Author Topic: Introductory Questions  (Read 13568 times)

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Offline Greenandwhite

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #116 on: August 16, 2013, 01:42:41 PM »
     Saying that the Nazi’s wanted to create a ‘master race’ by weeding out anyone who was deemed ‘unfit’ is pretty much the same thing as saying that their goal was to produce a ‘healthier’ species of homo sapiens.  I did not ask you if you thought the Nazi’s eugenics program was morally right, I asked you if it was morally permissible in principle.  You see, it seems to me that the concept of human flourishing is kind of useless in guiding moral action because one can never know for sure what actions are going to lead to the maximal amount of human flourishing for the maximum number of humans. For all we know the Nazi’s eugenics program could have resulted in an overall positive balance of human flourishing when applied to humans collectively (including those who are to come).  You say that their program violated human freedoms and therefore diminished happiness, but how do you weigh that cost against the ‘goodness’ of a healthier more numerous future species?  Isn’t this the kind of thing that happens in nature all the time; indeed, isn’t it the general direction that nature progresses in (e.g. in the direction of more fit species even if there are costs involved and even if there are some dead ends).  So you can go ahead and point out what you think were moral deficiencies in their methods, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t have the correct goal by your proposed moral guideline.

     The answer to why the Nazi eugenics program would have been a net loss for humanity (had they succeeded) lies in your first sentence above. The Nazis determined which traits were "desirable" by their own subjective standards. By breeding to isolate such traits as blonde hair and blue eyes they would have severely limited the available gene pool, which would have set human evolution back significantly. Even if we set aside the obvious human rights violations, the deliberate exclusion of such a huge portion of the available human genome would be like a sharp stick in the eye[1] to the natural process. Nature does not work like that. Nature does not play favorites, because nature is not sentient and thus has no preferences at all. If a particular trait leads to greater opportunities for procreation, it gets passed on more frequently, eventually leading to that trait becoming prominent. No system that begins with a predetermined set of favored outcomes can possibly trump nature.
 1. figuratively, of course

     On what basis can you say that one subjective standard is any better than another subjective standard?  You can study evolutionary theory, crunch the numbers, and conclude that the Nazi's agenda would have resulted in fewer, less 'healthy' homo sapiens over a certain time frame, but that in itself does not make what the Nazi's did 'wrong'.  What if we take into account the emotional satisfaction that a Nazi would have felt when he looked around and saw nothing but blond hair and blue eyes? How can you quantify or rule out emotional flourishing as part of the good of human flourishing?  Moreover, how can you make a judgement call on how emotional flourishing compares to physical flourishing?
     Interestingly enough, I think that you seriously underestimate the resiliency of evolutionary mechanisms to produce genetic diversity; after all, how did we get all the genetic diversity that we currently see in homo sapiens to begin with?  The only way your argument regarding 'limiting the available gene pool' works is if you restrict the time frame available for nature to work.  In the long run there is no reason to think that nature cannot recover the loss of genetic material and even produce a result superior to what would have happened.  Isn't a 'severe limiting of the gene pool' exactly what has happened numerous times in the past through the mass extinctions?  Yet we seem to have more than enough genetic diversity today for nature to work with. 
     In the end, when we condemn the Nazi's for what they did I do not think that we are not doing so because of any analysis detailing the possible success or failure of their program in promoting human flourishing - we condemn them because what they attempted to do seems wrong, period.  And while I think that Median's vague proposal regarding morality fails and will continue to fail miserably no matter how much he attempts to bolster it, I think that most atheists and theists condemn the Nazi's due to similar considerations (e.g. the inherently warranted value of human dignity).  The only difference between an atheist and a theist is that the theist claims that while basing morality on human dignity is a coherent means of construing moral epistemology, it seems ultimately meaningless if not grounded in the existence of a supreme being.  So I think that atheists and theists for the most part will come to similar conclusions regarding what is right and wrong, but they will differ on what they feel is necessary to ground those conclusions.   

Offline ParkingPlaces

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #117 on: August 16, 2013, 02:57:23 PM »
And while I think that Median's vague proposal regarding morality fails and will continue to fail miserably no matter how much he attempts to bolster it, I think that most atheists and theists condemn the Nazi's due to similar considerations (e.g. the inherently warranted value of human dignity).  The only difference between an atheist and a theist is that the theist claims that while basing morality on human dignity is a coherent means of construing moral epistemology, it seems ultimately meaningless if not grounded in the existence of a supreme being.  So I think that atheists and theists for the most part will come to similar conclusions regarding what is right and wrong, but they will differ on what they feel is necessary to ground those conclusions.   

My bold

It isn't meaningless to me. Ultimately or otherwise. My willingness, or in fact, my desire, to be humane and kind and compassionate and to not put myself above others out of ego or a false sense of superiority, has a lot of meaning. To me. And since I'm not one that, therefore, picks up a gun or a knife to weed out those I could have chosen to belittle or dehumanize or hate because I have no principles, I think there is a lot of meaning to my godless reasons. Human reasons. Which, as far as I know, are the only ones available.

Being that religious morality gets handily set aside nearly every time there is a war and an enemy to destroy, I think it is high time that we humans own our moral standards, rather than blame them on something else. I happen to like moral standards that leave the most people alive and free. Others like ones that cause death and destruction. That is our human problem, and we deal with it daily. Pretending there is an outside force involved, that both judges and justifies, kind of messes up the whole thing and excuses many a horror. Such as the aforementioned Nazi atrocities.

Religion isn't the only human failing to cause such events. Worship and fear of anything/anyone including individuals like Genghis Khan and Stalin and Mao and the various N. Korean Kim's is  proof that we humans are pretty adaptable when it comes to being or following assholes. But religion often helps, with its external first cause too often busying itself as it makes up shit and hands out the bullets.
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Offline jdawg70

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #118 on: August 16, 2013, 03:21:41 PM »
...I think it is high time that we humans own our moral standards, rather than blame them on something else.
This.  One million times this.  Avogadro's number times this.

We are morally accountable to ourselves and everyone/thing around us that is subject to questions of morality (entities capable of suffering/joy, etc).  We should not trick ourselves into being morally accountable to some lofty, unknowable, unprovable entity that may not even exist.
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Online jaimehlers

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #119 on: August 16, 2013, 09:58:24 PM »
Now, I can understand what it means to observe something circular in nature, but to what are you referring when you say that they “formulated an explanation”?  Formulating explanations is integral to the scientific method, but what kind of a causal explanation are you proposing to give that is relevant to grasping the concept of circularity?  What kinds of predictions would you make and how exactly would you test them?
By that, I mean that they came up with a way to explain the concept of a circle to someone else.  Without living back then, I can't know exactly what they did, but whatever they did was intended to demonstrate the concept to others, which serves the same purpose as explaining it in causal terms.  It probably worked something like this:
  • Observe something that is naturally circular.
  • Describe it in such a way that it isn't confused with something that is similarly shaped but not circular.
  • Predict that other circular objects will conform to that description.
  • Confirm by checking other circular objects against the description formulated, changing it if need be.

Quote from: Greenandwhite
I think that you are mistakenly equating the first step in the scientific method (observation) with the scientific method itself.
This is your opinion, and it's based on your incomplete understanding of what I said - as you stated just above, you didn't know what I was referring to by "formulated an explanation", but instead of waiting for me to answer, you tried to imagine what I might have meant.  As a result, you came up with an idea that was only tangentially related to what I was trying to get across, and ultimately ended up being incorrect.

Quote from: Greenandwhite
The intuitive grasp that you and I have of what the abstract concept of circularity means is, along with other geometrical, mathematical, and logical concepts, what grounds our ability to reason scientifically.  You can certainly say that one must observe something that is roughly circular before conceiving of the definition of a circle, but that doesn’t mean that that observation is also sufficient to generate understanding of what a circle is.  To come to an understanding of what a circle is, one has to make an ‘intuitive leap’; or as you aptly put it, ‘conceive of’ it.
And just what do you think the "abstract concept of circularity" is, if it is not an explanation that can be tested against circle-like objects to tell whether they are circular or not?  And in the process, occasionally come up with a way to more accurately describe the concept due to that very testing??  Which, notably, is how the scientific method works.  It doesn't matter if the initial explanation comes as a result of reasoning or due to intuition as long as it can be communicated to others and tested against reality.  And either way, it still comes about as a result of an observation.

Quote from: Greenandwhite
To put it another way, consider how the authors of geometry and physics textbooks respectively present their discipline’s knowledge.  If a physicist wants to explain atomic theory to a class she will likely present a process.  She will mention the names of people like Michael Faraday, J.J. Thomson, and Ernest Rutherford; she will detail the many experiments that these scientists did; and she will talk about the various hypotheses that were proposed and tested (e.g. the ‘plum pudding model’ versus the ‘nuclear atom model’).  In contrast, if you read a geometry textbook, the authors simply present the basic definitions and axioms as fact and proceed from there; the student is expected to intuitively grasp the basic concepts as they are presented.  Of course, if I am wrong then you should be able to pick up a geometry textbook and read about the history of the scientific process that was used to obtain the definition of a circle that we use today.
This is because basic geometric concepts (such as the formula for a circle) were worked out so long ago that we have no idea who came up with them.  Furthermore, you might note that later geometric concepts, which are not so basic, are credited to the person who discovered them, as well as the proofs they used to demonstrate the accuracy of the concept.  I won't deny that math works differently than various sciences, but to claim that students are simply expected to 'intuitively' grasp basic mathematical concepts is fallacious.  If it were a simple matter of intuition, we wouldn't have to use various geometrical formulas, and we wouldn't have to teach children math.  We would be able to grasp those formulas 'intuitively', just as children would 'intuitively' grasp even more basic mathematical concepts (such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions...).

