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« Arriving Late & Communion | Main | Materialism and the moral argument: comments & responses, part 1 »

October 25, 2007

Comments

Mary

One presumes it was the last male elephant or the last female elephant?

Because otherwise you know the species will go extinct whether you shoot or not.

Mary

Mary Kay

Looking forward to the round-up of responses as apparently I've missed a good discussion.

Uriana

You are on a deserted beach with a rifle, an elephant and a baby.

A baby what? Baby seal? Baby crab? Baby bird? Whose baby is it?

This is the last elephant on earth and it is charging the baby.

What was the crime?

Smoky Mt

Materialism and the moral argument – Part 4...still...Jimmy...with more on materialism and the moral argument (continued from Part 3)

Great Post Jimmy!

Mary Kay

and it is charging the baby.

Take away its credit card!

Smoky Mt

I just don't see why Richard Dawkins cares so much about republicans.

Smoky Mt

A baby what? Baby seal? Baby crab? Baby bird? Whose baby is it?

And how was the dingo involved in all this?

M. K. Toddlefoote, Jr. III

I have a question -- is "Smoky Mt" the same as "Smoky Mountain"?

Smoky Mt

Yup.

Aristotle

Will it never end?!?

Plato

It ended for you already.

Socrates

Stupid nincompoops.

Fuinseoig

Yeah, saying it's the last one and only elephant is a bad choice. Because whether you shoot it, or leave it to die a natural death of old age, the species is gone. What are you going to cross-breed it with: an elephant and a yak? an elephant and a moose?

Now, if he had stipulated that there was only one breeding pair left, and you were going to kill one of the pair, or that this was a pregnant cow and you were going to kill it, then it might make sense. But if it's the last lone elephant, then fire away! And you needn't even get into the 'human exceptionalism' argument here; you can believe humans are just another species of animal and still shoot with a clear conscience.

For a smart guy, he sure picked a dumb example :-)

Aristotle

It seems the whole series, except for a few gems (and SDG, in his brilliance, always produces at least a few), has failed in that it is the same over-simplistic argument about why materialists can't have morals. Epicurous covered these points quite will during his life, and answered most questions quite excellently. Kant's system, though he uses it to argue for God, would still work just as well without One, for Kant's God is not the originator of morals. Not all materialists are utilitarians. Some are deontological, some follow a virtue ethics, some suggest an emotive ethics, and some are pragmatic.

Killing people, for the materialist, can be wrong because of social consequences (pragmatism), because it feels wrong (emotive ethics), because it corrupts the character, and so reduces happiness (virtue), because it causes pain and pain is definitively wrong (utilitarianism), or because it is wrong in the sense of being a moral imperative (deontology). All these can be justified from a materialist framework.

Ethics doesn't lead to God, and definitely not the the Christian God.

Aristotle

Epicurus, not Epicurous... my mistake.

Monica

Thanks for clearing that up, Aristotle. For a moment I thought perhaps you were referring to the foodie website (epicurious.com) and I wondered what they were doing discussing ethics rather than recipes. :)

Aristotle

*chuckle* glad to be of help, Monica. Though food is not a bad thing to talk about.

Shane

Aristotle,

The big problem with all of the alternative philisophical ethics systems you have posed is that they do not in any way show a given action to be immoral - that is, to be wrong - but only to be in some way inconvienent.

If we begin with the assumption that we are all simply a set of particles held together by various forces, then one cannot reach to the level of saying anything is in fact right or wrong, but only that something is at all.

And this is true on two levels. Any materialistic justifications for ethical norms must reach a point of termination, that is, an ultimate reason which provides meaning to the reasons posed by the various systems. For example, to a pragmatist, killing would be "wrong" because of the societal consequences, both to the killer himself and to society as a whole. The termination point is that one ought to do what is best for society, or that one ought to avoid societal consequences.

Why?

There is no answer for this that satisfies from a purely materialist perspective. For the theist, one may go outside of the system to find the reason for this. To the materialist, this is the terminal point, and so no explanation can be given for why one ought to care about societal consequences. "We must preserve society," one may say, or, "We must preserve humanity," or some other such thing.

Why?

To the materialist, there is no answer for this. Why is pleasure good and pain bad? The Utilitarian cannot answer. Kantian ethics cannot tell us why it would matter a bit if everybody killed everybody and we became extinct. Certainly this would be something that would not benefit the human race (obviously! :p), and surely it would not be what we would prefer, but there is no standard by which to say that it is immoral, that it is in fact wrong.

Is it immoral or wrong that natural selection coupled with some rather unfortunate weather patterns eventually weeded out the larger reptilian forms of life, leaving only the small, warm blooded mammals to survive? Of course not. It simply happened. But it wasn't wrong.

And, materialistically speaking, it would be no more wrong for natural selection to favor those humans who are genetically disposed to aggression and violence, leading to the ultimate downfall of the human race. If murder suddenly becomes the in thing, we can't call that wrong, just rather unfortunate for those of us who aren't so disposed.

A.Williams

In all of this, we need to find out why human's NATURALLY have feelings different from most other animals, because this is an essential component marking BOTH moral and immoral behavior. And one thing that Theists have on their side, is that, there actually IS empirical that such a difference does exist.

Using some of the examples above, we can certainly witness "rape and cannibalism and murder and bullying" as a NORMAL componant of the animal kingdom, but the same acts are completely repugnant and evil, if done in and against men in the rational, human world. This is why even pagan cultures and peoples have jails!

Moreover, humans seem to have a keen sense of the realities and effects of these types of wrongdoings, which lead humans to creat vocabularies such as: remorse, regret, anguish, sorrow, repentence, repugnance, sorrow, retribution, vengence, etc....

And all of these terms, applying only to humans, are applical to both theist, atheist and pagan alike, and are found in all cultures, and all men, both ancient as we read throughout history, and modern, as we can experience in our daily lives.( As well as on T.V.)

Mankinds special ability to EXPERIENCE a sense of GUILT after immoral behavior, is one of the most remarkable attributes distinguishing the kingdom of man, from the animal kingdom. And throughout history it is most remarkably recounted in the Sacred Scriptures, both New and Old Testaments.


If there is one thing we find throughout the Bible it is a sense of shame that men naturally have when doing wrong: from the account of Adam and Eve, who "hid' in the Garden after disobeying God the Creator, to Cain, who feared the "mark" that was put on him which others could distinguish, and even wanted to kill him for it!

So too, King David wept in great anguish, and did penance because of his adulterous affair, which led to the death of one of his loyal commanders of his army, Uriah, and also for the death of his newborn son, which he believed was due to his own fault and grioevious sin against both God and man.

