8
Mar

The Question Religion Answers

indexChristians and skeptics often talk past each other. While both see evidence of design in nature, the Christian attributes this design to the work of an intelligent designer. The skeptic, by contrast, views this as an illicit move. Nature is “all there is,” so any explanation that is proffered must be a naturalistic – nature-based – one.  Appealing to a “god of the gaps” as an explanation is both cheating and counterproductive, in their view, since it doesn’t actually explain anything. To the skeptic, attributing creation to God is no different than explaining that a genie is granting wishes – it may be a fun story, but it doesn’t advance knowledge in any meaningful way.

The skeptic’s challenge often takes the form of a question, such as “then who created God?”  Or, the challenge might involve a counter-point, such as that the explanation of God as the “first cause” is more complex than attributing causes to the natural forces that preceded them.  Since simple explanations are preferable to complex ones, there is no need to discuss God. In the end, with their “faith” firmly entrusted to science, the skeptic holds to the view that science will someday unlock the mysteries that presently beguile us.

Taking one last stab at addressing this point, after several prolonged conversations in response to previous posts, has a certain futile quality to it. I have little doubt that the skeptic will respond, once again, that the believer is missing the point. But for what it’s worth…

Imagine you awake one day and find yourself on a massive interstellar space ship.  You’ve emerged from a sleeping pod and as you shake off the cobwebs and look around, you see hundreds of similar pods also opening. You find yourself in good company. As the grogginess of prolonged sleep wears off, and you take roll, you find that the hundreds of fellow travelers are all educated and trained in various disciplines.  Any question of how you got there and where you’re headed is of little import; right now, the first order of business is meeting your basic needs: keeping the ship running, finding food and water, and maintaining a source of power. As you begin to explore, you find an engine room that is highly complex and advanced, a fully functional hydroponic garden, renewal sources of water and a power source that is both limitless and mysterious. Unfortunately, there are no “owner’s manuals,” no operating instructions that would simplify the task of understanding and maintaining the equipment.  Knowledge is gained through trial and error, aided of course by the native intelligence and industry of the engineers among your group. Eventually, you begin to make sense of the machine, as a whole, and its individual systems, but of course questions and problems remain.

Among your group, however, are a number of philosophers. They recognize the need to make the ship work, keep the environment livable and put food on the table. But they keep wanting to talk about different questions: What are we doing here? How did we get here? Where are we going? The others are too busy to ponder these thoughts, or perhaps they just don’t care. “What does it matter?” they respond. Perhaps the ship has always been here. And anyway, knowing the answers to those questions won’t help us solve the practical problems of understanding and operating the ship. Those questions are engineering questions, practical questions that require scientific testing and analysis in order to answer.

The engineers have a point. The pressing problem involves the actual operation of the ship, and answering the question of who made it or where it is heading will not have much “explanatory value.” But the philosophers’ questions are not without meaning. After all, the existence of something rather than nothing and of a designed set of systems are clues. To the rational mind, they speak to the possibility of a creator.  But.…they don’t provide practical knowledge: even if you were to conclude that an advanced space-faring race built and populated the ship, how would that help to dismantle and rebuild the engines, or to tweak the performance of the environmental systems. It may be true knowledge, but what use is it?

Perhaps this brief foray into sci-fi will shed a narrow ray of light on the issue. When the Christian argues that God is the only logical explanation for “why” the universe exists, he is not attempting to provide an explanation as to “how” it works.  Those questions, and solutions, are best left to science, to be tackled by scientists and engineers, many of who are themselves devout believers.

So, what is the point? Simply this – it’s silly to ignore the obvious. True, the example I used is extreme. The ship and the pods could not have “evolved.” But this is merely a matter of degree. The universe and its contents – especially its living and intelligent denizens– are so complex that a “nature is all there is” explanation just won’t cut it.

In the end, religion doesn’t seek to answer questions like “how does it work?”  It seeks instead to focus the inquiry into areas such as “how now shall we live?”  It is interested not in machinery but in morality. Because, like in the sci-fi example, whoever left us here may be waiting for us at the end of the journey.

But we’ll never look for guidance to these questions from the God who created us, and left us here, if we continue to insist that He doesn’t even exist.

Posted by  Al Serrato

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53 Comments

  1. zilch says:

    Another well-thought-out post, al. But I’m afraid we’ve been over all this before. I’ll make one last stab at answering, but then I think we really need to change the topic.

    You say:

    “When the Christian argues that God is the only logical explanation for “why” the universe exists, he is not attempting to provide an explanation as to “how” it works. Those questions, and solutions, are best left to science, to be tackled by scientists and engineers, many of who are themselves devout believers.”

    Okay, I’ll go along with this. My question remains: what is really explained, logically or otherwise, by God? Since God, by your admission, doesn’t help with explaining how anything works, what does it explain? As far as I can see, “God” is simply another way of saying “that which we do not understand about the world (origins, the existence of order, etc.)”. And while I admit that I don’t have any answers here either, I don’t see any advantage or utility or evidence for your kind of placeholder. You go on:

    “So, what is the point? Simply this – it’s silly to ignore the obvious. True, the example I used is extreme. The ship and the pods could not have “evolved.” But this is merely a matter of degree. The universe and its contents – especially its living and intelligent denizens– are so complex that a “nature is all there is” explanation just won’t cut it.”

    That’s just your opinion, al. This is sometimes called the “Argument from Personal Incredulity”. You simply cannot believe that life could have evolved from matter, energy, and the laws of nature. I do believe it, because there’s lots of evidence that it did, and nothing in evolution goes against any laws of nature or against what we observe.

    Perhaps part of the difference between us here is that I spent a lot of time at the university studying paleontology, in the lecture hall, the lab, and the field. That kind of personal experience makes the fact of evolution overwhelmingly convincing. It’s also revealing, that while (as you point out) many scientists and engineers are believers, that very few biologists doubt evolution.

    If you look at the lists put up online of scientists who doubt evolution, you will see that the overwhelming majority of them are not biologists. And there aren’t even very many of them compared to, say, the number of scientists named “Steve” who believe in evolution- check out the “Steve Project”. The so-called “controversy” about the fact of evolution within science is just an invention of fundamentalist organizations such as AiG and the Discovery Institute, which, needless to say, conduct no scientific research themselves.

    How about a change of topic? I’d be curious to see what you have to say about slavery in the Bible, for instance.

    cheers from cool Vienna, zilch

  2. Al says:

    Zilch,
    I think the post does answer your question – the point is morality. We need to answer the question “how shall we live?” and not “how does it work?” We also need to consider the question “what comes next?”
    Take the slavery issue that you raise. Darwinism may satisfy you as an explanation for life from non-life, but it should also frighten you since it also supports the notion that the strong live and dominate… and the weak do not. Not only is this “natural,” but with no transcendent source of morality, you cannot even say that it’s “wrong” or “evil.” You can only offer an opinion that you don’t prefer it. In short, recognizing God’s existence is essential to “right” living, because “right” and “good” can only make sense when measured against an objective standard.

  3. theGreatFuzzy says:

    Is rape bad only because god says so? If god said it was okay, would that make it okay?

  4. Al says:

    GreatFuzzy,
    Your question strikes me as a bit fuzzy. Incoherent in fact. What should I do if the source of good commands me to do that which is not good. What if the water I am was swimming in was no longer wet? Immoral acts are inconsistent with God’s nature; what we recognize as goodness flows from it.

  5. theGreatFuzzy says:

    Thanks for the link Kevin, it’ll save spending a lot of time educating me of the latest Christian view on this matter. Of course, my question is really about the necessity of god for ‘morality’, I don’t think we need him (nor does any other life form that can reflect on the consequences of its actions). Shelly Kagan does a far better job than I can (though I’m willing to give my view on the matter, if you like) in this debate with W L Craig. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiJnCQuPiuo. Both are great debaters, and stay on topic. I love the bit, in the talk after the lectures, where Kagan snatches all Craig’s arguments, based on man being special because god gave him a soul, by pointing out that man is special because he can reason and reflect on the consequences of his actions (no soul needed). I don’t think you can miss it, and I think Kagan turns to the audience with a broad grin on his face at that point.

    ====================
    @Al: “What should I do if the source of good commands me to do that which is not good.”

    So I take it god can only do good, thus there are limits to his powers? The next question that springs to mind is, “So where does all the bad come from?”, but I guess this is all old hat.
    Without going into details, my view is based on the idea that this universe is made of protons, electrons, photon etc, but there are no ‘goodons’ or ‘badons’, never have been and never will be. We can decide what’s ‘good’ and ‘bad’ by reflecting on the consequences of our actions (and yes, there may well be borderline cases). As I see it, reasoned ‘morals’ are far better that those handed down from on high and under the threat of burning in an eternal fire (how eternal torture is seen as good beggars belief!)

  6. zilch says:

    I think we’ve been over this ground before, al, but I’ll try to answer you nonetheless. You say:

    “I think the post does answer your question – the point is morality. We need to answer the question “how shall we live?” and not “how does it work?” We also need to consider the question “what comes next?””

    We need to answer both questions, al: how does it work and how shall we live. You can’t frame a morality without knowing how things work. For instance, you must know that human beings need to eat to survive, in order to form a morality about feeding people. As far as the question “what comes next” goes, that’s fine with me if people consider it important; but I don’t: I’m primarily concerned with how people behave.

    “Take the slavery issue that you raise. Darwinism may satisfy you as an explanation for life from non-life, but it should also frighten you since it also supports the notion that the strong live and dominate… and the weak do not. Not only is this “natural,” but with no transcendent source of morality, you cannot even say that it’s “wrong” or “evil.””

    You’re conflating levels here, al. You might just as well say: “Physics may satisfy you as an explanation for weight from non-weight, but it should also frighten you since it also supports the notion that the heavy live and dominate…and the light do not”. This is exactly what you’re doing: equating some particular level of the world with what I must accept as “good” or “bad”. My sense of morality, as I’ve said many times before here, is a bit more nuanced that mere physics or nature red in tooth and claw. So is yours. We just differ about what we hold to be the source.

    “You can only offer an opinion that you don’t prefer it. In short, recognizing God’s existence is essential to “right” living, because “right” and “good” can only make sense when measured against an objective standard.”

    Two problems here, and I believe I’ve mentioned both of them in previous posts: one, what has an “objective standard” for good and evil done in the world? As far as I can see, the belief that one is right because one follows what one believes to be the strictures of his (gotta admit that it’s mostly males who are responsible for bad stuff) religion has been at best a mixed blessing in the history of the world- wouldn’t you agree, al?

    And second, while of course you can claim unfalsifiably that God has some sort of objective scale upon which every morally relevant act is either bad or good, I don’t see any way of interpreting the Bible, or any other scripture for that matter, in such a way that it’s possible to tell exactly what’s right and wrong. What exactly does “thou shalt not kill (or murder)” mean? Can you agree with all other “true” Christians in every case what this means? If not, what does “objective” mean?

    And if you, like me, are concerned about how people actually behave in the real world, and not merely concerned with what their “ultimate justification” for how they behave is, then you will have to admit that atheists do not behave noticeably worse than theists. So what’s your beef?

    C’mon, let’s discuss slavery in the Bible. My thesis is that slavery was condoned in the Bible: there are passages (I hope I needn’t tell you where they are) which regulate how slaves may be taken, sold, and treated, but there is not one single place where the practice of slavery is condemned. So why should Christians be against slavery, if it’s “humane” slavery? I’m assuming you’re against slavery- not all Christians (or Muslims) are.

    cheers from grey Vienna, zilch

  7. Al says:

    GreatFuzzy,
    God’s “power” is unlimited. He can do anything that “power” is capable of doing. He cannot make a square circle because power doesn’t make circles square or vice versa. Whether he “cannot” or “will not” act against his nature, the result is the same. In fact, if he were to act differently, that would become his nature, as he is the ultimate being. Evil is not a “thing,” which is why you won’t find “bad ons.” Evil is the manifestation of the thoughts or actions of a moral agent, acting with free will contrary to God’s perfect will. That’s why animals don’t commit “evil,” nor are there inanimate “evil” objects. This, of course, only makes sense when you realize that you did not create yourself and that your powers are limited and derivative.
    The problem with “rational” morality is that, for example, discriminating against people – as the Nazis and the slaveholders of the South did – is not irrational; the problem is that it is immoral. In fact, under a Darwinian worldview, survival belongs to the strongest, so by what “reason” would you tell the strong that they must limit their behavior? Their own long term self-interest? They already are considering that. Our Founders understood this – rights can only come from a transcendent source. The fact that this present culture has forgotten it does not make it any less true.
    Zilch,
    Let’s take your repeated “I’m only concerned about how people behave.” Let’s say you are talking to Adolph Hitler. How will you reason with him? He believes in survival of the fittest, and the Aryan race is it. What will you appeal to? You say that we only differ about what we say is the “source” of morality. Not so; our difference is fundamental. I recognize there is a source while you believe it is self generating.
    The fact that objective morality exists does not mean that every moral question is easy, or that there are not competing moral considerations. There may be differences of opinion about how the rule applies. The rules of baseball are clear, but a particular umpire may be mistaken about a play or about what he has perceived. This does not call the rules into question. It is only when the umpire says that 4 strikes are needed for the batter to be out that we have a problem. And yes, atheists can be well behaved. But without an objective standard, it hardly makes sense to say that their behavior is “moral.” It is simply what they choose to do. Behaving morally has many advantages, largely because the law seeks to punish much that you would consider immoral. The point is that cultures which reject God will not remain “moral” for long.
    Slavery in the Old Testament is not a topic I could discuss in the 1000 word essays I try to write. When the Bible was written, slavery was a given; it was a part of the human condition which was corrupted by the fall. Often, it related to work and property rights and was not full “ownership” of another person. No one can read the Bible in its full context and see support for the notion that one person should “own” another person. It is a message of God’s kingship and our “brotherhood.” That people reluctantly accept this change in view is not the Bible’s fault; it is stubborn man’s fault. After all, slavery is not “irrational,” so how would your worldview be able to condemn it?

  8. zilch says:

    Al- you say:

    ” In fact, under a Darwinian worldview, survival belongs to the strongest, so by what “reason” would you tell the strong that they must limit their behavior? Their own long term self-interest? They already are considering that.”

    Depends on how far they strong see their self-interest extending. I see mine as extending to my children’s lives, and the lives of everyone on the planet, at least to some extent. Most people do, and are thus interested in limiting their behavior so that it doesn’t destroy the lives of their children, and those of their neighbors.

    Sometimes I get the feeling you’re simply not listening, al, or have a very strange idea about how people think. Do you really suppose that atheists must subscribe to a Darwinian, or more accurately, a Social Darwinist philosophy, largely the invention of Herbert Spencer and not Darwin? Incidentally- Darwin fought the slave trade at a time when most Christians defended it.

    This is, as I pointed out above, just as bizarre as imagining that atheists must defend a philosophy that says “weight makes right”. And it’s particularly ironic that America, and especially Christian America, is the primary modern-day defender of laissez-faire capitalism, which is the closest thing to “the survival of the fittest” in human terms that exists in the world today. Why is it that there are so many more homeless in largely Christian America than in largely atheistic Sweden and Japan? Not to mention murderers. I don’t see any real advantage to “objective morals” demonstrated here.

    And as far as slavery goes: you’re right, the Bible does not support slavery. But it also does not condemn it. And yes- slaves who were Israelites were more like manumitted servants. But for enemies of the Israelites, it was chattel slavery: you could sell their children, you could beat them if they didn’t die before the third day, and so on. All clearly laid out in Scripture.

    And excusing the Bible, or God, for saying nothing against slavery because it was “part of the human condition” is not reading the whole of the Bible in context. Weren’t murder and lust, not to mention disobedient children, or working on the Sabbath, also parts of the human condition? Believe me, I’ve read the Bible very carefully, and there is not one word against slavery to be found in it, although there are lots of words against other stuff- for instance, mixing wool and linen, or fig trees that don’t bear fruit.

    My priorities are different, and so are yours, I hope.

