Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Why Christopher Hitchens sounds so much better than his Christian opponents

It is the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible and funny things are happening. There are strange signs and ominous portents. Forget about the world burning up in a fit of global warming or spreading popular revolutions or earthquakes and tsunamis destroying coastal cities, we are faced with a far more anomalous and alarming phenomenon:

Atheists talking sense about the Bible.

I recently saw a debate between the Christian apologist William Lane Craig and atheist Christopher Hitchens and I wondered, once again, why it was that Christopher Hitchens is always so much more compelling as a practitioner of English than his theistic opponents. How does he manage, despite the mistaken nature of most of his beliefs about religion, to sound so bloody good? Why, by comparison, do his opponents seem so slow of speech and slow of tongue?

Now we know why Hitchens can talk circles around his debate opponents: he reads the Bible.

But not just any Bible: it is on the King James Bible in particular which Hitchens shews forth his praise. In fact, he pays it gushing homage in a new article in Vanity Fair, where he argues that the dignity of its prose, the beauty of its expression, and the appropriateness of its linguistic form to its exalted subject matter make it one of, if not the greatest work of the English language--a "repository and edifice of language which towers above its successors."

Oh, and he also thinks our culture is better for knowing it.
For generations, it provided a common stock of references and allusions, rivaled only by Shakespeare in this respect. It resounded in the minds and memories of literate people, as well as of those who acquired it only by listening. From the stricken beach of Dunkirk in 1940, faced with a devil’s choice between annihilation and surrender, a British officer sent a cable back home. It contained the three words “but if not … ” All of those who received it were at once aware of what it signified. In the Book of Daniel, the Babylonian tyrant Nebuchadnezzar tells the three Jewish heretics Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that if they refuse to bow to his sacred idol they will be flung into a “burning fiery furnace.” They made him an answer: “If it be so, our god whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thy hand, o King. / But if not, be it known unto thee, o king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”
A culture that does not possess this common store of image and allegory will be a perilously thin one. To seek restlessly to update it or make it “relevant” is to miss the point, like yearning for a hip-hop Shakespeare. “Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward,” says the Book of Job. Want to try to improve that for Twitter? And so bleak and spare and fatalistic—almost non-religious—are the closing verses of Ecclesiastes that they were read at the Church of England funeral service the unbeliever George Orwell had requested in his will: “Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home. … Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain/ or the wheel broken at the cistern. / Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was.”
There are the usual Hitchens errors, of course. He repeats the canard about the Catholic Church being opposed to William Tyndale's Bible translation because the Church was opposed to vernacular translations, when, in fact, there were an abundance of accepted vernacular English translations and there were accepted vernacular translations in existence well before the Protestant Reformation in many languages. There were even several English ones following Tyndale that the Church accepted. In fact, the Latin Vulgate itself was a vernacular translation in its time that allowed it to be understood by the masses.

The Church was opposed to Wycliffe's translation because it was concerned about the integrity of Bible translations at a time of heated theological controversy (one thinks of Martin Luther's insertion of the word "only" into his German translation of Romans 3:28, despite its absence in the original Greek to bolster his view of sola fide). Tyndale's Bible wasn't condemned because the Church opposed an English vernacular translation; it was condemned because contained marginal notes that were anti-clerical and, in some cases, heretical.

In fact, the King James Bible itself was influenced by the earlier Douay-Rhiems Catholic English translation.

Then there's his critique of Isaiah 7:14, which says, “behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Hitchens claims--along with not a few modern Biblical scholars--that the word translated here "virgin" (the Hebrew almah) should have been translated instead "young woman." This argument has the virtue--to those of Hitchens atheist orientation--of undermining the passage's application to the Christ story. But the case against it is rather weaker than Hitchens makes out.

The argument is that if "virgin" was specifically meant, another word (Hitchens doesn't mention it, but it is betulah) would have been used. But this word too was sometimes used even of widows (Joel 1:8). The word almah did more commonly simply mean "young woman," but young unmarried women of the time were presumed to be chaste.

But more telling is the fact that the Jewish translators of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament which was conducted in the 2nd and 3rd centuries B. C., translated the Hebrew word almah into the Greek parthenos, which is much more unequivocally the Greek word for "virgin." In other words, the Hellenized Jews of the 2nd and 3rd centuries--with no theological axes to grind regarding the word's application to Christ (who had not yet been born) thought it meant "virgin." And, of course, these were scholars who, being Jews and living over two millenia closer to the sources of the language, knew just a little about Hebrew.

But a day in Hitchens' linguistic court is still better than a thousand elsewhere. These problems are, in fact, incidental to Hitchens main point. He is neither a historian nor a Hebrew expert. But he is a masterful practitioner of the English language, and this is all that is needed in order for him to make his case for the King James Bible.

In a Biblical strife of tongues we call the modern Bible translations, there has been an attempt to be more "understandable," and this attempt has taken the form of the systematic elimination of the living metaphors in the original text in favor of the dead abstractions of modern technical speech. Both Protestants and Catholics have bought into the linguistically debilitating theory that bald abstract prose is a better conduit for truth than living poetic expression. But man cannot live by rational prose alone.

Hitchins calls this linguistic taxidermy "rinsing out the prose":
When the Church of England effectively dropped King James, in the 1960s, and issued what would become the “New English Bible,” T. S. Eliot commented that the result was astonishing “in its combination of the vulgar, the trivial and the pedantic.” (Not surprising from the author of For Lancelot Andrewes.) This has been true of every other stilted, patronizing, literal-minded attempt to shift the translation’s emphasis from plangent poetry to utilitarian prose.
"Utilitarian prose." That captures the problem exactly. Only someone linguistically inoculated against it by reading great literature such as the King James Bible would even be able to detect it.

To say that the best approach to truth is the direct route of bald prose not only goes against the approach of the original Biblical writers, who employed vivid imagery in their writings, but it also is an example of what Richard Weaver once called the "quest for immediacy," the idea that truth must be approached like a conquering mental army--besieged and taken captive. But truth is mystery, and tearing the veil off of it reveals little. It can only be approached indirectly. The modern Baconian attempt to put truth on the rack in order to give up her secrets will yield little. Modern Biblical translators goeth after her straightway, as an ox goeth to slaughter:
At my father’s funeral I chose to read a similarly non-sermonizing part of the New Testament, this time an injunction from Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
As much philosophical as spiritual, with its conditional and speculative “ifs” and its closing advice—always italicized in my mind since first I heard it—to think and reflect on such matters: this passage was the labor of men who had wrought deeply with ideas and concepts. I now pluck down from my shelf the American Bible Society’s “Contemporary English Version,” which I picked up at an evangelical “Promise Keepers” rally on the Mall in Washington in 1997. Claiming to be faithful to the spirit of the King James translation, it keeps its promise in this way: “Finally, my friends, keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly and proper. Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise.”
Pancake-flat: suited perhaps to a basement meeting of A.A., these words could not hope to penetrate the torpid, resistant fog in the mind of a 16-year-old boy, as their original had done for me.
The translator of 1611 wrote with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond. The modern translator writes with Word, published by Microsoft. And it shows.

Translations such as the New International Version (NIV), the most popular version among Protestants, and the New American Bible (NAB), the "go to" modern text for Catholics, suffer greatly from the misguided attempt to serve two masters. There are two selling points on modern translations: their readibility or understandability and their accuracy. But any attempt at being "understandable to the modern reader" is threatening a step away from accuracy--at least if by accuracy you mean sticking with the original words of the text. All this talk is a vain oblation, and the Greek scholar N. T. Wright has called the NIV (just to take one example) "appalling."