Jonah also knew that his running from the command of God was causing an entire ship to perish, and he even offered to confess and be thrown into the sea to save all the others...so great was his loving heart, but extremely burdened conscience!

There are NO known animals in the animal kingdom that would act in such a way as is described in these stories. An no known zoologist would disagree!

And whether materialists or secularists believe in Jesus or not, He does make sense when shedding light on this subject of feeling, or being in a state of presumed innocence, or feeling, or being in a presumed state of guilt.

To summarize these moral realities that occur in the world of mankind, He says:

"For every one that doth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, that his works may not be reproved.

21 But he that doth truth, cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, because they are done in God."

What I would like to ask the athiests and secularists, is, why they think people like to keep things hidden, if there is no actual and emperical morality that exists in the world of mankind?

Why, on the other hand, is it normal, that what most common people call "bad" moral behavior, ie. rape, assaults, lies, thievery, adultery, murder, etc...is almost always done secretly, or at least when ever it is possible to be done in secret?

Also, where is the criminal or performer of such deeds, who is truly joyful and happy when his acts are made public..when he is caught?

Again, Jesus says "..every one that doth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light,"

Like Adam, a person after acting immorally, NATURALLY seeks to hide the knowledge of his acts from others....so " that his works may not be reproved."

Hence, morality here, appears to be proven by this overwhelming and common fact --and what we see and experience first hand on a daily basis--that people NATURALLY feel bad when caught doing evil acts, and conversely, feel good while doing "good deeds" even as Jesus says in the quote above.

Something for both Theists and atheists to ponder on.

darwin is an excuse to do evil

the problem with advocates of darwin's theory is that they use it to justify their abuse of others.
darwin has some good points but the problem is that his interpreters and advocates reduce humanity to animals and barbarism.

darwin's theory of the survival of the fittest has some valid points but it is not completely and utterly absolutely true in all cases 100%

remember it is a theory

and those who favor this theory have an agenda...like those young male theorists whom you claim are all for people being polyamourous and sexually unfaithful. i would not put too much weight in their young ideas and fantasies....i would attack them as fantasies on their part and not realistic at all. not beneficial. if it was beneficial everyone would be doing it...and they aren't...they just wish they could...they are seeking a way to pull it off... a crime. they are trying to get away with a sexual free for all. and they won't be successful in acheiving this. success being getting every single member of society to buy off on it...they couldn't even get 50% to buy off on it. when i say buy off on it....i mean have it totally and completely out in the open and considered acceptable by society. society won't accept it...society will argue against it. they won't win their argument on the whole. their plan is not acceptable to society as a whole because it is not beneficial to society as a whole.

Uriana

i mean have it totally and completely out in the open and considered acceptable by society. society won't accept it...society will argue against it.

There are socities that accept it "completely out in the open." Hasn't been two weeks since they had one of those anything goes public parties.

badseeds

another thing

i am not willing to change my value system just because a bunch of young male upstarts who can't get a woman to begin with, want to spread their bad seeds and criminally get away with it.

a good outcome would be for the upstarts to never be permitted to swim in the gene pool. we don't want perv's and rapists ruling the world and making women's lives miserable. we want them in jail...no matter how high their iq is.

SDG

ANTI-ATHEIST POSTER:

You are violating multiple blog rules.

First, you are changing your handle repeatedly within a single combox. Blog rules request that each user use a consistent handle at least with each combox.

Second, you are being unnecessarily inflammatory as well as rude in at least some posts.

Please make your point courteously and move on. Thank you.

angels at judgement day

there are two kinds of seeds

good ones and evil ones

we want to reproduce the good ones and eliminate the evil ones


that is my kind of survival of the fittest but the bad seeds keep cropping up because they weren't killed when they should have been. we need some real good weed-killing juice.

darwin and hitler kind of go hand in hand when you get right down to it

survival of the fittest is what hitler was trying to do by exterminating the jews.

buttercup and westely

i think the writer of this long diatribe is sounding like the six fingered man.

Aristotle

Shane,

Some interesting problems raised. But God doesn't solve any of them.

Why does God's existing make any difference? Why should I care what He says? Because he's always good? What does good mean?

If good is simply defined as "what God is", it doesn't justify why I should desire it.

I accept that God exists, and that God is good, but not that the definition of good is "what God is". For what is good for God may not be what is good for us.

Beyond that, we may ask, "what makes pleasure good, and pain bad?" Definition. We simply define "pleasure = good", "pain = bad", we define good and bad as additive properties dealing with an ethical system (what should be done), and we're done. We may object that this particular series of definitions does not agree with common understanding, or that the system is not perfect. But no ethical system is perfect. All systems are necessarily flawed, except for God's system of ethics, but God didn't come up with it. God just knows it perfectly.

God can't make anything that is right wrong, or anything that is wrong right. If God could, then morals are subjective, and the subject they are relative to is God. I interject that this is no better than a system of morals relative to the subject of "me". You can't argue, because we operate on two different sets of definitions. So even to communicate upon the subject of ethics (say, for the purpose of arguing that some Christian deity is necessary for said ethics), we must agree upon definitions of right and wrong. But if God is necessary for the sake of defining right and wrong, then we are at an impasse. We cannot communicate about anything dealing with ethics, not even about elephants and babies.

A.Williams

I think what Aristotle is saying is that there are 2 ways of looking at moral dilemma, one from the point of view that there is a God, and therefore an objective system, or standard, of defining right and wrong, and the other, that there is no God, and therefore, no morality at all...ie. we have the same morality that as other animals have, which is none, and can therefore do anything we desire.

My line of thinking on this argument, however, is not necessarily limited to pure logic or reason, no matter how convincing reason and logic are. And that is because I also have personal experience, as all of us have, who are conscious of our own history and existance. And this personal, living experience, is not logical at all, because life's occurances/ happenings pertain more to Divine Providence, and even to miracles, than to rational thought or decisions made. For instance, it falls to Divine that we are born in one country or another, or in one century or other. So too, Providence leads us to find many of the pleasures and necessities of life, such as suitable spouses, communities of friends, help when there is an emergency, work when rent needs to be paid, food when we are hungry...etc..

And none of these items deal with the intellect, or are logical. To eat is to nourish the body, to marry is to find a compatible mate. These are things logic and reason can never understand, because they are often not comprehensible at all, but rather experiences that occur for reasons only God knows.

And this is why I think atheists will never understand the workings of God, because they try to reason everything through...but how do we reason through the experience of our own being? How can we?.. because reason is ONLY an exercise of the intellect, the which intellect is only ONE PART of the PERSON.

And lessons from the life of Christ are LIKEWISE irrational. How do we compare logic and miracles?? Yet miracles and Divine Providence exist in our lives, and have been experienced by all, though it might be that some are merely insensitive to such things, and attribute them to random chance, or strategic planning.

