Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Seeker's Prayer

Heard this on Way of the Master radio, and cannot help but post it.

The Seeker's Prayer:

Dear God, whom I hate with all my being precisely because you hate and threaten me with hell, I hate this punishment perhaps even more than I hate you. Or, maybe I should say that I love my comfort even more than I hate you. For that reason I am asking a favor of you. I want you to make me love you, whom I hate even when I ask this and even more because I have to ask this. I am being frank with you because I know it is no use to be otherwise. You know even better than I how much I hate you and that I love only myself. It is no use for me to pretend to be sincere. I most certainly do not love you and do not want to love you. I hate the thought of loving you but that is what I'm asking because I love myself. If you can answer this 'prayer' I guess the gift of gratitude will come with it and then I will be able to do what I would not think of doing now—thank you for making me love you whom I hate. Amen.

A brief argument against Mary's Sinlessness

So I was listening to the 1987 debate between Catholic Answers founder Karl Keating and fundy KJV-Only-ist Peter Ruckman while I was moving to our new apt. And it's highly entertaining. And much to my surprise, one of the fundamentalists there actually asked a good question of Karl Keating. I could hardly believe it...

So Joseph and Mary go to present the infant Jesus at the temple and bring an offering. What's the offering for? A sin offering. Hmm, guess it was just an offering she gave just for the heck of it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Atheistic Morality 4

ChooseDoubt has posted his response in our blogalogue.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Posted by ChooseDoubt, Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Hi Rhology,

Thanks for your response. Before I get on and answer that I'd just like to clean up a few points, as raised by G-Man in my comments section and one or two of my own.

First of all the title of this Blogalogue may be a little misleading. Atheism is simply the absence of belief in a god and as such morality may be as variable between atheists as it is between various religious sects. With that in mind, when I mention specific moral examples I speak only for myself and I do not represent other atheists, although many may agree with me.

G-man raises the question of what we mean by morality and it's a good point. We could go for a dictionary definition which boils down to concern with the distinction between good and evil or right and wrong, but then we would be forced to define good and evil and right and wrong and that itself would boil down to that which is moral and that which is not. It is circular reasoning and not especially useful. That's why I'm going to go into some detail in this post on the flexibility of those considerations dependent upon circumstance and how that proves that absolutes, as prescribed by religions, are in fact destined to fail with regards to the flexibility of human experience.

Anyway, let's move on.

Your first criticism of my argument in which I stated that you do not follow the morality of the Bible is that you desire to and so your failure is unintentional. This immediately highlights one obvious truth – religious faith, and even your extensive religious education, does not ensure that you follow the faith based moral code. So your key argument that one cannot be moral without a god can in fact be expanded by your own evidence to no better than one cannot be moral with or without a god. Indeed, it is a main precept of Christianity that you are irrevocably a sinner and thus immoral for your entire life. Religious belief has not made you moral by the standard which you declare uniquely viable and that very same standard declares in all certainty that you can never be moral.

Secondly, you state that you cannot be bound to the example Old Testament edicts of God that I mentioned, specifically Leviticus 20:10 and 15:19-24, through an argument of exegesis that I as an atheist would struggle to understand. This is an empty argument and the common resort of a theologian who has no adequate response to the question – effectively the "you just don't get it" argument. Leviticus 15:19-24 may indeed apply only to the Ancient Hebrews, although I am not aware that it is so, but Leviticus 20:10 is also specified in the Ten Commandments and so it is inescapable that it remains in effect. As Jesus mentioned in Matthew 5:17-20

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus, whilst he may later have said "he without sin etc" was very clear above in specifying that he is making no change to Old Testament law. Thus your morality, if it is by the book, must include, as a minimum, the support for the murder of adulterers, amongst others, since any other response, even if it is in accordance with the law of the land, remains in violation of god's commands which you state yourself is defined as a time when the faithful should follow primarily the law of god and not that of the land. By a similar standard the law of god allows the keeping of slaves. The law of the land is not in agreement and thus the law of god must trump it. So I remain convinced that your failure to follow all biblical requirements for a moral life is not simply a matter of failure but a matter of choice. Your morality remains pure preference and all that you can claim to do is prefer some, but not all, of the biblical requirements.

Before moving on to my morality, let's get this pie business out of the way. The two points I wished to make with the pie thought experiment were that there are criteria for making value judgements and the subsequent assessment of their validity and that those criteria do not require a god, as was your assertion. The criteria can be established based on learning from experience and causality. I now argue that not only does this hold true for our entire approach to morality but it is also what held true for the evolutionary development of behaviour that we now call moral – call it the Blind Moral-maker if you wish. I'm going to come back to that in a little while when I explore evolutionary origins of morality.

Continuing with the pie thought experiment you contest that if you then had option to taste the pies and you preferred one and that the previously stated second man preferred the other then that this constitutes a problem for morality. It does not and that will be covered in evolutionary morality, but for now let me just simply agree with you – yes, it all comes down to personal preference. Where you go wrong is in assuming each preference for an individual to be independent of all others preferences. You fail to take into account the group dynamic of multiple personal preferences, which renders your fear of personal preference null.

