Author Topic: Timo & MathIsCool discuss Morality  (Read 1810 times)

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Offline screwtape

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Timo & MathIsCool discuss Morality
« on: July 23, 2011, 04:39:32 PM »
The floor is open for MathIsCool or Timo.  If you are not MathIsCool or Timo, then you are not a participant and may not post here.  You may, however, post in the Discussion thread.
« Last Edit: July 23, 2011, 04:42:53 PM by screwtape »
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Offline Timo

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Re: Timo & MathIsCool discuss Morality
« Reply #1 on: July 25, 2011, 11:32:34 AM »
Mr. Math, I'll let you start it off.  Oh, and I forgot to say that with respect to how long this discussion should go or how many replies there should be, it's up to you.  I don't really have a preference.  As long as the discussion is productive, I'll be happy to participate.


Peace
pero ya tu sabes...

Offline MathIsCool

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Re: Timo & MathIsCool discuss Morality
« Reply #2 on: July 26, 2011, 06:43:23 PM »
I guess I'll get this ball rolling then.

Timo, thanks for agreeing to discuss this subject with me.  It's one of my favorite. :)

In the debate challenges thread, Timo said he's going to defend the idea that morality doesn't have to be based on God.
My only contention will be that there's no reason to think that a moral system can only be based on God.

I'm going to be defending the idea that morality must be based on God for it to be anything resembling what we normally think of as morality.  Because I'm a Christian, I'll further be maintaining that it is the Christian God alone that supplies the basis of morality, not some fuzzy deity that nobody knows about, or some amoral Zeus who's only morality seems to be get as many mortals pregnant as possible.  Note, however, what I'm not saying: I'm not saying a belief in the Christian God is necessary for morality, and certainly not my own particular flavor or denomination or style of worship or what have you.  Think of it this way: I'm maintaining that gravity is the driving force behind things falling down.  I'm not maintaining that you have to believe in gravity to observe stuff falling down, (or to fall down yourself) and certainly not maintaining that the gravitational constant must always be denoted by a big G.  I am maintaining that, just as gravity is the reason behind our observation that stuff tends to fall down, God is the reason behind our observation that there's this thing called morality that we all recognize.  To do this, I'll break my argument up into two simpler statements:

  • If God exists, morality exists
  • If God does not exist, morality does not exist

I think it should be clear how statements 1 and 2 both being 'true' resolve to the statement 'morality exists iff[1] God exists', and if that statement is true, we can say we've successfully grounded morality on God.  Fair enough?

First,
If God exists, morality exists[2]

Note the first part of that statement says "IF God exists."  In other words, in this part of the discussion I will simply assume the Christian God exists, complete with the descriptions we find about Him in the Bible.  Let me reiterate: for the sake of argument, the Christian God, the Christian worldview, and the inerrancy of scripture has just poofted into existence.  In this section anyways, I'm right, and all the atheists on this board are wrong. :)  We've axiomatically introduced the Christian God and now we're going to see what follows.

IF the Christian God exists, then one thing we can say is that a standard for morality definitely exists in God's own nature.  Not only is the Christian God the source of everything that is good, but goodness cannot be separated from Him.  Consider Psalm 16:2, "Thou art my Lord; I have no good besides Thee" or 1 Peter 1:16 "Be ye holy, God said, for I am holy" or James 1:17, "Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow."  Remember - we're using scripture here because we've assumed the Christian worldview for this section.  All we're trying to show is that the statement "If God exists, then morality also exists" is true. 

Think of it this way.  If the Christian God exists, then we can say something is right or wrong independently of whether or not anyone believes it to be wrong.  The Nazi's antisemitism was really wrong, for example, the same way the statement "1 + 1 = 3" is really wrong.  William Lane Craig has made this argument before:

Quote from: William Lane Craig @ http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5344
On the theistic view, objective moral values are rooted in God.  God’s own holy and perfectly good nature supplies the absolute standard against which all actions and decisions are measured.  God’s moral nature is what Plato called the “Good.”  He is the locus and source of moral value.  He is by nature loving, generous, just, faithful, kind, and so forth.

Moreover, God’s moral nature is expressed in relation to us in the form of divine commands which constitute our moral duties or obligations.  Far from being arbitrary, these commands flow necessarily from His moral nature.  In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, the whole moral duty of man can be summed up in the two great commandments:  First, you shall love the Lord your God with all your strength and with all your soul and with all your heart and with all your mind, and, second, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On this foundation we can affirm the objective goodness and rightness of love, generosity, self-sacrifice, and equality, and condemn as objectively evil and wrong selfishness, hatred, abuse, discrimination, and oppression.

In other words, If God exists, there also exists a standard for calling good things good and bad things bad.  His nature, that is, the very way he exists, supplies that standard by which we judge if something is good.

To conclude this section, let me anticipate some common objections and show how they all miss this point:

1. Sure, we can assume God exists.  However, who's to say we ought follow His (or Her, or Its) commands?  What if God is evil?  What if God is simply ambivalent?
Note that we did not introduce some fuzzy deity.  We (axiomatically) introduced the Christian God, who is by definition good (indeed, the source of all good things.)  THIS God is good, and thus we are legitimately obligated to follow his commands.

2. No fair!  What's to stop me from axiomatically introducing my own definitionally good entity, called "Timo," and saying everyone must follow my moral dictates?
There are really two answers here:
a) Once you do this and get 2 billion followers, become the world's largest religion and the world's fastest growing religion simultaneously, let me know.  Once you introduce science and medicine and the idea of a university, abolish slavery, figure out limited constitutional  government... I might start to take your word that your word is in fact divine revelation.  This Jesus of Nazareth fellow, real or not, demonic liar, insane lunatic, or the risen Lord - you have to admit that he seems to have had an effect on our world.  Therefore, you have to take his word of divine revelation seriously.  This isn't just semantic games, this is real life we're talking about.
b) It's totally plausible for a Christian to invoke God as the ultimate "stopping point" for morality.  Let me bring in Dr. Craig one more time:
Quote from: William Lane Craig
I think that what this objection is really getting at is the claim that it's somehow arbitrary to adopt God’s nature as the Good. But every moral realist theory has to have an explanatory stopping point at which one reaches the ultimate good. Anyone who broaches a moral theory is entitled to identify whatever he wants as his ultimate explanatory stopping point. The question, then, will be, is the explanatory ultimate posited by some moral theory plausible? In the case of theism, taking God to be one’s explanatory ultimate is, I think, eminently plausible. For the very concept of God is the concept of a necessary, metaphysically ultimate being, one, moreover, that is worthy of worship. Indeed, He is the greatest conceivable being, and it is greater to be the Good than merely to reflect it. So the theist's stopping point, in contrast to, say, the humanist's, is not at all arbitrary or premature.
Got that?  God is a metaphysically ultimate being so it is not strange or arbitrary at all to invoke Him as the root of all morality.  You (or whatever other non-God thing you axiomatically introduce to be the ultimate good) are definitely not metaphysically ultimate, so it is quite easy to show how this would be a premature and arbitrary stopping point.

3. Wait a sec... the argument you're presenting here would work for any deity.  Who's to say you're wrong and the flying spaghetti monster isn't the real deity?
For part of this I can go back to the answer I gave for objection 2 - if the devotees of the flying spaghetti monster starts affecting the world the same way Christianity has, it would be a credible objection.  I could also point out that you're not a worshipper of the FSM, or of Allah, or of Zeus - you're an atheist, and we ought remember this debate/discussion is between Christianity and Atheism, not Christianity vs. the world.
Ultimately, though, this is a valid point - my argument works for any monotheistic religion which can justfiably claim it's deity to be metaphysically ultimate and good.[3]  Christianity's uniqueness ultimately comes down to it's recognition of Jesus Christ as promised messiah of the world, not as the world's only monotheistic religion.  Note, too, that raising this objection essentially concedes any point you can make about there not being a God - all that would be left at that point is to figure out what of the worlds monothesitc Gods actually does exist.

Second,
If God does not exist, morality does not exist
As a mirror image to the note above, we'll assume in this section for the sake of argument that God does not exist.  I've been wrong this whole time and you guys are all right (congratulations!)  In this world, all we are is bags of atoms banging around, doing what atoms do at this temperature.  Of all the moral foundations proposed by secularists, whenever one "peeks behind the curtains" to see what's holding the system up, one finds nothing.  As you yourself said in the thread that started this discussion:

Still, I think that I would a bit farther than you and argue that there is no logical reason to believe God's Laws are correct.  Likewise, I don't think that there's any logical reason to think that maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain should be the basis for morality.  And I don't think that there's any reason to think of stepping back behind John Rawls' veil of ignorance is anything more than a thought experiment.  None of these things are an obvious place to start building a moral system.
Exactly!  You bring up 3 excellent points:

1. There's no logical reason to think God's laws are correct.
Absolutely.  If God doesn't exist, the stuff we find in the Bible is just chicken scratch by desert goat herders.  If He does, I hope the section above has shown how his laws actually are valid.
2. There's no logical reason to think maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain should be the basis for morality.
Yep.  What is pain and pleasure but nerve impulses felt by the aforementioned bags of atoms?  What on earth are those to be authoritative?
3. There's no logical reason to think stepping back behind John Rawls' veil of ignorance is anything more than a thought experiment.
Absolutely.  The Rawlsian might start to tell me to step behind this veil of ignorance, but I want to know why I ought do so!  Why can't I just say "I don't want to" and move on? 

Of course, all three of those starting points do lead to some approximation of good morality - no argument there.  Lots of other morality frameworks that have been proposed do so as well - an adherence to the golden rule and the silver rule are two others not on your list, as well as an appeal to human empathy that one finds on this board fairly frequently.  But that's not the point.  Once one assumes the atheistic hypothesis, so far as I can tell one loses any and all basis for such laws having any authoritative weight behind them.  Why must I step behind the veil of ignorance?  Because you said so?  Why ought we maximize pleasure and minimize pain?  Why ought we do unto others as we would have them do unto us?  You get the idea.

Under atheism, the very most we can say of morality is it some sort of herd instinct evolved by homo sapiens to further the species.  Ultimately though, this fails to be anything we might recognize as morality.  Consider: the human race will be extinguished, either with the next nuclear war, or when the sun nova's, or we might last as long as the eventual heat death of the universe.  If our morality is some instinct to preserve our species, it is an endeavor that is doomed to failure.  Thus, we cannot condemn war, oppression, or crime - the human race will perish, no matter how good or evil you act. 

More simply, under the assumption that morality is merely a collection of evolved societal instincts, the rapist is doing nothing more serious than exhibiting a preference for a different set of instincts (sex) then we wish he would (empathy.)  The thief is exhibiting a preference for the instinct to acquire material wealth over and above that of empathy, but there's nothing really wrong with that.  They're both evolved instincts designed to further the species.  Society as a whole may prefer empathy to rape or murder of theft, but so what?  What's so great about my evolved instincts to feel empathy to further society that it should be obeyed over and above my evolved instinct to take that guy's TV?

Basically, under atheism, we are nothing more than the accidental byproducts of a universe that happens to have evolved a self-aware[4] blip on one of the planets on the edge of some random galaxy.  We are, cosmically speaking, nothing.  Certainly anything or anyone that tries to say one ought do this or that is instantly suspicious - there is absolutely no ultimate reason to think accidental self-aware universe byproducts have any value that we should recognize, or any duties that we ought follow.  But this flies in the face of anything we might call morality.  Without God as an anchor for morality, there would be no reason to obey any moral duty or recognize any ethical value on one's fellow humans.

Finally,
Some conclusions
Let me be brief here.  If you want to maintain that morality does not have to be grounded on God, you must show how either statement (1) or (2) above is false.  If they are both true, it is logically trivial to show how morality can only be grounded on God.

Looking forward to your response,

-MiC
 1. if and only if
 2. This must be true, cause it's in 16 point font :)
 3. Though the argument does work, note that it doesn't prove much.  The world has 3 major monotheistic faiths, and two of them (Judaism and Christianity) worship the same God.  With Islam, I contend that the Allah of the Quran is demonstrably less than ultimate - whereas the God of the Bible swears by himself when He makes a covenant, Allah swears by created things.  Compare Hebrews 6:13, 6:16, Isaiah 45:23, Jeremiah 22:5 with Allah swearing by the Quran: (44:2, 50:1) the wind(51:1) the Mountain(52:1), Stars(53:1, 56:75), the moon(74:32), the heavens(86:1) etc. etc.  Were he an ultimate God, he wouldn't swear by these things.  Thus, even if Allah were real, we can show that he is not the ultimate standard by which goodness can be judged, because he does not claim to be so.
 4. and one could really argue if we count as self aware or not
Why not name the website ... "whywontGodallowlaserstoshootoutofmyeyespewpewpew.com"

 - Expurgate, here

Offline Timo

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Re: Timo & MathIsCool discuss Morality
« Reply #3 on: July 28, 2011, 03:02:56 PM »
With respect to your first point, I think that I can pretty comfortably concede it for the most part.  I mean, if I get you then all you've really argued is that if your version of Christian theism is true then your version of Christian morality is true too.  I'm not sure what this is supposed to accomplish.  Still, there are some places along the way where I think your argumentation is lacking.  And there are places where I think you need to reexamine your thinking.  Let me start with your contention that assuming a Christian view is more reasonable than assuming a hypothetical Timoteoism[1].  To begin with:

Once you do this and get 2 billion followers, become the world's largest religion and the world's fastest growing religion simultaneously, let me know.

Christianity itself was once the religion of a very small minority of people.  Would an appeal to the Christian god have been any less appropriate at such a point in time than it is now?  And will an appeal to the Christian god become less appropriate if in the future Christianity is eclipsed by Islam[2] or even non belief?  You see where I'm going?  Popularity is not really any sort of indication of the plausibility of a given worldview.  But you knew that.  Also:

Once you introduce science and medicine and the idea of a university, abolish slavery, figure out limited constitutional  government... I might start to take your word that your word is in fact divine revelation.