However, even the greatest plans of men are still subject to Divine Providence, and just as man cannot control the weather, neither can he control the future, even though, in foolishness, many think they might have this ability. Remember Nebuchadnezzar, and how he gloated atop his castle walls, viewing all of his accomplishments? And then remember the 7 years of insanity which the Providence of GOd punished him with...of 'eating the 'grass of the fields with dew on his head'? This is to prove that the plans, logic and reasonings of mankind are are only ONE part of the equasion of our existance, the other part is the Providence of God... which, as is taught by Nebuchadnezzar, should always be kept in perspective.

So too, even the most irrational child can EXPERIENCE/RECOGNISE the works of God. This is why we read that ignorant children were praising Jesus in the Temple, whereas the highly rational Pharisees could recognise NOTHING but a pathetic Nazarene carpenter causing trouble:

"And the chief priests and scribes, seeing the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying: Hosanna to the son of David; were moved with indignation.

16 And said to him: Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus said to them: Yea, have you never read: Out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings thou hast perfected praise?"

So my argument is that reason will never solve the theist/atheist debate.It alone doesn't have the capacity, do to the fact that it is only part of the intellect, whereas LIVING EXPIERIENCE is also a witness of GOD. And living experience can best be judged, not by reason alone, but rather by the wisdom found in common between man, incorporating BOTH reason and past LIVING EXPERIENCES.

And this is why I think Jesus teaches us to correct others in a communal way, and not with REASON ONLY, but rather,with other LIVING WITNESSES... so that what we term COMMON SENSE might also be applied to any judgement:

"And if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more: that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand".

So logic AND personal experience/common sense, should be part of every argument or discussion concerning morality, and also, the existence of God.

Esau

A. Williams,

That was a pretty a good post!

And this is why I think atheists will never understand the workings of God

In their view, it's not that they will never understand the workings of God -- but that there isn't such a thing as a God (or gods) in the first place -- the very definition of an athiest.

You can't understand something that, in the first place, you believe is either non-existent or, on the other hand, a figment of humanity's imagination.

For example, some might even say God is merely the "PRETEND" friend of Grown-Ups!


However, even the greatest plans of men are still subject to Divine Providence...

In their view (at least some), men and their plans are subject to chance.


...but how do we reason through the experience of our own being? How can we?.. because reason is ONLY an exercise of the intellect, the which intellect is only ONE PART of the PERSON.

Well-put -- This actually comes from Traditional Catholic Teaching.

Tim J.

Man (at least, this has been the view of the huge majority of humans throughout history) has a moral sense very like the sense of sight or smell or hearing.

Our senses tell us that external realities DO exist, that they are in many ways knowable and repeatable, and this is confirmed by the experience of others, as well as our own experience.

In other words, moral absolutes sure SEEM to exist. Most people in most societies throughout most of history have agreed on the basic outlines of the natural moral law, even if they didn't agree in it's details.

The atheistic materialists are basically maintaining that things are not what they seem, that transcendent moral absolutes are illusions. They posit that morals are just a matter of perception and don't reflect any external, objective reality.

But this is like saying that colors or smells are "just a matter of perception". They certainly ARE matters of perception, but not MERELY that. They have an object. They are not illusions, unless you are ready to put all lived experience up for grabs as being illusory.

So, here's the thing; People have this moral sense - atheists as much as anyone, by their own evidence. Asserting that the moral laws we perceive through our moral sense are *just* matters of perception (a grid my brain arbitrarily lays over things) is like saying, as you watch the sun rise, "Well you don't really KNOW that there IS a "sun" or that it "rises"... these are just perceptions.".

If you maintain that moral absolutes (the external, objective realities that correspond to my perceptions) are illusions, I'm afraid the burden of proof is on YOU, old chap. I (and billions of others) bump into these transcendent moral absolutes every day. YOU prove they're NOT real.

When I see the sun rise for the jillionth time, I (benighted religionist that I am) infer a real sun. I am certainly open to being PROVED wrong, but I don't have time for idle speculation that I COULD BE wrong. I COULD BE a head in a jar.

Also, saying that it is not "necessary" to believe in God is a bit of a dodge. Necessary in what sense? One could maintain that "It makes no difference if I believe in a real sun or not. I feel warmth either way". Sure, in that sense it isn't "necessary" to believe in the sun. But again, the burden of proof is on you.

SDG

Tim J, brilliant. Just what I've been writing in my coming post of replies to reader comments. :‑)

Shane

Aristotle, I think you've presented a self-defeating argument. I'll elaborate later, but I do wish to continue this and so felt it wise to try to keep you paying attention.

SDG

For what is good for God may not be what is good for us.

This is where you go wrong, Aristotle. You mistakenly think of "God's good" and "our good" as conceptually distinct and in principle potentially opposed, when in fact God is the ground of all possible good for all possible creatures. The only creatures for whom God is not their good are creatures for whom no good is possible, creatures who have turned away from every possible form and species of goodness.

More ASAP...

Smoky Mountain

Most people in most societies throughout most of history have agreed on the basic outlines of the natural moral law, even if they didn't agree in it's details.

Are you sure that's true? First, the details would seem to matter a lot -- even today, people can't agree regarding whether it's licit to kill unborn babies. 150 years ago, many U.S. citizens thought slavery was acceptable. Furthermore, most of human history occurred in pre-civilized times. Do we really know what sort of moral code our ancestors from 10,000 BC or earlier subscribed to?

This is a common assertion (I think I read it first in C.S. Lewis), but it would be nice to back it up with some evidence.

Nevertheless, granting that you're right, is it possible that commonality between moral codes is due to the fact there are obvious behaviors which are harmful to societies, and many societies recognized this?

Here's a good thought experiment: do you think you would just *know* murder is wrong if you weren't taught so at a young age?

Smoky Mountain

The above thought experiment is why I think analysing the literature regarding feral children might be worthwhile.

Uriana

the burden of proof is on you

Was it ever proven there's any burden of proof?

YOU prove they're NOT real.

You may have to wait. They're still trying to prove the dancing pink elephants on Pluto are NOT real.

Esau

You may have to wait. They're still trying to prove the dancing pink elephants on Pluto are NOT real.


Uriana/Jason:

There's a 99.9% chance that the dancing pink elephants on Pluto Theorem is valid.

Tim J.

I don't claim anything like uniformity in the *understanding* of natural law by different cultures and peoples, but the broad outlines are there. I can't find it right now, but C.S. Lewis has a brief index of various examples of ancient law codes in his book "The Abolition of Man". It's worth a look.

And then, different societies (like our own) manifest original sin in various ways and the moral code is warped and twisted accordingly. The fact that I live in a society that doesn't see unborn human life as worth protecting doesn't mean that the society has lost *all* sense of natural moral law.

