sense of "ought", that is a complicated question which I don't know the answer to, have never really thought about, and certainly don't seem to share enough common vocabulary here to even attempt a discussion. Mr Cothran (in a link I can't locate at the moment) made a reference to early man needing to cooperate to survive. I think the idea of explaining complicated human behavior by calls to "man had to do this to survive" is way too simplistic an approach. [I would have to think about this a lot more than I have to feel capable of offering any kind of considered opinion.]




MC: Maybe Jah would like to point out exactly where that [refutation of ID] happened.

I never claimed that ID was refuted here. I certainly would never say that Mr Cothran acknowledged such. I strongly suspect that he never will.

MC: maybe he could tell me where I said that I thought ID was a true theory.

A search of the archives will show that I never claimed Mr Cothran said he thought ID was a true theory. In fact, said search will not even show that I claimed he said he thought ID was a legitimate idea worth considering. I have said I think he is an ID proponent, but mentioned in the same post that he has dodged the question.

MC: You seem to have a great familiarity with what constitutes critical thinking.
Maybe you could define it for us. I don't see a definition in your post.

That's a faulty conclusion. I wasn't sure what was meant by "critical thinking"(there was any definition in Mr Cothran's initial post), so I Googled the term and read about half of the first ten entries. Perhaps Mr Cothran will supply his definition. It would be a lot simpler to evaluate his post with that knowledge, rather than getting sidetracked.


MC: Grammar, logic, rhetoric are not longer applicable?

I never said that. In fact, I wrote they were "essential skills".

MC: Grammatical skills do not constitute critical thinking skills?

Not by the definitions and articles I found on the web.





jah

MC: Is it my imagination, or is the problem of simple reading comprehension becoming a sort of theme in our conversations?

In my opinion, definitely not your imagination.

Art said...

Lee, that you claim that "For morality to be what it is, .... it must somehow transcend humanity." doesn't make it so. You have not, and I think you cannot, make a reasoned and logical case for this. Certainly, your reply to my remark falls way short.

As far as ID, feel free to visit my blog (or The Panda's Thumb, if you can screw up the courage) and explain to me how my estimation of your willingness to explore the issue is not spot-on. A comment on any of the ID-related threads will be a good place to start.

Art said...

Hi Martin,

If you're going to start being particular about the curious sentences that are the consequence of the spontaneity of the medium, then I guess you'll not be too put off by references to your own habit of badly mangling the spelling of words.

You know what I mean. There's nothing particularly circular, just, um, wordy.

Lee said...

> Assume I say 2 + 2 = 5, and you point out that my math is suspect.

Yep, jah. We in the trade call it a "hypothetical".

> a) If you are merely parroting what someone else has told you and did not figure out for yourself >>> original thought <<< that 2 + 2 /= 5, then you have done no real thinking. The thought has to be original to the person making the comment.

I don't think you really believe that. Let's apply it to your own statement: is *that* thought original, as well? Or are you just repeating an argument you've heard before? Well, I would ask, is it "thinking" to be able to tell *when* an argument is appropriate, and know how to apply it. By your definition, a person has earned a bachelor's in electrical engineering has not done any real thinking, since the knowledge he has mastered has all been the results of other people's thinking. You're really comfortable with this sort of, er, thinking?

> "Similarly, some mental acuity is required to play baseball ('Baseball is ninety percent mental; the other half is physical.')."

Of course. It's why the best years of a pro often occur a few years after his physical peak. Experience counts. But someone learning baseball, who will eventually be a pro, doesn't just run out and play baseball from the beginning. He learns to run. He learns to catch. He learns all the fundamentals. Plus, he starts with basic calisthenics, and (nowadays) proceeds to some form of weight training, and other basic physical exercises. Similarly, in football, where arguably non-football oriented exercises are even more important. Similarly, in music, where rote memorization and endless repetition of scales and arpeggios help the musician, finally, perform that Beethoven sonata much more flawlessly than if his only exposure to music happened to be that Beethoven sonata.

Think of Latin as one of the basic exercises needed by someone who is to become a well-rounded intellectual. No, of course it doesn't have to be Latin, but Latin is a good choice nonetheless. Linguistic skills are very important, and for some reason it is easier to teach them to a kid when a language is not their native tongue, and hence the abstraction present in the rules makes more of an impression. And besides, because 1) there is so much important old literature in Latin and 2) it is the root language of much of Europe and even a significant presence in English, it helps someone understand all languages a little bit better.

> "I am not sure what that means. How about this for a counterpoint: Even assuming that there is some absolute right and wrong, how does that affect humans if they they have no objective means of validating any moral code?"

All I can say is this: if morality is not absolute or objective, then it is nothing more than a conceit and we as humans are not obliged in any way to honor it. Materialist morality is a moral system that crawled out of the mud along with us. Therefore, it has no special claim to our allegiance and honor.

One thing I have noticed is that those whose philosophy leads them to reject absolute morality are no less likely than religious folks like me to invoke an absolute standard in their arguments. Check out the debate between Christopher Hitchens and Doug Wilson at Christianity Today's website sometime. Hitchens' entire philosophy, aggressive atheism, is materialist to the core. Yet, can you find anyone with a more fiery, evangelical, judgmental spirit than Hitchens? He issues moral pronouncements like Vesuvius issued brimstone -- only, ultimately, it is based on nothing more than Hitchens' preferences, if you are to believe Hitchens' philosophy.

Consider materialism as a philosophy, for a moment -- or consider its sister, atheism, as a theology. Assuming it is true, then everything that exists in human affairs is ultimately the result of physics -- including that subset of physics known as chemistry, including that subset of chemistry known as biochemisty, including that subset of biochemistry known as biology, including that subset of biology known as evolutionary theory. It follows that everything that evolved, did so because of change, mutation, happenstance, and the pressure to survive. (One thing fundamentalist Christians and evolutionists agree on is man started out as dirt.) Ethics and morality, therefore follow from biology.

Here's the part the atheists miss: but, therefore, religion is the result of evolution, too. By the canons of evolution, it must have evolved because it has provided us with a survivability edge, or else it would not have stuck with us for so long. This being the case, ask yourself: of all the products of evolution, why is religion singled out by atheists as the bad one? What, evolution is good, *except* when it produces religion? And if religion assisted our survival at one point in history, what evidence exists that we no longer need it? How would atheists know we can throw it away and not be the worse off for it?

Lee said...

> art: "Lee, that you claim that "For morality to be what it is, .... it must somehow transcend humanity." doesn't make it so. You have not, and I think you cannot, make a reasoned and logical case for this. Certainly, your reply to my remark falls way short."

Art, my friend, you are in denial. Your unwillingness to engage my argument does not mean that I have not made one.

kycobb said...

Lee,

You are right a judge can't kill a scientific philosophy. However, IDism isn't a scientific philosophy-its about as far from scientific as it can get. It removed all the falsified claims of YECs and left only a vague notion that sometime, somehow, something was involved in the appearance of some biological structures. A notion with no theory, no testable claims and which is incapable of generating scientific research. IDism was a legal strategy, which can be effectively killed by a judge.

There are plenty of controversies in evolutionary theory, since scientists are not gods, and will never know everything-thus there is always something new to learn. The creationists don't want to teach those issues-they want to teach bogus creationist anti-evolutionary talking points that simply aren't issues among serious scientists.

Dawkins is an atheist, which doesn't change the fact that evolutionary theory is the foundation of our knowledge of biology and is researched by thousands of scientists of all different creeds. Dawkins' atheism isn't a 1st Amendment issue, because there aren't any school boards or state legislatures instituting the teaching of evolutionary theory for the purpose of promoting atheism-its being taught because its mainstream science. Many christian churches have no theological problem with evolutionary theory-it doesn't automatically equate with atheism.

Lee said...

> You are right a judge can't kill a scientific philosophy. However, IDism isn't a scientific philosophy-its about as far from scientific as it can get.

I have read a fair amount of their literature and have come away with a different impression. Can you specify what prevents their ideas as being defensible as science?

As far as I can tell, and I'm not expert, nor do I play one on TV, ID does not deny anything about evolution other than the part of evolution which assumes that the species were all able to diversify from a single cell on its own, *without* the help of a designing hand, with only random mutation and the feedback mechanism of natural selection as the moving force.

I guess I should amend my statement to this: that part of evolution, the part which insists there was no designer, is no more scientific than the other guys insisting otherwise. It's an assumption, not a deduction, not a proven conclusion. If nature is the only mechanism we can see, then we can conclude that it is the *sole* operating force only by making assumptions about the supernatural -- i.e., in this case, that it does not exist, or if it does, that it is not a player. To borrow from Oz, if there is a wizard behind the curtain pulling the levers but we can't see him, it does not mean he is not there. We can proceed on the workaday assumption that science should proceed as if he isn't there, but we haven't proven any conclusions about him; natural selection simply assumes him out of existence.

What the ID folks are asking is this: If that wizard exists and had a hand in designing life, would there be clues in the natural world? What would the clues look like? This seems like a fair question to me. It doesn't seem fair to assume a priori that the question cannot be asked.

> It removed all the falsified claims of YECs and left only a vague notion that sometime, somehow, something was involved in the appearance of some biological structures.

The literature I have read does a lot more than make vague suggestions. Check out the exchange, for example, between David Berlinkski and his critics, here: http://www.discovery.org/a/1509. Berlinkski offers specific criticism of a paper on the evolution of the eye. You can disagree with him, if you like, but there is nothing vague about his approach. My personal judgment is that he mops the floor with his assembled lot of critics, but you judge for yourself.

> A notion with no theory, no testable claims and which is incapable of generating scientific research. IDism was a legal strategy, which can be effectively killed by a judge.

But exactly how different is evolution? How do you test something like natural selection? Everything about it becomes a "just so" story. Natural selection means "survival of the fittest", and we define the fittest as "those who survive." That's a tautology. If a species survived, it was fit. If it didn't, it was not fit. Try falsifying that one.

> Dawkins is an atheist, which doesn't change the fact that evolutionary theory is the foundation of our knowledge of biology and is researched by thousands of scientists of all different creeds.

It's fair to bring up Dawkin's anti-religious if it's fair to bring up other folks' religious agenda. And as it happens, David Berlinkski is a secular Jew, so that satisfies the "different creeds" criterion.

> Dawkins' atheism isn't a 1st Amendment issue, because there aren't any school boards or state legislatures instituting the teaching of evolutionary theory for the purpose of promoting atheism-its being taught because its mainstream science.

You can call evolution mainstream science if you like, but when it assumes God out of the picture, it is taking sides on matters of religion -- particularly when it cannot be proven that God was not involved. And the federal government is not empowered by the Constitution to tell local school boards what to teach and what not to teach. There is nothing in the First Amendment that applies to school boards, only to Congress.

> Many christian churches have no theological problem with evolutionary theory-it doesn't automatically equate with atheism.

There are plenty of Christian churches that don't take theology seriously, and some that do. If evolution accomplished everything without a designing agent, then many of the teachings of the Bible are in error. Is God sovereign, or a spectator who can't wait to see what happens next? Some churches don't care enough even to know there's a side they should be taking.

thomas said...

"All I can say is this: if morality is not absolute or objective, then it is nothing more than a conceit and we as humans are not obliged in any way to honor it. Materialist morality is a moral system that crawled out of the mud along with us... One thing I have noticed is that those whose philosophy leads them to reject absolute morality are no less likely than religious folks like me to invoke an absolute standard in their arguments."

Your argument amounts to this: if morality is not absolute and objective it is not absolute and objective. You are just reaffirming your assumption about what ethics is (and therefore committing the logical fallacy of begging the question). If morality consists in the standard by which one judges one's worth, or the standard by which actions should be judged as good or evil, there exists no analytic reason why the standards could not change. In other words, the definition of morality which does not beg the question does not require an absolute and objective standard. I see no necessary reason why that standard could not change through time or across culture. The main problem that would arise is that in a global culture the moral standards might need to mesh more for practical reasons.

"There are plenty of Christian churches that don't take theology seriously, and some that do."

This argument is not only ad hominem (another logical fallacy), but inaccurate. The churches that tend to accept evolution (at least the larger ones) tend to take theology the most seriously. The Catholic Church, for example, has put out a great deal of thought into the doctrine of creation in relation to evolution and concluded there is no conflict between creationism (properly understood) and evolutionism. The recent Archbishop of Canterbury (a brilliant theologian) has commented publicly on it (I'll find a link if I can).

"If evolution accomplished everything without a designing agent, then many of the teachings of the Bible are in error. Is God sovereign, or a spectator who can't wait to see what happens next?"

Rowan Williams (the Archbishop of Canterbury mentioned above) referred to this kind of creationism as a "kind of category mistake". The problem -- though he didn't mention this specifically -- is the failure to distinguish between primary and secondary causality. Natural causes, such as evolution, are finite, secondary causes (causes in the usual sense of the word). God cannot be that kind of cause (except when he takes on a finite form in the person of Jesus) because he is not a finite being. In fact, He is not a being at all. God operates at the level of primary causality, which allows for freedom in secondary causes. God's primary cause is the gift of being to all things, but this involves risk: he doesn't determine exactly how those things manifest their existence. Though this is particularly evident in beings given reason, this is true also of living things and even natural causes. God's creation is simply on a different ontological level than natural causes; further, his "act of creation" (his gift of being) is not one event that occurred at the beginning of the world, but an event that occurs now in the exact same way it did billions of years ago. Viewing God's creation as similar to that of a craftsmen may be a useful analogy, but it should not be taken as more than an analogy, or one slips into the kind of fundamentalism that reduces God to a finite being.

Lee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kycobb said...

Lee,

All scientific theories "assume God out of the picture" if by that you mean empirically detectable miracles. In that regard, evolutionary theory is no different than meteorology, geology or astronomy. There isn't a single scientific theory which incorporates miracles performed by God. Evolutionary theory also has no more or less to say about the existence of God than any other scientific theory. For example, claiming that a nonhuman intelligence may have guided Hurricane Katrina to strike New Orleans is not a scientific alternative to meteorology.

Lee, "survival of the fittest is a tautology" is one of the most tired, old complaints of creationists. If you want to learn about evolutionary theory, you should definitely expand your reading list to include more than creationist web sites. It is trivially true that fitter individuals are more likely to survive than less fit individuals-that can't be falsified. But thats not evolutionary theory. Evolutionary theory explains what the consequences are of the fact that the fittest individuals survive and reproduce preferentially. And thats just one of the mechanisms of evolutionary change.

