Pharyngula

Radio reminder

9am Central. Sunday morning. The evil atheists of the upper midwest will continue their nefarious plan to disseminate propaganda internationally by means of the radio waves, which will vibrate even within the walls of Minneapolis’s churches, synagogues, and temples, and also via the godless intertubes. This week, they will once again spread the infidel lie that atheists can “lead rich, ethical and fulfilling lives without appealing to gods or religious authority”, when every Christian knows deep in their heart that they want to murder, maim, rape, and steal, and only God’s holy extortion can keep them in line.

Go ahead, tune in if you want to lead hedonistic lives of ungodly self-indulgence. Click on that link if you want to make Jesus cry. Destroy all of Western civilization by letting the heathen weaken the shackles of your sacred servitude.

(Just don’t tune in before 9 or after 10, because Air America runs some awesomely stupid informercials before and after the hour of reason.)

Comments

  1. #1 Patricia, OM
    February 21, 2009

    I want to live in ungodly self-indulgence!

  2. #2 www.10ch.org
    February 21, 2009

    Well, I heard, in a one post, that the ChristianityToday website values some ghostly “soul” more than “lead[ing] rich, ethical and fulfilling lives.”

  3. #3 Danio
    February 21, 2009

    I want to live in ungodly self-indulgence!

    In this economy? Good luck!

  4. #4 Patricia, OM
    February 21, 2009

    Ah come on Danio, let me wish!
    Self unemployed, husband laid off job in January, no more health care…ungodly self-indulgence sounds lovely.
    Surely if gawd loved me, and jezus cared, I wouldn’t have a worry. I’ll let you know when the gawd checks come rolling in.

  5. #5 AmyD
    February 21, 2009

    I just had some sweet Christian lady say that since I had a problem with faith, I was unable to believe in anything bigger than myself and therefore think that the world revolves around me. Also I want everyone to wallow in the misery of their own mistakes. Why? Because I didn’t like Ben Stein’s last column. :P

  6. #6 Patricia, OM
    February 21, 2009

    AmyD – Don’t worry about it. The world is filled with good christian ladies. They are full of self hating bullshit. Don’t fall for it. You are worthy! :)

  7. #7 Sarah
    February 21, 2009

    Since becoming an atheist I think more about ethical and moral issues when making decisions as I now realise that I, and not some imaginary greater being, is responsible for how I behave. Surely that makes me more moral than I was before. That said, ungodly indulgence sounds like fun. Unfortunately the term “ungodly” suggests the existence of god, perhaps “agodly” would work better?

    Also, did you mean “exhortation” in the last line of the first paragraph?

  8. #8 Patricia, OM
    February 22, 2009

    Atheists who grew up without religion… I have an objection to that. Those lucky folks don’t know what it is like to be gawd soaked from your great grand parents to yourself.
    You folk that haven’t had the hell fire thundered into your heads from eight o’clock day one, are the lucky ones.

    That’s right, smirk you cheeky bastards!

  9. #9 Peter McKellar
    February 22, 2009

    Can’t make it, sorry. I will be eating babies at that time ;)

    Is this available over the net?

  10. #10 druidbros
    February 22, 2009

    …God’s holy extortion…

    I like that phrase. I think I can steal me some good comedy material.

  11. #11 mothwentbad
    February 22, 2009

    I got a bunch of that growing up, Patricia. I hear you. It’s not the most extreme case – their god is the Joshua McDowell-style good cop/bad cop/creepy stalker hybrid who really cares about individual choices and is going to petulantly ask you why you should be let into HIS Heaven when you die, and there’s only one right answer.

  12. #12 Brian Westley
    February 22, 2009

    Warm up with this:
    Ultimate Praying Championship
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_E4haW1upw
    (thanks to luketheatheist.blogspot.com)

  13. #13 Ken Cope
    February 22, 2009

    You folk that haven’t had the hell fire thundered into your heads from eight o’clock day one, are the lucky ones.

    That’s so true, Patricia. My family burned in a fireplace anything I’d made a mark on until I escaped into the real world at 18, since it was all the work of somebody who was demon-possessed. My wife’s mom still considers herself a Christian, but I think her fantasy/SF geek side won a long time ago. Her raised Catholic, atheist since 12 father taught the Bible as literature for years and years, so my wife never was really subjected to much religion except as a subject of scholarship, a policy I’m following with my kids. I tried to explain to my 7 yr. old why some folks might object to his experimentation with the phrase “Oh, my God!” and tried to explain religious beliefs and he was just horrified and appalled. He’s fortunate to be in a second-grade classroom where they’re exposing him to astronomy and paleontology, with a teacher who is a fellow Zappa fan.

    I don’t want my son to be ignorant of religion any more than I want him to be ignorant of venomous critters, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to poison him with it just so he’ll be more like me. I like how his mom and uncle turned out viewing religion from the outside in, so there’s hope for him and his younger sister.

  14. #14 BMS
    February 22, 2009

    That’s right, smirk you cheeky bastards!

    *smirk*smirk*smirk*

    I love my parents.

  15. #15 Keviefriend
    February 22, 2009

    Yes, Dr. Myers, they do run some garbage on weekends. Tonight it was some stupid hockey game. The stupid dame that runs the place, a certain Janet Roberts, is completely willing to derail the political message for a sixpence.

  16. #16 simply
    February 22, 2009

    well was that american grouphate

  17. #17 Aquaria
    February 22, 2009

    Dangit–why don’t I ever get the memos about what we’re supposed to do on Sundays?

    I thought that was the day for champagne-and-baby brunch buffet followed by the S&M bestiality orgy!

    Now what am I going to do with all these clamps????

  18. #18 zachattack
    February 22, 2009

    I’ll tune in while pondering my ungodly, pointless existence!

  19. #19 simon
    February 22, 2009

    talk too much is not good.

    tell me your atheist moral teachings, what is allowed and not.

  20. #20 scooter
    February 22, 2009

    Much more fun radio reminder:
    Austin Atheist Experience Mash-up, and Senater Buttars on Gays

    Senator Buttars and other Christards deconstructed by the Crew at the Atheist Experience from Austin TX

    http://acksisofevil.org/audio/inner212.mp3
    or download from
    http://www.acksisofevil.org/innerside.html

  21. #21 Dan
    February 22, 2009

    Since I was introduced (by PZ) to this radio show a few weeks back it has become part of my Sunday afternoon routine (it’s 3pm in the UK).

    Something you may be interested in is this BBC radio show –
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/religion/moralmaze.shtml

  22. #22 JohnnieCanuck
    February 22, 2009

    At 7am on a Sunday? Try and guess what I plan on doing for my ungodly self-indulgence. One guess.

  23. #23 Richard Harris
    February 22, 2009

    simon – tell me your atheist moral teachings, what is allowed and not.

    You’re missing something there. It’s not the case that we need a book or engraved stone tablet to tell us some rules.

    We have an evolved ethical sense that gives us our morality. This ethical sense is also subject to our experiences, including training.

    Books with fixed rules are likely to be inappropriate as circumstances, culture, or environment change. Naturally ad people are going to break the rules anyway, & naturally good people don’t need imposed ethical rules.

  24. #24 Richard Harris
    February 22, 2009

    Correction: Books with fixed rules are likely to be inappropriate as circumstances, culture, or environment change. Naturally bad people are going to break the rules anyway, & naturally good people don’t need imposed ethical rules.

    For Simon’s benefit, I should’ve made it clear that our evolved ethical sense, like all inherited qualities or attributes, varies between individuals – just as some are tall or short, so some are good or bad, & most are about average.

  25. #25 conelrad
    February 22, 2009

    Simon–well, for one thing, it isn’t nice
    to molest altar boys.

  26. #26 Peter McKellar
    February 22, 2009

    Simon @19

    No-one else has jumped in, so I will have a go. I can’t speak for others, but at least some points have been expressed by others here and in other atheist forums.

    I tend to feel that most “morals” are hard-wired, or at least learned in kindergarten. They are mostly the same as religists (who stole/developed them from hard-wiring and experience through millennia of what works and what doesn’t). An xian would say “do unto others..”. Try to avoid violence or theft (self-defense is OK until it crosses over into revenge). I find “just” laws are a reasonable indicator – but killing infidels is not “just” (amongst so many other victimless crimes).

    I was taught by a friend in my 20s that it is not right to regard others as better or worse than yourself because of wealth, dress, grammar, perceived intelligence or bad dental care. There is no place for racism or sexism. Speak up if you see something wrong – tolerance is a slippery slope into eventual subjugation.

    Most others I had sorted out in my early teens. People make mistakes (sometimes terrible, tragic mistakes), including yourself so it helps to be forgiving.

    Call it karma, “what goes around, comes around” or “live by the sword, die by the sword”. These are all the same thing.

    Be pragmatic and think about what you do (or don’t do).

    One thing that takes it a little further is that we all depend on each other. By improving the lot of others (out to the whole of society) everyone benefits. The negative slant on this is the “rat in the house” syndrome – someone else’s problem is likely to end up as yours (and everyone elses’) unless it is corrected. The longer it is left, the worse it tends to become.

    Learn, teach others and improve yourself. It wasn’t until in my 30s that I discovered that you must also care for yourself, not just sacrifice or subjugate your own needs for other people, but not to the detriment of others either.

    Life is complex, don’t expect to have all the answers, depend on others and take (humble) credit if you have done something commendable – and give credit where due.

    Religists think it can all be put into a single book, but it can’t (and certainly not by me in this short post). I don’t have all the answers and nor does anyone else. Morality evolves personally and in society. There is no “perfect”, ultimate or end-point. Work it as best you can. If you screw up, pick yourself up and move on – a little wiser for the experience. Keep hope, for everyone that does you an injustice there are two that will help without expectation of reward. Put yourself in the second group.

  27. #27 Peter McKellar
    February 22, 2009

    I see Richard Harris put a good (and far more concise) explanation than I did (while composing my response).

    Conelrad @25 injected humour – an important inclusion and often overlooked when being discussed.

    I might add however. As an atheist (and this is where we differ from religists) we acknowledge that there is only one life for each of us. No everlasting utopia for the pious or faithful. Live our own lives in the best manner we can and allow others the same.

    With no heaven (or hell), it is up to us to build a “heaven” here on earth, for us and all others.

  28. #28 Kel
    February 22, 2009

    I just want to say “atheism has no moral teachings, nor does it need to since morality automatic when as part of a society. Having a moral guideline just complicates things [see Israeli-Palestine conflict]“

  29. #29 puseaus
    February 22, 2009

    where’s that moral eros… explosion party taking place… do i have to buy a ticket anywhere?

  30. #30 Pauline in UK
    February 22, 2009

    9 a.m. Central, that’s 3 p.m. UK. Yes, I should be back from the pub in time for that, having had a couple of hours ungodly hedonising with friends. And since you ask, the pub’s a 10 minute walk away, past the village church, no driving. :-)

  31. #31 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    February 22, 2009

    I love that we have live listeners in the U.K.!

    The reason that we don’t start until 9:00 a.m. CST in the U.S. is that after a hard night of rules breaking and morals-free carousing, I like to take the extra hour bathing in baby blood to rejuvenate myself. I think it works; I am 148 years old and people tell me I look much younger.

  32. #32 Peter McKellar
    February 22, 2009

    Hi Kel,

    Good to see you online. The aussies are close to shutting down for the night and handing over to other time zones. :)

    You raise an important point. I only discovered this one last year when filling out a survey for Sam Harris’ site. It hit me like a ton of bricks. He wasn’t the first to make the point, nor will he be the last.

    Having religion makes it impossible to lead a moral life. You cannot replace naturally evolved morality with some textbook and the rants of religious leaders (with their own shallow agendas). Life is too complex to cope with a simplistic single dogma.

  33. #33 David Marjanovi?, OM
    February 22, 2009

    tell me your atheist moral teachings, what is allowed and not.

    Well, in the absence of anyone who can just tell us what is allowed and what not, we have to think about what is a good idea and what isn’t.

    But that’s actually very simple. Let’s start with innate empathy. “If I do good, I feel good; if I do bad, I feel bad; that’s my religion”, said Abraham Lincoln.

    Wherever that isn’t enough, egotism comes in. That’s right, egotism: What is my own long-term self-interest? Do I want people to consider me an asshole? Because if I act like one, people will start treating me like one.

    Any more questions?

    Maybe where innate empathy comes from? It evolved. Look up kin selection and reciprocal altruism. In social species like us, born assholes tend to die out in the long run.

  34. #34 Kel
    February 22, 2009

    You raise an important point. I only discovered this one last year when filling out a survey for Sam Harris’ site. It hit me like a ton of bricks. He wasn’t the first to make the point, nor will he be the last.

    I agree, it’s a pretty heavy point to grasp. Yet I’m sure that if one hasn’t grasped the point you are alluding to, the statement is going to sound just like the standard characterisation – that we don’t have a basis for morality. And that’s absolutely bogus.

    Having religion makes it impossible to lead a moral life.

    I wouldn’t go as far as saying this personally, but I think it does highlight an incompatibility between religion and modern secular ideals. I’ve been convinced by reading the likes of Shermer that morality is culturally dependant. So since we are in a multicultural society, the difficulty of reconciling an absolute set of moral guidelines makes for conflict. We are at the stage where what people do in their own homes sexually is okay, yet the strongest opposition and an active movement against homosexuality is coming from people who happily recite Romans 1:32.

    So while we keep a secular society, the secular values that have sprung up make most religious doctrines look archaic and draconian by comparison. It’s just a good thing that most people aren’t devoutly religious when it comes to morality – they just have the remnant of crediting religion for morality when even a little reflection should demonstrate this notion is false.

    Good to see you online. The aussies are close to shutting down for the night and handing over to other time zones. :)

    I think I might have to do the same in a minute.

    Life is too complex to cope with a simplistic single dogma.

    Completely agree.

  35. #35 Peter McKellar
    February 22, 2009

    Kel,

    “impossible” is a little dogmatic and absolute. You are keeping me honest :)

    I am going to try to stay awake for the radio show, but it is getting late and will be much later by the end of the show.

    cheers and goodnight. :)

  36. #36 simon
    February 22, 2009

    @richard #23
    We have an evolved ethical sense that gives us our morality. This ethical sense is also subject to our experiences, including training.

    so your morality is not pure atheist morality. It is influenced by stone tablet as you live in the age where today the morality in it accepted by most of the people.
    You shall not covet your neighbour?s wife, shall you ?

    Do you know Sati practice ?
    The Portuguese banned the practice in Goa by about 1515. The Dutch and the French had also banned it in Chinsurah and Pondicherry. The first formal British ban was in 1798, in the city of Kalkattaa only.
    Later Indian Government passed the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987.
    Who were the Portuguese, Dutch and French ? Were they atheists ?

    What do you think about this Sati practice ?

    I live in Indonesia we still have some primitive tribes in the jungle. I can accompany you to visit them to see whether their ethical sense is the same as yours.
    You are a lucky atheist.

  37. #37 SC, OM
    February 22, 2009

    Good morning, everyone!

    For times:

    http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/converter.html

    One MN zip code:

    56267

    For anyone who can’t stay up, they put up the podcast later in the day (and usually post the link here), so you can listen at your leisure.

  38. #38 Kel
    February 22, 2009

    so your morality is not pure atheist morality.

    Simon, read this point and please understand the implications: there is no such thing as atheist morality. Atheism is simply a lack of believe in a god, nothing more, nothing less. An atheist is one who rejects God. Morality on the other hand is a social construct, one we are all subjected to. Morality is not God-given and the only ones who base their morality entirely off a holy book are the ones who blow themselves up in crowded market places. For the rest of us, we gain a sense of right and wrong through interacting socially, by determining what behaviours are acceptable or unacceptable through their consequences, and by the way in which our genetic code forms our brain.

    You need to understand what an atheist is instead of complaining about what an atheist isn’t.

  39. #39 SC, OM
    February 22, 2009

    Who were the Portuguese, Dutch and French ? Were they atheists ?

    They were Christian imperialists. They killed, starved, and enslaved millions of people in their quest for cheap labor, raw materials, and world domination. They also tormented people – men, women, and children – in the name of saving their souls.

    What do you think about this Sati practice ?

    I think it’s abhorrent. I also think imperialism is abhorrent. Any other stupid questions?

  40. #40 Peter McKellar
    February 22, 2009

    Good morning SC, OM.

    Thanks for the link, but I will try to listen live.

    Simon @36

    I suspect Richard may be asleep by now.

    My morality, and that as expressed by Richard (and quoted by you) is exactly atheistic. It requires no god and no edict passed down on stone tablets. Richard even states this and I agree with his words.

    Coveting wives is something prohibited by the christian bible and many other religions. I am not sure how to respond to your question. “Covet” is a christian concept. I have have neighbour’s wives that were babes but can’t remember any I have had sex with. If my wife (a fairly devout christian) had no objection, nor the neighbour or his wife then I would have no ethical problem with having sex with her (or maybe all three) but that would depend on the circumstances. But this generally doesn’t happen. Sex isn’t the issue – living in a community where others have externally imposed values (carved in stone) tends to restrict their options and I respect those. If you are suggesting some form of coercion, then definitely not. Fidelity in marriage is widespread but not universally accepted. It is practised even less – but I do follow my morality, it tends to be the religious that betray their principles (from my observations).

    The Portuguese, Dutch and French at that time were mostly Roman Catholic and the Dutch also have a large protestant community (including many Lutherans). In that colonial period they typically slaughtered vast numbers of locals in the name of their god and country (or the commercial interests of the Dutch East Indies Company). Englishman Clive of India was prominent in the DEI company in the early days.

    I abhor the practice of Sati (Suti as we call it). Three sons were convicted of permitting their mother to perform it in India just last month when I was there.

    I suspect that the tribes you speak of in Indonesia are following some animist religions. I have spent some time in Indonesia and travelled to a few isolated islands also. I was with a friend that had lived there for over 30 years, was married to an Indonesian woman and they both taught me a great deal. They had two lovely kids and my memories of the time and people are very special to me. My bahasa is almost all forgotten now :(

    I think of myself as fortunate indeed. I understand that being atheist is very difficult in the mostly muslim Java or Hindu Bali.

  41. #41 SC, OM
    February 22, 2009

    Sati is/was also a religious practice, whether or not Hindu mythology actually supports this view.

    Anyway, Allchin’s recent link to his site (which takes a very clear position) might be of interest:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/02/francis_collins_will_be_so_dis.php#comment-1410259

  42. #42 simon
    February 22, 2009

    @SC #39
    They were Christian imperialists. They killed, starved, and enslaved millions of people in their quest for cheap labor, raw materials, and world domination. They also tormented people – men, women, and children – in the name of saving their souls.

    They were not good Christians.
    If you think Christian are imperialists, you should leave America now, back to your origin, it is not your land.

    We have many martyrs who were truly Christians.

    The Sati is abhorrent because Christian banned it, if you were Indian and lived in that century, you would had no choice.

    My ancestor was a primitive and they embraced Catholic because of the moral teaching.

    What can atheist offer ? you don’t have any moral teachings except demoralization.

  43. #43 Kel
    February 22, 2009

    What can atheist offer ? you don’t have any moral teachings except demoralization.

    You just don’t get it, do you simon? There’s no such thing as atheist teachings.

  44. #44 clinteas
    February 22, 2009

    Peter McKellar @ 40,

    My morality, and that as expressed by Richard (and quoted by you) is exactly atheistic

    Your morality is your morality,which is the result of your particular learning/socialization etc,aint got nothing to do with atheism.
    There are atheist pedophiles or murderers just as there are catholic or jewish pedophiles and murderers.

    Simon,

    what SC said.

  45. #45 Peter McKellar
    February 22, 2009

    Clinteas @44 (and Kel)

    I stand corrected :) I will say that my atheism permits me to exercise my morality rather than having it told to me.

    Simon @44

    “They were not good Christians”

    Bullshit. This is typical revisionist crap peddled by theist morons. They were devout Christians – typically despatched to commit their slaughter under orders from an “infallible” religious leader. History is littered with the corpses of victims of christianity.

    “If you think Christian are imperialists, you should leave America now, back to your origin, it is not your land”

    Fuck off. Nor am I American (but I have left that country many times and will probably visit and leave again in the future). Unless you are talking Olduvai Gorge, we are all invaders.

    “We have many martyrs who were truly Christians”

    Agreed. Christians tend to slaughter other christians far more than those of other religions. But in fairness, christians are equal opportunity murders and have in the past killed indiscriminately regardless of the religion of their victims.

    “The Sati is abhorrent because Christian banned it”

    No. Sati is abhorrent because it is murder/suicide and treats human beings like property.

    My ancestor was a primitive and they embraced Catholic because of the moral teaching.

    Wrong. It was forced on them. If they hadn’t converted you would not be alive today.

    “What can atheist offer ? you don’t have any moral teachings except demoralization.”

    I guess you haven’t really read anything we have posted. You clearly came here to push your own bronze age delusions on people that have a far higher moral standard than yourself.

  46. #46 SC, OM
    February 22, 2009

    They were not good Christians.

    :D

    If you think Christian are imperialists, you should leave America now, back to your origin, it is not your land.

    If I could figure out where that is (and I may be part Native American). I believe in the free movement of people, but governments don’t. They would kick me out after a few months. So I do what I can here.

    The Sati is abhorrent because [WTF???] Christian [imperialists] banned it [using this as justification for their own brutality and depredation], if you were Indian and lived in that century, you would had no choice.

    I think you should study your history, and understand that cultures are not monolithic or lacking in internal struggles or rebellion.

    My ancestor was a primitive and they embraced Catholic because of the moral teaching.

    Catholic moral teaching. *snort* (And so much better for women!)

    Actually, from what I’ve seen of many South American indigenous cultures (and of course it’s impossible, after centuries of cultural interaction and transformation, to find any essential core of these cultures), many “primitive” cultures, stripped of supernatural nonsense, are much closer to my own approach when it comes to “moral teaching” in a number of areas. But then I’m not ignorant or brainwashed enough to believe in either the “wicked savage” or “noble savage” mythology.

    What can atheist offer ?

    Reality.

  47. #47 Peter McKellar
    February 22, 2009

    SC, OM @46

    “Reality”

    touche :)

  48. #48 clinteas
    February 22, 2009

    “They were not good Christians”

    Ah,the no true scotsman fallacy,always nice….:-)

    Nah mate,they were the real deal,100% true believers,not this watered down stuff they do in church today !! LOL

  49. #49 simon
    February 22, 2009

    @Peter #45
    Fuck off. Nor am I American ….

    is it your morality ? Your father did not teach you a polite word ??

    Wrong. It was forced on them. If they hadn’t converted you would not be alive today.

    sure it is a fallacy. Many muslims did not convert to Catholic and they still alive today.

  50. #50 SC, OM
    February 22, 2009

    Some good Christian world leaders and the good Christian church that supported them, in accordance with its moral teachings:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/02/she_is_in_the_condition_to_hav.php#comment-1401933

    …, Mugabe,…

  51. #51 simon
    February 22, 2009

    @SC #46


    Actually, from what I’ve seen of many South American indigenous cultures (and of course it’s impossible, after centuries of cultural interaction and transformation, to find any essential core of these cultures), many “primitive” cultures, stripped of supernatural nonsense, are much closer to my own approach when it comes to “moral teaching” in a number of areas. But then I’m not ignorant or brainwashed enough to believe in either the “wicked savage” or “noble savage” mythology.

    come, i will send you to the jungle where you will be beheaded. We still have indigenous cultures here.
    Don’t talk from the nice place, come and prove it at site.

    Reality.
    reality that you do not have nothing to offer, just attacking other’s believe.
    Scientist but lack of intellectual, shameful.

  52. #52 Peter McKellar
    February 22, 2009

    Simon @49

    “is it your morality ? Your father did not teach you a polite word ??”

    What is this idiotic thing that makes christians think they can win an argument by making up whatever they want and then claiming they won because they are more polite. You make me laugh :)

    Politness is not an argument. You act all indignant because your god does not exist, never has and you know it deep down. You are arguing here because the religion you follow is so full of holes that you are trying to convince yourself. You also know nothing of my father.

    Muslim, christian – does it really matter? Both religions forced themselves on the local population. Choose your poison.

  53. #53 KI
    February 22, 2009

    Hahaha…country of my origins?
    How would I do that? Left leg to Sweden, right shin to Norway, right thigh chopped into three or four pieces to scatter about England and Wales, split my torso between Bavaria, Prussia, Austria and Denmark, put my heart in a French Ghetto and my head in a cart to be driven out of every town my gypsy brain tries to stay in, my left arm can go to Ireland, my right arm to Brittany, and my right hand up to the Red Lake Rez.

  54. #54 Richard Harris
    February 22, 2009

    Simon, you ask, “What can atheist offer? you don’t have any moral teachings except demoralization.”

    No. I think that Peter summed it up quite well @ # 26, with what is basically a Humanist morality. (Peter, I wasn’t sleeping. I live in the UK, & went out for a bike ride up & down the hills of North Dorset & South Somerset.)

    Humanism is the moral voice of atheism. I quote from the British Humanist Association’s website, “Humanists are atheists and agnostics who make sense of the world using reason, experience and shared human values. We take responsibility for our actions and base our ethics on the goals of human welfare, happiness and fulfillment. We seek to make the best of the one life we have by creating meaning and purpose for ourselves, individually and together.”

    Being a Humanist probably requires a bit more intelligence than being a Christian, etc. That’s because Humanists don’t tell each other what they should do. Those people who do become Humanists are likely to have a heightened ethical sense, & I very much doubt that ‘bad’ people would have any interest in Humanism.

    This may seem like a failure to you, if Humanism cannot, in practice, provide guidance for those who most need it. My answer to this is that Humanism seeks to provide an ethical influence on society. The law is intended to punish those who do wrong, where ‘wrongness’ is socially constructed to be relevant to the particular society in which the law is operative. This is much better than being constrained by inflexible rules that may have become irrelevant, or which are not sufficiently nuanced to deal with particular situations.

  55. #55 simon
    February 22, 2009

    @Peter McKellar,

    nice name, Christian name, your father chose a good name.
    Peter was crucified in Rome, he was a martyr, died for nothing except for his faith.
    Rome and Scotland were barbaric nation at that time, and later they were Christian Kingdoms, amazing.
    As a result of modernization, Europe lost their Christianity civilization and moral. They become relativist, agnostic and atheist. Muslim who many times failed to occupy it, now as immigrants grow very fast and soon they may take over Europe. Some atheist tried to stop them by publishing some cartoons and film, it is not working ! Your children may live in Islam civilization and for you it is good because you can have many wives and they will take your daughters as concubines.
    No one can stop them, it is too late.

  56. #56 'Tis Himself
    February 22, 2009

    As a result of modernization, Europe lost their Christianity civilization and moral.

    That’s what happens when the Inquisition loses the ability to burn heretics at the stake. People start thinking for themselves instead of blindly following religious leaders.

  57. #57 jon
    February 22, 2009

    @simon,

    Uh, Christians have tended toward barbarism also,
    remember the crusades, inquisition, salem witch trials,
    most of the conquest of north america?

    People have the tendency to “suck”, religion tends to let them suck collectively. Christianity is not exempt from this, and at times exemplified this.

  58. #58 Knockgoats
    February 22, 2009

    Peter was crucified in Rome, he was a martyr, died for nothing except for his faith. – simon

    What an idiot he must have been.