So how shall we sing the Lord's song in this strange modern land? The first thing to do is recognize the importance--nay, the necessity--of literary expression. The King James translators themselves knew the value of this, and it is exemplified in the very prose they used to explain their goal in translating:
Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most Holy place; that removeth the cover of the well, that we may come by the water, even as Jacob rolled away the stone from the mouth of the well, by which means the flocks of Laban were watered.
I'm sure the translators of modern versions of the Bible are quite competent in knowing how to read Hebrew and Greek. It's their facility with English that I question. I'm willing to bet that the modern scholars they hire to translate these things are not generally literary people. In fact, it's tempting to think that those who translated the King James simply had a far better grasp of their own language. There were literary giants in the earth in those days.

One also has to wonder whether these acts of publishing hubris have really resulted in more people reading the Bible. I have my doubts. Just as Christianity thrives on persecution (real persecution, not the kind that many American Christians today, living in the lap of luxury call persecution), so the Bible might benefit from some real censorship.

The point of reading the King James Bible (or, for Catholics, the Douay-Rheims)--in addition to simply imbibing the Word of God--is not so that we can pepper our speech with "thees" and "thous," but to fertilize our speech so that we may yield up a richer linguistic harvest.

Why is Hitchens is so much more articulate than is Christian opponents? While the theists are laboring over their fine dialectical distinctions and parsing complex syllogisms in order to prove God's existence, Hitchens has been sitting by the fire reading the Good Book in the King's English.

It should come as no surprise.

79 comments:

Lee said...

Sorry, but I thought Doug Wilson did an excellent job in his debates with Hitchens.

Martin Cothran said...

Lee,

Give him a British accent, and you might be right.

Singring said...

Doug Wilson? You mean the pastor who said that he thought genocide was absolutely good and right when commanded by God? The man who countered the question of whether he believed that a snake can talk with the statement that 'we are animals and we can talk.'?

It appears we have very different standards as to what constitutes 'excellent' arguments.

As to Hitchens, I have always rather thought that his debate triumphs were more due to his superior arguments rather than his admittedly superior eloquence. I'll have to disagree with him on the linguistic qualities of the Bible.

Lee said...

Not that you feel any apparent need to make sure you understand Wilson's position before commenting on it, but please enlighten me, Singring:

If the God of All Creation tells you to kill someone, why is it not a good thing to do so?

Singring said...

'If the God of All Creation tells you to kill someone, why is it not a good thing to do so?'

First of all, we are talking about genocide, not some isolated act of 'killing'. Secondly, I believe it is wrong to kill anyone without justification (i.e. if the act of killing does not lead to an overall reduction of harm in the outcome).

That's why.

Now I have answered your question - answer me mine, Lee.

If God commanded you to kill a 'sinner' who was worhipping another God today and you were absolutely certain it was God communicating with you - would you do it?

Joe_Agnost said...

Lee wrote: "If the God of All Creation tells you to kill someone, why is it not a good thing to do so?"

Oh my god... this is an excellent example of why religious belief is so scary! Unreal...

Andrew said...

One of your best, Martin!

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

I believe it is wrong to kill anyone without justification.

On what grounds?

Martin Cothran said...

Remeber - I am a complete moral subjectivist.

Singring, February 3, 2011.

Singring said...

'On what grounds?'

On the grounds that I would like harm to be minimized as far as possible, in the interest of myself and others.

But why are you asking me this, Martin? After all, you are the expert on subjective morality, having resorted multiple times to your 'intuition' and the 'I look at it and it seems that way to me' principle to justify your postulations on moral behaviour.

So here it is: My 'intuition' tells me that harm should be minimized and that therefore, unjustified killing is wrong (i.e. killing that does not reduce the overall harm at the outcome of the situation) So how come your 'intuition' is better than mine?

And on a side note: I have answered all questions posed to me on moral issues within one post. Lee hasn't answered my question yet, and you, Martin, have refused several times to anser any and all moral questions I have posed you, for example on the fire in the fertility clinic (as you may remember).

Doesn't it strike you as somewhat odd that those who perpetually boast of the supposedly rock-solid foundation of their moral positions are so very reluctant to answer simple questions on morality, while those who admit to personally concocted moral subjectivism are much quicker on the draw?

I wonder why that is...

Andrew said...

Singring and Joe Agnost

You are arguing from your conclusions. If the only wise God who is in all things and at all times love told you to kill someone and you were absolutely certain that same God told you to do it, would you not?

Singring said...

'would you not?'

Just because he tells me to?

NO - of course not!

Are you telling me that you would? You would kill a person for no other reason that someone more powerful than you commanded you to do so?

I suggest you think about that long and hard, Andrew.

Singring said...

'You are arguing from your conclusions. If the only wise God who is in all things and at all times love...'

You accuse us of arguing from our conclusions (???) and yet within one sentence you argue from YOUR conclusion that God is 'all love'?!

How do you know this 'God' you speak of is 'all love'?

Andrew said...

Singring,

I was not arguing from my conclusion, I was arguing a hypothetical as you laid it out. If the God we are talking about is not love, then I would not do what you are describing. If God is all wise and is love and He tells me that I must kill someone then I will assume that it meets your condition that it reduce harm and I will go ahead and kill that person - Hitler, say. Would you not?

However, you are presenting a hypothetical in an attempt to trap your opponent, so be careful not to think the argument is won before it is over.

Singring said...

'If God is all wise and is love...'

Please clarify, Andrew: are you saying that a God who is all wise and is all love can in some cases forbid killing and in others command it?

On what grounds would he discriminate then?

Andrew said...

Singring,

I suppose he could use your grounds. If someone is going to kill a lot of other people, then He might step in and tell you to stop him.

He would sometimes command killing precisely because He wants to keep it to a minimum.

I must say, however, that if He is all wise, I can hardly hope to know all the reasons He might have.

Our Founding Truth said...

Singing,

Bringing up a different point than the one argued is a fallacy.

I've heard many Christians obliterate Hitchens.

God did kill a race of people; the Canaanites and they aren't around anymore, proving the Bible is true.

How do you know this 'God' you speak of is 'all love'?>>>

Because He sent His Son to die in our place.

Nice trap Andrew.

God commanding Israel to eradicate the Canaanites meets the standard to limit the killing. They were sacrificing their babies to Molech; kind of like what liberals like to do in abortion centers.

It appears Yahweh (the God of Love) has a limit to his allowance of evil. From the Scriptures it would appear emphasized in Homosexuality and the Canaanites.

KyCobb said...

"God commanding Israel to eradicate the Canaanites meets the standard to limit the killing. They were sacrificing their babies to Molech; kind of like what liberals like to do in abortion centers."

Thus you have people who think its morally right to gun down an abortion doctor.

Martin Cothran said...

KyCobb,

Are you implying that killing abortion doctors is wrong? If so, do you disagree with Singring, who claims to be a moral subjectivist (although he acts like a moral absolutist)?

Singring said...

'I suppose he could use your grounds. If someone is going to kill a lot of other people, then He might step in and tell you to stop him.'

So God is a Utilitarian?

'I must say, however, that if He is all wise, I can hardly hope to know all the reasons He might have.'

