“When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods…”

by Luke Muehlhauser on August 18, 2009 in General Atheism,Quotes

thorThe quote at the top of every page on this site reads:

When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.

In a nutshell, that is what I mean by “common sense” atheism. What I mean is that if you apply the same reasoning to your god as you do to every other god (your “common” sense) then you’ll see that your god doesn’t exist, either. So what I really mean is “No Double Standards” Atheism, but that’s just not as catchy as Common Sense Atheism!

But, Kyle writes:

Does this guy claim to know everyone’s reason for rejecting belief in each particular god? …

…[I] dismiss other gods… because the Christian God is the one true God, so if he exists no other god can exist.

How does that help me understand why the common sense atheist rejects the God of the Bible?

Those are great questions.

One pithy quote is not meant to be a full and persuasive argument. Let’s unpack it. Why do I have that quote at the top of every page on my site?

Obviously, I do not claim to know everyone’s reasons for rejecting the existence of thousands of gods.

Also, let’s say a believer rejects other gods not because they’re absurd or due to lack of evidence, but because they believe the existence of their God rules out the existence of other gods. If the God of classical Christianity exists, then by definition Allah can’t exist. There can’t be two all-powerful gods in the same universe, as they would limit each other’s power.

So if that is why the believer rejects other gods, then this doesn’t help explain why he should reject his own god.

But if the believer rejects other gods because they are creatures of ridiculous ancient mythologies and because there is no good evidence for their existence, then this should help them see why they should reject their own god, who is also a product of ridiculous ancient mythology for whom there is no good evidence.

Let’s get specific.

Let’s say someone argued that because science can’t explain the undersea Bloop detected in 1997, it was probably caused by the supernatural action of Rongomai, an ancient polynesian whale god. Would a Christian take this argument seriously? Of course not. And yet, the Christian will quite happily argue that because science can’t explain consciousness, it was probably caused by the supernatural action of Yahweh, an ancient semitic creator god.

The double standards of the believer1 can be even more striking in reality than in the above hypothetical example. Denyse O’Leary, writing about the extremely well-verified scientific theory of evolution, says, “I just don’t believe in magic.” And yet, she does believe in the supernatural creation of the world by a divine being, an event which is literally magic, even according to 99% of theologians! (The few physicalist theologians out there are radical heretics.)

This is not an isolated example. I wrote earlier about the Hindu Milk Miracle of 1995:

A Hindu worshiper made a milk offering to a statue of the Hindu elephant god, Ganesha. He held up a spoonful of milk to the statue’s trunk and the milk disappeared. Apparently, the statue “drank” it. Within hours, Hindu statues all across India were drinking up milk. The World Hindu Council proclaimed it a miracle. Milk sales in New Delhi jumped 30%.Most people reject the Hindu milk miracle, for many good reasons. First, it makes no sense: Why would invisible gods living in Hindu statues suddenly decide to drink physical milk? Second, it defies what we have always experienced: Statues do not drink. Third, it is much more likely to have a simple explanation – capillary action, illusion, mass hysteria – than a miraculous one.

This is common sense. We all use this reasoning with regard to every religion and every area of life – except our own dogma. The same Christians who reject the Hindu milk miracle (which was attested by thousands of living witnesses, written about in hundreds of surviving original documents, and captured on video) will happily accept the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (which was attested by a few ancient dead writers, from whom we have no original documents or video evidence).

A Christian may read in the Muslim scriptures that Mohammad flew on a winged horse, and he will dismiss it. He may laugh when he reads the Roman historian Suetonius say that Caesar Augustus ascended into heaven after he died. But he reads in an ancient book that Mary gave virgin birth to a man-god who walked on water, died, came back to life, and flew off into the sky – and he believes.

It is this double standard that I’m calling attention to with the quote at the top of my site:

When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.

  1. I often write about the double standards of the atheist, too. []

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{ 110 comments… read them below or add one }

Justin Martyr August 18, 2009 at 10:54 am

1. Atheism is just one worldview among many. “When you understand why you dismiss all those other worldviews you will understand why I dismiss yours.” Whups! That leads to the conclusion that we shouldn’t believe in any worldview!
But let’s run with the idea anyways because atheism is not as unique as it claims.
 
Number of gods: 0. But Buddhism and Confucianism don’t believe in any gods.
 
Number of substances: 1 or 2. All atheists believe in matter. Some others accept platonic realism, particularly when it comes to math and logic. Thus atheism is squarely amidst Christianity (2 substances), pantheism (1 substance), Budhhism (2 substances).
 
Number of miracles: 2 – the existence of the universe, and the fine-tuning of the laws of physics. No atheist argues that it these are logically necessary so you are looking at radically contigent events. Note that the multiverse does not explain all examples of fine-tuning, and both theories of the multiverse demand some fine-tuning themselves.
 
2. Another line of reasoning is that atheists are on sneaky ground by lumping Christianity in with other pagan religions. My namesake, Justin Martyr wrote the very first philosophical defense of Christianity back in the Roman Ages because Christians were charged with atheism. They denied the robust pantheon of pagan gods as absurd. Martyr’s point was that Christianity was very different and it remains so today. I do think it is fair to categorize Christianity with the other Abrahamic religions, Hinduism, and Buddhism. But now you are looking at a smaller and more serious list.
3. If you look at either the social science or the history, Christianity is on much stronger ground that atheism. Christianity has created consensual marriage for women, abolished slavery, created the doctrine of human rights, expanded the circle of moral consciousness to include the weak, the poor, and the helpless – a debate that continues with abortion today. By contrast all I need to know about secularism I learned from the French Revolution, the first truly mass movement in history inspired by secularism. It created the first modern mass executions with the guillotine. It created the first modern genocide at the Vendees. And it created the first modern dictator in Napoleon. Facism, Nazism, and Communism have only expanded the death toll since then.
 
Look at the social science and Christians give more charity than secular people (see ‘Who Really Cares’ by Arthur Brooks). Luke approvingly discusses Rodney Stark’s work in a post about early Christianity. Stark has been on the forefront of applying rational choice theory to religion and he has found that it brings a variety of health and happiness benefits and thus is highly rational. See his book ‘Acts of Faith’.

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Justin Martyr August 18, 2009 at 11:09 am

Another point that just popped into my head. Desirism (or desire utilitarianism) doesn’t stand out from the hordes of all other ethical theories. I’m glad that its solved the 1000 sadists problem but there are many secular theories of ethics that solve the problem too. Any ethical theory that starts from behind a thick Veil of Ignorance solves that problem.
 
Now, to you desirism is unique and beautiful. It is radically different and better than all other theories of ethics. But to me it is just one theory among many. It could be the case that I need to learn more about desirism and I will see its beauty and uniqueness too. But to do so you need to  challenge other viewpoints from a position of sympathy  (Bertrand Russell makes that point in the intro to his book on philosophy). And that is what I am asking you do to about Christianity! If you honestly study the history and philosophy you will find that is is more coherent than all other worldviews (including atheism) and has done more good works.
 

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Jeff H August 18, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Justin Martyr: 3. If you look at either the social science or the history, Christianity is on much stronger ground that atheism. Christianity has created consensual marriage for women, abolished slavery, created the doctrine of human rights, expanded the circle of moral consciousness to include the weak, the poor, and the helpless – a debate that continues with abortion today. By contrast all I need to know about secularism I learned from the French Revolution, the first truly mass movement in history inspired by secularism. It created the first modern mass executions with the guillotine. It created the first modern genocide at the Vendees. And it created the first modern dictator in Napoleon. Facism, Nazism, and Communism have only expanded the death toll since then.

I think it’s important to distinguish between what kind, compassionate people that happened to be Christian did, and what Christianity did. It’s a little disingenuous to say that “Christianity abolished slavery”, for example – when the majority of the Western world was Christian, how would any other religion affect anything? The problem that you face is that a) Christians helped to abolish slavery AND b) Christians upheld slavery. They were on both sides. So you can’t simply claim it as a victory for Christianity as a whole. What is more truthful to say is that kind, compassionate people abolished slavery – and perhaps they used the doctrines of Christianity to support themselves, but so did the slave-owners.
I can say the same thing about the examples you give for secularism. Keep in mind that the American and French revolutions were both strongly linked with secularism – one turned out bloody and violent, and the other turned out, well, less bloody and violent anyway. I think your interpretation of historical events is very whitewashed.
 
(Oh, and fun fact, just cause you mentioned it. Did you know that the guy that invented the guillotine actually did so to be more compassionate to criminals? The prevailing method before then was to use an axe, but sometimes the executioners would show up drunk and then they would take several hacks at the person’s neck before actually killing them. The guillotine was meant to do the job more humanely. Just thought you should know :) )

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Dingo August 18, 2009 at 1:12 pm

“But to do so you need to  challenge other viewpoints from a position of sympathy  (Bertrand Russell makes that point in the intro to his book on philosophy). And that is what I am asking you do to about Christianity! If you honestly study the history and philosophy you will find that is is more coherent than all other worldviews (including atheism) and has done more good works.”

Read Luke’s bio. The man has done what you have required of him. As have a number of us who have arrived at conclusions similar to Luke’s.  Many of us have arrived at our conclusions after sympathetic studies and honest inquiries.

I am also skeptical of the phrasing invovled in the challenged listed above. It is rather like an If/Then statement. “IF you study Christianity THEN you will find it is more coherent than any other worldview.” The subtle manner of phrasing suggests that you are bound to accept the “truth” of Christianity as a result of studying it. Which also forces the non-believer into a position where Christianity is claimed to be true at the oustset of the statement.

But what about those of us who have studied it and are not convinced that it is more coherent? The suggestion then becomes that we (i) did not study it ‘honestly’ or (ii) that we are blockheads who just can’t see the truth.

The first option is problematic since it assumes Christianity is true and that our study methods are at fault (either because we didn’t read the right books, enough of them or that we weren’t studying with the Spirit). Using option 1, the investigator is always at fault, never what is being investigated.

The second option assumes that we may have studied it well but that we are just, well, dumb and/or “blind” in some sense. In that case further arguments probably won’t make much difference since, short of  having a “divine awakening”, the Christian will continue to view us as ignorant and stubborn. Arguments will seem futile at this point.

Basically, the phrasing traps a non-believer in a false dillema where he is either an intellectual liar or stupid. It never asks us to question WHETHER Christianity is true or more coherent, but tells us it is more coherent and that as a result of studying it we WILL affirm its coherence.

A less deceptive invitation to investigate Christianity might be, “Give it a vigorous and honest examination and consider the consequences should it prove true.”  Otherwise it feels like you are handing us a contract while telling us to ignore the small print at the bottom.

- Dingo

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Jake de Backer August 18, 2009 at 1:52 pm

“By contrast all I need to know about secularism I learned from the French Revolution, the first truly mass movement in history inspired by secularism.”
Fair enough.
“By contrast all I need to know about Christianity I learned from the Inquisition, the first truly mass movement in history inspired by Christianity.”

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Lorkas August 18, 2009 at 2:45 pm

Justin Martyr: All atheists believe in matter.[...] Number of miracles: 2 – the existence of the universe, and the fine-tuning of the laws of physics. No atheist argues that it these are logically necessary so you are looking at radically contigent events.

Not all atheists believe in matter, and some atheists do argue that the universe is logically necessary and the laws of physics couldn’t be different than they are.

Justin Martyr: If you look at either the social science or the history, Christianity is on much stronger ground that atheism. Christianity has created consensual marriage for women, abolished slavery, created the doctrine of human rights, expanded the circle of moral consciousness to include the weak, the poor, and the helpless – a debate that continues with abortion today.

Slavery in the Americas was founded by Christians, consensual marriage for women isn’t found only in Christian societies, and and caring for the weak, poor, and helpless was around before Jesus was invented (and in places where Jesus has never been heard of). Don’t talk to me about abortion, because Yahweh has killed more infants and unborn than any other person, real or imaginary.

Justin Martyr: By contrast all I need to know about secularism I learned from the French Revolution, the first truly mass movement in history inspired by secularism. It created the first modern mass executions with the guillotine. It created the first modern genocide at the Vendees. And it created the first modern dictator in Napoleon. Facism, Nazism, and Communism have only expanded the death toll since then.

You’re way off if you think that the first mass executions were inspired by secularism. Heard of the Crusades? The Inquisition? I guess you can define those away by saying they aren’t “modern”, but it doesn’t change the fact that it has clear precursors.
 
Not to mention the fact that the French Revolution came about in an attempt to throw off corrupt rule by kings who drove the country to bankrupcy, leading to mass starvation, and the Catholic Church, which took 10% from even the poorest in the country, worsening the issue of malnutrition. It’s not as though a bunch of heathens just decided to fuck everything up–religious oppression, especially of the poor, had a great deal to do with the dissatisfaction that led to the revolution. Most of all, people were tired of kings and priests using gold bars for paperweights and banknotes for tinder while nearly everyone else is starving because of government and church taxes.
 
The Nazis were by-and-large composed of Catholics, and the Roman Catholic Church supported Hitler, the Nazis, and Musollini (and has never issued an apology for its support of these groups). The most fascist governments have always been explicit and open about their commitment to Christianity–Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain, and, most recently, Bush’s US and Blair’s UK.
 
Communism… you’re certainly right that it is by-and-large a nonreligious movement, and it’s definitely true that the worst communist governments have all been secular, even anti-religious ones. It’s a shame, in my opinion, because a few crazy-ass leaders succeeded in ruining 2 good ideas. It got so bad that, even when Christian nations in Latin America tried to peacefully and democratically socialize their governments, the good Christians of the US decided to violently overthrow those governments, often installing US-friendly dictators to replace the democratically-elected communist presidents.

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Justin Martyr August 18, 2009 at 5:28 pm

Jake de Backer: Fair enough. “By contrast all I need to know about Christianity I learned from the Inquisition, the first truly mass movement in history inspired by Christianity.”

That’s simply untrue. Christianity began at about 33 AD. The inquisition began at around the 12th century. The first mass movement of Christianity lasted for about the first 300 years when it was illegal. It consisted of Christians *peacefully* practicing and spreading their faith and turning their other cheek in the face of horrific persecution. Go read ‘The Rise of Christianity’ by Rodney Stark for an account. Luke respectfully refers to that book in his own discussion of the early Christians.
If you really want to see the essential nature of a movement it is often helpful to look before they come into power. Christians preached and practiced peace and forgiveness. By contrast, secular people preached revolutionary violence even *before* they came into power.

Jeff H: It’s a little disingenuous to say that “Christianity abolished slavery”, for example – when the majority of the Western world was Christian, how would any other religion affect anything? The problem that you face is that a) Christians helped to abolish slavery AND b) Christians upheld slavery. They were on both sides.

That’s not true. Go and read ‘The Churching of America’ by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark (Luke approvingly mentions another book by Rodney Stark elsewhere on the blog).  Early America was not as Christian as it is often claimed. Even the Mayflower was only 35 Christians out of total of 105 people.  They find that only about 10% of Americans were church members in the 1700′s. That has steadily increased over time to its current level of about 35% today.
There was also a thriving deist movement and secular Enlightenment thinking had crossed the Atlantic. As I’m sure you know, many of the founders were more secular than Christian. And across these battle lines the Christians were the ones who most strongly favored abolition. Even when secular people favored abolition, as in the case of Jefferson, they subscribed to the scientific racism of the Enlightenment and held that blacks were inferior. Christian fundamentalists such as John Wesley and his followers disagreed. In short, thriving secular Enlightenment movement and a smaller Christian membership than most people expect makes the comparison fair.
 
Another point is that slavery has been a nearly universal human institution. Yet only one culture had the power to own and take slaves and decided against it: Christendom.

Jeff H: I can say the same thing about the examples you give for secularism. Keep in mind that the American and French revolutions were both strongly linked with secularism – one turned out bloody and violent, and the other turned out, well, less bloody and violent anyway. I think your interpretation of historical events is very whitewashed.

I disagree. I will certainly admit that there were thriving secular Enlightenment influences in America, but it was mixed with equally strong puritanical Christianity. By contrast, the French Revolution was essentially secular. The French Revolutionaries drew great inspiration from the American revolution and made frequent comparisons. Edmund Burke, sometimes called the world’s first conservative, disagreed. He famously argued in Reflections on the Revolution in France that the two movements were of fundamentally different character. He wrote this before The Terror and he correctly predicted that the French Revolution would get worse.

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lukeprog August 18, 2009 at 5:54 pm

Justin Martyr,

Atheism is not a worldview. Neither is theism. They are each a single belief about a sign issue, like a-unicornism, which also entails nothing about metaphysics (except the existence of a god), morality, politics, etc.

Every worldview is different. Every theistic worldview is unique. Every atheistic worldview is unique.

Stark’s sociological explanation for the early growth of Christianity has been widely accepted. But he has said some very stupid things on other subjects. I have no doubt that religion can bring emotional benefits – indeed, that is what atheists have always alleged. But societies without God do pretty well, too. See ‘Society Without God’ by Zuckerman.