    Rome and Scotland were barbaric nation at that time, and later they were Christian Kingdoms, amazing.

    The decline of the Roman Empire coincided with the spread of Christianity within it. I’m not saying this was cause and effect – but it’s an interesting coincidence. The people who destroyed the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century were Christians too, of course.

    Muslim who many times failed to occupy it, now as immigrants grow very fast and soon they may take over Europe. Some atheist tried to stop them by publishing some cartoons and film, it is not working ! Your children may live in Islam civilization and for you it is good because you can have many wives and they will take your daughters as concubines.
    No one can stop them, it is too late.

    You’ve been listening to racist loonies, or frequenting their websites, now haven’t you simon? What a silly boy you are. The current total EU population is almost exactly 500 million, of whom less than 20 million are Muslims. While their numbers are currently increasing, European Muslim birthrates are dropping, and will probably approach the European average within the next few decades.

  59. #59 co
    February 22, 2009

    I’m often impressed by the prose (and Cuttlefish, of course) on this site.

    People have the tendency to “suck”, religion tends to let them suck collectively.

    There’s a bit of poetry about that. Succinct.

    KI’s posting:

    Hahaha…country of my origins?
    How would I do that? Left leg to Sweden, right shin to Norway, right thigh chopped into three or four pieces to scatter about England and Wales, split my torso between Bavaria, Prussia, Austria and Denmark, put my heart in a French Ghetto and my head in a cart to be driven out of every town my gypsy brain tries to stay in, my left arm can go to Ireland, my right arm to Brittany, and my right hand up to the Red Lake Rez.

    was rather beautiful. Very much a Bradbury Something Wicked This Way Comes moment.

  60. #60 KI
    February 22, 2009

    co@59
    Thank you.

  61. #61 SC, OM
    February 22, 2009

    come, i will send you to the jungle where you will be beheaded. We still have indigenous cultures here.

    You’re an ignorant twit, simon.

    reality that you do not have nothing to offer, just attacking other’s believe.
    Scientist but lack of intellectual, shameful.

    Reality is the most important contribution to morality that can be made. The reality that there are no supernatural beings or processes directing or judging our actions or to whom we can turn to justify our brutalization of others. That our choices are our own, the potential or actual results of our actions are the concrete ones we see, and their consequaences are our responsibility. That morality, while evolving among social animals, is a capacity that is created, learned, and transmitted culturally. It is chosen, of necessity. Reality.

    ***

    That was good! I read “life coaching” in the description and was expecting some froof, but it wasn’t new-agey at all, and in fact touched upon a number of points that have come up here in recent discussions (especially related to existentialism and responsibility). (I will say that I don’t think The Rebel is particularly difficult to read, though I agree about Sartre’s extended Flaubert flight.) The questions elicited insightful answers. Book sounds interesting – I’ll add it to my list.

  62. #62 castletonsnob
    February 22, 2009

    The only thing more amusing–or is it tedious?–than a second-rate troll is a second-rate troll sputtering in broken English.

    Keep it coming, simple simon!

  63. #63 Scott Hatfield, OM
    February 22, 2009

    Oh, my goodness! And here I thought I could listen to the podcast every week as part of my attempt to understand the world from another’s point of view. I am shocked, shocked I tell you to realize that I am, in fact, making the baby Jesus cry. I had no idea that you bloodsuckers actually sucked blood! Why didn’t someone tell me that earlier?

    Well, you can rest assured that I will not be supporting the paean to hedonistic self-indulgence anymore! Obviously, all of us good Christians need to approach the godless in exactly the same spirit, which of course is one of self-satisfied judgement. I am definitely relieved to have been once again set on the straight and narrow path by America’s most righteous blogger.

    And, for anyone else who wants to avoid making the same mistake, please please please do not go to this site for more information.

  64. #64 Ed
    February 22, 2009

    We all know about those wicked, evil, ignorant Christians – their shameful behavior is often mentioned in the morning paper. Well,that’s THEIR relationship with God. What about YOUR relationship with God? I’d say it’s pretty good. You all profess to have a highly moral life, without evil or sin. Also, you think about and discuss God constantly, as well as Church doctrines, on this blog, Keep up the good work. Keep talking and thinking, and never give up on God. He doesn’t give up on you.

  65. #65 castletonsnob
    February 22, 2009

    In your expert opinion, Ed, just how DO you have a relationship with something that doesn’t exist?

  66. #66 Circe of the Godless
    February 22, 2009

    Simon “What can atheist offer ? you don’t have any moral teachings except demoralization. ”

    I live a good moral life, not hurting anyone else, not making them live by my rules when they don’t want to, not fucking around on anyone, and yet being an aetheist. This makes me VASTLY more moral than some tard who only does these things bacause they think if they don’t then some really friendly sky fairy will sentence them to Hell.
    Many christians who I’ve seen display totally immoral behaviour. You just all like to use your sky fairy to excuse yourselves and place yourselves above others.

  67. #67 Citizen Z
    February 22, 2009

    come, i will send you to the jungle where you will be beheaded.

    “Love thy neighbor”, eh?

  68. #68 Richard Harris
    February 22, 2009

    Eddie, What about YOUR relationship with God?

    You are obviously referring to a specific god-thing. I saw through that crap while still a small boy. Maybe you will when you grow up?

    It’s obvious there aren’t any theistic gods. And I would only say that there’s a theoretical possibility of deistic gods. As there’s no evidence of them operating in the world, their putative existence can be discounted.

  69. #69 wondering
    February 22, 2009

    Am listening to the radio program now. I find it interesting how many times the speaker mentions God when he’s making a point — “God willing”, “in God’s name”, and other phrases. Anyone else notice this?

  70. #70 Rey Fox
    February 22, 2009

    Uh oh, looks like Ed totally zinged us. Well, off to church with me.

    “reality that you do not have nothing to offer, just attacking other’s believe.”

    And yet you turn around and attack our beliefs. What makes you think you have a free pass?

    “Muslim who many times failed to occupy it, now as immigrants grow very fast and soon they may take over Europe.”

    And so it all comes back to xenophobia, how unsurprising. If this discussion goes any further, we’ll probably hit the sexual repression aspect too.

  71. #71 conelrad
    February 22, 2009

    Ed @ 64: something similar occurred to me the other
    day when there was a link to a Gallup poll with a
    set of questions along the lines of ‘how important
    is god/religion in your daily life?’ As a regular
    reader of this & similar blogs, I do spend a fair
    amount of time thinking about these questions even
    though I am a non-believer, & observe no religious
    rituals. Rather than a relationship with god, what
    I have is a relationship with other anonymous posters,
    some of whom hold such beliefs.

  72. #72 puseaus
    February 22, 2009

    This tendency to “suck” previously mentioned. Is this scientifically established somewhere or just another loose hypothesis?

  73. #73 jon
    February 22, 2009

    @puseaus

    Just a casual observation…but I tend toward cynicism,
    so take it with a grain of salt.

  74. #74 Barbb
    February 22, 2009

    What I don’t get, is why atheists would evangelize for their cause. They have nothing to offer. (However, Satan proselytyzes as the enemy of God.) They value what they consider to be their ‘freedom of thought’ and so on –their freedom from threat of Hell and damnation, but what else do they consider positive about their godless perspective? You can’t point to atheism and say it results in peace –though there are peace-advocating atheists. But NAzi leadership and Communists are atheists –and not peaceful. (Granted some white supremacists who don’t know the Bible call themselves Christian but Jesus won’t claim them.)

    You can’t say atheism comforts one in times of illness or death. You DO say that religion causes wars –but in fact, it’s not true Biblical Christianity that causes war –except possibly in a “just war” to liberate the oppressed or restrain evil.

  75. #75 Tom Hall
    February 22, 2009

    Hello all, I have not commented for some while but thought you would appreciate this gem, It`s the Moral Maze on BBC 4 radio the Wednesday 18th February edition, you can get it on the BBC iPlayer, religion and ethics. Alistair McGrath and the Bishop of Southwark Tom Butler star. Enjoy your listening.

  76. #76 Sven DiMilo
    February 22, 2009

    Hi Barb. Your arguments from consequences are red herrings, every one. The positive thing about atheism is its reliance on empirical reality and a critical, incremental approach to true understanding, rather than blind and unthinking reliance on fairy-tale delusion.

  77. #77 Kel
    February 22, 2009

    What I don’t get, is why atheists would evangelize for their cause.

    That’s because unfortunately people like you say stupid shit and pass on radical misconceptions about what atheism is.

    But NAzi leadership

    By any chance can you speak German? This was on the belt of every 3rd Reich officer.
    http://www.lewrockwell.com/vance/wwii-buckle.jpg
    “Gott mit uns”

    (Granted some white supremacists who don’t know the Bible call themselves Christian but Jesus won’t claim them.)

    Look up “no true Scotsman”

    See? This is the reason why atheists need to get their message out. Because morons like you perpetuate absolute fantasy in order to demonise atheists. You have no clue at all, yet you preach negatively about things you understand. Get an education you fool!

  78. #78 Richard Harris
    February 22, 2009

    Barbb, atheism is not an ideology. We atheists just do not believe silly Bronze Age superstitions.

    Hitler was not an atheist. Communism is an ideology with many of the characteristics of religion.

    As for atheism not providing comfort in times of illness or death, we atheists are not wishful thinkers. I derive comfort from being relatively rational.

    And you’ve committed the ‘no true Scotsman’ fallacy.

  79. #79 jon
    February 22, 2009

    Barbb@74

    “but in fact, it’s not true Biblical Christianity that causes war –except possibly in a “just war” to liberate the oppressed or restrain evil.”

    Those damned Canaanites in the OT had the gall to live in lands that Yahweh had promised to his followers…they were simply “liberating” the holy land, yeah, that’s the ticket.
    The people of Jericho deserved to be slaughtered, completely okay. Or are the contents of the OT not true “biblical christianity”?

    (damnit I’m feeding the tard)

    OBVIOUS TARD IS OBVIOUS.

  80. #80 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “they will once again spread the infidel lie that atheists can “lead rich, ethical and fulfilling lives without appealing to gods or religious authority”, when every Christian knows deep in their heart that they want to murder, maim, rape, and steal, and only God’s holy extortion can keep them in line.”

    This has nothing to do with any of the theistic arguments from (or concerning) morality. The argument isn’t that atheists aren’t moral, or can’t be moral, or are ‘less’ moral than theists, etc. Rather, the argument is that atheists cannot ground or justify moral propositions. They can frequently describe them — which is to say, they can give them content and provide at least plausible accounts of their origins — but they cannot make the move from description to prescription. In other words, they can act altruistically, advocate altruism, describe and properly categorize (in most situations) altruistic behavior, explain how altruism might have developed, and explain the benefits of altruism in general, but they cannot answer the question, “**If** I can be **certain** I’ll get away with an act that will harm a lot of people but that will benefit me (or my family, friends, etc), then, even if the harm to others greatly outweighs my gains, why shouldn’t I do it?” Please, keep in mind that I’m stipulating that the harms outweigh the benefits, and that the act will not be found out. Now, it seems to me that any ‘explanation’ of morality that does not contain the resources required to answer this question is inadequate, and I’ve yet to see an atheistic answer with those resources.

    (BTW, the theistic answer isn’t some absurd, “Behave or go to hell” or “Behave because God or the Bible said so” chestnut, so if that’s your only response to this post, then…)

  81. #81 Kel
    February 22, 2009

    it’s not true Biblical Christianity that causes war –except possibly in a “just war” to liberate the oppressed or restrain evil.

    There was a study cited in The End Of Faith were a group of Jewish children were told of a God-commanded massacre of the village. Surprisingly most children thought that it was okay, since it was God-commanded. The researcher changed the story to be about a Chinese king who did the same thing. Interestingly enough, only a tiny percent still thought that action was okay. Point is, what people justify in their own religion they are critical without.

    Again, look up “No true Scotsman”

  82. #82 Sarah
    February 22, 2009

    Without religion good people will do good and evil people will do evil. It is only with religion that good people can be made to do evil.

    @Barbb #74
    I have a rule in my classroom and in my house: bringing up nazis as evidence to support your argument automatically loses you the debate.

  83. #83 jon
    February 22, 2009

    Eric@80

    “(BTW, the theistic answer isn’t some absurd, “Behave or go to hell” or “Behave because God or the Bible said so” chestnut, so if that’s your only response to this post, then…)”

    That sort of begs the question as to what the theist explanation is then…

  84. #84 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “(Granted some white supremacists who don’t know the Bible call themselves Christian but Jesus won’t claim them.)
    Look up “no true Scotsman””

    The no-true-Scotsman fallacy is one of the most misunderstood fallacies (second only to ‘ad hominem’ and ‘ad verecundiam’). What is at issue when analyzing a possible instance of the NTS is what attributes, qualities, etc. are essential to a particular category. If one of those essential elements are in some sense violated in a particular case, there’s no fallacy. In other words, the fallacy is committed *only* when a non-essential element is claimed to be essential. For example, it’s not an essential attribute of ‘being a Scotsman’ that one not commit certain crimes; therefore, to claim that a Scotsman who commits a horrible crime isn’t a ‘true’ Scotsman is to commit the fallacy. Now, if loving your enemies and such is an essential attribute to Christianity, then one is not guilty of the fallacy if he claims that a violent white supremacist isn’t a Christian. The only way to avoid this is to define a Christian loosely as ‘someone who self-identifies as a Christian’ (or some such nonsense). But in that case, the problem isn’t with another person’s understanding of logic, but with your definition of Christianity (or whatever).

  85. #85 castletonsnob
    February 22, 2009

    The trolls are out in force on this The Lord’s Day, aren’t they? First simon, then Ed, and now Barbb who manages a Godwin and a No True Christian fallacy in the same post.

    Is it too much to ask for something original?

  86. #86 Richard Harris
    February 22, 2009

    Eric …they cannot answer the question, “**If** I can be **certain** I’ll get away with an act that will harm a lot of people but that will benefit me (or my family, friends, etc), then, even if the harm to others greatly outweighs my gains, why shouldn’t I do it?”

    Humans have an evolved moral sense that militates against such behaviour. Of course, some people have more of this sense than do others, as one expects according to evolutionary theory.

    What a god might have to do with this, other than rewarding or punishing, I can’t imagine. I presume that you know that Plato, in The Euthyphro, demolished the notion that ‘the good’ is determined by the gods.

  87. #87 Janine, Ignorant Slut
    February 22, 2009

    Posted by: Barbb | February 22, 2009

    Oh my! Barbb is back to preach to us. Off topic but here is a hint, do not use a name the brings to mind a fetishized doll.

    What I don’t get, is why atheists would evangelize for their cause. They have nothing to offer.

    You have never listened to the show. Many of the topics touches upon ideas that does not require a deity to support them. While their are other topics that addresses life as a secular person. You are quite wrong that atheists have nothing to offer. Take away the concept of god and there is still everything in existence to deal with.

    (However, Satan proselytyzes as the enemy of God.)

    Sorry, we give the meaning of Satan the same value as the meaning of God.

    They value what they consider to be their ‘freedom of thought’ and so on –their freedom from threat of Hell and damnation, but what else do they consider positive about their godless perspective?

    It is very hard to be scared of a concept when that concept holds no meaning. Therefore, we lack the fear of ending up in hell.

    You can’t point to atheism and say it results in peace –though there are peace-advocating atheists.

    Life, by it’s nature is filled with conflict. But we can work at avoiding needless conflict.

    But NAzi leadership and Communists are atheists –and not peaceful.

    The Nazi leaders were a mixture of Catholics, Protestants and occultists. As long as one was willing to work for Hitler, all was open. The Communists turned their love of god to the love of a god like leader of the state.

    (Granted some white supremacists who don’t know the Bible call themselves Christian but Jesus won’t claim them.)

    Some one needs to learn of the concept of “the sins of Ham”. Also, it seems that Barb is willing to offer the opinion of her lord and savior. I will not suffer a woman to speak.

    You can’t say atheism comforts one in times of illness or death.

    Yet everyday, atheists all around the world comfort friends and family in the aftermath of death. The story of eternal life is not comfort when a person is gone. But you speak from ignorance. It is to be expected from you.

    You DO say that religion causes wars –but in fact, it’s not true Biblical Christianity that causes war –except possibly in a “just war” to liberate the oppressed or restrain evil.

    Religion is but one factor that brings about wars. And it would seem that Europe and the Americas has never been run by “True Christians” judging by all of the wars of agression over the last fifteen hundred years.

    Barb, it would seem that you show off the education that many fundamentalists believe is proper for a housewife. Do yourself a favor and try to expand from such constricting boundaries.

  88. #88 Kel
    February 22, 2009

    Religion is but one factor that brings about wars. And it would seem that Europe and the Americas has never been run by “True Christians” judging by all of the wars of agression over the last fifteen hundred years.

    those were the ‘just’ ones. ;)

  89. #89 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “Humans have an evolved moral sense that militates against such behaviour.”

    They’ve also evolved a selfishness that pushes them towards such behavior. When two instincts conflict, you need a tertium quid to appeal to.

    “I presume that you know that Plato, in The Euthyphro, demolished the notion that ‘the good’ is determined by the gods.”

    Euthyphro’s dilemma has itself been demolished by Aquinas, who exposed it as a false alternative. If god’s nature itself determines the good, then it could not have been different (which knocks down one horn of the dilemma), and it is not independent of god (which knocks the other horn down).

  90. #90 castletonsnob
    February 22, 2009

    So, Eric @80, the only thing keeping you from harming others is your belief in Jesus Christ? If at some point in the future you were to come to realize that Christianity was false, you would feel free to indulge all your basest impulses?

    If so, do the rest of the world a favor, and don’t EVER stop believing. Please.

  91. #91 Lee Harrison
    February 22, 2009

    Eric #80:

    the argument is that atheists cannot ground or justify moral propositions.

    You say this as if a) that’s automatically a bad thing, and b) Christians somehow can justify moral propositions.

    B first – what good does it do to ‘ground’ anything in a fairy tale? The central issue is simple – does God exist? In the absence of reasonable evidence for existence, God’s existence can’t be used as a foundation/justification/grounding for anything.

    (And please don’t try the Transcendental Argument rubbish that the existence of objective morality means a god must exist. The existence of objective is, at best, an assumption or, at worst, one link in a circular argument: objective morals — God — objective morals.)

    As for A – we can’t fully objectively justify morality. Surprise, surprise, the world is a messy place. This is not surprising when we consider the evidence – degrees of moral behavior can be seen in other animals, inate morality is a set of heuristics (rules of thumb, not ‘moral laws’) that, broadly speaking, work together to enhance the likelihood of survival in a social species, human morality has been broadly similar across cultures but with many local differences – all evidence that morality is a result of a messy evolutionary process whose only ‘ultimate grounding’ is that it works.

  92. #92 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “So, Eric @80, the only thing keeping you from harming others is your belief in Jesus Christ? If at some point in the future you were to come to realize that Christianity was false, you would feel free to indulge all your basest impulses?”

    Castletonsnob, go back and reread (read?) my post at #80. I’m speaking about justification. Nothing I said entails that if morality is unjustified, then I will harm others. I explicitly said that atheists act morally without such a justification. If I thought it was impossible to act morally in the absence of such justification, I wouldn’t have said this.

  93. #93 aratina
    February 22, 2009

    Eric #80, when you write, “**If** I can be **certain** I’ll get away with an act that will harm a lot of people but that will benefit me (or my family, friends, etc), then, even if the harm to others greatly outweighs my gains, why shouldn’t I do it?” you are supposing that a totalitarian god forces believers to not act without regard to others for selfish gains, but you know this to be utterly false. Belief in a totalitarian god neither forces anyone to do anything nor does it force a psychopath to even briefly consider the repercussions of a deliberately evil act.

    Altruism, on the other hand, up to a point has very significant survival benefits for social creatures that are rather obvious, particularly so within human societies. What’s more, we have historical evidence that morals are dropped rapidly by humans and other animals when a group is threatened by danger that group dynamics cannot adequately diminish.

    I would actually disagree with some of the opinions expressed above by others that there is no such thing as atheistic morality, or “morality without god.” When you are intellectually empowered to see past religious dogma enough to place “God” in the same category as unicorns, then any morality you do define must necessarily be atheistic. The whole idea probably seems ass-backwards to theists, but atheism really opens up a whole new, much more mature worldview undaunted by human limitations but also more respectful of them.

  94. #94 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “The central issue is simple – does God exist? In the absence of reasonable evidence for existence, God’s existence can’t be used as a foundation/justification/grounding for anything.”

    The fact that you restrict your criteria to ‘evidence’ is telling: you see ‘god’ as another scientific hypothesis, no doubt to allow you to beat up on the idiotic ID crowd and the Paleys of the world. Philosophers have traditionally appealed not to ‘evidence’ for god’s existence (when you think about it, it’s incoherent to make such an appeal anyway), but to metaphysical arguments for god’s existence.

    “As for A – we can’t fully objectively justify morality. Surprise, surprise, the world is a messy place.”

    Ah, so now we get to the relevant part — you’re conceding that you have no answer to my question. You’re speaking about strategies, not about morality. So, if I can benefit a great deal from an act, even if I harm others a great deal more, I would be foolish if, given that I’m certain to get away with it in every sense, I didn’t go through with it. This is where strategies get you, but anyone who’s intellectually honest — heck, anyone who’s read a modicum of the world’s great literature and poetry — knows that when we speak about morality, we aren’t thinking in terms of strategies at all.

  95. #95 co
    February 22, 2009

    So, if I can benefit a great deal from an act, even if I harm others a great deal more, I would be foolish if, given that I’m certain to get away with it in every sense, I didn’t go through with it.

    Yeesh. These are questions (not to say that they aren’t worth arguing, if only for a bit of philosophical navel-gazing) which we were made to answer a couple of times a week in my 10th grade English class.
    If I remember correctly, one of the partial resolutions of this question was another question: “Does ‘in every sense’ also include having to live with the knowledge of having committed whatever act we’re talking about?” How far does ‘in every sense’ actually extend?
    Please define the parameters of the question. I myself have a hard time reconciling getting away with something ‘in every sense’ with harming others a great deal.

  96. #96 Lee Harrison
    February 22, 2009

    The fact that you restrict your criteria to ‘evidence’ is telling

    The fact that you don’t probably tells us more.

    you’re conceding that you have no answer to my question

    and you just failed reading for comprehension.

    You’re speaking about strategies, not about morality. So, if I can benefit a great deal from an act, even if I harm others a great deal more, I would be foolish if, given that I’m certain to get away with it in every sense, I didn’t go through with it. This is where strategies get you, but anyone who’s intellectually honest — heck, anyone who’s read a modicum of the world’s great literature and poetry — knows that when we speak about morality, we aren’t thinking in terms of strategies at all.

    Firstly, you are still speaking from the assumption that objective morality even exists – the very point that I was taking issue with. This is somewhat equivalent to saying, “No you’re wrong and you must be, because you haven’t ackowledge that I’m right.”

    Secondly, you said strategies, I said heuristics. Do you know what heuristics are? And do you know that they don’t have to be conscious? Your hypothetical dilemma that every atheist ‘should’ immediately ‘fail’ because they can’t justify doing anything else misses the point entirely (gasp! what a shock!). I wouldn’t take the ‘wrong’ path because it would feel wrong. These moral rules of thumb laid down in my brain thanks to millions of evolution among social primates would tend, in most peoiple, to make it feel that way regardless of strategies, justification, grounding or anything other red herring you care to raise.

    I would have thought that point was rather obvious. Either I really was not clear enough, which i scertainly possible, or your crack regarding intellectual honesty was a case of pots and kettles.

  97. #97 SC, OM
    February 22, 2009

    This

    This what? Are you telling PZ what his blog is about or to which arguments he can respond?

    has nothing to do with any of the theistic arguments from (or concerning) morality. The argument isn’t that atheists aren’t moral, or can’t be moral, or are ‘less’ moral than theists, etc.

    Whose argument? I see those arguments from theists almost every day, here and elsewhere.

    Rather, the argument is that atheists cannot ground or justify moral propositions.

    That’s bullshit.

    They can frequently describe them…and explain the benefits of altruism in general, but they cannot answer the question, “**If** I can be **certain** I’ll get away with an act that will harm a lot of people but that will benefit me (or my family, friends, etc) [hmmm...], then, even if the harm to others greatly outweighs my gains, why shouldn’t I do it?” [my bold]

    Because it will harm a lot of people. Concretely. In the real fucking world. That’s the explanation. That’s the reality-based justification. Morality, for which we’ve evolved the innate capacity, is developed and expressed in ongoing social contexts. We have only the other beings on this planet, and they have only us. That is the basis of any moral system, which is necessarily a cultural creation. This has nothing to do with atheism except insofar as secular/scientific reason removes imaginary bases or justifications for our acts or beliefs that distance us mentally from the social and material world in which we live and in which our acts have real consequences, for others and for our relationships.

  98. #98 graphictruth
    February 22, 2009

    Harrumph. The point should also be made that Christians can lead rich, fulfilling, significant and ethically blameless lives by ignoring the same things that offend atheists, and for much the same reasons.

    Whether one views conscience as innate, god-given or some mixture of the two, the bible – and most of the rest of the human spiritual and ethical literature is consistent on the point that good results cannot be had via evil deeds.

    It’s hard to think of a more conspicuous generator of evil deeds than “Cultural Christianity” in the US, particularly when in unholy congress with congresscritters. Or in other words while I’m no Atheist, I sure as hell applaud your evangelical efforts.

    Oh, I just made a blog entry referring to your post about tthe texas legislature.It’s illustrated with a design that might be fun to wear to events such as this. It’s likely to cause spontaneous cranial detonation and I wish to ghu it was mine. Alas, no. But I want it.

  99. #99 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “Does ‘in every sense’ also include having to live with the knowledge of having committed whatever act we’re talking about?” How far does ‘in every sense’ actually extend?”

    Let’s go with a weak understanding of this (or a modification, if you prefer), since, while the extreme philosophical example is just as telling, the weaker formulation is ‘more plausible’ to those who are suspicious of gedanken experiments or hypotheticals in general. So, ‘to get away with it in every sense’ minimally means that whatever the costs to you (psychological, etc.) the benefits outweigh the costs (i.e., outweigh the costs *to you*; overall, the harm to others, however, outweighs your gains).

  100. #100 Ken Cope
    February 22, 2009

    The fact that you restrict your criteria to ‘evidence’ is telling: you see ‘god’ as another scientific hypothesis, no doubt to allow you to beat up on the idiotic ID crowd and the Paleys of the world. Philosophers have traditionally appealed not to ‘evidence’ for god’s existence (when you think about it, it’s incoherent to make such an appeal anyway), but to metaphysical arguments for god’s existence.

    I’m going to give you, Eric, an opportunity to present an appeal for the existence of any god that is not incoherent, as well as, in the absence of any evidence for its existence, distinguishable from the non-existent.

    That you have Aquinas trumping Plato on Euthyphro is telling enough, but that you pretend that your philostophy trumps science subjects you to the assault of well-earned ridicule by this blog’s denizens who do not sully the reputation of philosophy.