So in other words, even if his motives seem dubious, you would still follow any and all of his commands.

Thanks for the illustration for everything that I see as pernicious about religiously derived morality.

OFT:

'God did kill a race of people'

'[God is all love] Because He sent His Son to die in our place.'

Thanks to OFT for a perfect illustration for cognitive dissonance as the direct result of religious fundamentalism.

'It appears Yahweh (the God of Love) has a limit to his allowance of evil. From the Scriptures it would appear emphasized in Homosexuality and the Canaanites.'

Ah yes - equating homosexuality with the murder of children - par for the course in religious fundementalist circles.

Singring said...

'Are you implying that killing abortion doctors is wrong? If so, do you disagree with Singring, who claims to be a moral subjectivist (although he acts like a moral absolutist)?'

You are confusing moral epistomlogy with the application of moral rules. I am a moral subjectivist - which means that I don't see any reason why one moral code is inherently or by some external rule better than any other. That doesn't mean I can't hold any moral standard I wish, arue in its favbour and support its application.

The fact that this has to be reiterated over and over is tiresome, especially when debating with someone who has studies philosophy and must know better.

Oh...and I'll put another notch in the as you have yet again dodged the issue of why it is you are so resistant to answering moral questions yourself but take an almost obsessive delight in asking others to justify their moral positions when they have already adressed the issue ad nauseam.

Lee said...

> First of all, we are talking about genocide, not some isolated act of 'killing'.

Once again, I find myself in a discussion about moral absolutes with someone who says he doesn't believe in them, but behaves as if he does.

Let's reduce this to Singringian terms: let's suppose there is no god at all, let's suppose in addition that the ancient Israelites preferred to kill the Amalekites, and that the Amalekites preferred not to be killed. Singring, I presume, sides with the Amalekites, but he might change his mind after they sacrifice his firstborn to Baal.

If personal preferences are all that there are, what grounds do I have to side either with Singring or the Israelites? And do my personal preferences count?

Or if there is some other standard, please name it and explain why it is authoritative.

Then, as an intellectual exercise, let's presume for the sake of argument that God is pretty much who the Old Testament says He is: the Creator of All Things, all-wise, all-powerful, just, slow to anger. Given this, by what standard does Singring judge God? The standard God Himself created?

Is there a higher standard than God's will? Then God is not the Creator of All Things and we should be worshiping that higher standard, or what it came from.

I think your objections, like Joe Agnost's, are predicated on the idea that God does not exist, which enshrines your own personal perspectives. If God does exist, then His perspectives count.

> Secondly, I believe it is wrong to kill anyone without justification (i.e. if the act of killing does not lead to an overall reduction of harm in the outcome).

But we know from earlier discussions that you don't believe anything is absolutely wrong, and that it is your personal preferences that form the intellectual framework of your moral system.

Regarding that, I happen to be a Singring-agnostic. That is, if there is an almighty, all-wise and just source of morality, it is not Singring's preferences as they stand at this moment. Or mine.

> If God commanded you to kill a 'sinner' who was worhipping another God today and you were absolutely certain it was God communicating with you - would you do it?

Whether I would have the courage to do God's will is beside the point as to whether it is the right thing to do. There are things I should do but don't, and there are things I shouldn't do but do. If God makes it clear to me that He wants me to kill someone and I don't do it, that would be a sin.

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

> God commanding Israel to eradicate the Canaanites meets the standard to limit the killing. They were sacrificing their babies to Molech; kind of like what liberals like to do in abortion centers.


Ahhh! Somebody else gets it! Thank you!

Lee said...

> Oh my god... this is an excellent example of why religious belief is so scary! Unreal...

It seems to me that we always do worse when man gets to invent his own moral system. If we want to talk about genocide, it also counts what unreligious belief has accomplished in places like China, the Soviet Union, and Cambodia.

And they call us scary.

Singring said...

'Singring, I presume, sides with the Amalekites, but he might change his mind after they sacrifice his firstborn to Baal.'

I do. Because it is immoral to kill every man, woman and child (those you have professed such allegiance with previously, Lee) when the only reason given is that some of them not acting according to your whim. I think we can at least agree that the newborn children were not sacrificing to Baal, so how come they were slaughtered too?

Your 'God as a Utilitarian' scenario is not even consistent.

'If personal preferences are all that there are, what grounds do I have to side either with Singring or the Israelites?'

That depends on your personal moral standards. If you think killing an entire race simply because tehy do not conform to your religion - then of course genocide is A-OK with you and we'd be in disagreement.

'Given this, by what standard does Singring judge God? The standard God Himself created?'

You are presupposing God exists. I don't believe he exists so I judge the actions of this fictional character by my moral standards and find him to be a monster.

'That is, if there is an almighty, all-wise and just source of morality, it is not Singring's preferences as they stand at this moment.'

Good for you. I never claimed I was the source of any 'all wise' source of morality. I don't quite understand why you fanatically cling to this idea that there must be some absolute rule or everything is just going to go to pieces. This is infantile thinking and obviously not true because the vast majority of the world's societies, including tehz US, do not operate under such absolute assumptions and do just fine.

'If God makes it clear to me that He wants me to kill someone and I don't do it, that would be a sin.'

I rest my case.

Singring said...

'Ahhh! Somebody else gets it! Thank you!'

So killing newborn children en masse for the supposed 'sins' of their parents is good?

Lee said...

Singring, what you haven't done is explain why I should be outraged by the same things that outrage you. God's word doesn't matter, apparently only your word does. Why should I give up my own personal preferences to follow yours? If morality is subjective, then I get to make up my own, too, don't I?

Singring said...

'Singring, what you haven't done is explain why I should be outraged by the same things that outrage you.'

I have explained it in detail: Because such actions do not minimize the harm to society.

It does not minimize harm to society to slay all children of a tribe when the worst they have done is being born to 'sinful' parents.

It does not minimize harm to society to slay men and women who have 'sinned' no more than to worship someone or something you don't like.

I would have thought this was patently obvious - but maybe you think that what minimizes harm should not be the standard, but rather that whatever the Bible or God or whoever has the power says should be the standard. Or maybe you think that killing children for no other reason than that you don't like what their parents have done in fact does minimize harm?

In either case, we have a severe disagreement. Whicn brings me to:

'God's word doesn't matter, apparently only your word does.'

God's word and my word only matter in as much as you agree with the evidence and arguments that support them. If you think that an ancient collection of books rampant with howling nonsense, contradictions and mistakes is sufficient evidence to believe that a 'God' exists who is dictating his ideas about morals to you and that you must therefore follow these dictats, then go ahead.

If the above is evidence enough for you to accept the following...

Deutoronomy 20:
'16 However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes.
17 Completely destroy them - the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusite - as the LORD your God has commanded you. '

...as perfectly moral commandments and actions, then you go right ahead.

I will instead argue that what is best for a society is whatever minimizes harm and that killing 'everything that breathes' because some 'higher power' has given you the command to do so does not do that.

You decide which line of reasoning makes more sense to you. You decide what kind of society you would rather live in.

'If morality is subjective, then I get to make up my own, too, don't I?'

Exactly. So which morality do you make for yourself? The one where it si good and right to go around slaughtering children for no other reason than that their parents 'offended' some bully in the sky or the one where it is wrong and evil to do so?

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Why should minimize harm to society?

Lee said...