  9. theGreatFuzzy says:

    @fuzzy: First off, I think I’m guilty of losing focus, and so arguing points I’m not really that interested in, like the nature of your god (which is of interest to you, of course, but not to me). My interest is in how to behave in order to live a pleasant life. I think the best way to attain a pleasant life is to help others attain a pleasant life too. I don’t think you need rules handed down from on high to decide what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’, we can work it out by reflecting on the consequences of our actions.

    ==========================================
    @al: The problem with “rational” morality is that, for example, discriminating against people – as the Nazis and the slaveholders of the South did – is not irrational; the problem is that it is immoral.

    @fuzzy: Why is in not irrational to discriminating against people? Are you claiming there are rational reasons for discriminating against people? If so, what are they?

    ==========================================
    @al: In fact, under a Darwinian worldview, survival belongs to the strongest, so by what “reason” would you tell the strong that they must limit their behavior?

    @fuzzy: I don’t think I’m advocating a Darwinian worldview, but I don’t know exactly what your idea of a Darwinian worldview is. Besides, it is not “survival belongs to the strongest”, it is “survival belongs to those that survive”. For instance, if some slugs tend to move into the light and others into the dark then if they live in a part of the jungle where predators hunt in dark places the light movers tend to survive, and if in a part where predators hunt in the light the dark movers survive. You could have dark movers survive in one area and light movers survive in another area of the jungle (and that could lead to separate species of slugs, eventually).

  10. Al says:

    Fuzzy,
    To be rational is, simply put, to be supported by reasons. Making choices that benefit your own subgroup to the disadvantage of others is not irrational. You could try to argue that in the long run, such thinking is less productive than a philosophy of mutual interdependence, but the other person may simply disagree with that assessment. So, in that setting, whose view prevails? The one that is stronger, unless both groups recognize a moral law that they must submit to. Hence, the issue is morality, not rationality.
    Zilch,
    I don’t know what your personal views are. As we’ve alluded to in the past, we may both subscribe to the same objective views of right behavior. The only point I’m trying to make is that the logical consequence of your rejection of God – that transcendent source of right and wrong – is that you cannot ground your morality. You can simply state your preference. So, while you may continue to act morally, others who subscribe to your view can rightly tell you that they will act differently and there is really nothing you can say about it. After all, they’re just as “right” as you are, since right/wrong and good/evil make no sense objectively anymore. My view, by contrast, allows for a discussion of objective rights, which no man has the power to take away and which government is obliged to defend. That, again, was what the Founders recognized and incorporated into our founding documents.

    • zilch says:

      Again, al, I don’t think our views are as far apart as you seem to think they are. You say:

      “The only point I’m trying to make is that the logical consequence of your rejection of God – that transcendent source of right and wrong – is that you cannot ground your morality. You can simply state your preference.”

      That’s one way of looking at it. But my “preference”, like the “preference” of most other people, including yourself, is based on billions of years of evolution as a living organism, millions of years of evolution as a social animal, many thousands of years of cultural evolution, and my (and your) current status as a perceiving and reasoning being. The only real difference is that you claim divine sanction for your preferences. You say:

      “So, while you may continue to act morally, others who subscribe to your view can rightly tell you that they will act differently and there is really nothing you can say about it. After all, they’re just as “right” as you are, since right/wrong and good/evil make no sense objectively anymore.”

      Right and wrong, at least at a basic level of pain, don’t need any “objective” sense, in the sense that they need to be written down by a God in a book. Right and wrong are written, at least to some extent, in my bones, and in yours, by our evolutionary history, and by our cultural history demonstrating what works and what doesn’t.

      “My view, by contrast, allows for a discussion of objective rights, which no man has the power to take away and which government is obliged to defend.”

      You mean like the right to being charged and swiftly tried? How does that apply to Gitmo? But seriously- I agree with you here, except I would toss the label “objective” as useless baggage. We both know it’s not right that children don’t have enough to eat, don’t we? How does sticking a “god” or an “objective” on that change anything?

      “That, again, was what the Founders recognized and incorporated into our founding documents.”

      Yes, but in at least many cases, such as that of Jefferson, for my reasons and not because of the Bible. By the way, I too am a big fan of the Founding Fathers. I think they did a pretty amazingly good job, given the times.

      cheers from chilly Vienna, zilch

      • Terry L. says:

        >>”Right and wrong are written, at least to some extent, in my bones, and in yours, by our evolutionary history, and by our cultural history demonstrating what works and what doesn’t.”

        Then why call this “right” and “wrong”? This is pragmatism… let’s call this “what works” and “what doesn’t”.

        Are you stating unequivocally that “what works” is never wrong, and “what doesn’t” is never right?

        • zilch says:

          Terry- are you stating unequivocally that “what Christians believe” is never wrong, and “what they don’t believe” is never right? If so, then let’s talk about slavery.

          Sure, I’m a pragmatist. I want to get to a peaceful, loving, and sustainable world however I can. But I’m not an idealist: I don’t think that any set of documents is likely to be the whole or best way of doing things.

          cheers from snowy Vienna, zilch

  11. theGreatFuzzy says:

    @al: To be rational is, simply put, to be supported by reasons. Making choices that benefit your own subgroup to the disadvantage of others is not irrational. You could try to argue that in the long run, such thinking is less productive than a philosophy of mutual interdependence, but the other person may simply disagree with that assessment. So, in that setting, whose view prevails? The one that is stronger, unless both groups recognize a moral law that they must submit to. Hence, the issue is morality, not rationality.
    ==============
    Hmm, isn’t all that you are saying here is, if both parties adhere to some law then they can resolve their disputes? I mean, they could, instead, agree to toss a coin in such cases.

    Well, that’s the short answer, here’s the long one!

    I’m glad you put it that way, as it’s made things clearer. Yes, I do argue cooperation is best, as the basic idea (I use in place of ‘morals’) is to lead as pleasant a life as you can. If the only choices mean disadvantaging the other then there’s nowt else you can do – only you really have to ensure that that is the case and you need to explain it to the other. I don’t see how having a set of rules really helps, one party will suffer no matter the decision mechanism. They could agree to toss a coin, it depends on whether the stronger (as you put it) considers that that’s more likely to result in attaining a pleasant life than force of will. Of course, we’re not perfectly rational beings (who’d want to be?), so we can end up in a fight. But that can happen if we each adhere to our own divide law, but you know that.

    BTW, we are getting more reasonable, and less violent, with time (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgNsmW_bAKI), which is encouraging.

    • Terry L. says:

      Hello, Fuzzy!

      What would you say to people who believed that “lead[ing] as pleasant a life as you can” is not the highest good… in their mind, amassing as much power and control over others as possible is the highest good? Would you say that they are wrong? If so, by what reasoning?

      • theGreatFuzzy says:

        Hello Terry,

        I’d don’t think I’d say anything to them, I’d avoid them like the plague. It seems to me they are deluded, you cannot reason with the deluded, best to mock them or avoid them. Of course, they need to be sure those they oppress won’t ever get the upper hand. As to ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, my view is that this universe is made of protons, electrons, photons etc. so I tend not to think in terms of right and wrong, it’s somewhat subjective, isn’t it?

      • zilch says:

        I hope you don’t mind if I put in my two cent’s worth here too. I would say that those who seek to amass as much power and control over others as possible, say certain heads of state or certain laissez-faire capitalists, are wrong because by so doing, they cause unnecessary pain and suffering. Look at homelessness in America, where the top 1% of the population have 24% of the wealth.

        Don’t need to believe in God to see that’s wrong.

      • theGreatFuzzy says:

        I agree with you here, zilch (nice name, BTW), but I’m always wary of labeling things right or wrong as people then tend to ask you to label every thing else as one or the other.
        As for oppressors, do those that get away with it all their lives have a good a life as they could, or could they have done better? Also, I doubt you can tell if you will get away with it all your life, and if you don’t do so it can be a real p.i.t.a (e.g Gaddafi).
        My idea of pursuing a pleasant life is based on being selfish, only you need to think it through. It’s counter intuitive that good can come from selfishness (that’s probably why it appeals to me).
        I’m reading D C Dennet’s book “Freedom Evolves”, and just happen to have read this bit of late…

        ===========================
        Chapter 7: The Evolution of Moral Agency (p193)

        Benselfishness

        ‘We must indeed all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

        – Benjamin Franklin to John Hancock, at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.

        This exhortation by Ben Franklin comes down to us through the ages, rippling red-white-and-blue in the breeze, redolent with the aroma of apple pie, a fine, noble, inspiration for our hero to have said, right? But wait a minute. Wasn’t sly old Ben actually appealing to the craven, self-interested prudence of his listeners? Wise up, you cowards, and let me draw you attention to your actual predicament: Join or die. Which is it, a call for altruism and self-sacrifice or an appeal to those who knew which side their bread was buttered on?
        ===========================

        • zilch says:

          Hey, fuzzy (also a great name). Yeah, I put that sloppily: I don’t believe in any sort of absolute right or wrong either. We have to put labels on all kinds of things to be able to talk about them and use them, but it’s easy to forget that they don’t necessarily define something that’s got sharp boundaries in the real world.

          And yeah, I agree with Dennett about benselfishness. As Dennett points out (maybe it’s in Freedom Evolves too- I think I’ve read most of his stuff), there’s something incoherent about the whole idea of altruism- aren’t altruists selfish too, but simply in a wider sense? Another, older, term for benselfishness is “enlightened self-interest”, where “enlightened” means something like “extended beyond oneself”.

          Anyway, cheers from chilly Vienna, zilch. Drop me a line if you’re ever out this way, and lunch is on me.

  12. Terry L. says:

    Fuzzy,

    I see you’re a fan of Dawkins’ approach… “best to mock or avoid them”. This isn’t an argument though… it seems that if one simply mocks a position, then they can’t defend their own very well! I don’t know you, so I’m not saying that this is the case with you, but even in grammar school, mockery was the first resort of bullies who wanted to simply impose their will on others, not persuade others to follow them because what they said was right.

    But you do seem to waiver from this ever so slightly when you say, “I agree with you here, zilch… but I’m always wary of labeling things right or wrong as people then tend to ask you to label every thing else as one or the other.”

    I’m not asking you to label everything else, but is there any *one thing* that is always wrong, regardless of circumstances? The classical example is tortuing babies for fun… is this ever a good thing to do, or is it always evil? Or is there some other thing that you would be willing to say was always evil?

    I find it difficult to believe that a rational person can deny the existence of evil. But if it does exist, then it cannot be subjective. If it is subjective, then it is only opinion, and everyone’s opinion, and therefore their morality, is equally valid… which makes them all of no worth. But the notion that it is not evil to torture babies for fun is unimaginable to me!

    Furthermore, if we were to meet, and I managed to pick your pocket and take your wallet, your credit cards, your identity, and cost you thousands of dollars and months of time, I daresay you would think it was wrong of me to do so…

    Hello Zilch! You’re more than welcome to add “your two cents!”

    Zilch, what’s your opinion on materialism? Do you agree with Fuzzy that “his universe is made of protons, electrons, photons etc.”, and nothing exists that is not material? You seem to admit that right and wrong, good and evil exist, but on what basis? In the example you gave, your criteria was “unnecessary pain and suffering”. I don’t think that holds up…

    If a man tries to rob my house but fails, then I consider that he has wronged me, even though he caused me no pain and suffering. In the United States, we consider that a crime even though no harm was done. However, the man who runs me over with his car, but honestly did not see me, in my opinion, did me no wrong, even though the end result was unnecessary pain and suffering. How do you account for the difference (or do you disagree)?

    We can discuss slavery in the Bible if you wish, but we need to understand what we mean by morality, good, and evil, when we do so… otherwise we’re just talking in circles!

    And you say, “Sure, I’m a pragmatist. I want to get to a peaceful, loving, and sustainable world however I can.” Does this mean in your mind that the end justifies the means? If you could get to your “peaceful, loving, and sustainable world” by eliminating those who disagree with you, would that be acceptable? Would you consider that “necessary pain and suffering” that was required to achieve a larger good?

    And for the record, I mean no offence or to imply any malicious or moral deficiency in either of you… I’m simply trying to determine what you believe, and how you justify those beliefs. I don’t know how to do that other than to ask.

    Nice to get to chat with someone from Vienna! I’d love to visit there someday!

    Regards!

    -Terry

  13. zilch says:

    Hey Terry! Don’t worry about offending us- most atheists are pretty hard to offend. Please do drop me a line if you’re ever here, and lunch is on me.

    I’ll try to answer your questions, but I will have to oversimplify, because this has already been discussed pretty much to death here, and I do have other demands on my time, as I imagine you do too. If you look for my comments here in, say, the last three months, you’ll get a pretty good idea of where I’m coming from. But I’ll try to reply a bit here. You ask:

    “Zilch, what’s your opinion on materialism? Do you agree with Fuzzy that “his universe is made of protons, electrons, photons etc.”, and nothing exists that is not material?”

    Depends on what you mean by “exist”. Do descriptions, mathematics, and love “exist”? It’s a matter of definition. But yeah, as far as I can see, there is nothing beyond matter and energy, and patterns thereof. No magic, no paranormal, no gods.

    ” You seem to admit that right and wrong, good and evil exist, but on what basis? In the example you gave, your criteria was “unnecessary pain and suffering”. I don’t think that holds up…”

    Right and wrong, good and evil exist, insofar as they are sometimes useful labels for what we want and don’t want for the world, on the threefold basis of genetic, cultural, and rational evolved concepts. While there’s a fair amount of disagreement, there’s enough widespread agreement on the basics to make societies possible: and that’s what morals are for, largely.

    And obviously, you can’t chart a responsible moral compass with simply “cause no unnecessary pain”. Obviously, you need more than that: something like a religion, or a social contract, or a set of laws, to regulate behavior. It’s never simple. Can you tell me, and be assured that no Christian will disagree with you, in every case, how “thou shalt not kill” should be interpreted? If not, what’s “objective” about it? We’re all in the same boat- some decisions are simply difficult to make, no matter what your set of beliefs is.

    Thus, no offense, but I don’t see any point in answering your questions about what’s right or wrong in detail. That’s not what we’re discussing here, but rather whether or not morals are “objective” or need to be “objective” in order to be moral, or work, or whatever. Probably, my morals, as far as governing my behavior go, are not all that different from yours. I just don’t claim objectivity or divine approval for mine.

    “We can discuss slavery in the Bible if you wish, but we need to understand what we mean by morality, good, and evil, when we do so… otherwise we’re just talking in circles!”

    My position on slavery is that I am against it. I imagine that’s probably your position too. I don’t think it’s necessary to define morality, good, and evil in order to simply state your position. And the position of the Bible was not against slavery. Why not? That’s all I’m asking.

    “I find it difficult to believe that a rational person can deny the existence of evil. But if it does exist, then it cannot be subjective. If it is subjective, then it is only opinion, and everyone’s opinion, and therefore their morality, is equally valid… which makes them all of no worth.”

    This slippery slope doesn’t seem reasonable to me. It’s like saying “I find it difficult to believe that a rational person can deny the existence of the feeling of burning. But if it does exist, then it cannot be subjective. If it is subjective, then it is only opinion, and everyone’s opinion, and therefore their feeling of burning, is equally valid… which makes them all of no worth.” Different people have different ideas about what temperature feels like burning for them. But that doesn’t mean that these ideas are of no worth, because at some temperature everyone will get burned. Morality is similar, although much more complex: while there is variation, there is enough consensus to make it worthwhile.

    cheers from snowy Vienna, zilch

  14. theGreatFuzzy says:

    @Terry: I see you’re a fan of Dawkins’ approach.. “best to mock or avoid them”. This isn’t an argument though.. it seems that if one simply mocks a position, then they can’t defend their own very well!

