A nonbeliever's SECOND reading of the Bible

A nonbeliever's SECOND reading of the Bible
Hunc tu caveto.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Israelites Under Joshua Continue Their War (Joshua 11) - So, it's not over.  Apparently, there's still a few more people still alive in the surrounding regions, and they've decided to retaliate against the Israelites.  Haven't these people learned their lesson?  I guess it's hard to learn when the Creator of the Universe tricks you into dying.

King Jabin of Hazor called on many different kingdoms comprising of Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, and Jebusites.  The Book of Joshua says, "And they went out, they and all their hosts with them, much people, even as the sand that is upon the sea shore in multitude, with horses and chariots very many."

But Joshua, of course, is comforted by Yahweh, who apparently "hardened the hearts"  (Josh. 11:20) of all these people with the explicit intent that the Israelites, and Him, will completely annihilate them.

And they do.  It is such a slaughter that it is described in Josh. 11:11 like this, "they smote all the souls that were therein with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying them: there was not any left to breathe: and he burnt Hazor with fire."

Only Hazor was burnt with a fire, though.  Because it was Hazor who started this attack, after Yahweh hardened their hearts, which lead them to go to battle against the Israelites.  The other cities were looted.

"And all the spoil of these cities, and the cattle, the children of Israel took for a prey unto themselves; but every man they smote with the edge of the sword, until they had destroyed them, neither left they any to breathe." (Josh. 11:14)

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

Andrew said:
"Interesting spin, but you’re trying to divert the subject. The point was about human flourishing and the study of morality by neuroscience and psychology. It’s not about introducing a red herring on the field of neuroscience itself."

I don't understand your response.

In the first instance you asked some rhetorical questions. I answered them, differently than you expected, using your own moral metric, "human flourishing." In what way is that a "diversion"? If I can demonstrate that you disagree with your own metric, is that not significant? You have not done is to demonstrate a logical flaw in my post, so may I assume that you acknowledge that my use of your metric was correct? How is demonstrating logical flaws in your argument a “red herring”? When the Europeans took land from the Indians, it is undeniable that their seizure has contribute to human flourishing. The same land now supports many more people than the Indians could imagine. Because of their actions, humanity is flourishing. Therefore, according to your own standard, the Europeans were moral, when they took Indian land.

In the second instance, I'm not sure how to say this politely. I am amazed that anyone would publish a book which purports to provide a foundation for morality from neuroanatomy. I have studied thousands of human brains, and I have never seen anything which could serve as a basis for a universal moral code. I can almost guarantee that Sam Harris is superimposing his own beliefs, derived from his own culture, onto the neural circuits. If he were a Nazi, he would undoubtedly "discover" circuits which prove that Nazis are morally superior. Again, if my logic is flawed, please demonstrate my error. If not, then my point stands, neuroanatomy can not provide a universal standard of morality.

You mentioned psychology as a possible source of morality. Psychologists have tried to make their field more "scientific" recently, but still, they have not provided any basis for a universal moral code. If psychologists are really scientists, they will confine themselves to what is, not what should be. Science can not tell us what should be.

When psychologists try to define what should be, they end up superimposing their own cultural biases onto their subjects. For example, an one time, homosexuality was classified as a mental malfunction. Now, since the homosexual community has managed to change their culture, psychologists have decided that homosexuals are normal people. The scientific facts haven't changed, but the psychologists have changed, and therefore, what they once called "abnormal" has become "normal". It is my understanding that in the Soviet Union, dissidents were often incarcerated in mental institutions. From our perspective, that seems absurd, but from their perspective, anyone who opposed the prevailing culture, was mentally ill.

continued below

Anonymous said...

Continued from above:

Andrew said:
“Communism, capitalism, libertarianism, socialism – they’re just philosophies. And like all philosophies, there are good and bad ideas within each one. No one should be dogmatic about any of them.”

You have apparently confirmed what I suspected, you don’t believe that any of these beliefs are morally superior. I was banking on that assumption when I made my post. I was right, After communists have killed 100,000,000 people, in the name of their beliefs, now you tell me that it is “just a philosophy”? I am amazed that you don’t see any moral issues in these varying systems.

Communism, capitalism, socialism, each of these world views have their own moral codes which conflict with the others. They can’t all be right. In your rhetorical question, you held up “trade” as morally superior to seizure. That is a moral code from capitalism. Trade rather than seizure is one of the founding principles upon which capitalism is built. Communists and socialists have no moral objection to seizure. If you really believe that Communism and Capitalism are morally equivalent, then you have no logical basis to claim that it is morally superior to trade with neighbors than to take what you need from them by force. From your own argument, it seems that raiders and traders are morally equivalent, they are simply different philosophies put into practice. In that case, why are you critical of the ancient Israelites, who were hungry, and took what they needed?

continued below

Anonymous said...

First Part:

Andrew said:
"Interesting spin, but you’re trying to divert the subject. The point was about human flourishing and the study of morality by neuroscience and psychology. It’s not about introducing a red herring on the field of neuroscience itself."

I don't understand your response.

In the first instance you asked some rhetorical questions. I answered them, differently than you expected, using your own moral metric, "human flourishing." In what way is that a "diversion"? If I can demonstrate that you disagree with your own metric, is that not significant? You have not done is to demonstrate a logical flaw in my post, so may I assume that you acknowledge that my use of your metric was correct? How is demonstrating logical flaws in your argument a “red herring”? When the Europeans took land from the Indians, it is undeniable that their seizure has contribute to human flourishing. The same land now supports many more people than the Indians could imagine. Because of their actions, humanity is flourishing. Therefore, according to your own standard, the Europeans were moral, when they took Indian land.

Continued below

In the second instance, I'm not sure how to say this politely. I am amazed that anyone would publish a book which purports to provide a foundation for morality from neuroanatomy. I have studied thousands of human brains, and I have never seen anything which could serve as a basis for a universal moral code. I can almost guarantee that Sam Harris is superimposing his own beliefs, derived from his own culture, onto the neural circuits. If he were a Nazi, he would undoubtedly "discover" circuits which prove that Nazis are morally superior. Again, if my logic is flawed, please demonstrate my error. If not, then my point stands, neuroanatomy can not provide a universal standard of morality.

You mentioned psychology as a possible source of morality. Psychologists have tried to make their field more "scientific" recently, but still, they have not provided any basis for a universal moral code. If psychologists are really scientists, they will confine themselves to what is, not what should be. Science can not tell us what should be.

When psychologists try to define what should be, they end up superimposing their own cultural biases onto their subjects. For example, an one time, homosexuality was classified as a mental malfunction. Now, since the homosexual community has managed to change their culture, psychologists have decided that homosexuals are normal people. The scientific facts haven't changed, but the psychologists have changed, and therefore, what they once called "abnormal" has become "normal". It is my understanding that in the Soviet Union, dissidents were often incarcerated in mental institutions. From our perspective, that seems absurd, but from their perspective, anyone who opposed the prevailing culture, was mentally ill.

Anonymous said...

Continued:
Andrew said:
"We can reject, or not accept, a scientific theory or religion if evidence is against it. In the moral sense, which is our topic right now, we can reject it because the Bible isn’t a guide to morality. When we cherry pick the Bible for moral passages, we the readers are the ones choosing which passages are moral and ignoring the ones that are not."

It appears that you have done exactly what you accuse me of doing. You have not addressed my point. If all religions are wrong, because they disagree, then according to that same logic, all philosophers are wrong, because they disagree. Yet, you apparently think that philosophy is valuable, and contains truth, despite the disagreements. If my analysis is correct, it appears you are not logically consistent. That is my point.