We look at things through the template of individual rights and in the case of abortion have just got the calculus horribly wrong. Most Americans (I think) would still feel that moral absolutes exist and that they are very important. A growing number, though, seem to think otherwise, seeing morality only as a construct or temporary arrangement between self-interested parties. A useful contract.

Smoky Mountain

Tim,

Thanks for your thoughts. Can you address my thought experiment?

To me, whether the object of morality (i.e. the specific actions which are "right" vs. "wrong") is learned or innate seems to be crucial.

I don't deny that there's something inside of us that compels us to be "moral". But I'm not convinced that it's more than a variety of a herd instinct -- a desire (very strong in most, including myself) to be accepted by the group.

However, I'm not sure whether I know that human life has dignity (which I believe) because I was taught so at a young age, or because it's innate to my being.

Given that it's *not* innate -- that we have the hardware for morality (the herd instinct) but need to be given the software (the actual laws) through instruction -- what prevents the actual laws from being simply an agreement by society regarding what's best for the group?

I don't think that necessarily makes those laws arbitrary.

Esau

The system of morals developed by man and imposed on society is merely a system of CONTROL devised in order to maintain the plebian portion of our society and have the elite rule it.

At least, this is one view.

Susan Peterson

Frankly, I think even Dawkins would shoot the elephant, no matter what he says now.
Susan Peterson

A.Williams

"I don't deny that there's something inside of us that compels us to be "moral". But I'm not convinced that it's more than a variety of a herd instinct -- a desire (very strong in most, including myself) to be accepted by the group"

Smokey, if it is a 'herd instinct', might this instinct not be called "love", and might it not be more important than you seem to insinuate, using the term 'herd', as you seem to do, to connote merely brute or insensitive animals?

Yet it is exactly a "herd" that is used in Sacred Scripture to symbolize the very instinct you are describing, and the 'herd' is more particularly refined to that of a 'flock' of sheep...which humble symbolism particularly connotes "love", "peace", "trust" and "simplicity".

So, you are right! The "herd instinct is VERY powerful,but it SHOULD BE!

Who knows.. but that this very instinct, which we will summarize as LOVE, is the very reason that the Eternal, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent God, chose to create both the physical universe, and ourselves particularly,...and all for the sake of LOVE?

For if God is perfectly and eternally happy within His own being, what other motive would there be to create, anyway?? What purpose are we, to an already perfectly content, supremely happy being?

Really, I'm only raising this as a reasonable motive, and don't presume to know the answer. However, we do have the witness of Christ who sheds abundant light on the nature and primacy of LOVE. How many times is "love" mentioned in the Gospel of John, for instance?? Almost too many to count.

What is Jesus' (God's) command that He left to us?

"To love others, as I have loved you".

How do we recognize his disciples?.. by what mark did he tell us?... what particular characteristic?

"By how they love one another".

Furthermore, what was "the hour", that Jesus mentioned to be His defining, most important moment in life, the apex of His earthly mission?

To show mankind how much God LOVED us! And He said it like this:

"These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be filled. 12 This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. 13 Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

So you are very right, the "Herd instinct" is at play in creation. Moreover, it is most likely (if we really understand Jesus' teachings thoroughly) the very PURPOSE for creation in the first place, as long as we understand the herd instinct as LOVING, being LOVED and BEING UNITED IN LOVE to one another, and particularly and intimately, to GOD.

This loving 'herd instinct' leads also to vision of life after death...where we won't be just ANYWHERE...but,

"So that WHERE I AM, YOU ALSO MAY BE".

That is.. WITH THE HERD, which is with JESUS, who also symbolizes himself as "The Good Shepherd".

Oh Lord, I ask you to humble me and greatly increase my 'herd instinct', so that I will be found worthy of being united to you, and also of being a member of your loving and holy flock!

Esau

Yet it is exactly a "herd" that is used in Sacred Scripture to symbolize the very instinct you are describing, and the 'herd' is more particularly refined to that of a 'flock' of sheep...which humble symbolism particularly connotes "love", "peace", "trust" and "simplicity".

So, you are right! The "herd instinct is VERY powerful,but it SHOULD BE!


It is the same 'herd' instinct that brought folks to collaboratively shout, "Crucify Him!"

A.Williams

Yes Esau,

The 'herd instinct' works both ways, and I guess that is why we have 'legions'of demons and fallen angels, as well as legions of good angels.

But we should definitely pay attention to the Lord's symbolism in these regards, as they answer many mysteries regarding the topic at hand on the nature and extent of morality.

And the Lord's summary of the LAW as being that of 'Loving God with all our heart, and then our neighbor as ourselves', has much to say about the nature of all moral action. And that is, that the driving force requires love.

Esau

A. Williams,

I think what you stated before said it all:

"...but how do we reason through the experience of our own being? How can we?.. because reason is ONLY an exercise of the intellect, the which intellect is only ONE PART of the PERSON."

Jason

SDG,

Let me start by saying my complaint in my post to Part 3 was misplaced - in this post, you clearly recognized the diversity of views among materialists and made clear that you simply view those materialists with different views as inconsistent (although as I suggest below, I'm not sure you were perfectly consistent in your own view of what logically follows from materialism).

Again, a few quick reactions:

But then my marital bliss is substantially rooted in a trans-materialistic perception of what love is, and who and what Suzanne is, in a way that I for one can't imagine sustaining if I personally were thoroughly persuaded of materialism.

I feel patently unqualified to comment on love, never having been married myself and never having been in a relationship that lasted longer than a year.

That said, my reaction to this claim was basically that it overstated the role that our worldviews / rationally held beliefs have in affecting the nature of our relationships with others. I have many strongly held views on intellectual topics, but unless they are a frequent subject of conversation, they rarely effect my day to day interactions with people. Especially for something like love so deeply rooted in our psyche, I would doubt that the intellectual conceits one uses to try to understand a loving relationship have much effect on the subjective feel of such a relationship. Of course, this is pure speculation on my part, although I'd be interested to see an attempt to test the claim that religious and non-religious people experience love differently using brain scans of various sorts.

Likewise, live long enough with the belief that other persons are merely bio-electrical-chemical processes, let it sink into the depths of what men of another age would have called your soul, and see whether in the long run you consistently treat them as if the concept of personal dignity really meant anything, or how worked up you are able to get about such bio-electrical-chemical processes as murder or rape.

Again, I think calling people "merely bio-electircal-chemical processes" is akin to calling a Van Gogh painting "merely a bunch of liquifiable substances thrown onto a canvas" or the Grand Canyon, "merely a big hole." This is a literally accurate description as far as it goes, but I don't see why it should have any impact on our interactions with other people any more than the description dulls our appreciation of the Grand Canyon.