There's a kernel of truth in what you are claiming.  Modern science, for example, did indeed emerge in decidedly Christian cultures.  And some of the greatest scientists ever, such as the unimaginably brilliant Sir Isaac Newton, were indeed devout Christians.  However, claiming that this is true is not the same thing as claiming that Christianity itself is somehow responsible for science.  And that claim really doesn't hold up to much scrutiny.  Christianity had just about completely taken hold of Europe centuries before anyone dates the beginning of the scientific revolution, and it had been the state religion of the Roman Empire for over a thousand years by that time.  It seems to me that a straight, causal relationship fails to account for the considerable gap between the introduction, institution and subsequent popularization of Christianity in Europe and the birth of modern science therein.[3]  You have the same problem with respect to your other examples.

I should also say that I find your use of abolition to be particularly egregious.  Christians did indeed end slavery as an acceptable institution in the West but not before establishing perhaps the most barbaric and grotesque version of slavery the world has ever seen--African chattel slavery--and maintaining it for centuries.  Its proponents even employed Bible based arguments in defending it.[4]  Furthermore, even after abolition white Christians here in the US used terrorism and more often the full force of the law to ensure that Blacks remained second class citizens--in fact, there were policies put in place that aimed to effectively reinstitute slave labor by filling Southern jails with Blacks (often on flimsy or worse, nonexistent evidence).  These same sorts of courtesies, impromptu terrorism and lawful and rampant de jure discrimination, have also been applied by Christians to other minorities over the years.

In any case, I think that it's easier to explain the dominance of Christianity if you understand that it wasn't as if the religion simply took hold of Europe by virtue of the sheer force of the message of Christ any more than the way in which Islam came to dominate the MIddle East, and significant portions of Africa and Asia is explained by the sheer force of the sayings and writings of the Prophet.  There were obviously other significant factors at play, many of whom came wielding swords and guns.  So no, I don't think that there are any good reasons to believe that it's more acceptable to assume the entirety of your particular brand of Christianity over Timoteoism or any other worldview or moral philosophy that hasn't had the same amount of military success as Christianity.

With respect to your view itself, I think that you have a big problem with the way in which you define God's nature as being not only good but the very standard for goodness.  I think that attempting to define good in this way actually ends up painting an odd picture of what it means to be good.  After all, while Bill Craig is right in claiming that the Bible (often) depicts God as "loving, generous, just, faithful, kind, and so forth,"  he seems to be neglecting the fact that the Bible also sometimes depicts Him as vengeful (Deuteronomy 28:25-45), bigoted (Leviticus 18:22), jealous (Exodus 34:14), petty (2 Kings 2:23-24) and sometimes even genocidal (Numbers 25:17).  In addition, Craig is wrong in claiming that the Judeo-Christian tradition establishes a foundation that allows us to "condemn as objectively evil and wrong selfishness, hatred, abuse, discrimination, and oppression."  The aforementioned verse from Leviticus, for example, condemns homosexuality as abhorrent.  And another verse (Leviticus 20:13) sets death as an appropriate punishment for two men engaging in homosexual sex.  This is hateful, abusive, discriminatory and fundamentally oppressive if these terms are to have any meaning. 

Thus, when we look at the totality of the picture of God that the Bible paints, without trying to smooth over the rough edges as you, Craig and other apologists would like to do, it becomes clear that using the acts and laws of the Biblical god as our standard of goodness introduces a vision of "goodness" that is mostly foreign to us.  Gay bashing is not something most of us would consider to be good.  Ethnic cleansing is not something most of us would consider to be good.  And killing children for making fun of a bald man is certainly not something that most of us would consider to be good.  And so it seems to me that if we're defining God's nature as good, we're defining goodness in a way that few if any of us actually understand the term. 

Now, with respect to your second point, I think you misunderstood what I was trying to say, which is that when we talk about any moral system we need to start from somewhere, and that this somewhere is not the sort of place that's logically obvious.  Whether we are appealing to a god's nature or to the notion that we should try to maximize the flourishing of sentient beings or whatever it is that Sam Harris is defending these days, we need to make some kind of assumption before we can proceed.  Every moral system, even yours, requires that sort of axiom or as Craig called it a "stopping point" upon which to build.

Christianity is no exception.  While I suppose, going back to point one, that if we assume the entirety of your particular brand of Christianity, it's true that your particular brand of Christian morality follows pretty smoothly from it.  Still, I think if you're allowed this basket of axioms then everyone else is entitled to theirs.  One could just as easily "prove" the plausibility of humanism by assuming the entirety of humanism is true, including its appeal to maximizing human well being or whatever as the standard of good.  This would, of course render your second point false--morality can exist without god if we assume the entirety of humanism or utilitarianism or whatever moral system you like.

Still, I am not sure think that I am comfortable assuming entire moralities.  Rather, I would prefer a more piecemeal approach.  For example you wrote:

1. There's no logical reason to think God's laws are correct.
Absolutely.  If God doesn't exist, the stuff we find in the Bible is just chicken scratch by desert goat herders.  If He does, I hope the section above has shown how his laws actually are valid.

I think that even if we assume that God exists and is responsible for the Law, it's still not all that clear why we should follow God's Law unless we make the additional assumption that we should follow God's Law.  My point here is that any moral system is going to require this sort of basic assumption.  I don't think that makes a morality "anemic" as you said in another thread.  It just makes answering moral questions a bit more different than saying "the Bible said it.  I believe it.  That settles it." 

Also, I think that we are working with some different assumptions that I'd like to take some time to deal with.

Under atheism, the very most we can say of morality is it some sort of herd instinct evolved by homo sapiens to further the species.

I don't think that I would agree that the moral intuitions instilled in us by evolution constitute any really genuine kind of morality for much the same reason that I think that the claim that these intuitions are the results of God's Law having been written on our very hearts is absurd.  Our moral intuitions are, I believe, a bit more base than something you might call a "good morality" or the laws of a good god.  They encourage us to, among other things, think of people as belonging to favored in groups and feared and/or hated out groups.  And we can see this at work not only in large scale examples like genocide and institutional racism, but even on a more small scale with ethnic tensions and violence at the neighborhood level.  This makes a kind of sense if we recognize that we used to live in small groups that were often at war with each other and almost always competing for resources.  These intuitions make less sense if their purpose is to guide us even to a time and place where many of us live in large, heterogeneous societies.  In much the same way, the manner in which our bodies burn and store calories makes a lot of sense if food is sometimes scarce but makes a bit less sense for someone like me that can walk down the block to the carneceria any day of the week.  It would seem, as Ray Kurzweil likes to say, that we're running "outdated software" genetically.

And really, the claim that morality is what we feel instinctively is yet another one of those axioms that underlies a potential moral system rather than a moral system unto itself, let alone some default atheist position with respect to morality.  And this goes to a problem that I tend to have with Christians in these kinds of discussions.  There isn't much content to atheism itself.  It is indeed a rejection of theism and generally (but not even necessarily) a rejection theistic moral systems to be sure, but how an atheist chooses to define morality is really up to that atheist.  And not surprisingly, we don't all agree on the topic.

And here I'm not exactly sure what you mean:

Once one assumes the atheistic hypothesis, so far as I can tell one loses any and all basis for such laws having any authoritative weight behind them.

What do you mean by authoritative weight?  Same kind of question here:

Without God as an anchor for morality, there would be no reason to obey any moral duty or recognize any ethical value on one's fellow humans.

What do you mean by reason to obey or duty?  Or better, on theism,  would we still have a reason to obey or a real moral duty or whatever if God chose not to punish or reward anyone for their behavior?

To summarize, I don't think you've made much of a case here.  With respect to point one, I think I can mostly agree with you.  If one assumes that the Christian god, a good god, exists and assumes that the Bible presents an accurate representation of this god's laws, statutes and covenants then yeah, it follows that this Christian kind of morality exists.  But if one assumes that fairness should guide our moral thinking, then a kind of Rawlsian morality follows from that.  And therefore point two is false.

Ultimately, no matter how we choose to ground our morality, that principle or in your case person, on which we ground our morality must be assumed to be a proper basis for morality.  There is no logical reasoning that will get you to that assumption.  And therefore any moral system is going to need to shoehorn its oughts into the is's of whatever reality it accepts.  Thus there is no reason to think that morality is more plausible on theism than it is on atheism.


Peace
 1. a confused Rawlsian mess to be sure
 2. which is growing faster than Christianity.  Sorry.
 3. Additionally, the picture you're trying to paint is muddied considerably by the fact that much of the Christianization of Europe took place in the Early Middle Ages, which was also an era in which scientific knowledge was being forgotten.
 4. After all, the Bible does not condemn slavery in principle.
pero ya tu sabes...

Offline MathIsCool

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Re: Timo & MathIsCool discuss Morality
« Reply #4 on: August 12, 2011, 04:37:38 PM »

Hi Timo,

Let me start off by thanking you for a well written and sharp rebuttal.  I seem to have crafted a novella in response, so let me apologize in advance for the length.

You'll recall I defended two main contentions in my first post:
1. If God exists, morality exists
2. If God does not exist, morality does not exist

First,
If God exists, morality exists

You say you can pretty comfortably concede this statement for the most part, because, as you say, All I've really argued is that if my version of Christian theism is true then my version of Christian morality is true as well.  You nonetheless raise some concerns about warrant for axiomatically importing the Christian worldview over and above, say, Timoteoism; let me see if I can address them here.  The objections I counted were as follows:

a) Christianity was once not popular, and it might not be popular in the future.  "Popularity is not really any sort of indication of the plausibility of a given worldview."
b) A "straight causal relationship" cannot be established between the Christianization of Europe and the birth of modern science therein
c) Christians presided over the establishment of African chattel slavery, the after effects of which we are still seeing today in subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle ways
d) The spread of Christianity is probably due not so much to the power of Christ's message as it is to guys with swords and guns, or at least several other complex factors

Let me briefly address them on one by one.

a) Christianity was once not popular, and it might not be popular in the future.  "Popularity is not really any sort of indication of the plausibility of a given worldview."
I don't know that I'd say it's not any indication of plausibility, but I'd grant you it certainly shouldn't be the sole factor.  After all, keep in mind that proponents of evolution point to the widespread acceptance of evolution in modern universities as, if not proof, at least a strong indication that the view that our species came about by means of natural selection is more plausibly true than false.  All I'm saying here is that Christianity deserves a more careful look than cousin dave and his Milk Jug of Holiness[1], not that it logically must be true once follower # 3,000,000,000 is baptised.

b) A "straight causal relationship" cannot be established between the Christianization of Europe and the birth of modern science therein
Sure.  Just as becoming a Christian does not immediately raise one's IQ by 20 points[2], so too does the Christianization of a culture not necessarily immediately confer a scientific golden age upon said culture.  However, it is undeniable that (and it sounds like you're conceding) the modern scientific revolution that the world has been enjoying came about by Christians working in a distinctly Christian environment.  Dinesh D'souza says it best:
Quote from: D'Souza, Dinesh (2008-11-04). What's So Great About Christianity (p. 96)
The first professional scientists can be traced to the late Middle Ages ... the overwhelming majority of them have not only been Christians, but have also viewed their work as a fulfillment of Christian objectives ... Here is a partial list of leading scientists who were Christian: Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Brahe, Descartes, Boyle, Newton, Leibniz, Gassendi, Pascal, Mersenne, Cuvier, Harvey, Dalton, Faraday, Herschel, Joule, Lyell, Lavoisier, Priestley, Kelvin, Ohm, Ampere, Steno, Pasteur, Maxwell, Planck, Mendel. A good number of these scientists were clergymen. Gassendi and Mersenne were priests. So was Georges Lemaitre, the Belgian astronomer who first proposed the “big bang” theory for the origin of the universe. Mendel, whose discovery of the principles of heredity would provide vital support for the theory of evolution, spent his entire adult life as a monk in an Augustinian monastery. Where would modern science be without these men? Some were Protestant and some were Catholic, but all saw their scientific vocation in distinctively Christian terms.
Undoubtedly, the scientific revolution came about due to a number of factors, it is far to facile to simply say "it was cause they were all Christian."  However, it is also far to facile to simply dismiss Christianity as one of those factors, especially when one examines the philosophical underpinnings of Christianity and compares them to those of the fundamental axioms of science.[3]  Thus, Christianity again deserves a stronger look than Timoteoism.

c) Christians presided over the establishment of African chattel slavery, the after effects of which we are still seeing today in subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle ways
The rise African slave trade, as abominable as it was, is fully consistent with the Christian worldview.  Before (any of) you quote that out of context, let me explain: Christianity recognizes that all of mankind, including Chrisitians, are fundamentally flawed and fallen creatures, capable of coming up with twisted grotesqueries such as Hiroshima, Auschwitz, and the "curious institution" of slavery.  I'd also say, however, that (contrary to your footnote) slavery is fundamentally incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ and the fact that abolition was eventually achieved by Christians indicates that Christians finally realized this.

d) The spread of Christianity is probably due not so much to the power of Christ's message as it is to guys with swords and guns, or at least several other complicating factors
Again, it would be way to simplistic to ignore all the other factors that caused the Christian message to spread, but it is also simplistic to assume away the power of Christ's message of divine forgiveness that countless people have died for.  Your citation of other significant religions doesn't really affect my point - I'm not saying Chrisitianity is the only significant religion in the world today, I'm saying it is a significant one, and it deserves a significant look over and above, say, Crazy Dave's Milk Jug (of Milkiness.)

Finally, you accuse God of being
Vengeful (Deuteronomy 28:25-45)
Bigoted (Leviticus 18:22)
Jealous (Exodus 34:14)
Petty (2 Kings 2:23-24)
and Genocidal (Numbers 25:17)
It seems to be popular these days to take these kinds of verses out of context (look how mean God is being!) without really reading and understanding the larger arc of redemptive history.  This kind of thing is really just a cheap shot that doesn't hold up to much analysis.  I suspect you know that a rather thorough job has been done explaining why the naive reading of these passages is incorrect.[4]  God is not in fact a moral monster, and to convince me otherwise you're going to have to convince me why I ought take the word of some skeptic who has just come across those passages over and above a Christian scholar who has spent 20, 30, 40, or 50 years studying the Bible.