You also display how little you know when you insist evolutionary theory is only "just so" stories. Scientists make predictions based on evolutionary theory, which are then tested by examining genetic and paleontological evidence. For example, scientists predicted where they may have been able to find a fossil organism with traits intermediate between fish and amphibians, searched in those locations, and discovered Tiktaalik, which had the exact intermediate traits they were expecting to find. And there are plenty of other examples like that. BTW, Belinski, in criticizing a paper on eye evolution, isn't researching IDism-he's testing evolutionary theory. I'll bet he has absolutely zero to say about when, where, how and by whom eyes were designed.

Martin Cothran said...

Art,

I really don't like playing "gotcha" like that. Lord knows people could do that to me all day. You're right: it is the nature of the medium. But since you were talking about critical thinking, I thought it was fair game.

But I do think your characterization of logic as best taught through illustrations is only partly true. You have to be illustrating something If they don't know the something you are illustrating--a something that many times has to be memorized, then your student can't even understand the illustration.

In fact, I'm surprised a scientist would say this. Can you teach chemistry or even biology by only providing examples? Aren't there rules and principles that they have to learn first in order to understand what they are examples of? This is particularly true in formal logic. You have to learn basic concepts first. Only then do the examples make any sense.

This is less true of informal logic, but it still applies to some extent there.

Martin Cothran said...

Jah seems to think that my example of the matching of a Latin noun and adjective as not a good example of critical thinking.

I'm trying to figure out why he would say this given that this one procedure (I just used that as an example--that should impress Art) involves about numerous mental steps, involving the determination of the particular declension of the noun, its grammatical gender, grammatical case, and number (singular or plural), then determining the declension of the adjective, and matching it to the noun in case, gender, and number, with endings that may be entirely different from those of the noun.

The point of using this as an example was that it is a common procedure characteristic of the grammar of an inflected language which a student learns to do almost instantaneously.

I would like to know by what definition of critical thinking you could possibly say that this doesn't fit as a good exercise.

In fact, I'm wondering how Jah can say anything about whether it is a good or bad example of critical thinking, not only because it is unclear what his definition of critical thinking is, but because he doesn't seem to fully understand what he is criticizing.

I'm assuming that, whatever definition of critical thinking he is operating under, Jah at least thinks that understanding what you are criticizing is part of it.

Or maybe not.

Martin Cothran said...

Thomas,

I think what Lee is saying is that moral standards are, of necessity, transcendental. If they are not transcendental, then they are not moral standards. Being transcendental is part of the essence of what it is to be a moral standard.

If you posit some sort of non-transcendental morality, then it would have no grounding in anything outside yourself or your own culture. Not only is this true as a matter of metaphysics, it is the common usage of the term. When people talk about morality they clearly mean something that applies not just to them, but to anyone who might do them wrong.

A non-transcendental morality is simply a contradiction in terms, and cannot bear the weight of any kind of moral discourse.

Maybe you could explain specifically what your problem is with this view.

Lee said...

thomas> "Your argument amounts to this: if morality is not absolute and objective it is not absolute and objective."

No. I'm saying that if morality is not absolute and objective, then there is no reason to pay it any heed, other than for purely practical reasons and personal preferences. Without an absolute morality, it doesn't make sense to say, for example, "I ought not to cheat on my wife;" it only makes sense to say, "I ought not to cheat on my wife unless I have weighed all the trade-offs and risks." Remember, we're talking about a world where nothing exists but the purely physical -- as Lennon wrote, "Above us, only sky." In the materialistic universe, there's no one to answer to, no one who is going to point to His own authority and hold us up to that standard. Therefore, if it's right in my eyes, it's right, and my only concern is getting away with it when others don't share my enthusiasm.

> You are just reaffirming your assumption about what ethics is (and therefore committing the logical fallacy of begging the question).

If thats what you think, then let's try again. In the materialist vision, morality cannot exist in any non-material way. It's just a tag, a placeholder, for a set of attitudes and beliefs that reside in people's brains. Ultimately, a materialistic morality is just applied brain chemistry. Maybe those chemicals were trained into existence by parents and teachers, but they are chemicals nonetheless. So, if the chemicals in my one part of my brain instruct me not, say, to commit adultery, but the chemicals in another part of my brain urge me to score with the good-looking lady who works in Finance, what standard can you hold up to convince me I somehow obligated to ignore one set of chemicals and heed another set? What makes one set of chemicals worth heeding at the cost of ignoring the other chemicals? And why should the chemicals in my brain care about what the chemicals in anyone else's brain "think" about what I do?

Then, just to complicate matters, you accuse me of begging the question... as if that were, what, a bad thing? Wait! I get it! You're holding me up to a standard! Boy, I sure hope it's a relativistic standard! That way, I may be wrong to beg the question today, but tomorrow, I may be right! Who knows?

> If morality consists in the standard by which one judges one's worth, or the standard by which actions should be judged as good or evil, there exists no analytic reason why the standards could not change. I see no necessary reason why that standard could not change through time or across culture.

Let's be clear: relativistic morality would appear to exist in both worlds, the world of the absolute and the world of the materialist. The question is whether, behind the multitude of different relative moralities, there happens to be an absolute standard by which they can be judged.

Remember all the outrage a few years back when there was a lot of focus on the fact that many of the Founding Fathers owned slaves? Ask a liberal today, "Is it right to own slaves?" If you aren't slapped in the face, you will get a disdainful look and a cold, "No!" But in expressing high moral dudgeon against slavery, we are holding the Founding Fathers up to our standards, not theirs. If morality is changeable, then what makes slavery an immutable moral travesty? That's where relative morality takes you. But if you believe that morality is absolute, it is perfectly consistent to shake your head and sigh that even our greatest leaders were fallen human beings who took advantage of the bondage of others for the sake of their own livelihoods.

Lee said...

>> "There are plenty of Christian churches that don't take theology seriously, and some that do."

> thomas: "This argument is not only ad hominem (another logical fallacy), but inaccurate."

You vouch for every Christian church, do you, and you *know* my statement is inaccurate? Really? Wow, you do possess some wonderful data-gathering processes. But sorry. You cannot have a serious theology without an authority. Here is a church which is serious about theology:

http://www.newlifevb.org/doctrine.asp

They state succinctly that the Bible is their authority, so there is a standard by which to measure their stated beliefs. Compare that with:

http://www.ucc.org/beliefs/theology/dunkirk-colloquy-2000.html

What's the UCC's source of authority? Well, they don't rightly know, but they're willing to talk about it, unless you try using the Bible to... well, prove your point. The Bible "unifies their church and divides their church." Darn Bible.

But if the Bible is not their authority, what is? I used to play trombone professionally at a UCC church, and it was as breezily theology-free as anything could possibly be. So, no sir, I am neither begging the question, nor insulting them, just reporting the facts. Some churches would rather not bring up theology at all; it might "divide us."

> The churches that tend to accept evolution (at least the larger ones) tend to take theology the most seriously.

I made a similar statement and you chided me for ad hominem and begging the question. That's what I get for discussing morality with someone who thinks it's mutable. At least that part of it makes sense.

> The problem ... is the failure to distinguish between primary and secondary causality. Natural causes, such as evolution, are finite, secondary causes (causes in the usual sense of the word). God cannot be that kind of cause (except when he takes on a finite form in the person of Jesus) because he is not a finite being.

What kind of a god is it that created the universe but cannot be any kind of cause he would wish to be? By what authority can anyone say that there is something God cannot do? What evidence do you have, Biblical or otherwise, that an infinite being cannot manifest Himself in a finite world whenever He chooses or cause anything He likes?

Meanwhile, here are some contrary viewpoints for your consideration.

Daniel 4:35 "And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?"

Matthew 10: 29 "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father."

Act 17:25 "Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things"

Psalms 94:8-10 "Understand, ye brutish among the people: and ye fools, when will ye be wise? He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see? He that chastiseth the heathen, shall not he correct?"

> ...or one slips into the kind of fundamentalism that reduces God to a finite being.

So, unless we refuse to believe that God exercises infinite power and authority over His entire creation, then we render Him finite?! But if we believe Him to limited in the scope of his power, he is therefore infinite?! Wow. Theology can sure be confusing.

If the Bible is not the authority, what is? Who is? If the Archbishop does not hold the Bible up as his authority, then I guess that makes the Archbishop the authority, doesn't it? (which, if true, would be pretty convenient and save a lot of time when writing sermons.) So do I need to consult the Archbishop whenever I need to consult a moral authority? Or you? And if I have to ask you for moral guidance, should I ask you before, or after, you have changed your morality to accomodate a different set of circumstances?

> In fact, He is not a being at all.

I guess that about sums it up. I have no idea, however, why we should worship someone who has finite power and is in fact not a being at all.

Lee said...

> kycobb: "All scientific theories 'assume God out of the picture' if by that you mean empirically detectable miracles."

No, that's not what I mean. I mean, it is one thing to say, "Let's see how much of this mystery called the universe follows rules and makes sense, and let's make an assumption up front, but it's only an assumption, that we should seek as much empirical information about it as we can, and use that information to explain as much as we can, and not limit ourselves a priori as to how much can be explained through natural means, but also let's not rule out other explanations."

And it's another thing to say: "What is observable, measurable, and testable is all that there is, period, and there *must* *always* be a naturalistic explanation for everything, all the time, and we are limited only by our ability to know and observe."

In the former statement, one is making no a priori judgment about the supernatural, not even whether it exists at all, it just isn't getting ruled out; in the latter statement, one is assuming the supernatural out of existence, without evidence.

Science-types decry the "god in the gaps" form of argumentation. They have a point. But what if there was actually a God in the gaps? Are we supposed to ignore any evidence that might indicate as much? And what, in the absence of direct observation and testing, would such evidence look like?

I certainly don't know all the answers, from a scientific perspective. But I don't see why it's scientific to remove from the realm of possibility something one cannot possible prove, and unscientific to consider that there may be possibilities we cannot measure.

> "In that regard, evolutionary theory is no different than meteorology, geology or astronomy."

I think it is different. Sciences which can be advanced through direct experimentation, predictions, and observation will always be different than sciences which are forced to draw infererences based on something that may have happened but can't be repeated. Chemistry will always be a more exact science than criminology... or evolutionary theory.

> "Evolutionary theory also has no more or less to say about the existence of God than any other scientific theory."

Then how can evolutionists claim there was no guiding intelligence behind evolution, and that there must always be a naturalistic explanation for the origins of species?

ID theorists are fine with the "species evolve" part of evolution. It's the "must have happened through random mutations and natural selection" part they question. "Must have happened"? That's taking sides. Folks who say that, are saying something about the existence of God -- namely, that either He doesn't exist, or He is irrelevant to the diversification of the species.

> "For example, claiming that a nonhuman intelligence may have guided Hurricane Katrina to strike New Orleans is not a scientific alternative to meteorology."

No, and Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson aren't (weren't) prophets. However, it is consistent with the Bible to believe that God brings judgment to nations, whether true in New Orleans' case or not. It's a judgment we are all susceptible to, and we have no reason to feel superior to New Orleans. But for His grace, it could happen here in my hometown, or yours.

> Lee, "survival of the fittest is a tautology" is one of the most tired, old complaints of creationists.

I'm okay with it being tired. Is it true? What's not tautological about it?

> "If you want to learn about evolutionary theory, you should definitely expand your reading list to include more than creationist web sites."

I looked through that statement for a proof or some evidence that it is not a tautology. Didn't find it yet.

> "It is trivially true that fitter individuals are more likely to survive than less fit individuals-that can't be falsified. But thats not evolutionary theory."

If pointing out that "survival of the fittest" is a tautology is trivially true, then it is also true that "survival of the fittest" is a trivial statement. So why then is that phrase employed so often especially to teach evolution to children?

How is "survival of the fittest" different than natural selection? Here is the first sentence in Wikipedia's discussion of natural selection:

> Wiki: "Natural selection is the process by which favorable heritable traits become more common in successive generations of a population of reproducing organisms, and unfavorable heritable traits become less common, due to differential reproduction of genotypes."

Hmmm. "Favorable heritable traits." I think that means "fit".

"Become more common in successive generations of a population of reproducing organisms." I think that means "survival".

"unfavorable heritable traits become less common." I think that means non-survival of the non-fit.

Help me out, kycobb. How is characterizing natural selection as "survival of the fittest" invalid? And why, if the fittest are defined as those who survive, is it not tautological? Tired or not, it appears to be true.

> kycobb: "Evolutionary theory explains what the consequences are of the fact that the fittest individuals survive and reproduce preferentially."

Does evolutionary theory offer a theory of "fit" which separates it from survivability?

> kycobb: "You also display how little you know when you insist evolutionary theory is only "just so" stories."

Lee's theory of controvery holds that when you disagree with an evolutionist, you are only a few sentences away from a personal attack. The theory still holds. A unified theory may someday explain why it is necessary to use discredited debate techniques to defend science.

> kycobb: "Scientists make predictions based on evolutionary theory, which are then tested by examining genetic and paleontological evidence. For example, scientists predicted where they may have been able to find a fossil organism with traits intermediate between fish and amphibians, searched in those locations, and discovered Tiktaalik, which had the exact intermediate traits they were expecting to find."

Can they take an organism, alter its environmental circumstances, and predict how it will evolve into a different species?

> kycobb: "BTW, Belinski, in criticizing a paper on eye evolution, isn't researching IDism-he's testing evolutionary theory. I'll bet he has absolutely zero to say about when, where, how and by whom eyes were designed."

Criticism is honest work, and Berlinkski seems to be very good at it. It is not necessary to posit an alternative theory when criticizing a mainstream theory. You can earn a Ph.D. by writing a dissertation which only debunks a prevailing viewpoint, if it survives peer review. If you were to write a scientific paper that did nothing more than disprove Einstein's Theory of Relativity, the fact that you did not posit a theory of your own would not prevent your ascent into any of the finest physics faculties in the world.

Anonymous said...

Lee" Let's apply it to your own statement: is *that* thought original, as well? Or are you just repeating an argument you've heard before?

It's original to me. I don't recall ever having thought or read it before.

Lee: Well, I would ask, is it "thinking" to be able to tell *when* an argument is appropriate, and know how to apply it.

Yes. But I have to think to raise my arm to scratch my head. I thought the point of Mr Cothran's use of "critical thinking" was to differentiate it from just "thinking". And based on what I read from the web, I believe critical thinking involves more than your example. What is your definition of "critical thinking"?
[When birds/other animals learn to crack nuts/shellfish on the highway/with sticks, is that thinking? Are humans the only animals capable of thought?]

Lee: By your definition, a person has earned a bachelor's in electrical engineering has not done any real thinking, since the knowledge he has mastered has all been the results of other people's thinking.

