Thursday, May 15, 2008

A thought experiment

As this combox is winding down, I found myself asking a question.
Given that we've seen, over and over again, that a worldview system based on an atheist worldview cannot provide an objective basis for morality, why be an atheist?

Let's make this a bit more of an existential question than a strictly intellectual one, for now.
We shall presuppose that atheism is true, for the purposes of this thought experiment.

::Deep breath::

OK, I'm an atheist.
A well-adjusted one, that is. I don't want to kill anyone, I think it's swell to get along with everyone as much as reasonably possible, I don't like war, I am a male attracted to attractive females, I like hamburgers and sushi and rock music. I'm chillin'. I'm honest.

Also, I have never claimed that my vision of morality is somehow objective, in the words of jdp.
Thus, the consequence of that is that, while I don't like raping and murdering small children, indeed, find it detestable, it's just a DEscriptor. That statement "I don't like raping and murdering small children and find it detestable" describes my personal convictions. I agree with jdp - it has no bearing whatsoever on what others do, should do, or should not do.

Finally, I am confident that death is the end for me and for everyone. There are no consequences beyond this life. My life has value inasmuch as I peremptorily assign it value.

Thus, I must ask myself: Why be an atheist? Why not a Christian?

----
If I'm a Christian (and again, atheism is true here), then I'm deluded that I have a supernatural friend, creator, and Savior. And I believe that raping and murdering little children is objectively morally wrong. That is, it's wrong for everyone at all times, everywhere, under any circumstances. And when I die, I cease to exist.

If I'm an atheist, then I'm right about there being no supernatural. And while I find raping and murdering little children personally detestable, I recognise that there's no reason to try to prevent others from doing it, though I might do so, thus acting inconsistently with my stated beliefs. But there's certainly no way nor call to say that it's wrong for everyone at all times, everywhere, under any circumstances. And when I die, I cease to exist.
--/--

As a Christian, I actually get to act consistently with my stated beliefs when I condemn raping and murdering little children for everyone at all times, everywhere, etc. The atheist may do so but acts INconsistently. And we're both going to die and rot. Maybe I'll go with the worldview that actually allows me to condemn atrocities like this. Life's too short.

72 comments:

jdp said...

Rho- Thanks for calling me well adjusted. I won't make a habit of commenting on your blog (I prefer to check only the other, it is more attuned to my tastes) but since you brought me up personally I feel I need to clear up a misperception. I never stated that because ethics aren't objective (handed down from some source independent of human subjectivity) that they cannot be globalized. That is, I do believe in the social contract. Also, I believe that objective ethics actually hinder man, because mankind becomes frozen in the time of any book that was supposedly handed down by a god, be it the bible or the koran, etc. My ethics are allowed to adjust to new information! Please reply on the other blog, I just wanted the opportunity to correct that misperception. Thanks.

daniel said...

Why be an atheist? Why not a Christian?

If there were no more guidelines to Christianity than the one you named, it might be a stalling question. But if we look at the whole picture, there are a lot of other moral demands of Christianity which I'm sure atheists will be happy to point out(humility and accountability before an Authority, certain sexual restraint, overall restraint of certain gratification and self-aggrandizement) which make Christianity a pretty unappealing proposition.

I haven't been following the whole discussion, but that's why it seems so important to figure out which actually is true.

Rintintin said...

Given that we've seen, over and over again, that a worldview system based on an atheist worldview cannot provide an objective basis for morality, why be an atheist?

Isn't that a little like saying - because it (belief in God/Christianity)feels more reassuring, we might as well believe it whether it's true or not?

Rhology said...

Kind of, yes. Given the bleakness (morally speaking) of the atheistic alternative, why be an atheist?

Paul C said...

And while I find raping and murdering little children personally detestable, I recognise that there's no reason to try to prevent others from doing it, though I might do so, thus acting inconsistently with my stated beliefs.

Well, no. If you find raping little children personally detestable, that in itself is a good reason to prevent others from doing it. Another reason for doing it would be compassion, a basic component of most human psychology. So we've already established two reasons for prevention, both of which are consistent with atheism; and so trying to prevent it is in no way inconsistent with your beliefs.

We could also talk about more elaborate moral frameworks, but since you are unable to move beyond a pre-conventional view of morality, there seems little point.

Paul C said...

Given the bleakness (morally speaking) of the atheistic alternative, why be an atheist?

I'm not sure if I qualify as an atheist, but personally speaking it's mainly because you don't have to spend your entire life lying to yourself.

G-man said...

And here we go again with Rho treating atheism like it is a theory of morality. It is not. There are plenty of theories of morality that are both objective and - possibly - atheistic. Utilitarianism is a good example.

No need to criticize utilitarianism now... just wanted to point out that many atheists both can and do operate on an objective basis for morality.

There are no consequences beyond this life.

Actually, that's far from true. Atheists write wills as readily as the next person, and I'm sure many of them want to leave a positive legacy behind them. Clearly at least some atheists find value in the things that happen after the conclusion of their lives.

Why be an atheist? Why not a Christian?

If I recall, Catholics have a better divorce rate (divorces are less common) than most other branches of Christianity. If you wanted to get married, would you consider converting to Catholicism because you believe there might be good marital consequences? You're probably more concerned with what you believe is true.

