Responses to VA Tech

Here’s Franklin Graham, from last night’s Scarborough Country, reminding us of what’s important about the VA Tech shooting:

First of all, we know that God loves us and God cares for us. And there is a devil in this world. There is evil, and we have seen this manifest itself today in the life of one individual who took the lives of these students. It’s a tragedy. But God loves us very much, and I don’t think we should ever forget his love for us that he has provided a way for us to be with him in heaven and that’s through his son Jesus Christ.

And later:

Well, I don’t blame God for it, Joe. This is what we have to understand. There is–there is evil in this world. There is a devil who’s called the god of this age, who wants to seek and destroy your life and my life and every life. And when a tragedy like this comes, I think it’s time for us to remember how short life is, and we need to be prepared to stand before a holy God. There is a God in heaven who cares for us, and we are going to have to stand before him.

And a tragedy like this doesn’t increase the death rate in this world. The Bible says (INAUDIBLE) to die, and after that, the judgment. All of us are going to cross this valley of death one day, but right now, our focus is on the living, the families, the children there at that university, these students who’ve been traumatized, who are discouraged, who are afraid.

And there’s a lot of–you know, we don’t go in with all the answers. I think the point is we listen to them and try to answer the specific questions they ask. But the most important thing is to reassure people of God’s love, that God has not abandoned us in a time of tragedy like this. God very much loves us. He cares for us. And this is a time where we as a country I think need to come together and be united and stand with these families at this time.

I wonder if Graham will also remind the parents of the non-Christian victims that the loving God of whom he speaks has consigned their children to Hell, where they will burn for eternity. According to Mr. Graham’s theology, that is.

I am often told that religion is so popular because of the comforts it provides. The trouble is that before you can derive any comfort form it, you must first believe that it is true. And for people lacking the blind faith of a Franklin Graham, seeing thirty-two innocent people gunned down by a crazed gunman is cause to wonder whether the world really is superintended by a loving God.

Graham tells us that God is not to blame, and that Satan is loose in the world. By any normal moral standard, however, if you can stop great evil from happening without any harm to yourself, and you consciously choose not to do so, then you are guilty of great evil in your own right. We can not evade this point by arguing that God gave us free will, which implies the freedom to choose evil as well as good. What of the free will of the victims? God could simply have caused the killer’s gun to jam, after all. Then everyone would have their free will and thirty-two people wouldn’t be dead today.

Never afraid to tackle the tough questions, the folks over at Answers in Genesis have decided to take a shot at answering these questions. Why does a loving God allow such rampant evil?

You see, when we accept Genesis as it was meant to be taken–as literal history–then we understand that death, disease, and violence are intrusions into this world, and that they occurred after Adam was created. Paul tells us in Romans 8:19-23 that the whole of the creation is groaning because of sin.

So, it’s not God’s fault that there is death and violence in the world–it’s humanity’s fault, because we rebelled against our Creator. Certainly, the shooter at Virginia Tech has to answer for his own sin. However, we still have to recognize that we now live in a fallen world where we have just a taste of what we really asked for in Adam, when the head of the human race disobeyed God’s instruction not to eat the fruit of one particular tree. In a real sense, we are all responsible for the death and suffering we see around us. (Emphasis in original)

I’m sorry, but how does that explain why God would allow something like this to happen? Adam disobeyed God in Eden, so we should not be surprised when this God of love and mercy allows thirty-two people to be gunned down six thousand years later? If the folks at AiG are to be believed, then events like those at Tech represent a thwarting of God’s will. He didn’t want there to be violence and death in the world, but then Adam sinned. As a result, humanity was in some way asking for there to be violence and suffering, and God must sit solemnly by as we suffer our just desserts. Remind me again how this is comforting.