That is not at all what I meant. If a student works to figure out a problem which he hasn't seen before, it may well involve critical thinking. It doesn't matter that other people have figured it out before. It is new to the student.


Lee: Of course. It's why the best years of a pro often occur a few years after his physical peak.

Again, I am not making my point clear. We agree there is a mental component to sports. I don't think it is very big. Would you recommend baseball or football to someone as your first method to increase mental prowess as Mr Cothran did with Latin? That was my point - Mr Cothran's recommendations are not sufficient to develop critical thinking.

Lee: Think of Latin as one of the basic exercises needed by someone who is to become a well-rounded intellectual.

Just as with you point out athletes need to work on the basics such as calisthenics, some basics, such as Latin, are necessary for critical thinking. But they are not sufficient. No amount of calisthenics will enable me to hit a curve ball.


Lee: All I can say is this: if morality is not absolute or objective, then it is nothing more than a conceit and we as humans are not obliged in any way to honor it.


Those are precisely my points.

1) Nothing is scarier to me than someone who knows The Truth, whether it be Moslem jihadists, Abraham willing to sacrifice his son, militant atheists (doing what?), or those refusing aid to poor people whose only crime was living in the same city as some homosexuals (Katrina).
2) Even if there is some absolute, objective moral code, how can these qualities be demonstrated? And if morality can't be shown to be absolute and objective, of what use are these qualities?


Lee: One thing I have noticed is that those whose philosophy leads them to reject absolute morality are no less likely than religious folks like me to invoke an absolute standard in their arguments.

Yes, people at opposite ends of the spectrum often share qualities. Abbie Hoffman went from being an extreme radical to being an extreme businessman - what remained constant was his extremism. But people seem inclined to deal in absolutes and boxes, when, in my view, the world is mostly shades of grey. Can a species be defined precisely? Is is possible to determine whether any object is alive or not?


Lee: Here's the part the atheists miss: but, therefore, religion is the result of evolution, too. By the canons of evolution, it must have evolved because it has provided us with a survivability edge, or else it would not have stuck with us for so long.

OK, or if not a survivability edge, at least not a significantly deleterious disadvantage.


Lee: This being the case, ask yourself: of all the products of evolution, why is religion singled out by atheists as the bad one? What, evolution is good, *except* when it produces religion?

I don't think even atheists would say that. I can think of many bad consequences of evolution - bad backs, non-redundant hearts, craving for fats and sweets, etc etc. These things aren't "good" or "evil" in a moral sense, they just are.

Lee: And if religion assisted our survival at one point in history, what evidence exists that we no longer need it?

That's a good point. If the only thing keeping the masses from unrestrained looting, raping, and pillaging is religion, then it is certainly needed. Even given religion, America, which is predominantly a religious (and Christian) nation seems to have such an awful lot of crooked politicians, dishonest businessmen, assorted and sundry other thieves, vagabonds, and malcontents, that many of them must be religious.

jah

[Thanks for taking the time and effort to respond.]

Anonymous said...

MC: If you posit some sort of non-transcendental morality, then it would have no grounding in anything outside yourself or your own culture.

Maybe that would explain why different cultures have different moral standards?

If Mr Cothran doesn't like "moral", then we need a different term for what is being discussed.
jah

Anonymous said...

MC: Jah seems to think that my example of the matching of a Latin noun and adjective as not a good example of critical thinking.

Correct. It is (for illustrative purposes only) like following a recipe for baking a cake. It may take skill and some thinking, but it isn't what I would describe as critical thinking. Now modifying the recipe if some ingredients are missing or a different size cake is desired would require critical thinking.



MC: I'm trying to figure out why he would say this given that this one procedure

Precisely, as following a recipe or flowchart.


MC: it is unclear what his definition of critical thinking is,

It's as clear as Mr Cothran's definition. No, I'm wrong. I said that I based my understanding on a number of the top Google hits. None of which I felt was particularly concise or succinct, which is why I asked Mr Cothran to provide one.

MC: I'm assuming that, whatever definition of critical thinking he is operating under, Jah at least thinks that understanding what you are criticizing is part of it.

Absolutely not. One of the things I have criticized about Mr Cothran's posts is that I can't understand them.

jah

Anonymous said...

Lee: But in expressing high moral dudgeon against slavery, we are holding the Founding Fathers up to our standards, not theirs.

Agreed. And standards have changed.
John McDonough gave money to establish over thirty public schools in New Orleans. Today, the primary beneficiaries of this largess are descendants of slaves. Yet his name has been removed from most or all schools because he owned slaves.

Lee: But if you believe that morality is absolute, it is perfectly consistent to shake your head and sigh that even our greatest leaders were fallen human beings who took advantage of the bondage of others for the sake of their own livelihoods.

But why aren't most industrialized nations using slaves today? Have we as individuals improved that much?

If there is an absolute moral standard known to some religion, then what would that religion be? For example, where were all the religious leaders and religious followers when slavery was prevalent in the US? Religious people certainly constituted the bulk of the population. Why did they allow this absolute moral evil to exist?


Mr Cothran recently wrote "Jonathan Edwards, America's greatest Christian theologian". Could this be the same Jonathan Edwards?

"Jonathan Edwards's Defense of Slavery"

"Edwards was also a slave owner. Focusing on two episodes in Edwards's life, this study identifies specific characters and circumstances regarding slavery and antislavery attitudes in early-eighteenth-century New England, primarily western Massachusetts."

http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/mhr/4/minkema.html

From the same source, here is a link to a picture of a receipt for a slave Jonathan Edwards purchased:
http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/mhr/4/images/Minkema_fig02a.jpg


jah

Anonymous said...

I was going to keep out of this thread since it is in more capable hands than mind, but here are a few observations:

I think Lee may be confusing science and atheism. Just as there are atheistic scientists, there are also some (admittedly fewer) religious scientists.

Lee: Sciences which can be advanced through direct experimentation, predictions, and observation will always be different than sciences which are forced to draw infererences based on something that may have happened but can't be repeated. Chemistry will always be a more exact science than criminology... or evolutionary theory.

Yes, chemistry is a more exact science than evolution. But nothing can be repeated in chemistry either; conditions may be similar but they are not exactly the same. It is impossible to control all the variables.



jah

Art said...

"Then, just to complicate matters, you accuse me of begging the question... as if that were, what, a bad thing? "

Well, that about sums up Lee's arguments. Quite appropriate for a thread of comments to an essay entitled "The "Critical Thinking Skills" Hoax".

thomas said...

Martin,

"I think what Lee is saying is that moral standards are, of necessity, transcendental. If they are not transcendental, then they are not moral standards. Being transcendental is part of the essence of what it is to be a moral standard."

If moral standards are transcendental this would need to be demonstrated. Sheer assertion is not an argument. If you want to establish the necessity of the transcendentalism of moral standards you have to do more than say morality is necessary. Some sort of eidetic reduction would be required, and the existence of a moral standard that is relative to culture would automatically disprove your argument. Aristotle's ethics, for example. (though technically speaking ethics for the Greeks, including Aristotle, had little to do with anything like morality)

"If you posit some sort of non-transcendental morality, then it would have no grounding in anything outside yourself or your own culture."

That morality be referred to oneself and one's culture is by no means a detriment: that is the subject-matter of morality. Unless one is such a busybody they want to determine what is good or evil in a pre-historical African society, in 17th century France, or in 12 years in the future in outer space, I see no practical reason why one would be concerned with a universal morality. Action is a matter of praxis, not episteme, and a morality relative to present day culture and particular location is sufficient for determining what one, or those whom he knows, has to do.

Additionally, your approach requires not only that you demonstrate that morality is necessarily transcendental (your analytical burden), but you must prove that some transcendental morality actually exists synthetically, since obviously it is possible that one doesn't. And this can't be done by saying "most people insist on a universal morality", as you would simply be "appealing to the crowd."

Lee,

"Remember, we're talking about a world where nothing exists but the purely physical -- as Lennon wrote, 'Above us, only sky.'"

Actually "we" are not. The denial of a universal morality does not necessarily lead to materialism. Kierkegaard, probably the greatest of Protestant thinkers, rejected a universal morality but was by no means a materialist. Indeed the "ethical" -- by which he really meant universal morality -- must be surpassed in order to attain true religiousity. And he said this not for philosophical reasons, but for scriptural reasons: the case of Abraham. I would suggest his work Fear and Trembling to anyone who thinks Christianity requires a universal morality. It also is proof you are engaging implicitly in a false dilemma.

"In the materialist vision, morality cannot exist in any non-material way."

I am not convinced there is any significant portion of thinkers who construe materialism this way. Perhaps this is true of people without philosophical training, but even scientists generally consider science to be "real". This seems to me to be a straw man.

"Then, just to complicate matters, you accuse me of begging the question... as if that were, what, a bad thing? Wait! I get it! You're holding me up to a standard! Boy, I sure hope it's a relativistic standard! That way, I may be wrong to beg the question today, but tomorrow, I may be right! Who knows?"

I'm going to avoid responding to this in kind. To say that a logical fallacy is wrong in the same way that a moral act is wrong is a good example of the fallacy of equivocation -- a logical, not a moral fault (even the word "fault" here is meant in a different sense). The problem with a logical fallacy lies in the lack of compulsion in an argument, a quite different "standard" to measure up to (and really it isn't a standard at all).

Anonymous said...

thomas: The Catholic Church, for example, has put out a great deal of thought into the doctrine of creation in relation to evolution and concluded there is no conflict between creationism (properly understood) and evolutionism. The recent Archbishop of Canterbury (a brilliant theologian) has commented publicly on it (I'll find a link if I can).

http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/1710
and
http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/1716
?

jah

Thomas said...

Lee,

">> "There are plenty of Christian churches that don't take theology seriously, and some that do."

> thomas: "This argument is not only ad hominem (another logical fallacy), but inaccurate.""


You're engaging in some creative cut-and-pasting. Here is the original context. You're responding to this quote:

> Many christian churches have no theological problem with evolutionary theory-it doesn't automatically equate with atheism.

With this:

"There are plenty of Christian churches that don't take theology seriously, and some that do. If evolution accomplished everything without a designing agent, then many of the teachings of the Bible are in error."

The implication here is clearly that if churches didn't "use a designing agent" they don't take theology seriously as they erroneously interpret the Bible. That is clearly clearly ad hominem (which is a structural flaw, and does not require that I survey all denominations. You're actually thinking of a straw man argument, which you do make but not in this instance). I gave counter-examples of those who do take theology very seriously, but who see no problem with evolution theologically. The premier example is, of course, the Catholic Church: the Church that is quite larger than all Protestant Churches combined. Nowhere did I say, as you assert, that there is no-one who takes theology seriously who rejects evolution. The flaw in this case is not taking theology seriously, nor even quite in rejecting evolution in itself, but in rejecting it as incompatible with the creative activity of God.

"What kind of a god is it that created the universe but cannot be any kind of cause he would wish to be?"

The kind of God who is absolute and transcendent, who is uncircumscribed. You might as well ask whether God has the power to do evil. Just as moral analysis of God reduces him to a finite moral agent, causal analysis of God which refers to him in terms of secondary causes reduces him to a finite causal agent. It denies the essence of God, reducing him from the source of all beings to one of those created beings. Ironically enough, in terms of ontology this is pretty much the same thing as Arianism. John Zizioulas does a good job of talking about this, and of presenting the "ontology of freedom" that Christianity presents philosophy--precisely by the ontological (and therefore causal) divide between Christ and Creation.

"By what authority can anyone say that there is something God cannot do? What evidence do you have, Biblical or otherwise, that an infinite being cannot manifest Himself in a finite world whenever He chooses or cause anything He likes?"

God does in fact manifest himself in a finite form: but this requires an incarnation. In an embodied, circumscribed form he "be" a secondary cause, but only insofar as he is human; insofar as he is divine, he still acts on the level of primary causality. Your Bible verses do nothing to refute this; in fact, unless you strip them of any poetic content, I would argue they reinforce the traditional Christian ontology I am defending here.

"> In fact, He is not a being at all.

I guess that about sums it up. I have no idea, however, why we should worship someone who has finite power and is in fact not a being at all."

At this point, you're simply not following the argument. What I am saying is not simply my opinion (that God is not a being, except analogously), it is the most basic point of trinitarian theology. If this point is not made then one falls back into the closed cosmology of the Greeks wherein being is limited to (and necessitated by) the cosmos, that seamless union of world and mind which contains, delimits, and necessitates all beings. This "fall" into philosophy begin with Justin Martyr and Origin (and the Gnostics), but did not become a major issue until the Arian controversy. The Church found it necessary to declare that the logos was not part of creation, and maintain an ontological divide between God and creation which absolutely must inform any Christian expression of creation. If one doesn't understand this issue, he misses the most basic point of both trinitarian theology and the doctrine of creation. However, I can't fully explain this in a blog post, nor am I probably capable if I wrote a book. You should read definitely read Athanasius' "On the Incarnation" for the ancient perspective. To further draw out the ontological aspect, I would supplement this with John Macquarrie's Principles of Christian Theology. Theology is, in fact, complicated; and if you're serious about engaging in these types of discussions you're going to have to do some work.

Martin Cothran said...

Jah,

Maybe you could use your critical thinking skills to explain why a person's views on slavery qualify his abilities as a theologian. If there were scientists who supported slavery, would that qualify their abilities as scientists? And how about statesmen? Washington supported slavery. Was he a worse president for it?

Martin Cothran said...

Thomas,

If moral standards are transcendental this would need to be demonstrated.

Why does the fact that moral standards are transcendental, which is part of the very definition of what moral standards are, have to be demonstrated? Since when do we demonstrate definitions? Do we have to demonstrate that all bachelors are unmarried males?

I appealed to common usage in my use of the term. Are you challenging the fact that people use the term in a way that assumes universality? In fact, you lapsed into the common use of the term in precisely this way yourself when you say that "ethics for the Greeks, including Aristotle, had little to do with anything like morality."

Some sort of eidetic reduction would be required, and the existence of a moral standard that is relative to culture would automatically disprove your argument.

That's like saying that if we could produce one unmarried male who claimed to be a bachelor, we could refute the definition of the word 'bachelor'. You seem to be assuming that plurality implies relativity. Maybe you could rationally justify that.

I see no practical reason why one would be concerned with a universal morality.

See Lee's remarks about slavery above.

Lee said...

> jah: "1) Nothing is scarier to me than someone who knows The Truth, whether it be Moslem jihadists, Abraham willing to sacrifice his son, militant atheists (doing what?), or those refusing aid to poor people whose only crime was living in the same city as some homosexuals"

Yep. People who claim to know the truth are scary, and that's the truth.