Phew!  All that to talk about a point that you conceded! :)

Next, I argued
If God does not exist, morality does not exist

Your main argument seems to be that anyone can play the same game I'm playing with Christianity:
Quote from: Timo
Still, I think if you're allowed this basket of axioms then everyone else is entitled to theirs.  One could just as easily "prove" the plausibility of humanism by assuming the entirety of humanism is true, including its appeal to maximizing human well being or whatever as the standard of good.  This would, of course render your second point false--morality can exist without god if we assume the entirety of humanism or utilitarianism or whatever moral system you like.
I think you're making a subtle mistake here that ultimately undermines your point.  You say that anyone can make the same kind of axiomatic assumptions that Christianity does, and so anyone can come up with a coherent moral system even if God does not exist.

However, Christianity's axioms are of a different nature than the ones your proposing.  Christianity is assuming something about the world in which we live, something as real as Jupiter or potato bugs or Australia.  Christians start with a holy God actually really really existing in the real world,[5] and then logically reason from there that (say) torturing people for the fun of it is evil.  When you say we can alternatively assume "the entirety of humanism is true, including its appeal to maximizing human well being or whatever as the standard of good" I think you're doing something different.  You're not assuming something really exists in the world to make human flourishing good, you're taking a set of desirable behaviors (in this case maximizing human well being) and defining that as "good."  Ultimately, your problem boils down to the fact that "good" on your system is a meangingless term because it is just definitionally introduced - you could just as well call that set of behaviors "snorgglypuffus."  In other words, you have successfully (definitionally) introduced the concept of "goodness", and defined it to be a behavior that seems reasonable.[6]  However, you have left out the step of why we ought be good!  "Goodness" is a term you just definitionally introduced, there is no "oomph" behind it.  Why ought we hew to this definitionally "good" concept you just introduced?

Let me put it a different way.  Hume's famous is-ought gap is about making descriptive statements (statements about what is) and prescriptive statements (statements about what ought to be.)  He noticed that it is, if not impossible, at least really hard to reason from a collection of "is" statements to derive an "ought" statement, and thus all "ought" statements are meaningless, since they are not rooted in reality.  When you talk about assuming humanism as true you're really saying "let's assume maximizing human well being is good and proper" or more simply "We ought maximize human well being."  This is fine as an axiomatic ought statement.  However, because it is just an ought statement, Hume would say that it is void of meaning in the real world that you and I and Jupiter and potato bugs and Australia inhabit.  In other words, Humanism's "We ought maximize human flourishing" is as meaningful as my "Snufflepuffs are very googorgian, but not as lendarvian as oggleumples are."

Christianity starts out with a fundamentally different axiom (that a holy God actually exists in the real world) and thus Christianity doesn't fall prey to this line of reasoning.  When one asks the Christian why his or her behaviors are any less definitionally good, we respond that God is a real person with a real nature that can really be found out because he really exists in the real world, really.  Ultimately, Christians find morality to be best defined by the person of Jesus Christ, who was perfectly good and is thus the model by which we can judge human behavior.  The neat thing here (for Christians) is that because Jesus really existed in history about 2,000 years ago, we can read about him and discover what he was like and actually try to seek to emulate his behavior, rather than some vague moral guidelines that we feel we ought follow but aren't really sure why.

You say any moral system needs to start from somewhere thats not logically obvious, even Christianity:
Quote from: Timo
I think that even if we assume that God exists and is responsible for the Law, it's still not all that clear why we should follow God's Law unless we make the additional assumption that we should follow God's Law.  My point here is that any moral system is going to require this sort of basic assumption.
See, this isn't the case.  Christianity starts with a holy God, so it is completely natural to reason from "a holy God exists" to "one ought follow His law".  The ontological locus of morality is God's nature, so rather than being not logically obvious it is a very easy logical step.

Continuing on, you say you don't think that moral intuitions instilled in us by evolution constitute any kind of 'real' morality, and (fairly) take me to task for constructing a strawman of your views.  Well, point taken.  I agree with you, I  don't think that our evolved instincts constitute any sort of real morality.

Finally, you ask what I mean by "authoritative weight" or a "reason" to obey.  C.S. Lewis remarked in Mere Christianity that when two people argue and one, say, accuses the other of stealing an orange, the other almost never says "Yeah, so what?" but almost always offers some sort of reason on why it was ok to take the orange: "I was really hungry, you wouldn't want me to starve, would you?" or "You owe me for that favor I did you last week" or maybe "I didn't realize it was yours, did you label it?"  The desire to be good seems to be "hardwired" in most of us.  This is what I mean by "authoritative weight:" the notion that there is something out there amongst reality that makes it actually wicked to take someone else's property, that when I do so there is some real moral code out there somewhere that I am in actuality violating, and it is binding on me, and all of us.  On atheism I can find no such source for this weight that I (and most likely you) feel, and thus I feel I must logically discard it.  But this is deeply unsettling - for it would mean that a legitimate reply to someone saying "I took your orange" is in fact "so what."

That's ultimately the problem I have with utilitarianism or humanism or Mr. Rawls' veil or even Timoteoism.  At the end of the day it's just your opinion on what's right or wrong. [7]  If in your opinion you decide that orange taking, or murder or theft or rape is wrong, it's still just your opinion.[8] Unless you can provide some authoritative, globally binding reason why rape, murder, theft, and orange-taking is wrong, it remains merely your opinion, and "So what?" remains a legitimate response to your protestations of any wrong-doing on the part of the evil-doer.  The problem I have with a moral system not ontologically based on God is it can be dismissed with a "So what?" and any moral system that can be dismissed in it's entirety this way is truly anemic.

Thus, the way I see it is that you've conceded my first point, and for my second point I don't think your objections hit the mark.  I think my contention that morality must be based on theism still stands.

Looking forward to your reply,
-MiC
 1. all hail His Great Milkiness!!
 2. Really it's only like 10 or so.  Kidding, kidding!
 3. Compare: "the universe is essentially a rational place because it is ordered by a rational God" and "the univerise is a rational place governed by knowable laws which can be discovered via experimentation"
 4. One example: http://christianthinktank.com/madgod.html
 5. really!
 6. At a surface glance, anyway.  When one examines it, it starts to fall apart.  For example, human flourising probably includes human pleasure, and human males tend to get a great deal of pleasure from sex.  This would mean that if a group of men wanted to have sex with a woman who was not willing (aka gang-rape), that action would be "good" so long as the "sum" of pleasure all the men got from the activity outweighed the displeasure the women got from it.  I trust you and I both find that repulsive, but I think utilitarian logic leads inevitably to such repulsive conclusions.
 7. Heck on naturalism, it's hardly even that - it's the ideas that those neurons in your brain will produce under the conditions in which you thought them.
 8. Of course, it's my opinion too.
Why not name the website ... "whywontGodallowlaserstoshootoutofmyeyespewpewpew.com"

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Offline Timo

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Re: Timo & MathIsCool discuss Morality
« Reply #5 on: August 19, 2011, 07:34:47 PM »
Shabbat Shalom Math,

I think I'm going to bite your style to break up this long ass response some.  Plus it makes my post look all proper and what not.

Part I: in which I continue to pick at but not necessarily disagree with your argument.

What I mean when I say that I mostly concede the point is that I don't find anything objectionable about the notion that Christian morality follows from Christian theism.  What I take issue with is your rationale for presuming that Christian theism as more worthy of our consideration than a hypothetical Timoteoism or whatever you like.  In addition, I have a problem with what good looks like on the Christian view.  But let's start with my objections to your objections to....my initial objections.

a.) With respect to popularity, again, I don't really see why it should be given any considertion.  If there are problems with your cuzzo's ideas about his divine milk jug or whatever, they exist regardless of whether or not he was able to convince someone else to accept them or identify with them.  Similarly, and I say this as someone that has no problem with accepting evolution as a fact, the truth of evolution is not determined by what percentage of the scientific community supports it at any given time.  If we're going to have an argument about it, we need to address the points on either side and not simply take a head count.

b.) With respect to science, I want to first just tell you that I can't stand Dinesh D'Souza.  I think that he is a dispicable and dishonest writer whose only purpose seems to me to be to write books and essays that are so poorly argued that both political liberals and conservatives can all agree are garbage.  (His most recent opus, for example, advances the absurd idea that understanding Obama is easiest if we understand him as a Kenyan anticolonialist rather than a pretty run of the mill young American leftist turned center-left Democrat).  To be sure, I haven't read the book you're citing and I don't even take issue with the quote itself but I just wouldn't be able to live with myself if I missed an opportunity to reiterate to whoever will listen that I hate his guts.  (Sorry about that.  And yes, I feel better now.)

Instead, I just want to remind you that my point about your claim that Christianity is responsible for modern science is more of a hisotrical one not a philosophical one.  I want to know how you account for the thousand plus year gap between the beginings of what we might call Christendom in Europe and the Scientific Revolution.  Given that gap, I think it's perfectly fair to dismiss Christianity from our list of potential factors, no matter how well you think Christianity lines up with science.  (The best case I think you could make is that Christianity didn't interfere with the development of science in the way that another religion might have, in the way Islam did in the 12th century.)

Furthermore, I think that people of all faiths and of no faith tend to overestimate the extent to which a person's grand religious ideas about how the universe works actually translate into their practical, day to day understanding of how they really think it works if they're thinking outside of a religious context.  I think we'd both agree that a lot of the pagan views of the pre-Christian Roman Empire[1] were not exactly in line with what we might call a scientific way of thinking about things.  But that didn't prevent them from learning things about how the world works and applying them practically (aka doing science and performing heroic feats of engineering.)  What's more, there was a period in time when Christians were so uninterested in science that they would later forget these things completley and have to relearn them, sometimes by relying on the Muslims, who preserved and built upon a lot of pre-Christian science before they decided that math and science was of the devil.

c.) With respect to slavery, I guess I can agree that if you're really serious about following Jesus and you really take to heart the way in which Jesus spoke about how we should relate to one another and specifically if you think about his focus on the Rabbinic teaching that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, it becomes really hard to justify slavery and especially African chattel slavery--especially when you understand how Jesus extended the circle of who we might call our neighbor in a way that a lot of Jews really didn't (as in the parable of the good Samaritan).  But I don't really think that agreeing on this point is the same thing as agreeing that slavery and Christianity are incompatible.  That's just one view based off one reading of some scripture after all.  It might just mean that Christianity is inconsistant on the subject.[2]  After all, the Bible does not condemn slavery explicitly.  Not once.  In fact, it has pretty elaborate codes for exactly how we should treat, procure and punish our slaves if need be.  (Beating slaves close to death is, of course, perfectly kosher if they don't die.)  And I think the notion that maybe Jesus wasn't so okay with the whole slavery thing is undercut by the fact that he uses the slave/master relationship as an analogy to explain the way in which we should submit to God while, of course, never condemning that arrangement.  Again, it's not as if proponants of slavery didn't make what they believed to be good, Bible based arguments.  And it's not as if they didn't have a point.

And really, I think that you're being kind of inconsistent with respect to how you treat points b and c.  With respect to b, you're perfectly happy to have Christianity take the credit for science because hey, Christian scientists were pretty fucking badass.  (And they were!)  And with respect to c, you're perfectly willing to let Christianity off the hook, because hey, those Christians, like all people, were imperfect.  (And they were!)  I don't think you get to have it both ways.  Personally, for me, my position is that Christianity itself shouldn't take responsibility for either phenomena.

d.) With respect to my point about Christianity expanding by force, let me put it like this.  I grew up in a Black church.  And in that church, I knew profoundly religious people, many of whom had a faith that gave their lives deep meaning and expressed itself in wonderful and meaningful ways to others.  My aunt, for example, always gives what little extra she has to charity and even organizes giving efforts through the church, efforts that even I, the most heathenly of heathens, sometimes participate in.  (A little while back, for example, she had me running all over LA buying up discount sandles to donate to people in West Africa.)  This is great and inspiring and everything but it does not change the fact that Christianity was introduced to us by force--specifically through the afroementioned system of chattel slavery instituted by European Christians here and elsewhere in the Americas.

Now as for the more important point of what it means to be good if the Bible depicts God accurately, I don't think that the view that the god of the Bible is often a nasty character has been decisively or even persuasively refuted.  It might the case that it's been refuted to your satisfaction, but it's not as if there aren't a lot of people, people that spent their life studying the Bible even, that take the view that God does some pretty awful things in that book.  And therefore, I find your tone kind of obnoxious here.  Especially this:

God is not in fact a moral monster, and to convince me otherwise you're going to have to convince me why I ought take the word of some skeptic who has just come across those passages over and above a Christian scholar who has spent 20, 30, 40, or 50 years studying the Bible.

I find it especially annoying given the fact that there are indeed scholars like John Shelby Spong that make the case that the Bible often depicts a god that is morally repugnant.  Furthermore, if we're going to make these kinds of appeals to authority, I needn't have responded to your first post at all.  I suppose I could have just reminded you that there are plenty of moral philosophers that have been doing work on ethics without feeling a need to base their views in a god for about as long or longer than you and I have existed.  And to convince me that a God is required, you'll need to convince me that I should take you more seriously than them or whatever.  Discussion over.  This is almost as silly as your appeal to popularity earlier.

With respect to that article you posted, I read through it and I have to say that if you think it's a proper response, I think that you either misunderstood my argument or I wasn't making myself clear.  (Though it does provide a good response to that bit about jealousy.  And it's actually an interesting discussion of how we let modern ideas get in the way of our understanding of the Bible.)  So let me try again, just zeroing in on one of my specific claims, the claim that God is portrayed as genocidal.  Here's the bit from Numbers that I cited:

Quote from: the LORD thy God
“Treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them.

And here's Moses et al carrying out the order:

Quote from: the LORD thy God
7 They fought against Midian, as the LORD commanded Moses, and killed every man. 8 Among their victims were Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur and Reba—the five kings of Midian. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword. 9 The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder. 10 They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps. 11 They took all the plunder and spoils, including the people and animals, 12 and brought the captives, spoils and plunder to Moses and Eleazar the priest and the Israelite assembly at their camp on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan across from Jericho.

 13 Moses, Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp. 14 Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle.

 15 “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. 16 “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the LORD in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the LORD’s people. 17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.

Maybe I need to spend a couple of years combing over this with a Hebrew grammar or something but this seems to describe an act of genocide.  I think that most readers, even devout Christians, and even devout Christian scholars, realize that there is something, at least something on the surface level, that is wrong with this picture.[3]  And this is what I'm getting at, if it's good to execute prisoners of war, women and children then we're not using the word good in a way that's familiar to most of us.