Of course, they’re not finished yet:

It’s also important to understand a concept that AiG presents in the book How Could a Loving God … ? We read there:

Only the person who believes in God has a basis to make moral judgments to determine what is “good” and what is “bad.&rduqo; Those who claim God does not exist have absolutely no authority upon which to call something right or wrong. If God doesn’t exist, who can objectively define what is good and what is bad? What basis could there be to make such judgments? The atheist has no basis upon which to call anything good or bad. They can talk about good and bad, and right and wrong–but it’s all relative, it’s all arbitrary. What’s “good” in one person’s mind might be completely “bad” in another’s.

Total stupidity, of course. If the morality of the atheist is arbitrary and relative, that is no less true for the morality of the religious believer. Moral assertions do not suddenly become objectively true or false when you base them on your perception of God’s will.

But do I detect a whiff of desperation in this argument? Remember, this is supposed to be an essay helping us to understand why a loving God allows shooting rampages. Yet one of their main arguments seems designed not to explain anything, but simply to assert that we must persist in our belief that God exists for otherwise we would have no basis for making moral assertions at all. Even if that were true (it isn’t of course), how would that help us make sense of what happened at Tech?

And we can’t let this one go by:

We live in an era when public high schools and colleges have all but banned God from science classes. In these classrooms, students are taught that the whole universe, including plants and animals–and humans–arose by natural processes. Naturalism (in essence, atheism) has become the religion of the day and has become the foundation of the education system (and Western culture as a whole). The more such a philosophy permeates the culture, the more we would expect to see a sense of purposelessness and hopelessness that pervades people’s thinking. In fact, the more a culture allows the killing of the unborn, the more we will see people treating life in general as “cheap.”

I’m not at all saying that the person who committed these murders at Virginia Tech was driven by a belief in millions of years or evolution. I don’t know why this person did what he did, except the obvious: that it was a result of sin. However, when we see such death and violence, it is a reminder to us that without God’s Word (and the literal history in Genesis 1-11), people will not understand why such things happen.

I’ll leave the refutation as an exercise for the reader. Suffice it to say that you don’t need the Bible to explain that there are bad people, and sometimes they do bad things.

The fundamentalists over at AiG are fools, but it is important to remember that more mainstream Christianity has no better answer than they for the problem of evil. The ability of people to deny the obvious is simply not to be believed. The existence of great moral evil such as this can not be reconciled in any plausible way with the existence of a God who loves His creatures. Surely the simpler explanation is also the better one. As Richard Dawkins memorably put it:

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.

Instead of tying ourselves into knots trying to reconcile A with Not A, why not simply accept the plain truth that Dawkins expressed so well?

Let us close with AiG’s admonition to those who do not find their arguments convincing:

There is another important lesson we need to be reminded of in the context of suffering and death in this world. In Luke 13:4-5, Jesus said: “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

Jesus was reminding people that every person will one day die, and that they need to be ready! Those who were killed by this tower in Luke 13 didn’t know that when they arose that morning, it would be their day to die. The Lord Jesus, in saying “unless you repent,” was reminding everyone that they needed to be sure they were ready to face eternity.

This is the most important lesson for all of us to consider during this tragic time in American history, and to be reminded of what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 10:9: That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

Let the comforting begin.

Comments

  1. #1 Jenny
    April 17, 2007

    Or you could just question why the belief in an all-knowing, all good God is so prevalent. The Bible and other religious text tell of a god that is not alone and is both unknowable and all things. Definitely not the happy black and white picture so many contemporary Christians believe in.

  2. #2 EvilPoet
    April 17, 2007

    One year ago today…

    Franklin Graham Compares Sacrifice of U.S. Military to Jesus’
    Apr. 17, 2006

    WASHINGTON (AP) At an Easter service in Washington, D.C., the Rev. Franklin Graham compared the sacrifice of Jesus to the sacrifice made by military personnel.

    More than 400 people, including about a half dozen wounded soldiers, gathered for the sunrise service at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Others viewed the service on video screens near their hospital beds.

    The son of evangelist Billy Graham spoke of his own son, an Army Ranger who has served in Iraq and now is on duty in an undisclosed location. He also reminded soldiers of the faith of Biblical military heroes like Joshua, Gideon and David.