Recently in New York hooligans set a homeless man on fire. Ten days later, he died in a hospital.

Of course I do feel outrage and my response is neither of the ones you suggest. You seem to assume in your discussion of this that materialism somehow implies a kind of utilitarianism (in contrast to the nihilism you assume elsewhere). What is the argument for this? I simply don't understand what it is about the materialist worldview that you think would make a homeless man who could not contribute to society any less the object of moral obligations than a millionaire who founded a software company. In both cases, I would say our obligations towards them stem ultimately from the fact that we recognize them as fellow conscious beings who act on reasons as we do. (I've already been through the "Why should *that* be normative" regress, I think in either the first or second thread on this topic, so see those threads for my responses to this challenge before asking this question). But the outrage I feel does not appeal to this ultimate justification, but rather the utter callousness of the people who perpetrated this act, seemingly without regard for the notion that the homeless man was in fact another person. As a psychological matter, I'd expect they were only able to do so because they had essentially convinced themselves that the homeless man's subjective experience of life must be quite different from their own - and perhaps even just a kind of dull blur occasionally punctuated by some nonsensical utterances. Through this distortion, they were able to render themselves unresponsive to the kinds of reasoning that would normally prevent such callousness.

Jason

Also, I just realized I ended up repeating some of the things Aristotle said above and which were subsequently the subject of discussion - sorry about that - I posted my response before reading any of the comments.

Jason
This is where you go wrong, Aristotle. You mistakenly think of "God's good" and "our good" as conceptually distinct and in principle potentially opposed, when in fact God is the ground of all possible good for all possible creatures. The only creatures for whom God is not their good are creatures for whom no good is possible, creatures who have turned away from every possible form and species of goodness.

SDG, what I fail to understand is how this notion of God fits in with the idea of a creator God or the other characteristics that God supposedly possesses. Your quote above seems almost a matter of definition - you're saying that God and the good are in some sense the same thing. Alright, but what is the connection between goodness and the creation of the universe?

Jason
The atheistic materialists are basically maintaining that things are not what they seem, that transcendent moral absolutes are illusions. They posit that morals are just a matter of perception and don't reflect any external, objective reality.

The only clause I agree with in this paragraph is that moral judgments don't reflect anything external. Moral absolutes are not illusions, except insofar as you take the phrase "moral absolute" to mean something that exists in reality apart from human beings. Perhaps part of the issue lies in your next quote:

So, here's the thing; People have this moral sense - atheists as much as anyone, by their own evidence. Asserting that the moral laws we perceive through our moral sense are *just* matters of perception (a grid my brain arbitrarily lays over things) is like saying, as you watch the sun rise, "Well you don't really KNOW that there IS a "sun" or that it "rises"... these are just perceptions.".

I think this conflates different notions of perception. I would say that to the extent that moral rules are matters of perception, they are such in much the same way that mathematics is a matter of perception - NOT in the same way that our physical senses are a matter of perception. That is, when one perceives a moral rule one is recognizing that internal consistency requires one to acknowledge that a particular rule is binding. So there isn't really a question about the source that one is perceiving, since we're not talking about perception in this physical sense.

"This is where you go wrong, Aristotle. You mistakenly think of "God's good" and "our good" as conceptually distinct and in principle potentially opposed, when in fact God is the ground of all possible good for all possible creatures. The only creatures for whom God is not their good are creatures for whom no good is possible, creatures who have turned away from every possible form and species of goodness."

SDG, you just admitted my point.

God is the ground of all possible good for all possible creatures, I agree. So God is the ground of what is good for a flying squirrel. What is good for a flying squirrel is not always what is good for me, because I am not a flying squirrel. So what is good for God is not necessarily what is good for me. The ground of all possible good includes goods (ends) that are not my good (end).

But even if what were good for God were also good for me, univocally, that still wouldn't solve the problem. Because good either originates with God by God's choosing what is good, in which case we have subjectivism. Or God's good originates from God's nature, in which case it might as well come from an impersonal force. Or good is objective, and God exemplifies, but does not originate good. And we still have the central problem. If God originates good, why should I want it? Because God did it? Why should I want what God wants or says I should want? What makes that good?

Jason
YOU prove they're NOT real.

As I've suggested in my above posts, I agree with this sentiment.

What I'm not seeing is what the theistic view provides that the materialist view does not. In every case, it seems to be just this idea of an appeal to an external authority. SDG above essentially states that this external authority - God - is the source of all good. But how does this answer the normative question any more than the answers I have tried to provide?

Someone says, "I want to hurt you, why shouldn't I?" You reply, "God is the source of all good in life and if you did this it would be against God and against the good." They answer, "Why should I care about God?"

This is a crushing response to any attempt to provide an unquestionable justification for morality. Thus, the task of moral theory is not justification in this sense but explanation of why moral concepts have motivational force for us from a first-person perspective (and also what particular moral rules we should follow, but that is a different, though perhaps related question). One answer is, "God will punish you if you break his rules" although I sense this is not the answer preferred by most of the posters here (with good reason, since it seems highly inadequate).

My question is - in Catholic or Christian moral theory, why should moral concepts have motivational force for us?

Aristotle

Sorry, the blank post above is mine. My mistake for not including my handle.

In Catholic or Christian moral theory, why should moral concepts have motivational force for us?

Unless we understand well both the nature of GOD,(Uncreated, All-powerful, All good, all Holy, Spirit, consisting of 3 persons, given the names by Jesus Christ-- Father, Son and Holy Spirit), and the nature of ourselves (God created beings consisting of spiritual heart, soul, mind and body...I think we cannot understand anything about morality, and are indeed, materialist, brute, animals.

As posted earlier, I focused on the inability of the intellect to be capable of comprehending the entire being of man, which is necessary to comprehend if we want to understand ANYTHING about morality. And the reason is, that the study of morality is not a study of the mind, or soul, or heart or body of man, but a study of the interaction of all these facets of the HUMAN BEING, and how these heart,soul, mind and body, interact WITHIN the the same BEING, as well as, WITH OTHER like BEINGS (not to mention ANGELIC SPIRITS), as well as with GOD.

So morality deals with all of this, all the facets and attributes found in both an individual man, other men (and angels), and God.. and how all are sychronized and balanced between them, that is, with how they relate to eachother, and according to principals which are generally known as: TRUTH, LOVE and JUSTICE.

And as man incorporates these various parts, intellect, heart, spirit and body, none of these is sufficient of itself to sustain his being, but all must be both used and considered in any understanding of both man and man's moral judgements.