You accuse me of having to borrow Christian morality to create my own moral standards. This is frankly absurd. If I happen to agree that grass is green have I borrowed that definition from Jesus (Mark 6:39)? This is clearly not true and can be demonstrated further by your indication that you would have approved of killing Abhishek and Savdeep under Ancient Hebrew law. I, if god appeared to me personally and demanded that I do it, would still flatly refuse. If I happen to agree then I agree. If I do not agree then I do not. No argument from authority, regardless of the authority, will change my mind. Your commanded morality appears extremely weak and vacuous by comparison and so perhaps the reason why you cannot understand that anybody else may have personal morality without the need for a religious crutch is because you lack it. Your own morality is thus rendered as nothing greater than mindless obedience, elicited only by the promise of personal punishment or personal reward. This is even more base than the evolutionary basis for morality which does permit the individual to commit truly selfless acts.

But even if we restrict your borrowing charge simply to morality then I can only presume that Jesus likewise borrowed the Golden Rule from The Mahabharata, Confucius, Hilel, Buddha, Zarathustra, Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates, not to mention in more limited form (only applied to "the children of thy people" – the Golden Race Rule) from Leviticus 19:34. And surely, if you are to claim that my own moral vacuity requires this borrowing of your religions "original" morality then how can one account for those that espoused morals displayed without such influence, and even in contradiction of such influence? As Christopher Hitchens puts it:

"Is it to be believed that the Jews got as far as Sinai under the impression that murder, theft, and perjury were more or less all right? And, in the story of the good man from Samaria, is it claimed that the man went out of his way to help a fellow creature because of a divine instruction? He was clearly, since he preceded Jesus, not motivated by Christian teaching. And if he was a pious Jew, as seems probable, he would have had religious warrant and authority NOT to do what he did, if the poor sufferer was a non-Jew."

I think it is clear that religion is certainly not the fountain from which all morality gushes. It does seem to be the fountain from which morality that involves the punishment of victimless "crimes" has poured forth. My morality, although still undefined, appears far superior at this point.

So let's define my morality. I don't have any. I judge purely according to circumstance and admit freely that there is no absolute right or absolute wrong within it, just as I would point out that there is no absolute right or absolute wrong embedded as a moral code in the natural laws of this universe. The universe, of which we are part, is effectively indifferent to us and our suffering or happiness. We can choose to consider happiness and suffering as important though, and I will now point out how such consideration has its origin in our evolutionary past and most certainly not in any scripture.

The natural world is literally full of what are commonly known as symbiotic relationships. What is actually occurring in these relationships is a situation where two species benefit from asymmetric needs. The flower, in need of pollination, has a deal with the bee in need of nectar. The Honeyguide is capable of finding beehives but incapable of breaking into them. It uses a method of enticing flight, a behaviour only used for this purpose, to guide the Ratel to the hive. Conversely, the Ratel can break the hives but is far from adept at finding them. Relationships of asymmetric needs are incredibly abundant in the natural world and absolutely all of them can be explained easily in terms of natural selection. This establishes at least one route, you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours, to cooperative behaviour.

But there are more routes. Humans can defer reciprocal back scratching to a later date by use of an IOU. Vampire bats have been shown to do the same by exhibiting significant memory in the postponed trading of regurgitated blood between individuals. An individual that does not pay its debts soon finds it is no longer provided hand outs. This is observable long term moral behaviour in creatures with brains no bigger than a Lady Bug. There are many other examples, ranging from interspecies cooperation between different species of fish to relationships between whole groups of wide ranges of species to alert for common predators. It's far from uncommon in the natural world to cooperate.

Beyond that we also have what would appear to be pure altruism. Arabian babblers regularly give food to each other whilst refusing its return. In fact, they also compete for the extremely dangerous position of being the one bird that sits on a high branch keeping watch for hawks and alerting the others. It appears that both altruistic behaviours are in fact shows of dominance, effectively saying "Look how superior I am, I can afford to give you food or take the higher risk of watching for hawks". The increased cost of giving and risk taking is offset by the increased breeding advantages.

Even more impressive is that once we understand that the unit of selection is not the individual but the gene then even the most seemingly selfless of behaviours makes evolutionary sense, and we can now be sure that the unit of selection is the gene and not the individual. An individual will live only one life time. The individual genes that contribute to an individual may persist for thousands or even millions of future generations. Once we understand this it becomes clear that natural selection works not on the individual but on the frequency of genes within the entire gene pool. Natural selection will therefore favour genes that elicit behaviour that benefits the survival of the gene above behaviour that simply benefits the survival of the individual. In communities of individuals, and this is very true of our earlier origins, the chances that most of the individuals around an individual shared many of its genes were extremely high. It is perfectly in accordance with Blind Moral-making therefore that behaviours would be favoured that promoted the survival of other individuals in your group and thus their shared genes. This is exactly what we see in small community species, such as we originally were.

Altruism, deferred trades, dominance displays and in-group loyalties are all very well explained by evolution and many examples of our own moral behaviours are available in the rest of the natural world. There is absolutely no need to bring intelligence or a god into morality to explain its origins. To consider that religion is a prerequisite for moral behaviour could only lead us to conclude that there must be a god of the fish, of the bees, of the ants, of the birds, of the badgers, the Chimpanzees and countless other species. It must lead us to presume that each group must have it's own commandments, it's own Jesus and it's own culture through which these divine moral teachings is passed between generations.

With our own species, and I am not limiting this only to our own species, then our intelligence and our culture also certainly comes into play. We are able to predict, albeit with some uncertainty, the future and we are able to exploit such thinking in the application of our natural moral imperatives. I, as do some other species, have specific sections of the brain that mirror empathically (not by any telepathic means, purely by observation) the actions and subsequent emotions of others. This makes me a better co-operator and is in fact the basis of the Golden Rule which is observed in practice in other species. We are naturally aware of happiness and suffering.