  101. #101 Jeff Eyges
    February 22, 2009

    …the argument is that atheists cannot ground or justify moral propositions. They can frequently describe them — which is to say, they can give them content and provide at least plausible accounts of their origins — but they cannot make the move from description to prescription. In other words, they can act altruistically, advocate altruism, describe and properly categorize (in most situations) altruistic behavior, explain how altruism might have developed, and explain the benefits of altruism in general, but they cannot answer the question, “**If** I can be **certain** I’ll get away with an act that will harm a lot of people but that will benefit me (or my family, friends, etc), then, even if the harm to others greatly outweighs my gains, why shouldn’t I do it?”

    People, I don’t know why you’re bothering to argue with this guy. It’s completely futile; this statement alone demonstrates that he is utterly incapable of perceiving anything outside the constraints of his god-box. I wouldn’t waste my time.

  102. #102 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “Firstly, you are still speaking from the assumption that objective morality even exists”

    Lee, no, it’s patently you who has to brush up on your RC. Nothing I have written entails that OM exists. See, you don’t understand the distinction between justification and warrant. I can be justified in my belief that P even if it is false that P. Okay, so you failed both RC and logic 101.

    “Secondly, you said strategies, I said heuristics. Do you know what heuristics are?”

    Nice attempt at sophistry. Actually, it’s so transparent, it’s not very nice at all. You’re speaking about heuristics that ” work together to enhance the likelihood of survival in a social species” while denying OM. So, how exactly does this differ from a strategy?

    “I wouldn’t take the ‘wrong’ path because it would feel wrong.”

    Now this is simply disingenuous. I can’t imagine that you’re that naive. Would it ‘feel wrong’? Sure. But it would also feel pretty damn good, or you wouldn’t be tempted to do it in the first place. We can easily imagine a situation in which the benefits to you outweigh the harm to any other individual, but in which the total harm to others outweighs your benefits (we’ve all seen examples of this in econ 101). We also know that people have sundry mechanisms for rationalizing or ignoring the harms they’ve perpetrated, or are about to perpetrate, on others. An appeal to ‘feelings’ gets you nowhere.

    “Because it will harm a lot of people.”

    Before I respond, are you defending some variant of consequentialism?

  103. #103 co
    February 22, 2009

    I have no problems with Gedankenexperiments, whether “weakly understood”—whatever that means (what *do* you mean by it?)—or not. However, to apply them usefully requires precision in their statements and interpretations.
    In real experiments, real-world constraints nearly always make it obvious which polarities are to be used, in which energy regime things are to take place, etc. After the fact, the way evidence is interpreted is nearly always obvious, too.
    With Gedankenexperiments, interpretation can often be fast and loose. Sometimes this makes the outcomes nearly useless, since to nail things down one has to put almost all of the results in terms from one’s own life, and though this sometimes is easy to do to one’s self, upon discussing it with someone else, you have to provide a tremendous amount of background. All this background stuff, initially unstated, narrows the applicability of the results to very nearly only one very specific instance.
    Sometimes, this fast-and-loose-ness is of great power, as in useful allegories. I’m specifically thinking of Hitchens’ Challenge. In that case, the flexibility of the answers at least makes one think.

    So, again, what are the parameters? And should the answer be applicable in all cases where the harm to others outweighs the benefit to one’s self? Maybe a little white lie would count. Maybe murdering someone to exact vengeance for a wicked act he committed would count.

  104. #104 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 22, 2009

    Eric still trying for a philosophical, but unnecessary, god? You can have him Eric, the rest of us don’t give a flying fig about your conclusion.

  105. #105 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “That you have Aquinas trumping Plato on Euthyphro is telling enough, but that you pretend that your philostophy trumps science subjects you to the assault of well-earned ridicule by this blog’s denizens who do not sully the reputation of philosophy.”

    I have said nothing of the sort. Rather, I’ve denied that the question of god’s existence is a scientific question. Questions about the truth value of counterfactuals aren’t scientific, but it doesn’t follow that philosophy therefore trumps science.

    Note, however, that you’re changing the subject. I’m talking about the relationship between atheism and morality — and am thus discussing a topic that is actually relevant to the comments made in PZ’s post — not about arguments for god’s existence.

  106. #106 Kel
    February 22, 2009

    The fact that you restrict your criteria to ‘evidence’ is telling

    hahahaha, this is one of the funniest things I’ve read on here in a long time. Without evidence, how does one discern between ideas?

  107. #107 co
    February 22, 2009

    I’m talking about the relationship between atheism and morality [...]

    And your definition of morality is … ? Perhaps you’re trying to get to that, given the hypotheticals posted here. Why don’t we come out with a
    (1) My definition of YY is: _______________;
    (2) Given the definition, it follows from __________ that atheists can/can’t be moral, because _______________-

    type of argument? Philosophical wanking is all fine and good, but it would be nice if a point of some sort could be arrived at soon.

  108. #108 Ken Cope
    February 22, 2009

    I have said nothing of the sort. Rather, I’ve denied that the question of god’s existence is a scientific question. Questions about the truth value of counterfactuals aren’t scientific, but it doesn’t follow that philosophy therefore trumps science.

    Oh, I’m changing the subject, as if claiming with nothing but
    transparently weak bafflegab and appeals to authority denying that the existence of god is a scientific question isn’t. You raised it, and you appear unwilling to defend the claim. If the existence of god is no more a scientific question than the existence of Frodo and Sam’s trek through Mordor, I’ll just point, laugh, and plonk, because you’re clearly as much a waste of everybody’s time as you ever were.

  109. #109 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    February 22, 2009

    I am going to extend Barbb an invitation to listen to the podcast of today’s show, if she is truly interested in why we do the show.

    We aren’t preaching atheism, babe. We are reaching out to atheists who want to hear from other atheists, and we do a show that we think is interesting for a larger audience.

    If, after listening to the show, just once, you think that we are trying to preach a nazi/commie/terrorist ideology then point out specifics.

    The podcast, btw, is http://mnatheists.org/atheist_talk/Atheists_Talk-0058_02_22_2009.mp3” rel=”nofollow”>up and available. I used a question from antipodean Peter McKellar on the air. He had e-mailed it to us and it was a damned good question.

  110. #110 Kel
    February 22, 2009

    I’m talking about the relationship between atheism and morality

    Are you going to next talk about the relationship between bananas and black holes?!? Oh wait, you are serious…

    the argument is that atheists cannot ground or justify moral propositions.

    The argument is that morality is not God-given, that morality is a constant in society that has evolved in social creatures in order to facilitate interaction – which can be backed up by behavioural studies of other animals, game theory, and by looking at society in general. But then again, that’s what the evidence tells us…

    Morality is not only a product of evolution, it’s an inevitability in social creatures.

    “seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I also cannot imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere…. Science has been charged with undermining morality, but the charge is unjust. A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.” – Albert Einstein

  111. #111 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “hahahaha, this is one of the funniest things I’ve read on here in a long time. Without evidence, how does one discern between ideas?”

    Let’s go with an oldie-but-goodie.

    1. The universe has existed for roughly 14 billion years, and developed roughly in the way we currently understand.

    2. The universe popped into existence a second ago *just as it is now*, i.e. with its current rate of expansion, with your current memories of a past that never occurred, etc.

    Now, the evidence in both situations will be *exactly the same*. If we have two scenarios for which the evidence is exactly the same, we can’t appeal to the evidence to decide which one is ‘more rational,’ more probable, etc. Rather, we appeal to other criteria, e.g. parsimony or elegance.

  112. #112 SC, OM
    February 22, 2009

    Eric,

    You said:

    Rather, the argument is that atheists cannot ground or justify moral propositions.

    I answered: In a secular, reason- and reality-based moral system, the morality of acts is determined by their concrete consequences for others. The effects on others are the ground and justification for moral ideas. Please explain why this is not an acceptable grounding for a moral system.

    You seem to be conflating this question with another: efforts to get people to adhere to moral systems (and assuming, bizarrely, that Christianity has some purchase on this). This is a different question, but I believe we, collectively, can draw on and attempt to develop our innate moral capacity through specific forms of social organization, practices, conflict-resolution, and education.

    Not only does none of this require belief in an imaginary deity, but such supernatural beliefs are contrary to moral development.

  113. #113 Lee Harrison
    February 22, 2009
    I wouldn’t take the ‘wrong’ path because it would feel wrong.

    Now this is simply disingenuous.

    Sorry old boy, I’m afraid you’re the one being disingenuous here. I am talking about the evolved moral sense – the broad brush strokes of morality, not what particular abberant individuals may do. Second, you’re equivocating between the possible future good feeling from ill gotten gains and the present uneasy feeling that one may be about to do something wrong. Feeling one does not preclude feeling the other. You seem to be saying that if one can even be tempted then that ‘good’ feeling is all that could possibly matter in a world without justification.

    Also, an appeal to feelings does indeed matter – it’s what actually gets acted on, after all. But it is not all that matters – we are perfectly capable of not acting on impulses that would make us feel good, especially when the acts would be censured by the society in which we find ourselves (social primates, remember?). Feelings are not the ultimate justification for morality, there isn’t an ultimate justification. But the outcome of conflicting feelings, impulses and social restraints is what generates our behaviours and on the whole, thanks to millions of years of evolution in social groups, the outcomes are what we today generally think of as ‘moral’.

    Remember, I’m not the one who thinks that everything needs some ultimate justification – that’s your sickness, not mine.

    You obviously haven’t actually thought about this at all. Just try looking from outside of your own preconceptions.

    Nice attempt at sophistry. Actually, it’s so transparent, it’s not very nice at all. You’re speaking about heuristics that ” work together to enhance the likelihood of survival in a social species” while denying OM. So, how exactly does this differ from a strategy?

    Are you aware that accusing someone of an attempt at sophistry is actually accusing them of deliberate deception? Not just confusion, or mispeaking, but deliberate this’ll-fuck-’em deception?

    Anyway, the answer hinges on your use of the word strategy – if you mean, as I thought you did, deliberate planning then my point stands. If you meant unconscious tendencies towards patterns of behaviour, then yes, they are a kind of heuristic. Even so, what’s your point?

  114. #114 co
    February 22, 2009

    Now, the evidence in both situations will be *exactly the same*. If we have two scenarios for which the evidence is exactly the same, we can’t appeal to the evidence to decide which one is ‘more rational,’ more probable, etc. Rather, we appeal to other criteria, e.g. parsimony or elegance.

    Roight. Well, that sews up that argument.

  115. #115 aratina
    February 22, 2009

    Besides, Eric, what justifies “God” as the justification for morality?

    Nothing I have written entails that OM exists. See, you don’t understand the distinction between justification and warrant. I can be justified in my belief that P even if it is false that P. Okay, so you failed both RC and logic 101.

    The way atheists see it, you could supplement “God” with “unicorn” into your argument. It makes no sense to justify anything on unicorns because they are fake. You first have to establish that there is such a thing as “God” before placing it at the forefront of all your philosophical arguments.

  116. #116 Kel
    February 22, 2009

    1. The universe has existed for roughly 14 billion years, and developed roughly in the way we currently understand.

    2. The universe popped into existence a second ago *just as it is now*, i.e. with its current rate of expansion, with your current memories of a past that never occurred, etc.

    Now, the evidence in both situations will be *exactly the same*. If we have two scenarios for which the evidence is exactly the same, we can’t appeal to the evidence to decide which one is ‘more rational,’ more probable, etc. Rather, we appeal to other criteria, e.g. parsimony or elegance.

    The idea of parsimony is evidenced based though. While you can say that the evidence is the same for both, the passing of time from that point on is enough to form an evidential basis by which to use parsimony. While you can’t truly know that the universe wasn’t created one second ago, it’s the evidence from observing how time parses that makes parsimony possible.

    And this is why working in absolutes is silly.

  117. #117 Ken Cope
    February 22, 2009

    Now, the evidence in both situations will be *exactly the same*. If we have two scenarios for which the evidence is exactly the same, we can’t appeal to the evidence to decide which one is ‘more rational,’ more probable, etc. Rather, we appeal to other criteria, e.g. parsimony or elegance.

    Which is why, elegantly enough, Eric opts for “Magic Man in the Sky made the universe look as if it had taken 14BY to evolve without the necessity for, nor evidence of, any such supernatural intervention.”

    Eat parsimony, atheists!

  118. #118 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “If the existence of god is no more a scientific question than the existence of Frodo and Sam’s trek through Mordor, I’ll just point, laugh, and plonk, because you’re clearly as much a waste of everybody’s time as you ever were.”

    Hmm. Let’s see if we can tweak this to see what it really amounts to. Some mathematicians and philosophers think that mathematical objects exist independently of our conceptions of them. So, we get,

    “If the existence of [a mathematical object] is no more a scientific question than the existence of Frodo and Sam’s trek through Mordor, I’ll just point, laugh, and plonk, because you’re clearly as much a waste of everybody’s time as you ever were.”

    Well, science has nothing at all to say about the ontology of mathematical objects, but does it in any sense follow that we can identify reasoning about their existence with reasoning about Fordo and Mordor? If this is the best you can do, you should stick with pointing and laughing and plonking, and leave the hard work of thinking to the grown ups.

    “In a secular, reason- and reality-based moral system, the morality of acts is determined by their concrete consequences for others. The effects on others are the ground and justification for moral ideas. Please explain why this is not an acceptable grounding for a moral system.”

    My actions also affect *me*, which is why I brought up the hypothetical. Now, you seem to be defending some variant of consequentialism. Is this true?

  119. #119 SC, OM
    February 22, 2009

    Which is why, elegantly enough, Eric opts for “Magic Man in the Sky made the universe look as if it had taken 14BY to evolve [and all for us!] without the necessity for, nor evidence of, any such supernatural intervention.”

  120. #120 Lee Harrison
    February 22, 2009

    Kel @116 – good one. Wish i’d been fast enough to say it.

    Eric, concepts of evidence-based parsimony and elegance are exactly why I rejected the god idea after having accepted it, taught it, preached it and prayed it for so long.

  121. #121 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “Are you aware that accusing someone of an attempt at sophistry is actually accusing them of deliberate deception? Not just confusion, or mispeaking, but deliberate this’ll-fuck-’em deception?”

    Lee, you’re right here. I have no reason to think you were deliberately trying to decieve me. I apologize. Honestly, I took it for sophistry because you seem too sharp to have missed it.

  122. #122 Lee Harrison
    February 22, 2009

    Also, Eric – we know that you think that atheists have no basis to justify morality. I, at least, don’t actually that’s important. Do you think that a christian can justify morality? Explain how.

    And try to be parsimonious XD

  123. #123 SC, OM
    February 22, 2009

    My actions also affect *me*

    And you inhabit an ongoing human (and nonhuman) social world. Moral systems are social. Now answer my question.

  124. #124 Lee Harrison
    February 22, 2009

    I apologize. Honestly, I took it for sophistry because you seem too sharp to have missed it.

    Well, thank you. And flattery (even if it is back handed) will get you everywhere ;-)

  125. #125 Carlie
    February 22, 2009

    I just want to say how thrilled I am to see a comment from Scott Hatfield – I’ve missed seeing you much around here!
    (my apologies if I’ve just been not noticing)

  126. #126 Lee Harrison
    February 22, 2009

    Bollocks – I keep leaving out words. Me no type good. Me must learn use preview thingy.

    In #122 that’s supposed to be “I, at least, don’t actually think that’s important.

  127. #127 Ken Cope
    February 22, 2009

    Eric, wipe your chin. You’re dribbling platonism, and we’ll only have to clean up after you. In matters of taste, there can be dispute, since platonists have none and are less filling, so far are they from any ideal. If you want to imagine that because it can be imagined, it’s because you’re living in the matrix, why not take the Karl Popper Plunge and get back to us?

  128. #128 SC, OM
    February 22, 2009

    Well, science has nothing at all to say about the ontology of mathematical objects,

    Do you have anything new for us this evening, Eric? We’ve exhausted that one.

  129. #129 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 22, 2009

    Carlie, I think Scott has been posting a couple of times a week. Too few admittedly.

  130. #130 aratina
    February 22, 2009

    And, Eric, you **can** argue all the philosophy you want basing it on an ethereal god (or a unicorn for that matter), it won’t give you anything more than possibly social benefits and a perky ego; it won’t spark a second enlightenment. By not providing any substantial insight into reality, in effect, your arguments will just strengthen the evidence that there is no god.

  131. #131 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “The idea of parsimony is evidenced based though.”

    This isn’t necessarily true. Remember, parsimony doesn’t refer to mechanisms (which can be quite wasteful), but to theoretical constructs. It doesn’t so much reflect evidence as it does the assumption that reality is in some sense rational, i.e. that diverse explanations are in some way united. This assumption goes back at least to the protoscientific musings of the pre-scientific pre-socratic philosophers. The first problem in philosophy was the problem of the one and the many, of unity in diversity. The first move wasn’t an evidence based inference but a leap, and the initial leap wasn’t from unity to diversity, but from diversity to unity.

  132. #132 Ken Cope
    February 22, 2009

    [and all for us!]

    Mark Twain!

    Man has been here 32,000 years. That it took a hundred million years to prepare the world for him is proof that that is what it was done for. I suppose it is. I dunno. If the Eiffel tower were now representing the world’s age, the skin of paint on the pinnacle-knob at its summit would represent man’s share of that age; & anybody would perceive that that skin was what the tower was built for. I reckon they would. I dunno.

    Yes, yes, yes. The universe is a vast conspiracy on my behalf, and so far as I can tell, Eric’s just another one of those pesky illusions.

    Parsimony!

  133. #133 Kel
    February 22, 2009

    This isn’t necessarily true. Remember, parsimony doesn’t refer to mechanisms (which can be quite wasteful), but to theoretical constructs.

    Theoretical constructs need to be applied to the real world in order to have validity though. Back to your example of whether the universe just popped into existence one second ago, surely as the seconds pass we can see that while we can’t go back in time to observe the occurrence, we can infer from observing the nature of cause and effect that the universe popping into existence with all our memories is far more unlikely. We can observe how memories form, how the universe forms, and from those observations we form a grounds from which to use parsimony.

    Logic obviously does come into play, I’m just saying that logic without evidence when it comes to application is useless.

  134. #134 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “In a secular, reason- and reality-based moral system, the morality of acts is determined by their concrete consequences for others. The effects on others are the ground and justification for moral ideas. Please explain why this is not an acceptable grounding for a moral system.”

    Before I can give an informed response, I need to know if you are explicitly defending some form of consequentialism, and if so, which one.

    “Do you think that a christian can justify morality? Explain how.”

    I think that Christians can *justify* their moral propositions. Basically, I identify with a broadly Aristotelico-Thomistic conception of natural law. Note, I don’t think that I ‘have all the answers,’ and I don’t think that my view faces no serious challenges. However, I do think that an AT natural law approach to morality can be defended as 1. rational and 2. more in tune with our ‘instinctive’ moral conceptions. Note also, a full defense of AT natural law would require a ton of work, since most people today don’t even understand how basic but essential terms such as ’cause’ and the like are used within that conceptual framework.

    Again, however, I must point out the fact that my conception of morality is irrelevant. My criticisms in my initial post on this topic could all be true even if my views are false.

  135. #135 co
    February 22, 2009

    Remember, parsimony doesn’t refer to mechanisms (which can be quite wasteful), but to theoretical constructs.

    Gedankenexperiment: An obsessive-compulsive has to wash his hands 15 times before sitting down to dinner, and even then has little rituals which have to be gone through before eating. You could observe the entrance and egress of the meal, yet be totally ignorant as to the mechanism. The outcome of his meal (food consumed, sustenance obtained, dishes to be done, in a certain amount of time) is the same as that of a non-OC person, yet anyone (even other OCs) would say that the entire mechanism of eating is kind of silly in this case, and much less efficient than it could be.
    No one would assume that the OC went through all of that trouble just to eat, unless there was actual knowledge of the rituals. Is that not parsimony applied to a mechanism? Why not 16 washings instead of 15? I don’t *know* that my computer processor isn’t applying a function like multiplication to every bit of data that comes in, and then the inverse function like division, just to get back the same data, but the outcome from such a thing is a little time lost, and a little energy degraded, so I presume it isn’t happening. Parsimony. Mechanism.

  136. #136 Ken Cope
    February 22, 2009

    My criticisms in my initial post on this topic could all be true even if my views are false.

    Only in the formal logical sense that arguments can have true conclusions despite false premises.

  137. #137 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “Only in the formal logical sense that arguments can have true conclusions despite false premises.”

    Ken, perhaps I wasn’t clear enough: I meant that my AT natural law morality could be false *and* my criticism in my initial posts true. There is no essential logical connection between the two. For example, I could be a nihilist and argue that atheists who believe certain acts to be moral cannot justify their beliefs, even if they can hold them, describe them, explain their origins, etc.

  138. #138 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    The sudden silence on this thread indicates that everyone is googling for criticisms of AT natural law.

  139. #139 Knockgoats
    February 22, 2009

    “**If** I can be **certain** I’ll get away with an act that will harm a lot of people but that will benefit me (or my family, friends, etc), then, even if the harm to others greatly outweighs my gains, why shouldn’t I do it?” Please, keep in mind that I’m stipulating that the harms outweigh the benefits, and that the act will not be found out. Now, it seems to me that any ‘explanation’ of morality that does not contain the resources required to answer this question is inadequate, and I’ve yet to see an atheistic answer with those resources. – Eric

    The answer is a very simple one – indeed, it’s contained in the statement of the question: because of the harm it would do to others. Morality cannot be “justified” to a psychopath; nor has any satisfactory account of a supposed “objective morality” ever been given.

    If god’s nature itself determines the good, then it could not have been different (which knocks down one horn of the dilemma), and it is not independent of god (which knocks the other horn down). – Eric, citing Aquinas

    It has not been shown, or even rendered plausible, that god’s nature could determine the good – or that such a thing as “the good” exists or could exist; or that god’s nature (if there is a god) could not have been different from what it is. Indeed, theists have spent a good deal of their time arguing about that nature, which at least renders questionable the claim that it could only be one way. Aquinas seems simply to be assuming what he is supposed to be arguing. There does not seem to be anything logically wrong with the idea of an omnipotent creator who delights in torture (indeed, in many versions of Christianity, that’s a fair description of God). If that is God’s nature, does that make torture right? If you claim that could not logically be God’s nature, you need to argue it.

    Nothing I said entails that if morality is unjustified, then I will harm others. I explicitly said that atheists act morally without such a justification. – Eric

    So, what is the supposed importance of the supposed fact that theists have such a justification and atheists do not?

  140. #140 co
    February 22, 2009

    The sudden silence on this thread indicates that everyone is googling for criticisms of AT natural law.

    A more parsimonious explanation is that people have figured out how tiresome it’s become.

  141. #141 Kel
    February 22, 2009

    The sudden silence on this thread indicates that everyone is googling for criticisms of AT natural law.

    Nope, I’m simply waiting for you to show me where my flaw is in ascribing morality as an inevitablity in social creatures.

  142. #142 Lee Harrison
    February 22, 2009

    Eric, from your original comment:

    Rather, the argument is that atheists cannot ground or justify moral propositions. They can frequently describe them — which is to say, they can give them content and provide at least plausible accounts of their origins — but they cannot make the move from description to prescription.

    M ost recently, you point out that this criticism is true even if your conception of morality is wrong.

    You know what? You’re right, in a way. The issue at hand is – so what? The fact that the ‘prescription’ element in your criticism is something that atheists may have trouble justifying doesn’t actually matter. You, however, stated your criticism as if that move from description to prescription absolutely required firm justification and grounding before it could be taken seriously.

    What matters is what happens, and why. Can we philosophically fully justify/ground/whatever why we shouldn’t do a certain thing? Not necessarily. But that doesn’t stop the majority of folks from feeling certain actions to be wrong regardless of whether or not they can sit down with a philosophy text and justify precisely why. Our evolved moral sense generally makes sure of that – which has been the point many people have made.

    This is why, despite loving the general field of philosophy and argument, I find it intensely irritating. It so often amounts to little more than quasi-intellectual wanking with little to no leavening of pragmatic reality.

  143. #143 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “Aquinas seems simply to be assuming what he is supposed to be arguing.”

    I take it you’ve never read a word of Aquinas, which is the second biggest problem with discussing him and his arguments. The first is that, as I said above, you have to understand how he uses seemingly familiar terms in a very different sense from how they’re used today. If you simply ‘read’ Aquinas without any background, you won’t understand him at all.

  144. #144 Ken Cope
    February 22, 2009

    I could be a nihilist and argue that atheists who believe certain acts to be moral cannot justify their beliefs, even if they can hold them, describe them, explain their origins, etc.

    Conversely, Eric could be only pretending to be an idiot in his spare time.

    Isn’t it past time for getting hit on the head lessons yet?

  145. #145 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 22, 2009

    Since god doesn’t exist, all morals must come from social structure. There is no other source.

  146. #146 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “A more parsimonious explanation is that people have figured out how tiresome it’s become.”

    Touche. However, we shall see…

    “You, however, stated your criticism as if that move from description to prescription absolutely required firm justification and grounding before it could be taken seriously.”

    It seems to be a safe assumption. After all, if we can’t justify our moral prescriptions rationally, what’s left? Force? Sophistry? Majority rule? Whim?

    More importantly, though, we all act as if moral prescriptions need to be justified. If you doubt this, just say something negative about someone’s favorite cause.

  147. #147 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “Conversely, Eric could be only pretending to be an idiot in his spare time.”

    Actually, I always pretend to be an idiot — I don’t just do it in my spare time. But if I’m *always* pretending, am I ever pretending?

  148. #148 Ken Cope
    February 22, 2009

    After all, if we can’t justify our moral prescriptions rationally, what’s left? Force? Sophistry? Majority rule? Whim?

    Enlightened self-interest, which includes an investment in altruism and delayed gratification, otherwise known as playground politics.

  149. #149 SC, OM
    February 22, 2009

    Before I can give an informed response, I need to know if you are explicitly defending some form of consequentialism, and if so, which one.

    People obsessed with labels and terminology are a friggin’ pain in the neck. You need to know no such thing. You argued that “atheists cannot ground or justify moral propositions,” and then jumped to

    they cannot answer the question, “**If** I can be **certain** I’ll get away with an act that will harm a lot of people but that will benefit me (or my family, friends, etc) [hmmm...], then, even if the harm to others greatly outweighs my gains, why shouldn’t I do it?”

    But this has nothing to do with your previous claim about morality, which is social. In your hypothetical society, is harming a lot of people considered immoral? On what grounds?

    I’ve given you grounds for a hypothetical society’s considering such an act immoral:

    Because it will harm a lot of people. Concretely. In the real fucking world. That’s the explanation. That’s the reality-based justification…We have only the other beings on this planet, and they have only us…

    I want you to explain why concrete and empirically-verifiable social benefits and harms are not an adequate grounding – or the foundation thereof – for a moral system. (Now, the process through which moral systems are developed in a more detailed way is also a moral question…)

  150. #150 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “Enlightened self-interest, which includes an investment in altruism and delayed gratification, otherwise known as playground politics.”

    And which also would not rule out my acting in such a way that benefits me more than it harms any individual, though it may overall cause more aggregate harm to others than it benefits me, as long as I will not get caught (and as long as the benefit will outweigh all the costs incurred by my act, including psychological costs). This, however, strikes all of us as absurd. We would all call such an act immoral; however, it is not necessarily immoral given the ‘enlightened self-interest’ framework.

