Letter To Vox Day I

by Luke Muehlhauser on September 18, 2009 in General Atheism,Letters

Vox DayVox Day is a Christian blogger and author of The Irrational Atheist. We have agreed to a friendly dialogue about the reasons for our beliefs, though we’ll try to avoid regurgitating all the usual arguments for and against the existence of God. This is the opening letter of our discussion. After a week or two, Vox will respond on his own blog, and the dialogue will continue from there.

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Vox,

I grew up a non-denominational evangelical Christian. I loved God and had vivid spiritual experiences that transformed my life for the better. Then I did some studying and learned that all my reasons for believing in God were really bad reasons. I really wanted to be a Christian, and I begged desperately for God to show himself to me, but in the end I had to admit I had no better reasons to believe in God than to believe in Shiva or fairies.

That was depressing, but I got over it. I eventually discovered what atheists around the world have known for thousands of years: that there is plenty of purpose, morality, and happiness to enjoy without God. Perhaps more.

I’m not familiar with your story; I hope you’ll share it.

I’d like to start with a question about why you believe what you believe about God. But I’d like to skip all the usual arguments. In fact, for the sake of argument let’s say all the theistic arguments succeed, and all the atheistic arguments fail. Let’s say the modal ontological argument establishes the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent, and all-good being. Cosmological arguments establish this God as the creator of the universe. Design arguments establish that he purposely designed the universe to host intelligent life. Historical analysis shows that Jesus rose from the dead.

Let’s say all that is true. My question is, Why are you a Christian? A Christian asserts a huge number of highly dubious propositions that are not established even if all these arguments are granted. For example, Christians believe that Jesus is God, that God answers prayers, that God is Triune, that God will send believers to heaven and unbelievers to hell, that God commands us not to murder or rape or lie or worship other gods or dishonor our parents or sleep with certain people, etc.

It seems that to believe all that “extra” stuff of Christian doctrine, you must rely either on your own personal interpretation of the Bible (a library of texts written by dozens of authors with differing views across several centuries and cultures) or else you must rely on some personal revelation given directly to you by God (while denying the validity of personal revelations apparent to members of every other religion).

Before criticizing such possibilities further, I’ll just wait to hear why you are a Christian.

My second question is about evolution and the age of the earth. Common descent by natural selection and old-earth theory are extremely well-confirmed scientific theories, far better supported by the evidence than other well-established theories you would probably never think to question, like Relativity. Yet you seem to deny evolution and support Young Earth Creationism. Is this correct? If so, how do you conclude such things, given the evidence?

My third question concerns your contention that God, assuming he exists, “has the right to define right and wrong,” including the ability to decide that genocide and baby-killing are morally right. Your reasoning is that “we are all his creations, [so] killing every child under two on the planet is no more inherently significant than a programmer unilaterally wiping out his AI-bots in a game universe.”

You seem to be saying that someone who creates something has the moral right to do whatever he wants to it. But I don’t see how this can be supported. For one, it would mean that God could be morally right to sexually molest children, mutilate their genitals, torture them, and let them die slowly. Surely this is not what you mean?

This principle would also mean that if we create a human baby through an artificial process and grow it in a petri dish, we would be morally permitted to rape, mutilate, torture, and kill this baby. Again: surely this is not what you mean?

This first letter is short because I anticipate that our letters will grow once we are responding to each other.

Cheers,

Luke

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{ 277 comments… read them below or add one }

Nate September 19, 2009 at 12:18 am

I’m not Vox.. but…

“Surely this is not what you mean?”

Yes. Its exactly what he means. No offense but your arguement is hardly original and borderline childish. For one… The Bible does not discount all other gods. Its quite clear that there are other gods. So therefore it does not discount the personal experiences of others at all.

The point you are missing is the bit about the One True Creater God. Yes there are other gods… but only One creator.

God demonstrates His superiority throughout the Old Testament… and He does so still today.

So in short… we do believe in Vishnu, Allah, and all manner of other gods. We just know them to be inferior rebels to the One True God.

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Allabaster September 19, 2009 at 12:25 am

Luke.

I look forward to this exchange but I may want to head you off on one point you have made that I believe should be corrected so as to not take away from the discussion.

Vox while being a creationist in a broad sense does not hold a young earth view on the subject “While I put great credence in documentary evidence, I think much of the YEC case is based on a forced literalism that is absent from most historical readings of the Bible or other historical documents.” Vox 8/16/09.

As I have said I look forward to this exchange and wish you all the best.

Allabaster.

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Ben September 19, 2009 at 12:57 am

Vox also doesn’t defend the classical version of God. He defends a God that’s more like Q from Star Trek. You should read his chapter in The Irrational Atheist that purports to solve the problem of evil. He has it free online right off of his website.

I’m sure you’ll find all this out and I hope Vox will remain friendly while he clarifies his unorthodox positions.

Ben

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Haukur September 19, 2009 at 1:17 am

Interesting rhetorical strategy, Luke, concede vast swathes of normally contested theory and try to show that even then the other side would not be justified. Maybe this will lead to a fresher discussion than is typical.

Nate: One of Luke’s central ideas (as per the quote on top of his blog) is that Christians and atheists have the same attitude towards non-Christian religions (i.e. “Vishnu doesn’t exist”). But lots of Christians would say, like you, that Vishnu exists but he is some sort of demon or lesser god, at least not the creator of the universe. Other Christians would say that the idea of Vishnu is a very imperfect understanding of the one true god. Either theory leaves open the possibility that religious experiences involving Vishnu are experiences of the same general type as religious experiences involving the Christian god. Luke: When you were a Christian, did you have a completely naturalistic view of other religions? How much thought did you give to other religions?

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Salt September 19, 2009 at 4:17 am

is no more inherently significant than a programmer unilaterally wiping out his AI-bots in a game universe.

As an example, this will be interesting. I have my doubts that the average atheist will comprehend what Vox is getting at, as most atheists seem but singularly capable of reduction to the microscope.

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Stan September 19, 2009 at 4:25 am

Humans do not create other humans, in petri dishes or otherwise. Humans manipulate genetics, inseminate, etc – but they do not even understand the issue of “living” versus mere molecular assemblage. A human from any derivation deserves the same rights as all humans deserve… and I’ll bet that Vox tells you the same thing.

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Stan September 19, 2009 at 4:38 am

Oops I should also have mentioned that the comparison of human’s rights with respect to other humans is entirely different than a deity’s right to deal with its creations. One cannot consider the mental workings of a deity within the context of human motivation, understanding or limitations.

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Ben September 19, 2009 at 5:08 am

Salt: I have my doubts that the average atheist will comprehend what Vox is getting at, as most atheists seem but singularly capable of reduction to the microscope.

I think we get that Vox thinks if you are the god of a world anything goes, just like the rest of Christianity that has no problem with calling an amoral agent “good.”

Stan: Humans do not create other humans, in petri dishes or otherwise.Humans manipulate genetics, inseminate, etc – but they do not even understand the issue of “living” versus mere molecular assemblage.A human from any derivation deserves the same rights as all humans deserve… and I’ll bet that Vox tells you the same thing.

That’s incidental. We don’t *yet* create fully analogous A. I. in video games. That doesn’t mean we won’t or can’t. And if Vox were going to be so sensible, he wouldn’t have needed to remind us that God gets to create whatever random rule he wants no matter how advanced the sentient lifeform in his little petri dish is. Christians tend to “go there” when God is doing or commanding evil and they have nothing sensible to fall back on.

Ben

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Nate September 19, 2009 at 5:20 am

Hakaur
The Church has chosen to downplay certain biblical truths. Doing so has caused much damage. So yes… there are christians out there that truely don’t know what the Bible says about other Gods.

Regardless… the Bible says what it says. Other Christian texts also back up the claim, as it is the traditional belief of the Church.

So in short… “When you understand why you dismiss all other Gods, you’ll understand why I dismiss yours.” is a completely assinine statement, wholly inapplicaple to Christianity which does not dismiss the existence of other gods at all. In fact its texts demonstate their existence and their power as well.

Its really embarassing to see someone base their atheism on a quote that sounds clever only to the grossly ignorant.

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Starwind September 19, 2009 at 5:24 am

I grew up a non-denominational evangelical Christian.

I’ve known many “preacher’s kids” who grew up in churchianity without ever having a personal “conversion” to Christ. You talk of your deconversion, but I suspect you never had the prerequistite conversion.

I loved God and had vivid spiritual experiences that transformed my life for the better.

What you describe would seem to be experiences that you created for yourself. A bit like deciding on your Dad’s political party and getting yourself worked up to campaign for your guy, all without actually knowing your candidate, only knowing what campaign rallys were like (and your Dad’s approval).

Then I did some studying and learned that all my reasons for believing in God were really bad reasons. I really wanted to be a Christian, and I begged desperately for God to show himself to me, but in the end I had to admit I had no better reasons to believe in God than to believe in Shiva or fairies.

You list many books you read, but you don’t list the Bible itself. I assume you’ll assert you read it, but I doubt you actually studied it, certainly not with the same effort you invested in studying all the other books. While I understand the allure of intellectual pursuits, the Bible seems to be the only book that God will actually “talk about” or use to reveal Himself. It’s fine to read other books, especially books about bible topics, but without reading the Bible (to *know* God better) as well, it’s like spiritual malnutrition. You were getting the calories but not the vitamins.

Then I did some studying and learned that all my reasons for believing in God were really bad reasons.

That is the telltale clue that bears repeating. That in spite of all your good intentions, you never had the prerequisite conversion, the born-again regeneration of your spirit and the indwelling of the holy spirit. You seem to have the expectation that being a Christian is like joining a club with reasons for belonging. It isn’t. Or that you can “grow up Christian”, out of gate as it were. You can’t.

Becoming a Christian is more like the realization that you’ve been a member of a gang all your life and leaving that gang behind to marry someone you met. Jesus would be that someone. It would be love at first sight, not a rational intellectual exercise. It would be loathing of all you had previously done to offend that someone and the realization that your gang membership had blind-sided you. You don’t need to “believe in” or have “reasons” for whom you want to marry, you just want them, personally, not as a trophy spouse but as a person who fulfills your life, personally.

Many “preacher’s kids” grow up “luke warm” only dimly aware that cheering for a political candidate is not the same as marrying that candidate. Being steeped in churchianity since birth, you seem to have had the defacto presumption you were following Christ when you were only following a crowd of christian authors and preachers. And at some point you realized that wasn’t good enough, and you were right, but you mistook your symptoms for the problem.

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Ben September 19, 2009 at 5:27 am

Starwind: You talk of your deconversion, but I suspect you never had the prerequistite conversion.

Yay for the token retcon!

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Jim Reeves September 19, 2009 at 5:51 am

What a great start. Even Salt is borderline curteous.

HKC

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Salt September 19, 2009 at 5:56 am

Ben:
I think we get that Vox thinks if you are the god of a world anything goes, just like the rest of Christianity that has no problem with calling an amoral agent “good.”
Ben

I think you’re in for an interesting ride. Hope you’re tall enough for it.

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Jeff H September 19, 2009 at 6:01 am

Ben:
Yay for the token retcon!

It’s interesting how they always follow the same progression, isn’t it? Deny that you were actually a Christian, then explain how you were only ever at church because a) it felt good, b) you liked the social aspect, and/or c) your parents took you there. Then of course there are a couple of badly thought-out analogies, ending with more repetition about how you had all the experiences of Christianity without ever truly knowing God.

Lol…is there some website or something that these people copy and paste from?

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Ben September 19, 2009 at 6:13 am

Jeff H: It’s interesting how they always follow the same progression, isn’t it?

Yeah, well that’s just the nature of the beast. The only standard Stardust seems to appeal to is simply being more wooed than the next guy:

Starwind: Becoming a Christian is more like the realization that you’ve been a member of a gang all your life and leaving that gang behind to marry someone you met. Jesus would be that someone. It would be love at first sight, not a rational intellectual exercise.

*shrug* Honestly, who cares? If an atheist says this is almost exactly what it *seemed* like at the time, will Stardust maintain the “once saved always saved” party line? Why does it even matter? “Oh no! There’s a chance I could someday change my mind!” I freely admit atheists turn Christian. So what? People of all sorts change their minds all the time. What does that prove?

I just say I used to take Christianity seriously and that’s true regardless regardless of whether my high five for Jesus was reciprocated on his end or not. I don’t really care if they retcon my spiritual status (or Luke’s) or take a chill pill and read Hebrews 6:4-6. The point is there’s no good reason to believe Christianity is true regardless of our previous subjective frames of mind.

Ben

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Ben September 19, 2009 at 6:37 am

Salt:
I think you’re in for an interesting ride. Hope you’re tall enough for it.

Spacebunny? Is that you? Or is everyone from Vox’s blog equally, um, polite?

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jay c September 19, 2009 at 6:42 am

Sounds interesting! I’m looking forward to following your exchange.

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wrf3 September 19, 2009 at 7:00 am

Luke wrote: You seem to be saying that someone who creates something has the moral right to do whatever he wants to it. But I don’t see how this can be supported. For one, it would mean that God could be morally right to sexually molest children, mutilate their genitals, torture them, and let them die slowly. Surely this is not what you mean?

It is. The Creator is the sole arbiter of what is good or not. That you don’t like it only means that a) you either think that there is an external standard of good and evil to which both you and the Creator should conform (there isn’t); or that you think your particular instantiation of good and evil is somehow “more good” than that of the Creator. That’s a logically untenable position since you owe your existence to God; God does not owe his existence to you.

This principle would also mean that if we create a human baby through an artificial process and grow it in a petri dish, we would be morally permitted to rape, mutilate, torture, and kill this baby. Again: surely this is not what you mean?
It isn’t what Vox means. You are not God; that is, you are not creating an entire alternate reality which owes its existence solely to you; you’re merely working within the reality in which you exist.

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lukeprog September 19, 2009 at 7:00 am

Haukur,

I was encouraged not to think much about other religions when I was a Christian.

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Ben September 19, 2009 at 7:03 am

wrf3: You are not God; that is, you are not creating an entire alternate reality which owes its existence solely to you; you’re merely working within the reality in which you exist.

Startling qualitative moral failure is startling.

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Yos September 19, 2009 at 7:07 am

Starwind,are you writing only off of what you read from this page? If so,I believe that you’re missing a lot on Luke. If you haven’t,I recommend reading the essentials in the upper right corner. You may be surprised by what you find.

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wrf3 September 19, 2009 at 7:15 am

Luke asked Vox: My question is, Why are you a Christian?

Personally, I think that you are defining “Christian” too broadly. A Christian is someone who believes Jesus died for their sins and rose bodily from the dead. That leaves a lot of room for the Arians and Trinitarians; the Arminians and the Calvinists; the young earthers and the old earthers, etc… Vox and I don’t agree on the nature of God, for example. At least one of us has to be wrong on this, but we agree on the Gospel. Now, it’s your question, so you get the frame it however you like, but I would suggest that you and Vox agree on definitions, first. Otherwise you’ll start talking past each other.

A Christian asserts a huge number of highly dubious propositions that are not established even if all these arguments are granted.

Suppose I grant you this. So what? Is your concern that reality doesn’t correspond to the way you think it ought? Is it that you don’t wish to appear intellectually compromised to your social circle?

For example, Christians believe that Jesus is God,
Maybe. In any case, what, exactly, do you mean by this? Modalism? Trinitarianism? Something else?

that God answers prayers,
Well, yes. Is this a problem?

that God is Triune, that God will send believers to heaven and unbelievers to hell,
How could it be any other way? Do you think that unbelievers would be happy in heaven (whatever that is), where the risen Christ is Lord over everything? The thing about unbelievers is that their will is law — that’s not what heaven is like. As C. S. Lewis rightly said, “There are only two types of people. Those who say ‘my will be done’ and those who, in the end, say ‘Thy will be done’”.

Given that this is so, what, exactly do you want God to do with the former group?

that God commands us not to murder or rape or lie or worship other gods or dishonor our parents or sleep with certain people, etc.
And, again, what’s the issue? God does communicate with man. In any case, more importantly, what’s the purpose of Divine command? The interesting thing about Christianity is that it isn’t that we would obey it.

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wrf3 September 19, 2009 at 7:20 am

Ben:
Startling qualitative moral failure is startling.

Aside from perhaps being the tag line of a lolcat poster, could you elaborate on your point a bit? I take it by “moral failure” that you mean that these things would be wrong. But according to whose moral framework? Yours? Some external standard to which even God Himself must conform? (No such thing exists, btw).

Let me use an analogy to try to make the point. An author creates a world in which characters exist and events happen to those characters. Is it morally evil for the author to have things the characters don’t like happen to them?

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Starwind September 19, 2009 at 7:26 am

Ben:
*shrug* Honestly, who cares?

A real God would obviously care. You merely presume God doesn’t exist, ergo a nonexistant God doesn’t care anymore than do you.

If an atheist says this is almost exactly what it *seemed* like at the time, will Stardust maintain the “once saved always saved” party line?

Hardly. I would maintain “not once saved remains unsaved”, hence the crisis of a faith that never existed. And what Luke said it “seemed like at the time” lacked some key markers, as well as his engaging in some gratuitous hyperbole such as having “no better reasons to believe in God than to believe in Shiva or fairies”. There are certainly better reasons than for Shiva or fairies, but it would seem for all of Luke’s pursuit of the trappings and activities of Christian churchianity, he overlooked them.

I freely admit atheists turn Christian. So what? People of all sorts change their minds all the time. What does that prove?

It proves they never made their mind up in the first place, doesn’t it. It demonstrates a lack of comprehension in what they claim to understand or believe. It raises the possibility, even the liklihood, they still don’t grok their belief du jour.

Barna group did a survey a while back that found many *avowed* “atheists and agnostics” believed in hell. Obviously one could question their sincere belief in the non-existance of God, couldn’t one. Questioning Luke’s sincere conversion (however ardent his emotionalism) is no different. It is not an accusation against Luke’s character, it is an explanation of Luke’s misexpectation.

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Nate September 19, 2009 at 7:26 am

lukeprog: Haukur,I was encouraged not to think much about other religions when I was a Christian.

Wow. Really? Prior to being “confirmed” in the UMC kids are taken to all kinds of other churches. For example I was taken to a jewish temple, a catholic church, and even a mosque. We attended services at each and spent some time one on one with the pastor, priest, or cleric of each.

I hope you didn’t assume the way you were brought up in the church is the only way its done.

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justfinethanks September 19, 2009 at 7:42 am

You should be careful with him, because he is the worst kind of creationist: the kind who otherwise appears to be intelligent and well educated.

When someone appears to be ignorant of biology, I can usually assume they simply don’t understand how biogeography only makes sense in light of common descent, or how genetic evidence like ERVs, Hox Genes, and fused chromosome 2 are totally absurd if you postulate special creation, or how our knowledge of the evolution of life on earth is so precise, we can now successfully predict where we can dig up transitional fossils, like Neil Shubin did with the Tiktaalik. Perhaps they are also not aware that “intelligent design” is so intellectually bankrupt that its own proponents abandoned their short lived “peer reviewed” journal dedicated to the hypothesis in 2005.

But when someone who possesses above average intelligence and reading habits STILL rejects Darwinian evolution, then it proves that they are capable of uncommon self-deceit, and that typically spills into other topics of discussion in the form of misdirection and obfuscation. Trying to p

Also, Theodore has a need to maintian his image as a hard ass to his followers, so don’t be surprised if his response is less sincere and more insulting than your initial letter.

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Ben September 19, 2009 at 7:46 am

wrf3:
Aside from perhaps being the tag line of a lolcat poster, could you elaborate on your point a bit?

hehe, I do like lolcats.

I think it is scary that there is no *qualitative* assessment going on in your moral paradigm. All the relations are arbitrary authoritarian dictates without ANY regard for why questions. God is arbitrarily the way he is, and apparently none of the moral statements he gives us are required to make any interrelated coherent sense whatsoever. It’s just a big laundry list of “Don’t wear purple socks on every second Tuesday.” And all the issues you bring up completely circumnavigate that, intellectually. I’m not going to preempt the Luke/Vox exchange here, since he can get into the why’s of desire utilitarianism, but there is this vacuous moral hole in divine command theory that is, as any lolcat should tell you, startling. Srsly. If you don’t fill this hole with anything, ceiling cat command theory has just as much merit as divine command theory.

Ben

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Ben September 19, 2009 at 7:56 am

Starwind: It proves they never made their mind up in the first place, doesn’t it.

It seems you are under the impression that changing one’s mind makes them retroactively insincere and that’s just not a competent view of how the human mind works. Confidence is subjective, but can often feel absolute. And we see all sorts of confidence to the extreme across the board in lots of people with conflicting points of view on any number of topics unrelated to religion. The one’s who are wrong do not have to be liars or even stupid. They can just be wrong, because human epistemology is complicated. Being wrong happens. Can you honestly tell me you’ve never been honestly mistaken about something in your whole life? Even though you once were really certain x, y, or z was true?

Ben

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wrf3 September 19, 2009 at 8:00 am

Ben:
I think it is scary that there is no *qualitative* assessment going on in your moral paradigm.

Ok. What *qualitative* assessment do you want me to use? Spell it out.

All the relations are arbitrary authoritarian dictates without ANY regard for why questions.
If you follow the logical chain all the way down, “why” eventually leads to “because I am God”. That’s true of any logical system. So I don’t understand why you have a problem with it. Well, I do — it conflicts with what you think ought to be good — but you haven’t provided any basis for why your notions of good and evil should have any preferential treatment.

God is arbitrarily the way he is,
Indeed. And it’s important to note that this is exactly the way He presents Himself to us. “I am that I am”.

and apparently none of the moral statements he gives us are required to make any interrelated coherent sense whatsoever.
Sense to whom? What makes you the arbiter of what makes moral sense?

It’s just a big laundry list of “Don’t wear purple socks on every second Tuesday.”And all the issues you bring up completely circumnavigate that, intellectually.
So you say, but it doesn’t appear you have a consistent framework for evaluating what makes moral sense, intellectually. God is utterly sovereign. He ultimately decides what is good and what is evil. On what rational basis do you think you get to say He’s wrong?

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Ben September 19, 2009 at 8:01 am

justfinethanks: misdirection and obfuscation.

That’s been my experience of Vox as well. *shrug*

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Ben September 19, 2009 at 8:11 am

wrf3: What makes you the arbiter of what makes moral sense?

I am an arbiter that can tell Divine command theory has as much merit as ceiling cat command theory, since you’ve provided no reason why I should heed one over the other. It’s just a big whopping assertion on your part top to bottom with no promise of intimately mapping onto human realities or being internally coherent. I don’t even have to my own moral theory to point out that much on the part of your theory.

Like I said, I’m sure Luke will get into a positive view.

Ben

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Nate September 19, 2009 at 8:25 am

Starwind embarasses christianity by asserting that the way it happened for him is the only legitimate way.

Shame.

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wrf3 September 19, 2009 at 8:32 am

Ben:
I am an arbiter that can tell Divine command theory has as much merit as ceiling cat command theory, since you’ve provided no reason why I should heed one over the other.

But I did. First, God, as creator, is sovereign. Ceiling cat, not being sovereign, is not the same thing. Second, I’ve said that the created has no rational moral basis for disagreeing with the value judgements of the Creator. As a created being, your personal preferences do not trump the Creators. We’re back to the Lewis quote about the difference between “my will be done” and “Thy will be done.”

Your problem is that you don’t appear to have a solid grasp of what morality is or where it originates.

It’s just a big whopping assertion on your part top to bottom with no promise of intimately mapping onto human realities or being internally coherent.
Define “human realities” and I will.

I don’t even have to my own moral theory to point out that much on the part of your theory.
Your entire rebuttal to date has consisted of “it doesn’t match what my value system says it ought to be.” That’s an issue of morality.

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Starwind September 19, 2009 at 8:55 am

Ben:
It seems you are under the impression that changing one’s mind makes them retroactively insincere and that’s just not a competent view of how the human mind works.

No, I said changing ones mind demonstrates being confused, either before or after. It was Luke’s gratuitous hyperbole that suggested to me his insincerity.

Can you honestly tell me you’ve never been honestly mistaken about something in your whole life?

I’ve been wrong more times than I care to mention. Occasionally, others had to point out my mistake as I failed to catch it myself.

And I’ve been mistaken at times about Christian and Jewish doctrines. But as I correct those mistaken understandings (through Bible study as well as archaeology, palaeography and history) I find a clearer and more consistent picture of God emerges, along with more detailed questions. I have “changed my mind” because I was confused about some doctrines and dogma (which I later found to be unbiblical), but unlike Luke, I have not changed my mind on my original conversion, my belief and trust in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I have changed my mind on unbiblical things I was told, but I have not changed my mind on the fundamental truth of Jesus as God incarnate.

I suspect the difference between Luke and I, when changing our respective minds, is that Luke came to seek what is incorrect in the Bible, while I seek to understand how the Bible is correct. Luke now seeks to contradict, while I seek to reconcile. We proceed from opposite premises. His “faith” morphed into a study to “disprove” whereas mine remained a study to “prove”. We are both biased, no doubt. The difference being God assists my bias, and lets Luke struggle with his.

God does care. God is not indifferent to insincerity. Those who dismiss God are left to persue their dismissal on their own. Those who persue God through the trials and confusion get His help and find greater affirmation and faith.

To paraphrase Chesterton, Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and not tried. Luke’s story suggests to me that he didn’t really try to surmount his crisis of a faith he never really had, and the underlying reason, I suspect, for his deconversion is a lack of original conversion.

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Starwind September 19, 2009 at 9:08 am

Nate:
Starwind embarasses christianity by asserting that the way it happened for him is the only legitimate way.
Shame.

Sorry Nate, I didn’t intend to imply all “preacher’s kids” or anyone growing up in the church are always “luke warm”. But I did intend to imply that the only legitimate way includes a sincere conversion experience, and that people who grow up from childhood steeped in churchianity can mistake the works for the faith, and sometimes fail to recognized their lack of genuine conversion (as that lack was obscured by all their works). Faith produces works, but works does not produce faith.

People who have known only works sometimes overlook the difference, until they have a crisis of faith, and their works won’t sustain them.

That’s all I meant, embarassing or not.

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Walter September 19, 2009 at 9:17 am

I see the “No True Scotsman” fallacy is still popular with the Once Saved, Always Saved crowd.

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E.G September 19, 2009 at 9:55 am

Good Luck to Mr. Jude, for Vox is no friend to atheistic philosophy!

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Haukur September 19, 2009 at 10:02 am

Nate: I totally agree with you, your position on ‘other gods’ is an old and traditional Christian position, well supported by scripture. I think that “the pagans know God, but not well” idea is also a venerable Christian position – e.g. Justin Martyr thought Plato had got a few things right. The “don’t think about other religions” position Luke brings up is perhaps more modern. It’s a good way to avoid having to think of your Hindu neighbors as deluded and/or demon worshippers.

With this in mind let’s look at that Roberts quotation once more, from the three Christian conceptions we’ve been trying to sketch.

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

Christian 1: I dismiss all the other gods because they are demons – so I gather you atheists dismiss the true God because you think he’s a demon?

Christian 2: I dismiss all the other conceptions of God because they are less perfect than the Christian one. So I guess you guys dismiss the Christian conception of God because you think you have an even better one?

Christian 3: I dismiss all the other gods because, as a Christian, I don’t need to give other religions much thought. So I gather you dismiss Christianity because you, as an atheist, feel you don’t need to give Christianity much thought?

None of these responses are what Roberts or Luke are trying to elicit. They’re looking for something like this:

Christian 4: I dismiss all other religions because SCIENCE and HISTORY and REASON and CRITICAL THINKING and all that good stuff shows that they are all totally wrong and have a completely naturalistic basis, developing basically out of the propensity of the human mind for certain types of bad thinking. So, you think Christianity is also totally wrong in the exact same way and has a naturalistic basis? Ah, now I understand.

I’m sure there are some Christians who think like this, I just don’t think it’s a particularly common position. Then again, it may be a common position among those Christians who are susceptible for conversion to atheism so the quote may still serve its purpose. A bait doesn’t have to look attractive to all the fish, it just needs to look attractive to the fish you’re trying to catch.

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Ben September 19, 2009 at 10:09 am

wrf3: But I did. First, God, as creator, is sovereign. Ceiling cat, not being sovereign, is not the same thing.

Since you’ve totally sidestepped the quality issue yet again, you’ve provide no means of deciding which revealed religion really is from the authoritative source or if there even *is* an authoritative source we should be looking for. If God is the author of moral realities, there’s no reason his prescriptions shouldn’t make the best sense of the human condition. When criticized though, it seems you don’t even try to make that case at all despite the claims of your religion which say this same God created our moral desires.

wrf3: Define “human realities” and I will.

O rly? I think your introduction to the conversation went like this:

wrf3: Luke said, “For one, it would mean that God could be morally right to sexually molest children, mutilate their genitals, torture them, and let them die slowly. Surely this is not what you mean?”

You said: “It is. The Creator is the sole arbiter of what is good or not.”

It seems futile to tell you all about the human condition (which you should already be aware of having lived it), when you’ve already dismissed all of that evidence up front as completely irrelevant. As human beings, we know a little bit about it from the inside and there have to be at least some bare minimum expectations that can’t always be construed as subjective whiny complaints from a disgruntled God hater. Other Christians want to be convinced as well since they are human beings, too, who struggle with genuine qualitative moral concerns. So if you were trying to win the “most inhumane moral theory” award, you’ve done splendidly by me. However, if you were trying to convince us you’ve been morally critical with your religion, in the word of yet another lolcat: FAIL.

Ben

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Ben September 19, 2009 at 11:02 am

Starwind: It was Luke’s gratuitous hyperbole that suggested to me his insincerity.

Well I think that’s the hallmark of youth and passion rather than pure insincerity, but you’re not totally wrong there. I catch a similar drift, but it doesn’t strike me as any different than what I’d gather from a concurrent Christian who may well continue refining their belief till their dying day. Luke’s point is that there’d be no reliable way to pick his psychological predisposition out of a Youth Group as necessarily destined for apostasy. The inner testimonial evidence simply isn’t a guarantee of sustained genuine Christianity and some Christians need that brought to their attention because that may be the only evidence they are relying on. Heck, it may even encourage them to look for deeper roots for their faith. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but Luke is probably more concerned with people being self aware and informed regardless of what path they ultimately choose based on that information.