My ability to relate to suffering and happiness in others and my own preferences, which are largely shared by the rest of my species, for happiness above suffering provide an ideal biological explanation of morality. Additionally, this shared ability within my species enables us to generally agree on matters of moral preference, until that is we start to moralise about victimless crimes – the fault of religious morality and almost invariably traceable to an individuals desire for dominance or control. The fact that we share moral hardware and software means that personal preference is all that is needed. The preferences of the group tending to correct for any anomalous individual variation and that is natural selection at work. Anomalies, parasitical morality, have a strong tendency to be selected against or to be selected in favour against morality that has no defence against parasitical variants. Species that live in groups survive in groups because they have sufficient evolved morality to survive in groups and that is entirely down to natural selection of individual genes.

Anyway, I am sure that most will be of the opinion that I have written too much and so I will draw to a close. But I hope I have provided sufficient argument against your assertion that morality can only comes from religion and G-man's assertion in comments that if I really do claim morality to be a purely personal preference, which I do on the individual scale, that I have some how argued for an immoral explanation of atheist morality.

Lastly, I hope the above provides you with the natural account of the faculty we use to make moral decisions because it certainly offers a reasonable explanation of why, even before your faith took over your morality, you were not out raping, murdering, and stealing as the vast majority of atheists are not.



A not-so-new viewpoint on abortion

My old friend Gamelot has made a recent post on abortion. He means well but is experiencing muddled thinking.

My response:

Hey Gamelot,

A few counterpoints to cloud your thinking. ;-)

1) The ***VAST*** majority of abortions are not due to rape or incest. To make laws for the exceptions rather than the rule is generally (though not always) foolish.
2) It's still murdering a baby. The baby is not responsible for who his or her father was.
3) Adoption.
4) You say that you don't want the rape victim to have to relive the rape by talking about it. So instead she'll murder her baby. There is a very small chance that she will escape a much bigger scar from murdering her baby than from the rape alone.
5) Rape is a violence in the body - the application of often nearly-lethal force. Abortion is the application of not nearly-lethal, but fully lethal force. Against an unwilling victim. Sounds just like rape, only worse. Is that the way we try to cure, to help, to heal?
6) Forget rape victims - many women who have had abortions for convenience' sake struggle with feelings of depression, guilt and suicide. To compound it, the murder of their child is their fault, in contrast w/ a rape victim.

You end w/ this:
All human life is precious, and that includes the life of the mother as much as of the child.

How then would it be justifiable to murder that child? This is not a question of "the life of the mother" (whatever that means). Your position fails to take into acct the gravity of murdering a baby. In that regard, it is just like all the other pro-death positions out there - nothing new under the sun.

Monday, July 23, 2007

On teleology

Todd Friel in his opening statement in his debate w/ Dan Barker:

It's God's great big Cosmic "Duh."...day after day, He's screaming for your attention. If I lined up 10 Oreo cookies in a row up here, you'd walk up here and you'd go "what are doin' with, why'd you do that to those cookies?" You wouldn't go, "mmm boy, that's some random chance" and that's a *cookie*.

Side note on atheistic morality

G-man has chimed in on the discussion of atheistic morality, and I thank him for stopping by.
His direction is a bit diversionary, however, and that's not really his fault. Such discussions are often derailed by Christians and atheists alike and degenerate into "Who's more moral?" contests. But that's a tertiary consideration.

ChooseDoubt has let me know that he'll be responding probably some time this week. That's fine w/ me - I'm not in any hurry and I don't think he is either.

G-Man said:
Atheism is the specific belief that no god exists - or the belief that not enough evidence exists to suggest even the remotest probability of one.

Which precludes any objective morality, particularly absent being presented w/ one. Even CD hasn't attempted to present one - he's just attacked mine to try to get me to admit that the basis of my morality is either not objective or not attractive.

Which specific god or gods is in question depends on further elaboration...

If it's "atheism" we're talking about and not "agnosticism", then it doesn't matter which god, none exists in atheism.
To say otherwise supports my contention, that atheism is a Christian heresy and has borrowed a great deal of rational and moral capital from Christianity in order to turn around and attack it.

If it can be successfully argued that 'morality = what is best for the individual,'

Which it can't.
And that begs the question anyway.

there's an objective truth to the matter

Except, in an atheist universe, it would come down to the individual's preference.
And that would preclude any info about how to treat OTHERS.
And there's no reason to assume that "morality = what is best for the individual" in an atheist universe; it begs the question b/c it's one person putting that idea forward.

Now you can say that everything you like/ everything that appeals to our culture as 'good' is derived from God, and the rest is not. I think that's a dangerous way to approach the topic.

I wouldn't say what you attributed to me. However, the very *idea* that there exists a Law that's higher than any individual (whether libertarian atheist, socialist atheist, communist party member, monarch, or dictator) and higher than society in order for that law to govern society (ie, a group of individuals) requires a higher Being. Which is contrary to the atheist idea.

on what Biblical basis is dogfighting wrong?

1) We are to be ruled by love and kindness, not cruelty.
2) The book of Proverbs lets us know that Michael Vick is one sick puppy.

public defecation?

1) It's contrary to the law of the land, by which we are to live in general (Romans 13).
2) It's dangerous to others.

Public nudity?

1) It's contrary to the law of the land, by which we are to live in general (Romans 13).
2) It's dangerous to others, especially children.
3) It is immoral according to the biblical definitions of sexual immorality.

Public fornication?

See public nudity.

Threats and blackmail?

