Saturday, August 08, 2009

The Tortured Logic of the New Atheism

Given the number of comments on this post, I have moved it back up to the top of the blog, where it is scheduled to remain until the end of the week. I will also have some comments on this discussion in another post that should be up today and tomorrow.

From the new issue of
The Classical Teacher Magazine

The atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once told the story of a cave in the East in which, for many years after the death of Buddha, visitors could still see his shadow:
God is dead; but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be cast.— And we—we still must vanquish even his shadow!
Nietzsche was wrong about the death of God, but he was realistic about what the rejection of God implied, and he despised those who rejected God but refused to accept the logical implications of that unbelief. He may have been wrong, but at least he was consistent. In particular, he reviled those who rejected Christianity but refused to give up Christian morality. He sarcastically called such people “Englishmen,” because he saw the English of the Victorian period in which he lived as especially guilty of acknowledging the shadow of Christian morality in the wake of the death of the God in whom alone such morality could be justified.

One wonders what choice words Nietzsche would have for the new breed of atheists who now populate the bestseller lists. Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, and Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great are just several examples of the spate of books by prominent modern atheists, known as the “New Atheists,” that have climbed the bestseller charts with surprising ease over the last two or three years, all of whom purport to reject God, but who nevertheless cling to a form of Christian morality.

Nietzsche is not alone in his assumption that religion and morality are intimately bound together. It has long been assumed by most people that their moral beliefs are dependent upon religious conviction. “If there is no God,” asserts Dostoevsky’s Ivan Karamozov, “then everything is possible.” A belief in morality, they think, must be undergirded by a belief in God.

But the New Atheists beg to differ. Morality, they say, has no need of God.

One of the most common problems in argument is agreeing on the question that is really in dispute. There are two ways in which this can be a problem. The first is when the terms are not clear. When we ask whether morality requires a religious foundation, for example, we should be very clear on what we mean by “morality.” Which virtues are we talking about when we ask this question?

There were, in fact, moral beliefs before Christianity came along. There are two kinds of virtue: the cardinal (or classical) virtues: Justice, Prudence, Temperance, and Courage; and the theological (or Christian) virtues: Faith, Hope, and Charity. The first four, the cardinal virtues, not only can be sustained without explicit religious belief; they in fact were. They arose in a world, not without religion, but without religions that said much about morality.

The cardinal virtues have also been called the “practical” virtues. They had mostly to do with getting along in life. The most familiar examples of this were Aesop’s Fables. Aesop was reputed to have been a Greek slave in a Roman household, and the ethics in his stories have to do exclusively with the practical virtues. Faith, Hope, and Charity are absent, but the practical virtues, particularly Prudence, are there in abundance. The tortoise knows the virtue of patience and determination and wins his race with the hare; the crane learns that, in serving the wicked, there is no reward; the boy who cries wolf learns that honesty is the best policy.

All these cases involve sheer self-preservation. This is of the essence of pagan morality: it is exclusively self-preservative or at least self-gratifying (and usually applied only to other members of one’s tribe or race). There is nothing wrong with the practical virtues, as long as we acknowledge them to be incomplete. They may be said to be “rational” virtues in the sense that we can identify reasons for practicing them; namely, that they will help us make it through life with less pain and more pleasure.

But there is nothing in Aesop like the parables of the Good Samaritan, or the Lost Sheep, or the Prodigal Son. The theological virtues are completely different from the practical or classical virtues in this: there is literally no practical reason for them. What purely self-preservative reason is there to act selflessly? Why love your neighbor if you can take from him and benefit yourself? Why would any shepherd, looking to benefit himself, lay down his very life for his sheep?

It is theoretically possible for the practical virtues to be rationally justified without a belief in God. But this is not the case with the theological virtues. The theological virtues cannot survive the abandonment of religion. And yet the New Atheists want to say that they can.

The problem with the atheist’s argument is that it confounds these two kinds of morality—the practical and the theological. A case in point is their argument that morality can be explained through a Darwinist view of evolution: morality, they say, has survivability value. Those who are moral are more likely to survive than those who aren’t. Therefore, those who are more moral are morely likely to survive than those who are less moral.

But how can evolution explain why we should treat others with selfless charity? How can evolution explain the survival value of seeing a beaten and half-dead man at the side of the road who cannot possibly do anything for us, and treating his wounds and taking care of him, and then giving two silver coins to the innkeeper and saying, “look after him”? How can this be said to have any survivability value, and what rational reason can we point to that justifies going and doing likewise?

Evolution cannot explain this.

The second problem in trying to determine the question at issue has to do with how the question is stated. The question is whether an atheist can rationally justify moral belief. The question is not whether athiests can be moral. This is a completely different question.

When, in his chapter, “The Roots of Morality: Why are We Good?,” Dawkins argues that morality is the product of evolution, he completely confuses the two questions. His argument is designed to explain why people are good; not why they should be good. It explains the physical cause, but does not provide the logical ground of their (or our) good behavior. It doesn’t provide a rational ground for being good; it only provides a historical explanation (and not a very convincing one) for why, in fact, we sometimes are.

But the process by which an act comes about can tell me nothing about whether or not it was a good or bad act, since bad acts are brought about by a process just like good acts are. I can explain the physical factors leading up to the Holocaust just like I can explain the physical factors leading up to Mother Theresa’s mission to the poor in Calcutta, India. But the chronology of these two events can tell me nothing about why one is bad and the other is good.

The past arrangement of molecules may tell me something about why I feel a certain way, but it tells me nothing about why I should feel a certain way.

New Atheists like Dawkins are either confused themselves about these distinctions, in which case they are not qualified to talk about morality, or they are clear about the distinctions but are counting on their listeners themselves being confused about them, in which case they are being deceptive.

If I am faced with a situation like that of the Good Samaritan, and I see a man lying by the side of the road who needs help, I can get no help from the argument of Dawkins and the neoatheists. Their theory can tell me nothing about whether I should help the man or whether I should simply go on about my business and not trouble myself with helping him. I can do either one and be justified in knowing that my genes have made me do it.

There are only two logical positions a person can hold on the issue of religion and morality. Here is the Christian argument:
If God does not exist, then morality cannot be justified
But morality can be justified
Therefore God must exist
Nietzsche and existentialists like Jean Paul Sartre agree to the first, or “major” premise but supply a different second, or “minor” premise, and take the argument in a different logical direction:
If God does not exist, then morality cannot be justified
God does not exist
Therefore, morality cannot be justified
Both of these arguments are equally logical: the Christian performs what, in logic is called a modus tollens, which is a way of reasoning negatively backwards; the existentialist performs what, in logic, is called a modus ponens, which is a way of reasoning affirmatively forwards. Both reasoning negatively backwards and reasoning affirmatively forward are logically valid.

The existentialist understands his predicament, which is why existentialists like Nietzsche and Sartre rejected Christian morality (and meaning and purpose) outright. They were wrong, but they were intellectually consistent.

The New Athiest, however, tries to deny the obvious. He questions the major premise: “If God does not exist, then morality cannot be justified.” He wants to have his philosophical cake and eat it too. But, as we have seen, he can find no competent argument to justify moral beliefs such as charity, but he holds them anyway.

He is an “Englishman.”

98 comments:

Lee said...

Nice work, Martin.

> ...all of whom purport to reject God, but who nevertheless cling to a form of Christian morality.

Dawkins in particular goes even a step further: he conjures up a moral code that God Himself does not meet. I kid you not. For example, in his eyes, parasitic wasps are proof that God, if He exists, is not good. If someone maintains that God Himself is not good, then he is really saying that he, not God, is God. I would speculate that something like this is at the root of Satan's rebellion.

In any event, I loved the send-up given this view in Monty Python's "The Time Bandits." The Devil, devilishly played by David Morse, muses about how much better Creation would have been had he created it. "Men with nipples," the Devil sniffed.

> There were, in fact, moral beliefs before Christianity came along.

I don't think this ought to surprise anyone. Even Calvinists believe that even non-Christian men, created in God's image, understand good and evil (but they believe that, without God's intervention, they will chose evil every time).

> The theological virtues are completely different from the practical or classical virtues in this: there is literally no practical reason for them.

I'm not sure that's true, Martin. I think a practical reason for observing even the theological virtues would be if it makes one feel good to do them. One helps the man lying at the side of the road because of empathy, which can indeed be explained by evolution.

I am continually amazed at the example of Raoul Wallenberg. Apparently, he was a socialist, and not Christian at all, but I would think his action were evidence of deep moral convictions. What was going on in his mind? Did he imagine he was serving some higher good? Or was it always all about him and feeling good about himself? I doubt that matters to the ones whose lives he saved, but it's interesting to ponder.

Christian motivations are not so untainted, either. If you do believe God exists, then doing the same sorts of good deeds can still be construed as self-interest. Here's one way to express it: is there anything worth going to Hell for? Fear of the Lord, as we are instructed, is the beginning of wisdom.

> The past arrangement of molecules may tell me something about why I feel a certain way, but it tells me nothing about why I should feel a certain way.

Which is the crux of the matter. Such a materialistic morality, lacking any sort of transcendence, is missing the "ought to." It can explain empathy, perhaps, but it cannot explain why one ought to detour from the road of our self-interest to do something that we judge will not further it or take us further away from it.

The Seventies' anti-God battle cry was, "If it feels good, do it." I'm sure Ted Bundy did exactly that, with the formal blessings of the Zeitgeist if not its sober ones.

Anonymous said...

The article suggests morality cannot be justified without a belief in God.

The minor premise in the Christian argument, "Morality can be justified", implies morality can be justified since God exists. But "God must exist" is the argument's conclusion.

How can the argument be sound if one of the premise's relies on the conclusion?

Martin Cothran said...

Anonymous,

I'm not sure of what you are saying here. It sounds like you are trying to argue that the argument is invalid because it is, in some sense, circular. But the validity of the argument cannot be the issue here. It is a standard modus tollens argument form, one of the two or three most familiar valid forms.

If an argument is in a valid form and you still have problems with it, then the only thing you are left with is to attack one of the premises.

In other words, your only recourse is to question one of the two premises.

Unless you are an atheistic existentialist (in which case you would attack the minor premise), it seems to me your only option is to attack the major (or first) premise.

Is that maybe where you are headed?

Anonymous said...

I agree the form is valid.

I am questioning if it is sound (i.e. the form is valid, every premise is true and it avoids circularity, ambiguity, emotional language,etc.) in the context of the article because the second premise assumes the truth of what is to be proved.

The premise "But morality can be justified" is asserted to be true because "It has long been assumed by most people that their moral beliefs are dependent upon religous convictions" and "The theological virtues [i.e. morality] cannot survive the abandonment of God" (i.e. God exists).

So morality can be justified because God exists but "God must exist" is the conclusion of the argument. Why isn't that circular?

Thomas said...

Anonymous,

You actually have an interesting point. If one wishes to argue that morality exists, that therefore God exists, but then says in order for morality to exist there must be a God, there is a sort of circularity going on. But this doesn't necessarily mean that one commits a fallacy.

If one makes the argument that morality exists, and this entails the existence of God separately from the other argument, that God must exist in order for morality to exist, then one commits no fallacy. The premises must depend on each other in the same argument. If each argument can be made convincingly and separately, there is no problem.

Anonymous said...

The article suggests that the premise "Morality can be justified" is true because "It has long been assumed by most people that their moral beliefs are dependent upon religous convictions" and "The theological virtues [i.e. morality] cannot survive the abandonment of God", i.e. God exists. So the truth of the premise relies on the conclusion - which appears circular
to me.

It seems to me this argument is more clear:

(P1)If God exists then morality can be justified. (For reasons given in the article.)
(P2)God exists.
(C)Morality can be justified.

and better highlights the differences between the Christian and existentialist positions.

Moreover, this representation, specifically P1, makes the atheist position less mysterious: there *may* be other reasons explaining how morality can be justified even if the selected new athiests have botched the argument.

Lee said...

If I were making the argument formally, it would go more like this:

1. Morality is transcendent only if it was originated by something transcendent.

2. Morality is transcendent.

3. Therefore, morality was originated by something transcendent.

Then, I would point out that atheists employ the rhetoric of morality all the time, even though (at least for the strict materialists) there can be nothing that transcends humanity. Either that, or there is some way to look at some matter and energy and declare it superior to other matter and energy. Not quite sure what the criteria would be. Not sure if the idea of criteria is even applicable.

Otherwise, someone like Dawkins would have to explain how the whirring of electrons in his brain are somehow better than those whirring in mine. Because they whir faster? Well, undoubtedly they do, but why is faster better? In a material world, what does "better" mean?

KyCobb said...

Lee,

In your first post, you admitted that evolution can explain empathy, but it can't explain why one "ought to" do something not in our own self-interest, so it lacks "transcendence". In your last post, you argue morality is transcendent. But there is no evidence of this transcendence. What is the evidence that morality is transcendent, and therefore something transcends humanity?

One Brow said...

Martin Cothran,

I think you don't give Aesop enough credit. As I point out in http://lifetheuniverseandonebrow.blogspot.com/2009/07/how-our-world-views-can-blind-us-to.html, in the fable of the Serpent and the Eagle, neither the man nor the eagle engages in an action from which they expect to benefit. Is that not the virtue of Charity?

If you like, I can go looking for examples of Hope and Faith as well, in Aesop or otherwise.

Lee said...

> What is the evidence that morality is transcendent...

Even to address me in this way requires the belief that something transcends the both of us, standing ready to rule an argument good or bad. Otherwise, there would be no point to raising the question.

Either there is meaning in the universe, or there is not. I concede there can be the appearance of meaning where there is none; meaning may be a mere conceit. But we don't live like it is, do we? We treat logic and evidence as if they mean something, as if they hold authority over the argument. We perceive the existence of truth, even if it's hard to discern at times. We bristle at the perception of injustice. Even Hitchens does. Even Dawkins.

But how does it all come about from Hitchens' and Dawkins' world views? To them, somehow the universe happened by itself. Somehow, the meaningless clanging of physical particles and energy originated life, and somehow the chemicals came together by themselves in such a way that creatures arose who think they can think, and imagined something called right and wrong.