Quote from: Greenandwhite
Furthermore, nobody needs to see more than one object that approximates circularity to understand the abstract concept of circularity; we simply grasp the truth intuitively and no number of repeated observations changes or strengthens our conception of what a circle is.
No, we don't "grasp the truth", because math isn't a matter of 'truth' to begin with.  What we grasp is a concept - but one that we can strengthen through repeated observation.  This is easily confirmed by observing the way that young children learn language.  When they grasp a concept, they start applying that concept to anything that comes close to matching it - for example, calling a cat or a mouse a 'doggy' because they grasped the concept of a furry animal as being a 'doggy', but haven't learned to differentiate between different kinds of furry animals yet.

Quote from: Greenandwhite
If, however, you are correct when you say that people “made changes as needed in order to make sure it [the definition of a circle] conformed to reality” then you have a rather paradoxical result on your hands.  The assumption that the definition of a circle is tentative (as all scientific theories are to some degree or another) would mean that our confidence in its correctness would depend upon finding examples of it in the real world.  The more objects we find that fit the definition the greater confidence we will have in its correctness, but if the opposite is true and we find few or no objects that meet the criteria then we will have to make an ‘adjustment’.
Here is another misunderstanding you have, this time about science.  Many scientific theories are not 'tentative' in the way that you mean.  While they may start out as 'tentative', as they are tested, they become progressively less so.  While it's possible that a theory that has been well-tested may be found to be incorrect in some way, it is most likely that this incorrectness is in something that nobody thought to test, or that nobody could test.  Much like how Newton's classical model is accurate except under certain circumstances (approaching the speed of light, approaching a singularity, neither of which he could realistically test), and thus was incorporated into Einstein's own theory.

Quote from: Greenandwhite
Unfortunately, since there are no objects in nature (at least none that I am aware of) that perfectly conform to the definition of circularity, it would seem that actually applying the scientific method to the definition of a circle would decrease rather than increase our certainty in its correctness.  So it seems to me that someone like Aristotle would have been more justified in using the definition of a circle that I proposed since, for all he knew, the things in nature that looked circular actually were perfect circles; nowadays, with our electron scanning microscopes and our understanding of microstructure, we know better.
Why would it?  We don't have to have a perfectly circular object in order to determine what a circle is.  And if we find something that more perfectly describes a circle than what we already have, why would we not improve our definition of a circle by incorporating it?  In other words, much as science works.  Now, it's true that it unlikely that we'll find a better formula to describe a circle than what we already have, but there are plenty of mathematical formulas that can be improved.  Like, say, the value of pi.

By the way, isn't pi incorporated into the formulas which are part of the definition of a circle?  And wouldn't that mean that as we more accurately determine the value of pi, that we also can more accurately calculate those same formulas?

Regarding opinions, you gave the example of someone saying that they “like chocolate”.  I think that it is important to note that words as they are used in popular parlance do not always mean the same thing to a philosopher or a scientist.  An example would be the word ‘theory’ which creationists often use derisively to refer to evolution as ‘only a theory’ despite the fact that scientists mean something quite different when they use the word.
Granted, mainly to get this out of the way.

Quote from: Greenandwhite
In the same way, philosophers are not referring to trivial flavour preferences when they use a word like ‘intuition’; rather, they are referring to statements like the law of the excluded middle or the first premise to the kalam cosmological argument or to moral intuitions like “it is wrong to torture babies for fun”.  Concepts like these intuitively seem to be true and ground all of our scientific and metaphysical reasoning.
To address these one by one:

The law of the excluded middle is not an 'intuition', nor are the other two classical laws of thought.  Indeed, they are actually not particularly intuitive, in and of themselves.  It would be better to call them instinctive, similar to language.  Which is to say that we are biologically wired to incorporate them without having to think about it.

As for the Kalam cosmological argument and others of its ilk, they are not necessarily true simply because they are intuitive.  For example, the first premise states that there must have been a first cause to the universe (because of the cause-effect chain), but we are finding that this may not have actually been the case (for example, some quantum effects are not 'caused', they simply happen).  So in this case, our intuition (which is based on our experiences here on Earth) is quite possibly wrong.

And finally, moral 'intuitions' are actually instinctively-learned rules of the culture one is raised in.  If there are any universal morals, they are only those which are necessary for a society/culture to survive.  Other than that, all bets are off.

Quote from: Greenandwhite
My point is that the person who wants to study quantum mechanics or evolution or any other scientific project utilizes the same kinds of intuitive background assumptions as someone who wishes to pursue the project of natural theology.  As such, if it is reasonable to accept knowledge gained through the scientific method, then it is also legitimate to accept knowledge gained through the arguments of natural theology.
This is logically flawed.  It is like saying that because you use the same materials for two buildings, that both are structurally sound - without considering any other aspects of the buildings.  On top of that, there is the problem that logic is only as sound as its premise.  If you start from a false premise, then no matter how good your logic is, you're going to end up with a wrong answer.  And these "intuitive background assumptions" you talk about are not the premise of an argument.  In other words, your argument here is wrong.  You cannot automatically legitimize information gained through natural theology simply because you can gain information through the scientific method using similar basic assumptions.

Quote from: Greenandwhite
You claimed that rational introspection, like opinions, it is useless for obtaining knowledge since its suppositions cannot be proven.
Actually, no, I said that you can't disprove a hypothesis with it.  That means rational introspection is useless for gaining knowledge by itself, because you can't filter out the bad data from the good.  You have to test information (no matter how you gain it) against reality to determine if it is useful knowledge.

Quote from: Greenandwhite
Interestingly enough, in the scientific world it is not really ‘provability’ that scientists strive for but rather falsifiability.  Physicists don’t say that Einstein’s theory of quantum mechanics has been proven therefore we can move on to other things; rather, they point out the possible ways that his theory could be falsified - it hasn’t happened yet, but it could since a superior theory could become available in the future.
I am well aware of that.  It's why I said you couldn't disprove something with rational introspection, rather than that you couldn't prove it.

Quote from: Greenandwhite
You can certainly say that metaphysical intuitions cannot be proven, but that doesn’t mean that falsification is impossible.  For instance, when someone says that ‘everything that begins to exist must have a cause’ that statement, if false, is open to counterexamples.  A couple of legitimate counter examples would certainly serve to undermine my confidence in the intuitive plausibility of the claim.  In contrast, someone’s opinion about chocolate isn’t amenable to being proven or falsified in the sense in which we are talking here, and is therefore useless as a grounding premise for gaining knowledge.
There are counter-examples (albeit not proven yet).  For example, the virtual particles that cause Hawking radiation if they occur next to a black hole are not 'caused'.

And in any case, it's been pretty well demonstrated that intuition is not reliable in many respects.  For example, in the field of probability.  For example, in the famous birthday problem, our intuition tells us that in order to have a 50% probability of a matched birthday, you need a large percentage of the total birthdays available to check.  In fact, you only need 23 randomly-picked people in a room to have a 50% chance of a birthday match - less than 10% of the total number.  Completely counter-intuitive.

Offline DumpsterFire

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #120 on: August 17, 2013, 04:27:57 AM »
     On what basis can you say that one subjective standard is any better than another subjective standard?
How, exactly, are the unbiased, non-preferential, and non-sentient natural mechanisms of evolution in any way subjective?

Quote
  You can study evolutionary theory, crunch the numbers, and conclude that the Nazi's agenda would have resulted in fewer, less 'healthy' homo sapiens over a certain time frame, but that in itself does not make what the Nazi's did 'wrong'.  What if we take into account the emotional satisfaction that a Nazi would have felt when he looked around and saw nothing but blond hair and blue eyes? How can you quantify or rule out emotional flourishing as part of the good of human flourishing?  Moreover, how can you make a judgement call on how emotional flourishing compares to physical flourishing?
Simply put:
The emotional satisfaction of a few thousand Nazis + The physical and emotional suffering of the millions of victims of Nazi genocide + Artificially tampering with human evolution = A Net Loss for humankind.

Technically speaking, this is just my opinion, so I'd be interested to learn your thoughts on how the above equation results in a Net Gain.

Quote
     Interestingly enough, I think that you seriously underestimate the resiliency of evolutionary mechanisms to produce genetic diversity; after all, how did we get all the genetic diversity that we currently see in homo sapiens to begin with?  The only way your argument regarding 'limiting the available gene pool' works is if you restrict the time frame available for nature to work.  In the long run there is no reason to think that nature cannot recover the loss of genetic material and even produce a result superior to what would have happened.  Isn't a 'severe limiting of the gene pool' exactly what has happened numerous times in the past through the mass extinctions?  Yet we seem to have more than enough genetic diversity today for nature to work with.
While you are probably correct that humans would ultimately continue to flourish post-Nazi eugenics program, it is a virtual certainty that (assuming the Nazi goal of world domination was achieved and their plans were implemented on a global scale) the systematic exclusion of a specific set of genes/traits would result in a weakened species.

