Author Topic: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?  (Read 8192 times)

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Offline dloubet

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #87 on: December 13, 2011, 12:11:55 AM »
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i disagree with lots of them, because they require me to do things i'd rather not do.

But this contradicts your claim that you use your own judgement when in conflict with the god's nature, doesn't it? Here you seem to be saying you obey the god's morals instead of your own, but then later imply that they're your morals.

If you didn't already have the moral stricture that lying was wrong, why did you ignore your own judgment and obey the god? And if you already possessed a morality that held that lying was immoral despite the benefits, then what good was the association with the god?

And are you really insisting that you would rather lie and treat people badly? That's incomprehensible to me. I don't treat people badly because I don't like to treat people badly. I like treating them well. I get a good feeling from it so I seek to do it more. I was once asked by a Christian why I wasn't out raping and killing since I didn't believe in a god that would eternally punish me. I responded by asking him if raping and killing was what he would rather be doing if not for the strictures of his god. Rather than surrender the point, he said yes. Now I don't believe he really meant that, and was just willing to say anything to avoid admitting he was wrong, but I had to point out that I wasn't out raping and killing because I didn't want to. It wouldn't be fun.

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how would you distinguish "your own moral sense" from a moral sense that descended from god, assuming it was possible to obtain one?

I don't have that problem since I don't agree that it's possible to obtain one, and I don't know why you're arguing so tenaciously to hold on to that problem. If you let go of gods, the problem goes away. It's your own moral sense and that's all.

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if i have a moral urging to do something that i really don't want to do, but do it because i believe it's correct, did i actually want to do it all along, and therefore is it really external in origin?

External? That scenario can function completely internally and non-circularly. It's simple, your moral sense over-rode your desires. One's mind is constantly in conflict with itself. Sometimes your moral sense will triumph and sometimes your desires will win, and each has it's own consequences.
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Offline kcrady

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #88 on: December 13, 2011, 05:49:43 AM »
Kcrady, your entire counterpoint amounts to "we all agree with promoting what we see as well-being, therefore it is objective".  Do you see the problem with that?

Sure, "we all agree" is not a flawless guarantor of truth, especially if "we all" are in a state of ignorance about the nature of reality and have no methodology for testing the validity of our ideas.  However, if "we all agree" that the sky is blue on a cloudless sunny day, or that our measurements of the speed of light in a vacuum all converge on 299,792,458 meters per second, we ought to at least think, "Hmmm, maybe there's a reason for that."  I'm sure a postmodernist philosopher could make an intricate argument that "the speed of light" is just a socially-constructed subjective opinion, but I doubt that anyone, including the philosopher would want to design a GPS system where the relativity calibrations for the signals to and from the geosynchronous satellites could be made on the basis of a speed of light entered by the individual into their GPS device on the basis of personal preference.  Not if they actually wanted to use their GPS device, anyway.

I'll go into more detail about that:

Why would we want to maximize our obedience to Yahweh?  The Bible provides an unequivocal answer in both Testaments: if we do, he will reward us (maximize our well being); if we don't, he will punish us (maximize our suffering).

It offers us an answer that works if we plug in a positive valuation of the reward and/or a negative valuation of the punishment.  Those valuations are subjective.

OK, so on a philosophical level, the words "reward" and "punishment" are meaningless (since they incorporate "plugged in" positive or negative valuations in their definitions), and a preference for winning the lottery over being sent to the electric chair is subjective.  Still, there are plenty of good, empirical, scientific reasons why just about everybody would rather win the lottery than get the Chair, and why we would want to take a really good look at the serotonin levels in the brain of someone who preferred the Chair.  Only a philosopher could represent the choice between a lottery win and the electric chair as some kind of difficult quandary, or a matter of whimsical personal taste.

Is the choice between having a bowl of Cheerios for breakfast, and having a bowl of gravel with a soupcon of motor oil a matter of subjective preference?  I guess you could insist that it is as a matter of philosophical principle, since a person could conceivably prefer the gravel.  Nonetheless, there is a whole host of empirical facts of human physiology (the nature of our taste buds and sense of oral comfort/discomfort associated with trying to chew different things, the structure of our digestive system, the wiring of our brain that perceives pleasure as pleasant and pain as unpleasant, and so on) and the nature of small rocks and motor oil that explain why you would have to search long and hard to find any human being who felt a preference for the gravel and motor oil.  Furthermore, that person's preferences aren't going to make the actual, physical results of trying to eat gravel and motor oil go away. 

So, you can say that the choice is subjective from a precise, philosophical standpoint, just as you can say that it's impossible to prove that Yahweh doesn't exist from that same standpoint.  Maybe he (or Satan) faked things like distant starlight and fossils to test our faith.  Nonetheless, from the practical standpoint of living our lives with finite cognitive resources and time, we simplify things by treating the very high probability that Yahweh doesn't exist as a fact.  In the same way, when it comes to ethical reasoning, we can take baseline human physiology and psychology, the principles of biology and physics etc. as given and as factual, and the all-but universal preference for well-being over misery as a valid standard for making moral decisions.  This is not to suggest that all ethical principles are equally obvious, that there are no genuine moral quandaries and so forth.  On the other hand, a moral preference for viewing women as human and entitled to equality with men vs. sawing off their clitorises and treating them as chattel is not the same level or sort of "subjective" as a preference for the music of Metallica over Justin Bieber.  In the case of women's rights, there are a lot of facts upon which a moral decision can be based.

The empirical inquiry which results from an acceptance of the subjective standard does proceed logically and objectively.  Given goals A and B, with A being some definite proportion more or less important than B, the best course of action is objectively X, Y and Z.  You claim the standard reduces to whether it maximizes some coherently-defined idea of human well-being?  Sure.  Everything does.  Everything can also reduce to whether it maximizes the average temperature of the Earth,

How does the question of whether mutilating a little girl's clitoris is moral or not reduce to whether it maximizes the average temperature of the Earth?  Are you really suggesting that there's no objective difference between maximizing the average temperature of the Earth as a moral standard, vs. maximizing human well-being (or to use Sam Harris' formulation, "maximizing the well-being of conscious creatures")?  If so, remind me never to consult you when it comes to the issue of climate change. :)

You misunderstand me.  I am not claiming that they are objectively true.  I am saying that they have an objective state:
"X is true of the deity's moral opinions" is an objective assertion, true or false, about the deity's moral opinions.
"X is true of kcrady's moral opinions" is an objective assertion, true or false, about your moral opinions.
"X is true of any other part of physical reality" is an objective assertion, true or false, about whatever part of physical reality is being discussed.

OK.

Invalid comparison.  "The rest of reality" isn't a person or persons, and its facts don't change arbitrarily according to whim, like the commands of an absolute dictator (human or divine) can.

You are placing the contents of minds into a different category than that of any other part of physical reality.  That is supernaturalism.  I am treating mind-contents in the same way as I would anything else.  They're real.  They have a state.  It's not a matter of opinion.

It seems to me that you're changing the terms of the discussion.  You're right that states of consciousness are aspects of physical reality.  However, we were debating whether or not moral principles are subjective or objective.  To say that anything is "subjective" is to treat the contents of minds as distinct from the rest of physical reality for the purposes of discussion:

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1. existing in the mind; belonging to the thinking subject rather than to the object of thought (opposed to objective).
2.pertaining to or characteristic of an individual; personal; individual: a subjective evaluation.

--Dictionary.com

From the perspective of a fully consistent reductionism, there's no such thing as "subjectivity."  Our moral decisions are reducible to interactions between quarks.  So how can morality be "subjective?"

And yet you decided to make a statement on one side of the question when you posted in this thread.  Your attempt to dismiss my position on the grounds that it is supposedly useless navel-gazing is disingenuous, given your attention to the same topic.

I do not think the topic of ethical reasoning is useless navel-gazing.  I think that approaching it from a perspective that is wildly unrelated to actual human life (e.g. the "brains in vats" thing as a reason we should doubt reality, or the possibility that someone, somewhere might prefer to maximize suffering as a reason to pretend that the distinction between well-being and suffering is really hard to figure out and unrelated to any facts) is useless navel-gazing.  The purpose of morality is to provide a set of principles to guide our decisions in reality.  It's like a compass.  If you and some friends are trying to navigate through a wilderness, and, after consulting the map and compass one of your friends says, "We should go north," would you start in, saying, "Well, 'north' is just an arbitrary subjective thing people made up.  We could just as easily call it "East" or "Owwen," or whatever we like.  There's no factual reason to prefer going 'north' to going any other direction.  Even if we'll find food and shelter by going 'north,' why should we prefer finding food and shelter to freezing to death or getting eaten by grizzlies?  I dunno man, that really keeps me up at night, you know?"  Do you actually live your life that way?

Most things don't need to be understood in order to navigate through life.  Hell, most people hold ill-defined religious beliefs without it unduly impacting their navigation through life.  Your point here is null.

When it comes to actually navigating through life, people with religious beliefs usually set them aside and operate based on a relatively accurate mental model of reality.  We encounter it here all the time.  Propose any reality-test of religious beliefs, at all, and the believer will start emitting all sorts of "explanations" for why reality behaves as if it were a godless naturalistic Universe rather than a haunted house full of magical beings.  They already know, in advance, what results they'll need to excuse.  To the extent they actually incorporate their ill-defined religious beliefs into their mental map of reality (e.g., refusing to seek medical treatment for themselves or a loved one because they really expect prayer or magic rituals to work, making political decisions on the basis of "divine commandments" or the expectation that Jesus is coming Real Soon Now and he'll give us a new planet to replace the one we've decided to wreck), their beliefs will adversely affect their ability to navigate through life, and/or adversely affect others such as people they oppress in their deity/deities' name(s).  If that wasn't the case, would this site even exist?

Naturally.  I have values, and I act on them.  The difference between us is that I don't pretend that mine are some sort of ultimate truth of the universe.

So, in your view, it's not possible for something to have a basis in fact without being "some sort of ultimate truth of the universe?"  I think it's pretty obvious that "New York City exists" is not an Ultimate Truth of the Universe.  Does that mean acknowledging the present existence of New York is just a subjective whimsy, and it's just as valid to believe that the 9-11 hijackers crashed dragons into the upper levels of Minas Tirith?

Why do you have values and act on them?  Do you not think that your values are even a little bit more rational and reality-based than fundamentalist Muslim values, or ancient Babylonian values?  Is there a reason you don't just collect a set of different moral codes and roll dice each morning to decide which one to follow for the day?

I would expect us to behave similarly, yes.  As for "is it objectively right for us to do so", the answer is "null".  The question is incoherent as stated, without added assumptions.  Consider:  What is so special about these species-divisions?  Back when Neanderthals were still around, was it objectively right to promote what we see as human flourishing alone?  Or did they get included?  Did it depend on our ability to interbreed?  Why the hell does any of this matter in the first place, outside of what we personally value?

Do you find these questions to be equally difficult to answer, and the answers equally personal and arbitrary when it comes to, say, Jews?

This idea of well-being is a fact.  Its adherence by both behaviour and biology is a fact.  That it should be sought, morally, is not.  That was my fault for not asking quite the right question.  I already know enough about why humans end up valuing the things they do.  I meant to ask why they should.