    But he said, “The greatest battle we face in this world is the battle for the souls of men and women.”

    Source

  3. #4 Julie Stahlhut
    April 17, 2007

    Or, one could question the assumption that what happened at Virginia Tech made any kind of “sense” at all — let alone that it’s in any way a good or comforting thing to believe that it made sense.

  4. #5 Jeb, FCD
    April 17, 2007

    What sacrifice did Jesus actually make? His life? Isn’t life supposed to be shitty and the world a bad place?

    Besides, if your dad was omni-everything enough make the frakkin’ place, would you really be worried about dying?

    I don’t understand why people don’t see religion for the charade it is.

    “Here,” says the preacher-liar, “is a way for you to be happy later, so you don’t have to try for it on Earth. (And we won’t have economic and social upheaval when people realize they just rot when they die). Now, pass the plate bitches.”

  5. #6 Alan Kellogg
    April 17, 2007

    God has damn all to do with it, it’s our responsibility. We are resonsible for our own actions, and we have no cause to blame anyone else for what we do.

  6. #7 LJ
    April 18, 2007

    Our ancestors listened to a talking snake so we have bad things happen in the world?
    Riiight.
    Insanity as an explanation of the acts of an insane person.

  7. #8 Wordave
    April 18, 2007

    The man who did the shootings was mentally ill. It had nothing to do with the devil, god or any other supernatural influence, he was just a person with a mental disfunction who happened to be in a place where his fears, prejudices and anger were excerbated by his circumstances, and enabled by the easy access to guns. He wasn’t responsible for his actions in the same way a person with a broken leg cannot be blamed for limping.

  8. #9 Zenwren
    April 18, 2007

    Delurking, small quibble:

    it is “Just deserts” not “Just desserts”

    http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/just-deserts.html

    Otherwise good post

  9. #10 AFB
    April 18, 2007

    I’m confused.

    You say AiG is totally stupid when they claim the atheist has no basis to call anything good or evil. Then you quote Dawkins who says that in the universe there is, at bottom, no evil and no good.

    Am I missing something, or are you contradicting yourself?

  10. #11 Scholar
    April 18, 2007

    Jason, this is just another sign of the impending apocalypse. To say otherwise would border on blasphemy. Something you know we must avoid, as good Christians.

    Just smile and praise God that He “passed over” us on this occasion. Amen.

  11. #12 Scholar
    April 18, 2007

    And yes, I consider anyone and everyone good Christians. (Based on the moderate versions of Christianity now available at your local Church or retail supplier). In fact, it is now quite politically correct for Christians to NOT believe in God. Amen to that.

  12. #13 Jason Rosenhouse
    April 18, 2007

    Zenwren-

    Thanks for the correction!

    AFB-

    No, I’m not contradicting myself. The part of the AiG statement that is stupid is the part where they argue that a belief in God provides an objective foundation for morality, whereas lack of belief does not provide such a foundation. The fact is that regardless of the source of your sense of morality, you will ultimately have to base that belief on some foundation that you simply accept without trying to prove it in terms of something simpler. For the theist, that foundation rests in certain assumptions about the existence and attributes of God. For the atheist it typically lies in some sense of what constitute basic human rights.

    The point of Dawkins’ statement is that morality is something humans create, and not something that is discovered in nature. That is true regardelss of whether you are a theist or an atheist.

  13. #14 AFB
    April 18, 2007

    Jason –

    Thanks for the clarification. But it leads to another question (which you’ve probably addressed before, but I’m a new reader): If morality is something humans create, and not discovered in nature or revealed by God, is morality then determined by majority vote, or by something else? And if by something else, why should THAT be determinative?

  14. #15 Kevin
    April 18, 2007

    AFB,

    morality is the result of many many years of (drumroll please)evolution! yes. humans are social animals. basic trends in moral thinking such as no stealing, don’t boff your friend’s babe unless he invites you, don’t kill your elders because they just might know something…these trends came out because they tended to improve the survival chances of the race.