If materialists believe that we should not believe in anything we cannot prove, but then turn around and act as if they believe in logic and morality, they're not being consistent. From their premises, such things can only exist as chemicals and impulses in our physical brains. Morality and logic are therefore not higher than us; on the contrary, they are lower, mere instincts helping us to survive.

And in the materialist cosmos, what difference does it make if we survive? What makes our atoms and molecules as living things more worthwhile than the ashes and dust they would become if we all died?

There are only two consistent views. Either we accept our notions of truth and morality as perceptions of things that actually exist at some level, and accept the fact that there are things we cannot see that are greater than we are; or else we see these notions as illusions whose sole function is to help us survive. If they are illusions, there is no reason to humor them. We can choose to do so if and when it makes us feel good, but we shouldn't pretend that our acts of kindness, or depravity for that matter, have any meaning outside the chemicals in our brains. (Religion, too, is an instinct, but I don't hear Dawkins or Hitchens claiming we should humor religious impulse because of that.)

I'm not saying if you are an atheist, you have to be a sociopath. All I'm saying is that if you're an atheist, there is no reason not to be one, if it makes you feel good. There is no higher truth, no right or wrong, only preferences.

Bob said...

I just discovered this discussion while trying to find a way to communicate to Mr. Cothran some thoughts about his essay.

To start, I found his essay to include elements that, for me, make his argument suspect: an appeal to authority {Dostoevsky}; a glittering generality ("it is assumed that most people, etc."); absence of a definition of a critical term (morality--he gives examples, but not a definition); and shifting definitions for rational virtues ("help us make it through life with less pain and more pleasure" to "self-preservation"): these are quite different functions in my thinking.

Mr. Cothran's central argument, as I understand it, is that a rational justification of "theological virtues" is impossible without a belief in God. His reasons have to do with (1) the evolutionists he identifies as having confounded practical and theological morality, asserting that evolution cannot explain the existence of the rules that make up theological morality; and (2) the "new atheists," as represented by Dawkins, conflate moral action and rational justification for moral belief: Cothran writes that Dawkins's argument provides a physical cause for the selfless action, but does not provide "the logical ground of their (or our) good behavior."

The thoughtful discussion I've encountered ended with Lee's comments, to which I would like to respond. Lee writes that the question asked by the previous writer implies "something transcends . . . us, standing ready to rule an argument good or bad." I would like to suggest that rather than "some thing," or supernatural element that stands ready to rule on an argument that there are rules regarding the validity and soundness to which we explicitly or implicitly agree. These rules do not transcend in the sense of existing above and independent of the material world. The rules have been crafted out of human experience.

By the same token, however, I think that the propositions expressed by Dawkins as well as many evolutionary psychologists are at best only distantly related to the discovery and statement of such rules and their inclusion in the canon of one culture or another.

While the evolutionary perspective might not be particularly satisfactory to account for the presence and continued acceptance of these rules, that does not therefore mean that a materialist account of people writing, talking, and thinking of these rules is not possible. That is a different issue, the conclusion of which is, to me, implied in the discussion thus far.

Lee said...

> I would like to suggest that rather than "some thing," or supernatural element that stands ready to rule on an argument that there are rules regarding the validity and soundness to which we explicitly or implicitly agree.

Agreed: there are rules. I am asking, what is their nature, and why should they be regarded as authoritative?

As a Christian, I would point in God's direction. Where does a materialist point? Chemicals in our brains? Electrons? Either the rules are over us, in which case they are binding, or they are our invention, in which case they are not binding; we simply exploit them as we like and don't bother consulting them when we don't like. And in no sense ought we consider them "right" or "wrong" in the sense that Christians invoke them.

> These rules do not transcend in the sense of existing above and independent of the material world. The rules have been crafted out of human experience

Fine. So then, why ought we consider then to be binding?

> While the evolutionary perspective might not be particularly satisfactory to account for the presence and continued acceptance of these rules, that does not therefore mean that a materialist account of people writing, talking, and thinking of these rules is not possible

Of course it's plausible that a materialist universe resulted in such rules. I haven't challenged, or at least haven't intended to challenge, that much. What I've been challenging is the notion that, if that is how they came into being, why we should consider them authoritative? "Higher morality" would be an empty concept. The rules would not be *real*, living only in the chemicals in people's brains. And thus, there would be no reason to pay them any heed, aside from personal preference.

But even though that's where materialism leads us philosophically, it is not the way materialists speak or behave in their own lives.

Martin Cothran said...

Bob and Anonymous [the same person?],

The article suggests that the premise "Morality can be justified" is true because "It has long been assumed by most people that their moral beliefs are dependent upon religous convictions" and "The theological virtues [i.e. morality] cannot survive the abandonment of God", i.e. God exists. So the truth of the premise relies on the conclusion - which appears circular
to me.


I think you are fundamentally misunderstanding my argument here. I nowhere argue in this article that morality is justified because "It has long been assumed by most people that their moral beliefs are dependent upon religous convictions". In fact I don't argue that morality is justified in this article at all.

I argue that IF you are going to say that morality (more specifically, the theological virtues)is justified, THEN you must accept God as its justification, since that is the only way it can be justified.

It is a purely hypothetical argument. You seem to be reading it as a categorical argument. I would like to know your reason for doing so.

My concern in this article is purely with the irrationality of atheism on this point--not with the rationality of the Christian position on it. I believe that, but have left that unaddressed here.

Bob said...

As Lee's response requires a bit more time for me to respond, I'd like initially to respond to the comments and questions of Mr. Cothran.

You state that your argument was in the form of a hypothetical syllogism and that my response indicated that I had read it as a categorical syllogism, and wondered as to my reason for doing so. I responded to the phrasing of words in the essay, notably "The question is whether an atheist can rationally justify moral belief. The question is not (emphasis in the original) whether atheists can be moral."

Such wording indicates a categorical, rather than a hypothetical, argument (aside from the fact that some hypothetical arguments can also be categorical arguments).

It may be, however, that the only relevant passage in the essay is that identified by Mr. Cothran as the Christian argument. That is, the rest of the text has no logical connection to the actual argument. Please let me know. (Incidentally, I think that the Christian argument is in the form of Affirming the Consequent, a fallacious form of reasoning that looks like:
If A, then B
B
Therefore, A)

I also want to note that nowhere in my response to Lee's comments did I write that "It has long been assumed by most people, etc." was used as a reason for the argument(s) made in the essay. I wrote that it was an "element" that made the argument, as I understood it, suspect.

Lastly, while Fyodor Dostoevsky's Ivan Karamazov asserts "If there is no God, then everything is possible", it makes as much sense to assert "If there is God, then everything is possible."

Thank you for allowing me to participate in this thoughtful discussion.

KyCobb said...

Martin, your argument fails because its premise is false-evolutionary theory can explain all morality, even helping strangers who cannot benefit you in any way. You are striking the pose of a strict Darwinian adaptationist-everything biological exists solely because it was selected for its beneficial value to individual organisms.

However, evolutionary theory has moved beyond such a simplistic viewpoint. Biology is complex and messy. Evolution isn't like a smart bomb whic precisely targets and strikes a specific point. Its more like the dumb bombs of WWII-carpet bombing a general area in hopes of hitting the target, but striking lots of other things besides.

Stephen Jay Gould used the term "spandrels" to describe biological artifacts which were not selected for, but which exist as a consequence or side effect of the evolutionary development of other biological structures.

Altruism towards close relatives is a product of natural selection because it helps perpetuate an organism's genes-even if those genes are in the relative one is helping. Organisms which are rewarded with a good feeling about helping relatives (especially mothers toward their offspring) would have an evolutionary advantage over those that didn't. A side consequence of feeling good about helping close relatives, however, is that some organisms would also get the same good feeling from helping strangers. It has even gotten to the point that many people, especially in the US, lavish the same love on pets as they would their own children.

With an organism as complex as humans, evolution cannot target non-beneficial altruism for elimination because it is so closely related to beneficial altruism, and the behavior is reinforced by human cultural memes. While the existence of the concept of God reinforces such morality, the actual existence of God is not necessary to explain the existence of altruism toward strangers.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"I concede there can be the appearance of meaning where there is none; meaning may be a mere conceit. But we don't live like it is, do we? We treat logic and evidence as if they mean something, as if they hold authority over the argument. We perceive the existence of truth, even if it's hard to discern at times. We bristle at the perception of injustice. Even Hitchens does. Even Dawkins."

Bingo. You have correctly identified the fact that Hitchens and Dawkins are not logic computers or Vulcans, but instead emotional humans. Which shouldn't be surprising, because they evolved that way just like the rest of us. BTW atheists don't like prison anymore than the rest of us, which is a good reason not to be a sociopath, besides the fact that humans have a naturally evolved empathy toward other people.

Martin Cothran said...

Kycobb:

When you talk about whether "morality can be explained", you can mean one of two things: whether the existence of a moral sense can be explained in naturalistic terms, and whether the moral sense can be rationally justified. After reading this piece again, I think I did not do a good job of delineating these two. So I'm doing that now.

There simply is no conceivable way you can explain morality in the latter sense. You can talk all you want about how morality came about, but that says absolutely nothing about whether certain actions are morally obligatory. It would be like saying that yogurt is good for you because it tastes good. You're talking about two different things.

In regard to whether its existence can be explained through some process, I would still maintain that you have no good case to say this about charity. You say:

Organisms which are rewarded with a good feeling about helping relatives (especially mothers toward their offspring) would have an evolutionary advantage over those that didn't. A side consequence of feeling good about helping close relatives, however, is that some organisms would also get the same good feeling from helping strangers.

But why are organisms "rewarded" with good feelings when they help others? Why weren't organisms rewarded with good feelings when they harm others? Why, in naturalistic terms does one happen and not the other?

Lee said...

> Bingo. You have correctly identified the fact that Hitchens and Dawkins are not logic computers or Vulcans, but instead emotional humans.

You're not really disagreeing with me here, are you? You just need to take it one step further: based on the premises of Hitchens and Dawkins, logic itself is an illusion, and belief in its authority a mere conceit. In the materialist cosmos, logic and emotions are chemical states in the brain, nothing more. Maybe they have helped us survive -- but by what principle ought we to survive? Where is it written down that life must survive? That humans must survive? We are nothing but chemicals, and the chemicals themselves don't care. Materialism gives me no reason to prefer one set of chemicals which happen to be alive to another set of chemicals which happen to be inert -- unless they're my own.

> Which shouldn't be surprising, because they evolved that way just like the rest of us.

Evolution doesn't care, either. It can't explain why it is important to evolve and survive.

> BTW atheists don't like prison anymore than the rest of us, which is a good reason not to be a sociopath, besides the fact that humans have a naturally evolved empathy toward other people.

Here, too, you aren't really disagreeing with me (aside from the plug for evolution). Some humans have empathy. Others don't. What do you tell the folks who don't have empathy, if they would really enjoy hurting others?

That they shouldn't do it, because...? It's not right? Scratch that -- right and wrong are an illusion.

Because they'll hurt someone else and they were supposed to have a naturally evolved empathy? They don't care. And why should they, if their own brain chemicals are made happy by hurting someone else's?

Because we'll put them in prison if they're caught? As I stated earlier, that's a preference, and only a practical consideration. Once someone realizes that morality is an illusion caused by evolutionary pressure, he is free of any constraints other than the most important one: how best to pursue happiness for himself, and damn the consequences for others.

Isn't that the hypothetical circumstance about which John Lennon waxed rhapsodical? "Look at all the people living for today, ahh!" It made Ted Bundy happy to rape and murder young women. In the materialist universe, the only thing he did wrong was to get caught.

Without a transcendent morality to instruct us, the sociopath is the sanest one of all.

Bob said...

It appears to me that the discussion continues to conflate two issues: (1) the existence of moral behavior; and (2) the ways in which we come to talk about moral behavior, specifically a verbal statement that "justifies" the moral behavior. I'm not yet clear just what it is that happens when one justifies. Does it mean that I can state a set of logically-related reasons for the presence of moral behavior? Or is it the meta-question of why should we behave morally (whatever "morally" happens to mean)?

Also, I think that there is at work the assumption that evolution is the only form of materialism by which both moral behavior and talking about moral behavior are to be explained. I think that that is not the case: it is a false assumption.

Lee said...

> Also, I think that there is at work the assumption that evolution is the only form of materialism by which both moral behavior and talking about moral behavior are to be explained. I think that that is not the case: it is a false assumption.

I discussed some of these same issues in another thread awhile back, with a learned gentleman who was an avowed atheist who did believe in a transcendent moral code. To him, we do not need God as an explanation for morality: either morality came first and therefore God is unnecessary, or God came first and morality is simply his whim and therefore doesn't exist in the objective sense. I hope I'm stating his position correctly.

But if I understand the argument, it is not really a materialist argument at all. He was saying morality exists in an objective sense.

I use evolution as an explanation for how morality could have come about in a materialistic universe because that is the narrative I am familiar with. If there are others, I'm happy to consider them. But I think my criticisms would apply to any form of materialistic morality.

The crux of the matter, if you will, is whether a moral standard is objectively real and stands above us, or whether it exists only in the minds of humans, no more real than a Dr. Seuss story. If morality is material, it consists of brain chemicals, and will die when there are no more living brains capable of that level of abstraction.

Kycobb said...

Martin,

"But why are organisms "rewarded" with good feelings when they help others? Why weren't organisms rewarded with good feelings when they harm others? Why, in naturalistic terms does one happen and not the other?"

Actually both do happen, depending on the individual and the circumstances. Humans are extremely complex organisms and exhibit a massive variety of behaviors, much of which is culturally, rather than biologically based. Thus in the same culture you can have people who lavish love on dogs like they were children, and other people who enjoy watching dogs fight to the death.

In a strictly adaptationist sense, there are some situations in which altruism is the best strategy, some in which a neutral stance is best and others in which behavior harmful to another is appropriate. But humans are not pre-programmed robots, and each individual will behave in the manner that feels best to us.

Martin Cothran said...

I'm not yet clear just what it is that happens when one justifies. Does it mean that I can state a set of logically-related reasons for the presence of moral behavior? Or is it the meta-question of why should we behave morally (whatever "morally" happens to mean)?