> I have explained it in detail: Because such actions do not minimize the harm to society.

Where is it written that the good of society is to be treated as an absolute?

Lee said...

> God's word and my word only matter in as much as you agree with the evidence and arguments that support them.

Where is it written that evidence and arguments are morally authoritative? You keep grasping for absolutes even as you deny they exist.

Lee said...

> You decide which line of reasoning makes more sense to you. You decide what kind of society you would rather live in.

Who said "my sense" -- or yours -- is morally authoritative?

Lee said...

> If the above is evidence enough for you to accept the following...

> ...as perfectly moral commandments and actions, then you go right ahead.

I would say it is perfectly moral under both of our moral systems. It's okay in my moral system because it is the will of the Lord and, having written morality, He understands it much better than me.

And it is okay under your moral system because a big bang happened, particles and energy went flying helter-skelter, time passed, stuff happened, and morality is totally subjective.

Andrew said...

Singring:

I said:

'I suppose he could use your grounds. If someone is going to kill a lot of other people, then He might step in and tell you to stop him.'

You replied:

So God is a Utilitarian?

He's certainly practical, if that's what you mean. But we're now engaged in a discussion of the nature of the ineffable, so it would be hard for me to limit God to Benthamite status because of this possible option.

But honestly, this is what I mean about the trapping. It seems like you are trying to get me to say certain things so that you can spring on them. You are welcome to do that because I'm pretty emotionally resilient in an argument, but I don't think it's the least harmful way to argue.

You are arguing with a great deal more confidence about what this God is (you seem to have defined Him with a caricature of what you think Christian Fundamentalists believe) than I can muster up. I don't know what God is. I don't know how He makes His decisions.

But the premise of your hypothetical was that, whatever God is, I can have perfect certainty that I know what He wants me to do. Well, if the ineffable that is God tells me what to do and I have no doubt whatsoever that He is telling me what to do, how could I possibly say, "No, I won't do that. I'm wiser an better than you."

Ergo:

I said:

'I must say, however, that if He is all wise, I can hardly hope to know all the reasons He might have.'

And you said:

So in other words, even if his motives seem dubious, you would still follow any and all of his commands.

Thanks for the illustration for everything that I see as pernicious about religiously derived morality.

I reply:

I can understand, on your premises, why you would see this as such an illustration. I'm not sure you've thought about this in three dimensions though. It is true that "religiously derived morality" can be pernicious in its outworkings.

But let me say again, that you have created a rather far-fetched scenario. If I accept your hypothetical that I have perfect certainty that God is telling me to do something, then I will, if I have the courage do it. I cannot imagine you would not, if you had that same certainty.

But your scenario is loaded. What is this God? Can I know His will on such a controversial specific with such clarity? Would He tell me to murder? Or at least kill?

Yes, clearly, from the other arguments, He told some people to kill other people. But there's the little pronoun "Me" that makes a big difference.

If God is all love and all wisdom and He gives me commands, it's a lovely idea to think that I would do, without hesitation, anything He commands me to do. I know that I do not have His reach of wisdom or His limit of love, so maybe by obeying Him I would become more like Him. I love that idea. Maybe I would even come to understand Him better.

All of that stands on one side of the equation. It would not be safe to follow and obey a God like that.

The priority you place on avoiding harm indicates that safety (the state in which you can avoid harm) is your highest value. You would not like a God who is not safe, if that is the case.

So the other side of the equation might be that you are looking for a safety that the world we live in doesn't offer. Yes, religiously derived morality sometimes leads to harm. But so does every other kind of morality. If there are other kinds of morality.

Singring, you are a better man than I, of that I am certain. But maybe the problem isn't the source of the morality, but the actors who need morality in the first place. We humans like to hurt each other. It's natural.

Singring said...

'Why should minimize harm to society?'

I think that's a good idea.

Do you disagree? If so, why?

'Where is it written that the good of society is to be treated as an absolute?'

When did I ever say it it is to be treated as an 'absolute'? I simply said that it is the basis for my moral standards. If you stopped clutching at some 'absolute' rule for you to follow like a lost infant, maybe this would start to sink in.

'Who said "my sense" -- or yours -- is morally authoritative?'

Nobody. Do you need people to tell you what is right an wrong every step of the way? Are you like some automaton or brainwashed foot soldier who always has to look to some 'absolute rule' to know what to do, even if that rule orders the slaughter of innocent children?

Think about that for a while and maybe you'll realize why many atheists are very worried about the effects of religion.

'It's okay in my moral system because it is the will of the Lord and, having written morality, He understands it much better than me.'

So there we have it: The mass killing of children is okay if God orders it.

'And it is okay under your moral system because a big bang happened, particles and energy went flying helter-skelter, time passed, stuff happened, and morality is totally subjective.'

What does the Big Bang have to do with my moral system? I have explained my moral system to you and I have explained why killing innocent children in genocide is wrong under it - but you keep presenting this carcature, this strawman nonsense about my moral system because you just can't face the fact that my system prescribes genocide to be wrong, whereas you have just come out and said killing children for the Lord is just fine!

Singring said...

'But we're now engaged in a discussion of the nature of the ineffable, so it would be hard for me to limit God to Benthamite status because of this possible option. '

You started limiting God, Andrew, not me. But go ahead and start backpedalling with the usual 'oh well, God is actually ineffable and so mighty I can't understand him' nonsense. I've heard it a thousand times before and if you think it makes a fine excuse, great. I can't stomach that nonsense, quite frankly.

'I cannot imagine you would not, if you had that same certainty. '

All I can say is you imagine wrong.

'Would He tell me to murder? Or at least kill?'

You have read the Bible, yes? You do know that he orders genocide multiple times (one quote is given above) has done it once already himself (The Flood) and is poised to do it again (The Rapture)?

'If God is all love and all wisdom and He gives me commands, it's a lovely idea to think that I would do, without hesitation, anything He commands me to do. I know that I do not have His reach of wisdom or His limit of love, so maybe by obeying Him I would become more like Him. I love that idea. Maybe I would even come to understand Him better.'

You keep saying 'if'. Do you not think that now God is all love and all wisdom and that he is the creator of all things?

'Yes, religiously derived morality sometimes leads to harm. But so does every other kind of morality. '

The problem is that religious morality has no self-correction mechanism. It is dogmatic, it is inflexible - which is exactly why it has steadfastly opposed every advancement in human morality from suffrage to the ending of slavery to the enlightenment. Subjective systems are capable of self-correction. My moral system has been corredcted multiple times and I am glad it has been. For example, I used to oppose adoption by gay couples. I don't any longer becasue I can simply see no good, rational argument why I should.

'Well, if the ineffable that is God...'

So now God is 'ineffable' again? And you are perfectly willing to kill for someone who's reasons are 'ineffable' to you?

'I don't know what God is. I don't know how He makes His decisions. '

But you are willing to follow his orders despite this?

This is exactly what I think is so problematic - following orders even while admitting to not knowing how or why or for what reason you should.

'We humans like to hurt each other. It's natural.'

Then how come we survived the first few hundred thousand years of our species if it is 'natural ' for us to kill each other all the time?

Andrew said...

Singring,

I cannot keep up with all the arguments you are hurling at me. You seem to have already concluded what I believe and bunched me into some convenient group, so I don't see you making much effort to understand my arguments.