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lukeprog August 18, 2009 at 5:55 pm

Justin,

Re: desirism. Check the FAQ’s section on other moral theories to see why all other moral theories fail where desirism succeeds. The 1000 sadists problem is a very small part of the consideration of moral theories.

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Justin Martyr August 18, 2009 at 6:06 pm

lukeprog: Justin Martyr,Atheism is not a worldview. Neither is theism. They are each a single belief about a sign issue, like a-unicornism, which also entails nothing about metaphysics (except the existence of a god), morality, politics, etc.Every worldview is different. Every theistic worldview is unique. Every atheistic worldview is unique.Stark’s sociological explanation for the early growth of Christianity has been widely accepted. …  But societies without God do pretty well, too. See ‘Society Without God’ by Zuckerman.

Hiya Luke,
 
We are equivocating over the word atheism and I’d rather not do that. You yourself mention in your blog series about ‘Sense and Goodness Without God’ that it is a ‘worldview in a box’. We all know that there are distinct beliefs that typically (though not always) come bundled with the belief that there is no God. The reason for these beliefs is to defend the coherency and evidential strength of the belief that there is no God.
 
I’m only vaguely familier with Zuckerman’s book. That is the one where he interviewed people in Sweden and found that atheists in other nations are moral (even if atheists in the US fall short of their Christian peers in terms of blood donation, volunteering, and charitable giving).  The problem is that there are ecological differences between Sweden and the US. If you really wanted to do a good comparison you’d have to compare apples to apples (or rather, Swedes to Swedes). Although they are a rare breed, are Swedish Christians more charitable than atheist Swedes? I would guess that they are.

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lukeprog August 18, 2009 at 6:24 pm

Justin,

Atheism means “no god belief.” That’s it. Nothing else. There’s no worldview there. See Is Atheism a Worldview?

Also, it may very well be the case that Christians are on average more moral than atheists, though there is evidence pointing both ways. But again, this says nothing at all about the TRUTH of Christianity. I’d be willing to bet that Jains are, on average, WAY more moral than Christians on average. But this doesn’t mean Jainism is the one true faith.

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Jeff H August 18, 2009 at 6:36 pm

Justin,
There’s a fairly simple explanation for why Christians would be more charitable than atheists. Atheists don’t have any sort of higher power mandating that they give to charity. Now, while I certainly see charitable giving as a good thing, I don’t think it’s something that trumps truth. In other words, I don’t think that we should spread a lie just because it sometimes leads to good results. An inconvenient truth (pardon the Al Gore phrase) is, at least in general, still better than a convenient untruth.
 
I think it would be interesting to compare the charitable giving of Christians to atheists that subscribe to some sort of secular humanist “doctrine”. They typically have more of a push toward compassion, shared values, etc. that more closely resemble the doctrines of Christianity. There might still be some differences since humanism is still a philosophy working from the ground up rather than imposed by some higher power, but I think most of the differences would likely disappear.
 
Anyway, I still stand by my statements about your history lesson. Although history is not my strong suit, I think that we need to be careful when personifying any religion or philosophy. “Christianity” does not do anything. “Communism” does not do anything. People do things. And there are good people and bad people, kind people and unkind people, tolerant people and bigoted people. Thus, while I wouldn’t say that Christianity produced the abolition of slavery, I also wouldn’t say that it produced the Inquisition. It works both ways. People produced slavery and abolition, and people have been behind the actions of the Inquisition, the witch hunts, the bloody revolutions and the ridiculous feuds. I’m willing to forgo pulling the Inquisition card on you if you forgo pulling the French Revolution card on me.

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Justin Martyr August 18, 2009 at 6:47 pm

 

Jeff H: There’s a fairly simple explanation for why Christians would be more charitable than atheists. Atheists don’t have any sort of higher power mandating that they give to charity.

Of course! I’m sorry if I left you with another impression. Christians are not morally superior to atheists. The only difference is that God is able to work through Christians but not atheists.
 

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Lee A. P. August 18, 2009 at 7:30 pm

It would almost take another entire blog to point out the ignorance and wrong headedness in Just Martyrs’post, but as was partially pointed out earlier with reference to the Inquisitions, to accuse “secularists” of brutality for the guillotine is laughable when contrasted with Christians who invented a wealth of the most sadistic torture devices in world history and did so SPECIFICALY to deal with people who disagreed with them on religious matters.

The rest, lets see: slavery — supported by the Bible.

The beginning of the universe? NOT a miracle. It is simply something we lack enough knowledge about. More knowledge is coming all the time. By this logic lightening was a “miracle” before we had a naturalistic explanation and this is exactly what it was to superstitious religious people in ancient times! It seems that, to the theist any question that is extremely difficult to fathom, and for which we lack a full explanation equals “magic”. No wonder they accuse non-believers of believing similarly. They cannot imagine the world without magic!

I also believe that the Christian is one extremely shaky ground when they pooh-pooh moral and ethical accomplishments of Roman, Greek and other ancient pagans who invented democracy and moral systems before Christianity existed.

Much of this, I believe, is due to the wide spread belief in Creationism in the US. When you believe that God created Adam and Eve first then it follows that worship of him and obedience to his moral law originated at the beginning of time. Secular history, however, shows a very different story. Moral platititudes liberally labeled “Christian” by believers actually predated Christianity and Judaism by thousands of years starting with animists, shamans and pagans long before those morals were adopted and incorporated into the Christian religion.

Virtually everything Justin Martyr (the poster) said wreaks of Christian arrogance, naivety and willful ignorance of actual, verifiable world history.

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toryninja August 18, 2009 at 8:04 pm

 

lukeprog: Justin Martyr,Atheism is not a worldview. Neither is theism. They are each a single belief about a sign issue, like a-unicornism, which also entails nothing about metaphysics (except the existence of a god), morality, politics, etc.Every worldview is different. Every theistic worldview is unique. Every atheistic worldview is unique.Stark’s sociological explanation for the early growth of Christianity has been widely accepted. But he has said some very stupid things on other subjects. I have no doubt that religion can bring emotional benefits – indeed, that is what atheists have always alleged. But societies without God do pretty well, too. See ‘Society Without God’ by Zuckerman.

I think the problem with this statement is that the belief in a god is radically different than a belief in a unicorn. Theism, the belief in a personal god, has incredible metaphysical ramifications. These ramifications then have a profound effect on how one lives in the physical realm. Thus, denying that there is any such thing as a god is going to also have profound metaphysical ramifications which then also affect how one lives in the physical realm. There is nothing inherent about a unicorn, or even the concept of a unicorn that would drastically affect a worldview – on the other hand theism does. Apples to oranges in my opinion.
 
“lukeprof: “I have no doubt that religion can bring emotional benefits – indeed, that is what atheists have always alleged. But societies without God do pretty well, too. See ‘Society Without God’ by Zuckerman.””
 
Many atheists disagree that religion has benefits. I, on the other hand think that religion has incredible evolutionary benefits. And the only way modern atheism will survive is if it adopts religious qualities which it is clearly already starting to do.
 
Also, with Sweden: That is a culture benefiting from centuries of having a Christian worldview. It also has many geo and poltiographic benefits that other nations do not have. Finally, I doubt Sweeden will be able to keep up it’s culture as their severely low birthrate will force them to bring in immigrants who undoubtley will probably be much more religious than them and also produce many more children than them. Atheism unfortunately has a severe evolutionary disadvantage in that it leads to one of two worldviews which both frown on the idea of having children: either a worldview which lacks hope or it’s complete opposite a worldview of living for oneself.

 

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lukeprog August 18, 2009 at 8:59 pm

toryninja: Theism, the belief in a personal god, has incredible metaphysical ramifications. These ramifications then have a profound effect on how one lives in the physical realm.

I disagree. Christianity is a worldview. Islam is a worldview. Secular humanism + Preference utilitarianism is a worldview. Theism is not a worldview. Atheism is not a worldview.

Does theism entail a specific number of deities? No, it just can’t be zero. Does theism entail any specific moral requirements? No. Does theism entail dualism? No. Does theism entail that God is all-powerful? No. Does theism entail that God is very knowledgeable? No. Does theism entail that God is good? No. Does theism entail that God communicates with humans? No. Does theism entail that God cares about humans? No. Does theism entail that intrinsic value exists? No. Does theism entail that God is the source of morality? No. Does theism entail that non-divine spirits exist? No. Does theism entail that God has a purpose for the universe, or for humans? No. Does theism entail that a particular position about universals, consciousness, free will, fundamental ontology, or effective epistemology for sentient beings? No. Does theism entail that particular rituals are required, or that particular books are sacred? No. Does theism entail that God is omnipresent? No.

Theism is not a worldview. Neither is atheism. It is more similar to unicorn-belief or non-unicorn-belief than it is to a full-blown, complex worldview that affirms a long list of propositions, like Christianity.

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drj August 18, 2009 at 9:43 pm

toryninja: Many atheists disagree that religion has benefits. I, on the other hand think that religion has incredible evolutionary benefits. And the only way modern atheism will survive is if it adopts religious qualities which it is clearly already starting to do.

I would put this another way…  secular philsophies should take from religion what works.  In so far as they take from religion what works, they will be in good shape. There’s no shame for an honest secularist to say that religion has gotten many things right, even though its filled with horrendous wrongs.  What I hope for, in any case, is a new paradigm that would leave behind the superstitions about gods and resurrections, miracle workings, etc but retain what good moral lessons and philsophies there are, contained in religions.

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toryninja August 18, 2009 at 11:34 pm

lukeprog: “I disagree. Christianity is a worldview. Islam is a worldview. Secular humanism + Preference utilitarianism is a worldview. Theism is not a worldview. Atheism is not a worldview.”

I actually wasn’t talking about worldviews. I never said theism was a worldview nor did I say atheism was a worldview. What I did say was that belief in theism or atheism would have profound effects on how one lived in the physical realm. A belief in theism would lead me in a certain direction when forming my beliefs about things (which would then create my worldview) while a belief in Atheism would lead me in another direction.

lukeprog:“Does theism entail a specific number of deities? No, it just can’t be zero. Does theism entail any specific moral requirements? No. Does theism entail dualism? No. Does theism entail that God is all-powerful? No. Does theism entail that God is very knowledgeable? No. Does theism entail that God is good? No. Does theism entail that God communicates with humans? No. Does theism entail that God cares about humans? No. Does theism entail that intrinsic value exists? No. Does theism entail that God is the source of morality? No. Does theism entail that non-divine spirits exist? No. Does theism entail that God has a purpose for the universe, or for humans? No. Does theism entail that a particular position about universals, consciousness, free will, fundamental ontology, or effective epistemology for sentient beings? No. Does theism entail that particular rituals are required, or that particular books are sacred? No. Does theism entail that God is omnipresent? No.”

I agree with most of that paragraph. I do think theism does entail a purpose of some sort for the universe however, or at least has some purpose in interacting with the universe, as theism by definition is different from deism in that theism entails a personal type of god. But again, I never said theism itself was a worldview. What I was trying to ultimatley get at was that t a belief in theism will lead one down one path in forming a worldview (while closing some others) while atheism will lead one down a different path. Sometimes these paths might cross, but they will ultimately lead to different conclusions because the starting conditions are different.
 

lukeprog:“Theism is not a worldview. Neither is atheism. It is more similar to unicorn-belief or non-unicorn-belief than it is to a full-blown, complex worldview that affirms a long list of propositions, like Christianity.”

Again, I disagree. A belief in a unicorn doesn’t have the same foundational effect to how I go about answering worldview questions as theism or atheism does.

drj:“I would put this another way…  secular philsophies should take from religion what works.  In so far as they take from religion what works, they will be in good shape. There’s no shame for an honest secularist to say that religion has gotten many things right, even though its filled with horrendous wrongs.  What I hope for, in any case, is a new paradigm that would leave behind the superstitions about gods and resurrections, miracle workings, etc but retain what good moral lessons and philsophies there are, contained in religions.”

I would imagine that is the way atheists should go. In particular atheists need to create some sort of worldview which provides the same drive, passion, hope and purpose that religion can and then get a whole swath of people to agree! Hopefully that can be done without any of the crap that usually has to tag along for the ride to make those other things work. Luckily, that isn’t my job ;)

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lukeprog August 18, 2009 at 11:50 pm

toryninja,

I’ve been using ‘theism’ as the opposite of ‘atheism’ – under this definition deism would be a type of theism.

How can bare theism entail any particular purpose or path?

toryninja: A belief in a unicorn doesn’t have the same foundational effect to how I go about answering worldview questions as theism or atheism does.

Neither belief in god nor belief in god entails much of anything. I might as well believe that a unicorn is the source of all moral value as a god, or that a unicorn provides intrinsic purpose to the universe instead of a god. There’s no logical difference in what their entailments; both theism and unicornism only entail the existence of their namesakes.

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Jake de Backer August 19, 2009 at 12:05 am

Justin Martyr observes, “That’s simply untrue. Christianity began at about 33 AD. The inquisition began at around the 12th century. The first mass movement of Christianity lasted for about the first 300 years when it was illegal. It consisted of Christians *peacefully* practicing and spreading their faith and turning their other cheek in the face of horrific persecution. Go read ‘The Rise of Christianity’ by Rodney Stark for an account. Luke respectfully refers to that book in his own discussion of the early Christians.
If you really want to see the essential nature of a movement it is often helpful to look before they come into power. Christians preached and practiced peace and forgiveness. By contrast, secular people preached revolutionary violence even *before* they came into power.”
“Christians *peacefully* practicing and spreading their faith”.  It must have been all the cheek turning and peace praising which led them all inexorably into the dark ages within decades of obtaining the power they so disparately sought after. I’m going to call upon the ever-eloquent J. B. Bury to make my next point regarding your claim that Christians were treated with “horrific persecution”:
“The relations between the Roman government and the Christians raised the general question of persecution and freedom of conscience.  A state, with an official religion, but perfectly tolerant of all creeds and cults, finds that a society had arisen in its midst which is uncompromisingly hostile to all creeds but its own and which, if it had the power, would suppress all but its own.  The government, in self-defence, decides to check the dissemination of these subversive ideas and makes the profession of that creed a crime, not on account of its particular tenets, but on account of the social consequences of those tenets.  The members of the society cannot without violating their consciences and incurring damnation abandon their exclusive doctrine.  The principle of freedom of conscience is asserted as superior to all obligations to the State, and the State, confronted by this new claim, is unable to admit it.  Persecution is the result.”
You see, when the central aspiration of your newfound cult is to hail in the end-times (and spare me, or us, rather, the “out of context” rebuttal) you should expect to encounter some societal disruptions not to be found in your favor.  The *peaceful* members of society were the season-worshipping pagans on the other end of your swords, Justin Martyr.
The other point to remember of Mr. Bury’s, if I may paraphrase it, is simply this; Christians were *peaceful* and innocuous when they were the minority.  They played this passive role until they gained the requisite numbers to merit convocations where they can get together and vote on vexing issues such as whether or not women are in fact, human.   It was at this time, that they had the muscle to pass edicts banning the worship of anything they arbitrarily decided wasn’t Christian theology which, incidentally, they were conceiving of at the very moment.  So to “look at” Christianity “before they came into power”, shows us a dishonest group of illiterate peasants disseminating information for which they lacked even the slightest evidence in it’s favor.  Passing off third generation anecdote’s as fact to manipulate ignorant individuals into fearing eternal hellfire.
“By contrast, secular people preached revolutionary violence even *before* they came into power.”
So far as I can recall, the fathers and founders of the enlightenment, humanism or secularism (i.e. Jefferson, Franklin, Voltaire, Paine, Rousseau, Hume, Diderot, Condorcet, Kant, D’Alembert, Bayle, d’Holbach, Locke, Montesquieu, Spinoza) never advocated the use of violence. Not exactly a claim which can be expanded to include your favorite work of divine-literature, is it? I can’t presume to know the mindset of the millions who have cultivated their intellect by reading the works of the aforementioned authors, but I doubt, with the utmost sincerity, that anyone has ever interpreted anything these men said as a call to arms. Their revolution was an intellectual one. To cast off the nonsensical chains in which people such as yourself, so dutifully reside.
“Christianity has created consensual marriage for women”
Is that a fact? Was this before or after they were permitted to violate 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 by speaking in church? Wait, I know the verse in mention:
Deuteronomy 21:11-13, right?
“11If you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. 12 Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails 13 and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife.”
“(Christianity) created the doctrine of human rights”
You mean the human right to be sacrificed?
Exodus 13:2
“2 Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether man or animal.”
Should we emulate the human right activist behavior put on display by Gideon, David, Moses, and Elisha? Should we honor the edicts in deutoronomy?
“And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God…” (Deuteronomy 13: 5)
“If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers;” (Deuteronomy 13: 6)
“Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.” (Deuteronomy 13:8-9)
“Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein, and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword.” (Deuteronomy 13:15)
I’m going to stop here, as I have, in my view, made a sufficient case to successfully remove the hollow legs upon which your groundless comments temporarily rested.
Yours in Christ,
Jake de Backer

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Jake de Backer August 19, 2009 at 12:07 am

Luke
I apologize for the blah blah on top of my response which is evidently integral to the content of my argument.  Also, how the hell do you space paragraphs?  They’re spaced intelligibly when composed in the text box but once submitted it turns into one big hodge-podge text.