Part II: if God is not, is everything really permitted?

I found the second half of your response to pretty confused actually.  To begin with, the way that you distinguish Christian morality from other moral systems on the basis that our hypothetical Christian ethicist "is assuming something about the world in which we live, something as real as Jupiter or potato bugs or Australia" really ignores the fact that secular moral systems also tend to appeal to things that exist in reality.  If I'm appealing to human flourishing, for example, there is indeed a thing that I'm appealing to--human flourishing.  In fact, if I were to advance this view in a long form essay or a book, I'd probably have specific, concrete items in mind that I would argue constitute human flourishing and even metrics like crime rates, health estimates, standard of living estimates, and survey data that I would argue help us to quantify this flourishing.  For some, this is even simpler.  The hedonist, for example, only really needs to consider pleasure and pain, which also exist in reality and are quantifiable.

In all cases, our hypothetical ethicists have zeroed in on facts about the world, be they human flourishing, the existence of pleasure and pain or the existence of a god, and imbued these things with some kind of moral significance.  If we're allowing the Christian to make this step, I don't see why we shouldn't afford the same courtesy to the hedonist.  If the Christian gets to say that God is good, I don't see how it makes any sense to deny the hedonist the right to say that pleasure is good.

With respect to this here:

Ultimately, your problem boils down to the fact that "good" on your system is a meangingless term because it is just definitionally introduced - you could just as well call that set of behaviors "snorgglypuffus."

See this is my like overarching point: I just don't see why this couldn't also be true of Christianity.  The only difference to me seems to be that you feel justified in assuming the goodness of god whereas you don't feel that I'm justified in assuming the goodness of pleasure or whatever it is that the secular ethicist would like to appeal to.  And no, in either case, good is not a meaningless term.  Rather, it is a term that's being defined along the lines that we've specified.  In the case of our hedonist, things that maximize pleasure and minimize pain are good.  In the case of our theist, things that accord with the nature of God are good.  In either case, the word good is a meaningful term.  WE'VE JUST GIVEN IT MEANING!  And, in my opinion, this is where the fun begins when we start playing with moral systems.  We can then follow the implications of a given system and see what sorts of conclusions we reach and how these might square up with our moral intuitions.

I also want to take issue with something you wrote in a footnote in this section, about some fun that you tried to have with utilitarianism actually:

At a surface glance, anyway.  When one examines it, it starts to fall apart.  For example, human flourising probably includes human pleasure, and human males tend to get a great deal of pleasure from sex.  This would mean that if a group of men wanted to have sex with a woman who was not willing (aka gang-rape), that action would be "good" so long as the "sum" of pleasure all the men got from the activity outweighed the displeasure the women got from it.  I trust you and I both find that repulsive, but I think utilitarian logic leads inevitably to such repulsive conclusions.

To begin with, my mess of a moral position is something that I would describe as Rawsian and not utilitarian or hedonist so I'm not sure why you're even throwing this out there.[4]  But even on a strictly hedonist view, I don't think a situation in which a group of men experience pleasure by causing pain to a single woman in this way can even be a net gain in pleasure over suffering in principle because the kind of the suffering that a rape victim experiences is not really even analogous to the pleasure of completing a sexual act.  It's much deeper.  I mean, knowing a few rape victims myself, it's hard for me to see how that kind of thing might even zero out if we're calculating utils or whatever.  Experiencing rape is deeply traumatic.

And finally, with respect to your point about the "authoritative weight" of moral claims, I'm not even really sure what to make of it.  To begin with, I do believe that what we experience with respect to our moral intuitions is explained by evolution and by culture.  And I think that the idea that these intuitions are god given really doesn't hold up to much scruitany.  The fact that people might try to justify their actions post hoc doesn't really surprise me especially since we tend to do the same things with respect to other views--you can see this with the way in which partisan media is creating a situation in which people can subject themselves only to information that confirms their initial political biases so that they're never confronted in this way.  The fact that people try to rationalize their ethical behavior doesn't imply that there is some actually right thing to do anymore than the fact that people try to rationalize their political views implies that there is some actually right political position.[5]

In conclusion, I don't think you've really advanced an argument that demonstrates that appealing to a god to ground a theistic moral system is any more reasonable than appealing to human happiness or whatever you like.  In any case we need to imbue some thing with moral significance.  Or, to use Hume's terminology, all of us, even Christians come to the table with ought statements.  In your case, it's the idea that we ought to follow God or that we ought to act like God or however you'd put it.

All of us must start from an assumption.  And I'll assume that you'll have a good weekend.  I know I will.  I'm off to Rock the Bells.[6]


Peace
 1. perhaps with the exception of the kinds of views that really informed the philosophy of the early church.
 2. I think that one of these little underlying issues we're going to have going forward is that I don't take the Bible to be a coherent, unified text but rather as a compilation whose books themselves betray multiple authorship, competing theologies, histories, rival factions etc.
 3. For example, here is Bill Craig's response to other such episodes in the OT.
 4. Aside from the fact that this point seems to be part of that apologist utility belt (see how I turned a phrase) that you guys seem to get when you graduate from Biola or wherever.
 5. Even though there is: Democrat.
 6. Chea!
pero ya tu sabes...

Offline Timo

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Re: Timo & MathIsCool discuss Morality
« Reply #6 on: September 08, 2011, 01:04:13 AM »
We still doing this?
pero ya tu sabes...

Offline MathIsCool

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Re: Timo & MathIsCool discuss Morality
« Reply #7 on: September 08, 2011, 02:20:39 PM »
I'm still here.  Sorry I've been a bit slow, lots going on... should have a response up today or tomorrow.
Why not name the website ... "whywontGodallowlaserstoshootoutofmyeyespewpewpew.com"

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Offline Timo

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Re: Timo & MathIsCool discuss Morality
« Reply #8 on: September 08, 2011, 03:13:58 PM »
Cool.  Just checking.
pero ya tu sabes...

Offline MathIsCool

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Re: Timo & MathIsCool discuss Morality
« Reply #9 on: September 08, 2011, 06:36:03 PM »
Hi Timo,

As always thanks for writing a sharp rebuttal, it's greatly appreciated.  Also I apologize for taking so long to get this response written.

Part I: The Christian's worldview

Christian morality follows from Christian theism.  Great!  We're in agreement on at least something. :)  Let me briefly address your objections to looking at Christianity closer than Timoteoism, with the understanding that these points are really ancillary to the crux of the debate.

Regarding...

Popularity:
To determine the truth of Christianity of course we need to look at the points on either side.  A theoretical perfectly logical entity would dismiss entirely Christianity's enormous popularity before coming to the truth of the matter.  However, you and I, who live in the real world, often have to take shortcuts.  One of those shortcuts is that a position with a greater number of adherents is more likely to be right, while not being necessarily right.  I genuinely don't see how this is contentious, but if you continue to press the point I'm happy to provide examples of this principle in action.

Science:
I've encountered that opinion before on Mr. D'Souza.  I guess all I can say is I'm glad you feel better after your mini-rant.[1]
You keep on bringing up this 1,000 year gap, and I keep on not addressing it because it's superfluous to my main point.  I'm not saying Christian cultures always, automatically, or necessarily produce scientific golden ages.  If I were, you'd have a great point here.  Instead, my point is:
According to those Christians who invented it, the gathering of knowledge about how stuff works that we refer to as "science" is a distinctly Christian enterprise, a fulfillment of Christian objectives.
As you say, this is a flat historical fact, not some philosophical rabbit I pulled out of my hat.  Why wouldn't this warrant a closer look at Christianity?

Slavery:
 Yes.  If you're really serious about following Jesus Christ, you can't own slaves.  Thank you for conceding the point.  As to the rest of your point about how slavery is consistent with the Bible, let me briefly say that when the Bible instructs slaves to obey their masters (as indeed it does,) it's not so much saying "Societies ought be slave-holding societies" as it is saying "If you find yourself living in a slave-holding society, here is how you ought behave."  Furthermore, if Christians (slaves and slave-owners) behaved as the Bible instructs them to behave, eventually that slave-holding society will find that it is no longer a slave-holding society.  (As you said, if you're serious about following Christ, you don't own slaves.  The gospel instructs people to be serious about following Christ.  Ergo... I'll let you do the rest of that syllogism.)

As to having it both ways, I'm really not.  I'm saying Christians invented Science.  They did.  I'm saying Christians ended slavery.  They did.  The fact that some Christians participated in the slave trade in no way undercuts the heroics of the Christian abolitionists who ended it, just like the fact that there are some anti-science Christians out there now in no way undercuts those Christians who invented the modern institution of science.

Force:
You just assert again that Christianity was spread by force.  I'm honestly not sure what the point of bringing up your aunt was, though to her (and your) credit she sounds like a remarkable person.  Can you see how others might see her inspiring example and be moved to emulate her, thus spreading Christianity yet more?  Again, I'm not saying force did not play a part in Christianity's spread - of course it did.  I am saying that it's ideals and philosophies and, above all, the character of Jesus Christ that it's adherents worship was also a factor in it's spread.

God's "meanness" in the Bible
You say my tone was "obnoxious" when I dismissed your point about the brutishness of God in the Old Testament, so let me go into a little more depth in this section.  I apologize if my tone was obnoxious - I guess I find this kind of thing to be a fairly weak argument, so it's hard to refrain from dismissing it out of hand.

My point in citing Christian scholars who have spent lots of time in the Bible is just to say that, if one wants an accurate picture of a character in a book (fictional or not) one could do worse than to find those Christians who have immersed themselves in it's pages (and in derivative works analyzing those pages) for 30, 40, or 50 years - and they all seem to have a somewhat high opinion of God.  I'm not sure the comparison here between Christians spending every day reading the Bible and a secular critic like John Shelby Spong is fair.  But you said you didn't want this to be a battle of scholars, so let me deal with your recitaiton of Numbers 31.  After quoting the passage in Numbers 31, you say

I think that most readers, even devout Christians, and even devout Christian scholars, realize that there is something, at least something on the surface level, that is wrong with this picture.  And this is what I'm getting at, if it's good to execute prisoners of war, women and children then we're not using the word good in a way that's familiar to most of us.

In recognizing God as the source of morality and as a holy and just being, Christians are obviously not advocating we should be just like God.  Indeed, in the abortion debates today one of the oft-heard Christian rallying cries is that we should not "play God," that is, we should not pretend to have the right to decide if a child lives or dies.  God, as the author of life, does indeed have that right, so when he decided to take the life of the Caananites as he does in that passage he is not being evil, whereas we would be.  (Bill Craig mentions this as well in the refutation of his you point to.) 

Another problem I have with these kinds of arguments is they take a passage in complete isolation and try to argue from it that the God of the Bible is evil.  Think of it this way.  If you heard a story consisting solely of the fact that a man had poisoned another, you'd be inclined to think the poisoner acted in a way that is evil.  However, if you heard the context surrounding the story, that the poisonee had committed some heinous crime, been convicted in a jury of his peers, been granted multiple attempts at an appeal, all insucessful, and that the poisoner was the governor of a state in which the death sentence was carried out by means of lethal injection... you'd probably at least have a different take on the "murder."  When asking you to show me how the God of the Bible is a brute, I want you to show me how the God of the whole Bible is evil.  You know, the same God that created mankind and saw them rebel, the God that is merciful and patient and longsuffering when his creation sins, the God that (that same book says) does not delight in the death of the wicked.  I want to know how the God that crafted crafted a multi-millennia plan to rescue the human race, one that involved sacrificing his Son to fulfill the judicial requirement of death for sin, is evil.  Show me how that God is evil.  Quoting isolated passages just isn't going to do that.

I don't think any Christian today reads that passage and concludes "God is saying it is right to commit genocide."  Rather, it was good at that point in history for Moses to completely destroy the Caananites - and you can look at Bill Craig's response to see why it was good to do this in that specific situation.  And this is where it's hard to not take on a dismissive attitude toward the whole thing.  Of course it's an isolated passage.  Of course it's not generally prescriptive.  To argue otherwise[2] betrays quite a bit of ignorance of God's character revealed in the Bible, and it really is hard to not dismiss such attacks as petty strawmen.

Finally, God himself has something to say about those who would judge his actions as righteous or not, in Job 38-42.  The whole thing is good, but pay particular attention to Job 40:2-14.[3]  I personally think it is an excellent rebuttal to this kind of attack, and I commend it to you.

Moving on,

Part II: if God is not, everything really is permitted!

Your first point is that ethicists of all stripes appeal to real things in the world.  As you say,

In all cases, our hypothetical ethicists have zeroed in on facts about the world, be they human flourishing, the existence of pleasure and pain or the existence of a god, and imbued these things with some kind of moral significance.  If we're allowing the Christian to make this step, I don't see why we shouldn't afford the same courtesy to the hedonist.  If the Christian gets to say that God is good, I don't see how it makes any sense to deny the hedonist the right to say that pleasure is good.

The hedonist doesn't get to say "pleasure is good" because it is logically equivalent to saying "Purple smells like strawberries" - it is logically meaningless.

When the Christian says "God is good" he's saying "Those acts that God performs, the nature that God exhibits when He acts, those things are good and righteous and holy and lovely."  When the hedonist tries to say the same thing, you end up saying "Those acts that pleasure performs, the nature that pleasure exhibits when it (he?  she?) acts, those things are good and righteous and holy and lovely."  Obviously this is meaningless (pleasure doesn't act).  Rather, the statement "pleasure is good" is read as "It is good to pursue pleasure" or restated, "One ought pursue pleasure."  Look what happened though!  The Christian, in positing a holy and lovely God that is, has no need to start with any "ought" statements - that one "is" statement is enough to define morality.  The hedonist, on the other hand, must start with an "ought" statement - "one ought pursue pleasure."  Thus the hedonist runs smack-dab into Hume's chasm.  I can legitimately ask: what is it about pleasure that's good?  Why ought we pursue pleasure?  Because you said so?  Because a bunch of smart people got together and said so?  That's not really good enough, is it?  All pleasure really is is increased levels of dopamine in the human brain, and there's nothing really inherently good in that, is there?  It's impossible to go from describing what pleasure is (increased levels of dopamine in the brain) to what one ought do with pleasure. (pursue it.)  Thus morality (those ought statements) does not exist in the same way that other real things exist.