Ah, OK.  I think I see where you're coming from better now.  A more fundamental question than "What should our morality be?" is "Do we need a moral code, and if so, what for?"  Why not just ignore the issue altogether?  The answer, as I see it, is that humans don't have a particular, relatively simple set of instinctive and passed-down behaviors that will automatically maximize their well-being like other animals do.  Wolves are not capable of asking questions like, "Is is ethical for us to hunt?  Why should we hunt, instead of just running circles around trees?  Why should we prefer being able to eat and feed our cubs to not being able to?"  Those sorts of questions are already answered for them by biology and evolution.

We humans--at least since the Agricultural Revolution--have to discover what behaviors will maximize our individual and (since we are by nature social animals) collective well-being.  We are also inextricably part of a wider planetary ecosystem, on which our lives and well-being depend, so that too has to be incorporated into our moral calculations.  As to why we should want to live rather than die, and have well-being rather than misery, is, as you say, a "null" question.  That we do want to live and maximize well-being is the "Is" from which the "Oughts" of a rational moral code flow.  I think well-being works as a moral standard because it is simply a fact that we seek it, as a result of our nature as human beings.  We seek well-being.  Morality answers the question, "How do we achieve well-being?"  Since all moral codes do not maximize well-being equally (this is something we can actually measure, by means of statistical studies of results, brain scans, and perhaps tools we have not invented yet), we have a standard by which we can compare them, and select the one that works best.  And then, improve on it.  This is what we mean by "moral progress," and why we can evaluate modern democratic societies as morally superior to those of, say, the Mongols under Genghis Khan, or North Korea. 

A person who wants to die, or who prefers misery over well-being, or who wants to maximize the suffering of others is generally considered to be mentally ill, and cognitive neuroscience is getting better at discovering the actual, physical brain malfunctions responsible for those sorts of desires, and in some cases, providing remedies.  Perhaps you could argue that "mental illness" is an invalid concept since there is no Platonic Form of healthy human consciousness and the subjective desires of the "mentally ill" person are no less valid than the subjective desires of "mentally healthy" people. 

But somehow, I doubt you'd actually want to extend that argument to practical application in the form of eliminating suicide hotlines, the mental health profession, and the idea that we ought to capture and incarcerate serial killers.  In other words, the idea that morality is subjective is a position that a person can hold and argue for philosophically, while their practical actions (moral decisions, advocacy, what they teach their children, their votes, etc.) operate on the basis that there are moral principles that are actually valid, or at least more valid than the absence thereof or the moral claims they disagree with.  Which is why I tend to look at that sort of "philosophy" as, to use your term, "useless navel-gazing."

I don't think desires/values resolve as "true" or "false," more like "works" or "doesn't work" to maximize their well-being.

Good.  So you agree that the argument that the value of "well-being" as a positive thing resolves as "true" is a circular one.  "'Promoting X is good' resolves as positive because promoting X is good!" - FYI, this doesn't demonstrate that X is good.

Well-being is the standard by which "goodness" is evaluated.  The state of well-being, and that we seek it, is the set of facts upon which an objective morality is based.  The standard itself is a given, a brute fact.  The same applies to moral subjectivism.  "All morality is subjective" is the claimed basis for the absence of any moral standard, but the claim is not, itself, believed to be subjective.  If true, it is a fact, an "Is" from which subjectivist moral "Oughts" arise, such as "We ought to respect all cultures equally."  IOW, we cannot view fundamentalist Muslim culture or New Guinea cannibal cultures as morally inferior to modern democracy and human rights, since the morals on which each is based derive from subjective personal taste.   

You're right.  I have values.  They have a definite objective state, encoded as they are in my brain and the rest of me.  They are not objectively correct, they resolve as correct to me subjectively, and for some - to others - incorrect, subjectively.

So there is no basis or standard by which you can evaluate your values as ethically superior to Torquemada's?  Why do you bother with this website?  If the choice between secular Enlightenment values, and the values of Christian fundamentalism is just a "six in one, half a dozen in the other" subjective preference, why would you waste time trying to persuade people to abandon fundamentalism?  Wouldn't that be rather silly, like trying to talk Justin Bieber fans into preferring Metallica?  Again, I perceive a disconnect between your professed philosophical position, and your actual behavior. 

Looking at your signature quote, do you think that guy is right?  Do you think there's no actual, reality-based reason to prefer upholding gay rights to murdering gays?

I don't find it all that vexing.  What I find vexing is the residual attachment others seem to have to having an external value-god, even when the original one didn't offer what it was supposed to, logically.

You are implicitly agreeing with kevinagain, that any actual moral standard (as opposed to a moral fashion or taste) can only derive from a "god."  As I explained earlier, authority (divine, or human) can't serve as an objective moral standard, since it is just the subjective moral preference of the Authority/Authorities.  As for my "attachment" to the idea of an objective moral standard, I think that one is necessary to even bother with "moral reasoning" or "ethics" at all.  For example, why set up a "bioethics committee" to guide Federal funding and regulation of genetic research and engineering?  There is no basis on which to prefer any member's subjective preferences to those of any other member.  Their discussion devolves to "I like genetic engineering!  I want a cat that glows in the dark!" vs. "I think genetic engineering is scary."  Well, so what?  Opinions are like assholes, everybody's got one.  Why not decide by flipping a coin?  It's no less random than polling the panel on their preferences for action movies vs. romances.  It's not like any of them, regardless of their levels of expertise, could offer any facts that should influence the decision of whether we ought to fund or forbid genetic engineering, since "you can't get an 'ought' from an 'is.'"   
"The question of whether atheists are, you know, right, typically gets sidestepped in favor of what is apparently the much more compelling question of whether atheists are jerks."

--Greta Christina

Offline kin hell

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #89 on: December 13, 2011, 08:20:11 AM »
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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #90 on: December 13, 2011, 08:52:24 AM »
We seek well-being.  Morality answers the question, "How do we achieve well-being?"

Christians seek well-being in an afterlife. Jewish culture is definitely to further their well-being in this life, but the morals of Christians are suicidal communist ideals, designed to bring about an apocalypse. I believe that there are also other self-punishing militaristic moral cultures.

It should be possible to develop moral cultures which deliberately don't enhance well-being. For example, we could conclude that the universe or Earth should be destroyed, and act to bring that about.

Some of us seek well-being, whilst others seek other bullshit. I think that promulgation of a culture is a more likely objective of morals. A culture which lasts, will probably be one that seeks well-being, so dumb cultures will weed themselves out, giving an appearance of moral cultures generally troping towards well-being.

Hope this helps.
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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #91 on: December 13, 2011, 09:06:27 AM »
While Jesus was on earth he was not perfect. Show me which scriptures say he was!

I don't have to show you any scripture; just spout the normal shit that Christians do. Theologically, Jesus is the WORD; part of God. What more evidence do I need than John 1:1? He was definitely God's son, which affords him a special x-factor for sacrifice, that normal humans do not have.

John 17:23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

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If his sacrifice was infinite then he would have gone to oblivion instead of three days later setting up office to save souls.

3 days is adequate for one as awesome as him. 7 would have been far too much.

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Offline Azdgari

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #92 on: December 16, 2011, 09:25:45 PM »
Damn, do these things ever balloon.  My response is too long for one post.

Sure, "we all agree" is not a flawless guarantor of truth, especially if "we all" are in a state of ignorance about the nature of reality and have no methodology for testing the validity of our ideas.  However, if "we all agree" that the sky is blue on a cloudless sunny day, ...

Trouble is, in this case, we really don't have a methodology for testing the validity of our ideas.  Because these ideas are not assertions of fact about reality in the first place.  They are valuations of states of reality.  Your examples are not in the same category.

OK, so on a philosophical level, the words "reward" and "punishment" are meaningless (since they incorporate "plugged in" positive or negative valuations in their definitions), and a preference for winning the lottery over being sent to the electric chair is subjective.  Still, there are plenty of good, empirical, scientific reasons why just about everybody would rather win the lottery than get the Chair, and why we would want to take a really good look at the serotonin levels in the brain of someone who preferred the Chair.

Yes, we can examine folks and figure out why they either one over the other.  The answer is objective.  And given our values, we'd want to weed out those who disrupt what we want for ourselves and others - for what we see as our good, society's good, and their own good.

Only a philosopher could represent the choice between a lottery win and the electric chair as some kind of difficult quandary, or a matter of whimsical personal taste.

Good thing I've not done so.  It's not a difficult quandary:  My own values give an easy answer from my perspective, and I can only speak from my perspective in the firs place, so that works out.  And it's not a matter of whimsical personal taste, in your examples:  They strike pretty deeplly into the core of my more obvious values.  Not whimsical, and deeper than taste.  But you're smart enough to know that, so why the mischaracterization?

Is the choice between having a bowl of Cheerios for breakfast, and having a bowl of gravel with a soupcon of motor oil a matter of subjective preference?  I guess you could insist that it is as a matter of philosophical principle, since a person could conceivably prefer the gravel.  Nonetheless, there is a whole host of empirical facts of human physiology (the nature of our taste buds and sense of oral comfort/discomfort associated with trying to chew different things, the structure of our digestive system, the wiring of our brain that perceives pleasure as pleasant and pain as unpleasant, and so on) and the nature of small rocks and motor oil that explain why you would have to search long and hard to find any human being who felt a preference for the gravel and motor oil.  Furthermore, that person's preferences aren't going to make the actual, physical results of trying to eat gravel and motor oil go away.

Indeed.  The specifics about a person determine truth-values when that person is asked value-based questions.  That is what is usually called "subjectivity".  You have basically defined subjectivity here, kcrady.

We can ignore the fact that our personal characteristics determine our values, and treat those values as though they are external, objective, universal ones.  Or we can grow out of such traditionally religious thinking and into an understanding that we have only ever acted from our own values, and that seeing our values as objective is utterly unnecessary.

So, you can say that the choice is subjective from a precise, philosophical standpoint, just as you can say that it's impossible to prove that Yahweh doesn't exist from that same standpoint.  Maybe he (or Satan) faked things like distant starlight and fossils to test our faith.

From a much different standpoint.  But you're smart enough to know that and are just being disingenuous.  Right?

Nonetheless, from the practical standpoint of living our lives with finite cognitive resources and time, we simplify things by treating the very high probability that Yahweh doesn't exist as a fact. In the same way, when it comes to ethical reasoning, we can take baseline human physiology and psychology, the principles of biology and physics etc. as given and as factual,

All real-world human states are factual.  Statistical outliers are also factual.  Everything about us is factual.  What we think about whether some value-models, or the machine-setups that generate them, are morally better than others is something that is in turn determined by the facts about ourselves.  Our specifics.

and the all-but universal preference for well-being over misery as a valid standard for making moral decisions.

Sure.  I can agree to that.  But I agree to it because it's something I subjectively value, because of my biology, experiences, etc.  Do you deny that this is true?  Because if not, then we really have no substantial disagreement.

This is not to suggest that all ethical principles are equally obvious, that there are no genuine moral quandaries and so forth.  On the other hand, a moral preference for viewing women as human and entitled to equality with men vs. sawing off their clitorises and treating them as chattel is not the same level or sort of "subjective" as a preference for the music of Metallica over Justin Bieber.  In the case of women's rights, there are a lot of facts upon which a moral decision can be based.