    Yes, a sloppy reply on my part. And I wouldn’t want to ‘win’ an argument using it, as I’d only be fooling myself I’d won. But that it’s no argument is not a reason not to mock silly positions, is it? Also, I should not have said “mock them”, it should have been “mock their position or beliefs”, mock the logic not the logician. Also, I don’t rush to use mockery, I tend to aim it at a generally held view that I find silly (I might tease that the more absurd the thing you believe the greater is your faith, thus those with the greatest faith believe absolute nonsense). Anyway, your original post was…

    “What would you say to people who believed that “lead[ing] as pleasant a life as you can” is not the highest good in their mind, amassing as much power and control over others as possible is the highest good? Would you say that they are wrong? If so, by what reasoning?”

    I assume “amassing as much power and control over others as possible” equates to “as pleasant a life as you can” as far as these people are concerned, yes? If that’s the case then I’d say to them they ought to consider the possible consequences of pursuing such a life (e.g. Gaddafi). But If they insist in pursuing such a life then what use is it in me telling them, or labeling their actions, as wrong? Also, what if they believe that by controlling others those others will have a better life, and that belief is correct?

    I think my unwillingness to label behaviours as right/wrong is because it can cause us to lose sight of why we think it as right/wrong.
    ============

    @Terry: I’m not asking you to label everything else, but is there any *one thing* that is always wrong, regardless of circumstances? The classical example is torturing babies for fun, is this ever a good thing to do, or is it always evil? Or is there some other thing that you would be willing to say was always evil?

    There are things I think people should not do, like inflict unnecessary pain on others, but I’m more interested in why I think they shouldn’t do those things rather than just labeling them as evil acts, what does that achieve? Yes, intuitively I think we should not inflict pain. But why do I think that?

    One reason might be that if I tolerate people inflicting pain on others then there’s a chance they’ll eventually inflict pain on me, while if I don’t tolerate it that’ll reduce the chances. Of course, acting to stop them may result in them inflicting pain on me.

    Another reason is that having people going around inflicting unwanted pain on one another doesn’t make for a peaceful society. That’s not good for any of us. Isn’t it that we all agree to hand over the right to inflict pain to the government as that way we avoid the madness of revenge killings, and what have you, and so we all benefit?

    As for torturing babies, I guess that’s covered by the above, but you’d have to be worried about people who get pleasure from doing so. They are not normal. How did their minds get into that state? Label them evil if you like, but wouldn’t it be a good idea to see if we can change their behaviour, and learn if we can prevent others ending up in the same state of mind?

    ============
    @Terry: I find it difficult to believe that a rational person can deny the existence of evil. But if it does exist, then it cannot be subjective. If it is subjective, then it is only opinion, and everyone’s opinion, and therefore their morality, is equally valid, which makes them all of no worth. But the notion that it is not evil to torture babies for fun is unimaginable to me!

    Does pain exist? Is it subjective? But I think zilch has given a good response to this.

    ============
    @Terry: Furthermore, if we were to meet, and I managed to pick your pocket and take your wallet, your credit cards, your identity, and cost you thousands of dollars and months of time, I daresay you would think it was wrong of me to do so.

    If I did think it was wrong, so what? It’s wrong in the eyes of the law, I suppose. But again, the reasons why are of interest to me. Are you robbing me because you need to? Thomas Hobbes impressed me when he said, something like, “we all agree to abide by the law as we all benefit from doing so”, it’s a social contract. The thing is, a contract goes two ways. If people find they are losing out as the rules are stacked against them – then why should they stick to the contract/law? Isn’t it up to society to ensure the laws remain fair? Of course, you might be robbing me as that’s how you live, in which case I hope you get caught.

    ============

    I’m not really against using terms such as right and wrong, it’s just I like to think past the label to find the reason. That’s not that I go around thinking that way all the time. I’m no doubt like most people and use gut instinct most of the time. But I do like to question my those instincts, to me that’s healthy. I also like others to question my motives, and ideas.

    I hope those replies are okay. I’m never quite sure if I’ve not wandered off the point, and ended up answering what’s not been asked! I think that’s down to my age (onset of dementia? dunno), and that I’m new to debating. The latter means I need more practice, of course, and that’s part the reason I’m here. I got here via ‘AsboJesus’ via ‘jesus & mo” (I also post on BBC news site “Have Your Say” topics under the name ‘fuzzy’).

    zylch, I’m unlikely to ever be in Vienna, due to not being a traveler and being near broke (bit like Europe, but not that bad), so cannot take up you kind offer. But if you’re ever in Cheltenham (for the races, or music festival, or literary festival, or whatever) let me know and I’ll have a beer with you and share a bag of fish & chips!

    Now, must get back to earning some dosh. So cheers from overcast Cheltenham, fuzzy.

  15. zilch says:

    Thanks for the invite, fuzzy. I must confess, I had to look up Cheltenham to see where it is. I’ve never been in Gloucester- just in London and Yorkshire a few times. But I’ll certainly look you up if I’m in the neighborhood. I love English ale and fish and chips. Mmmm.

    cheers from also overcast but warming Vienna, zilch

  16. Terry L. says:

    Hey guys!

    @Zilch: Hey Terry! Don’t worry about offending us- most atheists are pretty hard to offend. Please do drop me a line if you’re ever here, and lunch is on me.

    Ok… I’ll take you up on that… if I ever make it there from the states. Unfortunately, I don’t see a trip that far away in my future anytime soon, so you’re safe for awhile! ;^)

    @Zilch: Thus, no offense, but I don’t see any point in answering your questions about what’s right or wrong in detail. That’s not what we’re discussing here, but rather whether or not morals are “objective” or need to be “objective” in order to be moral, or work, or whatever. Probably, my morals, as far as governing my behavior go, are not all that different from yours.

    I did not intend to ask for a specific list of right and wrong actions. I agree with you that the more interesting question is whether morality is objective, and if so, what object grounds morality. I also am quite sure that our moral standards are not extremely different… but the fact that they are different at all, not just between us, but between any two people, leads to some interesting questions as well. For instance…

    @Zilch: My position on slavery is that I am against it. I imagine that’s probably your position too.

    I had no doubts that you would be against slavery… the question is *why* are you against slavery? You see, to complete your quote above, you claim not to adhere to objective morality:

    @Zilch: I just don’t claim objectivity or divine approval for mine.

    So by what standard then do you stand against slavery, and do you feel that people should fight against the institution of slavery? Is your contention that slavery is, if not wrong, at least less than right, based in anything that would have authority over another human being? And so, the interesting question I alluded to above: would you agree that if it is simply your *opinion* that slavery is wrong, that other’s opinions are just as valid as yours?

    @Zilch: I don’t think it’s necessary to define morality, good, and evil in order to simply state your position.

    One is certainly entitled to state their own opinion, but are you entitled to enforce that opinion on others? If slavery is actually wrong–if it is noble to fight to free those held in servitude, then it seems that there must be some law that holds sway over all men.

    For example, say Aaron holds Bob as a slave. Should Carl enforce his will upon Aaron in order to keep Aaron from enforcing *his* will upon Bob?

    Thus my question re: the basis of morality: if your antipathy to slavery is your opinion, then I don’t understand your objection to the Bible’s supposed (That’s another point for later.) endorsement of it. If it is not your opinion and slavery is actually wrong, what makes it wrong.

    @Zilch: …Different people have different ideas about what temperature feels like burning for them. But that doesn’t mean that these ideas are of no worth, because at some temperature everyone will get burned.

    That’s the point…. Some people have conditions that keep them from feeling pain, and they would never feel their hand burning. BUT, that doesn’t keep them from getting burned! The question is not about their opinion of how much pain they feel… that’s the *result* of an *objective* event… their burning hand. Likewise, it seems that our dislike of certain actions is more than just an opinion, but a reflection and a result of something that is actually, objectively wrong.

    @Fuzzy: I think my unwillingness to label behaviours as right/wrong is because it can cause us to lose sight of why we think it as right/wrong.

    Can you elaborate on this point… I’m not certain what you mean…

    @Fuzzy: As for torturing babies, I guess that’s covered by the above, but you’d have to be worried about people who get pleasure from doing so. They are not normal. How did their minds get into that state? Label them evil if you like, but wouldn’t it be a good idea to see if we can change their behaviour, and learn if we can prevent others ending up in the same state of mind?

    How do you define normal? If all we are, are simply highly-evolved animals, then I don’t see that this is necessarily irrational behavior. I’ve seen cats playing with mice for quite some time before finally finishing them off. Other animals eat their own offspring. Should we be so different?

    And why should I be worried about such people? If all we are is matter, then why should one care what happens to other matter? What makes someone else worthy of my concern for their well-being, especially if it’s not someone close to me?

    For that matter, why should we feel “close” to other pieces of animated matter?

    ========

    On another note, both of you say you believe in materialism… nothing but time, space, matter and energy exists. Would you say that we are deterministic creatures, merely reacting to our environment based on our DNA and the physio-chemical reactions in our brains, or do we actually have free will to make rational choices?

    @Fuzzy: I hope those replies are okay….

    No worries! I’m not interested in winning a debate, but in finding truth. I’m a Christian, but I’m not a presuppositionalist who believes everything I’m told. I want answers that line up with the real world. The best way I know of to find them is to talk to other people who don’t necessarily share my point of view. If my beliefs won’t stand up, then I either need to do more research, or change my belief to more closely match reality.

    To your very first point, Zilch, I will, somewhat sadly, admit that in chat rooms and comment boards like this one, I very often see more “Christlike” atheists than those professing to follow Him. Thank you both for your cordial and polite demeanor–it’s quite refreshing!

    I do tend to be quite verbose at times, so feel free to chide me for writing novels in the comments; I don’t mean to, but it’s hard to keep from it!

    And for the record, you’ve now got me craving fish and chips!

    Good night, or good day… whichever it happens to be there!

    -Terry

  17. zilch says:

    Hey Terry! You ask me why I’m against slavery, and to what authority I can appeal to convince others, other than my opinion or preference. Since I’ve said this stuff above, I’ll just cut and paste:

    “That’s one way of looking at it. But my “preference”, like the “preference” of most other people, including yourself, is based on billions of years of evolution as a living organism, millions of years of evolution as a social animal, many thousands of years of cultural evolution, and my (and your) current status as a perceiving and reasoning being. The only real difference is that you claim divine sanction for your preferences.”

    My opinion is that slavery is wrong because it causes unnecessary pain. I don’t see why I have to make it any more precise than that. Luckily, most people nowadays are also against slavery, for whatever reasons. As I’ve said before, I don’t really care why people behave nicely, as long as they do.

    Why are you against slavery, if you are (you haven’t said yet)? I’d be very curious to hear any Scriptural support for your opinion.

    You ask:

    “Would you say that we are deterministic creatures, merely reacting to our environment based on our DNA and the physio-chemical reactions in our brains, or do we actually have free will to make rational choices?”

    I don’t know if we are “deterministic creatures”, because I don’t know if the Universe is deterministic. It’s a hotly debated topic in physics. But I don’t see how it matters to us much either way: making decisions is something we do, just like breathing and eating are things we do, in order to get on with life. Perhaps I can answer your question better if you tell me exactly what you mean by “free will”. My opinion is that our will is free as far as we’re concerned, because we’re not omniscient, and cannot know how we will decide. On the other hand, if God exists, and is omniscient and omnipotent, then while we may feel that we have free will, from His point of view, where our lives are already laid out in front of Him as a four-dimensional space-time worm, our free will is a joke. You might as well ask if Fred Flintstone can “decide” to smoke Winstons or not, after Hanna-Barbara has the cigarette ad in the can. Being omniscient, God has already seen what we will “decide”, and being omnipotent, then what we “decide” is obviously His will. If I have real free will, meaning I can decide against God’s knowledge of what I will, then He is not omniscient and/or omnipotent.

    cheers from cool Vienna, zilch

  18. theGreatFuzzy says:

    @Fuzzy: I think my unwillingness to label behaviours as right/wrong is because it can cause us to lose sight of why we think it as right/wrong.

    @Terry: Can you elaborate on this point. I’m not certain what you mean.

    While labeling behaviours right or wrong is convenient, it can stop us thinking.
    Suppose you find you are unable to earn enough to feed yourself and your family, and this is through no fault of your own, it’s just that the rules of the society you live in are stacked against you. Would you take to poaching, or other unlawful ways, to feed your family (assuming you’ve been unable to get the rules changed and you cannot leave)? The real ‘wrong’ here is the fact society has not ensured its rules are fair, and this is bad for society itself as it leads to high crime rates (which is what it deserves, IYSWIM).

    Of course, there are behaviours that I’d be hard pressed to argue are not always ‘wrong’, and that thinking past the label doesn’t really gain us much. For instance rape. But still, that shouldn’t stop us from asking the question, “Why is rape wrong?”, or as I would have it, “Why should rape be against the law?”.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    @Fuzzy: As for torturing babies, I guess that’s covered by the above, but you’d have to be worried about people who get pleasure from doing so. They are not normal. How did their minds get into that state? Label them evil if you like, but wouldn’t it be a good idea to see if we can change their behaviour, and learn if we can prevent others ending up in the same state of mind?

    @Terry: How do you define normal? If all we are, are simply highly-evolved animals, then I don’t see that this is necessarily irrational behavior. I’ve seen cats playing with mice for quite some time before finally finishing them off. Other animals eat their own offspring. Should we be so different?

    @Terry: And why should I be worried about such people? If all we are is matter, then why should one care what happens to other matter? What makes someone else worthy of my concern for their well-being, especially if it’s not someone close to me?

    @Terry: For that matter, why should we feel “close” to other pieces of animated matter?

    @Terry: On another note, both of you say you believe in materialism. nothing but time, space, matter and energy exists. Would you say that we are deterministic creatures, merely reacting to our environment based on our DNA and the physio-chemical reactions in our brains, or do we actually have free will to make rational choices?

    I’d like to reply to each of the above, and have tried, but it’ll take me too long. Besides, it’s not always easy for me to see what the questioner wants in a reply, so this may save you time as well! Of course, I speak only for myself, other atheists have there own views.

    Terry, you seem to be concerned that I live in a world of cold matter, and that in such a world there can be no real love (or hate). A world made only of matter can contain only robots, and robots don’t fall in love! Many raised to believe they have a spirit are of that opinion. (BTW, is it that you have s spirit, or that you are a spirit?) Anyway, you’re right in so far as I believe all there is is what we ‘see’ (I might be wrong), and that I think everything can be explained in terms of matter and energy (I might be wrong, but right about there being only matter).

    Why do people put matter down, have such little respect for it? Thing is, matter’s pretty clever stuff, and we really don’t know that much about it. The bricks used to build your house are made from it, as is the water you drink, the air you breath, the blood in you veins, the brain in your head. Okay, we don’t have much respect for bricks, nor for water I suppose. Unless you’re really thirsty when water is then the only thing you want to drink, but hey, it’s only matter you’re swallowing. Matter woven together by two strands of DNA is a pretty amazing lump of matter, be it a tree, a cat or a human.

    Cats are made of matter. Many people love their cats, and genuinely grieve for them when they die. Is that real love? Cats care for their kittens (but can eat them if threatened). Do they care like we do, only to a lesser extent. Or is it not real love at all, not even real love of a lesser kind, as cats have no spirit (some think they have a spirit)?

    Our brains have evolved to interpret the world in a way that assists our survival. But things are not as they appear. A table looks solid, but we know it consists of atoms, and atoms are 90% space. But although we’ve learned that solid objects, like a table or you and me, are 90% space we still treat them as if they are solid. Does knowing the world is ‘really’ made of atoms, and that the solid world we believe in only exists in our heads, is an illusion, make it any less beautiful, and at times horrible? It’s all a trick you know! It’s not really what you think it is! But does that matter (excuse the pun)?

    Lumps of matter care about other lumps of matter because they know the other lumps of matter can experience pain. It is only chemically driven electric signals in the brain, I know, but when some one steps on my toe, that doesn’t seem to help. Do animals experience pain like we do? Or do you need a spirit? I read some time ago that Rene Descartes dissected cats, dogs and horses without any form of anaesthetic because it wasn’t considered necessary, as they had no soul so they felt no pain! We wouldn’t do that nowadays. But was Descartes right? I’m pretty sure animals experience pain, and fear, and many other emotions that we do[1].