1) We are to return good for evil (Romans 12:15).
2) Our mission is the Good News of Jesus and making disciples of Him through loving appeals and mercy (Matthew 28:19-20).
3) We are not to be greedy for money or earthly power (1 Tim 6).

Look, if you want, you can bring up a few more of these ideas, but
1) I don't see what you could possibly gain from them
2) you'll find that every possible situation is spoken to either explicitly or by good and necessary inference from the Bible
3) it still doesn't get you or CD anywhere in setting forth an objective morality for an atheist universe
4) even if you succeeded in stumping ME, that means little for the Bible
5) even if you stumped the Bible (somehow), that would mean that the Bible didn't provide guidance for that one issue, whereas it does for all other important issues that have ever been brought up, and you still don't have any objective morality for your own view.

a person's actions depend more on his/her upbringing than on his/her beliefs in God.

If you read closely, I am careful to avoid discussing real actions in the real world at this point, like "who's more moral?" questions. I'm interested in BASES for morality. Philosophically speaking.

An atheist borrowing from 'Christian behavior' would be one acting according to his upbringing, which was in accordance with the social norms Christians now attribute to Christianity.

Precisely, and I believe atheism is perhaps best-described as a Christian heresy for that very reason. There's a reason why a strong atheist movement has started, survived, and flourished in the West rather than elsewhere in the world.

An atheist borrowing from 'Christian moral understanding' would be saying that morality is derived from God. That's a little counter-intuitive.

Precisely. Atheists borrow capital from Christianity in order to help form their morality, and then they turn back on Christianity to destroy it.
"Christians don't live up to the morality I hold to!" - that's straight from Dan Barker. But as an atheist has no reason to accept "the avoidance of harm to sentient life forms" as his overriding moral basis. He picked it b/c the crypto-Christian idea of "being a good boy" includes that idea in some form. He liked it and grabbed onto it. But why that idea? Why not torturing people? Why not "Sex w/ anything but hyena carcasses is morally unacceptable"? Why not "It is humanity's responsibility to eat crayons exclusively"?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

On Casinos and irony

From my best friend the BlackBlogger, on the topic of the new and fairly large casino very near our place of residence:

"Casinos. They cause all kinds of problems, encourage and engage in crime, organised and otherwise, and steal the economy blind. And if I blow one up, they call *me* a terrorist."

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Atheistic Morality 3

Hi ChooseDoubt,

Thanks for your rebuttal. This length of post seems to be good and I'll try to stay in that range myself.

I'll address your rebuttal in two sections, the minor point 1st and the major 2nd.
1) My Morality

You are right that my morality is based on the teachings of the Bible, b/c I believe it is the Word of God, breathed out by God. You have suggested that I incompletely follow the Bible's directives b/c they do not fit my preference. My contention is that I do indeed do so but it is against my desire; rather, I *desire* to follow all of God's directives but I am a sinner and so fail. It is your responsibility, however, to prove that I intentionally refuse to hold to applicable directives.
You cited Leviticus 20:10 and 15:19-24 and assumed I do not follow them. The only way your charge against me will stick, however, is if you demonstrate proper exegesis of the biblical text. This is a task that you, as an atheist, will probably be hard-pressed to perform. We can wait and see, but already you've gone far astray and failed to inspire much confidence up front.
Levitical law was specifically directed towards the ancient Hebrews, who lived in a theocratic society governed directly by God. They were to worship God in the Temple/tabernacle, ritually pure, thru a sacrificial system. The sacrificial system, as the book of Hebrews tells us, was a shadow of Christ, was to point to Christ's sacrifice. Ritual purity/impurity was never a matter of simple outward performance but was always a matter of the heart. Now, after Christ's coming, the outward performance of ritual purity is done away with; purity resides in the heart and spirit (Hebrews, Romans 14, 1 Cor 8, Mark 7:14-23).
Moreover, as theocratic society, they had their own juridical laws (ie, the OT Law), judicial system, social laws, etc. Church and st were not separate.
Many instances in the New Testament, however, indicate that Christians are to submit themselves to the law of the land in which they live except where the law violates God's commands (Rom 13, 1 Peter, Matt 22:20-22). Ancient Hebrew gov't policy would have been to execute Abhishek and Savdeep; current US law is not to. So I don't.

2) Your Morality

Yet, in an atheist universe, so what if I did go out w/ weapon in hand to wreak God's punishment on Abhishek and Savdeep?
In your pie example, you seem to be telling us that humans discover morality in a very similar way that they taste pie. That has been my point all along, in fact, and it is gratifying that we agree on that. In fact, I'd say that my thesis has been established given your admission. But I might be misreading you.

Let's say that I am let into the room to taste the pie. The 2nd man preferred the strawberry. I preferred the chocolate. We disagree now, based on our personal preferences.
In an atheist universe, we need to know on what basis one could know right from wrong in order to live personally and in society. Your answer is to taste the pie. Very well; you like strawberry pie. I like torturing 6-yr-old girls for fun. You like sex w/ hyena carcasses, I like my pie à la mode.
Now, you said:

Instead we can use real world, case specific information to make such choices.

Which we do every day, whether it's tasting pie, judging whether the bus is going to run over us, or figuring whether it would be preferable to torture that 6-yr-old girl for the heck of it or not to. The problem is the faculty we'd use to MAKE the decision, not the supporting info.
And this brings me to the final point. You said:

in claiming God is necessary for morality would you then be of the opinion that without your belief in a god you would begin raping, murdering and stealing with no personal capacity to differentiate what you currently consider to be right from wrong?