In response to your new assertion, I really don't know what to say. You are the first person I have talked to who claims that "the Bible isn’t a guide to morality". You might not agree with Biblical morality, but to claim that the Bible has no moral content is a stunning assertion. I'm sure you are acquainted with Nietzsche and his writings. He was an anti-Christian secularist, yet he never made the claim you just made. He acknowledged that Christianity was the basis of morality in Western Civilization. That is why he spent so much time railing against Christianity, and trying to find a substitute. I don’t believe it. You can’t really believe that Christianity has no moral content. Perhaps you mean that the Bible is not a rule book with an answer for every possible moral situation?

Anonymous said...

Continued from Above:

Andrew said:
"You seem to be in a constant state of missing the point. Those things happened in the past. We can’t change the past... And these choices, in order for them to be moral, have to be based on human flourishing and inclusive all people. The mistakes of the past were, as you pointed out, caused because of xenophobia, greed, etc. In other words, immoral things happened because certain people were not included in the in-group. That’s what xenophobia does."

As an American who lives in the eternal now, I tend to agree with you. Unfortunately, that approach is not realistic. National groups have long memories which extend over mellenia, so the past lives on for generations. As individuals, we die, but the nation of which we are a part live on after us.

You repeatedly argue that I have missed your point, but I haven't. Until you explain how you arrive at moral conclusions, you have made no point. Much of what I have posted is meant to draw you out, to get you to explain what you believe.

So far, you have presented at least three criterion which you think are universal moral principles. One is to promote human flourishing, the second is to avoid greed, the third is to avoid xenophobia. We are making progress. These are good personal choices, but they are not universally self evident.

You have still not presented any reason that other people should agree with you, or that they are immoral if they violate your principles. For instance, you condemn "greed". What is wrong with "greed"? Greed is a natural human instinct. Also, why should anyone fear xenophobia? Xenophobia and racism are completely natural human instincts. Unless we have an outside authority, such as God, to condemn our nature, why should we view our own natures as morally evil?

Do you see my point? Either your rules are arbitrary, which means everyone else is equally free to arbitrarily reject them, or else, you can appeal to a deeper truth to justify them. Without God, what is that deeper truth? Who are you, to condemn people who reject your principles?

Continued

Anonymous said...

Andrew said:
“The last sentence is the “religion is useful”argument, and has nothing to do on whether it’s true. Scientific evidence that xenophobia is immoral can be seen by its results, and it’s fairly easy to demonstrate. We can even choose do these things now and see the results. ”

I agree that whether God exists is another discussion all together. Even Nietzsche recognized the role religion plays in a moral society, but concluded that belief in God is a “lie”. He thought that science has killed God, and wrote from that perspective. Along with God, Nietzsche believed that morality was also dead, that is why he called himself an “immoralist”. That is why I’m mystified by your posts? You don’t seem to have accepted the collateral damage to morality which results from the death of God.

Andrew said:
“But, for argument's sake - to see someone as an outsider based on them being foreign is less likely to create human flourishing then greeting someone and getting to know them. To be greedy and take everything for one’s self is demonstrably less moral (meaning it gets bad results in social relationships) then sharing. And when compared to actually caring about what is true based on the evidence, as well as being skeptical of what is essentially fairy tales, is much better than accepting fairy tales at face value despite the evidence.”

Your criterion for morality keep leaking out slowly. Now we have a fourth criterion. An action is immoral if it causes “bad results in social relationships”. Does your new criterion mean that if I live in a culture in which it is OK to rape women from another tribe, it is morally wrong to object since it causes “bad results in social relationships”? Were the Germans who opposed the Nazis morally wrong because they caused “bad results in social relationships”?

If you really believe that God is dead, why are you rereading the Bible? You must have some residual belief, or you wouldn’t bother. Are you trying to find evidence to reinforce your conclusion that God is dead? He is not dead. Nietzsche was wrong about God. Science has not killed God, indeed, it is not in any way antithetical to God.

Dennis

Anonymous said...

Beginning of my response to Andrew. Sorry, but the site botched it up.

Andrew said:
"Interesting spin, but you’re trying to divert the subject. The point was about human flourishing and the study of morality by neuroscience and psychology. It’s not about introducing a red herring on the field of neuroscience itself."

I don't understand your response.

In the first instance you asked some rhetorical questions. I answered them, differently than you expected, using your own moral metric, "human flourishing." In what way is that a "diversion"? If I can demonstrate that you disagree with your own metric, is that not significant? You have not done is to demonstrate a logical flaw in my post, so may I assume that you acknowledge that my use of your metric was correct? How is demonstrating logical flaws in your argument a “red herring”? When the Europeans took land from the Indians, it is undeniable that their seizure has contribute to human flourishing. The same land now supports many more people than the Indians could imagine. Because of their actions, humanity is flourishing. Therefore, according to your own standard, the Europeans were moral, when they took Indian land.

In the second instance, I'm not sure how to say this politely. I am amazed that anyone would publish a book which purports to provide a foundation for morality from neuroanatomy. I have studied thousands of human brains, and I have never seen anything which could serve as a basis for a universal moral code. I can almost guarantee that Sam Harris is superimposing his own beliefs, derived from his own culture, onto the neural circuits. If he were a Nazi, he would undoubtedly "discover" circuits which prove that Nazis are morally superior. Again, if my logic is flawed, please demonstrate my error. If not, then my point stands, neuroanatomy can not provide a universal standard of morality.

You mentioned psychology as a possible source of morality. Psychologists have tried to make their field more "scientific" recently, but still, they have not provided any basis for a universal moral code. If psychologists are really scientists, they will confine themselves to what is, not what should be. Science can not tell us what should be.

When psychologists try to define what should be, they end up superimposing their own cultural biases onto their subjects. For example, an one time, homosexuality was classified as a mental malfunction. Now, since the homosexual community has managed to change their culture, psychologists have decided that homosexuals are normal people. The scientific facts haven't changed, but the psychologists have changed, and therefore, what they once called "abnormal" has become "normal". It is my understanding that in the Soviet Union, dissidents were often incarcerated in mental institutions. From our perspective, that seems absurd, but from their perspective, anyone who opposed the prevailing culture, was mentally ill.

Continued

Anonymous said...

Beginning of my response to Andrew. Sorry, but the site botched it up.

Andrew said:
"Interesting spin, but you’re trying to divert the subject. The point was about human flourishing and the study of morality by neuroscience and psychology. It’s not about introducing a red herring on the field of neuroscience itself."

I don't understand your response.

In the first instance you asked some rhetorical questions. I answered them, differently than you expected, using your own moral metric, "human flourishing." In what way is that a "diversion"? If I can demonstrate that you disagree with your own metric, is that not significant? You have not done is to demonstrate a logical flaw in my post, so may I assume that you acknowledge that my use of your metric was correct? How is demonstrating logical flaws in your argument a “red herring”? When the Europeans took land from the Indians, it is undeniable that their seizure has contribute to human flourishing. The same land now supports many more people than the Indians could imagine. Because of their actions, humanity is flourishing. Therefore, according to your own standard, the Europeans were moral, when they took Indian land.

In the second instance, I'm not sure how to say this politely. I am amazed that anyone would publish a book which purports to provide a foundation for morality from neuroanatomy. I have studied thousands of human brains, and I have never seen anything which could serve as a basis for a universal moral code. I can almost guarantee that Sam Harris is superimposing his own beliefs, derived from his own culture, onto the neural circuits. If he were a Nazi, he would undoubtedly "discover" circuits which prove that Nazis are morally superior. Again, if my logic is flawed, please demonstrate my error. If not, then my point stands, neuroanatomy can not provide a universal standard of morality.

You mentioned psychology as a possible source of morality. Psychologists have tried to make their field more "scientific" recently, but still, they have not provided any basis for a universal moral code. If psychologists are really scientists, they will confine themselves to what is, not what should be. Science can not tell us what should be.