    Now of course there are exceptions, but they play to the rule too, I mean the Nazis had it good for a while, and my friends don’t generally think that they were moral, but look what happened in the end. they pissed a lot of people off and were eventually defeated.

    human interactions set the rules for morality. also in the past it was much more tribal than today. It used to be actively encouraged to steal from people who were not like you and bring the stuff back to people who were like you. sort of helps the cause if you get what I mean.

    Now, even when I put on pirate regalia and sail the seas with my men, I argue that honest trade will gain us more gold than robbing and killing.

  15. #16 sailor
    April 18, 2007

    “What sacrifice did Jesus actually make? ”

    Yes indeed, if someone was going to die for your sins, you would at least think they would have the decency to stay dead for more than three days.

  16. #17 AFB
    April 19, 2007

    Kevin –

    Thanks for the clarification. So if I understand you right, morality is whatever tends to improve the survival chances of the race. But that raises some tricky questions, such as how do we define race? As all humans? Whites? Americans? People who went to my college? My nuclear family? Your answer seems to support tribalism in one sense (“bring the stuff to people like you”) and discourage tribalism in another sense (the defeat of the Nazi Aryans).

    Also, there seem to be some significant public policy disconnects between the goal of perpetuation and what we actually do. For example, abortion is as anti-perpetuation as you can get, and yet (to oversimplify greatly) it seems it’s only the Christians who are vocal in their opposition to it. Isn’t this somehow backwards?

    I’m also left wondering how we get from “is” to “ought.” Do we simply calculate which course of action will yield the greatest number of humans in the long run? Is “ought” therefore determined purely empirically, or are there other considerations that come into play?

    Finally (for now), the answer to the whole question of morality seems inevitably reductionistic or tautological. What I mean is, the Christians say something along the lines of, “Because God says so,” and the atheists say something like, “because it perpetuates the race.” But how do you go about proving or disproving either one? Both sides will find plenty of anecdotes to support whichever side they’re committed to. And the agnostics, perhaps, just don’t want to think about it at all.

  17. #18 Michael Geissler
    April 20, 2007

    Morality is a work in progress and always has been. Even the real-world meaning of “Because God says so” changes over time. Being a slave trader in the Western world was an honourable profession in 1750, a bit on the nose in 1850 and utterly unthinkable in 1950. Eating meat and driving SUVs might be seen as atrocities in 2150.

  18. #19 bmkmd
    April 21, 2007

    The Secret…Law of Attraction by Rhonda Byrne explains it all. Don’t you guys and gals watch Oprah?

    As we all know now, this is not a religious or moral issue. This is a metaphysical issue. In Rhonda Byrne’s best selling book and DVD the “Law of Attraction” states (proves?!!!*?) that “Everything in your life you have attracted. Accept that fact; it’s true.”

    And also such important processes as that you get exactly what you are feeling.
    What you think and what you feel and what actually manifests is always a match — NO EXCEPTION (emphasis added).

    Which leads to the lovely conclusion that we get what we deserve because we are/were having too many negative thoughts/energy instead of positive thoughts/energy.

    So you see, the 32 victims must have been having negative thoughts BEFORE they got shot. If only they had been more positive that day, the positive energy would have flowed from them and…deflected the bullets?

    See, it has nothing to do with morality or belief in God(s).

    For those without the stamina or resolve to plod through her book, the review by Ingrid Smythe in eSkeptic captures the ideas well.

    http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/07-03-07.html

  19. #20 viva la evolucion!
    April 21, 2007

    Could an omnipotent god create a stone he couldn’t lift?

  20. #21 Jon S
    April 21, 2007

    Jason: I wonder if Graham will also remind the parents of the non-Christian victims that the loving God of whom he speaks has consigned their children to Hell, where they will burn for eternity.

    Surely that wouldn’t be very comforting. Reminding others that God is loving, and encouraging them to put their faith and trust in God, however, is meant to be comforting.

    Jason: if you can stop great evil from happening without any harm to yourself, and you consciously choose not to do so, then you are guilty of great evil in your own right.