They sound familiar to you, so you dismiss them by the tribe they belong to. I am trying to understand your argument, but you move back and forth trying to trap me so often that I can't tell if you have a positive argument of your own.

For example, you slam me because I "keep saying "if.'" The reason I keep saying if is because you created a hypothetical situation. They begin with if. Within that hypothetical, I am offering certain conditions under which I would, hypothetically, kill.

Are you trying to defeat me or to understand my argument? You'll find the first easier if you accomplish the second, but it will take a flexible and receptive mind to do so.

You have a lot to teach me, so I'd like to learn all that I can from you. But you make it hard when you keep springing your traps.

My point is that I am making an appeal to you to let me understand your argument and to attempt to understand mine. I'm happy to lose if your argument is better. So far, I can't tell.

Andrew said...

This, for example, states more than I could confidently state if I were arguing your position:

"The problem is that religious morality has no self-correction mechanism. It is dogmatic, it is inflexible - which is exactly why it has steadfastly opposed every advancement in human morality from suffrage to the ending of slavery to the enlightenment. Subjective systems are capable of self-correction. My moral system has been corredcted multiple times and I am glad it has been. For example, I used to oppose adoption by gay couples. I don't any longer becasue I can simply see no good, rational argument why I should."

Neither the history nor the philosophy seems to hold up. Historically, as one example, it is widely known that slavery diminished after the fall of the Roman Empire and that it was out-lawed (briefly, I fear) by the British empire during the 19th century because a religious devotee labored for many years in spite of all pragmatic concerns to end it.

Here in America, it was both attacked and defended for religious reasons. I find that hard to reconcile with the idea that religious morality is not adaptable because it is dogmatic.

Philosophically, there are two kinds of self-correcting mechanisms. One is the ideal against which actual behavior is compared. The other is adaptation to the environment. You favor the latter. The religious at least claim to favor the former. Neither leads to static morality. Both require wisdom. Neither leads to a perfect, safe, harmless world.

Singring said...

'For example, you slam me because I "keep saying "if.'" '

I didn't 'slam' you - I simply asked whether you actually believe in God who is all will, all love and the creator of the universe. I am trying to move from a hypothetical to the actual.

I fully understand that IF there was a perfectly good, all-knowing being that told you to kill someone you would be ready to do so. But now we have to figure out if anyone - including you - actually believes in such a being ( a being that is all love and all wisdom and no more) and if they do, how they can substantiate that this being actually exists and that they are actually correctly receiving its wishes.

'My point is that I am making an appeal to you to let me understand your argument and to attempt to understand mine. I'm happy to lose if your argument is better. So far, I can't tell.'

I have explained my argument. The problem I am having with your argument that you are being incosistent, even within your hypotheticals. In one sentence you say that you would obey an all loving all knowing God, in the next you say all God has to be for you to follow his orders is 'ineffable'. These are two very, very contradictory statements and it would be really nice if I could have some indication as to which of the two you actually thinks makes sense and which of the two you actually believe in.

'Here in America, [slavery] was both attacked and defended for religious reasons.'

For thr sake of argument I will accept that statement. But what interests me then is this: Are you saying that a vast majority of Christians got their views on slavery wrong? How so? If its in the Bible or some other codex, how come so many got it wrong? And how come the view of the majority changed over hundreds or thousands of years from a time when slavery was commonplace to a time when it is almost universally shunned?

Did God change his mind after writing the Bible? Or is he just very bad at communicating? Or is he just something we made up and morality subjective and down to social consensus, as I have been arguing all along?

I'd really like to know which position you take on this issue so I can understand what you are actually arguing for or against.

Singring said...

'The religious at least claim to favor the former. Neither leads to static morality. Both require wisdom. Neither leads to a perfect, safe, harmless world.'

The problem with this view is that the religious by and large (and I assume this also includes Martin and Lee, for example) claim that they already know what the 'ideal' is. For example, Martin already has told us that he 'knows' homosexual activity is wrong and a moral evil. So in fact there is no self-correction with respect to the moral rule - it is already established by feat. Homosexuality is evil and that's that. No change in that ruel is possible. The same goes for people who believe the Bible is literally true in every sense.

This does not lead to a plastic morality, it leads to a static morality. The behaviour of people in how they measure up to the standard may shift - but the standard itself does not and that is precisely the problem with religiosu morality.

The only way to change the ideal is to say 'Ooops...we got it wrong'. But there is a problem with that as well: These ideals are supposedly self-evident (as Martin has claimed on occasion) or they are derived fom the 'word of God' or some other supernatural power that inherently has the power to set the ideals. If a religious person admits they got it wrong, they admit that they actually have no sound way of telling what ideal is the best one and how to pick which ones are best. For example, if Martin were to state one day that his 'self-evident' ideal of homosexuality being wrong was false and that in fact homosexuality is good - how did that happen? Did the realization just drop out of the sky? Did he just change his mind?

In either case his system of morality - i.e. the one based on 'revelation' or 'inspiration' or 'intuition' or is sourced from texts claimed to be from on high is no better than my subjectivist system of morality...

...UNLESS...

...unless he can give me some solid, sound and reasonable evidence or arguments as to why his ideal standard is true and accurate.

So in other words, Martin would have to state how come his 'intuitions' about the act of homosexuality are any better or more accurate than mine and one who thumps teh Bible as teh source of ideals will have to provide me a whole host of evidence to attest to
the Bible being an accurate transcription and the Bible being true.

Now you seem like a bright, educated fellow, so I'm sure youw ill concede that none of these standards has been met so far and in some cases (i.e. Martin's 'intuitions') simply can't be met.

KyCobb said...

Martin,

"Are you implying that killing abortion doctors is wrong? If so, do you disagree with Singring, who claims to be a moral subjectivist (although he acts like a moral absolutist)?"

I oppose murder for the very good reason that I don't want myself or my loved ones to be murdered. Call it enlightened self-interest if you like.

Lee said...

> I oppose murder for the very good reason that I don't want myself or my loved ones to be murdered.

Problem is, there is nothing in that anywhere that says that murder is, you know, wrong. You can oppose murder because you think it lessens your chance of being murdered, but still believe murder is okay when you do it. (I'm not saying you believe that, only that there is nothing in this reasoning that would disallow it.)

Thomas said...

Singring,

Is it fair to say that you oppose things not out of any ethical philosophy (e.g., because the act is intrinsically wrong, because it does not contribute to utility, or because it does not contribute to human flourishing), but because you simply dislike it?

Singring said...

'Is it fair to say that you oppose things not out of any ethical philosophy (e.g., because the act is intrinsically wrong, because it does not contribute to utility, or because it does not contribute to human flourishing), but because you simply dislike it?'

No. I suggest you read my posts outlining my positions as a utilitarian (i.e. my moral standard prescribes any action taken to reduce the overall amount of harm in the world). Andrew and Lee have suggested that even God may be a utilitarian, so I feel I am in good company.

I do not claim that I live up to my own moral standards in every instance - far from it. But then who does?

Of course, you could colloquially say that I oppose things becuase I 'dislike' them, but it would then be just as accurate to say that a religious fundamentalist opposed abortion becasue he or she 'dislikes' it.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

People can always rationalize doing what they want to do, and that includes religious people. Since we live in a pluralistic society in which everyone has a different opinion as to what God thinks is wrong, we have no religious standard for morality. In the US we have a legal compact in the Constitution that establishes that everyone has fundamental rights which cannot be denied without due process of law.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

I think that's a good idea.