When psychologists try to define what should be, they end up superimposing their own cultural biases onto their subjects. For example, an one time, homosexuality was classified as a mental malfunction. Now, since the homosexual community has managed to change their culture, psychologists have decided that homosexuals are normal people. The scientific facts haven't changed, but the psychologists have changed, and therefore, what they once called "abnormal" has become "normal". It is my understanding that in the Soviet Union, dissidents were often incarcerated in mental institutions. From our perspective, that seems absurd, but from their perspective, anyone who opposed the prevailing culture, was mentally ill.

Continued

Anonymous said...

Beginning of my response to Andrew. Sorry, but the site botched it up.

Andrew said:
"Interesting spin, but you’re trying to divert the subject. The point was about human flourishing and the study of morality by neuroscience and psychology. It’s not about introducing a red herring on the field of neuroscience itself."

I don't understand your response.

In the first instance you asked some rhetorical questions. I answered them, differently than you expected, using your own moral metric, "human flourishing." In what way is that a "diversion"? If I can demonstrate that you disagree with your own metric, is that not significant? You have not done is to demonstrate a logical flaw in my post, so may I assume that you acknowledge that my use of your metric was correct? How is demonstrating logical flaws in your argument a “red herring”? When the Europeans took land from the Indians, it is undeniable that their seizure has contribute to human flourishing. The same land now supports many more people than the Indians could imagine. Because of their actions, humanity is flourishing. Therefore, according to your own standard, the Europeans were moral, when they took Indian land.

In the second instance, I'm not sure how to say this politely. I am amazed that anyone would publish a book which purports to provide a foundation for morality from neuroanatomy. I have studied thousands of human brains, and I have never seen anything which could serve as a basis for a universal moral code. I can almost guarantee that Sam Harris is superimposing his own beliefs, derived from his own culture, onto the neural circuits. If he were a Nazi, he would undoubtedly "discover" circuits which prove that Nazis are morally superior. Again, if my logic is flawed, please demonstrate my error. If not, then my point stands, neuroanatomy can not provide a universal standard of morality.

You mentioned psychology as a possible source of morality. Psychologists have tried to make their field more "scientific" recently, but still, they have not provided any basis for a universal moral code. If psychologists are really scientists, they will confine themselves to what is, not what should be. Science can not tell us what should be.

When psychologists try to define what should be, they end up superimposing their own cultural biases onto their subjects. For example, an one time, homosexuality was classified as a mental malfunction. Now, since the homosexual community has managed to change their culture, psychologists have decided that homosexuals are normal people. The scientific facts haven't changed, but the psychologists have changed, and therefore, what they once called "abnormal" has become "normal". It is my understanding that in the Soviet Union, dissidents were often incarcerated in mental institutions. From our perspective, that seems absurd, but from their perspective, anyone who opposed the prevailing culture, was mentally ill.

Continued

Anonymous said...

Begin

Andrew said:
"Interesting spin, but you’re trying to divert the subject. The point was about human flourishing and the study of morality by neuroscience and psychology. It’s not about introducing a red herring on the field of neuroscience itself."

In what way is it "diverting the subject" to demonstrate how your criterion can be applied? How is demonstrating logical flaws in your argument a “red herring”? I have studied thousands of human brains, and I have never seen anything which could serve as a basis for a universal moral code. As I tried to explain to you, we can not do anything which we are not hard wired to do. In other words, we can see because our brains are hard wired to see. We can think because our brains are hard wired to think. Therefore, anything which humans do can be explained by neuroanatomy.

I haven't read Sam Harris' book, so I'm responding to your assessment of it. As you have presented it, it seems that Sam Harris is superimposing his own beliefs, derived from his own culture, onto the neural circuits. If he were a Nazi, he would undoubtedly "discover" circuits which prove that Nazis are morally superior. After all, "xenophobia" is a natural human trait well supported by neural anatomy. Because moral codes support some activities which are natural to our species, and supress others which are equally natural, neuroanatomy can not possibly provide a universal standard of morality.

You mentioned psychology as a possible source of morality. They have the same problem Sam Harris has. When they try to define what should be, they end up superimposing their own cultural biases onto their subjects. For example, an one time, homosexuality was classified as a mental malfunction. Now, since the homosexual community has managed to change their culture, psychologists have decided that homosexuals are normal people. The scientific facts haven't changed, but the psychologists have changed, and therefore, what they once called "abnormal" has become "normal". In the Soviet Union, dissidents were often incarcerated in mental institutions. From our perspective, that seems absurd, but from their perspective, anyone who opposed the prevailing culture, was mentally ill.

Continued

Andrew P. said...

One thing I've noticed about religious apologizers is that they love to ramble, change the subject, and misconstrue words - and because they are able to do so, their religion is right.

I think I can summarize what you wrote in this manner:

Your saying that a) my criterion of human flourishing as an objective moral standard is flawed because I've introduced other criteria (i.e. social relationships). b) That I am essentially still a moral relativist because human flourishing is subjective to whom is doing the flourishing. c) That using neuroscience and psychology to study morality is akin to Nazi and Communist attempts in the past. d) That Sam Harris is interjecting his own morality. e) That I'm being logically inconsistent when I say religions disagree and are wrong. f) And then a rant on philosophies.

Here's my response:

a) Human flourishing is the umbrella to those other 'criteria' you speak of - those were specific examples. Do you honestly think that 'good social relationships' ISN'T a part of human flourishing?

b) Human flourishing, or maybe to be fair to aliens and possible intelligent animal life - flourishing, is important to humans. Human flourishing is essentially the well-being of conscious beings. Saying, "We want to cut people's heads off because we have a book written by the Creator of the Universe" does not equate with the well-being of conscious creatures. It's the same reason why New Earth creationism isn't recognized by modern biology or geology. There's no evidence to support it.

c) How is using psychology or neuroscience to study morality the same thing as Nazi and Communist experiments?

d) I'm not talking about merely Sam Harris. All I did was cite him as a neuroscientist. What I'm saying is that the fields of neuroscience and psychology can study morality scientifically, and with data we can see the results of certain actions and how they relate to human flourishing. When people kill each other or throw each other in gulags, we can see - objectively - that these actions reduce human flourishing as opposed to trade, friendship, etc.

e) We can accept a scientific theory or a religious one if the evidence support it. What's so controversial about that?

f) I'm not saying that each philosophy is right, which is what you implied. I'm saying that WITHIN each philosophy, there are good and bad ideas. I don't care about the pure forms of each philosophy, just the parts that are good for people in general - in real life. Having social programs is good, being fiscally conservative is good, business is good, political freedom is good. We can have all these things if we don't subscribe to a political philosophy.

Andrew P. said...

What I mean by human flourishing is "the well-being of conscious creatures". Right now, we only know for sure that humans are conscious creatures. But, if we can prove that a dolphin is a conscious creature or that there are aliens that are conscious, I admit it should just be called "flourishing".

Anonymous said...

I don’t want to be harsh, but your response to my posts seems to be heavy on ad hominem attacks. Perhaps it is my fault, since I have not made my points clearly. I'll repeat my points more clearly and succinctly and hopefully we can communicate better.

You have been making sweeping moral generalizations without explaining how you arrived at those conclusions. When I have asked you to explain yourself, I have received vague answers. Perhaps if I ask the questions differently, we can clarify these things better.

As far as I know, knowledge comes from four sources:
a. instinct
b. a priori logic
c. a posteriori logic
d. God
Do you agree that this list is complete? If not, what do you wish to add? If you agree that it is complete, which of these sources do you accept as valid? Once you have answered this question, then we will have a foundation for rational discussion.

Since you have rejected God, is it safe to assume that you are a materialist? If so, do you believe that humans have moral freedom, or do you view humans as complicated machines? Is it possible for a machine to be moral? Do you include freedom in your moral system?

Andrew asked:
"How is using psychology or neuroscience to study morality the same thing as Nazi and Communist experiments?"

The connection is simple. They are all irrational.