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lukeprog August 19, 2009 at 5:55 am

Jake,

Some people have trouble with paragraph spacing, but I’ve never had that problem, so I can’t figure out why some people have that problem and others don’t.

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Justin Martyr August 19, 2009 at 7:51 am

Lee A. P.: The rest, lets see: slavery — supported by the Bible.

We could use a full post to unpack slavery but there is a reason why the abolition movement was led by Christians, not secular people. The bible’s references are to bond slavery – cases where parents had to sell children into slavery or let the whole family starve. The ancient world was brutally poor compared to today. The passages existed to regulate the practice and protect slaves. Some examples include laws protecting a slave from cruel forms of punishment (Exodus 21:20, 26), letting slaves rest on the Sabbath (Exodus 23:12), and prohibiting slave owners from prostituting their slaves (Leviticus 19:20). The most important of these laws about slavery was to prohibit involuntary slavery. Exodus 21:16 says “He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.” This clearly prohibited the kind of slavery that happened in the ancient Roman Empire and in America.

The books of the New Testament reflected the involuntary slavery practiced in the Roman Empire. It lists slave traders along with other evil people: “for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.” (1 Timothy 1:10, NIV). Other books in the bible uphold the spiritual equality of slaves with the free. Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

During the Roman Empire Christians freed their slaves and often en masse. Saint Ovidenia freed 8,000 slaves. Saint Ovidius freed 5,000. Slavery was common in the Roman Empire but it died out in the Middle Ages due to the work of the Catholic Church. It did remain on the pagan fringes but even there it was frequently opposed by Christians. Saint Askar tried to stop the Viking slave trade. Slavery came back at about the end of the Middle Ages, but again, the abolition movement was overwhelmingly Christian.

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Justin Martyr August 19, 2009 at 8:14 am

Hiya Jake de Backer,
 
1. You still gloss over the fact that there is a gap of many hundreds of years between the birth of Christianity and events such as the inquisition during the Middle Ages. Christianity was illegal for the first 300 years of its existence and Christians were horribly persecuted. And yet they were never violent and turned their cheeks to mass executions.
 
Secondly, even when in power Christianity, while far from perfect, consistently worked to promote equality and human rights. The doctrine of human rights was first created in the Middle Ages by the commentators on Gratian’s Decretum, which was an attempt to harmonize church law. See ‘The Idea of Natural Rights ‘ by Brian Tierney. The idea of rights existed long before Hobbes and Locke.
 
2. The role of women. Go consult Rodney Stark’s ‘The Rise of Christianity’. Luke approvingly discusses the book in a post on this blog. It elevated the status of women. Among the early Christians, women were allowed to marry consensually. By contrast, pagan girls were forced to marry against their will. The average age of marriage for a Christian female was 18; for a pagan it was 13. Yes, consensual marriage was lost during the Middle Ages. But the barbarian tribes of Europe never had consensual marriage for women and much of the accomplishments of the Roman empire were lost after it collapsed (which had nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with the fact that  it was only sustained by expanding borders, new slaves, and conquered wealth). Christianity began to slowly and with great difficulty to civilize the barbarian tribes and consensual marriage returned as a common practice, although I’d have to hit the books to give the exact date.
 
1 Corinthians 14:34-35 about women speaking in church. There are other parts of the New Testament in which women do speak in church. The best interpretations is that being the head of the church is a role reserved for men. The bible does reserve different roles for the different sexes, but it consistently upholds the equality of each. See galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
 
3. Old Testament quotes. The Jewish people as a community were in a binding legal agreement (covenant) with God. They were given a certain set of rights and duties and there were punishments for not meeting them. That included the duty to not worship other gods. It is a lot more legalistic than the New Covenent, but on the other hand, those punishments are pretty mild compared to a lifetime in hell. Gods wrath is powerful and I would prefer that no one have to face it.  But that does not mean that His wrath is not just.

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Justin Martyr August 19, 2009 at 8:15 am

lukeprog: Jake,Some people have trouble with paragraph spacing, but I’ve never had that problem, so I can’t figure out why some people have that problem and others don’t.

I’ve found that you need to do two blank lines between paragraphs.

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toryninja August 19, 2009 at 8:17 am

lukeprog:“I’ve been using ‘theism’ as the opposite of ‘atheism’ – under this definition deism would be a type of theism.”

Theism and deism have two different meanings. Just because atheism denies them both doesn’t make them the same thing.

lukeprog:“How can bare theism entail any particular purpose or path?”

Because purpose is intrinsic to the very definition of the word theism. A theistic god by very definition is personal in some way as it interacts with the universe in some way. Now what that purpose is, bare theism has nothing to say, but if the god isn’t personal than the god isn’t a theistic god – it would be some sort of deistic god.

lukeprog:“Neither belief in god nor belief in god entails much of anything. I might as well believe that a unicorn is the source of all moral value as a god, or that a unicorn provides intrinsic purpose to the universe instead of a god. There’s no logical difference in what their entailments; both theism and unicornism only entail the existence of their namesakes.”

Well, all your doing here is taking the definition of what a “god” is and applying it to a unicorn. What theism entails is that there is a personal god. What unicornism entails is that there is a horse with a horn on its head, possibly with the ability to fly and maybe use some magic. Unicornism can’t do what you want it do with out giving the unicorn “godlike” powers.
 
However, like you said, a personal god does not entail answers to any significant questions (purpose in life, what is moral, etc.). But what it does do is lead you down a certain path when asking and answering those questions. Atheism leads you down a different path.

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Democritus August 19, 2009 at 10:29 am

Justin Martyr,

The Bible gives counter-examples to your examples. Exodus 21:20, 26 protect a slave from cruel forms of punishment? You “forgot” verse 21, which says that, if the slave doesn’t die immediately, but after a couple days, then his owner is innocent of murder. How does that protect anyone? Also, you say that Leviticus 19:20 prohibits slave owners from prostituting their slaves, when it actually applies a milder penality than the normal for rape (which would be death). What’s that stuff about “two measures” anyway? Also, you seem to forget how the Bible instructs the way a father should sell his daughter as a sexual slave to someone (Exodus 21:7-8).

About Exodus 21:16, you’re also distorting its application; it is a law against theft, not against slavery. Leviticus 25:44 definitely confirms how slavery was not only accepted, but how it applied fully to “heathens”, in terms very similar to slavery in both the Roman Empire and America (as the rest of the chapter shows).

In the end, you’re doing exactly what every Christian does: you have an arbitrary belief, and you try to fit the Bible in your beliefs, “explaining” the parts the partially fit, and ignoring the rest the best you can. Remember: you’re not talking to laymen around here; many of us have been activist Christians until a while ago, and we know the “techniques” from within.

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lukeprog August 19, 2009 at 12:26 pm

toryninja: Theism and deism have two different meanings. Just because atheism denies them both doesn’t make them the same thing.

No, obviously not.  ‘Theism’, etymologically, means “god belief.” Atheism is it’s opposite: “not god belief.”

Deism is a type of theism which claims that a divine being created the universe but no longer interacts with it, or at least no longer interacts with Earth.

Theism, sometimes used in a more narrow sense, refers to belief in a singular, personal God.

toryninja: now what that purpose is, bare theism has nothing to say

That’s why I said theism entails no particular purpose. So, we agree.

 

Re: theism leading you down a path. You seem to agree that bare theism entails nothing about the universe or particular purpose or anything except that God exists. So what does “lead you down a path” mean?

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Hylomorphic August 19, 2009 at 12:48 pm

There are, of course, no real problems for those of us who do not dismiss all the other gods. In this, as in many other things, polytheism is far more coherent and self-consistent than the kind of monotheism one finds in the Abrahamic traditions.
 
Justin Martyr said:

Christianity was illegal for the first 300 years of its existence and Christians were horribly persecuted. And yet they were never violent and turned their cheeks to mass executions.

Well, not until Christianity was legalized, of course. At which point mob violence by Christians against both pagans and other Christians ensued. Violence by (and against) the “Donatists” persisted up until Augustine’s time, though it began years before Constantine officially brought religious toleration with the peace of Milan–beginning as soon as Maxentius restored toleration to Rome in 306. Violence quickly ensued between those who had (or were believed to have had) betrayed Christianity in the face of persecution but wished to remain in the Church, and those who found the presence of the “traditores” (the root of the English word “traitor”) unbearable.
During the “Arian controversy,” there were outbreaks of Christian-on-Christian violence throughout the East, but especially in Alexandria. This was not helped by the constant attempts by both sides to have the other sent into exile by the Emperor.
 
Violence of various sorts against pagans had already begun in fits and starts, but it really got going with the promulgation of a number of edicts by Emperor Theodosius I, starting with 381, that progressively criminalized the practice of pagan religion. By the early 390′s, mob violence against pagans was tremendously destructive–again, especially in Alexandria.
 
 
With regard to the supposed peacefulness of Christians in the face of oppression, it’s worth noting that–just as the oppression of pagans by Christians has been tremendously understated–the oppression of Christians has been tremendously overstated. Historians have not for a very long time given much credit to most of the lives of martyrs or the burnings of thousands of Christians at once. The soon-to-be martyrs in prison–some of whom, we know from the injunctions of bishops against intentionally provoking martyrdom–were almost always visited by Christians bringing them food and water, and asked in full view of the guards for the martyrs to pray for them–as it was believed that the prayers of a martyr were particularly efficacious. This would not have been possible if the Romans were half as oppressive as so frequently claimed.

Slavery was common in the Roman Empire but it died out in the Middle Ages due to the work of the Catholic Church.

You’re kidding, right? The majority of the population were slaves during the Middle Ages. Serfdom is a highly institutionalized form of slavery–even worse than the kinds found in the Roman Empire. And it wasn’t the Catholic Church that ended serfdom, but the Black Plague and a series of revolts.

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Dingo August 19, 2009 at 4:16 pm

Martyr said:
” By contrast, pagan girls were forced to marry against their will. ”

…And in some cases, the God of the Bible was OK with girls being married against their will. Particularly under cruel circumstances.

Deuteronomy 22:28-9
28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. [c] He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.

First, she has no choice in who she has sex with (rape). Then no choice in marriage (the rapist is to wed her).  And she must be wed to her violator for all her life.

- Dingo

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Kiwi Dave August 20, 2009 at 1:58 am

toryninja (great name, incidentally):

A belief in theism would lead me in a certain direction when forming my beliefs about things (which would then create my worldview) while a belief in Atheism would lead me in another direction.

 
It’s more than 40 years since I dropped out of Christianity, but IIRC it was  my half-formed beliefs about things which led me reluctantly away from Christianity towards atheism – the words I professed in church made no sense at all of my experiences of the world.
 
A problem in the (a)theism = a worldview claim is that atheism and theism are asymmetric. Theists are always theists in regard to a particular god or set of gods; the beliefs (and rationalisations necessary to support those beliefs) associated with that god become their world view. But the generalised philosophical arguments for the existence of gods say very little about the nature of these gods, their relationship to humanity,  and how we should live our lives, so believers constantly force their specific religious beliefs onto the general philosphical arguments.
 
By contrast, atheism merely says that there is no credible evidence for believing that gods in general exist and/or that if god is the creator then she did a lousy job from a human view point and/or that specific gods, as described in their promotional  materials, are quite repugnant.  All these  are products of worldviews rather than sources of  a worldview.
 

 
 

 
 

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Justin Martyr August 20, 2009 at 8:29 am

Hylomorphic: You’re kidding, right? The majority of the population were slaves during the Middle Ages. Serfdom is a highly institutionalized form of slavery–even worse than the kinds found in the Roman Empire. And it wasn’t the Catholic Church that ended serfdom, but the Black Plague and a series of revolts.

Slavery and serfdom are not the same. Serfs owned their own land and got whatever that land produced. They could marry freely. They could pass down their land to their children. The duties of serfdom were that serfs were legally bound to their land and could not move, and they were forced to labor in their lord’s land for a certain number of days. Its a crummy deal but it cannot be remotely compared to slavery.
 
The Roman Empire had a series of plagues but that didn’t end out in better treatment for its citizens. If anything it made things worse. Serfdom was already dying by the late Middle Ages because of growing commerce, trade, and wealth. And yes, the Catholic Church also opposed serfdom.

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Justin Martyr August 20, 2009 at 8:47 am

Dingo: Deuteronomy 22:28-9 28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. [c] He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.

First of all, that is the Old Testament. Secondly, the ancient world was not a place that treated women fairly. Women who were not virgins could not marry and their father certainly couldn’t get a dowry for her. She would be excluded, shunned, or ostracized. Its not fair, but that’s how it was. Given that reality the law was put into place to force the rapist to marry the woman because that would be the only way she wouldn’t be ostracized.
 
Christianity is what led to the increase in the status of women. Again, see Rodney Stark’s ‘The Rise of Christianity’ which Luke approvingly reviewed. Pagans in the Roman empire killed their firstborn girls. By contrast, Christians frequented the place where pagans left their babies to die of exposure and raised them as their own. Pagans had coerced marriage so pagan girls married at age 13 compared to 18 for Christian women. Because of this many women converted to Christianity relative to men. That continued right up through the first wave of the feminist movement, which was largely Christian. Even today women are more likely to be Christian than men. I think that is partially because women are higher in prosocial traits, but it is also because women know that church is a good place to meet men who genuinely respect and care about women.

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Justin Martyr August 20, 2009 at 8:49 am

It is Christianity and not feminism that is uplifting the lives of poor women today. Here is a quote from ‘The Next Christendom’ by Phillip Jenkins.
“… much of the best recent scholarship on Pentecostalism [a rapidly growing “fundamentalist” denomination] stresses the sweeping changes that religious conversion can make in the lives of women and their families … As in nineteenth century England or North America, evangelical religion has encouraged a new and exalted view of the family and domesticity, placing much greater emphasis on male responsibility and chastity. … In practical terms, the emphasis on domestic values has had a transformative and often positive effect on gender relationships, what Elizabeth Brusco has memorably called a “reformation of machismo.” Membership in a new Pentecostal church means a significant improvement in the lives of poor women, since this is where they are more likely to meet men who do not squander family resources on drinking, gambling, prostitutes, and second households. Drogus quotes one Pentecostal woman who reports that “I met a wonderful man. He never drinks, never smokes, he is polite, and has a good job.” As in matters of race, Christianity is far more than an opium of the disinherited masses: it provides a very practical setting in which people can improve their daily lives. ”

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Fortuna August 20, 2009 at 9:17 am

Serfs owned their own land and got whatever that land produced. They could marry freely. They could pass down their land to their children.
 
Well, serfdom did differ by place and time,  but you’re still mischaracterizing serfdom as most commonly practiced. Serfs did not “own” their land, the nobility did. For that matter, in Russia, the nobility owned the actual serfs; they could be traded, like beasts of burden. Serfs, for the most part, also didn’t “pass down their land”, they passed down their serfdom; their children inherited their state of bondage.

It is Christianity and not feminism that is uplifting the lives of poor women today.
 
This is the fallacy of the excluded middle.

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toryninja August 20, 2009 at 9:52 am

lukeprog: No, obviously not.  ‘Theism’, etymologically, means “god belief.” Atheism is it’s opposite: “not god belief.” Deism is a type of theism which claims that a divine being created the universe but no longer interacts with it, or at least no longer interacts with Earth. Theism, sometimes used in a more narrow sense, refers to belief in a singular, personal God.

I’m good with that.

lukeprog: That’s why I said theism entails no particular purpose. So, we agree.

We do :D

lukeprog: Re: theism leading you down a path. You seem to agree that bare theism entails nothing about the universe or particular purpose or anything except that God exists. So what does “lead you down a path” mean?

All I mean is that a belief in theism will affect the type of questions you ask (E.g. an Atheist isn’t going to ask about a god’s purpose in their life), the type of answers you may be open to (E.g. an Atheist would not normally accept “maybe god did it” answers), the other type of worldviews you might accept (E.g. a theist probably wouldn’t accept strict naturalism), and just the overall direction you’re going to take when forming your worldview. Belief in a god is just going to change the playing field. In the same way atheism changes the playing field. And in this case, the playing field is a worldview.

Kiwi Dave: toryninja (great name, incidentally)

Thanks! Actually, I really like yours as well! :p

Kiwi Dave: A belief in theism would lead me in a certain direction when forming my beliefs about things (which would then create my worldview) while a belief in Atheism would lead me in another direction.
“It’s more than 40 years since I dropped out of Christianity, but IIRC it was  my half-formed beliefs about things which led me reluctantly away from Christianity towards atheism – the words I professed in church made no sense at all of my experiences of the world.
 
A problem in the (a)theism = a worldview claim is that atheism and theism are asymmetric. Theists are always theists in regard to a particular god or set of gods; the beliefs (and rationalisations necessary to support those beliefs) associated with that god become their world view. But the generalised philosophical arguments for the existence of gods say very little about the nature of these gods, their relationship to humanity,  and how we should live our lives, so believers constantly force their specific religious beliefs onto the general philosphical arguments.
 