That is, it's wrong for everyone at all times, everywhere, under any circumstances.

There are at least several ethical theories compatible with atheism that would make the same claim. And just because you believe you can call others wrong from a more objective stance doesn't make you a better person, nor does it make you an effective persuader. So... where's the real benefit of believing you have an objective moral position, especially if those you are trying to convince disagree?

At any rate, I also believe that I can *actually* condemn atrocities from an objective moral ground. So... why don't you become an atheist? All you have to do is accept the descriptive claims of desire utilitarianism, and you arrive at a prescriptive, objective moral standpoint. Yay!

Oh... I guess it's a matter of what we believe to be true, rather than some practical benefit you seem to think is derived from believing you have an objective moral stance, and others don't. I honestly fail to see the benefit.

John Morales said...

I don't know about you, Rhology, but I can't choose to believe in the nonsensical.

As well ask me to believe in the Tooth Fairy.

As for the comforts it brings you, were you not deluded you would notice they are illusory, and have as much objective reality as your putative morality.

Don't you get that strong opinions are strong regardless of whether one considers them objective or not?

You really appear to think one can choose to believe in what one considers nonsense... &tt;sigh>

Grady said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Jolly Nihilist said...

As a Christian, I actually get to act consistently with my stated beliefs when I condemn raping and murdering little children for everyone at all times, everywhere, etc. The atheist may do so but acts INconsistently. And we're both going to die and rot. Maybe I'll go with the worldview that actually allows me to condemn atrocities like this.

And, being a non-Christian, I can feel outrage, horror and revulsion when reading about biblical ethnic cleansing and genocide.

As examples, consider the following short list:

1. The city of Hormah.
2. The land of Bashan.
3. The land of Heshbon.
4. The Canaanites.
5. The Hittites.
6. The Hivites.
7. The Perizzites.
8. The Girgashites.
9. The Amorites.
10. The Jebusites.

Brandon Muller said...

God based morality is objective?

Morality either exists outside of god (and is not dependent upon god) or it's arbitrary. Euthyphro's Dilemma.

Perhaps you'd respond that morality is inherent within god's nature. But that won't work either since god didn't choose his nature.

If god did choose his nature then morality exists outside of god. If god didn't choose his nature, then morality is arbitrary because god's nature could have been one that thinks torturing babies is good.

Sorry, but there is no ultimate objective grounding for morality regardless of whether or not god exists.

Rhology said...

Brandon,

Very cute.
You're mostly right; the answer to Euthy is that that which is good is that which corresponds to God's nature.
There's no speaking of an eternal unchanging God like you have done. "Could have been" does not compute - God is the way He is and cannot nor "could" not be otherwise. It's akin to asking whether Jesus can microwave a burrito so hot that even He can't eat it.

And consider the horror of your implication - atheism SURE doesn't have any objective basis for morality. If no one does, then woe to the world.

Anonymous said...

"I never stated that because ethics aren't objective (handed down from some source independent of human subjectivity) that they cannot be globalized."

and...

"Also, I believe that objective ethics actually hinder man, because mankind becomes frozen in the time of any book that was supposedly handed down by a god"

Well hang on now. Once you globalise an ethic, it becomes pretty much frozen and extremely difficult to de-thaw. If everybody agrees that X is wrong or illegal, it will be basically impossible for anybody to practice X.

So what do you want? Do you want to enforce your ethics on everyone else, because hey you like you own ethics and you want everyone else to follow them? Or do you want everyone to do what they want to do even if it is detestable to you? You can't have it both ways.

> That is, I do believe in the social contract.

A social contract with people who want to enter into such a contract? Or a social contract with everyone whether they like it or not?

In the former situation, persons A, B and C agree not to hurt each other, but person D doesn't like that agreement and kills persons A, B and C. In the latter situation you enforce ethics on person D, freezing that ethical scheme by your own authority.

Paul C said...

A key point of the social contract concept is that the rights in it are not frozen, but are negotiated and negotiable. If a particular aspect doesn't work to the general good, then it should be revised. If somebody breaks the terms of the social contract, then they lose their rights under the social contract; you don't "enforce ethics" but protect the remaining contract-holders. Certainly you can criticise social contract theory, but not on the grounds of "freezing ethics".

Anonymous said...

"A key point of the social contract concept is that the rights in it are not frozen, but are negotiated and negotiable."

Again, is it an opt-in contract, or a you're in it whether you like it or not contract?

If you're in it whether you like it or not, then what difference does it make how the powers decide or enforce their contract, since there is no objective right and wrong?

"If a particular aspect doesn't work to the general good, then it should be revised."

I suppose where "general good" is defined by the force of whoever is has been able to enforce it?

Again, an authority, whether it be democratic, theocratic, communist or whatever, forces everyone to follow their contract. If you have no objection to this, then you can't have any objection to a theocracy which defines the social good according to Christian principles.

jdp said...

Anon- Think about the US Constitution. It calls on no higher power than "we the people." If you skim over the ethical philosophy of Hobbes, you will see that it is based on the "will of the many." The point is that the social contract ends up as an attempt to create a system that benefits all individuals in the larger society fairly and equally. If it isn't working, it can be ammended. There are no ammendments to any of the world's holy books.

jdp said...