Indeed, some values are held much more deeply, and have much further ramifications when acted on, than others.  Especially when it comes to legalities, and especially when the value in question involves what other people should do or have done to them.  But those are all matters of degree.  I fear you'll use this opportunity for an ad-hom, but it's unjustified.

How does the question of whether mutilating a little girl's clitoris is moral or not reduce to whether it maximizes the average temperature of the Earth?

That might be a difficult ethical question, if I cared about the average temperature of the Earth.  But probably not even thing:  I suspect that it would end up being as trivial to an ethical system centered around heating the planet as the placement of pebbles on a beach ends up being to one centered around our idea of human well-being.  I mean, every ethical end-goal is going to have things that are basically irrelevant to it.

Are you really suggesting that there's no objective difference between maximizing the average temperature of the Earth as a moral standard, vs. maximizing human well-being (or to use Sam Harris' formulation, "maximizing the well-being of conscious creatures")?  If so, remind me never to consult you when it comes to the issue of climate change. :)

Of course.  The two ethical systems are objectively different from one another, and are defined as such.  The latter of them aligns closely with my own, the former does not.  Were my neurons appropriately re-arranged, the reverse might be true.  What's not objectively different about them is their moral rightness.  Their moral rightness is subjectively different, determined as it is by our personal characteristics.  You admitted as much yourself.

You misunderstand me.  I am not claiming that they are objectively true.  I am saying that they have an objective state:
"X is true of the deity's moral opinions" is an objective assertion, true or false, about the deity's moral opinions.
"X is true of kcrady's moral opinions" is an objective assertion, true or false, about your moral opinions.
"X is true of any other part of physical reality" is an objective assertion, true or false, about whatever part of physical reality is being discussed.

OK.

Keep that in mind, then.  States of mind exist objectively, encoded as they are in our brain-matter.  And since reality is coherent, a deity's states of mind would also have to exist objectively.  States of mind are subject to change, of course, but so is every other part of physical reality.

It seems to me that you're changing the terms of the discussion.  You're right that states of consciousness are aspects of physical reality.  However, we were debating whether or not moral principles are subjective or objective.

What can I say, the topic came up.

To say that anything is "subjective" is to treat the contents of minds as distinct from the rest of physical reality for the purposes of discussion:

Quote
1. existing in the mind; belonging to the thinking subject rather than to the object of thought (opposed to objective).
2.pertaining to or characteristic of an individual; personal; individual: a subjective evaluation.

--Dictionary.com

From the perspective of a fully consistent reductionism, there's no such thing as "subjectivity."  Our moral decisions are reducible to interactions between quarks.  So how can morality be "subjective?"

From the perspective of that fully consistent reductionism, there are also no minds.  Only quarks.  Moral decisions - any conscious decisions, really - are made from the perspective of minds.  That's how we see them.  That's how we act.  Once we get outside of our minds, once we start fully reducing reality in the way you describe, all normative claims become meaningless, because there are no minds to value one state over another.  There are no longer any humans, only distributions of matter - label-distinctions which we normally think of to separate one object, or one person, from another are not evident objectively.  Some regions of matter may behave as if there are label-distinctions between other regions of matter, but that's a function of the machine's behaviour, not of the other regions of matter themselves.

Under a fully consistent reductionism, not only is subjectivity moot, but so are we.
« Last Edit: December 16, 2011, 09:28:47 PM by Azdgari »
The highest moral human authority is copied by our Gandhi neurons through observation.

Offline Azdgari

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #93 on: December 16, 2011, 09:30:00 PM »
I do not think the topic of ethical reasoning is useless navel-gazing.  I think that approaching it from a perspective that is wildly unrelated to actual human life (e.g. the "brains in vats" thing as a reason we should doubt reality, or the possibility that someone, somewhere might prefer to maximize suffering as a reason to pretend that the distinction between well-being and suffering is really hard to figure out and unrelated to any facts) is useless navel-gazing.

My point stands.  You made a post about meta-ethics.  You took a position on it.  It was a flawed position.  Attacking the topic when those flaws are under discussion is, for that reason, disingenuous...

The purpose of morality is to provide a set of principles to guide our decisions in reality.  It's like a compass.  If you and some friends are trying to navigate through a wilderness, and, after consulting the map and compass one of your friends says, "We should go north," would you start in, saying, "Well, 'north' is just an arbitrary subjective thing people made up.  We could just as easily call it "East" or "Owwen," or whatever we like.  There's no factual reason to prefer going 'north' to going any other direction.  Even if we'll find food and shelter by going 'north,' why should we prefer finding food and shelter to freezing to death or getting eaten by grizzlies?  I dunno man, that really keeps me up at night, you know?"  Do you actually live your life that way?

...and so is this example.  "North" means something to someone.  For them, it relates to something in physical reality.  Since that person is the one who knows where the fuck we're going, accepting what they mean - their language - is important for communication.

How I live my life is that I accept my values to be no larger than myself and those who agree with me, on the topic in question.  Sometimes that's the bulk of humanity.  Either way, I can only act from my own values.  Just as you can only act from yours.

When it comes to actually navigating through life, people with religious beliefs usually set them aside and operate based on a relatively accurate mental model of reality.  ...

Yes, perhaps that was a bad example.  Maybe the computer-user who doesn't know assembly code is a better one.  Do you agree, though?

So, in your view, it's not possible for something to have a basis in fact without being "some sort of ultimate truth of the universe?"  I think it's pretty obvious that "New York City exists" is not an Ultimate Truth of the Universe.  Does that mean acknowledging the present existence of New York is just a subjective whimsy, and it's just as valid to believe that the 9-11 hijackers crashed dragons into the upper levels of Minas Tirith?

Actually, I the way I look at it, the existence of the material arrangement you and I term "New York City" on this planet, at this point in time, is an ultimate truth of the universe.  As much as anything else is.  Nothing negates it.  It is objectively real.  It can in principle be checked from anywhere in the universe (or anywhere in our light-cone, anyway).

The fact that human beings are generally set up to think in a particular manner, along with the biological/physical reasons behind that, etc., is an "ultimate truth of the universe" in this sense, as well.  Stepping outside of my human perspective, though, I am forced to ask: "So what?"  Does that fact mean that humans morally should behave this way, when viewed from an objective, non-human perspective?

A key point here is that as soon as you need to adopt a human perspective for the purpose of moral reasoning, the reasoning becomes perspective-dependent.  Which is normally termed "subjective".

Why do you have values and act on them?  Do you not think that your values are even a little bit more rational and reality-based than fundamentalist Muslim values, or ancient Babylonian values?

In the sense of my values arising deterministically from my biological and cultural background, no, they are no more rational.  In the sense of being more self-consistent, yes, I think they are.  In the sense of not depending on the values of imaginary beings, then absolutely, mine are more rational and reality-based.

But as for why I act on them - ultimately, I act on them because they are mine.  Just as they act on their values because they are theirs.  And you, necessarily, act on yours because they are yours.  They might have become yours for a variety of specific reasons, that vary from my reasons.  But you necessarily act on them because they are yours.

Is there a reason you don't just collect a set of different moral codes and roll dice each morning to decide which one to follow for the day?

Well, yeah.  They're kind of ingrained.  A part of who I am, physically.  Just like yours.

I would expect us to behave similarly, yes.  As for "is it objectively right for us to do so", the answer is "null".  The question is incoherent as stated, without added assumptions.  Consider:  What is so special about these species-divisions?  Back when Neanderthals were still around, was it objectively right to promote what we see as human flourishing alone?  Or did they get included?  Did it depend on our ability to interbreed?  Why the hell does any of this matter in the first place, outside of what we personally value?

Do you find these questions to be equally difficult to answer, and the answers equally personal and arbitrary when it comes to, say, Jews?

I don't find the questions difficult to answer at all.  They were questions for you, to answer from your position.  This response of yours was a dodge.  Could you answer meaningfully, please?

Ah, OK.  I think I see where you're coming from better now.  A more fundamental question than "What should our morality be?" is "Do we need a moral code, and if so, what for?"

Your question is closer to being meaningful as stated.  Mine, to be complete, would be "What should our morality be in order to accomplish goal X".  Yours is, rephrased for a more direct comparison, "What is the goal X for which we need morals?"  Agreed?

Why not just ignore the issue altogether?  The answer, as I see it, is that humans don't have a particular, relatively simple set of instinctive and passed-down behaviors that will automatically maximize their well-being like other animals do.  Wolves are not capable of asking questions like, "Is is ethical for us to hunt?  Why should we hunt, instead of just running circles around trees?  Why should we prefer being able to eat and feed our cubs to not being able to?"  Those sorts of questions are already answered for them by biology and evolution.

Makes sense, but has nothing whatsoever to do with meta-ethics.

We humans--at least since the Agricultural Revolution--have to discover what behaviors will maximize our individual and (since we are by nature social animals) collective well-being.  We are also inextricably part of a wider planetary ecosystem, on which our lives and well-being depend, so that too has to be incorporated into our moral calculations.  As to why we should want to live rather than die, and have well-being rather than misery, is, as you say, a "null" question.

Then we have no substantial disagreement.  If there was a true, objective morality for humans to adopt, then the answer to that question would not be 'null'.  It would be emperically resolvable.

That we do want to live and maximize well-being is the "Is" from which the "Oughts" of a rational moral code flow.

In other words:  Because we subjectively value goal X, we will end up acting in a manner that maximizes goal X.  There's nothing wrong with that.  And because reality is a whole lot more complicated than that, systems of ethics are needed.

I think well-being works as a moral standard because it is simply a fact that we seek it, as a result of our nature as human beings.  We seek well-being.  Morality answers the question, "How do we achieve well-being?"  Since all moral codes do not maximize well-being equally (this is something we can actually measure, by means of statistical studies of results, brain scans, and perhaps tools we have not invented yet), we have a standard by which we can compare them, and select the one that works best.  And then, improve on it.  This is what we mean by "moral progress," and why we can evaluate modern democratic societies as morally superior to those of, say, the Mongols under Genghis Khan, or North Korea.

None of which I disagreed with.  Though, bold mine - the definition of moral progress is dependent on what we are set up to subjectively value.

A person who wants to die, or who prefers misery over well-being, or who wants to maximize the suffering of others is generally considered to be mentally ill, and cognitive neuroscience is getting better at discovering the actual, physical brain malfunctions responsible for those sorts of desires, and in some cases, providing remedies.  Perhaps you could argue that "mental illness" is an invalid concept since there is no Platonic Form of healthy human consciousness and the subjective desires of the "mentally ill" person are no less valid than the subjective desires of "mentally healthy" people.

I never said that morality was an invalid concept in the first place.  This is an utter and blatant strawman on your part, kcrady.

But somehow, I doubt you'd actually want to extend that argument to practical application in the form of eliminating suicide hotlines, the mental health profession, and the idea that we ought to capture and incarcerate serial killers.  In other words, the idea that morality is subjective is a position that a person can hold and argue for philosophically, while their practical actions (moral decisions, advocacy, what they teach their children, their votes, etc.) operate on the basis that there are moral principles that are actually valid, or at least more valid than the absence thereof or the moral claims they disagree with.  Which is why I tend to look at that sort of "philosophy" as, to use your term, "useless navel-gazing."