    I’ve heard it argued (W L Craig) that as we atheists believe we eventually cease to exist then there’s no reason for us not to go round having it off with any one we fancy, no reason not to torture anyone we don’t like, and no reason for us to act in a ‘moral’ way[2]. Further, as in the atheist’s view there is no ultimate purpose, no grand cosmic goal, then the whole of life has no meaning, has no value. I find this a bit odd. Why does the fact that I live for a finite time imply my life is has no value? I value it. It may have no meaning on a cosmic scale, but it means everything to me, it’s the only life I get. If I have a spirit that lives for ever, then I can see this life may have little meaning. After all, what’s three score and ten years compared to eternity? As for going round grabbing what I fancy, with no concern for others, nor for the consequences of my actions, that’s not wise and not what I desire. I don’t want a short life of rape and pillage, I much prefer one in which peoples treat each other as they wish to be treated themselves. It’s encouraging that more and more are coming to that same conclusion (Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature).

    As for determinism, yes, I think the universe is deterministic. I don’t think quantum indeterminism plays any real part at the macro level (this computer I’m typing on seems to be deterministic, yet its circuits are switching non-deterministic electrons this way and that). But that’s just my guess. As to free will, I’m reading D C Dennet’s “Freedom Evolves”, and like his view (or what I understand of it). He seems to be saying, free will is a bit of an illusion. That ‘real’ free will doesn’t, cannot, exist, but the free will that can exist, the free will we’ve got, gives us pretty much what we want! It’s a bit like the illusion of solid tables, which are as good as solid for all intents and purposes.

    This theme of things turning out to not be what they appear to be, of not being the ‘real thing’ we thought they were, but of being good enough (and the ‘real’ thing wouldn’t work anyway), appears in a few of Dennet’s books. In short, it seems the whole of life is an illusion, but a damned good illusion, and you couldn’t have the real thing anyway as it’s not possible. Of course that does leave the question as to who’s being fooled. I guess the answer is no one, just this lump of matter.

    Hope that makes some sense, would have made it shorter but for time.

    [1] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080618093247.htm
    [2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiJnCQuPiuo

  19. zilch says:

    Word, fuzzy. Very nicely stated.

    cheers from unseasonably cold Vienna, zilch

  20. Terry L. says:

    Gentlemen, thank you both for your thoughtful answers. Don’t worry about writing “too long” a response for me… I enjoy reading them. But don’t allow me to encroach improperly on your time as well.

    To that thought, Zilch, thank you for cutting-and-pasting your previous answers. I might be able to find them on here, but as I don’t know a good way to search this board for your responses yet, it might be like looking for one single star in a galaxy, so many thanks for saving me the time.

    Now to our discussion… if you’ll permit, I’ll take these topically rather than addressing you individually.

    Regarding the source of morality… Zilch attributes morality to “billions of years of evolution” and reason. But this assumes that our “reason” is actually telling us the truth!

    (For the record, I’m defining truth as “that which is coherent and correspondant with reality”. Kinda sad that we have to define such a concept, but in today’s world we have people redefining basic and simple words all the time!)

    Assuming for the moment that the current scientific consensus on biogenesis and evolution is true, this would mean that natural selection would program us for survivability, not for truth! Natural selection would not, indeed COULD not consider whether the attributes being favored were capable of perceiving and/or understanding truth. It would (to use an anthropomorphism) gladly allow individuals and groups that could more accurately perceive truth for those that were more geared for survival. Our “reason” would lead us to whatever allows us to survive, not to whatever is true.

    Let’s briefly move on to the second point: Determinism.

    @Fuzzy: As for determinism, yes, I think the universe is deterministic.

    Do you not find this statement to be self-defeating? If you have no choice but to say the things you say, then why should I (or you, for that matter) believe *anything* that you say? If your statement is true, then you have no way to know it to be true… you would have no choice but to believe it, just as I would have no choice but to reject it. Logic is a farce and of no value, because in the end, we can’t use it to overcome our genes and chemicals. Our consciousness is a hideous nightmare… an awareness swept along on a rollercoaster ride with no control at all, even over our own actions.

    You might say, “well, that’s just an argument from undesirable consequences.” To which I would reply, “Is that you saying that, or your brain chemicals?” 😉

    You see, Determinism undermines the foundation for logic and reason as well. On determinism, we cannot trust our reason, because we cannot reason at all… we are forced to follow whatever our DNA and brain chemistry has in store for us. Anyone who tries to logically prove determinism destroys the very tools they use to prove their point.

    Fuzzy, I have nothing against matter! I love matter! I just think that matter alone is insufficient to explain a lot of things we see in our universe… things like consciousness, free-will, love, compassion, morality, reason, logic, and even matter itself!

    @Zilch: On the other hand, if God exists, and is omniscient and omnipotent, then while we may feel that we have free will, from His point of view, where our lives are already laid out in front of Him as a four-dimensional space-time worm, our free will is a joke. You might as well ask if Fred Flintstone can “decide” to smoke Winstons or not, after Hanna-Barbara has the cigarette ad in the can. Being omniscient, God has already seen what we will “decide”, and being omnipotent, then what we “decide” is obviously His will. If I have real free will, meaning I can decide against God’s knowledge of what I will, then He is not omniscient and/or omnipotent.

    I don’t see that this necessarily follows. “Knowledge of” and “agency of” are two different things. The classic example is a recorded football game. I record a game on my DVR at home, but I hear the final score on the radio while driving home. When I watch the game, I KNOW the outcome, but I do not CAUSE the outcome.

    But the DVR records past events, and (for our purposes) cannot be altered. Does that mean that since God knows what we will do tomorrow that our path is already set? Not necessarily!

    I know my children quite well. Well enough, in fact, that I can tell you almost exactly how they will react to certain events. Does this mean that I cause them to react in that way? Obviously not!

    Now if I knew them as well as God knows them, then I could say how they would react to any given situation. The Christian belief is that God can see down all possible corridors of time, and predict with 100% accuracy how an individual will freely choose to act based on the events and circumstances around them. There is evidence for this in scripture… I can’t locate it off the top of my head, but there’s a situation where King David asked God “If I do X, then will Saul do Y and will someone else do Z?” God says, yes… if you do X, then these things will happen. So David does something other than X, and Y and Z never happen.

    Your objection overlooks the fact that God in his omnipotence is not required to act to prevent every action not in accordance with his wishes. He created us with free will, and we have it by his express permission. He has covenanted with Himself that he will not violate our freedom of choice, and that covenant cannot be broken, even when he might desire to do so. He has the POWER to overrule our actions, but, at least most often, does not do so by his CHOICE.

    Now back to morality:

    @Fuzzy: [T]here are behaviours that I’d be hard pressed to argue are not always ‘wrong’… For instance rape. But still, that shouldn’t stop us from asking the question, “Why is rape wrong?”, or as I would have it, “Why should rape be against the law?”.

    But the important question is this; is *anything* always wrong. If one single, solitary objective moral law exists, then we’d better pay very close attention to the object that grounds it!

    I don’t see that evolution and reason provide for objective morality. One can rationalize away any action, including rape, murder, incest, theft… and who has the authority to tell the person that they’re wrong!

    Even in the case of unnecessary harm, who is to say what’s unnecessary? I find that harming one who is about to assult my daughter is vitally necessary, but I strongly doubt that this one would agree with me!

    Schools are out for Spring Break here in the Southern U.S., and it’s snowing! Stay warm, friends!

    -tl

  21. Terry L. says:

    Oops…

    This sentence: ” It would (to use an anthropomorphism) gladly allow individuals and groups that could more accurately perceive truth for those that were more geared for survival.”

    should have been ” It would (to use an anthropomorphism) gladly allow individuals and groups that could more accurately perceive truth [to perish in favor of] those that were more geared for survival.”

  22. theGreatFuzzy says:

    Terry,
    Thanks for your thoughtful post. It’s got me thinking. I will reply to your points shortly. (I’ve taken a copy in case this page disappears). Determinism v free will is a conundrum. I think I’m a compatibilist, but still tyrying to understand the term (reading Dennet and Sam Harris). But here’s a thought. You and I can dodge a brick thrown at our head. We can do that because we’ve evolved in a deterministic universe, and so our ancestors were able to learn. That we can dodge the brick means things are not inevitable in a deterministic universe, doesn’t it? We can learn how to avoid things. How would it work in a non-deterministic universe? Could we learn anything about it? How could you have reasons to do things if you couldn’t be sure of the results of your actions? And how could anyone be held responsible for their actions in such a universe?

    That was supposed to be a couple of lines! So must stop now, and go for a quick morning walk.

    Regards from cold and overcast Cheltenham, fuzzy.

  23. zilch says:

    Terry- thanks for another thoughtful and ausführliche Antwort (extensive answer). You say:

    “Natural selection would not, indeed COULD not consider whether the attributes being favored were capable of perceiving and/or understanding truth. It would (to use an anthropomorphism) gladly allow individuals and groups that could more accurately perceive truth [to perish in favor of] those that were more geared for survival.”

    As you probably know, this is Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, or EAAN. If a frog catches flies because of his belief that it will make him a prince, that will enable him to survive just as well as a true belief that he needs to eat flies. Thus, the argument goes, there are any number of possible false beliefs that will serve just as well, if not better, to ensure survival of an organism, than knowing the truth. Ergo, the chances of our perceiving the truth, on natural selection, are slim, according to Plantinga (and others).

    But this argument has been soundly debunked (by myself and others- if you want more detail, google “zilch plantinga” and you will get several hits). The first problem is that it assumes that false beliefs can come from nowhere, or are simply randomly generated in a creature’s brain, like the frog hopeful for royalty. The second problem is the assumption that there is any sort of coherent and plausible story that links together all the beliefs of an animal other than some sort of approximation of reality: for a caveman to think, to take another of Plantinga’s examples, that he likes petting tigers, and that the best way to pet tigers is to run away from them, doesn’t fit in very well with any sort of coherent worldview that includes what pain is, what running is, what petting is, and so forth.

    True, we obviously don’t perceive the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. But we’re pretty good, especially when aided by modern tools such as scientific instruments, peer review, and an understanding of why and how certain distortions come up: for instance our blind spot.

    Thus, the EAAN is based on a very unrealistic model of how evolution, and brains, could possibly work.

    You say:

    ““Knowledge of” and “agency of” are two different things. The classic example is a recorded football game. I record a game on my DVR at home, but I hear the final score on the radio while driving home. When I watch the game, I KNOW the outcome, but I do not CAUSE the outcome.”

    This is a faulty analogy, Terry, because you did not create the football game, you did know what the outcome would be before the creation of the Universe, and you did not have it in your power to make it turn out exactly as you wanted. If God created the world exactly as He wanted (omnipotence), and knew exactly every outcome (omniscience), then there is no free will for us, at least from God’s point of view. Saying that God has a covenant to not interfere with our decisions is like saying that Hana Barbara have a covenant to not interfere with Fred Flintstone’s decisions: it makes no sense.

    The world is turning out exactly as God wants, and thus there’s no point in doing anything. That’s what theists often imagine the atheistic position must be vis-à-vis determinism: if the world is going to turn out a certain way anyway, there’s no point in doing anything. But I think it applies with much more force to the theistic position.

    About determinism: fuzzy said it. Even in a deterministic world, decisions are made, plans are followed. The way I look at the free will debate is this: people usually start the debate in the middle and get confused. They assume, without examination that there is some quality that exists called “free will” or “freedom of choice”, and then argue about whether we, or God, or frogs, have it or not. I think it’s more realistic to look at choice as something we do, much as we breathe and eat. How “freely” we can choose, or for that matter breathe or eat, depends on circumstances, inner and outer, but in any case it’s a matter of degree.

    In the case of choosing, say, a number between one and ten, when no one is holding a gun to your head or a wad of bills in front of you, and telling you which number to choose, I would say your free will is optimal. That perhaps the Universe is deterministic, and thus your choice is already written on the wall, doesn’t matter one whit, because you don’t have access to that wall, and neither does anyone else. In any case, we do have the ability to weigh the facts and consult our hearts and then make decisions, just as we have the ability to gather crops and eat them, if the circumstances are right. This kind of “free will” is something worth defending, because it is important in making life worthwhile.

    “I don’t see that evolution and reason provide for objective morality. One can rationalize away any action, including rape, murder, incest, theft… and who has the authority to tell the person that they’re wrong!”

    You’ve yet to demonstrate that such a beast as “objective reality” exists, or that it’s necessary, Terry. Sure, some people can and do rationalize any action. They are called psychopaths, and Christianity doesn’t protect us from them any better than atheism or anything else. But why do you suppose that there is so much more murder in largely Christian US than in largely atheistic Japan, for instance, if we need “objective morality” in order to behave nicely? I don’t actually care that much about what people can theoretically justify than I am with how they actually behave. Are you claiming that Christians behave better than atheists because they have “objective morality”? The evidence does not support this.

    The other problem with the argument for “objective morality”, say from the Bible, is that any law, including Scriptural law, is subject to interpretation, and I’m willing to bet that I could find always find a moral dilemma that two Christians would disagree about. Where’s the “objectivity” here? Is it just somewhere in God’s mind, inaccessible to us? Or is it in the ascii code for the Hebrew of the Torah? I’m genuinely puzzled where exactly this often mentioned but never defined (no, no Christian has ever defined it for me) “objectivity” exists and of what it consists. Maybe you can help me here.

    cheers from chilly Vienna, zilch

    • zilch says:

      Oops, I just noticed a couple of typos. I think they’re pretty obvious, so I’ll be lazy and not correct them. Thanks for your indulgence.

      cheers, zilch

  24. theGreatFuzzy says:

    Terry, I think our positions might be something like this.
    You reckon there is a higher form of things such as truth and free will. These are the perfect forms, they are ‘real’ truth and free will, other forms are inferior, or don’t exist at all?

    I reckon that, although our universe is deterministic concepts like truth and free will are useful in this universe. So I’m not arguing that your ‘real’ truth and free will exist in this universe. I am arguing that deterministic truth and free will are useful concepts in a deterministic universe.

    ==========================
    @Fuzzy: As for determinism, yes, I think the universe is deterministic.

    @Terry: Do you not find this statement to be self-defeating? If you have no choice but to say the things you say, then why should I (or you, for that matter) believe *anything* that you say? If your statement is true, then you have no way to know it to be true. you would have no choice but to believe it, just as I would have no choice but to reject it. Logic is a farce and of no value, because in the end, we can’t use it to overcome our genes and chemicals. Our consciousness is a hideous nightmare. an awareness swept along on a rollercoaster ride with no control at all, even over our own actions.

    If I have a choice in what I say, why should you (or I) believe anything I say?
    If I have no choice in what I say, why shouldn’t you (or I) believe what I say?
    Just because I have no choice does mean I do not tell the truth.

    If the universe is a billiard ball bouncing around a table then we can predict the position of the ball at any time in the future (and past), and so we know everything about this universe. But we’re stood outside this table universe, and there’s really no such thing as truth within it.

    If the universe is a game of chess played by two computers (i.e. the universe is the board and the computers), can we (stood outside) tell its future? In principle we can. We just need to know what algorithms are running on the computers, so that we can predict the chess moves. Does this chess universe contain truth? Well, each computer contains a representation of the board, in some form or other, and so each contains a model of part of its universe. Are those models are true representations of some other part of this universe? Each computer chooses what move to make when it’s its turn, it cannot decide that move until the other has made its move. At each turn a computer has a finite number of choices, and its algorithm makes the choice by weighing the chances (chances?) of each option. Of course the computer’s just running an algorithm so it’s not conscious of what it’s doing (but could it be conscious? Can machines think?)

    If the universe is Conway’s Game of Life then things get more complex, and more interesting. There are simple things called gliders that roam Conway’s universe, but they vulnerable and ‘die’ should they meet almost any other items. But there are more sophisticated items that are less vulnerable and there are web sites where Life geeks spend time discussing and coming up with long lived items. It’s also possible to construct a Turing machine (computer), one that can produce copies of itself. All this from 3 simple rules. Dennet uses it in his youtube talk ‘Free Will Determinism and Evolution’ – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrCZYDm5D8M.