    Surely you don’t claim that God is evil? What does that make Satan? Of course, if God was evil, then it would make sense to worship and appease him to avoid his wrath. But we can take comfort that God is not evil. Adam sinned, thus bringing death upon himself and the entire human race. That’s the bad news. The good news is that a loving God gave us a way out by sacrificing his only son on the cross, which he didn’t have to do. For those who do trust in him, they will enter into heaven where there will be no more death and suffering.

    Jason: If the folks at AiG are to be believed, then events like those at Tech represent a thwarting of God’s will. He didn’t want there to be violence and death in the world, but then Adam sinned.

    In one sense perhaps that’s a thwarting of God’s will. Hence God holds us accountable for our sin and and will ultimately judge mankind.

    Jason: Moral assertions do not suddenly become objectively true or false when you base them on your perception of God’s will.

    True. That’s why it’s important to interpret scripture in context, so that we are conforming to God and not trying to make scripture conform to our will.

    Jason: The existence of great moral evil such as this can not be reconciled in any plausible way with the existence of a God who loves His creatures.

    Of course it can. Perhaps not to your satisfaction. But making such a claim doesn’t mean anything. What happened at VT is a direct result of Adam’s original sin. God allowed it to happen according to his will (Romans 8:28). Christ dying on the cross as a substitute for those who trust in him is certainly plausible. And telling others about salvation is one of the most important things we can do.

    Jeb FCD: What sacrifice did Jesus actually make? His life? Isn’t life supposed to be shitty and the world a bad place?

    Yes, life here can be pretty bad sometimes, which is what makes heaven something to look forward to.

    Jeb FCD: Besides, if your dad was omni-everything enough make the frakkin’ place, would you really be worried about dying?

    No, I’m not worried at all, because I know something much better awaits me when my time comes.

    Jeb FCD: I don’t understand why people don’t see religion for the charade it is.

    I don’t understand why people don’t see evolution for the charade it is.

    viva la evolucion: Could an omnipotent god create a stone he couldn’t lift?

    Sure he could. It wouldn’t be any harder than allowing himself to die, and then raise himself from the dead.

  21. #22 Ken
    April 23, 2007

    God isn’t evil… he’s a myth. Jesus didn’t answer any of these people’s prayers, nor did any other God. Myths don’t stop bullets. Apollo didn’t help out, nor did Zeus or Buddha or Ra…

  22. #23 Kristine
    April 23, 2007

    The mythical Adam disobeyed a mythical stupid rule. Obedience is the cause of all the evil in the world; rebellion is what the world’s scientists, artists, freethinkers, and freedom fighters do. Think of all the people who were called “satanic” in their day: Suffragettes, labor unionizers, civil rights marchers, inventors, and the physicians who “played God.” I rest my case.

  23. #24 Kevin
    April 23, 2007

    Jon S.

    You are Really trying to ignore and evade the questions.

    “Jeb FCD: What sacrifice did Jesus actually make? His life? Isn’t life supposed to be shitty and the world a bad place? – Yes, life here can be pretty bad sometimes, which is what makes heaven something to look forward to.

    Jeb FCD: Besides, if your dad was omni-everything enough make the frakkin’ place, would you really be worried about dying?- No, I’m not worried at all, because I know something much better awaits me when my time comes.

    RIGHT. Christ was so fed up with his lousy hillbilly lifestyle that he was HAPPY to get his self killed so he could get back to the sweet babes in heaven. The point is not that life here is bad it that’s if it is then what “sacrifice” did the jesus guy actually do? He was dying to get off this place.

    “Surely you don’t claim that God is evil? What does that make Satan? ”

    Of course god is evil. If he is supposed to encompase everyhing then evil is in him, and the devil is part of him and allowed to exist by him.

    “Isaiah 45:7:

    “Who fashions light and creates darkness, who makes peace and creates evil, I am HaShem who does all this.”

    so this xtain being created evil to mess with earthlings heads. that makes sense. for an uncaring, nasty spitelful god.