Andrew said:
"I'm not talking about merely Sam Harris. All I did was cite him as a neuroscientist. What I'm saying is that the fields of neuroscience and psychology can study morality scientifically, and with data we can see the results of certain actions and how they relate to human flourishing."

In this statement, you have limited your goals for neuroanatomy and psychology. This limited approach is more reasonable. Instead of using neuroanatomy and psychology to provide a scientific basis for your moral system, this statement sets limits, using them to determine how people react to stimuli. I agree with your new statement, that neuroanatomy and psychology can both provide useful information within any moral system. Neither field provides a scientific basis for the original choice which moral system we choose, if we choose any, but they are useful within whatever system we choose.

Continued

Anonymous said...

Andrew said:
"I'm not saying that each philosophy is right, which is what you implied. I'm saying that WITHIN each philosophy, there are good and bad ideas. I don't care about the pure forms of each philosophy, just the parts that are good for people in general - in real life. Having social programs is good, being fiscally conservative is good, business is good, political freedom is good. We can have all these things if we don't subscribe to a political philosophy."

Thank-you for the clarification. Do you recognize that each of these philosophical systems have their own unique moral codes? The Communists have killed 100,000,000 people so far in order to establish their philosophy. In my mind, this has completely disredited this philosophy. Since each of these philosophies are self consistent moral and philosophical systems, I’m not convinced that it is rational to use these conflicting moral systems as a smorgasbord from which we pick ideas.

Andrew said:
" Human flourishing, or maybe to be fair to aliens and possible intelligent animal life - flourishing, is important to humans. Human flourishing is essentially the well-being of conscious beings. Saying, "We want to cut people's heads off because we have a book written by the Creator of the Universe" does not equate with the well-being of conscious creatures."

For the individual, the reason we cut off his head is irrelevant. Under all circumstances, cutting off someone's head "does not equate human flourishing" for the one who has lost his head. Until you clarify your ideas further, your standard (human flourishing) is not applicable to individual situations.

I agree that there are some people who would cut off a head for no reason except that they were convinced that God had commanded it. I reject that theology. it is scary.

Most religious people who chop off heads are probably not that arbitrary. They believe that killing some individuals serves a greater good. In other words, some individuals must be sacrificed so the rest of the group can flourish. I'm not sure that your criterion "human flourishing" can be used to refute their rationalization.

To return to your point, many Christians and Jews recognize the problem. That is why we use philosophy and reason to try to establish a coherent system of morality.

Andrew said:
"We can accept a scientific theory or a religious one if the evidence support it. What's so controversial about that?"

Nothing. That’s why I accept science and God.

Andrew said:
"Having social programs is good, being fiscally conservative is good, business is good, political freedom is good. We can have all these things if we don't subscribe to a political philosophy."

You have just stated a political philosophy. I like it.

Incidentally, your discussion about dolphins is interesting. I personally am convinced that animals are conscious and do deserve ethical treatment.

Dennis

Anonymous said...

Andrew said:
"I'm not saying that each philosophy is right, which is what you implied. I'm saying that WITHIN each philosophy, there are good and bad ideas. I don't care about the pure forms of each philosophy, just the parts that are good for people in general - in real life. Having social programs is good, being fiscally conservative is good, business is good, political freedom is good. We can have all these things if we don't subscribe to a political philosophy."

Thank-you for the clarification. Do you recognize that each of these philosophical systems have their own unique moral codes? The Communists have killed 100,000,000 people so far in order to establish their philosophy. In my mind, this has completely disredited this philosophy. Since each of these philosophies are self consistent moral and philosophical systems, I’m not convinced that it is rational to use these conflicting moral systems as a smorgasbord from which we pick ideas.

Andrew said:
" Human flourishing, or maybe to be fair to aliens and possible intelligent animal life - flourishing, is important to humans. Human flourishing is essentially the well-being of conscious beings. Saying, "We want to cut people's heads off because we have a book written by the Creator of the Universe" does not equate with the well-being of conscious creatures."

For the individual, the reason we cut off his head is irrelevant. Under all circumstances, cutting off someone's head "does not equate human flourishing" for the one who has lost his head. Until you clarify your ideas further, your standard (human flourishing) is not applicable to individual situations.

I agree that there are some people who would cut off a head for no reason except that they were convinced that God had commanded it. I reject that theology. it is scary.

Most religious people who chop off heads are probably not that arbitrary. They believe that killing some individuals serves a greater good. In other words, some individuals must be sacrificed so the rest of the group can flourish. I'm not sure that your criterion "human flourishing" can be used to refute their rationalization.

To return to your point, many Christians and Jews recognize the problem. That is why we use philosophy and reason to try to establish a coherent system of morality.

Andrew said:
"We can accept a scientific theory or a religious one if the evidence support it. What's so controversial about that?"

Nothing. That’s why I accept science and God.

Andrew said:
"Having social programs is good, being fiscally conservative is good, business is good, political freedom is good. We can have all these things if we don't subscribe to a political philosophy."

You have just stated a political philosophy. I like it.

Incidentally, your discussion about dolphins is interesting. I personally am convinced that animals are conscious and do deserve ethical treatment.

Dennis

Anonymous said...

Andrew said:
"I'm not saying that each philosophy is right, which is what you implied. I'm saying that WITHIN each philosophy, there are good and bad ideas. I don't care about the pure forms of each philosophy, just the parts that are good for people in general - in real life. Having social programs is good, being fiscally conservative is good, business is good, political freedom is good. We can have all these things if we don't subscribe to a political philosophy."

Thank-you for the clarification. Do you recognize that each of these philosophical systems have their own unique moral codes? The Communists have killed 100,000,000 people so far in order to establish their philosophy. In my mind, this has completely disredited this philosophy. Since each of these philosophies are self consistent moral and philosophical systems, I’m not convinced that it is rational to use these conflicting moral systems as a smorgasbord from which we pick ideas.

Andrew said:
" Human flourishing, or maybe to be fair to aliens and possible intelligent animal life - flourishing, is important to humans. Human flourishing is essentially the well-being of conscious beings. Saying, "We want to cut people's heads off because we have a book written by the Creator of the Universe" does not equate with the well-being of conscious creatures."

For the individual, the reason we cut off his head is irrelevant. Under all circumstances, cutting off someone's head "does not equate human flourishing" for the one who has lost his head. Until you clarify your ideas further, your standard (human flourishing) is not applicable to individual situations.

I agree that there are some people who would cut off a head for no reason except that they were convinced that God had commanded it. I reject that theology. it is scary.

Most religious people who chop off heads are probably not that arbitrary. They believe that killing some individuals serves a greater good. In other words, some individuals must be sacrificed so the rest of the group can flourish. I'm not sure that your criterion "human flourishing" can be used to refute their rationalization.

To return to your point, many Christians and Jews recognize the problem. That is why we use philosophy and reason to try to establish a coherent system of morality.

Andrew said:
"We can accept a scientific theory or a religious one if the evidence support it. What's so controversial about that?"

Nothing. That’s why I accept science and God.

Andrew said:
"Having social programs is good, being fiscally conservative is good, business is good, political freedom is good. We can have all these things if we don't subscribe to a political philosophy."

You have just stated a political philosophy. I like it.

Incidentally, your discussion about dolphins is interesting. I personally am convinced that animals are conscious and do deserve ethical treatment.

Dennis

Andrew P. said...

Dennis said, “Since you have rejected God, is it safe to assume that you are a materialist? If so, do you believe that humans have moral freedom, or do you view humans as complicated machines? Is it possible for a machine to be moral? Do you include freedom in your moral system? ... [list of criteria for knowledge]”

Before we decide to go with any list, what do you think “knowledge” is, because you’re including criteria that have nothing to do with the acquisition knowledge (i.e. instinct). If, by knowledge, you mean “believing true things”, there are four ways people try to get it. My list would be:

1. Mysticism (where you can throw in god along with other religious claims)
2. Rhetoric – Persuasion
3. Logic – I think we’re familiar with this
4. Empiricism – or the scientific method

Lo and behold, I even listed them in the order of the least to the most useful. Mysticism and rhetoric are poor ways to attain knowledge, and more than likely any “knowledge” that comes out of those are going to be based on bad reasoning. Therefore we can't call those "knowledge". From a mystical standpoint, one might have the same conviction that their beliefs are true, but it could easily be shown to be false empirically.