For example:
Due to excessive poaching, the percentage of tuskless elephants http://sector9evolution.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-evolution-of-tuskless-elephants-due_22.html is skyrocketing. If such poaching continues, eventually (and very soon, biologically speaking) tusks will be a thing of the past. Until recently, tusks have been an evolutionary boon to elephants by providing for self-defense, foraging, and sexual posturing, but due to the unnatural influence of humans on the gene pool (inadvertent as it may be) a specific trait is being excluded in the reproductive process. Do you think the exclusion of tusks in the elephant population will result in a stronger species[1]?

BTW, I am unaware of any "mass extinction" of modern humans, at least any that are supported by legitimate scientific evidence (this means you, Noah's flood). Please enlighten us with some examples.
     
Quote
In the end, when we condemn the Nazi's for what they did I do not think that we are not doing so because of any analysis detailing the possible success or failure of their program in promoting human flourishing - we condemn them because what they attempted to do seems wrong, period.  And while I think that Median's vague proposal regarding morality fails and will continue to fail miserably no matter how much he attempts to bolster it, I think that most atheists and theists condemn the Nazi's due to similar considerations (e.g. the inherently warranted value of human dignity).  The only difference between an atheist and a theist is that the theist claims that while basing morality on human dignity is a coherent means of construing moral epistemology, it seems ultimately meaningless if not grounded in the existence of a supreme being.  So I think that atheists and theists for the most part will come to similar conclusions regarding what is right and wrong, but they will differ on what they feel is necessary to ground those conclusions.   
My post attempted to remove the Nazi moralistic question altogether by just addressing the evolutionary setback their programs would have provided mankind.

Can you explain why you consider morality meaningless without a god? One would think the benefits of limiting human suffering in the present would be self evident, but your take seems to be that we can't really know what will be most beneficial to mankind in the long run (even if it sometimes amounts to many thousands of years), so we shouldn't judge anything.

I guess you would side with Ozymandias while I'd be in Rorschach's corner[2], eh?
 1. Making them un-poachable does not make them any better suited to their day-to-day environment, BTW
 2. Google Watchmen if you have no idea what this means
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Offline ParkingPlaces

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #121 on: August 17, 2013, 08:49:39 AM »
Excellent points, DumpsterFire. There is a huge difference between a few selfish individuals who want to make every male look like Arnold Swartznegger and every female like Marlene Dietrich and scientists and medical researchers who want, via genetic manipulation, to rid the world of genetically transmitted birth defects or genetically transmitted diseases so that all may benefit.

The Nazi's were like todays wealthy who seem to be saying "So what if we have all the  money? How can that hurt anything?" Oblivious to anything but their own wants and desires and their need for power. Motive is everything. Power can ruin everything.

And of course, you are even more right about not knowing what the outcome of any given genetic change will be. Even evolution doesn't know. At one time, sickle cell anemia was a huge benefit to the natives of tropical areas in Africa because it protected them from malaria. But then the world changed, life spans became longer, the propensity of the genetically causes mutation to kill the person by the time they are in their mid-30's became relevant, because people started living longer. When we play with mother nature, even if we are using it to end the aforementioned birth defects, etc., we are still taking a chance on causing even more serious repercussions. That's why we use the scientific method to eke these things out. Because it has the best chance of noticing any problems via well established processes.

The religious call upon their god or their religion on a regular basis, but then they say things like "Praise the lord and pass the ammo". If there were a god, they could say "Praise the lord and let's sit back and watch him pass the ammo!" But they know better. Words are for their god and their god inquiries. Human action is for what we do in real life. Sadly, egos and bullies do the latter wrong. As with the Nazi example. And the religious who do nothing but trust their god are equally inept, even when nicer.

People with good motives (ridding the world of MD and other diseases) are properly motivated and using scientific methods to find a solution. Not prayer. Not natural theology. There is a reason for that.

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Offline DumpsterFire

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #122 on: August 17, 2013, 09:16:02 AM »
Thanks for your input, PP. Your points about using bioengineering for the eradication of disease being valid, I must edit a statement in my previous post:

Had the Nazi eugenics program been fully carried out, the systematic exclusion of a specific set of otherwise unharmful and possibly beneficial genes/traits would result in a weakened human species.
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Offline ParkingPlaces

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #123 on: August 17, 2013, 09:43:19 AM »
Thanks for your input, PP. Your points about using bioengineering for the eradication of disease being valid, I must edit a statement in my previous post:

Had the Nazi eugenics program been fully carried out, the systematic exclusion of a specific set of otherwise unharmful and possibly beneficial genes/traits would result in a weakened human species.

Point well taken. Smaller gene pools suck.
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Online jaimehlers

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #124 on: August 17, 2013, 10:21:08 AM »
I think, when all is said and done, that the statement "morality is meaningless without a god to base it on" is demonstrably false, for the simple reason that when you base morality on a god, you're basing it on something that is external to yourself, and that could change what it means to be moral at any time.  In other words, trying to base morality on a god, whether it's an actual being or a concept, is effectively making its foundation out of sand, or mist.  In other words, morality is meaningless when based on a god.

To put it another way, the German Nazis thought they were acting as God wanted them to act, more specifically as they were convinced (by others) how God wanted them to act.

Human morality is not some kind of unchanging concept.  It's flexible, like a tree; but that flexibility depends on being well-grounded.  Which god-belief doesn't provide.

Online shnozzola

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #125 on: August 17, 2013, 05:49:27 PM »




Shindler's List is on today - seeing reenactments of Jewish children hiding in outhouse pits - sorry folks, maybe I'm naïve, but it seems somehow sickening to be arguing about morality, the Nazi's, and evolution.
« Last Edit: August 17, 2013, 05:53:33 PM by shnozzola »
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Offline median

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #126 on: August 17, 2013, 08:35:52 PM »

Median,
     How in the world did you determine that I am looking for some kind of ‘absolute authority’ to tell me how things should be based on my question from the previous post where I asked: “what exactly does ‘human flourishing’ entail”?  If someone told me that she tries to live her life by the golden rule and I asked her to explain what that means and how she applies it in a real life scenario, would that also constitute my seeking an ‘absolute authority’? I don’t see how a rule of thumb or a general principle constitutes an ‘absolute authority’. 
     I also don’t understand why you have to be so reluctant to clarify the meaning of a phrase you are using.  What does ‘human flourishing’ entail?  Is it best defined by physical, psychological, or social metrics or a mixture of all three?  Does it primarily apply to the individual, to the individual’s immediate group, or to humanity collectively?  How do we deal with differences of opinion regarding ‘human flourishing’ (e.g. when one person’s ‘flourishing’ collides with another person’s)?

     What is your purpose in this line of questioning? What are you trying to accomplish by asking me for 'clarification' regarding what morality is to me? I've said already that I have not attempted to make any case (whatever) for an 'objective' morality (at least not in the way you envision). So why does this matter to you? You seem to be the one who thinks there is such a thing as a moral standard that exists absent human judgement. So perhaps you can demonstrate how you think you know this.

     Yeah, I get that you are not trying to propose any kind of 'objective' morality, but unless you make moral decisions in your personal life by rolling a dice or by using some other random method, you must have some kind of a rational process that you utilize to make your decision.  Curious that you have repeatedly refused to elaborate at all on what that rational process entails (e.g. maybe make an attempt to define a term like 'human flourishing' in light of some of the questions that I asked about it); unless...you don't think that your beliefs regarding morality can stand up to closer scrutiny?

This response doesn't answer my question and it demonstrates, once again, that you have an idea about what morality is that I reject (namely that it is 'objective' and that it has something to do with something other than human beings, aka a supernatural being etc - which you haven't demonstrated). And even if ALL of my arguments for how I see morality were proven in error this would not get you to "God did it". It would simply bring me to agnosticism, not deism or theism. Is really that hard for you to admit your own ignorance? You seem to be OK with playing Socrates only when you're shelling it out.

The response here also brings another fallacy to the table - that I have some "belief" or dogma (like you do) regarding what morality is all about - when I do not. For the hundredth time, for me morality is about the well being of human beings (and often therefore conscious creatures). It isn't a belief. I know you so desperately want me to fall into your absolutist mind-set trap of rigidly and dogmatically holding a belief, and presenting a definition, so that you can say, "Aha! Your definition is flawed! Therefore Jebus morality is wins!"

NOPE. Sorry, not gonna happen. Fact is, in the same manner that you have not demonstrated your Yahweh deity, you haven't demonstrated an objective morality (some absolute standard) either - and your attempt to turn the tables (a fallacy called Shifting the Burden of Proof) is lame at best - especially when I already told you that my position on morality is for me (i.e. - not a claim regarding what is or isn't "objective"). You use your own standard of morality just like I do, and just like everyone else does - except you just want to pretend that yours has some objective standard (which you haven't demonstrated).
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Offline median

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #127 on: August 17, 2013, 08:45:06 PM »

     I do not have an 'assumed' definition of what natural theology is since I use the term in the manner stipulated by the sources listed below:
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/natural+theology
http://www.iep.utm.edu/theo-nat/
http://www.thefreedictionary.com/natural+theology
     Additionally, you once again refused to give any rationale whatsoever for why your understanding of the phrase 'natural theology' should be preferred to the one that I offered.  That omission makes your claim arbitrary and reflects nothing more than your own pre-existing biases.