    This universe, the one we’re in, is far more complex than the above, and as Dennet argues in his talk, avoiders can evolve. We, and other living beings, are good at avoiding things that are bad for us. We maybe swept along on a rollercoaster ride with no control at all, but it seems like we have control. If a brick is thrown at your head, and you’re facing it, you can duck. If it’s a bullet you’ll not be quick enough, evolution hasn’t had enough time to solve that one!

    ==========================
    @Terry: You might say, “well, that’s just an argument from undesirable consequences.” To which I would reply, “Is that you saying that, or your brain chemicals?” 😉

    I knew you were going to say that 😉

    ==========================
    @Terry: You see, Determinism undermines the foundation for logic and reason as well. On determinism, we cannot trust our reason, because we cannot reason at all. we are forced to follow whatever our DNA and brain chemistry has in store for us. Anyone who tries to logically prove determinism destroys the very tools they use to prove their point.

    If evolution produces some thing or being that reasons falsely about this world, that being won’t last very long. The beings with better systems will live longer and so have a better chance to breed. Of course, to those stood outside the universe it’s all predetermined and predictable, but not to those inside. Also, there may be no outside. Our DNA determine what diseases we may be prone to, but not what we’ll die from, we may get knocked down by a bus!

    ==========================
    @Fuzzy: [T]here are behaviours that I’d be hard pressed to argue are not always ‘wrong’. For instance rape. But still, that shouldn’t stop us from asking the question, ‘Why is rape wrong?”, or as I would have it, ‘Why should rape be against the law?”.

    @Terry: But the important question is this; is *anything* always wrong. If one single, solitary objective moral law exists, then we’d better pay very close attention to the object that grounds it!

    What do you mean by wrong? Can you give a definition? If not, then it must be that you have a finite list of things that are wrong?

    @Terry: I don’t see that evolution and reason provide for objective morality. One can rationalize away any action, including rape, murder, incest, theft. and who has the authority to tell the person that they’re wrong!

    How do you rationalize away rape? Or any of the others you mention?
    Have I already “rationalized away theft” in an earlier post, where I argued that if the rules are unfair, and you are unable to get them changed, then you have the “right” to steal to feed your family? But does that count as “rationalizing away theft”? As to those that say you’re wrong, what would they do if it were their family? If we say theft is always wrong, then it seems to me that it follows it is sometimes right to do wrong! Perhaps I’m missing your point?

    @Terry: Even in the case of unnecessary harm, who is to say what’s unnecessary? I find that harming one who is about to assult my daughter is vitally necessary, but I strongly doubt that this one would agree with me!

    Well, you’d try to stop the one from assaulting you daughter, and that may well involve harming the one. That the one doesn’t agree to being harmed is irrelevant. The fact your daughter doesn’t want to be assaulted is sufficient justification for you, or others, to take action.

    ==========================

    If the world is not deterministic, how does it work? How do you think it works? Is it by means we are unable to understand via science?

    Regards from cold but sunny Cheltenham, fuzzy.

  25. zilch says:

    Fuzzy, I’m afraid the theists have left the field.

    • Terry L says:

      Hey, Zilch!

      Been busy! I have another couple of guys on another board that I chat with also. I’ve been neglecting that conversation while chatting with you. And with Resurrection Sunday celebrations, and other things going on, I’ve just not had much free time at the computer. I’m going to try to catch up and respond over the weekend.

      –tl

  26. theGreatFuzzy says:

    Zilch, okay, probably just as well, as it was taking more of my time than I intended. Still, it’s given me some fresh ideas, so has been of benefit to me. It’s got me back looking at the double slit experiment, Kurt Godel, Alan Turing and Gregory Chaitin. Especially the latter. If he’s right then there is a god, and its name is chaos – you cannot get more complex than that!
    Goodnight from a cold but starry Cheltenham, fuzzy

  27. zilch says:

    I hadn’t heard of Chaitin’s “God is chaos” theory before- thanks, fuzzy. You’re right- chatting with Christians online can get to be a full-time occupation, and the pay is lousy. Satan keeps saying “the check is in the mail”, but somehow it never arrives.

    At least the people here are nicer than a lot of Christians, and they state their ideas clearly, so discussion is enjoyable: it forces me to think about what I really believe. Iron sharpens iron, as they say (Proverbs 27:17).

    cheers from sleety snowy chilly Vienna, zilch

  28. Terry L says:

    >>At least the people here are nicer than a lot of Christians, and they state their ideas clearly, so discussion is enjoyable: it forces me to think about what I really believe. Iron sharpens iron, as they say (Proverbs 27:17).

    My sentiments exactly… unfortunately without any modification to the first sentence!

    Regards!

    • zilch says:

      See, Terry, we do have common ground. While I enjoy arguing with theists about the existence of gods, I’m mostly interested in trying to find what we agree upon, since we’re all in this together.

      And yes- niceness seems to be pretty equally distributed as far as I can see: I know nice and not nice Christians, Muslims, atheists, and Republicans. My goal is to see how to propagate niceness in the world- the substrate it runs on is more or less irrelevant, as long as it works to produce niceness.

      cheers from still unseasonably cold Vienna, zilch

  29. Terry L. says:

    Ok guys, I think I might finally have a moment to jot down a few thoughts. We’ll start at the top, although I’ve taken the liberty of rearranging the chronology of some of your comments so that the ideas flow better:

    Fuzzy says:

    >You and I can dodge a brick thrown at our head. We can do that because we’ve evolved in a deterministic universe, and so our ancestors were able to learn.

    Simple action-reaction. Sensor picks up movement, CPU processes movement and assesses an incoming threat, and directs the potential target areat to move out of the way. No learning required for that, and certainly no necessity for choice.

    >That we can dodge the brick means things are not inevitable in a deterministic universe, doesn’t it?

    Non sequitor. This doesn’t follow at all. I can program my computer to respond to input stimuli in the same way. It won’t be as fast or as efficient as the human brain, but there’s nothing in your example to prove anything other than complete determinism.

    Consider a universe with two particles… given knowledge of their physical state and the laws of physics, one should be able to predetermine everything about their interaction. The best billiards players depend on this… they know how the balls will react when struck at a given angle. They don’t “act”, or “choose” what they will do… they simply react to their stimuli.

    Now expand the number of particles… what changes to introduce any sort of “free will” at all? It’s all just sub-atomic particles floating around slamming into each other, chemicals reacting to each other.

    >>How would it work in a non-deterministic universe? Could we learn anything about it?

    I ask the same question about a *deterministic* universe! It appears that in a deterministic universe, we are incapable of acting… we can only react! How then can one “choose” the best explanation of the data?

    >>How could you have reasons to do things if you couldn’t be sure of the results of your actions?

    Of what use, and how do you define a “reason” if you have no choice of which action to take?

    >>And how could anyone be held responsible for their actions in such a universe?

    A non-deterministic universe doesn’t imply a non-causal universe, if that’s what you mean. It seems to me that a deterministic universe absolves us of any responsibility for our actions, because we are pre-determined to do what we do. But then, our judges, juries, and executioners (both real and figurative) have no choice but to do what THEY do as well! It’s all very confusing!

    But a non-deterministic universe holds us responsible because we are free moral agents, with the ability to truly choose our actions. We may be *pre-disposed* to certain actions, but we are not *pre-determined* to do those actions. Therefore, I may be inclined to beat up my annoying neighbor, but I am not forced to do so by my brain chemicals (not including those who have true chemical imbalances… edge cases make bad policy and bad analogies!) Therefore, if I do attack said neighbor, then it is *I*, not my chemicals that are to blame.

    >> Just because I have no choice does mean I do not tell the truth.

    True. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. But it does mean that you cannot *possibly* be giving a conclusion based on facts that you have thoroughly thought thru using sound, reasonable logic. You’re only saying what you say *because you have no choice*.

    >> If the universe is a game of chess played by two computers…

    The problem is, you’re inside the computer. In your illustration, you’re looking at the world from outside of the computer. In a deterministic universe, you are the program. Truth may exist, but you don’t pay attention to it… all you can do is what you’re programmed to do. But… programmed by *whom*??

    The chess program has a designer who enabled that program to play according to the rules of chess. But, it is no more than the earlier-referenced Fred Flintstone, going throw the script it was given. It cannot discover truth, nor does it care about truth. The fact that we consider these types of issues is to me strong proof that we really do have freedom of will.

    Zilch says:

    >>About determinism: fuzzy said it. Even in a deterministic world, decisions are made, plans are followed.

    No, they’re not. Reactions are made. You didn’t make a choice, therefore there was no decision. You reacted based on the chemicals and atoms in your brain. Sam Harris is now applauding a book entitled “The Self Illusion” by Bruce Hood that asserts that there is no self. His own book, “Free Will” asserts that his subject is nothing more than an illusion. (I’m assuming he doesn’t presume to believe he had the freedom of will to honestly evaluate the evidence for that position!)

    Zilch says:

    >> As you probably know, this is Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism

    No, actually, I didn’t. It just makes sense to me that if an organism can best survive by believing a lie, that natural selection will allow the lie to be believed without any preference for truth over survival. And if this happened, we wouldn’t know it… how could we! We would have to be able to see the truth to know it was a lie, but natural selection preferred us specifically because we *believed* the lie!

    >> [Fuzzy] If evolution produces some thing or being that reasons falsely about this world, that being won’t last very long.

    Firstly, truth is not necessarily a condition for survival. NS would perhaps ensure that we understood correctly the threats to our survival and the benefits to our longevity. Beyond that, it wouldn’t “care” either way, and would be at best a non-influencing factor on our tendency to believe or perceive truth or fiction.

    My assertion is not that “the chances of our perceiving the truth, on natural selection, are slim”… my point is that on natural selection (NS), we cannot know if what we believe is or is not true, because we use our brains to perceive truth *about* our brains. Yet we have no basis on which to believe that our brains were evolved to detect truth!

    Do I believe that we can know truth! Absolutely! But, I don’t subscribe to the notion that our brain is solely the product of undirected forces, or that our mind… our consciousness… is purely manifested in physical matter. As a theist, I believe that mind came before matter. Before the creation of time, space, matter, and energy, God existed, timelessly and immaterially as an eternal Mind. Matter was created by mind. Obviously, our non-physical mind interacts with our physical brain, but I don’t believe that our brain is all there is.

    [Zilch]

    >> If God created the world exactly as He wanted (omnipotence), and knew exactly every outcome (omniscience), then there is no free will for us, at least from God’s point of view. Saying that God has a covenant to not interfere with our decisions is like saying that Hana Barbara have a covenant to not interfere with Fred Flintstone’s decisions: it makes no sense.

    Again, it doesn’t follow. You are assuming that because one *can* do something, that one *must* do something! This doesn’t even apply to us… how much less would it apply to God! Let’s look at it this way:

    Given:

    1. God wants to create a universe populated with people who love him.
    2. True love requires freedom not to love.*

    Then:

    1. God must necessarily create a race of beings capable of love.
    2. God must give them the faculties to understand what love is.
    3. God must allow them the freedom to love him, or not to love him.
    4. God must do this, even if it is not what he desires to happen.

    * [As a computer programmer, I can program my computer to tell me every morning when I arrive at the office how much it loves me, how handsome I am, how much it missed me while I was away… but that would be silly! It wouldn’t mean ANYTHING because the computer has no choice… it’s just doing what it’s programmed to do. Love is impossible in a deterministic universe!

    But if your grandchild comes to you in the morning and tells you how much they love you, that’s something *completely* different! That has meaning, because they *choose* to love. But what if you then overhear your son as they give them money for having said that to you… suddenly, it’s not as valuable anymore! It wasn’t freely given, and so it wasn’t done for love, but for money!]

    >> You’ve yet to demonstrate that such a beast as “objective reality” exists, or that it’s necessary, Terry.

    Given the fact that we all perceive it, it seems that this belief is properly basic, and requires a great deal of evidence to defend any contrary idea. I find the idea that I am a Boltzmann Brain highly unlikely.

    >>But why do you suppose that there is so much more murder in largely Christian US than in largely atheistic Japan, for instance, if we need “objective morality” in order to behave nicely?

    I’ll answer this on two levels:

    1. Define “behave nicely” without “objective morality”. You’re answer will either be entirely subjective… your own personal preference for which you have no rationale or authority to impose on others, or it will appeal to a standard that all men should follow.

    2. I’ve never claimed that one needed a belief in objective morality or in God (Christian or otherwise) to behave nicely. My assertion is that proper behavior is undefined if there is no God. It then becomes every man’s preference. With no standard of behavior, any behavior is acceptable, and no behavior is better or worse than any other.

    >>The other problem with the argument for “objective morality”, say from the Bible, is that any law, including Scriptural law, is subject to interpretation, and I’m willing to bet that I could find always find a moral dilemma that two Christians would disagree about.

    I’ll go you one better… there’s a few moral dilemmas that I don’t even agree with *myself* on! There seems to be no suitable answer.

    However, my inability to correctly perceive the correct solution to a dilemma says nothing about the existence of such a solution, or the existence of a moral standard. Different interpretations of moral truths exists… but only one moral TRUTH exists.

    >>Where’s the “objectivity” here? Is it just somewhere in God’s mind, inaccessible to us? Or is it in the ascii code for the Hebrew of the Torah? I’m genuinely puzzled where exactly this often mentioned but never defined (no, no Christian has ever defined it for me) “objectivity” exists and of what it consists. Maybe you can help me here.

    You see, a standard must be of the same nature as the thing it measures: a standard of length must have length, a standard of mass must have mass. It makes no sense to say a gram is 2.54 English inches.

    Therefore, a standard of *behavior* must be a *behavior*! The moral standard is not found in a set of laws, but in a person; Jesus Christ. The Bible does give us moral rules… but how else would you describe behavior in a book before Jesus came and showed us through his life how we are to live? But the Bible says that the law was given not to bring life, but to show us how much we needed the Author of Life.

    And it is only logical that the moral standard be a person… why would any inanimate object, rule, or law care what someone did? It takes personality to care about behavior.

    [Fuzzy]

    >> What do you mean by wrong? Can you give a definition? If not, then it must be that you have a finite list of things that are wrong?

    >> How do you rationalize away rape? Or any of the others you mention?

    I think you answered your own question, in a way! Is there some action that is always wrong, anytime, any place, regardless of circumstance, who is doing the action, or any other mitigating factor. Is it wrong to rape? Is it wrong to torture babies for the fun of it?

    You have a hard time thinking that one could rationalize away rape? Then it seems that you consider rape to be absolutely and objectively wrong. But WHY?

    >> The fact your daughter doesn’t want to be assaulted is sufficient justification for you, or others, to take action.

    But her assailant doesn’t want to be harmed either, yet both you and I, I believe, would do everything in our power to incapacitate the assailant. Obviously, there’s something bigger here… some reason that makes the assailant’s attempt to harm my daughter seem wrong, and our attempt to stop him seem acceptable, even though neither of them desire to be harmed. Do you agree?

    Ok, enough for today! Thanks for your patience, and, if you’ll allow me to be so bold, your long-distance friendship. Chatting like this does take a huge amount of time, but I enjoy it immensely, and I find it to be extremely valuable, especially when my correspondence is with people who actually THINK!

    Best wishes from the FINALLY warming Southern U.S.!

    -tl

  30. Terry L. says:

    Wow! I knew it was long, but I didn’t realize it was THAT long! Yikes!!

    -tl

  31. zilch says:

    And here I thought my comments were long- Terry wins the prize for the longest, hands down. And very well written too, I hasten to add. Thanks for taking this discussion so seriously, Terry- it’s appreciated.

    I don’t think I’ll be able to match this length just now, but I’ll try to at least hit the high points. I said:

    “About determinism: fuzzy said it. Even in a deterministic world, decisions are made, plans are followed.”