Ben

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wrf3 September 19, 2009 at 11:38 am

Ben:
Since you’ve totally sidestepped the quality issue yet again,
On the contrary; I’ve suggested that your question assumes things not in evidence, namely, that there is a standard that measures the “goodness” of morality. Since you’ve asked me to use a yardstick, I’m asking you what that yardstick is. So far, the only gauge you’ve provided is what you happen to think morally good. To which my response is, why should I, or anyone (especially God) consider that to be a valid standard?

I can’t answer your question the way you’ve framed it. As Marisa Tomei said, “it’s a trick question.”

you’ve provide no means of deciding which revealed religion really is from the authoritative source or if there even *is* an authoritative source we should be looking for.
There are two responses to this. First, the terms of the discussion were set by Luke and I’m answering within that framework. If you don’t agree with the premise, then another discussion could be started.

The second response is that ideas have consequences. Given a correct definition of good and evil (see here, here, and here), then the existence of a creator God results in a moral system which is different from a system in which no creator exists. At the very least, Christianity is consistent with what we can deduce from first principles. First, our notions of good and evil are “broken”, in the sense that our moral compass does not point in the direction of God’s. Second, we are broken because we think that our moral compass can validly be used to judge God.

If God is the author of moral realities, there’s no reason his prescriptions shouldn’t make the best sense of the human condition.
You’re making the unwarranted assumption that “the human condition” is in good working order. It isn’t. This is easily shown by the analogy I’ve already used. God is the author of our reality. Authors tell stories and their stories include characters and situations which they shape. The character in the story has no right to tell the Author, “what you’ve written is wrong”; yet we do this with God all the time.

Another point is that you wrongly assume that there is a fixed external standard of morality to which both man and God must adhere. What is moral for God isn’t necessarily moral for me. An Author can have a baby starve or be run over by a train. That doesn’t mean that I can do likewise.

When criticized though, it seems you don’t even try to make that case at all despite the claims of your religion which say this same God created our moral desires.

Christianity also says that our moral desires are fallen, in that instead of looking to God for what is right and wrong, we look to ourselves. We elevate our value system above His.

It seems futile to tell you all about the human condition (which you should already be aware of having lived it), when you’ve already dismissed all of that evidence up front as completely irrelevant.
You’re being sliced by Hume’s guillotine. That is, you are confusing what “is” with what “ought” to be. I’m not saying that the evidence is irrelevant; it is what it is. The question is, how do you go from “is” to “ought”?

As human beings, we know a little bit about it from the inside and there have to be at least some bare minimum expectations that can’t always be construed as subjective whiny complaints from a disgruntled God hater.
But that’s exactly what they are.

Other Christians want to be convinced as well since they are human beings, too, who struggle with genuine qualitative moral concerns.

All morality is subjective. The atheist looks to himself (or the group to which he affiliates himself); the Christian should ask God.

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clarence September 19, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Well, I see what kind of people those like wrf are without their God. It isn’t pretty.

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Bisch September 19, 2009 at 2:10 pm

clarence: Well, I see what kind of people those like wrf are without their God. It isn’t pretty.

wrf makes multiple, long, thoughtful posts, and clarence rolls in and gives a smarmy, two-sentence “response.”

What did you seek to accomplish with that, clarence?

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Reginald Selkirk September 19, 2009 at 2:14 pm

How does the saying go about the pig and the mud? Vox Day is not up to your level, by a long shot.

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Starwind September 19, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Ben: Luke’s point is that there’d be no reliable way to pick his psychological predisposition out of a Youth Group as necessarily destined for apostasy. The inner testimonial evidence simply isn’t a guarantee of sustained genuine Christianity and some Christians need that brought to their attention because that may be the only evidence they are relying on.

Few of us can “reliably” discern the condition of another’s heart, certainly not I.

OTOH, there is the external evidence of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5). Little or no fruit, or lack of a transformational change, would be clues that something is amiss. Detecting such transformational changes and/or changes in the quality and quantity of “fruit” (good or bad) is admittedly difficult for those who grew up in a church, especially “preacher’s kids”. Many lack a “before and after” comparison that is much more obvious to someone like myself who came to Christ late in life. The transformation for me (which I neither expected nor understood) from how I used to behave and think to what I became, was unmistakably stark and unforgettable, including to my close associates who witnessed my change.

Nate’s point was that it isn’t like that for everyone. My point was that growing up always doing the “christian things” can obscure the transformation (or lack thereof) from unChristian to Christian which otherwise is a valuable and affirming clue.

Ben: Heck, it may even encourage them to look for deeper roots for their faith.

Precisely my point, especially for those who grew up in the church and perhaps are uncertain of when/if they were transformed. But an irrefutable “tell” is quitting on God in the face of a trial. Job, Joseph, Daniel, Meschach and Abednego, those thrown to lions or crucified, … Corrie Tenboom etc., didn’t quit. It is hard to imagine a modern trial that is more difficult than what others have already endured. It’s one thing to be confused and depressed and cry out to God. But it is another matter entirely to walk away in disbelief because ‘my trial was beyond what I could understand’, ergo God isn’t real.

Paul taught Christians are to identify with Christ’s suffering as well as His victory. I think Paul was serious.

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lukeprog September 19, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Nate,

No, certainly not. I lived through at least three different types of Christian faith before becoming an atheist, and I was certainly aware of many other varieties of Christianity, for example on my trips to China, Indonesia, Venezuela, and Britain.

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lukeprog September 19, 2009 at 6:01 pm

Vox has posted a link to my post, but will not respond for about a week. The comments section on his post (about my post) is pretty lively, too.

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lukeprog September 19, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Reginald Selkirk: How does the saying go about the pig and the mud? Vox Day is not up to your level, by a long shot.

I’ll bet Vox’s readers would say that I not not up to his level…

:)

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drj September 19, 2009 at 6:43 pm

lukeprog:
I’ll bet Vox’s readers would say that I not not up to his level…

But given the tone and content of some of the comments over there, I’d say most of those readers arent up to Reginald’s level :)

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debodine September 19, 2009 at 8:10 pm

Luke:

I will wait the week or so to see the discussion continue before attempting any kind of input. I just wanted to say I look forward to learning much from both you and Vox. I am a Christian so I admit I have bias, but I admire the honest, open way you phrased your propositions for discussion.

This should be both fun and educational!

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lukeprog September 19, 2009 at 9:09 pm

debodine,

Thanks for sharing your interest, debodine!

It seems a lot of people really like this idea…

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Josh September 19, 2009 at 11:00 pm

Man, I hate to libel people on the internet, but Vox is one of the most disgusting human beings of whose existence I have ever had the misfortune of being made aware. Not only is he hilariously right wing to the point of absurdity, but I don’t think he’s ever uttered a coherent sentence in his life.

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Jason September 20, 2009 at 12:39 am

Vox is disgusting? By whose moral standard? Also, when you can actually answer his The Irrational Atheist, beyond chapter four, you’ll have made it into an atheist elite that is at present unoccupied.

Also politically Vox is a libertarian. That’s about as far from right wing (and left wing) as you can get.

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Beelzebub September 20, 2009 at 12:47 am

Josh — If I may make a moral judgment of my own, as a person who has hung around the “Vox Popoli” site and been banned for it, there are an unfortunate number of people who think just as Vox does. They do NOT have the slightest inkling why they are reprehensible, and worse, they don’t realize the role that Christianity plays in supporting their vile beliefs. The utter irony is that they engage in a moral subjectivity that would rival any struggling moral relativist. They cherry-pick, misinterpret and rush to accept paradigms that fit how they think the world should operate. It boils down to this: There is no free lunch and doing good is, and has always been, hard. You can’t look up “do-gooding” in the yellow pages and expect it to be delivered to you like a pizza.

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lukeprog September 20, 2009 at 1:33 am

For the record, I agree with much of The Irrational Atheist, and would level more or less the same criticisms at the New Atheists.

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Beelzebub September 20, 2009 at 3:14 am

You may profit by reading Deacon Duncan’s chapter by chapter critique on the blog site Evangelical Realism. My own feeling is that Dawkins set a bad tone in God Delusion, whereas Harris is the founder of the “New Atheist” movement and he was far more pugilistic against faith and religion itself than against believers. His was more a passionate plea to end the bad reasons for belief, where as Dawkins made things personal, and that’s why God Delusion evokes more ire than End of Faith. Was Dawkins wrong by taking the low road? I’m not sure; he certainly lit a fire under people’s asses. You have to consider that he’s an older zoologist and has been fighting idiotic creationists since Vox Day was in swaddling clothes, and his patience has probably run its course.

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Beelzebub September 20, 2009 at 3:19 am

Jason, Again I would point to the ER site for a full rebuttal. And Vox Day is unquestionably a right winger.

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Salt September 20, 2009 at 4:04 am

Josh — If I may make a moral judgment of my own, as a person who has hung around the “Vox Popoli” site and been banned for it, – Beelzebub

You were not banned for merely hanging around VP, Beelz, and you know it.

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wrf3 September 20, 2009 at 5:38 am

Fly Lord wrote: They do NOT have the slightest inkling why they are reprehensible, and worse, they don’t realize the role that Christianity plays in supporting their vile beliefs. The utter irony is that they engage in a moral subjectivity that would rival any struggling moral relativist.

All morality is relative, Beezle. If not, all you have to do is show the existence of an objective moral yardstick without running afoul of Hume’s guillotine. You can’t do it, so I suspect you won’t even try. Instead you’ll continue with the ad hominem displayed above.

It’s interesting that you’ve shown up here, because it perfectly illustrates Christianity. Vox is the creator of a reality, his website, Vox Popoli. It’s populated with various people (the analogy here isn’t perfect, because Vox didn’t create them, but go with it). You get kicked out of “paradise” and refuse to accept the fact that you were banned for the infraction of rules that everyone else abides by. Instead of admitting your fault, you come here and talk about how “vile” and “reprehensible” they are.

It’s Genesis, all over again. Which is all it ever is. It isn’t a question of facts, or reason – it’s about subjective values and who will submit to Whom. You would be welcomed back to Vox Popoli with open arms were you to repent, just as God would welcome you. But not on your own terms. On His. The Creator sets the terms.

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Mark September 20, 2009 at 7:59 am

Luke,

I bounced over here from Vox’s site. Looks like an interesting and civil discussion will be had. I look forward to it.

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Rick September 20, 2009 at 9:46 am

@wrf3,

It seems that in trying to argue, you approach a debate with a closed point of view and attempt to win by repetition alone. So far you’ve shown that you believe one form of the Bible is true, but failed to provide any evidence or argument for its veracity. You insist ad nauseum that God is sovereign, but refuse to elaborate on why, or how you can continue to believe that when your concept of god is so basically flawed and unsubstantiated.

What Ben and the rest of us would like to have is some justification for why the god of the Bible is the ‘right’ idea rather than Shiva or fairies. Your style of debate has thus far been to a) assume everyone will understand they’re wrong if only told so, and b) repeat yourself until the assumption in (a) is made fact.

Do you really think people are that stupid? Or are you merely under the impression that you currently have a monopoly on truth? I’ll call your attention to your earlier comment that you’ve occasionally been wrong.

What I’m interested in knowing is why the appeal to authority you suggest (i.e. to YOUR god) is any more convincing than an appeal to any other authority. I’m not advocating any morality or code here; I want to know why you feel you don’t have to defend your moral code or your beliefs. More generally, I want to know why Christianity on the whole is defensible. I’ll define it in a broad framework: Christians are those who are of some sort of faith in which their holy book is called a Bible. Christians are those who would call themselves Christians.

After having perused some of the comments on Vox’ site, I unfortunately don’t expect the same respectful commentary from Vox’ readers that Luke usually attracts here. And for me, that’s depressing. It indicates a lack of basic curiosity and open-mindedness for one’s fellow human, and closes the mind to any thought that mildly disagrees with one’s already established position. I hope I’m wrong.

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wrf3 September 20, 2009 at 11:25 am

Rick wrote: @wrf3,It seems that in trying to argue, you approach a debate with a closed point of view…
You write as if that’s a bad thing. Should I approach a debate uncertain of my, or my opponent’s, arguments?

and attempt to win by repetition alone.

I have made certain statements which haven’t yet been refuted. Some of them haven’t been understood, which can make repetition necessary. Here are some of them:
1. I provided a definition of good and evil here. I provided independent confirmation that this definition is correct here. In the first link I note that one of the reasons why I believe this definition correct is because it is invariant as to worldview; that is, it’s the same definition whether one is a theist, atheist, or agnostic. No one has challenged this definition or provided an alternative.

2. Consistent application of Hume’s guillotine. My argument could be defeated by showing why Hume is wrong.
3. Showed how Christianity is consistent with the above and how the to-date atheist rebuttals are not.

So far you’ve shown that you believe one form of the Bible is true, but failed to provide any evidence or argument for its veracity.
That’s a separate argument. Just as Luke asked, “given this, why that?”, I taking Luke’s “given this, therefore this.”

Too, I don’t need to provide evidence or argument for the veracity of the Bible, because I really haven’t used it. Worldviews are like geometry; the axioms determine the shape of reality. The definition of good and evil, as well as Hume’s guillotine, are worldview invariant — they are the same for both atheist and theist. The addition of the “no god” hypothesis then creates a reality with one shape; the addition of “a god” hypothesis creates a different shape. It really doesn’t matter which god, as long as that god holds the creator attribute. If Christianity weren’t consistent with this “shape”, I’d drop it in a minute.

You insist ad nauseum that God is sovereign, but refuse to elaborate on why,
It should be obvious from the creator attribute. The characters in a book can’t change the book; the creatures in a simulation can’t change the simulation. The Bible is consistent with this. See, as one of many, many examples, here.

or how you can continue to believe that when your concept of god is so basically flawed and unsubstantiated.
Talk about ad nauseum repetition. Go ahead, pick just one flaw and let’s examine it in detail. I can guarantee you one of two things will happen. Either I won’t actually hold to that concept or the “flaw” will turn out to be a value judgement on your part. In which case I’ll point out that your side hasn’t yet provided a justification why man’s values are superior to God’s. If your side could point to an objective external standard of morality then that would defeat my argument. But that hasn’t happened and I don’t expect it will.

What Ben and the rest of us would like to have is some justification for why the god of the Bible is the ‘right’ idea rather than Shiva or fairies. Your style of debate has thus far been to a) assume everyone will understand they’re wrong if only told so, and b) repeat yourself until the assumption in (a) is made fact. Do you really think people are that stupid?

I’ve spelled out several ways my arguments can be defeated. Knock yourself out.

Or are you merely under the impression that you currently have a monopoly on truth? I’ll call your attention to your earlier comment that you’ve occasionally been wrong.What I’m interested in knowing is why the appeal to authority you suggest (i.e. to YOUR god) is any more convincing than an appeal to any other authority.

At the risk of sounding repetitious, what is the ultimate authority? If there is a creator God, then he/she/it is. And if there is a creator god, that shapes reality in a manner that is consistent with the Bible. Furthermore, whenever the atheist tries to argue that their values are the ones by which a creator should be judged, then the atheist is arguing irrationally. That’s one of those true statements that causes such cognitive dissonance in the atheist that it has to be repeated.

I’m not advocating any morality or code here; I want to know why you feel you don’t have to defend your moral code or your beliefs. More generally, I want to know why Christianity on the whole is defensible.
I’ve been defending my beliefs. As to defending moral codes, we’re right back to the same place we always come back to. You’re the atheist: what moral code should be used as the yardstick, and why? Part of the reason for the “ad nauseum” repetition is because your side assumes without proof that such a thing exists, but then never produces it. (Now just where have I heard that argument before… ?)

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Steven D September 20, 2009 at 12:49 pm

WRF3 said:

God is the author of our reality. Authors tell stories and their stories include characters and situations which they shape. The character in the story has no right to tell the Author, “what you’ve written is wrong”; yet we do this with God all the time.

You are an excellent rhetorical writer wrf3, but have you ever tried your hand at fiction?

Speaking with some level of experience, I can assure you that the characters in my stories often “tell” me that what I’ve written is wrong. In fact, my best work happens when the characters “take control” and start “having a life of their own” and “tell me to shove off” and other such craziness. Naturally I put those behaviors in quotation marks because my characters aren’t by strict definition really alive, self aware, sentient beings (although you could make a pretty good argument that they are). To the point, artistically speaking, for this author (and I believe I speak for most), the characters do have a right to follow their own whims, desires, and dreams. Whether the Author God advances such rights to his creations, if such an Author exists, I do not know. Nor do I know whether it would be moral to do so. I personally am not sure whether objective moral values exist except that which we assign to them to help create harmony in our interpersonal and societal relationships. I wish there were objective moral facts. I still try to live “morally”, but I’m not sure if it’s just another human invention. Desire utilitarianism, as advocated by Luke, seems interesting though.

Now that I’ve revealed myself as a somewhat schizophrenic writer, let me add that if my characters suddenly became self aware, actualized organically Stranger than Fiction style, and/or alive in the way it is usually defined, I would no longer feel comfortable sending horrible monsters after them, forcing them to nobly sacrifice themselves, or causing any other kind of misery. On what moral grounds? Well, for now I’ll cop out and say that this would thwart more desires than it would fulfill :)

My gut intuitive reaction to the argument that a perfect Author has the right to kill real babies if He so wishes, is that it is wrong. Perhaps it’s my evolutionary upbringing, or perhaps I may not be properly aligned morally due to my sin nature, or perhaps God knows better because He’s such a smartypants, or perhaps God is just arbitrary, or perhaps there are objective moral facts and my intuition is on the money, but still “Might makes Right”, “God is mysterious”, etc. seem like very weak arguments to me, even for somebody with no solid moral framework or philosophical training (or counterarguments).

But thanks for contributing to the blog, it really helps liven up the discussion and I appreciate your point of view even if I disagree with it.

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Steven D September 20, 2009 at 1:43 pm

WRF3 said:

1. I provided a definition of good and evil here. I provided independent confirmation that this definition is correct here.

It’s an adequate definition, and certainly better than most attempts, but I don’t know how anybody can assert that it’s the correct definition without a preponderance of information that is not available to us.

Question for you WRF3, what evidence do you find to support your belief in the Christian God, specifically, over alternate gods/worldviews/religions?

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Beelzebub September 20, 2009 at 1:58 pm

You were not banned for merely hanging around VP, Beelz, and you know it.

I won’t clutter this forum with more about what happened elsewhere except to say that I wasn’t banned for breaking the rules but for pissing people off.


If your side could point to an objective external standard of morality then that would defeat my argument. But that hasn’t happened and I don’t expect it will.

I don’t speak for all of atheism, of course, but IMO an objective morality exists but not a rule based one. I read with interest your discussion related to incompleteness and Godel’s proof on VP (I think it was you). My view on moral systems is analogous, but I don’t believe any stronger lines can be drawn. A recorded moral system will be found to be incomplete, hence in the end will result in immoral decisions. Mine is a view akin to the Platonic idea that supports objective morality but only goes as far as saying people can be educated sufficiently so that they will do good most of the time. Certainly, morals, laws, etc. can be written down, but when slavishly followed some evil will inevitably result from them.


Furthermore, whenever the atheist tries to argue that their values are the ones by which a creator should be judged, then the atheist is arguing irrationally. That’s one of those true statements that causes such cognitive dissonance in the atheist that it has to be repeated.

That’s probably true in the context of this discussion, where God is assumed, but remember that atheists usually don’t think in that reference frame. Instead they argue that contradictions resulting from a divine origin of morals points to the nonexistence of God.

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drj September 20, 2009 at 2:27 pm

wrf3: 2. Consistent application of Hume’s guillotine. My argument could be defeated by showing why Hume is wrong.

Just a request for clarification – are you claiming that Christian morality escapes the is-ought problem in some unique way?

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Math Geek September 20, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Even though I am an atheist, I liked Vox’s rebuttal to the so-called Four Horsemen of the New Atheism and even going further with critique of Michel Onfray. After reading “The Atheist Manifesto” by Onfray, I saw myself agreeing with Day about Onfray’s conclusions. I think Vox is capable of holding his own in the theological arena. I would like to see how this exchange plays out.

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wrf3 September 20, 2009 at 3:22 pm

Steven D wrote:

[Your definition of good and evil is] an adequate definition, and certainly better than most attempts, but I don’t know how anybody can assert that it’s the correct definition without a preponderance of information that is not available to us.

Do you have any examples of what this additional information might be? If we can’t define words, then we can’t effectively communicate. If we can’t define what we mean by “good”, then it’s pointless to discuss morality.

Question for you WRF3, what evidence do you find to support your belief in the Christian God, specifically, over alternate gods/worldviews/religions?

That would end up being a book in its own right. First, a worldview is nothing more than a philosophical geometry. At the bottom are unproven “self-evident” truths (like, “there is a God” and “there is not a God”), which result in shaping how we perceive the external world. The mathematical/physical example of this are Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometries. Euclidean geometry says that the sum of the measure of the angles of triangles equals 180 degrees. One non-Euclidean geometry says the sum is always less than 180 degrees; while with another it’s always more than 180 degrees. For thousands of years we held that external reality was Euclidean. Then Einstein comes along and uses non-Euclidean geometry to describe spacetime. Which geometry corresponds to our universe depends on how much mass is present.

All of this to say that having examined Atheistic and Christian “geometries”, I find that the Christian has a better fit to the data. One example is in the area of morality, which has been partially discussed here.

Another area is in epistemology. Again, it would take far too much space to go into this in detail, but Christianity is the “preeminent” faith religion (“… the just shall live by faith”) . Detractors find this a defect, citing the superiority of “reason”. But reason is no different from addition or subtraction; it’s just operations on pre-existent unproveable data. As Russell said, faith is the basis of all knowledge: “All knowledge, we find, must be built up upon our instictive beliefs, and if these are rejected, nothing is left.” (The Problems of Philosophy, pg. 25).

Also related to epistemology is the question of the existence of God. God’s existence cannot be proven. I find ontological arguments a tedious waste of time. So does the Bible, btw. (“…or whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Heb 11:6).

Yet another area is in anthropology. The Bible says that man is “broken”. I deal with it briefly here. Scripture does not elevate man, which I find curious if it were a man-made religion.

And not finally, but certainly enough for now, is the Resurrection. This historical evidence for this is overwhelming, credible (unless one assumes naturalism), and early.

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wrf3 September 20, 2009 at 3:30 pm

drj:
Just a request for clarification – are you claiming that Christian morality escapes the is-ought problem in some unique way?

I don’t know. On the one hand, here I note that God, as creator, is the only being that exists who is what he ought to be. That’s why He judges all moral systems, but is judged by no one else. On the other hand, I suspect that God has imagination, so that there is an “ought” for Him as well. So He bridges the is-ought gulf the same way we do — by personal preference.

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wrf3 September 20, 2009 at 3:32 pm

Beezlebub wrote: Instead they argue that contradictions resulting from a divine origin of morals points to the nonexistence of God.

I’ve already pointed out the logical incoherence of this position. Do I have to do it again?

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Chuck September 20, 2009 at 4:40 pm

wrf3 wrote:

First, a worldview is nothing more than a philosophical geometry.At the bottom are unproven “self-evident” truths (like, “there is a God” and “there is not a God”), which result in shaping how we perceive the external world.

Atheist don’t usually start with this as an assertion. More often, it is a conclusion that is tentative at best. Were I to be presented with the right evidence I would believe, and I think most atheists would too.

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Steven D September 20, 2009 at 5:17 pm

wrf3 wrote:

Do you have any examples of what this additional information might be?

1. Whether objective moral values exist (and what kind of moral values, etc.)

2. Whether God exists (and what kind of god, etc).

Without that information the is/ought paradigm may be incorrect. For instance, if objective moral values do not exist, and God does not exist, then cosmically speaking, nothing in the universe ought to be anything. It just is, and any attempt through human agency to define good/evil, cosmically speaking, is as you say, pointless.

Or alternatively, if God exists, and morality (good/evil) originates by definition through His dictates, then the is/ought paradigm fails as well, if those dictates are completely arbitrary. IE God doesn’t think anything is or ought to be anything.

I hope I managed to make sense there.

“If we can’t define words, then we can’t effectively communicate.”

I’m not meaning to undermine the importance of good communication. Part of my mistake in my response to you was objecting to something that you didn’t write, namely, that you had found the absolute correct moral framework, rather than the absolute correct definition of good and evil. Most definitions of good/evil go hand in hand with those frameworks, for instance, in desire utilitarianism good is that which fulfills more desires than it thwarts. But the is/ought paradigm applies to desire utilitarianism as well, because that which fulfills more desires than it thwarts is how things ought to be…in the world of desire utilitarianism.

Phew, that was a mouthful.

I actually find the is/ought definition to be effective, insofar as it doesn’t necessitate circular reasoning and doesn’t presume any particular moral framework. The question it raises is this: “Who decides what something ought to be?”.

Either God (which raises the question of who is this God and how does He think we should behave) or man (which raises the question of whether objective moral values exist and which framework man creates best matches these values).

Fascinating topic, and way over my head. This is why I proceed cautiously…

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Steven D September 20, 2009 at 5:41 pm

And from what I’ve seen so far, I’m skeptical of the claim that the evidence for Jesus’s resurrection is “overwhelming and credible,” but I’d love to be swayed.

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Steven D September 20, 2009 at 5:53 pm

wrf3 wrote:

“Scripture does not elevate man, which I find curious if it were a man-made religion.”

It’s not curious. If you are the priest/ruler who “speaks for God”, then it serves you to strike fear and shame onto your fellow man, while at the same time elevating the source of your moral (and political) authority: God.

Say to the people that they have an illness, and offer them the cure. Easy, peezy.

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wrf3 September 20, 2009 at 6:14 pm

Steven D: wrf3 wrote:“Scripture does not elevate man, which I find curious if it were a man-made religion.”It’s not curious.If you are the priest/ruler who “speaks for God”, then it serves you to strike fear and shame onto your fellow man, while at the same time elevating the source of your moral (and political) authority:God.
Say to the people that they have an illness, and offer them the cure.Easy, peezy.

There are two problems with your explanation. The first is that it makes the priest/ruler different from everyone else. This is not the case in Christianity. All are fallen and the priest/ruler has no more moral or political authority than anyone else. Second, the priest doesn’t offer the cure. All the priest can do is point people to the one who is the Cure. And anyone who knows Jesus can do that.

Yes, there are religions that follow the model you proposed. Not biblical Christianity. Now, I’m sure this will be met with disbelief and counterexamples. This is probably the weakest of all my responses. I’ll try to deal with objections, and the other replies, tomorrow. Time to quit for the night.

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akakiwibear September 20, 2009 at 7:07 pm

I don’t doubt that you found some bad reasons for believing in God. I your background post you say I did experience it for myself. I did live it. I did believe, and I saw great things happen in my life …. It just isn’t true, is all I’m saying. …mmmmm?

What was not true?
The religion you espoused has some odd beliefs, reflected in your various posts, but I fail to see the connection between some specific religious beliefs (e.g. that the bible is the inerrant, literal word of God) that are clearly at odds with Christian scholarship and the idea that there is no God – did you throw the baby out with the bathwater?

Sala kahle -peace

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Steven D September 20, 2009 at 7:26 pm

wrf3 wrote:

There are two problems with your explanation. The first is that it makes the priest/ruler different from everyone else.All are fallen and the priest/ruler has no more moral or political authority than anyone else.

I actually had two Biblical individuals in mind: Moses and Jesus. Moses was unique in that he had direct access to communicate personally with God, a privilege not afforded to the rest of his peers nor to the subsequent generation of Hebrews and Israelites, according to the Bible. This is of course, predicated on Moses having actually existed.

Regardless, for the most part, revelation from God’s mouth came from the lips of His prophets and priests. That makes these men inherently have an elevated and unique status to the rest of the community, no matter how much they may grovel about being imperfect. Although to be fair, if there is any truth in the Biblical stories, most of the prophets were disregarded by the people (perhaps with cause, perhaps not).

To take it into modern times, priests and pastors hold a cherished position within the Christian community, even if they aren’t viewed as God or perfect, they nevertheless serve as chief interpreter of The Word. They are trusted, sometimes blindly, even to the point of a kind of cult following, although I’m sure you would personally discourage that practice.

Additionally, in the case of Jesus, his followers (if they understood Him correctly) would have seen him as God Incarnate, which put Him in an extremely elevated status. His word is God’s word because…He is God! In which case, elevating man’s status in relation to God’s status would not serve Him at all.

Now, if the Gospels are to be trusted, Jesus didn’t abuse his powers in any way, but only if he was God. If He wasn’t God, then to take these men away from their families, indoctrinate them with nonsense, and shame them with strict dogma, would have just been plain mean. But it would have served him, politically and personally. The crucifixion might have been an unfortunate consequence of his aspirations. This is all speculation of course.

Plus, it’s not as if Biblical Christianity doesn’t have an intuitive appeal; it’s not all misanthropic. There’s the promise of (heavenly, not hellish) life after death, the thrill of being one of God’s exceptional elect, the feeling of belonging that accompanies being part of the Christian community, the peace of mind that God Himself indwells within you (even advocates for you), the special purpose that your life on earth now includes (spreading the Gospel, glorifying God), the happiness that results from having a rock steady Heavenly Father Figure, and the silencing of any existential doubt/dread that you may have. Point is, there is a lot of inspiration and empowerment of personal status “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me” that comes with accepting Christianity in your life. Of course, the only catch is that you first have to accept the premise that you are an imperfect, vile, despicable person who does not deserve any special status. Then status is given, in a sort of roundabout way. Wash, rinse, repeat. Guilt is a powerful emotion, and when a charismatic personality appropriates it as a tactic to influence, it can be explosive. Psychologically, I think I understand the kind of underlying good cop/bad cop/masochistic appeal that keeps some people hooked on God.

Some brands of Christianity today seem exploitive and nefarious, while others seem genuine. For Christianity’s origins, it might have been either way. In the end, I cannot be certain what the motivations were for the origins and practice of the Jewish and Christian faiths, but I think it’s fair to say that elevating man to the level of God can be counterproductive to its respective goals and doesn’t serve as evidence for its truth.