    “Adam sinned, thus bringing death upon himself and the entire human race. That’s the bad news”

    that is a crock. its a myth. it never happened. and even if you argue that it ded then is was god’s doing because he made man that way. so the steps are: a) create man you know will sin, b) watch man sin, c) tell man he has to kiss your ass or d) he’s dammed to everlasting torment in hell.

    nice diety you got there.

    AFB :”Do we simply calculate which course of action will yield the greatest number of humans in the long run”

    does not work like that. we act in our own immediate interest, reproductive and otherwise, and over time, by these choices traits and behaviors evolve and become common, IF they “yield the greatest number.” if not maybe humans just die out. no one calcs it.

  24. #25 AFB
    April 24, 2007

    Kevin –

    Your response misses the point of the paragraph in which I asked that question. For that matter, it misses the other questions in my post as well.

    But even just sticking with that one paragraph, I repeat its first sentence: “How do we get from ‘is’ to ‘ought'”? If it’s not the accretion of human beings, then what is it? And if my “own immediate interest” conflicts with yours, who should prevail?

  25. #26 Jon S
    April 24, 2007

    Kevin: The point is not that life here is bad it that’s if it is then what “sacrifice” did the jesus guy actually do? He was dying to get off this place… Of course god is evil. If he is supposed to encompase everyhing then evil is in him, and the devil is part of him and allowed to exist by him… so this xtain being created evil to mess with earthlings heads. that makes sense. for an uncaring, nasty spitelful god… that is a crock. its a myth. it never happened. and even if you argue that it ded then is was god’s doing because he made man that way.

    No, Kevin, Jesus died for our sins. The Bible explains why he came, and exactly what his sacrifice was. He sacrificed himself for our salvation because he loved us. Evil god’s don’t do things like that. Isaiah 45:7 does not indicate that God is evil. It tells us that God brings both prosperity and disaster. In fact nothing happens unless God allows it to happen or brings it about (Matthew 10:29-30). Adam was quite real, and when he disobeyed God, he brought sin and death into the world. Yes, God allowed it to happen, and it happened according to his plan (Romans 8:28), which will be fulfilled after his return when he creates a new heaven and earth, where there will be no sin or death… and there was much rejoicing!

  26. #27 Kevin
    April 25, 2007

    But even just sticking with that one paragraph, I repeat its first sentence: a) “How do we get from ‘is’ to ‘ought'”? b) If it’s not the accretion of human beings, then what is it? c) And if my “own immediate interest” conflicts with yours, who should prevail?

    Posted by: AFB | April 24, 2007 08:50 PM

    OK let me try again, and I don’t know anything or have any special knowledge to be sure….

    a) there is NO ought, there is only what is.

    b) its the accretion of MY dna

    c) there is NO should. its whatever does prevail that counts.

  27. #28 Kevin
    April 25, 2007

    last response to jon

    “No, Kevin, Jesus died for our sins”

    no jon, he most likely did not exist. Sin does not exist.

    “Adam was quite real, and when he disobeyed God, he brought sin and death into the world.”

    Adam does not exist. God does not exist. sin does not exist. they are all words with made-up importance.

    Death. yes well, death does exist. that we can be sure of.

    taxes can be avoided. death can only be postponed.

  28. #29 Jon S
    April 25, 2007

    Kevin, you seem to have tremendous faith in your beliefs. But are you absolutely certain neither God nor Jesus exist, that there is no sin, or Adam? Has science proven these points to your satisfaction? Is it possible you could be wrong? Are we really just a random chance of molecules that has no meaning once the universe ceases to exist? How can you be so sure? Is your ability to reason really the product of millions and billions of years of fortunate accidental accidents? Wow, that’s an awful lot of lucky accidents. I don’t have a faith such as yours.