Thus, morality is an ESSENTIAL element for man, for the very reason that, indeed, WE ARE NOT ALONE, we cannot subsist by ourselves, we need others both to be born, and to continue living. And is to continue living NOT A SUFFICIENT MOTIVATIONAL FORCE for us to appreciate the role of morality in our lives??

And to prove, even more, how man both needs others, and also harmony beween the various elements that make up his being, consider the condition of an infant. An infant has very little need for intellect,as it is very small and growing inside him, but an infant will die from a lack of AFFECTION...LOVE. An infant RELIES on the LOVE of others for his VERY EXISTANCE AND BEING until his intellect and body are fully developed, wherein he can partially provide for his own survival. Until this time he is completely at the moral mercy of others. Moreover, the name of this moral mercy is LOVE. Love was instrumental in the procreation of the infant to begin with, and love is necessary to nurture its growth after birth.

And because we have these necessities for our very survival, we have MORALITY to guide, harmonize within, and aid us. That is, to promote our very spiritual and physical survival-- Body, soul mind and spirit. And this also is a most sufficient motivational force to pay great attention to the role of morality in our lives!


A.Williams

The above was me.

Jason

A Williams,

I have to admit I don't understand much of what you wrote. But let me try as best I can to respond:

1) I'm confused about the implications of your story about moral motivation. Are you suggesting that someone who was persistently immoral would literally whither away and die? This seems contrary to empirical fact. Perhaps this is not what you meant. What are the consequences of failing to live up to moral norms?

2) I find your moral theory is in many ways analogous to Ptolemy's astronomical theory (and mistaken for the same kinds of reasons):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epicycle

You've erected an elaborate superstructure of unseen entities (the trinity, angels, presumably demons, this notion of "a spiritual heart" and "mind") which all bear some mysterious and inexplicable relationship to one another and end up failing to actually explain much at all.

Aristotle

A. Williams,

You have established for me that, if one accepts the Catholic world-view, one will find Catholic morality and the Triune Christian God necessarily connected.

I agree.

But the problem is I don't accept your premise. I don't need to accept your conclusions.

But there is one extra assertion you (and others) have made, that it is impossible to be consistently moral (being able to justify why certain actions are good, and certain actions evil), without first accepting a Christian notion of God (or, sometimes added, with first accepting only a mechanistic worldview).

For this, I will say that my system of ethics can be rationally defended, its results match what common consensus is in western culture about right and wrong, and where it disagrees, this is most often because it has either been misapplied, or because the consensus is wrong. God is not necessary to invoke to justify this moral system. And even if problems were found within the system, God's existence wouldn't fix them.

Granted, I accept God. But my ethics would not require me to, in order to consistently know and do what is right in most cases (as contemplating God is the highest good, God's existence is necessary for this good, but it is good regardless of what God would like).

To leave with one final thought, from a masterful philosopher (though one who himself did make more than a few mistakes), who hits it on the head:

"On the contrary, that which is above man's nature is distinct from that which is according to his nature. But the theological virtues are above man's nature; while the intellectual and moral virtues are in proportion to his nature, as clearly shown above. Therefore they are distinct from each other." (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theol., Part I-II Q. 62, Art. 2)

As faith is a theological virtue, Aquinas argues well that faith is not necessary for moral virtues (and the intellectual virtue of living consistently with moral virtue). So, though God (even a Catholic God) may be necessary for virtue (this is debatable), belief in God is not.

A.Williams

Jason,

If you are think that the answers to any thoery of life or morality is going to be easy, or NOT extremely mysterious, it is you, and not I, who will be most in error and further from truth.

Clearly this subject is mysterious and difficult, and the vocabulary is even MORE difficult, which is why philosophers have been trying discuss and unravel such mysteries since the beginning of time.


If you have a problem with the concept of "Spiritual heart", I get that from Moses:

"And thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength. This is the first commandment." Mark 12

I included the adjective "spiritual', because you probably already know that there are numerous types of love, and 'spiritual', in this sense, seemed to come the closest to what I was trying to get at.(at least as compared to 'amorous', love, for instance.)

Furthermore, I was responding to your exact question, and that from "A CHRISTIAN OR CATHOLIC Moral theory", as you requested.

Now are you going to change the requirements, and ask a Catholic to respond using only pagan, athiestic or materialistic concepts, vocabulary or arguments? I'm a Catholic. I believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Who do you believe in?

Also, does it surprise you that when you ask for a Catholic moral theory, that indeed ANGELS, might be included? They would NEED to be included (though in a minor way, which is why I included them in parenthesis).. since Jesus Himself confirmed their existence, and frequently spok of them.

You also ask, "Are you suggesting that someone who was persistently immoral would literally whither away and die?

It depends not only on the 'persistency' of the immorality, but also on the degree of immorality. And if we take the words of Christ to Satan seriously, then YES I do believe that he would whither away and die...for "It is written, that Man liveth not by bread alone, but by every word of God."

Note particularly the word 'liveth', and then make some assumptions that 'every word of God' signifies here, living according to Moral laws communicated by the Creator.

However, I think that there are few people who are so purely immoral as to wither away and die quickly, but rather, most people who are immoral tend to help others wither away and die, through robbery, fraud, murder, abortion, sexual disease,infanticide, euthanasia,political persecution, etc.. etc... And because selfishness (as opposed to love) is one of the root causes of immorality, immoral people usually cause more trouble to others first, but their immorality usually catches up to them in one way or another.

On the otherhand, if you want one good empirical resource for the ability of immorality to cause quick death.. you might want to study some statistics on 1)Drug overdose 2)Alcholism and drunk driving 3) sexually transmited diseases and 4)Murders caused by pride, envy, jealosy etc..and of course...5) Abortions.

So, yes, immorality does lead to considerable death and destruction. And If you don't believe me, or if my argument it too confusing, and not logical enough for you, you might want to just read the newspaper every morning. : )

A.Williams

Aristotle,

When I discuss concepts about God and morality, since I am a believer in the teachings of Christ, I necessarily include such teachings in my premises.

However, this does not mean that God does not act outside the world of Catholic teaching and thought. Faith only helps to understand that which is ALREADY a reality everywhere, and has been and will be a reality FOREVER.

Somethings are above man to understand, as you mention in your quote from Thomas Aquinas. And this is why Catholics and Christians, pay attention to the teachings of Christ...because we ourselves are ignorant of 'heavenly things'.

"..I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world." Matt 13:35

and:

"If I have spoken to you earthly things, and you believe not; how will you believe, if I shall speak to you heavenly things?

and:

For, amen, I say to you, many prophets and just men have desired to see the things that you see, and have not seen them, and to hear the things that you hear and have not heard them.

So, even though it is possible to understand something of our own souls and spirituality merely from the natural law, creation, etc.. still, as the above quotes imply, it might be a while for you to receive a correct answer to your ponderings.