I haven’t rejected god, only the specific claims on god made by religion. I really don’t know if there’s a god or not. I’d imagine that given enough intelligence, it would be possible for a machine to be moral. Political freedom is definitely part of flourishing of conscious beings.

Dennis said: “The connection is simple. They are all irrational.”

I understand that’s what you were saying before, but how would you justify that claim?

Dennis said, “… neuroanatomy and psychology can both provide useful information within any moral system. Neither field provides a scientific basis for the original choice which moral system we choose, if we choose any, but they are useful within whatever system we choose.”

You keep coming back to this idea that moral systems are chosen, and this is what tells me that you are actually a relativist when it comes to morality.

All philosophical moral systems, even your moral relativism, have as their goal to bring the maximum human flourishing to its participants. The only thing I’m saying is that when we acknowledge that we are all participants of morality, then the biases inherent in religious dogmas, or political philosophies, cease to be useful. They become subjective, not objective.

Dennis said, “Do you recognize that each of these philosophical systems have their own unique moral codes? The Communists have killed 100,000,000 people so far in order to establish their philosophy. In my mind, this has completely discredited this philosophy.”

You keep on sticking to this point as if it means anything. Who cares about “each philosophy”? Who cares about their “unique moral codes”?

When you cite the millions of people who died at the hands of each philosophy as a reason to reject it, do you realize that by this same logic you would have to reject Christianity? That’s great, because I reject Christianity and Communism, too. But there are good things that we can take from these failed philosophies, regardless of how many people died at the hands of their most fanatic followers.

Dennis said, “For the individual, the reason we cut off his head is irrelevant. Under all circumstances, cutting off someone's head "does not equate human flourishing" for the one who has lost his head. Until you clarify your ideas further, your standard (human flourishing) is not applicable to individual situations.”

You know what I’m talking about. We don’t even have to get into deep discussion about it. Cutting people’s heads off because a holy book says so is immoral.

Dennis said, “You just stated political philosophy. I like it.”

Fine, if it is a political philosophy then its core message is to take the good stuff from past philosophies and apply it to the future.

Anonymous said...

After posting I realized I missed a point which needs to be addressed. I hope I haven't missed anything else which needs to be addressed.

Andrew said:
"Human flourishing is the umbrella to those other 'criteria' you speak of - those were specific examples. Do you honestly think that 'good social relationships' ISN'T a part of human flourishing?"

The answer to your question is, no. I agree that in general good human relationships are a part of human flourishing. Do I think it is immoral to have stormy social relationships is immoral. Again, No. As I demonstrated, there are times when the moral pershon must take a stand, even when it causes bad human relationships.

If I understand your argument, you are arguing that the foundation of morality is anything which causes "human flourishing". From this axiom, you appear to derive the theorm that good social relationships are a moral necessity. Am I correct?

If so, it would be very enlightening if you would address my counter examples. If you belong to a tribe which rapes women from neighboring tribes, is it immoral to protest, even if it leads to bad social relationships? If it is moral, then it appears that either your axiom is not a genuine moral axiom, or else good social relationships are not a necessary theorem derived from your axiom.

Let me repeat a paragraph from one of my previous posts.
"So far, you have presented at least three criterion which you think are universal moral principles. One is to promote human flourishing, the second is to avoid greed, the third is to avoid xenophobia. We are making progress. These are good personal choices, but they are not universally self evident."

I have learned something from our discussion. I haven't understand, fully, that the doctrine of "Original Sin" is so important in establishing a rational system of morality. Morality is a process by which some aspects of human nature are labeled, "bad", and suppressed, while other aspects of human nature are called, "good", and promoted.

Without God, there is no logical reason to reject some parts of our own nature. If people are nothing but matter in motion, then human violence is no more immoral than a volcano or a tsunami. If you prefer, we can relate ourselves to animals. According to materialists, humans are just clever animals. Human murderers are acting just as naturally as lions or weasels. In order to condemn some human actions as inherently "evil", If they are logical, the materialist who brands human murder "evil" must also brand the fundamental forces of nature which cause the behavior, "evil".

O.K. That should be enough for now. If you are interested, these questions I have asked can become the basis for an interesting discussion about morality.

I'm sorry that one part of my last post repeated itself several times. That was inadvertent.

Dennis

Andrew P. said...

Dennis’s counter example: “If you belong to a tribe which rapes women from neighboring tribes, is it immoral to protest, even if it leads to bad social relationships? If it is moral, then it appears that either your axiom is not a genuine moral axiom, or else good social relationships are not a necessary theorem derived from your axiom.”

Of course not. In the end, the goal of all morality is human flourishing. If protesting will lead in the end to a level playing field for women, then it is something that must be done in order to get to maximum flourishing. In your rape-tribe counter example, one must simply ask, “What can we do to make this a better society?” There are actually answers to the question, and the wrong answer is to do nothing. So, protesting might be a strategy that people might want to take up in that case.

Dennis said, “If I understand your argument, you are arguing that the foundation of morality is anything which causes "human flourishing". From this axiom, you appear to derive the theorm that good social relationships are a moral necessity. Am I correct?”

I don’t want to seem shifty, but I think you might be giving too much weight to “good social relationships”. I was trying to say that good social relationships is just a sign of human flourishing. Really, the only criteria one is to admit there are right and wrong answers. There could be multiple answers, but the goal is the same, which is to maximize human flourishing.

Dennis said: “Without God, there is no logical reason to reject some parts of our own nature. If people are nothing but matter in motion, then human violence is no more immoral than a volcano or a tsunami.”

I don’t really understand why one would need God in order for morality to make sense. If God has a say in what morality is, then it’s devolves into being something subjective. It’s just arbitrary. Besides, even when people invoke God for morality, their basis for doing so is largely through their own mental processes.

The reason why morality is about the “well-being of conscious creatures” is because conscious creatures, by virtue of being conscious, almost have no choice but to care about their well-being and of the well-being others. It seems to be ingrained into social creatures. Ants, for example, don’t kill members of their own colony, but will kill members of other colonies. Unlike ants, humans have the ability to reflect and think on this, and to plan out for an optimum result. But, perhaps just like ants, many people only include a certain group toward whom morality may apply. That's why in order for the enterprise to be objective, it must consider all people as conscious individuals, too.

And you’re right, it is an interesting conversation.

Anonymous said...

Andrew said:
"I don’t want to seem shifty, but I think you might be giving too much weight to “good social relationships”....Really, the only criteria one is to admit there are right and wrong answers. There could be multiple answers, but the goal is the same, which is to maximize human flourishing."

I like your criterion "human flourishing." That criterion similar to Jesus' teaching that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves. I like Jesus' criterion better because it is better defined and gives better moral guidance. Even then, the greatest two commandments must be supplemented with other rules, like the ten commandments, which direct how we are to express our love.

Your criticism of the behavior of the early Israelites is valid from a Biblical perspective because it didn't demonstrate love for foreigners. Of course, they can not be judged by the standards later Jews, including Jesus, set up, since they lived at the dawn of history before human morality was well developed. From what I've read about other ethnic groups, Israel's violent history is typical of how civilizations are founded.

Although I like it, as a stand alone proposition, your criterion, "human flourishing", is so general that it provides little moral guidance, other than to exclude actions which cause a mass dieoff of humans which could lead to human extinction. Even though I agree with your criterion, that "human flourishing" is good, that does not mean that it is a logical necessity arising from the reality of nature. It is a choice which you have made, nothing more. Since it is a choice, other equally rational people might choose another criterion for their morality such as bravery, or self interest.