We both appeal to real things.  The difference is that the Christian appeals to a real thing (God) that is the standard of morality, and thus the Christian can bridge Hume's is/ought chasm.  The Hedonist (and the Utlitarian, and the Rawlsian) appeal to real things, but their ought axioms start on the 'ought' side of the chasm, the side that's firmly disconnected with the is's of Jupiter, potato bugs, and Australia.

You state you're not a hedonist, but you nonetheless object to the gang-rape scenario.  From a hedonist (which you're admittedly not,) I'm not sure I'd buy that the pain caused by rape is somehow "deeper" than the pleasure men and women typically get from sex.  Pleasure is pleasure, and pain is pain, right?  Both are measurable, right?  Why do you get to wave your hand and say certain forms of pain are "deeper" than other forms of pleasure?  In any case, you're not a utilitarian, so I'm comfortable dropping this point.

Finally, let me spend a few moments (paragraphs?) talking about authoritative weight, because in all honesty I think you kinda gave away the farm in your last paragraph.  You said:

And finally, with respect to your point about the "authoritative weight" of moral claims, I'm not even really sure what to make of it.  To begin with, I do believe that what we experience with respect to our moral intuitions is explained by evolution and by culture.  And I think that the idea that these intuitions are god given really doesn't hold up to much scruitany.  The fact that people might try to justify their actions post hoc doesn't really surprise me especially since we tend to do the same things with respect to other views--you can see this with the way in which partisan media is creating a situation in which people can subject themselves only to information that confirms their initial political biases so that they're never confronted in this way.  The fact that people try to rationalize their ethical behavior doesn't imply that there is some actually right thing to do anymore than the fact that people try to rationalize their political views implies that there is some actually right political position. (my emhpasis)

While I disagree with you (I do think there is some actual right thing to do in, say, the rape case above) that really isn't the point of the debate.  Remember, the whole point of this debate is me trying to prove two statements:
(1)If God exists, morality exists
(2)If God does not exist, morality does not exist


You've already said you've conceded the first point, so all we're really talking about is the second statement: the plausibility of basing a moral system on something other than the goodness of God.  That's what timoteism, rawlsianism, utilitarianism, and all those other -ism's are: basing a moral system on some grand idea that's not God.  In other words, ethicists take all the bad and good things out there and try to justify them based on a simplied set of rules - "all morality really boils down to is treating other others as you'd want to be treated" or "all morality really boils down to is increasing human flourishing" or "all morality really boils down to is following the set of rules that we'd all agree on behind a veil of ignorance" - you get the idea.  But, as you yourself say: (and let me really emphasize it:)

The fact that people try to rationalize their ethical behavior doesn't imply that there is some actually right thing to do ...

This is exactly right.  We are 100% on the same page here.  The fact that ethicists do this kind of stuff does not, in any way, imply that there is some actual right thing to do.  If God does not exist, then morality, out here in the real world of Jupiter, potato bugs, and Australia, does not exist.  There is no actual right thing to do in the rape case above.  There just isn't.  There's a variety of personal tastes about what to do, there's probably widespread agreement, there's definitely an intellectual framework that each of us has built up about what to do and not to do in this, and similar cases.  Empathy is probably involved, as is an intuitive grasp of the value and dignity of human life.  But, absent the admittedly axiomatic God that Christianity provides in the character of Jesus Christ - there is no actual right thing to do.  Morality DOES NOT ACTUALLY EXIST.  We can (and do!) justify 'til the cows come home, but that won't turn the badness of rape, or murder, or theft into a feature of reality.  It's just opinions, man.

Now, let me be clear (and address some comments in the peanut gallery commentary thread while I'm at it)  Maybe you're fine with this.  Maybe you'd say this is just how the world works, and you really think morality does not in fact exist out here in the real world.  You can, if you'd like, retreat to the relative stronghold of your nihilistic tower and claim that morality doesn't exist. [4]  The point of this debate was to anchor morality on theism (for me, that means the Christian God.)  In other words, to show that the Christian God is the only credible entity that can explain why good things actually are good and bad things actually are bad.  I think that's been accomplished at this point.

You've conceded for a while now my first statement:
(1)If God exists, morality exists
As you said, all this boils down to, really, is "If Christianity then Christianity."  It's hard to argue with that. :)

 My second statement was
(2)If God does not exist, morality does not exist

And you've just said that the various ethical theories out there that attempt to justify ethical behavior does not imply that there is some actual right thing to do.  In other words, in ethical situations there is no actual right thing to do out here in reality.  Morality does not exist as anything real, assuming God does not exist. [5]

If those two statements are true, then it seems to me that we can safely say morality (if it does in fact exist) is grounded, based, or ontologically founded on God.

To conclude: You've titled this section "If God is not, is everything really permitted?"  I think the answer to that has to be yes.  Various justification mechanisms of timoteism, rawlsianism, utilitarianism, and hedonism all exist, but they don't imply that there actually is some right thing to do in ethical situations.  Everything is ultimately justified, the existence of some philosophy out there that would define a behavior as wrong doesn't make it objectively wrong at all.  Hume's chasm shows how this is true, and you've just admitted it as well in your last paragraph of your previous response.  On Christianity, however, the existence of a good God in reality provides a standard by which we can judge good things as good and bad things as bad.  In simpler terms, if good things really are good, God Is.

Finally, let me repay your generosity in giving me the first post on this debate by letting you have the last word.[6]  That, in my opinion at least, would be the objectivley right thing to do. :)

Thanks!
-MiC
 1. Were I feeling snarky, I'd ask you why why you think he sets you off so much.  It can't just be because you fundamentally disagree with him - I bet you don't feel the need to rant about flat-earthers, do you?  However, I'm not feeling all that snarky, so I'll put this in the footnotes so you can tell this is just a friendly jab and not a serious point.
 2. as you do when you contend that the passage shows "it's good to execute prisoners of war, women and children"
 3. Again, we're in the "Christianity is true" section so I'm allowed to quote scripture - and this is one of my favorite parts of the Bible
 4. As an aside, I'd say that's wrong, and furthermore folks who do this tend to betray their real feelings in other threads... but that would be a whole different discussion
 5. To be fair, it certainly exists as ideas in our heads.  But then, so do flying spaghetti monsters.
 6. Unless, of course, you're really roaring to go another round on this...?
Why not name the website ... "whywontGodallowlaserstoshootoutofmyeyespewpewpew.com"

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Offline Timo

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Re: Timo & MathIsCool discuss Morality
« Reply #10 on: September 14, 2011, 12:34:50 AM »
Peace, good to have you back on board.  I was feeling type lonely and what not. 

And if you've got the time, I would like to go around one more time, at least on the discussion in part II.  I'm not sure I'm really understanding your argument there.  And I know you've completely misunderstood mine.  But I'll get to that in a minute.  I'd first like to go through these little objections once more.

Part I: Yeah, but...

a.) With respect to popularity, I get what you're trying to say but I just disagree.  I mean yeah, we're thinking about things in the real world.  And in the real world there are hellof Christians.  And there's but one Timo.  Sure.  I just think that the notion that these facts imply that Christianity might be more reasonable or worthy of our consideration than my lone voice in the wilderness is terrible, horrible, no good, very bad logic...and especially if we're not simply casual observers that might want to or need to take shortcuts but thoughtful debate partners setting out to have an in depth and weeks long discussion. 

b.) With respect to science, I keep bringing up the thousand plus year gap because I think that it makes utter nonsense of your claim that Christianity itself is somehow responsible for science.  At best, I think it would only be possibly correct to say that some shift in Christian thinking or some revelation[1] that had not occurred to previous generations of Christians led to science.

Again, I have no problem with saying that Christianity itself is compatible with science.  It can be and often is.  And I have no problem saying that science emerged in a set of Christian societies.  And I certainly have no problem saying that some of the best scientists ever have been Christians or that many Christian scientists thought they were uncovering the glory of Allah's creation or whatever.  That's all fine and dandy.  But that's not the same thing as saying science is a result of Christianity.  Indeed, as you admit, there have been and still are plenty of Christians that actively retard scientific development and resent what it represents.

As far as D'Souza goes, I think he gets under my skin mostly because he frequently traffics in xenophobia and outright racism.  And that kind of thing bothers me in a way that flat earthers don't.  I guess because I don't take the claims of flat earthers as personally.  Though if you mostly know him from his apologetics, I'm not sure how much you'd see any of that.  I've heard him in a few debates and while I think he's not that good as a defender of your faith, I don't find him to be particularly objectionable because his arguments aren't particularly novel to begin with.

c.) With respect to slavery, I don't think it's exactly right to say that slavery is incompatible with the message of Christ.  I think that you and I both agree that slavery is incompatible with the basic message of Christ and with the rabbinic tradition from which he was drawing.  But that's just our interpretation.[2]  For much of Christianity's history though, Christians have disagreed on that point.  And I think that there's plenty of grounds to do that given that the Bible is pretty inconsistant on the subject.

And so regardless of whatever theological disagreement there may be, going back to point b, I think that if it's right to say that science was a "distinctly Christian enterprise" because the Christians that invented it thought it was then it's got to be right to say that African chattel slavery was too.  Peep game:

Quote from: George Fitzhue
To insist that a status of society, which has been almost universal, and which is expressly and continually justified by Holy Writ, is its natural, normal, and necessary status, under the ordinary circumstances, is on its face a plausible and probable proposition. To insist on less, is to yield our cause, and to give up our religion; for if white slavery be morally wrong, be a violation of natural rights, the Bible cannot be true.

Quote from: Raymund Harris
The Oracular Decisions of God have positively declared that the Slave Trade is intrinsically good and licit, [and that the holding of slaves] is perfectly consonant to the principles of the Law of Nature, the Mosaic Dispensation, and the Christian Law.

Quote from: James Henry Hammond
The doom of Ham has been branded on the form and features of his African descendants. The hand of fate has united his color and destiny. Man cannot separate what God hath joined.

And I think they could be forgiven for thinking that slavery might be kosher Biblically given this and other passages in the Law and elsewhere in the Bible:

Quote from: the LORD thy God
45. And also from the children of the residents that live among you, from them you may acquire [slaves] and from their family that is with you whom they begot in your land, and they shall become your inheritance.  46. You shall hold onto them as an inheritance for your children after you, as acquired property, and may thus have them serve you forever. But as for your brethren, the children of Israel, a man shall not work his brother with rigor. [Leviticus 25, from chabad.org in case you're wondering about the translation]

Honestly, it's one thing to say Christianity doesn't deserve blame for the enslavement of Africans.  I'd even agree.  But to claim that Christianity gets to take credit for ending just betrays a lack of historical perspective.

d.) With respect to force, what I'm trying to say is that I think that it's the main driver of the spread of Christianity in much the same way it was the main driver in the spread of Islam.  I bring up my aunt because while I think she might be an example of someone whose example folks might draw inspiration from and want to follow like you're saying, ultimately she's probably a Christian in the first place because of force. Were it not for African chattel slavery and colonialism, Black folks in West Africa would have most likely remained Muslims and animists and what not.  But I guess that's just my contention.  It could have been the case that Christians could have peacefully introduced Christianity to places like West Africa.  But either view is a counter factual because they didn't do things that way.  They spread Christianity forcefully as a part of a program that included enslavement, oppression and economic exploitation.  And that, aside from my problem with that sort of appeal in the first place, is a big reason I find your use of popularity to be, to say the very least....problematic.

Finally, with respect to God's goodness, I think I would be able to take your point about God's operating on a different standard if you espoused a different flavor of divine command theory.  (ie what God commands is good rather than God's nature is good.)  See here's the thing, you go on in the next section to sum up your position vis a vis God's goodness to be:

Those acts that God performs, the nature that God exhibits when He acts, those things are good and righteous and holy and lovely."

In other words, if God commands a genocide and participates in it, that genocide was good, righteous, holy and lovely.  I just don't think that we're using these words in a meaningful way if they can be used to describe a genocide....even if the Canaanites were indeed aweful people that sacrificed their kids to their inferior gods.  That's really my only point with respect to that bit from Numbers.  I should also say that I agree that genocide is not something that God is presenting as a thing people should do all the time.  I never meant to say that it was but looking at that bit you quoted I can kind of see why you read it that way.  These genocides are presented as being one time things, and more importantly a means to a supposedly legitimate end (clensing the promised land for Israelite settlement).  But that's really neither here nor there.  All I'm saying is that calling genocide good is making nonsense of our language. 

On a side note, while the genocides aren't established as rules, the bits from Leviticus I referenced in my first post, the ones where God is portrayed as having enshrined revulsion of and even violence against homosexuals as good and righteous and holy and lovely, is a rule.[3]  So is that bit about slavery.

I'm not sure what flavor of Christian you are exactly.  So I'm not sure how much if any of the old Mosaic Law you think should apply.  I'm just not sure how you can so absent mindedly smooth over the rough edges of an entity that ever thought any of that was a good idea.

As far as this goes:

When asking you to show me how the God of the Bible is a brute, I want you to show me how the God of the whole Bible is evil.  You know, the same God that created mankind and saw them rebel, the God that is merciful and patient and longsuffering when his creation sins, the God that (that same book says) does not delight in the death of the wicked.

I definitely would not say that the god of the whole Bible is wicked.  He's pretty cool in places.  Like when He scolds Jonah over his lack of empathy for the people of Ninevah.  But the thing of it is, you're responding to an argument I NEVER MADE IN THE FIRST PLACE.  I never wrote that God is depicted as UNIFORMLY evil.  I wrote that WHILE he is depicted as good, as Bill Craig claims, He's ALSO depicted as kind of a shit.  In some of the passages I've referenced thus far, he's been portrayed as genocidal, homophobic and in favor of slavery.  In the one I've just referenced he's shown as having tought a cantankerous prophet a valuable lesson about our shared humanity.

Also, I think John Shelby Spong is a perfectly fine person to compare any scholar you'd like to bring up.  He's a former bishop who's been grappling with ideas about God and the Bible for longer than you (and probably your parents and definitely mine) have existed.  I would think that might mean something to someone that expects me to be impressed by naked appeals to the authority of someone who's been studying their Bible a while.

Anywho, let's get back to the meat[4] of this.

Part II: A Failure to Communicate

Block quote.