Catch you later, and have a good night.

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akakiwibear September 20, 2009 at 7:30 pm

Lukeprog, you say learned that all my reasons for believing in God were really bad reasons.

Though on reading your post it seems you have replaced them with some really bad reasons for not believing in God. Let me illustrate my point with the way you started your argument:

You say My question is, Why are you a Christian? …. you must rely either on your own personal interpretation of the Bible …. or else you must rely on some personal revelation given directly to you by God (while denying the validity of personal revelations apparent to members of every other religion)..

Firstly this is very weak reasoning.

Your OR does not present the only options, or even related ones. For instance you leave out the possibility that ones interpretation of the Bible could be by the cumulative understanding of scholars over a 1000 or so years. This seems a more reasonable position than what you imply are the only two options.

As for personal revelation, while not wanting to adopt your broad generalisation I will go with it for now for simplicity … why do you assume one has to deny the validity of personal revelations of members of other religions?

IF these comments of reflect your views, rather than Vox’s views, they are very bad reasons for not believing in God.

Sala kahle -peace

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Steven D September 20, 2009 at 7:40 pm

Neglected to mention the obvious counterexample to your statement that the “priest/ruler has no more moral or political authority than anyone else”: the history of the Roman Catholic Church, and specifically, the Pope.

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lukeprog September 21, 2009 at 12:50 am

akakiwibear,

Goodness, no, this post does not reflect my views for not believing in God. For example, part of the reason I am an atheist is because the cosmological, teleological, and other arguments do NOT succeed.

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Beelzebub September 21, 2009 at 1:48 am

wrf3: Beezlebub wrote: Instead they argue that contradictions resulting from a divine origin of morals points to the nonexistence of God.I’ve already pointed out the logical incoherence of this position.Do I have to do it again?

Well, sorry, you said a lot of things and perhaps I missed it, or maybe you still think I was commenting under the assumed existence of God, but I wasn’t. It is not logically incoherent of me to give my impression of this system of belief called Christianity that espouses that wrongdoing against a supreme agency (sin) is inherited between generations. As one example out of multitudes, it strikes me as unjust and ludicrous, therefore I conclude that this is an absurd fiction. I’m terribly sorry, but that is my prerogative. If you want me to go about my life under the assumptions of the previous statement then perhaps you have a point — or rather, you have an opinion. But I don’t.

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wrf3 September 21, 2009 at 7:35 am

Beelzebub:
Well, sorry, you said a lot of things and perhaps I missed it, or maybe you still think I was commenting under the assumed existence of God, but I wasn’t.It is not logically incoherent of me to give my impression of this system of belief called Christianity that espouses that wrongdoing against a supreme agency (sin) is inherited between generations.

I wasn’t aware that we were discussing the doctrine of “original sin”. Nevertheless, it’s easily shown to be true. The doctrine of original sin states: Adam “fell” and in the fall took all mankind with him. How “original sin” is transferred is, perhaps, an interesting question, but it’s irrelevant here. The nature of Adam’s fall was that Adam ate of the “fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil”. The very thing that has been discussed here in numerous posts, i.e. that we have the ability to decide what we think is good or evil independently of God. That you have this ability is obvious. So the ability that Adam obtained was somehow passed on to you. Furthermore, this doctrine states that the “moral compass” of every individual does not always in every way point in the same direction as God’s. That’s clear, since my moral compass points in a different direction from you. We can’t both be right (we can, however, both be wrong). So we have a moral compass and it points in different directions. So far, “original sin” is in 100% agreement with what we know to be true from self-reflection. The final point is that this is sin. This has to assume the existence of a God, but once that happens, the proof is easy enough. Moral judgements are nothing more than personal value judgements. When your moral compass points in a different direction from God’s, you have to decide whose value system will be used — your’s or God’s. It’s clear from your post that you elevate your personal value choices above God’s. You put yourself in the place where no one can go — that of God. That’s why Genesis says, “they have become like us…”. QED.

Beelzebub:
As one example out of multitudes, it strikes me as unjust and ludicrous, therefore I conclude that this is an absurd fiction.

In other words, “it doesn’t agree with my moral compass, and my moral compass is the standard, therefore it is fiction.”

Not only does this fit the above analysis to a “t”; the logical absurdity obviously escapes you:

1. There may or may not be a god.
2. In evaluating the above proposition, I’m going to look at one or more doctrines.
3. One doctrine strikes me as absurd.
4. Therefore, the entire religion is fiction.

Now, it is extremely difficult to evaluate evidence absent a worldview. In order to determine your which worldview is correct, you insert the assumption of atheism into step 3. Since you assume your conclusion, of course you’re going to conclude it’s fiction. An elementary logical fallacy which renders your conclusion absurd.

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wrf3 September 21, 2009 at 8:55 am

lukeprog: akakiwibear,Goodness, no, this post does not reflect my views for not believing in God. For example, part of the reason I am an atheist is because the cosmological, teleological, and other arguments do NOT succeed.

I wrote in a previous post: Also related to epistemology is the question of the existence of God. God’s existence cannot be proven. I find ontological arguments a tedious waste of time. So does the Bible, btw. (”…for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Heb 11:6).

The point is that ontological arguments for God won’t succeed, in the same way that ontological arguments against God won’t succeed.

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Rich September 21, 2009 at 9:01 am

Hiya Beezlebub! I see you’re still banned at Vox’s echo chamber? Thanks for the kinds words on My Tiktaalic post (yes, it was me).

Anyhoo – I’d like to invite you here:
http://www.antievolution.org/cgi-bin/ikonboard/ikonboard.cgi?act=ST;f=14;t=5752;st=0

Rich

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Beelzebub September 21, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Rich — I’ll check it out!


This has to assume the existence of a God, but once that happens, the proof is easy enough. Moral judgements are nothing more than personal value judgements. When your moral compass points in a different direction from God’s, you have to decide whose value system will be used — your’s or God’s. It’s clear from your post that you elevate your personal value choices above God’s. You put yourself in the place where no one can go — that of God. That’s why Genesis says, “they have become like us…”. QED.

That would be true under the assumption of a God, but without that it simply reduces to a rather interesting origins story, including Adam and Even, the garden, the tree of knowledge, and so on. That it makes some sense, has some explanatory power, and has a modicum of consistency shouldn’t surprise us all that much; it was authored specifically as an origins story. The Greek Pantheon, with its delegation of domain, power and responsibility makes a certain amount of sense as well.


In other words, “it doesn’t agree with my moral compass, and my moral compass is the standard, therefore it is fiction.”

I don’t put myself in that position as that would be moral absolutism with me as the absolute arbiter. Even if I could muster that amount of egocentrism, I’m not a moral absolutist — but you are, and your absolute source of morality is God.

I agree with your assertion that all morals are relative; “relative to what” is the question. I’m saying morals are relative to an ongoing synthesis created by us humans, which is why “doing good” is very difficult and is probably never going to get any easier.

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wrf3 September 21, 2009 at 2:53 pm

Beelzebub: I agree with your assertion that all morals are relative; “relative to what” is the question. I’m saying morals are relative to an ongoing synthesis created by us humans, which is why “doing good” is very difficult and is probably never going to get any easier.

That’s word salad which is used to conceal what is really happening. When you say that the doctrine of original sin “strikes me as unjust and ludicrous”, you are judging it by a human standard. Which human standard is used is itself a moral judgement — among all possible standards, you pick and choose the one(s) you value most. Therefore, you do set yourself up as the absolute arbiter. So when you conclude that this is an absurd fiction, you’ve done exactly what I’ve said you’ve done.

One the one hand you say, “I’m not the absolute arbiter” while, in actual fact, that’s exactly what you do. It’s what every atheist does. It’s a “feature” of your worldview, the inexorable result of the application of reason.

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wrf3 September 21, 2009 at 3:05 pm

Steven D: Neglected to mention the obvious counterexample to your statement that the “priest/ruler has no more moral or political authority than anyone else”:the history of the Roman Catholic Church, and specifically, the Pope.

I wasn’t unaware of that when I made my response. That he does doesn’t mean that he should.

Along these lines, you wrote, “To take it into modern times, priests and pastors hold a cherished position within the Christian community, even if they aren’t viewed as God or perfect, they nevertheless serve as chief interpreter of The Word.”

I’d love to hear you say that to the elders of my church. Their response to you would be along the lines, “if that were so, then would you please tell wrf3 to cut us some slack?”

The book of Acts records the actions of certain people at Beroea who “welcomed the message very eagerly and examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so.”

They are trusted, sometimes blindly, even to the point of a kind of cult following, although I’m sure you would personally discourage that practice.”
Sure, but what does that have to do with the initial point? We are ambassadors, not citizens; servants, not rulers. That this can be, and is, abused does not argue against the point, since there isn’t anything that doesn’t have the potential for abuse.

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Steven D September 21, 2009 at 4:40 pm

Sure, but what does that have to do with the initial point?

It was tangential to the point. My guess is that the abuses in modern times correspond to the norm in ancient times, when the vast majority of people were illiterate and relied heavily on the priests/leaders/elders.

With the vast information available to parishioners nowadays, one has to be extremely lazy to heed the word of the leaders unquestioned. Still, this is done, and only indicates to me how common the practice once was before the internet, printing press, etc.

Incidentally, I am glad that you have chosen to be more of a free thinker than some of your peers.

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K-Bo September 21, 2009 at 9:32 pm

Here’s something obvious: People choose a religious position because it is comforting to them, often because they were raised that way, they haven’t found anything better, and they are afraid of living without that belief system.

While it is interesting to understand the evolutionary basis of religious / supernatural thinking, the only important questions about religion are – is it good for the individual? is it good for society? if so, then everyone should be allowed to believe whatever they want. If not, then what is better, and why?

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akakiwibear September 21, 2009 at 10:00 pm

lukeprog, so you have tested ~logical arguments to believe there is a God and found them lacking – how about the arguments to believe there is no God? Were they not also inconclusive?

Since neither case can be proven conclusively you have made a leap of faith to arrive at atheism.

I am inclined to agree with:

wrf3: I find ontological arguments a tedious waste of time

If we concede (for sake of argument) that based on abstract reasoning alone the cases for or against a/theism are inconclusive; we call a tie at that level … so you and I have no more or less reason to believe there is/not a God. We would be mutually agnostic at this point.

So what is important is the tie breaker, what tips the scale for you?

In making your leap of faith to atheism do you have circumstantial, historic and anecdotal evidence (or even in your case personal experience)that supports your belief in the non-existence of God?

Sala kahle -peace

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lukeprog September 21, 2009 at 10:38 pm

akakiwibear,

As I said in my deconversion story, I was left with no good reasons to believe in God. That is also the reason I disbelieve in Santa. I don’t disbelieve in Santa because I know of good arguments against his existence. I disbelieve in Santa because I know of no good reasons to think he exists.

I don’t have much circumstantial or anecdotal evidence against God’s existence. Even if I had some, I wouldn’t find it very compelling.

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Beelzebub September 21, 2009 at 11:43 pm


When you say that the doctrine of original sin “strikes me as unjust and ludicrous”, you are judging it by a human standard. Which human standard is used is itself a moral judgement — among all possible standards, you pick and choose the one(s) you value most. Therefore, you do set yourself up as the absolute arbiter.

You have a point, but I’ll say that a confusion arises since people make common moral judgements all the time without assuming anyone is going to give them the weight of Emperor of China, whose word was law. My very first statement here to Josh was prefaced with “If I may make a moral judgement of my own…” You can translate that as “I am amenable to amend my judgement and I realize I’m just one lone schmuck.” I make no pretense at being an absolute arbiter; certain psychopathic atheists have indeed done so, like Mao Tse Tung, but that’s why we call him psychopathic.

At this point in history evidence indicates that any type of moral system has its pluses and minuses. One that relies on group consensus suffers the consequence of group madness. The Nazi conference at Wannsee resulted in a resolution by a group of people who were convinced that they had persevered with a moral fortitude that would be recognized by generations to come. Instead, they created one of the greatest evils of recorded history. Unfortunately absolute moralism doesn’t have a stellar track record either, with the sloganeering Conquistadors shouting “Kill them all [the indigenous natives of America] and let God sort them out.”

Does all this mean “doing good” is exhaustingly hopeless? No, but it does mean that it’s not as simple as anyone thinks and will remain difficult.

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Math Geek September 22, 2009 at 4:01 am

Why do Christians really think that atheists can be won back over even after they left the faith? Does a Christian really think that Bart Ehrman, Dan Barker and John Loftus are going to come back anytime soon? Those men who are listed above were members of the cloth (or training to be). If men that preached Jesus’s message on a daily basis wound up as unbelievers, what makes a Christian think they are going to have any affect on an atheist that is in another career field.

Furthermore, isn’t evangelism a pointless exercise anyway. Since God freely chooses his followers anyway and leaves many in the dark, how can a Christian seriously expect to have an impact on an atheist? If God has chosen his followers anyway, why do you spend so much time coming to atheistic websites and taking on the intellectual challenges that atheists present. Also, if there are Christians who find the predestination dogma incompatible with free will, then why is my opinion disregarded when I say there is a biblical precedent for division in Christianity (read Galatians 1 from verse 6 to the end of the chapter). Why is an atheist’s reasoning disregarded when your religion can’t nail down a single doctrine and stick to it without question.

I guess the overall problem I have with Christianity is that the classical characteristics of God is what the majority of Christians stick by, and if a single charge can be brought against the perfect faith of Christianity, then it fails because the God of Christianity would have made sure that nevers occurs. And it would nix the need for evangelism.

Sorry for the emotional rant here, but a Christian has yet to answer these charges satisfactorily.

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wrf3 September 22, 2009 at 5:46 am

K-Bo: Here’s something obvious: People choose a religious position because it is comforting to them, often because they were raised that way, they haven’t found anything better, and they are afraid of living without that belief system.

Talk about assuming your conclusion. It can’t possibly be cause it is true, can it?

K-Bo: While it is interesting to understand the evolutionary basis of religious / supernatural thinking, the only important questions about religion are – is it good for the individual?is it good for society?if so, then everyone should be allowed to believe whatever they want.If not, then what is better, and why?

And we’re right back to the quagmire of atheistic morality. Historically, Christians have not been deemed to be “good” for society because we’re disruptive. We bow to no man, (or men), except to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now what?

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Rich September 22, 2009 at 5:49 am

wrf3: Talk about assuming your conclusion. It can’t possibly be cause it is true, can it?

Or perhaps he is right. You assume your conclusion in your religious life. It’s not tentative, is it?

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drj September 22, 2009 at 6:15 am

One the one hand you say, “I’m not the absolute arbiter” while, in actual fact, that’s exactly what you do. It’s what every atheist does. It’s a “feature” of your worldview, the inexorable result of the application of reason.

It kind of pejoratively gets thrown around that atheists “make their own rules” in a self-serving, selfish way and proclaim the self as the exalted king of everything (sometimes subtly, sometimes not-so subtly).

But if you allow for the possibility that God does not exist, then who/what else would be the arbiter of morality? If it is a godless universe, it doesn’t necessarily mean any godless moral system would be true, but it would definitely mean the Christian moral system is wrong to defer its moral intuitions to some non-existent entity…. and the obvious candidate for determining moral truths (if there are any) would be… us.

So in other words, looking to one-self, to reason, to humanity at its most rational as the arbiters of morality is a feature, not a bug. Its a good thing.

But when I look at Christian defenses of the standard list of OT atrocities, I also see them deferring to the self. I don’t think I’ve met many who actually look at those acts and say they need no explanation, or that they have the appearance of morality. They generally agree those atrocities are only moral if there is a sufficiently good moral reason for them.

So they appeal to some unknown sufficient moral reason God had for committing or commanding certain things that look really evil to us… but if we knew those reasons, we would judge the acts ultimately good. In other words, its a matter of ignorance of the full set of facts, not a lapse in our moral faculties that give the OT atrocities the appearance of immorality. It seems that even in a Christian worldview, most would agree that our moral faculties are functioning correctly if we feel uneasy about some the standard OT atrocities.

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wrf3 September 22, 2009 at 6:28 am

Rich:
Or perhaps he is right. You assume your conclusion in your religious life.

I’m a mathematician by education and a software engineer by profession. I know what logical fallacies are. I’m not assuming my conclusion any more than a geometer who works with non-Euclidean geometries. Having been an atheist for longer than I’ve been a Christian, I know how both worldviews work, and which one has the best correspondence to the observable world. Furthermore, I (think I) have a logically consistent framework; unlike poor Beezlebub who states: “I make no pretense at being an absolute arbiter” and doesn’t realize that’s exactly what he/she is doing. It’s easy to prove and, for his/her benefit, I’m going to do it one more time. Probably won’t do any good though, the cognitive dissonance is strong with that one.

Rich: It’s not tentative, is it?

No more than “2+2=4″ is tentative or “Apollo landed on the moon” is tentative.

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wrf3 September 22, 2009 at 6:41 am

Beezlebub, Math Geek, and (especially) drj: I can’t wait to respond to each of your posts. Later this evening…

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Chuck September 22, 2009 at 7:40 am

wrf3:I’m a mathematician by education and a software engineer by profession … Having been an atheist for longer than I’ve been a Christian, I know how both worldviews work, and which one has the best correspondence to the observable world.

Well, I’ve been a Christian longer than I’ve been an atheist. I’m a scientist by education and a writer by profession, and I reached the exact opposite conclusion. What you are really saying is, “I’m smarter than you, trust me.”

That’s not an argument.

###

By the way, atheism is not a worldview. One can be atheist and still believe in all kinds of supernatural things.

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Rich September 22, 2009 at 7:58 am

wrf3: , I know how both worldviews work,

For you. Are all Christians the same? No schisms or sects? If there are, then you can’t really speak for atheists, only your experience with atheism.

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Rich September 22, 2009 at 7:59 am

wrf3: No more than “2+2=4″ is tentative or “Apollo landed on the moon” is tentative.

Excuse me. Are you proffering that Christianity=true has the same support as math or moon landings?

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wrf3 September 22, 2009 at 9:20 am

Chuck:
Well, I’ve been a Christian longer than I’ve been an atheist. I’m a scientist by education and a writer by profession, and I reached the exact opposite conclusion. What you are really saying is, “I’m smarter than you, trust me.”

Not at all. I’m saying, “I’m fairly smart. Argue with me.”

Chuck: That’s not an argument.

Yes it is. ;-)

Chuck: By the way, atheism is not a worldview. One can be atheist and still believe in all kinds of supernatural things.

Of course it’s a worldview. Basic definition and all that (NOAD, for example, “a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world”). Such atheists are either confused, or are using different definitions of words. All one has to do is ask what they mean by “supernatural” and inquire about its form of existence absent god.

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wrf3 September 22, 2009 at 9:26 am

Rich:
For you.

What is this supposed the mean? Anyone can figure out how worldviews work. You start with the basic assumptions of the worldview and work it out from there. Anyone can do it. That some don’t doesn’t mean anything, the same way that some people have never worked out non-Euclidean geometries argues against them.

Rich: Are all Christians the same? No schisms or sects? If there are, then you can’t really speak for atheists, only your experience with atheism.

People don’t agree on the meaning of the 2nd amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Does that mean we can know nothing about the Constitution, or Americans?

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wrf3 September 22, 2009 at 9:40 am

Chuck:
Well, I’ve been a Christian longer than I’ve been an atheist. I’m a scientist by education and a writer by profession, and I reached the exact opposite conclusion. What you are really saying is, “I’m smarter than you, trust me.”

Not at all. I’m saying “argue with me”. That’s why I’ve provided definitions, assumptions, and conclusions based on them. I’ve even asked for counter arguments to several points. So far, only Beezlebub has really tried, and it’s easy to show where he/she is wrong. Trivially easy.

Chuck: That’s not an argument.

Yes, it is.

Chuck: By the way, atheism is not a worldview. One can be atheist and still believe in all kinds of supernatural things.

Of course it’s a worldview, by definition. The NOAD, for example, says a worldview is “a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world”.
As for atheists who believe in supernatural things, maybe they’re confused. Maybe they aren’t consistent. Maybe they’re wrong. If one of them is reading this discussion, maybe they could tell us what they mean by “supernatural” and it’s form of existence absent god.

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Lee A. P. September 22, 2009 at 10:34 am

Vox seems to be just another believer in supernatural bullshit.

Once you are convinced that the supernatural exist, you then need a supernatural world view and lo and behold people tend to choose the supernatural worldviews of their own cultures.

He does not reside on the same plane of reasoning as Luke. He believes in Gods and Godesses and monsters and demons and hidden, supernatural worlds and so then his logic flows from there. All believers have to do is demonstrate the supernatural and then we would all have to consider their POV. But they can’t. They may claim evidence of the supernatural, but its all piss poor. I don’t see what good can really come out of this exchage. I hope I am wrong. I’d wish to see Luke dialouge with someone else. That Vox Day dude is gone.

The thing that strikes me about his view that other gods exist is that he can never be sure that the God he worships is not some subordinate God. If he is right, and many Gods DO in fact exist, I’ll then hold out for a better one that the putrid Christian God. I have “faith” that certainly there has to be better Gods out there in the universe than he.

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Chuck September 22, 2009 at 10:42 am

Atheism doesn’t necessarily lead to a single philosophy of life or conception of the world. For example, I can believe the existence of the soul. That’s animism. I don’t have to believe in gods in order to believe that rivers, rocks, and trees have souls. I can believe in an afterlife. I don’t have to believe in gods to believe in the survival of the soul. In fact, I believe none of these things. That might make me a monist. Then again, it might not.

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drj September 22, 2009 at 12:07 pm

wrf3: Of course it’s a worldview, by definition. The NOAD, for example, says a worldview is “a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world”.

I would disagree with this. I think Luke has a post in the archive on this very topic as well.

My worldview would best be described as a species of naturalism, that of course, places high value on empiricism. Theism or atheism are not foundational to this worldview, though either option has profound implications for beliefs derived within. Were there evidence for God or gods that met the epistemological standards of this worldview, I would of course believe in them (it would be unreasonable not to), and would categorize the entities under the umbrella of the natural.

Atheism certainly isnt all the way down to the level of worldview in my book, though it does limit the domain of possible options in other core areas (such as moral theory).

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wrf3 September 22, 2009 at 12:19 pm

Chuck: Atheism doesn’t necessarily lead to a single philosophy of life or conception of the world.

Did I say that it did? Nevertheless, there are some concepts that have to be common across all atheistic worldviews.

Chuck: For example, I can believe the existence of the soul. That’s animism. I don’t have to believe in gods in order to believe that rivers, rocks, and trees have souls.

So, what is a soul? Where is the form of its existence? Where does it reside?

Chuck: I can believe in an afterlife. I don’t have to believe in gods to believe in the survival of the soul.

And if you provided a definition of what the soul was, it might be evident how it could survive the death of its container.

Chuck: In fact, I believe none of these things. That might make me a monist. Then again, it might not.

Which flavor of monism?

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wrf3 September 22, 2009 at 1:28 pm

drj:
I would disagree with this.I think Luke has a post in the archive on this very topic as well.

I’m confused. What are you disagreeing with? The definition of worldview? That atheism is a worldview? Something else?

If you don’t agree with the definition of worldview, why do you then go to define it — in exactly the way the dictionary defines it?

drj: My worldview would best be described as a species of naturalism, that of course, places high value on empiricism. Theism or atheism are not foundational to this worldview, though either option has profound implications for beliefs derived within.

So you’re an agnostic naturalist (where the exact form of “nature” is somewhat open). How is this not a worldview?

drj: Were there evidence for God or gods that met the epistemological standards of this worldview, I would of course believe in them (it would be unreasonable not to), and would categorize the entities under the umbrella of the natural.

Sounds good in theory, but in practice, all evidence is filtered through one’s worldview. Are miracles possible? If so, what would constitute evidence for them?

drj: Atheism certainly isnt all the way down to the level of worldview in my book, though it does limit the domain of possible options in other core areas (such as moral theory).

I don’t know what to tell you; it appears that we disagree on what “worldview” means. Since I’m using the dictionary definition and you’re not, it’s incumbent on you to tell us what you think it means. Otherwise, we won’t be able to communicate effectively.

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Chuck September 22, 2009 at 2:49 pm

wrf3,

I really don’t know what to make of your reply. You parse my response with inane question while ignoring the larger point.

You seem to conflate two different ideas: atheism and materialism. In itself, atheism is not a worldview. It does not provide “a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world.” I am using your own words here. This is not how I would necessarily define the term.

But even materialism is not a worldview because it does not tell us how we ought to live. If you wish to criticize worldviews, then choose real ones like secular humanism or utilitarianism, or even something else, but don’t be surprised if the rest of us throw up our arms and shrug saying, “Your complaints do not apply to us.”

You can’t paint all atheists with the same brush.

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JRL September 22, 2009 at 4:10 pm

You seem to be saying that someone who creates something has the moral right to do whatever he wants to it. But I don’t see how this can be supported.

For one, it would mean that God could be morally right to sexually molest children, mutilate their genitals, torture them, and let them die slowly. Surely this is not what you mean?

Luke – I think an illuminating question is,

“why do you think the above is immoral?”

Whatever theory, method or axiom you bring to bear to answer your own question, it will simply be an ex post facto rationalization of what you have already decided based on your own desires.

Your desire is the basis of your morality. How then can you criticize God for making his desire the basis of morality?

Of course, WHAT God desires is a separate discussion.

JRL

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patrick kelly September 22, 2009 at 4:22 pm

For what it’s worth, food for thought..

The christian comments here seem to be mostly from the western, evangelical varieties. There is a whole other perspective from the orthodox east which might surprise you.

For one, we (per my best understanding) would not claim God has some right to arbitrarily somehow define what good and evil are. Evil is the lack of God, with varying causes and consequences. Just as darkness is lack of light, or cold is lack of heat. Light dispels darkness, heat overcomes the cold.

God is not a man, nor even part of creation. It has been my observation that many people, including christians and atheists, conjure up a version of what God should/would be as a perfect version of themselves. This is a fundamental error.

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wrf3 September 22, 2009 at 4:39 pm

Math Geek: Why do Christians really think that atheists can be won back over even after they left the faith? Does a Christian really think that Bart Ehrman, Dan Barker and John Loftus are going to come back anytime soon? Those men who are listed above were members of the cloth (or training to be). If men that preached Jesus’s message on a daily basis wound up as unbelievers, what makes a Christian think they are going to have any affect on an atheist that is in another career field.

First, it may be the case that they can’t be won back. There’s a passage in Hebrews that says that some people cannot ever come back (Heb 6:4). On the other hand, I don’t know if such people have fulfilled the precondition.
Second, even if they can’t be “won” back, they aren’t the only people involved in the discussion.
Third, ideas need to be tested in battle. Arguments can be refined, presentations can be tweaked, new insights can be gained.
Fourth, there’s a tradition in both the Old and New Testaments of speaking to people who will not listen. I’m reminded of Ezekiel, but Jeremiah puts it most succinctly, “So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you.” (Jer 7:27).

Math Geek: Furthermore, isn’t evangelism a pointless exercise anyway. Since God freely chooses his followers anyway and leaves many in the dark, how can a Christian seriously expect to have an impact on an atheist?

Spurgeon reportedly said, “If God would have painted a yellow stripe on the backs of the elect I would go around lifting shirts. But since he didn’t I must preach ‘Whosoever will’ and when ‘whosoever’ believes I know he is one of the elect.”

Too, I used to be an atheist, so the task isn’t hopeless and I’m grateful for the people God used to bring me to His Son.

Math Geek: If God has chosen his followers anyway, why do you spend so much time coming to atheistic websites and taking on the intellectual challenges that atheists present.

I like intellectual challenges.

Math Geek: Also, if there are Christians who find the predestination dogma incompatible with free will, then why is my opinion disregarded when I say there is a biblical precedent for division in Christianity (read Galatians 1 from verse 6 to the end of the chapter).

I’m not sure I understand your question. Of course there’s Biblical precedent for divisions in Christianity. They were there in Galatia, Corinth, Jerusalem, etc… There was a division between Paul and John Mark. But we both know that is is not ought.

Are you saying that since predestination is taught in Scripture (it is) that there is therefore no free will and therefore there should be no divisions among Christians?
If so, then I would offer two responses. First, since I’m in the Reform camp, I hold to predestination. So I agree that man does not have free will — at least as far as salvation is occurred. However, I don’t know how free the will is after that point. Second, even if the will has no freedom whatsoever, it’s also clear that God doesn’t immediately change the will. As St. Paul said, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully…” He also said, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” It isn’t the case that the conformance happens immediately. I wish it did.

Math Geek: Why is an atheist’s reasoning disregarded when your religion can’t nail down a single doctrine and stick to it without question.

On the one hand, the defining doctrine of Christianity is found in 1 Cor 15: For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures…

As for everything else, it’s the nature of the beast. I used this example in a prior post: does the 2nd amendment to the US Constitution guarantee the right of individuals to bear arms? You’d think it would be simple, but even the Supreme Court was divided 5-4 on the issue. Does that mean that the idea of America is somehow wrong, or even non-existant?

Math Geek: I guess the overall problem I have with Christianity is that the classical characteristics of God is what the majority of Christians stick by, and if a single charge can be brought against the perfect faith of Christianity, then it fails because the God of Christianity would have made sure that nevers occurs.

Assumes facts not in evidence. How do you know this? Note that “perfect” requires a value judgement, so you have to a priori know what God thinks is perfect in order to bring a charge against Him. Nevertheless, what single charge would you like to offer? Like I said, I like intellectual challenges.

Math Geek: And it would nix the need for evangelism.

That doesn’t follow. God doesn’t need us to bring people to Himself. After all, what missionary ever came to Abraham? Nevertheless, God has chosen to work though His people as He see fit.

Math Geek: Sorry for the emotional rant here, but a Christian has yet to answer these charges satisfactorily.

Hope I did a somewhat credible job.

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JRL September 22, 2009 at 4:42 pm

patrick, to clarify, I am not saying that God arbitrarily or whimsically decides what is good and evil. I doubt many, if any, serious western theologians do either. The point is there is no logical way to build an attack on God based on morality.