Why is it good rather than bad?

Joe_Agnost said...

I love how Martin doesn't even try anymore... one sentence questions is all he seems to offer in the comments these days. He doesn't even pretend to dodge the questions asked of him now, he just ignores them.

Anyone remember the days when Martin used to embarass himself in the comments all the time! Good times. good times... I guess he finally learned.

Andrew said...

Singring;

Thank you. I am much clearer now and understand the argument better. I believe we are even approaching the crux of that matter.

You said:

I fully understand that IF there was a perfectly good, all-knowing being that told you to kill someone you would be ready to do so. But now we have to figure out if anyone - including you - actually believes in such a being ( a being that is all love and all wisdom and no more) and if they do, how they can substantiate that this being actually exists and that they are actually correctly receiving its wishes.

I reply:

This is very helpful. You have provided three standards or conditions that must be met for me to feel free to kill someone:

1. I have to believe in an all-knowing and all good Being who would tell me to do it.
2. I would have to substantiate that this Being exists.
3. I would have to know that I am correctly receiving His wishes.

This is excellent and I think I can think about this and will try to do so below.
=====

Andrew said...

ou also said:

The problem I am having with your argument that you are being incosistent, even within your hypotheticals. In one sentence you say that you would obey an all loving all knowing God, in the next you say all God has to be for you to follow his orders is 'ineffable'. These are two very, very contradictory statements and it would be really nice if I could have some indication as to which of the two you actually thinks makes sense and which of the two you actually believe in.

I reply:

Thank you for that. I see that I have been contradicting myself. Let me see if I can figure out why I did it and unravel the contradiction. Maybe it will help with the three conditions above as well.

I think what I meant was this:

Whatever God is, He is, to my perception and in His essence, ineffable.
But if He revealed His will to me with the clarity that was a condition in the hypothetical, I would do it or hope to have the courage to do it.

The contradiction seems to reside in the all-knowing/all-loving part. In other words, can He be known to be all-knowing and all-loving if He is ineffable.

Do you agree with me that that is where the contradiction lies? Because I really do have to think about that if you do.

======

Andrew said...

You added (beginning by quoting me):

'Here in America, [slavery] was both attacked and defended for religious reasons.'

For thr sake of argument I will accept that statement. But what interests me then is this: Are you saying that a vast majority of Christians got their views on slavery wrong? How so? If its in the Bible or some other codex, how come so many got it wrong? And how come the view of the majority changed over hundreds or thousands of years from a time when slavery was commonplace to a time when it is almost universally shunned?

Did God change his mind after writing the Bible? Or is he just very bad at communicating? Or is he just something we made up and morality subjective and down to social consensus, as I have been arguing all along?

I reply:

You are on to something very important here that comes awfully close to your subjectivity. I would put it this way: God does not seem to reveal His exact will for every circumstance to us because He expects us to take His instructions and apply them using Judgment.

Wisdom takes time to gain. All the wisdom literatures of the world contend that this is so. I think that most of the American Christians did get the slavery issue wrong. I think Christians constantly get things wrong. Christianity is something one tries to grow into, not something one grasps on the instant one becomes a Christian.

This judgment or wisdom resides somewhere in the middle between self-evident obvious truths and subjectivism. It moves toward an ideal without ever presuming to have total mastery of that ideal. But it moves away from the subjective because it doesn't trust one's own wisdom.

Does that make sense or help answer your questions here?

Then you closed with:

I'd really like to know which position you take on this issue so I can understand what you are actually arguing for or against.

I reply:

If you mean the slavery issue, I think it requires more judgment than we want to admit, though I am opposed in principle to slavery because I do believe we are created in the Image of God and, (here we agree), I believe it is wrong to harm or damage man (here we disagree) because He is the Image of God.

In fact, this question of judgment or wisdom seems to me to tower over this whole discussion. Life is dangerous and hard. It takes more than boxed up categories to figure it out. General frameworks and guidelines are helpful, but it's really hard to figure out how to live day to day and to know all the implications of a given decision or action.

Many people see religions and other traditions as means to a wisdom that takes us beyond our own judgment. I would say I side with those people, though not if they try to tell me how I should tie my shoes.

I hope this helps you understand better where I stand. Let me know if I have contradicted myself again. I am going to think about how to fix the one above.

Andrew said...

Singring:

Let me try to reply to these three conditions:

To repeat them:

1. I have to believe in an all-knowing and all good Being who would tell me to do it.
2. I would have to substantiate that this Being exists.
3. I would have to know that I am correctly receiving His wishes.

In your hypothetical, you indicated certainty as a condition, so that seems to cover 2 and 3 since I couldn't be certain without those two things being established.

Isn't one also contained in that certainty?

Martin Cothran said...

Joe,

Shakin' those pom-poms again. I'm just trying to find what it is on which Singring make these airy moral pronouncements, since he claims to be a moral subjectivism.

He keeps saying that something "wrong" and we "should" do this or that and that certain actions are "good," pretending like these terms have real meaning, but when you ask him what they're based on, he just gives you another term that has a moralistic sound, but nothing behind it--except for the next term her uses.

I'm just trying to find out which shell the pea is under.

Our Founding Truth said...

Thus you have people who think its morally right to gun down an abortion doctor.>>

Another fallacy from two different guys.

Thanks to OFT for a perfect illustration for cognitive dissonance as the direct result of religious fundamentalism.>>>

Maybe so, but not Biblical Christianity.

Ah yes - equating homosexuality with the murder of children - par for the course in religious fundementalist circles.>>>

Another fallacy. Unreal.

So killing newborn children en masse for the supposed 'sins' of their parents is good?>

God is Love and knows all things, and as Lee said, he designed morality and is in charge of it, not man. Therefore, he would know that little philly grows up to be big philly.

KyCobb said...
Lee,

People can always rationalize doing what they want to do, and that includes religious people. Since we live in a pluralistic society in which everyone has a different opinion as to what God thinks is wrong, we have no religious standard for morality. In the US we have a legal compact in the Constitution that establishes that everyone has fundamental rights which cannot be denied without due process of law.>>>>

The Founding Fathers wrote we have a standard for morality; the Bible.

Lee said...

> People can always rationalize doing what they want to do, and that includes religious people.

The question is whether there is any such thing as right or wrong. If there isn't, there is no need even to rationalize.

> Since we live in a pluralistic society in which everyone has a different opinion as to what God thinks is wrong, we have no religious standard for morality.

That depends on your perspective. You live in a country which has a strong tradition of Christianity. So, culturally, you probably take a lot for granted in our culture that only exists because we were once stronger in our faith. We would probably give those traditions a lot more respect if they weren't our traditions.

> In the US we have a legal compact in the Constitution that establishes that everyone has fundamental rights which cannot be denied without due process of law.

What does "fundamental" and "due" mean to someone who has no sense of absolute morals? Why aren't those words, like the Constitution, "living" words whose meaning keeps changing with the times?

Also, I should point out that some of the same folks who wrote the Constitution also signed the document that declares, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

So, from some perspectives at least, words like "due" and "fundamental" have a foundation to stand on.

Lee said...

> Andrew and Lee have suggested that even God may be a utilitarian, so I feel I am in good company.

Oddly, Thomas has accused me of the same perspective in the past. For what it's worth, I don't think it's a wholly accurate characterization of my position.