The hedonist doesn't get to say "pleasure is good" because it is logically equivalent to saying "Purple smells like strawberries" - it is logically meaningless.

When the Christian says "God is good" he's saying "Those acts that God performs, the nature that God exhibits when He acts, those things are good and righteous and holy and lovely."  When the hedonist tries to say the same thing, you end up saying "Those acts that pleasure performs, the nature that pleasure exhibits when it (he?  she?) acts, those things are good and righteous and holy and lovely."  Obviously this is meaningless (pleasure doesn't act).  Rather, the statement "pleasure is good" is read as "It is good to pursue pleasure" or restated, "One ought pursue pleasure."  Look what happened though!  The Christian, in positing a holy and lovely God that is, has no need to start with any "ought" statements - that one "is" statement is enough to define morality.  The hedonist, on the other hand, must start with an "ought" statement - "one ought pursue pleasure."  Thus the hedonist runs smack-dab into Hume's chasm.  I can legitimately ask: what is it about pleasure that's good?  Why ought we pursue pleasure?  Because you said so?  Because a bunch of smart people got together and said so?  That's not really good enough, is it?  All pleasure really is is increased levels of dopamine in the human brain, and there's nothing really inherently good in that, is there?  It's impossible to go from describing what pleasure is (increased levels of dopamine in the brain) to what one ought do with pleasure. (pursue it.)  Thus morality (those ought statements) does not exist in the same way that other real things exist.

Okay.

To begin with, pleasure doesn't need to act or be a thing that can act in order to be considered good in some meaningful way.  I'm not sure why you think this.  And this is kind of why I think we should go at least one more time around.  To clarify, I think that good here can simply mean valuable or preferable.  And I don't think that this is exactly a strange way to think about things being good in some way.  We use good in this way all the time.  For example, we might define certain health outcomes as good in a medical context.  Those outcomes don't act either.  And yet no one would object to a doctor claiming that it's a good thing to have a certain level of cholesterol or body fat or whatever because those things can't act or exhibit a nature.  We might say it's good to have some money set aside in case you're laid off.  This money can't act but we'd consider it good to have.

With respect to ought statements, you seem to be playing a word game rather than actually making a point.  I mean, I'm reading through it and it just seems to me that you've simply buried your ought statement in your conception of God by defining Him as good, righteous and type lovely and hoped against hope that I didn't notice.  I mean, what exactly does it mean for God to be good?  What would a bad god look like?

Anyway, I think that you're basically right that defining pleasure as good basically collapses to an ought statement--all we're doing when we define it as good is claiming that it's a thing worth pursuing.  I fail to see why that shouldn't be basically the case with God--the statement being "we ought to follow or be obedient to Jah".  In either case, goodness is just a property we're assuming that a thing has.  In the case of God, it's His good character, which is exhibited in His good example, good literature and good rules.  In the case of pleasure, it's its intrinsic value.  In either case, all we're saying is that there is this thing, be it pleasure, God's example in the person of Christ, or God's statutes and ordinances, that we should pursue, be like or obey.

And finally, I think I can also legitimately ask why I should follow God or consider His nature to be good and just or whatever.  It's not as if at any point in this discussion you've given any reason to assume that God is good apart from your contention that God is good if we assume the whole of Christianity.  Which is fine, actually.  But it works both ways.  If we assume the whole of hedonism, I don't need to tell you why pleasure is good either.  It's already been assumed.

And really this is where point 1 is actually kind of important.  You haven't really offered any good reason to accept Christianity over hedonism or any other non-theistic model of ethics.

As for this:

You state you're not a hedonist, but you nonetheless object to the gang-rape scenario.  From a hedonist (which you're admittedly not,) I'm not sure I'd buy that the pain caused by rape is somehow "deeper" than the pleasure men and women typically get from sex.  Pleasure is pleasure, and pain is pain, right?  Both are measurable, right?  Why do you get to wave your hand and say certain forms of pain are "deeper" than other forms of pleasure?  In any case, you're not a utilitarian, so I'm comfortable dropping this point.

Homie, I always object to ALL gang-rape scenarios!  I know my dudes in the District can get nuts, but what are y'all doing in Seattle?! 

But nah, seriously, I'm not waving my hands.  I'm saying that it's not really an apples to apples comparison that's being made here because of a qualitative difference in the experiences.  Essentially, I'm agreeing with Mill who made this point in the 19th century--higher and lower pleasures and all that.  And honestly, I don't even know how to respond to the claim that the pain of a rape is not in fact much deeper than the pleasure of the completion of a sexual act.  We're just not even talking about the same thing at that point.

As for the last part of the argument, you misinterpreted what I was saying.  When I wrote:

The fact that people try to rationalize their ethical behavior doesn't imply that there is some actually right thing to do...

I was objecting to the notion that we can draw some inference about what is or is not right based on the fact that people often feel compelled to rationalize their actions post hoc.  That's it.  That's all.  This is not the same thing as claiming that there is not actually a right thing to do in a given situation.  Again, this is why I'd like one more response from you.  You completely and totally missed my point and just fucking ran with it.

To sum up,

With respect to point 1, I think that I can basically agree that if we assume Christianity is true then Christian morality follows from that.  I just think that if you're allowed this move then I'm allowed to make the same case for hedonism or whatever other moral system I want to introduce and therefore point 2 is false.  And I think that I would be justified in doing this because thus far you haven't adequately demonstrated that Christianity is more reasonably assumed than any other potential worldview or ethical system.  Furthermore, with respect to point 2, you haven't offered any convincing argument in opposition to the plausibility of a non-theistic ethical system.

My view is and has been this.  In any ethical system we must start from somewhere.  For you, it's that there is a good God with good rules.  And that's fine.  But it seems to me that all you've done in this thread and others is pretended that your critiques of non-theistic systems don't apply to your system as well.

Everyone needs to shoehorn in their ought statements.


Peace and Love
 1. pun intended.  I'm all about bad word play
 2. correct and unimpeachable though it may be.
 3. Someone needs to tell God that it's okay to be Tekei
 4. Metaphorically of course.  Let's keep it vegetarian people.
pero ya tu sabes...

Offline MathIsCool

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Re: Timo & MathIsCool discuss Morality
« Reply #11 on: September 14, 2011, 11:00:11 AM »
Hi Timo,

Good post.  Just letting you know I'm up for going another round, should have another post up in a week or so.

Thanks!
MiC
Why not name the website ... "whywontGodallowlaserstoshootoutofmyeyespewpewpew.com"

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Offline MathIsCool

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Re: Timo & MathIsCool discuss Morality
« Reply #12 on: October 04, 2011, 02:10:10 PM »
Hi Timo,

As always, let me thank you for a well written response and your continued participation.  Thanks for being patient while I wrote this response - some real life stuff came up and I had to take a break, but I'm back now.

Before I go into the crux of our discussion about why morality is hard to define in an atheistic universe, let me answer your objections to Christianity and show that, indeed,
Part I: Christianity Rocks!

Remember, these are just reasons why Christianity deserves a closer look over and above, say, Timoteoism.  These aren't meant to be ironclad logical traps meant to force you to affirm the truth of Christ (though yes, you should do that), they are more gentle suggestions that maybe the frothing rabble dissenters from Christianity might have missed some salient points about Christianity and Jesus Christ.  For example, Argumentem ad Populem is the oldest logical fallacy in the book, but I'm not using it to prove Christianity per se, just showing that there might be something going for it.

Popularity:
You say it's bad logic to argue from Christianity's popularity.  Sure, if we're trying to use that to prove necessarily Christian truth.  If we're just being invited to take a closer look at the truth claims Christianity makes it's obviously not bad logic - it's not even logic.  It's just a suggestion.  I don't think Christianity is true because 2 billion of my closest friends do, I belive it 'cuz a dude said he was gonna rise from the dead, which wasn't all that out of the ordinary, until said dude actually rose from the dead.

Science:
We're so close to agreeing here. 
Sure, Science isn't a direct, necessary result of Christianity or Christian societies.  You say
"some of the best scientists ever have been Christians or that many Christian scientists thought they were uncovering the glory of [God's] creation or whatever."
and that's close.  Rather, I'd say the people who invented the endeavor we refer to as science thought it was a Christian endeavor.  I'd argue that science is as Christian as singing hymns or going to church Sunday morning - the people who invented it thought of it as a Christian thing to do.

Slavery:
I'm saying Christians invented science, and saw it as a Christian thing to do.  To the inventers of science, Christianity is to Science as Apple Pie is to America.[1]  Are you saying the founders of the African slave trade saw it as a distincly Christian enterprise?  Even if you can show that (which is what it would take to show a true parallel), you have to realize that the folks who ended it (whose arguments trumped the ones you list) saw the abolition movement as a Christian enterprise as well.

Mass x Acceleration: 
This really seems like whacking Christianity with any available stick that comes to hand.  Christianity is popular?  Must have come about by force.  Do you think that Womens' Suffrage came about solely through force as well?  What about civil rights?  Limited government?  The idea of intrinsic value of humanity?  If not, why argue that Christianity's propogation is solely due to guys with guns?  I mean, look at how Christianity is spreading today - it's either by children born into families whose parents introduce it to them as something that they think is clearly good for them, or else by missionaries who tend to do significant charity work while spreading a message of peace and hope and love and good news.  That's not exactly the conversions at gunpoint you seem to be envisioning.

Finally,
God's goodness:
Yes, that genocide was good.

Look, I could point out how the Caananites were sacrificing their firstborn to fire, and how anyone who could listen to their own child screaming as they were literally burned alive doesn't deserve a ton of sympathy here.  I could point out that it's very reasonable of God to ensure that his chosen people don't take up that particular barbaric practice, and that given they were rather sponge-like in their worship of their neighbor's gods, God wanted a more surefire way to ensure this one didn't make it's way into Israel.

Rather, though, I think I'll point out two things:

1) You don't really have a problem with mass genocide either.  As I keep pointing out below, there's no real objective standard for rightness or wrongness on atheism, so neither of us have a problem with it.

2) If you'd like God to consult you the next time He acts, He's open to that.  All you have to do is clothe yourself in glory and righteous splendor, thunder down your voice from the heavens so that the whole earth can hear, humble all those who are proud in their heart, crush all the wicked where they stand, and then He'll admit (see Job 40:2-14, same passage that I mentioned before) that your moral judgements actually count for something.  Until then, what you or I think about what is right and wrong isn't really relevant to the discussion.

Part II: Morality on Atheism

Quote from: Timo
To begin with, pleasure doesn't need to act or be a thing that can act in order to be considered good in some meaningful way.

Well, sure, in some meaningful way.  The opening 1. ... c5 is a good response to 1. e4 in chess - it avoids mirroring white's move, it makes a play for the center square d4, and it opens up the trade later on with white's center d pawn by giving up your non-center c pawn.  It is thus definitely good in a meaningful way.  But it's not really morally good, is it?  There's nothing ethically good about 1. ... c5.  It's just a (good) move in chess.

Similarly, God is good means that God is ethically, morally, virtuously good.  It means He is righteous when He acts and demonstrates His nature, in a way that pleasure isn't.  Therefore, when I want to say 'murder is bad' and I want to trace the "why's" all the way to their source, I end up pointing to something objective, something that actually exists in reality, in the same reality that potato bugs exist in, or Jupiter, or Australia.  God, potato bugs, Jupiter, and Australia are all really really there.  For reals.  Now, granted, this thing is axiomatic - I at no point proved that God exists, I just took it as one of my givens with which my worldview operates.

But the Hedonist doesn't even have that!  The Hedonist pursues his why's up to his axiomatic stopping point and ends up at an axiomatic ought statement, just a statement that says "We ought pursue pleasure."  There's nothing in there that jumps the chasm to the is side of things.  There's nothing intrinsic in pleasure itself that makes it worth pursuing, out here in the real world.  All we have is an idea that everybody should pursue pleasure and that will be our working definition of good.  Nothing magical is posited about pleasure itself that exists in the real world, rather it's just an axiomatic statement "We ought pursue pleasure" without any feature of reality anchoring it to the real world.

This is really my central point that you have yet to address.  Sure, both of us operate within axiomatic worldviews - it could hardly be otherwise.  But at least I'm honest enough to axiomatically posit things that exist in the real world, so that (in my worldview) morality and goodness and truth are all actual concepts that have meaningful values in our world.  The Hedonist, or the Rawlsian, or the Utilitarian, or whatnot all posit some ultimate idea or value, but they don't go that one crucial step further to actually posit that pleasure (e.g) actually is good in the same way that Jupiter is 778 million kilomters from the sun.

I use the world "magical" very carefully in the above paragraph.  This aspect of reality that confers rightness and wrongness, righteousness and unrighteousness upon objects that would otherwise be as dry as "increased dopamine levels in the brain" must be itself above nature, or supernatural.  Looked at naturalistically, nothing in nature is good or evil.  An earthquake might seem evil, until one realizes that naturalistically, those lives that it destroyed are just hunks of carbon whose constituent parts are slightly rearranged.  A pandemic might seem horrendous, until one realizes that for every human live lost, a bacterial or viral life (or lives) was gained.  This thing that it is the source of righteousness and unrighteousness must be above nature, because everything in nature when examined for it's intrinsic value betrays that it does not have any.  But all this is really an aside, the main point is that Hedonists and other naturalistic moral ethicists don't anchor their moral hypothesis to reality.

You object to me "burying" my ought statement in my definition of God.  Douglas Wilson (a pastor out in Idaho) and Christopher Hitchens put out a debate a couple of years on the subject "Is Christianity Good for the World." There was a documentary about the series of debates, it took it's name "Collision" because one of them (I think Doug Wilson) said debates like these are really less of a debate and more a collision of worldviews.  The reason I bring all this up is that this objection of yours, I think, is more of a collision than a serious point.  I'm absolutely playing word games by defining as God something that is just and good and holy - if God does not exist.  If he does not, in fact, exist, then all I'm really doing is packaging up all those things I baselessly have a preference for (rape vs. non rape, theft vs non-theft, strawberry ice cream vs. chocolate ice cream)  and assigning those to my made-up God.  This is all word games - assuming God does not exist.  Assuming He is actually out there, though - assuming there really is a self-existent ultimate being out there who prefers rape to non rape, theft to non-theft, and strawberry ice cream to chocolate ice cream[2] - then this is more than word games.  Then God's nature decides what is good, and what is good is more akin to the ratio of primes to non-primes than a to a preference for jelly bean flavors.  It is something real and something that we have a moral obligation to discover, and then follow.  Similarly, asking me what a "bad" god would look like carries a hidden assumption.  There is only one God (in 3 persons), and He is good - asking me to describe a bad version is making the implicit assumption that Gods are something that exist only in believers heads.  (If you want a bad god-with-a-little-g, then alcohol is a great example.  When it gets to the point where it is demanding total obedience over all aspects of a persons life (the way gods are want to do) then I think you and I can agree that it is a pretty horrific master and an evil god.  But that is not really your point, is it?)