By contrast, atheism merely says that there is no credible evidence for believing that gods in general exist and/or that if god is the creator then she did a lousy job from a human view point and/or that specific gods, as described in their promotional  materials, are quite repugnant.  All these  are products of worldviews rather than sources of  a worldview.”

I agree that theism or atheism can be the result of a worldview one adopts (E.g. If I like strict naturalism that is probably going to lead me into the ‘atheist’ camp ). But I also think it can (and often does) go the other way around.

 

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Dingo August 20, 2009 at 10:51 am

Martyr said:
“First of all, that is the Old Testament. ”

That was understood. My reason for posting that was to slightly shift the direction of your quote. You were claiming that Christianity gave greater freedom to women regarding marriage. My point was that the God of the OT, the same God of the NT and Christianity in general, allowed women to be married against their will. Whatever Christians may have done in the A.D. era to help women, they still has a brutal fact to contend with. That their God was, at one point, committed to a woman not having a choice in marriage in a specific context.

Martyr said:
“Secondly, the ancient world was not a place that treated women fairly.”
This is true. But it is not an adequate response to why God allowed women to be treated unfairly.

  “Given that reality the law was put into place to force the rapist to marry the woman because that would be the only way she wouldn’t be ostracized.”
This hardly makes God look compassionate. So the violated party now has to live with their violator, serve their violator, and engage in further intimacies with the person that violated them. Don’t you think that would lead to massive psychological and emotional trauma for the woman? And who is to say that the violator-now-husband would treat her well? If he was willing to berate and break her once, what good will a marriage vow do to change his attitude toward her?
Ostracism vs. living, serving, and being ‘one’ with the person that broke you. To some, the latter option would no doubt be more cruel and among the most inhumane demands placed upon a woman.
Martyr, if you choose to continue this particular topic, be careful where you take it. This isn’t said as an insult or to belittle your intelligence. It’s a respectful note, based on experience, that most believers that try and defend God on this point usually end up defending horrific acts against women in the name of a ‘sovereign, just and loving God’. This point usually ends up with the dignity of women being crushed by a just God.
And to claim that this same God would later elevate the status of women is no argument, nor consolation, for those women that were demolished by such an appalling law.
- Dingo
 

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Reginald Selkirk August 20, 2009 at 12:13 pm

Justin Martyr: First of all, that is the Old Testament.

Matt 5:17-18
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

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Justin Martyr August 21, 2009 at 5:22 pm

 

Dingo: You were claiming that Christianity gave greater freedom to women regarding marriage. My point was that the God of the OT, the same God of the NT and Christianity in general, allowed women to be married against their will. Whatever Christians may have done in the A.D. era to help women, they still has a brutal fact to contend with.

 
Yes, but the OT was a different covenant with a different culture. The warmer and more forgiving new covenant was only possible because of Jesus’ sacrifice. We no longer have to punished for our sins with that kind of wrath. Now, in the case of the woman who got raped she is not being punished nor is the rapist being rewarded. Rather, the goal is to take care of the woman rather than let her be disgraced and abandoned. That’s what often happens in the third world today when a woman is raped.
 
 

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Dingo August 21, 2009 at 6:33 pm

Martyr said:
“Yes, but the OT was a different covenant with a different culture. The warmer and more forgiving new covenant was only possible because of Jesus’ sacrifice. We no longer have to punished for our sins with that kind of wrath.”

I’m aware of the theology behind this. However, such an explanation is of no comfort to the woman that was raped and forced to marry her offender. What comfort is there for that woman? What justice? It is a bizarre kind of “compassion” that insists, “I know God let you get raped, and now wants you to marry that beast, but the Messiah will make it all better someday. OK?” It would not be unusual for a woman to lose any faith in a god after something like that.

Martyr said:
“Now, in the case of the woman who got raped she is not being punished nor is the rapist being rewarded. Rather, the goal is to take care of the woman rather than let her be disgraced and abandoned.”

If the goal is take care of the woman, it seems like they are constructing a failing plan.
A woman was raped, then forced to marry her rapist (a 2nd kind of rape). She is no doubt suffering from psychological, emotional, (and perhaps physical) traumas after her first violation. Now she is being told that  her rapist is going to marry her whether she likes it or not. At this point her psychological devastation has probably multiplied greatly.

Justin, what woman willingly wants to marry her rapist? What woman would think such a gesture is “caring”? I would not be surprised if a number of women were feeling suicidal after hearing they are now going to marry their rapist. Nor would I be surprised that a number of women would choose to be a pariah rather than marry their rapist.

Protecting her from “disgrace and (being) abandonned”? She’s already been disgraced, is being disgraced by marrying her rapist, and would probably rather be abandonned than live the rest of her life serving and being intimate with her violator.

 Again, imagine the trauma this woman is experiencing. Furthermore, we have no proof that her rapist-now-husband will treat her any differently. He raped her once, why care about her now? Is a marriage vow supposed to cure his derangement? Even if he is now responsible to the elders in the community to treat her well, he can still get away with forcing her to have sex with him even though they are married. As you stated, women had an inferior status then. All he has to do is put on the appearance of change. Behind the backs of his religious elders he will probably treat her just as he did the first time – like crap.

It is difficult to see God’s love here especially if such abused women were then to spend eternity in Hell after a lifetime of a living hell. Why trust a god that allows you to get raped, to  marry your rapist and serve your rapist as your superior all of your life?

- Dingo

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Fortuna August 21, 2009 at 7:20 pm

Yes, but the OT was a different covenant with a different culture.
 
Cultural relativism for the win.
 
The warmer and more forgiving new covenant was only possible because of Jesus’ sacrifice.
 
How puzzling. You mean to say that God couldn’t possibly have handed down some more humane rules unless and until he made a blood sacrifice…of himself…to himself…to apologize to himself for the sins of a species he created…in the full knowledge that they’d be sinning?
 
We no longer have to (be) punished for our sins with that kind of wrath.
 
How incredibly generous of your God to no longer behave like a raging, abusive dick.
 
Now, in the case of the woman who got raped she is not being punished nor is the rapist being rewarded.
 
To be perfectly blunt, that is a psychopathic, monstrously delusional statement. The woman is being punished by being shackled to her rapist, for crying out loud. The rapist is being rewarded with a human being that, according to conservative Christian marriage norms, is now obligated to provide him with domestic service and sex, consensual or not.
 
 
 
 
 

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Fortuna August 21, 2009 at 7:39 pm

Oh, and for this little gem:
 
That’s what often happens in the third world today when a woman is raped.
 
That’s still freakin’ despicable. Has it not occured to you that this whole system puts women in a double bind? A man can rape you, and then his peers will shame you into marrying him. That would be the ideal way to inflict horrific misery on women.

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drj August 21, 2009 at 7:47 pm

Fortuna: Cultural relativism for the win.

Took the words out of my mouth here…
 
How can a Christian really claim that the “revealed morality” in the new testament is actually any kind of objective moral truth at all?  One cannot discount the possibility that what they presently think are objective moral truths, are simply temporary pragmatic rules for the “present times”, to be supplanted later.  How can this be objective moral truth?
 
A couple centuries later, maybe some other “revealed truth” will have people believing that the “revealed truth” of this time, were just situational rules for the simple minds of ages past.

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lukeprog August 21, 2009 at 9:41 pm

Fortuna:  Cultural relativism for the win.

I literally LOLed right here.

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Ferguson August 23, 2009 at 12:46 pm

And another one bites the dust……..

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Hylomorphic August 24, 2009 at 7:18 am

Justin Martyr: Slavery and serfdom are not the same. Serfs owned their own land and got whatever that land produced. They could marry freely. They could pass down their land to their children. The duties of serfdom were that serfs were legally bound to their land and could not move, and they were forced to labor in their lord’s land for a certain number of days. Its a crummy deal but it cannot be remotely compared to slavery.   The Roman Empire had a series of plagues but that didn’t end out in better treatment for its citizens. If anything it made things worse. Serfdom was already dying by the late Middle Ages because of growing commerce, trade, and wealth. And yes, the Catholic Church also opposed serfdom.

First, as pointed out, that’s a rather whitewashed view of serfdom. The slaves under the Roman Empire had at least as many freedoms as that–given that the serfs did not, in fact, own their land, which would have been part of their lord’s fiefdom.
 
And yes, Rome did have plagues–but nothing on the scale of the Black Death. Its killing a third of Europe resulted in tremendous extra resources being available for everyone–the “increased commerce, trade, and wealth” you refer to.

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Justin Martyr August 25, 2009 at 5:51 am

Fortuna: Cultural relativism for the win.

 
It is not cultural relativism in the sense that rape is acceptable in some cultures but not in others. The issue pragmatic. Given that rape happens, what is the best way to protect the woman? If she is already married then you execute the rapist. In fact, that is what the OT proscribes. But what about in cases where the woman is a virgin and the options are (1) execute the rapist and leave the woman ostracized, or (2) force the rapist to marry the woman so she will be provided for, then the best option for her is #2.

Fortuna: To be perfectly blunt, that is a psychopathic, monstrously delusional statement. The woman is being punished by being shackled to her rapist, for crying out loud. The rapist is being rewarded with a human being that, according to conservative Christian marriage norms, is now obligated to provide him with domestic service and sex, consensual or not.

Given the nature of the ancient world, what would you do? God set out a path that will result in the gradual uplift of the human heart so that these two options do not have to be faced. And He succeeded. But prior to that process of cultural uplift what do you do?

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Justin Martyr August 25, 2009 at 5:55 am

Hylomorphic: First, as pointed out, that’s a rather whitewashed view of serfdom. The slaves under the Roman Empire had at least as many freedoms as that–given that the serfs did not, in fact, own their land, which would have been part of their lord’s fiefdom. And yes, Rome did have plagues–but nothing on the scale of the Black Death. Its killing a third of Europe resulted in tremendous extra resources being available for everyone–the “increased commerce, trade, and wealth” you refer to.

 
That is not correct. I’m using a reference Brian Tierney’s “Western Europe in the Middle Ages” about the status of serfs in western Europe. They owned their own land, could marry freely, and got to pass on their land to their children. That is not remotely like the status of slaves in the Roman empire.
 
Secondly, your knowledge of medieval history is lacking. The high culture of the middle ages happened before the plagues. In fact, the plagues resulted in a set back, which is why the last 150 years or so of the middle ages (approximately 1300 to 1450) were not as economically dynamic or intellectually vigorous as the 150 years before. It is probably true that the loss of population helped launch Europe forwards beginning the latter half of the 15th century and onwards.

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drj August 25, 2009 at 5:59 am

Justin Martyr: Given the nature of the ancient world, what would you do? God set out a path that will result in the gradual uplift of the human heart so that these two options do not have to be faced. And He succeeded. But prior to that process of cultural uplift what do you do?

Whats wrong with God saying, “Thou shalt not ostracize and condemn virgins who have been raped”?

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Justin Martyr August 25, 2009 at 6:28 am

That is already in the bible. Consider this passage from Leviticus 19:

14 You shall not curse the deaf, or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but you shall fear your God. I am the LORD.
15 “You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment. Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty, but judge your fellow men justly.
16 You shall not go about spreading slander among your kinsmen; nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake. I am the LORD.
17 “You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. Though you may have to reprove your fellow man, do not incur sin because of him.
18 Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

 
But the story of God’s relationship with man is that God wants man to be loving and man keeps sinning. Poorly defined laws are the easiest to rationalize, and the woman would still end up unmarried without property or a husband. She could starve to death or worse. Realistically the “bright, clear lines” philosophy is needed. And thus you need to spell out a well-defined procedure for the woman to be taken care of.
 
But of course the long term goal is to create a change of heart so that this bandaid is not needed. And God succeeded. As pointed out in ‘The Rise of Christianity’, a book that Luke approvingly quotes, pagan girls married at their fathers’ command at age 13, whereas Christian women married consensually at 18. The OT provided the foundation and the fruits really paid off with Christianity. Of course, God knew that all along.

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Dingo August 25, 2009 at 8:13 am

Martyr said:
” But what about in cases where the woman is a virgin and the options are (1) execute the rapist and leave the woman ostracized, or (2) force the rapist to marry the woman so she will be provided for, then the best option for her is #2.”

I notice that you slipped past my responses regarding these issues. Care to tackle them? My responses came a few before yours and dealt more specifically with the problems regarding option 2.

- Dingo

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Justin Martyr August 25, 2009 at 9:17 am

Dingo: I’m aware of the theology behind this. However, such an explanation is of no comfort to the woman that was raped and forced to marry her offender. What comfort is there for that woman? What justice? It is a bizarre kind of “compassion” that insists, “I know God let you get raped, and now wants you to marry that beast, but the Messiah will make it all better someday. OK?” It would not be unusual for a woman to lose any faith in a god after something like that.

 
Once again, the choice is that or to be shunned and starve to death. I don’t want to go around in circles, but while the bible teaches to love your neighbor, it is the poorly defined laws that are the hardest to enforce and the easiest to rationalize breaking. Given the harshness of biblical times, marriage was in the best interest of the raped, and therefore unfairly devalued, woman. The long term goal is to uplift the hearts of people so that we no longer have to face this choice, and there Christianity succeeded.

Dingo: Ostracism vs. living, serving, and being ‘one’ with the person that broke you. To some, the latter option would no doubt be more cruel and among the most inhumane demands placed upon a woman. Martyr, if you choose to continue this particular topic, be careful where you take it. This isn’t said as an insult or to belittle your intelligence. It’s a respectful note, based on experience, that most believers that try and defend God on this point usually end up defending horrific acts against women in the name of a ’sovereign, just and loving God’. This point usually ends up with the dignity of women being crushed by a just God.

 
I’m not shying away from the toughest passages from the bible. The defense is pretty clear to me: (1) the best of a small number of bad options given the nature of the ancient world – or compared to the third world today, and (2) implement a plan such that the hearts of people will be gradually uplifted so that you don’t have to make such an ugly choice in the future. And it succeeded.
 
That’s the hard part. Read the rest of the OT and it amazing how much there is about caring for the weak, tending the poor, and loving one’s neighbor. It’s why Rabbi Hillel was famously able to summarize the Torah with the Golden Rule. That’s something that Jesus himself did later on. The historian Steven Cahil and others have argued that it was really the Jews who taught the world to love the weak and oppressed. The truest interpretation of the OT does not come from atheists, but from the people who have based their lives on its values. God made his covenant with the Jews so they would be a light to the world and He succeeded.
 

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Dingo August 25, 2009 at 11:54 am

Martyr said:
“I’m not shying away from the toughest passages from the bible.”

I’d say you are shying away from dealing with the realistic consequences of some of the toughest passages in The Bible.

Kudos for at least trying to interpret these difficult passages. However, your responses seem to gloss over the more painful and difficult aspects of the woman’s grief – her mental, emotional, and future phsyical well being (by physical well being I mean any further violations by the same man). There has been no explicit commentary by you on these issues. The only thing that you have brought up is that she’d be fed after being kicked by life. So, now she is the equal with the family dog. Not exactly an exulted state.

Martyr said:
“Given the harshness of biblical times, marriage was in the best interest of the raped, and therefore unfairly devalued, woman.”

Best interests in terms of getting food, perhaps. How about in terms of the woman’s psyche, emotions, and physical well-being (remember, no guarantees her assaulter is now a ‘changed man’.)? I doubt that. What is the incentive for the violator to treat her well after abusing her? Who in the community will know if she is being abused again? After all, her status as a woman will probably lead to her being called a liar if she accuses her one time abuser.

In terms of power, she is placed in a worse spot than before. She is now a servant to her violator husband. Starvation is probably preferrable.

Put aside the issue of being fed. Consider and address how marrying her violator now places her in a worse spot in terms of emotional and mental health. Address how, in terms of realistic power relations (an abusive patriach), she is in a better situation.

If you want to deal with the tough bible passages, please deal with the tough consequences of them.

Martyr said:
“The long term goal is to uplift the hearts of people so that we no longer have to face this choice.”

The means justifies the ends? So, a number of women had to be abused, degraded, and enslaved to their violators so that others wouldn’t have to face this? Again, this is no consolation for the women involved.

Martyr said:
“Read the rest of the OT and it amazing how much there is about caring for the weak, tending the poor, and loving one’s neighbor.”

I have read the other portions of the OT. And it’s a mixed bag – some decent moments, and a lot of brutal moments. And being told to read the rest of the OT is still not a suitable justification for the abhorrent passages we have discussed.

-Dingo

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Dingo August 25, 2009 at 11:59 am

***Justin Martyr, here is my challenge.*** I’ve pointed out a few ways in which, to my mind, you have not truly dealt with the difficulties involved in the ‘marry your violator’ passages. You have explained how this would help them get fed (not much consolation) but have not dealt with the psychological, emotional, hierchical, and physical problems specifically and in depth.