    You replied:

    “No, they’re not. Reactions are made. You didn’t make a choice, therefore there was no decision. You reacted based on the chemicals and atoms in your brain.”

    My contention is that a reaction based on chemicals and atoms in my brain can be a choice, just as a motion of chemicals and atoms in my brain causing a motion of my muscles can be, say, eating or running. “Choice”, as far as I can see, is not some sort of philosophical or theological essence, but like eating and breathing, choosing is something we do. Do only humans choose, Terry? Are you a Cartesian who believes that all non-human animals are machines who simply “react”, and only humans “choose”?

    It seems to me that “choice” is on a continuum, or rather many continua, both in evolution and also within human actions. Can you draw a hard and fast line between a reflexive action and a reflected action? Where exactly do you draw the line between “choice” and “reaction”, Terry, in the animal kingdom and also in removing your hand from a stove that’s gradually getting too hot? I don’t see any evidence that any such lines can be drawn.

    Your position seem to be that if choice can be explained, at least theoretically if not in practice, as the result of “mere chemical reactions”, that it’s not “real” choice. But you’ve not demonstrated the existence of “choice” that is not “mere chemical reactions”, nor have you shown that the choices of those who believe that some sort of ineffable soul or spirit is making choices in some sort of supernatural way are any better than the choices of those of us who cheerfully say it’s all chemicals. So again- what do you get here?

    I said:

    “As you probably know, this is Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism”

    You replied:

    “No, actually, I didn’t. It just makes sense to me that if an organism can best survive by believing a lie, that natural selection will allow the lie to be believed without any preference for truth over survival.”

    Well, congratulations, Terry, on independently coming up with an argument by Plantinga, whom many Christians regard as the greatest living Christian philosopher. But you’re both still wrong. Think about it, Terry: our picture of the world is not made up of millions of separate facts, say that eating a fly will make us a prince, and the best way to pet a tiger is to run away from it: we can only put together a more or less useful picture of the world, one that will enable us to survive, if the beliefs cohere in a framework that fits more or less well. The best fit is not likely to be a network of bizarre falsehoods, generated by the Lie Module in our brains presumably, but rather a narrative, a story, a science, that more or less accurately maps the world.

    There’s no mystery, on naturalism and natural selection, why we can perceive as well as we do- nor why we have the peculiar distortions of perceptions that we do. Plantinga’s, and your, notion that lies would work as well or better than truth (however incomplete) is simply not plausible.

    You say:

    “Given:

    1. God wants to create a universe populated with people who love him.
    2. True love requires freedom not to love.*

    Then:

    1. God must necessarily create a race of beings capable of love.
    2. God must give them the faculties to understand what love is.
    3. God must allow them the freedom to love him, or not to love him.
    4. God must do this, even if it is not what he desires to happen.”

    Trouble is, Terry, that this means that God is not bound by logic, because if He’s omniscient and omnipotent, then what He desires must be what happens. And that means He desires us atheists to burn in Hell, for instance. The three qualities omniscience/omnipotence/free will are incompossible. I can understand how God might want to have His perfectly known and created creations to love him of their own free will, but even God can’t do this, unless He can suborn logic. If He can, then He’s not worthy of worship.

    You say:

    “Define “behave nicely” without “objective morality”. You’re answer will either be entirely subjective… your own personal preference for which you have no rationale or authority to impose on others, or it will appeal to a standard that all men should follow.”

    I won’t answer at length, because I’ve already done so many times here. You and I both know what “behaving nicely” means, at least on most issues: children should not be tortured for fun, for instance. I say that that’s given from our three part (this is my Trinity) of genetic, cultural, and rational heritage. You say that it’s given because God says “no”. And since you admit that Christians don’t necessarily behave better than non-Christians, then what advantage do your “objective” morals have? Furthermore, you admit:

    “However, my inability to correctly perceive the correct solution to a dilemma says nothing about the existence of such a solution, or the existence of a moral standard. Different interpretations of moral truths exists… but only one moral TRUTH exists.”

    This is an unfalsifiable claim, like that of claiming the existence of a teapot in orbit between Mars and Jupiter. If you admit that you do not have access to this moral TRUTH, then where’s the objectivity in the real world? If it only exists in God’s mind, then how are you any better off than anyone else who does not believe in your God? Their morals can be just as good or better than yours. So what’s the point?

    cheers from also warming Vienna, zilch

  32. Terry L says:

    Hey guys!

    I’m on my lunch break, so I’ll just jump right in…

    >>My contention is that a reaction based on chemicals and atoms in my brain can be a choice,

    This seems extremely odd to me. Billiard balls bouncing around on a table don’t have a choice, do they? Do they not just simply react to the forces around them?

    Do chemicals in a test tube make a choice to react to a catalyst?

    How do you move from reactive matter to an ability to make a conscious choice? You ask if only humans choose? Of course not. Any soul-ful being, including higher animals (I don’t really know what to think about single-celled organisms) can choose. Although I do contend that man is the only being that is *morally* responsible.

    Re: “in removing your hand from a stove that’s gradually getting too hot? I don’t see any evidence that any such lines can be drawn.”

    Humans can make a choice, based on prior experience, not to place their hand on a stove that’s already hot. Mindless matter cannot do that; if you throw a Frisbee into the room and it lands on the stove, it didn’t choose to do so; it was merely reacting the forces around it.

    Some would contend that we are simply computers, programmed to avoid the stove based on prior inputs. This seems unlikely, as we have the ability to override such programming if necessary. If your daughter were trapped in a burning car, you might choose to override your instinctive aversion to being burned in order to save her. Some would even endure being burned just to “show off” to others.

    Zilch says:
    “nor have you shown that the choices of those who believe that some sort of ineffable soul or spirit is making choices in some sort of supernatural way are any better than the choices of those of us who cheerfully say it’s all chemicals.”

    I haven’t contended this–why would I try to show it? This isn’t my point.

    My point is that to speak of “choices” when there is no “you” there to make a choice, when all you claim to be is soil and blood, is illogical.

    If dualism is true–if we are body and spirit–then science (as most contemporary scientists define it) will never be able to understand consciousness or our ability to reason and to choose, because their definition of science excludes *from the beginning* any consideration of immaterial forces. But by this definition, science cannot say that such a force does not exist; it can’t address the question at all by it’s own definition.

    Regarding Plantinga’s argument… I’ve heard similar, but not by him, and he was not referenced by the speaker I heard. From what I’ve read of his argument, it’s slightly different that what I proposed.

    And I did not contend that lies would work as well as truth. My contention is that a lie that happens to result in the same outcome as a truth would be just as selectable by natural selection; therefore we have no reason to believe that natural selection will produce a being capable of telling the difference. One would have to be outside of that framework in order to judge the truth.

    Zilch says: “[God is] omniscient and omnipotent, then what He desires must be what happens.”

    What is your justification for this statement? This is not a description of the Christian God! The Bible says plainly that many will perish, but that this is not God’s will. You’re still making the leap of logic that because one CAN, one MUST. That statement must be justified, because it is not part of the givens.

    Zilch says: “You and I both know what “behaving nicely” means, at least on most issues”

    Yes, we do, but that’s not the question. The question is, how do you, as an atheist, derive these laws? Your preferred trinity of genetic, cultural, and rational heritage has no authority over anyone. Whose genes? Whose culture? Whose reasons? Mother Teresa’s? Adolph Hitlers? Yours? How do you get from this trinity to the concept that “Children should not be tortured for fun?”

    “You say that it’s given because God says “no”.”

    No, that’s not quite correct. Morality is based in the character of God, not the commandments of God. His commandments will not disagree with his character, but the ultimate source of morality is in his character.

    “And since you admit that Christians don’t necessarily behave better than non-Christians, then what advantage do your “objective” morals have?”

    Without objective morality, NO morality exists, and anything is permissible, including the rape and torture of children for fun, indiscriminate murder, genocide….

    “‘Different interpretations of moral truths exists… but only one moral TRUTH exists’ is an unfalsifiable claim, like that of claiming the existence of a teapot in orbit between Mars and Jupiter.”

    No it’s not. For two different absolute standards of morality to exist is a contradiction. Either there is exactly one standard, or there is none. That’s one moral truth. I contend that there is exactly one standard. You and I may interpret the standard differently, in which case, at least one of us is wrong, and both of us may be. But let’s not be foolish enough to say that murdering innocents may be right for you but wrong for me; that’s just plain silly! Either it’s wrong or it’s not.

    “If you admit that you do not have access to this moral TRUTH, then where’s the objectivity in the real world?”

    I make no such admission. According to the Bible we have the moral truth “written in our hearts”. That’s why I’m not surprised when atheists do not live in accordance with their philosophy. Deep down, they recognize that moral truths do exist, and most of the world gets the broad strokes right. We did lose our ability to perfectly access the moral law in all circumstances when Adam fell in the Garden, but a remnant still remains impressed on all men.

    And as I said, the standard for morality must be a behavior. Jesus demonstrated perfect morality when he walked on Earth, and we have the records of his life. We (as Christians) have the witness of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Unfortunately, becoming a Christian doesn’t mean that all of our bad behavior goes away. If we were able to live in complete congruence with the moral law to begin with, then Jesus would not have had to give his life for us. We are still human, even after becoming a Christian. And on the authority of the Bible, I can tell you that any Christian who says that they no longer sin is either lying, or dead!

    “If it only exists in God’s mind, then how are you any better off than anyone else who does not believe in your God?”

    Not in his mind… in his behavior. See previous answer.

    “Their morals can be just as good or better than yours. So what’s the point?”

    First of all, what standard of morality are you using? If you claim that theirs might be “better” than mine, then you’re claiming a standard to which their morality more closely adheres than mine does. Where do you get that standard?

    And finally, when it comes to you, MY morals don’t matter one bit! If you’re trying to live up to MY morality, then you are setting your sights terribly low. I’M not the standard! Jesus is! And measured against him, ALL of us fall short. That’s why we need a savior.

    You see, if objective morality exists, then we are all accountable to the Moral Lawgiver for our actions. But, I’m not depending on my own morality to find peace with God. That’s an impossibility! I’m relying on the finished work of Christ on the cross of Calvary.

    Spring is finally here… if we can just keep it for awhile! Have a wonderful day!

    Terry

  33. zilch says:

    Welcome back, Terry. You say:

    “Billiard balls bouncing around on a table don’t have a choice, do they? Do they not just simply react to the forces around them?

    Do chemicals in a test tube make a choice to react to a catalyst?

    How do you move from reactive matter to an ability to make a conscious choice? You ask if only humans choose? Of course not. Any soul-ful being, including higher animals (I don’t really know what to think about single-celled organisms) can choose.”

    Aha- you “don’t know what to think about single-celled organisms”. That was exactly my point: there is no place where you can mark the spot on a continuum of “billiard balls bouncing around on a table”, “chemicals reacting in a test tube”, “single-celled organisms initiation motion”, “spiders chasing flies”, “dogs chasing frisbees”, and “people chasing fame”, where “choice” suddenly springs into being. As I said, it evolved. You say:

    “Some would contend that we are simply computers, programmed to avoid the stove based on prior inputs. This seems unlikely, as we have the ability to override such programming if necessary.”

    Computers can and do have hierarchies of programming, where upper levels can override lower levels. So do we. It’s easy to disdain the idea that we are computers (of a sort) because we are so much better than computers at so many things- including saving our children from burning cars. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not simply more complex and subtle. After all, humans have been evolving for billions of years. Computers have been built only in the last few decades.

    “My point is that to speak of “choices” when there is no “you” there to make a choice, when all you claim to be is soil and blood, is illogical.”

    This, like many of your arguments, and as I’ve pointed out before, is assuming your worldview to be true: that there is such a thing as a transcendental “you” or “choice” that is supernatural and not “merely” made of soil and blood. You might as well say, “to speak of “running” when there is no “dog” to “run” is illogical”.

    As I said, choosing, like running, is something we do, not some sort of supernatural essence- or at least, I see no evidence for it being anything other than the result, like breathing or metabolizing, of matter in motion, no matter how complex or inscrutable it may be. Do you have any evidence that a choice cannot be “real” unless it’s taken by a supernatural soul? I would say that the burden of proof is reasonably on you.

    “The question is, how do you, as an atheist, derive these [moral] laws? Your preferred trinity of genetic, cultural, and rational heritage has no authority over anyone. Whose genes? Whose culture? Whose reasons? Mother Teresa’s? Adolph Hitlers? Yours? How do you get from this trinity to the concept that “Children should not be tortured for fun?”

    Your Bible only has authority over Christians, and that authority has often failed to stop Christians from killing and torturing people. Sure, you will say these are not “true” Christians, but that’s a moot point. Ted Bundy was supposedly a true Christian by the time he was executed, so how did that help anyone?

    The only authority I have is over myself (to some extent- my willpower is not perfect), over my children (also only to some extent), and to the world at large, in a rather minor way, by my voting, writing letters and comments, demonstrating, etc. Your authority is probably similar, except that you tack “God says so” onto your laws. Does that make them better laws or more likely to be obeyed? If so, why are there so many more murders in mostly Christian America than in mostly atheistic Sweden? I don’t see any real advantage to your vaunted “authority of God” for getting people to behave nicely.

    “My contention is that a lie that happens to result in the same outcome as a truth would be just as selectable by natural selection; therefore we have no reason to believe that natural selection will produce a being capable of telling the difference. One would have to be outside of that framework in order to judge the truth.”

    As I already said, your contention is simply implausible. Do you really believe that our (animals) picture of the world is just a random conglomeration of beliefs that have no relationship to one another, and that there is some sort of belief generator in our brains that merrily churns out possibilities such as “eating flies will make me a prince”, “jumping in the water will make me handsome”, and that ones that produce the appropriate motions, even if they make no coherent whole, will get selected as easily as true beliefs?

    Not only humans, but other animals must be able to generalize, to be able to fit what they learn into a framework that gives them a workable picture. A fabric of lies cannot make up such a picture. Or rather, there is a continuum between “false” and “true” beliefs or models: the more coherent, generalizable, and effective our system of beliefs is, the closer it must be getting to at least a working knowledge of the way things are. And for the distortions we do have, science makes a framework outside the system for reference.

    “Without objective morality, NO morality exists, and anything is permissible, including the rape and torture of children for fun, indiscriminate murder, genocide….”

    Without objective nutrition, NO nutrition exists, and anything is permissible, including feeding your children thumbtacks and plutonium for fun, indiscriminate poisoning, genocide….

    Slippery slopes are not an argument, Terry. It’s perfectly possible to have, say, no “objective” system of nutrition, and still not feed your kids thumbtacks, is it not? Morals are no different.

    “According to the Bible we have the moral truth “written in our hearts”. That’s why I’m not surprised when atheists do not live in accordance with their philosophy. Deep down, they recognize that moral truths do exist, and most of the world gets the broad strokes right. We did lose our ability to perfectly access the moral law in all circumstances when Adam fell in the Garden, but a remnant still remains impressed on all men.”

    And how, pray tell, Terry, am I not living in accordance to my philosophy? There are lots of reasons to behave nicely that have nothing to do with God, as I’ve already said here. Deep down, Christians are moved by much the same emotions, experiences, and reasons as atheists are (genes, culture, rationality), and most of them get the broad strokes right- for instance, in forbidding slavery, although there’s no Scriptural reason to do so.

    Cheers from finally somewhat springy Vienna, zilch

  34. Terry L says:

    Good to be back, thank you!

    Zilch says:

    “Aha- you “don’t know what to think about single-celled organisms”. That was exactly my point: there is no place where you can mark the spot on a continuum of “billiard balls bouncing around on a table”, “chemicals reacting in a test tube”, “single-celled organisms initiation motion”, “spiders chasing flies”, “dogs chasing frisbees”, and “people chasing fame”, where “choice” suddenly springs into being. As I said, it evolved.”

    Where is your evidence for such an evolution? You’ve provided no evidence for this assertion. You give a laundry list ranging from obvious reaction to action, and then make the unsubstantiated claim, “it evolved”. That make this an “evolution of the gaps” argument unless you can fill in the blanks.