I have no idea what kind of person I'd be if I didn't believe in God. My guess is I'd be a fairly decent citizen b/c that's how I was brought up. I'd also probably be addicted to science fiction novels and games, into porn and incredibly depressed. I'm not certain, but that's where my pre-Jesus life was heading.
However, since atheism offers NO moral guidance beyond personal (or, at best, societal) preference, the fact that neither you nor I would probably be inclined to believe that torturing 6-yr-old girls for fun is morally acceptable and would try to stop it if we observed it is due to your borrowing capital from my worldview. You have no way at all to make any objective morality judgment, so, either wittingly or unwittingly, you are reaching over to Christianity, snatching most of our moral framework, importing it back to your own, and then acting like it IS your own and continuing your attacks on Christianity. But when I ask to see the serial number on the gun, I see that it came from my own shop. You ask,

I think you would need to define what properties of this god make it uniquely valid as an external validator of "preference" above any other external validator?
The God of the Bible (TGOTB) created the universe, the spiritual realms, and all spiritual and physical beings. He holds them all together at every moment. He gave laws to mankind that flow out from His nature. Ie, He is loving; He commands humans to love. He is just; He commands humans to be just and fair. He is holy; He commands humans to be holy. Etc.
I know you don't buy that, but that's the Christian worldview. And given that you have to borrow from it to make your own moral standards, it's hard to take seriously any claim beyond personal preference for an atheistic morality.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Review of "The God Delusion"

I mentioned in the "747" combox. Just wanted to re-post it here.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Atheistic Morality 2

ChooseDoubt has responded to the Atheistic Morality topic.
Here is his post.

I have begun a blogalogue with theist blogger Rhology on the subject of morality. Both blogs will carry the full text of the conversation. Do we need a god to be moral? Let's find out. Rhology opens things up with the first post.

(then quotes my first post)

Posted by ChooseDoubt, Friday, July 13, 2007

Hi Rhology,

First of all thanks for agreeing to this blogalogue and thanks for your opener. I think you are right to keep things focussed and not introduce too many topics at this point. In order to maintain that focus I intend to introduce no new topics within my opening response. Anyway, let's get down to business.

I don't want to dwell on my recent job loss as this topic goes way beyond that simple example but I do want to address one point which I think you have failed to understand in earlier discussion. I'm going to do this with a thought experiment.

Let's imagine that I take you to a room which has a glass window on one wall. Through the window you can see into another room which has a table in it. You have no means by which to enter this second room. On the table are two pies and the question that is put to you is which one has the best flavour?

I think we can agree that your task is a difficult one. In fact, being asked to judge the flavour of the pies I suspect we can agree that even to state your own simple preference you would require relevant experience.

Let's keep in mind that your argument is that all value judgements are equally valid without a god. Now, a door opens into the second room and another man walks in. He tastes each pie and is asked the same question. Is your value judgement as valid as his? I would say it is not for the simple reason that, regardless of whether I or anyone else would share the same preference as our second man, he has fulfilled the relevant criteria required for an assessment – he has actually tasted the pies. The point being that we all innately recognise that there are valid and invalid ways to evaluate reality. My job was dependent upon my performance and relevant criteria had been contractually set to use in the evaluation of my performance. Since my work was with technology, not one of these criteria related to my lack of ability to believe Bronze Age myth. For that reason my ex-boss' value judgement, which used only criteria outside of that contractually set, was as invalid as would be your evaluation of the best tasting pie. In both cases no god is required to differentiate between valid and invalid judgements. In fact, to suggest that without a god all value judgements are equal is really to say that you consider humans to be lacking the intellectual capacity to differentiate between valid methods of assessment and invalid ones. How's the pie?

But let's move on to more interesting territory. Your essential point is that without a god then all morality comes down to simple preference. I think you would need to define what properties of this god make it uniquely valid as an external validator of "preference" above any other external validator? Why not use a measurement of suffering or happiness as an external validator instead? Let's put the two external validators to the test in another thought experiment.

Abhishek works as a doctor in the emergency ward of a local hospital. He was raised in the Hindu religion but he's quite modern and he lives in a loving relationship with his long term girlfriend, Savdeep, and they have a young daughter. Unfortunately Savdeep was a child bride many years ago before she left India and gained her freedom. There has been no divorce. One day Abhishek goes off to work to save some lives and earn some money to keep his family. What should we do?

According to the Bible the moral choice is clear. Abhishek has many other gods before the god of the Bible. That's one of the Ten Commandments violated for a start. Technically he's also committing adultery, as is Savdeep, which is another violation of the Ten Commandments, not to mention Leviticus 20:10 which is very clear on this matter:

"20:10 And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death."

OK, we can stop there – the moral choice is clear when we are using God and his word as our moral compass. It's clear that we must kill Abhishek and Savdeep. The result of this will be two immediate deaths, possible other deaths in the emergency ward, an orphaned child and great suffering to friends and other family of the couple.

How about if instead we think in terms of suffering and happiness as our external validators? Well, here the choice is clear also. Let's leave Abhishek alone and let him get on with his life, helping people. Let's be happy that Savdeep escaped a life of abuse and servitude and has now found herself in a loving relationship – there's simply no need to interfere.

We don't need a god as an external validator of our moral choices. Instead we can use real world, case specific information to make such choices. You are arguing that without god all morality comes down to simple preference as though it is a bad thing. It's a great thing. We get to choose that which we prefer, that which improves life. From your side however you claim God has the absolute moral authority and yet you are still picking which of his moral guidance's you follow by simple preference. If you are not doing that then I must assume that as per Leviticus 15:19-24 that you keep your wife away from everyone else and do not share the bed with her for seven days when she menstruates and that you follow literally every other piece of "advice" offered by your God in your Bible?