I think the only way to do this is by considering what the nature of man is and what he is for. In other words, his formal and final causes. If you know that a man is, in his essence, a rational animal--that, in other words, he is a creature with an intellect which is designed to apprehend the truth and a will that is designed to do the Good--then all of a sudden morality isn't so mysterious.

Doing what you're designed to do is good and deviating from what you're designed to do is not. Unfortunately, atheists reject formal and final causes, so they've cut themselves off from any rational answer to the question "Why be good?"

Martin Cothran said...

Kycobb:

But humans are not pre-programmed robots, and each individual will behave in the manner that feels best to us.

So if I feel like it's best to rent my house only to whites, that's okay under your moral system?

Kycobb said...

Lee,

"Materialism gives me no reason to prefer one set of chemicals which happen to be alive to another set of chemicals which happen to be inert -- unless they're my own."

Wrong, because your particular set of chemicals are organized into a social animal. Your chemicals make most people feel good when they love other people.

"Evolution doesn't care, either. It can't explain why it is important to evolve and survive."

Evolution does explain why its important to most people to survive and reproduce-they are the descendants of survivors and reproducers, and they inherited that imperative from their ancestors. Its important to most of us that those people we are close to survive, because our ancestors depended on the people they were close to for their own survival, and we inherited that imperative from them as well.

"Without a transcendent morality to instruct us, the sociopath is the sanest one of all."

First, you have made an argument that religion is useful to constrain bad behavior, but thats not the same thing as proving that God exists. Second, the vast majority of people would be miserable as sociopaths, because we did evolve as social animals, so it wouldn't be sane at all for them to be sociopathic.

Lee said...

> Wrong, because your particular set of chemicals are organized into a social animal. Your chemicals make most people feel good when they love other people.

"Making most people feel good"? How did other people's preferences become a ruling moral principle? What if someone is a sociopath and likes being a sociopath? Why should he give that up, presuming he's smart enough to avoid being caught out?

> Evolution does explain why its important to most people to survive and reproduce...

Can it explain why people who are religious have more kids than those who aren't? Why are Mormons and Muslims breeding like rabbits and post-Christian Europeans in danger of dying off? Whose going to survive? Who's fitter?

> ...they are the descendants of survivors and reproducers, and they inherited that imperative from their ancestors.

Of course, it is not a moral imperative, is it? You're describing a mechanistic imperative, not a moral one. In fact, all imperatives are mechanistic in the materialist world.

> Its important to most of us that those people we are close to survive...

Are you suggesting that morality consists of preferences?

> ...because our ancestors depended on the people they were close to for their own survival, and we inherited that imperative from them as well.

So, is it okay to kill someone you do not need for your own survival?

> First, you have made an argument that religion is useful to constrain bad behavior, but thats not the same thing as proving that God exists.

A sidebar argument: atheists should be more accepting of religion if in fact it has helped man survive. That's their logical conundrum, not mine. They seem to lead the cheers for evolution in every other sense; it makes no sense to turn around and rail against the Church if it has helped us survive. You might think they would show more, uh, faith in their own logic.

And it did help us survive, right? We evolved religion and we survived, therefore religion helped us survive. Of course this is circular reasoning, but so is the doctrine of survival of the fittest. Again, it's their logical conundrum, not mine. The fit survive. The ones that survive are fit. How do we know they were fit? They are the ones who survived. End of proof.

But that's a sidebar. In the center ring is the point that materialism cannot explain meaning (logic, truth, morality) at a transcendent level. It doesn't prove God's existence; I'm not implying it does. The point is only to show that materialists contradict themselves when they speak and behave as if there is some higher level of meaning.

And they all do. They write books. They engage in debate. They condemn religion as superstition. Why? Because they think it's wrong? But there is no wrong, there are only DNA molecules duking it out to fulfill an imperative. So why lecture religious people for behaving irrationally when the very act of lecturing us is irrational?

If you are a materialist, shame on you for engaging me on any questions of logic and metaphysics. Unlike my poor superstitious self, you have broken the code. You *know* that this is all a conceit. You know that logic is not authoritative -- it's just another tool we use to survive, no different than whacking the other cave man with a stick to steal his women.

Lee said...

> Second, the vast majority of people would be miserable as sociopaths, because we did evolve as social animals, so it wouldn't be sane at all for them to be sociopathic.

You've never provided evidence that happiness is a transcendent principle; I thought it was survival. Still, the evidence suggests it makes some people happy to slaughter other people. I'll avoid the argumentum ad Hitleram if you like, but the Mongols seemed positively to revel in death and destruction. Were they wrong? Do we have to take a poll and determine who was in the majority, the Mongols or their victims? Let's have a show of hands? How many of you Mongols enjoy slaughtering? Okay, how many of you residents of Baghdad (or Kiev, or Hungary, or Kwarezm) object to being slaughtered? Okay, Genghis, you were wrong *this* time! Next time, make sure you outnumber the folks you kill.

Well, it's irrelevant. The vast majority of people do not make the individual decisions that go on in people's minds; individuals make those decisions. People often make individual decisions that are good for the one, or the few, and harmful for the majority. Happens all the time.

And sometimes the majority makes decisions that are bad for the few, or the one. Can't the things we classify as "injustice" happen on either side?

KyCobb said...

Martin,

"So if I feel like it's best to rent my house only to whites, that's okay under your moral system?"

It was under the Bible-based moral code of Southern Baptists when I was a child. There is no transcendent christian moral code-it changes to reflect the cultural values of society at large.

Martin Cothran said...

Kycobb,

So if a belief has origins in its culture, there is no outside standard by which it can be judged? I would assume then that you would have had problems with the arguments of the allied attorneys at Nuremberg, who explicitly appealed to a moral standard of human rights outside of the German culture?

KyCobb said...

Martin,

"So if a belief has origins in its culture, there is no outside standard by which it can be judged? I would assume then that you would have had problems with the arguments of the allied attorneys at Nuremberg, who explicitly appealed to a moral standard of human rights outside of the German culture?"

Of course not, Martin. German culture had no tradition of industrialized genocide, and neither did Western European civilization as a whole, which Germany was a part of. But back to your previous question, I assume you would have had no problem with Jim Crow laws, since they were generally recognized by white, southern christians as being based on transcendent biblical morality, correct?

Lee said...

> It was under the Bible-based moral code of Southern Baptists when I was a child. There is no transcendent christian moral code-it changes to reflect the cultural values of society at large.

So you don't consider at all the possibility that the Christian moral code is indeed transcendent, but that at least one set of Christians got it all wrong?

One way to test this possibility would be to see if you could use the Bible to reproach the ones you think are getting the message wrong.

And you also don't consider the possibility that Christianity has changed cultural values for the better.

Do you think the abolition of slavery had nothing to do with Christianity? Abolition of human sacrifice? Crucifixion?

Where do you think the idea that the masses, as well as the elites, needed an education? Could it have been John Calvin who gave us that idea? As well as the idea that man is too corrupt to trust with too much power, so separation of powers was in order?

Lee said...

> German culture had no tradition of industrialized genocide, and neither did Western European civilization as a whole, which Germany was a part of.

Don't know what you mean by "industrialized genocide", but why don't the Peasant Wars count?

> But back to your previous question, I assume you would have had no problem with Jim Crow laws, since they were generally recognized by white, southern christians as being based on transcendent biblical morality, correct?

Again: does it matter what the Bible says? I can point to any number of verses and passages in the Bible that admonish people to treat others with love. What can you point to in atheist dogma that tells Stalin he shouldn't kill people?

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"Are you suggesting that morality consists of preferences?"

Yes. There is no transcendent morality-the morality of any culture at any given time reflect the values and preferences of that society.

"So, is it okay to kill someone you do not need for your own survival?"

Since I don't want to be killed by someone who doesn't need me, and neither do most people, the answer is no.

"And it did help us survive, right? We evolved religion and we survived, therefore religion helped us survive."

Humanity existed for vastly longer without religion than with it. In fact, if anything is going to drive us to extinction, other than a stray asteroid, its probably religion, which is driving most of the armed conflict in the world today.

"there is no wrong, there are only DNA molecules duking it out to fulfill an imperative. So why lecture religious people for behaving irrationally when the very act of lecturing us is irrational?"

But in fact there is an objective reality which exists independent of the human brain. A person who argues that the world is only 6,000 years old, or that Allah will reward you if you blow yourself up in a crowded marketplace
is wrong, and if an atheist wants to write a book pointing that out, there is no reason he shouldn't.

"If you are a materialist, shame on you for engaging me on any questions of logic and metaphysics."

Shame? I have no transcendent moral code. If I'm doing something I enjoy that doesn't hurt anyone, there is no shame.

"You've never provided evidence that happiness is a transcendent principle; I thought it was survival."

You are the one arguing for transendent principles, remember? Strangely enough, I like to be happy, and would prefer to live in a society which enchances my chances of happiness. Its true that the Mongols, like lots of other people, slaughtered the innocent and enjoyed it. Lots of christians did the same thing. Now if you want to talk about Hitler, the Nazi movement strongly relied on the transcendent christian values taught by Martin Luther in his book "On the Jews and their Lies".

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"Again: does it matter what the Bible says?"

Christians who supported slavery, segregation, and slaughter of heretics, witches and unbelievers had little trouble finding passages in the Bible to support their actvities. The Bible isn't so much a guide as it is a quote-mine.

Martin Cothran said...

Kycobb:

German culture had no tradition of industrialized genocide, and neither did Western European civilization as a whole, which Germany was a part of.

So if I can find a culture that has a tradition of past human rights violations, then your fine with their continued practice of human rights violations?

Martin Cothran said...

Kycobb:

But back to your previous question, I assume you would have had no problem with Jim Crow laws, since they were generally recognized by white, southern christians as being based on transcendent biblical morality, correct?

What position have I taken that would require me to assent to the beliefs or practices of any particular group that claims its claims are Biblical?

Lee said...

> Yes. There is no transcendent morality-the morality of any culture at any given time reflect the values and preferences of that society.

Can you prove it?

And why do you behave as if there were a transcendent morality? You must somehow feel that you are arguing for "the right" or "the truth", that there is justice to your cause. But that justice lives in little bubbles in your brain. It is not transcendent, by your own admission. Why is it so important to you to spread your particular gospel?

And what grounds do you have to condemn the Nazis? Weren't they just reflecting the values and preferences of their society? Wagner. Nietsche. God is dead. Germans are the master race. We've settled that there is no transcendent right or wrong, haven't we? By that view, the only problem the Nazis had was that their view and our view was different, and we won. We didn't serve justice; there is no justice, by your own admission. We simply imposed our preferences.

The difficult part of debating folks with your world view is that they keep sneaking over into our world view to defend theirs. You can't mention Christianity, for example, without holding Christians to some sort of standard that they have failed -- a standard you do not think exists. You can't really couch it as your preferences -- big deal, after all -- but have to reach for some sort of grander standard. You can only hold them to a standard if a standard exists. You can only argue, using logic and reason, and appealing to a standard of justice if you believe logic and reason have some sort of authority, and that the standard of justice exists. But you don't believe any of that. It's just bubbles and electrons.

KyCobb said...

Martin,

"What position have I taken that would require me to assent to the beliefs or practices of any particular group that claims its claims are Biblical?"

So I take it that each christian has his or her own set of transcendent moral values, depending on their interpretation of the Bible?

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"Why is it so important to you to spread your particular gospel?"

Good question. As I said before, I like to be happy, and I want to live in a society which enchances my prospects of being happy. A society which respects individual rights is most conducive to my happiness.

"And what grounds do you have to condemn the Nazis? Weren't they just reflecting the values and preferences of their society?"

Nope, the Nazis knew that what they were doing was wrong by contemporary German and Western standards-thats why they shrouded it in euphemisms and lies and made a belated effort to destroy the evidence toward the end of the War.

"The difficult part of debating folks with your world view is that they keep sneaking over into our world view to defend theirs."

Its actually the opposite. Western societies have been becoming more moral and respectful of human dignity as a result of increasing humanism, while fundamentalist christians have to be dragged kicking and screaming forward-by the Civil War and the civil rights movement. Then once they have decided that the Bible doesn't support slavery or segregation after all, they incorporate humanist values into their beliefs, which they then re-lable as "christian", and start telling humanists how immoral they are!

Humanism is just a matter of enlightened self-interest. If society treats everyone with dignity and respect, then its more likely I will be treated with dignity and respect, and my happiness will be enchanced.

Lee said...

> Nope, the Nazis knew that what they were doing was wrong by contemporary German and Western standards-thats why they shrouded it in euphemisms and lies and made a belated effort to destroy the evidence toward the end of the War.

That's actually pretty sly. Having just admitted that the standards are not objective and that they are set by cultural preferences, you then turn around and try to argue that the cultural preferences as they were before the Nazis are some sort of an objective standard.

If there is no objective standard, the Nazis were not obligated to leave their cultural standards unchanged. As you pointed out, cultural standards shift. Why is it wrong to try to shift them, as the Nazis did? I thought hope and change was a good thing. The Nazis hoped they could kill all the Jews, and changed things to make that possible.

Like I said earlier: you can't defend your world view without borrowing from ours. You have to pretend an objective standard exists.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"Why is it wrong to try to shift them, as the Nazis did?"

The Nazis didn't try to change German cultural standards, like I said above, they acted in secret.

"Like I said earlier: you can't defend your world view without borrowing from ours. You have to pretend an objective standard exists."

And as I said earlier, they aren't your standards, they are humanists standards. Your standards are whatever God approves of is good. Sometimes God approves of genocide, so sometimes genocide is good. Humanists say genocide is always wrong, out of enlightened self-interest, because I don't want to be part of the next group targeted for extermination. By humanist standards, no christian sect can declare that a particular genocide is good because its God's will, whereas by your standards, you have to at least consider the possibility that God did ordain a proposed genocide, so it is good.

Lee said...

> The Nazis didn't try to change German cultural standards, like I said above, they acted in secret.

What difference does that make? Are you saying there is no objective standard, *except* when someone does things you would prefer they didn't, against their resident culture, and in secret?

KyCobb said...