God is the source, with no exceptions or qualifications.

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patrick kelly September 22, 2009 at 5:16 pm

JRI,

I wasn’t necessarily addressing any particular post by anyone, just an overall theme I have encountered here and other blogs dealing with these subjects.

Yes, I would agree with calling God the source or definer of good and evil, but by His very nature and being, not by volitional decisions with His mind. Of course I could be wrong.

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wrf3 September 22, 2009 at 5:16 pm

Beelzebub:
[wrf3] When you say that the doctrine of original sin “strikes me as unjust and ludicrous”, you are judging it by a human standard. Which human standard is used is itself a moral judgement — among all possible standards, you pick and choose the one(s) you value most. Therefore, you do set yourself up as the absolute arbiter.
You have a point, but I’ll say that a confusion arises since people make common moral judgements all the time without assuming anyone is going to give them the weight of Emperor of China, whose word was law.My very first statement here to Josh was prefaced with “If I may make a moral judgement of my own…”You can translate that as “I am amenable to amend my judgement and I realize I’m just one lone schmuck.”I make no pretense at being an absolute arbiter; certain psychopathic atheists have indeed done so, like Mao Tse Tung, but that’s why we call him psychopathic.

I know that you say you don’t pretend to be an absolute arbiter, but you are, nonetheless. The proof is easy. There are multiple, perhaps infinite, moral systems by which to life one’s life. You might choose a form of utilitarianism. Perhaps “enlightened self interest”. Maybe hedonism. Maybe a mixture, depending on the situation. The key is that the choice between competing moral systems is itself a moral choice. To choose between two moral systems is to ask, “which is better”, i.e. “which is more good”? The only way to break this infinite regress is to pick one based on your subjective values. That makes you the absolute arbiter of what you consider moral.

If you aren’t considered to be a psychopath like Mao, it’s because you don’t value the disapproval of society. That doesn’t change that you were the sole arbiter of this decision.

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patrick kelly September 22, 2009 at 5:19 pm

FWIW, the eastern orthodox also do not hold to the doctrine of “original sin” as taught in the west.

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wrf3 September 22, 2009 at 5:38 pm

drj:
It kind of pejoratively gets thrown around that atheists “make their own rules” in a self-serving, selfish way and proclaim the self as the exalted king of everything (sometimes subtly, sometimes not-so subtly).But if you allow for the possibility that God does not exist, then who/what else would be the arbiter of morality?

The self. That’s obvious from the definition of good and evil.

Since I’m a software engineer, one then has to look at boundary conditions. Consider the case where there are two moral agents, who are utterly at odds with each other. How can the difference between them be resolved? That’s easy. Since moral judgement is solely the product of the mind, destroying a mind is sufficient (if not always necessary) to settle the matter. Therefore, absent god, might must make right. Now, according to Hume’s guillotine, one might think this conclusion good or evil. But that it is cannot be denied.

If it is a godless universe, it doesn’t necessarily mean any godless moral system would be true, but it would definitely mean the Christian moral system is wrong to defer its moral intuitions to some non-existent entity…. and the obvious candidate for determining moral truths (if there are any) would be… us. So in other words, looking to one-self, to reason, to humanity at its most rational as the arbiters of morality is a feature, not a bug. Its a good thing.

Notice that you’ve run afoul of Hume. You’ve gone from what is, man being the arbiter of moral truth, to ought (“it is good”). You can’t do that, unless Hume is wrong, and if you think this to be the case, I’d like to see your reasons for disagreeing with the eponymous principle.

But when I look at Christian defenses of the standard list of OT atrocities, I also see them deferring to the self. I don’t think I’ve met many who actually look at those acts and say they need no explanation, or that they have the appearance of morality.

Well, I’m one. Note, however, that I didn’t come to this conclusion until the last few years. Before that, I would have touted the “standard” Christian apologetic. Vox is another. To quote VD, His game, His rules.

It seems that even in a Christian worldview, most would agree that our moral faculties are functioning correctly if we feel uneasy about some the standard OT atrocities.

I would argue it is because our moral facilities are fallen (i.e. not functioning correctly) that we feel uneasy about these things.

That’s an interesting subject in itself (cf. Ezek 4:12-16, Acts 10:13-16, Lk 19:11-27), but I’m going to wind down for the night.

I still owe a reply to Chuck which I’ll save for tomorrow.

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JRL September 22, 2009 at 6:01 pm

patrick kelly: JRI,I wasn’t necessarily addressing any particular post by anyone, just an overall theme I have encountered here and other blogs dealing with these subjects.Yes, I would agree with calling God the source or definer of good and evil, but by His very nature and being, not by volitional decisions with His mind.Of course I could be wrong.

Understood and agreed, except for the last bit…it’s a distinction without a difference.

I’ve got a lot of appreciation for the Orthodox teachings.

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Omegos September 22, 2009 at 10:04 pm

@ Wrf3

I am unsure as to how you define atheism and the term worldview, so I hope Luke’s April 2009 post on the subject can clarify matters for you. Using Luke’s own words:

atheism-
disbelief in the existence of a god or gods

worldview
1. a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world
2. a collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group

I do not see how atheism can be a worldview.

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akakiwibear September 22, 2009 at 10:34 pm

lukeprog, you say

lukeprog: As I said in my deconversion story, I was left with no good reasons to believe in God. That is also the reason I disbelieve in Santa

Lukeprog, I have re-read your conversion story and some of your pivotal posts. I do understand where you are coming from, I was on the “shocked discovery” path to atheism myself and I certainly appreciate your learned that all my reasons for believing in God were really bad reasons.

Now faced with the realization that the reasons for believing in God were bad reasons we both faced a choice:
EITHER the reasons were bad and so there is no God
OR the reasons were bad but that does not mean there are no good reasons and so there may be a God.

I followed the latter path and found that the atheist reasons for not believing were no better than the ones I had rejected, BUT I also found some good reasons to believe.

Lets look at some of your reasons:
You are very fond of When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours. … At this point you have lost me, I don’t dismiss all other Gods – I understand from your other posts that you consider Islam and the Jews and Christians to have “other Gods”. If this is one of your reasons for not believing in God it is a bad reason.

You seem to put considerable store by bible inconsistency, for example you say The gospels were written decades after Jesus’ death, by non-eyewitnesses. They are riddled with contradictions, legends, and known lies. Jesus and Paul disagreed on many core issues.

All you have done is state some basic facts about the bible that have been know to earliest bible scholars and recognized with the declaration of the Biblical canon (AD 382 – so you have discovered nothing new).

The real question you should have asked is why the leaders of your church were pushing an inerrant bible line when they should have known better.

It seems to me you have linked rejecting a religion with not believing in God. They are different! When primitive man discovered that the tree he worshipped as God was nothing more than a tree he had a choice – much like yours – either he could conclude that there was no God or that God was not a tree.

Sala kahle – peace

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K-Bo September 22, 2009 at 10:44 pm

wrf3, you make many interesting points. Sorry if my logic is not up to your standards. You disagree with me saying people choose to hold their beliefs because of inertia (it’s hard to change your mind, or what you were taught) and because of both fear and comfort? or that I provided no logical argument to hold such a position? All I was trying to say is that these are personal beliefs, and we have to understand the psychology of why do we believe things.

Regarding my second point, I think the ultimate judge of which religious beliefs or worldviews or whatever you want to call them are “correct” or “best” (that really is what this whole argument of atheism vs. Christianity or “who can show they’re smarter” and argue their side better) should be on what is good for the individual and for society. Does that make me have a utilitarian morality, that may not apply to others?

Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems there must be some objective standard for what is good. For instance, we all can probably agree that what is good is increasing or enhancing the well-being of individuals. So which view, atheism or Christianity, increases the well-being of the individual more, and for society more? In my mind, that’s the only proper judge of this whole argument of which is better – atheism or Christianity. Obviously the main question of “does God exist” really can’t be proven, or else everyone would believe the same thing. So what we’re left with is people arguing about things neither side can prove, and you just have to step back and say – well both sides may be right, but what are the *fruits* of holding each view?

For the individual, maybe a certain type of logical person would be happier concluding there is no God, and the view of atheism would be better for them than believing in something they can’t prove or see. For others, they may have spiritual longing, and are only happy resting in God’s love. That’s why it’s hard to judge another’s views. Hey, whatever works for you!

Being a Christian, I’d argue that society benefits from the “love your neighbor as yourself, love your enemies, love God” commandment, which probably most atheists don’t have a compelling reason to follow.

If you have another concept of what is good on which to judge things, or want to point out more of my faulty logic, I’d love to hear it.

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Chuck September 22, 2009 at 11:09 pm

wrf3: The key is that the choice between competing moral systems is itself a moral choice. To choose between two moral systems is to ask, “which is better”, i.e. “which is more good”?

Or you can simply look closely at each ethical framework and pick one that makes only true claims about the world.

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Beelzebub September 23, 2009 at 1:00 am

wrf3: The key is that the choice between competing moral systems is itself a moral choice. To choose between two moral systems is to ask, “which is better”, i.e. “which is more good”? The only way to break this infinite regress is to pick one based on your subjective values. That makes you the absolute arbiter of what you consider moral.

I don’t know of anyone raised in a relatively non-pathological society (this excludes places like mainland China during the cultural revolution) who actually undertakes the kind of subjective moral enterprise you describe. Most people don’t give a second’s thought to whether stealing is right or wrong; it’s wrong by the defaults given them by the standards of society. And this is true whether they are atheist or not. This proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that moral standards can arise spontaneously within society, where, of course, “spontaneous” really means the laborious process of community discussion and learned judgement. Even Vox Day will have us believe that atheists are “moral parasites” that find succor in their host Christian culture — while not realizing he’s all but admitting morals are a social construct, and that they work — as a social construct.

Your real contention, and the Christian contention, is Dostoyevsky’s statement in “The Brothers Karamazov” that without God all things are permissible (although apparently he never actually wrote it that way). But I have some terrible news for you wrf3, all things ARE permissible. There isn’t a damn thing anyone can do to stop someone from going outside and blowing a few people away. So what we have is a world that is utterly consistent with the absence of God. Now, this probably offends your moral sensibilities. Congratulations, that means you’re not a psychopath. It does mine as well, and that is why it’s so very important to educate and civilize people to realize that this thing we label “evil” — the willful destruction of life and happiness, is not an optimal path in life. We are not always successful, which is also completely consistent with the lack of a divine moral origin.

wrf3: It’s easy to prove and, for his/her benefit, I’m going to do it one more time. Probably won’t do any good though, the cognitive dissonance is strong with that one.

lol. If I shared first names with the owner of this blog that would really be funny.

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wrf3 September 23, 2009 at 6:15 am

Chuck:
Or you can simply look closely at each ethical framework and pick one that makes only true claims about the world.

You’re tripping over Hume’s guillotine again. Give me an example of an ethical framework that makes “only true claims” about the world and I’ll show you where it stumbles.

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Chuck September 23, 2009 at 6:34 am

I refer to desire utilitarianism of course.

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Lee A. P. September 23, 2009 at 7:23 am

I think that a big problem here is that Christians think they invented morals. They believe God gave morals to Adam and Eve, who passed it on down through Noah, and then to Jacob, through Judaism and Christ perfected it through Christianity.

The scientific evidence states otherwise. Better explanations exist.

Morals predate Judaism, Christianity and all religion in general. People practiced morals before they ever believed in, or were even able to conceive of supernatural beings.

And if morals are simply the arbitrary whims of an all powerful God, then there is no reason to ultimately trust this God. His word is meaningless. He can change his mind and decide he would rather torture believers rather than non believers.

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K-Bo September 23, 2009 at 8:33 am

Lee, A.P., I agree morality doesn’t have to come from God. But Christians believe God’s morality is simple – to love God and to love others is the basis for all law and morality, and it helps us to have this moral framework (whether God exists or not, whether He is the creator and all powerful good being, or a figment of our imagination).

What is the atheist morality based on? Do atheist organizations help others via works of charity? What is the point of atheism – is it just a personal belief, or is there some higher purpose to it? Is atheism good? or maybe atheism thinks “good” is arbitrary, so everyone should do whatever they want?

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Lee A. P. September 23, 2009 at 10:01 am

K-Bo: Lee, A.P., I agree morality doesn’t have to come from God.But Christians believe God’s morality is simple – to love God and to love others is the basis for all law and morality, and it helps us to have this moral framework (whether God exists or not, whether He is the creator and all powerful good being, or a figment of our imagination).What is the atheist morality based on?Do atheist organizations help others via works of charity?What is the point of atheism – is it just a personal belief, or is there some higher purpose to it?Is atheism good? or maybe atheism thinks “good” is arbitrary, so everyone should do whatever they want?

If Voxians believe that God’s moral rules are arbitrary, then who is to say that loving God will get you anywhere? He can simply change his mind and decide to torture the moral and reward the terrible. He can arbitrarily decide anything he wants. He sets no standard.

The other huge, gaping problem with Voxianity, is if other Gods indeed exist, as I said before, there is no good reason to believe the Christian God is the most powerful, most good and most wise. I’ll hold out for a better God thank you.

“Atheist morality”, like all theories of morality, is complex. That is best left up to philosophers and social scientists. Certainly though, those explanations are better than “Our God is King cock of the universe so do whatever he says”. And yes, there are many secular charitable organizations.

Atheism is lack of belief in Gods. Nothing more.

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Rich September 23, 2009 at 11:18 am

Hey Beelzebub – still waiting for your creative genius at that other websiye!

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akakiwibear September 23, 2009 at 12:37 pm

Lee, so you are a theist after all, just looking for the most powerful god!

Lee A. P.: The other huge, gaping problem with Voxianity, is if other Gods indeed exist, as I said before, there is no good reason to believe the Christian God is the most powerful, most good and most wise.

Interesting … so the first of the 10 commandments “You shall have no other gods before me” is either unnecessary (there are no other gods) or fundamental acknowledgement that there are other gods – a problem for lukeprog and Christian fundamentalists alike! Of course some will argue that this commandment deals with gods such as money, power etc … tough for bible literalists.

Sala kahle -peace

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Beelzebub September 23, 2009 at 1:18 pm

Rich, thanks, I’ll be there. I already read several pages and savored them like a fine wine.

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Lee A. P. September 23, 2009 at 1:43 pm

akakiwibear: Lee, so you are a theist after all, just looking for themost powerful god!
Interesting … so the first of the 10 commandments “You shall have no other gods before me” is either unnecessary (there are no other gods) or fundamental acknowledgement that there are other gods – a problem for lukeprog and Christian fundamentalists alike! Of course some will argue that this commandment deals with gods such as money, power etc … tough for bible literalists. Sala kahle -peace

I am not a theist as I find the evidence for gods to be poor.

Its not an astonishing thing that a God, or the authors of a book who write about a certain God, would demand obedience only to himself. He may do so weather or not he is truly the most powerful and wise God around.

Maybe there is a God and he is oblivious to the fact that there is, indeed a more powerful God than he! I like to play around with these ideas, but, as I said I find “God” an incoherent concept.

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JRL September 23, 2009 at 4:28 pm

…if morals are simply the arbitrary whims of an all powerful God, then there is no reason to ultimately trust this God. His word is meaningless. He can change his mind and decide he would rather torture believers rather than non believers.

I don’t think you have a very good understanding of Christian belief in this regard. There are some foundational propositions in Scripture. One of them is that God IS what is good. Another is that God does not change. Far from being arbitrary or whimsical, morals reflect the unchanging nature of God.

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wrf3 September 23, 2009 at 5:11 pm

Lee A. P.: …if morals are simply the arbitrary whims of an all powerful God, then there is no reason to ultimately trust this God. His word is meaningless. He can change his mind and decide he would rather torture believers rather than non believers.

I would argue that the only thing you could do is trust him. What other choice do you have against an all powerful being?

JRL:
I don’t think you have a very good understanding of Christian belief in this regard. There are some foundational propositions in Scripture. One of them is that God IS what is good. Another is that God does not change. Far from being arbitrary or whimsical, morals reflect the unchanging nature of God.

But we don’t know what those “unchanging” bits are, except via His revelation of Himself. Lee A. P. is right. What if, at the end of all things, we find that God lied to us? Please don’t tell me “He wouldn’t lie because He said He wouldn’t lie.” And “He wouldn’t lie because lying isn’t good” doesn’t work, either. If He does it, it’s good. His game. His rules.

From epistemology 101, if there is a god then we have to trust Him. That Scripture says, “the just shall live by faith”, derived from an alternate starting point, is just another bit o consistency between Scripture and what we know of the way things have to work.

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JRL September 23, 2009 at 5:27 pm

But we don’t know what those “unchanging” bits are, except via His revelation of Himself. Lee A. P. is right. What if, at the end of all things, we find that God lied to us? Please don’t tell me “He wouldn’t lie because He said He wouldn’t lie.” And “He wouldn’t lie because lying isn’t good” doesn’t work, either. If He does it, it’s good. His game. His rules.

wrf3, I think you missed the part where I said:

“I don’t think you have a very good understanding of Christian belief in this regard.”

Lee A.P laid out an “if…then” proposition which would only be correct if Christians actually believed God was being arbitrary and whimsical in his self-revelation.

“I would argue that the only thing you could do is trust him.”

Of course, and Christians clearly trust what he has (as you say) revealed about himself in Scripture, i.e. God does not lie.

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wrf3 September 23, 2009 at 5:30 pm

K-Bo: wrf3, you make many interesting points.Sorry if my logic is not up to your standards.You disagree with me saying people choose to hold their beliefs because of inertia (it’s hard to change your mind, or what you were taught) and because of both fear and comfort? or that I provided no logical argument to hold such a position?

I agree with you that some people hold their beliefs because of inertia, and some people hold their beliefs because of some emotional impetus. But I wouldn’t say that for all people.

… Regarding my second point, I think the ultimate judge of which religious beliefs or worldviews or whatever you want to call them are “correct” or “best” (that really is what this whole argument of atheism vs. Christianity or“who can show they’re smarter” and argue their side better) should be on what is good for the individual and for society.

And we’re right back to the beginning. “Good” is purely subjective. Whose good? And, as I demonstrated to Beezlebub, the answer to that is itself a subjective moral decision.

Does that make me have a utilitarian morality, that may not apply to others?Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems there must be some objective standard for what is good. For instance, we all can probably agree that what is good is increasing or enhancing the well-being of individuals.

But notice what you just did. You equate goodness to “well-being”, but hidden inside “well-being” is the notion of what is good. So you’re reasoning in a circle.

So which view, atheism or Christianity, increases the well-being of the individual more, and for society more?

Why is the well-being of the individual important? There are a number of societies that are more “collective” than others in which the needs of the individual are sacrificed to the needs of the group. How do you tell when the group should value the individual more, or when the individual should value the group more?

In my mind, that’s the only proper judge of this whole argument of which is better – atheism or Christianity.

This is a form of “argument to a consequence”: This leads to this which leads to that… and that ought not to be. Notice what happened… you went from “this is” to “that is” to “ought”. According to Hume, that’s not a valid step.

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Lee A. P. September 23, 2009 at 7:23 pm

It was through “Voxtianity” that I witnessed the “arbitrary” God that can do what he wills based on whims. I was arguing on that angle of Christianity. I find all arguments about “real” Christianity to be offensive to reason since none of you can agree completely n everything. There is NO “christianity” only “Christianities”. All I can do is understand ones version of Christianity as best I can and then argue against that version.

[quote]I would argue that the only thing you could do is trust him. What other choice do you have against an all powerful being?[/quote]

The only thing you can do? As pointed out above, if there are many other Gods then there is no reason to believe that he is telling you the truth. there is certainly much more that you can do other than simply believe what was written by Yahwehs believers in “the Bible”.

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Lee A. P. September 23, 2009 at 7:41 pm

You say:

“Of course, and Christians clearly trust what he has (as you say) revealed about himself in Scripture, i.e. God does not lie.”

(someone tell me what goddamned format this blog is in so I can quote!)

Again, to make myself clear, I am arguing against those earlier in these posts who insisted that other gods exists and that “G”od’s scripture does not deny this. If there are other gods then it is possible that there is another “G”od” more powerful, good and wise than Yahweh/Jesus. If so Yahweh Jesus is not to be trusted.

I’ll let you Christians argue amongst yourselves whose “Christianity” is the “one true”.

In fact, since prayer works, why have none of you gathered to pray for answers to doctrinal differences? I have never seen a mass gathering of differing schools of Christian thought ever gather to prayer for truth to God, yet they most all believe in the power of prayer.

Forgive me if this “atheist” “doubts” many “Christians” actually believe in their own bullshit. Also, please forgive my liberal and egregious overuse of “quotes”.

!!

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lukeprog September 23, 2009 at 7:47 pm

wrf3,

I’d love to hear your own comparison of how naturalism corresponds to the observable world and how Christianity corresponds to the observable world.

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lukeprog September 23, 2009 at 7:58 pm

akakiwibear,

Those are not the reasons I am an atheist. I should probably write a post sometime on ‘Why I am an Atheist’, like Greta did.

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Lee A. P. September 23, 2009 at 8:05 pm

*asterisk*

I fully admit to having never read “Vox Day’s” book and very little of him on the internet. What I gathered has been from what little I have read thus far. I arbitrarily created my own posts based on my own whims much like I take it Vox’s and his follower’s God does, be that correct or incorrect.

I also fully admit to having soiled my pants at age 22. My desire to get home to the comforts of my own bathroom overcame the primeval and urgent cry of my bowels. This admission has no relevancy other than the fact that I have noticed many embarrassing forms of argument in these posts from the Christians, so I felt as though I would even the score by putting forth an embarrassing personal anecdote.

I’d also like to take the time to implore both atheist and theist alike to insert more humor into these exchanges. Certainly the fellows of this blog can exceed my attempt, which admittedly was of the lowest common denominator (A shit joke, which, unfortunately actually happened). :)

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K-Bo September 23, 2009 at 10:09 pm

wrf3, what I hear you and other atheists saying is that you don’t believe any of the bullshit Christians believe. If a Christian says “God is Love and God is good,” the atheist says, well that’s your subjective opinion on what is good. There is no objective good, there is no God, just do whatever you want. So I’m still trying to understand what is the basis for atheistic morality.

And I freely admit, most of you here love to use logic and are better schooled in philosophical thought than me. I’m still learning your lingo, and I do appreciate you trying to teach me to think more logically. Heck, eventually I’ll think so straight that I’ll stop believing in God, right? :) I think that is the atheist position – “you’re wrong, you’re illogical, therefore God does not exist, and I am correct.”

But seriously, you can’t agree on what is good? You don’t like my definition of good is well-being, or good quality of life (which means meeting needs of the individual in various domains – health, social, emotional, kind of like in desire utilitarianism, which I’m just reading about). You’re saying there is no objective good? or just no way to know what it is? and God of the bible is just somebody’s arbitrary opinion of what is good and so believing in God is bullshit?

The reason I’ve been wandering into these God arguments is I just read “The Evolution of God” by Robert Wright. I consider it a must read. It explains many of the critiques many have of religion very nicely (that man’s concept of God was created by man to suit the situation on the ground – seemingly arbitrary commands by God to kill all your enemies, or not eat pigs, or to have no other gods, etc… changed over time because the human situation was different), yet Wright still leaves room for some other God to exist. Or maybe it is just the human understanding of God that is evolving, and the true God never changed.

Lee AP and others, if you wait for the perfect God that satisfies all your logical systems – you’ll never find it. The mind always questions. Belief in God requires a leap of faith, to go beyond doubts. I don’t see the harm in doing so.

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Beelzebub September 24, 2009 at 12:46 am

K-Bo, Perhaps you got wrf3 confused with me because I can assure you he’s not an atheist. Where wrf3 disagrees with you is in the attachment of any kind of human interpretation to morals. So, if his God tells you to kill someone you’d better damn well do it — and the kicker — be happy about it! Because it’s good!!!

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wrf3 September 24, 2009 at 4:15 am

Beelzebub: K-Bo, Perhaps you got wrf3 confused with me because I can assure you he’s not an atheist.Where wrf3 disagrees with you is in the attachment of any kind of human interpretation to morals.So, if his God tells you to kill someone you’d better damn well do it — and the kicker — be happy about it! Because it’s good!!!

And you don’t see the flaw in your reasoning because… ?

Please answer this question: why is what you value of more value than what God values? More succinctly, why are you god instead of God?

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wrf3 September 24, 2009 at 4:31 am

K-Bo: There is no objective good…

That’s exactly it. That statement is universally true for both atheists, Christians, and everyone in between. Once this is understood (and it’s easier to prove than it is to accept — after all these words, Beezlebub still doesn’t get it, even though he/she can’t show where my definitions or logic is wrong), then you can being to understand how things really work. Search this page for the two posts from me containing the word “genesis”.

lukeprog asked:

I’d love to hear your own comparison of how naturalism corresponds to the observable world and how Christianity corresponds to the observable world.

I’m working on it. It isn’t easy, because it starts with the above. If that’s wrong, then I have to scrap my model and start over. And if you don’t agree with it, then there won’t be any point in going further. Also, another part of the model is briefly described here, too. Search for my post containing “Russell”, which briefly gets into epistemology.

K-Bo: I’m not an atheist. See my second entry in this thread.

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Rick September 24, 2009 at 6:34 am

JRL: But we don’t know what those “unchanging” bits are, except via His revelation of Himself. Lee A. P. is right. What if, at the end of all things, we find that God lied to us? Please don’t tell me “He wouldn’t lie because He said He wouldn’t lie.” And “He wouldn’t lie because lying isn’t good” doesn’t work, either. If He does it, it’s good. His game. His rules.wrf3, I think you missed the part where I said:

In fact the bible does give evidence that God can lie and deceive people: 2 Thess. 2-11. Or, if you’d like, to obscure truth: Prov. 25:2. Given that these things are good by definition (i.e. that God did them), why would humans not be justified in doing them as well, and calling them good?

Secondly, God is not unchanging. See Gen. 6:6-7, Exod. 32:14, Sam. 15:35; Amos 7:3 for examples. There are many more.

From these passages, I would have to believe that not only is God’s mind malleable, he has the propensity to deceive humans. If all of this is good, wherein lies the definition of evil? If evil is equal to “not God” then what room does this leave? And how does God distinguish his actions from those of the great deceiver?

Sure, one can fall back on the definition that ‘god equals good’ but that’s not really helpful in going to morality from god, if god acts so capriciously. I realize I’m injecting human valuations on Jahweh, but I think the questions have merit.

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wrf3 September 24, 2009 at 7:10 am

Rick:
In fact the bible does give evidence that God can lie and deceive people: 2 Thess. 2-11. Or, if you’d like, to obscure truth: Prov. 25:2.

Deception is only lying if God says He will not deceive people. Right? “I won’t lie to you, but I may make it difficult, if not impossible, for you to recognize truth.” St. Paul deals with this exact same issue coming from another angle. “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault, for who can resist His will?’ But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’”

Given that these things are good by definition (i.e. that God did them), why would humans not be justified in doing them as well, and calling them good?

Great question. The answer is simple: we are not God. There is no external standard of morality that both God and man must use. God says “vengeance is mine”. He can take vengeance, we can not.

Secondly, God is not unchanging. See Gen. 6:6-7, Exod. 32:14, Sam. 15:35; Amos 7:3 for examples. There are many more.

Some of us would argue that these are merely anthropomorphisms which are convenient for communicating to us in terms we are familiar with.

From these passages, I would have to believe that not only is God’s mind malleable, he has the propensity to deceive humans.

I disagree with the first, but agree with the second.

If all of this is good, wherein lies the definition of evil?

In the same place the definition of good lines. Solely in the minds of beings that have imagination (which is a necessary requirement for a value system).

If evil is equal to “not God” then what room does this leave?

“Evil” is not equal to “not God”. Evil is equal to what moral agents say “ought not to be”.

And how does God distinguish his actions from those of the great deceiver?Sure, one can fall back on the definition that ‘god equals good’ but that’s not really helpful in going to morality from god, if god acts so capriciously. I realize I’m injecting human valuations on Jahweh, but I think the questions have merit.

They’re wonderful questions. To answer the last one, it depends on which level you look. We have God’s revelation of Himself through His Son by which to evaluate things. Jesus says “My Father is Sovereign”. Satan says “I am sovereign.” Both can’t be true and, by the “His game, His rules” principle, we can know that Jesus is right.

But on a deeper level, how do we know that God’s revelation of Himself through Jesus is really, deeply, fundamentally true? Logically, we don’t. We simply have to trust Him. There is no other option, is there? (If there is, I’d love to hear what it is. Lee A. P. basically says, “hold out for the existence of other gods”, but here I’m assuming monotheism. Polytheism has a different “geometry” which I don’t want to deal with here.)

What I find not coincidental is that, solely from considerations of what we know about morality and epistemology, we can derive “the just shall live by faith.” It’s just a tiny step from that to salvation by grace. Simple, really.

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Silas September 24, 2009 at 12:12 pm

wrf3,

1. You can’t know what’s moral (according to yourself).
2. You know God’s decisions are moral.

Clearly, there’s something wrong here. How do you know that a supreme being’s decisions are moral?

You may say something like, “Whatever a supreme being decides is moral”. But still, you don’t even know what you’re talking about when you’re attributing that to a supreme being. What are you really talking about here?

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wrf3 September 24, 2009 at 1:15 pm

Silas: wrf3,
1. You can’t know what’s moral (according to yourself).

That’s not what I’ve said. What I’ve said is that all morality is subjective; that is, each moral agent decides for themselves what is, or is not, moral. Each decision is based on personal preference.

The problem for the atheist is whose moral decisions will be given precedence when two or more agents are in conflict.
The problem for the theist is whether or not their their moral decision is congruent with God’s — how does one know?

2. You know God’s decisions are moral.
Clearly, there’s something wrong here. How do you know that a supreme being’s decisions are moral?

From the principle of “His game, His rules”.

You may say something like, “Whatever a supreme being decides is moral”.

Isn’t that obvious from the word supreme?

But still, you don’t even know what you’re talking about when you’re attributing that to a supreme being.

I’m sorry, I don’t follow this. How can a “supreme” being not be the final arbiter of what is moral?

