Thursday, December 20, 2007

A scenario

This is probably my last post before the Christ-mas holiday takes me away from the computer for a while. Merry Christ-mas!
I'll celebrate by posing a slightly disgusting question for atheists to answer as they like:

Situation: You are traveling in a foreign land and go to an out-of-the-way picturesque temple. There you meet a native, there to offer religious piety. He finishes lighting his candle and then greets you, speaking serviceable English. Edit: He introduces himself as Tkalim.
He offers to tell you a little about his religion. You, being the courteous gentleman/lady you are, invite him to proceed. He tells you that he and his whole society worship 5 gods of the fish, air, earth, fire, and tree. He then tells you that part of his worship devotion is to go with all the men of his society to steal girls between the ages of 3-8 years from their families in the nearby large city, take them into the jungle, and rape them.
Once raped, the tribesmen leave the girls in the jungle as an offering to the tree god. He says he knows of no girl that has ever returned to the city to her family.
Once he finishes his story with calm voice and clear eyes, he falls silent.
I have something to say to him about this practice. What would YOU say? How would you try to explain that what he is doing is wrong? *Is* what he is doing wrong? On what basis?

28 comments:

G-man said...

Yeah, that's a pretty horrible Christmas thought to leave us with.

Since I had been such a courteous gentleman to this calm fellow, I'm sure he'd be more than willing to listen to me talk about my culture.

I would begin by telling him about the accumulated writings of generations of brilliant thinkers which we have used to create a thriving culture grounded in secularism. I would explain to him that these thinkers have used scientific methods to advance our understanding of agriculture, medicine, law and learning.

In our culture, I'd explain, we understand that weather patterns and fluctuations account for changes in weather, and that small bacteria and viruses cause illness.

I would explain that, in the past, superstition broke up families, pitted villages and even the villagers against one another - but since rejecting superstition we had finally realized peace.

In so doing, we have had to make difficult transitions - but the advances in our culture have been wondrous (here I might pause to demonstrate by showing him a camera or cell phone).

Our society does not need gods of fish, air, earth, fire and tree. In fact, I would explain to this man that some people in our culture still believe in a One Big Magic God who demands that each person sacrifice his very life for its pleasure.

Superstition can hurt people, I would explain. At one time, believers in the One Big Magic God would burn women at the stake - usually for being too outspoken. It turns out that they were not actually witches. These women were mothers/sisters/daughters and they were harmed by people for no reason.

I would suggest that he approach his fellow tribesmen to cease their worship ritual this time around - and see what happened. If nothing happened, maybe they would see that the harm they inflict on others is unnecessary. If all went to hell, so to speak, I would offer myself as atonement to his gods.

If he even listened to me for that long, it might make a difference :)

However, the last thing I'd want to do is replace one superstition with another. "My God is the one that REALLY exists, and he says you're wrong, buddy boy." You could try that approach, but it hasn't had the most effective history.

Lucian said...

On the basis that it's wrong. Not good killing people. (If one were to be killed, he would not like it -- no one would -- for obvious reasons: pain, fear of death, etc.; if everyone were to do that, this earth would be a living hell -- and since "there's no Heaven, above us only sky", the atheists would not like that). And since they don't believe in a God that can pardon them, nor in the post-mortem existence of the souls of the ones to whom they did harm, they can't excuse themselves to them, ask them for forgiveness, and thus relieve their consciousness; their 'soul' will have no peace for their entire earthly life. (And since there's no other life, ... that would be the last thing that an atheist would want).

While we can't explain the existence of the consciousness (well, we can: we instinctively feel what would be bad, harmful, distructive, devastating, and try to avoid it: and to help maybe others avoid it too: because we suffer for others also, for some unknown reason) ... so, while we can't explain it, we can't explain it away either; so a man has to live with his consciousness for his entire life; and this consciousness won't listen to you if you try to excuse youself by saying: that wasn't (that) bad, etc. -- it just doesn't work that way. And since the consciousness doesn't forgive, nor forget, [and since there's no God to pardon you, and relieve your 'soul', and no link to the after-life so that you may say "I'm sorry" to the people that you've wronged] the best way is to just do no thing that your conscious can torture you with.

People who do bad things feel terrible and they don't feel goo, no matter how toogh they try to look: they may be able to fool others, but they just can't fool themselves.

Drugs aren't any goo either: they only make one's life a living hell: they aren't even able to relieve you 100% from the pain of your own consciouness, and not only that, but they create another hell for you to live in: you just change the chambers of hell; but not the house itself; you just go from one [manifestation of] hell to another; you just switch rooms in a prison, but are never able to escape).

Rhology said...