You are making a lot of leaps there anon. I am stating the social contract to mean something that is derived from collective individuals. You have attempted to show that there is no distinction between that and an unnammendable theocracy. I don't think you have made that distinction well. If you want a theocracy, you should spend some time in Iran or Saudi Arabia. I think that would change your mind.

Rhology said...

jdp,

this is fraught with all kinds of huge problems.
How do you know what the will of the people is?
When did you take a survey?
Which people?
When?
Where?
How did you define the nation? Which nation?
What % of the people is necessary to make this contract?
When did they sign it? How?
Is it renewed every generation? Every 30 yrs? 50? 100?
How do you condemn the acts of Nazi Germany and Stalin's USSR under this contract idea? Do you condemn their acts?
How does the contract define "benefit"? What is "fairly and equally"? Does the contract define that too? Or do you just assume it for the sake of your (weak) argument?
How is it amended? When? What amendments have been made?


Rubbish, my friend. Rubbish.

Rhology said...

See, this is what I mean when I say that Christianity is true b/c of the impossibility of the contrary. Every option that is put forth as a serious alternative is ludicrous. Every counterargument simply further serves to illustrate my point. It's kind of amazing to watch.

Paul C said...

Again, is it an opt-in contract, or a you're in it whether you like it or not contract?

In the usual understanding, you're in whether you like it or not, simply by virtue of membership of the society that you're born into. This is both the strength and the weakness of the concept, obviously - note that it doesn't matter whether you agree with the concept or not, it simply describes the situation that you're in. (Note: I am not 100% convinced by social contract theory from a historical perspective, but I do think it is a useful framework for understanding power relations - I'm more of a Rawlsian myself.)

If you're in it whether you like it or not, then what difference does it make how the powers decide or enforce their contract, since there is no objective right and wrong?

It's not how "the powers" decide, and it isn't "their" contract; it's how society shapes and understands its contract. The social contract entails that the individual gives up some of their autonomy to a governance mechanism in order to gain benefits that they would not otherwise enjoy (security, services, etc). However the critical point of social contract theory here is that the contract isn't frozen - it can and does change over time in response to new developments. Essentially, society is a continual process of negotiation of the terms of the social contract. This is where the distinction between moral principles and moral rules is important, I think - the negotiation process is not about the moral principles on which that society is based, but on the character and implementation of the moral rules derived from those principles.

Again, an authority, whether it be democratic, theocratic, communist or whatever, forces everyone to follow their contract.

As I said above, it's not "their" contract, it's a contract. If a government uses force on its own citizens, then that suggests that the social contract has broken down; and if the citizens withdrew their consent, then you get a revolution. Now all governments rely to some extent on force to prevent and punish infringements of the social contract, but the difference is in how that force is deployed and managed. I would say that the reason that democracy serves citizens better than those other options is because a) it better enables the social contract to be renegotiated more easily, and b) it better ensures that the monopoly of force is not abused.

If you have no objection to this, then you can't have any objection to a theocracy which defines the social good according to Christian principles.

The problem with a theocracy is that it doesn't have either of those two advantages that I mentioned above in relation to democracy. That's not to say that theocracy and democracy can't co-exist - I think that they can, although it's an uneasy and probably unsustainable co-existence. Personally I wouln't have any objection to living in a theocracy, right up until the point where that theocracy begins to constrain my own moral determination. You would feel the same, since you have no way of guaranteeing that the "Christian principles" that you hold would be the same as the ones enforced by the theocratic regime. So on balance I think we're all better off in a secular, democratic society where nobody claims to know what's right for everybody else.

Paul C said...

this is what I mean when I say that Christianity is true b/c of the impossibility of the contrary

Wow, that's a pretty insane opinion considering that you live in "the contrary".

The Jolly Nihilist said...

You reference “the impossibility of the contrary,” but I do not think this is accurate. You might well be correct that, in the absence of a divine lawgiver, morality can be neither objective nor universal. However, you have not demonstrated the impossibility of an amoral cosmos, in which the suffering, happiness and well-being of humans is of no ultimate consequence. Innumerable worlds have begun and have ended; the cosmos simply does not care.

Rintintin said...

"See, this is what I mean when I say that Christianity is true b/c of the impossibility of the contrary. Every option that is put forth as a serious alternative is ludicrous. Every counterargument simply further serves to illustrate my point. It's kind of amazing to watch."

But in response to my last post, you agreed that this reassurance afforded by Christianity doesn't actually need to be true, it just feels better. Unfortunately, 'feels better' =/= 'real'. As pointed out by the JN, there's no particular reason the cosmos should be considered anything but indifferent to humans

Rintintin said...

If you have no objection to this, then you can't have any objection to a theocracy which defines the social good according to Christian principles.

The problem with 'Christian principles' though is which brand of Christian principles? If every member of every denomination was on the same page as regards which parts are authoritative, then this approach could potentially succeed.

Except some groups state that eg homosexuality is bad, others say the bible is indifferent to the matter. You would also have to take into account parts that may have been changed or removed from the original, or why decisions were made to include/exclude certain books at various times in history. So it suffers from the same problems of subjectivity as much as any other approach does

Rhology said...

So it suffers from the same problems of subjectivity as much as any other approach does

Um, where is the static text underlying one of these alternatives?