    I tend to think that single-celled organisms react more than act. However, I’m willing to be proven wrong. But it’s really a moot point, because if “action” as opposed to “reaction” is to exist at all, it cannot be predicated on the reactions of matter and chemicals. Matter reacts in deterministic ways… all you’ll get from matter is REaction. And reaction cannot justify rational choice.

    “Computers can and do have hierarchies of programming, where upper levels can override lower levels.”

    Of course. Writing some layers of that programming has put food on my table for years now. And as a programmer, I can tell you that at no time does a computer truly decide anything. It reacts to its programming that was given it by its *programmer*. For you see, computers do not improve when they evolve… their designs are incrementally improved by designers. Left to evolution… an undirected, unguided, natural process, the computer would never improve, and would eventually break down and become worthless.

    “This, like many of your arguments, and as I’ve pointed out before, is assuming your worldview to be true: that there is such a thing as a transcendental “you” or “choice” that is supernatural and not “merely” made of soil and blood.”

    It is not assuming that my worldview is true to speak of the illogic of a concept on the basis of your worldview.

    “Do you have any evidence that a choice cannot be “real” unless it’s taken by a supernatural soul? I would say that the burden of proof is reasonably on you.”

    Well, that would be convenient, wouldn’t it? But I don’t subscribe to atheism. It is up to the proponents of a worldview to defend how that worldview grounds reality. It is my burden of proof to say how Theism grounds free will and choice. Why should it not be your responsibility to speak to your own worldview?

    And the statement, as you put it here, is a little off from how I would phrase it. I would say that the Naturalistic worldview cannot ground free will, or the ability to make a choice. This statement, I will defend.

    On Naturalism, your mind = your brain. I don’t think you would disagree that you use your brain to make choices, to evaluate evidence, and to choose the best possible explanation of that evidence. Given these statements, if Naturalism is true, your mind/brain is evaluating itself. But how do you know that your mind/brain is capable of correctly making such an evaluation? You have to use your mind/brain! You’re in an infinite loop, with no higher authority to which you can appeal. You are taking on faith the fact that your mind is logical, rational, capable of discerning truth, but you have no reason to believe such a thing. Nor can you truly know that your choices are based on evidence, or just on the chemicals that happen to be reacting in a given way that day.

    Pointing out that we do appear to be capable of logic, reason, and choice is not a justification for why we can do those things.

    “Your Bible only has authority over Christians”

    What do you mean by this? Do you believe that truth is relative? That Christianity may be true for me, but not true for you?

    Or did you mean to say that only Christians submit to the authority of the Bible?

    I’ll respond more fully when I understand more clearly what you are asserting here.

    “Ted Bundy was supposedly a true Christian by the time he was executed, so how did that help anyone?”

    1. If Mr. Bundy was truly a Christian, then it helped him for all eternity!
    2. Others that he was around, or that hear his story might be inspired to follow Christ after seeing the transforming power of God in his life.

    Did it help his victims or their families? Probably not. But does that mean it was of no value?

    “Does that make them better laws or more likely to be obeyed?”

    Should laws reflect reality? If it is really, truly wrong to murder, then shouldn’t laws prescribe punishment for all murderers?

    If it is not truly wrong to murder, then why do we have laws against it? Would that not be going against nature? And after all, on your view, nature did a pretty good job getting us to where we’re at. Why should we interfere with natural selection and impose our will on the natural outcome of things?

    “If so, why are there so many more murders in mostly Christian America than in mostly atheistic Sweden?”

    Honestly, I haven’t researched this, but I can tell you this much.

    1. Many, if not most, “Christian” people in the U.S. cannot even tell you the basics of the Christian faith. And you’re right… I don’t consider them more than a “cultural” Christian. Being a cultural Christian and $1.25 might buy you a cup of coffee… not worth more than that.

    2. I’d be interested in knowing more about Sweden’s culture. What punishment is there for murder? How quickly is it carried out? What value is placed on the nuclear family?

    You see, your question is a very deep one, with many implications, and many factors contributing to the answer.

    “Do you really believe that our (animals) picture of the world is just a random conglomeration of beliefs that have no relationship to one another”

    I’ve never said that. That’s not a part of my premise. You’re attacking a straw man.

    “Do you really believe that… [false beliefs] that produce the appropriate motions, even if they make no coherent whole, will get selected as easily as true beliefs?”

    Why not? What feature of natural selection would choose a believe based *solely on it’s truth value*? Natural selection only selects based on the outcome of a belief, action or feature. Can you explain how an action based on truth vs. an action based on a lie, with equivalent outcomes, would be selected any differently?

    “Slippery slopes are not an argument, Terry. It’s perfectly possible to have, say, no “objective” system of nutrition, and still not feed your kids thumbtacks, is it not? Morals are no different.”

    This isn’t a slippery slope argument. It’s simple logic.

    If murder is not objectively wrong, then it’s simply not wrong. You might not like it, you might not want to murder, you might not want to BE murdered, you might not want your family to be murdered, but that’s simply your opinion. WHY do you believe that murder or rape is wrong? If you resort to “societal values” or “herd morality”, then you’re saying that morality can differ between groups and between individuals.

    The Nazi morality was internally consistent, and their actions were legal. Yet, at Nuremberg, the judges appealed to a higher law that superseded all of the laws of men. Were they acting improperly? Or do you think the Nazi War Criminals were not criminals at all, and that what they did was morally neutral… it’s just our opinion of it that makes it bad?

    “And how, pray tell, Terry, am I not living in accordance to my philosophy? There are lots of reasons to behave nicely that have nothing to do with God, as I’ve already said here.”

    But none of your “reasons” are anything more than opinion. If you believe that morality is only subjective, but then you behave as if there is a standard of behavior that all men should follow, then you are not living consistently with your philosophy.

    So… do you get angry if some slaps your child for no reason? If their behavior is not “objectively” wrong, then how are you not imposing your morality on them when you chastise them for abusing your child?

    For curiosity, what is that with you in your picture… I can’t quite make it out from your Gravatar image??

    Blessings and good weather to you. We’re getting cold again tonight! Yuck!

    -tl

  35. Terry L says:

    Oh… a couple of other thing…

    ” It’s perfectly possible to have, say, no “objective” system of nutrition, and still not feed your kids thumbtacks, is it not?”

    What would a “subjective” system of nutrition be? If your system of nutrition is not based on an object, namely, the food you eat, then how is it a system of nutrition at all? Does wood become digestible and nutritious simply because on your subjective opinion, you would rather eat sawdust?

    “If so, why are there so many more murders in mostly Christian America than in mostly atheistic Sweden?”

    You do realize that the answer to this says nothing about whether objective morality exists? That would be like saying laws against speeding do not exist because everyone drives 10 kph over the limit. Failure to abide by a law, whether man-made or God-made, is no indication that the law does not exist.

    Good evening!

    -tl

  36. zilch says:

    Thanks again for taking the time to answer so thoroughly, Terry. I’d love to chat with you over a beer (or other beverage of your choice) in a sunny Biergarten in Vienna. But in the meantime- you say:

    “I tend to think that single-celled organisms react more than act. However, I’m willing to be proven wrong. But it’s really a moot point, because if “action” as opposed to “reaction” is to exist at all, it cannot be predicated on the reactions of matter and chemicals. Matter reacts in deterministic ways… all you’ll get from matter is REaction. And reaction cannot justify rational choice.”

    Again, Terry, you’re smuggling your worldview in here, perhaps even unaware. If God exists, and if God is the basis for all action and rational thought, then I would agree with you. But you haven’t proven that God exists. If God does not exist (my standpoint), then whatever “justification” (whatever that is) we want for our choices must be supplied by matter, energy, and the consequences thereof. As I’ve said already, making choices is something we do, rather as we do breathing and eating, and not some sort of supernatural power. As I’ve already asked, would you say that mere “reaction” is not enough to justify running in cheetahs?

    And if you’re convinced that there is a line to be drawn between “mere” reaction and “real” action, please show me exactly where you think this line is. Is a dog who doesn’t run after your faked frisbee throw merely “reacting”? Is a comatose human evincing the kneejerk reaction “acting”?

    “And as a programmer, I can tell you that at no time does a computer truly decide anything. It reacts to its programming that was given it by its *programmer*.”

    Can you show that human choice is any different? Sure, it’s far more complex, but you are simply assuming, without demonstrating, that human decisions are “real” because they’re transcendental in some way.

    “For you see, computers do not improve when they evolve… their designs are incrementally improved by designers. Left to evolution… an undirected, unguided, natural process, the computer would never improve, and would eventually break down and become worthless.”

    Current computers cannot be “left to evolution”, because they do not reproduce with mutations. But of course you must be aware of evolutionary programs, which do evolve, for instance, much shorter programs than humans can do, or designs for such things as antennae. Hardware does not evolve- yet.

    “What feature of natural selection would choose a believe based *solely on it’s truth value*? Natural selection only selects based on the outcome of a belief, action or feature. Can you explain how an action based on truth vs. an action based on a lie, with equivalent outcomes, would be selected any differently?”

    I thought I explained this, but I will try again. You are making the unstated assumption that some congeries of lies can be cobbled together that is as useful as a more or less accurate approach to the way things are. I doubt that. As I said, our worldview, and those of other animals, is not just a random sampling of unconnected facts, but in order to be manageable and useful, must be a kind of narrative of connected patterns. Assorted lies are not going to make up such patterns- only something resembling the truth will work. I don’t think you’ve really thought through how your conjecture could conceivably play out in the real world.

    “I would say that the Naturalistic worldview cannot ground free will, or the ability to make a choice. This statement, I will defend.”

    Again- you are already assuming the truth of your worldview. I don’t need to “ground” free will or the ability to choose, any more than I need to “ground” eating or running.

    “If murder is not objectively wrong, then it’s simply not wrong. You might not like it, you might not want to murder, you might not want to BE murdered, you might not want your family to be murdered, but that’s simply your opinion.”

    Well, that’s just your opinion, Terry. “Simply my opinion” keeps me from murdering people just as well as “my opinion sanctified by the Bible” keeps you from murdering people. Seems to me, the important thing is not to murder, not to say that you’ve got a godgiven reason to and I’ve got no reason to other than my “opinion”. What good does God do here?

    “WHY do you believe that murder or rape is wrong? If you resort to “societal values” or “herd morality”, then you’re saying that morality can differ between groups and between individuals.”

    Morality does indeed differ between groups and individuals, even within groups such as self-proclaimed Christians: do you think you would make exactly the same moral decisions as all other “true” Christians, Terry? But as I’ve said, there’s a broad consensus, and there’s progress on some fronts: for instance, the Biblical indifference to slavery is widely improved upon in most parts of the world. Or do you think we should reinstate slavery for non-Christians? If not, why not?

    “What would a “subjective” system of nutrition be? If your system of nutrition is not based on an object, namely, the food you eat, then how is it a system of nutrition at all? Does wood become digestible and nutritious simply because on your subjective opinion, you would rather eat sawdust?”

    So God’s objective morals are based on an object? What object?

    “For curiosity, what is that with you in your picture… I can’t quite make it out from your Gravatar image??”

    That’s me standing in the Pacific in Crescent City, Ca, playing on a horn made of bull kelp.

    cheers from warm Vienna. zilch

  37. Terry L says:

    Zilch,

    “If God exists, and if God is the basis for all action and rational thought”

    How do you mean this? Are you saying by this that God would be the originator of all action, or the enabler of all action. That’s rather poorly phrased. What I mean is, on the first view, God is totally in control of every action in the universe. On the second view, God enables soulish creatures to make choices, and grants them freedom to do so. He is the reason a choice can be made, but not the one making the choice.

    “would you say that mere “reaction” is not enough to justify running in cheetahs?”

    Running? Yes, if they are startled by a threat, or if prey walks in front of them. The question is, do they choose *where* to run? Do they choose which antelope to take?

    “Can you show that human choice is any different? Sure, its far more complex, but you are simply assuming, without demonstrating, that human decisions are “real” because they’re transcendental in some way.”

    IF it is not, then you have no justification to believe anything, because you don’t have a CHOICE but to believe what you believe, even if it is untrue. Determinism is self-defeating. It is up to the determinist to show how one can “choose” to correctly evaluate evidence given that world view.

    Argument from consequence? Perhaps… but the consequences of determinism destroy any reason one could have for believing in determinism, so it’s not a fallacy in this case.

    “But of course you must be aware of evolutionary programs, which do evolve, for instance, much shorter programs than humans can do, or designs for such things as antennae.”

    And you must also be aware that such programs do not arise without a programmer designing them and the environment in which they live. You can throw random bits into a computer’s memory and you’ll never get a useful program.

    If I thought that my computer had came about by undirected processes, I’d NEVER trust one to do my taxes! And neither would you. But on your view, that’s exactly what happened… everything in existence, not just humans, but all of the things that humans have designed, have came about by unguided processes. To speak of something… ANYTHING being designed is an oxymoron.

    “only something resembling the truth will work”

    *Resembling* the truth… that’s exactly MY point. Something “resembling” truth is close to truth, but not true. Anything not true is a lie.

    “I don’t need to “ground” free will or the ability to choose, any more than I need to “ground” eating or running.”

    True, if you do not believe in free will, you do not need to ground free will. But you do have to ground your *disbelief* in free will. *Why* do you believe there is no free will? Did you come to that belief freely? Did you honestly evaluate the evidence? How would you do that with no free will?

    If you say “Yes”, then you don’t believe in determinism. If you say “No”, then you were either forced to believe as you do, or you haven’t truly considered and evaluated the evidence, or both. So why should I believe you?

    “‘Simply my opinion’ keeps me from murdering people just as well as ‘my opinion sanctified by the Bible’ keeps you from murdering people.”

    Now you’re the one smuggling from MY worldview. You, just as I, assume that we should not murder. WHY? You’re giving me an example of a wrong action… not telling me why the action is wrong. If all we are is a bunch of matter, then why does murder matter? Who cares what happens to a rock? Why are we different than a rock? We’re just matter…

    “Morality does indeed differ between groups and individuals,”

    Moral BELIEF and Moral BEHAVIOR varies. That much is true. But without a fixed standard of morality that never changes, it’s all illusory.

    You say, “there’s progress on some fronts:”

    Do you see what you just did? If there is no standard, there is no progress! How can you say that society A is more or less moral than society B (or Person A and Person B) if there is no moral standard S? To say that there is moral progress is to say that a society is now closer to some standard than it was earlier. But you say there is no standard, so progress cannot exist. Moral “change” is all you have… and you can’t say that any moral change is better or worse, because there’s no standard of reference by which to measure it.

    So God’s objective morals are based on an object? What object?

    Not an object, per se… a standard must be what it standardizes. A standard of the metric meter must have the property of length. A standard of a kilogram must have the property of mass. A moral standard must have the property of behavior. Therefore, the moral standard must be a person. This makes sense… why would an inanimate object or some abstract, platonic moral “law” against murder care about *behavior*? Only persons care about behavior, and about what men *ought* to do.

    So the moral standard is the very character and nature of God himself. God is an unchanging, perfectly consistent being. This much was known to the ancients (Aristotle, Plato, etc.) even without scripture. The more closely an desire or action aligns with the desires or actions that God would do in that situation, the more moral it is.

    “Do you think we should reinstate slavery for non-Christians? If not, why not?”

    I won’t be able to address this now due to time constraints, but I promise I will get to it. I’ve already done so on another board.

    In the meantime, what makes slavery wrong on your worldview? Do you feel it’s wrong to “enslave” matter in the form of a car or a bicycle? What in your worldview makes human slavery any different?

    Cheers from rainy Southern U.S.!

    -tl

  38. zilch says:

    Terry- thanks for another long and thoughtful reply. I’m not sure I’ll be able to answer everything to your satisfaction, but I’ll try. I must say, though, that lots of this stuff has been gone over before here.

    I said:

    “would you say that mere “reaction” is not enough to justify running in cheetahs
    You replied:

    “Running? Yes, if they are startled by a threat, or if prey walks in front of them. The question is, do they choose *where* to run? Do they choose which antelope to take?”