Lee,

I said each culture has its own moral standards-thats simply a fact, whether you think its right or wrong. The moral standards of western nations did not allow for the wholesale slaughter of innocents, and the nazis made no effort to change that standard.

BTW, Martin admitted above that each sect of christianity has its own objective set of transcendent moral values. If a sect of christianity determined that it was God's will that all homosexuals be killed, by what right would you apply the moral standards of your sect to oppose them?

Lee said...

> I said each culture has its own moral standards-thats simply a fact, whether you think its right or wrong. The moral standards of western nations did not allow for the wholesale slaughter of innocents...

But now you're copping out. I'm asking you, by what standard do *you* condemn the Nazis? If the western nations had in fact allowed it, would it have been okay *then*?

> and the nazis made no effort to change that standard.

Now you're being silly. They made every effort to change that standard. You are denying they had any success?

Lee said...

> The moral standards of western nations did not allow for the wholesale slaughter of innocents...

And if that's true, where were the western nations when Mao did it in China? Where were they when Pol Pot did it? Where are they now when Kim is doing it? How about Rwanda? Seems the western standards are fickle. But that's okay, too, right?

Bob said...

Lee and Martin:

Of course it's plausible that a materialist universe resulted in such rules. I haven't challenged, or at least haven't intended to challenge, that much. What I've been challenging is the notion that, if that is how they came into being, why we should consider them authoritative? "Higher morality" would be an empty concept. The rules would not be “real”, living only in the chemicals in people's brains. And thus, there would be no reason to pay them any heed, aside from personal preference.

This seems to me to be the issue under discussion, and I would like to return to it. The question has to do not with how the rules came about, but the additional rules that we should consider them “authoritative,” and reflective of a “higher morality.” First of all, in a materialist sense “personal preference” is a non-starter as an explanation, even if we attribute such preference to DNA and neuro-molecular processes. As an explanation, personal preference is a non-starter because it is circular. It goes something like this: Why does Mary listen to so much rap music? Because that is what she prefers. How do you know that she prefers rap music? Because she listens to it all the time. Why does Mary behave so charitably (I’ll let readers identify a particular behavior/pattern of behavior here)? Because she prefers to. How do you know that Mary prefers to behave charitably? Because she behaves that way so frequently. In my thinking, attributing such behaviors to “chemicals in people’s brains” has the same status. So, what’s left?

Let’s look at another rule, a written rule that applies to drivers in California. When two vehicles arrive at stop signed corners adjacent to each other, which vehicle has the right-of-way? In California is the driver to the other driver’s right (I hope that folks can picture this situation). Why have a rule like this one? The answer, it seems to me, requires an examination of historical events that have to do with the development of the automobile, the somewhat coerced widespread penetration of the automobile into our previously pedestrian and publicly-transported environment, and the consequences of driving the neighborhood streets without such a rule. Is the rule “authoritative?” Yes, in the sense that it is written into law and has been submitted to the scrutiny of municipal and appellate court judges, people who have been selected based on other rules to engage in such scrutiny and state/write their judgments.

I propose that moral rules and moral authority are analogous to such traffic rules. The rules derive from a long and complex history of behaving and talking about our behavior by successive generations of human beings.

Thomas said...

Bob,

You're missing the is/ought distinction.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Is-ought_problem

Providing a genealogical account of how a certain morality developed cannot establish whether that morality is true or binding. If you wish to say something is actually wrong, you cannot depend on a genealogical account.

It's the difference between telling the history of an idea, and explicating the idea itself.

Bob said...

Thomas:

Here is where you (and probably others in this discussion) and I will simply have to agree to disagree. One either takes the position that the determination of rules for what is “good” or what is “not good” comes from a super-natural level (i.e., the reason that some action is inherently good or not good is because some super-natural entity or force makes it so and says so and that is independent of the experience of any one or all of us humans throughout our history); or what is “good” or “not good” (a) arises out of human interaction with the material world and (b) the attribution of authority, or the reason for claiming “good” or “not good” arises out of that same material world. For many folks the attribution of a super-natural source arises out of material conditions that might vary from one individual to another; the attribution of why we should behave in a particular arises from our knowledge of the laws of nature (that do exist independent of humans), a reading of history, talking with friends, colleagues, etc., and observing and talking about the effects of our own behaviors on the social and/or material world. From this latter perspective, the question of “Why should I act and think morally?” leads to the question of what the material conditions are that lead people to ask that question.

The absence of God or any other super-natural entity does not by itself lead to a life of meaninglessness. Cultural practices that do not provide “meaning” or that actively interfere with the development of “meaning” lead to a life of meaninglessness.

Bob

Lee said...

Hi, Bob...

> As an explanation, personal preference is a non-starter because it is circular... In my thinking, attributing such behaviors to “chemicals in people’s brains” has the same status.

Of course, all morality resides in people's brains. The question is whether that is the *only* place it resides, whether it is *merely* brain chemicals. A materialist does not have a basis to suggest it is anything but that.

So we are talking about two completely different things. One side says morality comes from us, that it crawled out of the slime along with us, and is more or less a notion born of selective pressure; and when humanity is gone, it too will be gone. The other side says morality comes before us, does not depend on us, stands over us, and makes demands of us.

I read a fascinating article by George Gilder about information theory. Gilder believes that information is independent of its medium, in much the same way that the message conveyed by a book is independent of the ink and paper that do the conveying -- and in much the same way the genetic code compares to the proteins in DNA. This is the crux of the debate. To a materialist, it is the ink and the paper that are important; any mention of an underlying meaning is dismissed as unscientific speculation. The debate over the nature of morality is essentially a debate over whether a higher meaning exists. Either the ink and patterns reveal the nature of something intelligent that stands over the book itself and its characters, or they are just chemical stains on cellulose. Either the moral code froths ephemerally on the mortal brain, or its patterns point to some great Author whose will is working itself out in individual mind's and souls.

I think, intellectually, the case for materialism can be justified. But when you accept materialism, what it costs is any appeal to higher truth. The materialist world is devoid of meaning. Meaning does not spring from unmeaning. But of course the materialist sees meaning; his actions betray his words. He sees it because it is there. But he denies he sees it because he can't bear to go where it leads.

> I propose that moral rules and moral authority are analogous to such traffic rules. The rules derive from a long and complex history of behaving and talking about our behavior by successive generations of human beings.

But this does not explain why we ought to follow those rules when they diverge from what we would prefer to do instead. It describes, plausibly, how morality came into being; it does not describe why we should pay any heed to it, other than personal convenience.

Lee said...

> BTW, Martin admitted above that each sect of christianity has its own objective set of transcendent moral values.

I think Christians may disagree on the particulars about what constitutes the transcendent moral code, but I don't think any of them would say they believe in different sets of transcendent moral values. We see through a glass darkly, according to Paul, so it not surprising that there are areas of disagreement. There is one moral code, but many perspectives on it.

I'm pretty sure Thomas, for example, is a Christian, same as me, but I'm also pretty sure our perspectives are as far apart as two Christians' perspectives can be. Of course, we see many of the same things, and disagree about what we see on many other things. One of these days, when we're both gone from this world, we'll probably spend an afternoon in a bar in Heaven and we'll share over a beer our recollections of the silly arguments we've had. But one thing is for sure: we will see things more clearly then. In the meantime, we have God's word and our own salvation to work out through fear and trembling.

> If a sect of christianity determined that it was God's will that all homosexuals be killed, by what right would you apply the moral standards of your sect to oppose them?

I would rely on the Bible. The Lord is the only one who has the authority to decide when someone should die, and it would take an Old Testament prophet, or someone even greater, to inform us of such an authorization. We haven't had any of them since John died around 96 AD.

> And as I said earlier, they aren't your standards, they are humanists standards.

As I recall, the early humanists were Christians, were they not? Erasmus? Sir Thomas More?

> Your standards are whatever God approves of is good.

So what are you saying? Humanism is the authority?

> Sometimes God approves of genocide, so sometimes genocide is good.

Since God is the originator of all that is good, then when God approves of genocide, it is good. You can't imagine a situation in which getting rid of a nation or race of people would be in the best interests of God's plan? A race of people so horrid, even by your set of preferences, even by the most "humane" of humanist standards, that it is a mercy to all when they are put our of their misery and ours?

> Humanists say genocide is always wrong, out of enlightened self-interest, because I don't want to be part of the next group targeted for extermination.

If you can't imagine a situation where enlightened self-interest demands wholesale killing, then you're not trying very hard. In any event, if we get a time machine, I want to take you back to the Rape of Nanking in late 1930s, and I would look forward to hearing your suggestions about what to do about the Japanese soldiers, as they walked through Nanking, laughing and disembowling the men and cutting the babies out of pregnant women with bayonets.

> By humanist standards, no christian sect can declare that a particular genocide is good because its God's will, whereas by your standards, you have to at least consider the possibility that God did ordain a proposed genocide, so it is good.

I'm suspicious of anyone who says he hears God talking to him and suggesting such things. The Bible says the Bible is a closed book; ain't no more prophets. There are principles we can apply, but we should be very reluctant to speak for Him. That's what I like about Reformed folks. They let the Bible speak for God, and simply try to understand what the Bible is saying.

There are things that wouldn't surprise me. It wouldn't surprise me if God has the U.S. singled out for punishment because of abortion. It's a principle well established in Kings and Chronicles: child sacrifice is wrong, and the nation is punished for the sins of its leaders. But God knows His plan, and my job is not to prophecy, not when I have so much trouble rooting the sin out of my own life.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"Now you're being silly. They made every effort to change that standard. You are denying they had any success?"

The Nazis made no effort I am aware of to convince the German people that genocide is acceptable behavior. To my knowledge, they kept the final solution a secret. Perhaps you know something I don't, but I do recall reading that Germans escorted to death camps after the War insisted they did not know what was occuring there.

"And if that's true, where were the western nations when Mao did it in China? Where were they when Pol Pot did it? Where are they now when Kim is doing it? How about Rwanda? Seems the western standards are fickle. But that's okay, too, right?"

The unacceptability of genocide does not impose an automatic duty on western nations to trigger a war to try to stop it. Especially when, as in the case of China or Korea, it would be thermonuclear. However, if the opportunity presents itself, the perpetrators should be apprehended and tried, as I believe has occurred in cases involving Rwandan and Serbian criminals, and as is presently taking place in Taylor's trial.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"Since God is the originator of all that is good, then when God approves of genocide, it is good. You can't imagine a situation in which getting rid of a nation or race of people would be in the best interests of God's plan? A race of people so horrid, even by your set of preferences, even by the most "humane" of humanist standards, that it is a mercy to all when they are put our of their misery and ours?"

No, I can't. There is never a justification for exterminating children, no matter what crimes their parents have committed. The Nazis committed crimes about as horrible as can be concieved, and it still doesn't come close to being sufficient to justify killing every German. Not even if an Old Testament prophet claimed God told him to kill every German.

"I want to take you back to the Rape of Nanking in late 1930s, and I would look forward to hearing your suggestions about what to do about the Japanese soldiers."

Executing those who commit war crimes is not genocide. Now if we had used the Rape of Nanking to justify the same behavior by our troops against civilians in Tokyo, that would be unjustifiable.

Thomas said...

Bob,

I think you're confusing arguments. I never said that morality has a transcendent basis, only that you cannot simply jump from what happens to be the case and what ought to be the case. The idea of the categorical imperative can be traced certain elements of Stoic thought, for example, but that doesn't establish whether or not it is true and binding. Virtue ethics may have been resurrected in popular philosophy by Macintyre, but that fact has no bearing on the validity of virtue ethics.

In order to evaluate the truth of the claim that someone ought not beat their wife, one must go beyond simply reciting the history of wifebeating in that culture and evaluate the truth of the claim. This applies not only to ethical claims, but to philosophic or scientific claims.

If I want to establish the truth of quantum physics, I might discuss how quantum physics is a culturally conditioned idea, arising in peculiar historical circumstances. Of course, this doesn't do anything to address whether the claims of quantum physics are true. That is why we build large hadron colliders.

However, the problem is even more pronounced with ethical claims. With quantum physics, we discuss only what is the case, we never move to what ought to be the case. With moral issues, we go beyond what is the case to what ought to be the case. In any case where one says someone ought or ought not do something.

In order to make the jump from stating that something is the case, to saying something ought to be the case, you have to justify yourself. Brute facts do not convey moral directives, they simply are. You must either defend your jump from "is" to "ought" or not make it (which would mean not holding anything to be wrong). And "agreeing to disagree" is not a defense.

Thomas said...

"There is never a justification for exterminating children, no matter what crimes their parents have committed."

The traditional and mainstream Christian view agrees with you wholeheartedly, on this point. God could not simply make infanticide good both because infanticide is inherently evil and God is necessarily good.

Unfortunately, after William of Occam, there has been a strain of theology that has said that God's freedom consists in autonomous choice. Therefore, because God is free, and freedom means doing whatever the will dictates (the will being divorced from the nature), and so God can determine whatever he likes without restriction.

Freedom understood simply as the autonomy of the will is philosophically and theologically naive. Freedom, in the Classical/Christian understanding, is the ability to fully actualize one's potential, to manifest one's essence. In this understanding, God is free precisely because there are things he cannot do because they would violate his nature. God's will is bound to his nature and restricted from evil, because he is absolutely free.

Lee said...

> No, I can't. There is never a justification for exterminating children, no matter what crimes their parents have committed.

Well, that's a contradiction. In one post, you claim your preferences are based on enlightened self-interest, but it turns out that, surprise, you have an immutable moral code. Even if your enlightened self-interest is challenged, you would not lift a hand to defend yourself against an evil culture if it meant killing the children. So much for your own enlightened self-interest.

And I'll point out the holier-than-thou tone of your observation. From your perspective, there's nothing to be holier about, since all this is (as you avow) nothing but a set of preferences. But you sure don't talk like it's nothing but preferences, do you? Well well well.

It's no surprise to me. I have debated countless atheists for as long as I can remember, and I haven't found any yet who believe all that the nonsense about a moral code that is somehow not transcendent. You push them, they start thumping their own version of a Bible.

So we both believe in a transcendent morality. We only disagree about the particulars, as for which, let's discuss...