The real question is whether the entire concept of morality, right and wrong, is intellectually tenable apart from God. If people are nothing but complicated machines, completely determined by their heredity and environment, in what way can we judge their behavior? Can there be morality without freedom of choice? I believe that is why Nietzsche ended up honoring human nature, including its violence and selfishness, as good. He had nothing but human nature to judge human nature. This is the same problem neurologists and psychologists have when they stray from their fields into morality. They can use data from their fields to speak about what is natural, but they can't speak about what should be. What should be, is a subjective opinion, not on objective demonstrable truth derived from their data.

Continued Below

Anonymous said...

Andrew posted:
"Dennis said: “Without God, there is no logical reason to reject some parts of our own nature. If people are nothing but matter in motion, then human violence is no more immoral than a volcano or a tsunami.”

I don’t really understand why one would need God in order for morality to make sense. If God has a say in what morality is, then it’s devolves into being something subjective. It’s just arbitrary. Besides, even when people invoke God for morality, their basis for doing so is largely through their own mental processes."

Those who believe in God, believe that God is truth. This is what Jesus was referring to when he said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." It is hard to equate a conscious being, God, with an abstract concept "truth". That is because none of us could logical call ourselves "truth". However, since God is the basis of everything else, his nature is truth.

An atheist can not know that he knows "truth". The entire scientific endeavor is based on assumptions, that matter behaves in the same way everywhere and at all times. Since we can not be everywhere at all times, there is no way to know whether that assumption is correct.

Andrew said:
"The reason why morality is about the “well-being of conscious creatures” is because conscious creatures, by virtue of being conscious, almost have no choice but to care about their well-being and of the well-being others.... But, perhaps just like ants, many people only include a certain group toward whom morality may apply. That's why in order for the enterprise to be objective, it must consider all people as conscious individuals, too."

If I understand you correctly, you have observed that people, and ants, act in their own self interest. Richard Dawkins has further refined your statement in his discussion about "selfish genes".

I agree with his evaluation of the scientific evidence; evolution selects for selfish genes. Dawkins expands his theory about selfish genes through game theory, to show that cooperation can often lead to better survival that cut throat competition. Ayan Rand, also an atheist, in Atlas Shrugs, has attempted to develop a moral philosophy derived from self interest. Without God, that seems to be the best we can do; cooperate with other people so long as it is in our own self interest. If their existence is not in our self interest, then too bad for them.

Your criterion, "human flourishing" may not fit very well with Dawkins and Rand. Both of them, in their own way, probably support "human flourishing", but it is a byproduct of their philosophy, not a founding principle. Many modern thinkers, who have rejected God, are not ready to build their lives on unadulterated selfishness, so they try too smuggle Christian morality into their own incompatible moral system. The result is an irrational hodgepodge which quickly slides into tyranny. Socialism is a prime example of this type of irrational moral system.

Incidentally, you mention that consciousness is a factor in morality. Have you ever stopped to consider what this thing called "consciousness" really is? How can we explain consciousness based on physics?

Descartes used his own consciousness as the foundation for his philosophy, including his belief in God. I have read that many modern philosophers think Descartes was way off. I don't agree with everything he said, but I still consider him one of the best philosophers ever. Can you explain why so many modern philosophers reject Descartes?

Dennis

Andrew P. said...

Dennis said: “Even then, the greatest two commandments must be supplemented with other rules, like the ten commandments, which direct how we are to express our love.”

So, you think that the second most important thing, before even the well-being of conscious creatures, would be something like whether a person makes a drawing or sculpture of something that exists in the world? That’s ludicrous.

Well-being, flourishing, whatever you want to call it, is the only thing that matters in morality. That’s not subjective, either. You even admit it. Human flourishing is not subjective because every attempt at morality, even yours, tries valiantly to capture that as the goal of morality. Christianity, Judaism, etc. fall short because they exclude everyone else because of some arbitrary, unimportant rule, like having to believe that God came down to Earth in human form as a sacrifice for a curse He put on mankind; or having to believe that a lost tribe of Israelites came to America and wrote on tablets in reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The only thing that distinguishes “Christian morality” from morality is the belief in a primitive Bronze-Age storyline.

Fortunately, we can cut through the b.s. and see what’s at the heart of morality. And it’s simple, because we can see that only conscious beings care about their own well-being and flourishing. It’s a universal thing.

Dennis said: “[Early Israelites] can not be judged by the standards later Jews, including Jesus, set up, since they lived at the dawn of history before human morality was well developed. From what I've read about other ethnic groups, Israel's violent history is typical of how civilizations are founded.”

Why can’t they be judged? You’re suggesting something akin to moral relativism based on where people stood on some timeline. The moral standard has always been the same. There have been numerous people predating the Hebrews who realized this, Hindu mystics, Chinese philosophers, Greek philosophers, etc. There are even brief moments within the Old Testament when the author seems to realize it. Brief, mind you.

Dennis said: “human flourishing" does not mean that it is a logical necessity arising from the reality of nature. It is a choice which you have made, nothing more.”

As a standard, the well-being of conscious creatures is not just some arbitrary choice. It arises out of our own natural circumstance and it matters because we are conscious. Ask yourself, is bravery and self-interest really an objective standard for morality? If anything, depending on their use, they still fall under the umbrella of human flourishing.

Dennis said: “is the entire concept of morality, right and wrong, intellectually tenable apart from God?

For this question, we have to unpack what you mean by “God”. Do you mean the same God who sent His son down to die as a blood sacrifice for the sins of man passed down from some original sin? Or, do you just mean a deistic, Spinozistic god? To the latter, I really don’t mind if that’s what you mean. But for the Christian god, it’s hard to see where morality comes out of that storyline.

Andrew P. said...

Continued from above ...

Dennis said: “1) Those who believe in God, believe that God is truth. This is what Jesus was referring to when he said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." 2) It is hard to equate a conscious being, God, with an abstract concept "truth" because none of us could logical call ourselves "truth". 3) God is the basis of everything else, 4) his nature is truth.”

This is conjecture. First, you take something someone said, can’t compute it into a logical sentence, and so make something up to cover up for that deficiency.

Dennis said: “An atheist can not know that he knows "truth". The entire scientific endeavor is based on assumptions, that matter behaves in the same way everywhere and at all times. Since we can not be everywhere at all times, there is no way to know whether that assumption is correct.”

This doesn’t make sense. You said, 1. A person who lacks a belief in a supernatural deity can not know truth. 2. Science assumes certain things. 3. We’re not omnipresent. 4. Therefore, there is no way to know if the assumptions are correct.

This is sophistry and shouldn’t be taken seriously. First, are you suggesting that someone who pretends to know things that they don’t know, actually knows “the truth”? Second, science produces measurable results. That’s what it does. Faith either doesn’t, or doesn’t have to. It only produces false certainty, which is basically its definition.

Dennis said: “Many modern thinkers, who have rejected God, are not ready to build their lives on unadulterated selfishness, so they try too smuggle Christian morality into their own incompatible moral system.”

“Unadulterated selfishness” is not the objective standard of morality; that belongs to human flourishing. Unadulterated selfishness might be a path to one of the peaks of human flourishing, though. That said, any thinker that rejects the idea of human flourishing is obviously not moral.

Dennis said: “Incidentally, you mention that consciousness is a factor in morality. Have you ever stopped to consider what this thing called "consciousness" really is? How can we explain consciousness based on physics?

That’s probably going away from the conversation at hand. But if anything, it will probably be explained through neuroscience and biology. In fact, there are some interesting theories already out there.

Dennis said:
“Descartes used his own consciousness as the foundation for his philosophy, including his belief in God. I have read that many modern philosophers think Descartes was way off. I don't agree with everything he said, but I still consider him one of the best philosophers ever. Can you explain why so many modern philosophers reject Descartes?”