There is none for most of them. Misunderstandings of the text does not mean that it's "subjective" - it means that the person misunderstood it. As opposed to these other approaches; there is no understanding nor misunderstanding since there is nothing to understand/misunderstand.

Rintintin said...

Um, where is the static text underlying one of these alternatives?

there isn't one, and I for one have not tried to claim there is - but at least half my post pointed out that the bible is not a static text(even now, since scholars discuss things such as removing violent passages for example).

In answer to your second point, I'm aware you will bring up the 'perfect computer manual' argument - but in the absence of having direct access to the mind of God or the writers purporting to act on his behalf, there isn't anyway to verify which of our interpretations is exactly correct. Until that situation changes, it's impossible to call any interpretation of the bible completely objective.

Rhology said...

Anyone can see that I've long since defined what I mean by "objective". And your point makes no advance against the perfect computer manual fallacy that you're committing.
No one around here is advocating removing psgs from the Bible, so that's a straight strawman.

Rintintin said...

Anyone can see that I've long since defined what I mean by "objective". And your point makes no advance against the perfect computer manual fallacy that you're committing.

But if the perfect computer manual doesn't actually exist (due to changes and reworkings, loss of original documents, additions/removals/arbitrary exclusions of certain parts throughout the course of history) then how can it be held up as an objective standard?

No one around here is advocating removing psgs from the Bible, so that's a straight strawman.

Ironic, since I said 'scholars discuss' referring to those who work in academic study of the bible (since it would obviously have a bearing on what future generations get to read), so at no point did actually I imply you or any of the other posters, Christian or otherwise, did. I get the impression you just like to throw out phrases like 'strawman' and 'begging the question' purely for the sake of it.

Rintintin said...

And you still haven't explained why although you feel Christianity is reassuring and atheism is not, why this makes Christianity any more likely to be true.

Rhology said...

changes and reworkings, loss of original documents, additions/removals/arbitrary exclusions of certain parts throughout the course of history

You mean so that we don't have more than 99% of the autographs, the originals?
Make the argument.
And even if it were, it would still be functionally an objective standard though it would be wrong. The Koran is an example of that.

why although you feel Christianity is reassuring and atheism is not, why this makes Christianity any more likely to be true.

Strawman. Again.
That hasn't been the point of this post. I'd encourage you to read it over again.

Rintintin said...

You mean so that we don't have more than 99% of the autographs, the originals?
Make the argument.
And even if it were, it would still be functionally an objective standard though it would be wrong. The Koran is an example of that.


So why crow about the benefits of an objective standard if said standard might be wrong?

On the 2nd point, as far as I'm aware none of the original documents of the bible exist as they were written by the original authors (a few Christian sources I checked seemed to agree with this point). If you can provide me with evidence to the contrary I'm open to changing my mind.



Strawman. Again.
That hasn't been the point of this post. I'd encourage you to read it over again.


Once again, ironic and wide of the mark as your last shout of 'strawman' (especially as it's not a strawman 'Again' either) - I never said it was the entire point of the post, but it was something that was brought up in the course of discussion, which you earlier agreed was an accurate observation. I was wondering why you have not expanded on this, especially as I am not the only one to have pointed this out, since by the same thinking I could believe in Santa or the tooth fairy as long as it makes me feel better about the world.

Rintintin said...

edit: sorry, I misread you in that previous post since I realise you didnt say you had 99% of the originals (now that was an actual strawman this time ;-D).

but if those originals don't exist, how do you know the copies we see now are 99% accurate?

Rhology said...

You still don't understand the point of this post. I don't, however, know what else to do than to encourage you to read it again.

None of the originals are known to be extant.
But numerous, thousands, of copies were made. And this is very important - they were distributed far and wide, to hugely divergent parts of the globe, from Ethiopia to Turkey to Spain and all points in between. They were made in many different languages.
Thus we can be sure, thru comparisons over all the diff copies, that they are very close to the originals.

For more info, I refer you, for an easy guide, to McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Verdict.

Best find some other line of argumentation.

jdp said...

Great, I am glad that settles that. I will begin stoning unruly children to death tomorrow!

The Jolly Nihilist said...

I do not see the material distinction that Rhology apparently finds so appealing.

Rhology may say: "If the lens through which one views the world is MY First Principle, then murdering children is morally wrong—universally and objectively. I can declare such behavior morally wrong as a matter of objective fact, given my First Principle’s nature."

I may say: "I find the act of murdering children to be repulsive, hideous, disgusting and wicked. Although I may not lay claim to moral fact or universal ethical truth, I certainly may express my innate, natural revulsion to such barbarity."

Neither statement, in itself, functions as a proper foundation for social restrictions; in a democracy, we are free from the tyranny of the individual. Rhology forgets that society is NOT captive to some random person on the internet's First Principle, or its associated offshoots. In his mind, murdering children indeed might be objectively immoral; yet Rhology’s mind does not overarch the world. He can no more force people to live in conformance with his First Principle than can Osama bin Laden coerce people to live in accordance with his.

First Principles are personal, individual metaphysical foundations. They are not licenses for external coercion.

Anonymous said...

" The point is that the social contract ends up as an attempt to create a system that benefits all individuals in the larger society fairly and equally. "

Fair and equal is again subjective.

Communism is the ultimate attempt to form a social contract where all individuals benefit fairly and equally. Based purely on the criteria of "fair and equal" it did a pretty good job.