  151. #151 Kel
    February 22, 2009

    People obsessed with labels and terminology are a friggin’ pain in the neck.

    Agreed, it’s the opposite of useful. Rather it seems a way to bottle one’s position into an already previously defined construct (that may not entirely fit it) then use known problems for that particular label as a means to defeat it.

    Eric still hasn’t tried to counter my claim that morality is an evolved trait.

  152. #152 SC, OM
    February 22, 2009

    After all, if we can’t justify our moral prescriptions rationally, what’s left? Force? Sophistry? Majority rule? Whim?

    The most moral process of developing moral systems is the most egalitarian and democratic, and a reasoned, empirical appreciation of our social existence is the most rational basis for morality. Morality is not abstract – it is social and practical.

    The sudden silence on this thread indicates that everyone is googling for criticisms of AT natural law.

    This little routine is tiresome and pathetic. We get it – you’re intellectually insecure. Let’s move on.

  153. #153 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “I want you to explain why concrete and empirically-verifiable social benefits and harms are not an adequate grounding – or the foundation thereof – for a moral system.”

    Because you’ve not explained why those consequences alone are dispositive. We can all think about situations in which the consequences are the same, but in which one is moral while the others are not (e.g. the famous ‘train tracks’ thought experiments/moral dilemmas, responses to which have been statistically analyzed).

  154. #154 Knockgoats
    February 22, 2009

    After all, if we can’t justify our moral prescriptions rationally, what’s left? Force? Sophistry? Majority rule? Whim?

    More importantly, though, we all act as if moral prescriptions need to be justified. If you doubt this, just say something negative about someone’s favorite cause.

    You appear to make the false assumption that to have a purchase on us, justification of specific moral prescriptions has to lead to some ultimate ground. This is not so. Yes, I will defend my moral prescriptions rationally, by arguing that they will have specific outcomes (I am indeed a consequentialist) – primarily but not only, reducing suffering and increasing human opportunities for fulfilment. I can argue rationally with someone else whose moral preferences are sufficiently close to my own – that my more immediate moral prescriptions (say, for democracy, socialism, or abortion on demand) will tend to further these more fundamental moral preferences. I cannot rationally justify my moral preference for (say) reducing rather than increasing suffering – and nor can anyone else; and yes, if I find myself opposed by those who seek to increase human suffering, I will indeed be ready to use force against them. Despite your claims for theism, you have completely failed to show that it can ground morality in some ultimate fashion that would force agreement from a rational but entirely selfish agent – one, say, that simply dismisses all talk of morality, all talk of “should” and “ought” and “the good” as so much meaningless noise. Isn’t it about time you showed us how you think it can?

  155. #155 Lee Harrison
    February 22, 2009

    It seems to be a safe assumption. After all, if we can’t justify our moral prescriptions rationally, what’s left? Force? Sophistry? Majority rule? Whim?

    You missed one – evolved behaviours tending to enhance survival among social species. Sort of an important one, considering it’s been the thrust of most of the replies to you. I’m getting the sense from you that you think we are in complete and total free-will control of our actions – we aren’t. We have tendencies, some stronger than others.

    More importantly, though, we all act as if moral prescriptions need to be justified. If you doubt this, just say something negative about someone’s favorite cause.

    No we don’t. I don’t recall anyone who’s felt the need to justify feeding a child as opposed to starving it – most people just know that feeding is the right thing to do. In my experience, the people who worry the most about justifying their actions are those who do wrong XD.

  156. #156 Ken Cope
    February 22, 2009

    This, however, strikes all of us as absurd. We would all call such an act immoral; however, it is not necessarily immoral given the ‘enlightened self-interest’ framework.

    Only for a peculiar interpretation of “enlightened.” Hint: enlightened self-interest isn’t insisting health care is for me if and only if I can afford it and screw everybody else, then contracting tuberculosis from the first stranger who does not deserve health care because they can’t afford it, as per Calvinist doctrines.

    Theists generally don’t do well in playground politics, because their typical gambit is to steal the ball, claim it’s theirs, and scream, “screw you guys, I’m goin’ home.” They don’t get invited to the good parties, either.

  157. #157 Roger
    February 22, 2009

    All of Eric’s philosophizing is nice and all; however, it can be rendered useless with one simple request:

    Present incontrovertible evidence and proof of the existence of the deity from whom you claim to derive your moral character.

  158. #158 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “Eric still hasn’t tried to counter my claim that morality is an evolved trait.”

    Of course I have. I did so in my first post with the distinction between description and prescription. Also, be on the lookout for the genetic fallacy — you can’t confuse the origin of x with its justification. Also, don’t forget Moore’s naturalistic fallacy (i.e. arguments with evaluative conclusions need at least one evaluative premise).

  159. #159 Lee Harrison
    February 22, 2009

    So are you a) agreeing that it’s evolved but stating that this doesn’t make it philosphically justified, or b) saying it’s not evolved at all so must be from God, or c) something else?

    Stop being obscurantist.

  160. #160 co
    February 22, 2009

    Stop being obscurantist.

    Yeah! And say what you mean in simple terms!

  161. #161 Ken Cope
    February 22, 2009

    Present incontrovertible evidence and proof of the existence of the deity from whom you claim to derive your moral character.

    And, claiming that morality is what his God says it is puts Eric way beyond the pale off in the amoral swamp of Vox Dei delirium, killing infants for Yahweh because it’s good, good to dash their brains into the cornfield; it’s clear to everybody here but Eric that his offerings about what constitutes prescriptive morality are viewed as completely immoral by us mere mortals.

  162. #162 Lee Harrison
    February 22, 2009
    Stop being obscurantist.

    Yeah! And say what you mean in simple terms!

    I love that joke…

  163. #163 Knockgoats
    February 22, 2009

    Because you’ve not explained why those consequences alone are dispositive. We can all think about situations in which the consequences are the same, but in which one is moral while the others are not (e.g. the famous ‘train tracks’ thought experiments/moral dilemmas, responses to which have been statistically analyzed). – Eric

    First, you appear to be eliding the difference between justification and explanation: it is quite conceivable that there is no rational justification for at least some of our moral feelings – such as those most people share in the train track thought experiments. However, in general we need to go beyond the specific instance to consider the longer-term or wider effects of adopting particular principles of conduct. In the train tracks case, the consequences of abandoning the principle that it is wrong to subordinate the interests of an individual person to the good of others, without their consent, past a certain point. If we abandon this altogether, the result would be a complete breakdown of trust – I would never know when I might be seized and dissected for my organs, for example, to save others’ lives. But note that in practice this principle is not treated as absolute. Say you could save five lives in the train track example by using another person as an instrument in a way that would cost them a bruised buttock, rather than their life? Is it so obvious this is wrong? Some of the most bitter moral arguments are over how far, and to which class of beings, this principle applies: is conscription always wrong? Abortion? Experiments on chimpanzees?

  164. #164 Scott Hatfield, OM
    February 22, 2009

    Nothing I said entails that if morality is unjustified, then I will harm others. I explicitly said that atheists act morally without such a justification

    Eric, skeptics who place a premium on reason and evidence are inclined to conflate the claim ‘such-and-such is unjustified’ with ‘such-and-such is unreasonable.’ Those who hold the version of atheism which actively disputes believers on grounds of reason and evidence are apt to view the claim that atheism can’t justify morality as some version of Plantiga’s argument, a sort of cheat that undercut the credibility of atheist arguments without actually addressing their merits. These arguments are clever but they don’t satisfy most people….including theists, like yours truly.

    I might add that this line of reasoning really has no force against the mild version of atheism, which is simply the absence of belief in god or gods. Absence of belief can not be reasonably expected to form the basic of any sort of moral code. At best, absence of belief is actually a value of sorts (as in: no privileged beliefs) that can inform, but can not be sufficient for morality.

  165. #165 Knockgoats
    February 22, 2009

    I’m off to bed, but before I go, I repeat my challenge to Eric: put forward your positive case that theism can provide an objective justification for morality – one that would convince the rational nihilistic egoist, who regards moral talk as just the meaningless flapping of tongues. Show us how. Lay out your argument. Or admit that you can’t.

  166. #166 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “You appear to make the false assumption that to have a purchase on us, justification of specific moral prescriptions has to lead to some ultimate ground.”

    I’m not sure just what you mean by ‘ultimate’ here (e.g. self evident, objective, properly basic, etc.). However, I’m not sure I’d agree that morality is justified just in case (i.e. ‘iff’)its ground is in some sense ultimate. I don’t think that follows from anything I’ve said.

    “I cannot rationally justify my moral preference for (say) reducing rather than increasing suffering – and nor can anyone else; and yes, if I find myself opposed by those who seek to increase human suffering, I will indeed be ready to use force against them.”

    So you cannot say to a Nazi that the Holocaust was wrong — not merely that it doesn’t conform with the conclusions you reach when reasoning from the preferences that define your moral first principles, but that it was wrong?

    “Despite your claims for theism, you have completely failed to show that it can ground morality in some ultimate fashion that would force agreement from a rational but entirely selfish agent”

    I can’t ‘completely fail’ to show what I’ve never claimed. That aside, I won’t be drawn into a completely different discussion. As I’ve said, all of my criticisms could be true even if my own views were shown to be false; hence, my views are not in any sense relevant. A nihilist could make the same criticisms I have. I only brought up theism to preempt the typical ‘hell’ and ‘bible’ chestnuts, and to politely respond to those who asked what my views are. However, we have no reason to move onto my views when the criticisms I’ve made haven’t been adequately addressed.

  167. #167 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “So are you a) agreeing that it’s evolved but stating that this doesn’t make it philosphically justified, or b) saying it’s not evolved at all so must be from God, or c) something else?”

    A and C. C, in the sense that I’ve yet to see a decent argument for the justification of moral propositions given atheism and naturalism (I know, not all atheists are naturalists, but most are today).

  168. #168 Lee Harrison
    February 22, 2009

    However, we have no reason to move onto my views when the criticisms I’ve made haven’t been adequately addressed.

    Despite your contrary opinion, your criticisms have been adequately addressed – you’ve just been waving your hands ever since.

  169. #169 Patricia, OM
    February 22, 2009

    Knockgoats, Maybe you should think about changing your bait shop. You have hooked some of the worst bottom feeders today. *grin* No wonder you’re worn out.

  170. #170 Kel
    February 22, 2009

    Of course I have. I did so in my first post with the distinction between description and prescription. Also, be on the lookout for the genetic fallacy — you can’t confuse the origin of x with its justification.

    So if morality is an evolved trait, then what’s the discussion for? Since we know the origins of morality are an inevitability of a social creature, then we have to work for a framework of morality within those limits.

  171. #171 SC, OM
    February 22, 2009

    We can all think about situations in which the consequences are the same, but in which one is moral while the others are not (e.g. the famous ‘train tracks’ thought experiments/moral dilemmas, responses to which have been statistically analyzed).

    Can theists ever talk about anything real? This isn’t a philosopher problem (political philosophers – Agamben, Camus, Arendt,… – are perfectly capable of speaking in concrete, real-world terms); it makes me think Eric’s not a philosopher at all but a theologian.

    No moral system is – or should be – one of absolutes that takes no account of specific circumstances whatsoever. It would be ridiculous to expect that. But, contrary to your claim, as a grounding or foundation for morality – again, in ongoing social relationships, which is what we have – concrete harms and benefits to individuals or groups is as solid and rational as you’re going to see. You seem still to be failing to grasp the fact that moral systems are social creations.

    What’ve you got?

  172. #172 Jafafa Hots
    February 22, 2009

    If you can’t say to a Nazi that the Holocaust was wrong without there being a god… how can you say that it’s wrong just because there IS a god?

    It’s wrong because there’s a powerful entity that has decided upon some rules and will punish those who break them?

    That doesn’t make it wrong, that just makes it less attractive to a person motivated solely by self-interest. That the rule-maker supposedly created everything he’s making the rule for doesn’t matter either. That’s just saying it’s wrong “because Dad said he’d take his belt to us if we do it.”

    The reason it’s wrong is because a human being who is functioning properly has empathy, and properly functioning people have empathy because it’s what works.

    As far as it feeling good to do something for personal gain even if it hurts many others… It DOESN’T feel good. if it DOES feel good, something’s wrong with you… and if the only reason it doesn’t feel good is NOT because it’s hurting others but because you believe in a god, something’s wrong with you.

  173. #173 Ken Cope
    February 22, 2009

    “Also, be on the lookout for the genetic fallacy — you can’t confuse the origin of x with its justification,” sez the clown who claimed @89, “If god’s nature itself determines the good, then it could not have been different (which knocks down one horn of the dilemma), and it is not independent of god (which knocks the other horn down).

    Theism: never noted for its consistency.

  174. #174 Jafafa Hots
    February 22, 2009

    And pardon me if my comment doesnt make sense in the context of the discussion… I haven’t read the whole thread… it’s not worth reading (no offense to those attempting to point out the obvious to the one who wont see it.)

  175. #175 Lee Harrison
    February 22, 2009

    A and C. C, in the sense that I’ve yet to see a decent argument for the justification of moral propositions given atheism and naturalism (I know, not all atheists are naturalists, but most are today).

    So morality did eevolve, but that doesn’t justify it and you’ve never heard a decent argument that would from the position of atheism and naturalism.

    I repeat – so what?

    Why does it need justifying in the sense you are using, if it’s simply what happens?

    Do we need to ‘justify’ the rising of the sun too?

    I *can* say that the holocaust was wrong, and I can say it without some ‘ultimate justification’ – we don’t need one, don’t have one (though some pretend that they do) and, if the disgusting god of the bible is part of the package, don’t want one.

    It is in our evolved nature – that’s called reality. We are evolved to a reflexive disgust at the actions of the Nazi’s – that disgust is justified ‘in the every day sense’ by any number of natural moral formulations that have already been pointed out to you (and ignored).

    Metaphysical wanking be buggered.

  176. #176 SC, OM
    February 22, 2009

    “Despite your claims for theism, you have completely failed to show that it can ground morality in some ultimate fashion that would force agreement from a rational but entirely selfish agent”

    I can’t ‘completely fail’ to show what I’ve never claimed. That aside, I won’t be drawn into a completely different discussion.

    Well, you stated as a criticism of atheists specifically that we

    cannot answer the question, “**If** I can be **certain** I’ll get away with an act that will harm a lot of people but that will benefit me (or my family, friends, etc), then, even if the harm to others greatly outweighs my gains, why shouldn’t I do it?”

    You in this hypothetical example are a sociopath. Again, you’ve presented this as a problem for atheists, so you’ve implied theists don’t share it. How would you ground morality in such a way as to compel this person to conform to it? This is indeed a completely different question from the existence of a secular-rational foundation for morality, as I pointed out above, but you’re the one who raised it.

  177. #177 Jafafa Hots
    February 22, 2009

    “Why does it need justifying in the sense you are using, if it’s simply what happens?”

    I was thinking he’d be likely to tell a guy who just drank a cool glass of water that he couldn’t possibly have quenched his thirst unless he fully understood the need for and process of hydration.

  178. #178 Kel
    February 22, 2009

    A and C. C, in the sense that I’ve yet to see a decent argument for the justification of moral propositions given atheism and naturalism

    So let me get this straight. Even though morality has evolved, atheists can’t properly justify morality? The difference is that there is no one way to justify a moral stance. Of course morality can be justified in this, it’s just silly to think there are universal moral standards. I remember when doing ethics at university there being several different schools of thought all of which had their own advantages and shortcomings. Yet when it came to exam time and having to apply ethics, it was a matter of applying those methods. At no point did I have to justify my position on intellectual privacy with respect to God, the concept of God in ethics is just irrelevant.

    So are you going to complain that my university course is lacking in a fundamental way? Or can you accept that one does not need to invoke God in order to make a statement regarding ethics? For fucks sake, you sound almost identical to facilis with his “if you can’t account for logic, how can you use it?”

  179. #179 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “Also, be on the lookout for the genetic fallacy — you can’t confuse the origin of x with its justification,” sez the clown who claimed @89, “If god’s nature itself determines the good, then it could not have been different (which knocks down one horn of the dilemma), and it is not independent of god (which knocks the other horn down).”

    So sez the clown who doesn’t get the distinction between what determines the *nature* of the good, and what *justifies* morality for human beings.

  180. #180 BlueIndependent
    February 22, 2009

    More classic religious wankery. Their religion is the moral high watermark, yet they fail to recognize the terribly problematic history of their religion vis a vis ethics and morality, and pass everything bad off as “those weren’t real Christians”.

    There isn’t a better example of trying to have your cake and eat it too than religion.

  181. #181 Lee Harrison
    February 22, 2009

    If god’s nature itself determines the good, then it could not have been different

    Why?

    This is just a bald assertion that god’s nature cannot have been different. What’s your ‘justification’ for this?

    And why does it matter in the real world what people say about bronze age fairy tales?

  182. #182 Ken Cope
    February 22, 2009

    People determine the *nature* of the good, and justify morality for human beings.

    Positing some Kozmik Law-giver to do so in some abstract manner that only certain people have access to is something only people have been observed to do, followed by pratfalls and tired routines like trying to sweep away the spotlight; people who, despite all their appalling behavior, are nonetheless, people; people justifying the nature of the good and justifying morality for human beings, no matter how ineptly.

  183. #183 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “Or can you accept that one does not need to invoke God in order to make a statement regarding ethics?”

    Of course I can accept this; I said so in my very first post. Again, god is not relevant to the point I’m making. As I’ve repeatedly said, the very same points could be made by a nihilist.

    And no ethics course would consider ‘morality evolved’ an adequate justification for morality. If yours did, then yes, I will claim it was ‘lacking in a fundamental way,’ since it confuses description with prescription and commits both the genetic and naturalistic fallacies.

  184. #184 Ken Cope
    February 22, 2009

    Of course I can accept this; I said so in my very first post. Again, god is not relevant to the point I’m making. As I’ve repeatedly said, the very same points could be made by a nihilist.

    Amateur hour. Bozo there presents us with the false dichotomy of God vs. nihilism.

  185. #185 Kel
    February 22, 2009

    And no ethics course would consider ‘morality evolved’ an adequate justification for morality. If yours did, then yes, I will claim it was ‘lacking in a fundamental way,’ since it confuses description with prescription and commits both the genetic and naturalistic fallacies.

    My course said nothing on how morality came to be, but that wasn’t necessary. Description and prescription, the ethics course dealt with the latter.

    Now through various scientific lines of inquiry and research, we can show pretty definitively that morality is an evolved trait that is an inevitability amongst social creatures. That covers the description. Whereas my course taught how to apply ethics in the real world and did so without the need to invoke God. Hence you have justification of ethics without needing to invoke God.

    So where am I going wrong with this? I can show a system of how to account for morality, I can show a system of how to justify behaviour. What else is needed?

  186. #186 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “This is just a bald assertion that god’s nature cannot have been different. What’s your ‘justification’ for this?”

    There are a series of detailed, rigorous arguments to support this proposition. It’s not merely an assertion, though I did merely assert it in my post. I would recommend Book One of Aquinas’s SCG (which is available online), but, as I’ve said earlier, if you don’t have a strong background in Aristotelico-Thomistic philosophy, you won’t understand it. I’d recommend Ed Feser’s “The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism.” Feser takes about a hundred pages explaining (in a very entertaining way) the essentials before he even gets to the Thomistic arguments for god’s nature and existence. He also gives a decent explanation of natural law morality. Since god’s nature is not the topic of this thread, I hope this recommendation will do.

  187. #187 Ken Cope
    February 22, 2009

    I hope this recommendation will do

    Of course it won’t, you moron. Hello, atheists? who won’t assume your base and moronic presumptions?

  188. #188 Sastra
    February 22, 2009

    Eric #80 wrote:

    Rather, the argument is that atheists cannot ground or justify moral propositions. They can frequently describe them — which is to say, they can give them content and provide at least plausible accounts of their origins — but they cannot make the move from description to prescription.

    It seems to me that you are asking several questions here. The first is “how does an atheist get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’?” And the second one is “why would an atheist choose to do what they know they ‘ought’ to do, if they can get away with not doing it?”

    Atheists and theists are in the same situation for the first question. An ‘ought’ comes from an if-then. IF you want peaceful and fair relations with your neighbors, then you OUGHT to treat them fairly. IF you want to be with a loving and wise God for all eternity, then you OUGHT to obey His commands. We can only ground a universal “ought” which applies to everyone if there is a universal desire we all share, and the if-then follows factually.

    Atheists and theists are also in the same situation for the second question. Why not do something you think is wrong? Commitment to the Good. And whether you spell “good” with two o’s — or only one — you get the same result.

    You cannot make an argument for why someone would want to love God, which does not first assume that someone would love what is Good. When you get right down to it, all moral systems rest on choice, and valuing honest relationships. There is no moral system –including theistic ones — which appeals to psychopaths.

    I think atheists and theists ultimately ground and justify moral propositions the same way. Theists simply use God as a handy prop to represents abstract concepts like goodness, fairness, kindness, and virtue.

  189. #189 Jafafa Hots
    February 22, 2009

    If we had evolved as a species which laid eggs in the paralyzed but still living bodies of other adults of our species so that our offspring could consume their live flesh, we would have a very different sense of ethics than we do now.

    It just is what it is. The explanation is naturalistic.
    The fact that you can’t accept that is no different than if you refused to accept the big bang theory and unjustified because it didn’t explain “the meaning of life” to you.

    The thing that needs justification here is your demands for more justification. You haven’t even come close to it.
    Morality is fully explained by evolution. “Justification” for it, in the sense that you seem to mean, isn’t even necessary.

    Justify you demands for more justification by explaining why morality CAN’T exist on the basis of evolution alone. If you’re NOT arguing that it can’t, you’re essentially just asking us to jerk you off because you’re tired of masturbating.

  190. #190 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “Amateur hour. Bozo there presents us with the false dichotomy of God vs. nihilism.”

    A false dichotomy? Do you even know what the terms your using mean?

    My point is that *if* the criticisms I’ve made could be made by a nihilist — and they could — then the topic of god’s existence, or of how a theist justifies morality, is irrelevant. Now, a nihilist rejects all objective morality, objective meaning and objective purpose in life; thiests somehow tie morality, meaning and purpose to god’s existence. Hence, a nihilist cannot be a theist. Now, one could be a nihilist and a deist, but again, *god would, in this case, have nothing to do with morality*.

    Amateur hour indeed.

  191. #191 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “It just is what it is. The explanation is naturalistic.
    The fact that you can’t accept that”

    I can and do accept it — as an explanation.

  192. #192 Kel
    February 22, 2009

    *god would, in this case, have nothing to do with morality*

    Which we know to be the case by morality being an evolved inevitability of social interaction…

  193. #193 Jafafa Hots
    February 22, 2009

    “I can and do accept it — as an explanation. “

    But you demand “justification” beyond that… that’s about as sensible as asking someone for justification for why they love their children.

  194. #194 Matt
    February 22, 2009

    First, Eric:

    Now, if loving your enemies and such is an essential attribute to Christianity, then one is not guilty of the fallacy if he claims that a violent white supremacist isn’t a Christian. The only way to avoid this is to define a Christian loosely as ‘someone who self-identifies as a Christian’ (or some such nonsense).

    This is pathetic. Have fun redefining Christian, but the ‘no true Scotsman’ applies. Absence of wrongdoing is not an essential attribute of Christianity. If we define a Christian as someone who doesn’t do anything evil, then what exactly do they need Jesus for? All that it takes for someone to be a Christian is their professed belief in Jesus as their personal savior, and the belief that he was the son of God, etc.(As told by every fucking sect I’ve ever heard from, you are saved by grace, not by works.)

    Next, with this in place, the supposed basis for morality disappears. After all, God botherers posit their sky daddy as some kind of ultimate judge, whose punishment or reward you cannot escape from, which is why they say they have an absolute claim on morality. However, since Jesus gives you a get out of sin free card, the only way for this morality to have meaning is if you aren’t Christian. Christians have no incentive to do no evil, since supposedly God will treat a child-molesting baby eater and a model citizen exactly the same, as long as they accept Jesus as savior.

    So whatever good Christians are using as a basis for morality, it isn’t God.(hint: since a good Christian and a good atheist have very similar morals, culture and common descent are decent guesses)

  195. #195 Sastra
    February 22, 2009

    Eric #190 wrote:

    Now, a nihilist rejects all objective morality, objective meaning and objective purpose in life; thiests somehow tie morality, meaning and purpose to god’s existence. Hence, a nihilist cannot be a theist.

    Humanists somehow tie an inter-subjective morality, meaning, and purpose to human existence. Hence, a nihilist cannot be a humanist.

    Of course, humanists have the advantage over theists, in that, first of all, human existence is not in dispute, and second, we can judge and weight results by what we see and experience in this world. Or, perhaps, I should say that this is a disadvantage, in that it considerably narrows down the field of what people can claims is moral. There is nothing so subjective and relative, as anything that purports to come from special revelations from the supernatural.

  196. #196 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “This is pathetic. Have fun redefining Christian, but the ‘no true Scotsman’ applies. Absence of wrongdoing is not an essential attribute of Christianity.”

    And I never said it was, which makes your attempt to redefine what I wrote pathetic. Now, if ‘being a Christian’ is in any sense related to the fundamental teachings of Christ — and I fail to see how it isn’t — then of course people who advocate just the opposite are not Christians, however tney self identify.

  197. #197 Ken Cope
    February 22, 2009

    My point is that *if* the criticisms I’ve made could be made by a nihilist — and they could — then the topic of god’s existence, or of how a theist justifies morality, is irrelevant.

    You are addressing no nihilists, nor anybody advancing nihilism, you witless buffoon. You are the only advocate on this thread for theism, and doing such a wonderfully artless job that nobody wants you to stop.

  198. #198 Sastra
    February 22, 2009

    Now, if loving your enemies and such is an essential attribute to Christianity, then one is not guilty of the fallacy if he claims that a violent white supremacist isn’t a Christian.

    Loving your enemies does not seem to preclude an ability to mete out God’s justice upon them. The judge can love the divine soul of the man whose earthly body he must send to the electric chair, and those who tortured the flesh in the Inquisition did it from the loving duty to purify the spirit within.

    I think it’s not that hard for Christians to rationalize and reconcile a vague, theological love with a rather specific, and down-to-earth, act of violence. In which case it’s not easy for an outside observer to tell that the person is not a “true” (sincere) Christian.

  199. #199 Matt
    February 22, 2009

    Eric, it must be fun to read the first sentence of a post and write the rest off. Your point, if I understood it correctly, was that you can indeed make the claim that white supremacists are not Christians, even if they profess to be. Is this or is this not what you said?

    Now, if loving your enemies and such is an essential attribute to Christianity, then one is not guilty of the fallacy if he claims that a violent white supremacist isn’t a Christian. The only way to avoid this is to define a Christian loosely as ‘someone who self-identifies as a Christian’ (or some such nonsense).

    This is patently fucking ridiculous. So damn stupid, in fact, that I’m amazed you were able to articulate it. Were there Christians prior to the abolition of slavery? Were the only real Christians the abolitionists? How about the oppression of women? I imagine you think that is un-Christlike, as well, right? Were all of the founding church fathers not Christians, then?