LOL. Yes, I am 'biased' against mythical nonsense. I love how you use the word 'arbitrary' and then point to some dictionaries as if those are going to help you. They don't, and it's actually surprising to see you attempt this line of reasoning. Did you not know that philosophy often debates questions of definitions in terms? If so, why are you using other authority figures to give you your definitions? Claiming a mere authority (or a group of them) on the definition of a term (a term which was arbitrarily defined in the first place by those who wished to use it under such contexts) is merely assuming what you need to prove - an action which earlier you attempted to take me to task on regarding the definition of "well-being", and other terms. You can't really be serious with this kind of intellectual hypocrisy.
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Offline median

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #128 on: August 17, 2013, 09:04:42 PM »
  And while I think that Median's vague proposal regarding morality fails and will continue to fail miserably no matter how much he attempts to bolster it, I think that most atheists and theists condemn the Nazi's due to similar considerations (e.g. the inherently warranted value of human dignity).

Bolster? Really? Are you really THAT dishonest in misrepresenting my position with such gross error to attempt to make me say things I have not said? Where have I "bolstered" anything on anyone? You sir, have a serious problem with correctly representing (or even attempting to properly represent) an opposing position. On multiple occasions I readily admitted that the position of which I spoke was NOT pertaining to anything "objective", and yet you still sit there and attack it as if it was. WOW.


The only difference between an atheist and a theist is that the theist claims that while basing morality on human dignity is a coherent means of construing moral epistemology, it seems ultimately meaningless if not grounded in the existence of a supreme being.   

Wrong. The difference is much bigger than you think. You suffer from the same delusion that you do regarding a deity. You believe one exists (just like believing there is an objective morality) but haven't sufficiently demonstrated it as such - relying upon mere intuition (a feeling) and prior background assumptions you made long ago regarding the bible (along with your interpretation of it), all the while failing to acknowledge the atheists do not see morality (or what that term means) the same way you do."Most people feel X is objectively wrong" isn't a good reason for thinking there is some 'up there' standard beyond human reasoning. If it were then that logic could also apply to all sorts of nonsense that the crowed felt.
« Last Edit: August 17, 2013, 09:08:10 PM by median »
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Offline Greenandwhite

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #129 on: August 28, 2013, 12:37:57 AM »

Median,
     You said that rather than discussing whether or not moral judgements constitute knowledge, we were actually “discussing equivocations of the term ‘morality’ and how if possible to rectify such disagreements”.  I am certainly in favor of minimizing the possibility of equivocation.  The best way I can think of to do that is to define terms; however, when I asked you in post #66 to define ‘well-being’ you proceeded to evade my question in post #67, then you defined it in post #69 as ‘human flourishing’ (which is essentially a synonymous term subject to the same ambiguities), and finally in post #80 you accused me that my question about ‘human flourishing’ meant that I was looking for “some 'absolute authority' to tell [me how things are]”???
[/m]

     This response demonstrates exactly what I had anticipated originally, that you are asking me for an unobtainable definition of morality (one which - if it does not fit your presupposition of what it should be ["precision"] - you will not accept). Welp, sorry, I don't accept your standard. I do not hold the position that all philosophical terms are capable of being defined by unshakable unambiguous necessary and sufficient conditions (i.e. your idea of something non general). Do you think all terms can be defined unambiguously? Earlier, I drew the analogy to science - that if one asked for a definition of Geology and the answerer said, "The study of rock formations and movements" that such an answer (even though general) would be sufficient. Is it sufficient for you? I'd like to know what standard of language you are attempting to hold me to b/c I gave a general definition of what morality is about (for me) and all you came back with was "Well that's synonymous with the term." Guess what? So is every definition! So I don't know what you're looking for.

          Just because a general definition is adequate in one circumstance does not mean that it is adequate in all circumstances.  For instance, saying that geology is ‘the study of rock formations and movements’ might be sufficient if one was comparing geology to psychology, but it likely wouldn’t suffice if one wanted to compare the geophysical global cooling hypothesis to the hypothesis of plate tectonics.  In the former case the comparison is between two different disciplines of study while in the latter case the comparison is between two points of view within a discipline.  Someone attempting to defend the global cooling hypothesis couldn’t just say to his detractors, ‘well for me geology is just about the study of rock formations and movements’;  he would actually have to give reasons why he thought that the rocks had moved in the manner prescribed by his hypothesis.  In the same way, the discussion of objective versus subjective moral values is a specific dispute within the study of moral theory and as such, your repeated refusals to adequately clarify your views (e.g. in posts 67, 69, 80, 105, and 107) constitute nothing more than a dishonest and transparent attempt to insulate your views from any kind of criticism. 

Offline Greenandwhite

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #130 on: August 28, 2013, 12:53:18 AM »
Greenandwhite:
     In a reply to jaimehlers, you said:
Quote
As such, if it is reasonable to accept knowledge gained through the scientific method, then it is also legitimate to accept knowledge gained through the arguments of natural theology.

     My argument against accepting knowledge "gained" through the arguments of natural theology would be that if said knowledge cannot be applied to the real world, what is its purpose? If "natural theology" can be used to help a religious person feel closer to their god or whatever because of reasoning alone, then clearly it has a purpose from the religious point of view. But from a more neutral POV, what does it provide? Scientists can study gravity, propulsion, inertia and other relevant science-related subjects and then land an object on the surface of Mars. While the usefulness of such enterprises can certainly be argued pro and con from a variety of stances, the fact remains that such endeavors are only possible because of science, and would remain impossible were we to rely only on "natural theology". Because natural theology seems to explain nothing physical in a way that it can be manipulated for out benefit....
     I am not proclaiming everything that science does as wonderful and everything natural theology or other religious stances do is useless. But I simply don't see a comparison between the two. Natural theology, as I understand it, is trying to use observation and reason to demonstrate that there is a god. Science is just trying to do things, whether there is a god or not....
     We puny humans can't know everything. But to rely on old religious processes that have yet to provide anything but comfort seems useless.
ParkingPlaces,
     [font=]You talked about the “real world application” of scientific knowledge and how studying topics in physics like gravity, propulsion, and inertia has allowed us to do some pretty amazing things such as putting manmade objects on Mars.  [/font]Now, it is pretty cool some of the things that science has allowed us to do, but I am wondering if you have thought about the motivations that scientists might have had for attempting such feats.  Certainly, there are often technological spin offs that projects like the Apollo missions or the Mars rover mission have, but do you think it was the ‘spin offs’ that motivated the scientific community or was it learning for learning’s sake?  If, for some reason there was no real world spin off that might directly or indirectly affect you or me do you think that the scientists involved in such programs would feel that their time or intellectual resources had been wasted?
      If you want to make ‘real world application’ your standard for defining the usefulness of knowledge then you are writing off as ‘purposeless’ or ‘useless’ or ‘of little benefit’ or what have you all kinds of knowledge including much knowledge that has been gained through scientific research.   Scientists can study gravity and inertia and do all kinds of cool things without embarking on all kinds of esoteric exercises like string theory or quantum field theory or a search for a grand unifying theory.  What exactly is the real world application of the research being done in cosmology regarding the origins of the universe; do oscillating universe models improve your daily life? 
      Furthermore, it doesn’t sound to me like your personal outlook would be much kinder to many of the other subjects commonly studied on university campuses.  What kind of real world application has Dr. John Searle’s work in philosophy had?  What is the use of all the work that mathematicians do in proving things like Fermat’s Last Theorem.  A conclusive proof of Fermat’s Conjecture was not provided by any mathematician until 1995, but that fact did not seem to stymie scientific research in the previous few centuries nor has it resulted in any stupendous scientific discoveries since then – were the efforts of countless mathematicians over the previous three and a half centuries therefore of little value?  Closer to the question at hand, when you talk about the meaningfulness of your moral values, is that something that you know to be true or are you just guessing?  If you do feel that you know your moral values are meaningful could you point to the scientific experiments that you consulted to confirm that notion? 
      The only way that you can say that knowledge gained through science is superior to or more useful than knowledge gained through natural theology (and by comparison many other subject as well) is if you consider certain questions like “does God exist” or “is my life meaningful” to be of less value than questions like “how might we put a robotic device on Mars”.  Interestingly enough, you are participating in a forum that discusses the latter types of questions, so I think your presence here shows that at some level you yourself do not believe your own sentiments in the previous post to be true. 

Offline Greenandwhite

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #131 on: August 28, 2013, 01:01:12 AM »

And while I think that Median's vague proposal regarding morality fails and will continue to fail miserably no matter how much he attempts to bolster it, I think that most atheists and theists condemn the Nazi's due to similar considerations (e.g. the inherently warranted value of human dignity).  The only difference between an atheist and a theist is that the theist claims that while basing morality on human dignity is a coherent means of construing moral epistemology, it seems ultimately meaningless if not grounded in the existence of a supreme being.  So I think that atheists and theists for the most part will come to similar conclusions regarding what is right and wrong, but they will differ on what they feel is necessary to ground those conclusions.   


     It isn't meaningless to me. Ultimately or otherwise. My willingness, or in fact, my desire, to be humane and kind and compassionate and to not put myself above others out of ego or a false sense of superiority, has a lot of meaning. To me. And since I'm not one that, therefore, picks up a gun or a knife to weed out those I could have chosen to belittle or dehumanize or hate because I have no principles, I think there is a lot of meaning to my godless reasons. Human reasons. Which, as far as I know, are the only ones available.
     Being that religious morality gets handily set aside nearly every time there is a war and an enemy to destroy, I think it is high time that we humans own our moral standards, rather than blame them on something else. I happen to like moral standards that leave the most people alive and free. Others like ones that cause death and destruction. That is our human problem, and we deal with it daily. Pretending there is an outside force involved, that both judges and justifies, kind of messes up the whole thing and excuses many a horror. Such as the aforementioned Nazi atrocities.