"If you want a theocracy, you should spend some time in Iran or Saudi Arabia. I think that would change your mind."

A theocracy is only good if it conforms to your own theology. A democracy is only good if it conforms to your own values too. If I was a Muslim then I'd probably think Saudi Arabia is great.

"It's not how "the powers" decide, and it isn't "their" contract; it's how society shapes and understands its contract."

Even if society is the power, it will always be a "they" because you will never agree with everything "they" do. "They" will always be enforcing their rules on you. If "they" suddenly think that Jews are sub-human scum, and you happen to be a Jew, then tough. (1930s Germany).

"However the critical point of social contract theory here is that the contract isn't frozen - it can and does change over time in response to new developments."

New developments, like a new group-think that Jews should be exterminated for example.

"If a government uses force on its own citizens, then that suggests that the social contract has broken down"

Are you kidding me? What govt. does not enforce its own laws? The contract is no contract unless it is enforced. Otherwise it is back to the anarchy that you do what you do and I do what I do.

" Now all governments rely to some extent on force to prevent and punish infringements of the social contract, but the difference is in how that force is deployed and managed."

What the difference is we eagerly await to find out.

"The problem with a theocracy is that it doesn't have either of those two advantages that I mentioned above in relation to democracy."

A democracy can suddenly decide that Jews must die. But a theocracy is morally bound to thousands of years of wisdom about what is right and wrong.

Which is better depends on the credentials of those thousands of years of wisdom. The latest and greatest thinking isn't always better. Your unproven assumption is that the direction of human morality is ever onward and upward. However it is frequently the other way.

"Personally I wouln't have any objection to living in a theocracy, right up until the point where that theocracy begins to constrain my own moral determination. "

Haven't we already agreed that ALL systems will constrain you?

"You would feel the same, since you have no way of guaranteeing that the "Christian principles" that you hold would be the same as the ones enforced by the theocratic regime."

Since I'm not a "bible only" protestant, but rather I would advocate a partnership between church and state, if my church was that partner then it would somewhat guarantee that they are the same.

Rhology said...

jdp,

stoning unruly children

For your edification, please see this to correct that misunderstanding.


The JN said:
First Principles are personal, individual metaphysical foundations. They are not licenses for external coercion.

Ah, says you, minus an argument.
Thanks for clearing that up! :-)


And I'm liking this Anonymous commenter. We seem to be mostly on the same page, though I don't know what s/he means by "Bible-only" Protestant...

jdp said...

Then why does Jesus uphold the validity of that particular punishment in Matthew 15:4?

Rhology said...

Mat 15:1
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said,
“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.”
He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?
“For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’
“But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is given to God,
“‘he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.
“You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
‘“This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
“‘in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”


Jesus still lived in the land of Israel. Did you read the linked-to article?

jdp said...

Yes, I did.
-Civil laws were applicable to OT Israel...

because...

OT Israel was a theocracy.

Isn't this conversation about creating theocracy just to get the so called objective moral values?

Rhology said...

No.
Theocracy is not the goal here, and that hasn't been mentioned by me here.

The objective moral values DO exist b/c Christianity is true. Everyone has an obligation to obey them. No one does, of course, and so we all need the Savior, Jesus.

However, on atheism, there is no basis for any objective moral values, which has been my point.
So, raping and murdering little girls is only wrong for a person b/c he doesn't like it, not b/c it's Wrong with a capital W.

And, on atheism, there's no point to life. At all. So, why be an atheist? Even if it's true, it doesn't matter. And as an added demerit, you can't say that raping little girls is objectively wrong, and that's just straight up horrible. So, since it doesn't matter, why be an atheist, since that's the horror of it? That's the point of this post. Not whether either is true, rather whether either is livable. It's a bit of a different angle than I've been recently taking, but each post is its own entity unless I tie it to a previous one.

Rintintin said...

And, on atheism, there's no point to life. At all. So, why be an atheist? Even if it's true, it doesn't matter. And as an added demerit, you can't say that raping little girls is objectively wrong, and that's just straight up horrible. So, since it doesn't matter, why be an atheist, since that's the horror of it? That's the point of this post. Not whether either is true, rather whether either is livable. It's a bit of a different angle than I've been recently taking, but each post is its own entity unless I tie it to a previous one.

Your complaint seems to be with the universe not being 'fair' in some way if atheism is true - but whether the universe is indifferent and we like it or not, we are here and have to deal with it.

This was why I brought it up before - not that I didn't get your overall point about 'livability' or consistency of belief and worldview basis etc, but what difference being consistent with a belief makes if the belief isn't true in the first place? After all, the moral statements of 1.1bn Muslims are consistent with their worldview, but you'd still say it's based on a fantasy just like I would for both Islam and Christianity. It just becomes as equally pointless as you regard atheism, nothing more than a mental/emotional comfort blanket.

Rhology said...

Well, since in Islam moral and theological statements are inseparable, their moral statements are NOT consistent, since their theology is internally incoherent in various ways.

Paul C said...

I've just noticed something in Rhology's answers which I'd like to clarify:

So, raping and murdering little girls is only wrong for a person b/c he doesn't like it, not b/c it's Wrong with a capital W.

Why does that scare you so much?

And, on atheism, there's no point to life. At all.