Subjectivity and validity as a basis for action are entirely compatible attributes, with respect to normative valuation.  Perhaps your strawman is simply a result of you not having encountered these ideas before.

[Human] Well-being is the standard by which "goodness" is evaluated.

By us.  Because we are set up to like it.  Step outside of a human perspective, and especially outside of a living one, and it's not nearly so clear.

The state of well-being, and that we seek it, is the set of facts upon which an objective morality is based.  The standard itself is a given, a brute fact.

The standard exists as a real idea.  The fact that we seek it is definitely objectively true.  And the morality based on it exists in the same way the standard does.  Since it's my standard, then I am morally compelled to act on it.  As are you, for the same reason with respect to yourself.  That doesn't make the standard objective.  The fact that it's perspective-dependent (read: subjective) doesn't mean we have any less reason to act on it.

The same applies to moral subjectivism.

Only to normative relativism, which was never espoused in our discussion.

"All morality is subjective" is the claimed basis for the absence of any moral standard, but the claim is not, itself, believed to be subjective.  If true, it is a fact, an "Is" from which subjectivist moral "Oughts" arise, such as "We ought to respect all cultures equally."  IOW, we cannot view fundamentalist Muslim culture or New Guinea cannibal cultures as morally inferior to modern democracy and human rights, since the morals on which each is based derive from subjective personal taste.

Those 'oughts' do not actually arise logically from that 'is'.  In fact, the argument directly contradicts itself, similarly to how "all things need a cause...therefore god, which needs no cause" arguments contradict themselves.

So there is no basis or standard by which you can evaluate your values as ethically superior to Torquemada's?

My own, personally-held values serve in that capacity.  And yours necessarily do the same for you.  Because, for instance, if you held Torquemada's values, then you wouldn't deem mine to be superior to Torquemada's, would you?

Why do you bother with this website?  If the choice between secular Enlightenment values, and the values of Christian fundamentalism is just a "six in one, half a dozen in the other" subjective preference, why would you waste time trying to persuade people to abandon fundamentalism?  Wouldn't that be rather silly, like trying to talk Justin Bieber fans into preferring Metallica?  Again, I perceive a disconnect between your professed philosophical position, and your actual behavior.

Hopefully these misconceptions have been cleared up by now.

Looking at your signature quote, do you think that guy is right?  Do you think there's no actual, reality-based reason to prefer upholding gay rights to murdering gays?

Go-go emotional appeals!  The hell with rationality.  Maybe we should try to paint Az as a Nazi, too, in case the earlier Jew-reference didn't already put it in his and others' minds...

Look, kcrady, I hold him to be wrong, with respect to my values and those of tons of other people.  Further, after reading the thread in question, I consider his values to be inconsistent with each other, and his arguments for his positions fallacious.  I find his ideas to be wrong and dangerous to the things I hold dear about society.  Likely you feel the same way.

I can see the appeal of having a "you are wrong" answer that is independent of human perspective.  But we don't have one.  That's a fact.  Should we deal with that fact, mature into a worldview that includes it, or should we blissfully ignore it?

I don't find it all that vexing.  What I find vexing is the residual attachment others seem to have to having an external value-god, even when the original one didn't offer what it was supposed to, logically.

You are implicitly agreeing with kevinagain, that any actual moral standard (as opposed to a moral fashion or taste) can only derive from a "god."

See the bolded text?  That clause at the end of my very short paragraph, where I mention that "god" doesn't offer what it was supposed to? (in context: objective values)  Yeah, that's what you missed reading, I guess.

As I explained earlier, authority (divine, or human) can't serve as an objective moral standard, since it is just the subjective moral preference of the Authority/Authorities.

Wait...going back to the bit I told you to remember early in this post, where I included the quote of myself...and including your bit about "fully consistent reductionism"...don't you disbelieve in subjectivity as a useful concept at all?  Meaning, you can't consistently go and use it here?  I mean, I agree with you, but you're contradicting yourself.

As for my "attachment" to the idea of an objective moral standard, I think that one is necessary to even bother with "moral reasoning" or "ethics" at all.

And there's where we disagree.  I think we can get by just fine without one, and I've been doing so consistently for years.

For example, why set up a "bioethics committee" to guide Federal funding and regulation of genetic research and engineering?  There is no basis on which to prefer any member's subjective preferences to those of any other member.

This is false.  They have a broad subjective consensus as a basis.  Just like we do.

Their discussion devolves to "I like genetic engineering!  I want a cat that glows in the dark!" vs. "I think genetic engineering is scary."  Well, so what?  Opinions are like assholes, everybody's got one.  Why not decide by flipping a coin?  It's no less random than polling the panel on their preferences for action movies vs. romances.  It's not like any of them, regardless of their levels of expertise, could offer any facts that should influence the decision of whether we ought to fund or forbid genetic engineering, since "you can't get an 'ought' from an 'is.'"

Facts are important for moral reasoning.  It's just that moral reasoning cannot operate solely on facts.  It requires some step of subjective valuation in there.  Fortunately, we have a broad consensus most of the time.  Unfortunately, we have historically tended to delude ourselves into thinking that our consensus has some metaphysical reality of its own.

By the way, I strongly suggest that we shorten this up.  Most of my replies to your points in this last post have said basically the same thing, or don't beg a reply, so it shouldn't be too hard for us to break from the quote-counterquote method for a bit.
The highest moral human authority is copied by our Gandhi neurons through observation.

Offline kevinagain

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #94 on: December 17, 2011, 08:22:22 PM »
Kevin,

A lot of us have hot-button issues that we tend to jump on every time they pop up in this forum.  For me, it's morality.  I don't particularly know why, but I think part of it has to do with the fact that many of the Christians that come here are of the mind set that atheists can't be moral or that we are all nihilists.  Both of those really piss me off. . . .


hey jeff

i've been gone a week driving over and over between illinois and virginia, so i apologize for seeming to have vanished.

i don't think you're a moral nihilist.

you've made some useful comments, and i want to point out that the logic is all fine, so long as i accept your assumptions. but i don't necessarily accept your assumptions, and this is what i wanted to explain.

first, you ask whether it's possible to explain morality without god. sure it is-- i think—i'm not sure of all the aspects of the question. if we carefully define morality to pertain only to those behaviors that might be evolutionarily adaptive, then i think we can come up with a mechanism for their origin. i'm talking about kin selection, the evolution of altruism, mirror neurons, and so on—mechanistic adaptive things that can cause some behaviors to occur that we might call "moral behaviors."

but merely because it's possible to explain something in a certain way doesn't mean that the explanation is true. the caloric theory of heat explained why warm bodies cooled off and heated up cooler bodies quite well—it worked great for a long time, had great explanatory power. but it was still wrong, because there were phenomena that it couldn't explain that showed the theory insufficient—if they were included in the model. are all the things that i call morality, good, and evil, included in the evolutionary model? i don't say they aren't, because i don't know and i'm a firm believer in organic evolution, but the existence of multiple explanations doesn't establish the truth of any of them. nor does the fact that one might be simpler—scientific parsimony is a tool of convenience, not a test for truth value.

i think i should mention that i don't use the existence of morality as a proof of the existence of god. rather, i derive the probable existence of god from other sources, and test to see whether morality is consistent with it. were morality inconsistent with god, it would falsify the null hypothesis that god exists. but it doesn't. rather, it provides observations from nature consistent with the theory. not proof, but support, in the usual manner. i don't think it's possible to prove that god exists using deduction, but it is possible to prove that he doesn't, IMO, by establishing predictions that his existence would require and seeing that they fail. the morality question isn't one of them. it can be answered in more than one way, so as a proof it doesn't exclude either alternative.

the second assumption i wonder about is the one that defines the universe as consisting solely of phenomena that are appropriate subjects for the scientific method. it's sometimes difficult to explain to researcher types that their view of the universe is exclusive by its very nature, in the same sort of debate that pits reductionists against holists. the scientific point of view is one that has had immense success in explaining nuclear, physical, chemical, and biological phenomena. does that mean that it is the appropriate tool to explain cosmology, or religion? the typical scientific answer is often to reject all questions it might not be able to answer as uninteresting, or tellingly, "unscientific," and to assert that the scientific approach is the only one that will generate a true answer. at the end of the day, this is a premise, not a conclusion, and must be assumed for the argument to work.

but you've presented a very good question for which i don't have an answer—just how reasonable are the evolutionary arguments for the development of morality? i'm ignorant, and i'd actually like to know more.

this is also a good point:

Quote
It seems to me that your viewpoint on morality is contingent on your belief in god. It forces you to take a less logical stance in order to maintain your belief, when all you have to do is abandon that notion and it all makes a ton more sense.

the first sentence is completely true, but the term "less logical" in the next sentence is critical, because there is no such thing as "less logical." arguments don't get partial credit—they are either logical and succeed, or they are illogical, and fail. when the fuzzy idea of "less logical" comes into the question, then we're talking rhetoric, not logic. and rhetoric, IMO, is the art of persuading people to ignore logic in the first place.

so i would say that my ideas aren't 'less logical," but that they're quite logical, given my assumptions. if you don't share those assumptions, then my conclusions won't follow from them, and yours won't follow from mine. but the key is that in both cases, they're assumptions, not conclusions.


Offline MadBunny

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #95 on: December 17, 2011, 09:33:12 PM »
Not the obvious ones like 'Prove there is a God' to which they will spout all sorts of mumbo jumbo like 'Look at the trees. God is all around us' or 'It says so in the Bible.'

I work with a Christian and one of her friends is having some sort of 'open day' where you watch a video and get to ask questions.

Could you be happy in heaven knowing that people like [insert] are burning in hell?
<--Atheist girl.  She's dead and screaming in hell right how.  She will be till the end of time, long past the heat death of the universe.  It won't end, ever.  If she's your daughter, and she's there because she rejected your Jesus, can you truly be happy knowing that while you sit around on your cloud?
Give a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a night.  Set a man on fire and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.

Offline kevinagain

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #96 on: December 17, 2011, 10:51:46 PM »
. . .
magic decoder ring.  Hell of a thing to rest your "salvation" on.   And that is what you consider the truth yes, that a man/god was hung on a cross and died and was resurrected?  Or was that just metaphor too?

hey velkyn

sure, i think christian scripture contains things that are clearly true and things that are clearly fantasy. so do you, i would think. for example, in acts 17:28 paul quotes the phaenomena of aratus, a greek playwright, and epimenides:

Act 17:28  For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.

later on, paul quotes aratus again, in titus 1:12:

Tit 1:12  One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.

paul's quotations from greek philosophers and playwrights are accurate, so we've got something in scripture that you and i would agree is clearly true. and if you and i agree that scripture contains clearly false things and clearly true things, then i suggest that you and i both are picking and choosing what we believe in scripture.

unless you believe paul's quotes are false?


Offline JeffPT

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #97 on: December 17, 2011, 11:46:00 PM »
but merely because it's possible to explain something in a certain way doesn't mean that the explanation is true. the caloric theory of heat explained why warm bodies cooled off and heated up cooler bodies quite well—it worked great for a long time, had great explanatory power. but it was still wrong, because there were phenomena that it couldn't explain that showed the theory insufficient—if they were included in the model. are all the things that i call morality, good, and evil, included in the evolutionary model? i don't say they aren't, because i don't know and i'm a firm believer in organic evolution, but the existence of multiple explanations doesn't establish the truth of any of them. nor does the fact that one might be simpler—scientific parsimony is a tool of convenience, not a test for truth value.