> 2) Even if there is some absolute, objective moral code, how can these qualities be demonstrated?

Let's turn it around: you have just demonstrated scorn for someone who would refuse to help poor folks after a catastrophe, in fact, compared him to someone who would commit mass murder. What standard do you invoke? If someone behaves in the manner in which you disapprove, how do you lead him to... to the truth? How do you show him the error of his ways? Do you invoke a personal morality, or a changeable morality? What if he ponders and then decides, "No thanks, if morality is not absolute, I'll just wait around until it changes into something that agrees with me."

That's the perverse beauty of arguing against an absolute standard of morality: to have any impact, such arguments must borrow from the world view they are trying to debunk. If you argue that there is no absolute moral standard, then why should anyone listen when you scold them with your own individual, relativistic standard?

> jah: "And if morality can't be shown to be absolute and objective, of what use are these qualities?"

Indeed. Why argue there is no one standard, and then argue that bigots who won't help Katrina victims aren't meeting your standard?

Martin Cothran said...

Jah,

Maybe that would explain why different cultures have different moral standards?

Why do I have to explain it? You apparently think I have to explain it because you think it causes trouble for my view of morality. But it is completely irrelevant to what I have said. The fact that there is a plurality of moral belief systems has no bearing on whether there is any universal moral standard.

If there were different (and mistaken) beliefs about the multiplication table from culture to culture, would that be evidence that a universal system of arithmetic that applies always, everywhere does not exist?

Why doesn't it just mean that some people are mistaken?

In fact, being the defender of science that you are, I would love to know how you square your belief that different beliefs imply a lack of universality could be applied to the fact that there still exist many cultures with extremely primitive scientific beliefs.

I'm sure you consider creationism a primitive scientific belief. But it exists, and in fact, is the predominant belief in this country. I guess, because of that fact, we can conclude that we can't say evolution is necessarily true?

Anonymous said...

MC: Maybe you could use your critical thinking skills to explain why a person's views on slavery qualify his abilities as a theologian.

I am assuming that a theologian should have a grasp of morality. Otherwise what authority specifies what is moral and what isn't?

If there really is an absolute, time- and culture-independent morality (or just morality, according to the way some employ the term here),

if slavery is (and always has been) morally wrong,

and if the greatest theologian in American can't tell the difference between right and wrong,

what hope have we lesser mortals?


MC: If there were scientists who supported slavery, would that qualify their abilities as scientists?

No, because those are different fields of enquiry.

MC: Washington supported slavery. Was he a worse president for it?

It depends on how you evaluate presidents.
Yes, but his actions are understandable given the times he lived in. Or no, because if he had been against slavery, the union would have dissolved.

jah

Martin Cothran said...

Jah,

Are you assuming that ethics and theology are the same thing?

Anonymous said...

Lee: If someone behaves in the manner in which you disapprove, how do you lead him to... to the truth?

I thought we just agreed there wasn't any "truth"?


Lee: How do you show him the error of his ways? Do you invoke a personal morality, or a changeable morality?

Most people can't be convinced of my opinions (even the phrase "error of his ways" is misleading, it again assumes there is only one way). If they have any interest in helping others, I would argue that their approach could be improved. If they are just interested in themselves, I would hope that society would feel likewise and pass some law regarding the situation.





Lee: What if he ponders and then decides, "No thanks, if morality is not absolute, I'll just wait around until it changes into something that agrees with me."

Not much I can do.

Lee: If you argue that there is no absolute moral standard, then why should anyone listen when you scold them with your own individual, relativistic standard?

Perhaps my other line is more promising. So what if there is an absolute morality, if no one demonstrate what it is?



Lee: Indeed. Why argue there is no one standard, and then argue that bigots who won't help Katrina victims aren't meeting your standard?

They're not meeting mine. And similar others. The difference is that I am not claiming to know the one and only truth and assume I have the moral right to force others to change their behavior.

jah

Anonymous said...

MC: The fact that there is a plurality of moral belief systems has no bearing on whether there is any universal moral standard.

But if there is no way for me to decide which of these plural systems is the universal one, then how do I pick which one to follow? In the case of science, I would study the matter myself or, most likely, trust experts who have demonstrated knowledge or are recognized by others. How does one demonstrate an expertise in morality? You seem to have argued elsewhere that we can't trust theologians to know.

MC: If there were different (and mistaken) beliefs about the multiplication table from culture to culture, would that be evidence that a universal system of arithmetic that applies always, everywhere does not exist?

Nope. But different systems can be tested for internal consistency (or in the case of science, experiment) and the invalid ones discarded. How does one do that with moral systems?
Does 1 + 1 = 10? It does in binary. Does 7.2 + 1.1 = 9? It does in baseball.
[Arithmetic is a construct, but I see your point so I will ignore that issue.]


MC: Why doesn't it just mean that some people are mistaken?

If mistakes can be shown, then the people who hold those beliefs are mistaken. How does one empirically show that a moral code is wrong?

MC: In fact, being the defender of science that you are, I would love to know how you square your belief that different beliefs imply a lack of universality could be applied to the fact that there still exist many cultures with extremely primitive scientific beliefs.

Glad to oblige. Again, there may be a universal moral code, but how does one test moral codes? [I have been confusing in the past in part because I have not always differentiated between something which doesn't exist and something which exists but neither it nor its effects can be perceived. There is no practical difference. See, I learned something.] With science, there are tests. The concept of phlogiston was tested and discarded. So was cold fusion. But there are still adherents of cold fusion. They are believed to be mistaken. While there may be an objective reality (and I think so), there is no way of convincing every human to accept the one that scientists model. There are still those who believe in a flat earth. Maybe they are correct. I can't prove they are wrong. Science always has uncertainties built in.

MC: I'm sure you consider creationism a primitive scientific belief. But it exists, and in fact, is the predominant belief in this country. I guess, because of that fact, we can conclude that we can't say evolution is necessarily true?

[First I don't consider creationism a primitive scientific belief. I don't consider "creationism" (as the term most commonly is used) a scientific belief. But that is a separate discussion.]
No, we can't say evolution is necessarily true, since science doesn't deal with absolute truth. Even if everyone accepted evolution as the best model, scientists would still not say it is "The Truth".
Is light a wave or a particle - scientists use whichever model is appropriate for the situation.

I think one problem here is the some people don't believe that others can accept not being absolutely certain of things.

Anonymous said...

MC: Are you assuming that ethics and theology are the same thing?

I've always been confused by the distinction between "ethics" and "morality" and a lot of the other terms used here.
What I was trying to ask, who is the expert in this field who has the knowledge and ability to evaluate moral codes for adherence to the universal standard?

jah

kycobb said...

Lee,

There's a lot in your last response I could comment on, but there is one thing in particular that I'm curious about. A tautology is true by its logical form alone, so you seem to be saying that natural selection is necessarily true. What I don't understand is why creationists think this is a problem for evolutionary theory. Since noone can seriously deny that natural selection occurs, that would seem to me to bolster the theory that natural selection serves as a mechanism to alter allele frequencies in populations of organisms. Why do creationists think this is a compelling argument against evolutionary theory?

thomas said...

"I appealed to common usage in my use of the term. Are you challenging the fact that people use the term in a way that assumes universality? In fact, you lapsed into the common use of the term in precisely this way yourself when you say that 'ethics for the Greeks, including Aristotle, had little to do with anything like morality.'"

Not only do people not use the term universally (in fact, it is fairly common to hear "he doesn't do that because of his morals" or the like), but even dictionaries tend to define morality without appealing to anything transcendental, instead referring to a standard of conduct regardless of whether it be transcendental, absolute in the Kantian sense, or culturally relative. Dictionaries, of course, do not provide a philosophical definition of concepts, but they do determine the way in which words are commonly used -- which in this case disproves your thesis.

But even if everyone now thought of morality as absolute, this isn't the case historically. For this, a simple historical survey is necessary, and in fact Nietzsche does a fairly accurate job in the shift from "Classical" values to "Christian" morality in "The Genealogy of Morals". Other, more rigorous historiographers would work as well if that's more your thing.

And actually I did not lapse into what you term "the common use" of morality when I said ethics for the Greeks had little if anything to do with morality. I was using morality in its conventional and necessary sense as the standards by which actions are judged in themselves as good or evil (transcendentally or not); which doesn't really have to do with Aristotelian ethics. (Or even "absolute" ethics which don't appeal to transcendence, of which there are several kinds)

You also missed the second point: even if you could demonstrate analytically (though for some reason you seem to think analytical demonstration is impossible) that morality is not merely absolute but transcendental, you haven't yet demonstrated synthetically a posteriori that there actually is such a morality and it is not just wishful thinking. That's an even taller order than the first requirement.

"I see no practical reason why one would be concerned with a universal morality.

See Lee's remarks about slavery above."

I can actually think of a good reason fundamentalists would want to deny absolute, transcendental morality: God commanded the Israelites to take slaves. If it's wrong, it's wrong absolutely and irrevocably, right? (not to mention God commanding babies brains be bashed out, and especially the case of Abraham's sacrifice).

Anonymous said...

Just for clarification, the Archbishop of Canterbury is Anglican, not catholic.


jah

thomas said...

Who suggested he wasn't?

And here's the comments I had in mind:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/03/21/archbishop_backs_evolution/

The ones you posted were good, but focused on something a bit different.

Anonymous said...

No one I know suggested explicitly he was. However, the juxtaposition of Catholic church in one sentence and Archbishop in the next might lead someone unfamiliar to believe he was. Or give someone another excuse to avoid answering a question.

jah

Lee said...

> kycobb: " tautology is true by its logical form alone, so you seem to be saying that natural selection is necessarily true. "

A tautology is a statement that is always true due to its formal structure alone.

E.g., "The moon is made of green cheese, or it isn't."

> What I don't understand is why creationists think this is a problem for evolutionary theory.

Because "Survival of the fittest is a good characterization of the way evolution works" doesn't add anything to the discussion we didn't already know, when the "fit" are defined as "those who survive."

> kycobb: "Since noone can seriously deny that natural selection occurs, that would seem to me to bolster the theory that natural selection serves as a mechanism to alter allele frequencies in populations of organisms."

The discussion between ID and evolution seems to center on whether natural selection (i.e., selection without intervention by an intelligent designer) is *sufficient* to explain the diversity of life. Showing that white moths tend to die out when there is more air polution, and grey moths tend to survive in greater numbers, is one thing; no new genes were created. It's another thing to show that it is sufficient to explain how Richard Dawkins' (great)**n grandfather was a bacterium, all by random mutation, in the space of about 4. billion years (more or less accepting the timeline offered by the scientific community).

> "Why do creationists think this is a compelling argument against evolutionary theory?"

Because it doesn't tell us anything, but is presented as if it does. "Survival of the fittest" is a true statement regardless of whether evolution is true, or whether ID is true, or whether capital-C Creationism is true, and regardless of the evidence. So long as the fittest are defined as those who survive, it is true whether the number of new species double spontaneously by noon tomorrow, or God draws the final curtain and convenes Judgment Day by then.

kycobb said...

Lee,

"Because "Survival of the fittest is a good characterization of the way evolution works" doesn't add anything to the discussion we didn't already know, when the "fit" are defined as "those who survive.""

You are right. Evolutionary theory identifies why some organisms are fitter than others in the contexts of the environments they live in, and the consequences of the true statement that the fittest survive and reproduce preferentially. You are also correct that the fittest survive regardless of other facts, however, evolutionary theory explains why we find the diversity of life, past and present, in certain patterns, whereas a creationist can only shrug and say "God works in mysterious ways", and an IDist can only say, "we don't know the methods or motives of the Intelligent Designer." If you are claiming that there is nothing more to evolutionary theory than "survival of the fittest", then all you are doing is making a strawman argument.

Lee said...

> jah: "But I have to think to raise my arm to scratch my head. I thought the point of Mr Cothran's use of "critical thinking" was to differentiate it from just "thinking". And based on what I read from the web, I believe critical thinking involves more than your example. What is your definition of "critical thinking"?"

Not being an expert in such fine distinctions, I perused the web and it seems to me the definitions being used are somewhat arbitrary. It looks to me like the more abstract the reasoning, the more inclined people are to label it "critical" or "analytical". Maybe Martin can help...? I did, by the way, misunderstand what you said earlier about critical thinking needing to be "original" thinking. I'm still not sure I agree, but what you said makes more sense to me now.

> jah: "When birds/other animals learn to crack nuts/shellfish on the highway/with sticks, is that thinking? Are humans the only animals capable of thought?"

I don't think so. Again, we're talking about degree, I think. There is not much doubt in my mind, when I watch a documentary about lions hunting zebras, that the lions are thinking. They don't need to be geniuses, they only need to be smarter than the zebras. A few lions stake themselves out and wait in ambush, while the zebras are charged by the remaining lions from a different direction. The lions seem to realize they don't have the stamina to chase the zebras down except in a short burst, and that's how they set up the short burst. How much of that is instinctive? Who knows? My guess is that it's taught, but I don't really know. I have read that the common housefly is the stupidest animal in the world, absolutely incapable of learning anything it didn't already know when it was born. Most other animals seem to be able to learn something. Even a flatworm can learn that whenever it sees a flashing light, it's about to be shocked, and flinches whether shocked or not.

> jah: "Again, I am not making my point clear. We agree there is a mental component to sports. I don't think it is very big. Would you recommend baseball or football to someone as your first method to increase mental prowess as Mr Cothran did with Latin? That was my point - Mr Cothran's recommendations are not sufficient to develop critical thinking."

Well, then, I suppose I should bow out and let Mr. Cothran handle your objection. But -- perhaps a quibble -- you may be underestimating how much of a mental component there is to sports. This is from memory, so don't take it as gospel, but Tom Brady of the NE Patriots was the highest rated quarterback last season, with a rating of around 117.. Mr. Brady is a great QB, but he's not much of a physical specimen -- I mean to say, he's a lot more of one than I am, but he's not one at all when you compare him to other NFL QBs, and especially not when you compare him to the rest of the NFL as a whole. He can't run very fast and he's not particularly strong. His nearest competitor, ratings-wise, was Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers, and Big Ben has been called a "physical freak" -- he's a much more gifted athlete than Brady; he's bigger, stronger, faster, more elusively quick, and can throw further. Big Ben is a fine QB, but there's something about Brady that makes him better. It has to be his intelligence.

As a culture, I think our cognoscenti may tend to overvalue the ability to deal with abstraction that appears in a linguistic form, and undervalue that same ability when it comes to other forms, such as, say, carpentry, or football, or farming, or whatever. Even math is related to spatial perception, and there is a lot of that in sports.