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JRL September 24, 2009 at 4:22 pm

In fact the bible does give evidence that God can lie and deceive people: 2 Thess. 2-11. Or, if you’d like, to obscure truth: Prov. 25:2. Given that these things are good by definition (i.e. that God did them), why would humans not be justified in doing them as well, and calling them good?

I think you are conflating two things here: the deception and the lie. Scripture states that God will cause deception to happen as part of his judgment on those “who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.” Somewhat ironically, you are assuming the truth of this statement. Like wrf3 mentioned, did God anywhere say he would not send deception to those he was punishing? The example in Proverbs pertains to wisdom, in that you must seek it out. This can’t be construed as deception or lie.

Secondly, God is not unchanging. See Gen. 6:6-7, Exod. 32:14, Sam. 15:35; Amos 7:3 for examples. There are many more.

The key thing for the verses you list is they are situational. They do not describe a change of God’s character, or his overarching purposes, they describe a change of emotion or of action in a particular moment.

From these passages, I would have to believe that not only is God’s mind malleable, he has the propensity to deceive humans. If all of this is good, wherein lies the definition of evil? If evil is equal to “not God” then what room does this leave? And how does God distinguish his actions from those of the great deceiver?Sure, one can fall back on the definition that ‘god equals good’ but that’s not really helpful in going to morality from god, if god acts so capriciously. I realize I’m injecting human valuations on Jahweh, but I think the questions have merit.

Maybe it’s better to say “evil is that which is not in harmony with God’s character.”

For us, morality is both avoiding what which is not in harmony with God’s character and seeking that which is.

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JRL September 24, 2009 at 4:45 pm

Again, to make myself clear, I am arguing against those earlier in these posts who insisted that other gods exists and that “G”od’s scripture does not deny this. If there are other gods then it is possible that there is another “G”od” more powerful, good and wise than Yahweh/Jesus. If so Yahweh Jesus is not to be trusted.

As to the other gods…yes, Scripture says they exist. Scripture also says there are none above God, you know this. Your argument is nonsensical. Are you suggesting Christians believe the first and not the second?

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K-Bo September 24, 2009 at 8:33 pm

I misread wrf3′s “Having been an atheist for longer than I’ve been a Christian” as meaning he’s an atheist now, when the statement really doesn’t say which he is currently. Perhaps I assumed he was an atheist because he pointed out my faulty logic, and I am a Christian. I also missed him saying “Christians have not been deemed to be “good” for society because we’re disruptive.” Sorry amigo. I am indeed confused.

In any case, I have to confess I’m troubled a little bit by the God of the Old Testament, who says it’s good to kill your enemies, their wives, and their children. Then Jesus comes along and says to love your enemies. It does seem arbitrary. How can you have a morality when God’s commandments seem to change over time? My conclusion is that there really is a God the creator, who is love and pure consciousness, but the God of the Old Testament was more of a human invention in many spots. In other words, people misunderstood who God really is/was, because He hadn’t fully revealed Himself to us. It took Jesus to explain who God is, in fact to show us how to love each other, to sacrifice our very selves in love and service to our fellow man.

I believe there is an objective good, that God who is love is that good. Why can’t people take the common sense of right and wrong within themselves, recognize that others have these same feelings/beliefs/intuitions, and base their morality on that? Why can’t people agree that good things happen when people love each other, and so love is good, and God is love? Some could say it’s just the way we are to have a common moral compass, and others could say God made us that way, that he imprinted His law upon us and within us. I think without an objective good, then anything goes, and that is very troubling if we just act on our every whim.

I also think it’s dangerous to trust “God’s” word too strictly, because it’s very hard to know if it truly came from God, or if someone only imagined it coming from God because that allows someone to do what they want to do. Does God really tell Muslims to go and kill the infidels? Does God really tell the Christian Crusaders to go and destroy the Muslims (and vice versa)? Does God really tell the Jews that they are the chosen people and they should go kill the Palestinians and take their land? Does God really tell the Muslim to destroy the Jew? Does the psychologically disturbed person who hears “God’s voice” in his head telling him to go murder people really hear from God?

Yikes, I’m torn. I believe in God and have faith, but I think people have misused the whole concept of God to justify some horrible actions, and really didn’t believe in the same God I believe in. I think they’re completely misguided. I think they didn’t have the “right” God. The right God is the God of love, personified in Jesus Christ. How do I know that’s the right God? Heh, I can see why some people are atheists. I can’t commit to atheism because I think it leads to emptiness and moral relativism. Believing in a God of Love on the other hand, even if the belief is wrong and God is really just a concept and doesn’t really exist, is personally fulfilling and good for society if everyone truly loved each other perfectly. So it’s better to believe in a God of love than not to do so.

Then there’s the whole idea of directly experiencing God, by getting rid of the ego/mind of all thoughts, and delighting in pure conscious awareness, or God’s loving presence. This is another reason to believe in God.

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K-Bo September 24, 2009 at 8:48 pm

Another thought on this objective good (of mine), which is God, who is love. Is there any person who, deep down, doesn’t want to be loved, to be accepted, to be respected, to be embraced, to be forgiven, to be healed, to be cared for? Not that I’ve ever met. It’s universal, so all should agree that this is what is good. This is our deepest desire, although survival and reproduction are pretty strong ones too. If one acts with love, then another individual’s needs for survival and reproduction are generally met, too!

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lukeprog September 24, 2009 at 9:20 pm

Hmmm. This little post now has more comments than any other post on my site. What an odd world it is…

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Beelzebub September 25, 2009 at 12:44 am

wrf3: Please answer this question: why is what you value of more value than what God values? More succinctly, why are you god instead of God?

I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree wrf3 because you’re arguing from the vantage of your beliefs and I am from mine and never the twain shall meet (or however that goes). Just to illustrate, there’s no possible way a person who doesn’t believe in God can reasonably interpret that question. To your credit, I have to say that you’ve been utterly civil in the process, and IMO lukeprog should be trading letter with you and not Vox Day.

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wrf3 September 25, 2009 at 5:24 am

Beelzebub:
I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree wrf3 because you’re arguing from the vantage of your beliefs and I am from mine and never the twain shall meet (or however that goes).

That’s the problem I’ve been trying to show you, Beelzebub. In your arguments against Christianity, you are inserting your beliefs into the theistic worldview, then concluding that theism doesn’t make sense. For example, you said, “the doctrine of original sin strikes me as unjust and ludicrous” (slight paraphrase). I showed that you reached this conclusion because you put your own personal value system {which is a result of your atheism}, into a theistic worldview. You can’t do that. You might as well complain that non-Euclidean geometry is wrong because every time you measure a triangle it comes out to 180 degrees. That isn’t how logic and reason works.

Then, instead of showing where my chain of reasoning fails (and I’ve pointed out where this could be done), you retreat to “we’ll just have to disagree”. That doesn’t make you any less demonstrably wrong.

Just to illustrate, there’s no possible way a person who doesn’t believe in God can reasonably interpret that question.

Oh, nonsense. Worldviews are just like geometries. You learn the axioms, you apply the rules of reason, you reach conclusions. I have shown that you, and lukeprog, apply invalid rules of reasoning to some of your criticisms of theism. The three big problems are: the subtle insertion of your worldview into the criticism of the theistic worldview, an incorrect definition of what good and evil is, and a lack of understanding of Hume.

To your credit, I have to say that you’ve been utterly civil in the process, and IMO lukeprog should be trading letter with you and not Vox Day.

Thank you, but I couldn’t have written what Vox wrote.

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wrf3 September 25, 2009 at 5:27 am

lukeprog: Hmmm. This little post now has more comments than any other post on my site. What an odd world it is…

Why should you think it odd? It just is. (And we’ve completed the circle. This is exactly what Vox wrote about in his response to you. “Oddness” is just “evil” to a much lesser degree).

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wrf3 September 25, 2009 at 5:29 am

K-Bo: Another thought on this objective good (of mine), which is God, who is love.Is there any person who, deep down, doesn’t want to be loved, to be accepted, to be respected, to be embraced, to be forgiven, to be healed, to be cared for?Not that I’ve ever met.It’s universal, so all should agree that this is what is good.This is our deepest desire, although survival and reproduction are pretty strong ones too.If one acts with love, then another individual’s needs for survival and reproduction are generally met, too!

You’re going from “is” to “ought” again. You can’t do that. Please read is-ought problem.

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Silas September 25, 2009 at 8:33 am

wrf3: I’m sorry, I don’t follow this. How can a “supreme” being not be the final arbiter of what is moral?

Because you don’t know what morality is. If morality is subjetive, then you’re interpretation of it is worthless. Therefore, you don’t know what morality is. Morality, according to a supreme being, could mean something like “That which is cool”.

So, according to yourself, you don’t know what you’re talking about when you say that a supreme being is the final arbiter of morality.

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wrf3 September 25, 2009 at 9:36 am

Silas: wrf3: I’m sorry, I don’t follow this. How can a “supreme” being not be the final arbiter of what is moral?

Because you don’t know what morality is.

Well, yes, I do. Morality is what a moral agent deems good. That’s a universal truth, which is invariant across theistic and atheistic worldviews.

If morality is subjetive,

Which has been shown to be the case.

then you’re interpretation of it is worthless.

Worthless to whom? It isn’t worthless to the moral agent.

Therefore, you don’t know what morality is. Morality, according to a supreme being, could mean something like “That which is cool”.

That’s exactly right. It’s what I’ve been saying since I joined this discussion. However, that doesn’t mean it’s unknowable. After all, the supreme being could communicate with man.

So, according to yourself, you don’t know what you’re talking about when you say that a supreme being is the final arbiter of morality.

Let’s try again. All morality is subjective. Doesn’t matter if you believe in a god, gods, or nothing but human moral agents. If there is a “supreme being”, then he/she/it is the final arbiter of morality. By definition of “supreme”. The “supreme” being has the “supreme” value system, which becomes the standard by which all other moral agents are judged.

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JRL September 25, 2009 at 10:55 am

Luke, I’d like to pose the question I brought up earlier to you again:

Whatever theory, method or axiom you bring to bear to answer your own question (pertaining to morals), it will simply be an ex post facto rationalization of what you have already decided based on your own desires.

Your desire is the basis of your morality. How then can you criticize God for making his desire the basis of morality?

JRL

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wrf3 September 25, 2009 at 11:47 am

JRL: I haven’t been able to get any atheist to answer this. Beezlebub appears to be constitutionally unable to address this. lukeprog hasn’t weighed in yet.

I hope you have better luck than I do.

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K-Bo September 25, 2009 at 11:55 am

wrf3, I read the “is-ought problem” link. It doesn’t make much sense to me to say it is illegal or illogical to make statements of what ought to be. You and others say there is no logical basis to say what ought to be? Seems absurd to think that way.

You saying that “ought” ought not follow an “is” is just an “ought” in itself! and I really don’t get the reasoning behind it (it must be based on some “is”, no?).

How can anyone possibly go through life deciding what to do if not guided by what he feels he ought to do? A person who holds no oughts is not really a human being, but a slug of inactivity without goals or actions, or at least without the ability to plan or contemplate, in short, to think.

Everyone has a sense of what ought to be, of how people ought to treat each other, or what one ought to do in life. I might notice that I feel hungry, and think to myself, I really ought to try to eat something. Or maybe I feel like my gut is getting too big, and I really ought not to eat so much – which is more accurate for me:). You’re saying that every notion of what ought to be or what one ought to do should be disallowed and never thought because it’s illogical and unsupported?

Are you claiming you don’t have any oughts in your thoughts?

What is illogical about this sequence of statements?
I am hungry; or equivalently, my body is low on chemical energy.
If I don’t eat I will die.
If I want to live, I ought to eat.

Starts with an “is” and ends with an “ought.”

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K-Bo September 25, 2009 at 12:59 pm

But then I went back and read Fyfe’s desire utilitarianism and his explanation of Hume’s is/ought problem. Fyfe says that all jumps from is to ought should be based on desires. I guess I did that – “if I want to live, I ought to eat.” So let me try to do that with what I said about an objective good.

People want and need to be loved.
If we want to be loved more than anything else, we ought to have within ourselves and promote amongst others a morality that encourages others to love us: for all people to love each other.

If we want peace and harmony amongst people, we ought to promote a religion based on love, or else come up with some other way besides religion to promote the concept of love, or the Golden Rule, to treat others with respect as we wish to be treated ourselves.

If we want everyone to be on the same page and to work together with common goals for the common benefit, we ought to figure out what our common goals are. What are the best desires we have? If we seek these desires to be fulfilled, we should promote a system that seeks to fulfill these desires amongst all people.

If we all desire to live, we should promote laws and other notions that respect the life of all individuals, make it against the law to kill, and punish those that do kill.

Is this better?

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lukeprog September 25, 2009 at 1:56 pm

JRL,

I deny your thesis that my desire is the basis of my morality. The moral theory I think is most plausibly true is contrary to a great many of my current desires.

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wrf3 September 25, 2009 at 2:01 pm

K-Bo: wrf3, I read the “is-ought problem” link.It doesn’t make much sense to me to say it is illegal or illogical to make statements of what ought to be.

That’s not quite what Hume is saying. We make statements of what ought to be all the time. What Hume is saying is that you can’t point to an “is” and say “because of this (the “is”) something “ought” to be.

You and others say there is no logical basis to say what ought to be?

“Ought” stems solely from personal preference. We can rationalize it, but that’s all we can do. Your personal preference has no bearing on my personal preference.

Seems absurd to think that way. You saying that “ought” ought not follow an “is” is just an “ought” in itself!

We don’t say it “ought not”, Hume says it does not

and I really don’t get the reasoning behind it (it must be based on some “is”, no).

What “is” lies in the realm that is part of the subjective world. What “ought to be” lies in the realm of the imagination. What Hume says is that there is no logical connection between the two realms. No matter what “is”, we can imagine whatever we want about what it ought to be.

How can anyone possibly go through life deciding what to do if not guided by what he feels he ought to do?

We do it all the time. The question is, “what is the source of what we feel we ought to do?”

A person who holds no oughts is not really a human being, but a slug of inactivity without goals or actions, or at least without the ability to plan or contemplate, in short, to think.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they are a “slug of inactivity.” My dog is aware of what “is”, but she has no imagination. She has no concept of “ought”.

Everyone has a sense of what ought to be,

Which is what is described in Genesis…

of how people ought to treat each other, or what one ought to do in life.

But you’ll not that we don’t agree on the “oughts”.

I might notice that I feel hungry, and think to myself, I really ought to try to eat something. Or maybe I feel like my gut is getting too big, and I really ought not to eat so much – which is more accurate for me:).

See? Is does not imply ought.

You’re saying that every notion of what ought to be or what one ought to do should be disallowed and never thought because it’s illogical and unsupported?

No, what I’m saying is that the path from “is” to “ought” is based solely on personal preference. There isn’t a line of valid reasoning which goes “this is therefore that ought…”

Are you claiming you don’t have any oughts in your thoughts?What is illogical about this sequence of statements?
I am hungry; or equivalently, my body is low on chemical energy.
If I don’t eat I will die. If I want to live, I ought to eat.Starts with an “is” and ends with an “ought.”

Yes, it does. The anorexic doesn’t derive the same ought from the same is. I’ve ministered to the elderly who are hungry, but just stop eating because they no longer want to live. Same “is”, different “oughts”.

More later. Time to take the wife to dinner.

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JRL September 25, 2009 at 3:03 pm

lukeprog: JRL,I deny your thesis that my desire is the basis of my morality. The moral theory I think is most plausibly true is contrary to a great many of my current desires.

Luke, I have no doubt you are willing to deny certain of your desires in order to adhere to the moral system you think correct…but I think you need to take a step back and survey the bigger picture: Why exactly are you willing to deny those desires?

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lukeprog September 25, 2009 at 3:38 pm

JRL,

Why? Because I want to be moral, and I’ve been somewhat persuaded by a theory of moral realism which impels me to modify some of my desires.

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JRL September 25, 2009 at 4:46 pm

lukeprog: JRL,Why? Because I want to be moral, and I’ve been somewhat persuaded by a theory of moral realism which impels me to modify some of my desires.

Exactly! You desire morality, which in turn is caused by desire for something else like justice, etc. At the end of the chain of asking yourself why?, ALL you will be left with is, “because I simply desire it to be so! It all comes back to desire.

Your desire really is the basis of your morality.

How then can you logically criticize God for making his desire the basis of morality?

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wrf3 September 25, 2009 at 5:38 pm

lukeprog: JRL,Why? Because I want to be moral, and I’ve been somewhat persuaded by a theory of moral realism which impels me to modify some of my desires.

From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: It is worth noting that, while moral realists are united in their cognitivism and in their rejection of error theories, they disagree among themselves not only about which moral claims are actually true but about what it is about the world that makes those claims true. Moral realism is not a specific substantive view nor does it carry a distinctive metaphysical commitment over and above the commitment that comes with thinking moral claims can be true or false and some are true. Still, much of the debate about moral realism revolves around either what it takes for claims to be true or false at all (with some arguing that moral claims do not have what it takes) or what it would take specifically for moral claims to be true (with some arguing that moral claims would require something the world does not provide).

</i?The debate between moral realists and anti-realists assumes, though, that there is a shared object of inquiry – in this case, a range of claims all involved are willing to recognize as moral claims — about which two questions can be raised and answered: Do these claims purport to report facts in light of which they are true or false? Are some of them true? Moral realists answer ‘yes’ to both, non-cognitivists answer ‘no’ to the first (and, by default, ‘no’ to the second) while error theorists answer ‘yes’ to the first and ‘no’ to the second. To note that some other claims do not (or do) purport to report facts or that none (or some) of them are true, is to change the subject. That said, it is strikingly hard to nail down with any accuracy just which claims are at issue in the debate. For the most part, those concerned with whether moral realism is true are forced to work back and forth between an intuitive grasp of the claims at issue and an articulate but controversial account of what they have in common such that realism either is, or is not, defensible about them.

By all accounts, moral realism can fairly claim to have common sense and initial appearances on its side. That advantage, however, is easily outweighed. Indeed, there are a number of powerful arguments for holding that it is a mistake to think of moral claims as true.

Having cited this, JRL is right. You desire one thing. In some cases, “Moral Realism” says you ought to desire something else. So now you have to judge between one “ought” and another. But the question, “is this ought better that that ought” itself requires a moral framework, which is neither of the two. The way you break this is by personal desire.

So your statement to JRL, “I deny your thesis that my desire is the basis of my morality. ” is demonstrably false.

So JRL’s question is spot on and is the one that neither you, nor Beezlebub, have given a logically defensible answer.

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lukeprog September 25, 2009 at 10:41 pm

JRL,

My desire explains what I do, given my beliefs. I desire to find a true theory of moral realism, if one exists. That is what led me to desirism. My personal desires are not the foundation of the ethical theory I defend.

I do not criticize God for making his desires the basis of morality. I contend that God does not exist.

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lukeprog September 25, 2009 at 10:45 pm

wrf3,

You posit that there is one ought against another. My personal ought versus the ought provided by moral realism. You then say that I must still provide a defense of why one ought is ‘better’ than the other. But I do not say that one is generically ‘better’ than the other. I simply call one a practical ought and the other a moral ought. That is a semantic issue.

So, I still don’t see how my personal desires are the basis of my moral theory.

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Beelzebub September 26, 2009 at 12:16 am

wrf3: That’s the problem I’ve been trying to show you, Beelzebub. In your arguments against Christianity, you are inserting your beliefs into the theistic worldview, then concluding that theism doesn’t make sense. For example, you said, “the doctrine of original sin strikes me as unjust and ludicrous” (slight paraphrase). I showed that you reached this conclusion because you put your own personal value system {which is a result of your atheism}, into a theistic worldview. You can’t do that. You might as well complain that non-Euclidean geometry is wrong because every time you measure a triangle it comes out to 180 degrees. That isn’t how logic and reason works.

In the scope of this discussion, you’re right. However, I believe I said at least once that I was detaching myself from the preconditions that lukeprog specified. But, you are incorrect to think that I’m only allowed to criticize Christianity after I’ve accepted its central tenets. That simply doesn’t make sense. I’m not trying to take this Citadel via Trojan horse; rather, I’m laying siege to it with artillery. That means I can take any vantage I want, and the vantage I want doesn’t include absolute morality or a supreme being, two rather profound assumptions without which your entire argument melts into a puddle of mush.

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JRL September 26, 2009 at 7:21 am

lukeprog: JRL,My desire explains what I do, given my beliefs. I desire to find a true theory of moral realism, if one exists. That is what led me to desirism. My personal desires are not the foundation of the ethical theory I defend.I do not criticize God for making his desires the basis of morality. I contend that God does not exist.

Luke, you are missing the big picture. Your desire doesn’t just operate within the realm of your beliefs. Your desire actually shapes and creates your beliefs. Try the exercise I suggested above. Ask yourself why you desire morality. Then whatever your answer is, ask yourself why you desire that. Then ask yourself why you desire that. Eventually you will find plain old desire, without accoutrements.

This is one of the most fundamental things we can understand about ourselves.

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wrf3 September 26, 2009 at 7:26 am

Beelzebub:
In the scope of this discussion, you’re right. However, I believe I said at least once that I was detaching myself from the preconditions that lukeprog specified. But, you are incorrect to think that I’m only allowed to criticize Christianity after I’ve accepted its central tenets. That simply doesn’t make sense.

You didn’t understand my point. You don’t have to accept Christianities “central tenets” (whatever they are). You’re allowed to criticize Christianity. But if you’re going to criticize Christianity, I’m going to demand that you follow the rules of logic. That’s a fair demand, is it not? After all, atheists claim to be the champions of reason. What I have shown is that, for at least one criticism that you presented, you cheated. You violated the rules of logic.

I’m not trying to take this Citadel via Trojan horse; rather, I’m laying siege to it with artillery.

If your artillery is logic then it has to be sound.

That means I can take any vantage I want, and the vantage I want doesn’t include absolute morality or a supreme being, two rather profound assumptions without which your entire argument melts into a puddle of mush.

First, absolute morality follows from the definition of “supreme” being and the worldview invariant definitions of good and evil (e.g. here and here). In any case, the way to show an assumption is wrong, whether it is the assumption “there is a god” or the assumption “there is not a god”, is not to deny the assumption, but show how the assumption leads to a contradiction. To do this, you have to work within the system formed by the assumption. What you cannot do is sneak your contrary assumption into the system when arguing against the system. This principle should be obvious to the most casual observer.

Yet this is what you did. Here’s what happened:
1) You concluded that the doctrine of original sin is “unjust and ludicrous.”
2) “Justice” is based on morality, i.e. notions of good and evil.
3) For you to assert something to be “unjust and ludicrous”, then there has to be a standard by which things are measured.
4) In theism, that standard is the “ought” of the supreme being. In atheism, that standard is the “ought” of the individual.
5) You snuck in your assumption of atheism in step 4, by asserting that your “ought” takes precedence over that of the “supreme” being.

You can’t do that. Over and over again, we’ve asked you “on what basis do you judge the supreme being”. You’ve been remarkably silent on this issue.

BTW, let me show you how difficult these types of arguments can really be to get right. I showed, without recourse to the Bible, using only the worldview invariant definition of “good and evil”, the assumption of a “supreme being”, and what we all know to be so about ourselves via reflection, that the doctrine of “original sin” is an accurate description of the observable world. That is, it describes what “is”.

To make a moral judgement about this, as you’ve done, requires the leap from “is” to “ought” which is sliced by Hume’s guillotine.

All you did was say, “I don’t like it, therefore God does not exist.”

That’s not artillery, Beezlebub. You’re shooting blanks.

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wrf3 September 26, 2009 at 7:36 am

lukeprog: wrf3,You posit that there is one ought against another.

Actually, you did. You said there are things you thought you ought to do that were contrary to what “moral realism” says you ought to do. I’m just going by what you said.

My personal ought versus the ought provided by moral realism.

So I correctly understood what you said.

You then say that I must still provide a defense of why one ought is ‘better’ than the other. But I do not say that one is generically ‘better’ than the other. I simply call one a practical ought and the other a moral ought. That is a semantic issue. So, I still don’t see how my personal desires are the basis of my moral theory.

You do say that “one is better than the other”. On the one hand, you said to yourself “I ought to do that”. On the other hand, you said, “I ought to do this”. To choose between the two oughts you (implicitly) asked yourself the question, “which ought should I choose? That is, which ought is better“? But “better” is simply the word for “more good” — and that’s an issue of morality. You had to “step outside” your personal ought and the ought of “moral realism” to judge between the two. What moral system did you step into? No matter what you answer, the next question is, “why did you pick this new moral system over any of the other possible ones you could have chosen?” Well, the answer to that once again requires you to answer “which one is ‘more good’”? It’s infinite regress. The only way to break it is via your personal desire.

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lukeprog September 26, 2009 at 4:01 pm

Sorry, JRL, I simply disagree. Many of my beliefs are not the product of desires.

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lukeprog September 26, 2009 at 4:03 pm

wrf3,

To me, “more good” just means “morally good.” And that kind of makes sense, because under my definition, generic goodness considers only the reasons for action in question (for example, my own desires), while moral goodness considers ALL the reasons for action that exist. That’s why “moral good” is “better” than “generic good.”

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wrf3 September 26, 2009 at 4:27 pm

lukeprog: Sorry, JRL, I simply disagree. Many of my beliefs are not the product of desires.

While that’s likely a true statement, the issue is which beliefs are a product of your desires. In the process of evaluating evidence, the moment you go from “is” to “ought” in order to reach a conclusion, then that conclusion is invalid — unless you disagree with Hume.

I showed how Beezlebub did this concerning the doctrine of original sin.
You’ve done this in your objection to the “His creation, His rules” rule.

JRL is trying to get you to see how your desires influence your choice of “moral realism” as an ethical basis. JRL is right but, at this point, I don’t know how to get you past your blind spot.

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wrf3 September 26, 2009 at 4:32 pm

lukeprog: wrf3,To me, “more good” just means “morally good.”

“morally good” is redundant.

And that kind of makes sense, because under my definition,

Which is? What is your definition of “morally good”?

generic goodness considers only the reasons for action in question (for example, my own desires), while moral goodness considers ALL the reasons for action that exist. That’s why “moral good” is “better” than “generic good.”

You still end up evaluating all the reasons based on your desires, as I showed in a prior post. If you don’t believe me, pick a controversial action, tell which choice you make, and your reasons for it. I’ll show you how it depends solely on your desires.

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JRL September 26, 2009 at 5:44 pm

lukeprog: Sorry, JRL, I simply disagree. Many of my beliefs are not the product of desires.

Luke, I’m beginning to suspect you aren’t even trying. We haven’t been talking about “many” of your beliefs, we’re talking about your moral beliefs.

Could you walk us through your thought process in the exercise I suggested? Or take up wrf3 on his challenge to state a controversial action…

If your moral beliefs are truly not a product of your desires, I’d really like to see how you managed to pull it off!

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wrf3 September 26, 2009 at 6:23 pm

JRL, what I find fascinating is the inability of atheists to see that they themselves are guilty of that which they accuse us. lukeprog’s latest post, Embarrassing Facts About Christians makes the oft repeated claim that Christians have an imaginary invisible friend for which there is no evidence.

In this post, his 3rd point question was: What is it like to literally admire someone who, according to your holy book, commanded genocide, rape, and baby-killing?

Now, in asking this, lukeprog has to assume at least one of the following is true:
1) That there exists a moral standard by which God may be judged, or
2) Absent a universal moral standard, man’s morality is somehow “more good” than God’s, so that man may validly judge God.

Both are fiction — invisible imaginary “friends” that atheists simply cannot produce. And they are fiction because they can be shown by logic and reason that neither exist.

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lukeprog September 26, 2009 at 7:33 pm

wrf3,

No, “morally good” is not redundant. For example, it is coherent to say that, “If you want to rob a bank, it’s good to bring a gun.” Why? Because “good” here is a generic kind of good which means merely “such as to fulfill the reasons for action in question.” In this case, the reasons for action in question are the robber’s desires to successfully rob the bank.

That’s what philosophers call a “prudential ought.” If you want this, then you “ought” to do X. But moral ought, in common terms, is something different. There are many definitions for moral ought, but the one I defend is that “morally good” means “such as to fulfill the most and strongest reasons for action.” (Notice there is no qualification, so this latter bit is implied: “…considering all the reasons for action that exist.”)

Now, many different moral philosophies can be interpreted as agreeing with me here. Nihilists could agree with me semantically but conclude that empirically, no objective reasons for action exist. Kantians could agree with me semantically, and conclude that universal maxims provide the overridingly strong reasons for action. Utilitarians could agree with me semantically, and make an intrinsic value argument that happiness is the overriding reason for action. Theists could agree with me semantically and say that God’s commands are stronger than any other reasons for action (for example, someone’s desires).

So prudential goodness and moral goodness are quite different, and I have presented a coherent and non-question-begging way of construing moral goodness as “better” than prudential goodness (because it considers all the reasons for action that exist, not just the ones in question at the moment).

Now, you challenged me to pick a controversial action, describe why it is morally wrong, and my reasons for believing this to be so. Then you said you’ll show me how it depends solely on my own desires.

Okay, here goes. Keep in mind that I have many and strong desires to eat meat. I eat bacon several times a week, meat pizza every other night, and tuna-and-spaghetti pretty regularly. However, I also believe (tentatively; I’m still researching this) that eating meat is immoral. Why? Because a person with good desires would not eat meat. Why? A good desire is one that tends to fulfill more and greater desires than it thwarts, and the desire to eat meat is not a good desire because it tends to thwart a massive number of very strong animal desires to not be grown in cages, mutilated and seared, scalded alive to remove hair, bled to death, and so on (as well as other desires that are thwarted by the massive amounts of agriculture that must be dedicated to grow animals for meat).

So I personally desire to eat meat but I believe that eating meat is immoral. I’m not sure how you will say my moral decision arises from my personal desires. But I’m sure if you stretch it far enough you can indeed do this, for a decision is an intentional action, and intentional action is a product of beliefs and desires, as desirism fully acknowledges.

I realize I make a lot of unsubstantiated claims in my moral reasoning. To substantiate them is the project of my under-construction ethics F.A.Q.