Atheists imagine that the worst thing that death is the worst thing that can happen to someone. But we all die, and it can be a mercy. Atheists imagine that a soul is like court TV, innocent until proven guilty. But we are a fallen race, and none of us are righteous, not one. All have fallen short of God's glory. We all, everyone one of us, deserve whatever we get. It's only through God's grace that we are ever spared the consequences of sin.

And the sins of the parents are visited upon the children and the children's children. Thomas really objects to this one, so don't take my word for it, see Exodus 34.

Like I said, when you say you can't imagine a situation where wholesale killing is the best option, you aren't trying very hard. In the future, it may come down to duking it out with Islam on a very large and personal level, maybe even more so than it did with the Nazis and the Japanese. An awful lot of people wind up dead in these situations. Even children. By your logic, we should not have fought WWII because we inevitably wound up killing children -- your words, "Never a justification." And in a showdown with Islam, our choice may be nuking Islamic cities, or watching ours go up in nuclear clouds one at a time.

Since nothing justifies exterminating children, in that case, you may prefer your own children being slaughtered. But at least you have your conception of an absolute moral code to console you if and when that day arrives in our lifetime.

Martin Cothran said...

So I take it that each christian has his or her own set of transcendent moral values, depending on their interpretation of the Bible?

Yes, that's exactly right. And they are right or wrong insofar as their views correspond to those of historic Christianity. You seem to believe that a plurality of views implies some sort of relativity of truth, and, of course, one does not follow from the other.

There are a plurality of views here on this post about the nature of morality. That does not necessitate that there are multiple correct views on the subject. The fact that there are multiple views is completely consistent with there being only one correct view and multiple incorrect views.

But you still have not answered my question:

So if I can find a culture that has a tradition of past human rights violations, then your fine with their continued practice of human rights violations?

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"Even if your enlightened self-interest is challenged, you would not lift a hand to defend yourself against an evil culture if it meant killing the children. So much for your own enlightened self-interest."

Wrong, I don't consider it in my self-interest to commit genocide. If we had exterminated the Germans and Japanese after WWII, we would have eliminated two countries which are now valuable allies, and set a horrible precedent for the future. As a member of a despised minority, it is not in my best interest to set a precedent of exterminating despised minorities.

"By your logic, we should not have fought WWII because we inevitably wound up killing children -- your words, "Never a justification.""

Exterminating children is not the same thing as attacking legitimate military targets, which result in the unfortunate loss of civilian lives. I oppose death camps, not necessary wars of self-defense like WWII. Once Germany and Japan were defeated, we did not exterminate the civilian population, as your previous post suggested might have been an appropriate action.

"And in a showdown with Islam, our choice may be nuking Islamic cities, or watching ours go up in nuclear clouds one at a time."

Mutually Assured Destruction only works if the nukes aren't launched. If we launch our nukes preemptively, that would guarantee they would respond if they had ICBMs to launch at us. Our choice, if they obtain ICBMs, is to threaten to respond massively if they launch against us, and hope they aren't crazy enough to commit suicide. Unfortunately, their transcendent moral code tells them Allah will reward them if they die in Jihad-the Soviets, being atheists, had no such illusions during the Cold War.

Lee said...

> "Wrong, I don't consider it in my self-interest to commit genocide."

There are situations you could imagine wholesale killing as necessary to pursue your enlightened self-interest, but for some reason you draw the line at the particular type of wholesale killing known as genocide. Preference?

Now, personally, I don't see much difference between killing a million innocent people, or killing a million innocent people because they're Jews, or Chinese, or Christians, or whatever. Genocide just seems like one of those words designed to make some mass murders seem more evil than others. But I don't give Stalin a pass because he killed 20 million without genocidal intentions. It seems close enough.

But the interesting thing about this exchange was it got you to admit that you carry some view of an absolute truth around, even though you deny it.

> "If we had exterminated the Germans and Japanese after WWII, we would have eliminated two countries which are now valuable allies..."

I couldn't agree more, but we killed a lot of innocent children in defeating them. And I have it on very good authority that:

> "There is never a justification for exterminating children, no matter what crimes their parents have committed."

Now, *that* is a statement evincing faith in a hard, objective morality. But you also said:

> "There is no transcendent morality-the morality of any culture at any given time reflect the values and preferences of that society."

"Never a justification" vs. "No transcendent morality... reflect... preferences at any given time."

Forget about debating me or Martin, KyCobb. Let's just stage a debate between you and KyCobb.

It seems unsporting to point out that we exterminated children to beat the Nazis and Japanese. Therefore, by your standards, it was wrong for us to beat the Nazis and Japanese.

> Exterminating children is not the same thing as attacking legitimate military targets, which result in the unfortunate loss of civilian lives.

It's just preferences, remember? I think the pre-Columbian Mayans would have been fine with exterminating children, so once again you are decrying absolute morality with one lip and espousing it with the other lip, plus a hand gesture or two.

> I oppose death camps, not necessary wars of self-defense like WWII.

"Necessary"? Don't you mean "most preferred"? Doesn't carry quite the same rhetorical punch, does it?

> Once Germany and Japan were defeated, we did not exterminate the civilian population, as your previous post suggested might have been an appropriate action.

Well, I certainly never intended to suggest that. But if you happened to be running around Dresden or Hiroshima at the wrong time, it's understandable if you might have acquired a different perspective.

> Mutually Assured Destruction only works if the nukes aren't launched.

I'm not talking about MAD, unfortunately, which was about deterrence. I'm talking about what happens when terrorist groups acquire the ability to strike us at will. Boom, there goes New York. "Alright, who did that?" Boom, there goes LA. "Better show yourselves, we're getting pretty sore about this." Boom, there goes Miami. How many booms, do you figure, until Americans demand that their president do something about it? Four? Five? Fifteen?

And just what will his response be? Who is doing it? Nobody is taking credit. But we know Iran funds and harbors terrorists. We know Syria does. We know North Korea does. To stop the bombing, we'd have to do something, probably, very much like nuke the snot out of Syria, Iran, and North Korea, just in the hopes of making the bombs stop going off over here. It might not be genocide in the technical sense, but I say it's close enough.

It's that or do nothing, in which case, rather than kill innocent children, you get to watch your own die.

Lee said...
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Lee said...

> Unfortunately, their transcendent moral code tells them Allah will reward them if they die in Jihad-the Soviets, being atheists, had no such illusions during the Cold War.

You know, I think I've made my point in this thread. After all these words, I sure hope so.

Moral indignation does not follow from your world view. There is nothing to be upset about. Moral principles are not absolute. They are not transcendent; they are not over us somehow. They carry no authority. Everything is molecules, light particles, heat, electricity -- physics. Morality is, like all brain activity, mere chemistry. It comes down to preferences. I like blue. I like Beethoven. I like believing genocide is wrong. You don't get mad when someone doesn't like Beethoven, so why get mad when someone thinks genocide is okay? Admittedly, it's a practical problem if you're the one in the crosshairs, but that's only because you prefer being alive to dead, not because it is wrong, in any absolute sense, for someone else to want to kill you.

But even though you have broken the code, even though you know it is simply an illusion generally agreed upon by others, your thoughts and feelings employ the sort of moral indignation you would expect to find only in someone who believes morality is objective. In fact, the more we've talked, the more pronounced that tendency has become.

That's what I mean when I say an atheist has to borrow from the Christian world view to defend his own. We can argue over the particulars of absolute moral law, even among ourselves, but it is there and it is our job to perceive it. Since we believe in an objective morality, it makes sense for us to feel the sort of moral indignation you exhibit in this thread.

My modest suggestion is that you give up on one of them. Either give up on your idea that morality is subjective in nature, or give up on defending your view of morality as if it were objective.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"Admittedly, it's a practical problem if you're the one in the crosshairs, but that's only because you prefer being alive to dead, not because it is wrong, in any absolute sense, for someone else to want to kill you."

Conceded, I have a very strong preference for not being killed. But just because you want there to be an absolute God who sets absolute rules, doesn't mean that there is. Also, importantly, I think I've made the point that if there was a set of absolute rules, we don't know what they are. So your absolute morality is nothing more than what a given culture believes is moral at any given time. Christians simply quote-mine the Bible to support their current moral position, which can completely contradict their previous moral position, which they also supported with Bible quotes. I think your evident eagerness to exterminate the Muslims as the only possible solution to nuclear terrorism pretty much puts paid to the notion that absolute christian morality is superior to humanism.

Finally, though you have tried to cast me as expressing an objective morality, everything I oppose, such as genocide, is entirely based on self-interest. I don't want to be lining up to take a shower at a death camp, and as a member of a despised minority many members of your religion would be eager to kill, the best way to avoid that fate is to take a bright line stance against genocide.

Lee said...

> I think your evident eagerness to exterminate the Muslims as the only possible solution to nuclear terrorism pretty much puts paid to the notion that absolute christian morality is superior to humanism.

I have to object to that characterization of my views. Other than that, I still don't know on what basis you claim the moral high ground here. You don't even believe in a moral high ground, but it doesn't keep you from scrambling for it.

Lee said...
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Lee said...

> Finally, though you have tried to cast me as expressing an objective morality, everything I oppose, such as genocide, is entirely based on self-interest.

I am not casting you as someone who believes in an objective morality. You are; I am merely observing the obvious. E.g.,

> "I think your evident eagerness to exterminate the Muslims as the only possible solution to nuclear terrorism pretty much puts paid to the notion that absolute christian morality is superior to humanism."

You betray yourself in the rhetoric you employ. To be consistent with your world view, you should have written:

> ...pretty much puts paid to the notion that absolute christian morality is to be *preferred* to humanism in term of sheer self-interest as I personally perceive it.

But that approach cedes much in the way of rhetorical power, doesn't it? So you employ the word "superior". So much for mere preference.

> and as a member of a despised minority many members of your religion would be eager to kill, the best way to avoid that fate is to take a bright line stance against genocide.

To my untrained legal mind, statements like that seem to constitute a slander. If you have come to the conclusion that I want you dead, you have been misreading me, but why project such unappetizing aspersions on other Christians, who aren't here to speak for or defend themselves?

I have no particular wish even to offend you, let alone injure or kill you. But for someone reason, I consider it my duty to make atheists aware of their philosophical inconsistencies. Perhaps it's a weakness; perhaps it's a calling. Arguably, it's a sin, since Paul warns us against it. But then Paul himself defended his views when challenged by the Greeks, so I could be misreading that, too.

You are right about one thing: Christians don't understand all the particulars about what constitutes an absolute morality. It's quite possible, if not probable, God will one day confront me and say, "Son, when you speak as an apologist for my people, you need to be much more discerning, and you should not invest heavily in the words you can summon. And please be nicer about it." But when God says it, there will be no argument. He's right; I'm wrong. In the meantime, we need to do our best to discern His will.

Martin Cothran said...

Kycobb (I think):

BTW, Martin admitted above that each sect of christianity has its own objective set of transcendent moral values.

Where did I say this?

KyCobb said...

Martin,

What you said was, "What position have I taken that would require me to assent to the beliefs or practices of any particular group that claims its claims are Biblical?"

If you don't assent to the beliefs of a christian sect, such as the belief that God requires the races to be kept separate, then you each have different transcendent moral values.

Thomas said...

Kycobb,

Actually, Christian ethical teaching is relatively homogenous (moreso even than theological teaching). While there are some mainline/liberal denominations that diverge on sexual ethics, these are minute in comparison with the more traditional teaching that is standard both historically and statistically considered.

Bob said...

Lee:

Of course, all morality resides in people's brains. The question is whether that is the “only” place it resides, whether it is “merely” brain chemicals. A materialist does not have a basis to suggest it is anything but that.

I need some clarification here: I take “resides in” to mean “provenance.” If that is the meaning which you wish the word to have, then I apparently did not write clearly enough in my message: Materialism does indeed have a basis to suggest that moral behavior, moral thinking, and attributions and acceptance of moral authority “reside” in other than the brain. Reductionism may lead one to attribute these human activities to the brain exclusively, but materialism does not. The Behavior Analysis of B. F. Skinner and those who have conducted both basic and applied research in animal and human behavior leads me to such a conclusion. In sum, I reject the thesis in the last sentence because repeatedly verified empirical evidence leads me to do so.

So we are talking about two completely different things. One side says morality comes from us, that it crawled out of the slime along with us, and is more or less a notion born of selective pressure; and when humanity is gone, it too will be gone. The other side says morality comes before us, does not depend on us, stands over us, and makes demands of us.

I agree, mostly. The language in your reply takes it out of the reasoned and into the emotional (“it crawled out of the slime along with us”) and I disagree with that statement. I agree with the idea that moral behavior “is more or less . . . born of selective pressure,” but not in terms of Darwin’s natural selection; rather, in terms of selection by the social consequences to behavior. As from my previous missive, I agree with your description of the other side.

I read a fascinating article by George Gilder about information theory. Gilder believes that information is independent of its medium, in much the same way that the message conveyed by a book is independent of the ink and paper that do the conveying.

Personally I have long had difficulty with the analogy to information theory. This is so in large part because cognitive and cognitive neuropsychologists have deployed the language of information theory without demonstrating either logically or empirically how their explanations of behavioral and neurological phenomena actually connect to the theory. Thus, I think that the following paraphrase is more accurate: To a reductionist, it is the ink and the paper that are important; any mention of an underlying meaning is dismissed as unscientific speculation. Materialists do indeed consider the matter of “meaning.”

Bob

Martin Cothran said...

Kycobb,

I think I just misunderstood you there. I'm fine with your interpretation with the proviso that although the sect may believe their ethical beliefs approximate some transcendental standard that they may be correct or incorrect in their belief, and that the correctness pr incorrectness of the beliefs of one sect has absolutely nothing to do with the correctness or incorrectness of th transcendent ethical views of any other sect.

In addition, Thomas is correct in saying that the ethical views of historic Christianity are fairly homogeneous, and views such as racism are the exception and not the rule.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"To my untrained legal mind, statements like that seem to constitute a slander. If you have come to the conclusion that I want you dead, you have been misreading me, but why project such unappetizing aspersions on other Christians, who aren't here to speak for or defend themselves?"