>> Lee: "All I can say is this: if morality is not absolute or objective, then it is nothing more than a conceit and we as humans are not obliged in any way to honor it."

> jah: "Those are precisely my points."

Some people say that; few are willing to go where it leads. It means, among other things, an end to telling anyone they need to improve their outlook or their behavior. It means not getting outraged when someone treats you badly, as there is no objective standard to judge them by. It means recognizing your most precious precepts as personal preferences and not moral rules that others ought to observe. It reduces everything to "I like this" and "I don't like that." Someone who believes in absolute morality sometimes is forced to choose between what he likes, and what he thinks is right. Someone who believes nothing of the sort has only his preferences to satisfy, but at the cost of no longer having a good stage from which to exhort others. For example, you have dropped a sharp comment or two about people whose value systems differ from yours (e.g., wasn't that you talking disdainfully about "the Jerry Falwell types"?) If you believe morality is relative, why lecture anyone about the undesirability of Jerry Falwell? It is reduced to a purely aesthetic judgment. "I dislike bad whiskey, pink shirts, and Jerry Falwell types."

> jah: "But people seem inclined to deal in absolutes and boxes, when, in my view, the world is mostly shades of grey."

Here, at the very least, you're criticizing the "absolutes and boxes" view, and that's an important thing to notice in someone who doesn't think that any one view is right. If no one view is right, then no one view can be wrong, either. So by your own rules, it's perfectly valid to deal in absolutes and boxes. You can't even say they're wrong, not in the same way they can say you're wrong.

>> Lee: "Here's the part the atheists miss: but, therefore, religion is the result of evolution, too. By the canons of evolution, it must have evolved because it has provided us with a survivability edge, or else it would not have stuck with us for so long."

> jah: "OK, or if not a survivability edge, at least not a significantly deleterious disadvantage."

It beat out the competition. If the fit are the ones who survive, then religion makes us more fit.

>> Lee: "And if religion assisted our survival at one point in history, what evidence exists that we no longer need it? "

> jah: "That's a good point. If the only thing keeping the masses from unrestrained looting, raping, and pillaging is religion, then it is certainly needed."

You need to add a caveat, though, to explain by what standard you hold looting, etc, to be bad. It doesn't follow from the relativistic philosophy. All you can say is looting and raping are bad for the looted and raped, but good for the looters and rapers.

> jah: "Even given religion, America, which is predominantly a religious (and Christian) nation seems to have such an awful lot of crooked politicians, dishonest businessmen, assorted and sundry other thieves, vagabonds, and malcontents, that many of them must be religious."

In a world where there is any gain to be had from appearing to be Christian, there are two types of people who will tell you they're Christians: 1) Christians, and 2) non-Christians. And even Christians are fallen and depraved, like everyone else, and blow it big time. "Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue." But is it better to hold standards they ought to be obeyed though we often fail, or to have no standards at all and embrace a philosophy that says it's that's okay?

Lee said...

>> jah: "But why aren't most industrialized nations using slaves today? Have we as individuals improved that much?"

Interesting point. I think I might agree with that, but it would depend on what you mean by it. Slavery has affected practically all human cultures, and practically every race of people has at some point in time been slavers and slaves. The word "slave" itself derived from "Slav", and Eastern Europe was indeed a great Roman source of slaves. But some slavery is worse than others. For example, in the United States, slaves were given very little freedom and were allowed very little education, while in the Caribbean, they were afforded more freedom and allowed to engage in commerce and often lived in their own domiciles.

Jesus has been criticized for never having raised his voice against the institution of slavery, but in those days, slaves weren't just conquered people: they could also be people who couldn't pay their debts, or broke the law. Today, we put people who break the law in prison and put them to work on road crews or making license plates. If there is much difference, it's theoretical at best.

But I think when most people think of slavery, they mean the systematic, thorough, and forcible exploitation of a weaker people by a stronger people. Like the kind we had here, that was abolished in the aftermath of the Civil War. The moral principle behind it is simply this: mere humans can't be trusted with that kind of power over others.

> jah: "For example, where were all the religious leaders and religious followers when slavery was prevalent in the US? Religious people certainly constituted the bulk of the population. Why did they allow this absolute moral evil to exist?"

Slavery was a permanent part of man's condition, for thousands of years, before Christ, after Christ, and in nations of all sorts. There were lots of Christian slaveowners. But you have to balance that with the fact that it was a bunch of evangelical Christians in England, between 1790 and 1820, who got it abolished in the British Empire, and the rest of Europe and eventually the U.S. followed suit. You should read up about William Wilberforce. It took an evangelical Christian to change the world's attitude.

Lee said...

In the previous post I said:

"The moral principle behind it is simply this: mere humans can't be trusted with that kind of power over others."

I meant:

"The moral principle for opposing slavery is simply this: mere humans can't be trusted with that kind of power over others."

Lee said...

> jah: "I think one problem here is the some people don't believe that others can accept not being absolutely certain of things."

Believing an absolute moral standard exists is one thing; believing that any human being can know, in this life, perfectly, what that standard happens to be is another. As Paul said, "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face."

Lee said...

>> Lee: "Indeed. Why argue there is no one standard, and then argue that bigots who won't help Katrina victims aren't meeting your standard?"

> jah: "They're not meeting mine. And similar others. The difference is that I am not claiming to know the one and only truth and assume I have the moral right to force others to change their behavior."

It's worse than that; not only are you not claiming to know the moral truth, you are in fact arguing against the concept of moral truth.

And, you said earlier that if Christianity inhibited rapacious behavior, then that was good. If you believe in law and order, at least in some measure, then you do in fact think someone has a right to force others to change their behavior.

Lee said...

>> thomas: "I can actually think of a good reason fundamentalists would want to deny absolute, transcendental morality: God commanded the Israelites to take slaves. If it's wrong, it's wrong absolutely and irrevocably, right? (not to mention God commanding babies brains be bashed out, and especially the case of Abraham's sacrifice)."

In the case of the Israelites vs. the Canaanites, the Canaanites (according to the Bible) were being judged for their incredible sinfulness. Even secular historians have recorded the horrors of Canaanite society, one of the vilest of all time. The Israelites were the judgment. But as I recall, mostly, the Israelites were just ordered to kill all of the Canaanites. One particular group, however, had tricked the Israelites into eating with them, so by custom they had to extend some measure of friendship and loyalty; they compromised by making them slaves.

But, to be honest, the Bible doesn't preach against slavery. As a general principle, though. I just happen to agree with the principle that no human can be trusted to own another human, and that this follows from Biblical injuctions about the depravity of human nature. I would imagine that God was aware of such depravity when He ordered the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites, but they were under His commission to do what He commanded. The problems the Israelites ran into, later on, were precisely because they did *not* follow the Lord's will and disobeyed Him -- refusing, for example, to kill all the men, women, children, and livestock of their enemies. Such disobedience, for example, cost Saul the throne of Israel.

Lee said...

> kycobb: "If you are claiming that there is nothing more to evolutionary theory than "survival of the fittest", then all you are doing is making a strawman argument."

A lot of arguments could be avoided, or at least could proceed along more productive channels, if there was agreement between the parties involved about what evolution means.

In any event, I have been defending the ID approach in this thread, but necessarily my own take on it. My position is that their questions of evolutionary theory are not out of bounds, and should be dealt with by evolutionists with more than what I mostly observe, which is some form of sneering.

As I pointed out earlier, there really isn't much difference between what ID proponents think and what Darwinist-evolutionists think. Both believe all species probably evolved from the same single cell. ID has no quarrel, at least mostly not, against evolutionary theory or evolution-inspired evidence-gathering.

The one thing ID quarrels with is the one thing that folks like Dawkins cannot and will not abide -- and also the one thing that is *not* the result of scientific inquiry. It is the question of whether there is an intelligent, guiding hand behind evolution, or instead the whole of it is the blind result of a naturalistic process of mutation and feedback that we call natural selection.

If science can only measure what is in the natural world, and cannot measure the supernatural world, then we cannot directly observe a God at work. Fair enough. So foo on those who argue that God can be proven scientifically. But if science cannot prove God through direct observation, neither can it prove not God. So foo on those who argue that there must be no supernatural influence on life. Until we arrive at a physics of the supernatural, it is not scientific to rule out its influence altogether, any more scientific than it is to presume its presence and influence.

So much for direct observation and testing. The next best thing is: can we infer the existence of God, or even only some intelligent being smart enough to create life on Earth? A designing hand of some sort? We can't see the supernatural, but we routinely test for the presence of intelligent design in lots of sciences. We infer the composer by hearing the symphony. We see the arrowhead, we infer the ancient arrow-maker. If the SETI folks were to start picking up some sort of language pattern emanating from Polaris, surely they would be correct in inferring the existence of an intelligence at the other end, no? Even though we have never been to Polaris and never met the alien life form making the patterns?

ID is only challenging that one tiny, small aspect of evolutionary theory which *assumes*, not proves, that no intelligence was necessary to make all this -- in other words, that part of evolutionary theory which is the least dependent on the evidence, or susceptible to it. Apparently, that tiny, small aspect is way too much for those who hold to evolution as, as Dawkins' has said, the theory that makes it intellectually respectable to be an atheist. For Dawkins, it's all about the atheism.

thomas said...

Jah,

I see what you're talking about, and you are correct: it was not stated clearly for someone not familiar with what position the Archbishop of Canterbury is in.

Anonymous said...

Asides:


lee: (on critical thinking) I perused the web and it seems to me the definitions being used are somewhat arbitrary.

That's why I avoided supplying a definition - I didn't want to get tangled up in the minor aspects of defining the term.


Lee: I don't think so. Again, we're talking about degree, I think.

I agree with you.


lee: Tom Brady of the NE Patriots was the highest rated quarterback last season, with a rating of around 117. Mr. Brady is a great QB, but he's not much of a physical specimen ... It has to be his intelligence.

In large part yes. Quarterback is the hardest position for which to judge a collegian's pro potential (see Ryan Leaf vs Peyton Manning). I would say Brady's biggest assets are quickness in spotting open receiver, fast delivery, accuracy in getting the ball where only his receiver has a chance to catch it, and coaching. But you are correct - this position requires more intelligence than most realize. [Terry Bradshaw is not as dumb as he pretends either.]

But again, it is degree. I think there are better ways to develop critical/abstract thinking than Latin matching.


As a culture, I think our cognoscenti may tend to overvalue the ability to deal with abstraction that appears in a linguistic form, and undervalue that same ability when it comes to other forms, such as, say, carpentry, or football, or farming, or whatever. Even math is related to spatial perception, and there is a lot of that in sports.

Again I agree entirely.




jah

Art said...

New genes arise de novo, via random processes, all the time:

http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2007/05/on-the-evolutio-1.html

http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2007/07/reality-1-behe.html

http://aghunt.wordpress.com/2008/07/22/one-persons-junk-is-anothers-treasure/

http://aghunt.wordpress.com/2008/06/14/de-novo-origination-of-a-gene-encoding-a-functional-protein/

http://aghunt.wordpress.com/2008/06/25/more-on-the-origination-of-new-protein-coding-genes/

(Sorry for not making hot links - I am not sure how Martin's comments are screened, and I don't wish to trigger a spam warning.)

Anonymous said...

off the main theme points
(last quote from lee accidentally unattributed in previous comment)

lee: It means, among other things, an end to telling anyone they need to improve their outlook or their behavior.

Yes, an end to "need" but not to "ought". In the best case, they "ought" for their own self-interest, in the worst, because otherwise they will be punished by society.

lee: It means not getting outraged when someone treats you badly,

I can still judge them by my relative, non-absolute standard.


lee: Someone who believes in absolute morality sometimes is forced to choose between what he likes, and what he thinks is right.

So are people with relative morals. They may have to choose between what they think is best for creating a desirable (I'm trying to avoid "good" and "bad" due to their "absolute" connotations.) society versus individual, perhaps short term, interest.
There has been a lot of research into game theory (I think it is) which involves many of these issues.
And I would guess some studies on how religious individuals behave vs the non-religious.



lee: If no one view is right, then no one view can be wrong, either. So by your own rules, it's perfectly valid to deal in absolutes and boxes.

Now we're expanding from morals to any view. In a sense, you're right. Maybe if I hit my thumb with a hammer,it won't hurt. Nonetheless I don't like the odds.


lee: It beat out the competition. If the fit are the ones who survive, then religion makes us more fit.

1) I don't see why some traits can't be of neutral, or essentially neutral, character.

2) "Fit" depends on environment and luck. We may not be more fit than dinosaurs to live in today's world; but they got wiped out in a catastrophe (their misfortune) and aren't around to compete anymore. It takes a long time for changes - how many generations does it take for cave fish to lose all trace of eyes? And are 10 fingered humans more or less fit than 12 fingered humans?



lee: But you have to balance that with the fact that it was a bunch of evangelical Christians in England, between 1790 and 1820, who got it abolished in the British Empire,

Yes, I've always like the Wedgewood medallion http://www.flickr.com/photos/franklinremix/99760637 (and bronze tokens).
But why did Christians ever consider such slavery ok? Yes, I am holding Christians to a higher standard, but if American slavery is immoral by an absolute, permanent standard, why wasn't it always considered immoral?



lee: My position is that their questions of evolutionary theory are not out of bounds, and should be dealt with by evolutionists with more than what I mostly observe, which is some form of sneering.

The questions are acceptable. But the questions come in context. If scientists feel they have already adequately addressed these questions and if they suspect the motives of the questioners, then sneering will ensue.

lee: Both believe all species probably evolved from the same single cell.

Hard data are not available, but I seriously doubt most ID proponents feel this way. Behe I think does. Most ID commenters I have seen are unwilling to support common descent back past the concept of "kind".
And scientists (by which unmodified term I mean consensus mainstream scientists) go way back to chemicals long before a cell.




lee: If science can only measure what is in the natural world, and cannot measure the supernatural world,

By definition of natural and supernatural.


lee: Until we arrive at a physics of the supernatural,

Not possible, by definition. Scientists can measure the effects of fields - electromagnetic, gravity, etc - but the fields themselves are unobservable. Nonetheless, such fields are considered natural and not supernatural.

lee: it is not scientific to rule out its influence altogether,

The influence of the supernatural may be measured, but I can't imagine how it can reveal anything about the supernatural. Radioactive atoms decay. In bulk, the decays obey a simple law, but no one can predict which atom will decay. There may be some supernatural explanation, but how will studying the decay reveal anything about its nature?


lee: We can't see the supernatural, but we routinely test for the presence of intelligent design in lots of sciences. ... If the SETI folks were to start picking up some sort of language pattern emanating from Polaris, surely they would be correct in inferring the existence of an intelligence at the other end, no?