    The only ‘essential attribute’ of Christianity is a belief that Jesus was the son of god, born of a virgin, died for our sins, and was resurrected(and that triune god BS, too.)

    To write something and not understand the implications of what you say is the essence of stupidity.

  200. #200 Lee Harrison
    February 22, 2009

    Well this is seriously boring, Eric. You remind me of the black knight in Monty Python’s Holy Grail – you’ve had all your limbs hacked off and still think you can swing a sword.

    Intellectual honesty fail.

  201. #201 Ken Cope
    February 22, 2009

    This:

    There is nothing so subjective and relative, as anything that purports to come from special revelations from the supernatural.

    and this:

    I think it’s not that hard for Christians to rationalize and reconcile a vague, theological love with a rather specific, and down-to-earth, act of violence. In which case it’s not easy for an outside observer to tell that the person is not a “true” (sincere) Christian.

    …are suitable for framing (but not, mind you, in a “Mooney, Nisbet, Padfoot and Prongs” sense).

    So, Eric, Can a TrueChristianTM ever behave immorally? Can you offer any criteria by which we non-theists can discern the difference between a TrueChristianTM behaving morally and one who isn’t?

  202. #202 Kendo
    February 22, 2009

    @194

    All that it takes for someone to be a Christian is their professed belief in Jesus as their personal savior

    Right! It even says so in the rule book. I forget which verse, but I think it was Paul who reportedly said:”No one can say, ‘Jesus is lord’ except that it comes from the holy spirit”. In other words, a self-proclaimed christian can not lie about being christian. No true christian can deny this.

  203. #203 Sastra
    February 22, 2009

    Matt #199 wrote:

    The only ‘essential attribute’ of Christianity is a belief that Jesus was the son of god, born of a virgin, died for our sins, and was resurrected(and that triune god BS, too.)

    Oh, I disagree with this, because it leaves out most of the more liberal Christians. There are many who think the ‘virgin birth’ is not to be taken literally. There are also unitarian Christians who reject the Trinity. Some sects wrangle over what it means to be the “son of God,” and at the fringes you get people like Bishop John Shelby Spong, who think that Original Sin and the Resurrection are mostly metaphorical. Ditto the Atonement.

    Of course, Spong thinks the “theistic God” is also metaphorical, so he’s probably at the definitional fringe. That’s really where nonbelievers are with other people’s religions: minimal definitions. Atheists have no problem including Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses as Christian, wheras some Christians have problems including anyone outside their particular church.

  204. #204 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    Matt, let me put this in terms that even you can understand.

    How would you identify a person who claims to be both a young earth creationist and an advocate of the modern day understanding of evolution? Well, since these two positions are contraries, you’d probably say that he doesn’t understand what the terms he’s using mean, or that he’s a moron, or that he’s a charlatan, or that he’s insane. What you decidely would not say is, “He’s a creationist” or “He’s an a evolutionist.” Apply this to Christianity. What would you say about someone who says, “I think that Jesus is lord, and that therefore his teachings are true, and I explicitly believe this whole set of propositions that are contrary to Christ’s teachings.” Again, we would say that this person doesn’t understand the words he’s using, or is a fool, or is insane, or is lying. We wouldn’t say he’s a Christian.

    Now, the point isn’t that people who act contrary to Christ’s teachings aren’t Christians; the point is that people who openly and explicitly advocate and endorse beliefs and actions contrary to Christ’s teachings aren’t Christians. And don’t come with this ‘belief alone is essential’ caricature.

  205. #205 Kel
    February 22, 2009

    Now, the point isn’t that people who act contrary to Christ’s teachings aren’t Christians; the point is that people who openly and explicitly advocate and endorse beliefs and actions contrary to Christ’s teachings aren’t Christians.

    So by that I take it that you support slavery, after all Jesus did. To go against that would be unchristian…

  206. #206 Ken Cope
    February 22, 2009

    Sir Pterry has most verily said, “There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.”

  207. #207 Sastra
    February 22, 2009

    Eric #204 wrote:

    What would you say about someone who says, “I think that Jesus is lord, and that therefore his teachings are true, and I explicitly believe this whole set of propositions that are contrary to Christ’s teachings.” Again, we would say that this person doesn’t understand the words he’s using, or is a fool, or is insane, or is lying. We wouldn’t say he’s a Christian.

    I’m afraid we’d probably say “he’s a theologian.”

  208. #208 Jafafa Hots
    February 22, 2009

    You’re acting like “Christ’s teachings” are something with no contradictions, no room for interpretation or misinterpretation, no wiggle room.

    Anyway, even if they can’t, all they have to do is “find” a new book to support their viewpoint like the Mormons did.

    “Christ’s teachings” have about the same provenance as the transcript of a game of “telephone” played by a strong of a few thousand people, torn into pieces, taped back together, buried for a few hundred years, dug back up, translated into braille and then back by a guy with no fingers.

  209. #209 Matt
    February 22, 2009

    Oh, I disagree with this

    Okay, granted, I was raised up Methodist, and that was simply the definition I always heard with every conventional sect(basically the Apostle’s Creed). But I suppose I should allow leeway for more vague definitions.

    On the other hand, Eric’s definition is still bogus, because it allows one to say anyone who has sinned isn’t actually a Christian. Which, as I’m told so often by people trying to convert me, everyone has done. So saying un-Christlike behavior disqualifies you from Christianity is to refute the entire purpose of positing a Christ figure in the first place.

    Also, since what is ‘Christlike’ has changed as cultural values change, we are left with the assertion that ‘true Christians’, who believe in equal rights for women and blacks, democracy, and low taxes(just like Jesus), are a twentieth century phenomenon, thus leaving out all the people who built the bedrock of Christian tradition. His position is self-refuting.

  210. #210 aratina
    February 22, 2009

    “A person who claims to be both a young earth creationist and an advocate of the modern day understanding of evolution” would be a walking contradiction, but that kind of contradictory (or perhaps compartmentalized) belief system is not at all in the same category as a White supremacist Christian of which there are many, just as there are many Holocaust denying Catholic priests. There is no contradiction in such identities. Eric, you are defining “Christian” to be something that people most assuredly are not, not even you.

  211. #211 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “On the other hand, Eric’s definition is still bogus, because it allows one to say anyone who has sinned isn’t actually a Christian.”

    Yet another strawman. You refuse to play fair, don’t you?

    “I’m afraid we’d probably say “he’s a theologian.”

    Sastra, I’ve always considered you to be one of the smartest and best informed of the regulars here; now I have to add one of the funniest as well! I’ve read too much ridiculous theology not find that absolutely hilarious!

  212. #212 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “There is no contradiction in such identities. Eric, you are defining “Christian” to be something that people most assuredly are not, not even you”

    Aratina, you’re confusing ‘contradictories’ with ‘contraries.’ Youg earth creationism and evolution aren’t contradictories; both cannot be true, but both could be false. It’s the same case with the teachings of Christ and the teachings of white supremacists: they can’t both be true, though both could be false.

  213. #213 Matt
    February 22, 2009

    Now, the point isn’t that people who act contrary to Christ’s teachings aren’t Christians; the point is that people who openly and explicitly advocate and endorse beliefs and actions contrary to Christ’s teachings aren’t Christians.

    Is the endorsement of the oppression of women unchristlike? Yes, you say? Was St. Augustine a Christian?

    “Women should not be enlightened or educated in any way. They should, in fact, be segregated as they are the cause of hideous and involuntary erections in holy men.?

    -St. Augustine, a (non-Christian?)

    Put up or shut up.

  214. #214 Ken Cope
    February 22, 2009

    On pharyngula, most self-identified philostophers are theologians, trying to pass for reasonable. Philosophers who reject theology on these threads reluctantly admit to their calling and credential, after having banked years of amassed credibility. I’m not saying there’s no true philosopher, just pointing to the wide range of the spectrum.

  215. #215 Ken Cope
    February 22, 2009

    Put up or shut up.

    Both being beyond his capacity, Eric can do neither.

  216. #216 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    Matt, is that the best you can do? Is this honestly your strategy? So, all I have to do to show that someone isn’t, say, a Muslim is to find some notion Mohammed wasn’t clear about, find a Muslim whose actions in that area don’t jibe with our modern sensibilities, and then proclaim victory? Well, I suppose it is the best strategy you have, given the position you’ve taken. Otherwise, you’d have to claim that people who hold beliefs and who act and advocate acting in ways that are in *direct and obvious* conflict with the *direct and obvious* teachings of Jesus are nonethelss followers of Jesus, i.e. Christians, because they call themselves Christians, or perhaps because they like crosses. It’s dinengenuous, but it’s all you’ve got.

    Oh, and as that should make clear, yes, Augustine was a Christian. Do you have any passage in the NT where Jesus said that women should be educated? Note, I’m not saying that this question is open for me because Jesus didn’t say anything about it, or that perhaps women shouldn’t be educated, or any such thing. I’m merely demonstrating how your supposed counterexample fails miserably.

  217. #217 Ken Cope
    February 22, 2009

    Miserable failure? What was moral about Augustine and/or Paul’s positions regarding women and how would Eric propose it be justified?

  218. #218 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    BTW, Matt, what’s your source for that quote? I’ve just checked around and found out that that’s one of those dubious quotes from an unknown source that circulates around the web. So, do you have a source, or did you just do a google search for the first negative quote you could find?

  219. #219 Scott Hatfield, OM
    February 22, 2009

    Eric, at the risk of needling you, you haven’t addressed my previous critique (#164).

    Keep in mind that I’m a theist, and (in fact) a Christian, so you would think that I might be well-disposed to your argument, which suggestively attempts to couple belief in God (theism) with justification for morality.

    However, I admit skepticism on the following points:

    1) Your argument only has force if you can demonstrate that morality must have an objective source, that whatever proscribed is absolutely true. If you can’t demonstrate that, but you can only assert it, then the possibility remains that there is no objective source for morality which is absolutely true, that all beings must assent to. If that possibility exists, (and I think it does), then the alleged weakness of atheism on this point is not demonstrably greater than theism.

    2) Further, the mild version of atheism (which is simply the absence of belief in god or gods) can not be seriously expected to bear the weight of any ethical system, much less any metaphysical position. We would not base our commitment to conserving the environment on whether we were well-disposed to the color green. We would be forced to use more thoughtful criteria.

    3) Finally, your argument is deeply unsatisfying to most people, because it is likely to be perceived as an argument about God’s existence, or whether objective morality exists. At best, it is an epistemology that has little bearing on the merits of the well-known arguments for or against God’s existence—ideas which are more substantive, and thus more interesting, than arguments such is Plantiga’s regarding evolutionary naturalism. It comes across as a dodge, frankly. Keep in mind that I am a theist and have had several intense discussions with some of the same folk in this thread. I have no ax to grind against theism. I just think you have failed to make your case.

    Good luck, and don’t forget that your tormentors here may have just cause to regard your claims with suspicion.

  220. #220 Ken Cope
    February 22, 2009

    Dubious? What was moral about Paul’s positions regarding women and how would Eric propose that the morality of those positions be justified?

  221. #221 aratina
    February 22, 2009

    Eric, I am not arguing using formal logic like you are and thus not confused, but I suspect you are. Plainly, a young earth creationist’s beliefs cannot be reconciled with evolution, and vice versa. However, witness the KKK or the Westboro Baptists, two thoroughly Christian organizations whose members are Christians and White supremacists. Your definition of non-Christians, “people who openly and explicitly advocate and endorse beliefs and actions contrary to Christ’s teachings aren’t Christians,” is really without foundation and highly subjective. Your definition even becomes more troubling given that Christ is a malleable character in a work of fiction with numerous translations, interpretations, and nontraditional supplements.

  222. #222 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “What was moral about Augustine and/or Paul’s positions regarding women and how would Eric propose it be justified?”

    Ken, do you miss the point on purpose? With a little more effort, you could make it into an art form.

  223. #223 godfrey
    February 22, 2009

    I’ll cut to the chase:

    Eric, Simon, Barbb: Get educated in a non-sectarian institution…or in reality. Skill at argumentation does not make a person correct. You will have to string those big wurdz together better than you are currently doing to convince any atheists around here (as if!). Now, I realize that you have already left your critical thinking skills in a jar by the door of your religious institution of training, so I’m not holding out much hope for a dawning of realization any time soon.

  224. #224 Ken Cope
    February 22, 2009

    Ken, do you miss the point on purpose? With a little more effort, you could make it into an art form.

    I AM an art form, you lackwit. Listen here, Le Pétomane; all you have demonstrated today is the rhetorical equivalent of scarfing burritos all day and aiming a lit Bic at the source of your teen-aged wind in an effort to win favor and fair lady. Your efforts here are, at best, the subject matter of a cautionary tale, the sort that never ends with the phrase, “and it was so cool!”

  225. #225 Eric
    February 22, 2009

    “However, witness the KKK or the Westboro Baptists, two thoroughly Christian organizations whose members are Christians and White supremacists.”

    So, how exactly do you reconcile Christ’s teachings about outsiders (see the good Samaritan, his acceptance of ‘impure’ people like lepers, etc.) and his teachings about nonviolence — not to mention his explicit statement in Matthew 25 about the basis of the final judgment (hint: it has everything to do with how we treat the oppressed an those in need and nothing to do with mere belief) with the beliefs of the KKK?

    “Your argument only has force if you can demonstrate that morality must have an objective source, that whatever proscribed is absolutely true.”

    Scott, that’s not true. As I said, my beliefs could be false, and this would in no way affect my critique. I’m asking for a non-fallacious, naturalistic justification for moral prescriptions. As I’ve said, a belief can be justified and false, so I’m not asking for absolute truth.

    “2) Further, the mild version of atheism (which is simply the absence of belief in god or gods) can not be seriously expected to bear the weight of any ethical system, much less any metaphysical position.”

    I’m not asking for the atheist to justify morality with his absence of belief, which is of course absurd; rather, I’m merely asking how he justifies moral propositions. I don’t care if he’s a platonist, a deontologist, a consequentialist, etc.

    “Finally, your argument is deeply unsatisfying to most people, because it is likely to be perceived as an argument about God’s existence, or whether objective morality exists.”

    I can’t see how since, as I’ve said, a atheist who is also a nihilist could present the same critiques I have.

    “I just think you have failed to make your case.”

    I thin that’s because you think I’m arguing that god is necessary for morality; I’m not. I’m arguing that all of the naturalistic justifications of morality I’ve ever come across are not at all persuasive, and I think that the weak attempts some of the posters here have made have buttressed my position.

  226. #226 Kel
    February 22, 2009

    I’m asking for a non-fallacious, naturalistic justification for moral prescriptions.

    Then can you answer what is missing from post #185?

  227. #227 Ken Cope
    February 22, 2009

    I think that the weak attempts some of the posters here have made have buttressed my position.

    Oh no, we’ve been presented with the irrefutable “I’m rubber and you’re glue” gambit. Whatever are we to do?

  228. #228 Matt
    February 23, 2009

    Here’s another. None other than the principle founder and architect of your vapid beliefs, St. Paul:

    “women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”

    Oh, and if you want to change your mind, and say that the oppression of women is Christlike, and thus good(which I see you’ve weaseled out of doing), then don’t give me any advice on my morals.

    Otherwise, you’d have to claim that people who hold beliefs and who act and advocate acting in ways that are in *direct and obvious* conflict with the *direct and obvious* teachings of Jesus are nonethelss followers of Jesus

    I believe earlier in the thread you claimed that active racists were in opposition to the teachings of Jesus. When did Jesus ever *explicitly* state he was against slavery? Are you unclear on that, too? This biblical morality is looking a lot fuzzier now. After all, if it isn’t in *direct and obvious* conflict with what Jesus wrote, then we cant proscribe it, right?

    But I notice you didn’t actually take a position there. Awfully convenient to imply that women’s rights aren’t part of Jesus’ plan for the sake of argument, while avoiding a position yourself.

  229. #229 Anri
    February 23, 2009

    Greetings!

    Eric, I am uncertain on the exact teachings of Christ. Mind if I ask for a definitive list of these teachings, or the definitive source for these teachings?

    If citing a source with multiple editions, please indicate which is superior to the others, and why.

    Thank you for your time.

  230. #230 Scott Hatfield, OM
    February 23, 2009

    I’m arguing that all of the naturalistic justifications of morality I’ve ever come across are not at all persuasive

    Hmmm. One of us seems confused. Maybe it’s me. However…

    Why would someone who is a philosophical naturalist be required to ‘justify’ morality, as opposed to ‘explain’ how it came to be in the first place? Do you think that someone who attempted to understand the natural origins of either social mores or human conscience is obligated to offer both a proscriptive and descriptive account?

    See, if your point is just the narrow philosophical one that natural explanations of human behavior can’t address the former, I agree with you. But so what? There’s a whole bunch of subjective impressions that we can’t put under objective analysis….including, I might add, this ridiculous sidebar about who a ‘true Christian’ is or isn’t. Surely you must see that while you might be appalled at what Westboro Baptist or the KKK does, that they have convinced themselves that they are doing the will of the Lord Jesus, and that they have scriptures they are ready to quote to justify their understanding of Christianity? I don’t particularly like admitting it, but I can’t objectively prove that they aren’t Christians. I can only point out that their beliefs are atypical.

    Anyway, if the previous is not your point—that is, if you don’t think philosophical naturalists are obligated to provide a justification for morality, then you can say so and we can agree for the most part. But if you do think they are obligated, then I would like to see if you can present any facts that would bear on that.

  231. #231 Ken Cope
    February 23, 2009

    I would like to see if you can present any facts that would bear on that.

    Facts? I’d be impressed if Eric could muster a shred of logical consistency among claims, but then you know I don’t believe in miracles. Here, Scott, have a virtual Lagunitas Kronik, which they market as Censored Ale, and tell me if it’s hoppy enough for ya.

  232. #232 Sven DiMilo
    February 23, 2009

    The hopppier the better, from my PoV. Did you know that hops (Humulus lupulus) belong to a Family of plants that includes only one other genus: Cannabis?

  233. #233 windy
    February 23, 2009

    Eric:

    “Humans have an evolved moral sense that militates against such behaviour.”
    They’ve also evolved a selfishness that pushes them towards such behavior. When two instincts conflict, you need a tertium quid to appeal to.

    We are not talking about conscious motivations here. What do you think animals with conflicting motivations do? Do rats in “fight or flight” situations need to consult the writings of St Ratustine to find a tertium quid?

    And by “such behavior” do you mean situations where “you can be **certain** I’ll get away with an act that will harm a lot of people but that will benefit me”? Your premises are off since humans DID NOT EVOLVE in an environment where they could routinely harm a lot of people and be certain to get away with it! Therefore it’s not to be expected that humans with evolved moralities would be naturally pushed to take advantage of such loopholes. Of course they may do it, but reasoning can extend the reach of their evolved morality as well as their evolved selfishness. (And I’m not sure why you assume that these are clear opposites; is it selfish to love your children?)

    This is where strategies get you, but anyone who’s intellectually honest — heck, anyone who’s read a modicum of the world’s great literature and poetry — knows that when we speak about morality, we aren’t thinking in terms of strategies at all.

    What a strawman. Who has claimed anything of the sort? You think evolved morality is about “thinking in terms of strategies”? This is about the same sort of category error as objecting to The Selfish Gene because “genes don’t have minds”. You missed Lee’s point about heuristics. Parental investment in offspring is an example of an evolutionary strategy; emotional attachment to offspring is an example of an evolved heuristic that’s a manifestation of such a strategy. Strategies and emotions are not opposites.

  234. #234 aratina
    February 23, 2009

    So, how exactly do you reconcile Christ’s teachings about outsiders (see the good Samaritan, his acceptance of ‘impure’ people like lepers, etc.) and his teachings about nonviolence — not to mention his explicit statement in Matthew 25 about the basis of the final judgment (hint: it has everything to do with how we treat the oppressed an those in need and nothing to do with mere belief) with the beliefs of the KKK?

    There is a little bit of something for everyone in the Gospels and similar texts.

    In the KKK, they probably draw a line in the sand between Aryans and all others (“Aryan” being a rather exclusive term for “White”). People not meeting the definition of Aryan are irrelevant to Christ’s teachings, i.e. not part of the human race. As for violence, Christ, according to the Bible, did not come to bring peace but a revolution (Matthew 10:34). Westboro Baptists take a staunch Calvinist position against Jews, sexuality, and non-submissive women based partially on the very chapter you gave (Matthew 25).

    I don’t understand why you, Eric, don’t find survival a strong justification for naturalistic morality. I would venture that if you follow morality back to its primitive roots, you would see it suddenly shift from being an exercise of a despot to a gradually more democratic system such as what we see today.

    That is, what if morality starts as a system of controlling others for the selfish interests of a dominating male? The despot has a self interest in forcing male subordinates to not kill each other or steal from each other and not hoard mates so that the despot might accrue more power. Quickly you would see the beginnings of a “benevolent king” who builds an impressive society under authoritarian rule.

    There could be a wide range of these types of despotic moral systems in existence simultaneously, some perhaps merging to form a class-based society. A despotic or class-based society without a watchful eye could end up creating a democratic moral system similar to what we have today (although you still see remnants of the despotic and class-based systems even in the U.S.). All that would need to happen is an overthrow of the ruling class by the subordinates.

    By setting up a stable system of power, a despot could inadvertently create a moral system that perpetuates without said despot and even transforms as more and more people within that society feel the need to be empowered and sense such a possibility. It’s totally natural and ironically mirrors the Bible story.

  235. #235 Ken Cope
    February 23, 2009

    hops (Humulus lupulus) belong to a Family of plants that includes only one other genus: Cannabis?

    Why do you suppose they called it Kronik?

    I’m missing part of a lung and can tell the tale thanks to modern medical science, so I can’t even do a bong hit any more, but I can roast my own green coffee beans, so that’s where I’ll be for a while.

  236. #236 Malcolm
    February 23, 2009

    Eric @80

    n other words, they can act altruistically, advocate altruism, describe and properly categorize (in most situations) altruistic behavior, explain how altruism might have developed, and explain the benefits of altruism in general, but they cannot answer the question, “**If** I can be **certain** I’ll get away with an act that will harm a lot of people but that will benefit me (or my family, friends, etc), then, even if the harm to others greatly outweighs my gains, why shouldn’t I do it?” Please, keep in mind that I’m stipulating that the harms outweigh the benefits, and that the act will not be found out. Now, it seems to me that any ‘explanation’ of morality that does not contain the resources required to answer this question is inadequate, and I’ve yet to see an atheistic answer with those resources.

    Empathy.

    Next question.

  237. #237 RedGreenInBlue
    February 23, 2009

    “If I can be certain I’ll get away with an act that will harm a lot of people but that will benefit me (or my family, friends, etc), then, even if the harm to others greatly outweighs my gains, why shouldn’t I do it?”

    Unless you can demonstrate that one could be certain of getting away with such an act, this question is meaningless. The point is in any case moot; sometimes such acts are even encouraged by society. Examples abound: US post-war blanket spraying of organochlorine pesticides (some temporary benefit to farmers, some terrible local and global side-effects which were sufficient to get them eventually banned); or the benevolent disregard for, and active decision not to regulate, financial practices that have led to a few people greatly enriching themselves while hundreds of thousands of people have lost their homes. And sometimes people don’t care about being found out, because they calculate that they’re likely to be untouchable anyway by dint of money and armed force (e.g. major-league Latin American cocaine dealers).

    As I said, in the real world, this question is meaningless.

    But even assuming that it is possible to be certain, then you are unlikely to be the only person who is able to conceive of this act. Sooner or later another person’s actions will, by harming you, cancel out the benefit you gained from your own act which harmed them. As this seemingly foolproof method of benefitting at the expense of others is more and more widely hit upon, it will eventually become obvious what is happening, and that you are actually worse off as a result of these acts. “Do as you would be done by” is a greatly-underrated principle, and I really don’t care if there isn’t some intricate theological justification for it, when there is a signal lack of evidence for the god who apparently approves of such logic-chopping.

    The argument isn’t that atheists aren’t moral, or can’t be moral, or are ‘less’ moral than theists, etc.

    That’s news to me. I am an atheist and former Catholic, and from the Mormons who collar me outside the shops, to my own grandmother who noticed that I stopped going to Communion (I felt it was hypocritical to take part in a ritual whose theological justification I increasingly felt I could not accept) and harangued me in front of a gathering for being “too clever” and “worldly”, I can tell you that on the whole, this is exactly the argument.

    BTW, the theistic answer isn’t some absurd, “Behave or go to hell” or “Behave because God or the Bible said so” chestnut

    I don’t know what religion you follow, but the mainstream Catholicism in which environment I grew up most certainly used both arguments (though I note that the ethics taught in my Catholic grammar school were largely secular and independent of Christian theology. Why would that be, I wonder?).

    Anyway, what is the answer if not some such “absurd… chestnut”? The Christian conception of Hell was a later addition to the original teachings, and I have seen it convincingly argued that the overt purpose was to ensure observance and obedience. And if God or the Bible are irrelevant to ensuring moral behaviour, then what’s the point of them?

  238. #238 BlueIndependent
    February 23, 2009

    Eric @ 186:

    “…but, as I’ve said earlier, if you don’t have a strong background in Aristotelico-Thomistic philosophy, you won’t understand it. I’d recommend Ed Feser’s “The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism.” Feser takes about a hundred pages explaining (in a very entertaining way) the essentials before he even gets to the Thomistic arguments for god’s nature and existence…”

    Here’s a short blurb I found talking about that Feser piece:

    http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&ct=clnk&cd=12&url=http%3A%2F%2F74.125.95.132%2Fsearch%3Fq%3Dcache%3A3kbMxf7KePUJ%3Afindarticles.com%2Fp%2Farticles%2Fmi_m1282%2Fis_20_60%2Fai_n30931065%2BAristotelico-Thomistic%26hl%3Den%26ct%3Dclnk%26cd%3D12%26gl%3Dus%26client%3Dfirefox-a&ei=vUCiSauXN4TSnQe0xIH9DQ&usg=AFQjCNFtO9jTq65HS5B-4IY1qstB9sYz6A&sig2=Us7lfMJvjoBc6Hw0vzCojw

    I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Aristotelico-Thomistic philosophy is the purview of Catholicism, which already doesn’t help your cause. You would essentially then be trying to argue that not only does God exist, but that the Catholic version of events is the correct one. And here, your argument still falls into tribal mode, with no hope of escaping.

  239. #239 Peter McKellar
    February 23, 2009

    I listened to the radio show over the net and went off to bed.

    I had a few chores to do today, caught up on the thread and now I’m totally exhausted. ;)

    The formal philosophy is beyond me but interesting, it points towards another area of study I must gain some skills in. This does however point to the futility of formal arguments to describe (or as Eric would desire, “justify”) a sense of morals.

    I think that underlying the whole issue is: why are we quoting Aquinas or others to determine if morals, something we all possess and use on a daily basis are valid in a metaphysical sense?

    If anything, this really comes back to the points made at the start of the thread. Further, all the clever arguments, as Sastra commented previously simply indicate that a theologian is involved. When theism is trotted out, especially at the self-critical and “justifiable” end of the spectrum of morality it comes to nought and prevents the operation of determining ones actions in a way that benefits both ourselves and society.