Haha, yeah, I'm a bundle of Christmas joy, aren't I? ;-)

G-man, whoever else, could you also take a stab at the last two questions?
*Is* what he is doing wrong? On what basis?

I mean, based on what you've told him so far, he *should* change b/c our technology is awesomer and you like your life better than you like his. I don't see why he should necessarily care about that.

Lucian said...

On the basis of humanity.

Rhology said...

Some people like to be nice to other people.
Some other people like to hurt other people and kill them.
Which humanity do you choose and why?

(This is hardly your fight, Lucian, you're a theist.)

Lucian said...

The people that truly do enjoy such aberrations are by nature a percentual minority (whether we may like it or not, Gauss' Bell is one of the nature's little laws).

I personally know of no man who was deranged and managed to rescue his soul from darkness. They're a lost cause, I guess.

But for the others, there's hope.

I'm not saying to give up on them (the deranged, that is) ... but history and human experience throughout the ages has shown that any reasoning with them bears no fruit.

The Bible speaks of this satanized state of the soul as the hardening of heart.

Appeals to common-sense, human consciousness, and simple logic (which are the same in all un-deranged people), or, if it is possible, even religion --> which, in the completely theoretical situation You've described is futile: his religion actually demands it (of course, You may try to win him over to yours, but that would hardly work -- yet, try anyway, nonetheless) ... as I've said, such appeals should be made (patiently, continuosly) ... but, as I've also said, in such cases, all hope is lost. :-(

Feel free to pray and fast for such persons if You like, but the Bride is the soul, and God is the Groom, and our intercessions act as match-makers ... but with all the match-making going on, it's ultimately up to the Groom and Bride: and since the Bride simply abhors the Groom with a satanic anger and dis-respect, and the nature of the Groom being Love, and his attitude one of standing at the door and knocking, it will ultimately lead nowhere ... but, if You love them, try anyway ...

Lucian said...

Some other people like to hurt other people and kill them

I would very much "like" to kill certain people sometimes also, and deliver them to unspeakable tortures, ... but while I'm busy doing all this "liking", my consciousness is constantly and systematically stabbing me in the heart, and it gnaws on my brain like a nagging worm ... and if one were to actually succumb to the heat of the moment and to be overpowered with passion, after it's all done, -just a few seconds afterwards-, the warmth of passion leaves and deserts him, and he finds himself all alone ... with his totally un-impressed consciousness, and her maddening voice: "WHY did You do this?? WHY !?? WHY? Why? why? 'y'?" And it never stops ... EVER! NOTHING can silence her. :-(

"The choice is Yours!" -- (Captain Planet).

"I lay before You the path of life and the way of death: choose life!" -- (God, the Bible).

Matt M said...

I've seen this type of question asked a lot by theists.

As an atheist I could stand around discussing the finer points of ethics with these people...

...or I could help organise some form of defense for the women.

I think I'd probably do the latter.

Although, were I to go with the former, I'd probably start by trying to prove his religious beliefs are wrong, given that they seem to the source of the problem.

G-man said...

"*Is* what he is doing wrong? On what basis?"

I believe it can be argued that such a cultural practice is wrong. However, it's very easy for someone to say "why should I accept your definition of 'wrong?' This makes it hard for me to answer your question, without using a lot of words.

Begin with a series of "is" statements.

- Desires are the only reasons for action that exist in humans.
- A human agent will act according to the more and the stronger of its desires.
- How it acts on these desires is informed by its beliefs (ex: I am thirsty; I believe that glass contains refreshing water; I will act so as to drink from that glass).
- Desires cannot be changed by reasoning. Desires describe mental states people hold with respect to states of affairs (ex: I desire that the state of affairs where 'I am experiencing pleasure' is true, and where 'I am experiencing pain' is false).
- Desires can be changed by adding more or stronger desires to the equation and thus making it more desirable for the agent to take another course of action. (ex: every time I eat a bite of that chocolate cake, you slap me in the face... I become less interested in eating the cake).

- It IS the case that certain desires are of the sort that ALL people have objective reasons to encourage in others. This is the case because the desires of others cause their actions. (ex: All humans, no matter how selfish or self-less, have reason to discourage hate and violence toward humans in other humans).
- It IS the case that the only real-world harms that can be experienced by humans are when desires are thwarted.
- It IS the case that we have reason to avoid harms and to encourage good desires (desire-fulfilling desires) in others,

- We OUGHT to prescribe certain objective desires in others (ex: the desire to help others).

Ought is a prescription for action. It follows from the "is" statements what we "ought" to do in moral situations.

In all cases, a culture full of people who want to rape harmless people who are unable to protect themselves (or rape in general) is one that inflicts harm in others. Each person (including the rapists) have good reasons to discourage others from desiring to rape or otherwise harm one another. These reasons are real, objective, and - yes - stem from the self-serving nature of desires.