  29. #30 AFB
    April 28, 2007

    Hi Kevin –

    Thanks for clarifying. But I must admit I don’t like your answer. It seems to leave no space for me to be opposed to someone raping my wife, molesting my children, stealing my car, and poisoning my dog. It also makes it OK to fly airplanes into towers, to gas Jews in concentration camps and then make lamp shades out of their skin, and to torture prisoners at will. What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine if I can beat it out of you. The strongest will prevail, and that’s just the way it is.

    If that’s really what you think, then I don’t think you’re going to win a lot of converts for atheism – or at least your strain of it.

  30. #31 Kevin
    April 28, 2007

    AFB,

    “seems to leave no space for me to be opposed to someone raping my wife, molesting my children, stealing my car, and poisoning my dog”

    I don’t know how you got that. Why can’t you oppose such action? by yourself or in concert with others, others who also don’t want that to happen to them. It’s not that the offender “ought” not to do it for a supernatural “moral” reason its because you, and/or society collectively, prevents the offender from acting. and this social construct takes on the flavor of morality and is taught as an “ought”. or shalt as in the ten commandments thingy.

    “The strongest will prevail, and that’s just the way it is.” That happens under the color of religion anyway. except where the weak are collectively stronger. Even in situations where the weak appear to win (welfare, free housing, free bread) the strong are only acting in there own interests.

    and aetheists are not the only ones bonking people over the head for cash so I don’t know why you think that’s an aetheist position. seems like most religions are designed to separate the ignorant from their money.

    as for me I said ten days ago:

    “Now, even when I put on pirate regalia and sail the seas with my men, I argue that honest trade will gain us more gold than robbing and killing. Posted by: Kevin | April 18, 2007 04:51 PM ”

    so I’m NOT advocating pillaging your town. and I enjoy the discussion.

  31. #32 AFB
    April 29, 2007

    Hi Kevin –

    Sorry for my slow response. Busy weekend.

    I appreciate your answers, but something still doesn’t sit right. Your original response (April 18) suggested to me that morality was determined by whatever most effectively increases the “race.” But now it sounds like you’re back to saying it’s majority rule. I’m not trying to “catch” you, as there is no doubt inconsistency in my own thinking.

    But let’s take your latest response. Most people in my community would agree that no one should steal my car, so stealing is wrong. But there are parts of town where the number of people who think differently is large enough that I’d be in peril. Does that mean that stealing my car is wrong in my neighborhood, but OK in someone else’s?

    Or take your pirate illustration. If robbing and killing yielded more gold than honest trade, would you then endorse robbing and killing?

    So maybe (just maybe) we can simplify it this way. Option 1: Things are right or wrong because of the ends they yield. Option 2: Things are right or wrong because the majority says they are. Option 3: Things are right or wrong because there is some transcultural, transtemporal standard of what “is because it is.” Does this seem like a fair summary of the possible approaches to determining right and wrong? If so, what’s your choice?

    (I’m tempted to call Option 1 the “teleological” option and Option 3 the “ontological” option, but I’m not sure that’s the right use of the terms. I like the sound of it, though!)

  32. #33 Kevin
    April 29, 2007

    Consider Jason Ronsehouse’s intitial take on it: “If the morality of the atheist is arbitrary and relative, that is no less true for the morality of the religious believer. Moral assertions do not suddenly become objectively true or false when you base them on your perception of God’s will. ”

    and my initital comment: “morality is the result of many many years of (drumroll please)evolution!”

    by morality I meant the attitude that people have toward taking certain actions toward other people. I am not attempting to consider all such actions, or the differing motivations of people in various societies.

    your questions and my attempts at an answer (again I have to state that I have no special knowledge or training to actually provide a good or suitable answer)

    “Your original response (April 18) suggested to me that morality was determined by whatever most effectively increases the “race.”” I did say race; I should have said something like “the group” or the “clan” I quess the “race” would fit in there somewhere but I consider that too big a population.

    “But now it sounds like you’re back to saying it’s majority rule.” There is no contradiction there. If the majority bands together to enforce certain rules, competition for resources within the group should be lessened and competition for resources outside the group should be more effective.