You ask,

And finally, I think I can also legitimately ask why I should follow God or consider His nature to be good and just or whatever

*splutter*

He invented the world.  That's pretty good, isn't it?  The Horsehead Nebula, nacho's, the pleasant buzz of lazy bumblebees on a warm summer day, hot tubs, sunshine, hikes in the middle of mountains across frozen lakes, log cabins puffing smoke out their chimneys telegraphing smores by the fire in the evening, coffee, human industry: all His idea.  The Grand Canyon and Niagara falls and the Amazon River and the Mississippi River and Mount Baker and the wild-untamable-ferocious-yet-beautiful oceans, all four of 'em.  The silent frozen desert of Antarticta, and the cacaphonic humid greenhouse of the rainforests.  You.  Me.  Your friends, your relatives (even the unpleasant ones), your neighbors, your acquaintances, your hair.  Every breath you take is yet one more gift from Him to you, one more way in which He is patiently inviting you to partake more fully in His goodness.  For you to stand on your own two legs (that He gave you) and defiantly shake your fist (that He gave you) at Him and yell (with breath that He gave you) that your moral intuitions (that He gave you) are way better than His morals and from now on you'll go on living (as long as He lets you) without Him or his morality, thank you very much, would almost be laughable - it if weren't so tragically common.

Really honestly and truly, it's statements like these that make me wonder if atheists objections to God are as based in logic as they claim they are.

Regarding the gang-rape thing you say it's a "qualitative difference in the experiences" and you agree with Mill about higher and lower pleasures.  I mean, that's great and all, and I agree with you - the pain of rape, both physical and psychological, is horrendous, and probably doesn't compare to the sex act.  But my point is that a hedonist or a utilitarian cannot rationally make this point.  See, pain and pleasure are measurable.  There is some quantity of pain a person experiences during rape.  So long as you get together enough men, that pain is balanced out by the admittedly lesser pleasure each man feels multiplied by the number of men perpretrating the crime, right?  I mean, this whole thing is really perverse logic: if the hedonist objects to the experience of the victim, is it alright if the perpetrator drugs the victim first?  Should the perpretrator kill the victim after they're done using her so that her life is shorter and thus she experiences less pain?  I think this is a fundamental flaw in defining pleasure as good, and it's going to take more than some vague point on "higher and lower pleasures and all that" to convince me otherwise.

You object to my point about your admission of a lack of right and wrong existing in the real world, saying

I was objecting to the notion that we can draw some inference about what is or is not right based on the fact that people often feel compelled to rationalize their actions post hoc.

Isn't this just as bad?  The notion that we can "draw some inference about what is or is not right" is rather important, isn't it?  I mean, you and I rationize our decisions to not eat babies[3] by rationalizing together and realizing that there is something intrinsically valuable about human life (that goes above and beyond their nutritional content) and thus it's wrong to eat them.  I mean, if we're just saying right and wrong exist out there, somewhere, but we have no hope of ever discovering their true objective values, that seems to me to be just as bad saying right and wrong don't actually exist.  It seems like my point still stands: under Christianity we can know the truth about what is good and live according to that, but under naturalistic morality either nothing is really right, or something is right but we don't know what.  For all we know, it might be baby-eating.  Worse, there's no use in trying to figure out what's right and what's not, cuz what is right or wrong is not based on our rationalizing about what is right or wrong.

Let me sum up.

With regards to point 1, we both agree.  You've been trying to nibble around the edges to show how Christianity doesn't give rise to the morality that you and I know and love, but my trump card here is really that I don't have to say "yes it does."  I can say in fact it has.  It's a historical fact that western civilization has been enormously influenced by Christianity, and you and I would think very different things about science, civil rights, intrinsic values on human life, and lots of other things if it weren't for Christian influence on western civilization.  (I assume you're a member of "western civilization," if you're not I apologize for the assumption.)

With regards to point 2, for the most part, we agree.  You're main point seems to be that Hedonism (and Rawlsianism, and Timoteism, and all the others) are allowed the same move that Christianity makes.  Sure, my point isn't that they're not allowed the same move, it's that they don't really make it.  Hedonism, for example, insists on stopping at "We ought follow pleasure."  Rawlsian stops at "We ought treat others as though we agreed to this theoretical elaborate game beforehand."  Christianity doesn't say "We ought behave as though there is a God who made the universe and these are His rules," it says "There is a God and these really are his rules.  This is reality.  I respect your view on things and your morality as well, I just think they're wrong. (and I respect you enough to tell you that.)

Could Hedonism make the same move Christianity makes?  Sure!  All it would take is saying there is some magical (see above) property about the increased dopamine levels in the brain that really is good, that is, it is intrinsically valuable for it's own sake.  That state of pleasure (in humans only, I assume?) is good, and holy, and pure, and just.  Cheat on your wife?  So long as she doesn't find out to give herself "negative" pleasure, it was a good thing to do - You are in fact obligated to do it.  Steal something?  Better not let anyone find out.  Noble sacrifices are out - it's immoral to deny yourself any amount of pleasure, because pleasure is defenitionally good.  It's important to note that - it's not just that there exists some theory out there that says we ought pursue pleasure, pleasure is good.  The goodness of pleasure is an unmeasurable, unverifiable part of reality.  It doesn't follow from any part of the natural world, it's just plopped down, as magic and as unexplainable as the Christian God.  In time, it will grow to consume your entire life - how could the very defintion of all that is good in the world not? - and become an unquenchable thirst for more and more pleasure.  It will consume you.

Pleasure will have become your god.


Thanks for the debate, yo!
-MiC
 1. Can I assume you've heard the saying "As American as Apple pie?
 2. Of course, he doesn't prefer strawberry to chocolate, that would be silly.  He clearly prefers the objectively best flavor - cookies 'n cream.
 3. even though atheists love doing that kind of stuff, I hear... *duck*
Why not name the website ... "whywontGodallowlaserstoshootoutofmyeyespewpewpew.com"

 - Expurgate, here

Offline Timo

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Re: Timo & MathIsCool discuss Morality
« Reply #13 on: October 09, 2011, 10:27:38 PM »
Peace Math

Forgive me.  I think this is going to be a long one.  I feel like trying to really flesh some things out since this is the last round, yeah?  Anyway...

Christianity's Failure to Rock

On Brute Force and Popularity

If I'm being honest, I think that my focus on the degree to which force was responsible for the spread of Christianity is to some extent the result of some ethnocentric thinking on my part.  It's just hard for me to take seriously the argument that the popularity of Christianity should so much as nudge me in the direction of giving Christianity a good look as a plausible worldview because I know that the way in which Christianity was introduced to my people was primarily through violence--particularly, chattel slavery.  I just don't see why the fact that Christians were good at conquering people, occasionally forcing them into perpetual servitude and destroying their cultures is a reason to overlook some less popular worldview in favor of Christianity.  But that's me.  You can think whatever you want.

As for this:

This really seems like whacking Christianity with any available stick that comes to hand.  Christianity is popular?  Must have come about by force.  Do you think that Womens' Suffrage came about solely through force as well?  What about civil rights?  Limited government?  The idea of intrinsic value of humanity?  If not, why argue that Christianity's propogation is solely due to guys with guns?

I say that Christianity's popularity is due, in large part, to force because...it fucking is.[1]  I mean, cousin, are you really here pretending that European Christians didn't conquer peoples all over the world and force them to convert?  Really?  Are you really pretending that Europe itself wasn't Christianized as a matter of state policy?  That herecies and unbelief weren't often punished with torture and death?  Really?  I mean, we can argue about the extent to which force as opposed to peaceful conversions accounts for Christianity's spread or whatever but to compare the spread of Christianity to something like the Civil Rights movement makes no sense.[2]  It's a non sequitor.

I mean, look at how Christianity is spreading today - it's either by children born into families whose parents introduce it to them as something that they think is clearly good for them, or else by missionaries who tend to do significant charity work while spreading a message of peace and hope and love and good news.  That's not exactly the conversions at gunpoint you seem to be envisioning.

And this is another non-sequitor.  I'm not talking about how things are going today when I say that Christianity was spread by force.  I'm talking about how we got to where we are.  The fact that very nice Christians might go abroad to build wells in remote villages or go door to door in their own neighborhoods to implore heathens such as myself to attend their weird Pentacostal church doesn't change any of that.  It already happened.

On Slavery and Science

I'd argue that science is as Christian as singing hymns or going to church Sunday morning - the people who invented it thought of it as a Christian thing to do.

You know, if more Christians thought that way, I think we'd be in a better place as a country.  But they don't because it's not as if science flows logically from some aspect of Christianity, which is why Christianity existed for over 1000 years before the development of modern science and why there are Christians today that feel compelled to retard the teaching of science and scientific research when it conflicts with their dogma or worse, who condemn the whole endevour as somehow "arrogant".  That's really the extent of my argument there.  Were science truly a result of Christianity, were it really as Christian as singing hymns we'd expect to find it emerge in Christendom as early as hyms did.  Distinctly Christian endevour or not, it's not something that's an innate part of the religion and as such I don't see why Christians should pat themselves on the back or act like their religion is so boss because of it.  Furthermore, as I've already pointed out, it's not as if the Christians came up with this out of the blue.  They were drawing from an existing pre-Christian scientific tradition--a tradition that might have been lost to them entirely after the Dark Ages were it not for the Muslims.

Are you saying the founders of the African slave trade saw it as a distincly Christian enterprise?  Even if you can show that (which is what it would take to show a true parallel), you have to realize that the folks who ended it (whose arguments trumped the ones you list) saw the abolition movement as a Christian enterprise as well.

To begin with, it's not really correct at all to claim that the pro-slavery side's arguments were "trumped" by the abolitionists.  That's not how things happened.  The proponants of slavery lost a war.[3]  During the war, they saw Union forces free slaves as a means of disrupting their economy and aquiring troops and labor.  And following the war, they were forced to once and for all end slavery and forced to agree to its illegality in order to re-enter the Union.  This was not a matter of simply being "trumpted" in an argument.  And as I've already mentioned in a previous post, efforts were made in the South to recreate systems of forced labor for Blacks once slavery ended.  One such system, convict leasing[4], persisted well into the 20th century.  (It should also be noted that we, as a country, still take advantage of convict labor and that the criminal justice system is pretty thoroughly racialized.  Convicts today do everything from fighting fires to making soldiers uniforms often for pennies per hour.[5])  Furthermore, Blacks who remained free from that form of bondage were still denied their full citizenship by the state, were economically exploited and were routinely terrorized by white Christians, who even took their small children to pose for pictures with the flayed corpses of murdered Blacks.  I should also note that even after the slavery of Blacks was formally ended, the slavery of Native Americans persisted well after the Civil War. 

So no, slavery didn't simply fall out of favor by the force of good Christian arguments against the institution.  The institution was ended by the force brought to bear against the Confederacy.  And even after they were forced to abandon the practice, the former slave states found a way to enslave free Blacks and maintained it for decades.

With respect to the question of whether the founders of the slave trade themselves saw it as a Christian enterprise, I'd say so.  Or at least, I'd say that they saw it as something that was in keeping with Christianity.  This is reflected in early slave codes, which are very explicit in the relationship of the Christian religion to the still forming institution and were sometimes even informed by Biblical ideas.  For example, the Biblical idea that slaves should be procured from the heathens is reflected in Virginia's 1705 code[6]:

And also be it enacted, by the authority aforesiad, and it is hereby enacted, That all servants imported and brought into this country, by sea or land, who were not christians in their native country, (except Turks and Moors in amity with her majesty, and others that can make due proof of their being free in England, or any other christian country, before they were shipped, in order to transporation hither) shall be accounted and be slaves, and as such be here bought and sold notwithtanding a conversion to christianity afterwards….

So, following the Israelites, they had developed a two-tiered system of servitude, where, like the Israelites, they treated members of their own group as temporary servents and treated the heathen as property.

But I don't know that I'd say that they felt any sort of compulsion to procure slaves as a matter of somehow fulfilling their duty as Christians in the way that you're claiming Christian scientists viewed their role vis a vis science.  Rather, they simply viewed the institution as being in line with and justified by Christianity.  The quote from James Henry Hammond that I pulled for my last post, for exmple, reflected a once common view that Africans, being descended from Ham were cursed.  And thus, the fact that servititude was their lot in life was a fact of scripture.  And I've already cited codes in the Bible that not only fail to condemn slavery but outline in detail the proper way in which slavery is to be practiced.  Still, I think the relationship between Christian thinking and slavery was at its strongest much later, as the institution came to be challenged morally and from a Christian perspective.  The quotes I pulled, with the exception of the one from Raymund Harris, were from the mid 19th Century, though there were pro African slavery arguments coming from the Catholic Church and elsewhere going back to the 16th century when the institution was first coming into being.

In any case, it's not an exact analogy, or at least it's not analogous to your account of the birth of modern science.  But I'm still at a loss for how you can dismiss the extent to which Christianity influenced the prroponants and practicioners of African chattel slavery while at the same time claiming science as the handiwork of Christianity itself.  And as far as the abolitionists go, yes, there's no doubt that Christianity and Christians, and the Quakers specifically, were crucial to the movement.  But to claim this as a sort of feather in the cap of Christianity, as you did in your first post, just looks ridiculous and borders on offensive when one remembers that these people were railing against the savegery and barbarism of Bible believing Christians.   And while you and Dinesh D'Souza might think that Christianity should be credited for the concept of human dignity, in reality this is a notion that white Christians have only recently begun applying to us.