However, arguments for and concerning desire utilitarianism, especially on the finer details, are very technical and probably would run into bumps at the language barrier, so I would try the approach I suggested first.

G-man said...

I didn't really think that through before answering, so I probably left out some key ideas. I guess I need to lay out a comprehensive argument for DU on my own blog...

Anonymous said...

As an atheist I would say:

*Is* what he is doing wrong ?
No

On what basis ?
It's his religion. A religion makes you do a lot of apparently non-sensual crazy stuff.
Just because I am an atheist does not mean that I am going to deny all god-like presences.

In addition, I would probably kill him to make a point that his point of view is not universally accepted (he may actually enjoy being offered to the tree god!)

- Some people deserve to live. Most people don't. Let those who deserve to live, live, and who cares about the rest.

John Morales said...

Rhology,

Why use hypotheticals? Let's use a real-world example.

You speak with someone whose religion/culture dictates that all infants be mutilated*.

I consider mutilation on the basis of religious/cultural opinion to be immoral.

What would YOU say? How would you try to explain that what he is doing is wrong? *Is* what he is doing wrong? On what basis?

* eg: the foreskin must surgically removed from the penis.

Anonymous said...

Not *all* infants.
Just the males.

John Morales said...

Yes, Anon.

I just felt queasy even putting up a link.

But it's real-world too.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_circumcision

Bobby said...

In response to g-man's comment: "One Big Magic God who demands that each person sacrifice his very life for its pleasure".

What if I told you that the sacrifice you speak of brought more pleasure than you can could see as an athiest? As a believer in Jesus, I have more pleasure now than I did as a non-believer. Jesus said he came to bring life; I have found that to be true. It's giving up one thing for something that is better. The statement "sacrifice his very life for its pleasure" does not hold true, but I probably would have thought so as a non-believer. I enjoyed reading your responses.

merkur said...

Bobby - what if I told you that the sacrifice that I now speak of brought more pleasure than you can see as a Christian? I'm guessing that you would find it no more convincing than I find your response, which means that it's not a very persuasive argument.

merkur said...

To expand on John Morales' practical example, it is worth noting that some things are of course "more wrong" than others. This mutilation of which you speak, for example, is less wrong than raping little girls - since I would throw myself into the fray to prevent the rape of little girls, but not to prevent the circumcision of a child. A secular moral system can explain this, but I'm wondering if a Christian perspective can address the question of "more" and "less" wrong, since you seem to have a very black-and-white view of things?

Rhology said...

Continued here.

G-man said...

Bobby,

First of all, I'm an atheist, not an "athiest."

Second, how much of your life have you been an atheist? I have been a Christian for almost all of mine. If you'd like to know which conversion brings more pleasure, I can easily tell you it's mine. But yeah, no argument from religious experience is a strong one when brought against one who tries to detach his emotions from his conclusions about the nature of life, the universe and everything.

Thanks for keeping your response civil, of course.

jeffperado said...

Rhology, you commented over at my blog, referencing this post, using it as a challenge. Can I quote it in its entirety at my blog? For I think it is a perfect example of just how flawed using religion is as a guidepost to morality. (I will not use it unless you give me explicit authorization.)

My blog:
The Big Picture

Rhology said...

Anyone may quote any amount of my published writings. Free of charge! Am I generous or what? ;-)

Have a good one!

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Derrick said...

If by "wrong" do you mean "destructive to yourself and others," then sure. Actions have consequences, and in this rather-implausible scenario, that would include the neighboring city getting together and wiping them out.

But still, let's take it as a given that your clever dilemma has completely defeated me...it's not evidence that God exists.

Rhology said...

Hi Derrick,

By "wrong", *I* mean "contrary to the character of God".
Part of my point is that if atheism is true, "wrong" has no objective value or definition. So when you make moral statements that you expect should apply to someone else, you're being inconsistent. It's not evidence FOR Christianity, strictly speaking, and I've never claimed it is. What it does show is that you can't live consistently with your atheism, and have to borrow from the Christian worldview to live life in any human, normal way. Atheism doesn't provide what you need to live, and that DOES say sthg.

Derrick said...

And if I were at all impressed by the "morality" I see demonstrated by theists of any stripe, that might mean something for a moment. Christian morality I repugnant, and at its best hypocritical.

Instead, everywhere I look, theist and atheist alike, I see *human nature,* which includes both prosocial and antisocial behavior consistent with being a socially evolved animal.

By "wrong," *I* mean something which is harmful to yourself or someone else, because social groups rise or fall over such matters. The application of reason and empathy (and yes, I've read your other post and I consider it riddled with straw men) allows us to make good decisions.