    Yes, that’s my question to you: you believe there is a line that can be drawn between “merely” reacting and “really” making a choice. I don’t believe this- it looks more like a continuum to me. So you show me where the line is. I said:

    “Can you show that human choice is any different? Sure, its far more complex, but you are simply assuming, without demonstrating, that human decisions are “real” because they’re transcendental in some way.”

    You replied:

    “IF it is not, then you have no justification to believe anything, because you don’t have a CHOICE but to believe what you believe, even if it is untrue. Determinism is self-defeating. It is up to the determinist to show how one can “choose” to correctly evaluate evidence given that world view. ”
    We’ve had this before. You are assuming, without demonstrating, the existence of a transcendental, non-deterministic “choice”, and anything else is not a “real” choice. As I’ve said, I don’t know whether or not the Universe is deterministic, but as far as my choice-making goes, it makes no difference to me, because I don’t (and no one else does either) have access to this determination: I can’t predict what my decisions will be, so they are free, as far as I’m concerned. As far as “correctly evaluating evidence” goes, that’s a matter of history, not a matter of whether or not the Universe is deterministic. And the record, not just mine but that of all life, is pretty good: it’s given us the ability, for instance, to hold this cyberchat.

    “You can throw random bits into a computer’s memory and you’ll never get a useful program.”

    And you can throw random bits of sand into a watch and it will not keep better time. We had this already, Terry. Life replicates; watches and computers do not.

    I said:

    “only something resembling the truth will work”

    You replied:

    “*Resembling* the truth… that’s exactly MY point. Something “resembling” truth is close to truth, but not true. Anything not true is a lie.”

    “Anything not true is a lie”. This is a core difference in our thinking, Terry: you are a dualist. I see life as more complex than black or white. While “anything not true is a lie” is a useful and indeed necessary position in circumscribed systems of formal logic, such as mathematics or indeed computer programming, it has limited applications when considering the messy problems of describing the real world, or of designing a workable morality. “Two plus two equal four” is either true or not in, say, base ten Euclidean arithmetic. But “chocolate is good”, or even “the Sun is hot” don’t have such simple truth values, do they?

    Let’s take the frog again as an example. Frogs will pretty much snap up any small dark spots flying in their field of vision. What would count as a “true” belief for a frog: “eat spots, belly full, good”, or would you require “eat flying insects, nourishes body, good”, or something else to qualify as “not a lie”? Again, there is a continuum here, not a line between “true” and “false”. Same goes for human beliefs.

    “If all we are is a bunch of matter, then why does murder matter? Who cares what happens to a rock? Why are we different than a rock? We’re just matter…”

    If that’s what you believe, I don’t think you’re very popular as a babysitter. C’mon, Terry, obviously there are different degrees of order in matter. Rocks don’t have much order. Grass has more, salamanders even more, and human beings have even more, although the crested newt has a genome ten time the size of a human’s. It’s not the meat, it’s the motion. Why is that mysterious? It’s like saying “if all this painting is, is a bunch of paint on a canvas, who cares what happens to the Mona Lisa?” The way things are ordered makes a difference, not just the elements that make it up.

    I’ll try to finish this soon. Cheers from rainy Vienna, zilch

  39. Terry L says:

    Hey, Zilch!

    Did Fuzzy leave, or just get bored? Haven’t seen him posting here in a while…

    It’s late over here, and I’m tired… and I’ve been typing to another person I correspond with for about an hour, so I’m just gonna hit some high points for now.

    You said:

    “You can throw random bits into a computer’s memory and you’ll never get a useful program.”
    And you can throw random bits of sand into a watch and it will not keep better time. We had this already, Terry. Life replicates; watches and computers do not.

    But you are the one who brought up evolutionary software. Software is only capable of replicating and evolving if it is *designed* to do so in the first place. So even if evolution is true, it doesn’t remove the need for a designer… it simply changes the design.

    You said:

    “But “chocolate is good”, or even “the Sun is hot” don’t have such simple truth values, do they?”

    Yes, they do… but you have to have a referent. If you hold that chocolate is good, then it is 100% true for all people in all places and all times that on date mm/dd/yyyy, Zilch found chocolate to be good. That doesn’t mean that Terry or Fuzzy also find chocolate to be good. Those are separate truth claims.

    You said (to my complete amusement!):
    “If that’s what you believe, I don’t think you’re very popular as a babysitter.”

    Well, your probably right, but not because that’s my belief. Obviously, it isn’t. But I want to know how you as an atheist justify human value. To that end, you said:

    “C’mon, Terry, obviously there are different degrees of order in matter. Rocks don’t have much order. Grass has more, salamanders even more, and human beings have even more, although the crested newt has a genome ten time the size of a human’s. It’s not the meat, it’s the motion. Why is that mysterious? It’s like saying “if all this painting is, is a bunch of paint on a canvas, who cares what happens to the Mona Lisa?” The way things are ordered makes a difference, not just the elements that make it up.”

    Ok… so you have order. I agree with you on that point. WHY does that make a difference? Why SHOULD that make a difference?

    And I agree with your “Mona Lisa” analogy… in essence, you and I seem to agree that we can’t just reduce everything down to their components. The whole somehow transcends the sum of its parts.

    But what makes it transcendent? When and how did we become more than matter?

    Let me ask it this way…

    You seem to agree with me that certain actions (murder, slavery, torture for fun) are wrong. My question is, when did they become wrong? What made/makes them wrong?

    If morality is a human invention, then when the universe was nothing but hydrogen molecules, murder was not wrong, because there were no humans.

    When the planets were lifeless hunks of space rocks, murder was not wrong… still no humans.

    So at what point does murder become wrong? You appeal to the continuum for choice… did murder become “partially” wrong when the first cell appeared?

    The same question can be asked of free will. When there’s nothing but hydrogen, there is no choice. When and how do we get the ability to become more than matter and chemical reaction?

    You say, “I don’t know whether or not the Universe is deterministic, but as far as my choice-making goes, it makes no difference to me…”

    But it does! If the universe is deterministic, there is no choice-making. You may mean instead that you are not concerned with whether the universe is deterministic; fine… but that leaves you open on several fronts. You’ve implied a complaint about God’s immorality in allowing slavery. In a deterministic universe, there is no “allowing”… you will do what your program tells you to do without exception. So why complain?

    Oh… on a deterministic universe, you have no choice but to complain, because that’s what your program told you to do… so I shouldn’t complain.

    But wait….

    Makes my head hurt just thinking about it!

    Have a great weekend my friend!

    Cheers from also-rainy U.S.

  40. zilch says:

    Thanks for the reply, Terry. I know that you also have a life to live in the real world, and it’s hard to do everything. I don’t know what happened to Fuzzy, but perhaps the real world has claims on his time too.

    It’s late here now, and I just got back from a rather strenuous bike ride, so I’ll also just hit a few high spots. You said:

    “Software is only capable of replicating and evolving if it is *designed* to do so in the first place. So even if evolution is true, it doesn’t remove the need for a designer… it simply changes the design.”

    But “simply changing the design” is how bacteria evolved into humans. If you mean that the whole process needed a designer in the beginning, then we would have to talk about abiogenesis. As you probably know, there are lots of ideas and research going on, but no one knows how life started. But as you also probably know, most atheists think simply positing the existence of a Designer God, who didn’t Himself have a Designer, and presumable didn’t evolve, is pulling a fast one. If order needs to be explained, you must explain God’s order. If you claim God has no order, then you are pleading magic, and that’s the end of rational discussion, because then anything goes.

    You say:

    “You seem to agree with me that certain actions (murder, slavery, torture for fun) are wrong. My question is, when did they become wrong? What made/makes them wrong?

    If morality is a human invention, then when the universe was nothing but hydrogen molecules, murder was not wrong, because there were no humans.”

    When the planets were lifeless hunks of space rocks, murder was not wrong… still no humans.

    So at what point does murder become wrong? You appeal to the continuum for choice… did murder become “partially” wrong when the first cell appeared?”

    True- if there’s no life, there’s no murder. You would also agree with this, no? But I would put the beginnings of morality earlier than humans. We see chimps, for instance, helping people when they have no reason to believe they will be rewarded. You can’t draw a line- that’s my point. Same thing for murder.

    Not only on an evolutionary timescale, but also in the present, I don’t see how you can draw lines. Do you think that “murder” can be defined in such a way that every single scenario can be classified as either “murder” or “not murder”? If so, I’m sure I can come up with some cases that you will disagree about with other Christians.

    “The same question can be asked of free will. When there’s nothing but hydrogen, there is no choice. When and how do we get the ability to become more than matter and chemical reaction?”

    There is no one time when the “ability” to make choices suddenly appeared: it evolved too.

    ” If the universe is deterministic, there is no choice-making.”

    If the Universe is deterministic, there is no eating. Or rather, it’s not “real” eating, because it’s determined. Again, you are assuming that your worldview is true here, and that only “transcendental” choices are “real” choices. Can you show me why I should believe this, if God does not exist?

    “You may mean instead that you are not concerned with whether the universe is deterministic; fine… but that leaves you open on several fronts. You’ve implied a complaint about God’s immorality in allowing slavery. In a deterministic universe, there is no “allowing”… you will do what your program tells you to do without exception. So why complain?”

    Same thing: “allowing” is also not “real” allowing, if it happens in a deterministic Universe. I don’t see how that follows. And I complain about slavery, whether it’s Biblical slavery condoned by God, or modern-day slavery, which exists even in America, because it causes unnecessary pain. Unnecessary pain doesn’t require a God or an indeterminate Universe to exist. And as I’ve explained before, supposing determinism, since neither I nor anyone else can see the contents of my program, it doesn’t matter to me one whit if my life is “destined” to run a certain way.

    In fact, even if the Universe is indeterministic, or even if God exists, supposing we don’t accept the “Many Worlds” hypothesis, which has every single quantum event sprouting two new universes, then there will be only one future for our Universe. Because I can’t know that future, determined or not, then my choices are as free as choices can be.

    cheers from springy Vienna, zilch

  41. Terry L says:

    Zilch:

    “it’s hard to do everything.”

    Tell me about it! I’ve been trying to find time to respond for about a week now. I love spring, but it’s much more demanding on my time than winter!

    You said:

    “But “simply changing the design” is how bacteria evolved into humans. If you mean that the whole process needed a designer in the beginning, then we would have to talk about abiogenesis…”

    The “bacteria evolved into humans” claim is still debatable… but for the purposes of this discussion, I’ll grant it. However, having done so, I’ll have to disagree with you.

    Evolution, as defined by most scientists, has no designer. There is no design to change. There is simply matter, energy, and randomness.

    Things that are designed are designed with an end goal in mind. To say that evolution “change[s] the design” is to imply that there is a purpose and a goal behind evolution. This implication is in opposition to atheistic evolution.

    Perhaps you meant to say “incremental, undirected changes”?

    If this is the case, then your software analogy, at least by the examples I’ve seen, are improper test cases for such changes. The programmers usually 1) *design* a mechanism by which the software can slowly change, and 2) build an end-goal toward which the software progresses. Evolution denies that both of these exist. Therefore, to be a true demonstration of software evolution, you have to set all of the bits in the computer randomly, and allow the computer to progress without further interference from the designers.

    At best, what the computer analogy shows is that evolution requires theism. And I actually agree that evolution and theism are not incompatible, although I do believe that evolution and *Christian* theism are incompatible.

    You said: “If order needs to be explained, you must explain God’s order.”

    Order *in our universe* which is inextricably bound to the laws of thermodynamics, and therefore to the laws of entropy, must be explained. Evidence (both scientific and scriptural) show that the universe came into existence; scripture says that our universe and all that is within it, was created by God. Therefore, God is not dependent on time, energy, matter, space, or natural law as we know it. All of these are dependent on God for their existence. A being capable of *creating* the universe is certainly not dependent *upon* it!

    So it is not irrational nor magical to ascribe order to God. He doesn’t draw order or energy from our universe, he is the *source* of order and energy in our universe.

    You said:

    “Do you think that “murder” can be defined in such a way that every single scenario can be classified as either “murder” or “not murder”?”

    Murder is the intentional, unjustified taking of the life of another.

    “If so, I’m sure I can come up with some cases that you will disagree about with other Christians.”

    Oh, I’m sure. There are a lot of Christians who disagree with me on capital punishment. But, that is irrelevant to the point. My opinion about the standard doesn’t change the standard. I may well be wrong, but if I’m wrong, that means that the *right* has to exist! If the *right* exists… if there is truly a moral law, then there must be a moral lawgiver.

    You say that morality has a beginning… (“But I would put the beginnings of morality earlier than humans.”) What turned on the switch?

    I’m assuming that you now believe that murder is wrong. To give a specific example, you believe it would be wrong of me to take my pistol, walk down the street, and kill the 15th person I saw just because I happened to pull the number 15 out of a hat.

    But if murder is wrong now, *why* is it wrong? What makes it wrong, when it wasn’t wrong x number of years ago?

    You said, “If the Universe is deterministic, there is no eating. Or rather, it’s not “real” eating, because it’s determined.”

    But you are improperly conflating two actions here. Determinism speaks to whether or not we can freely choose, not to whether or not we can eat. One can “eat” without choosing; people in coma’s on life support do it every day. Your analogy is improper.

    You said, “Can you show me why I should believe this, if God does not exist?”

    If God does not exist, I see no reason not to believe that determinism is true… but determinism destroys reason, logic, and science. The fact that reason, logic, and science exist is strong evidence that determinism is false. Atheistic naturalism has no explanation for this.

    You said, “Unnecessary pain doesn’t require a God or an indeterminate Universe to exist.”

    What you haven’t explained is why causing unnecessary pain is wrong. To whom do I owe a responsibility to refrain from causing pain?

    And finally, you said, “In fact, even if the Universe is indeterministic, or even if God exists, supposing we don’t accept the “Many Worlds” hypothesis, which has every single quantum event sprouting two new universes, then there will be only one future for our Universe. Because I can’t know that future, determined or not, then my choices are as free as choices can be.”

    I really don’t understand this statement. If the universe is deterministic, then “as free as choices can be” equates to “not free at all”.

    I have to question, on a deterministic universe, why such a question as “do we have free will” would even come up? Why consciousness? Robots certainly don’t need consciousness. In fact, consciousness in a deterministic universe is the cruelest joke possible! It would be like being trapped on a terrifying roller coaster screaming along at breakneck speeds, being able to see where the tracks dead-end at the top of a hill, and you can’t do anything at all but watch and wait in horror as that hill gets closer and closer…

    But if God exists, and has made you a free moral agent, then he has placed in you a sacred trust. He has given you an ability to alter the future, in at least a small way; his master plan for the universe will be carried out, but you can choose to be a part of it, to oppose it, or to try to ignore it.

    He has granted to you the responsibility to treat others as you wish to be treated; in Christianity, this is the second-greatest commandment. You have the ability to alter someone else’s future. This is an AWESOME responsibility; what will you do with it? Will you harm them, or help them?

    If one truly follows the greatest commandment, to love God with all of your being, then the second follows naturally. The bible says you can’t love God and hate your neighbor; those who preach Christ and practice hate are liars, and do not belong to him.

    And that, on Christianity, is why we should refrain from causing unnecessary pain. You have the right general idea, but you can’t justify it on atheism. There’s no one there to care. Man has no intrinsic value; we have no more worth than garbage. If you disagree, then where do we obtain this worth?

    We see this reflected in the actions of people like Mao, Stalin, Lenin, and others who followed atheism to its logical conclusion. They determined that men’s value could only be based on their value to the state. The world paid a heavy price for their beliefs.

    That’s not to say that atheists cannot be moral people; I don’t doubt that you are a very moral person. But WHY are you a moral person? No atheist has ever been able to give me a cogent answer.

    Apologies if I’ve rambled a little… had to type quickly today. I hope this makes sense, and as always, I’m happy to clarify anything I’ve muddied up!

    Cheers from the sunny U.S.

    Terry

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