My challenge? Take your argument of this to a feminist site like Feministing, Feministe, or Pandagon. Challenge them with the points you have made. Ask for their rebuttals. My reason for this? They will probably be better able to provide you with statistics regarding how to handle violated women, the best procedures, what attempts have failed. In addition to them giving you a thorough conversation on power struggles and other issues effecting women in OT times. I’m sure a number of them have written on this topic. Such sites are better suited with knowing about the truth regarding violated and oppressed women, the statistics surrounding them, and the true care available to them.

If you claim to want “enter the lion’s den” for your faith, go there. I’ve given you a few things to consider but would also like to see you face knowledgable writers on this topic that won’t allow you to dodge the pertinent questions in favor of answers like, “Oh! But if they marry their abuser, now they can eat!” It will force you to deal, in depth, with societal norms, power structures, morals, women’s history and other topics pertinent to this. Mere Bible quotations won’t work.
I don’t mind continuing this topic here. But I don’t see evidence that you will take seriously my points.  The previously mentioned sites will force you to contend or be gone.

What say you?

- Dingo

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Justin Martyr August 25, 2009 at 1:03 pm

Dingo: Starvation is probably preferrable.

 
Being raped is bad, but being dead is even worse.
 
 

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Dingo August 25, 2009 at 1:37 pm

Martyr said:
“Being raped is bad, but being dead is even worse.”

And what about all of those rape victims that have killed themselves?
Apparently, for some, being dead is better than living as a violated being. Your statement will depend greatly upon the individual that has been violated and what she has to look forward to.

And don’t forget to take my quote in context. Starvation as a possible preferrence to being raped AND THEN being forced to marry and serve your rapist. This is the specific argument.

- Dingo

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Fortuna August 25, 2009 at 4:53 pm

It is not cultural relativism in the sense that rape is acceptable in some cultures but not in others.
 
That is exactly the sense in which you are arguing that rape is acceptable in some cultures, but not in others. You are saying that allowing rapists to get away with rape is acceptable under some cultural conditions. More than that, you are actually arguing that rapists being rewarded under some cultural conditions is acceptable.
 
It’s really quite simple;
 
Rape occurs. According to you, the appropriate results for Culture A are; rewarding the rapists. The appropriate results for Culture B (ours) are; incarcerating the rapists. There is no conclusion that can be drawn from this other than that you think rape is acceptable in some cultures but not in others.
 
You’re a cultural relativist. Own it.



Given that rape happens, what is the best way to protect the woman?
 
There are a number of things that can be done that will serve women’s interests far better than placing them in a double bind, in which a rapist can guarantee that he will be able to continue abusing his victim.



Given the nature of the ancient world, what would you do?
 
You mean as a human being, or as a god? As a human being, I’d do what humans actually did end up doing, which was to advance the notion that women are just as fully human as men, and therefore entitled to the same rights of self-determination, and guarantors of security of the person, as are men.
 
As a god, I’d have simply said don’t rape anyone, don’t shame anyone for having been raped, and don’t force anyone into marriage.



God set out a path that will result in the gradual uplift of the human heart so that these two options do not have to be faced. And He succeeded.
 
And yet, being a conservative Christian, at least in the United States, means you’re quite likely, statistically speaking, to support government-sponsored torture and pre-emptive war, while opposing hate-crimes legislation, the right to marry, and the rights to be informed of and exercise control over one’s own sexual reproduction. Looks like your imaginary friend isn’t done uplifting hearts.

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Fortuna August 25, 2009 at 5:15 pm

It’s why Rabbi Hillel was famously able to summarize the Torah with the Golden Rule. That’s something that Jesus himself did later on. The historian Steven Cahil and others have argued that it was really the Jews who taught the world to love the weak and oppressed.
 
Because, as we all know, the Golden Rule was completely unknown outside of cultures that came into contact with Jewish culture.
 
The truest interpretation of the OT does not come from atheists, but from the people who have based their lives on its values. God made his covenant with the Jews so they would be a light to the world and He succeeded.
 
As has been pointed out, the OT is a mixed bag. Just as you might expect, the behaviour of people who live their lives based on its’ values is also a mixed bag, running the gamut from the sublime to the monstrous.

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Justin Martyr August 25, 2009 at 5:22 pm

Shoot first, do your homework later.  The Answering Islam website actually looks at the Hebrew. In Deuteronomy 22:25 the passage describes executing someone who rapes a woman who is engaged. In 22:28 it describes raping the virgin. Here is the kicker. It uses the hebrew word ‘chazaq’  in 22:25 but the combination of ‘taphas and shakab’ in 22:28. It refers to consensual sex. Basically it is advocating shotgun marriages when a couples has premarital sex.

Fortuna: You mean as a human being, or as a god? As a human being, I’d do what humans actually did end up doing, which was to advance the notion that women are just as fully human as men, and therefore entitled to the same rights of self-determination, and guarantors of security of the person, as are men.

 
God certainly has the power to make us more loving, but God does not value coerced love. He values love as a freely chosen action. And to forestall the obvious rebuttal, check out ‘Reinventing the Sacred’ by Stuart Kaufman, one of the founders of complexity theory (the study of emergent properties), for a defense of quantum chaos as free will.
 

Fortuna: And yet, being a conservative Christian, at least in the United States, means you’re quite likely, statistically speaking, to support government-sponsored torture and pre-emptive war, while opposing hate-crimes legislation, the right to marry, and the rights to be informed of and exercise control over one’s own sexual reproduction. Looks like your imaginary friend isn’t done uplifting hearts.

 
I’m opposed to the war in Iraq. I’ve heard the definition of a neoconservative as someone who believes the government can work the kind of beneficial change from thousands of miles away that it cannot accomplish in its own backyard. I think the only non-defensive use of military force is to stop a genocide. I am fully in support of the right to marry, but children are stakeholders in marriage too. They have an interest in being raised by their biological parents and that automatically prohibits same-sex marriage. If you don’t think that children have an interest in being raised by the biological parents you have a lot of reading about evolution to do! As to sexual reproduction, one woman’s rights end where another human’s body begins. My right to life means you do not have a right to stick a knife in my chest. Similarly, your right to control your sexual reproduction does not grant you the right to kill another human being. Opposition to abortial is impartial. It grants equal moral status to the fetus and the woman and applies general tools of moral reasoning. By contrast, the defense of abortion starts by excluding the unborn from the circle of moral consciousness. I invite you to expand your circle and use impartial moral reasoning.

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Wesley August 25, 2009 at 5:40 pm

dude. the atheists won this round with superior reasoning and actually engaging in debate. you aren’t doing so well.

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Hylomorphic August 25, 2009 at 6:07 pm

 

Justin Martyr:   That is not correct. I’m using a reference Brian Tierney’s “Western Europe in the Middle Ages” about the status of serfs in western Europe. They owned their own land, could marry freely, and got to pass on their land to their children. That is not remotely like the status of slaves in the Roman empire.   Secondly, your knowledge of medieval history is lacking. The high culture of the middle ages happened before the plagues. In fact, the plagues resulted in a set back, which is why the last 150 years or so of the middle ages (approximately 1300 to 1450) were not as economically dynamic or intellectually vigorous as the 150 years before. It is probably true that the loss of population helped launch Europe forwards beginning the latter half of the 15th century and onwards.

On the contrary, it’s your understanding of slavery in the Roman empire that requires remediation. Though slavery was quite cruel in the Republican period, rules were instituted to make it much more humane in the Imperial. Slaves had a number of legal protections, could marry (eventually), own property–even other slaves!–and, most importantly, buy back their freedom.  Manumission was substantially more common for Roman slaves than for serfs.
 
 
With regard to bringing about the end of serfdom, it’s not clear to me what the high culture of the Middle Ages has to do with it–I was talking about the dramatic increase in station and prosperity of the serfs that resulted from the Black Death. The increase in culture was a phenomenon of the urban centers, not the fields where the serfs were.

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Fortuna August 25, 2009 at 10:54 pm

Shoot first, do your homework later.  The Answering Islam website actually looks at the Hebrew. In Deuteronomy 22:25 the passage describes executing someone who rapes a woman who is engaged. In 22:28 it describes raping the virgin. Here is the kicker. It uses the hebrew word ‘chazaq’  in 22:25 but the combination of ‘taphas and shakab’ in 22:28. It refers to consensual sex. Basically it is advocating shotgun marriages when a couples has premarital sex.
 
Do I give a shit? You’re on record as saying that forcing a rapist to marry his victim was/is acceptable for some cultures. If, at this point in time, you now wish to advocate a different reading of your scriptures, then have fun, but we’re not just gonna forget that you advocated cultural relativism upthread.



God certainly has the power to make us more loving, but God does not value coerced love. He values love as a freely chosen action. And to forestall the obvious rebuttal
 
What rebuttal is even called for here? I have no more need to rebut this assertion of yours than you have to rebut my assertion that C’thulhu waits with the other Old Gods to devour your soul.



I’m opposed to etc etc
 
I didn’t mean you personally. If you pick a conservative Christian at random, they’re likely to hold the views I mentioned, which is to say, their hearts could use some more upliftin’.



I am fully in support of the right to marry, but children are stakeholders in marriage too. They have an interest in being raised by their biological parents and that automatically prohibits same-sex marriage.
 
Children “have an interest” in being raised by parents who care about them and will see to their needs, and yet, many, many biological parents do neither. Are their marriages also prohibited? If so, you’d better get to work breaking them up, as there are far more shitty hetero parents out there rearing kids than there are married gay couples.



If you don’t think that children have an interest in being raised by the biological parents you have a lot of reading about evolution to do!
 
Right back at you, pal. The data is in, and gay couples do just fine raising kids.



Opposition to abortial is impartial. It grants equal moral status to the fetus and the woman
 
That’s the problem. A fetus is nonsentient until relatively late in the pregnancy. Women, generally speaking, are. You are arguing that the interests of a being that, for all intents and purposes, has the same capacity for experience as a bowl of lime Jell-O, should take priority over a fully realized person.

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Fortuna August 25, 2009 at 10:59 pm

Now that I read it over, in case it wasn’t clear, I mean that women, generally speaking, are sentient.

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Justin Martyr August 26, 2009 at 6:17 am

Fortuna: Do I give a shit? You’re on record as saying that forcing a rapist to marry his victim was/is acceptable for some cultures. If, at this point in time, you now wish to advocate a different reading of your scriptures, then have fun, but we’re not just gonna forget that you advocated cultural relativism upthread.

 
No, I’m on record as saying that forced marriage is better than starving to death.  That is my “concession” to cultural relativism. I take it you retract your argument on the bible based on the hebrew words though?
 

Fortuna: Children “have an interest” in being raised by parents who care about them and will see to their needs, and yet, many, many biological parents do neither. Are their marriages also prohibited? If so, you’d better get to work breaking them up, as there are far more shitty hetero parents out there rearing kids than there are married gay couples.

 
You need to read some evolution. Start with this principle: it is a rational evolutionary strategy to invest time and energy into raising your own children. It is not a rational evolutionary strategy to invest time and energy raising someone else’s.  Social selection and bargaining theory can add a little nuance to that, but the general point stands. Thus we see that children are 70 to 100 times more likely to be killed by a stepfather than a biological father – and that number is probably understated because it assumes that none of the biological fathers were cuckolds. Go read ‘The Myth of Monogamy’ and ‘The Triumph of Sociobiology’ for an introduction to this subject.

Fortuna: Right back at you, pal. The data is in, and gay couples do just fine raising kids.

 
First of all, no responsible researcher on either side of the issue argues that “the data is in” because same-sex marriage and parenting are so new. See ‘Gay Marriage, Same-sex parenting, and the America’s children’ by William Weezer and Jonathan Rauch, two progressives who defend samesex marriage. Secondly, those studies that are in compare lesbian comothers with men whose wives got pregnant at a sperm bank and conclude that comothers are as engaged and attached to their children – if not more so – than the “fathers.” And those are from the best studies! See the same article. If that is how researchers are going to make the case for samesex parenting then they’ve got a lot of work to do.

Fortuna: That’s the problem. A fetus is nonsentient until relatively late in the pregnancy. Women, generally speaking, are. You are arguing that the interests of a being that, for all intents and purposes, has the same capacity for experience as a bowl of lime Jell-O, should take priority over a fully realized person.

The true way to tell the beauty and love in a system of ethics is how it treats the weak and the marginalized. Anyone can love the strong, beautiful, and intelligent. It is not so easy to love teh weak and the helpless. You are defending granting ethical status based on how intelligent people are – as I’ve pointed out from the start of this thread, secular people are constantly endorsing eugenical theories of morality.

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Justin Martyr August 26, 2009 at 6:24 am

Hylomorphic: On the contrary, it’s your understanding of slavery in the Roman empire that requires remediation. Though slavery was quite cruel in the Republican period, rules were instituted to make it much more humane in the Imperial. Slaves had a number of legal protections, could marry (eventually), own property–even other slaves!–and, most importantly, buy back their freedom. Manumission was substantially more common for Roman slaves than for serfs.

 
You mean like how Nero ordered Seneca to commit suicide? And how he lit his slaves on fire to use them as human torches? Can you please provide a reference for this “ethical” treatment of Roman slaves? As to manumission, there were Romans who freed the occassional slave but I’ve already provided examples earlier in the thread that the mass manumissions were from Christians. That takes us back to the point that Christianity has been consistently anti-slavery beginning with the Roman Empire and continuing right through the abolition movement.
 

Hylomorphic: With regard to bringing about the end of serfdom, it’s not clear to me what the high culture of the Middle Ages has to do with it–I was talking about the dramatic increase in station and prosperity of the serfs that resulted from the Black Death. The increase in culture was a phenomenon of the urban centers, not the fields where the serfs were.

 
You need to read some medieval history.  Growing commerce through the Middle Ages led to the creation of the free cities (ironically called communes). That happened very early – the Italian communes got going before 1000 AD. Rising commerce led to a demand for labor and serfs could improve their lot by moving to the city. Hence the slogan “city air makes free”.  Needless to say, there was nothing like that in the Roman Empire. It reached a peak in the high culture of 11th through 13th centuries. The black death was a setback, but after the Medieval world recovered the lower population was undoubtably a structural factor that then accellerated the changes.

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drj August 26, 2009 at 7:35 am

Justin Martyr: The true way to tell the beauty and love in a system of ethics is how it treats the weak and the marginalized. Anyone can love the strong, beautiful, and intelligent. It is not so easy to love teh weak and the helpless. You are defending granting ethical status based on how intelligent people are – as I’ve pointed out from the start of this thread, secular people are constantly endorsing eugenical theories of morality.

 
Not trying to derail this discussion towards abortion, but…
 
Eugenical? What a misrepresentation – or misunderstanding… but a typical equivocation.
 
If that is your metric for a system of ethics, pay close attention to the marginalization of women – many of whom face dire circumstances, only to be callously dismissed  as their just comeuppance for their “impropriety” or “selfishness”- that inevitably happens in abortion arguments.  So I have to say, by your own criteria, a great many anti-abortionists fail to practice an admirable ethical system.

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Justin Martyr August 26, 2009 at 8:14 am

drj: Eugenical? What a misrepresentation – or misunderstanding… but a typical equivocation. If that is your metric for a system of ethics, pay close attention to the marginalization of women – many of whom face dire circumstances, only to be callously dismissed as their just comeuppance for their “impropriety” or “selfishness”- that inevitably happens in abortion arguments. So I have to say, by your own criteria, a great many anti-abortionists fail to practice an admirable ethical system.

 
Hiya Drj! I think its way too late to worry about going down tangents! ;)
I don’t see a baby as either a “comeuppance” or a “punishment.” I see them as human beings (that’s an objective scientific fact if we base the definition of human on species) with the same rights as everyone else.

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Fortuna August 26, 2009 at 12:07 pm

No, I’m on record as saying that forced marriage is better than starving to death.  That is my “concession” to cultural relativism.
 
No, you weren’t just talking about “forced marriage” in a vacuum, as if the only issues under consideration were marriage vs. starvation. You’ve conveniently left out the part about forcing rapists to marry their victims. Which is, to refresh your memory, what you’ve defended as appropriate in some cultural contexts;



Given that reality the law was put into place to force the rapist to marry the woman because that would be the only way she wouldn’t be ostracized.



Now, in the case of the woman who got raped she is not being punished nor is the rapist being rewarded. Rather, the goal is to take care of the woman rather than let her be disgraced and abandoned. That’s what often happens in the third world today when a woman is raped.



Given that rape happens, what is the best way to protect the woman? If she is already married then you execute the rapist. In fact, that is what the OT proscribes. But what about in cases where the woman is a virgin and the options are (1) execute the rapist and leave the woman ostracized, or (2) force the rapist to marry the woman so she will be provided for, then the best option for her is #2.



Given the harshness of biblical times, marriage was in the best interest of the raped, and therefore unfairly devalued, woman.
 
So, I’m not retracting jack squat. I’m criticizing you for the words that you personally wrote. It’s great that you’ve found a new interpretation of your favourite holy text, but you can’t throw that out there and hope we’ll forget about the stuff you personally have advocated. You think that forcing a rapist on his victim via marriage was and is appropriate in some contexts, but not in ours. You’re a cultural relativist.