I don't understand the theistic obsession with "ultimate" morality when moral decisions are necessarily situational. What allows me to impose my judgment of "right and wrong" is what I want my society to consist of--murderers, rapists, and religious maniacs need not apply.

I consider the hypothesis that innate morality to be written into our hearts by a Christian god to be entirely falsified by about ten minutes of reading any newspaper, as well as studies showing strong correlation between religiosity and measures of societal unhealthiness.

Rhology said...

Hi Derrick,

Why should anyone else be interested in what YOU think is wrong and right, impressive and unimpressive? How do you know it's repugnant, or is that just your opinion? Suppose I think that thinking Christian morality is repugnant is repugnant; is there any objective way to distinguish between the two opinions? Any way to tell who is right?


By "wrong," *I* mean something which is harmful to yourself or someone else

Fine, but let's say that by "wrong," *I* mean something which stops me from raping and murdering little girls.
Who's right and how can we know?


The application of reason and empathy

1) Who says empathy is a deciding factor?
2) Wrt "reason", ever heard of Hume's Guillotine, or the naturalistic fallacy? They discuss the is/ought gap. You would do well to acquaint yourself with that.


What allows me to impose my judgment of "right and wrong" is what I want my society to consist of--murderers, rapists, and religious maniacs need not apply.

What allows me to impose my judgment of "right and wrong" is what I want my society to consist of--people who help others, who donate money and time to feed the hungry, and who prevent Darwinian processes from taking place to weed out the weak need not apply, nor any atheists. I think I'd like to hunt you down and kill you and your family.
Now, please let me know if that's wrong, and if so, why.


Peace,
Rhology

Derrick said...

Why should anyone else be interested in what YOU think is wrong and right, impressive and unimpressive?

Because I and the members of my family, city, and nation are smart enough to figure out for ourselves what works and doesn't work, and we have thousands of years of history of good and bad examples. I'm not appealing to any higher authority, any absolute standard other than actual, real, consequences for my society. Your ridiculous dilemma in the OP is "wrong" because it is going to lead to destructive results and should be done away with. That's what I mean by "reason," these little zingers aren't hard to figure out.

What allows me to impose my judgment of "right and wrong" is what I want my society to consist of--people who help others, who donate money and time to feed the hungry, and who prevent Darwinian processes from taking place to weed out the weak need not apply, nor any atheists. I think I'd like to hunt you down and kill you and your family.

This again-ridiculous definition of morality is ultimately destructive to yourselves and others, and me and mine will lock you up if you try to act on your beliefs. If in the unlikely circumstance you have others with you that are like minded, we'll deal with you as a criminal or terrorist organization for the benefit of all.

Fine, but let's say that by "wrong," *I* mean something which stops me from raping and murdering little girls.

Then I suggest you find a different religion. (Numbers 31, Judges 11)

I mean, I know full well where *you* think morality comes from, and it's nonsense. If god has written Christian morality into the minds, "fallen" or otherwise, of human beings and the Bible is his inspired word, any person of any faith could open the Bible to a random page and instantly be struck with a shock of recognition. Even converting on the spot, if only out of a desire to learn more.

Instead, Christians are at their best when they are hypocritical enough to take what's moral from the bible and reject what's immoral--all of you do it to some degree: when was the last time you stoned an unruly child to death? (I consider hypocrisy in this instance to be a virtue.) The fact remains however, that whatever in the Bible is moral, Christianity itself is neither necessary nor sufficient to sift the wheat from the chaff.

Rhology said...

what works and doesn't work

What works for ME is that you die and I live and take all your stuff.
Prove I'm wrong, for my goals and purposes.


good and bad examples. I'm not appealing to any higher authority, any absolute standard

Sure you are - you just said good and bad examples. You're assuming what you need to prove.


Your ridiculous dilemma in the OP is "wrong" because it is going to lead to destructive results and should be done away with.

What's bad about destructive results? Maybe destructive to someone else, but not to Tkalim - he enjoys what he does.


and me and mine will lock you up if you try to act on your beliefs.

So might makes right.
You need to read this.


Then I suggest you find a different religion. (Numbers 31, Judges 11)

This is an internal critique in which I am taking on the role of another atheist, for the sake of argument. Please answer the question, given atheism.


If god has written Christian morality into the minds, "fallen" or otherwise, of human beings and the Bible is his inspired word, any person of any faith could open the Bible to a random page and instantly be struck with a shock of recognition.

Typical atheist - forgetting the doctrine of sin in Christianity.


when was the last time you stoned an unruly child to death?

Typical atheist - no idea about the role and usage of the OT Law.
Really, you should be sort of ashamed to use such facile and worn-out arguments. Try something new.