Why does that scare you so much?

And as an added demerit, you can't say that raping little girls is objectively wrong, and that's just straight up horrible.

Why does that scare you so much?

I guess the source of all your attacks on atheism is fear, isn't it? Not fear of atheism, obviously - that would be silly - but fear of the world. Why do all these things scare you so much?

davidbmclaughlin.com said...

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Anonymous said...

"though I don't know what s/he means by "Bible-only" Protestant"

What I mean is that because I'm prepared to ascribe some real authority to the church (my church that is), I would trust it to some extent to make a partnership with the state if there were a theocracy to put in place a theologically correct set of moral guidelines.

G-man said...

"However, on atheism, there is no basis for any objective moral values, which has been my point."

I'm going to repeat myself until you understand or make a proper response, Rho.

Me: "There are plenty of theories of morality that are both objective and - possibly - atheistic. Utilitarianism is a good example."

Me: "There are at least several ethical theories compatible with atheism that would make the same claim [that X is wrong for everyone at all times, everywhere, under any circumstances]."

"And, on atheism, there's no point to life. At all."

You've said a lot of stupid things Rho, but this one's a zinger. If I live to eat ice cream, you may not think there's a point to my life, but there sure as hell is. You just don't see the point.

Here's the gist of my response: Let's assume there are two *reasons* for *choosing* your worldview, as you seem to be claiming. One is whether it causes you to believe and/or act on moral principles, and the other is whether it lends purpose to your life.

Atheism does lend purpose to life. It's the perspective that counts here - whether I perceive that my life is given purpose by another (which seems to be your definition of *having purpose*) or not, as long as I believe my life has a point, your argument is weak.

And as for the second, just because you believe it is objectively wrong to rape/murder children does not make it true. Therefore, you simply believe it is wrong to do so. And, as long as an atheist believes the same thing, neither you nor he is in a better position... so far as your argument goes.

And neither atheists nor theists act better than the other. So your point is completely pointless, and is a waste of space. That's my counter-point. If this was a thought experiment, I'd recommend revising your thesis.

John Morales said...

G-Man, I think Rhology refers to teleological meaning in his quaverings.

I think his mind shirks from the concept the Universe may just be, rather than being a means to a goal.

Rhology said...

G-man,

Yes, I know you've told me that there is an objective moral system that is also atheistic. Telling me is not the same thing as your statement being correct.
Besides, I've been saying all along that such a system would lack an objective BASIS. DU has no such objective basis.

If I live to eat ice cream, you may not think there's a point to my life, but there sure as hell is.

And that point comes from you?
1) Thus it doesn't come from atheism. Atheism supports no such assigning of value; you're doing that separately from your worldview.
2) You're thus borrowing from a theistic worldview - you apparently see the need for a purpose in life (b/c you emotionally defended your own ability/prerogative to set such a purpose for yourself), but atheis***M*** provides no justification for wanting that nor a way to find such a thing.
3) If you think your point in life is to eat ice cream, use all the "sure as hell"s you want, that's not livable. Best of luck.

The point here ties in with that of the post - atheism has a very, very significant character flaw here and eviscerates any livability in terms of the human condition to cry out for something greater than oneself. Why be an atheist?

Atheism does lend purpose to life.

You're undesigned, a small speck on a small speck, uncared about, can't tell me whether it's wrong or not to rape a little girl beyond a statement that you could use to describe your taste for ice cream, are an animal (as is a cockroach), and are going to die soon and become dust. But there's purpose in atheism?

just because you believe it is objectively wrong to rape/murder children does not make it true

I couldn't have said it any better myself.
So... is it true? How do you know?


And neither atheists nor theists act better than the other.

A debatable point that I don't grant, but it's beside the point here.

Peace,
Rhology

Paul C said...

anonymous on theocracy:

Fair and equal is again subjective.

Yes; but the principle is universal.

Communism is the ultimate attempt to form a social contract where all individuals benefit fairly and equally. Based purely on the criteria of "fair and equal" it did a pretty good job.

No it didn't; and the failure of communism merely shows that explicit attempts to re-create the social contract don't work.

A theocracy is only good if it conforms to your own theology. A democracy is only good if it conforms to your own values too.

The advantage of a secular democracy is that it can include everybody's values, as long as putting those values into practice don't conflict with other people putting their own values into practice.

Even if society is the power, it will always be a "they" because you will never agree with everything "they" do... If "they" suddenly think that Jews are sub-human scum, and you happen to be a Jew, then tough.

You're merely saying that power relations in society are unequal, which is hardly a great insight. The question is, which form of governance provides the most security for everybody who lives under it.

What govt. does not enforce its own laws?

All of them, which is why I said "all governments rely to some extent on force"; perhaps you missed that part.

What the difference is we eagerly await to find out.

Instead of waiting to find out, you can read a book or two. The difference between Stalin's Russia and Roosevelt's America, for example, should provide a starting point.

A democracy can suddenly decide that Jews must die. But a theocracy is morally bound to thousands of years of wisdom about what is right and wrong.

First, it wasn't a "sudden" decision to kill all the Jews, it was the result of thousands of years of wisdom - the Jews had been scapegoats for quite a long time prior to the Holocaust. Second, it wasn't a "democratic" decision to kill all the Jews; the series of decisions which lead up to it happened as Germany became progressively less democratic, and by the time of the Final Solution, Germany had ceased to function as a democracy entirely. Third, I don't think you'll find any theocracy - ancient or modern - which provides much evidence to support the hypothesis that theocracy would fare any better.