ParkingPlaces,
      I am quite certain that you as a person find your moral values to be meaningful; however, I am just wondering how you know that this meaning is not just illusory?  Isn’t it a fairly common argument on atheistic forums such as this one that human beings are capable of believing all kinds of falsehoods for convenience sake?  How do you know that the meaning that you ascribe to your moral outlook is not just a convenient fiction?
      Since in the previous post I was talking about foundations for moral values, I am wondering on what you are basing yours?  It certainly doesn’t sound to me as if you feel that your moral beliefs are arbitrary, so do you find your moral beliefs to be meaningful because you consider yourself as a person intrinsically valuable and by extension all other human beings as well, or are you doing some kind of a calculation to quantify something like ‘human flourishing’?
 
 
« Last Edit: August 28, 2013, 01:13:26 AM by Greenandwhite »

Offline Greenandwhite

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #132 on: August 28, 2013, 01:09:36 AM »

     To put it another way, the German Nazis thought they were acting as God wanted them to act, more specifically as they were convinced (by others) how God wanted them to act.

     [font=]This post concerns a couple of comments that were made in the last exchange.  In addition to Jaimehlers comment above, I noted that in post #117 ParkingPlaces said, “pretending there is an outside force involved, that both judges and justifies, kind of messes up the whole thing and excuses many a horror, such as the aforementioned Nazi atrocities.”  I think that comments of this nature regarding Nazi actions are completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand. 
      In the first place, these statements are demonstrably fallacious in that there is virtually no historical support to bolster them.  Citing examples of church statements supporting the Nazi party would be illegitimate considering the policies of deception and intimidation pursued by the Nazis.  It also belittles the courageous opposing stance that many religious people in Germany actually took regarding the Nazi party policies.     
      Secondly, the actions and motivations of isolated groups of people do not determine the truth or falsity of statements regarding moral foundations.  About the best that can be said for the actions of groups like the Nazis is that their example indicates the social impact that theism or possibly atheism can have.  Even this is questionable since the Nazis are not representative of your average atheist or theist.  Mark Vuletic puts it this way ([/font][/size]http://www.infidels.org/secular_web/feature/1999/violence.html[/color][/url][/size] - I cite him not because I expect you to take his word as authoritative but simply because I though he phrased things better than I could have):  “Is theism or atheism inherently dangerous? No. Both are consistent with intolerance and violence, but neither one has intolerance and violence as a "logical conclusion." There are those who embrace hate and violence for religious reasons, and those who embrace them for secular reasons. Likewise, there are those who reject hate and violence for religious reasons, and those who reject them for secular reasons. And in fact, the vast majority of theists and atheists share common basic moral attitudes towards their fellow men and women…So, was Hitler an atheist or a theist? As long as he wasn't typical of either side, I could care less what he was.”  

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #133 on: August 28, 2013, 02:01:22 AM »

And while I think that Median's vague proposal regarding morality fails and will continue to fail miserably no matter how much he attempts to bolster it, I think that most atheists and theists condemn the Nazi's due to similar considerations (e.g. the inherently warranted value of human dignity).  The only difference between an atheist and a theist is that the theist claims that while basing morality on human dignity is a coherent means of construing moral epistemology, it seems ultimately meaningless if not grounded in the existence of a supreme being.  So I think that atheists and theists for the most part will come to similar conclusions regarding what is right and wrong, but they will differ on what they feel is necessary to ground those conclusions.   


     It isn't meaningless to me. Ultimately or otherwise. My willingness, or in fact, my desire, to be humane and kind and compassionate and to not put myself above others out of ego or a false sense of superiority, has a lot of meaning. To me. And since I'm not one that, therefore, picks up a gun or a knife to weed out those I could have chosen to belittle or dehumanize or hate because I have no principles, I think there is a lot of meaning to my godless reasons. Human reasons. Which, as far as I know, are the only ones available.
     Being that religious morality gets handily set aside nearly every time there is a war and an enemy to destroy, I think it is high time that we humans own our moral standards, rather than blame them on something else. I happen to like moral standards that leave the most people alive and free. Others like ones that cause death and destruction. That is our human problem, and we deal with it daily. Pretending there is an outside force involved, that both judges and justifies, kind of messes up the whole thing and excuses many a horror. Such as the aforementioned Nazi atrocities.

ParkingPlaces,
      I am quite certain that you as a person find your moral values to be meaningful; however, I am just wondering how you know that this meaning is not just illusory?  Isn’t it a fairly common argument on atheistic forums such as this one that human beings are capable of believing all kinds of falsehoods for convenience sake?  How do you know that the meaning that you ascribe to your moral outlook is not just a convenient fiction?
      Since in the previous post I was talking about foundations for moral values, I am wondering on what you are basing yours?  It certainly doesn’t sound to me as if you feel that your moral beliefs are arbitrary, so do you find your moral beliefs to be meaningful because you consider yourself as a person intrinsically valuable and by extension all other human beings as well, or are you doing some kind of a calculation to quantify something like ‘human flourishing’?
 

I extrapolate. I've noticed that I don't like getting stabbed. I then jump to the conclusion that nobody else does either. Once I have done that, I decide that there is a moral imperative that we not stab each other. Then I go on to other things I wouldn't like having happen to me. Being robbed, raped, shot, drugged, arrested for being black, etc. Pretty soon I have a decent set of rules that I can incorporate into my moral code and feel pretty good about.

Then I move on to other things I don't like, or at least am pretty sure I wouldn't like. Being a slave, being oppressed, starving to death during a civil war, prejudices, etc. That list is pretty long, as is the first. But it doesn't take me much time to put together a set of guidelines that I think constitute moral thinking and moral imperatives. Then I go from there.

Sadly my process doesn't work. Too many selfish folks think all of those things should be on their bucket list, and they go around violating my standards on a regular basis. I gotta work on that part.

Not counting our genes, there are no external sources of morality. There are plenty of fake sources for fake morality, but the real stuff comes from within us. And it is actually pretty easy for anyone with a pencil and paper to come up with something that resembles my own. Except for assholes (sorry Nam, not you) and whatever else you want to call the power hungry/selfish/self-righteous idiots that make life on this planet that much harder. They are the ones insisting the morality must come from somewhere else, because what they want to call normal (be they Nazi's or Glenn Beck or Saddam Hussein) is just them trying to justify their selfishness.

Once you leave out said selfishness, morality starts to be a bit more universal. Sure, we might have to sit down and have the occasional discussion about stoning our raped daughters and stuff, because different cultures are going to occasionally have different standards. But at least we'd have something to work with if the idiots would just get out of the way.

By the way, it might all be illusion. The difference is, my illusions are better. How do I know? Yours suck.
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Offline median

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #134 on: August 28, 2013, 02:03:45 AM »

          Just because a general definition is adequate in one circumstance does not mean that it is adequate in all circumstances.  For instance, saying that geology is ‘the study of rock formations and movements’ might be sufficient if one was comparing geology to psychology, but it likely wouldn’t suffice if one wanted to compare the geophysical global cooling hypothesis to the hypothesis of plate tectonics.  In the former case the comparison is between two different disciplines of study while in the latter case the comparison is between two points of view within a discipline.  Someone attempting to defend the global cooling hypothesis couldn’t just say to his detractors, ‘well for me geology is just about the study of rock formations and movements’;  he would actually have to give reasons why he thought that the rocks had moved in the manner prescribed by his hypothesis.  In the same way, the discussion of objective versus subjective moral values is a specific dispute within the study of moral theory and as such, your repeated refusals to adequately clarify your views (e.g. in posts 67, 69, 80, 105, and 107) constitute nothing more than a dishonest and transparent attempt to insulate your views from any kind of criticism.

Absolutely 100% false. And I deeply resent your BS accusation as both highly unwarranted and assumptive (just as you have done with your theology - ASSUMED it). You seem to have this idea (maybe from Josh Mcdowell, Bill Craig, or other nonsense apologists) that if my answer doesn't fit your wants/desires, as to what you think it should be, then there must be some "deeper" hiding going on (the typical religious conspiracy theory nonsense). No, you just haven't attempted to truly understand what I've stated. You clearly have the agenda of attempting to make me say something I'm not saying (Strawman fallacy) - all the while trying to accuse me of "insulating" some belief you think I have from criticism. WTF!? LOL. No dude, sorry, I don't have some belief (like you do) in a "moral law giver" in the sky (or elsewhere), nor did I provide a definition as if it applies to all (like you do).

As I stated in another post, I don't need to clarify anything for you. I'm not the one making the positive claim to an 'objective' morality. You are. And your weak attempts to shift the burden of proof demonstrate your utter dishonesty regarding the subject. I don't think I could have said "for me" enough times - but of course you skirted right over that (deliberately ignoring what I said on multiple occasions). Where I come from that's called being an asshole. You must have an extremely thick skull, or perhaps your cognitive faculties are failing you. Have you not understood that I do not accept your belief in some 'objective' morality? Have you not grasped that I do not buy your assumptions? It seems you have a fundamental unwillingness to attempt to understand any other answer than the one you want to end up with.

Moreover, your Jebus morality is the one that fails, and will "always fail". Oh I know you can spin, rationalize, and argue away any straight forward clear reading of your Yahweh deity endorsed and/or commanded slavery, genocide, infanticide, human sacrifice, and other vile characteristics in that book. But I'm not buying it just like I'm not buying the Muslim or Mormon spin either. You use your own standard of morality just like everyone else does. Why pretend it's from a deity? And just because you feel (or have some intuition) that there is an objective morality, doesn't mean there is one (just like feeling there is a deity doesn't mean there is one).