    It may be fun, I have learned a lot and will study more, but at its heart the philosophical arguments here are a deceit developed over thousands of years to “justify” the inexcusable. And it has been used on this thread to distract from the reality that theist based morals are corrupt. Thankfully most theists adhere to secular law, not canon law.

    Beware the kiss of the templar.

    Give me hops, cannabis and green coffee beans instead.

  240. #240 Ken Cope
    February 23, 2009

    Give me hops, cannabis and green coffee beans instead.

    The cannabis goes with either (and extends the sense of the present moment via THC acting as a neurotransmitter analog of what Michael Pollan, in The Botany of Desire, designates as anandamides), but I generally avoid crossing the streams of microbrews and full-city roasts.

    It’s traditional at this phase of such discussions to blame beer for the existence of civilization, since it cannot exist prior to the development of agriculture, some chemistry, a basic economy, social institutions to rehabilitate those who do not know how to stop indulging, and a load of theists to tell the besotted that they can get even more drunk on religion, if they make sure to pass on the best brew to the priests so that the gods can be properly appeased.

    I’ll note that Eric has yet to offer any criteria by which we non-theists can discern the difference between a TrueChristianTM behaving morally, and one who isn’t.

  241. #241 SC, OM
    February 23, 2009

    people who hold beliefs and who act and advocate acting in ways that are in *direct and obvious* conflict with the *direct and obvious* teachings of Jesus

    See Gospels:

    http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/cruelty/long.html

    http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/inj/long.html

  242. #242 Peter McKellar
    February 23, 2009

    Thanks Ken, nice background :)

    The purpose of this post however is more for Eric who will hopefully look in on the thread when he starts his day.

    After considering my previous post I have an additional point to make (long winded as it is).

    Elegant arguments fall apart in the face of one unassailable fact. There is no god. There never has been. No amount of wishing will change this simple fact.

    Eric, check the retirement benefits offered by your church – be it a super fund or a 401k. It is always distressing when you see fellow workers being laid off and the company on the ropes before closing its doors. The pews are emptying and the end is clearly in sight. The march of science and reason cannot be stopped and the numbers of atheists are legion already, yet we grow by the day.

    We listen to your pleas but it will not stop us. We won’t burn you or kill you or imprison you, we will just pension you off and bring you out to counsel the elderly still clinging to life and their theist delusions out of kindness to them, not you.

    You can sit in retirement villages, isolated from the new world and happy, sipping tea (with a nip of irish whiskey or whatever) and discussing the good old days when you ruled the world. You can argue with fellow clergy all you like about papal infallibility and construct a case for the return of your scatology, unheard outside the cone of silence our noise cancelling hardware imposes for the protection of children. You will grow old and toothless, a spent force – as obsolete as your ideas.

    The vatican will be stripped of its records, its histories and documentation of numerous conspiracies and atrocities to be studied by scholars in dusty back rooms of libraries and the halls of academia. The artwork and looted treasures now held in vaults will be on display in the repurposed museum, actors hired to dress as nuns, cardinals and popes with the quaint appeal and authenticity of beefeaters at the tower of london.

    Even the word atheism will be as pointless as zorastrianism is now. Cries of “Oh My God” and “Bless you” will sound like “By Jove” does today. TV shows and movies with theist references will be like pre-WWII black and white movies and kids will ask parents to explain the archaic ideas. Alex Trebek won’t have the mandatory religious line of questions on Jeopardy – replaced by a science subject when the religist product placements no longer apply or have meaning.

    Eric, you are almost a sad relic now and no amount of slippery convolutions of logic will save you or your sad and demented religion. Join us in building a moral fabric for this new society that doesn’t rely on grovelling before the false profits of your false deity. Many intelligent theologians have made the break and are helping people build our shared future.

    When it comes down to it, the “why” questions you fabricate or the justifications you demand are as hollow as your arguments and as empty of meaning as “free will” or these other fictions on which you rely.

    The religions of hinduism, islam and judaism are already feeling the strain and only destroying schools and subjugating women and outriders has stemmed the tide. For all the boasts that islam is growing rapidly, atheist numbers are growing at a rate that makes this look minuscule. Pope ratzingers fear of atheists is justified because he sees himself as the last pope, the man whose empire was not so much destroyed as sublimated by reason.

    We are unstoppable. Give up. Find what refuge you can now because we are coming from every side and not a single thing will remain intact. Any distilled wisdom plagiarised from previous religions will be isolated from the viral religist themes and retained, but nothing else. We will overwhelm you and then have the other theist religions for breakfast in this new day. We intend to do it with empathy and compassion, but we will do it.

  243. #243 SC, OM
    February 23, 2009

    For example, I could be a nihilist and argue that atheists who believe certain acts to be moral cannot justify their beliefs, even if they can hold them, describe them, explain their origins, etc.

    …My point is that *if* the criticisms I’ve made could be made by a nihilist — and they could — then the topic of god’s existence, or of how a theist justifies morality, is irrelevant. Now, a nihilist rejects all objective morality…

    Define “objective.” If the nihilist rejects moral systems based in and developed on the foundation of an appreciation of a concretely shared social life and real material conditions, then it is the nihilist who can be interrogated. On what basis? What alternative has the nihilist to propose, and where would it lead?

  244. #244 windy
    February 23, 2009

    I’d recommend Ed Feser’s “The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism.” Feser takes about a hundred pages explaining (in a very entertaining way) the essentials before he even gets to the Thomistic arguments for god’s nature and existence. He also gives a decent explanation of natural law morality. Since god’s nature is not the topic of this thread, I hope this recommendation will do.

    No offense but given your previous track record in book recommending… not really.

    Apropos natural law, what do you think about Feser’s arguments that gay marriage is “logically impossible” and that using contraception is immoral?

  245. #245 simon
    February 23, 2009

    @Peter
    The march of science and reason cannot be stopped and the numbers of atheists are legion already, yet we grow by the day.

    what do you mean by we ?
    sounds like you have a religion. Is your “god” Atheism/Humanism ?

    Does “he” tell you what allowed and not ? I am waiting so long for the answer.

    ?The West has lost Christ and that is why it is dying; that is the only reason.?
    Those who ?kill? God also kill man. Without God, man has nothing but falsehood and inevitably becomes an enemy to himself, and ends by organizing the world against himself.
    (Fedor Dostoevsky 1821-1881)

  246. #246 Knockgoats
    February 23, 2009

    Eric,

    So you cannot say to a Nazi that the Holocaust was wrong — not merely that it doesn’t conform with the conclusions you reach when reasoning from the preferences that define your moral first principles, but that it was wrong?

    Of course I can say it was wrong – because that’s what I mean by “wrong”. Neither I, nor I think anyone else arguing with you here, claims that atheism can provide the kind of justification for morality you are asking for – one that would convince a rational nihilistic egoist. The point is, nor can theism. I would further say that this is true because it is logically impossible there should be such a justification – as this would require the logical derivation of an “ought” – a moral prescription – from an “is” – a statement of fact. No more can there be such a justification of esthetic claims, that would convince a rational philistine.

    It’s interesting to note that real-life Nazis very rarely, if ever, defend the holocaust. Instead, they deny or minimize it; or use tu quoque arguments – the allies bombed Dresden and Hiroshima, etc. This may be combined with blaming the victim: antisemitic hints, or diatribes, depending on the situation. What they never say, AFAIK, is “Oh, there’s no objective morality, so you can’t tell me it was wrong.” It is characteristic of your approach that the very example you choose is so far removed from real moral problems.

    “Despite your claims for theism, you have completely failed to show that it can ground morality in some ultimate fashion that would force agreement from a rational but entirely selfish agent”

    I can’t ‘completely fail’ to show what I’ve never claimed. That aside, I won’t be drawn into a completely different discussion.

    So, do you admit or deny that the theist can no more show the existence of an objective morality, or to put it another way, the kind of justification for morality you are demanding of atheists, than an atheist? My position is that neither theists nor non-nihilistic atheists can show that the nihilist position is logically incoherent, or in conflict with the facts – because it isn’t.

    As for your claims with regard to the nature of god, to say “Unless you’ve studied Thomism you’re not going to understand it” is a piece of moral and intellectual cowardice that can only excite just contempt. If you understand it, you can surely outline the argument, then go into detail as required? I’m certainly not going to waste months reading up on Thomism in order to resolve a supposed problem which I do not perceive as a real one – the lack of a justification for morality that would convince a rational nihilistic egoist. I’d rather spend that time thinking about real moral problems.

    how exactly do you reconcile Christ’s teachings about outsiders (see the good Samaritan, his acceptance of ‘impure’ people like lepers, etc.) and his teachings about nonviolence — not to mention his explicit statement in Matthew 25 about the basis of the final judgment (hint: it has everything to do with how we treat the oppressed an those in need and nothing to do with mere belief) with the beliefs of the KKK?

    Well, Eric, if you’re going to exclude all those who hold beliefs justifying violence under some circumstances from the exalted status of True Christian, you’re really not going to have many left – and certainly not Thomas Aquinas, who was a supporter of the death penalty – including for heretics.

  247. #247 Scott Hatfield, OM
    February 23, 2009

    Re: #245 (Peter McKellar)

    You seem to be channeling Nikita Khrushchev. As you can see from my previous posts, I have my doubts about Eric’s line of reasoning. But that doesn’t mean that unbelief has found its prophetic voice, or that the full-blown triumphalism implied by ‘the march of science and reason’ is justified.

    Future generations may largely pass on the religious formalisms of the present, and we can look forward to a secular society whose decision-making process is informed by reason and evidence. But our tendency to ask ‘why’ questions that are not answerable by objective protocols will remain. For example, people are going to continue to ask why there is something rather than nothing, and whether the source of existence provides us with a source of meaning, or not.

    These are not the sort of questions likely to end up as signage in ‘the march of science and reason’, but that does not make them unworthy of consideration. In general, people do not find such questions to be hollow or meaningless. If that were true, then the possibility of atheism would not excite us one way or another. Rather, it is the smug, one-size-fits-all certitude of those who would dictate ‘the answer’ that rings hollow to many of us, precisely because it constrains our ability to question.

  248. #248 SC, OM
    February 23, 2009

    By the way,

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/slavery/ethics/philosophers_2.shtml

    I’m just curious: Did anyone besides Peter McKellar and me listen to the radio show? Any thoughts?

  249. #249 sinon
    February 23, 2009

    @ #246
    and certainly not Thomas Aquinas, who was a supporter of the death penalty – including for heretics.

    The Summa Theologiae is a great accomplishment, but it is primarily a commentary on dogma; it is not a dogma itself and is not infallible

  250. #250 Kendo
    February 23, 2009

    heh…heh…Sastra said ‘Spong’.

    No but really. Sastra brings up a good point @203. Christians like to indulge in the argument from popularity. They often insist that there must be soomething to it because there are so many dedicated christians in the world. Of course, in private, we all know that they condemn their christian brothers (and sisters?) to hell for the sin of not interpreting the One True Word of GOD in such a way as happens to be convenient for them.

  251. #251 SC, OM
    February 23, 2009

    But our tendency to ask ‘why’ questions that are not answerable by objective protocols will remain. For example, people are going to continue to ask why there is something rather than nothing, and whether the source of existence provides us with a source of meaning, or not.

    But they may increasingly conclude that the mythologies (religious and political-religious) that have claimed to answer these questions have no evidentiary basis, that trying to answer them (beyond a scientific understanding of how things came to be) is a futile pursuit, and that meaning and purpose are things we create for ourselves – whether we realize it or not – so we should put our efforts into this.

  252. #252 Knockgoats
    February 23, 2009

    The Summa Theologiae is a great accomplishment, but it is primarily a commentary on dogma; it is not a dogma itself and is not infallible – sinon

    Nothing is infallible. I would question whether it was really a “great achievement” either, although it must have required a good deal of work. As I gather (I admit I haven’t read it) it is largely a collection of citations of supposed authorities; and at least some of the arguments appear simply ridiculous, e.g. that monks and bishops are in a state of perfection.

  253. #253 BlueIndependent
    February 23, 2009

    ” ‘The West has lost Christ and that is why it is dying; that is the only reason. Those who ?kill? God also kill man. Without God, man has nothing but falsehood and inevitably becomes an enemy to himself, and ends by organizing the world against himself.’ (Fedor Dostoevsky 1821-1881) “

    Well first of all, this is a famous writer expressing that the West supposedly lost the Christian god and Jesus, all the way back in the early to middle 19th century. Can you provide the part of Dostoevsky’s work where he explains why he thinks this? Because your posting of this snippet only serves to show that he really did nothing more in uttering this opinion than display a lack of perspective, and make a Nostradamus-like prediction that civilization will fall (likely before we even reached 2009) if the West doesn’t stop “killing” god. Ironically, you also choose a quote from Dostoevsky about the West “dying”, well before the West truly came to world power, and made all the advances that allowed for things Dostoevsky could scarcely dream of. So, again, your snippet proves nothing, and merely shows that while Dostoevsky was a great writer, he said some pretty stupid things, much as any human is wont to do at some point in his or her life.

    Dostoevsky making a prognostication that the West will fall if we don’t accept his or another’s god is just like everyone else’s that has failed the “so, where is it?” test, and his skills with the pen do not absolve him from criticism of his own religious tendencies. Why Christians, or the religious in general, insist on using the prognostications of famous people past as a supposed fact-based marker to show how we atheists will inadvertently destroy mankind, when those prognostications can be checked against facts and history and shown to be rather vacuous, is beyond me. But on its face it’s another attempt to get us to bow our heads and submit because someone with some level of authority said so, not because said authority has any real power or cosmic perspective we do not.

    Your Dostoevsky quote is duly dismissed.

  254. #254 simon
    February 23, 2009

    @knockgoats #252
    e.g. that monks and bishops are in a state of perfection.

    misunderstood, infallibility is not the absence of sin.

    Vatican II explained the doctrine of infallibility as follows: “Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they can nevertheless proclaim Christ?s doctrine infallibly. This is so, even when they are dispersed around the world, provided that while maintaining the bond of unity among themselves and with Peter?s successor, and while teaching authentically on a matter of faith or morals, they concur in a single viewpoint as the one which must be held conclusively. This authority is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church. Their definitions must then be adhered to with the submission of faith” (Lumen Gentium 25).

  255. #255 Ken Cope
    February 23, 2009

    So, while not infallible, the individual bishops proclamations as to the doctrine of the difference between kneeling down and bending over must then be adhered to with the submission of faith by the altar boys.

  256. #256 Knockgoats
    February 23, 2009

    But our tendency to ask ‘why’ questions that are not answerable by objective protocols will remain. Scott Hatfield

    How do you think you know that?

  257. #257 simon
    February 23, 2009

    @BI #253
    Your Dostoevsky quote is duly dismissed.

    Let’s learn from the victim :

    ” Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

    “Since then I have spend well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”[28] ”
    (Solzhenitsyn – Voice from the Gulag,” Eternity, October 1985, pp. 23, 24)

  258. #258 Ken Cope
    February 23, 2009

    What does it all mean, and why are so many questions rhetorical?

  259. #259 windy
    February 23, 2009

    Can you provide the part of Dostoevsky’s work where he explains why he thinks this? Because your posting of this snippet only serves to show that he really did nothing more in uttering this opinion than display a lack of perspective, and make a Nostradamus-like prediction that civilization will fall (likely before we even reached 2009) if the West doesn’t stop “killing” god.

    Dostoyevsky is not really predicting that civilization will fall, only that the West might fall, unless we accept the religious leadership of Mother Russia, defender of the true Orthodox faith.

  260. #260 windy
    February 23, 2009

    Scott Hatfield:

    But our tendency to ask ‘why’ questions that are not answerable by objective protocols will remain. For example, people are going to continue to ask why there is something rather than nothing, and whether the source of existence provides us with a source of meaning, or not.

    “Why is there something rather than nothing”, if it’s answerable at all, is a physics question. And the “source of meaning” question is a rather leading one. If the suggested answer is some sort of theism, shouldn’t that bring us right back to “why should there be a God rather than nothing?”

    And there’s no answer to that question, how does God deal with his own, meaningless existence? He must be pretty bummed out by now ;)

  261. #261 simon
    February 23, 2009

    @windy
    Dostoyevsky is not really predicting that civilization will fall, only that the West might fall, unless we accept the religious leadership of Mother Russia, defender of the true Orthodox faith.

    Why don’t you learn form USSR ? The Father of Atheism

  262. #262 BlueIndependent
    February 23, 2009

    Simon, you’ve done exactly zero to advance your point, and have merely restated it with a quote from another source expressing the same type of harrowing blackness on their individual horizon. Your quote gives no indication of why the writer thought that man “forgetting god” had anything to do with what happened, only that this is what he surmised from reading a lot and talking to people. WHY did he think that? Substantiate it beyond the simple statement that “man forgot god”. By that measure the US was quite willing to forego a god in the early going, as steeped as the forefathers were in multiple religions, yet acting (mostly correctly IMO) to exclude it. If you believe so firmly in these two quotes, it is allowable that I should ask you to give me facts and logic as to why I should take them seriously.

    And secondly, you are not answering the questions here as to why man needs a god for anything. Offering quotes doesn’t make your case. You need to address our question directly, not throw sayings from books at us as if they were arrows to kill us with. Get to your point now. And we would appreciate it if you posted novel material as to why we’re wrong, not simply echo what Eric and few others are. Eric isn’t making any traction either, but at least he’s spending at least a second or two thinking through some of what he posts. You’re just throwing quotes as if these writers gave you express written consent to use them in the manner you are.

    And you seem to be implying through your use of Solzhenitsyn that communism and the oft-rebutted claim that the godlessness professed by Marx (and supposedly followed by Stalin and others in Russia but that is ill-fitting with their cults of personality, of which Castro’s is very similar) is what caused Russia’s ills in the 20th century. This is hardly provable against atheism, since it is historical fact that communist Russia suffered more due to disrespect for real science (Lysenkoism), mixed with cultish inculcation of the masses into despotic leaders like Stalin and Lenin, and mixed with a dollop of really bad economics, and applied upon a large mass of people. Atheism had exactly zero to do with Russia’s downfall. And you are conveniently forgetting that Russia and its forebears in the myriad chopped entities that preceded it, was an exquisitely violent place under religion as well. To imply that “godless communism” ruined what was before a general utopia under religion is at best selfishly parochial, and obsessively negligent of history at worst.

    I would also point out that other countries who have never been labeled “atheist” had “man-based” gods, yet we do not choose religion as the problem in those cases. We merely point out that such societies created a religion around a man or woman, and that those individuals, when given such massive power physically and psychologically over large masses of people, will doubtless misuse more often than not. You are not making any novel point. Whether the god or gods are based in the cosmos or on earth, there is no such thing.

  263. #263 simon
    February 23, 2009

    “The world has never before known a godlessness as organized, militarized and tenaciously malevolent as that preached by Marxism. Within the philosophical system of Marx and Lenin and at the heart of their psychology, hatred of God is the principle driving force, more fundamental than all their political and economic pretensions. Militant atheism is not merely incidental or marginal to Communist policy; it is not a side effect, but the central pivot. To achieve its diabolical ends, Communism needs to control a population devoid of religious and national feeling, and this entails a destruction of faith and nationhood. Communists proclaim both of these objectives openly, and just as openly put them into practice.”(Alexander Solzhenitsyn)

    “Dr. R. J. Rummel, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Hawaii, is the scholar who first coined the term democide (death by government). Dr. R. J. Rummel’s mid estimate regarding the loss of life due to communism is that communism caused the death of approximately 110,286,000 people between 1917 and 1987.”

    Who is Dr PZ Myers ?
    Why do you give your life to this gentleman ?
    Hungry for an Idol ?

  264. #264 BlueIndependent
    February 23, 2009

    “Why don’t you learn form USSR ? The Father of Atheism”

    The USSR was not the “Father of Atheism”, you idiot. Atheists existed hundreds of years before Marx, who would technically be more accurate for you to cite, although still not totally correct. You have yet to show how atheism causes anything, other than to throw quotes and oft-refuted claims about Russia’s politics around.

    And guess what: We’ve heard it all before and refuted all of it with facts.

    This last post of yours reveals your true lack of knowledge on the subject, and your simple blind acceptance of Nixon’s “godless communism” frame.

  265. #265 BlueIndependent
    February 23, 2009

    ” ‘The world has never before known a godlessness as organized, militarized and tenaciously malevolent as that preached by Marxism. Within the philosophical system of Marx and Lenin and at the heart of their psychology, hatred of God is the principle driving force, more fundamental than all their political and economic pretensions. Militant atheism is not merely incidental or marginal to Communist policy; it is not a side effect, but the central pivot. To achieve its diabolical ends, Communism needs to control a population devoid of religious and national feeling, and this entails a destruction of faith and nationhood. Communists proclaim both of these objectives openly, and just as openly put them into practice.”(Alexander Solzhenitsyn)

    Dr. R. J. Rummel, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Hawaii, is the scholar who first coined the term democide (death by government). Dr. R. J. Rummel’s mid estimate regarding the loss of life due to communism is that communism caused the death of approximately 110,286,000 people between 1917 and 1987.’ “

    Simon, the idiot who argues by throwing quotes around like stones. We are not impressed. You can post all the damn quotes you want. The fact remains that ascribing Russia’s fall has exactly zero to do with atheism, and everything to do with bad ideas and misuse of negative human traits. It’s also apt to point out Russia wasn’t even the purest form of communism. Kibbutzes are much closer. All you do is say Russia fell because of a lack of religion, but you have no way to ascertain that, because religion to a follower is different. It is not consistent. Concepts of a god or gods are not consistent, and I can make them up off the cuff. Answer the question: Why does man need a god? You should be able to answer this. I will take your posting of quotes as evidence you have no argument, and take the saying of others merely at face value.

    “Who is Dr PZ Myers ? Why do you give your life to this gentleman ? Hungry for an Idol ? “
    PZ Myers is an accomplished professor doing good work. I do not “give my life” to PZ, or to any other man, let alone your pathetic god concept. There are no idols around here, only morons like you telling us we have them. Do you even understand atheism? If we had idols, we would not be atheists. Simple equation.

  266. #266 windy
    February 23, 2009

    Why don’t you learn form USSR?

    Newsflash, Dostoyevsky was not talking about the Soviet Union as he was writing in the 19th century. He was talking about Western Europe. But here’s something the amazingly prescient F.D. had one of his characters say:

    “a leader without faith will never achieve anything in Russia… The people will rise up against the atheist and subdue him, and a unified Christian Russia will appear under the Russian Orthodox Church.”

  267. #267 Knockgoats
    February 23, 2009

    Simon,
    I would not be too keen to lean on Solzhenitsyn if I were you. Certainly he was a victim of Stalin, but he was also seriously antisemitic (take a look at “Two Hundred Years Together”), and an avowed enemy of liberal democracy. This is from Richard Pipes (someone whose political views are remote from my own), writing in The Moscow Times:

    “I recall very well the commencement address that he delivered 30 years ago at Harvard University. The audience of students and their families, aware of Solzhenitsyn’s anti-communism, expected a warm tribute to the West — and especially to the United States, which had granted him asylum. Instead, they were treated to a typical Russian conservative critique of Western civilization for being too legalistic and too committed to freedom, which resulted in the “weakening of human beings in the West while in the East they are becoming firmer and stronger.” At the bottom of this censure lay a wholesale rejection of the course of Western history since the Renaissance.

    Solzhenitsyn blamed the evils of Soviet communism on the West. He rightly stressed the European origins of Marxism, but he never asked himself why Marxism in other European countries led not to the gulag but to the welfare state. He reacted with white fury to any suggestion that the roots of Leninism and Stalinism could be found in Russia?s past. His knowledge of Russian history was very superficial and laced with a romantic sentimentalism. While accusing the West of imperialism, he seemed quite unaware of the extraordinary expansion of his own country into regions inhabited by non-Russians. He also denied that Imperial Russia practiced censorship or condemned political prisoners to hard labor, which, of course, was absurd.”

    Why don’t you learn form USSR ? The Father of Atheism – simon

    That can only be characterised as an outright lie. Atheism has a history reaching back more than two thousand years. Atheism in the west owes practically nothing to the USSR. If your case against atheism is strong, why do you feel the need for such stupid lies?

  268. #268 simon
    February 23, 2009

    @BI,
    You have yet to show how atheism causes anything, other than to throw quotes and oft-refuted claims about Russia’s politics around.

    Militant atheism is not merely incidental or marginal to Communist policy; it is not a side effect, but the central pivot. (Alexander Solzhenitsyn)

    He was the victim !

    the numbers of atheists are legion already, yet we grow by the day (Peter McKellar)

    waiting another revolution !

  269. #269 KI
    February 23, 2009

    Russia under the Orthodox church was the most backward agricultural wasteland in Europe. Underfed, undereducated, stupid and antiquated. Under the communists, it became the second most powerful industrial behemoth in the world. I don’t like how they got there, but to claim that a return to pre-revolutionary Russia (or China, for that matter) is somehow preferable is a repulsive idea. Go die of scurvy or smallpox and get your 11th century ass off the planet.

  270. #270 PZ Myers
    February 23, 2009

    He throws around quotes, but he ignores the context. Read a little further in Rummel, and you discover that he does not consider atheism to be a major factor at all in the USSR’s totalitarianism.

    Who is Dr PZ Myers ? Why do you give your life to this gentleman ? Hungry for an Idol ?

    How sweet. That comment made me feel all Thulsa Doomish. I’m sure everyone here would throw themselves off a cliff if I told them to.

  271. #271 windy
    February 23, 2009

    Militant atheism is not merely incidental or marginal to Communist policy; it is not a side effect, but the central pivot.

    Dude, communists came to power BEFORE there was widespread atheism in Russia. And if there’s some sort of critical mass of atheism that will cause communism by itself, why isn’t Sweden a communist dictatorship?

    PS I hope you are a Russian Orthodox Christian? Otherwise your shilling for Dostoyevsky’s anti-Western views doesn’t make sense.

  272. #272 Knockgoats
    February 23, 2009

    Militant atheism is not merely incidental or marginal to Communist policy; it is not a side effect, but the central pivot. (Alexander Solzhenitsyn) – simon

    Simon, we got the quote the first time; we just don’t agree with it. We know that most Christian apologists think a quote from some other Christian apologist settles an argument, but most of us here prefer to do our own thinking, thanks. The fact that Solzhenitsyn was a victim does not make him right. I daresay that’s too difficult for your tiny excuse for a brain to take in, but do try.

  273. #273 jon
    February 23, 2009

    ^THIS^

  274. #274 Sastra
    February 23, 2009

    Simon #257 wrote:

    “But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” — Solzhenitsyn

    When people complain like this that “Men have forgotten God,” they are not necessarily complaining about a lack of religious observance or even religious belief. I think that what they’re really saying is that they fear that people have forgotten virtue. They have lost compassion, they have become unjust, they have thrown out freedom, and renounced the use of reason. They have forgotten the importance of doing what is Good.

    “False gods” are just as likely to lack virtue as no gods at all. In fact, false gods can be more dangerous, because a religion which considers you an enemy of God and friend of Satan is not likely to give you much room to argue otherwise. Do you really think that Stalin’s Soviet Union would have been improved if it had also, at the same time, been a theocracy?

    It’s not God vs. atheism, but using government to decide the question — and enforce it — which is dangerous. That is the humanist position. The Soviet Union was not humanist. It was anti-humanist: anti-science, anti-freedom, anti-reason, and anti-human rights.