Your unproven assumption is that the direction of human morality is ever onward and upward. However it is frequently the other way.

I don't make any such assumption, since I don't believe that there is a "direction" to human morality. The terms "forward" and "backward are meaningless; all I can say is that certain developments contribute more or less to a society that I would be more or less happy to live in.

Haven't we already agreed that ALL systems will constrain you?

Yes, but they constrain to different extents; the question is, which system will offer me the most freedom to practice my values.

Since I'm not a "bible only" protestant, but rather I would advocate a partnership between church and state, if my church was that partner then it would somewhat guarantee that they are the same.

That's wonderful for you; however the millions of people who don't share your particular "Christian principles" would be out of luck. What I am asking you to consider is that you could be one of those millions, rather than a member of the chosen few whose particular religious inclination is the one that tells everybody else how to live their lives. In such a position, I'm fairly certain that you would not be so keen on a theocracy.

Paul C said...

Anyway, let's not talk about theocracy any more. I'm still more interested to find out why Rhology is so scared by the prospect of life having no intrinsic meaning. Rhology?

Rhology said...

Don't know what else to say on that, to be honest.

Rintintin said...

Couple of points I noticed:

You're mostly right; the answer to Euthy is that that which is good is that which corresponds to God's nature.
There's no speaking of an eternal unchanging God like you have done. "Could have been" does not compute - God is the way He is and cannot nor "could" not be otherwise.


In which case God is not the Christian god since he is not omnipotent if he is only capable of good. To be omnipotent he has to be capable of evil whether he acts out on that ability or not.

The objective moral values DO exist b/c Christianity is true. Everyone has an obligation to obey them. No one does, of course, and so we all need the Savior, Jesus.

So if noone obeys them, why not just say 'do whatever you like as long as you believe in Jesus'? Why bother having any rules at all? I mean you had a post a while back that seemed to suggest Jeffrey Dahmer's conversion (if it was sincere) made him more likely to gain God's favour than an atheist who didn't kill and eat people.

Rhology said...

No one's claiming that the Christian God is capable of sinning. Obviously things that are against His nature are not possible for Him.
Omnipotence - ability to do all possible things. Can God cease to exist? Become the Devil? Cease to be infinite? Be illogical? No. These things are linguistically possible; ie, it's possible to SAY them, quite another to do them.

So if noone obeys them, why not just say 'do whatever you like as long as you believe in Jesus'?

False dilemma.
Everyone obeys SOME of them and everyone disobeys some of them.
We are commanded to grow in holiness, and one of the principal signs of our having been born again is a desire to be like Him, to be less sinful.

I mean you had a post a while back that seemed to suggest Jeffrey Dahmer's conversion (if it was sincere) made him more likely to gain God's favour than an atheist who didn't kill and eat people.

Not merely more likely, 100% certain. IF it was genuine.
That is b/c everyone is a sinner and everyone needs a Savior. You are just as hellbound as Dahmer was, only he apparently realised it and asked God for mercy, in repentance. One could only wish his softness of heart for you.

Peace,
Rhology

Rintintin said...

No one's claiming that the Christian God is capable of sinning. Obviously things that are against His nature are not possible for Him.
Omnipotence - ability to do all possible things. Can God cease to exist? Become the Devil? Cease to be infinite? Be illogical? No. These things are linguistically possible; ie, it's possible to SAY them, quite another to do them.


Your God may not be capable of evil, but why should a supreme creator need to be good, or not possess the ability for evil? There's nothing that breaks any logic or anything like that says a deity would have to only be 'nice'. So since there could potentially be a more powerful deity than yours, your god still isn't omnipotent.

Also, how can something that is by definition unnatural have a nature?

Rhology said...

why should a supreme creator need to be good, or not possess the ability for evil?

That could be explored, but it's irrelevant. The God Who is isn't like that.

that says a deity would have to only be 'nice'.

Saying sthg like that makes me doubt you're either disposed to or capable of a serious exploration thereof. What does "'nice'" have to do with your previous question?

since there could potentially be a more powerful deity than yours, your god still isn't omnipotent.

In what way could there be a potentially more powerful deity?

And no one is claiming God is UNnatural. Rather, supernatural.
And in asking that question you confuse the various meanings of the word "nature".

Peace,
Rhology

Rhology said...

Oh yeah, and nobody is claiming God isn't "capable of doing evil". Rather, we deny that He IS evil.

Paul C said...

Oh yeah, and nobody is claiming God isn't "capable of doing evil". Rather, we deny that He IS evil.

Of course, if your god was in fact evil, it would have a clear interest in fooling you into thinking it was good - and according to you, you'd have no way of knowing the difference.

Rhology said...

Thing is, though, the Christian worldview is true. And God is not evil. He is not like that. He is good; He has told us.
If He's evil, then you have all sorts of philosophical problems.
Plus, this is coming at the question from an allegedly neutral position, which is impossible.

Rhology said...

And of course, even if God is evil and is lying, atheism is still false. Let's keep our eye on the ball here - I'm poking (large and gaping) holes in atheism here, not trying to prove Christianity so much.