The theory with the most explanatory power, predictive power, and the one that explains how all the facts fit together without the requirement of unproven entities, beings or the like, is the most likely true theory... do you agree?  The explanation of morality which includes evolution, culture and experiences, at this time, fits that bill. 

i think i should mention that i don't use the existence of morality as a proof of the existence of god. rather, i derive the probable existence of god from other sources, and test to see whether morality is consistent with it.

Hmm.  I guess I should ask you to define your god first, but for the sake of argument, god is usually thought of as an invisible, omniscient, omnipotent being.  What would possibly be inconsistent with that?  I mean, seriously... you could say that God gives us morality by injecting a super special, but undetectable goo directly into our brain at 24 weeks gestation, and I don't see what would be inconsistent about a god with such characteristics doing that.  You can make up anything you want, and it would be consistent.  He can do anything. What could god possibly do that is out of the realm of possibility?  Nothing. 

I see things differently than you, however.  I derive the notion that god is nothing more than a fairy tale from many, many sources.  But that doesn't HAVE to be the case here.  Morality might really look as though it was provided by god.  It really could.  And if you presented an argument which swayed me to think that way, I would listen to you.  But, like I said before, the natural explanation answers everything we see in our daily lives.  There are no holes.  None. Now, that doesn't mean it is true, but until something comes along that explains everything more consistently, then there is no reason to abandon it as the primary theory. 

were morality inconsistent with god, it would falsify the null hypothesis that god exists. but it doesn't. rather, it provides observations from nature consistent with the theory.

While morality is not inconsistent with the god theory (as I already said, I can think of nothing that would be inconsistent with that), there are many things we observe in nature that make the god theory significantly less plausible than the natural theory.  While you can say that morality itself is consistent with the idea of god, what we observe in nature is inconsistent with the notion that god is the more likely source.  The same goes for so many things.  Just think about it.  For example: my computer exists.  Is that consistent with the notion that god made it?  Sure it is.  God certainly could have plopped it into my lap some 15 minutes ago just before I started typing.  But that is not as reasonable as the notion that I bought it a few years ago and have been using it ever since.  Another one: people get sick and die.  Is this consistent with God?  Sure it is.  God implants demons and devils inside people as punishment for what they do during their day.  That's certainly possible.  People believed that for hundreds of thousands of years.  But that is not as reasonable as the notion that diseases are natural processes often caused by microorganisms.   Do you see what I mean here? 

But I have to ask you... If you were going to create a god... In order to achieve your goal of making people believe you, would you make its characteristics consistent with nature or inconsistent with nature?  All gods are somewhat consistent with nature Kevin.  If they weren't, then nobody would believe them in the first place. 

not proof, but support, in the usual manner. i don't think it's possible to prove that god exists using deduction, but it is possible to prove that he doesn't, IMO, by establishing predictions that his existence would require and seeing that they fail.

Wonderful.  Please tell me one thing that would falsify the notion that god exists if it were found to be true, then.  Because I do not believe such a thing exists.  When you posit an invisible, omniscient, omnipotent being that exists outside of space and time, NOTHING could possibly falsify it.  You could say that God has an army of poorly trained baboons that come down from heaven and make us hungry during the daytime but don't bother us at night.  That is consistent with the existence of god.  If I were to ask you to prove it, you could easily turn to apologetics and say that the monkeys are really small and invisible...  still consistent... and that they leave as soon as anyone goes to check for them because they don't like being found... still consistent.  God can do anything.  Nothing is inconsistent with that. 

the second assumption i wonder about is the one that defines the universe as consisting solely of phenomena that are appropriate subjects for the scientific method. it's sometimes difficult to explain to researcher types that their view of the universe is exclusive by its very nature, in the same sort of debate that pits reductionists against holists. the scientific point of view is one that has had immense success in explaining nuclear, physical, chemical, and biological phenomena.

I'm with you so far.  I am not at all against the notion that there is something else out there that can not be explained by science.  But, as of right now, there is no better method of truth detection at our disposal than the scientific method.  And any time that can be brought to bear on a subject, it should be. 

does that mean that it is the appropriate tool to explain cosmology, or religion?

Maybe not.  But if you are going to bring another tool to the table, Kevin, I need to know why you think it's a valid tool to use.  Because I have yet to see another methodology that is reliable and accurate in determining truth in other ways. 

the typical scientific answer is often to reject all questions it might not be able to answer as uninteresting, or tellingly, "unscientific," and to assert that the scientific approach is the only one that will generate a true answer.

Disagree completely.  Science is just a method.  It doesn't reject questions... it simply has it's limitations. 

My point to you is this.  If science can be brought to bear on a subject, then use it, by all means, use it to figure shit out.  When it's NOT available, don't jump to crappy conclusions based on other completely unproven methods of truth detection such as theology, philosophy or apologetics.  They aren't reliable, so don't use them.  It's far better to just say you don't know if there's something else out there than to claim that there is and that you know what it is, what it wants and how it works.  Is that really all that unreasonable?     

but you've presented a very good question for which i don't have an answer—just how reasonable are the evolutionary arguments for the development of morality? i'm ignorant, and i'd actually like to know more.

Evolution, as I have said before, I believe is a smaller player in terms of morality.  Evolution says that any trait that gives an individual an increased chance for survival (in a given environment) over that of another individual, will allow that particular individual to live longer, and thus pass on that trait to the next of kin.  Human beings, being social animals, work better when they work together, do they not?  So, any individual with a genetic trait leaning toward increased altruism would find him/herself working together with others of the species instead of alone.  That would get passed down easily.  This happens all over the place in nature, from lion prides, elephant herds, etc, etc.  Any and all social animals exhibit this trait. 

Evolution also postulates that our main goal in life is to pass on our genes.  Any individual with an increase in the genetically inherited predisposition to LOVE their young would also have a distinct advantage over other individuals who did not present with that predisposition.  Just think about it... If a mother didn't love her daughter, she'd just let the bitch starve.  That would end that individuals genetic line rather quickly, and would not be passed on.  And how do we love?  We love in hierarchical  terms.  In other words, we love ourselves the most (which tends to make sure we stay alive), then, when we have kids, we love them the most (because now THEY are the future of our genes.  Then we love our parents and siblings as well (because they help us raise our young and work together in groups).  Then we love our distant relatives, friends, people that live close to us, and so on and so forth, all the way out to hardly loving those people half way around the world at all.  It makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, does it not? 

All that being said... I think culture and experiences play a major role as well.  This is evidenced by the similarities among peoples of the same cultures, and differences in morality among different cultures. 

the first sentence is completely true, but the term "less logical" in the next sentence is critical, because there is no such thing as "less logical." arguments don't get partial credit—they are either logical and succeed, or they are illogical, and fail.

You may be correct.  Perhaps the phrase I was looking for was "less reliable" or "less likely", or perhaps even "less successful".  The application of logic CAN be more or less successful, however, depending upon how much evidence one can bring to the table to apply it with.  For example: saying "God creates earthquakes" is certainly a logical stance to take.  It is consistent with the belief in God.  God could certainly shake the ground with his mighty fist or whatever.  However, when one possesses knowledge about the size of the earth, and the discovery of tectonic plates, the application of logic suddenly becomes more successful.  A successful application of logic, therefore, requires as much knowledge as possible around the given argument.  "Earthquakes come from tectonic plates" is a logical stance to take as long as you know what the hell those are.   

so i would say that my ideas aren't 'less logical," but that they're quite logical, given my assumptions.

Sure.  Just as it is quite logical (given your assumptions) that god would be responsible for cancer cures, lottery wins, near miss car accidents and any other improbable, yet still very possible events that take place in our lives.  Given your assumptions, however, why won't he heal an amputee?  If we assume god is real, it is reasonable to assume god might heal an amputee, correct?  So why not?  You are forced to come up with excuses here, and trust me, we've heard them all. 

But here is the thing... if we assume god is NOT real, does that explain why people don't get their limbs back?  Yep.  And if god were not real, would improbable things still happen like cancer cures, lottery wins, near miss car accidents?  Yep.  Hmmm. It seems, when it comes to this question, the hypothesis that god is NOT real has just as much, if not more explanatory power than the hypothesis that god IS real.  Do you disagree?  Now take it further.. what about diseases?  Lightning?  Earthquakes that we already talked about?  Electricity?  Volcanoes?  Everything you can think of... everything we have knowledge about in our universe is explainable in NATURAL terms without the necessity of god.  When you realize that, there comes a tipping point where you suddenly find yourself realizing... god isn't needed to explain anything.  So drop it. 

if you don't share those assumptions, then my conclusions won't follow from them, and yours won't follow from mine. but the key is that in both cases, they're assumptions, not conclusions.

We should get our conclusions from the evidence while assuming as little as possible from the start.  We should not start by assuming god exists or does not exist.  Start with the facts and work from there. 

In terms of morality, yes, if god exists, he could create it.  But what would I expect to see if he did?  Here is a short list of things that would lead me to believe that morality came from a central source, and that source is god.

1.  We would love everyone exactly the same amount, as there would be no specific benefit to loving our own kin versus complete strangers. 
2.  Everyone would react the same way to every moral encounter and decision because morality would come from one singular source.  There would be no variance from person to person or culture to culture.
3.  We would instantly know (in some way, shape or form, because remember, god can do anything) that our moral decisions are good or bad in the eyes of god, so we could learn from them.
4.  Injuries to the brain or chemical changes / psychiatric disorders would not impact moral stances. 

Those are just a few. 

Thanks for taking the time to write out your reply to me.
Whenever events that are purported to occur in our best interest are as numerous as the events that will just as soon kill us, then intent is hard, if not impossible to assert. NDT

Offline kevinagain

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #98 on: December 18, 2011, 05:36:53 PM »
hi dloubet

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i disagree with lots of them, because they require me to do things i'd rather not do.

But this contradicts your claim that you use your own judgement when in conflict with the god's nature, doesn't it? Here you seem to be saying you obey the god's morals instead of your own, but then later imply that they're your morals.

perhaps a better way for me to phrase it is to say that i recognize desires and drives that appear to me to be proximately beneficial, and also recognize desires and drives that appear to me to be proximately detrimental, but ultimately beneficial. i view them as two separate orders of drives. as i am more obedient to the higher order, it becomes easier to do, and the urging to be obedient to even harder levels of morality becomes stronger. i attribute the urging to increase my level of obedience to stricter interpretations of right and wrong to come from god, especially because it often isn't beneficial to me in any immediate way.

If you didn't already have the moral stricture that lying was wrong, why did you ignore your own judgment and obey the god? And if you already possessed a morality that held that lying was immoral despite the benefits, then what good was the association with the god?

in my religion, we experience what we call "leadings," which are often inexplicable drives to perform some specific action or adopt some specific form of behavior. they're carefully evaluated-- we use specific tests to make sure that we're not just doin' what we wanna and sayin' it's from god . . .  i already had a rudimentary sense that lying was wrong, but i had all sorts of exceptions—white lies, lies to help people, lies to avoid unnecessary expenses, diplomacy, and so on. as my own metamorphosis went on, these various exceptions became untenable, one after another, until now i can't lie about anything, in good conscience. the early, immature, less moral instar was the natural one for me, while the later, more highly developed, more moral instar was the one that i was led to. the association with god was what provided the impetus for the change, through the agency of acting on a percieved leading. that's how it worked for me, anyway. other people have other stories.