That was a good qualifier, because speaking as a trained attorney, I can tell you the statement was not slander. First of all, since you are an anonymous internet poster, its impossible for me to damage your reputation. Second of all, I didn't accuse you of wanting to kill me-I accused many members of your religion. I have no reason to think you want to kill me-however, you can find christian posters on the internet who do want to kill unbelievers.

Lee said...

> That was a good qualifier, because speaking as a trained attorney, I can tell you the statement was not slander.

Fair enough, Ky, I have no interest in suing or being sued. But you are indeed tarring with a pretty broad brush.

> ...you can find christian posters on the internet who do want to kill unbelievers.

I guess someone can always find a nutcase somewhere, no matter how whacked out or isolated, who will say something crazy that can be used to tar and feather any group of people someone doesn't like.

But I would prefer not to shadow-box. Produce your links if you have them, if you are seriously arguing that such murder is a routine proposal among Christians.

However, I don't have to work hard at all to produce comments from Richard Dawkins, who thinks religious training is child abuse and that the state ought to step in and put the children of Christians in orphanages. Wanna see em?

The best accusations are specific. As a lawyer, I'm sure you know this.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

I have heard that Dawkins said that, however the only thing atheists have in common is a shared disbelief in Gods. As a matter of self-interest, I strongly support 1st Amendment rights to freedom of religion, because without it, atheists would be among the first groups targeted for suppression. Organized religions have a long history of persecuting heretics and non-believers, and I would include in that history communist states, because, though officially atheist, they have a state secular religion, Marxism.

Lee said...

We have talked about that before, Ky. As a Christian, I have to wear the sins of other Christians around my neck like an albatross, whereas as an atheist you get to dismiss the sins of other atheists by simply proclaiming they are not atheists.

An atheist is someone who disbelieves in God. Communists disbelieve in God. Therefore, Communists are atheists. It's a simple syllogism.

From dictionary.com:

> "a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings."

> "An atheist is one who denies the existence of a deity or of divine beings."

That's the qualification. Now, if certain atheists go on to worship something else, such as the philosophy of Marx, that's a problem for everybody, but they're still atheists if the deny the existence of a supreme God.

Lee said...

> Materialism does indeed have a basis to suggest that moral behavior, moral thinking, and attributions and acceptance of moral authority “reside” in other than the brain. Reductionism may lead one to attribute these human activities to the brain exclusively, but materialism does not.

How, in a materialist world, does morality exist somewhere besides the brain? Is it in the rocks? The trees? The wind? Polaris? The asteroid belt?

> The Behavior Analysis of B. F. Skinner and those who have conducted both basic and applied research in animal and human behavior leads me to such a conclusion.

Did Mr. Skinner discover some other place in the material world that morality can reside? I thought he was a psychologist, not a metaphysics guy.

> In sum, I reject the thesis in the last sentence because repeatedly verified empirical evidence leads me to do so.

I'm dying to hear it.

> The language in your reply takes it out of the reasoned and into the emotional (“it crawled out of the slime along with us”) and I disagree with that statement.

Emotional? I would use the term "colorful." There is no rule that says rational discourse needs to be as dry as Melba toast.

> Materialists do indeed consider the matter of “meaning.”

Does meaning come from unmeaning? It's something we have never observed. Yet materialists ask us, in the name of science, to believe that it did.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"That's the qualification. Now, if certain atheists go on to worship something else, such as the philosophy of Marx, that's a problem for everybody, but they're still atheists if the deny the existence of a supreme God."

I'm not denying that Marxists are atheists, but thats not what makes them repressive. Marxism, like organized religions, claims to have a sole monopoly on the "truth" which, once universally accepted, will lead to utopia. Thus everyone who doesn't accept the "truth" is at best misguided and at worst an evil-doer who must be vanquished. Now that Marxism has failed, the Cold War which resulted from their desire to bring the "Truth" to the world is over. Now it seems most world conflict is generated by the more traditional religions seeking to impose their "truth" on everyone else.

Lee said...

> I'm not denying that Marxists are atheists, but thats not what makes them repressive.

Being a fallen human is enough to make them oppressive. There is no belief in an objective moral standard to urge them otherwise. There's nothing wrong with being oppressive, right? It's their preference.

> Marxism, like organized religions, claims to have a sole monopoly on the "truth" which, once universally accepted, will lead to utopia.

Is that true? Then you too have a claim on what constitutes the "truth". So how are you unlike Marxists or Christians in this regard? Why shouldn't we be equally fearful of someone like you, who bases morality on his own enlightened self-interest? If you were to decide that it was in your enlightened self-interest to kill us, there is no absolute moral code to instruct you otherwise, as far as you're concerned.

> Thus everyone who doesn't accept the "truth" is at best misguided and at worst an evil-doer who must be vanquished.

Don't you think Marxists and Christians are misguided at best and evil-doers at worst? I mean, you just accused Christians of wanting to kill you. So again, how do you differ from Marxists or Christians in this regard?

> Now that Marxism has failed...

Failed? Based on what criteria? I thought you were waging a one-man war against criteria. It's preferences, remember? I'm sure Stalin and Brezhnev preferred things exactly as they had them.

> ...the Cold War which resulted from their desire to bring the "Truth" to the world is over.

Maybe just the power to do so is over, but the desire remains ingrained. I think it's still a problem. I think it's shot all through the Obama administration, for example; all they lack is the ability to destroy the institutions that stand in their way, though I wouldn't write them off just yet.

> Now it seems most world conflict is generated by the more traditional religions seeking to impose their "truth" on everyone else.

So now we're going to blame Islam on Christianity.

Bob said...

Lee:

> How, in a materialist world, does morality exist somewhere besides the brain? Is it in the rocks? The trees? The wind? Polaris? The asteroid belt?

> Did Mr. Skinner discover some other place in the material world that morality can reside? I thought he was a psychologist, not a metaphysics guy.

O.K., I think I know your definition of “reside:” it means “is located in.” The questions as stated above take the form of “begging the question,” which is a fallacious form of reasoning. That is, if I respond to the question directly, there is an implied acceptance of the proposition that “morality exists.” I do not accept that proposition, i.e., that morality is some thing with an essence, or with physical properties, that either resides someplace or explains people’s behaviors. It would be analogous to arguing that gravity is a particular thing with physical properties; I would say that gravity is not a thing, but occurs in relationship between two or more planets or physical bodies that move in space. Likewise, morality is a characteristic of the behavior of people in interaction with each other. As implied by a comment in an earlier response, if there were no people to behave, there would be no behavior.

> Emotional? I would use the term "colorful." There is no rule that says rational discourse needs to be as dry as Melba toast.

Quite so regarding the last sentence. However, the term “colorful” does not mean that the language is not also emotional, and thus contrary to rational discourse.

> Does meaning come from unmeaning? It's something we have never observed. Yet materialists ask us, in the name of science, to believe that it did.

I have to admit that I do not understand the point you want to make here.

Bob

Lee said...

> O.K., I think I know your definition of “reside:” it means “is located in.”

It means, since materialists believe nothing exists that isn't physical, that there must be some physical thing, somewhere, that constitutes what we call morality, logic, reason, etc. If this is true, I suggested, it must be in the brains of the people who think about such things. If some other part of the body ought to be included, the quibble is noted -- but the point is that, like all things in a materialist universe, morality must be physical if it exists at all.

So if it is physical, then ultimately it is just chemicals and electric impulses and whatever else the brain and its protoplasmic buddies do when making a moral judgment.

> The questions as stated above take the form of “begging the question,” which is a fallacious form of reasoning.

I'm not clear about what you see as begging the question. Can you please specify?

> That is, if I respond to the question directly, there is an implied acceptance of the proposition that “morality exists.”

I think you're talking about complex question -- but that's not why I brought them up. I understood you to suggest that morality, in a materialist world, could reside someplace besides the brain. I wanted to know where you thought that could be. I still want to know: where do you think that could be?

> I do not accept that proposition, i.e., that morality is some thing with an essence, or with physical properties, that either resides someplace or explains people’s behaviors.

I don't believe morality's essence is physical, so I don't believe that the physical properties are its essence, either -- any more than look at the bits and bytes of a computer to understand what the person who wrote the software was thinking; I need to observe at a higher level.

But someone wrote that software: ultimately, its behavior is determined by the engineers' minds, to the best of their ability to understand and predict the behavior of the hardware and underlying layers of firmware and software. There are layers and layers of meaning surrounding a computer program -- which are there precisely because they were written by intelligent beings. Without all of that infrastructure, a computer is nothing but a rock.

> It would be analogous to arguing that gravity is a particular thing with physical properties; I would say that gravity is not a thing, but occurs in relationship between two or more planets or physical bodies that move in space.

I think the definition of materialism has been expanded to include all physical phenomena, including gravity.

> Likewise, morality is a characteristic of the behavior of people in interaction with each other. As implied by a comment in an earlier response, if there were no people to behave, there would be no behavior.

I believe that is what materialism implies. And don't stop there. Same with logic. Same with all forms of rationality. It only means something if it means something to man or some other living and intelligent being we don't know about.

> Quite so regarding the last sentence. However, the term “colorful” does not mean that the language is not also emotional, and thus contrary to rational discourse.

C'mon, Bob. The idea I was expressing was and is perfectly rational. By "crawling out of the slime along with us," I was saying that morality evolved with us, and since we are supposed to have crawled out of the mud, at some point, so did morality. There is nothing irrational about using a nice turn of the phrase, or a colorful metaphor or adjective. If the statement is unreasonable, you haven't explained why.

Lee said...

>> Does meaning come from unmeaning? It's something we have never observed. Yet materialists ask us, in the name of science, to believe that it did.

> I have to admit that I do not understand the point you want to make here.

If the universe sprang from a random, unreasonable process, I am saying that we ourselves must be random and unreasonable. There is no sense to our existence; there is no purpose to our existence.

What if you were to watch a roulette wheel during an evening at the casino, and noticed that, if you were to ascribe the numbers to letters of the alphabet (e.g., 1 = A, 2 = B, etc.), actual English sentences were coming out? I don't care what English sentences they were -- anything from "Madam, I'm Adam," to "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son..." etc. The longer the sentences and the better the syntax, the more you suspect that the patterns are not random, but must somehow be controlled by someone. You would not, in other words, assume that meaning came from unmeaning -- i.e., randomness.

In nature, there is all kinds of meaning. Without the bottom-level molecular infrastructure, the proteins and lipids don't work. Without all the proteins and lipids in place, the cells don't work. Without the right types of cells, the organs don't work. Without the organs working, the systems don't work. And if the systems don't work, the organism doesn't work. And if the organism doesn't work, the thinking doesn't work.

But if everything works, then, all of a sudden, "Love your enemies" and "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" can be expressed and take meaning.

What materialists are asking us to do is to believe that these higher-level meanings happened after all the lower-level meanings were sorted out. They are saying, random happenstance resulted in morals.

I am saying, we know of no other thing that works this way. E.g., when we watch software execute, we presume it was the product of intelligence. Life is much more complex than the most complex software we can build and manage. But we presume it happened more or less by itself.

And somehow, that presumption gets labeled as "science."

Bob said...

Lee:

> What materialists . . . are saying, random happenstance resulted in morals.

It may be that some people who claim to be materialists are saying this (although, again, I think that it is not the materialists, but the reductionists). My response to such “materialists” and to you is that this is a misrepresentation or misunderstanding of what is implied by materialism: it is not random happenstance that has resulted what we identify as moral behavior. If I look at human history I see not randomness but changes in the behavior of individuals and aggregates of individuals that have been brought about by lawful relations between behavior and the social and physical environmental consequences to those behaviors (there are correlated changes in the brain along the way). While the relationships between behaviors and their consequences have not necessarily been arranged by us in advance they are nonetheless lawful and not random.

We are still left with the fundamental difference in our thinking, namely that you take the position that “morals” exist somewhere independent of human beings and I view “moral” as an adjective that describes behavior under certain conditions. To agree to disagree is not a defense but merely a statement of circumstance.

> If the universe sprang from a random, unreasonable process, I am saying that we ourselves must be random and unreasonable. There is no sense to our existence; there is no purpose to our existence.

If the universe sprang from a random process, then we must be random.
We are not random.
Therefore, the universe did not spring from a random process.

Bob

Kycobb said...

Lee,

"Why shouldn't we be equally fearful of someone like you, who bases morality on his own enlightened self-interest? If you were to decide that it was in your enlightened self-interest to kill us, there is no absolute moral code to instruct you otherwise, as far as you're concerned."

And there is no absolute moral code instructing me to kill you. Who is more likely to kill you-an atheist or someone who thinks that your death at their hands punches their ticket to Paradise?

"Don't you think Marxists and Christians are misguided at best and evil-doers at worst? I mean, you just accused Christians of wanting to kill you. So again, how do you differ from Marxists or Christians in this regard?"

By myself, I'm not much of a threat. The serious threats come from mass movements to impose a particular ideology on the world. Atheists don't share a common ideology-they only share a lack of belief in the supernatural. Since atheism doesn't acknowledge the existence of something greater than humans, it can't be used to justify the oppression and slaughter of humans on behalf of that something.

"Failed? Based on what criteria? I thought you were waging a one-man war against criteria. It's preferences, remember?I'm sure Stalin and Brezhnev preferred things exactly as they had them."

Thats like saying the Confederate States of America didn't fail because Jefferson Davis preferred it to the USA. Stalin and Brezhnev are dead, and their country doesn't exist anymore. Thats a simple fact.

"So now we're going to blame Islam on Christianity."

Nope, each religion should only take its fair share of the blame-and its not Islam 100% at fault, and Christianity and Judaism 0% at fault. But you can't see that, because its black and white to you-christianity is "good" and islam is "satanic", and many muslims see it the same way, reversed.

Lee said...

> And there is no absolute moral code instructing me to kill you.

I know. It's whether you prefer to do so or not. Is that supposed to make everyone feel safer?

Actually, since you grew up in a society that is unquestionably descended from a Christian tradition, you have absorbed much of its culture and ethics whether you know it or not, or like it or not. And since the Holy Spirit is in the world, He has an influence even on non-Christians. But if it's just preferences, there's nothing to tell a John Wayne Gacy or a Pol Pot other than, "Don't get caught," or "Don't get deposed."