I know that this is a long digression, but I think it's necessary to help demonstrate why I find shit like this here to be insufferably obnoxious:

It's a historical fact that western civilization has been enormously influenced by Christianity, and you and I would think very different things about science, civil rights, intrinsic values on human life, and lots of other things if it weren't for Christian influence on western civilization.  (I assume you're a member of "western civilization," if you're not I apologize for the assumption.)

Until very recently, Western civilization considered people like me to be something less than a person and treated us accordingly.

On God's Goodness, Gang Rape and Genocide

You wrote:

Yes, that genocide was good.

You know, it occurs to me that when you brought up your gang-rape scenario, you're doing what we all do when we're evaluating the implications of a moral system.  You were attempting to see how well its precepts and potential consequences square with our moral intuitions and in doing so attempting to make an assessment of the system.  Your assessment of hedonism was negative.  My example of the genocide depicted in Numbers 25 was a simmilar sort of exercise.

As such, I don't think that the supposed weakness of morality on atheism really even enters into the picture at this point.  All we're doing is seeing how well this depiction of God squares with our moral intuitions, or our conception of goodness.  We're not yet examining it through some rigorous moral framework.  It's a much more basic enterprise.  And so I think that 1 is false.  And 2 is really beside the point.  If the Biblical god is indeed the person in whom morality is grounded and in whom goodness and even perfection are exemplified, and that this god sometimes commands genocide, homophobia, slavery etc then all I'm saying is that we're now using the words good and moral in ways that we don't currently understand the terms.  We don't understand homophobia or slavery to be good.  And however any of us might define a moral act, few of us would say that intentionally killing a small child can be a moral act.  You seem to disagree with this.

With respect to the question of whether or not there might be a scenario in which the pain of a rape victim is somehow mitigated such that there is more net pleasure or something, you can have that point dude.

As for this:

Look, I could point out how the Caananites were sacrificing their firstborn to fire, and how anyone who could listen to their own child screaming as they were literally burned alive doesn't deserve a ton of sympathy here.  I could point out that it's very reasonable of God to ensure that his chosen people don't take up that particular barbaric practice, and that given they were rather sponge-like in their worship of their neighbor's gods, God wanted a more surefire way to ensure this one didn't make it's way into Israel.

This argument might make sense were it not for the fact that the Israelites were instructed to kill the little boys and take the virgin girls for themselves in this case.  Whatever the depravity of their parents, the kids are well...kids.  I mean, am I wrong to find it strange that you're apparently arguing that Canaanite children should have been killed because their parents sacrificed some of those children to their gods?  Furthermore, we're talking about the example in Numbers, where the girls were kept alive and taken by the men "for themselves".  If there was reason to kill the boys, why wouldn't that same sort of reasoning apply to the girls?  Also, the claim that child sacrifice is always wrong isn't exactly Biblical since it's sometimes depicted as an acceptable thing to do in the Hebrew Bible.  In the book of Judges, Jephthah sacrifices his daughter as a burnt offering to Yahweh and is never rebuked by God or anyone else.

In any case, I think it's worth mentioning that this and other genocides depicted in the Hebrew Bible are most likely polemical rather than an actual history given the lack of archeological evidence or non-Biblical witnesses for the conquest of Canaan and the exodus that was said to have preceeded it.  Indeed, the evidence would seem to suggest that the Israelites were themselves Canaanites.  Furthermore, there are good reasons to think that child sacrifice, along with other practices attributed to the Canaanites, was actually a part of Israelite religion at some point.[7]  But I suppose this is only relevent insofar as it should caution us against assuming that Christianity, or at the very least Biblical literalism is correct.

To sum up, I don't think that you've done an adequate job in this thread demonstrating why it is more reasonable to assume Christianity over another view.  All the reasons and suggestions you've given fall apart when held up to any scruitany.  Furthermore, we observe that assuming the Christian worldview can lead us to the disgusting conclusion that it can be moral to kill a small child. 

With all of this in mind, it would seem that point 2 of your original post is false.  I can just as easily assume an atheistic moral system as you can assume your Christian system.

Atheism's Failure to Rock

On Chess Strategy

You wrote:

Well, sure, in some meaningful way.  The opening 1. ... c5 is a good response to 1. e4 in chess - it avoids mirroring white's move, it makes a play for the center square d4, and it opens up the trade later on with white's center d pawn by giving up your non-center c pawn.  It is thus definitely good in a meaningful way.  But it's not really morally good, is it?  There's nothing ethically good about 1. ... c5.  It's just a (good) move in chess.

All you've really done here is demonstrate that good can apply to an action that we wouldn't really think of as being morally insignificant.  But that's going to be the case regardless of what sort of moral theory you subscribe to.  On Christianity, a "good" chess move isn't something we'd think of as morally significant or "good" in the way that God is.

I'm not sure what you think you're accomplishing with this example.

On High Speed Collisions

You wrote:

...this objection of yours, I think, is more of a collision than a serious point.  I'm absolutely playing word games by defining as God something that is just and good and holy - if God does not exist.  If he does not, in fact, exist, then all I'm really doing is packaging up all those things I baselessly have a preference for (rape vs. non rape, theft vs non-theft, strawberry ice cream vs. chocolate ice cream)  and assigning those to my made-up God.  This is all word games - assuming God does not exist.  Assuming He is actually out there, though - assuming there really is a self-existent ultimate being out there who prefers rape to non rape, theft to non-theft, and strawberry ice cream to chocolate ice cream

I think you've missed the point.  I wrote that what you've done is defined your god in a way that buries the ought statement "one ought to follow God's laws" or something like that.  I don't have a problem with you defining God in that way.  You're a Christian.  It's part of the package.  You're assuming a good God that exists in reality.  Fine.  Dandy.  What I have a problem with is that you don't seem to be able to recognize what you're doing.  You're starting with an ought statement in much the same way that you correctly claim that proponents of other moral systems are.  That your ought statement relates to a thing that exists in reality is beside the point.  And what I mean when I say that you're playing word games is that you seem to recognize this to some extent and are trying to obscure it.  Case in point:

When the Christian says "God is good" he's saying "Those acts that God performs, the nature that God exhibits when He acts, those things are good and righteous and holy and lovely."  When the hedonist tries to say the same thing, you end up saying "Those acts that pleasure performs, the nature that pleasure exhibits when it (he?  she?) acts, those things are good and righteous and holy and lovely."  Obviously this is meaningless (pleasure doesn't act).  Rather, the statement "pleasure is good" is read as "It is good to pursue pleasure" or restated, "One ought pursue pleasure."  Look what happened though!  The Christian, in positing a holy and lovely God that is, has no need to start with any "ought" statements - that one "is" statement is enough to define morality.  The hedonist, on the other hand, must start with an "ought" statement - "one ought pursue pleasure."

The only difference between either assumption is that one appeals to a thing and one appeals to a person.  They both collapse into ought statements.  We're all starting on the same side of Hume's chasm.  So I just don't think you have made any kind of point when you make claims like this:

There's nothing intrinsic in pleasure itself that makes it worth pursuing, out here in the real world.
 

Unless we assume that pleasure is worth pursuing out here in the real world. 

Looked at naturalistically, nothing in nature is good or evil.  An earthquake might seem evil, until one realizes that naturalistically, those lives that it destroyed are just hunks of carbon whose constituent parts are slightly rearranged.  A pandemic might seem horrendous, until one realizes that for every human live lost, a bacterial or viral life (or lives) was gained.
 

Unless we assume that human life has value.

I could go on.

And this is why I've come to view point 1 as actually pretty important.  If assuming that God exists and is good is a valid move then assuming that human life is good is a valid move.  Therefore point 2 is false because we can use the same sort of trick to make any moral system, including those that don't appeal to theism, true.

On Bad Gods

You wrote:

Similarly, asking me what a "bad" god would look like carries a hidden assumption.  There is only one God (in 3 persons), and He is good - asking me to describe a bad version is making the implicit assumption that Gods are something that exist only in believers heads

Hold on a minute.  You've already, in so many words, condemned Zeus as a "bad god" or at least a god with bad priorities.  Remember? 

Because I'm a Christian, I'll further be maintaining that it is the Christian God alone that supplies the basis of morality, not some fuzzy deity that nobody knows about, or some amoral Zeus who's only morality seems to be get as many mortals pregnant as possible.

Bold mine.  Whether or not Zeus exists in reality is beside the point.  I'm not asking you to describe a bad god that exists in reality.  I know you don't believe in one.  I'm merely asking what a bad god might look like.   How would we know the difference?

I suppose you could counter by saying that it's not an apples to apples comparison since Zeus has a different role in the Greek pantheon.  Though I'd probably counter by pointing out that there's reason to think that Yahweh hasn't always held the same place in the Israelite/Canaanite pantheon.  But that's another debate and we've gone on enough tangents, as the length of this post attests.  In any case, I don't even understand your objection.  Honestly, it reads almost as an admission.  After all, if God can command a genocide and this genocide has to be considered good, I'm not sure what sort of action would be beyond the pale for this sort of being, on your view.

On Following God's Laws

Honestly, I found your argument case for following God to be a bit silly.  You can write that I should follow him because he invented the universe and all the good things with it but I can just as easily write a simmilar list that would include the bad things--genocide, the Middle Passage, pandemics, earthquakes, child rape etc.

Besides, even assuming that Christianity is true and the Bible is right and correct, there is reason to think that we might not be able to trust God on everything.  For example:

24Because they had not executed my judgments, but had despised my statutes, and had polluted my sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers' idols.

 25Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live;

 26And I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the LORD.


Ezekiel 20:24-26 KJV


Bold mine.  In other words, it would appear that sometimes God has us do things He doesn't actually think are good.  In this case, Ezekiel reports that God Himself ordered the Israelites to sacrifice their first born as burnt offerings as a kind of punishment.  He did it to an entire generation. 

I've heard it argued that the translation of this passage is problematic and that properly translated, God is not really claiming to have ordered child sacrifice.[8]  But that only creates a different, perhaps larger, problem.  Unless God wants to talk to me directly, I have to read His book to see what he wants for me.  In doing so, not being a scholar of the ancient Near East, and not speaking Greek or Hebrew, I have to rely on translations that are sometimes problematic and on scholars who might and probably will misinterperet things.  And I have to listen to ministers who themselves might be misinterpreting things.  And there are plenty of examples of what I tend to think are popular misinterperetations of Biblical law.  For example, I don't think the command that we not take God's name in vein has anything to do with profanity, but rather with the idea that we ought not break our word, since in the OT, every promise takes the form "As Yahweh lives, I will do x, y and z."

Furthermore, if we read our Bible, we can find plenty of examples where people argue with God.  If Moses and Abraham can argue with the God that they are communicating with directly (and in some cases get the better of Him) I'm not sure why it's so weird that I think that asking why I should follow God, should He exist is a valid question, especially if He hasn't revealed Himself to me in some way. 

And further furthermore, if I take the sort of halfway position that I think that the god of the Bible is real then I think it's still an open question whether or not I should find Him or His law to be good, especially if His best answer to why He killed a man's family and afflicted Him with sickness on a bet is basically, "you're not me."  And again, this is a god that has commanded people to kill little babies and stone gays to death!

But perhaps, like most atheists, I'm just being illogical.

And finally

On Post Hoc Rationalizations

You keep reading things into what I'm writing that just aren't there.  I never once claimed that right and wrong are unknowable.  I simply disagreed with you and with Lewis on the point that we should draw some kind of conclusion as to the existence of objective moral facts based on post hoc rationalizations.  I just think that the fact that people tend to do this sort of thing for all sorts of topics, on everything from sports to politics, should caution us against making too much of this.

In Conclusion,

You've failed to explain why it's right to axiomatically assume Christianity but not another worldview.  In this thread your attempts to justify this have been considerably weak, relying mostly on bad history and word games.

Everyone needs to start from an ought statement.  That's it.  That's all.

It's been fun


Peace and Love
 1. This is not to say that it was the only factor.  After all, the most crucial period for the religion was in those early days where it thrived and expanded throughout the Mediteranian in spite of force, as the Romans were actively persecuting them.
 2. Though I guess the Civil Rights movement, especially in the late 60s, did involve a fair amount of dudes with guns--perhaps most notably the Black Panthers.
 3. To be sure there were slave states in the Union.  And even in states where slavery was ostensibly illegal, the practice still continued even as it was becoming more rare.  New Jersey, for example, allowed slavery to be phased out gradually and still recorded slaves among its residents in the 1860 Census.  And even then, the law still allowed the children of slaves to be forced into a form of indentured servitude.
 4. described by Douglas A Blackmon as "a system in which armies of free men, guilty of no crimes and entitled by law to freedom, were compelled to labor without compensation, were repeatedly bought and sold, and were forced to do the bidding of white masters through the regular application of extraordinary physical coercion" in Slavery By Another Name.
You can read more about that here
 5. You can read about it here
 6. You can read it here.  I apologize for the google cache link.  The regular site wasn't working properly.
 7. Our former member Doctor X actually wrote an impressive essay on some of this evidence.  You can read it here.
 8. Still, I tend to think that the KJV translation and others like it fit well with Exodus 30:19-20, where it would seem that Jah thinks sacrificing our first born is the right thing to do but that we can sacrifice an animal in their place.
« Last Edit: October 09, 2011, 10:42:30 PM by Timo »
pero ya tu sabes...

Offline MathIsCool

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Re: Timo & MathIsCool discuss Morality
« Reply #14 on: October 10, 2011, 08:48:41 PM »
I said I'd give you the last word, and I'll stand by it.  Let me just say: thanks for the debate!  Truth be told, I think you're one of the few atheists on this board who can argue a point with strength and clarity, and remain unfailingly polite while doing so.  You showed these characteristics in our discussion.

Anywhoo, thanks again.  I hope you had as much fun as I did. :) :D ;D
Why not name the website ... "whywontGodallowlaserstoshootoutofmyeyespewpewpew.com"

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Offline Timo

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Re: Timo & MathIsCool discuss Morality
« Reply #15 on: October 10, 2011, 10:53:25 PM »
No doubt man.  It was fun.  And I know you're busy so I really appreciate you taking the time for this. 

Peace
pero ya tu sabes...

Offline screwtape

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Re: Timo & MathIsCool discuss Morality
« Reply #16 on: October 11, 2011, 06:53:04 AM »
Thank you, Timo and MathIsCool, for the spectacle you have given us.
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