What Descartes did was a valiant effort, but his conclusion was wrong. We are not what we think.
We do a lot of thinking, no doubt, but what is the thing that’s listening to the thinking? That’s the question and the answer, and that’s why I reject Descartes.

When Descartes brain was descending into some super-skepticism, he was aware that he was thinking. His conclusion though was that he was thinking, not that he was aware.

Andrew P. said...

Continued from above ...

Dennis said: “1) Those who believe in God, believe that God is truth. This is what Jesus was referring to when he said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." 2) It is hard to equate a conscious being, God, with an abstract concept "truth" because none of us could logical call ourselves "truth". 3) God is the basis of everything else, 4) his nature is truth.”

This is conjecture. First, you take something someone said, can’t compute it into a logical sentence, and so make something up to cover up for that deficiency.

Dennis said: “An atheist can not know that he knows "truth". The entire scientific endeavor is based on assumptions, that matter behaves in the same way everywhere and at all times. Since we can not be everywhere at all times, there is no way to know whether that assumption is correct.”

This doesn’t make sense. You said, 1. A person who lacks a belief in a supernatural deity can not know truth. 2. Science assumes certain things. 3. We’re not omnipresent. 4. Therefore, there is no way to know if the assumptions are correct.

This is sophistry and shouldn’t be taken seriously. First, are you suggesting that someone who pretends to know things that they don’t know, actually knows “the truth”? Second, science produces measurable results. That’s what it does. Faith either doesn’t, or doesn’t have to. It only produces false certainty, which is basically its definition.

Dennis said: “Many modern thinkers, who have rejected God, are not ready to build their lives on unadulterated selfishness, so they try too smuggle Christian morality into their own incompatible moral system.”

“Unadulterated selfishness” is not the objective standard of morality; that belongs to human flourishing. Unadulterated selfishness might be a path to one of the peaks of human flourishing, though. That said, any thinker that rejects the idea of human flourishing is obviously not moral.

Dennis said: “Incidentally, you mention that consciousness is a factor in morality. Have you ever stopped to consider what this thing called "consciousness" really is? How can we explain consciousness based on physics?

That’s probably going away from the conversation at hand. But if anything, it will probably be explained through neuroscience and biology.

Dennis said:
“Descartes used his own consciousness as the foundation for his philosophy, including his belief in God. I have read that many modern philosophers think Descartes was way off. I don't agree with everything he said, but I still consider him one of the best philosophers ever. Can you explain why so many modern philosophers reject Descartes?”

What Descartes did was a valiant effort, but his conclusion was wrong. We are not what we think.
We do a lot of thinking, no doubt, but what is the thing that’s listening to the thinking? That’s the question and the answer, and that’s why I reject Descartes.

When Descartes brain was descending into some super-skepticism, he was aware that he was thinking. His conclusion though was that he was thinking, not that he was aware.

Anonymous said...

Andrew asked:
"I don’t really understand why one would need God in order for morality to make sense. If God has a say in what morality is, then it’s devolves into being something subjective. It’s just arbitrary."

I believe I answered this question satisfactorily already. However since this is such an important point, I will restate my argument.

If a person excludes God from his/her world view, then, in practice, since his philosophy excludes God, it is almost identical to that of an atheist. As an atheist, he must then decide whether he is a Materialist, or if he believes that there is something beyond matter (i.e.. living spirits) which transcend the laws of physics. If he decides that there is something which transcends physics, then we will question his/her original premise which excludes God.

Most atheists are Materialists who use science as a logical weapon to reject God. For science to exclude God from the universe, science itself must be supreme, it must encompass all possible knowledge. According to Materialists, there is nothing within our universe which transcends matter in motion.

Because the Materialist believes that there is nothing beyond matter in motion, he/she is committed to the proposition that our brains, and hence our conscious minds, are completely explicable by the laws of physics. That means that everything which happens in our brains, is caused by the physical universe, and that every move we make is also caused by the physical universe. The conscious portion of an individual, does not initiate anything, either good or bad, but is at best an observer of the activity of the mind, an epiphenomenon. The individual person can be reduced to an assembly of atoms which passively absorbs energy from the environment and re-emits it according to the laws of physics. From the standpoint of Materialists, the Christian belief in human freedom is irrational.

In a consistent Materialist system, human consciousness has nothing to do with behavior. At best, consciousness is a byproduct of the mind, an epiphenomenon, which has no ability to influence our behavior. According to Materialists, our experience, that we consciously think a problem through, and then act according to a decision by our conscious mind, is an illusion. Consciousness has nothing whatsoever to do with our actions. Some philosophers have tried to bring consciousness back as a cause for behavior by postulating that consciousness is an “emergent” property of matter which only appears under certain conditions. That would explain why there is no experimental evidence in physics books to support the claim that consciousness is a property of matter. The argument for a mysterious “emergent” property, called consciousness, is an ad hoc postulate to save the “illusion” that the conscious mind is able to initiate new thoughts or actions.

Continued

Anonymous said...

The entire traditional Western moral system, in which we live, is predicated on human freedom. We are taught from infancy, that the individual person is responsible for his/her behavior. Because the materialist rejects human freedom, and the God who has set up moral rules to guide us in our freedom, he/she must reject our Judeo-Christian morality.

The Materialist believes that all human behavior is caused by the fundamental forces of nature, so, if the materialist labels a person's behavior "evil", that means that the physical universe which is the actual source of that behavior is also "evil". In other words, if a human is “evil”, matter itself is "evil". On the other hand, if someone behaves "righteously", his behavior is also caused by the same physical universe. The portion of the physical universe which causes the "righteous" behavior is “righteous.” Thus, if human behavior is “righteous” or “evil”, the elemental forces of nature themselves which cause that behavior are "righteous" or "evil". The question then arises, is it rational to call matter itself, “evil”, or “good”? If not, then it is irrational for an atheist to argue that he/she believes in morality.

The materialist could argue that parts of the physical universe are “evil” and that other parts are “righteous” in the same sense that some parts of the universe sustain life, while other parts extinguish life. In other words, the word “evil” applies to anything within the physical universe the Materialist does not like and decides to call “evil”. Under this hypothesis, whether one calls a machines, an animal, or a physical object “evil”, the word means exactly the same thing. It is something which the Materialist doesn’t like. The definition of the word “evil” means is completely discretionary to the Materialist who is using the word. Indeed, morality, within the context of Materialism, is nothing more than one animal trying to gain advantage over another animal by controlling its behavior.

Because labeling behavior "evil" or "righteous", with the traditional definition, causes contradictions in the Materialist universe, it is irrational for a Materialist to use the terms "evil" or "righteous" in the traditional sense. Since most atheists are Materialists, they have no logical basis to postulate universal moral laws. In other words, if the Materialist is logically consistent, he/she is amoral.

Incidentally, I started working on this before your last response. When I get the chance, I will try to read and respond to your latest post.

Dennis

Anonymous said...

Andrew said:
"So, you think that the second most important thing, before even the well-being of conscious creatures, would be something like whether a person makes a drawing or sculpture of something that exists in the world? That’s ludicrous."

It is not ludicrous at all. Idolatry undermines proper worship of God. The ten commandments begin to lay the foundation for human rights, including respect for parents, fidelity in a stable marriage, the right to property, the right to life, etc.

You, yourself, have mentioned trade with other groups of people. Trade is only possible if society respects property rights. The right to private property does not necessarily follow from your axiom about "human flourishing". There are many people who believe that people flourish best in a collective. Since you have not established a logical argument to demonstrate that private property is a necessary therom based on your initial assumption, I can only conclude that your commitment to "trade" is nothing but an ad hoc addition to your original axiom.

Andrew said:
"Well-being, flourishing, whatever you want to call it, is the only thing that matters in morality. That’s not subjective, either. You even admit it. Human flourishing is not subjective because every attempt at morality, even yours, tries valiantly to capture that as the goal of morality. Christianity, Judaism, etc."