  275. #275 BlueIndependent
    February 23, 2009

    Simon: “He was the victim !”

    Yet still you bleat forth. I read your post already you fool. We have answered your damnation with the context and truth you dared not provide (and as we asked for) lest you reveal yourself to be an idiot simply pasting the words of other people as if your quote-based strategy was unassailable, and as I pointed out, as if those historical figures were in pure agreement with you.

  276. #276 Peter McKellar
    February 23, 2009

    Scott Hatfield, OM @247

    “You seem to be channeling Nikita Khrushchev”

    lol, I like it :)

    I have been spending far too much time on this blog and need to attend to a few basics that keep day to day survival possible. Time zones also make dialogue difficult. Just warning that I will have less time to respond (at least for the next few days). I will follow the link. Khrushchev is just a guy hammering his shoe on the table for me and I welcome the link to fill out my understanding.

    After catching up with the thread I was struck by the way Eric was using his arguments to deflect reason and bundle sceptical approach into a straw man argument so he could then demolish it. This has been done for thousands of years and no doubt was used by clerics of other gods back to the dawn of humanity.

    I was actually just lobbing a brain bomb of “demoralization” into Eric’s worldview. Scurrilous and evil I know, but what can I say? Guilty ;)

    I do however feel that all of this sophistry is just that – a deliberate attempt to shift argument away from reason and into some byzantine psychosis. The longer theists can keep real questions from being asked by forcing us to respond to “How many angels can dance on a pinhead” pseudo-questions the less our message will be heard over the din of nonsense non-questions. An outside observer will generally think that the “teach the controversy” argument holds water. It doesn’t, but by this stage the damage has been done and we must then fight a rearguard action instead of doing constructive work to answer relevant questions.

    “How” questions are valid, and I will entertain “why” questions, but not under Eric’s terms. Eric forced the why questions onto his own turf and required us/me to argue the impossible (ie from a pre-condition that god exists and it is up to us to disprove god).

    I have spent some time as a visitor in psych wards and anyone that has done the same will know that discussion with the clinically insane just simply doesn’t work. Their frame of reference has no logical foundation and to try to work within it is bizarre to say the least. Sane people (and I put Eric into this category) have just adopted similar techniques to confuse. I will not be drawn into his frame of reference (but I very nearly fell for it).

    I was attempting to shift discussion away from his ground, the communism angle was unexpected, but worked because the accusation that atheists = communists is easily refuted by evidence.

    In my post I also wanted to get across the point that living in a secular, mostly reasonable world does not require violence or coercion. Just protection for vulnerable children. The world I want allows (actually welcomes and encourages) questions to be asked, including the “why” ones. Questions like “if things don’t fall up, why isn’t it orange” don’t parse and need to be eliminated from the list though. I just think that all the framing questions that have come from the catholic church have either missed the point or are designed to prevent real questions from being asked.

    I should also say that I find your posts useful and enlightening and the views of a sceptical theist keeps me honest. That is no doubt how you earned the “OM” :)

    Anyway, I must go off and slaughter a goat as a sacrifice to my deity PZ. ;)

  277. #277 windy
    February 23, 2009

    That comment made me feel all Thulsa Doomish. I’m sure everyone here would throw themselves off a cliff if I told them to.

    Can we first have the orgy where you morph into Titanoboa?

  278. #278 Qwerty
    February 23, 2009

    “God’s holy extortion” – Not another discussion on indulgences?

  279. #279 BlueIndependent
    February 23, 2009

    Peter, I see what you are saying, but at the same time I get to learn so much more through these corollaries whether they be into philosophy, history, or some other discipline. So I welcome the fools to keep coming and trying other means of attack no matter how futile. I end up learning more and more each and every time they get the top-rope Atomic Elbow from one or more of the others here. I think I’ve seen a few folding tables and chairs used as well…

  280. #280 Eric
    February 23, 2009

    “”How” questions are valid, and I will entertain “why” questions, but not under Eric’s terms. Eric forced the why questions onto his own turf and required us/me to argue the impossible (ie from a pre-condition that god exists and it is up to us to disprove god).”

    This is absolutely false, and I can prove it.

    Let’s say for the sake of argument that I’ve abandoned both my theism and my AT approach to morality (the two need not come together as part of a package deal). Would this in any way affect my question, i.e. How does an atheist justify prescriptive moral propositions? Not in the slightest. I could both be an atheist and question whether it’s possible to justify prescriptive moral propositions; indeed, the history of philosophy (especially in the 19th and early 20th centuries) is replete with instances of just this sort of character.

    Let me also clear up another misconception: I’ve asked for justification — period. Now, a belief can be justified even if it’s false; hence, I’ve not asked for some ultimate or objective truth, and I’ve not even asked for moral knowledge. I’ve asked for something much less robust: justification.

    As I see it, there have been five responses to my query:

    (1) It’s not necessary to justify moral prescriptions.

    (1) takes two forms:
    A. Who cares?
    B. Who cares *if* we act in ways we believe are ‘moral.’

    (2) It’s not possible to justify moral prescriptions.

    (2) also takes two forms:
    A. It’s not possible to justify *any* moral prescriptions.
    B. It’s not possible to justify moral prescriptions *ultimately*.

    (3) Our evolutionary development justifies moral prescriptions.

    (4) The fact that we are social beings justifies moral prescriptions.

    (5) We justify moral prescriptions by appealing to the consequences of our beliefs and actions.

    These five responses aren’t all mutually exclusive: e.g., one could include (1B) and (2b), or (3), (4), and possibly a limited conception of (5), in the same justificatory accounts.

    So, are (1) through (5), as terse as they are, roughly accurate? If so, it seems to me that (1) and (3) are easily dismissed, and that the only serious contenders are (2), (4) and (5). Note, however, that (2) is in agreement with my initial contention: atheists cannot justify moral prescriptions. Whether theists can do so is irrelevant, though it is a topic that can be addressed once the question we’re dealing with here has been in some sense settled, e.g. if we agree that (4) and (5) can’t do the job. Hence, it seems to me that we’re really left with (4) and (5). Have I missed anything?

    Before you spend time responding, I want to warn you, as a courtesy, that I won’t have nearly as much time throughout the week to respond to your comments as I did on Sunday. I mention this in case you don’t want to waste time writing a response that might not be addressed in the next couple of days.

  281. #281 Sastra
    February 23, 2009

    Eric #280 wrote:

    As I see it, there have been five responses to my query:

    Where would you place my response at #188 (and, perhaps, #195)?

  282. #282 Kel
    February 23, 2009

    If certain moral behaviours are ingrained into our genetics, how can (3) be dismissed?

  283. #283 Sastra
    February 23, 2009

    I’m trying to think of how I would phrase my response, in one sentence.

    How does an atheist justify moral propositions?

    6.)As prescriptive descriptions on how to obtain what all consider most Good, Loving and Valuable.

    I think that’s also how theists justify moral propositions. We all appeal to the consequences of our actions as measured against a common standard of virtue. If God is capable of embodying, manifesting, or representing this common standard, then that standard exists — whether God does or not. I don’t see a real divide between atheists and theists in basic ethics.

    When morals differ, it’s often because the issue is being framed through different sets of facts. If you grant a man all his assumptions, his moral choices often follow — or at least become more reasonable.

  284. #284 SC, OM
    February 23, 2009

    Heh. You’re starting to sound like Facilis (“Atheists can’t account for the invariable, immutable, etc. laws of logic and reason.”), Eric. I’m afraid you don’t get to dictate the terms of the discussion, ignoring people’s questions and demanding that your own be answered in a particular manner. In order for the dscussion to proceed, as I see it, you need to do a few things: define specifically what you mean by “justification” and what specifically your requirements are for an adequate one (I know you think you’ve done this, but you haven’t), justify your assertion that this sort of justification as you define it is necessary or important*, and explain how theists (or deists?) provide it. This is because:

    1) It’s simply good faith to define your terms and questions clearly, especially if you’re asked.

    2) Establishing the importance of the question/exercise helps people to know that they’re not wasting their time on it.

    3) Your

    Note, however, that (2) is in agreement with my initial contention: atheists cannot justify moral prescriptions. Whether theists can do so is irrelevant, though it is a topic that can be addressed once the question we’re dealing with here has been in some sense settled

    is a nice try, but no cigar. Your initial contention was that this a criticism validly leveled at atheists, specifically. You argued:

    Now, it seems to me that any ‘explanation’ of morality that does not contain the resources required to answer this question is inadequate, and I’ve yet to see an atheistic answer with those resources.

    (BTW, the theistic answer isn’t some absurd, “Behave or go to hell” or “Behave because God or the Bible said so” chestnut, so if that’s your only response to this post, then…)

    A reasonable response to this is of course “I’ve yet to see a theistic answer with those resources, and until you provide evidence that theists can offer such an answer I have no reason to believe that one exists; therefore, you have no basis for criticizing atheists on these grounds, but can only state that humans can’t provide such an answer.” Also, providing the alleged theistic answer would help you in clarifying what you mean by an adequate justification.

    Until you’ve done this, there’s no real reason for anyone to respond to you (in addition to the fact that you’ve ignored a number of challenging posts), as you’re not arguing in good faith.

    *Perhaps if you spoke more concretely rather than in hypotheticals it would help.

  285. #285 Ken Cope
    February 24, 2009

    Well, that was an entertaining thread. After those responses from Sastra and SC, there’s nothing left to say. Show’s over. Thanks, everybody, for playing.

  286. #286 aratina
    February 24, 2009

    That’s too bad, Ken. I was hoping Eric could come back whenever time permitted to lay out a strong justification for theistic morals so we could all see how it is done.

    Has anyone ventured to the wikipedia page on the theory of justification? I just took a peek and if it is factual, we have indeed justified morality several times on this thread without using theism. Now I wonder how Eric would critique that wikipedia page.

  287. #287 Ken Cope
    February 24, 2009

    Well, aratina (you don’t mind if I call you “cage” for short, do you?) I just have low expectations for Eric after all this. I learn from evidence and observation, which theists seem to think they’re exempt from.

    I must admit, one does have to credit theism in general for taking credit for “do as you’d be done by,” despite its primate/playground politics origins, assigning supernatural credit for the typical go along to get along strategy. That’s what one variety of alpha types do, they find out where everybody else is already going and run out in front and claim they’re the ones who thought to go that way. The next thing you know, you’ve got Donatello sculpting Davids for your special, private guests, Ghiberti gold-leafing your doors, Michelangelo painting your ceilings, and it’s all because you’ve got more golden rule than everybody else.

  288. #288 windy
    February 24, 2009

    (3) Our evolutionary development justifies moral prescriptions.
    …it seems to me that (1) and (3) are easily dismissed

    Just for the record, my #233 was not an argument for any of the (1)-(5), only an argument against your misunderstanding of evolutionary strategies.

    …but if justification of an evolved moral sense is so easily dismissed, it’s awfully curious why so many religions happen to prohibit incest.

  289. #289 Ken Cope
    February 24, 2009

    Thanks aratina, for the link. I like this passage:

    In some way, each of us is responsible for what we believe. Beliefs are not typically formed completely at random, and thus we have an intellectual responsibility, or obligation, to try to believe what is true and to avoid believing what is false. An intellectually responsible act is within one’s intellectual rights in believing something; preforming it, one is justified in one’s belief.

    I have learned to avoid appeals to supernatural authority to justify what it is that I believe, largely because I find that I cannot find any criteria by which I might distinguish tales of the supernatural from sheer fiction, despite the claims of counter-proponents that my disbelief is unjustified. I do not indulge my children when they attempt to ascribe the evidence of bad behavior to imaginary beings, and I see no reason to attribute virtue in my theistic neighbors to some equally non-certifiable source.

  290. #290 Janine, Ignorant Slut
    February 24, 2009

    Funny how those immoral atheist insist the people acting with virtue is because of the decency of that person instead of a manifestation of god’s love.

  291. #291 Ken Cope
    February 24, 2009

    Pleased, flipped and grooved
    by this very, very gracious group of lords and ladies here,
    at the Marquis de Moople’s Traveling Palace of Joy.

    Like I splained to you before I’m a people worshiper.
    I think people should worship people. I really do.

    I went out looking for God the other day and I couldn’t pin him.

    So I figured if I couldn’t find him I’d look for his stash.
    His Great Lake of Love that holds the whole world in gear.
    And when I finally found it I had the great pleasure of finding
    that people were the guardians of it. Dig that.
    So with my two times two is four,
    I figured that if people were guarding the stash of Love known as God,
    then when people swing in beauty they become little gods and goddesses.

    And I know a couple of them myself personally.
    I know you do, too.
    I think people should worship people.

    I like to worship somethin’ I can see,
    somethin’ I can get my hands on,
    get my brains on.

    I don’t know about that Jehovah cat!
    I can’t reach him. I don’t know, I’m …

    Seemed like every time I found myself in a bind I always, uh,
    nothing mystic came along to help me,
    some man or some woman stepped up there, and said, “We’ll help you.
    We’ll do this. We’ll do that.”

    continued…

  292. #292 windy
    February 24, 2009

    Now I wonder how Eric would critique that wikipedia page.

    Did you google for it? I think Eric has a Moral Argument against googling. ;)

  293. #293 clinteas
    February 24, 2009

    I always have to snicker when christians ask me how atheists can be moral beings without belief in god,or what would happen to morality if there was no god.
    You know,that coming from believers in a god who in his holy believer handbook laid out how stoning,raping and committing genocide is part of his moral code.
    LOL

  294. #294 Kel
    February 24, 2009

    I really don’t get what Eric is arguing. If it’s as such that morality is an inevitability in any social creature, then surely any higher moral framework must be built on that assumption. I’m with SC, he’s just sounding like facilis, though what point facilis was trying to make was a lot more obvious. I’m in two minds whether Eric wants to show off philosophical wankery or there’s a point to be made in all of this.

  295. #295 windy
    February 24, 2009

    Wait a minute. Eric wrote way back upthread:
    I do think that an AT natural law approach to morality can be defended as 1. rational and 2. more in tune with our ‘instinctive’ moral conceptions.
    Nr. 2 is essentially the same argument as appealing to our evolved moral sense, which he later said is “easy to dismiss”! So which is it?

  296. #296 SC, OM
    February 24, 2009

    A few random thoughts…

    Ken Cope:

    I must admit, one does have to credit theism in general for taking credit for “do as you’d be done by,” despite its primate/playground politics origins, assigning supernatural credit for the typical go along to get along strategy. That’s what one variety of alpha types do, they find out where everybody else is already going and run out in front and claim they’re the ones who thought to go that way.

    Kropotkin!:

    The morality which emerges from the observation of the whole animal kingdom may be summed up in the words: “Do to others what you would have them do to you in the same circumstances.

    And it adds: “Take note that this is merely a piece of advice; but this advice is the fruit of the long experience of animals in society. And among the great mass of social animals, man included, it has become habitual to act on this principle. Indeed without this no society could exist, no race could have vanquished the natural obstacles against which it must struggle.”

    …A careful observation of those primitive societies still remaining at the level of the Stone Age shows to what a great extent the members of the same community practice solidarity among themselves.

    This is the reason why practical solidarity never ceases; not even during the worst periods of history. Even when temporary circumstances of domination, servitude, exploitation cause the principle to be disowned, it still lives deep in the thoughts of the many, ready to bring about a strong recoil against evil institutions, a revolution. If it were otherwise society would perish.

    For the vast majority of animals and men this feeling remains, and must remain an acquired habit, a principle always present to the mind even when it is continually ignored in action.

    It is the whole evolution of the animal kingdom speaking in us. And this evolution has lasted long, very long. It counts by hundreds of millions of years.

    Even if we wished to get rid of it we could not. It would be easier for a man to accustom himself to walk on fours than to get rid of the moral sentiment. It is anterior in-animal evolution to the upright posture of man.

    The moral sense is a natural faculty in us like the sense of smell or of touch.

    As for law and religion, which also have preached this principle, they have simply filched it to cloak their own wares, their injunctions for the benefit of the conqueror, the exploiter, the priest. Without this principle of solidarity, the justice of which is so generally recognized, how could they have laid hold on men’s minds?

    Each of them covered themselves with it as with a garment; like authority which made good its position by posing as the protector of the weak against the strong.

    http://www.dis.org/daver/anarchism/kropotkin/anmoral.html

    ***

    though it may overall cause more aggregate harm to others than it benefits me, as long as I will not get caught (and as long as the benefit will outweigh all the costs incurred by my act, including psychological costs)

    In addition to ignoring windy’s post @ #233, Eric is ignoring the fact that the social world is ongoing and that our actions affect it, not simply ourselves and others in the narrow, immediate sense. The question “What if everyone did that?” becomes relevant. Will the hypothetical you or your hypothetical family face consequences from contributing to the creation of a society in which this is how people behave? Do you face consequences if that makes collective life impossible or means the ruin of your society? Hypotheticals aren’t useful if they abstract away from psychological and social reality in such a way as to deny essential aspects and make their realization impossible.

    (And I’ll note that I’m yet again disturbed to read a theist assuming a sociopath as the test case for moral propositions. Creepy.)

    ***

    In some way, each of us is responsible for what we believe. Beliefs are not typically formed completely at random, and thus we have an intellectual responsibility, or obligation, to try to believe what is true and to avoid believing what is false. An intellectually responsible act is within one’s intellectual rights in believing something; preforming it, one is justified in one’s belief.

    Just in case anyone hasn’t yet read this by Allen Wood:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/07/fyi.php#comment-981847

  297. #297 SC, OM
    February 24, 2009

    PS: When I request that you “define specifically what you mean by ‘justification’ and what specifically your requirements are for an adequate one,” I mean explain how it differs meaningfully from explanations (especially those that “explain the benefits of altruism in general”), foundations, necessary points of departure, or some combination thereof, and its relative significance with regard to these. Thanks.

  298. #298 Sastra
    February 24, 2009

    SC, OM #284 wrote:

    In order for the dscussion to proceed, as I see it, you need to do a few things: define specifically what you mean by “justification” and what specifically your requirements are for an adequate one (I know you think you’ve done this, but you haven’t), justify your assertion that this sort of justification as you define it is necessary or important*, and explain how theists (or deists?) provide it.

    This is a very fair question, because ‘how does one justify moral propositions” can be interpreted many different ways. If you consider the question as similar to “why do humans have a moral sense of right and wrong?”, then that’s where evolutionary responses come in.

    But I think Eric is rejecting those answers because that’s not what he’s asking. He’s apparently starting out assuming that human beings have a moral sense, and we all agree on that. I’m not sure, but I’ve been interpreting his question as not about the species, but about individuals making choices.

    If you know that lying is wrong, then why not do what you yourself think is wrong, if the benefit of doing so outweighs the benefit of ‘doing the right thing?’ What rational reasons compel choosing Good over Evil, if evil feels so good? What motivates us?

    He’s asking a very personal question.

    My response basically comes down to ‘in the long run, a thoughtful person will recognize that Good feels better than Evil, and is more satisfying. That’s why they considered it ‘good.’

    And I see no distinction between how equally thoughtful theists and atheists approach this same question. Love of the good is no different than love of the God. As I think Eric himself admits, fear of punishment for failure to obey an order does not factor into what it means to be and act as a moral agent.

    So — “It all comes down to love, really.”
    (heh);)

  299. #299 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 24, 2009

    So — “It all comes down to love, really.”
    (heh);)

    And you have been waiting how long to say that? :-)

  300. #300 simon
    February 24, 2009

    @BI #265

    PZ Myers is an accomplished professor doing good work. I do not “give my life” to PZ, or to any other man, let alone your pathetic god concept. There are no idols around here, only morons like you telling us we have them. Do you even understand atheism? If we had idols, we would not be atheists. Simple equation.

    Is he always right ? seems all of you agree to what he did. He is only a frustrated biologist and never invented anything.

  301. #301 PZ Myers
    February 24, 2009

    I tend to think I’m right more often than other people do. I am not at all frustrated with my work — there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.

    I have not invented anything. You got one thing right.

    Oh, wait! I did write and publish some image processing software, years ago. I guess you are wrong about everything, after all. Sorry, man.

  302. #302 Knockgoats
    February 24, 2009

    Is he [PZ] always right ? – simon

    No. But at least he’s not a dishonest little shit, like you.

  303. #303 Knockgoats
    February 24, 2009

    These five responses aren’t all mutually exclusive: e.g., one could include (1B) and (2b), or (3), (4), and possibly a limited conception of (5), in the same justificatory accounts.

    So, are (1) through (5), as terse as they are, roughly accurate? If so, it seems to me that (1) and (3) are easily dismissed, and that the only serious contenders are (2), (4) and (5). Note, however, that (2) is in agreement with my initial contention: atheists cannot justify moral prescriptions. Whether theists can do so is irrelevant, though it is a topic that can be addressed once the question we’re dealing with here has been in some sense settled, e.g. if we agree that (4) and (5) can’t do the job. Hence, it seems to me that we’re really left with (4) and (5). Have I missed anything?

    Not having reviewed the entire discussion, I don’t know. MY own position, for clarity, could be summarised as 2b+5 (3 and 4 are relevant to explanation of why we have moral intuitions in common and hence how moral prescriptions can actually have an effect on how we live). Whether or not you have missed anything, your summary certainly distorts things. You noted yourself that some (including me) say that (2b) it is not possible to give an ultimate justification for moral prescriptions. I argue that such a thing is, quite simply, logically impossible, as it requires deriving an “ought” from a statement of fact. So it is absurd of you to claim that whether theists can do so is irrelevant, since the claim that they cannot is an essential part of my (and others’) argument. You, Eric, do not get to define the limits of the discussion and rule anything else out of order. That’s just not how rational discussion works. It also appears dishonest to pretend that 2b is an admission that atheists cannot justify moral prescriptions: as you yourself noted, it can be combined with accounts (3, 4, 5) of how they can be justified.

    Now, a belief can be justified even if it’s false; hence, I’ve not asked for some ultimate or objective truth, and I’ve not even asked for moral knowledge. I’ve asked for something much less robust: justification. – Eric

    Moral prescriptions are not beliefs; you appear to be seriously confused.

  304. #304 simon
    February 24, 2009

    @PZM
    Oh, wait! I did write and publish some image processing software, years ago
    what ? only a software ? is it running with DOS ? is that all after waiting so long ?
    I thought you were another Mendel or Pasteur.

  305. #305 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 24, 2009

    Simon, and we thought you would actually have a thought. Keep working on it. Maybe you will get there in 20 years.

  306. #306 simon
    February 24, 2009

    @knockgoats

    No. But at least he’s not a dishonest little shit, like you.

    good, you are honest.
    Can you tell me what his error is, honestboy ?

  307. #307 simon
    February 24, 2009

    @nerd
    Simon, and we thought you would actually have a thought. Keep working on it. Maybe you will get there in 20 years.

    I am already beyond time

  308. #308 Knockgoats
    February 24, 2009

    simon,
    Yes:
    1) He’s sometimes too willing to post stories that reflect badly on religion, without questioning whether they have sufficient evidential support.
    2) He knows very little about European politics, and sometimes aligns himself with members of the European racist right (Pat Condell, Geert Wilders) or dishonest publicity-seekers (Ayaan Hirsi Ali) simply because they are anti-Islam.

    But he never tells outright lies, such as calling the USSR “the father of atheism”.

  309. #309 Sastra
    February 24, 2009

    simon #300 wrote:

    Is he always right ? seems all of you agree to what he did.

    Seems we all agree to “what he did?” I don’t understand what you’re referring to. In this particular post, PZ recommended an upcoming radio show which was going to discuss living an ethical life. I’m guessing that you’re talking about something else “he did,” because as far as I can tell that’s really not the sort of thing that would get anyone’s panties in a twist.

  310. #310 BlueIndependent
    February 24, 2009

    “Is he always right ?…”

    Um, no. Must you idiots put words in our mouths in a vain attempt to try and keep the argument open to your conspiracy theories?

    “…seems all of you agree to what he did…”

    What is the “he did” that you are referencing? His activism for atheism? Crackergate?

    “…He is only a frustrated biologist and never invented anything.”

    Must one invent something to be relevant? And why is PZ “frustrated”? Better question: what exactly do you do with yourself? You seem frustrated because you find it necessary to keep posting anti-intellectual white noise.

  311. #311 SC, OM
    February 24, 2009

    This is a very fair question,…

    Is your name Eric? ;D

    He’s asking a very personal question.

    Or having a very public wank. Experience suggests the latter.

    I have not invented anything.

    You invented what’s become one of the most popular science blogs in the world, dude.

  312. #312 aratina cage
    February 24, 2009

    Ken, of course you can call me cage :)
    Off Topic:
    I’m listening to Karen Armstrong kick some Christian personal god butt. She just said something like

    I would say there are more passages in the Christian Bible that promote violence than in the Quran.

    and

    Children begin forming their idea of a personal god around the same time they are learning about Santa Claus, but their ideas of Santa mature while their ideas of god remain infantile.

    Naturally for her (she loves religions), she does throw some bacon at the zealots and diminishes the actual cruelty in sacred texts that are used to justify all sorts of atrocities and bigotry even today while shaking her fist at science and atheism. I get the feeling that Karen Armstrong might agree with Eric on what exactly a Christian (or Confucianist or Muslim or Buddhist) is.

  313. #313 simon
    February 24, 2009

    @knockgoats #308
    Yes:
    1) He’s sometimes too willing to post stories that reflect badly on religion, without questioning whether they have sufficient evidential support.

    3) posting his biography without testing his parent’s DNA.

    could be his biggest error

  314. #314 Scott Hatfield, OM
    February 25, 2009

    Simon, it might interest you to note that I am a regular Pharyngula reader. Curiously, I am a theist and have quite a few pleasant interactions here with the local godless, as well as the occasional tightly-wound rant.

    How do you suppose I sleep at night, not idolizing PZ?

    Here’s a hint: we don’t actually idolize the dude. We’re a fan of the content and the general vibe. Your mileage may vary, but please spare us the god-mongering. It just sounds like projection.

  315. #315 windy
    February 25, 2009

    But I think Eric is rejecting those answers because that’s not what he’s asking. He’s apparently starting out assuming that human beings have a moral sense, and we all agree on that. I’m not sure, but I’ve been interpreting his question as not about the species, but about individuals making choices.

    It can’t be only about making personal choices, since he’s asking us to justify a moral prescription to this hypothetical nihilist.

    Even if evolutionary arguments are mostly about the “how”, if you ask “what justifies acting like our moral sense tells us”, evolution can’t be excluded from the discussion. The answer will be different if our moral sense is an imperfect product of evolution rather than a manifestation of “natural law”.

    My response basically comes down to ‘in the long run, a thoughtful person will recognize that Good feels better than Evil, and is more satisfying. That’s why they considered it ‘good.’
    And I see no distinction between how equally thoughtful theists and atheists approach this same question.

    Eric rejects the “good feels better” response in #102.

  316. #316 Ken Cope
    February 25, 2009

    Eric’s response has been delivered tonight by Bobby “The Exorcist” Jindal.

  317. #317 Bob King
    February 25, 2009

    You know, in all this atheistic festivity, y’all may be missing the very many benefits that come from rubbing the paired sticks of faith and reason together in public.