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lukeprog September 26, 2009 at 7:36 pm

wrf3: In this post, his 3rd point question was: What is it like to literally admire someone who, according to your holy book, commanded genocide, rape, and baby-killing?

Now, in asking this, lukeprog has to assume at least one of the following is true:
1) That there exists a moral standard by which God may be judged, or
2) Absent a universal moral standard, man’s morality is somehow “more good” than God’s, so that man may validly judge God.

Both are fiction — invisible imaginary “friends” that atheists simply cannot produce. And they are fiction because they can be shown by logic and reason that neither exist.

wrf3, the question above does not assume (1) or (2). It merely asks a person what their experience is of defending someone who performed a particular action.

However, as it happens I do think there is an objective moral standard by which God, if he existed, could be judged. And he would be judged as extremely immoral. Again, see my ethics FAQ.

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drj September 26, 2009 at 7:55 pm

wrf3: JRL, what I find fascinating is the inability of atheists to see that they themselves are guilty of that which they accuse us.lukeprog’s latest post, Embarrassing Facts About Christians makes the oft repeated claim that Christians have an imaginary invisible friend for which there is no evidence.In this post, his 3rd point question was:What is it like to literally admire someone who, according to your holy book, commanded genocide, rape, and baby-killing?Now, in asking this, lukeprog has to assume at least one of the following is true:
1)That there exists a moral standard by which God may be judged, or
2)Absent a universal moral standard, man’s morality is somehow “more good” than God’s, so that man may validly judge God.Both are fiction — invisible imaginary “friends” that atheists simply cannot produce.And they are fiction because they can be shown by logic and reason that neither exist.

I think the only assumption in “what is it like to literally admire…” question is that there is a widespread aversion to genocide and baby killing held among most people – one doesn’t even have to get to the level of a moral framework for the question to be relevant.

Now let me address the last reply you made to me – it was a while back.

I don’t think I disagree with your assessment that much, honestly (except for the theism part;)). In your post, you describe the conflict that arises between two minds each with differing subjective moral frameworks. You claim that since there is no moral standard, it ultimately comes down to “might makes right”. This, as you say, falls prey to Hume’s guillotine – there is no “ought”… only what wins, is. In a sense, I think this is true, but I will elaborate more in a sec.

I don’t see any relevant difference between this and your worldview… we are faced with the same dilemma, only one of the minds in conflict is God. The only minor difference in this conflict is that the balance of power is far less evenly distributed between a human mind and God’s mind, than with a human mind and another human mind. But even so, this system still falls prey to the guillotine in the exact same manner. No “ought” to be found. God simply exists, has a nature and subjective moral values that are a product of that nature, and as luck would have – the power to impose it anywhere.

In either case, God or no God, the weaker party simply subsumes the stronger parties moral system – even if not sincerely – to save his own skin – but there’s no reason the weaker party “ought” to save their own skin.

I don’t necessarily claim to know if any way to bridge this is-ought gap that would satisfy the really tenacious moral philosophers but I suspect the is-ought problem might just be a product of wrong ideas and questions. To divorce “good, evil, moral and immoral” from our shared desire to survive and thrive might simply be incoherent. It’s like trying to discover the purpose of purpose, or the meaning of meaning.

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JRL September 26, 2009 at 11:33 pm

Quite so, wrf3.

It will never cease to astonish me how many devotees of reason cannot see that their attacks on God’s morality are nothing but emotional outbursts.

Nothing wrong with emotion…it’s just, if you want do the reason & logic thing, let’s do that. If you want to whine about how God didn’t make or govern the world the way you wanted him to, don’t pretend you’re making a rational case for diddly squat.

…as it happens I do think there is an objective moral standard by which God, if he existed, could be judged. And he would be judged as extremely immoral.

Like so.

Hey, whatever. We all have blind spots.

Luke, disagreements aside, it’s been fun, thanks.

wrf3, keep on keepin’ on bro.

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Beelzebub September 27, 2009 at 12:03 am

wrf3: In any case, the way to show an assumption is wrong, whether it is the assumption “there is a god” or the assumption “there is not a god”, is not to deny the assumption, but show how the assumption leads to a contradiction. To do this, you have to work within the system formed by the assumption. What you cannot do is sneak your contrary assumption into the system when arguing against the system. This principle should be obvious to the most casual observer.

Yes, that is one means to logically reason, formally called reductio ad absurdum, but it’s only one among many. And then…

wrf3: Yet this is what you did. Here’s what happened:
1) You concluded that the doctrine of original sin is “unjust and ludicrous.”
2) “Justice” is based on morality, i.e. notions of good and evil.
3) For you to assert something to be “unjust and ludicrous”, then there has to be a standard by which things are measured.
4) In theism, that standard is the “ought” of the supreme being. In atheism, that standard is the “ought” of the individual.
5) You snuck in your assumption of atheism in step 4, by asserting that your “ought” takes precedence over that of the “supreme” being.

In that specific instance I wasn’t engaged in RAA since directly prior to stating it you will notice that I explicitly divorce myself from the Christian framework.

As per the quote from “Cool Hand Luke”: “I think what we have here is a failure to communicate.”

It’s as if you require that I argue from the Christian perspective and arrive at contradiction. Well, alright, if you insist:

Original Sin. It’s illogical, and not simply from my perspective but from a Christian perspective, and hence it poses a contradiction to any honest evaluator. How can sin be heritable? Even within the confines of Christian doctine, how is a person to be held responsible for something that they are not –by definition!– responsible for? Explicit contradiction, arrived at not by any imposition of my preference or desire.

Okay, now let me tell you what you’re probably going to do. First of all, given your history, you’re going to say that whatever predicament God places us in has to be “good” and moral anyway, which is just another way of saying that there’s NO way I can possibly arrive at contradiction. Well, wrf3, if that’s what I’m up against, then sorry, but I’ve got better things to do because this argument is stacked against me. Second, you might appeal to Scripture, and since you certainly have a better understanding of it than I do, you might find a tortuous means to rationalize the dilemma. Third — the ultimate Christian resort — you will punt by saying that this is mystery; it is moral, but only God can properly evaluate it.

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Beelzebub September 27, 2009 at 2:58 am

JRL: Like so.
Hey, whatever. We all have blind spots.
Luke, disagreements aside, it’s been fun, thanks.
wrf3, keep on keepin’ on bro.

Sorry, I just don’t see how you can think this is a blind spot. Given that some of the testimony of the OT is frightfully immoral in the eyes of practically everyone the world over, I can’t see how you can place such credence on the pure speculation that a tyrannical supreme being — who deserves no kind of opposition, no less! — warrants it. And for wrf3 — I’m not arguing in the Christian context, got it??!!

And besides, you’re quitting right as we’ve all got our stories straight. Quitter.

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Chuck September 27, 2009 at 5:58 am

If God were an alien who, 4 billion years ago, seeded the earth with the organic matter that would later give rise to all the forms of life, if he then left and later returned, and proceeded to do everything the Bible says he did, then we would all conclude he is an evil rat-bastard, and if he demanded that we all bow down and worship him or die, we would–as a planet–rise up and fight him with our dying breaths.

Whether or not God is immaterial is, well … immaterial.

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lukeprog September 27, 2009 at 6:35 am

Chuck: exactly.

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wrf3 September 27, 2009 at 8:35 am

lukeprog: Chuck: exactly.

Nobody is arguing that this is what you would do. The question you have to answer is: on what basis is your moral judgement superior to His? Do you really think that this being has to agree with whatever moral theory du jour you’ve come up with, whether it is “desire utilitarianism”, “enlightened self-interest”, “survival of the fittest”, or any other system which, at it’s core, is based on “this is the way I think things ought to be?”

Against all logic and reason, you actually think that you have valid grounds for judging god. Yet when asked to produce these grounds, they are more illusory than God Himself.

Man as god. It’s the oldest problem in the book.
Some things never change.

I’ll deal with the other, longer, posts after lunch.

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lukeprog September 27, 2009 at 9:59 am

wrf3,

You say that I’m in no position to judge God. This is such a common theistic claim, I will draft a post about it.

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JRL September 27, 2009 at 10:23 am

Beelz – Ha! I may visit again, who knows…

I start getting ADD after I catch a whiff of dead horse.

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wrf3 September 27, 2009 at 11:10 am

Beelzebub:
Sorry, I just don’t see how you can think this is a blind spot.

Because JRL and I can plainly see something that you can’t (or won’t).

Given that some of the testimony of the OT is frightfully immoral in the eyes of practically everyone the world over,

1) What makes you think that your moral sense is accurate?
2) Since you said, “practically everyone”, does this mean that you think that the moral principle that “the majority is morally right” is correct?

I can’t see how you can place such credence on the pure speculation that a tyrannical supreme being — who deserves no kind of opposition, no less! — warrants it.

Is there some part of “supreme” that you don’t understand? “Supreme”, except for the parts I, and perhaps others, don’t like?

And for wrf3 — I’m not arguing in the Christian context, got it??!!

I got that from the moment we began our discussion. Do you understand that that’s not the point? I’ll try once again to show you what the objection is.

Suppose you come to me with a proof in Euclidean geometry and you ask me to check it for you. I get to say, step 10, and I tell you, “step 10 is wrong because of this result from non-Euclidean geometry”.

If you’re at all logical, you’ll say to me, “you can’t use the results of a different axiom system to say that my proof is wrong.”

Are we agreed?

There is no objective moral system in atheism (because there is no objective moral system, period). Therefore, there is no other system by which one moral agent can judge another moral agent except by personal preference.

In atheism, by definition, there is no supreme moral agent. In theism, by definition, there is. So when you say, “this or that doctrine strikes me as ludicrous or unjust”, you are injecting the result of atheistic principles into a theistic system.

This you cannot do and claim to be logical at the same time.

And besides, you’re quitting right as we’ve all got our stories straight.Quitter.

My story hasn’t changed at all. And I’m still here.

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lukeprog September 27, 2009 at 11:32 am

wrf3: In atheism, by definition, there is no supreme moral agent.

Huh? Given atheism, there are by definition no gods. But as long as a supreme moral agent need not be a God, then atheism does not by definition exclude a supreme moral agent (whatever that means).

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wrf3 September 27, 2009 at 12:36 pm

lukeprog: wrf3,No, “morally good” is not redundant.

I’ll show you that it is.

For example, it is coherent to say that, “If you want to rob a bank, it’s good to bring a gun.” Why? Because “good” here is a generic kind of good which means merely “such as to fulfill the reasons for action in question.” In this case, the reasons for action in question are the robber’s desires to successfully rob the bank. That’s what philosophers call a “prudential ought.”

In this case, all you’re saying is that a gun is useful for a certain task. It’s a statement about what is, no different than “the sky is blue”. Good and evil, on the other hand, are concerned with value statements — what ought, or ought not, to be. In this case, language is hiding the correct abstraction of what is going on.

In this case, If you want this, then you “ought” to do X.

No, you “could” do that. You could also bring a knife, baseball bat, or something else that can be used as a force multiplier. Which one you ought to bring is a different type of question.

But moral ought, in common terms, is something different.

It’s different because it deals with the realm of imagination, where “ought” resides. “A gun is a force multiplier and a force multiplier is useful for robbing banks” is a statement of fact.

There are many definitions for moral ought,

Then how can it be an objective truth if we can’t agree on what it is?

but the one I defend is that “morally good” means “such as to fulfill the most and strongest reasons for action.” (Notice there is no qualification, so this latter bit is implied: “…considering all the reasons for action that exist.”)Now, many different moral philosophies can be interpreted as agreeing with me here. Nihilists could agree with me semantically but conclude that empirically, no objective reasons for action exist. Kantians could agree with me semantically, and conclude that universal maxims provide the overridingly strong reasons for action. Utilitarians could agree with me semantically, and make an intrinsic value argument that happiness is the overriding reason for action.

Thereby violating Hume, as well as the tenets of the famous philosopher Eeyore.

Theists could agree with me semantically and say that God’s commands are stronger than any other reasons for action (for example, someone’s desires).

If they did, they would be wrong to do so. By definition, a supreme being determines supreme values. As Vox so eloquently put it, “His game, His rules.”

So prudential goodness and moral goodness are quite different, …

Only because you used verbal sleight-of-hand to hide abstraction layers

… and I have presented a coherent and non-question-begging way of construing moral goodness as “better” than prudential goodness (because it considers all the reasons for action that exist, not just the ones in question at the moment).

But the reasons for action are themselves value judgements, so all you’re doing is saying “One needs to consider all values in order to choose which value to value”. I’ve already dealt with this problem. The only way you can break the recursion by your personal desire.

Too, Now, you challenged me to pick a controversial action, describe why it is morally wrong, and my reasons for believing this to be so. Then you said you’ll show me how it depends solely on my own desires.Okay, here goes. Keep in mind that I have many and strong desires to eat meat. I eat bacon several times a week, meat pizza every other night, and tuna-and-spaghetti pretty regularly.

Just a tangent, but is that tuna with spaghetti? I’ve never tried that combination. Is it good? (See? Did I ask you, “is it tasty”, or did I ask you, “ought tuna to be combined with spahgetti?”)

However, I also believe (tentatively; I’m still researching this) that eating meat is immoral. Why? Because a person with good desires would not eat meat. Why? A good desire is one that tends to fulfill more and greater desires than it thwarts,

Really? So morality is decided by majority rule?

and the desire to eat meat is not a good desire because it tends to thwart a massive number of very strong animal desires to not be grown in cages, mutilated and seared, scalded alive to remove hair, bled to death, and so on (as well as other desires that are thwarted by the massive amounts of agriculture that must be dedicated to grow animals for meat).So I personally desire to eat meat but I believe that eating meat is immoral. I’m not sure how you will say my moral decision arises from my personal desires.

Trivially easy. Your allow your desire to be “moral” to trump your desire to eat meat.

What I find fascinating is how you claim that the desires of the few should be subjugated to the desires of the many — the “moral majority” as it were.

I suspect you’ll be retracting that notion very quickly.

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wrf3 September 27, 2009 at 1:06 pm

lukeprog:
Huh? Given atheism, there are by definition no gods. But as long as a supreme moral agent need not be a God, then atheism does not by definition exclude a supreme moral agent (whatever that means).

It’s because you don’t know what it means that you aren’t sure about my statement. Who (or what) would be a supreme moral agent in atheism, and why?

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lukeprog September 27, 2009 at 1:41 pm

wrf3,

You have completely misunderstood by moral claims, my moral reasoning, and my value semantics. So much so that it would take a long time to explain all the misunderstandings you made. For now, I can only point you to my ethics FAQ and my ethics book.

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lukeprog September 27, 2009 at 1:43 pm

wrf3: Who (or what) would be a supreme moral agent in atheism, and why?

Let’s say there was no God, but intrinsic value did exist. And let’s say the only acts that had intrinsic value were those of a particular person. I think that person would qualify as a supreme moral agent, even if he was not supernatural (a quality generally required to qualify as a ‘god’).

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wrf3 September 27, 2009 at 1:46 pm

lukeprog: wrf3,You have completely misunderstood by moral claims, my moral reasoning, and my value semantics. So much so that it would take a long time to explain all the misunderstandings you made. For now, I can only point you to my ethics FAQ and my ethics book.

It isn’t that I’ve misunderstood them, it’s that I’ve shown them to be logically without merit. As one example, you said, “A good desire is one that tends to fulfill more and greater desires than it thwarts.” Taking it at face value this means that you think that the majority determines morality. Did I misunderstand you? If so, what did you really mean? If not, I can trivially show that you don’t really believe this to be true.

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wrf3 September 27, 2009 at 1:55 pm

lukeprog:
Let’s say there was no God, but intrinsic value did exist.

“Value” is a mental concept. So where does this “intrinsic value” reside?

And let’s say the only acts that had intrinsic value were those of a particular person.

By this, do you mean that every act by every other actor was judged to be immoral by this one being with “intrinsic value”?

I think that person would qualify as a supreme moral agent, even if he was not supernatural (a quality generally required to qualify as a ‘god’).

Think about it. Either this person is the only moral agent in the universe, or he/she/it isn’t. If he/she/it is alone, then we have the trivial case. No conflict can arise, since no other moral agency exists. If there are additional moral agents, why should they agree that this one posited being is the supreme moral agent? By fiat?

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Beelzebub September 27, 2009 at 2:03 pm

wrf3: If you’re at all logical, you’ll say to me, “you can’t use the results of a different axiom system to say that my proof is wrong.”
Are we agreed?

Yes, I agree with you completely, and if I’ve changed systems midstream it was only an error in my exposition and not a reflection of my thinking. I do think there’s been a general problem with who is asserting what under what assumptions. Very rarely do I attempt to do the reduction to absurdity thing with Christianity for the reasons I listed in my prior comment. I’ve been burned in that department once to often, and Christians tend to think they’re perfectly valid ways to proceed. They aren’t.

The problem as I see it is that “supreme being as absolute moral source” can be a perfectly consistent system and be perfectly wrong at the same time. As William Lane Craig once described with respect to the Resurrection, it’s not the Resurrection itself that seems unbelievable to skeptics but rather the proposition of God. If God really exists then the Resurrection and everything else in the Bible suddenly becomes absolutely believable. It all hinges on the existence of this supreme being, and this is an assumption on your part. It’s the pink elephant. The greatest part of your argument is not an axiomatic fact, but an axiomatic assumption.

Another aspect to these kinds of discussions is the tendency of Christians to invoke Occam’s razor and say that since they do have a simple system that seems consistent, that others–probably more complex or ill-defined–must necessarily be incorrect.

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wrf3 September 27, 2009 at 3:21 pm

Beelzebub:
Yes, I agree with you completely, and if I’ve changed systems midstream it was only an error in my exposition and not a reflection of my thinking.

Not true. I call your attention to this prior statement, “Given that some of the testimony of the OT is frightfully immoral in the eyes of practically everyone the world over…”

The moment you argue against God based upon this, you’ve changed systems midstream.

The problem as I see it is that “supreme being as absolute moral source” can be a perfectly consistent system and be perfectly wrong at the same time.

Sure. But what reasons do you give for it being wrong? You can’t use your moral outrage as a reason. All that amounts to is, “I don’t like it so it’s wrong.”

As William Lane Craig once described with respect to the Resurrection, it’s not the Resurrection itself that seems unbelievable to skeptics but rather the proposition of God. If God really exists then the Resurrection and everything else in the Bible suddenly becomes absolutely believable.

Do you really believe that?

It all hinges on the existence of this supreme being, and this is an assumption on your part.

Of course it is! I said so myself in this thread on 9/20. Guess what? So is the “no god” position.

It’s the pink elephant.

Call it what you will, you’re no better off.

The greatest part of your argument is not an axiomatic fact, but an axiomatic assumption.

All axioms are assumptions of fact.

Another aspect to these kinds of discussions is the tendency of Christians to invoke Occam’s razor and say that since they do have a simple system that seems consistent, that others–probably more complex or ill-defined–must necessarily be incorrect.

But I won’t do that. To be considered true, a system:
1) Must be internally consistent, and
2) Must correspond to the external world.

Christianity succeeds much better than atheism on these grounds.

Now, do I need to fisk your last attempt with the doctrine of original sin? Oh, why not. Same mistakes, yet again.

Original Sin. It’s illogical, and not simply from my perspective but from a Christian perspective, and hence it poses a contradiction to any honest evaluator. How can sin be heritable?

“Original sin” means that we have the same broken moral compass that Adam ended up with. Because we have a broken moral compass, we judge God by it. That is, we refuse to acknowledge the God is the supreme arbiter of values. We inherit it the same way we inherit cognition.

Even within the confines of Christian doctine, how is a person to be held responsible for something that they are not –by definition!– responsible for? Explicit contradiction, arrived at not by any imposition of my preference or desire.

Here you insert the assumptions of atheism back into the argument; namely, that man must be free in order to be responsible. The response is, “man is responsible by divine fiat!” “But that’s not fair,” you reply. As St. Paul said, “who are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’”?

No contradiction at all — just a divine value system that you happen to think is unfair, based on your broken moral compass, and not on the fantasy of “objective moral values” that lukeproj keeps asserting exist.

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lukeprog September 27, 2009 at 3:56 pm

wrf3,

No. You misunderstand my moral theory. My moral theory is that moral value is derived from a universal consideration of reasons for action that exist. What is logically without merit about this?

Intrinsic value is not instantiated. But that does not mean it is impossible.

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Beelzebub September 27, 2009 at 11:18 pm

wrf3: Not true. I call your attention to this prior statement, “Given that some of the testimony of the OT is frightfully immoral in the eyes of practically everyone the world over…”
The moment you argue against God based upon this, you’ve changed systems midstream.

That’s ridiculous. I specifically told you that I wasn’t arguing in the Christian framework. Now you’re actually beginning to get incoherent. Are you now saying that I must not argue against God unless I’m within the Christian framework? Your story does indeed seem to be changing.

wrf3: All axioms are assumptions of fact

Technically, I’ll agree to that, but some axioms are more plausible than others. Just to set the record straight “there is a God” and “there is not a God” are equally unproven, formally. Whether you place great import on the plausibility of your axioms depends on how much you’re willing to be surprised by the consequence of your reasoning, so…

wrf3: “Original sin” means that we have the same broken moral compass that Adam ended up with. Because we have a broken moral compass, we judge God by it. That is, we refuse to acknowledge the God is the supreme arbiter of values. We inherit it the same way we inherit cognition.

That is superfluous, or “word salad” in your lingo. What it means is that we’re responsible for something that we’re not responsible for, and this is a direct consequence of using “there is a God.”

wrf3: Here you insert the assumptions of atheism back into the argument; namely, that man must be free in order to be responsible. The response is, “man is responsible by divine fiat!” “But that’s not fair,” you reply. As St. Paul said, “who are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’”?

No, what I’m inserting into the argument is the elementary proposition that one must be responsible to be responsible. And, by the way, if I was made imperfectly, whose fault was that? Perhaps you think that I’m to be held responsible for being made imperfect? That’s twisted.

wrf3: No contradiction at all — just a divine value system that you happen to think is unfair, based on your broken moral compass, and not on the fantasy of “objective moral values” that lukeproj keeps asserting exist.

wrf3, I’m not sure how close I have to get your nose to it, but when you arrive at a contradiction as lexically simple as “responsible for something you’re not responsible for,” well, just trust me, something stinks. Now, you can insist on no contradiction all day, put I say the parrot is dead and not sleeping.

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wrf3 September 28, 2009 at 5:12 am

lukeprog: wrf3,No. You misunderstand my moral theory. My moral theory is that moral value is derived from a universal consideration of reasons for action that exist. What is logically without merit about this?

First, in your FAQ, you state: “Thus, a right act is one that a person with good desires would perform, and a bad act is one that a person with good desires would not perform.” This says two things. “Bad” is not “good”. Ok, that’s not controversial, it’s simply the application of “not” to something. But it also says, “a right act is one done by good desires”. Since in this context “right” simply means “good”, it says “a good act is one done by good desires” or “good desires lead to good acts”. But this is a tautological statement: good (is/promotes/leads to) good. As such it doesn’t define what good is.

Second, the FAQ later says, “A good desire is one that tends to fulfill other desires.” Note that you put the qualifier “good” on the first desire, but no qualifier on the other desires. Now, I suppose you don’t mean to say “a good desire is one that tends to fulfill other bad desires” (if you do, you need to clarify it); so we’re back to “good fulfills good”. That doesn’t define what “good” is.

Third, it begs the question “why is it good to fulfill some desires and bad to thwart other desires?”

Fourth, it’s ill-specified. Whose desires? The desires of all people everywhere? If so, it’s hardly computable. Should the desires of the our ancestors be considered (that is, does tradition play a role)? Should the desires of our descendants be considered? If so, how will we know what they are? Should the desires of the mentally incompetent or insane be considered? How about animals? Do they have desires? If so, why (or why not) should they be considered?

Fifth, it fails the boundary condition test. Suppose there are two, and only two, agents with desires. Further suppose that their desires are opposed to each other. How can they determine which action(s) are good?

Sixth, it appears that a moral ought has snuck into the definition via the concept of “the most desires”, i.e. the notion that it is good to fulfill the most desires. The problem of circularity was the first issue; here, the problem is with “most”. It appears to favor a “majority rules” type of minority which, I suspect, you’ll be quick to disclaim.

Intrinsic value is not instantiated.

I don’t understand this. Can you elaborate on what you mean?

But that does not mean it is impossible.

What is impossible? Intrinsic value? In section 2.0.1 of your FAQ you state, “Intrinsic value does not exist.”

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wrf3 September 28, 2009 at 5:15 am

wrf3: It appears to favor a “majority rules” type of minority which, I suspect, you’ll be quick to disclaim.

… type of morality…

That’s what I get for being in a hurry.

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wrf3 September 28, 2009 at 6:41 am

Beelzebub:
That’s ridiculous.I specifically told you that I wasn’t arguing in the Christian framework.Now you’re actually beginning to get incoherent.Are you now saying that I must not argue against God unless I’m within the Christian framework?Your story does indeed seem to be changing.

No, I’m not saying that you can’t argue against God. I’m also not saying that you can only argue against God within the Christian framework.

What I am saying, is that you can’t use atheistic morality to say that Christian morality is wrong. What you have been doing is this:
1) Christianity makes some statement about morality that I find objectionable.
2) I have no basis for my morality other than my personal preference.
3) My personal preference takes precedence over that of the supreme being.
4) Therefore, Christianity is wrong.

Morality is not a statement of fact; it’s a statement of opinion. You might as well say that since you don’t like my opinions that I don’t, or can’t, exist.

Logic doesn’t work that way.

wrf3: All axioms are assumptions of fact.

Technically, I’ll agree to that, but some axioms are more plausible than others. Just to set the record straight “there is a God” and “there is not a God” are equally unproven, formally. Whether you place great import on the plausibility of your axioms depends on how much you’re willing to be surprised by the consequence of your reasoning, so…

I’m not surprised to find that my moral compass doesn’t always match God’s. His game, His rules. The atheist says, “no one’s game, my rules”.

wrf3: Original sin” means that we have the same broken moral compass that Adam ended up with. Because we have a broken moral compass, we judge God by it. That is, we refuse to acknowledge the God is the supreme arbiter of values. We inherit it the same way we inherit cognition.

That is superfluous, or “word salad” in your lingo.What it means is that we’re responsible for something that we’re not responsible for, and this is a direct consequence of using “there is a God.”

That’s not what it says. It says that we are responsible for something over which we had no control. That’s a different statement. You can argue, “that’s not fair”, but you’re doing so not from some objective basis of morality, but on your own opinion. Characters in a book don’t have control over their own actions, either, yet they are judged by the author. So it isn’t an unfamiliar concept to you; it just doesn’t match your view of reality that you are an autonomous agent.

No, what I’m inserting into the argument is the elementary proposition that one must be responsible to be responsible.

You’re hiding the assumption of free agency in your definition, which is contrary to fact.

And, by the way, if I was made imperfectly, whose fault was that?

Depends on the intent of the Creator, doesn’t it? As an artist, if I want to make something to throw away, that’s my business. In my profession, I write throw-away code all the time. If it were self-aware, I suspect it would accuse me of all shorts of unfair practices as I killed it’s process then erased the source code.

Perhaps you think that I’m to be held responsible for being made imperfect? That’s twisted.

You’re a creation that argues with it’s creator with the basis that your opinion is better than His. You deny the “His game, His rules” rule. I’d flush an uppity AI like that, too. And I’d make sure it’s last “thoughts” were “you’re not fair…..”

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Chuck September 28, 2009 at 6:51 am

wrf3:
Nobody is arguing that this is what you would do. The question you have to answer is: on what basis is your moral judgement superior to His? Do you really think that this being has to agree with whatever moral theory du jour you’ve come up with

Are you talking about “God” or the alien impersonator?

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wrf3 September 28, 2009 at 7:28 am

Chuck:
Are you talking about “God” or the alien impersonator?

I took it as a flawed metaphor of God and based my comments on that. If that wasn’t the right thing to do, let me know and I’ll re-address the question.

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lukeprog September 28, 2009 at 7:38 am

wrf3: But this is a tautological statement: good (is/promotes/leads to) good. As such it doesn’t define what good is.

Desirism claims that desires, not acts, are the primary objects of moral evaluation. As such, everything else has that has moral value is derivative of the moral value of desires. That is why a right act is an act a person with good desires would perform. (I say “right” because philosophers usually refers to acts as “right” and “wrong,” but they refer to desires and laws and outcomes as “good” or “evil.”) So yeah, the definition of a right act just passes the buck to desires, which are the primary objects of moral evaluation because they are the only reasons for action that exist.

Good desires are those that tend to fulfill more and stronger reasons for action than they thwart. But as it happens, desires are the only reasons for action that exist, so a good desire is one that tends to fulfill more and stronger desires than it thwarts (among all desires). A good desire does not just fulfill other “good” desires, for there is no way way to say that certain desires are good or bad before analyzing their relations to other desires. (That is, there are no intrinsically good desires or intrinsically bad desires. The desire to rape is not a bad desire from the start; it is only a bad desire because it – contingently, in our universe – tends to thwart other desires.)

wrf3: “why is it good to fulfill some desires and bad to thwart other desires?”

It’s not. There is no intrinsic distinction between the value of different desires.

wrf3: Fourth, it’s ill-specified. Whose desires? The desires of all people everywhere? If so, it’s hardly computable. Should the desires of the our ancestors be considered (that is, does tradition play a role)? Should the desires of our descendants be considered? If so, how will we know what they are? Should the desires of the mentally incompetent or insane be considered? How about animals? Do they have desires? If so, why (or why not) should they be considered?

All the desires that exist, for there is no intrinsic reason to discount certain desires. So this includes human and animal desires. If computers and machines have desires, their desires must be included as well. But the desires of our dead ancestors and unborn descendants do not yet exist. (At least, this is true if an A-Theory of time is true. I haven’t yet explored the consequences of a B-Theory of time.)