In one sense, though, I think it's correct. I don't think the rules themselves have remained constant, at least some of them. But one important thing has remained constant: morality is a function of relationships. It's when relationships are threatened that morality means anything.

Morality is absolute because it has forever been a part of God's nature -- because God comprises and has always comprised three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The relationships between the Three have always existed, and so have the eternal principles that have allowed them to co-exist and to love each other for eternity.

So, morality can be defined as that which fosters a loving, eternal relationship, and that which fosters loving relationships is not arbitrary. Everything, therefore, that serves this end is good. And anything that threatens these relationships -- between God and man, between man and man -- is bad. The first few of the Ten Commandments are regarding man's relationship with God, as they are the most important, while the remaining ones deal with man's relationship with man.

As humans, perhaps we do get hung up on the rules. But there is a reason for the rules. The reason is important even when the rules are not. To build eternal, loving relationships, the rules, or at least some of them, sometimes have to be relaxed, or so it would seem. Perhaps that's why, e.g., many of the dietary laws of the Old Testament were brushed aside after Christ's death (following Peter's visions as detailed in the Book of Acts).

I don't think this qualifies as a utilitarian viewpoint, in that at the very foundation of this view, there is a non-negotiable, unyielding standard for separating that which is moral from what is not.

Singring said...

'Why is it good rather than bad?'

Because I think that - due to empathy and self-interest - it is best to minimize harm in a society.

What's that now - four questions I've answered in succession?

Now maybe you can answer just one teeny-tiny little one:

Do you disagree that minimizing harm in society is a good idea and if so, why?

Singring said...

'Do you agree with me that that is where the contradiction lies? Because I really do have to think about that if you do. '

That is precisely where the problem is. You simply can't be certain of someone's motives if they are ineffable. Now of course if you just assume that this God is all good and all wise, but not ineffable, that problem would not arise - but another would be lurking just around the corner: God cannot be all powerful if he is all love and all wise. This would create the problem of evil existing in the first place. I doubt most Christians would accept a God who is all love and all wise but not all-powerful.

'God does not seem to reveal His exact will for every circumstance to us because He expects us to take His instructions and apply them using Judgment.'

I see what you mean. But in my opinion this immediately leads to another problem (at least if we think of God as the classically defined Abrahamic God). If God wants us to follow his will (as Abrahamic tradition suggests he does), has the capacity to tell us his will exactly (being all wise that should be no problem for him) then it logically follows that he should be communicating his will to us precisely, in an unchanging, open and direct manner. Whether we choose to follow it or not is another matter - but I don't see how an all wise God who wants us to follow his will would intentionally make his will obscure, especially if the supposed punishement for failing to follow his will is eternal torment. It makes him look rather cruel.

'It takes more than boxed up categories to figure it out. General frameworks and guidelines are helpful, but it's really hard to figure out how to live day to day and to know all the implications of a given decision or action. '

We are in full agreement on this and I would never want to pretend that any moral system is fool-proof and perfect. We go with the best we can do. I happen to think that subjectivism provides that possibility.

Singring said...

'In your hypothetical, you indicated certainty as a condition, so that seems to cover 2 and 3 since I couldn't be certain without those two things being established.

Isn't one also contained in that certainty?'

Good question. First of all, I would not speak of 'certainties' because that is too high a standard to set. You would have to have very good reason to believe that all three premises are true, I agree. For example, 2 and 3 could be true, but 1 could still be the result of a hallucination, not of God actually communicating. The whole scenario - in a practical situation - is fraught with problems. I'm not saying that my way of making moral decisions is inherently better or more reliable, but I do think teh premises on which my system rests are much more solid and can be backed up much easier. That's the difference.

Singring said...

'He keeps saying that something "wrong" and we "should" do this or that and that certain actions are "good," pretending like these terms have real meaning...'

Martin, I have outlined by what methodology I arrive at my opinions about what is 'wrong' and what I or someone else 'should' do (the reduction of harm to society).

I have asked you directly to tell me if you disagree with this standard and if so, why. I don't know where you see a 'shell game' when someone asks you a direct question.

I am still waiting for an answer.

KyCobb said...

OFT,

"The Founding Fathers wrote we have a standard for morality; the Bible."

I'm sorry, I can't find that in the Constitution.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

"Also, I should point out that some of the same folks who wrote the Constitution also signed the document that declares, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

So, from some perspectives at least, words like "due" and "fundamental" have a foundation to stand on."

The man who wrote the Declaration of Independence was at best a Diest and likely an atheist. The Declaration refers to "Nature's God"; not the christian God. The Constitution states that no-one can be deprived of their life, liberty or property without due process of law, and that all persons are entitled to equal protection of the law. Those are not christian values; they are enlightenment values. Throughout history, christian nations were primarily despotic and imposed duties, with rights reserved only to privileged nobles.

Lee said...

> Throughout history, christian nations were primarily despotic and imposed duties, with rights reserved only to privileged nobles.

Despotic? Compared to what? Non-Christian nations?

The Constitution was the child of Christian (specifically, Reformed) attitudes about the fallen nature of man. I.e., the separation of powers, that no one can be trusted with power, so it must be doled out in pieces and parts, so that the holders of that power must concentrate on thwarting each other more, and the citizens less.

In any event, a Deist is not an Atheist. There is at least something there that a sense of absolute morality can be framed against.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Do you disagree that minimizing harm in society is a good idea and if so, why?

Of course not. Although your formulation of the question is the typical secularist abstraction (you all talk about "harm in society" and loving "humanity" rather than, as Christ said, loving "your neighbor"), loving your neighbor and practicing charity are among the things that, given that you are a creature in God's image, enable you to achieve your purpose as a human being.

Do you really think this is the issue--or that I disagree that it's a good idea? I think you know quite well what the issue is: you have no grounds for believing anything is good or bad morally.

Maybe asking irrelevant questions and using words that have that moral sound to them will make that issue go away, huh?

Martin Cothran said...

I have outlined by what methodology I arrive at my opinions about what is 'wrong' and what I or someone else 'should' do (the reduction of harm to society).

This betrays a total lack of understanding as to what the issue I have raised here is. I said you can't justify making meaningful moral statements like these because you are a moral subjectivist. You think if I agree with your basic moral assumption, that that problem goes away.

I know why I think that premise is "good," the question is how you do.

Singring said...

Martin,thanks for finaly answering the question. If you agree with he premise for my system of morality then you agree that it is valid. I expected no less. Where we seem to disagree is whether or not the premise can be objectively verified -an epistemological problem. You know we have had this discussion before...

Just because you'd like there to be an objective standard that tells us the premise is valid does not make it so, complain as you might. Besides,even if there were,a I' have to appeal to is my 'intuition', a standard which you yourself have endorsed numerous times.

Martin,once again your line of arguent strikes me as very childish. You don't like the idea that moral standards are subjectively derived ,so you stomp your feet and insist thatthere must be an objective standard...without ever giving any coherent argument as to why anyone should think so. The best you have come up with is your 'intuition' or the devastatingly convincing 'its self-evident'. I'm sorry, but that just doesn't cut it. I freely admit that I chose my premise subjectively -I think its a good premise because it meshes with my empathy for others and my self-interest. I need no further validation as long as I admit that this is a subjectively derived standard.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

Its hard to see the Constitution as a document establishing an absolute morality based on God. For one thing, it expressly protects the institution of slavery, which would be incompatible with the notion that God had established an absolute right to liberty. For another, it doesn't make any reference to God at all; it obtains its legitimacy from the consent of We, the People.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

If you agree with he premise for my system of morality then you agree that it is valid.