You need to read some evolution.
 
Evolution isn’t a book, so I presume you meant to say I need to do some reading about evolution. Which I have, and I continue to do.



Start with this principle: it is a rational evolutionary strategy to invest time and energy into raising your own children. It is not a rational evolutionary strategy to invest time and energy raising someone else’s.
 
So? I thought we were discussing normative issues. If we still are, are you trying to say that adoption is “prohibited”, the way you think gay marriage is “prohibited”?
 
How about answering my earlier question while you’re at it? Are we now prohibiting any and all marriages that don’t see to the interests of the participants’ children?



First of all, no responsible researcher on either side of the issue argues that “the data is in” because same-sex marriage and parenting are so new.
 
Fair point, I’ll concede that. However, the studies that are available at this time are strongly suggestive that gay couples do just fine raising kids, just as I said;

http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbc/policy/parents.html



The true way to tell the beauty and love in a system of ethics is how it treats the weak and the marginalized.
 
Too bad for mainstream Christianity, then, given its’ adherents shabby treatment of gay people.



You are defending granting ethical status based on how intelligent people are
 
Intelligence and sentience are not synonyms. Try again.

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Justin Martyr August 26, 2009 at 12:36 pm

 

Fortuna: I’m not retracting jack squat. I’m criticizing you for the words that you personally wrote. It’s great that you’ve found a new interpretation of your favourite holy text, but you can’t throw that out there and hope we’ll forget about the stuff you personally have advocated. You think that forcing a rapist on his victim via marriage was and is appropriate in some contexts, but not in ours. You’re a cultural relativist.

 
 
I’m not a relativist because rape is wrong in all cultures. But if the best way to protect the victim changes then I’m willing to with that.

Fortuna: So? I thought we were discussing normative issues. If we still are, are you trying to say that adoption is “prohibited”, the way you think gay marriage is “prohibited”?

 
Indeed we are, but it is willfully obtuse to deny the leap from X results in harm happening to innocent people to X is bad. I don’t think adoption should be prohibited. I’m an adoptive father myself and love my son more than my own life. But the only way I can look my son in the eye is because I know that my choice to adopt was not the cause of him being separated from his parents; rather it was because they could not take of him. I am adamantly and 100% opposed to allowing adoptive parents to pay women for babies on the grounds that women might intentionally get pregnant in order to sell their babies to adoptive couples. That is every bit as wrong as samesex couples that conceive.

Fortuna: Evolution isn’t a book, so I presume you meant to say I need to do some reading about evolution. Which I have, and I continue to do.

 
Then you should read some sociobiology. Start with ‘The Myth of Monogamy’ and then continue with ‘Mother Nature’. ‘The Triumph of Sociobiology’ is also good. I kind of like ‘The Blank Slate’ as well, although I disagree with Pinker’s fundamentalist take on ev pscyh. You won’t be so sanguine about children raised apart from biological parents after you work your way through this list.

Fortuna: Fair point, I’ll concede that. However, the studies that are available at this time are strongly suggestive that gay couples do just fine raising kids, just as I said; http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbc/policy/parents.html

 
The pro-gay marriage review I mentioned above (Weezer and Rauch’s article) mentioned a similar list of studies. The main ones showing that lesbian couples (Patterson, Tasker and Golombok, etc…) compare lesbian co-mothers to married couples in which the woman conceived at a sperm bank rather than with her husband. They find that co-mothers are more engaged than the cuckolded fathers in the heterosexual marriages.

Fortuna: Intelligence and sentience are not synonyms. Try again.

 
It takes a certain degree of intelligence to achieve sentience. It is another way of creating a separation between those who are Like Us and The Other. From a loving standpoint you should reject it. Besides, it leads to absurd consequences. Do you have to have self-awareness to be sentient or just have unconscious feelings? If you have to be self-aware then we should also legalize infanticide because newborns are not self-aware (babies don’t pass the red dot test until about 18 months). If you only have to have unconscious feelings then most fetuses are sentient and most abortions would be illegal. Furthermore, most animals are also sentient by this definition and thus we should all be legally required to become vegetarian.
 

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Dingo August 26, 2009 at 1:33 pm

Martyr said:
“No, I’m on record as saying that forced marriage is better than starving to death.”

Wow. Yet you STILL haven’t responded to any of the specifics I mentioned about why the opposite view (death) is one many a woman may choose. Instead, I got the profound one-line nitpick “well, death might be worse!”.

Martyr, this is why you are failing in this thread. You are like a boxer with a weak jab and the ability to circle around the ring. And that’s all. Meanwhile, your opposition has swarmed you with combos, knocked you down a few times, and bullied you against the ropes. And what do you offer? A tiny jab and circling away while grimmacing to the crowd as if to say, “Don’t be fooled my black eye, bloody nose, and having fallen to the mat three times. I’m winning!”

I say this not to be a dick but to point out a common flaw with many Christian apologist. They will boast of “dealing with the big issues”…but in reality do so in a superficial manner and often retreat and nitpick when exposed to the tough specifics of an argument they hadn’t anticipated. It’s this subtle yet insincere combination of silence and one-liners that creates the illusion of having handled your opposition.

Martyr, if you want to be taken seriously, and seen as different from many “Gloat and Flee” apologists, do one of two things:
1.) Either respond to the SPECIFIC issues discussed.
OR 2.) Admit that you don’t have a good comeback to the presented problem. “Hey, you’re right, my view does sound kind of fucked up, and I really don’t have good answers for the criticisms of it, but that is where I am at now until I consider it further.” That at least sounds more honest (A Christian virtue, right?) and humble (another one) than doing your drive-by responses that you hope glance your targets.

- Dingo

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Fortuna August 26, 2009 at 3:55 pm

I’m not a relativist because rape is wrong in all cultures.

Glad to hear it.

But if the best way to protect the victim changes then I’m willing to (go) with that.

This is where my charge of cultural relativism stems from. I sincerely doubt that you’d allow someone who raped one of your female loved ones to force themselves on her further by appealing to a culture that shames rape victims into marrying their abuser. I would hope that the very thought outrages and sickens you, and yet you apparently think that a god for whom it would be trivial to rectify such situations with a spoken command was just and righteous in allowing them to continue. Something that you would never tolerate in our cultural milieu can be rendered appropriate, according to you, if your god wills it.

Indeed we are, but it is willfully obtuse to deny the leap from X results in harm happening to innocent people to X is bad.

Excuse me?

I don’t think adoption should be prohibited. I’m an adoptive father myself and love my son more than my own life.

Fantastic. Really. I know it’s hard for type to convey emotional content, but please take my word for it that I think that’s great.

However, what’s confusing me here is that you just got done explaining that raising other people’s kids is not a “rational evolutionary strategy”. I’ve asked you why that’s even relevant, and I don’t see an answer as yet. It doesn’t even appear to be relevant to you, since you’re an adoptive father. Furthermore, you haven’t explained why the interests of children are even relevant to what types of marriage we prohibit. As I said earlier, a lot of children are not well served by being saddled with their biological parents, as you are aware, and yet we don’t prohibit or break up the marriages of said parents as a matter of policy. We allow convicted criminals, who are dubious as prospective parents, to marry who they please. We allow terminal cancer patients with not one penny to their name to marry on their deathbed, if they so choose, despite their inability to support children. We allow poverty stricken people to marry who they please, despite the fact that poverty is a powerful predictor of childhood (and lifelong) difficulties for children.

But the only way I can look my son in the eye is because I know that my choice to adopt was not the cause of him being separated from his parents; rather it was because they could not take of him. I am adamantly and 100% opposed to allowing adoptive parents to pay women for babies on the grounds that women might intentionally get pregnant in order to sell their babies to adoptive couples.

Good for you?

That is every bit as wrong as samesex couples that conceive.

For what reason?

You won’t be so sanguine about children raised apart from biological parents after you work your way through this list.

If you’ve got a point to make, do me a favour and make it. I’m not impressed by reading lists, but points supported by citations are always welcome.

It takes a certain degree of intelligence to achieve sentience.

Are we playing a semantic game here, whereby “intelligence” can be used as a stand-in for cognitive ability in general? If you’re trying to use an idiosyncratic definition of the word “intelligence”, it would be polite of you to tell me up front. When you used the word previously, I thought it safe to assume that you meant it in the usual way, namely the aggregate capacity to learn, reason, comprehend, acquire knowledge and/or express oneself creatively. None of those things are required to be sentient, hence I am not discriminating on the basis of intelligence, and your cry of “eugenics” is not called for.

It is another way of creating a separation between those who are Like Us and The Other.

The separation is in no need of being “created”, it’s there regardless of how it makes you feel.

From a loving standpoint you should reject it.

Reject what, reality?

Do you have to have self-awareness to be sentient

Nope.

If you have to be self-aware then we should also legalize infanticide

Nice try, but you fail.

If you only have to have unconscious feelings

OK, time for a refresher on what the word “sentient” means. It means “capable of having subjective experience”. By that definition, fetuses may very well be sentient, as you say, but embryos are not. And no, “most abortions” would not be illegal. Most abortions are performed in the embryonic stage. In the United States, fetuses already enjoy legal protection from abortion, absent a compelling medical indication for the necessity of an abortion.

Furthermore, most animals are also sentient by this definition and thus we should all be legally required to become vegetarian.

“Most” animals? I think you underestimate how many animal species on the planet Earth are micro-organisms. They’re not sentient.

You do, however, have a glimmer of a point. It is indeed absurd for us to assign rights and privileges to human beings on the basis of sentience while denying the same to sentient animals.

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Justin Martyr August 26, 2009 at 4:18 pm

Dingo, I think you are the one dancing around the edges and not truly grappling with the issues. I made two arguments in defense of Deuteronomy 22:28. One weaker than the other. That everyone on this thread is focusing on the weaker of the two arguments is telling. You are supposed to grapple with the strongest arguments of your opponents, not the weakest. But I haven’t seen a single post in this thread in which someone said, “Hey great point about the original Hebrew.”

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Fortuna August 26, 2009 at 4:21 pm

But I haven’t seen a single post in this thread in which someone said, “Hey great point about the original Hebrew.”
Does
It’s great that you’ve found a new interpretation of your favourite holy text
sound familiar to you?

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Justin Martyr August 26, 2009 at 6:13 pm

Fortuna: I’m not a relativist because rape is wrong in all cultures.Glad to hear it.But if the best way to protect the victim changes then I’m willing to (go) with that.This is where my charge of cultural relativism stems from. I sincerely doubt that you’d allow someone who raped one of your female loved ones to force themselves on her further by appealing to a culture that shames rape victims into marrying their abuser. I would hope that the very thought outrages and sickens you, and yet you apparently think that a god for whom it would be trivial to rectify such situations with a spoken command was just and righteous in allowing them to continue. Something that you would never tolerate in our cultural milieu can be rendered appropriate, according to you, if your god wills it.Indeed we are, but it is willfully obtuse to deny the leap from X results in harm happening to innocent people to X is bad.Excuse me?I don’t think adoption should be prohibited. I’m an adoptive father myself and love my son more than my own life.Fantastic. Really. I know it’s hard for type to convey emotional content, but please take my word for it that I think that’s great.However, what’s confusing me here is that you just got done explaining that raising other people’s kids is not a “rational evolutionary strategy”. I’ve asked you why that’s even relevant, and I don’t see an answer as yet. It doesn’t even appear to be relevant to you, since you’re an adoptive father. Furthermore, you haven’t explained why the interests of children are even relevant to what types of marriage we prohibit. As I said earlier, a lot of children are not well served by being saddled with their biological parents, as you are aware, and yet we don’t prohibit or break up the marriages of said parents as a matter of policy. We allow convicted criminals, who are dubious as prospective parents, to marry who they please. We allow terminal cancer patients with not one penny to their name to marry on their deathbed, if they so choose, despite their inability to support children. We allow poverty stricken people to marry who they please, despite the fact that poverty is a powerful predictor of childhood (and lifelong) difficulties for children.But the only way I can look my son in the eye is because I know that my choice to adopt was not the cause of him being separated from his parents; rather it was because they could not take of him. I am adamantly and 100% opposed to allowing adoptive parents to pay women for babies on the grounds that women might intentionally get pregnant in order to sell their babies to adoptive couples.Good for you?That is every bit as wrong as samesex couples that conceive.For what reason?You won’t be so sanguine about children raised apart from biological parents after you work your way through this list.If you’ve got a point to make, do me a favour and make it. I’m not impressed by reading lists, but points supported by citations are always welcome.It takes a certain degree of intelligence to achieve sentience.Are we playing a semantic game here, whereby “intelligence” can be used as a stand-in for cognitive ability in general? If you’re trying to use an idiosyncratic definition of the word “intelligence”, it would be polite of you to tell me up front. When you used the word previously, I thought it safe to assume that you meant it in the usual way, namely the aggregate capacity to learn, reason, comprehend, acquire knowledge and/or express oneself creatively. None of those things are required to be sentient, hence I am not discriminating on the basis of intelligence, and your cry of “eugenics” is not called for.It is another way of creating a separation between those who are Like Us and The Other.The separation is in no need of being “created”, it’s there regardless of how it makes you feel.From a loving standpoint you should reject it.Reject what, reality?Do you have to have self-awareness to be sentientNope.If you have to be self-aware then we should also legalize infanticide Nice try, but you fail.If you only have to have unconscious feelingsOK, time for a refresher on what the word “sentient” means. It means “capable of having subjective experience”. By that definition, fetuses may very well be sentient, as you say, but embryos are not. And no, “most abortions” would not be illegal. Most abortions are performed in the embryonic stage. In the United States, fetuses already enjoy legal protection from abortion, absent a compelling medical indication for the necessity of an abortion.Furthermore, most animals are also sentient by this definition and thus we should all be legally required to become vegetarian.“Most” animals? I think you underestimate how many animal species on the planet Earth are micro-organisms. They’re not sentient.You do, however, have a glimmer of a point. It is indeed absurd for us to assign rights and privileges to human beings on the basis of sentience while denying the same to sentient animals.

Fortuna: a lot of children are not well served by being saddled with their biological parents, as you are aware, and yet we don’t prohibit or break up the marriages of said parents as a matter of policy. We allow convicted criminals, who are dubious as prospective parents, to marry who they please. We allow terminal cancer patients with not one penny to their name to marry on their deathbed, if they so choose, despite their inability to support children. We allow poverty stricken people to marry who they please, despite the fact that poverty is a powerful predictor of childhood (and lifelong) difficulties for children.

Fortuna: a lot of children are not well served by being saddled with their biological parents, as you are aware, and yet we don’t prohibit or break up the marriages of said parents as a matter of policy. We allow convicted criminals, who are dubious as prospective parents, to marry who they please. We allow terminal cancer patients with not one penny to their name to marry on their deathbed, if they so choose, despite their inability to support children. We allow poverty stricken people to marry who they please, despite the fact that poverty is a powerful predictor of childhood (and lifelong) difficulties for children.

I didn’t take that as being sincere, particularly since you immediately proceeded to push on the weaker of the two arguments I made.

Fortuna: Fantastic. Really. I know it’s hard for type to convey emotional content, but please take my word for it that I think that’s great.

Thank you :)
 
 
 

Fortuna: If you’ve got a point to make, do me a favour and make it. I’m not impressed by reading lists, but points supported by citations are always welcome.

Those books are all literature reviews made accessible for the general reader written by published researchers who are leaders in their field. Each one mentions hundreds of citations. But if you want a specific citation then you want ‘M. Daly and M.J. Wilson, Evolutionary social psychology and family homicide, Science, 232. 519-524.’ That is the study which found that stepchildren were at ten times the risk of abuse and 100 times the risk of being killed compared to children raised by their biological parents.
 
 
That leads to my basic point on marriage issues. I am an adoptive parent and I love my son more than my own life. I don’t doubt that many gay parents feel the same way about their non-biological children, just like many stepparents feel that way about theirs. But with both the research and the evolutionary model behind us, we should recognize that we put children into a situation of increased risk when they are separated from their biological parents. Traditional marriage recognizes that. For example divorce from low-conflict marriages is bad for children (Cherlin 1998, Amato and Booth, 1997) and results in the higher rate of abuse and murder (Daly and Wilson, 1980).
 
You point to various exceptions such as criminals and the poor. I think that is a valid objection and one that I grappled with back when I was debating progressives on tnr.com. But criminals have paid their debt to society and I think both Christians and atheists can agree that having done so it is our duty to forgive them. Children raised by the poor frequently have bad outcomes but a large part of that is because of the rise of single motherhood. For example, children did worse on both the Child Well-Being Index and the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics beginning in the early 1970s and continuing to decline until  welfare reform in 1996. Having said all that, I do believe you have a good point. Not all marriages serve children well. Historically the parents and community had to sign off on a marriage specifically to ensure that the couple was capable of raising healthy children. That is equivalent to the adoption agency screening my wife and I to ensure that we were acceptable to adopt. Nowadays that has been implicitely moved within the right to privacy. Each couple is supposed to decide for themself. But of course, it means that there is a conflict of interest in that the “auditer” is also the “auditee”. Many couples wrongly conclude that they are capable of being good parents. Above and beyond that point, the defense you are making amounts to “marriage doesn’t always work, so let’s not worry too much if it doesn’t work even more often.” We need to make marriage work better, not worse.
 