> Who is more likely to kill you-an atheist or someone who thinks that your death at their hands punches their ticket to Paradise?

That might depend on whether I'm a Christian infidel in an Islamic terrorist's way, or a kulak in Josef Stalin's way.

> By myself, I'm not much of a threat. The serious threats come from mass movements to impose a particular ideology on the world.

How is atheism not an ideology?

> Atheists don't share a common ideology-they only share a lack of belief in the supernatural.

It's not a lack of belief: they *believe* there is no supernatural. Without any evidence, I might add.

> Since atheism doesn't acknowledge the existence of something greater than humans, it can't be used to justify the oppression and slaughter of humans on behalf of that something.

Actually, it can be and it is. There is in humans a desire for justice and a desire for heaven, which don't exist in your world view. This is what leads many atheists to become liberals, socialists, communists, Nazis, what have you. You're right about the religious element in these ideologies, but they're still atheistic. Since they cannot hope to achieve a Heaven which they disbelieve in, they feel constrained to create a Heaven on this planet. Wonderful discussion of this impulse in Garry Wills' essay, "The Convenient State."

But since humans have neither the goodness, the knowledge, or the wisdom to create a Heaven on earth, they wind up, like Stalin, breaking a lot of eggs but producing no omelet.

As C.S. Lewis said (not a precise quote unless I got lucky), "Liberals are the most likely among us to go to Heaven, but also the ones most likely to make a Hell of Earth."

> Thats like saying the Confederate States of America didn't fail because Jefferson Davis preferred it to the USA.

If there is no such thing as absolute truth or absolute good or an absolute moral code, then "failure" too is a question of preferences. You keep saying things and then being surprised where they lead. I've said it many times in this thread, I'll say it again: an atheist has to borrow from the Christian's world view to defend his own. Failure can exist in my world view; only preferences exist in yours.

> Stalin and Brezhnev are dead, and their country doesn't exist anymore. Thats a simple fact.

But Stalin and Brezhnev had it about as well, from a material standpoint, as anyone could ever have it. Money, power, you name it, theirs at the snap of a finger. What do they care if the system fell apart after they died? It worked fine for them.

> Nope, each religion should only take its fair share of the blame-and its not Islam 100% at fault, and Christianity and Judaism 0% at fault.

But atheism gets off scott-free.

Lee said...

> But you can't see that, because its black and white to you-christianity is "good" and islam is "satanic", and many muslims see it the same way, reversed.

Go to strategypage.com. There is a list of all the wars being fought all over the world at present. About 85% of the wars are wars between Islamic countries and their neighbors, or between Islamic countries and themselves. I would say that's an indication of how we might apportion any blame.

And then there is North Korea, of course, which is atheistic, but of course that doesn't matter because they aren't the kind of atheist you prefer.

But if you can do that, how come I can't observe a Christian country misbehaving and say they aren't the kind of Christian country I prefer?

Do you get the idea that there are two standards in this discussion -- one for Christians, the other for atheists?

Of course, if a double standard is your preference, then by your rules, that's okay too.

Kycobb said...

Lee,

"I know. It's whether you prefer to do so or not. Is that supposed to make everyone feel safer?"

It ought to-if you were in an Iraqi market, and a Jihadist was approaching from one end with a bomb strapped to him, and Hitchens was approaching from the other with a copy of "God is not Great", who would you feel safer running towards?

"Actually, since you grew up in a society that is unquestionably descended from a Christian tradition, you have absorbed much of its culture and ethics whether you know it or not, or like it or not."

Actually, as I previously pointed out, the ethics came first. They were formalized in religion. When we evolved in small hunter-gatherer bands dependent on each other for survival, the band wouldn't have been able to survive if the person you depended on would just as soon kill you as look at you.

"since the Holy Spirit is in the world, He has an influence even on non-Christians."

Thats your preferred supernatural explanation, for which you have no evidence. OTOH, I just read about interesting research which shows that psychopaths have faulty connections between the areas of their brains involved in emotion and those involved with impulses and decision making. IOW, the default human condition is not psychopathic-we don't have to resort to the supernatural to explain why we don't routinely kill each other.

"But if it's just preferences, there's nothing to tell a John Wayne Gacy or a Pol Pot other than, "Don't get caught," or "Don't get deposed.""

There isn't anything to tell them anyway-the research indicates their brains don't work like most people's. And if the only reason you have to believe in moral absolutes is the hope that it will convince some psychopaths not to kill, thats a pretty slim reed to base a claim that God is real on.

"That might depend on whether I'm a Christian infidel in an Islamic terrorist's way, or a kulak in Josef Stalin's way."

Stalin is dead, so he's not killing anyone ever again. And he killed because he was a Marxist, not because he was an atheist.

"It's not a lack of belief: they *believe* there is no supernatural. Without any evidence, I might add."

You believe there is no Santa Clause, Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy without any evidence. In fact, you believe in the nonexistence of the exact same pantheon of supernatural creatures that I believe don't exist, with the exception of the christian ones. What is the ideology you claim we share in not believing in Santa Claus, Odin, Zeus, Jupiter and Quetzalcoatl?

"As C.S. Lewis said (not a precise quote unless I got lucky), "Liberals are the most likely among us to go to Heaven, but also the ones most likely to make a Hell of Earth.""

An utterly failed prediction. Thanks to liberals, children, the elderly, minorities, women, the poor and the disabled are all better off now than they would be if conservatives had had their way.

"But Stalin and Brezhnev had it about as well, from a material standpoint, as anyone could ever have it. Money, power, you name it, theirs at the snap of a finger. What do they care if the system fell apart after they died? It worked fine for them."

I understand what you mean now, and assuming they were cynics (a safe assumption) you are correct.
However, you don't have to be a christian to recognize that while Marxism worked in the short term for those in power, it failed to deliver what it promised to the world, and thus no longer has the power to galvanize large masses of people. Those are objective facts which anyone, christian or not, can see for themselves.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"But atheism gets off scott-free."

If you can explain how atheism is currently generating a significant portion of world conflict, have at it. North Korea is currently not in a shooting war with anyone, and I would once again point out that that state is organized around the ideology of Marxism.

"Do you get the idea that there are two standards in this discussion -- one for Christians, the other for atheists?"

Not really-as I said before, atheism is not an ideology like christianity or similar theistic beliefs are-you are trying to compare apples and oranges.

Lee said...

> It ought to-if you were in an Iraqi market, and a Jihadist was approaching from one end with a bomb strapped to him, and Hitchens was approaching from the other with a copy of "God is not Great", who would you feel safer running towards?

If you get to cherry-pick, so do I. Same situation, only it's C.S. Lewis coming in one direction, and Kim Sung Il from the other.

> Actually, as I previously pointed out, the ethics came first. They were formalized in religion.

That's ideology speaking, not fact. If God exists, He came first. If He doesn't, then religion evolved, as you say, and therefore it helped us to survive -- "Survival of the fittest," and you shouldn't be attacking it.

> When we evolved in small hunter-gatherer bands dependent on each other for survival, the band wouldn't have been able to survive if the person you depended on would just as soon kill you as look at you.

How then did the Mayans organize in such a way as to be able to build huge temples, and yet still kill you as soon as look at you?

> Thats your preferred supernatural explanation, for which you have no evidence.

But you don't have any evidence that evidence matters. The existence of a transcendent, decisive thing called "reason" doesn't follow from the world view you espouse. All reality is in your brain, and if the bubbles in my brain prefer the supernatural to your conceits of rationality, then there is no higher truth you can point to.

Another way to explain this: you too have faith in something you can't prove, namely, the validity of reason and evidence. You take them for granted. You take them as authoritative. You have no reason to do so, based on your world view. Reason is a form of meaning. Your view is that the world is the result of meaningless processes. You have no evidence that meaning can result from meaninglessness. You just accept that it does.

> IOW, the default human condition is not psychopathic-we don't have to resort to the supernatural to explain why we don't routinely kill each other.

What does their research say about sociopaths?

> "But if it's just preferences, there's nothing to tell a John Wayne Gacy or a Pol Pot other than, "Don't get caught," or "Don't get deposed.""

There isn't anything to tell them anyway-the research indicates their brains don't work like most people's.

What evidence do you have that Gacy, Pol Pot, and everyone else who enjoys killing is a psychopath? Isn't it reasonable that if someone enjoys killing, the only reason he shouldn't do so is fear of the consequences? Your world view, not mine.

> And if the only reason you have to believe in moral absolutes is the hope that it will convince some psychopaths not to kill, thats a pretty slim reed to base a claim that God is real on.

I wouldn't phrase the argument like that. I would argue that it seems instinctive to believe that justice is not relative, but absolute. It's a craving. We don't have any other cravings for which nothing exists to satisfy it.

But we're not talking about slim reeds. We're talking about no reeds. Here, you're engaging in debate and you can't even explain how "right" and "wrong" mean anything outside of your perception of it.

Lee said...

> Stalin is dead, so he's not killing anyone ever again.

Don't worry. They'll make more.

> And he killed because he was a Marxist, not because he was an atheist.

He was a Marxist and an atheist. Hard to say which came first, but Marxism is predicated on there being no god.

And using your argument, all the Christians who ever did bad things killed because they were bad people, not because they were Christians. But of course, you don't allow the same logic you use against others to be used against you.

> You believe there is no Santa Clause, Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy without any evidence.

We all believe in something without evidence.

>In fact, you believe in the nonexistence of the exact same pantheon of supernatural creatures that I believe don't exist, with the exception of the christian ones.

Not precisely, but that's irrelevant here.

> What is the ideology you claim we share in not believing in Santa Claus, Odin, Zeus, Jupiter and Quetzalcoatl?

Can't speak to Santa Claus. The others were demonic.

> An utterly failed prediction. Thanks to liberals, children, the elderly, minorities, women, the poor and the disabled are all better off now than they would be if conservatives had had their way.

Thanks to liberals, this great country is in danger of going completely under. All your children, elderly, minorities, and women won't be able to cash in their entitlements when there is a new boss.

> I understand what you mean now, and assuming they were cynics (a safe assumption) you are correct.

Thank you.

> However, you don't have to be a christian to recognize that while Marxism worked in the short term for those in power, it failed to deliver what it promised to the world, and thus no longer has the power to galvanize large masses of people.

Ever talk with an ideologue? Reality can never stand up to ideology.

> Those are objective facts which anyone, christian or not, can see for themselves.

Objective facts are always subject to interpretation. Some people will always interpret them in favor of failed experiments such as communism and liberalism. Much depends on what the ideologue is trying to accomplish. Obama, for example, explained to ABC that he would be in favor of taxing the rich at higher rates even though (he admitted) it would result in smaller tax revenues, because "it's an issue of fairness." Marxist ideology is still very much alive, and we have elected a proponent of it.

Kycobb said...

Lee,

"Same situation, only it's C.S. Lewis coming in one direction, and Kim Sung Il from the other."

Kim is nearly dead, so he's not much of a threat. C.S. Lewis is dead, so I'd probably run from the corpse to the near corpse. The reality is that you are not in much danger from anyone who is not a psychopath or isn't motivated by an ideology to engage in psychopathic behavior, such as jihadists. Atheism, in and of itself, doesn't supply an ideology to overcome our normal social instincts.

"If God exists, He came first. If He doesn't, then religion evolved, as you say, and therefore it helped us to survive -- "Survival of the fittest," and you shouldn't be attacking it."

You don't really understand evolutionary theory, since you don't like it. Fitness is a relative term, and whether a population of organisms is more fit than another depends upon circumstances, which change. Assuming for the sake of argument that some religious beliefs were beneficial, at some time, doesn't mean they are always beneficial at all times. In an age when WMD could destroy the planet, we could do with a lot less religious belief in jihad or the apocalypse, if our species is to prove fit enough to survive for much longer.

"But you don't have any evidence that evidence matters. The existence of a transcendent, decisive thing called "reason" doesn't follow from the world view you espouse. All reality is in your brain, and if the bubbles in my brain prefer the supernatural to your conceits of rationality, then there is no higher truth you can point to."

Reason is an emergent property of the evolution of higher brain function. Reality objectively exists outside my brain. This has been demonstrated by the fact that through observation and experimentation, scientists have learned a great deal about how objective reality functions.

"Another way to explain this: you too have faith in something you can't prove, namely, the validity of reason and evidence."

In 1945 scientists constructed and detonated something that had never existed before they built it, a nuclear fission bomb, based on equations developed through the use of human reason, which, as I said, is an emergent property of the evolution of higher brain function. Its fascinating how theists can deny the existence of reality to justify their belief in the immaterial.

"Isn't it reasonable that if someone enjoys killing, the only reason he shouldn't do so is fear of the consequences?"

What does this question have to do with whether or not God actually exists?

"Here, you're engaging in debate and you can't even explain how "right" and "wrong" mean anything outside of your perception of it."

As you know, I've pointed out that "right" and "wrong" are defined by the cultural standards of each society at any given time. That includes christian societies, whose moral standards have changed significantly over the millenia, which certainly seems inconsistent with the claim that they have an absolute standard of transcendent morality.

Kycobb said...

Lee,

"And using your argument, all the Christians who ever did bad things killed because they were bad people, not because they were Christians. But of course, you don't allow the same logic you use against others to be used against you."

You appear to have a problem with reading comprehension. Ordinary people won't engage in psychopathic conduct unless provided an ideological basis for believing that conduct is "good". Marxism is such an ideology, while atheism isn't. Religion is the primary source of ideology to justify psychopathic conduct, jihadists being prime examples. You yourself said that if God approves it, genocide can be good.

"Thanks to liberals, this great country is in danger of going completely under."

Conservatives have been saying that since FDR was elected. So I'm not going to hold my breath.

"Marxist ideology is still very much alive, and we have elected a proponent of it."

Its funny how well capitalists do when "socialists" and "marxists" are in power in this country. Right wingers kept saying Clinton was a socialist, and we had the greatest bull market in history during his administration. And amazingly, when the stock market should be plunging toward zero in anticipation of the imminent seizure of the means of production on behalf of the proletariat, we have another bull market! BTW, according to you, Obama can't be a Marxist, because he's a christian.