Uh, do we have to do the logic lesson again? Agreeing with a premise does not commit you in any way, shape or form to the validity of someone's argument. The truth of the premises has NOTHING to do with the validity of an argument.

Our Founding Truth said...

OFT,

"The Founding Fathers wrote we have a standard for morality; the Bible."

I'm sorry, I can't find that in the Constitution.>>

This is why we have writings that exposit the Constitution called the Federalist, and the debates in the Convention and at the ratifying convention.

The man who wrote the Declaration of Independence was at best a Diest and likely an atheist. The Declaration refers to "Nature's God"; not the christian God.>>>>

check out my blog. Almost every quote on it disproves what you said. How could TJ be a deist when he knew "God's judgment would not wait upon us" because of slavery?

A deist is the clockmaker god. TJ believed God was involved with us.

Its hard to see the Constitution as a document establishing an absolute morality based on God. For one thing, it expressly protects the institution of slavery, which would be incompatible with the notion that God had established an absolute right to liberty. For another, it doesn't make any reference to God at all; it obtains its legitimacy from the consent of We, the People.>>>

Madison said slavery had to be dealt with another day or there wouldn't be a nation. They choose to delay getting rid of it.

The Const. doesn't refer to God because TJ said religion is left to the States. The Const. is the working out of the principles laid down in the DOI.

Lee said...

> Its hard to see the Constitution as a document establishing an absolute morality based on God.

I would say it is *predicated* on an absolute morality based on God. I don't know about this "establishing" business.

> For one thing, it expressly protects the institution of slavery, which would be incompatible with the notion that God had established an absolute right to liberty.

Nobody is claiming the Constitution was handed down by God as absolute truth, only that it means nothing if there is no absolute truth. Nobody said it was immaculately conceived. It does, after all, have an amendment process, which has among other things taken care of the shortcoming you have cited.

> For another, it doesn't make any reference to God at all; it obtains its legitimacy from the consent of We, the People.

What good are the words "legitimacy" and "due", and what protection do they offer, unless there is some sort of moral framework that renders them timeless?

Singring said...

Martin-we are not talking about a premise for a syllogism but a premise for a moral system. Of corse, you don' have any arguments to support your demands for an objective standard the premise must be judged by,so you just change the subject again, as usual.

KyCobb said...

Lee,

Believe it or not, people can figure out the meaning of words without God's assistance. Our political and legal system wasn't created in the 18th Century by opening a Bible and discovering it there. The colonies had been operating legislatures and courts for over a century, which were themselves based on a foundation of English common law which was centuries old.

KyCobb said...

OFT,

If you want to play dueling Jefferson quotes, read the ones here:

http://www.nobeliefs.com/jefferson.htm

Lee said...

> Believe it or not, people can figure out the meaning of words without God's assistance.

They can also figure out how to twist them, and without an objective, absolute morality, there is no reason not to.

> Our political and legal system wasn't created in the 18th Century by opening a Bible and discovering it there.

John Locke is given most of the credit for his influence on the writers of the Constitution, and his influence was largely secular. But Locke had influences, too. In 1644, Samuel Rutherford wrote Lex Rex: Law is King. Rutherford was a Scot and a Presbyterian theologian. For Rutherford, the idea of government by law rather than man seemed ideal because the Bible was the final authority and formed the base of law. One of Rutherford's disciples was John Witherspoon, an early president of Princeton and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and influential in getting the Constitution ratified.

Another was Locke himself, who adopted Rutherford's view of government but without the Biblical foundation.

Lee said...

> The colonies had been operating legislatures and courts for over a century, which were themselves based on a foundation of English common law which was centuries old.

It was the idea of separation of powers that was based on Reformation ideas. Rutherford wrote about limited government before Locke did.

Locke himself on the one hand talked of experience being the only way to know something, yet on the other hand espoused the natural rights of man. Did those rights spring from experience or from man's nature? If from experience, whose?

karensk said...

"I'm sure the translators of modern versions of the Bible are quite competent in knowing how to read Hebrew and Greek. It's their facility with English that I question. I'm willing to bet that the modern scholars they hire to translate these things are not generally literary people."

This makes a lot of sense....Is there any way that one could find out more about who the translators are? I've never met one personally, and as far as I know, no one I know has either. By any chance, have you met any translators, Martin? And if so, were they "literary"?

It makes me wonder what the ideal translator's background and skill set would be. Any ideas?

Ludwig said...

There are the usual Hitchens errors

Ah. A lively debate on morals, good vs. bad.
But where is truth? Is truth what we make it to be?

The opening posts claims state and I quote :-

“There are the usual Hitchens errors, of course. He repeats the canard about the Catholic Church being opposed to William Tyndale's Bible translation because the Church was opposed to vernacular translations, when, in fact, there were an abundance of accepted vernacular English translations and there were accepted vernacular translations in existence well before the Protestant Reformation in many languages. There were even several English ones following Tyndale that the Church accepted. In fact, the Latin Vulgate itself was a vernacular translation in its time that allowed it to be understood by the masses.”

Is it really true that the masses understood the mass in Latin?
Or is the real reasons alluded to “The truth” something totally different?

I suppose that it be best that I be taking my version of reality “truths” lest I be stoned for heresy, just in case God tells one to do so.


Ludwig said...

To Karensk :
"I'm sure the translators of modern versions of the Bible are quite competent in knowing how to read Hebrew and Greek. "


Yes that is true. However, there are always strong debates as to what the meaning of a specific word might be. Thus different meanings and interpretations are given for the same word. An example of this will be seen if you Google “Typoi” which is taken as either to mean “an example” or taken to mean “type” by different translators. Does it matter? Yes, but do your own searches.

Here is another example that might interest you.
The word Agape meaning love was used by Tyndale in his translations. Modern translators use the word charity and not love. Make’s a difference. Faith - hope –Love or charity?

What is “Ideal” and what does it mean to you?

Perhaps your real question regarding “ideal” translator implies, who is telling the truth? Thus what is truth for you? Lots of reading and searching and exploring are needed when looking for a truth. As I guideline I use more than one source when I am looking for answers. I am also guided by what else the source “person” used by me has to say on other subjects.

I “believe” that a good start in answering your question on “ideal translators” will be for you to read some books on the subject. I just finished “When God Spoke English” - The making of the King James Bible- written by Adam Nicolson. I suggest that this will be an “ideal” start and that you might then follow up your search by reading other books.

Thus I wish you a fruitful and exciting exploration for ideal truths.

Ludwig said...

Dear Karensk : Regarding an "ideal translator"

The following comes from a site I recently visited www.bibleprotector.com which gives a good answer to the question of what is an “ideal” translator.


“What does the KJB translators' preface mean when it states "great probability"?

1. Translator Richard Kilbye heard a young parson question the rendering of the King James Bible at a certain place, giving three reasons why it ought to be read differently. Kilbye took him aside afterward, and telling him that his preaching should be better spent than criticising the KJB, for that the translators in their deliberations were aware of those three reasons, but had found thirteen compelling reasons why to render it the way they had presented it.

This shows that while there was a great probability for one rendering, there was a greater probability for another, and that the translator defended the rendering as it stood.”