So once again, the accusation, "your repeated refusals to adequately clarify your views..." is itself bullshit. I have clarified my views plenty. If it's not enough for you, too fucking bad! I don't care. Your view finds its root in the assumption of a definition which I reject (and likely a false dichotomy as well). Where have I stated that I have some concrete belief like you do? Where have I once claimed an objective morality or some idea of morality that must apply to you or all? The answer is, I haven't. But for some reason you want to keep pretending that I have - as if it matters to the argument at all. What you keep missing is that you are swinging at the wind - trying to put the atheists on the defensive because you don't like the fact that you have the burden of proof. I have made no positive assertion as to an objective morality, but even if I had (and failed), it wouldn't make your position true. You don't win by default dude. You need to demonstrate how you think you know there is an objective morality. Until then you have nothing more than claims as such (just like every religion of history).

How about YOU "adequately clarify your views" for us. Let's start there.
« Last Edit: August 28, 2013, 02:12:49 AM by median »
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Offline Greenandwhite

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #135 on: August 29, 2013, 12:51:16 AM »

     Interestingly enough, I think that you seriously underestimate the resiliency of evolutionary mechanisms to produce genetic diversity; after all, how did we get all the genetic diversity that we currently see in homo sapiens to begin with?  The only way your argument regarding 'limiting the available gene pool' works is if you restrict the time frame available for nature to work.  In the long run there is no reason to think that nature cannot recover the loss of genetic material and even produce a result superior to what would have happened.  Isn't a 'severe limiting of the gene pool' exactly what has happened numerous times in the past through the mass extinctions?  Yet we seem to have more than enough genetic diversity today for nature to work with.


     While you are probably correct that humans would ultimately continue to flourish post-Nazi eugenics program, it is a virtual certainty that (assuming the Nazi goal of world domination was achieved and their plans were implemented on a global scale) the systematic exclusion of a specific set of genes/traits would result in a weakened species. For example:
     Due to excessive poaching, the percentage of tuskless elephants
http://sector9evolution.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-evolution-of-tuskless-elephants-due_22.html is skyrocketing. If such poaching continues, eventually (and very soon, biologically speaking) tusks will be a thing of the past. Until recently, tusks have been an evolutionary boon to elephants by providing for self-defense, foraging, and sexual posturing, but due to the unnatural influence of humans on the gene pool (inadvertent as it may be) a specific trait is being excluded in the reproductive process. Do you think the exclusion of tusks in the elephant population will result [future tense] in a stronger species[1]? [/font]
 1. Making them un-poachable does not make them any better suited to their day-to-day environment, BTW
[font=]     A species (in this case elephants) is made ‘stronger’ by the natural adaptations that occur in response to environmental pressures.  Any judgement about the future fitness of the elephant population is dependent upon knowledge of what pressures elephants will experience in their future environment.  Unless you think I can foretell the future I will have to give basically the same answer to the question that Lauren Lyssy gave in the blog that you cited: “the key question is if elephants will be able to adapt quickly enough to their native environments without the use of tusks” – basically she doesn’t know and neither do I. 
      Now, if you want to know if the loss of tusks has improved the ability of elephants to survive in their present environment then the answer is yes.  Look at it this way, if I took you to some unregulated area of Africa and showed you one elephant with tusks and one elephant without and asked you to place a wager on which one might survive longer, which one would you choose?  As you said in your last post, nature does not have any subjective purpose in shaping the elephant species – all things being equal the strongest will survive and that is exactly what has happened in the case of elephants, the strongest (those without tusks) have survived.  Nature has already answered the question that you posed to me in your last post.   
      Also, even if we consider the fitness of the elephants in their natural environment (absent any human intervention), it still has not been shown that the elephant species will be unable to adapt and flourish without tusks – quite the opposite seems to be the case.  In addition to questioning what might become of the elephant species in the future, a question one could ask about any species of animal on earth, Lauren Lyssy notes that since the hunting ban on elephants in Addo Elephant National Park in 1954, the population has risen from 11 individuals to 324 of which 98% are tuskless (not bad for a species that is supposedly at a ‘disadvantage’, unless of course a 2,945% population increase doesn’t warrant the descriptor ‘flourishing’ in your books). [/font]
      BTW, I am unaware of any "mass extinction" of modern humans, at least any that are supported by legitimate scientific evidence (this means you, Noah's flood). Please enlighten us with some examples.
[font=]
     Firstly, I have not presumed to defend young earth creationism at any place on this cite so I don’t think that I am required to provide scientific evidence for a universal flood. 
Secondly, there does appear to be a good amount of scientific evidence for not just one but several near extinction events in human history: [/font]http://io9.com/5501565/extinction-events-that-almost-wiped-out-humans and http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/04/080424-humans-extinct_2.html

     In the end, when we condemn the Nazi's for what they did I do not think that we are not doing so because of any analysis detailing the possible success or failure of their program in promoting human flourishing - we condemn them because what they attempted to do seems wrong, period.  And while I think that Median's vague proposal regarding morality fails and will continue to fail miserably no matter how much he attempts to bolster it, I think that most atheists and theists condemn the Nazi's due to similar considerations (e.g. the inherently warranted value of human dignity).  The only difference between an atheist and a theist is that the theist claims that while basing morality on human dignity is a coherent means of construing moral epistemology, it seems ultimately meaningless if not grounded in the existence of a supreme being.  So I think that atheists and theists for the most part will come to similar conclusions regarding what is right and wrong, but they will differ on what they feel is necessary to ground those conclusions.   


     My post attempted to remove the Nazi moralistic question altogether by just addressing the evolutionary setback their programs would have provided mankind.  Can you explain why you consider morality meaningless without a god? One would think the benefits of limiting human suffering in the present would be self evident, but your take seems to be that we can't really know what will be most beneficial to mankind in the long run (even if it sometimes amounts to many thousands of years), so we shouldn't judge anything.
     [font=]I realize that, but I think you missed the point.  You said yourself that “one would think that the benefits of limiting human suffering in the present would be self-evident”.  That is exactly the point I am trying to make; limiting human suffering is self-evidently good, and we recognize that without doing any calculations to determine a measured quantity of human flourishing.  What the Nazis did was an affront to human dignity, and even if they could have subjectively determined that their actions would lead to increased ‘human flourishing’ the holocaust still would have been wrong.    [/font]

Offline Greenandwhite

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #136 on: August 29, 2013, 01:27:43 AM »
     On what basis can you say that one subjective standard is any better than another subjective standard?

How, exactly, are the unbiased, non-preferential, and non-sentient natural mechanisms of evolution in any way subjective?

     [font=]     I was not ascribing subjectivity to a natural process since there would have been no subject to attribute it to; rather I was making a comparison between the Nazi’s moral judgements (which presumably you feel were subjective) and your own (which I was under the impression that you also felt were subjective).   [/font]On a subjective moral world view each person or group of people define for themselves what is moral or immoral for them and what they choose to base it on.  You choose to use some measure of ‘human flourishing’ as your metric of morality; the Nazis chose the exclusive flourishing of the German state as theirs; so what? Why do you feel you have a right to condemn their moral judgement as wrong…unless deep down you don’t think that moral values are as subjectively based as you have indicated so far. 
     You can study evolutionary theory, crunch the numbers, and conclude that the Nazi's agenda would have resulted in fewer, less 'healthy' homo sapiens over a certain time frame, but that in itself does not make what the Nazi's did 'wrong'.  What if we take into account the emotional satisfaction that a Nazi would have felt when he looked around and saw nothing but blond hair and blue eyes? How can you quantify or rule out emotional flourishing as part of the good of human flourishing?  Moreover, how can you make a judgement call on how emotional flourishing compares to physical flourishing?

Simply put:
The emotional satisfaction of a few thousand Nazis + The physical and emotional suffering of the millions of victims of Nazi genocide + Artificially tampering with human evolution = A Net Loss for humankind.  Technically speaking, this is just my opinion, so I'd be interested to learn your thoughts on how the above equation results in a Net Gain.