But that is because scientists have studied the natural world and developed models for how it operates. They have not only concluded that some phenomena are created by intelligent agents (e.g., watches) but also, and more significantly, that known natural forces would not create them (oxidation state of metals, shape of parts, chemical combinations, etc). Some intelligently designed objects (stone scrapers, arrowheads) are indistinguishable for the most part from naturally occurring objects. I don't think there is any inherent element of "design" on which such conclusions are based. [Stopping here since I am confusing myself.]


lee: For Dawkins, it's all about the atheism.

That's because Dawkins is responding as an atheist and not a scientist. Most Catholic scientists, for example, have no difficulty believing in a supernatural guiding hand which is not detectable (Ken Miller most prominent perhaps; see also statements of some popes).


jah

Martin Cothran said...

Jah,

But if there is no way for me to decide which of these plural systems is the universal one, then how do I pick which one to follow? In the case of science, I would study the matter myself or, most likely, trust experts who have demonstrated knowledge or are recognized by others. How does one demonstrate an expertise in morality? You seem to have argued elsewhere that we can't trust theologians to know.

How to determine which is the true universal moral standard is a good question, but it is a different question from whether there can be a universal moral standard, which I think is what we were arguing before. The most direct way to definitively determine such a thing would be some sort of divine revelation.

If you believe in divine revelation--in other words, a communication from the transcendental realm in which any moral standard would derive its warrant, then the question is easily answered. The only question that remains is how you determine which, among competing candidates, is the true revelation, which is a question of religious truth claims (which, as you would correctly say, is another question).

I would go further, however, and say that it is not only by special revelation (direct and divine), but by natural revelation (in this case philosophy uninformed by direct revelation) that you could arbitrate between moral systems.

In either case, you are talking about moral philosophy, which is a branch of practical philosophy (which, by the way, is not the same as morality itself, since the study of something is different from the thing being studied). And being a branch of philosophy, its methods are not those of the hard sciences. You no more have to "demonstrate expertise in morality" in order to engage in ethical philosophy than you would have to be able to engage in photosynthesis in order to be a plant biologist. You don't have to be moral: you simply have to be a good philosopher.

I think this confusion between the object of study and the study itself was one of the mistakes implicit in your attack on Jonathan Edwards on the issue of slavery. Even if theology were the same thing as ethical philosophy (which it is not), it would not follow that a theologian should be any more moral than a non-theologian. A theologian is not the same thing as an ethical philosopher, and even if he were there would be no reason why someone who engages in the intellectual study of morality should be any more moral than someone who doesn't any more than someone who studies ants should be expected to be more ant-like, or someone who studies monkeys more monkey-like.

You ask, "How does one empirically show that a moral code is wrong?" The answer is that there is no way to do this empirically--and there is also no reason to expect you could. I certainly never maintained that you can study ethics through empirical science. As I mentioned before, ethical philosophy is a branch of philosophy; it is not a natural science. Therefore, there is no reason anyone should think that the methods of empirical science are applicable to it. I think this is what you would call a category mistake. It's like asking, "How does one mathematically show that I love my wife?" It just doesn't apply.

Lee said...

art> "Well, that about sums up Lee's arguments. Quite appropriate for a thread of comments to an essay entitled "The "Critical Thinking Skills" Hoax".

Art, there's a difference between arguing and heckling.

Lee said...

thomas> "If moral standards are transcendental this would need to be demonstrated."

At least speaking for myself, I have not argued that an absolute moral code can be proven. All I've been arguing is that if one does not exist, then there is no such thing as "ought" -- there is no compelling reason to do anything you don't want to do.

> timothy: "Some sort of eidetic reduction would be required, and the existence of a moral standard that is relative to culture would automatically disprove your argument."

This would have no effect on the argument I have been making, since morality may indeed appear relative depending on your perspective. As long as there is a morality over them, overriding them, and tugging them in the right direction, the case for absolute morality is not dependent on there never being relative ones.

> Thomas: "Unless one is such a busybody they want to determine what is good or evil in a pre-historical African society, in 17th century France, or in 12 years in the future in outer space, I see no practical reason why one would be concerned with a universal morality."

The practical reason we need to be concerned about it is simple: without it, morality loses its authority. The person who sees morality as ultimately relative is just a small step away from concluding, and rightly so, that it's a complete sham. It's nothing more than the preferences of the many or the powerful or the most persuasive, and presents only practical difficulties to the man in the know, who sees the sham and winks at his buddies. Once he realizes this, there is nothing to restrain him from doing anything he wants other than fear of getting caught. You ask for a practical reason, there it is. I don't know how many sociopaths are out there who restrain themselves from doing what they want for simple fear of an all-knowing God who sees their very thoughts, but I would suspect more than zero.

> Kierkegaard, probably the greatest of Protestant thinkers, rejected a universal morality but was by no means a materialist.

I can't even imagine why he is considered a Protestant at all if he rejects a universal morality. As a Christian, my authority is the Bible, not Kierkegaard. I can't imagine why a God who is not the embodiment of absolute goodness ought to be worshipped, but the Bible in any event describes God as eternal, immutable, and good.

> And he said this not for philosophical reasons, but for scriptural reasons: the case of Abraham. I would suggest his work Fear and Trembling to anyone who thinks Christianity requires a universal morality.

If the Bible is ever wrong, there is no reason to trust any of it. So, then, if you don't believe the Bible when it says God is eternal, immutable, and good, then why trust it when it relays the story of Abraham? Kierkegaard is not the authority. He wouldn't be the first philosopher, even the first great one, to make a mistake.

> thomas: "It also is proof you are engaging implicitly in a false dilemma."

People can believe pretty much anything that moves them; it doesn't have to make sense. If a man wants to devote his life to studying a book he doesn't believe is authoritative, and constructs his proofs from that book, and thus undermines that book's authority, there is nothing stopping him. I didn't suppose I needed to consider the set of all possible viewpoints; I left out many, I'm sure, that don't make a lot of sense. If there are any other such viewpoints you wish to discuss, bring them up and perhaps I will change my mind about them.

>> Lee: "In the materialist vision, morality cannot exist in any non-material way."

> thomas: "I am not convinced there is any significant portion of thinkers who construe materialism this way. Perhaps this is true of people without philosophical training, but even scientists generally consider science to be "real". This seems to me to be a straw man."

From Wikipedia: "The philosophy of materialism holds that the only thing that can be truly proven to exist is matter, and is considered a form of physicalism. Fundamentally, all things are composed of material and all phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material interactions; therefore, matter is the only substance."

Hmmm: All things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. Morality, therefore, if it exists, must essentially be material. And then it follows, as I said: this renders materialist morality essentially to be brain chemistry. Sorry, if it's a straw man, you need to explain why.

I see materialism, as an aside, as a philosophy that cannot see the book for the paper and ink and glue that comprise it. We have everything we need: why hypothesize a message contained in the book that may or may not exist and has nothing to do with the material that comprises it?

And, yes, people often act as if something is real that their own philosophy tells them is an illusion. There are plenty of communists who don't believe in private property but get upset if you take one of their beers without asking. There are plenty of rich Democrats who think rich people should pay higher taxes, but go running after tax loopholes themselves. Christians often behave as if they don't believe in their own doctrines; they aren't the only ones.

>> "Then, just to complicate matters, you accuse me of begging the question... as if that were, what, a bad thing? Wait! I get it! You're holding me up to a standard! Boy, I sure hope it's a relativistic standard! That way, I may be wrong to beg the question today, but tomorrow, I may be right! Who knows?"

> timothy: "I'm going to avoid responding to this in kind."

Note to self: timothy needs to work on his sense of humor. Or I do. It's a jibe, but there is a serious component. We seem to agree there is a standard to which a debate ought to follow. Do such standards matter?

> timothy: "To say that a logical fallacy is wrong in the same way that a moral act is wrong is a good example of the fallacy of equivocation -- a logical, not a moral fault (even the word "fault" here is meant in a different sense)."

I agree that a logical fallacy is a matter of fact and not morals. The question is whether it is right or wrong to avoid logical fallacies -- which is a moral issue, no? Assuming truth exists, is it right to seek it? To which I respond with the same question I keep asking: by what standard?

Lee said...

> The implication here is clearly that if churches didn't "use a designing agent" they don't take theology seriously as they erroneously interpret the Bible. That is clearly clearly ad hominem (which is a structural flaw, and does not require that I survey all denominations.

Stop me when my logic goes awry: Ad hominem is an irrelevant attack on someone rather than a relevant attack on someone's argument. You cited the fact that there are many Christian churches that see no contradiction between evolution and Christianity. Your point, therefore, is that a proper Christian theology can accept evolution. But all theology requires an authority. By what authority is anyone a Christian? Whose word are we taking as authoritative when we avow belief that a man, born of a woman, who was in fact God Himself, or one-third of a Holy Trinity the whole of which comprises the one God, came to Earth and conquered sin and death? Or that he was crucified, died, was buried, and was resurrected? That's the most fantastic, unbelievable story in the Bible, but it is the foundation of Christianity. Someone who doesn't believe these things can hardly be called a Christian. Someone who does believe these things, ultimately, is taking the Bible's word for it. Jesus Himself treated the rest of the Bible -- "they have Moses and the prophets" -- as authoritative. But the Bible speaks of a God who takes an active part in His creation, all the time. Therefore, anyone who thinks the diversity of life is accidental, not guided by God, does not believe the Bible when it tells us precisely that.

Ad hominem? Not if it's relevant. I think it's relevant, as it addresses your point that "Many christian churches have no theological problem with evolutionary theory." I'm saying that if they took theology seriously, they would have a problem -- at least with the Darwinistic doctrine that natural selection is a sufficient explanation for the diversity of life.

Note: I'm not saying that anyone who believes in evolution is not a Christian. I'm only saying that such a person does not take theology seriously. Hmmm. Fine, amend that to Christian theology. If the Bible is not the authority, what is? Who is? Kierkegaard? Why believe in any of it at all, if you don't take the Bible's word for it?

The Catholic Church is in a slightly different boat than the Reformed faith that I adhere to, granted: it has an authority, which is the Church hierarchy. They claim that the Bible and tradition are a part of that authority, but then they go on to say that only the Pope and the Church can interpret the Bible and tradition correctly -- but there can only be one authority, and I think that means the real authority is the Pope and the Church hierarchy. In any event, the Reformed faith broke from Catholicism precisely because they didn't ultimately believe the Catholic hierarchy took theology seriously. It's been a long quarrel. But they say the same creeds we do and believe in the essential truths, so Catholics are regarded by Reformed Christians as brothers in Christ.

As for many mainstream Protestant churches, you can attend them regularly and catch barely a whiff of theological content. I have had plenty of opportunity to hear their sermons, as a (former) professional musician who has played many times at Methodist and UCC churches where the authority of scripture is attacked or ignored. I took their money, but their beliefs had me scratching my head. One such fellow, head pastor of one of the biggest Methodist churches in Omaha, took the occasion of an Easter sermon to attack Paul's belief that if the physical resurrection did not happen, then Christians of all people are the most to be pitied. "Well, Paul said that," opined the pastor, "however, I disagree with Paul." Well, sir, go ahead and disagree with Paul, was my thought -- but then, what are you doing wearing that robe and acting as if you are doing your job? By what authority did he disagree with Paul? He needed to go start his own church, or teach philosophy, not undermine the very authority that is why Methodist churches even exist, providing his forum.

>> Lee: ""What kind of a god is it that created the universe but cannot be any kind of cause he would wish to be?"

> timothy: "The kind of God who is absolute and transcendent, who is uncircumscribed. You might as well ask whether God has the power to do evil. Just as moral analysis of God reduces him to a finite moral agent, causal analysis of God which refers to him in terms of secondary causes reduces him to a finite causal agent.,,, God does in fact manifest himself in a finite form: but this requires an incarnation."

I'd like a Biblical proof of this. It doesn't even make logical sense; to me, it sounds like word games. Or else a form of pantheism...? If you don't think God can do anything He likes on Earth, how do you square that, say, with Ezekiel 37? According to Ezekiel, the *Spirit* of the Lord brought dry bones back to life as a vast army. Was Ezekiel lying? Was he mistaken? Did God incarnate Himself from spirit when Ezekiel wasn't looking, and somehow that part of it missed getting written down?

> timothy: "Your Bible verses do nothing to refute this; in fact, unless you strip them of any poetic content, I would argue they reinforce the traditional Christian ontology I am defending here."

So what's the standard? Whenever the Bible tends to disagree with you, it must be speaking poetically? Again, from Daniel:

"Daniel 4:35 "And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?"

Are you saying to God, "What doest thou?" Are you trying to stay His hand? Where is the poetry?

> timothy: "John Zizioulas does a good job of talking about this"

Is John Zizioulas the authority on which Christianity is based?

Anonymous said...

lee: if morality is not absolute or objective, then it is nothing more than a conceit and we as humans are not obliged in any way to honor it.


MC: The only question that remains is how you determine which, among competing candidates, is the true revelation, which is a question of religious truth claims (which, as you would correctly say, is another question).

I would go further, however, and say that it is not only by special revelation (direct and divine), but by natural revelation (in this case philosophy uninformed by direct revelation) that you could arbitrate between moral systems.


Here's the crux of the issue.
I concede an absolute (universal and atemporal) morality to be superior to any human derived.
Furthermore, let's assume such a morality exists.
Now consider a person, randomly chosen from some time between 100 AD and present and from a culture anywhere on the globe. How would this person decide whether some course of action is moral or immoral?

I sure don't understand Mr Cothran's use of natural revelation (and it is highly unlikely our subject has any great knowledge of philosophy). [Let's skip divine revelation for now, although it seems to me that a person could confuse something else for that (cf. Son of Sam).]

So it is my contention that even an absolute standard of morality loses its cachet if the standard isn't readily determinable.

This is the key to my dissatisfaction with claims of an absolute standard.
As an analogy (so it can't be pushed too far), suppose I have a clock which I suspect may be faulty; I want to check whether every tick of the second hand is really a second. I know that "[t]he second is the duration of 9 192 770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom".* If we accept that as an absolute standard, of what use is it to me? None. I can't purify or store cesium and can't count or measure the interval described above. So all the advantages of an absolute standard are moot.
The same is true for moral standards. I have no way of measuring them, so from a practical perspective, for me they might as well not exist. Even worse, there are multiple groups with competing ideas of morality which change over time. That is the problem with slavery in the US (Jonathan Edwards) - it went from being considered moral to being considered immoral.

jah


*http://www.bipm.org/en/si/si_brochure/chapter2/2-1/second.html

Martin Cothran said...