    “You may attach significant blame for my contrian predilections to the Jesuits who endured me during Ninth Grade, where I infamously applied Occam’s Razor to the doctrine of the Virgin birth, exactly as I was taught by the man who had taught me to use Occam’s Razor – and who was trying to teach me the foundation of this great mystery of faith.

    “Surely, Fr. Kieran,” I said, “there must be a more plausible explanation?”

    It is somewhat disturbing that I got an A in both courses. And a recruitment offer.”

    That’s from one of my recent posts about ethics. I think Fr. Kieran would be proud. Or horrified. I’m not entirely sure…

  318. #318 Janine, Ignorant Slut
    February 25, 2009

    Do not hit abby’s link. Spambot.

  319. #319 Sastra
    February 25, 2009

    windy #315 wrote:

    Eric rejects the “good feels better” response in #102.

    Eric countered one version of the response, but surely did not rule out entertaining a rebuttal.

  320. #320 Knockgoats
    February 25, 2009

    Simon@313,
    What a contemptible little shit you are.

  321. #321 windy
    February 25, 2009

    Sastra:

    Eric countered one version of the response, but surely did not rule out entertaining a rebuttal.

    Geez, what do you think we’ve been trying to get him to do for most of the thread? :)

    It’s nice of you to try to accommodate Eric’s arguments, but this seems a little too dismissive of everyone else’s. (Bow too far in one direction, you moon in the other, as they say in Finland)

  322. #322 Sastra
    February 25, 2009

    weindy #321 wrote:

    Geez, what do you think we’ve been trying to get him to do for most of the thread? :)

    Heh. I meant the specific answer he made in that one particular post only addressed one possible meaning for the “good feels better”-type response to his challenge — and it wasn’t necessarily an answer to the argument he had just been given.

    Everyone has been giving great answers, but, his question was very large, and he keeps telling us we haven’t hit the sweet spot yet. It would be helpful if he gave an example of what he thinks a successful theist justification for moral precepts would look like, so we can figure out what kind of justification animals he’s hunting.

  323. #323 Ichthyic
    March 3, 2009

    and he keeps telling us we haven’t hit the sweet spot yet.

    I’d say a common recurring blind spot of yours is not to recognize when someone is moving the goalposts on you.

    *shrug*

    far me it from me to stop you trying to kick a field goal, though; you tend to reason things much more patiently than I.

  324. #324 Ichthyic
    March 3, 2009

    y’all may be missing the very many benefits that come from rubbing the paired sticks of faith and reason together in public.

    paired sticks?!

    about as paired as one chopstick (faith) and a shovel (reason).

    at least one allows you to dig for answers.

    I suppose you might be able to poke someone in the eye with the other, but I rather consider it a useless stick…

    Either way, pairing the two together doesn’t let you eat rice.

  325. #325 Kel
    March 3, 2009

    I really don’t get what Eric is arguing. If it’s as such that morality is an inevitability in any social creature, then surely any higher moral framework must be built on that assumption. I’m with SC, he’s just sounding like facilis, though what point facilis was trying to make was a lot more obvious. I’m in two minds whether Eric wants to show off philosophical wankery or there’s a point to be made in all of this.

  326. #326 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    March 3, 2009

    I vote for philosophical wankery.

  327. #327 Sastra
    March 3, 2009

    I think that if Eric wants to continue the discussion on morality — whether it be with Knockgoats alone, or others — he ought to come back to the old thread which was actually on the topic of morality, and not break into the discussion on Dawkins.

    Heck, it’s only at a little over 300 comments. It echoes. We’d practically have the whole place to ourselves.

  328. #328 E.V.
    March 3, 2009

    What are you guys doing here all alone? Everyone is over at the Dawkin’s thread watching Eric do his evasion dances, “PZ started this!!!” & “I’ll only speak to Knockgoats!”.

  329. #329 Kel
    March 3, 2009

    If Eric is not going to answer just what the fuck he’s trying to get at, can someone else please tell me?

  330. #330 Eric
    March 4, 2009

    “Eric@223 ['Fleas Flock to Dawkins Lecture' thread], in order to establish that atheists “cannot adequately ground” their moral prescriptions, you have to establish what is “adequate”;”

    This is a non sequitur, and a blatant one at that. To show that an argument supporting the proposition that P is ‘inadequate,’ all I have to do is show that the reasoning is fallacious (as I did in several cases by pointing out instances of the genetic fallacy and the like), or that the terms are unclear (as I did when I pointed out the distinction between explanatory reasons and justificatory reasons), or that the premises are false. If an argument fails in any of these respects, it’s inadequate — period. This isn’t even a controversial topic. E.g., if I point out that an argument that concludes that P is fallacious, I’ve shown that it’s inadequate (i.e. doesn’t support that P); I decidedly do not have to then go on to show how P could be adequately supported. My fundamental claim is that there are no good justificatory reasons that support prescriptive moral propositions given atheism; all I have to do to show that this is the case is knock down each argument given to support the notion that there are good justificatory reasons.

    “and if a particular requirement (such as your “ultimate justification”) canot be met at all, not meeting it cannot make an approach inadequate – any more than one can be required to score 110% in an exam in order to pass.”

    You’re begging the question. Many — actually most — people here think that it *can* be met, given atheism.

    “You now have two valid choices, since others are also interested in having their points answered: return to the relevant thread and deal with the points raised, or admit that you can’t, and have lost the argument.”

    Another logical error. This one’s called a false alternative.

    You asked me to discuss some points on the other thread (after agreeing with me on how to go about it), and I responded. You’ve now raised a new objection, and I shown how it’s logically flawed (the non sequitur above). Now, you throw out a false alternative and expect me to be impressed?

  331. #331 Eric
    March 4, 2009

    BTW, ignoring for the moment your obvious non sequitur, the ‘adequate standard’ is obvious: provide a sound argument that contains a conclusion that is a prescriptive moral proposition without appealing to any theistic premises. I would’ve thought that was obvious…

  332. #332 SC, OM
    March 4, 2009

    You’re begging the question. Many — actually most — people here think that it *can* be met, given atheism.

    Actually, as several people have attempted to explain to you, no one can have any idea whether or not it can be met without clarification from you. Since you haven’t adequately explained what you mean by “adequate” or “ultimate justification,” all people can do is give those terms their more popular meaning or try to ascertain the peculiar, idiosyncratic meaning you’re assigning them. It’s like a US gymnastics judge proclaiming that no Eastern-European gymnast can score a perfect 10, but failing to explain what a perfect-10 routine would look like or point to examples of gymnasts from other parts of the world who have performed to this standard. The best way to clarify things would be to define your terms and spell out your criteria explicitly and to offer an example of a justification that meets your standards of adequacy. It looks like this latter part is going to be necessary, as you’ve restated your argument several times and it appears that you still haven’t made it clear to anyone other than yourself.

  333. #333 SC, OM
    March 4, 2009

    Please name three Christian prescriptive moral propositions.

  334. #334 Knockgoats
    March 4, 2009

    To show that an argument supporting the proposition that P is ‘inadequate,’ all I have to do is show that the reasoning is fallacious – Eric

    A moral prescription is, of course, not a proposition.

    What you claim is that adequate justification for moral prescriptions cannot be given on an atheist basis. Now, why not say what you mean by “adequate justification”? It’s really not difficult to do if you know yourself.

    I consider it quite adequate justification if I can show that breaking the particular moral prescription would cause unnecessary suffering. Let’s take the moral prescription:
    “You must not skin kittens alive” as an example. I claim that this will cause unnecessary suffering, and that there are no adequate benefits. If you want this laid out a little more (although by no means completely) formally:

    1) You must not cause unnecessary suffering. (Premise)
    2) Skinning kittens alive causes suffering. (Premise)
    3) It is not necessary to skin kittens alive. (Premise)
    4) Therefore, you must not skin baby seals alive. [1,2,3]

    This argument is valid, and therefore if you accept the premises, you must accept the conclusion. Let’s assume that (2) and (3) are true (of course we might quibble about what “necessary” means, but let’s assume there is no reason at all other than amusement for skinning kittens alive, and that other forms of amusement that do not cause suffering are available). Of course, a rational nihilistic egoist could reject (1); but then, adding “God says” to the start of it would not change this.

    You, presumably, see this justification as inadequate, since I have not invoked God. Explain in what way you consider it inadequate. Assuming you would agree with my moral prescription, give an adequate theistic justification for it. Then we can get somewhere. While you continue to refuse to make clear how you claim adding theistic premises can improve matters, we can’t.

  335. #335 Knockgoats
    March 4, 2009

    Ach! “baby seals” -> “kittens” in the conclusion. I made the change for greater clarity (as economic justification for skinning baby seals alive has been claimed), but omitted to make the change in the conclusion.

  336. #336 Eric
    March 4, 2009

    “A moral prescription is, of course, not a proposition.”

    You haven’t studied deontic logic, eh?

    That aside, it is certainly a proposition if it follows from a sound argument. A proposition is defined as the content or meaning of a declarative sentence (i.e. it’s not the sentence itself) that can be either true or false. If a moral prescription, say, ‘all people should avoid harming others’ is the conclusion of a sound argument, then it can be said, ‘it’s true that all people should avoid harming others.’ In other words, we don’t have a command, a request, a question, etc.; we have a declarative sentence. To say that a moral prescription is not a proposition is to beg the question by assuming that moral propositions can be neither true nor false.

    “Now, why not say what you mean by “adequate justification”? It’s really not difficult to do if you know yourself.”

    You haven’t followed much of the debate about justification. It’s an *extremely* complicated question. That said, let me deal with your sample argument and take it from there:

    1) You must not cause unnecessary suffering. (Premise)
    2) Skinning kittens alive causes suffering. (Premise)
    3) It is not necessary to skin kittens alive. (Premise)
    4) Therefore, you must not skin kittens alive. [1,2,3]

    First, let me point out the obvious: you need to present an argument using deontic logic, not imperative logic. Since you’ve confused the two, and presented an argument in terms of the latter instead of the former, we could just stop right there; however, I’ll go on a bit without taking the (very different) logic of imperatives into account.

    This argument is valid (though not for reasons you think it is; see ‘Jorgensen’s Dilemma’), but, as you know, validity is a necessary condition of a good argument, not a sufficient one. We must also make sure that your terms aren’t vague or equivocal (let’s assume that there’s no problem with your terms here), and your premises must be either true, or more plausibly true than false. It’s here that your argument fails.

    Look at (1). It’s not an analytic truth, and it’s not self evident. In fact, it’s not even a proposition — it’s a command (prohibitive mood). There’s a serious problem with this.

    First, You can’t defend a command, since commands can’t be true or false. Therefore, the only way this argument works is if you *assume* that (1) is a proposition, i.e. that it’s *true* that you must not cause unnecessary suffering. However, to accept that (1) is indeed a proposition, (1) must be both defended and reformulated as a proposition; hence, without such a defense and reformulation, the argument both begs the question and contains an improperly formulated premise, and thus falls far short of doing the work you claim it does.

    “While you continue to refuse to make clear how you claim adding theistic premises can improve matters, we can’t.”

    While I certainly don’t think we’ve reached the point where a theistic account is necessary, I will provide a sketch of how a theist can go about justifying moral propositions. Note, I’m providing this as a courtesy: I will not be drawn off topic into a discussion about the theistic account while the primary issue, i.e. the inadequacy of atheistic accounts, is still on the table.

    A theistic account begins in a place you wouldn’t expect: a defense of a realist position concerning universals. To defend realism about universals, one must define what version of realism one is defending (I go with moderate realism, aka hylomorphism or, sometimes, hylemorphism), and one must show why the alternatives to realism (i.e. nominalism and conceptualism) fail. The importance of realism about universals is that it provides us with an objective standard against which we can evaluate various tokens or occurrences; a token or occurrence will be judged ‘better’ to the extent that it more closely conforms to the standards of its universal (i.e. of its essence or substantial form).

    This brings us to a number of key distinctions: form and matter, essence and accident, act and potency, first order potentialities and second order potentialities, etc. We need these concepts to understand both the relationship between universals and their particulars, and to rigorously evaluate any specific instances.

    Next, we need to get our heads around a more robust conception of causality than the current post-Humean one, i.e. we must return to an Aristotelian conception of causality (material, formal, efficient, final), though one improved upon by later thinkers. We need to pay particular attention to the relationship between efficient causation and final causation, but these concepts can only be understood in terms of the distinctions and concepts I mentioned above; in addition, we must introduce new terms and distinctions (e.g. causal series per accidens and causal series per se, etc.). Finally, you must understand the impossibility of final causation in the absence of god, and the impossibility of avoiding appeals (whether explicit or implicit) to final causation.

    How does all this connect? Well — and this is very rough (I can’t do in a few paragraphs what I’ve never seen done in fewer than a hundred pages — and even that’s in a short treatment) — if universals are real, an entity’s substantial form determines the nature of the good for it (with, of course, a number of complications involving act and potency and so on), and its substantial form entails certain final causes for its various capacities. In other words, an ‘ought’ is built into every ‘is,’ so on this account there is no is/ought gap. And since (for reasons I wouldn’t be able to summarize without substantially filling out the sketch I gave above) the notion of an entity’s final causes are incoherent in the absence of god, god’s existence is necessary if we’re to make sense of an objective morality.

    As I said, that’s a very rough sketch — actually, a sketch of a sketch (of a sketch) — but it does, I hope, give you at least a sense of how a theist could go about justifying morality. Again, the key is universals, substantial forms, final causes, and therefore, god.

  337. #337 Knockgoats
    March 4, 2009

    Eric,

    You haven’t studied deontic logic, eh?

    I haven’t studied it formally, but I do know it is replete with problems and controversies, and there is no agreed formulation of it.

    First, You can’t defend a command, since commands can’t be true or false.

    Commands can be morally right or wrong – so they can indeed be defended. However, this is not a command (and nor is it a proposition), but a moral prescription, which cannot be reduced to either.

    Therefore, the only way this argument works is if you *assume* that (1) is a proposition, i.e. that it’s *true* that you must not cause unnecessary suffering.

    Nonsense. It is a moral prescription – which is not a proposition. If you have at least one moral prescription among your premises, you can also have a moral prescription as your conclusion. The fact that my argument does not fit your idea of how moral arguments should be constructed does not mean that it is invalid. Deontic logic may not capture this form of argument – so much the worse for deontic logic which, as I noted, is riddled with problems. There are many aspects of valid reasoning that have not yet been adequately captured in logical formalisms.

    To say that a moral prescription is not a proposition is to beg the question by assuming that moral propositions can be neither true nor false.

    To say a moral prescription is a proposition is to beg the question by assuming that moral prescriptions can be either true or false.

    A theistic account begins in a place you wouldn’t expect: a defense of a realist position concerning universals.

    On the contrary, that’s exactly where I would expect it to begin, and to fail.

    In other words, an ‘ought’ is built into every ‘is,’ so on this account there is no is/ought gap.

    Which, since there is such a gap, suffices to show that a realist account of universals is incoherent, as the overwhelming majority of epistemologists and philosophers of logic would agree. You may take this Thomist nonsense seriously, but AFAIK, almost no-one outside the Catholic church does so.

  338. #338 Eric
    March 4, 2009

    “I haven’t studied it formally, but I do know it is replete with problems and controversies, and there is no agreed formulation of it.”

    Sure, as is the case in many fields of logic, but one of those controversies *isn’t* whether it deals with propositions.

    “Commands can be morally right or wrong – so they can indeed be defended. However, this is not a command (and nor is it a proposition), but a moral prescription, which cannot be reduced to either.”

    Premises in an argument leading to true or false (or probable or improbable) conclusions cannot be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’; you’re seriously confused here. For example, you would have to argue that your conclusion is right, but it isn’t true, and this is simply incoherent. But let me make another point by looking at (1) more closely:

    (1)You must not cause unnecessary suffering.

    Let me make this clearer by removing the negative. We get:

    (1′) You must cause unnecessary suffering.

    The imperative is: Cause unnecessary suffering.
    The prohibitive (an imperative with ‘you’ expressed) is: You cause unnecessary suffering.

    Now, the only difference between the prohibitive and (1′) is the auxiliary verb ‘must.’ I’m sorry, but the addition of ‘must’ doesn’t turn a sentence in the imperative (prohibitive) mood into some undefined grammatical category, which is your claim: “this is not a command (and nor is it a proposition), but a moral prescription, which cannot be reduced to either.” As for the notion that moral prescriptions aren’t propositions, see, for example, Kripke’s possible world semantics in standard deontic logic — it’s loaded with ‘ought’ *propositions*. You’re simply wong here.

    “Nonsense. It is a moral prescription – which is not a proposition.”

    No, it’s in the imperative mood, which is why it isn’t a proposition.

    “To say a moral prescription is a proposition is to beg the question by assuming that moral prescriptions can be either true or false.”

    No, it’s to be in agreement with the philosophic community about the status of ‘ought’ statements as expressing propositions.

    “On the contrary, that’s exactly where I would expect it to begin, and to fail.”

    Now that’s a surprise!

    “Which, since there is such a gap, suffices to show that a realist account of universals is incoherent, as the overwhelming majority of epistemologists and philosophers of logic would agree. You may take this Thomist nonsense seriously, but AFAIK, almost no-one outside the Catholic church does so.”

    This is false on a number of grounds:

    1. Philosophers who reject realism about universals don’t do so on the basis of the lack of an is/ought gap.
    2. Realism about universals is *much* more widely held than you seem to be aware of, though some restrict it abstract entities (e.g. numbers). Also, it’s been the majority view in the history of philosophy, and was defended by modern day giants like Frege and Russell.
    3. Thomism has been taken *very* seriously by a number of non-Catholic scholars ever since the neo-scholastic revival in the early 19th century.

  339. #339 Knockgoats
    March 4, 2009

    It’s worth noting that the form of argument I used, is employed routinely in legal contexts. Suppose there is a law against causing unnecessary suffering to animals. Then it would be logically inconsistent for a jury to accept my premises 2 and 3, but acquit a live-kitten-skinner. Now there are two ways to interpret this. One (I would say the most natural) is to interpret laws as imperatives; so the jury concludes that the law implies an imperative “Thou shalt not skin live kittens”. The other is, indeed, to interpret laws as declarative, so that to pass the law concerned is to make the proposition “Unnecessary cruelty to animals is illegal” true. But notice that in fact that statement is incomplete: it need to be completed with “under the law of jurisdiction j after time t”. In the same way it is possible, if you wish (although this is not the way I believe moral prescriptions are actually regarded by anyone), to treat my premise 1 as a proposition, within a specified set of “moral axioms” (here consisting of a single axiom). Then it is true that if that axiom is accepted (as “true within moral system M”), then premises 2 and 3 imply the truth of the conclusion, again within moral system M. This parallels what is normal in mathematics, where a theory consists of a set of axioms, which are accepted as true, but which cannot be given an “ultimate” justification. What you appear to be claiming, and I am denying, is that, given the assumption that there is a god (although you have not said what properties this god must have in order for the argument to work), you can establish that there are moral axioms that are true in an absolute sense. Of course, even if you could establish this, the lack of “ultimate” justification for atheist moral systems would only make them “inadequate” if such a god actually exists. If it doesn’t, there is no such absolute moral truth, so it makes no sense to say that the justification of an atheist moral system in terms of the consequences of adopting it is inadequate.

  340. #340 Ken Cope
    March 4, 2009

    Since Boole, universal propositions carry no existential import. As for Eric’s medievalist Thomism, Aquinas never “demolished” Euthyphro so much punted to Augustine regarding the supposed necessity of suffering (or evil, for its more modern synonym). Darwin didn’t buy such a ludicrous notion, and unless you’ve been stewed from birth in a cask of Catholicism, sane people won’t either. Tommy boy wasted much of his life on apologia regarding the challenge of God’s superfluity, which hasn’t aged well.

    I’m having too much fun right now with the rules of derivation in a course on propositional logic, in order to get on with obtaining teaching credentials, and I’m more interested in is/ought propositions for deploying more credible non-player-characters in massively multiplayer worlds; but after watching Eric’s deployment of a penknife in an arena with Knockgoats, I’ll be saving my quatloos, anticipating that Eric will soon experience a renewed bout of cantgettotheinternetforaweekduetoillnessitis.

  341. #341 Eric
    March 4, 2009

    “Then it is true that if that axiom is accepted (as “true within moral system M”), then premises 2 and 3 imply the truth of the conclusion, again within moral system M. This parallels what is normal in mathematics, where a theory consists of a set of axioms, which are accepted as true, but which cannot be given an “ultimate” justification.”

    In mathematics, the axioms are self evident; the same isn’t even close to true of any similarly composed moral system.

    “What you appear to be claiming, and I am denying, is that, given the assumption that there is a god (although you have not said what properties this god must have in order for the argument to work), you can establish that there are moral axioms that are true in an absolute sense.”

    Well, it’s not the *assumption* that there is a god; god’s existence is argued for rigorously using the terms and distinctions I introduced earlier. But again, it’s more about final causation, which is difficult to deny, and not about god, who is easy to deny (though the logical reliance of final causation on god is often missed).

    “Of course, even if you could establish this, the lack of “ultimate” justification for atheist moral systems would only make them “inadequate” if such a god actually exists.”

    No, this isn’t true. Again, I would only have to show some flaw in the argument to show that the justification is inadequate.

  342. #342 Knockgoats
    March 4, 2009

    Eric,

    Premises in an argument leading to true or false (or probable or improbable) conclusions cannot be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’; you’re seriously confused here. For example, you would have to argue that your conclusion is right, but it isn’t true, and this is simply incoherent.

    You assume, wrongly, that an argument can only lead to true or false conclusions. As expressed, my conclusion was as you say, in the imperative mode (but it was not a command – to call something a command is not just to say it is in the imperative mode, but implies that the “commander” has a right to have that imperative obeyed within some institutional system). It is not incoherent to argue that the conclusion is right, but not true, because it is not a proposition. You have only asserted, not argued, let alone established, that deontic rather than imperative logic is the correct formalism to use (if indeed there is an adequate one, which I do not believe there is). However, see my #339, which crossed with your #338, for an alternative treatment of my argument in terms of propositions.

    1. Philosophers who reject realism about universals don’t do so on the basis of the lack of an is/ought gap.

    That does not mean it is not an adequate reason to do so.

    2. Realism about universals is *much* more widely held than you seem to be aware of, though some restrict it abstract entities (e.g. numbers). Also, it’s been the majority view in the history of philosophy, and was defended by modern day giants like Frege and Russell.

    With regard to abstract entities, you have a point; but this would seem to be irrelevant here. For your purposes, you presumably need realism to work for concepts such as “human being”, “animal”, “family”, “society” – but it doesn’t, because there is no way to divide the world up into neat packages in the way that works in the abstract world of mathematics. Russell says: (History of Western Philosophy, Ch. XVII on Hume, p.636 in my (2nd) edition, 1961):
    “But a common name, such as ‘cat’, is just as unreal as the universal CAT is. The nominalist solution of the problem of universals thus fails through being insufficiently drastic in the application of its own principles; it mistakenly applies those principles only to ‘things’, and not also to words.”
    That doesn’t sound like an acceptance of a realist account of universals to me.

    3. Thomism has been taken *very* seriously by a number of non-Catholic scholars ever since the neo-scholastic revival in the early 19th century.

    Like who?

  343. #343 Eric
    March 4, 2009

    “Since Boole, universal propositions carry no existential import.”

    Did you just confuse a universal with a universal proposition? Keep studying…

    “anticipating that Eric will soon experience a renewed bout of cantgettotheinternetforaweekduetoillnessitis.”

    Well, your comments are stupid enough to make one sick…

  344. #344 Knockgoats
    March 4, 2009

    In mathematics, the axioms are self evident – Eric

    Complete rubbish. Have you never heard on non-Euclidean geometry? The independence of the continuum hypothesis? Non-standard analysis? This is exactly my point: there is no correct system of axioms.

    god’s existence is argued for rigorously using the terms and distinctions I introduced earlier. But again, it’s more about final causation, which is difficult to deny

    So you’re claiming a proof of god’s existence? If this were widely accepted, I think we’d have heard about it. Final causation is not at all difficult to deny (except in the case of artefacts). I deny it, as, again, do the great majority of modern philosophers.

    “Of course, even if you could establish this, the lack of “ultimate” justification for atheist moral systems would only make them “inadequate” if such a god actually exists.”

    No, this isn’t true. Again, I would only have to show some flaw in the argument to show that the justification is inadequate.

    Read what I wrote. It is not inconsistent with your response.

    I must go to bed.

  345. #345 Ken Cope
    March 4, 2009

    Did you just confuse a universal with a universal proposition?

    And what if I did? The fact that you are well-acquainted with a game whose rules you claim to know, in order to accuse anybody who addresses you of not playing properly, in order to penis-wag for Jesus, is a perfect demonstration of futility, a compelling portrait of religious duplicity. Reality doesn’t care about your game, Eric; if god is superfluous, then all your moral prescriptions deriving from the imaginary deity are of even less value than those derived by the culture in which we necessarily contend.

  346. #346 Ken Cope
    March 4, 2009

    “anticipating that Eric will soon experience a renewed bout of cantgettotheinternetforaweekduetoillnessitis.”

    Well, your comments are stupid enough to make one sick…

    And if the illness is fatal, then it will be God’s will, all for the best in this best of all possible worlds, in which every brain-burrowing parasite is a demonstration of God’s perfection and divine plan.

  347. #347 Dan L.
    March 6, 2009

    Eric:

    In mathematics, the axioms are self evident; the same isn’t even close to true of any similarly composed moral system.

    Patently false as Knockgoats already noted. Moreover, this has been proved false by Goedel. No formal system specified under a particular set of axioms is at once complete, consistent, and finite. In other words, there are no preferred sets of axioms — any set has the limitation of incompleteness unless it is either inconsistent (and therefore probably worthless) or infinite (likewise worthless).

    Even the axioms of set theory — arguably the most fundamental assumptions in all of mathematical theory — are recognized as arbitrary to some degree. Furthermore, they’re not even particularly intuitive, let alone “self evident.” But as Goedel demonstrated, set theory is itself “not right,” or not exclusively so. The only arguments for set theory are from utility and parsimony; alternate mathematical systems can be (have been) developed and used.

    Back to the topic at hand, secular folk who are concerned about morality think and argue about moral prescriptions and proscriptions a whole lot. When they agree, it’s because a particular moral proposition (for lack of a better word) has survived a competitive process that would likely weed out the worst ones. By contrast, you found your rules in some really old book. And you’re saying that secular morals are arbitrary? I have seen nothing to suggest that the Bible constitutes any kind of moral authority, and without such evidence, your claims of moral objectivity are nothing more than naked assertion.

  348. #348 SC, OM
    March 7, 2009

    Rather, the argument is that atheists cannot ground or justify moral propositions.

    It’s amazing. This was Eric’s opening salvo. He then proceeded over a series of posts to dismiss any grounded moral accounts and to produce the most abstract “justification” himself, featuring a string of ill-defined, immaterial concepts and resting ultimately on the existence of an equally ill-defined, immaterial deity for which there is no evidence. We saw a sociopathic hypothetical and had a brief foray into trolleyology, but ongoing social relations were dismissed, not a single “prescriptive moral proposition” was put forth or defended, and no real-world moral issues were discussed. Nothing could be less grounded in reality. Worthless.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.