     [font=]There are a few reasons why your conclusion (‘A Net Loss for humankind’) is premature:
 First, it seems reasonable to assume that a good moral system would be one that considers all relevant participants – present and future.  [/font]For instance, much of the ethical motivation for today’s environmental lobbyists concerns the welfare of future inhabitants of planet earth.  This outlook seems reasonable, yet in your equation you only referred to the ‘few thousand Nazi’s’ alive circa 1943. 
 Second, the relevant question is not how I feel the above ‘equation’ might result in a net gain but how the Nazis might have found the ‘equation’ to result in a positive net gain – after all, if moral judgements are subjective, then those of the Nazis are just as valid as yours or mine – correct? 
      So here’s your equation rewritten with the appropriate changes to reflect the Nazi point of view:
 (1) the emotional and physical flourishing of a few thousand Nazis +
 (2) the emotional and physical flourishing of all subsequent members of humanity (assuming Nazi success) +
 (3) the temporary and limited emotional and physical suffering of the ‘inferiors’ =
 (4) Net Gain. 
      I did not include your ‘artificially tampering with human evolution’ measure for the following reason: on a naturalistic view of evolution we as humans, along with our choices and actions, are part of the evolutionary process.  Why is one human killing another human any different from an evolutionary viewpoint than any other animal in nature killing another – the potential magnitude of effect that humans can have shouldn’t make any difference.  If a species of hyenas over time drives another species to extinction would that also be artificially ‘tampering’ with evolution?  Your attribution of human ‘tampering’ seems to illegitimately lead to ‘speciesism’. 
      Even if we reject my version of the equation there still remains the problem of assigning values to the factors used in the equation.  Would the suffering of one resident at Dachau be given a ‘morality index rating’ of -8 while the emotional satisfaction of one of the guards is considered to have a value of 2?  Whose standards would be used to assign the values – yours or the Nazi’s (unless, of course, you can think of some non-arbitrary way to assign values).  So, IMO, it seems that you will never come up with an indisputable answer using the above equation, and this just underscores the futility of using measures of ‘human flourishing’ to determine what is morally right or wrong.  There is no non-arbitrary method for assigning unit values to the terms under comparison nor is there any way to determine how many humans might be referred to by the second factor in the equation – if humans continue in existence on this earth for even another 10,000 years then the quantity of flourishing in this factor alone could easily outweigh the third factor no matter how you assign values.  At the end of the day we all recognize what the Nazi’s did to be morally wrong without using some equation involving human flourishing and we do so because of some understanding of the intrinsic value of human beings.     

Offline median

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #137 on: August 29, 2013, 01:44:18 AM »
     [font=]I realize that, but I think you missed the point.  You said yourself that “one would think that the benefits of limiting human suffering in the present would be self-evident”.  That is exactly the point I am trying to make; limiting human suffering is self-evidently good, and we recognize that without doing any calculations to determine a measured quantity of human flourishing.[/font]
[font=]

It's quite peculiar and surprising that you have decided to advance this line of reasoning, since only a few posts ago you criticized my general definition of similar terminology ("human flourishing" - which is inherently tied to your idea of "human suffering"). So now let's turn the tables and I will challenge you just like you tried to challenge me.

Just how exactly do you define "human suffering"?? Please note that any definition you give will be criticized in similar fashion as you attempted with me.


[/font]
[font=]
What the Nazis did was an affront to human dignity, and even if they could have subjectively determined that their actions would lead to increased ‘human flourishing’ the holocaust still would have been wrong.   
[/font]
[font=]

First, please clarify your definition for "human dignity". Second, had the Nazi's "determined" their actions as increasing human flourishing, the betterment of society (and they did argue this), they still would have been wrong...not because of some deity who you think dictates morality but because the facts would not have played out in their favor. Yes, there's that "suffering" thing again - which has tons to do with human flourishing btw and nothing to do with a non-demonstrable, unfalsifiable, alleged deity thing. [/font]
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Carl Sagan

Offline median

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #138 on: August 29, 2013, 02:00:03 AM »
Even if we reject my version of the equation there still remains the problem of assigning values to the factors used in the equation.

And there lies the irony. YOU TOO have this same problem of assigning value with your worldview. What, do you think somehow your personal bible interpretation of your theology allows you to escape the problem of assigning value? Merely assuming your theology and then interpreting things through it (all the while criticizing those for whom you actually share the same problem) is pretty hypocritical. Sure, you can say, "Well I believe we are made in the image of God, who has commanded us not to kill. So my system is better" (or something to this effect) but, for one, your system/belief hasn't been demonstrated as true or authoritative. Secondly, countless theological/moral views depicted in that book are either hypocritical or self contradictory, and third, even if you could show that your deity existed (and was somehow the "objective" standard) this would still be a LONG way off from demonstrating that your theological interpretation and exegesis was the one to follow (as there are countless other sects out there who would disagree with you on these so-called "objective" standards, ad nauseum). So what good does it do toward the pursuit of truth (and separating fact from fiction) to criticize a perceived "subjective" standard when (in practice) your system is just as subjective.
« Last Edit: August 29, 2013, 02:03:45 AM by median »
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Offline DumpsterFire

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #139 on: August 29, 2013, 02:12:38 AM »
      Now, if you want to know if the loss of tusks has improved the ability of elephants to survive in their present environment then the answer is yes.  Look at it this way, if I took you to some unregulated area of Africa and showed you one elephant with tusks and one elephant without and asked you to place a wager on which one might survive longer, which one would you choose?  As you said in your last post, nature does not have any subjective purpose in shaping the elephant species – all things being equal the strongest will survive and that is exactly what has happened in the case of elephants, the strongest (those without tusks) have survived.  Nature has already answered the question that you posed to me in your last post.
Now it seems you are the one missing the point. Tuskless elephants are not "stronger" than those with tusks. On the contrary, hundreds of thousands of years of natural elephant evolution have demonstrated that tusks are a beneficial adaptation. It is only because of the unnatural influence of man slaughtering them for ivory that tuskless elephants are flourishing. This would correlate to the Nazi eugenics program, in that these idiotic poachers are (unwittingly) excluding a specific trait from the population, with the end result being a weakened species. Tuskless elephants will probably do OK in the future, but nature has already dictated that elephants with tusks are better adapted for survival. Its pretty sad that what took nature many millenia to build mankind can tear asunder in a century.

Quote
     Firstly, I have not presumed to defend young earth creationism at any place on this cite so I don’t think that I am required to provide scientific evidence for a universal flood. Secondly, there does appear to be a good amount of scientific evidence for not just one but several near extinction events in human history: http://io9.com/5501565/extinction-events-that-almost-wiped-out-humans and http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/04/080424-humans-extinct_2.html
Both of your links cite only two such events, info on the most recent (70k years ago) of which being acknowledged as "controversial". Here's a quote from the comments section of the first link:

"The authors actually estimate an even smaller population number for 1.2 mio. yrs. ago than is cited in this post: 18,500.
However, they base their analysis on only two completed human genome sequences. And such an analysis necessarily has to make a very large number of very generous assumptions. Their estimate number could easily be off by an order of magnitude or more.
The other work, about the supposed extinction event 70k yrs. ago is from 2003, just before the current technological revolution in DNA sequencing got under way. So the experimental methods used (micro satellite markers) are very limited and again a large number of generous assumptions had to be made. Again the numbers could be off several fold, which would then tell a completely different story."

But even if we assume that the figures are correct, the fact is it took 70,000 years to get to the level of genetic diversity we presently have. Again, you are likely correct that mankind will continue to flourish, but severe restrictions to the human gene pool are not quickly or easily overcome.
 
Quote
You said yourself that “one would think that the benefits of limiting human suffering in the present would be self-evident”.  That is exactly the point I am trying to make; limiting human suffering is self-evidently good, and we recognize that without doing any calculations to determine a measured quantity of human flourishing.  What the Nazis did was an affront to human dignity, and even if they could have subjectively determined that their actions would lead to increased ‘human flourishing’ the holocaust still would have been wrong.
For someone who seemed to be so firmly planted in the Ozymandias camp, it seems rather disingenuous of you to suddenly hop on board the Rorschach bandwagon.  :P
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Offline median

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #140 on: August 29, 2013, 02:22:50 AM »
I was not ascribing subjectivity to a natural process since there would have been no subject to attribute it to; rather I was making a comparison between the Nazi’s moral judgements (which presumably you feel were subjective) and your own (which I was under the impression that you also felt were subjective).   On a subjective moral world view each person or group of people define for themselves what is moral or immoral for them and what they choose to base it on.  You choose to use some measure of ‘human flourishing’ as your metric of morality; the Nazis chose the exclusive flourishing of the German state as theirs; so what? Why do you feel you have a right to condemn their moral judgement as wrong…unless deep down you don’t think that moral values are as subjectively based as you have indicated so far.

Your fallacy here is that you have assumed that it is about "rights", when it's not. Rights have nothing to do with it. They are not inherent, nor have they been demonstrated as "from the divine". Rights are only available when people fight for them, allow them, and/or keep them in place.

Now, every one of us (including you) uses their own standard of morality. You, just like everyone else, have your own personal interpretation of what morality means to you and you attempt to apply that in your life (as does everyone else). This really must not be that difficult for you to see, is it? And just because you read an old book (claiming that it gives us the 'objective' standard) doesn't mean that it does. All that means is that you can claim that it does - but every religion makes claims like that and none of them have demonstrated this thing they call "objective" (including you).

Here's an illustration:

You stated:
Quote
You choose to use some measure of ‘human flourishing’ as your metric of morality

but what's interesting is that you choose to use your own definition of "human suffering" (which relates to flourishing) just the same. It's quite a bit of a catch 22 you're in.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Carl Sagan

Offline epidemic

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #141 on: August 29, 2013, 11:18:32 AM »
How about morality - can you construct an experiment to show that stealing is wrong or do you already know it is wrong before you start?

I don't know if this counts but I can first off show historically where stealing is bad for the community as a whole.  As a rule it should be avoided based upon historical events.  A community riddled with theft and other crimes is less enjoyable and prosperous as a whole.  Polling data would indicate a lower quality of life..

Now is stealing morally wrong?   I think "morally" is subjective, and in reality is a community cultural thing, moral = good for the community to have a certain quality of life as a whole.  From this we come up with the basic laws of humanity

Stealing - is wrong because it creates strife in the community, potentially inviting more theft and annimosity.  (as such it is judged to be morally wrong)
Sex out of marriage -  Creates bastard children, who do not have fathers and a complete support system. (history has deemed this immoral because it hurts the community)
Sex with neighbors wife -  Well this cretes strife, annimosity, fights, and vendettas. (bad for community again becomes morally wrong)
...