Fortuna: “Most” animals? I think you underestimate how many animal species on the planet Earth are micro-organisms. They’re not sentient. You do, however, have a glimmer of a point. It is indeed absurd for us to assign rights and privileges to human beings on the basis of sentience while denying the same to sentient animals.

 
Ok, I should have said “mammals.” So you would make it illegal to eat meat? Arrest meat eaters for murder?
 
 

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Justin Martyr August 26, 2009 at 6:15 pm

Doh! I kept trying to quote people and it would never show up in the comment panel. Now that I’ve posted it looks like I got too much. Let me try to redo that last post.

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Justin Martyr August 26, 2009 at 6:28 pm

1. Fortuna, I don’t feel like you honestly grappled with my “original Hebrew” defense of Deuteronomy 22:28. It looks like a sarcastic crack and then you went immediately on to pressing the weaker of the two defenses I made.
 
2. Daly and Wilson 1980 is the original citation for the finding that children in stepfamilies are 10 times more likely to be abused and 100 times more likely to be killed.
 
3. That in turn leads to me point: we should be careful about removing children from their biological parents. Traditional marriage recognizes this. Single motherhood, samesex marriage, and nofault divorce does not.
 
4. Fortuna makes a really strong objection that traditional marriage doesn’t always serve children well. Clearly she is correct that traditional marraige doesn’t always work, but prospectively it is the best institution we have for protecting the interests of children. She raises the objection of criminals but they have paid their debt to society and deserve the full complement of rights of any citizen. She mentions the poor but many of the problems of bad outcomes for the poor is not because of marriage but because of the rise of single motherhood. Statistics on child well-being agree.
 
Nevertheless, I think her core objection still stands. Even if we bracket single mothers we still have people who get married and have children but who are not good parents. Historically we had parties acting in the interests of the children also give their consent. The parents and community had to sign off on marriages in past eras. My wife and I were screened by our adoption agency for the same reason – they acted in the children’s interest in the case of adoption. That no longer happens today and children have suffered because of it.
 
5. Abortion. I should have used the word mammals! Then you are a vegetarian? And you are in favor of charging meat eaters with murder? If not your defense of abortion is incoherent.
 
6. Abortion. Using sentience still means that you are dividing human beings (in the biological sense) into those who can be legally killed and those who have rights. And you are doing it based on power. The weakest and most helpless are the ones who can be legally killed.

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Fortuna August 26, 2009 at 6:48 pm

Thank you :)

You’re quite welcome.

But if you want a specific citation then you want ‘M. Daly and M.J. Wilson, Evolutionary social psychology and family homicide, Science, 232. 519-524.’ That is the study which found that stepchildren were at ten times the risk of abuse and 100 times the risk of being killed compared to children raised by their biological parents.

Thanks, but do those results apply to gay couples who adopt, bring in children from prior hetero marriages, or conceive their own kids?

Also, what am I to make of the results as they apply to heterosexual, non-biological parents? Earlier, you said that the interests of children “prohibit” gay marriage. Am I interpret these results in kind? Are you saying that we should prohibit divorce and remarriage, lest children run the risk of being exposed to a non-biological parent? Again, I would like you to make your normative claims as explicit as possible, and please explain how you justify them as clearly as possible.

Above and beyond that point, the defense you are making amounts to “marriage doesn’t always work, so let’s not worry too much if it doesn’t work even more often.” We need to make marriage work better, not worse.

No, I don’t think that’s a correct interpretation of my argument. I’m asking you on what basis you would deny gay couples the right to marry, in light of the fact that we do not deny virtually everyone else. As I’ve pointed out, the ostensible reasons for denying them marriage equality also apply to other groups that we allow to get married. It seems to me that you have three options; you can concede that gays should no longer be treated differently, you can argue that we should start denying marriage rights to other groups for the same reasons as gays, or you can try and find some unique reason for denying marriage that applies only to gay couples and no one else.

Also, I’m in favour of making marriages work better. I do think successful marriages make the world a better place, why else would I be arguing for gay marriage rights?
Ok, I should have said “mammals.” So you would make it illegal to eat meat? Arrest meat eaters for murder?

That’s a whole other discussion, but yes, I do want to make it illegal to kill or otherwise abuse animals that we have solid reason to believe have rich internal lives. Chimpanzees, dolphins, elephants, parrots, for instance. It’s not really such a foreign concept, is it? Most people recoil in horror at stories of cats or dogs being tortured to death, and I daresay it’s because we have little difficulty empathizing with their experiences.

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Fortuna August 26, 2009 at 7:01 pm

Oh hello, new stuff. OK, here we go then.

1. Fortuna, I don’t feel like you honestly grappled with my “original Hebrew” defense of Deuteronomy 22:28. It looks like a sarcastic crack and then you went immediately on to pressing the weaker of the two defenses I made.

Well, here you go; I don’t know or care about the veracity of your original Hebrew defense. You’re welcome to it. Shotgun weddings are a great deal less abominable than shacking up a rapist to his victim, although they’re a bit iffy, morally. Do I really need to grapple with this defense, though? Is this the interpretation of scripture that you advocate?

6. Abortion. Using sentience still means that you are dividing human beings (in the biological sense) into those who can be legally killed and those who have rights. And you are doing it based on power. The weakest and most helpless are the ones who can be legally killed.

Using sentience raises the question of whether one is dealing with a human being at all. Genetically human embryos are, but are they human beings? With no ability to experience, I’d say no; they’re on track to develop into human beings, but are not there yet. Meanwhile, the woman is clearly, unambiguously a human being, and I’m not willing to jettison her right to self determination.

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lukeprog August 26, 2009 at 7:12 pm

Justin Martyr: Doh! I kept trying to quote people and it would never show up in the comment panel. Now that I’ve posted it looks like I got too much. Let me try to redo that last post.

I’ve tried several comment systems and none of them seem to work that well. If anybody knows how to make blog comments as feature-rich and reliable as a forum thread, let me know.

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Wesley August 26, 2009 at 7:26 pm

Martyr said:
“Dingo, I think you are the one dancing around the edges and not truly grappling with the issues. I made two arguments in defense of Deuteronomy 22:28. One weaker than the other. That everyone on this thread is focusing on the weaker of the two arguments is telling. You are supposed to grapple with the strongest arguments of your opponents, not the weakest. But I haven’t seen a single post in this thread in which someone said, “Hey great point about the original Hebrew.” ”

Martyr, you have yet to specifically address these issues:
1 – the psycholgoical, emotional, and physical abuse case AGAINST force marriage. Everytime I ask you to address those issues you reply with an unrelated “But at least she can eat!”
2 – You have not addressed what I said about women possibly preferring death after having been raped and forced into marrying their rapist.  You just said, “Death is worse!”. Which (i) is an assertion, not an argument, and (ii) then did not follow up to the reasons I gave for death possibly being preferred to living with your rapist.
3 – I challenged you to go to a feminist site where you can carry on your “Forcing a babe to marry her rapist is okay” monologue. The point, as I said, would be that  you would be exposed to different statistics and arguments about the psychological and emotional damage a rape victim suffers. Plus you could get a variety of insight into why some women prefer death over living with their rapist.

There are more cases were you refused to engage, but those are 3 immediate ones that come to mind. I dare you to find lines in which you specifically answered my specific objections. It won’t happen – cause you didn’t provide any.  And whenever I have called you on this shit in the past, you either (i) hide or (ii) make general assertions with little relation to the specifics. You haven’t dealth with what is, to  you the believer, the difficult argument against his faith in this particular context.

And LOL at you looking for props about your tidbit about Hebrew. Aren’t you the one with the religion that is supposed to be eager to praise others? Didn’t Christ tell you that following him is a thankless and sucky job? I can’t high five you and say “Righteous point, bro!” cuz you haven’t offered me any.

Since you aren’t going to participate honestly, there is no use continuing to flog you for being a spokesman for “YAWEH – The God That Thinks The Ho Is Gonna Take It and Learn To Like It!”

Adios, Martyr. You are intelligent enough, just not that honest. Like every Christian.

- Dingo

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Wesley August 26, 2009 at 7:28 pm

Martyr,

Notice I have to bait you with my real name to even get you to try  and respond. I figure maybe Dingo offended you.

- Dingo

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Justin Martyr August 26, 2009 at 7:29 pm

That’s ok Luke – I’m just glad that it may not be user error on my part! I think you’ve got a well-designed site and the occassional comment glich doesn’t bother me.
 
Fortuna, I’ve actually been enjoying our little back and forth. I kind of wish Luke would start an open abortion thread and an open samesex marriage thread so we could have a more focused debate. I’ll respond to you tommorow – bedtime for me!

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Justin Martyr August 26, 2009 at 7:30 pm

Oh yeah, I mean the above in a non-snarky way. :)

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drj August 26, 2009 at 7:49 pm

Fortuna: Using sentience raises the question of whether one is dealing with a human being at all. Genetically human embryos are, but are they human beings? With no ability to experience, I’d say no; they’re on track to develop into human beings, but are not there yet. Meanwhile, the woman is clearly, unambiguously a human being, and I’m not willing to jettison her right to self determination.

 
I would add that sentience is, or should be, what generally compels us to act with ethical concern towards *any being*, no matter what type of being it is.   If one doubts such a notion, I invite them to make a ranking of life forms, starting with life forms that require no ethical concern on one end, to lifeforms that require serious ethical concerns… almost every time, the list will be ordered by a beings capacity to experience.  There will of course always be some biases, based on the animals we find it culturally acceptable to eat, or keep as pets, etc… but by and large the list will be from the least sentient creatures who require no ethical considerations whatsoever, to the most sentient creatures who require a high level of ethical considerations.
 
If highly intelligent sentient aliens came to earth tonight, we would have a responsibility to treat them ethically, even though they arent human beings.  If we created a self-aware sentient robot, we would have a responsibility to treat it ethically, even though it isnt a human being.
 
Trying to pin moral worth on DNA is a fools errand.

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drj August 26, 2009 at 7:53 pm

A follow up question:  Should we charge someone for animal cruelty if they mistreat a chimp blastocyst?
 
If not, then I daresay your position on abortion is incoherent ;)

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Justin Martyr August 27, 2009 at 10:30 am

Fortuna: Using sentience raises the question of whether one is dealing with a human being at all. Genetically human embryos are, but are they human beings? With no ability to experience, I’d say no; they’re on track to develop into human beings, but are not there yet. Meanwhile, the woman is clearly, unambiguously a human being, and I’m not willing to jettison her right to self determination.

 
There is a reason why I referenced biology – I don’t want to get into an equivocation about the meaning of human being. Let’s take the word off the table and instead use ‘member of the species Homo sapiens.’ It is an empirical fact that a fetus is a member of the species Homo sapiens. Peter Singer concedes the point in ‘Practical Ethics’ and I can provide references from embryology textbooks. And if you still want to engage that premise I’m happy to create an argument in defense of the proposition that a fetus is a member of the species Homo sapiens. Thus you defend a system of morality that divides members of the species Homo sapiens into those that have rights and those that can be legally killed.
 

drj: I would add that sentience is, or should be, what generally compels us to act with ethical concern towards *any being*, no matter what type of being it is. If one doubts such a notion, I invite them to make a ranking of life forms, starting with life forms that require no ethical concern on one end, to lifeforms that require serious ethical concerns… almost every time, the list will be ordered by a beings capacity to experience. There will of course always be some biases, based on the animals we find it culturally acceptable to eat, or keep as pets, etc… but by and large the list will be from the least sentient creatures who require no ethical considerations whatsoever, to the most sentient creatures who require a high level of ethical considerations.

 
I disagree. I don’t see any evidence for the proposition that animals have moral status. Furthermore, you aren’t allowed to rank animals by sentience and then gradually give them moral status, at least, not on desire utilitarianism. They either have desires or they don’t have desires. You have a binary category. If animals have desires then you are forced to arrest meat eaters for murder. If they don’t have desires then neither do year old infants, and thus you have to allow infantide. Either way your position is either absurd or incoherent.
 

drj: A follow up question: Should we charge someone for animal cruelty if they mistreat a chimp blastocyst?

 
I don’t believe that animals have rights. Now, I generally subscribe to natural rights morality and thus base ethical decision making on the pursuit of the Good. Destroying an object of beauty for the sake of destruction or vandalism is intrinsically immoral whether you are talking about the Mona Lisa or a chimpanzee. Otoh, destroying an object of beauty is morally acceptable in the pursuit of the Good, which is why it is acceptable to kill an animal to eat it. But in neither case does an animal actually have rights or moral status. If you believe they do then please show me the evidence.

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Fortuna August 27, 2009 at 8:14 pm

There is a reason why I referenced biology – I don’t want to get into an equivocation about the meaning of human being.

Who’s equivocating? I thought I was pretty up front about the criteria I think are relevant to call an entity a human being, and they’re not purely a matter of one’s genetic complement. Thus I think it makes no sense to speak of an entity being a human being in the biological sense, ie. simply for having the right chromosomes. That’s really the crux of my argument, not, as you implied earlier, the relative power of the entities under consideration.

On a side note, let me ask you this; if having the right genes in place is all we need consider, ethically, what you do you make of identical twins? Do we treat them as the same person for the purposes of argument? What about instances in which a zygote divides in two, and then fuses in-utero? Were they two people? Did one person die upon fusion? Which one?

Let’s take the word off the table and instead use ‘member of the species Homo sapiens.’ It is an empirical fact that a fetus is a member of the species Homo sapiens.

Why should we do that, exactly? It is both trivial and uninteresting to note that a fetus is a member of our species, genetically.

Thus you defend a system of morality that divides members of the species Homo sapiens into those that have rights and those that can be legally killed.

Indeed so.

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Fortuna August 27, 2009 at 8:30 pm

Uggh, that should be “to note that an embryo is a member of our species”. Technically, noting that a fetus is a member of our species is also trivial, but as I said, fetuses are already given legal consideration, owing to the possibility of their sentience.

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Justin Martyr August 28, 2009 at 11:14 am

Fortuna: On a side note, let me ask you this; if having the right genes in place is all we need consider, ethically, what you do you make of identical twins? Do we treat them as the same person for the purposes of argument? What about instances in which a zygote divides in two, and then fuses in-utero? Were they two people? Did one person die upon fusion? Which one?

 
William Saletan makes that argument on his human nature blog. I don’t find it compelling. Identical twins are two different members of the same species. There is nothing biological incoherent about that. Or consider the dividing and fusing embryo. First you have one member of the species, then two, then one again. There is nothing incoherent about that.
 
Most moral arguments are really about attacking the coherence of the opposing view. I’ve defended the coherence of basing morality on species membership (actually on being made in God’s image). Conversely, I’ve attacked the coherence of how atheists treat fetuses, newborns and animals. Do you think that meat eaters should be arrested for committing murder? Why are you mad at Christians when according to your moral position, it is meat eaters who are committing the most moral abuses. Not letting gays marry pales in comparison to billions of murders every year.

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lukeprog August 28, 2009 at 11:21 am

Justin Martyr: I’ve defended the coherence of basing morality on species membership (actually on being made in God’s image). Conversely, I’ve attacked the coherence of how atheists treat fetuses, newborns and animals. Do you think that meat eaters should be arrested for committing murder? Why are you mad at Christians when according to your moral position, it is meat eaters who are committing the most moral abuses. Not letting gays marry pales in comparison to billions of murders every year.

One of many fatal problems with your ethical view is that God does not exist. Should meat-eaters be arrested for murder? No according to my view. Their desire to eat meat is not malleable, so it makes no sense to use the moral tools of praise and condemnation to modify the desires of meat-eaters. For omnivores, this is a different story. Humans, for example. The significance of animals for human moral practice is very complex, but I do agree that our treatment of animals is WAAAAAAAAAAY worse than not letting gays marry. But then, Christians are just as guilty of sins against animals as atheists are.

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drj August 28, 2009 at 12:42 pm

 

Justin Martyr:   William Saletan makes that argument on his human nature blog. I don’t find it compelling. Identical twins are two different members of the same species. There is nothing biological incoherent about that. Or consider the dividing and fusing embryo. First you have one member of the species, then two, then one again. There is nothing incoherent about that.   Most moral arguments are really about attacking the coherence of the opposing view. I’ve defended the coherence of basing morality on species membership (actually on being made in God’s image). Conversely, I’ve attacked the coherence of how atheists treat fetuses, newborns and animals. Do you think that meat eaters should be arrested for committing murder? Why are you mad at Christians when according to your moral position, it is meat eaters who are committing the most moral abuses. Not letting gays marry pales in comparison to billions of murders every year.

 
 
I don’t think your view is as coherent as you seem to think.  Examples abound of inconsistencies with the way those against abortion generally regard embryos and even pre-viable fetuses.
 