Jah,

Is slavery wrong?

Lee said...

jah, at that point, it comes down to faith. thomas has been arguing that you can have a supreme being and still not have an absolute moral standard. I disagree with him on that, but no one has tried defending the converse proposition, that you can have an absolute moral standard without a supreme being. I see an absolute God, in the monotheistic tradition, as absolutely essential to having an absolute moral standard. By the Judeo-Christian view, goodness is simply the character of God, and acquiring goodness, i.e., being sanctified, is the process by which one more and more acquires His perspective on right and wrong, virtue and sin, and resolves to conquer (by God's grace) his own sin.

These debates are not new. Paul warned the Christian flock that these debates would succeed in extending His kingdom. Paul warned that the "Greeks" -- that is, the philosophers -- will see Christianity as foolishness (and, as well, that the Jews would see it as heres7).

And if you don't have faith in an absolute being, it follows you can't have faith in anything that derives from that.

To me, perhaps the important fact that you are missing, though, is that you complain that an objective moral standard can't be perfectly identified -- but the evidence that one exists runs deepers and perhaps a little more subtly. (I borrow this line of argument from C.S. Lewis, it is not original with me by any means) Why do human beings hunger for an absolute moral standard? Why do they crave justice? Why do they ever find sin in their own actions and seek absolution? What other creature does this?

For all other things that human beings crave, there is something that exists to satisfy it. We hunger for food, and there is such a thing as food to satisfy the hunger. We thirst, and there is such a thing as water to satisfy the hunger. We crave sex, and there is sex to satisfy the hunger. And so it goes, for all of our hungers... except justice? What else do we hunger for, that nothing exists that can possibly sate it?

But however a moral relativist believes about this subject, one thing appears to be true: they are just as prone to craving justice as the rest of us. Steal their money, and they will react indignantly. Strike them in the face, and they will feel offended and violated. Treat one unjustly, and they will demand redress. And especially, show a sign of hypocrisy, and they will call you on it.

What such people need to have pointed out to them, time and time again if necessary, is that their philosophy affords no right to be expect decent treatment. That's not me talking, that's their own philosophy.

As for Christians, we don't have a right to expect decent treatment, either, but for a different reason. If any man who ever lived deserved decent treatment, it was Jesus -- and look what we did to Him. If He didn't expect to get it, we shouldn't either. He even requires that we forego our own sense of retribution -- "Revenge is mine, saith the Lord" -- but he does not require that we forget that it is justice we seek.

Lee said...

Sorry:

> These debates are not new. Paul warned the Christian flock that these debates would succeed in extending His kingdom. Paul warned that the "Greeks" -- that is, the philosophers -- will see Christianity as foolishness (and, as well, that the Jews would see it as heres7).

Amend to:

These debates are not new. Paul warned the Christian flock that these debates would *not* succeed in extending His kingdom. Paul warned that the "Greeks" -- that is, the philosophers -- will see Christianity as foolishness (and, as well, that the Jews would see it as heresy).

Thomas said...

Lee,

"As a general principle, though. I just happen to agree with the principle that no human can be trusted to own another human, and that this follows from Biblical injuctions about the depravity of human nature."

There are two ways this can be taken, and both of them undermine your argument. The first is that, as a general principle, humans should not own other humans due to flaws in their nature; this "general principle" applies in most situations, but is not universally applicable. That is, it more often applies than it does not, but there are exceptions. That, as it happens, is an excellent way of approaching ethics; but it means that there is the possibility of an "ought" that is not absolute.

The second way you could mean this is that slavery is not wrong in the primary sense in which you mean the word wrong (i.e., not wrong by virtue of pure morality), but mostly unwise and prone to misuse. This means not only that human ownership of other humans is not wrong in principle, but that your position is not significantly different from the "liberal" mentioned above who objected to slavery without an absolute system of ethics.

If there's a third option, I'd be interested to hear it.

And you completely missed the point of the Kierkegaard example: that if one does not believe in an absolute ethics, he is therefore a materialist. The latter does not follow from the former.

"All things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. Morality, therefore, if it exists, must essentially be material."

Even wikipedia does not say this. "all things are composed of material and all phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material interactions; therefore, matter is the only substance." Matter is the only substance, but this does not necessarily mean that non-material things -- such as consciousness -- do not exist. It means the ground of their being must rest in matter or material interactions. The "phenomena" of things like consciousness or ideas are not held to not exist absolutely, but to be properties or "secondary substance" of the primary substance matter.

Your previous argument was a straw man because it confuted materialism with the denial of an absolute morality; you did not acknowledge that other alternatives exist that absolute morality vs. materialism, but that those alternatives are, among thinkers, more common than philosophical materialism.

"The question is whether it is right or wrong to avoid logical fallacies -- which is a moral issue, no?"

Actually, no. Making an incorrect argument (unless it is deliberate deception) is not a moral issue at all, and I must confess this is the first time I have ever heard anyone say this. It's also "wrong" to eat ice cream with a fork, to forget to use the clutch when shifting, to use lotion instead of soap, to mop before sweeping, and so on. An error does not necessarily equate to a moral fault. This is as true in logic as it is when one makes a typo or move a decimal while multiplying.

"Ad hominem? Not if it's relevant."

I think that about sums it up. And my name is thomas, not timothy.

Lee said...

> If there's a third option, I'd be interested to hear it.

I like the way I put it better. I'll try another way that I like equally well: All men are morally depraved, and enough of them cannot be trusted with legal ownership of another human being that it renders legal slavery to be an evil.

> thomas: "There are two ways this can be taken, and both of them undermine your argument. The first is that, as a general principle, humans should not own other humans due to flaws in their nature; this "general principle" applies in most situations, but is not universally applicable. That is, it more often applies than it does not, but there are exceptions. That, as it happens, is an excellent way of approaching ethics; but it means that there is the possibility of an "ought" that is not absolute."

Yes, I think it's a general principle; I would trust Jesus to own slaves. In fact, He does, in a sense; Jesus has the best interest of His slaves at heart, and He was willing to be crucified and die for them. There aren't many who meet the Jesus standard.

Nor do I see how it undermines the case that there is an absolute moral standard if certain moral standards appear to be temporal. Is it possible there is an absolute moral standard, and a decision to change it takes us closer to the absolute standard by which it must be held and evaluated? You don't seem to allow for this in this or previous posts, even though I brought it up once before. I didn't deny that a standard can appear to be relative, I just don't see how that undermines my case.

> And you completely missed the point of the Kierkegaard example: that if one does not believe in an absolute ethics, he is therefore a materialist. The latter does not follow from the former.

I did point out that Kierkegaards' example appears to make no sense, and I conceded the possibility of that and other views which make no sense.

> thomas: "Even wikipedia does not say this. "all things are composed of material and all phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material interactions; therefore, matter is the only substance."

Check my previous post again, thomas. I reproduced the entire quote as you render it, but did not feel the need to re-quote the whole thing when commenting on it.

> timothy: "Matter is the only substance, but this does not necessarily mean that non-material things -- such as consciousness -- do not exist."

I have no doubt that there are various types and degrees of materialism, even as there are types and degrees of Calvinists.

> thomas: "The "phenomena" of things like consciousness or ideas are not held to not exist absolutely, but to be properties or "secondary substance" of the primary substance matter."

Which to me sounds weasel-worded. A "secondary substance" itself describes something that either exists materially or serves as a placeholder for something which exists materially. What we call "consciousness", in other words, is a name given to the rash of chemical reactions bombarding the brain. But collating it all as a single phenomenon and naming it doesn't make if non-material. Wikipedia lists some secular critics of materialism, particularly in the social sciences, but it can easily be argued that, as above, they are only naming things that are material for the sake of observation and convenience.

It is not at all clear how this dissociates consciousness from brain chemistry; it would certainly have to be explained. Nevertheless, when you challenged me earlier, you said,

>> thomas: "I am not convinced there is any significant portion of thinkers who construe materialism this way. Perhaps this is true of people without philosophical training, but even scientists generally consider science to be "real". This seems to me to be a straw man."

I guess it matter how you define 'significant'. It seems, for example, to be pretty thoroughly defended by LaPlace and the causal determinists. I think they would argue that consciousness, rational thought, argumention, are all an illusion, and can be attributed to physical causes. In fact, they go so far as to say that if you could know every fact in the universe, you could deduce what your response to my post will be: all quite predictable by physical law, and so we really have no need of the "consciousness" hypothesis.

> thomas: "Your previous argument was a straw man because it confuted materialism with the denial of an absolute morality."

I'll read that as "conflate", not "confute". thomas, you shouldn't be so determined to pin "straw man" on all of my arguments that you don't bother to consider what I have written. I reviewed my posts on materialism, and several place I talked about the sorts of moral philosophy that results from materialism. Did I ever once claim that the only way to arrive at moral relativism was through materialism? A -> B does not mean therefore that B -> A. I have been saying that materialism implies moral relativism. Why do you keep insisting that I am coming at it from the opposite direction, i.e., saying moral relativism implies materialism? Talk about straw men.

> thomas: "Actually, no. Making an incorrect argument (unless it is deliberate deception) is not a moral issue at all, and I must confess this is the first time I have ever heard anyone say this."

Debates like this serve a moral purpose, don't they? You have a world view you think I *ought* to consider, and I have a world view I think you *ought* to consider. The minute the word "ought" gets involved, there's a moral purpose being served, no? That means I ought never to purposely mislead, and it means I ought to get my logic and reason straight. And you too. After all, what if one of us succeeds in swaying someone with faulty logic? Ideas have consequences, do they not?

>> "Ad hominem? Not if it's relevant."

> thomas: "I think that about sums it up. And my name is thomas, not timothy."

Sorry I got your name wrong.

Regarding the former point, I don't believe I was participating in it, but surely you can't believe attacking the arguer is never a valid form of argument, can you? Why do attorneys go to such lengths to impeach a witness's testimony by impeaching the witness? Why do judges let them? Because where a person happens to be coming from helps us to decide whether that person is a reliable source of information. It is not by itself a refutation, but in the absence of perfect knowledge, can help us make a decision. I have pointed out that Dawkins is an atheist, and evolutionists have pointed out that Behe is a Methodist. Neither fact affects the validity of their argument on intelligent design, perhaps, but it may prove useful to know where someone is coming from.

You have a dismaying tendency to tag my arguments with one or more logical fallacies, but (as I have pointed out) you are not being equally careful to make sure you are answering the proposition I am putting across.

Lee said...

Sorry again, I need to proof-read better.

Amend:

"Is it possible there is an absolute moral standard, and a decision to change it takes us closer to the absolute standard by which it must be held and evaluated?"

To:

> "Is it possible there is an absolute moral standard, and a decision to change our temporal moral standard takes us closer to the absolute standard by which it must be held and evaluated?"

Anonymous said...

MC: Is slavery wrong?

By my standards, yes.

By the standards of early 1700's America, including the churches, no, slavery was not wrong.

jah

Martin Cothran said...

Jah,

How about the Holocaust? Was the Holocaust wrong?

Anonymous said...

MC: Was the Holocaust wrong?


By my standards, yes.

jah

PS We could save a lot of time if you put all these in one post.

Lee said...

So then, if you were able to go back in time and talk to one of the senior Nazis, what would you tell him to make him reconsider and stop what they were doing to the Jews?

Would you tell him he ought to reconsider?

If you would, what would you appeal to?

Martin Cothran said...

Right. Is your standard any better than the Nazi's? If so, then why. If not, then why should we give a rip about your standard?

Martin Cothran said...

What's also interesting is that Jah's reasoning is the same as the Nazi's at the Nuremburg Trials: You have your standards and we have ours. The only reason you are judging us is because you won.

Martin Cothran said...

PS We could save a lot of time if you put all these in one post.

I'm not in a hurry. Are you in a hurry?

Anonymous said...

lee: at that point, it comes down to faith. ...
And if you don't have faith in an absolute being, it follows you can't have faith in anything that derives from that.

I think we have reached as much of an agreement on this as we can.


lee: Why do human beings hunger for an absolute moral standard? Why do they crave justice?

That's an interesting concept; I'll think about it but it doesn't initially overwhelm me.

lee: they are just as prone to craving justice as the rest of us. Steal their money, and they will react indignantly.

I think "justice" would better be described as wanting correction for an offense against a third party. Above it is difficult to distinguish from self-interest.




lee: is that their philosophy affords no right to be expect decent treatment.

Yep. That is left to society to implement.


jah

Anonymous said...

MC: I'm not in a hurry. Are you in a hurry?

Mr Cothran is certainly in no hurry to answer any of my substantive questions. Such as the one about how he determine what is religious from what isn't, which he wrote he intended to get to.

jah

Anonymous said...

MC: What's also interesting is that Jah's reasoning is the same as the Nazi's at the Nuremburg Trials: You have your standards and we have ours. The only reason you are judging us is because you won.

Unfortunately that's true (also misleading, but nonetheless true).

Does Mr Cothran seriously think that if the Nazis had won, they would subject themselves to the US judicial system and US standards?




jah

Anonymous said...

MC: Right. Is your standard any better than the Nazi's? If so, then why.

In my opinion it is. I can offer reasons, but they would be based on my evaluation of humanity and how people should be treated - such feelings which neither the Nazis nor Mr Cothran share.

MC: If not, then why should we give a rip about your standard?

Obviously Mr Cothran doesn't and I am hardly so foolish as to imagine he would ever change his opinion.

jah

Anonymous said...

MC: So then, if you were able to go back in time and talk to one of the senior Nazis, what would you tell him to make him reconsider and stop what they were doing to the Jews?

Nothing. I'm not a psychiatrist or adman. About all I can think of offhand (not that most senior figures would change their minds for anything) is to try to convince them they were going to lose the war, if I could bring back some videotape.
I wouldn't tell him that what he is doing is wrong and he should believe me because I really believe what I am saying.

jah

thomas said...

"Yes, I think it's a general principle; I would trust Jesus to own slaves. In fact, He does, in a sense; Jesus has the best interest of His slaves at heart, and He was willing to be crucified and die for them. There aren't many who meet the Jesus standard."

This would then mean you accept, at least in some cases, a conditional imperative; or to put it another way, a morality which depends on a concrete situation but does not apply universally or absolutely.

A morality which says "all men with a sinful condition should not own slaves" is not absolute in that it does not hold that slavery is intrinsically wrong, only that, given practical considerations, it is usually wrong. This, actually, is what I have been arguing for all along. Note that this sort of thinking is relative insofar as it draws its moral demands from a particular historical situation, rather than from a universally binding principle.