Lee said...

> Kim is nearly dead, so he's not much of a threat.

Don't worry. They'll make more.

> The reality is that you are not in much danger from anyone who is not a psychopath or isn't motivated by an ideology to engage in psychopathic behavior, such as jihadists.

I don't assume that anyone who wants to kill cannot distinguish reality from delusion.

> Atheism, in and of itself, doesn't supply an ideology to overcome our normal social instincts.

As I said earlier, the problem is where atheism leads. You haven't acknowledged, denied, or refuted my argument that the impulse for Heaven exists even in atheists.

> You don't really understand evolutionary theory, since you don't like it.

I understand it well enough for the purposes of dealing with any argument you have made.

> Fitness is a relative term...

Name a criteria of "fitness" that means anything apart from survival.

> ...and whether a population of organisms is more fit than another depends upon circumstances, which change.

Regardless of the circumstances, the ones who survive are fit, and "fit" is defined as those who survive. It's circular reasoning, granted, but it's not *my* circular reasoning. I'm just noticing.

> Assuming for the sake of argument that some religious beliefs were beneficial, at some time, doesn't mean they are always beneficial at all times.

So the argument goes: humans have survived. They have survived because they have evolved -- in the genetic sense, and in the societal sense. Morals evolved from reciprocity in advanced animal societies and were further refined in humans. Eventually, morals became the basis of religion. And we survived. Therefore, religion helped. Therefore, who are you to say we no longer need it? Or what parts of it we no longer need? How would you know?

> In an age when WMD could destroy the planet, we could do with a lot less religious belief in jihad or the apocalypse, if our species is to prove fit enough to survive for much longer.

I'm not crazy about Islam either, but for some reason, you're delusional enough to suggest that Christians are just as bad. If I had a choice between giving an H-bomb to an ayatollah, or to Pat Robertson, I know who I'd pick. And I bet you'd do the same, though no doubt you'd prefer a secret ballot on that one.

> Reason is an emergent property of the evolution of higher brain function.

Circular reasoning? How can we tell a higher brain function? It uses reason. What is reason? It is a property of a higher brain function. It doesn't matter. By your view, it's still just bubbles in the brain.

> Reality objectively exists outside my brain.

I didn't say it didn't. But can you prove it? Don't you have to assume it's true before a proof even makes sense?

Lee said...

> This has been demonstrated by the fact that through observation and experimentation, scientists have learned a great deal about how objective reality functions.

Only after first assuming that observation and experimentation are valid paths to understanding. Try proving the validity of logic without using logic. You believe in it, but you can't prove it.

> In 1945 scientists constructed and detonated something that had never existed before they built it, a nuclear fission bomb, based on equations developed through the use of human reason, which, as I said, is an emergent property of the evolution of higher brain function.

I believe reason is something that exists. But I can't prove it. If you can, you'll be the first.

> Its fascinating how theists can deny the existence of reality to justify their belief in the immaterial.

It's fascinating to me that atheists can see meaning in everything around them, but cannot explain how meaning came to be and remain true to their materialist precepts. They insist on using the language of the reasonable, the logical, and the moral, never mind that nobody can provide evidence that it could have sprung from a meaningless universe.

>> "Isn't it reasonable that if someone enjoys killing, the only reason he shouldn't do so is fear of the consequences?"

> What does this question have to do with whether or not God actually exists?

It is not a proof of God; it's an indictment of atheism. More specifically, it's an indictment of an atheism that exhibits high moral indignation. Im their view, it can't really exist, but they still feel it.

> As you know, I've pointed out that "right" and "wrong" are defined by the cultural standards of each society at any given time.

You say it, yes, but then you get all shifty and say other things when pressed. E.g., religion is bad. But you just said that the culture sets the standard, so religion is good if the culture likes it. E.g., genocide is *always* bad. I guess even if a society embraces genocide as good, it's still bad from your perspective, right?

In the 19th century, the Maoris of New Zealand committed genocide against the Morioris. That was fine from the Maoris' perspective. But you said genocide is always wrong. But you said the culture decides what is right or wrong. It's always wrong to kill innocent children. Except when the Maoris thought they were delicious.

The culture of the South is that the Baptist denomination is the highest form of church worship and moral teaching. So of course, you support the Baptist faith in the South. Right? But still you are evangelizing for atheism. I don't get it. What makes you think your preferences deserve to prevail in a Christian culture? I thought the culture decided.

> That includes christian societies...

Well, hallelujah, he spots his inconsistency. Sort of. But still he proselytizes for atheism...

> ... whose moral standards have changed significantly over the millenia, which certainly seems inconsistent with the claim that they have an absolute standard of transcendent morality.

Inconsistent? Not necessarily. These two statements are not the same, and they are not contradictory:

1. There are absolute moral standards.

2. We don't completely understand them as well as we should, yet, but are depending on the Holy Spirit to guide us. Now we see through a glass darkly, but then shall know face to face.

Uncertainty in the particulars is part of the creed. But we cling to His promises and trust Him to save us.

Lee said...

> You appear to have a problem with reading comprehension.

Hopefully, I still read well enough to handle your problems with basic logic.

> Ordinary people won't engage in psychopathic conduct unless provided an ideological basis for believing that conduct is "good".

You seem to be assuming that anyone who murders is a psychopath. I have no idea why. You certainly haven't defined your terms or presented any evidence.

> Marxism is such an ideology, while atheism isn't.

Does something become true if you keep repeating it? How can belief that God does not exist not be an ideology? Agnosticism -- "I don't know" -- can be intellectually defended. Atheism, on the other hand, is an unbelief in things unseen.

> Religion is the primary source of ideology to justify psychopathic conduct...

I won't bother asking where you get this gem. It is apparent you don't need evidence.

> jihadists being prime examples.

Stalin was an atheist. Pol Pot was an atheist. Mao was an atheist. Lenin was an atheist. Deal with it.

> You yourself said that if God approves it, genocide can be good.

Only God knows enough, is wise enough, and is just enough, to know whether it could be good in a particular case. I can imagine a society so horribly wicked that the best thing to do would be to wipe them out. But genocide can only be wrong in an absolute sense if morals are absolute.

> Conservatives have been saying that since FDR was elected. So I'm not going to hold my breath.

The FDR administration's damage to this country is still playing out. Only a liberal could look at eight years of solid recession with 20% unemployment and conclude that FDR saved the economy. No doubt, Obama envisions just such a success for his administration.

> Its funny how well capitalists do when "socialists" and "marxists" are in power in this country.

Some capitalists. If you're rich enough to contribute to Obama's campaign, you'll do well, while others pay.

> Right wingers kept saying Clinton was a socialist, and we had the greatest bull market in history during his administration.

It is true that Clinton did not damage the nation nearly as much as would have liked. But he had a Republican Congress to contend with from 1994 on. Darn.

> And amazingly, when the stock market should be plunging toward zero in anticipation of the imminent seizure of the means of production on behalf of the proletariat, we have another bull market!

The bull market, right now, is probably the result of joy in Wall Street over the coming defeats of Obama's initiatives.

> BTW, according to you, Obama can't be a Marxist, because he's a christian.

It depends on which part of his personality is real, vs. which part is intended for the rubes. At the present time, it looks like the Marxist part is the real Obama. Particularly when the religious part spends twenty years listening to hatred of whitey preached from the pulpit.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"You seem to be assuming that anyone who murders is a psychopath. I have no idea why."

If you are arguing that if only we all believed in God there would be no murder, that theory was pretty much blown by over a millenium of European history.

"How can belief that God does not exist not be an ideology?"
How can it be? My brother is an atheist, but he's much closer to you politically than he is to me. He agrees with Limbaugh on almost everything. Perhaps you could enlighten me on what my ideology is beyond "I don't believe in the existence of any supernatural entities."

"Stalin was an atheist. Pol Pot was an atheist. Mao was an atheist. Lenin was an atheist. Deal with it."

All Marxists. All dead. I don't share their ideology, and neither do the vast majority of Western atheists.

"I can imagine a society so horribly wicked that the best thing to do would be to wipe them out. But genocide can only be wrong in an absolute sense if morals are absolute."

Do you not see that you just contradicted yourself? How can your morals be absolute when you just said genocide can be justified?

"At the present time, it looks like the Marxist part is the real Obama."

Thats because the Right in this country has become so extreme you have lost all perspective. You can't tell the difference between our allies in Europe, Canada, and Japan, which are all social democracies, and North Korea. By the standards of our allies, Obama's policies would mark him as center-right.

Lee said...

> If you are arguing that if only we all believed in God there would be no murder, that theory was pretty much blown by over a millenium of European history.

Are you even reading what I write? I'm supposed to be the one with reading comprehension issues.

> Perhaps you could enlighten me on what my ideology is beyond "I don't believe in the existence of any supernatural entities."

It depends on how the disbelief is cast. There is a difference between "I don't believe in God," and "I believe there is no God." The first may indicate a lack of belief, perhaps because of a lack of sufficient evidence; the second is a statement of faith, or anti-faith if you will.

> All Marxists. All dead. I don't share their ideology, and neither do the vast majority of Western atheists.

You share part of it. So did Ayn Rand. I'm happy that your desire for an achievable paradise is not prompting you to ruin the economy and kill millions of people, but I'm guessing you share some of that impulse, at least to the degree liberals feel it. So far, liberals have had to be satisfied with ruining the economy. I'm grateful for small favors.

> "I can imagine a society so horribly wicked that the best thing to do would be to wipe them out. But genocide can only be wrong in an absolute sense if morals are absolute."

Do you not see that you just contradicted yourself? How can your morals be absolute when you just said genocide can be justified?

How did I contradict myself? If there is a list of absolute morality, surely He produced it. Just how do you figure a perfect God commits an immoral act? There must have been some higher truth being served when His prophet, Samuel, told Saul to kill all of the Amalekites. Being all-wise, all-knowing, and all-just, God is authorized to make such judgments; Hitler and Stalin were not, nor are we.

> Thats because the Right in this country has become so extreme you have lost all perspective.

From some perspectives, Bill Clinton is an extreme right-winger. Just take my word for it that there was once a time in this country when belief in the adherence to the Constitution, low taxes, a strong national defense, property rights, and equality under the law were not considered extreme right-wing viewpoints.

> You can't tell the difference between our allies in Europe, Canada, and Japan, which are all social democracies, and North Korea.

You have an amazing ability to give anything I say the worst possible interpretation. Please explain how you contrived that out of what I said. Even if their philosophy is similar in kind, they are different in degree, maybe becoming less so. But I'd say there is still a ways to go before their undemocratic tendencies and godless philosophies carry them to that point.

That's really the philosophical problem with leftist ideology: there is never a logical stopping point. When you have the charter to make the world perfect, there is always an imperfection to address, and the imperfection can always be characterized as a "crisis" or a "social problem", and before you know it, the government uses it as an excuse to take power from its citizens.

> By the standards of our allies, Obama's policies would mark him as center-right.

I really couldn't give a flying fig about how our allies would see him. Our allies have a suicidal impulse, and I see it in Obama. I will mourn the passing of Europe and the birth of Europistan, and I don't see the need to let that happen here.

Kycobb said...

Lee,

"There must have been some higher truth being served when His prophet, Samuel, told Saul to kill all of the Amalekites."

Sadly, no, there wasn't. No more than when American Jews force Palestinians off land thats been in their families for generations because God supposedly promised it to Abraham, or jihadists blow up a bunch of innocents in a marketplace. There's a short but interesting article on Slate by William Saletan on the evolution of religion and God-it pertains to the discussion we've been having here.

Lee said...

> Sadly, no, there wasn't.

Such a pleasure to meet you. Never realized I might meet someone wiser than God. And someone who keeps misunderstanding what I write, at that! I never realized the bar for all-knowing, all-wise and all-just was so low.

Only question I have is this: by what absolute moral standard to you presume God was in the wrong?

And if there is no absolute moral standard by which to judge, why are you judging?

> No more than when American Jews force Palestinians off land thats been in their families for generations because God supposedly promised it to Abraham, or jihadists blow up a bunch of innocents in a marketplace.

I had no idea God's politics were so far askew.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"Only question I have is this: by what absolute moral standard to you presume God was in the wrong?"

I think you're forgetting I don't believe your God exists. The Isrealites decided to exterminate the Amalekites, and used God as a justification for their actions. As discussed in William Saletan's article I referenced, thats just the sort of thing religion was useful for-to generate internal social cohesion and hostility toward strangers.

Lee said...

> I think you're forgetting I don't believe your God exists. The Isrealites decided to exterminate the Amalekites, and used God as a justification for their actions.

Basically, Ky, I'm done chasing you around the tree on this. You have contradicted yourself on these issues in this thread enough for any ten liberal atheists. By your own standards, morals are set by the culture. If the Israelites wanted to commit genocide, then that should be okay, by your standards. There are no absolute morals, after all. But it isn't.

But then you turn right around and act like morals are absolute. Sorry, your personal preferences give you no basis to condemn the Israelites on this issue, even going with your interpretation of events. And you are uninterested in pursuing the one path that *would* lead to an absolute moral code.

You want it both ways. You want to condemn certain people and certain acts as if you have the high moral ground, only we have to rub our eyes and wonder that a high moral ground can even exist in your world. It doesn't follow, you admit it doesn't follow, but then you get all holier than thou anyway. Holier than thou only works if such a thing as holy exists.

I'm done with you, sir. You get the last word.

Kycobb said...

Lee,

"You get the last word."

Great, because I want to point out I haven't contradicted myself anywhere. I didn't condemn the Isrealites-their actions were typical for their era, and imposing modern standards on people who have been dead thousands of years is pointless.

You, however wanted to praise them for the slaughter as serving some "higher good", just because they claimed "God" told them to kill. While applying our morality to them is pointless, the threat to us is the application of their morality today. Like you, the jihadists can imagine a society wicked enough to justify exterminating all of its members because "God" approves the slaughter, only to them, we are the wicked ones. To survive this current era, it would be helpful to ditch that kind of bronze age nonsense and recognize it is in everyone's best interest to live and let live.