What I'm getting at is that if you are going to claim that God is necessary for morality then you are going to have to stick to what God says. I have no doubt that you follow some of the guidance whilst ignoring a great deal. Basically, your argument is in tatters even before we've gone on to examine whether you are relying for your moral certainty from a fictional character or whether in fact there is a god and it just doesn't happen to be the one you are subscribing to.

Beyond all of that we then have the issue that in claiming God is necessary for morality would you then be of the opinion that without your belief in a god you would begin raping, murdering and stealing with no personal capacity to differentiate what you currently consider to be right from wrong? I expect that is at least partly true because right now it is very probable that you do only consider some actions wrong based solely on your religious faith – homosexuality may be a good example – but I would be surprised if you are of the opinion that without God you would immediately sink into the previously mentioned abusive behaviours.

So in closing, yes I absolutely agree that without God moral choices boil down to preference. It's a fallacy to assume that preference is automatically going to result in an abusive, antisocial lifestyle and furthermore I have no doubt that you pick and choose from God's morality anyway – by simple preference. All I can suggest is that you adapt your strategy to one based solely on preference instead of allowing the prejudices and insanities of more ignorant times to influence your interactions with the people you share this planet with.



PS. I'm leaving an evolutionary understanding of morality until a little later. There is a great deal to say about it and it would be good if we cleared the board a little first.

Dawkins' 747

First, this post is not directly related in any way to the Atheistic Morality debate w/ ChooseDoubt.
Chris Severn, a commenter on a a previous post, has placed great import on the wikipedia article entitled The Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit. The premise is that Richard Dawkins believes that the idea of God is highly improbable, even more improbable than a tornado's sweeping thru a junkyard creating a fully functional 747.

Chris, I thank you much for commenting here, but I gotta tell you - reading this article made me laugh out loud. Seriously, if you want to be a serious and intellectually honest and consistent atheist, Dawkins is pretty far from where you want to be spending your reading and thought time and energy.

I'll comment on Dawkins' thinking as presented by the wiki article, 'cause I can promise you I'm not going to waste time reading Dawkins' book.

-He (Dawkins) considers the existence of such an entity to be a scientific question, because a universe with such a God would be significantly different from a universe without one

2nd sentence in the article and we already have huge problems. This doesn't look good.
Anyone paying attention to my argumentation w/ Chris will know that my contention is that, w/o God, there IS no universe at all. It wouldn't just be "different." There would be nothing.
In response, Chris has suggested several alternative possibilities:
1) the universe has always existed
2) matter, energy, 'and' the universe popped spontaneously into existence out of nothing w/o a cause
3) time repeats itself. The big crunch at the end of the universe begins again as the big bang at the beginning...

Notice that #s 1 and 3 are the same.
Briefly, the problems w/ each, as I've already stated...
1a) There were an infinite amount of seconds before now, and we have just added a second, now two, now three, etc, to infinity.
1b) To sustain your objection to a strong theistic argument, you just thrust aside The Laws of Thermodynamics; if energy is neither created nor destroyed and the universe is infinitely old, the finite amount of energy in the universe would have been a victim of entropy long before now.

#2 is also logically impossible b/c nothing causes nothing. If there's nothing, then there's nothing.

Chris continues to insist that the answer "God did it" is unacceptably improbable. And what if it is? It's still the only logically possible option offered so far.

-Therefore, Dawkins concludes, the same kind of rational reasoning can be applied to the God Hypothesis as to any other scientific question.

"Rational," yes. "Scientific," no. Science has no mechanism to test whether God exists one way or the other.

-Dawkins concludes that the argument from design is the most convincing

I think it's a good argument but it's far from the 'most convincing.' It's not "convincing" at all for a hardened fundamentalist like Dawkins anyway, so that's a poor choice of words by either Dawkins or the wiki author.

-The extreme improbability of life and a universe capable of hosting it requires explanation, but Dawkins considers the God Hypothesis inferior to evolution by natural selection as explanations for the complexity of life.

Stop the press!
But when I see Dawkins' sloppy reasoning and the massive holes in Darwinian evolutionary models, I see no reason to accept what he says.

-he redirects the argument from complexity in an attempt to show that God must have been designed by a superintelligent designer

The moment he does so, he stops responding to the Christian worldview.
Maybe that's part of his problem - he's arguing against a religion of his own making, or some kind of finite godism. On Christianity, God is the Uncaused First Cause, the Undesigned Designer. Arguing that He needed a designer is to continue to commit the infinite regress fallacy that so many atheists are so wedded to in their ideas of the universe (including Chris Severn w/ his "cyclical universe" model). Just b/c atheists want to continue in idiocy doesn't mean Christians have to.

-Fred Hoyle reportedly stated that the "probability of life originating on Earth is no greater than the chance that a hurricane, sweeping through a scrapyard, would have the luck to assemble a Boeing 747.

I'd argue it's much, much less probable, but the principle is the same.

-The basic argument against empirical theism dates back at least to David Hume, whose objection can be popularly stated as "Who designed the designer?"

Wow, so impressive! Either one ends up w/ the God that atheists don't like or one ends up in logical impossibility. Personally, I've never considered it all that rational to pass up rational thought just b/c I don't like it. But that's just me.