"Which to me sounds weasel-worded. A 'secondary substance' itself describes something that either exists materially or serves as a placeholder for something which exists materially. What we call 'consciousness', in other words, is a name given to the rash of chemical reactions bombarding the brain. But collating it all as a single phenomenon and naming it doesn't make if non-material."

The distinction between primary and secondary substance is not weasel-worded, it simply employs the basic categories of metaphysics. A substance is that which exists independently, without depending, as much as possible, on exterior things. Although technically primary and secondary substances do not equate to substance and property, it's close enough for the purposes of this conversation. Red cannot exist apart from a concrete substance, but though it arises from a substance it is still something distinct. Ontologically, the real thing is the substance, but its properties may be said to be real insofar as they manifest themselves in a substance. Earlier, I was applying this to "materialism" to point out that non-material things are not regarded (usually) as absolutely non-existent, but existent only contingently through matter or material interactions.

"I guess it matter how you define 'significant'. It seems, for example, to be pretty thoroughly defended by LaPlace and the causal determinists."

LaPlace's significance is not in metaphysics, and those who hold things such as ideas to be non-existent are significant only because of the extremity and rarity of their position. Additionally, many (maybe most) causal determinists are not materialists, especially by your criteria; Spinoza being an obvious example.

"The minute the word "ought" gets involved, there's a moral purpose being served, no?"

Again, no. I could say, "you know you ought to paint this room green, as it would go with the carpet", or "you ought to tell that joke again," or any countless number of other examples. Quite obviously, an unintentional mistake in something like logic is not a moral issue.

"surely you can't believe attacking the arguer is never a valid form of argument, can you?"

Are you saying there is no such thing as an ad hominem fallacy?

The only time the character of someone is relevant to an argument is when the argument is primarily over that person's character. If, for example, the point in contention was whether Luther's was anti-semitic, then of course points on his character are relevent. (this is why in court cases they have character witnesses) If, however, the argument is on a philosophical argument such as intelligent design, bringing the character of one who holds a certain position in is ad hominem. So, in a debate over whether a Christian may accept evolution, one commits the straw man fallacy when attacking the denominations themselves rather than the positions they hold.

Lee said...

>> Lee: "Yes, I think it's a general principle; I would trust Jesus to own slaves. In fact, He does, in a sense; Jesus has the best interest of His slaves at heart, and He was willing to be crucified and die for them. There aren't many who meet the Jesus standard."

> thomas: "This would then mean you accept, at least in some cases, a conditional imperative; or to put it another way, a morality which depends on a concrete situation but does not apply universally or absolutely."

As I have stated twice before, a moral code may appear to be relative even if there is an absolute standard that overrides it. In the example of slavery, the absolute standard is that someone wise enough and good enough could own slaves and it would not be immoral. But there are simply too many people who would abuse this power. And American slavery was of the very worst sort: people from a very strong culture enslaving people from a very weak culture, and working to keep them from becoming strong.

> thomas: "A morality which says "all men with a sinful condition should not own slaves" is not absolute in that it does not hold that slavery is intrinsically wrong, only that, given practical considerations, it is usually wrong. This, actually, is what I have been arguing for all along."

Not if you have been arguing that there is not some higher standard over the practical considerations by which the practical considerations are judged.

> thomas: "Note that this sort of thinking is relative insofar as it draws its moral demands from a particular historical situation, rather than from a universally binding principle."

Like Curtis LeMay, we are both saying there is a reason for the rules, and that the reasons are more important than the rules. In my absolutist view, there is a Reason, capital R, which holds as the standard which the rules should server: there is your absolute standard.

No time now, will continue later.

Martin Cothran said...

Does Mr Cothran seriously think that if the Nazis had won, they would subject themselves to the US judicial system and US standards?

Obviously not. The Nazi's basically believed that might makes right, which is the inevitable result of relativist ethics--since, in the absences of any transcendent and universal standard of morality, the only thing that can arbitrate an ethical contest is physical strength.

Martin Cothran said...

MC: Right. Is your standard any better than the Nazi's? If so, then why.

In my opinion it is. I can offer reasons, but they would be based on my evaluation of humanity and how people should be treated - such feelings which neither the Nazis nor Mr Cothran share.


In other words you're going to try to establish your subjective ethical position as superior by appealing to a higher ethical standard which you say you don't believe in?

I would think that through again.

Martin Cothran said...

MC: So then, if you were able to go back in time and talk to one of the senior Nazis, what would you tell him to make him reconsider and stop what they were doing to the Jews?

Nothing. I'm not a psychiatrist or adman. About all I can think of offhand (not that most senior figures would change their minds for anything) is to try to convince them they were going to lose the war, if I could bring back some videotape.
I wouldn't tell him that what he is doing is wrong and he should believe me because I really believe what I am saying.


Uh, that's not my quote. Those proper attributions are tricky, aren't they? Maybe I should give you a mini-lecture complete with rules for attribution--without properly attributing them.

Anonymous said...

MC: Uh, that's not my quote.

I made a mistake. I apologize.
See how easy that was?

Notice how I am not trying to cover my mistake by blathering on interminably about not understanding anything about attribution.

jah

Anonymous said...

MC: I would think that through again.

Yes, you should read what I wrote and respond to that.

jah

Anonymous said...

MC: in the absences of any transcendent and universal standard of morality,

Which you have consistently refused to show how to appeal to in case of moral uncertainty.

jah

Anonymous said...

lee: the absolute standard is that someone wise enough and good enough could own slaves and it would not be immoral.


But by my relativistic humanistic thought, no one should own slaves. In fact, the owning of slaves would contradict the "good enough" part.



jah

Lee said...

> jah: "But by my relativistic humanistic thought, no one should own slaves. In fact, the owning of slaves would contradict the "good enough" part."

jah, I'm trying to figure out how a relativistic standard can possibly be that absolute.

And how can you be sure that owning slaves automatically keeps one from being "good enough"?

As I have pointed out, the Bible describes us a Jesus' slaves.

It's okay for someone who loves His people so much that He is willing to die for them to own slaves, because obviously He has their best interests at heart.

Also, should point out that historically, slavery wasn't always like it was in the antebellum South. Sometimes it was better, and other times it was even worse. In many cultures, slaves were free to move around, engage in commerce, even to have their own households.

We're not even really slave-free in the U.S. In the ancient world, you could wind up a slave, for example, by breaking the law. In the U.S. on the other hand you could wind up in prison, doing forced labor. How different is that? Owned by an individual, vs. owned by the state -- but still working for someone else against your will. I say it's close.

Arguing with someone who claims he doesn't believe in an absolute moral standard is tricky business. If I turn my back for a second, they start borrowing from my world view to defend their own.

Anonymous said...

lee: I'm trying to figure out how a relativistic standard can possibly be that absolute.

1) It is a personal standard, based on my beliefs/opinions so I can't claim that is (or is approximating) an absolute standard.
2) I am sure that it is my opinion/belief. That is the part that is close to absolute (your word) - my confidence that it fits in with my beliefs.

Simple example (for demonstration only). I believe athletes should participate in all phases of a game. Therefore in my opinion (relative standard) I can be very confident (your "absolute") that both the DH in baseball and two-platoon system in football are wrong.

lee; And how can you be sure that owning slaves automatically keeps one from being "good enough"?

Simple - it is my definition of good enough (follows directly from basic assumptions - see below).

lee: As I have pointed out, the Bible describes us a Jesus' slaves.

And likewise sheep. But this applies to you and not necessarily to others.

lee: It's okay for someone who loves His people so much that He is willing to die for them to own slaves, because obviously He has their best interests at heart.

Considering humans, that is not at all evident. Some parents are willing to die for their kids but won't let them ever make their own decisions.


lee: Owned by an individual, vs. owned by the state -- but still working for someone else against your will. I say it's close.

Almost any job could be described that way, even attending school. [That sounds like some defenses of American slavery - we are taking better care of them than they could manage on their own - even William Jennings Brian said that in The White Man's Burden.] But being punished by the state for breaking society's rules is to me a lot different from being owned, as chattel.

lee: Arguing with someone who claims he doesn't believe in an absolute moral standard is tricky business. If I turn my back for a second, they start borrowing from my world view to defend their own.

Now, now, that was uncalled for.

1) Try to imagine how some else might think.
2) Observe. Note that not all people who don't believe in God are entirely driven by self-interest. Some donate to charities, return found wallets with contents intact, volunteer for the Peace Corps or Habitat for Humanity, etc.
3) Infants/children develop a sense of self.
4) Most people realize that others are also human beings like themselves.
5) But others are not identical copies and all do not have the same likes, opinions, etc.
6) Some people conclude (and let's not get into where this comes from for now) from this that all people should have the same rights and responsibilities.
7) From this human based code of conduct various conclusions follow:
I) consistent with many religions
a) murder is wrong
b) theft is wrong
c) helping others is good
II) inconsistent with some religions
a) owning slaves is wrong (doesn't respect others' humanity)
b) homo/bisexuality is okay (what consensual adults do is none of my business)
c) starting crusades or jihads to convert/kill those who think differently is wrong (no faith that one knows the sole Truth).


Is that any clearer?

jah

thomas said...

Rounding this off to an even 100-

Lee,

"As I have stated twice before, a moral code may appear to be relative even if there is an absolute standard that overrides it."

In that case, the standard is relative, but instead of to a particular culture or situation, to an absolute standard. I don't know how practical this could ever be as a moral system, as the moral principles one would be governed by is relative, and there seems to be no logical necessity which says these relative standards must be derived from absolute standards. Once you admit the possibility that relative moral standards suffice for us (in our fallen state), you would have to show that these standards logically must come from some higher standard, rather than be historically determined. In other words, the original argument was whether we could behave morally if we had only relative, and not universally binding, moral standards. You answer that this is possible, but that the relative standards come from an absolute standard. My question is this: if the relative standard is sufficient to govern one's situation, why is the absolute standard necessary? You've changed the ground of the debate dramatically.

"In the example of slavery, the absolute standard is that someone wise enough and good enough could own slaves and it would not be immoral."

In this case, your absolute standard is not actually an absolute moral standard. "One could... if one...." doesn't even amount to a conditional moral standard. "One can... if..." not only relies on practical considerations over general principles; it simple is not a moral standard at all(though it could derive from a moral standard). The structure of a moral standard is "one ought..." In order to convert your standard into the paradigm of morality, you aren't actually putting forth an absolute standard; you are claiming that no absolute standard governs slavery. That is, the reason someone wise and good could own slaves is because there is no absolute moral standard saying "one ought not own slaves." (The only other way to make your standard moral is to say "one ought to own slaves", which would over rule your relative standard). The upshot of your application of the notion that relative standards derive from absolute moral standards, in this case, turns out to say that relative moral standards arise from the lack of an absolute moral standard -- a position no different from moral relativism.

My suspicion is that all of your practical, non-absolute, moral standards would have to derive from the lack of an absolute moral standard rather than the existence of an absolute moral standard (because if they logically followed, they wouldn't be relative). But you could show this to be incorrect by providing another example.

Lee said...

thomas:> "LaPlace's significance is not in metaphysics."

LaPlace significance was in math, but it *is* significant that his causal determinism is a rejection of metaphysics. The denial that there is a higher truth has some relevance in the study of higher truth, does it not?

thomas: "A morality which says "all men with a sinful condition should not own slaves" is not absolute in that it does not hold that slavery is intrinsically wrong, only that, given practical considerations, it is usually wrong."

The absolute behind this relativistic morality, and undergirding it, is the Calvinist interpretation of scripture that *all* men are morally depraved. So, "all men with a sinful condition" becomes simply "all men."

thomas: "This, actually, is what I have been arguing for all along. Note that this sort of thinking is relative insofar as it draws its moral demands from a particular historical situation, rather than from a universally binding principle."

The universally binding principle is that God is eternal, good, and unchanging, and we are morally obligated to heed His word and do His will. Behind every relativistic-appearing moral dictum for the situation is a higher moral principle by which its validity is judged.

thomas: "The distinction between primary and secondary substance is not weasel-worded, it simply employs the basic categories of metaphysics. A substance is that which exists independently, without depending, as much as possible, on exterior things. Although technically primary and secondary substances do not equate to substance and property, it's close enough for the purposes of this conversation."

Materialism's definition has been expanded to encompass not just matter but other physical things as well: light, for example.

thomas: "Red cannot exist apart from a concrete substance, but though it arises from a substance it is still something distinct."

Red is a frequency of light. Therefore, it is physical.

thomas: "Are you saying there is no such thing as an ad hominem fallacy?"

Well, let's stipulate I am not a philosopher and thus any definitions or propositions I put forth in the realm of informal logic may be more open to criticism than I might like.

Having admitted that, I have read numerous books on the subject and (or so I think) gathered something of a workaday knowledge on the subject. It's an essential for modern life.

Now, some texts say that the ad hominem fallacy is really a subcategory of begging the question, the fallacy where the proposition being defended is presumed true from the outset. Maybe, maybe not. However, it shares something with begging the question, in that ultimately it's a fallacy of irrelevance. If you were to argue, for example, that pi approximately 3.14, and I were to challenge you by saying, "But you beat your wife, how can we trust what you say?" that would be a irrelevant personal attack, an ad hominem.

But it's not that simple. If I were to try this approach, "But you flunked algebra in eighth grade, how can we trust anything you say regarding math?" the attack is more relevant, but ultimately still bogus -- but only because pi is close to 3.14 and that is easily verifiable.

In other words, in the absence of perfect knowledge, and at some point, a person's credentials do become relevant to the argument being made. Courts of law know this, which is why they allow expert testimony -- argumentum ad verecundiam, in other words. And it is why lawyers are allowed to impeach a witness' credibility -- ad hominem, in other words.

So, since the ad hominem is ultimately an issue of relevance, it follows that not all attacks of a personal nature are ad hominem. So long as an attack is relevant to the matter at hand, it is valid. Whether it is relevant becomes a debatable proposition, of course, but the usefulness of the attack is not dismissed just because it's an attack.

The original point that brought all this up was when you proposed that many Christian churches accept evolution, you were dangling them as some sort of an example for folks like me. Well, that made their theological credibility a relevant subject. When I responded that I was unimpressed by the dedication to theology in many churches, you responded that it was an ad hominem. In your view, it's okay for you to bring them into the discussion as key witnesses for your case thereby lending theological vindication to evolution, but it's not okay for me to challenge their theological bona fides.

Well, in my view, I say it's spinach and to hell with it. If their theology is used to prop up the opposite view than what I take, then their theology is up for debate.