    “Most people in my community would agree that no one should steal my car, so stealing is wrong.” – what does this word “wrong” mean? and you THINK : “would agree that no one should steal my car” but I think rather they are more concerned with THEIR OWN CAR and really do not care about you and your car (unless related to you by clan or blood ties) In people’s quest to protect their OWN private property it often is the case that EVERYONE’s has to be protected.

    But there are parts of town where the number of people who think differently is large enough that I’d be in peril. Does that mean that stealing my car is wrong in my neighborhood, but OK in someone else’s? – again what does this word “wrong” mean?

    you park your car in a neighbor hood that has no jobs, food or money and everyone is starving. A brave young man of the community takes your car, drives it to another town, sells it and buys food, pampers, baby formula and malt liquor and then CARRIES it all on his back for miles to bring it in and SAVES his family and friends.

    DO you mean that kind of wrong?

    “Or take your pirate illustration. If robbing and killing yielded more gold than honest trade, would you then endorse robbing and killing?” well, as a pirate I would have to do so. But I really don’t like the killing part because then we can’t come back and rob them again.

    “So maybe (just maybe) we can simplify it this way. . . . right or wrong . . .right or wrong . . . right or wrong ”

    I think we would need a working definition of right or wrong in order to proceed down those lines of inquiry. That may or may not be productive. I don’t think in terms of “ought”

    “But even just sticking with that one paragraph, I repeat its first sentence: a) “How do we get from ‘is’ to ‘ought'”? b) If it’s not the accretion of human beings, then what is it? c) And if my “own immediate interest” conflicts with yours, who should prevail?
    Posted by: AFB | April 24, 2007 08:50 PM ”

    “a) there is NO ought, there is only what is.
    b) its the accretion of MY dna
    c) there is NO should. its whatever does prevail that counts.Posted by: Kevin | April 25, 2007 12:08 AM ”

    cheers
    k

  33. #34 AFB
    May 2, 2007

    Hi Kevin –

    Well, we may be stuck in an endless loop. I don’t think “right” and “wrong” need specialized definitions for the discussion we’ve been having. It might be as simple as, “what you would teach your children about how to live,” or “how you think others ought to behave,” or “how you think YOU ought to behave.”

    We all have standards of behavior, and we project those onto other people all the time. When my neighbors let their dog bark for an hour and don’t bring it in, I say (and I’d guess you would, too), “That’s wrong. It’s inconsiderate and not nice. They should bring the dog in.” Well, on what basis can I legitimately say such a thing? Or can I? A barking dog doesn’t seem to harm my DNA, nor help theirs. If, as you say, “it’s whatever does prevail that counts,” then if the dog continues to bark, then the dog continues to bark. If I kill the dog, then I kill the dog. The two are equivalent, because (according to you), “there is NO ought, there is only what is.” But I don’t really believe that the two are equivalent, I’m certain the dog’s owners wouldn’t believe that, and I’m fairly confident that even you wouldn’t believe that.

    We do lots of things that don’t lead to accretion of our DNA. Sending money to help stop the genocide in Darfur or to rebuild houses destroyed in the Asian tsunami does nothing for my DNA, unless one argues in the tortured logic of the butterfly that causes the hurricane (or whatever it is). Mother Teresa didn’t do much for her DNA by founding a hospice for dying street people. And so on.

    So I’m left with the idea that there is something innate, something inherent, that tells us right and wrong (and that drives altruism even at the expense of the tribe/race/group). Not that everyone agrees on all the details of what is right and wrong – far from it – and not that everyone lives consistently according to the innate knowledge (I know I don’t). But the similarities of right and wrong are strikingly similar across time and culture, and within our own culture, and those similarities hold even when the differences and variations are acknowledged.

    Is all this similarity of morality due to biological determinism, or something else? I think it’s got to be something else.

  34. #35 Kevin
    May 2, 2007

    So I’m left with the idea that there is something innate, something inherent, that tells us right and wrong (and that drives altruism even at the expense of the tribe/race/group).

    well, good luck with that…..

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