This is why Christians are so happy with the Lord! We believe that we have a teacher who is trustworthy and competent in all that He teaches, especially regarding eternal life.

And this is not something that can be found with other teachers. Others really have little or no credentials from which we can base reasonable faith in them.

Aristotle

A. Williams,

An excellent answer, one that is very Thomistic, very well thought out. A powerful point, and something I am still struggling with (where does Christianity and God intersect, if at all). But ethics didn't lead me to these thoughts. They wouldn't. And, even according to Aquinas, they shouldn't. I don't need to be a Christian to be happy.

Your point I would classify, pivotally, in "Materialism and the Ontological/Metaphysical Arguments". But not so much "Materialism and the Moral Argument". On the moral argument, I don't think there's very much to say that Kant hasn't already, even if one wants to spend 4-5 blog posts pontificating.

Jason

A. Williams,

I think you're right that my response was unfair as a criticism of the point you were making. I do think that there is no evidential basis for believing in angels or the trinity (and perhaps what you called "the spiritual heart" is more an issue of vocabulary); nonetheless, it is reasonable for you to invoke these concepts in response to my question, which was to give an account of moral motivation from within the Catholic/Christian framework.

Let's try to focus on one particular point of disagreement - i.e. the empirical consequences of immorality. I think this is an excellent ground to resolve our disagreement, because if we flesh things out clearly enough, we may reach some testable hypotheses.

You give a number of examples of behaviors that could be directly harmful to oneself or others, but that seems beside the point - of course, we both agree that harmful behaviors are harmful! The disagreement is whether behaviors that aren't directly harmful to oneself do actually lead to deterioration and death by virtue of their immorality.

Some consequences that I think this hypothesis should have: 1) Controlling for everything else about their situation (demographics, wealth, etc...), slave-holders should have a lower life-expectancy than non-slave holders. 2) Controlling for everything else about the situation, murderers and rapists who were never prosecuted should have a lower life-expectancy than non-murderers and non-rapists. I'm sure together we could imagine many other such cases.

These are interesting contentions. I can imagine that they might be true on a materialist worldview if such people were racked with guilt and this guilt had adverse physiological effects. But your hypotheses would suggest that even in the absence of guilt - for instance - in the case of psychopaths - we would still see detrimental effects on their own health of their immorality.

Have I characterized your claim fairly?

Jason

Another issue - most of the commenters here have made clear their belief that atheists and other non-Christians could still act morally, they would just in some sense be mistaken about the reasons they were ultimately doing so.

If this claim is correct - if atheists and others are simply mistaken - wouldn't we expect this to show up at least sometimes in their behavior? The Christian theory would not be disproved if there were atheists who lived moral lives, but what if, in the aggregate, atheists were no less moral than Christians (except to the extent Christian belief is considered a part of morality).

So I propose the following test:

We identify a particular act that we all agree is immoral. We then attempt to identify whether being Christian makes one less likely to perform this immoral act, controlling as in any good experiment for everything else about there background. The ideal experiment would be to find two identical individuals, who differ only in regards to the fact that one of them is Christian and the other is not. The real experiment will necessarily deviate from this ideal, but perhaps we can come close.

Would everyone agree that this is a fair test? Of course it is not entirely conclusive, but if we repeated this experiment across a number of different acts and found no tendency for Christians to behave better, wouldn't that cast doubt on this moral theory?

A.Williams

Jason, your quest to prove Christianity by experimentation is kind of humorous! : )

The reality is that the working of grace in the soul differs from individual to individual, and the ability of a Christian to resist tempatation also depends on many intricate factors...not exactly like mice in the laboratory! : ) But I admire your ambition, even though it will surely prove nothing!

Every person is capable of doing what even materialists might term evil or immoral things. And usually, from my understanding, immoral acts are usually a consequence of some evil consequence or past experience, that later, as a means of avoiding the same error, mankind (and Christianity too) label as IMMORAL, WRONG to do.

Think of the Chinese. There are VERY FEW Christians as a percentage of their population, yet they have very many of the same moral guidelines as us Westerners (with Christian history). The point I'm trying to make, is that it is human experience that has often led things to be considered immoral, due to the bad effects such behavior has had on past generations. Many things, I believe are TRIAL and ERROR.

Remember the story of Noe? The story says that he was the first to make wine and get drunk. However, no guilt was imparted to him because he had no idea of the effect of so much good wine! And what's more, his son Cham, who discovered his father in his drunken state, was faulted for revealing it to his other brothers, and/or imputing it as immoral when it was not. But we know that now, after centuries of experience getting "sloshy drunk" is wrong and immoral, and largely because it harms our own bodies, and potentially, others too.

And, this is another proof of my former argument, that immoral behavior generally leads to death or unhealth...because it is for the reason of the END RESULTS of acts, that societies have labled acts either IMMORAL, or Virtuous.

And Aristotle's "Nicomachaen Ethics" has good theopries and examples of how and why acts are either moral or immoral, to the degree they deviate from MODERATION or the "Golden Mean".

So, I believe all people are subject to moral guidelines, regardless of religion. If they don't follow them, they will suffer consequences taht have proven to be evil for others in the past. So too, governments enforce laws to help protect others, should anyone not care whether an act is moral or immoral, or whether he hurts another, or himself, or not.

The difference with Christianity is the teaching of Christ. And particularly this one:

"And fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell."
Matthew 10

Jason

A. Williams,

So if I understand you correctly, you're claiming that the main thing present in a Christian morality that is absent in a materialist one is the idea that one's actions have eternal consequences since they determine the ultimate fate of one's soul. Is that correct?

The fact that you regard my attempt to provide an empirical test of your claims as humorous is quite telling.

Let me give a brief argument for why I think empirical testing is really necessary here. First, philosophy is so hard that almost everyone gets it wrong almost all the time (including me). We know this is true because of the lack of consensus in philosophy and because of the effect of contingent factors (like the culture we were born into) on our philosophical beliefs. This does not imply that there is no such thing as philosophical truth, just that if there is, it's really, really hard to get at and we have no particular reason to trust our own philosophical judgments since there are surely others we regard as equally intelligent who have thought about the matter more and reached opposite conclusions.

So, does this mean we should just give up and take any kind of philosophical judgment with a grain of salt? No, I think there are two ways we can guard against philosophical error.

First, we can try to submit our philosophical judgments to empirical testing whenever possible.

Second, we can try to use aggregate statistics to control for the effects of contingent factors on our judgment and isolate the effect of factors we affirm on reflection as relevant on belief (an example of a factor we might think relevant would be additional learning in a given field).

I am not a Christian myself because the arguments offered in defense of Christianity don't sway me. However, if that were the end of the story, I would not be very confident in my judgment for the reasons explained above - I am just as prone to bias in philosophical matters as everyone else.