Some of that incoherence lurks behind the twinning arguments – even though its often missed.  In the case of twinning, one should spare no expense on research to prevent vanishing twin syndrome.  After all… its a human being that dies in your pro-life view.  Yet, the phenomenon is regarded with a relative indifference, even by your average pro-life advocate.  The only explanation generally offered to this is  a meager, “It God’s decision.”
 
The other, more notable inconsistency can be found lurking behind the fact that roughly 30-40% of all conceptions end in spontaneous abortion – often this happens without a woman realizing she is even pregnant.    If we are to expect that these beings are the moral equivalent of grown human persons, you must consider this to be one of the most, if not the most severe ongoing medical emergencies plaguing mankind.  Certainly there should be no excuse for our relative indifference to the millions of blastocysts and embryos that spontaneously abort each day.  In short, we should see pro-lifers engaged in a “war against spontaneous abortion”, just like we see the war against elective abortion.  We should see politicians harassed relentlessly, threatened until they respond to the issue.  We should see calls to divert legion amounts of our medical resources for research and treatment for such an important cause…   yet, instead of being appalled, most are completely indifferent.
 
So even in the eyes of most pro-lifers its almost as if there are two classes of human beings….  some whose fragile lives deserve our resources and attention, and others who simply don’t warrant it… for what reason I am not sure, since no distinction is supposed to exist.

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Fortuna August 28, 2009 at 11:39 pm

William Saletan makes that argument on his human nature blog. I don’t find it compelling. Identical twins are two different members of the same species. There is nothing biological incoherent about that. Or consider the dividing and fusing embryo. First you have one member of the species, then two, then one again. There is nothing incoherent about that.

I wasn’t making an argument about the coherency of your statements, I wanted to know if you thought that person-hood reduces down to one’s chromosomal arrangement. Evidently you don’t, which is why, as I said, I think it makes no sense to speak of someone as being a human being in the biological sense. A “member of the species”, yes, but that’s trivial.

Do you think that meat eaters should be arrested for committing murder? Why are you mad at Christians when according to your moral position, it is meat eaters who are committing the most moral abuses.

Like I said earlier, I do want want animal abuse to be more stringently proscribed than it already is, especially when the animals in question have extremely rich internal lives. I don’t think meat eaters should be arrested for murder, excepting cases in which the animal in question is very nearly as sentient as we are; I do think there’s a solid case to be made that killing other species of ape, elephants, dolphins etc. ought to be treated as murder.

I’m not “mad” at Christians in general, just the ones I think should know better. I see no point at getting mad at individuals who espouse harmful Christian ideals, but who have their hearts in the right place and have never thought in depth about their beliefs.

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Justin Martyr August 29, 2009 at 11:12 am

Hiya drj,
 
I think your funding argument is interesting and it is one that I had not been exposed to before, so thank you for presenting a new angle to me. But I do not see it as an incoherence. That would only be true of marginal dollars invested on vanishing twins would save more lives than dollars spent on, for example, 3 pound premature babies. My sister-in-law recently gave birth to one of those because she had a near-fatal case of pre-eclampsia. Medical technology saved her baby, who is now thriving, but twenty years ago she would have died. Once upon a time people wrote off doing anything about a three pound premature baby just like we now write off preventing spontaneous miscarriages due to lethal genes. Moreover, even people who are pro-choice mourn these spontaneous miscarriages if they happen late enough that the woman actually knew she was pregant and the baby was wanted. Thus, the true picture is that only the unwanted babies are devalued. I think that points to further incoherence on the pro-choice side.

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Justin Martyr August 29, 2009 at 11:20 am

Hiya Fortuna,
 

Fortuna: I do want want animal abuse to be more stringently proscribed than it already is, especially when the animals in question have extremely rich internal lives. I don’t think meat eaters should be arrested for murder, excepting cases in which the animal in question is very nearly as sentient as we are; I do think there’s a solid case to be made that killing other species of ape, elephants, dolphins etc. ought to be treated as murder.

 
Ah, but that position is incoherent in your worldview. A pig doesn’t have any higher degree of sentience than a human baby. But you would allow people to eat bacon while arresting the person who kills babies for murder. A second problem is that you are back to eugenics: we have a sentience continuum and those who have a higher degree of sentience are granted a higher dignity and moral worth. Thus chimps rank above pigs. Do philosophers rank above garbagemen? Or do we put a hard top on the continuum at an IQ of around 70 or so? And if so, that’s ad hoc.

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Fortuna August 29, 2009 at 12:21 pm

Ah, but that position is incoherent in your worldview. A pig doesn’t have any higher degree of sentience than a human baby. But you would allow people to eat bacon while arresting the person who kills babies for murder.
Not really. I said “excepting cases in which the animal is very nearly as sentient as we are”, you’ll notice. Are pigs as sentient as we are? If you can make that case, I’m sympathetic to the notion that we ought to be treating their killings as murder.
A second problem is that you are back to eugenics: we have a sentience continuum and those who have a higher degree of sentience are granted a higher dignity and moral worth. Thus chimps rank above pigs. Do philosophers rank above garbagemen? Or do we put a hard top on the continuum at an IQ of around 70 or so? And if so, that’s ad hoc.
You’re still conflating functional intelligence and sentience. Philosophers do not rank above garbagemen in terms of sentience, nor does IQ have anything to do with it.

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Justin Martyr August 31, 2009 at 6:08 am

Hi Fortuna,
 
I’m not comparing a pig to an adult. I’m comparing a pig to a baby. They have approximately equal degrees of sentience. Thus the punishment for killing a 6 month old baby needs to be the same as eating meat.
Fortuna: You’re still conflating functional intelligence and sentience. Philosophers do not rank above garbagemen in terms of sentience, nor does IQ have anything to do with it.
 
 
I was responding to this quote:
 
Fortuna: Like I said earlier, I do want want animal abuse to be more stringently proscribed than it already is, especially when the animals in question have extremely rich internal lives.

 

On this view our moral status comes from the richness of our internal lives. Do people with richer internal lives count for more than others?

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Fortuna August 31, 2009 at 8:04 pm

I’m not comparing a pig to an adult. I’m comparing a pig to a baby. They have approximately equal degrees of sentience. Thus the punishment for killing a 6 month old baby needs to be the same as eating meat.
I thought I took care upthread to lay out the meaning of the word “sentience” that I’m using. A baby is neither more nor less sentient than an adult as far as we know, though they are certainly less perceptive, intelligent and sapient.
Anyway, I already said that I’m willing to consider pig killing as murder if they’re nearly as sentient as we are (which I think is the case), “we” encompassing adults or babies or anything in between.
On this view our moral status comes from the richness of our internal lives. Do people with richer internal lives count for more than others?
I “especially” want animal abuse to be stringently proscribed when the animals in question have “extremely rich internal lives” (ie. are clearly and unambiguously sentient), but I say that to give a sense of the visceral reaction I have to sentience being extinguished, not as a formal argument, or as a way to imply that sparser internal lives are less worthy.
So to answer your question, no, having a richer internal life does not make one “count” more than others. Having an internal life at all confers moral status, in my view.
Incidentally, this is probably as good a time as any to point out that not all of the meat we omnivores consume comes from sentient creatures. It occurs to me that you’ve argued that I should have a beef (so to speak) with all meat eaters, but that’s not necessarily the case.

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Fortuna August 31, 2009 at 8:06 pm

Uggh, by Odin’s beard! Space my paragraphs properly!

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Justin Martyr September 1, 2009 at 5:19 am

You’re praying to the wrong God, Fortuna! ;)
 
Although I think making Luke’s comment system work smoothly may fall  beyond God’s power. Can God write properly formatted posts using a comment system that He designed to always break? It’s logically impossible …
 

Fortuna: I thought I took care upthread to lay out the meaning of the word “sentience” that I’m using. A baby is neither more nor less sentient than an adult as far as we know, though they are certainly less perceptive, intelligent and sapient. Anyway, I already said that I’m willing to consider pig killing as murder if they’re nearly as sentient as we are (which I think is the case), “we” encompassing adults or babies or anything in between.

 
You did take care, but your comment about some animals having richer inner lives than others suggested that you were moving back into the camp of gradually increasing cognitive abilities. But let’s forget that. You are still caught between a rock and a hard place. Earlier you’ve said that you are only counting unconscious desires. That means that you have to grant chickens and cows fully equal status to adult humans. That means arresting meat eaters for murder, and extending Medicare to Fido, and a whole host of other absurd consequences.

Fortuna: Incidentally, this is probably as good a time as any to point out that not all of the meat we omnivores consume comes from sentient creatures.

 
I think I may need a precise definition of sentience. Wikipedia points out that it is often used in several different ways. Animal rights activists use it simply to mean the ability to feel pain. By that standard all the meat we eat except possibly shellfish is sentient. Upthread you rejected equating sentience to self-awareness, but talk of an inner life suggests self-awareness to me.

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Fortuna September 1, 2009 at 5:30 pm

You did take care, but your comment about some animals having richer inner lives than others suggested that you were moving back into the camp of gradually increasing cognitive abilities. But let’s forget that.
No, that’s a fair cop. Like I said, I only brought it up to emphasize that I dislike abusing sentient creatures, but I totally understand that it comes off as endorsing a sliding scale. That’s my bad.
You are still caught between a rock and a hard place. Earlier you’ve said that you are only counting unconscious desires. That means that you have to grant chickens and cows fully equal status to adult humans. That means arresting meat eaters for murder, and extending Medicare to Fido, and a whole host of other absurd consequences.
Yes, totally, I’m obliged to eat it on this one, so to speak. I realize that conferring moral status on the basis of sentience requires a radical extension of the rights we confer on animals.
I think I may need a precise definition of sentience. Wikipedia points out that it is often used in several different ways. Animal rights activists use it simply to mean the ability to feel pain. By that standard all the meat we eat except possibly shellfish is sentient. Upthread you rejected equating sentience to self-awareness, but talk of an inner life suggests self-awareness to me.
I’m just using it in the sense of being able to experience, but yeah, experiencing pain would do. And yes, I did have shellfish in mind.
I don’t think one would need to be aware of oneself as such in order to be sentient.

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Fortuna September 1, 2009 at 5:31 pm

Space my paragraphs….the power of Christ compels you?

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lukeprog September 1, 2009 at 6:13 pm

Hit enter twice between each paragraph.

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Justin Martyr September 2, 2009 at 5:32 am

See – pray to Odin and nothing happens. Pray to Jesus and your answer appears. Don’t think that God can’t use atheists to do His work! ;)
 
I’m very impressed with your comment about the radical rethinking of animal rights. That shows a lot more objectivity than I know that I posses!
 

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Fortuna September 3, 2009 at 8:01 pm

Ok, now that’s funny. I lol’ed.
 
Thanks for your comments, I think it’s been a good discussion.

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fij October 3, 2009 at 5:40 am

toryninja:  
Atheism unfortunately has a severe evolutionary disadvantage in that it leads to one of two worldviews which both frown on the idea of having children: either a worldview which lacks hope or it’s complete opposite a worldview of living for oneself.
 

I’m an atheist and I have three children and neither of those worldviews.

A universe without purpose does not need to be a universe without meaning, given that meaning is something that humans create. I’m not even going to waste my time on your second strawman – there are many people smarter than me who have dealt with that idea.

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anderson October 16, 2009 at 9:28 am

Hello,

I don’t know if this would be the place to enquire, but I have known atheists and been friends with them for years and I have a question I need answered. By either party :).

I think we would all agree that most of humanity has this curious idea about how they ought to act and can’t seem to get rid of that idea. Most people, atheists and Christians alike (or members of other religions) would say that killing another person for no reason is wrong or stealing is wrong or other things like that. I mean, if you think about it, nobody is bad simply for the sake of being bad. Criminals usually commit crimes because they think it will benefit them in some way. I decided to play devil’s advocate (no offense intended :)) and try to logically justify belief in no god. And then I got to thinking: If there IS no higher being than humans, from where did all of humanity get this general idea of morality? When an atheist says, “I think killing people is wrong or slavery is wrong or stealing is wrong, but donating to charities or telling the truth is right”, where does the atheist get that standard? For an atheist to say that, they imply (whether they wish to admit it or not) that there is a greater standard on which they are basing their judgment. How does an atheist get around this?

It would take ages and many pages to debate the science issue, but I did have something I wanted to share.
You may have heard of Dr. Robert Jastrow, who was the founder of Nasa’s Institute for Space Studies. He was a revered scientist – he was also an atheist. He comments on the theory of the Big Bang (which is actually more in accordance with the Christian view of Creation than one might think). He said the following:

“Now we see how the astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world. The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same. The chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy.
Scientists have traditionally rejected the thought of a natural phenomenon which cannot be explained, even with unlimited time or money. There is a kind of religion in science; every event can be explained in a rational way as the product of some previous event; every effect must have its cause. Now science has proven that the universe exploded into existence at a specific moment. It asks, ‘What cause produced this effect? Who or what put the matter and energy into the universe?’ And science does not answer these questions.
“For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

These were Dr. Jastrow’s actual words. I have not misquoted him. I am confused as to why atheists believe that science completely discredits Christianity. It would seem to me that if one wishes to be a completely open-minded seeker of the truth, it would be hard indeed to selectively ignore facts which discredit your atheism and only believe those which seem to confirm it.

One more thing as far as science is concerned: For an atheist to refuse to believe in the supernatural because there are no natural proofs for it, seems to me to be really just wishing for the “supernatural” to be “natural.” It’s like refusing to believe that a mute person is actually mute just because it does not come out of his own mouth. As I have compared worldviews for a couple years, I find such a position to be stacking the deck.

If anyone could enlighten me on the things above, I would be greatly indebted. I need to know what a Christian would think and what an atheist would think.

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fij October 16, 2009 at 4:44 pm

To Anderson,

‘I have known atheists and been friends with them for years’. This is what racists say as a prelude to explaining everything that’s wrong with their chosen despised ethnicity. You don’t want to show your hand so early if you are really looking for an open response. It’s like saying ‘I understand you can’t help the way you are, but I’m here to help’.

There has been a lot of work on the evolutionary benefits of morality, and we share these ‘standards’ with many species in the animal kingdom. A sense of justice exists in what most people would call ‘lowly’ animals (it’s termed inequality aversion). You only need to think about the evolutionary advantages to not killing members of your own population to see that there is a good reason why we would evolve this sense that certain things are ‘wrong’. The incest taboo is another very well known one. The unstated assumption in your line of questioning is that moral standards exist objectively (moral absolutism). Without that assumption, atheists have nothing to get around. Rather, the religious person needs to justify their claim for the source of moral authority they are invoking.

Regarding the equivalence of the big bang to creation, you have again some assumptions which simply don’t hold. Science does not have a theory for the cause of the big bang (there is much speculation but our understanding is not nearly complete enough, and it’s very difficult to obtain data about the event directly), but it does not follow from that that there never will be a scientific answer, or that therefore we must invoke a supernatural agent. We didn’t have an explanation for lightning once upon a time, that’s no reason to say ‘Stop all science! God must be the answer!’ Look up the God of the Gaps to find out where this line of reasoning leads you.

Science does not (and does not try to) discredit Christianity directly. Science attempts to explain the universe, and it does so using the scientific method which uses tentative explanations based on available evidence. That’s why scientists will never claim objective truth – the scientific method does not create it. It simply provides the best explanation given the available evidence. It does this over time through a communal process. There’s no snapshot which can be used as a definition of reality at any given time. The problem an atheist has is that Christians make claims about the nature of the universe but have no evidence that would be considered valid by science. ‘I’ve got this book’ isn’t evidence because the provenance of the Bible is an article of faith.

You speak of open-mindedness. Do you really believe (in your heart of hearts where even God can see) that you are willing to give up your belief in God if you should find evidence to the contrary? Open-mindedness is not the restraint from saying ‘that’s not true’, it’s being willing to change your position in the light of new knowledge.

Atheists don’t wish for the supernatural to be natural (that’s you being completely unable to imagine yourself rejecting the supernatural). I find a completely natural universe liberating, exhilirating and a truly awe-inspiring notion. I’ve seen evidence that the universe exists, too, so at least I can back up what I believe in. You say you have been comparing worldviews, but you’ve not been comparing them objectively. You’ve been comparing them to yours and seeing all the reasons you think they’re wrong. This is not open-mindedness as I previously stated.

Before you start putting words in our mouths, you should try and empathise more fully with our position (it’s an intellectual rather than a moral exercise). You might actually stumble across some compelling arguments against atheism other than personal incredulity.

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Krof Gninut April 7, 2010 at 7:15 am

Sorry for skimming, but my point was that if someone believes in ANY god, they are not disbelieving other gods due to the fact that there is no evidence for them (which there is none for any god) and no logical consistency (if he believes in a god at all, then we really can’t expect him to be applying logic to the possibility of other gods any more than he is with his own god).

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lukeprog July 30, 2010 at 7:07 am

Here, I deleted Mike’s comment about abortion, per his request.

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12 Lotus 3 November 25, 2010 at 12:45 am

I strongly suggest watching George Carlin’s “You’re All Diseased”. It should help clear up all of the bullsh*t that the Catholic church has come up with.

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