This is why almost universally most cultural norms over eons came up with moral codes that are passed down to children.  They are based upon observation or people in antiquity.

An experiment would be simply any group of people thrust into these situations will have a higher incidents of escallating problems using observation you will be able to reproduce results over and over that allowing "immoral behavior" in the above catagories will result in a decrease in productivity and increase in injury:)


Morals are simply rules based upon human cultural experience and they are passed on by both the community and the parents.  Many Morals are good for the community as a whole rather than the individual directly. 

If I don't steal and we don't steal we will be more secure,  If I don't kill and we dont kill then that benefits me in not being killed allowing my productivity to continue.

Immoral acts usually benefit the individuals self interest over the communities best interest. 

"I want to sleep with my neighbors wife"  I get a thrill but in the end it will likely (statistically) hurt the community.

Offline Greenandwhite

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #142 on: September 03, 2013, 12:02:24 AM »
     Now, I can understand what it means to observe something circular in nature, but to what are you referring when you say that they “formulated an explanation”?  Formulating explanations is integral to the scientific method, but what kind of a causal explanation are you proposing to give that is relevant to grasping the concept of circularity?  What kinds of predictions would you make and how exactly would you test them?
     By that, I mean that they came up with a way to explain the concept of a circle to someone else.  Without living back then, I can't know exactly what they did, but whatever they did was intended to demonstrate the concept to others, which serves the same purpose as explaining it in causal terms.  It probably worked something like this:
  • Observe something that is naturally circular.
  • Describe it in such a way that it isn't confused with something that is similarly shaped but not circular.
  • Predict that other circular objects will conform to that description.
  • Confirm by checking other circular objects against the description formulated, changing it if need be.[/l][/l]
[font=]     Science deals with cause and effect relations of the following nature; for instance, ‘if I drop a rock it will fall at x feet per second’.  [/font]Having observed a falling rock and having made an appropriately detailed description, a scientist can predict that when she drops a rock a certain event will occur.  Predicting that “circular objects will conform to [my description of circularity]” is not a causal description – it is a tautology.  It is the same thing as saying that when I see something ‘red’ it will conform to my concept of ‘redness’; of course it will, how could it fail to do so?  We do not use the four steps of the scientific method to define the circle since the definition of the circle as well as other self-evident concepts must be in place prior to engaging in scientific reasoning – to say otherwise results in the positing of tautologies which explain nothing.   



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Offline Greenandwhite

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #143 on: September 03, 2013, 12:07:25 AM »
     To put it another way, consider how the authors of geometry and physics textbooks respectively present their discipline’s knowledge.  If a physicist wants to explain atomic theory to a class she will likely present a process.  She will mention the names of people like Michael Faraday, J.J. Thomson, and Ernest Rutherford; she will detail the many experiments that these scientists did; and she will talk about the various hypotheses that were proposed and tested (e.g. the ‘plum pudding model’ versus the ‘nuclear atom model’).  In contrast, if you read a geometry textbook, the authors simply present the basic definitions and axioms as fact and proceed from there; the student is expected to intuitively grasp the basic concepts as they are presented.  Of course, if I am wrong then you should be able to pick up a geometry textbook and read about the history of the scientific process that was used to obtain the definition of a circle that we use today.
     This is because basic geometric concepts (such as the formula for a circle) were worked out so long ago that we have no idea who came up with them.  Furthermore, you might note that later geometric concepts, which are not so basic, are credited to the person who discovered them, as well as the proofs they used to demonstrate the accuracy of the concept.  I won't deny that math works differently than various sciences, but to claim that students are simply expected to 'intuitively' grasp basic mathematical concepts is fallacious.  If it were a simple matter of intuition, we wouldn't have to use various geometrical formulas, and we wouldn't have to teach children math.  We would be able to grasp those formulas 'intuitively', just as children would 'intuitively' grasp even more basic mathematical concepts (such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions...).
     [font=]Regarding the definition of a circle, you said that it is “an explanation that can be tested against circle like objects to tell whether they are circular or not; and, in the process, occasionally come up with a way to more accurately describe [phrase] the concept”.  [/font]Now, you claim that the definition of the circle was discovered so long ago that we no longer have any record of the scientific process that was used (how convenient) and at the same time you seem to have an immense amount of confidence in the scientific method to improve our understanding of the world and of concepts like circularity.  The definition of the circle was already written in Euclid’s Elements circa 300BC (http://www.pitt.edu/~jdnorton/teaching/HPS_0410/chapters/non_Euclid_Euclid/index.html ) so isn’t it interesting that in over 2,300 years and with all the amazing technology that we have at our disposal today (e.g. electron scanning microscopes to study the microstructure of naturally occurring ‘circular’ objects) we still haven’t come up with a better definition of the circle than Euclid did?  How is it that without any of today’s technology available to him Euclid managed to ‘guess’ correctly what the definition of the circle should be?
      Even if the definition of a circle was developed using some sort of scientific reasoning that we no longer have record of, one would expect there to be some kind of speculative research into the origins of the circle taking place.  I would be very surprised, however, if you or anyone else could point to a history of science department at any university that has actually embarked on such a study.  In contrast, if the information describing the scientific process that was used to determine the structure of the atom were lost, you know as well as I that the authors of physics textbooks couldn’t just matter-of-factly state what the structure of the atom is – scientists would feel compelled to reinforce these statements using actual experiments.  Knowledge of concepts like the definition of the circle and knowledge of subatomic structure are gained using different means – the former is intuitive and a priori while the latter is empirically based and depends upon a priori knowledge. 
      There is a difference between axioms and theorems; axioms are self-evident and require no proofs while theorems are built using axioms and basic rules of logic and do require proofs.  The ‘later geometric concepts’ that you say are credited to the people who discovered them are certainly not self-evident axiomatic truths.  Incidentally, while we are talking about ‘later geometrical concepts’, perhaps you could provide me with an example of one along with its discoverer and the scientific experiments that he or she used to make the discovery.  Children intuitively grasp basic axiomatic mathematical and geometrical truths; theorems and more esoteric concepts they are taught, although if a child did not understand a more advanced concept like the Pythagorean Theorem I am not sure what empirical exercise could be recommended as an aid in understanding – do you? 


Offline Greenandwhite

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Re: Introductory Questions
« Reply #144 on: September 03, 2013, 12:17:26 AM »

     Furthermore, nobody needs to see more than one object that approximates circularity to understand the abstract concept of circularity; we simply grasp the truth intuitively and no number of repeated observations changes or strengthens our conception of what a circle is.
     No, we don't "grasp the truth", because math isn't a matter of 'truth' to begin with.  What we grasp is a concept - but one that we can strengthen through repeated observation.  This is easily confirmed by observing the way that young children learn language.  When they grasp a concept, they start applying that concept to anything that comes close to matching it - for example, calling a cat or a mouse a 'doggy' because they grasped the concept of a furry animal as being a 'doggy', but haven't learned to differentiate between different kinds of furry animals yet.

     [font=]You can describe mathematical concepts however you like; however, they still have truth value because, yes, math is about truth.  [/font]Two plus two equals four, not five or three but rather four, always four.  Write down any other answer on a math test and it will be marked incorrect – you will have given a false answer.  Use ‘two plus two equals five’ reasoning on an Apollo mission and your rocket probably doesn’t even get off the ground. 
      Our ability to learn languages is not analogous to our ability to grasp mathematical truths.  ‘Two plus two equals four’ is true in any culture no matter what equivalent phrasing is used, but almost every ethnic group that has a characteristic language uses a different word to describe a cat.   
Quote from: Greenandwhite
     Unfortunately, since there are no objects in nature (at least none that I am aware of) that perfectly conform to the definition of circularity, it would seem that actually applying the scientific method to the definition of a circle would decrease rather than increase our certainty in its correctness.  So it seems to me that someone like Aristotle would have been more justified in using the definition of a circle that I proposed since, for all he knew, the things in nature that looked circular actually were perfect circles; nowadays, with our electron scanning microscopes and our understanding of microstructure, we know better.
     Why would it?  We don't have to have a perfectly circular object in order to determine what a circle is.  And if we find something that more perfectly describes a circle than what we already have, why would we not improve our definition of a circle by incorporating it?  In other words, much as science works.  Now, it's true that it unlikely that we'll find a better formula to describe a circle than what we already have, but there are plenty of mathematical formulas that can be improved.  Like, say, the value of pi.  By the way, isn't pi incorporated into the formulas which are part of the definition of a circle?  And wouldn't that mean that as we more accurately determine the value of pi, that we also can more accurately calculate those same formulas?

     [font=]You basically just stated the point that I have been trying to get across all along – it is not scientific reasoning and experimentation that gets us our definition of a circle, it is our intuitive grasp of a self-evident truth.  [/font]
      Mathematical formulas are not amenable to ‘improvement’ – either they are true or they are false or they are mathematically equivalent to another formula that is itself true or false.  How exactly would one ever improve upon the quadratic formula or the Pythagorean Theorem?
      Pi is not ‘part of the definition of a circle’; it is derived from the definition of a circle because the definition of a circle is logically prior to the formulation of pi.  The formula that describes pi (circumference/diameter) is not changed by the number of decimal places we calculate the value of pie to – whether I say that pi is equal to 3.14 or say that it is equal to 3.14… and list 100,000 decimal places the formula doesn’t change, it will always be C/d.