-to show that where design fails to explain complexity, evolution by natural selection succeeds and is the only workable solution

It doesn't work, for one thing.


-1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect, over the centuries, has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.
2. The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself. In the case of a man-made artefact such as a watch, the designer really was an intelligent engineer. It is tempting to apply the same logic to an eye or a wing, a spider or a person.

So far so good.

-3. The temptation is a false one, because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. The whole problem we started out with was the problem of explaining statistical improbability. It is obviously no solution to postulate something even more improbable.

The loud guffaws you hear in the bkgrd are coming from me. That's the best that internationally-renowned atheist and Oxford scholar Dawkins can do?
I should take Dawkins' say-so that God's existence is improbable? And, again, I should be willing to follow him into idiotic reasoning that leads me AWAY from a logically non-impossible option (God) and BACK INTO a logically impossible one? Sign me up!

-4. The most ingenious and powerful crane so far discovered is Darwinian evolution by natural selection. Darwin and his successors have shown how living creatures, with their spectacular statistical improbability and appearance of design, have evolved by slow, gradual degrees from simple beginnings.

This is a minor point, but, again, evolutionary theory is full of huge problems that, to me, are insuperable.

-5. We don't yet have an equivalent crane for physics

But we will! Believe us!!! Or we'll label you morons and fools! And we'll make sure to try to re-educate your children!!!

-Some kind of multiverse theory could in principle do for physics the same explanatory work as Darwinism does for biology.

Speaking of "no evidence" and "improbability"...

-But the anthropic principle entitles us to postulate far more luck than our limited human intuition is comfortable with.

Dawkins' personal preferences surface again. Why should anyone care what he thinks? That's serious, not rhetorical. B/c of his reasoning? Haha, it's lame. B/c of his reputation? In this area, it's 100% unwarranted. B/c of his clipped English accent? It's the best thing he's got going for him.

-Richard Swinburne reasons that theism is parsimonious because it only invokes a single substance, God, as a cause and maintainer of every other object. This cause is seen as omnipotent, omniscient and totally free.

Otherwise known as one of the core doctrines of Christianity. Credit to the author - he correctly represented Christianity here.

-Dawkins believes postulating such an entity doesn't explain anything and usurps the role of science.

1) It explains origins in a way that's actually logically possible.
2) Unlike anythg Dawkins has offered.
3) This is a perfect example of Dawkins' inability to confine science to what it can actually do.
What materials could one test to determine whether God exists? What repeatable experiment? Science is not the only way to arrive at truth. In cases of metaphysics, it's nearly worthless and leads you to act like an idiot, like someone who does NOT have a Ph.D from a prestigious university.

-He suggests that a God that controls every atom and listens to all our prayers cannot be something simple, and his existence would require a "mammoth explanation" of its own.

I hope his argument is any better than what he's offered above.
"Mammoth explanation" has been provided in the Bible, for one thing. And I'd be happy to recommend several extremely large volumes of systematic theology.
And this is not what I would call a "mammoth explanation."

-[Natural selection], as far as we know, is the only process ultimately capable of generating complexity out of simplicity.

It's not my fault that you artificially level the playing field.

-Dawkins's response to criticism
According to Dawkins, the strongest response was the objection that he was imposing a scientific epistemology on a question that lies beyond the realm of science.

Yes, thank you.

-Dawkins writes that he didn't get the impression that those employing this "evasive" defence were being wilfully dishonest, but were "defining themselves into an epistemological Safe Zone where rational argument could not reach them because they had declared by fiat that it could not."

OK, then the burden is on him to demonstrate how science could test whether God exists using the scientific method.
You know, it MIGHT be that his critics were waiting for him to engage the question using a relevant and applicable methodology.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Atheistic Morality 1

I linked to Mr./Ms. ChooseDoubt from another antitheist website where I had some interaction (well, it was more like the antitheist asking questions and me answering them and then me asking questions and him refusing to answer them) a while ago. I decided to take a look at what ChooseDoubt was cooking up, and I discovered that he (I’ll just go w/ “he” unless corrected) had just been fired from his job for being an atheist. He was understandably upset and angry at his boss. I decided to ask a few questions about the situation and probe his understanding of the basis for ethics and morality (throughout the course of our discussion, unless someone takes exception, I’ll use those two terms interchangeably). This led to ChooseDoubt’s proposing that we take our discussion to a slightly wider forum than the combox of one post, which was a fine idea.

Just for the purposes of identifying ChooseDoubt, his Profile states the following:

People die for it. People kill for it. They ignore fact to support it. They champion ignorance to defend it. And worst of all they teach their children to do the same. Faith is a disease; a dysfunction of the mind and of society as a whole. Faith is a dangerous irrationality that has cost millions of lives and will cost millions more. In a world in which we hear so much about respecting others beliefs this blog is a stand against that idiocy. Faith deserves no respect. Faith deserves to be cured.

Just so you know where he’s coming from. He is a self-described atheist.

Just so you know a bit more about what he thinks about theism:

I’ve said many times that theism is irresponsible and my own sacking is a simple example of why that is true. When people have beliefs that are in no way bound to reality through any requirement for coherence or evidence then they tend to make unreasonable decisions.

I, OTOH, am a pretty conservative, fairly Calvinistic Evangelical Christian. Yeah, that’s a lot of labels. No, it’s not my fault. "Biblical Christian" also works 100%, but it's not as useful in today's day and age for identification purposes.

So, the question before us starts w/ his firing and ends at a Big Question

I think my evaluation of CD’s position is summed up thusly: “That is, the value judgment begins and ends w/ you, and his begins and ends w/ him.”