For an ethical theist, the fact that human flourishing is a moral obligation flows directly from the original belief. For people who exclude God from their world view, it is absolutely subjective.

For a materialist, since people do not have a free will, personal morality is nothing but a product of a persons environment and heredity. Depending on how these forces drive thems, some people might have a moral sensibility and others will have none. Some people will be somewhat altruistic and will agree with you, and others will have no interest in the welfare of other people. Some people will be humanists, while others will worship Gaia, and will base their "morality" on the axiom that other humans are a menace since living their lives damages Gaia. Other people are driven by their genes and environment to love power above all else. Their motto is that "might makes right". Each of these groups will develop a “morality” to suit their own inclinations. As a materialist, you have no logical basis to say that your preference for "human flourishing", trade, etc is morally superior. If you are a consistent materialist, you should recognize that your own commitment to “human flourishing” is not a universal truth, or a fundamental law of nature, it is the product of your own genes and environment (including our Judeo-Christian culture), nothing more.

Continued below

Anonymous said...

Continued from above:
Andrew said:
"This doesn’t make sense. You said, 1. A person who lacks a belief in a supernatural deity can not know truth. 2. Science assumes certain things. 3. We’re not omnipresent. 4. Therefore, there is no way to know if the assumptions are correct.

This is sophistry and shouldn’t be taken seriously. First, are you suggesting that someone who pretends to know things that they don’t know, actually knows “the truth”? Second, science produces measurable results. That’s what it does. Faith either doesn’t, or doesn’t have to. It only produces false certainty, which is basically its definition."

Tsk. Tsk. Might I recommend the works of Karl Popper (a philosopher who studied the philosophy of science), or even David Hume? Perhaps, you are correct. Perhaps, I was making assumptions about your knowledge, based on my own limitations. I personally do not have the ability to be everywhere or to know everything. Perhaps you do. In that case, perhaps we could call you God?

Unless you know everything which has happened, is happening, and which will happen, you can not know for certain that your beliefs are true. Just because you see a pattern in nature does not mean that the pattern will necessarily repeat itself again endlessly into the future. If you develop an explanation of that pattern, a scientific theory, your theory will always be subject to change, as new information comes to your attention. The farther science pushes back the envelope, the stranger the explanations become. For instance, some physicists are seriously discussing the concept of multiple parallel universes. Are parallel universes really there? Who knows? The theory of multiple universes does not rise to the level of measurable truth, and yet it is a legitimate scientific theory. When we turn our attention to the humanities, they become even more squishy. It is very hard to design legitimate scientific experiments in the humanities which are free of bias.

If physics is the foundation of all truth, why are there philosophers? Science was once a branch of Philosophy, called Natural Philosophy. It appears that the branch is now trying to devour the entire tree, including itself. In the end, you have a belief system which validates itself. That is called circular reasoning.

Continued below

Anonymous said...

Continued from above:

Andrew said:
"What Descartes did was a valiant effort, but his conclusion was wrong. We are not what we think.
We do a lot of thinking, no doubt, but what is the thing that’s listening to the thinking? That’s the question and the answer, and that’s why I reject Descartes."

Thank-you. Your explanation is helpful. If I understand your answer, it confirms what I have suspected, you are a materialist.

My understanding of Descartes is different from yours. I didn't know that he believed that he was his thoughts (or God's thoughts) . I believe that honor belongs to Bishop Berkeley. Descartes spent a great deal of time describing the physical makeup of the human body, and supported scientific experiments.

Andrew said:
"When Descartes brain was descending into some super-skepticism, he was aware that he was thinking. His conclusion though was that he was thinking, not that he was aware."

I enjoy your nuance, but I doubt Descartes would be convinced. When he said “I think”, his word "pense" undoubtedly included awareness.
Consciousness
Concerning Jesus' statement, I am the way, the truth, and the life, Andrew said:
"This is conjecture. First, you take something someone said, can’t compute it into a logical sentence, and so make something up to cover up for that deficiency."

I brought it up because it is so profound, not to "cover up". If I wanted to "cover up", I wouldn't have mentioned it. From the perspective of a ethical monotheist, the definition of truth is God, himself.

From any perspective, without God, to anchor truth, it is impossible to know that you know truth. In fact, the word "truth" itself loses much of its meaning. We can conjecture that there is some organizing principle which operates throughout the universe and makes it predictable, but we can not know for certain that we have discovered it, or even that one exists. Because our experience seems to confirm an ordered universe, it appears that something is out there, but science can not reach it.

Andrew said:
"Dennis said: “Incidentally, you mention that consciousness is a factor in morality. Have you ever stopped to consider what this thing called "consciousness" really is? How can we explain consciousness based on physics?

That’s probably going away from the conversation at hand. But if anything, it will probably be explained through neuroscience and biology."

O.K., but I’m still confused by your references to “consciousness” in your discussion about morality. If you are a materialist, and want to be scientific, consciousness seems to be irrelevant. Let me quote a prominent materialist, John Watson on the topic:
"Behaviorism...holds that the subject matter of human psychology is the behavior of the human being. Behaviorism claims that consciousness is neither a definite nor a usable concept. The behaviorist, who has been trained always as an experimentalist, holds, further, that belief in the existence of consciousness goes back to the ancient days of superstition and magic."

Dr. Watson followed Materialism to its logical conclusion when he decided that consciousness is equivalent to superstition and magic (a.k.a. God and miracles). So why is a bright scientific type like you, who claims you reject those things, inconsistent. Have you really thought through what it means to be a materialist? Why did you bring the superstition, consciousness, into your moral system?

Dennis

Anonymous said...

Clarification

After my previous post, I realized that my wording may have been confusing in my response to your statement about, "human flourishing". Once someone has accepted it, it can be serve as an objective standard. For example, a nuclear war probably does not lead to "human flourishing". My point is that the initial choice, to accept that standard, is arbitrary. If you want to establish it on a firm basis, you need to return to your scientific roots, and show from science why anyone should accept it.

We seem to have slid past Richard Dawkins' "selfish genes". Anyone who is a consistent materialist, will understand that natural selection determines our genetic makeup. Since materialists believe that our behavior is determined by our heredity and environment, it is impossible to formulate any successful moral system which attempts to violate evolution.

What I'm looking for, is for you to go back to science, and to demonstrate why your standard, "human flourishing" is the best possible standard for selfish genes to pursue. Consistency within your chosen paradigm would be nice.

Dennis

Andrew P. said...

Dennis said: "My point is that the initial choice, to accept that standard, is arbitrary."

I disagree. As I put it, it's exactly the type of concern all humans have. All sane humans, at least. Being that we are conscious, and we acknowledge consciousness in others, all we have to acknowledge is there's a difference between a Good Life and a Bad Life.

Imagine a truly horrible situation where many people are suffering for long periods of time. A good example might be the Congo, where many people's moment-to-moment concerns are about survival and dodging drug-addled soldiers.

Now picture the situation of those of us in the West. We live in relative peace, can focus our attention on building on our intellectual capacities, or not, without excessive fear of sudden death. We're likely to live long lives.

If we can agree that there's a difference in the two situations, then we are already in agreement. Religion or belief in God is irrelevant. In fact, there's probably more believers in the Congo. Never the less, even you must concede that the main difference between the two lies with the actions of people toward other people.

The only time arbitrariness appears in morality, is when people think morality comes from religion, or include only certain people (i.e. tribalism) as the benefactors of morality. Indeed, religious people are more concerned about well-being in the afterlife then they are in this life.

Right?

But, they're still worried about the well-being of conscious creatures. That's what morality is. The only thing that I would need to convince such people of, is to apply morality to the world that they know for sure, exists. That world, of course, is this one that we are in right now. And also, to apply morality to all people.

It is a universal, objective standard.