Re: computability, my first response is: “Gee, that’s too bad, but that doesn’t change the fact that the theory is more probably true than other theories.” But now, think of temperature. We didn’t always have super-accurate thermometers, but we were still aware that some things were warmer than others. Likewise, we are aware that a nuclear bomb dropped in L.A. thwarts more desires than me scratching my finger. We will get better at measuring desires as our tools get better, just like we got better at measuring temperature. And, you might be surprised how accurately we can measure desires already. The economist’s ‘Willingness to Pay’ experiments come to mind.

wrf3: Fifth, it fails the boundary condition test. Suppose there are two, and only two, agents with desires. Further suppose that their desires are opposed to each other. How can they determine which action(s) are good?

See the answers to “Okay, so how do I use desirism to make moral decisions? What should I do?” over here.

wrf3: Sixth, it appears that a moral ought has snuck into the definition via the concept of “the most desires”, i.e. the notion that it is good to fulfill the most desires. The problem of circularity was the first issue; here, the problem is with “most”. It appears to favor a “majority rules” type of minority which, I suspect, you’ll be quick to disclaim.

How does the word ‘most’ sneak an ‘ought’ into things? And what is wrong with saying a morally good desire is one that tends to fulfill more and stronger desires than it thwarts? BTW, this does not corrupt desirism with all of the “majority evil” problems suffered by theories of act utilitarianism.

wrf3: What is impossible? Intrinsic value? In section 2.0.1 of your FAQ you state, “Intrinsic value does not exist.”

I don’t see any reason to think intrinsic value is logically impossible, it just happens to not exist in our universe. That’s what it means to say it is not instantiated.

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Chuck September 28, 2009 at 9:23 am

wrf3:
I took it as a flawed metaphor of God and based my comments on that. If that wasn’t the right thing to do, let me know and I’ll re-address the question.

Keeping in mind, I don’t think YHWH exists …

But if he did, I would hold him to the same standard he laid out for us: Don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t kill, etc.

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wrf3 September 28, 2009 at 10:44 am

Chuck:
Keeping in mind, I don’t think YHWH exists …But if he did, I would hold him to the same standard he laid out for us: Don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t kill, etc.

On what basis? There is no subjective morality; why should YHWH follow the rules you want Him to?

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wrf3 September 28, 2009 at 10:44 am

Chuck:
Keeping in mind, I don’t think YHWH exists …But if he did, I would hold him to the same standard he laid out for us: Don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t kill, etc.

On what basis? There is no objective morality; why should YHWH follow the rules you want Him to?

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Chuck September 28, 2009 at 10:59 am

Not my rules.

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wrf3 September 28, 2009 at 11:41 am

Chuck: Not my rules.

His rules for us. Why do they apply to Him?

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Beelzebub September 29, 2009 at 12:33 am

To backtrack a little, I neglected this:

wrf3: As William Lane Craig once described with respect to the Resurrection, it’s not the Resurrection itself that seems unbelievable to skeptics but rather the proposition of God. If God really exists then the Resurrection and everything else in the Bible suddenly becomes absolutely believable.
Do you really believe that?

“Absolutely believable” might be a little overstatement, but I would say that the otherwise insane events recounted in the Bible at least become plausible if God exists. Without God, of course, The Bible is bunk as cosmology, though not (completely) as history or, some would argue, “spiritual guide,” whatever that happens to mean. The trouble here is that if G-d, God, god, or gods exist than almost any religion is automatically upgraded in plausibility.

wrf3: That’s not what it says. It says that we are responsible for something over which we had no control. That’s a different statement. You can argue, “that’s not fair”, but you’re doing so not from some objective basis of morality, but on your own opinion. Characters in a book don’t have control over their own actions, either, yet they are judged by the author. So it isn’t an unfamiliar concept to you; it just doesn’t match your view of reality that you are an autonomous agent.

You’re playing with the semantics of “responsibility,” which isn’t so terrible owing to the fact that “responsible” is just a word I chose to describe it, but you should probably pick a better one if that’s what you mean. It is true that a person can be held responsible or accountable for events outside his control. A captain of a ship or plane is said to be ultimately responsible for the events that transpire on his craft, but this is a mantle he assumes himself, by his own free will. What you are describing is arbitrary punishment, not accountability, which is also fine, under your system, so long as you’re okay with arbitrary punishment. And actually it’s even worse than that because in order to be “punished” one must have done something wrong. But in the context of finding contradictions within your absolutism, are you okay with a creator who dishes out arbitrary punishment? Still willing to call it good?

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wrf3 September 29, 2009 at 5:21 am

Beelzebub: To backtrack a little, I neglected this:

Actually, you’ve neglected more than that. I have asked you several times, with no response, “on what basis is your value system ‘better’ than that of a supreme being?”

“Absolutely believable” might be a little overstatement, but I would say that the otherwise insane events…

And they are insane, because? It appears that some of the “insanity” is simply due to conflicting value systems, where you assert that your value system is superior to that of the supreme being. An argument that is contrary to logic and reason.

…recounted in the Bible at least become plausible if God exists. Without God, of course, The Bible is bunk as cosmology, …

Really? I’m not unacquainted with cosmology. Perhaps you’re dealing with a straw man?

…though not (completely) as history or, some would argue, “spiritual guide,” whatever that happens to mean.The trouble here is that if G-d, God, god, or gods exist than almost any religion is automatically upgraded in plausibility.

Sure. So? Are you going to be like Einstein, who discounted Quantum Mechanics because of his view that “God does not play dice with the universe?”

You’re playing with the semantics of “responsibility,” which isn’t so terrible owing to the fact that “responsible” is just a word I chose to describe it, but you should probably pick a better one if that’s what you mean.

Actually, it’s less that I’m playing with the semantics of ‘responsibility’, and more like I’m challenging your fundamental assertions about reality. You assume that man has free will (we do not), and you assume that responsibility without free will isn’t “fair” (there’s that value system issue, again).

It is true that a person can be held responsible or accountable for events outside his control. A captain of a ship or plane is said to be ultimately responsible for the events that transpire on his craft, but this is a mantle he assumes himself, by his own free will.

Really? Can you show me this free will? What’s the physical basis for its properties? Or is it as elusive as the god you claim doesn’t exist? You complain that we theists keep talking about a god for which we seem unable to provide evidence, yet your side is actually worse. Objective standards of morality. Free will. Show me that they are nothing more than imaginary constructs in your mind.

What you are describing is arbitrary punishment, not accountability, which is also fine, under your system, so long as you’re okay with arbitrary punishment.

In fact, I am. What part of “His game, His rules” do you not get? “Well, that doesn’t match what my personal value system says must be so, therefore it cannot be so.” And you wonder why the claim of atheism to be based in “reason” rings hollow to those of us who actually know what reason and logic are.

And actually it’s even worse than that because in order to be “punished” one must have done something wrong.

But, in Christianity, you have. Simple, really. This whole discussion has been evidence of the principle by which you base you life, namely, “His game, my rules“.

But in the context of finding contradictions within your absolutism, are you okay with a creator who dishes out arbitrary punishment? Still willing to call it good?

Sure. His game, His rules. “His will be done”, not “my will be done”.

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wrf3 September 29, 2009 at 5:23 am

lukeprog: …

Haven’t forgotten this. I may not be able to get to it until tonight or tomorrow, however.

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Chuck September 29, 2009 at 5:37 am

wrf3:
His rules for us.Why do they apply to Him?

As a parent, I don’t just make the rules, I also model them. Any good person would do the same. If you are willing to admit God is not “good” in the everyday sense, I will concede the point.

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wrf3 September 29, 2009 at 6:24 am

Chuck:
As a parent, I don’t just make the rules, I also model them. Any good person would do the same.

There you go again, inserting an unproven value judgement into your argument. Now, for human parents, I happen to agree with you on this particular statement, but perhaps for different reasons than you. In any case, you’re taking what you (think you) know about “good” behavior for humans and are applying it to God. Once again, I have to ask, why do you think you have the right to do that?

If you are willing to admit God is not “good” in the everyday sense, I will concede the point.

I’ll admit that we are not “good” according to God. If you’ve managed to slog through this thread, I think I’ve shown it to be the case that our moral sense is broken. That’s what the “fall” in Genesis is all about. The problem is that we think it’s God who isn’t “good”, while all along it’s we who aren’t “good”.

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lukeprog September 29, 2009 at 7:10 am

wrf3,

No worries and no rush. Even if you don’t reply for 10 days I’ll still read it and reply to it at that time.

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Chuck September 29, 2009 at 8:02 am

wrf3:

There you go again, inserting an unproven value judgement into your argument. Now, for human parents, I happen to agree with you on this particular statement, but perhaps for different reasons than you.In any case, you’re taking what you (think you) know about “good” behavior for humans and are applying it to God.Once again, I have to ask, why do you think you have the right to do that?

Because we’re talking about human behavior. Something I learned from parenting: If you want your children to behave a certain way, the second best thing you can do is model for them how you think they should behave. The third best thing is, tell them what they ought to do. The very best thing is, show and tell.

I’ve got to believe a Supreme Being would know at least this much, but that isn’t what we see.

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wrf3 September 29, 2009 at 9:22 am

Chuck:
Because we’re talking about human behavior.

You’re talking about human behavior. I’m talking about divine behavior.

Something I learned from parenting: If you want your children to behave a certain way, the second best thing you can do is model for them how you think they should behave. The third best thing is, tell them what they ought to do. The very best thing is, show and tell.

I don’t disagree with you. I have three children; the youngest being a senior in high school. But human behavior isn’t the point. “God is not a man…” “My ways are not your ways…”

I’ve got to believe a Supreme Being would know at least this much, but that isn’t what we see.

Of course He knows this. But He’s much more than just a human parent. What you see is being conditioned by your a priori assumptions about the way you expect God to act. Again, you’re letting your value system get in the way of the divine.

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Chuck September 29, 2009 at 10:06 am

wrf3:
You’re talking about human behavior. I’m talking about divine behavior.

No, I’m talking about divine knowledge of human behavior.

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wrf3 September 29, 2009 at 10:31 am

Chuck:
No, I’m talking about divine knowledge of human behavior.

I must disagree. You wrote “I’ve got to believe a Supreme Being would know at least this much, but that isn’t what we see.” That is, you’re talking about what God does. Your argument is “if God knew about human behavior He would act thusly…”. That is, if He knew what humans knew, He would put the same value on that knowledge that we humans do, and act accordingly. I don’t see Him acting like that, so I conclude He doesn’t know about humans.

His knowledge exceeds ours; it’s His value system that’s different.

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Chuck September 29, 2009 at 4:16 pm

Now you’re just putting words in my mouth.

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lukeprog September 29, 2009 at 4:27 pm

Guys, this is one conversation I don’t think is going anywhere anymore…

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wrf3 September 29, 2009 at 5:51 pm

Chuck my apologies if you think I put words in your mouth. That’s not my intent.

lukeprog three comments on “desire utilitarianism”. I’ve got more than that but, to echo your last comment, it looks like things are winding down.

First, the exhortation to use it because it is “most probably true”. Until you can overcome Hume, this isn’t a reason for choosing one ethical system over another. For example, I think I can prove that the premise “there is no god” leads to the result “might makes right.” Assume, solely for the sake of argument, with no admission that I’m anything other than full of it, that this is a true result. That doesn’t mean it’s a good result. Likewise, Beezlebub argues that if it is true that God is arbitrary that this is not good.

Second, the computability issue. You said,

… my first response is: “Gee, that’s too bad, but that doesn’t change the fact that the theory is more probably true than other theories.”

Aside from considerations from Hume, a moral system where answers can’t be computed isn’t useful. If consideration of N desires leads to one result, M desires might lead to another result.

You then said,

But now, think of temperature. …

I don’t need to know with any accuracy whether the temperature is 85, 95, or 105 degrees. Even though I don’t know the physical value with much, if any, precision I can make a precise value judgement: it’s too blasted hot. This shows that the notion of computability isn’t necessary for moral judgements.

Related to computability, you wrote:

Likewise, we are aware that a nuclear bomb dropped in L.A. thwarts more desires than me scratching my finger.

One of the questions I’ve had about measuring desires is whether N instances of 1 desire should be tallied as N or 1. From this example is appears that you are counting the desire of each individual as a unique desire. This leads to a “majority rules” ethical system.

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Chuck September 29, 2009 at 7:34 pm

One final thought. I need to investigate further, but my reading of Hume and the ‘is-ought gap’ is that nowhere does he say going from ‘is’ to ‘ought’ is impossible, just that he couldn’t think of a way.

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akakiwibear September 29, 2009 at 8:42 pm

lukeprog: I should probably write a post sometime on ‘Why I am an Atheist’,

That would be a really good idea!

Sala kahle -peace

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lukeprog September 29, 2009 at 8:42 pm

wrf3: Until you can overcome Hume, this isn’t a reason for choosing one ethical system over another.

Re: Hume. Again, please check the FAQ.

wrf3: Aside from considerations from Hume, a moral system where answers can’t be computed isn’t useful.

I’m not arguing that desirism is useful. I’m arguing that it’s true.

wrf3: I don’t need to know with any accuracy whether the temperature is 85, 95, or 105 degrees. Even though I don’t know the physical value with much, if any, precision I can make a precise value judgement: it’s too blasted hot. This shows that the notion of computability isn’t necessary for moral judgements.

Your last sentence comes out of nowhere. How is it connected to the rest of the paragraph?

wrf3: One of the questions I’ve had about measuring desires is whether N instances of 1 desire should be tallied as N or 1. From this example is appears that you are counting the desire of each individual as a unique desire. This leads to a “majority rules” ethical system.

That’s a question for neuroscientists. As for ‘majority rules,’ all I’m saying is that something is good if it causes more good than evil. Also, you seem to think desirism falls prey to the “majority rules” problems of act-utilitarian theories, but it does not.

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Beelzebub September 30, 2009 at 12:32 am

wrf3: Actually, you’ve neglected more than that. I have asked you several times, with no response, “on what basis is your value system ‘better’ than that of a supreme being?”

If there is a supreme being then I’m willing to concede that his/her/its value system (morals) is/are, by definition, better than mine and probably his taste in fashion as well. The issue is whether I am allowed to criticize Christian morals and use my objections as valid reasons to debunk Christianity. That is the entire issue. If you don’t agree with that, then don’t read on. Let’s summarize:

Beelzebub: Christian morals appear to be very dubious, perhaps unfair and incorrect (not good).

wrf3: Christian morals are by definition correct (good) because they come from a supreme being (God). Therefore, Beelzebub is being illogical when he says that any judgement, by him, of Christian morals can pertain to the verity of Christianity.

But, you see, this is simply not true, logically not true, and it doesn’t even matter what reasons I give as objection to Christian morals. wrf3 says God =>(implies) Christian morals. Beelzebub argues ~(not) Christian morals, therefore ~God (modus tollens). There is nothing at all illogical about that. Nothing. You are perfectly justified to object to my assumptions, my points against Christian morals, but you can’t call me illogical in making the argument above. It is totally logical.

wrf3: Objective standards of morality. Free will. Show me that they are nothing more than imaginary constructs in your mind.

“Objective” is not equal to “absolute.” Objective merely means not subjective, or something that can be derived my more than one individual. Therefore an objective moral standard can be anything that can be argued convincingly. It doesn’t have to be built into the fabric of the universe or come from God, it just has to make sense. Free will: For all practical purposes I think it can be said to exist, disregarding the probable theory that we are actually very complex machines and if we knew all the inputs and all the operational complexities of our minds, we could probably predict the output (decisions and behavior) in any given instance. This doesn’t particularly bother me, since nobody and nothing can presently do it.

wrf3: What you are describing is arbitrary punishment, not accountability, which is also fine, under your system, so long as you’re okay with arbitrary punishment.
In fact, I am. What part of “His game, His rules” do you not get? “Well, that doesn’t match what my personal value system says must be so, therefore it cannot be so.” And you wonder why the claim of atheism to be based in “reason” rings hollow to those of us who actually know what reason and logic are.

Well, wrf3, I refer you back to my first answer above. Let’s just say that the reprehensibility of “arbitrary punishment” is one of the antecedents to my (very logical) argument.

wrf3: Sure. His game, His rules. “His will be done”, not “my will be done”.

And this is actually how you think reality operates? Because, getting back to your and Vox Day’s founding reasons for accepting Christianity, you assessed the world and found that it fit the Christian model more than any other. How does the fact that we are all born corrupt and that we are all inherently defective fit with your view of reality? You and Vox Day, and all Christians, seem to place great import on the existence of evil. I believe Vox’s reply began with something like “I believe in Christianity because of evil…” So evil => God. So, does not God imply no evil? (MTT, again). Or more likely you go the other way no God imples no evil. Evil, therefore, God.

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wrf3 September 30, 2009 at 9:05 am

Chuck: One final thought. I need to investigate further, but my reading of Hume and the ‘is-ought gap’ is that nowhere does he say going from ‘is’ to ‘ought’ is impossible, just that he couldn’t think of a way.

He gave reasons for why he suspected that it was an insolvable problem — “is” and “ought” are two totally different kinds of things.

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Chuck September 30, 2009 at 9:25 am

Right, but as Luke pointed out, there is strong indication this problem is now solved.

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wrf3 September 30, 2009 at 9:51 am

Beelzebub:
If there is a supreme being then I’m willing to concede that his/her/its value system (morals) is/are, by definition, better than mine and probably his taste in fashion as well.The issue is whether I am allowed to criticize Christian morals and use my objections as valid reasons to debunk Christianity.That is the entire issue. If you don’t agree with that, then don’t read on. Let’s summarize:Beelzebub: Christian morals appear to be very dubious, perhaps unfair and incorrect (not good).wrf3: Christian morals are by definition correct (good) because they come from a supreme being (God).Therefore, Beelzebub is being illogical when he says that any judgement, by him, of Christian morals can pertain to the verity of Christianity.But, you see, this is simply not true, logically not true, and it doesn’t even matter what reasons I give as objection to Christian morals.wrf3 says God =>(implies) Christian morals.Beelzebub argues ~(not) Christian morals, therefore ~God (modus tollens).There is nothing at all illogical about that. Nothing. You are perfectly justified to object to my assumptions, my points against Christian morals, but you can’t call me illogical in making the argument above. It is totally logical.

Is it? First you say, “if God exists … his/her/its value system is better than mine.” Then you turn around and say, “my value system is better than God’s”. Do you not see the contradiction? You assert x and ~x in the same proof. Here’s a step by step demonstration of what the valid chain of reasoning would be:

1. A supreme being, God, exists. (axiom)
2. The value system of a supreme being is, well, supreme. (definition of supreme).
3. I find that my value system conflicts with that of the supreme being (self-reflection).

The problem is that you conclude “not God” on the basis of #3. In so doing, you contradict #2 by saying that your value system is “better” than the one that, by definition, is supreme.

The correct, logical conclusion is:
4. My value system is broken.

If you’re going to attack the axiom of “God”, then your “proof” isn’t it. It can be done, but not this way.

“Objective” is not equal to “absolute.”Objective merely means not subjective, or something that can be derived my more than one individual. Therefore an objective moral standard can be anything that can be argued convincingly.

You’re committing a category error. “is” and “ought” are not the same things. You can argue convincingly that something is, you can rationalize whether or not something ought to be, but such rationalizations are not binding on anyone else’s value system.

It doesn’t have to be built into the fabric of the universe or come from God, it just has to make sense.

You’re now arguing in a circle, because you’re saying “my notions of morality have to make moral sense.” To which the appropriate response is, “moral sense to whom?” You’re committing the same error here that you did in the first step: thinking that somehow your moral sense, or the moral sense of a number of people, is an moral standard to which others must agree. Nonsense. And you know it’s nonsense, since I guarantee you’ll be one of the first to agree that “the majority isn’t always (morally) right”.

Free will: For all practical purposes I think it can be said to exist, disregarding the probable theory that we are actually very complex machines and if we knew all the inputs and all the operational complexities of our minds, we could probably predict the output (decisions and behavior) in any given instance.This doesn’t particularly bother me, since nobody and nothing can presently do it.

We have free will, not from theoretical considerations, but because we can’t currently compute it? That’s not what “free will” means.

And this is actually how you think reality operates?

Yes.

Because, getting back to your and Vox Day’s founding reasons for accepting Christianity, you assessed the world and found that it fit the Christian model more than any other. How does the fact that we are all born corrupt and that we are all inherently defective fit with your view of reality?

It fits what I know from self-reflection. I do things I know I ought not to do; regardless of whose standards of “ought” I use. It’s true whether I use my own personal standards of “ought”, my parents, society, or the particular version of God I think has revealed Himself to man through His Son.

So what I know about myself from self-reflection fits Christianity exactly.

You and Vox Day, and all Christians, seem to place great import on the existence of evil. I believe Vox’s reply began with something like “I believe in Christianity because of evil…”So evil => God.So, does not God imply no evil? (MTT, again).Or more likely you go the other way no God imples no evil.Evil, therefore, God.

I won’t speak for Vox, but I’ve shown you several times now why this method of proof is self-refuting. One part of the proof denies what another part of the proof shows is true.

What I will say is that “evil” is simply the idea that things are not what they ought to be. Just like good (and beauty) is the idea that things are what they ought to be.

Why do I have the idea that I am not what I ought to be? Why does that seem to be the common condition of all mankind? I could wave my hands and concoct a story that it’s an accident that somehow enabled us to survive better (even though the rest of the animal kingdom gets along without it just fine). Or I could note that it’s the heart of the message of the Bible, starting with Genesis, and culminating in the arrival of One who claimed to be able to save us from ourselves. Time simply doesn’t permit me to list all of the reasons why I think Christianity is the better model. Maybe that will be my second book.

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wrf3 September 30, 2009 at 9:55 am

Chuck: Right, but as Luke pointed out, there is strong indication this problem is now solved.

Luke’s argument is as flawed a Beezlebub’s. Which I’lll show shortly, although you should be able to figure it out yourself from what Luke wrote: “all I’m saying is that something is good if it causes more good than evil.

That’s a basic logic error. Can you spot it?

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Chuck September 30, 2009 at 10:46 am

Alonzo’s argument. Did you read the two blog entries linked in the FAQ?

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wrf3 September 30, 2009 at 12:18 pm

Chuck: please check the FAQ

Alonzo makes a lot of arguments and there are a lot of links to his site in the FAQ. Could you be more specific?

Also, did you spot the basic error in logic in what Luke said?

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lukeprog September 30, 2009 at 2:22 pm

wrf3,

How can a stipulative definition commit a logical error?

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wrf3 September 30, 2009 at 3:14 pm

lukeprog: wrf3,How can a stipulative definition commit a logical error?

It’s circular. It boils down to “good is good”. “red is red” is true, but it defines nothing.

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wrf3 September 30, 2009 at 4:43 pm

I’m wearing out; winding down. So just some final comments on desire utilitarianism. Luke (or should I keep it at lukeprog?), I picked on your statement, “all I’m saying is that something is good if it causes more good than evil” for being circular (which it is). However, I have to give serious consideration to the non-circular formulation.

Now, another poster claimed that I was “putting words in his mouth”. That’s not my intent. However, part of the learning process often involves trying to put what is heard in one’s own words. If you agree with my (re)formulation, then that’s a pretty good indicator that I “get it”. If you don’t, then we have to do some analysis and try again. In that spirit…

Desire utilitarianism states that “goodness” is an emergent property of relations between desires (for action). Specifically, an action can be said to be “good” if it fulfills more desires than it denies.

Now, if this is accurate, then my first question is, how are desires enumerated? Do ten people, each with a desire for ice cream, count as ten desires, or as one? Suppose it’s the former, which I suspect from your FAQ that it is. The example was along the lines of “exploding an atomic bomb in a major population center thwarts more desires than it fulfills, therefore it is not good.” That is the desires of the individuals to live gives a higher total number of desires than the (allegedly one) person who wants to explode the bomb.” If this is so, it leads directly to “the majority defines goodness”. A simple thought experiment is useful. Suppose an interstellar spacecraft enters Earth orbit. They represent a population of 20 billion aliens who desire to take over the Earth for themselves. Numerically, their desires outweigh the desires of the 6 billion inhabitants of Earth. Desire utilitarianism says that the destruction of human life by this alien race is good. This result is counter to what we know by self-reflection. Whatever “good” is, few of us reckon it by majority considerations.

Another comment is the inability to compute a result. If we have to compare the number of desires fulfilled against the number of desires thwarted, we have to be able to enumerate the number of each type. This is clearly impossible, especially if we have to include the animal kingdom (as I believe your FAQ says must be done). If these numbers can’t be accurately determined then the result is meaningless. One might as well pick the desired result of the group making the calculation and then backfit the reasons.

The response to “it isn’t useful” was “nevertheless it’s most probably true.” The sky is blue is true, too; but that doesn’t mean one can’t assert that it ought to be a nice shade of red, like that of the planet Vulcan.

Which leads to my last thought for this particular post. Desire utilitarianism doesn’t match what we do. Goodness is like beauty; something is being compared to an ideal. We don’t weigh desires; we compare things to something we think is the epitome of its class. And that’s why Hume is such a problem: we compare the “real” to the ideal; we don’t demand that the ideal conform to the real. So goodness isn’t an emergent property of the relation of desires; goodness exists in the realm of ideas, independent of number of things in the real world.

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lukeprog September 30, 2009 at 7:21 pm

wrf3: Desire utilitarianism states that “goodness” is an emergent property of relations between desires (for action). Specifically, an action can be said to be “good” if it fulfills more desires than it denies.

I’m not sure what a “desire (for action)” is. Desirism claims that the most sensible definition of “good” which leads anywhere productive is “such as to fulfill the reasons for action in question.” It also claims that the most sensible definition of “moral good” merely considers ALL the reasons for action that exist, rather than the prudential ones related to the question at hand.

wrf3: If this is so, it leads directly to “the majority defines goodness”.

The difference here is that according to desirism, acts (such as detonating an atomic bomb) are not the primary objects of evaluation. Desires are. This is the single most common confusion about desirism. Don’t confuse desirism for act utilitarianism. That’s where you keep getting the “majority of desires” confusion from. See the FAQ.

I’ve already addressed computability.

Your final issue is an issue in moral semantics, one I don’t have time to address here.

These are all very understandable confusions; some of the same ones I had when I first encountered the theory. They are the reason I am writing my Intro to Ethics course (so we all understand what we’re actually arguing about) and why I’m developing my desirism FAQ. All I can say for now is “Stay tuned, hopefully it will get clearer.”

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Beelzebub September 30, 2009 at 7:28 pm

wrf3: First you say, “if God exists … his/her/its value system is better than mine.” Then you turn around and say, “my value system is better than God’s”. Do you not see the contradiction?

Yes, I do see the contradiction, but the logical conclusion from

1) if God exists then his values are best
2) his values aren’t best

is that God doesn’t exist. Now you are put in a position to argue for God’s existence by defending his morals, and the best you can come up with is ‘God exists’. This is a bald assertion, which is a logical fallacy, and this is essentially where your argument ends.

The debate I’ve been having with you has not been about proving the existence of God, it’s been about whether I’m being irrational to pit my moral values against Christian moral values. But I’m not being irrational, I’m being perfectly logical. You, on the other hand, have but one recourse, unless you choose to come out of your shell, and that is to retreat back to dogma. Because there are no “reasons” for your moral system other than the God hypothesis, there is little else you can do.

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Chuck September 30, 2009 at 8:13 pm

wrf3:
Alonzo makes a lot of arguments and there are a lot of links to his site in the FAQ.Could you be more specific?

Scroll down until you find the line that reads, “What about Hume’s is/ought gap?”

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wrf3 October 1, 2009 at 6:37 am

Beelzebub:
Yes, I do see the contradiction, but the logical conclusion from1) if God exists then his values are best
2) his values aren’t best is that God doesn’t exist.

It’s easy to show that this conclusion is wrong.

For the sake of illustration, let’s take God out of the picture and replace him with your parents. There are times in every child’s life when he/she concludes that his parents are morally wrong. “That’s not fair” is, after all, a common charge brought by kids.

What it means is that the child thinks his or her moral system is better than his parents. Now, it might be that the parents are wrong. It’s also possible that the child is wrong. But it certainly cannot be used to show that the parents don’t exist.

Now I suspect your response will be, “but God is supposed to have a perfect moral system, and His morality isn’t perfect.” What you’ve done is judge God’s system by your system. But, by definition, God is the final moral arbiter. His game, His rules. You cannot at the same time assert “God is the final moral arbiter” and “I am the final moral arbiter”. But that’s exactly what you’re doing.

Now you are put in a position to argue for God’s existence by defending his morals, and the best you can come up with is ‘God exists’.

That’s not the case. I don’t have to defend the morals of the ultimate moral arbiter. I have to defend mine.

… The debate I’ve been having with you has not been about proving the existence of God, it’s been about whether I’m being irrational to pit my moral values against Christian moral values.

What makes your moral standards worthy of being the standard against which to judge others? You obviously think very highly of your moral sense. Why should you?

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wrf3 October 1, 2009 at 9:10 am

Chuck:
Scroll down until you find the line that reads, “What about Hume’s is/ought gap?”

This is what I see:

      {3.12} What about Hume’s is/ought gap?

      To be added…

Now, I saw one post over on the site that Luke references that dealt with Hume. I can look for it again if, for some odd reason, you’re interested on my take on it. I wasn’t convinced and think I have excellent reasons why Alonzo’s arguments don’t succeed.

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Beelzebub October 1, 2009 at 2:12 pm

wrf3: That’s not the case. I don’t have to defend the morals of the ultimate moral arbiter. I have to defend mine.

You do if you want to engage my very simple argument. If you choose not to that’s fine, but don’t say I’m illogical to make it. You have to realize that the existence of God is not one of my premises. I’m logically allowed to argue against Christian morals and have that count against the God postulate specifically because of the Christian assertion that God’s morals must be perfect.

If anything the “his game, his rules” theory of morals is logical fallacy, since it rests solely on bald assertion. In centuries past this was enough, since nobody questioned the existence of God. God was as essential as the sun and earth. But that doesn’t cut it anymore. You certainly can’t just assert God in an atheist forum and expect to get away with it. The problem for you is that Christian morals are based on no more than “God commands it” so you have no way to reason about them, so you’re dead in the water — especially you and Vox, who take a rather extremist view on Christian morals. Basically, anything God does goes.

I suspect there isn’t much else we can discuss, so maybe we should switch to Luke’s new letter, if you’re still game.