And are you really insisting that you would rather lie and treat people badly? That's incomprehensible to me. I don't treat people badly because I don't like to treat people badly. I like treating them well. I get a good feeling from it so I seek to do it more . . .

no, i don't like to treat people badly, but of course i'm often tempted to in menial ways, like most anybody. but there are degrees of treating people well or badly, and the difference for me is that i believe that i am called to treat them better today than i might have wanted to yesterday. i also get a good feeling from it, and i don't deny other people the same satisfaction, but in my own case it's part of a larger construct that seems to explain the world in a more coherent and complete manner than other explanations i have worked through.

i don't have all the answers, dloubet, and i often discover that i'm puzzling through motivations and reasoning that contradicts itself. i don't like contradictions, so i try to tease them out until i understand them more. morality is one of the hard ones, and i certainly don't have all the answers to it.

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #99 on: December 18, 2011, 05:56:02 PM »

Thanks for taking the time to write out your reply to me.


and now i have to write out another, because you've brought up some important things to think about.

but answering your posts makes my head hurt, so i'm going to think about it for a thousand miles or so.

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #100 on: December 18, 2011, 10:27:02 PM »
and now i have to write out another, because you've brought up some important things to think about.

but answering your posts makes my head hurt, so i'm going to think about it for a thousand miles or so.

Take your time Kevin.  I've been here for years now.  I doubt I'm going anywhere soon.  I appreciate the time you're taking.  These topics are very interesting to me, and if you can show me where and how I'm wrong about something, then I will be grateful to you for helping me find new truths. 
Whenever events that are purported to occur in our best interest are as numerous as the events that will just as soon kill us, then intent is hard, if not impossible to assert. NDT

Offline velkyn

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #101 on: December 19, 2011, 10:54:53 AM »
hey velkyn

sure, i think christian scripture contains things that are clearly true and things that are clearly fantasy. so do you, i would think. for example, in acts 17:28 paul quotes the phaenomena of aratus, a greek playwright, and epimenides:

Act 17:28  For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.  

later on, paul quotes aratus again, in titus 1:12:

Tit 1:12  One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.

paul's quotations from greek philosophers and playwrights are accurate, so we've got something in scripture that you and i would agree is clearly true.
  That they can quote other people, sure.  They can even mention some cities and people who really did exist too.  So, since I can take pieces of it as fantasy, why not the resurrection? There’s nothing to support this event.  Why not god completely as a fantasy?  Nothing to support its existence either. Like the greeks, they could also use real people and places in their myths and the rest was complete myth. 
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and if you and i agree that scripture contains clearly false things and clearly true things, then i suggest that you and i both are picking and choosing what we believe in scripture.
unless you believe paul's quotes are false?
Sorry, no, we are not both picking and choosing what to believe in.  I support what I find valid in the bible with contemporary confirmations, actual physical evidence etc. I also can support why I feel the bible is full of utter nonsense by the consistent lack of such things about the stories it claims are atrue.  What you find as valid is supported by what, Kevin?  more stories with the same baseless claims as other theists? 

EDIT: Morality has been consistently changed by humans.  Theists claim repeatedly that their god is responsible for this morality, but when humans decide on their own that the bible morality is garbage, then theists desperately run around for excuses on why their former “truth” is not that anymore. 

Take slavery.  God was fine with that for quite a long long time.  Then we had people start to question this god and suddenly, Christians were certainly that what their god “really” meant was that he didn’t like slavery, despite the constant support of it in the book that was to tell them all about god.  They claimed that God now spoke to them directly and they didn’t need god or that puny humans put those bad bad parts in and poor god how could we blame him? 

In the USCW, we had Christians on both sides claiming that their god was for what they personally supported and surprise, this god did nothing to show what it supposedly approved of.  It allowed tens of thousands of people to die horribly because of its evident impotence or nonexistence.  Thre is nothing to show that your god exists muchless that it has anything to do with human morality.
« Last Edit: December 19, 2011, 11:01:09 AM by velkyn »
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Offline dloubet

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #102 on: December 19, 2011, 02:37:19 PM »
Thank you for the thoughtful response. I can only answer by stating that from my point of view, your sense of morality and ability to follow through is all you, with no gods involved. Your unnecessary religion is a parasite hanging on to your sense of self-worth while feeding your vanity. It does this by suggesting that the supposed infinite creator of the universe is interested in you personally. If god is paying attention to you, then you must be important! Name-dropping god is like casually mentioning that you're going to hang out with Bill Gates all week.

But you don't need that. And you don't need the parasite. All you need is the fact that you have to look at yourself in the mirror. You already know what's right and wrong, you didn't need a religion to tell you that. You have the strength of character to follow through on your sense of right and wrong, and you don't need the religion to butter you up to do it.

It's all you.
Denis Loubet

Offline kevinagain

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #103 on: December 23, 2011, 05:54:46 PM »
hi velkyn--

. . . Why not god completely as a fantasy?  Nothing to support its existence either. Like the greeks, they could also use real people and places in their myths and the rest was complete myth.

. . .  Thre is nothing to show that your god exists muchless that it has anything to do with human morality.

velkyn, we can skip some preliminaries and save a lot of time, you know. i won't be either trying to prove the existence of god to you or trying to prove that you're wrong not to believe in him. i realize that it's a popular subject here, but because it isn't one that i have a lot of interest in pursuing, i won't usually be following up on it. i'm more interested in what other people have to say about what they believe, because i'm curious, and i want to listen to how they think.

relative to picking and choosing from scripture, we all have specific criteria that we use to assess our view of reality, and those will differ from person to person. much of those criteria are based on premises that underlie our thoughts, and we often accept them unquestioningly. i question my assumptions all the time, and so you won't often find me making propositional statements as if i had anything more than a tentative understanding of the world. in scripture, i read it the same way i read a road map, as a man-made piece of history that has obvious truths, obvious errors, and lots that i can't tell about.

like an old road map, if it gets me where i want to go, i don't sweat the typos. if it doesn't, i look further and ask questions. inerrancy in scripture is a modern idea that has gotten way out of hand, in my opinion, and i don't believe it helps anybody to expect scripture to conform to letter perfection, whether they think it's true or not.


Offline kevinagain

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #104 on: December 23, 2011, 07:08:34 PM »
jeff, that's seven pages of thoughts you posted there. i only have an hour or so a day when my hands aren't on a steering wheel, so it's easy for me to get overwhelmed. have some pity, bud.

The theory with the most explanatory power, predictive power, and the one that explains how all the facts fit together without the requirement of unproven entities, beings or the like, is the most likely true theory... do you agree? 

not quite. i wouldn't say that it's more likely true, but i would agree that it would be the simplest, given the data. there's all sorts of things in nature for which the complicated, weird, and improbable explanation eventually turns out to be the true one. conflating the simplest possible answer with the true one is the old occam's razor fallacy. but you're completely correct to say that without further data, the simple answer will do as well as any other. so long as we stay away from "simple equals true," i agree with you.

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Hmm.  I guess I should ask you to define your god first, but for the sake of argument, god is usually thought of as an invisible, omniscient, omnipotent being.

i don't have the knowledge that god is omniscient, invisible, omnipotent, or even incorporeal or eternal, so i don't assume it. i don't have a clear idea of what god is, except insofar as he seems to influence my own life. i use the christian apparatus as a running hypothesis, because it seems to explain what i experience and what i think the best, but i don't assume a great deal. i'm a quaker, and one of the things that both defines quakerism and attracts people to it is the lack of emphasis on creeds and on the discoveries of other people. i'm always ready to revise what i believe, and over the years i've tended to move more to a universalist and agnostic interpretation of god.

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But I have to ask you... If you were going to create a god... In order to achieve your goal of making people believe you, would you make its characteristics consistent with nature or inconsistent with nature?  All gods are somewhat consistent with nature Kevin.  If they weren't, then nobody would believe them in the first place.

that's a good question, and it's answered in some branches of christianity by asserting that it isn't a goal of god to want people to believe in him, not all people, anyway. that's the "L" in TULIP, the calvinist idea of "limited atonement," which they support by this, among other things:

Joh 12:40  He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.

deism aside, a god that conceals himself from most people in order to ensure their condemnation is quite consistent with some interpretations of christianity. not mine, but i agree that were i to create a god, i would attempt to create one that had the greatest natural explanatory power possible.

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Wonderful.  Please tell me one thing that would falsify the notion that god exists if it were found to be true, then.  Because I do not believe such a thing exists.  When you posit an invisible, omniscient, omnipotent being that exists outside of space and time, NOTHING could possibly falsify it.

i agree that you're correct regarding what most people call natural phenomena. what i'm talking about is experiential knowledge, the direct contacts between gods and people, not logical proofs of existence based on reason. i'm talking about visions, auditions, and so on, either personal ones or those of people i know personally and trust to be telling me the truth about their experiences. this is a real can of worms, so i don't want to open it here, but that's the answer i would have to rely on in terms of falsification.

your predictions are very interesting, and i'd like to spend a moment with them:

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In terms of morality, yes, if god exists, he could create it.  But what would I expect to see if he did?  Here is a short list of things that would lead me to believe that morality came from a central source, and that source is god.

1.  We would love everyone exactly the same amount, as there would be no specific benefit to loving our own kin versus complete strangers.

we obviously don't love everybody the same amount, but this is not inconsistent with morality proceeding from god. in the real world, our love is extended to both kin and non-kin. which is the aberration? evolution says we should love kin and ignore strangers, and that our love for strangers is an imperfect expression of an evolutionary mechanism favoring kin. god-morality says we should love kin and non-kin alike, and our lack of love for strangers is an imperfect expression of a morality descending from god. either system explains the facts, so there's no help there.

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2.  Everyone would react the same way to every moral encounter and decision because morality would come from one singular source.  There would be no variance from person to person or culture to culture.

that would only work if all people were identical in their apprehension of the moral source. i believe a moral sense is realized in the conscience, and that our consciences vary in their ability to recognize a moral source in the same way that our eyesight varies in its acuity or color sense. i don't see that a universal moral source requires a universally equal perception. those are two different things.

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3.  We would instantly know (in some way, shape or form, because remember, god can do anything) that our moral decisions are good or bad in the eyes of god, so we could learn from them.

this is closely related to 3, above. if our moral sensitivity varies, and if god did not create us to be identical automatons with respect to morality, then the real world would be as predicted by the god-moral hypothesis. no help there, either.