I will be taking the atheistic worldview onto myself and then testing what CD is saying about these moral statements. Are his statements consistent w/ his worldview? So far, the answer is no. Where morality begins and ends w/ the individual w/ no higher absolute authority to give the law (as it were), then that’s where morality begins and ends. CD might (or at minimum, other atheists I know would and have) claim that morality is a construct of society, but that simply backs the problem up one step while incurring a new problem. Who says that society is the basis of morality? You? Why should I accept your authority for that? Society says so? Why should I accept "society's" word for that? For that matter, where and when did "society" decree the same?

For a second and slightly less important point, I’ll go ahead and infer from others of CD’s statements that he holds to Darwinian evolution as held by much of modern science and invite him to correct me if I’m wrong. This is related to the question before us. In his view, man is nothing more or less than an animal, a biological machine, who has evolved to a state where he can think better than other animals. Our thinking processes, too, have evolved and become complex and skilled. However, an evolutionary paradigm gives no structure of morality, no oughtness to life. It simply IS. Thus, his boss was acting according to the coalescing of the firing of his neurons and chemical reactions in his brain to his personal situation, which thus caused him to exercise his "judgment" (which is, again, nothing more or less than the modern evolution of neurological chemical reactions) to fire CD. Kind of like what happens to a can of root beer when you shake it up and then open it. CD was naturally deselected. CD of course, objects to this, much the way an oak tree would object to an infestation of mistletoe. That is, he can fight (b/c it was disadvantageous to him) but must back down in the face of superior force.

I am proud to present the Christian worldview as a much more reasonable and fitting (not to mention existentially satisfying) alternative to the atheistic one. On Christianity, the omnipotent and omniscient Creator of the Universe, Jesus, gives directives so that we His creations might know firmly what is right and what is wrong. He gives them out of love so that we might be like Him, the best and brightest being, so that we can be the most fulfilled, useful, and purposeful people we can be. Maybe best of all, when we protest against injustice, like “that’s not fair!” or “you’re wrong to do that!” we are not being inconsistent. If we have indeed been acted against in a way that violates God’s law, then we are both consistent AND correct to say “that’s not fair.” And there is a way to tell the difference, on Christianity.

Best of all, though we have these directives, though we don’t always agree on these directives, and though we often do not follow them, Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross to take on Himself these sins and to offer His purity to all those who will believe in Him and love Him as Savior and as Lord. He does this b/c of His great love and generosity.

I invite CD’s response to what I’ve said here, specifically in relation to my evaluation of his position. Typically, ‘opening statements’ in debate are the most widespread and encompass a breadth of topics, whereas the interactions and statements later in the debate become more focused as the debaters bear down on areas of disagreement. I will attempt to keep my responses readably brief and think we can count on CD to do the same. We are both self-described verbose writers, but hopefully we won't bore our readers too much. If either of us does, it's our own fault, I guess. Finally, many thanks to CD for his willingness not only to interact on this topic but also to have done so in a very conciliatory tone so far. My goals will be to tear his position apart and to do so in the least provocative and insulting way possible.

For the purposes of keeping which posts come when, we will add numbers to the titles of our posts. Thus, CD's response to this post will be "_________ 2". I will post his offerings on my blog and he will do the same for mine, so a reader can catch the entirety of the interaction on either blog.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Rome offers a plenary indulgence

I'd like to note this in relation to what took place at the Svendsen-Pacwa debate during the Audience Questions section.
(Edit in green text)
Father Pacwa, answering an audience question...
Question: "Please comment on the view of today's Vatican regarding the selling of indulgences in history."

Pacwa (almost verbatim): "The Vatican hasn't said anythg about selling indulgences b/c it was condemned earlier in the C of Trent. There was abuse of selling of indulgences and the reason that Vatican didn't say anythg was b/c it's not being done."

First of all, that's awesome for our RC friends. In particular I'd love to know why such goodies as plenary indulgences are only granted from time to time rather than all the time. And why the RCC doesn't just go all the way and become Reformed, where the one sacrifice of Christ provides for a true plenary indulgence. As to the former, I wonder if Indulgentiarum Doctrina has anything to say?

In my review, I noted that Fr Peter Stravinskas disagreed w/ Pacwa's assertion, and apparently the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is coming down somewhere near Stravinskas' side as far as I can tell. So I guess here we have a problem between Stravinskas and Pacwa, and it leads to a few questions:
  1. What is the difference between buying an indulgence with money and buying one with stuff you do?
  2. Is this not demonstrative of disunity among RC clergy? (I know Mateo wouldn't agree that this is a big deal, but he's not the majority opinion so far as I've seen.)

Pretty good stuff. Either way, I hope all the Roman Catholics who can will take advantage. I sure would.
And what good fortune to die just a few hours after hooking one of these dandies!
I'm gonna go ahead and post screen shots of the article here b/c another link I found turned out to be dead just hours after I saw the article that links to it.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Odds and ends

-This is my heart for unity among Protvangelicals.

-Many congratulations to my friend David Bryan's 2nd daughter. Daughters rock.

-In a week or two I may begin a slightly on-the-formal-side blog debate w/ an atheist blogger. Could be interesting, and so far his tone has been highly conciliatory, which is appreciated.

-I'm out of pocket for Internet until Monday, 9 July. Happy Fourth of July Day!

-My little brother is getting married. Guess he grew up. But I can still pick on him. It's just that he can pick back!

-I'm done.