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wrf3 October 1, 2009 at 3:04 pm

Beelzebub:
You do if you want to engage my very simple argument.

I’ve engaged your “very simple argument” several times already. Each time I’ve shown you the problem in your chain of reasoning. And each time I show you where it’s wrong, you don’t address the criticism, you simply reassert that you’re right. As the saying goes, there are none so blind as those who will not see.

If you choose not to that’s fine, but don’t say I’m illogical to make it.You have to realize that the existence of God is not one of my premises.

I’ve agreed with you each time you’ve said this. The problem is that you don’t understand this isn’t the problem.

I’m logically allowed to argue against Christian morals and have that count against the God postulate specifically because of the Christian assertion that God’s morals must be perfect.

And the question that you have consistently refused to answer is this: what standard of morality are you using to claim that Christian morality isn’t perfect? Either you’re claiming that there is an objective standard of morality against which God and men can be measured, or you’re simply using your personal preferences. If it’s the former, then show what this objective standard is. And if you’re going to claim an objective standard, let me give you these three quotations:

“We shall find beauty in the final laws of nature, [but] we will find no special status for life or intelligence. A fortiori, we will find no standards of value or morality”. — Steven Weinberg

“In his essay entitled Nonmoral Nature, Stephen Gould uses naturalistic observation to argue against the universality of human morality. He examines the debate from all sides and concludes that such concepts cannot realistically apply to nature as it does to man. However, if one examines the works of Charles Darwin, the discrepancies between man and nature begin to disappear. This view suggests that morality is a purely social construct. Proof of such a hypothesis is prevalent in many sources, such as literature or recent history. Following this logic, one must conclude that concepts of good and evil are altogether arbitrary, subjective, and unnatural.”

The existentialist, on the contrary, finds it extremely embarrassing that God does not exist, for there disappears with Him all possibility of finding values in an intelligible heaven. There can no longer be any good a priori, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. It is nowhere written that “the good” exists, that one must be honest or must not lie, since we are now upon the plane where there are only men. Dostoevsky once wrote did God did not exist, everything would be permitted”; and that, for existentialism, is the starting point. Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist, and man is in consequence forlorn, for he cannot find anything to depend upon either within or outside himself. — Jean Paul Sarte

If you decide to not take the objective morality path, then all you’re left with is your personal preference. And so the question you refuse to answer: what makes your personal preference the standard by which God will be judged?

If anything the “his game, his rules” theory of morals is logical fallacy, since it rests solely on bald assertion.

On the contrary, it rests on a universal definition of good and evil (to which I have given links several times) and the assertion that the supreme being is supreme. In all this time, you’ve never given a definition of what you mean by “good”. You haven’t criticized my definition, and you consistently stonewall every time I’ve asked you to provide yours.

Basically, anything God does goes.

That’s right. You don’t like the notion of “supreme”. Instead, you assert that your personal preferences are the standard by which everything must be judged.

I suspect there isn’t much else we can discuss, so maybe we should switch to Luke’s new letter, if you’re still game.

Here is what I wrote over at Vox’s site:

Unless both sides come to agreement on certain definitions the discussions will go nowhere, with both sides talking past each other. In particular is what is meant by “good”. Luke ascribes to the theory of “desire utilitarianism” which says that “goodness” is an emergent property of the relationship between desires. He uses this theory to show that dropping a nuclear bomb on a large city is “not good” because it “thwarts” more desires (e.g. the desire to live) than it enables (the desire to explode a nuclear weapon). I’m not quite clear on whose desires are counted (he says that the desires of animals have to be considered) or how they are counted (is the 1 desire of N people counted as 1 or N?). Too, he isn’t clear on how desires are known; it’s hard enough to know what makes people tick; also, it isn’t clear how he proposes to know the desires of animals. Yes, my dog wants steak, but beyond that?

The counting question is important because until it is resolved it appears that this theory is a version of “the majority is morally correct”. Since he insists that dropping a nuclear weapon is immoral I used a thought experiment to test his theory. Along the lines of “Independence Day”, suppose an interstellar battle cruiser entered Earth’s orbit and the aliens, a spacefaring race representing many billions more people (and animals) than Earth, decided to nuke Los Angeles. Would this additional number of desires affect the calculation so that the action was now moral? He declined to answer. I’m also curious to know what the theory says happens in case of a tie.

He has also brushed off the charge that this method can’t be calculated with any precision. IMO, one might as well flip a coin then backfit the reasons to the result. My charge is that “it isn’t useful”; his response is that this doesn’t matter as this theory “is most probably true”.

This runs afoul of Hume — that “is” does not imply “ought”. “The sky is blue” is a true statement but that doesn’t mean the sky ought to be blue. Some of us wish that it was the color of the sky of Vulcan. Our homeworld had such a beautiful atmosphere. But I digress. He believes that Hume is wrong, but the reasons aren’t convincing, IMO.

If you two can’t come to an agreement of what constitutes “good” then your realities will be so different that of course neither side will agree with the other about much of anything.

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lukeprog October 1, 2009 at 7:39 pm

wrf3,

See the older FAQ, which is the first link provided in the newest FAQ which you saw.

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K-Bo October 1, 2009 at 10:15 pm

wrf3, you are clearly a bright, logical person who is Christian. I also am a Christian, but don’t understand your perspectives on everything. Maybe you can explain.

My main problem is you saying we don’t have free will.
Then how can we be judged for anything, or anyone decide what is good to do if we have no choice in the matter?
If we have no free will, then we should just do whatever we want and get some satisfaction out of things, because that is what God created us to do (apparently we only do God’s will, that’s what it means that we don’t have free will, right?), and there can be no judgment on whether it is the right or wrong thing to do, since we ourselves didn’t choose it.
Second, you claim you know you do things you ought not to do. I certainly agree. I believe it’s called our conscience (which I believe is either what God put in us to help guide us and lead us to Him and to love, or else evolution selected for this mental feature in order to keep the species going). Now how is it possible for someone to do the wrong thing (what he ought not to do) when he did not choose to do so? If it’s God’s rules and God is always right, and we always do God’s will (not our own free will), then how can you do something against God’s will? It’s like saying it’s God’s will to do something against God’s will. Please show me the logic that explains this.

Does not Christianity say that we will be judged, and that Jesus will judge us based on how well we loved others? Well if we didn’t have any choice in the matter, then how is it possible for us to be judged?

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K-Bo October 1, 2009 at 10:23 pm

and wrf, I read your definition of good, which is when something “is” closer to how it “ought” to be. Then you say only God decides how things ought to be. How are we supposed to know which voice of “God” is the right one to tell us how things ought to be – practically speaking? I think you make judgments of morality based on how it feels to you, on introspection of what your concept of God is telling you the way things should be. How does one know what God wants us to do?

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Beelzebub October 1, 2009 at 11:43 pm

wrf3: And the question that you have consistently refused to answer is this: what standard of morality are you using to claim that Christian morality isn’t perfect?

It doesn’t matter all that much since the problem isn’t one of morality but amorality. It’s not that your system has one moral standard for God and one for Man. To you God has no moral standard, God is amoral, he is exempt from morals. Morals only pertain to us lowly humans; we are the only domain in which morals operate. As Luke outlined in the footnotes of his new letter, the “God’s game, God’s rules” scenario basically erases the disciple of moral philosophy. But I would argue that it simply cuts us loose from any kind of obligation to your God. Since your God is amoral, beyond good and evil, we are free to call him evil by our own standards. So it doesn’t really matter what moral system I wield. Almost any will do. We are left with the task to devise one that optimizes our happiness.

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Beelzebub October 1, 2009 at 11:50 pm

..and as a corollary, you have to admit that I can even use the Christian moral standard to implicate God in evil. Remember, by your own admission, all morals are relative. God is not evil to God, because God is amoral; it is simply non sequitur, and this has been your point all along. But you and I are free to call God evil, and why shouldn’t we? We’re the only ones who can!

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wrf3 October 2, 2009 at 4:58 pm

K-Bo: and wrf, I read your definition of good, which is when something “is” closer to how it “ought” to be.Then you say only God decides how things ought to be.How are we supposed to know which voice of “God” is the right one to tell us how things ought to be – practically speaking?

On the one hand, I think that the evidence lands on the side of Christianity. I’ve claimed (and so need to prove) that from considerations of what we know to be self-evidently true (for both atheist and theist), plus the assumption of a creator God, leads directly to the Christian doctrines of the fall, justification by faith, and salvation by grace. In addition, the historical evidence for the Resurrection is compelling. Nevertheless, even with all of this, you simply have to trust God to lead you where you need to be. And even this is fundamentally Christian — “he makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me besides still waters, he restores my soul.”

I think you make judgments of morality based on how it feels to you, on introspection of what your concept of God is telling you the way things should be.

I think I know me a little better than that. After all, I’m the one who keeps noting in Sunday School that St. Paul did not write, “from feelings to feelings, the just shall live by feelings.”

How does one know what God wants us to do?

Jesus, IMO, gave the best answer: “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”

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wrf3 October 2, 2009 at 5:13 pm

K-Bo: wrf3, you are clearly a bright, logical person who is Christian.I also am a Christian, but don’t understand your perspectives on everything.Maybe you can explain.My main problem is you saying we don’t have free will.
Then how can we be judged for anything, or anyone decide what is good to do if we have no choice in the matter?

Regarding, “how can we be judged”, note that the issue you have is one of fairness, which is an issue of morality. Like most of us, myself included, you have been raised to hold that judgement requires freedom. Romans 9, however, deals with this issue: “You will say to me then, ‘why does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?’” Based on this, my answer is that we are judged by divine fiat.

If we have no free will, then we should just do whatever we want and get some satisfaction out of things, because that is what God created us to do (apparently we only do God’s will, that’s what it means that we don’t have free will, right?),

I agree with you. The key word is “want”. The rebirth changes what one wants.

… Second, you claim you know you do things you ought not to do. I certainly agree. I believe it’s called our conscience (which I believe is either what God put in us to help guide us and lead us to Him and to love, or else evolution selected for this mental feature in order to keep the species going).Now how is it possible for someone to do the wrong thing (what he ought not to do) when he did not choose to do so?

St. Paul gives two explanations. Well, it’s actually the same explanation, from two different views. In Romans 7, he wrote, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. … But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. Then, in Galatians, he wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.Note how Paul uses the phrase, “not I but…”

If it’s God’s rules and God is always right, and we always do God’s will (not our own free will), then how can you do something against God’s will?It’s like saying it’s God’s will to do something against God’s will.Please show me the logic that explains this.

Think of the analogy of an author. The “bad guys” in the book, on the one hand, do exactly what he wants them to do; on the other hand, they don’t because it isn’t what the author him/herself would do.

Does not Christianity say that we will be judged, and that Jesus will judge us based on how well we loved others?

Yes to the first (we will be judged); no to the second (how well we loved others). We will be judged whether or not Jesus died for us.

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wrf3 October 2, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Beelzebub:
It doesn’t matter all that much since the problem isn’t one of morality but amorality.It’s not that your system has one moral standard for God and one for Man. To you God has no moral standard, God is amoral, he is exempt from morals.

I just can’t fathom how you can so completely misstate my position. It is that “my” system has one moral standard for God and one for Man. Actually, the more accurate statement would be: it is the case that there is one moral standard for God and one moral standard for each and every man. Even better, God and man are moral agents, where each determines what is good and evil by their own personal preference.

Morals only pertain to us lowly humans; we are the only domain in which morals operate.

Not true. Just as you have a moral assessment of God, God has a moral assessment of you.

As Luke outlined in the footnotes of his new letter, the “God’s game, God’s rules” scenario basically erases the disciple of moral philosophy.

Luke doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

But I would argue that it simply cuts us loose from any kind of obligation to your God.

You wish.

Since your God is amoral, beyond good and evil, we are free to call him evil by our own standards. So it doesn’t really matter what moral system I wield.Almost any will do.We are left with the task to devise one that optimizes our happiness.

So you aren’t happy in the presence of God who says, “My moral judgements take precedence over yours. My game, my rules — not your game, your rules (which you are still, after all this time, trying to assert. Genesis pegged you to a tee, “they have become like god knowing good and evil”)”

I can guarantee you that you won’t be happy away from His presence.

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Beelzebub October 3, 2009 at 1:14 am

wrf3,

I’m not even going to fisk anything you said because my point is very simple. The God that you envision has no moral standard, save caprice, which is not a moral standard. You’re a smart guy, and I truly believe this aspect of your view of God is not going to withstand scrutiny. Your God has no morals because he is ultimately free to do whatever he wants. One day he can call a thing good or bad, the next he can reverse it. He can even do things that he considers evil. He is free to indulge his whimsy. You even waive the conditional that “He wouldn’t do that.” He is an amoral agency, precisely because there are no rules he has to follow, or will follow.

Outside the ontological problems this poses, it doesn’t fit with reality either. Gravity doesn’t reverse itself as a random process. The boiling point of water doesn’t suddenly drop by 100 degrees. It appears that whatever force controls this universe is not governed by caprice, but set laws. How long they will remain in force we do not know, more than likely until the end of time. But I can tell you one thing, the idea that there is a cosmic brat at the helm does not make sense.

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Beelzebub October 3, 2009 at 1:16 am

wrf3,
I’ll come back and read any reply you care to leave for me, but then I’m going to transfer to Luke’s new letter. Thanks for the spirited conversation.
Beelz

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wrf3 October 3, 2009 at 7:23 am

Beelzebub: wrf3,I’m not even going to fisk anything you said because my point is very simple. The God that you envision has no moral standard, save caprice, which is not a moral standard.

First, you say caprice, I say personal preference. Po-tay-to, Po-tat-o. Second, of course it’s a moral standard. It’s the fundamental basis of all moral standards — yours included. Why is it that I have asked you numerous times to explain the basis of your moral standards, yet you have never done so?

You’re a smart guy, and I truly believe this aspect of your view of God is not going to withstand scrutiny. Your God has no morals because he is ultimately free to do whatever he wants.

Is He? Is God free to not exist? In any case, He has morals — they just aren’t yours.

One day he can call a thing good or bad, the next he can reverse it. He can even do things that he considers evil. He is free to indulge his whimsy.You even waive the conditional that “He wouldn’t do that.”He is an amoral agency, precisely because there are no rules he has to follow, or will follow.

First, repeating things I’ve already said is not a refutation. Second, He is moral becasue He follows His own rules. Just like you do. You just don’t like His rules and think that yours are better. Why, you’ve consistently refused to tell us.

Outside the ontological problems this poses, it doesn’t fit with reality either. Gravity doesn’t reverse itself as a random process.

And, once again, you confuse apples and oranges. Gravity is subjective (that it, it doesn’t depend on mind). Morality is objective (it exists solely in mind).

But I can tell you one thing, the idea that there is a cosmic brat at the helm does not make sense.

By “make sense” you mean “something that I, personally, happen to like.”

You’re welcome for the spirited conversation, even though I feel that it was somewhat one-sided. You never did say whence the source of your moral beliefs and why they are superior to God’s.

I won’t be participating in Luke’s second letter, for reasons I posted here earlier. Look for: Unless both sides come to agreement on certain definitions the discussions will go nowhere, with both sides talking past each other. In particular is what is meant by “good”.

Vox very wisely picked up on the same thing and that’s the focus of his reply to Luke.

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Beelzebub October 4, 2009 at 12:11 am

Thanks. We will see how things unfold.

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Havok November 12, 2009 at 8:09 pm

I know the conversation has moved to the subsequent threads. I was simply curious about something.

wrf3, would it be a reasonably accurate characterisation of your thoughts on morality to say that basically everyone’s morality is as good as any other – it all comes down to personal preference of what “good” is. That might makes right, and that your claimed god is the mightiest and therefore the right-iest?

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wrf3 November 13, 2009 at 6:17 am

Havok: wrf3, would it be a reasonably accurate characterisation of your thoughts on morality to say that basically everyone’s morality is as good as any other – it all comes down to personal preference of what “good” is. That might makes right, and that your claimed god is the mightiest and therefore the right-iest?

Yes, it all comes down to personal preference of what “good” is. No, I don’t think everyone’s morality is as good as any other. The problem, of course, is “who am I to judge?” If morality is solely the product of mental states (which it is), then it is sufficient, even if not always necessary, to settle a moral disagreement via force (i.e. ending the opposing mental states). In atheism, then, since there are only human mental states, then might does, in fact, make right. (Note that this doesn’t mean that “might makes right” is good. It just is.) In Christian theism, the mental states of the self-existent God cannot be stopped. Hence, in this system, might does not make right. God is not right because He is omnipotent (which He is), but because He is self-existent.

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Havok November 16, 2009 at 4:36 pm

wrf3:God is not right because He is omnipotent (which He is), but because He is self-existent.  

Why, on your account, does being self existent/having non-stoppable mental processes make one right?

On Christian theism (as I understand it) my mental processes won’t stop – I’ll have eternity in heaven or hell. Does that make me right?

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wrf3 November 16, 2009 at 6:14 pm

Havok:
Why, on your account, does being self existent/having non-stoppable mental processes make one right?

Because it makes one an unstoppable arbiter of what is good.

On Christian theism (as I understand it) my mental processes won’t stop – I’ll have eternity in heaven or hell. Does that make me right?

But only because of the sustaining power of God. If He desired, He could stop your mental processes. You’ll also note the contrast between those in heaven and those in hell. Everyone in heaven will say, “You alone are good”; why everyone in hell will say, “I alone am good.”

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Havok November 16, 2009 at 8:07 pm

wrf3:
Because it makes one an unstoppable arbiter of what is good.

An unstoppable arbiter of what one desires/wants (which you equate with “the good”).

As a limited human, dependant upon the sustaining power of your deity, on your account, I’m unable to end/change the opposing mental states of this being through force (the method you’ve highlighted previously) should I find myself in disagreement with it’s desires/personal preference, but I can still effect change through other means surely (as can it)?

Perhaps I’m being dense, but I don’t think you’ve justified the claim that your deity’s personal preference as to what is “the good” trumps anyone/everyone else’s simply because, as you claim, it’s self existent.

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wrf3 November 21, 2009 at 5:33 pm

Havok: Perhaps I’m being dense, but I don’t think you’ve justified the claim that your deity’s personal preference as to what is “the good” trumps anyone/everyone else’s simply because, as you claim, it’s self existent.  

I don’t think you’re being dense; there’s always the chance that I missed a step or took a wrong turn somewhere. For example, you said, but I can still effect change through other means surely . Maybe. That’s certainly possible with humans (which I acknowledged, since I said that force is sufficient, if not always necessary). But the Christian God is both self-existent and changeless. I don’t know if one of those attributes is a necessary consequence of the other, or whether they are independent and I needed to include both. Something to think about, certainly.

Sorry for the delay, btw. Been burning the midnight oil @ work.

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Havok November 22, 2009 at 2:56 pm

wrf3:
But the Christian God is both self-existent and changeless.

I’m not sure where the “changeless” attribute originated, but the bible seems to show Yahweh changing his mind (Abraham pleading for Sodom is 1 example). The arguments I’ve read for how these instances aren’t actually a changing of the mind seem to require stretching and straining the text (and credulity).
It also seems somewhat incoherent to claim that a “personal agent”, such as the Christian God is claimed to be, is also changeless.

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wrf3 November 23, 2009 at 8:02 am

Havok: I’m not sure where the “changeless” attribute originated,

Malachi 3:6 and James 1:17 come quickly to mind. The argument from perfection is sometimes also used (since a change to something that is perfect has to be away from perfection).

but the bible seems to show Yahweh changing his mind (Abraham pleading for Sodom is 1 example). The arguments I’ve read for how these instances aren’t actually a changing of the mind seem to require stretching and straining the text (and credulity).

Arguments based on personal credulity. Now where have I heard how that’s not a logical response?

It also seems somewhat incoherent to claim that a “personal agent”, such as the Christian God is claimed to be, is also changeless.

There are some ways to deal with this, but isn’t this another topic?

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Havok November 24, 2009 at 3:43 pm

wrf3:
Malachi 3:6 and James 1:17 come quickly to mind.

Malachi seems to indicate more that Yahweh hasn’t changed his mind on this matter (yet?), the evidence being the descendants of Jacob still exist, not that Yahweh is changeless.
James also seems to imply that Yahweh’s goodness/lack of sin doesn’t change, not so much that Yahweh is changeless.
Even if we accept that those passages imply complete changelessness, it seems they’re in contradiction with other passages which indicate change.

Arguments based on personal credulity.Now where have I heard how that’s not a logical response?

Fair enough. Using “Abraham pleading for Sodom” as an example, the text seems to quite plainly indicate that Abraham is in an actual discussion with Yahweh, with the result being that Yahweh accepts Abraham’s points and compromises – ie. changes his mind.
To avoid that conclusion it seems you need to read into the text what isn’t there.

There are some ways to deal with this, but isn’t this another topic?

That depends. If you’re happy with worshipping what seems to amount to “platonic ideals” of various things, then we can leave out a discussion of the apparent incoherence of being changeless and an agent :-)

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wrf3 November 24, 2009 at 5:37 pm

Havok:
Malachi seems to indicate more that Yahweh hasn’t changed his mind on this matter (yet?), the evidence being the descendants of Jacob still exist, not that Yahweh is changeless.

I note that “(yet?”) is your interpolation. Why did you think it necessary to add? The sense of the verse is “Because I do not change, you are not consumed.” Don’t know how it could be much clearer.

James also seems to imply that Yahweh’s goodness/lack of sin doesn’t change, not so much that Yahweh is changeless.

Why do you limit “no variation or shadow due to change” to a subset of His attributes? Like Malachi, James is saying, “Because God does not change this result follows”.

Even if we accept that those passages imply complete changelessness, it seems they’re in contradiction with other passages which indicate change. … Using “Abraham pleading for Sodom” as an example, the text seems to quite plainly indicate that Abraham is in an actual discussion with Yahweh, with the result being that Yahweh accepts Abraham’s points and compromises – ie. changes his mind.
The Bible also says, “my thoughts are not your thoughts; neither are your ways my ways.” So maybe God uses anthropomorphism to communicate in a way that we can understand.
To avoid that conclusion it seems you need to read into the text what isn’t there.

Or I read everything that Scripture says about God and come up with a theory that explains everything, instead of setting aside the parts that don’t initially make sense.

If you’re happy with worshipping what seems to amount to “platonic ideals” of various things, then we can leave out a discussion of the apparent incoherence of being changeless and an agent.

You keep using words like “seems” and “apparent”. If you think that “changeless” and “agent” is a contradiction in terms, then say so and present one or more reasons why.

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Havok November 25, 2009 at 3:52 pm

The Bible also says, “my thoughts are not your thoughts; neither are your ways my ways.” So maybe God uses anthropomorphism to communicate in a way that we can understand.
In context that phrase seems to imply “better/greater”, not “different” (Isaiah 55:9), and was perhaps the author of Isaiah’s way of resolving the wickedness he perceived around him with the perceived potency of his deity?
Of course, I could simply be being ignorant/obstinate :-)

Or I read everything that Scripture says about God and come up with a theory that explains everything, instead of setting aside the parts that don’t initially make sense.

There are many theories which seem to explain everything (almost one per Christian it often appears).
The simplest of them seeming to be that the books of the bible are the works of men, just like other works of mythology. Your theory seems to be unnecessarily convoluted.

You keep using words like “seems” and “apparent”. If you think that “changeless” and “agent” is a contradiction in terms, then say so and present one or more reasons why.

“Agent” seems to me to mean a rational entity capable of decisions/choices, deliberation, ie thinking. I don’t see how you can conceive of thought as not changing the entity, as thoughts/decisions/choices surely must effect and modify/alter the mental state of the entity in question, hence there is change.
Perhaps you aren’t using “agent” in this manner, or my meaning is flawed, or perhaps a change in mental state doesn’t count as “change” in this sense?

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wrf3 November 26, 2009 at 8:47 am

Havok:

wrf3: The Bible also says, “my thoughts are not your thoughts; neither are your ways my ways.” So maybe God uses anthropomorphism to communicate in a way that we can understand.

In context that phrase seems to imply “better/greater”, not “different” (Isaiah 55:9), and was perhaps the author of Isaiah’s way of resolving the wickedness he perceived around him with the perceived potency of his deity?

In context, it’s God’s invitation to come to Him and be forgiven, because God forgives where men do not. But this is just one example of the larger point: God is not like we are. I find it interesting that those who are concerned about the “singularity” postulate an artificial intelligence that transcends human capabilities and so becomes something we don’t recognize. But when this claim is made about God, it’s treated as if it’s a foreign concept.

Of course, I could simply be being ignorant/obstinate

I don’t pretend to know the internal states of my worthy opponents. I will say, however, that this appellation described me before I answered His call.

There are many theories which seem to explain everything (almost one per Christian it often appears). The simplest of them seeming to be that the books of the bible are the works of men, just like other works of mythology. Your theory seems to be unnecessarily convoluted.

I also used to think Christianity was just made-up myth. Like C. S. Lewis, I was enamored with Norse tales. But I’ll let someone who was a professional in these matters speak to this:

When Lewis examined the Gospels for himself he found that they were written in a style he identified as intending to convey historical facts. They were written as witness accounts of an event that occurred within history; something that actually happened. The genre and style was vastly different from mythological stories that merely intended to convey some sort of folk truth about how society viewed itself. The fact they contained miracle accounts did not make them mythological. Rather, the inclusion of miracle accounts in the Gospel accounts led Lewis to conclude the miracle accounts were there because people actually witnessed them. He wrote the following in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy: “I was by now too experienced in literary criticism to regard the Gospels as myths. They had not the mythical taste. And yet the very matter that they set down in their artless, historical fashion was precisely the matter of the great myths. If ever a myth had become fact, had been incarnated, it would be just like this…Here and here only in all time the myth must have become fact; the Word, flesh; God, man.” In a letter to a friend soon afterwards he referred to the story of Christ as simply a true myth, a myth that works on us in a similar way as others, but with the tremendous difference that it really happened.

(back to) Havoc: “Agent” seems to me to mean a rational entity capable of decisions/choices, deliberation, ie thinking. I don’t see how you can conceive of thought as not changing the entity, as thoughts/decisions/choices surely must effect and modify/alter the mental state of the entity in question, hence there is change.

You’re doing what you claim Christians do: applying human patterns to a transcendent being. Perhaps there is no time involved. Perhaps God has said/thought everything in an instant (which still pulls time into something which is timeless. Language fails me), and reality is just us moving though His Thought. As Lewis said in “The Great Divorce”: “this moment contains all moments.” Who knows?

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Havok November 26, 2009 at 3:19 pm

In context, it’s God’s invitation to come to Him and be forgiven, because God forgives where men do not. But this is just one example of the larger point: God is not like we are.

He is greater/better. In the context of Isaiah, it’s not as if a humam couldn’t forgive, just that we tend not to.

When Lewis examined the Gospels for himself he found that they were written in a style he identified as intending to convey historical facts.

Much like the biography of Romulus, or the work of Herodotus of Halicarnassus? (both of which appear to be intended to convey historical facts, but which contain accounts you’re unlikely to accept)
Perhaps something like this book would alter your (and lewis’ if he were alive) opinion of the “myth” status of the gospels?

You’re doing what you claim Christians do: applying human patterns to a transcendent being.

I’m applying what seems to be required to be an “agent” and contrasting it with what seems required to be “changeless” and finding the two are mutually exclusive.

Perhaps there is no time involved.

Which would also seem a little incoherent. With no time to act in, this “agent” again appears to be very un-agent like, as we tend to understand the term.

Perhaps God has said/thought everything in an instant (which still pulls time into something which is timeless. Language fails me), and reality is just us moving though His Thought.

Possibly (though that would seem to require idealism), though that still seems to indicate change: this timeless entity chose to create time (and space). That still seems to require some change in the entity.

Who knows?

Well, you’ve claimed this agent is changeless (or this changless “thing” is an agent). To me that’s an incoherent stance.
If this being’s “agent”ness is unlike our own “agent”ness, then we should perhaps use a different term?

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wrf3 November 27, 2009 at 2:16 pm

The commenting system appears to be having trouble quoting your reply, so I’m going to do this by hand.

Havok: Much like the biography of Romulus, or the work of Herodotus of Halicarnassus? (both of which appear to be intended to convey historical facts, but which contain accounts you’re unlikely to accept). Perhaps something like this book would alter your (and lewis’ if he were alive) opinion of the “myth” status of the gospels?

Perhaps this analysis would change your mind about the conclusions of the book?

I’m applying what seems to be required to be an “agent” and contrasting it with what seems required to be “changeless” and finding the two are mutually exclusive.

Then pick another word. Whatever you do, I think you’re going to find you have to invent new terminology to speak about God since, in many ways, His being is so foreign to ours. I suspect you’ll find it easier to anthropomorphize than to be precise. Which is maybe one reason for the Incarnation.

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Havok November 29, 2009 at 2:33 pm

Perhaps this analysis would change your mind about the conclusions of the book?

I haven’t read it (have you?). Just got it on my list of interesting sounding reads, and thought it was appropriate.
I think to claim the gospels as historical you need to over come:
- ample evidence of “historic” writing being fiction, such as Plutarch’s biography of Romulus mentioned above.
- ample evidence of “charlatans” performing miracles (such as Sathya Sai Baba, and various faith healers), none of who have been shown to be effective after investigation.
- the obvious theological/political motives of the authors (only Luke claims to be writing a history, and even then he names no sources and describes no methods)
Given the above, it seems far more probable the gospel accounts are not accurate history, and an extraordinary claim that they are (which you and C.S. Lewis claim) would require extraordinary evidence, which we simply don’t have.
All that is getting us off the initial discussion concerning your claim that this being, should it exist, has greater claim to morality (an “unstoppable arbiter of what is good” I think you said).

Then pick another word. Whatever you do, I think you’re going to find you have to invent new terminology to speak about God since, in many ways, His being is so foreign to ours.

You claimed agent hood and changelessness, so the definitional problems would seem to be yours, not mine :-)
I merely pointed out that those attributes are mutually exclusive. If you want to clarify what you intend, by all means go ahead.
As it stands, however, the being you claims as morally superior seems logically impossible. Which surely means my morale claims ARE more valid than those you attribute to it :-)

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