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4.  Injuries to the brain or chemical changes / psychiatric disorders would not impact moral stances.

i don't know about that. if a moral sense is a physical sense, as i think it is, then we all differ in our abilities to percieve morality, and damage or chemical imbalances would be expected to modify our ability to percieve it, just like losing my hearing impacts my ability to talk to people. quakerism postulates that we all have this moral sense, and that we have all been given enough to be faithful to the minimum degree necessary to our own assignment. in traditional quakerism, it's called the Light, and it's partially congruent with what other christians call grace. so i wouldn't expect it to be immune to damage or chemical imbalance, but i would reason that these changes wouldn't result in condemnation.
 
interesting examples. sometimes this stuff is easier to work through using that method rather than straightforward reasoning, at least for me. i find that i get tangled up in the logic trees and have trouble keeping track of what i know, and what i just think i know.

Offline kevinagain

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #105 on: December 23, 2011, 07:36:13 PM »
Thank you for the thoughtful response. I can only answer by stating that from my point of view, your sense of morality and ability to follow through is all you, with no gods involved. Your unnecessary religion is a parasite hanging on to your sense of self-worth while feeding your vanity. It does this by suggesting that the supposed infinite creator of the universe is interested in you personally. If god is paying attention to you, then you must be important! Name-dropping god is like casually mentioning that you're going to hang out with Bill Gates all week.

actually, lots of religions don't require a personal god, such as the deist ones and theravadan buddhism, for example. dunno whether the existence of god requires me to feel important, though. if that's the intent, it really hasn't worked very well, because i don't assume rewards, an afterlife, or the discovery of any cosmic meaning that is perceptible to me. feeling important doesn't seem to be part of the plan.

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But you don't need that. And you don't need the parasite. All you need is the fact that you have to look at yourself in the mirror. You already know what's right and wrong, you didn't need a religion to tell you that. You have the strength of character to follow through on your sense of right and wrong, and you don't need the religion to butter you up to do it.

It's all you.

do i already know what's right and what's wrong? if morality is all internally derived, and all truth is embodied in what i see in the mirror, then there is no such thing as right or wrong in any sense larger than that image.

if that's the case, then your mirror is as good as mine, no matter what you see in it, and when your image and mine disagree in ways that cause conflict, neither of us has a reason to expect the other to give way.

is that really what happens in the real world, or do we both tend to appeal to a moral authority that we expect to apply to both of us? this leads us to the evolutionary explanation, which to me is the only tenable view aside from morality-from-god.

i'm interested in those two hypotheses. can you think of a moral belief that is inconsistent with evolutionary forces? the only ones i can think of relate to altruism towards non-kin, and that's not an easy idea to tease apart.

Offline JeffPT

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #106 on: December 24, 2011, 01:19:23 AM »
jeff, that's seven pages of thoughts you posted there. i only have an hour or so a day when my hands aren't on a steering wheel, so it's easy for me to get overwhelmed. have some pity, bud.

Like I said, take your time bro.  It's all good.   

not quite. i wouldn't say that it's more likely true, but i would agree that it would be the simplest, given the data.

No, that's not right.  That's not remotely what I was getting at, and simplest doesn't describe what my theory is at all.  (I call it my theory, but I know it's not just mine.)  In point of fact, the theory I propose about morality is far more complicated than "Goddidit".  As a side note, this is often why people resort to god as explanations for things... because its ridiculously simple, and it requires no thinking at all.  "Don't understand it? God did it."  It doesn't get much easier than that.   

What I said was, "The theory with the most explanatory power, predictive power, and the one that explains how all the facts fit together without the requirement of unproven entities, beings or the like, is the most likely true theory."  Where inside of that did you glean 'simplest'?   The theory with that type of power could be massively complex but it would still be as close as we could get to 'correct'. 

conflating the simplest possible answer with the true one is the old occam's razor fallacy.

Given my explanation, I do not see how you could argue that I am committing a fallacy here. 

i don't have the knowledge that god is omniscient, invisible, omnipotent, or even incorporeal or eternal, so i don't assume it. i don't have a clear idea of what god is, except insofar as he seems to influence my own life.

It is a common tactic for a theist to place god in a position where He is unreachable by the hand of scientific inquiry.  It makes it harder to pin you down.  Saying you have no clear idea of what god is doesn't help anyone here.  Could it not be the case that you perceive god as having an influence on your life for reasons other than that being true?  After all, people become brainwashed to believe things all the time.  Could you not be cut from the same cloth? 

i use the christian apparatus as a running hypothesis, because it seems to explain what i experience and what i think the best, but i don't assume a great deal. i'm a quaker, and one of the things that both defines quakerism and attracts people to it is the lack of emphasis on creeds and on the discoveries of other people. i'm always ready to revise what i believe, and over the years i've tended to move more to a universalist and agnostic interpretation of god.

When you say that your religious viewpoint does not emphasize the discoveries of other people, does that mean you discount much of science as a result of that?  Because I think that's folly.  Look around you.  Everything around us has been touched by science.  Everything we know about the universe was given to us by the discoveries of other people, and through the rigorous application of the scientific method by those people.  At what point are we finally O.K. to say... "Alright... Fuck it.  "You win, science.  Science fucking works and the stuff we don't understand yet is just stuff we don't fully understand yet."  Over the past 200 years just think about how much we've learned.  It will boggle your mind. 

And just think of the preceding several thousand years when the belief in god was more prevalent.  They had so many things wrong.  Every new discovery pushes god further and further away into that nebulous place where you've pushed him.  That place where you claim to not fully understand god, but have a vague impression of it anyway.  It really could be that you're just not right about it. 


deism aside, a god that conceals himself from most people in order to ensure their condemnation is quite consistent with some interpretations of christianity.
not mine, but i agree that were i to create a god, i would attempt to create one that had the greatest natural explanatory power possible.

Right.  And it wouldn't last long if you didn't.  That is why the god theory survives.  Christians have had 2000 years to make shit up to cover for the absolute fact that this universe appears exactly as it would if there were no god. 

i agree that you're correct regarding what most people call natural phenomena. what i'm talking about is experiential knowledge, the direct contacts between gods and people, not logical proofs of existence based on reason. i'm talking about visions, auditions, and so on, either personal ones or those of people i know personally and trust to be telling me the truth about their experiences. this is a real can of worms, so i don't want to open it here, but that's the answer i would have to rely on in terms of falsification.

There is a reason that we both know why this would be opening a can of worms Kevin.  The fact that it goes unspoken between us does not diminish it in any way.  You and I both know how bad this topic would go for you.  I don't blame you for avoiding it.   

your predictions are very interesting, and i'd like to spend a moment with them:

Quote
1.  We would love everyone exactly the same amount, as there would be no specific benefit to loving our own kin versus complete strangers.

we obviously don't love everybody the same amount, but this is not inconsistent with morality proceeding from god. in the real world, our love is extended to both kin and non-kin. which is the aberration? evolution says we should love kin and ignore strangers, and that our love for strangers is an imperfect expression of an evolutionary mechanism favoring kin. god-morality says we should love kin and non-kin alike, and our lack of love for strangers is an imperfect expression of a morality descending from god. either system explains the facts, so there's no help there.

No, that's not true at all.  Evolution does not say we should love kin and ignore strangers. It would be evolutionarily beneficial to work well with the strangers we interact with.  In that respect, there would be sharing of resources, tool making, work load, etc.  Remember, if we evolved morality, we did it a LOOOONG time ago, long before religion was invented.  During that time, the people we ran into on a daily basis, whether they were kin or not, were few and far between.  If all we ever did was kill them, then we would never have reproduced out of our family group, we never would have shared knowledge, developed language, etc.  All the things that have given our species the niche we currently hold in nature.     

If you say, however, that god morality says we should love kin and non kin alike, then why don't we do that?  If it came from god, you would expect that to be how we do it, wouldn't you? 

Again, here, with a nebulous god that you yourself say you don't fullly understand, you have the luxury of making something up like you did here.  You say it's perfectly explainable that god gave us morality and we just screw it up.  Well, of COURSE that's explainable.  You could have said god uses a cordless drill and manually injects morality into our left foot and I would be hard pressed to say... "God can't do that."  All you would have to say is, "He's god.  Yeah he can."  I'd just stare at you a while and shrug.   

My comment would be this... Why propose a god at all if the natural explanation works just fine without it?  And it does. 

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2.  Everyone would react the same way to every moral encounter and decision because morality would come from one singular source.  There would be no variance from person to person or culture to culture.

that would only work if all people were identical in their apprehension of the moral source.

But why would an all powerful being give us all the same version of morality knowing that we were not going to be able to comprehend it the same way? Is he not capable of making us understand what he wants from us?  This just asks more questions than it answers.  And worse yet, who is really to blame when we do things wrong?  God is.  We would have to blame God for it, because he knowingly gave us moral positions that he knew we would not all understand.  You answered this later on I think when you said that God gives everyone just enough... and I'll respond to that when I get there.

i believe a moral sense is realized in the conscience, and that our consciences vary in their ability to recognize a moral source in the same way that our eyesight varies in its acuity or color sense. i don't see that a universal moral source requires a universally equal perception. those are two different things.

If god gave us a universal moral sense, but did not give us the universally equal ability to perceive that moral sense, then either god is not very bright, or he did it on purpose without giving us a reason for doing it.  If you wish to argue that god is a moron, I would have little choice but to shrug and walk away.  But if not, what would be the purpose of giving us morality and then NOT giving us the brain power to know what to do with it?  And if you are going to argue something to the effect that god's goal was to have us all strive toward HIS morality, then how do we know what we are striving toward?  Who is the one we follow who is doing everything right in the eyes of god?  How do we KNOW what this universal moral sense is if everyone has different interpretations of something for which there is no hard copy to access?

This notion of yours also does not explain why culturally, people follow a similar moral compass to each other, but not outside of it.  If, as you say, everyone gets the same universal moral download into their brain, and our brains just screw up the interpretation of it, wouldn't you think that even among peoples of the same culture, everyone would develop a different moral sense because that acuity would differ from person to person and not culture to culture?  After all, you said morality is realized in the conscience and that you believe it is a sense, much like that of hearing or sight.  That would make it an individual thing, and not impacted by what other people around you are doing, much like YOUR ability to hear is not impacted by OTHER people's ability to hear.  So why do people of the same culture act pretty much the same?  The natural explanation trumps your theory in a big way here.   

Again, I go back to whether or not this answer of yours explains morality in a 'better' way than the natural explanation.  Your answer boils down to the idea that god gave us something he all wanted us to have, but then didn't give us the ability to understand it.  It's a valid, logical explanation (as ANY explanation would be) if you believe that something like the nebulous, poorly understood deity you propose, but the natural explanation has equal or better explanatory power than this. 

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3.  We would instantly know (in some way, shape or form, because remember, god can do anything) that our moral decisions are good or bad in the eyes of god, so we could learn from them.

this is closely related to 3, above. if our moral sensitivity varies, and if god did not create us to be identical automatons with respect to morality, then the real world would be as predicted by the god-moral hypothesis. no help there, either.

You keep answering these questions as if your responses are on the same explanatory level as the natural theory.  Do you not see how many more questions this just gives us?  Are you saying god uploaded exactly the same morality into all of us, but he doesn't let any of us see it clearly because he didn't want automatons?  Why would he do that?  What is the purpose behind it?  Why would he create us with a specific morality to 'strive' for, but give us no ability to see what that morality really is?  It's like he flopped us down here and said, "Alright, we're playing a game.  GO!"  No set rules, no idea of how to score, no idea whether you are even going the right direction... just... GO! 