Rintintin said...

Thing is, though, the Christian worldview is true.
And God is not evil. He is not like that. He is good; He has told us.

I think that was Paul's point - if God is evil, what would be a great way to be malicious? By telling you he's good. There would be no way of knowing the difference (if your God is capable of evil) whether he was actually being good or being evil and fooling you into thinking he was good.

Simply saying 'god must be good because he says so' doesn't refute Paul's point.

I'm poking (large and gaping) holes in atheism here, not trying to prove Christianity so much.

I'd say the above conundrum that Paul highlighted is as much a problem for your worldview as the supposedly gaping holes in atheism.

Rintintin said...

Oh on another note - I picked up a copy of Henry Gee's book now, I'm about halfway through it - I'll let you know what I thought when I finish it!

Rhology said...

Ah, good deal! I'll be interested in your thoughts.
Hey, if you want to write a review, maybe we can figure out a way to post them, either in a combox or a blogpost. Depends on how much I like the review. ;-)

Paul C said...

Thing is, though, the Christian worldview is true. And God is not evil. He is not like that. He is good; He has told us.

Well, he would say that, wouldn't he? It will make your despair and anguish so much greater when you discover that he's been lying to you. He gives you a little bit of respite from the pain and fear of this world - a little bit of hope for a better world to come - solely in order to make your descent into horror even more painful. He pretends to be a caring father to humanity in order to destroy you utterly when he reveals his true nature.

And by your own admission, you have no way of knowing if this is the case.

And of course, even if God is evil and is lying, atheism is still false. Let's keep our eye on the ball here - I'm poking (large and gaping) holes in atheism here, not trying to prove Christianity so much.

Well, you haven't poked any holes in atheism as far as anybody else can see. Atheism only claims that your religious beliefs are false; so any evidence that your religious beliefs are false are evidence that supports atheism.

tergiversant said...

"Somehow objective" ???

If morality exists only in the mind of a god, how is it any less subjective than if it exists in "other minds" that are not gods? I don't think ethics can be considered genuinely universal and objective just because they are in a cosmic supermind - unless of course might makes right.

Rhology said...

1) Here's what I mean by 'objective' in this case.
2) It's not just that it exists in a mind. It exists in GOD's mind and His nature. That which is good is that which corresponds to His nature.
3) Which is impossible to say about any human-centered morality, since there are 6 billion + humans out there. Whose do we accept and why? No one's? Not objective at all!
4) It is the very nature of morality to be based on authority. We're talking about what is PREscriptive (what OUGHT to be), not DEscriptive (what IS).
What ought to be? Who says?
On atheism, you say, and I possibly say differently.
On Christianity, the One True Creator God says.
It's might makes right all the way around, but on atheism it's a fellow human who either attempts or doesn't attempt to rule over your viewpoint. On Christianity, it's GOOD, RIGHTEOUS power that is the might in charge.

Rintintin said...

2) It's not just that it exists in a mind. It exists in GOD's mind and His nature. That which is good is that which corresponds to His nature.

You still haven't addressed Paul's point on this, until you do God's 'objective morality' is fairly meaningless since it could be good or evil, with (as yet) no way to differentiate.

Simply saying it's good because it comes from God or because God says so doesn't explain it away - how do we tell if it is actually good or evil pretending to be good if he is capable of evil?

Rhology said...

1) That's not the Christian worldview. He is not evil; He is good.

2) If He were evil, would He give good things to His creation?

3) Would He create at all?

4) How would you define "good" if God were evil?

5) Atheism is still a 100% non-viable option if this is true.

Paul C said...

1) That's not the Christian worldview. He is not evil; He is good.

Of course, that's exactly what he wants you to think! It increases your suffering even more if you believe God is good, but still experience suffering - it's a form of psychological torture, forcing you to twist your mind into unbearable contortions of logic that do nothing to ease your suffering. And when you find out the truth about his evil nature, imagine how much despair you'll experience, knowing that you've wasted your life and that all your suffering was for nothing.

2) If He were evil, would He give good things to His creation?

Yes, in order to make our suffering greater. By giving us brief moments of joy, he makes the unremitting misery of life more acute; by giving us brief moments of hope, he ensures that our plunge into despair is that much deeper. His greatest trick has been persuading us that he is in fact good, and all our suffering will be eased in the next life if we believe his word. (In fact, the next life is an even more atrocious and miserable existence with even less moments of joy and hope.)

3) Would He create at all?

Yes, because humans have an infinite capacity for suffering, and he enjoys making us suffer.

4) How would you define "good" if God were evil?

Subjectively, which is exactly the same way we would define "good" if God were good or if God did not exist.

5) Atheism is still a 100% non-viable option if this is true.

Atheism is clearly a viable option since you still haven't presented any evidence for the existence of God, on which your entire argument is based. What you mean is that you're scared if there is no objective morality.

Rhology said...

Rhology said:
Atheism is still a 100% non-viable option if this is true.
Paul C then said:
Atheism is clearly a viable option...


Um, remember how I said "If this is true"? The "this" is "evil God exists".
Think, man. Think.

Paul C said...

Accepted, since obviously I didn't read carefully enough; however it doesn't help you escape the horror of your evil God.

Rhology said...

You've been answered, Paul C.