Can you deny this, Kevin... if everyone had the same moral compass, and reacted the same way in every situation, then it would be more likely that our morality came from the same, singular source? 

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4.  Injuries to the brain or chemical changes / psychiatric disorders would not impact moral stances.

i don't know about that. if a moral sense is a physical sense, as i think it is, then we all differ in our abilities to percieve morality, and damage or chemical imbalances would be expected to modify our ability to percieve it, just like losing my hearing impacts my ability to talk to people.

I disagree here.  Morality is nothing more than the word we use to describe opinions we form about the things that seem to matter more to us.  It is not a physical sense. It's cultivated over time and can change over time as well; just like all opinions.   

Losing your hearing is a measurable phenomena that we compare with what we consider 'normal' for human beings.  If your ability to perceive morality is damaged chemically or mechanically, how would you know whether or not it was an improvement or a detriment if you have no 'normal' to compare it to? 

quakerism postulates that we all have this moral sense, and that we have all been given enough to be faithful to the minimum degree necessary to our own assignment.

I am not sure I understand this fully.  We have all been given enough of what?  Brain power to understand it?  Or enough moral sense?  Are you really meaning to say that we have all been given enough of an understanding (not moral sense, but ability to understand that moral sense) to make us liable for our decisions?  I am going to answer this response as if that is what you mean... if not, tell me what you are trying to say here again in a different way please. 

What does faith have to do with anything if, as you say, it is literally a difference in perception of what god wants that causes you to be unable to see what god wants you to do at any given time?  If you incorporate this notion into what you've been saying all along here, then you are saying god gave us just enough of an understanding of what he wants to make us liable for our screw ups.  But since we all have different opinions on moral issues, then it is patently obvious that we have NOT been given the same level of brain power to own assignment.  Some are closer and some are further away from knowing what god wants, as evidenced by the sheer number of people with varying opinions.  So which one among us has the bare minimum of perception power? And why would god give some of us the ability to know what he wants better than others?  And I also have to ask you why you would want to worship a god that plays favorites by giving some people more brain power than others to understand what he wants?  That seems a bit mean to me.  Even if I got the lions share of the brain power, I'd think god was a jerk for not providing it to everyone. 

in traditional quakerism, it's called the Light, and it's partially congruent with what other christians call grace. so i wouldn't expect it to be immune to damage or chemical imbalance, but i would reason that these changes wouldn't result in condemnation.

But Kevin.  If morality is just a function of natural brain activity, wouldn't that explain, in great detail, why chemical and mechanical disturbances in the brain would effect it?  What fact does this not incorporate?  What are the problems you see with this? 

interesting examples. sometimes this stuff is easier to work through using that method rather than straightforward reasoning, at least for me. i find that i get tangled up in the logic trees and have trouble keeping track of what i know, and what i just think i know.

Bottom line.  Your stance presupposes a being for which we have no scientific evidence what-so-ever, and answers questions about morality based on a preconceived notion that it exists and that it behaves a certain way that you yourself admit you don't have a good grasp of.  Your stance creates LOTS of questions that you CAN answer, but only by appealing to rationalizations you are forced to make (because of your preconceived notion that it exists) that you can neither prove or disprove (a common tactic for theists).  My stance presupposes that morality exists as nothing more than opinions based on subjects that guide our lives, and that it is explained in great detail, and with incorporation of ALL the facts we currently have (without the need to presuppose a being that we have no scientific evidence for) in terms of evolution, culture and experiences.  All I'm doing is taking the more reasonable road here.  I'm not saying this is absolutely how things are... I am saying given everything we know right now, this is the most reasonable conclusion to come to.

That's enough for now I think. 

Whenever events that are purported to occur in our best interest are as numerous as the events that will just as soon kill us, then intent is hard, if not impossible to assert. NDT

Offline jetson

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #107 on: December 24, 2011, 08:14:04 AM »
Jeff, as always, you made excellent points.  I would like to comment on a related note.

Christians, specifically some of my friends, will argue that God gave us all morality.  And that is only one thing that we are missing as individuals, if we decide not to believe (as if we actually decide not to believe).  In essence, they are trying to argue from as many angles as possible, that people who don't believe in their god, or who can't understand their god, are in some way flawed.

And they go to great lengths, in person, to be as nice about it as possible.  They won't come right out and call the flaw what they truly think it is.  They know me personally, and they cannot come right out and say that I am flawed.  They dance around the issue, with claims that if only I would accept their ideas as truth, read the Bible better, research, pray, open my mind, and so on, and so on.

I really don't understand why many Christians can't seem to accept that there is a fundamental problem when everyone seems to believe slightly different versions, and different gods, and different morals, that there is not a problem with the entire idea of gods in the first place.  That's probably due to the long history of oppression heaped upon the defenseless about specific gods, and what they apparently want from us poor animals.

I just don't see why this has to continue being heaped upon us, when it is abundantly clear that gods are entirely made up.  Boggles the mind.

Offline monkeymind

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #108 on: December 24, 2011, 08:59:50 AM »
Kevin Said:
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conflating the simplest possible answer with the true one is the old occam's razor fallacy.

William Occam said:
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“Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate”

Which means: “plurality should not be posited without necessity.”
IOW, don't make things up when there are known possibilities.
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Offline JeffPT

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #109 on: December 24, 2011, 09:29:21 AM »
I just don't see why this has to continue being heaped upon us, when it is abundantly clear that gods are entirely made up.  Boggles the mind.

You're right jetson.  We aren't the one's with the problem, yet they always make us out to be just that.  Whether it be to our face, or deep inside the recesses of their minds, they can't help but think its US that have the problem.  I doubt it ever crosses their mind that they could be wrong. 

That's definitely a reason I keep coming back here.  I really hope that one point... just one thing I write down, or one thing I comment on will set off a spark in that portion of their brain that desires truth over fiction at all costs.  If we can just get these religious people to think... even for a second... 'what if I'm wrong', then we have a fighting chance.   
Whenever events that are purported to occur in our best interest are as numerous as the events that will just as soon kill us, then intent is hard, if not impossible to assert. NDT

Offline kevinagain

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #110 on: December 24, 2011, 09:30:17 AM »
William Occam said:
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“Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate”

hey monkey

you're stepping out on thin ice quoting william ockham to a theist:

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Ockham's Razor, in the senses in which it can be found in Ockham himself, never allows us to deny putative entities; at best it allows us to refrain from positing them in the absence of known compelling reasons for doing so. In part, this is because human beings can never be sure they know what is and what is not “beyond necessity”; the necessities are not always clear to us. But even if we did know them, Ockham would still not allow that his Razor allows us to deny entities that are unnecessary. For Ockham, the only truly necessary entity is God; everything else, the whole of creation, is radically contingent through and through. In short, Ockham does not accept the Principle of Sufficient Reason.

occam's razor identifies only adequate working hypotheses, not truth, falseness, or likelihood. gotta be careful with it.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ockham/

Offline kevinagain

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #111 on: December 24, 2011, 09:31:39 AM »
If we can just get these religious people to think... even for a second... 'what if I'm wrong', then we have a fighting chance.

i wonder whether i'm wrong all the time, jeff.

so far the alternatives seem more dubious to me.

Offline Azdgari

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #112 on: December 24, 2011, 09:40:51 AM »
I doubt monkeymind was meaning to appeal to the authority of Sir Ockham.  Rather, his quote helped explain what the principle is supposed to actually do, when it was being misrepresented.

Some thoughts about the Razor and how "God did it" cannot meet the standards of even being one of the options available:

http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/forums/index.php/topic,20959.msg465041.html#msg465041

Simplest explanation?  EVERYTHING is woo.....much simpler to believe "magic" than all this nonsense about neutrinos that can pass through anything, photons that can move through each other without obscuring the view from the side, mass that warps space, tachyons that move backwards in time, dark matter......

I actually just had this convo with my room-mate last night.  "Everything is woo" is not an explanation.  An explanation for why X is the way it is, has to actually describe how X got to be how it is.

The example I used was a car-engine, and tying my shoes in the morning.  A complex explanation for how a car-engine works involves all the mechanical this-and-that.  Versus, because I tied my shoes in the morning.

Explanation #1:  The car works because of <mechanical explanation>
"Explanation" #2:  The car works because I tied my shoes in the morning.
Explanation #3:  The car works because of <mechanical explanation>, and fairies teleport the gasoline from the tank into the pistons.  Or something.

The second one explains nothing.  There is nothing about tying my shoes in the morning that logically implies that a car should work.  It is not an actual explanation, so Occam's Razor cannot favor it among possible explanations.  The third one is actually an explanation, but gets cut out by Occam's Razor for having extraneous elements.

"Everything is woo" is as off-topic to the thing to be explained as "because I tied my shoes" is.

When you get down to it, very little of what we call "natural" could really be described as "simple".  For many, many people, "magic" or "god" or "woo" is one heck of a lot simpler.

It's simpler, agreed.  It just doesn't actually explain anything, so it doesn't merit consideration in the first place.

"Everything is woo" and "God did it" are equally vacant statements.

The highest moral human authority is copied by our Gandhi neurons through observation.

Offline monkeymind

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #113 on: December 24, 2011, 09:49:56 AM »
William Occam said:
Quote
“Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate”

hey monkey

you're stepping out on thin ice quoting william ockham to a theist:

Quote
Ockham's Razor, in the senses in which it can be found in Ockham himself, never allows us to deny putative entities; at best it allows us to refrain from positing them in the absence of known compelling reasons for doing so. In part, this is because human beings can never be sure they know what is and what is not “beyond necessity”; the necessities are not always clear to us. But even if we did know them, Ockham would still not allow that his Razor allows us to deny entities that are unnecessary. For Ockham, the only truly necessary entity is God; everything else, the whole of creation, is radically contingent through and through. In short, Ockham does not accept the Principle of Sufficient Reason.

occam's razor identifies only adequate working hypotheses, not truth, falseness, or likelihood. gotta be careful with it.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ockham/

Yes, I knew that about the friar. Since Azdgari covered my thots rather well. I'll go back to my coffee.
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Offline kevinagain

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #114 on: December 24, 2011, 09:52:34 AM »

"Everything is woo" and "God did it" are equally vacant statements.

for that to be true, the statement that "god did it" would have to be logically dis-proveable, which is the old problem of establishing the truth or falsity of a negative statement.

"vacancy" is a criteria based in the eyes of a beholder, and rests on assumptions that aren't listed, at least here. if one denies the truth of the theistic assumptions, then "god did it" is certainly an empty statement, but i haven't seen that demonstrated yet, and to do so requires an exhaustive search of an infinite amount of evidence, doesn't it?

scientific parsimony is not a test of truth, it's merely a shorthand method of determining which of several competing hypotheses can be most economically applied to solving  a problem. as soon as additional conflicting evidence is presented, any hypothesis based purely on parsimony should be immediately set aside in favor of a new one.

that cannot be done with a statement believed to be true, else "truth" has only conditional meaning.

is truth conditional?


Offline kevinagain

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Re: What are the hardest questions for Christians to answer?
« Reply #115 on: December 24, 2011, 09:53:22 AM »

Yes, I knew that about the friar. Since Azdgari covered my thots rather well. I'll go back to my coffee.

i've got jack daniels in mine.

merry christmas