The reason I am reasonably confident that Christianity is incorrect is due mainly to surveys and other aggregate statistics which appear exactly as one would expect if Christianity were false.

The main points are:
1) 93% of the National Academy of Sciences are agnostic or atheist. That is a huge number and these are the best scientists in the world. Coincidence?
2) Studies of academics - people who think for a living - show they are much less likely to be religious than the general public controlling for a number of characteristics
3) There is a strong negative correlation between education and religiosity. The more one learns in any field, the less likely one is to be religious (the correlation could also be due to the fact that irreligious people are more likely to be educated, but there are further studies which isolate the direction of causation).


What do you think of these facts? Do they give you pause?

Melanie

When did studies get in charge of who is a Christian and who isn't?

Jason
When did studies get in charge of who is a Christian and who isn't?

My argument above suggests that these studies might be the most reliable method of determining the truth since our individual judgments are so obviously fallible. If you disagree, please engage with my argument.

Of course, we can't escape individual judgments all together - we need a set of background ideas against which to interpret the studies. Still, I think we are much more likely to have true beliefs if we integrate these kinds of aggregate studies into our analysis (and especially those studies which attempt to control for various biases).

Melanie

Do you think religiosity as measured by some study is the same as Christian?

A.Williams

What do I think?

I laughed ONLY at the notion that someone could actually come up with a moral test that was in any way moral in itself, much less revealing or in any way accurate. I guess the Romans tried such things when they were persectuing the Christians back in the early centuries of Christianity. They gave Christians very enticing rewards for stepping on crosses, denying the faith etc... And if we read Christian history, it is generally considered that the good Christians (Saints and martyrs) resisted such temptations and prefered being burnt to death, or eaten by lions, than deny faith in Christ.

St. Peter was cricified up-side down. St. Lawrence was BBQed on a grill, and even quipped "this side is well done, you can flip me over and eat!"

The point is this, that in all of life there will be trial and temptation. Jesus says.."pray always that you enter not into temptation". He also say, "beware, lest that hour come like a theif in the night". 'Watch and Pray'.

He himself was tempted by the Devil, but endured such trials.

Only Christians who withstand temptations are worthy of Christ: "pray that you be worthy to stand before the Son of Man". However, if we sin, we can confess, do penance to counter our sins and try to amend ourselves, even as Kind David did.

So, what you will find in any moral test, would be the same thing that the Devil tried to find in the wilderness with Jesus. And some Christians will keep the faith and some will commit sin.

But as a Christian, we learn in the 'Our Father', 'the Lord's Prayer', to constantly pray "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

So, I am completely against putting anyone to a moral test, as I would hate to imitate Satan, as he tempted Christ. I think it better to advise everyone, even as the Lord did, to pray (stay united in holy faith) as best one can, and hope and pray that God does NOT put us to the test!

I only laughed, because, to a lover of Christ, it sounds a bit rediculous to put ones most precious gift in this world "FAITH" to a moral test for no reason.

It kind of reminds me of what we might find in an ultimate "Survivor" episode: "Next week on Ultimate Survivor, Find out who denies his God and his own self, who who remains true and faithful. With all the scores and statistics compiled for you at the end of the series!You won't want to miss it!!"

Our Beliefs, our spiritual life and our Souls have much more dignity, and much more value than that! And knowing that Christ endured crucifixion for our sakes, means we shouldn't take our faith or religion too lightly! Rather, I'd prefer to ponder on this question of Christ:


"For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul? Or what exchange shall a man give for his soul?"
Matthew 16

And as for statistics?

Jesus asked "Will there be faith on Earth when I return?"

This implies that even He wasn't concerned with statistics, but rather:

"No man can come to me unless the Father draws Him."

What's good for Him, is good for me. I'll trust that God the Father will draw all that He wills in His All powerful Wisdom, Goodness, Providence and Judgement.

Jason
Do you think religiosity as measured by some study is the same as Christian?

Melanie, I'm not sure exactly which of my above claims this is meant to engage with. In terms of the claims about scientists / educated people being less religious, the same studies also show that such people are much less likely to be Christian.

If you're referring to my proposed tests of religiosity on moral behavior, then this is a fair point. Perhaps Islam leads to poor moral choices while Christianity leads to good ones. But this is not a conceptual challenge - only a question about what particular groups one will look at in any given study. Of the past studies I am aware of, about half separate out different religious groups and half do not, although in many cases the particular region under examination has one dominant religion so the point is moot.


A. Williams,

I was not planning on conducting some kind of laboratory experiment! (i.e. Here is an innocent child - if you murder him, we'll give you $1000, then see who many people do it - is this what you think I had in mind!?).

There are ways of simulating a controlled experiment using the fact that people face moral choices all the time - we would not be changing the choices they face, just trying to understand how their religious beliefs affect those choices.

For instance, one could try to determine the effect of attending church more frequently on divorce rates. People do studies like this all the time and with mixed results, because properly controlling for everything is difficult.


A.Williams

Jason,

As a Catholic Christian I really have no time for such tests, even if they are both moral and reliable.

And they might actually be very revealing at how little faith most people really have! But this never bothers me because I am not in control of who has faith and who doesn't.

And really I'm not really even interested, because it's none of my business.

What I am interested in, is teaching people the Life of Christ. His life, word's and actions are ineffably sweet...better than any treasure on Earth. Everything about His life is delectible, His charity, His patience, both with his apostles and his enemies too, His merciful miracles, His faithfulness to His friends, His zeal for God the Father, His rigorous life and lonely fastings, His concern and appreciation for all. NO ONE ELSE IS LIKE JESUS CHRIST!

And so I am not interested in polls and tests, I'd just rather teach those who come across my path as best as I can. Anyway, this is just me.

God Bless You. I hope you continue searching for the truth..because if you are honest....you will find it.

"Seek and you will Find".

Jason

A. Williams,

The Christ you describe sounds like a worthy role-model regardless of his divinity (although I recognize that you view his divinity as an integral part of the attractive vision you describe). Certainly, if all Christians were committed only to the ideals you describe - charity, patience, mercy, faithfulness and concern for all - then I would not argue with any Christians about the truth of Christian doctrine any more than I would argue with a Buddhist monk about reincarnation. And I have no doubt that the ideal you articulate is in fact embodied in the lives of many Christians and in your own life.

Then there are those tiny matters of homosexuality, stem cell research and abortion. If Christians claim that their religion requires them to oppose gay marriage or stem cell research or abortion rights, then I have to take issue with the truth claims of their religion.

Melanie

The reason I am reasonably confident that Christianity is incorrect is due mainly to... 93% of the National Academy of Sciences are agnostic or atheist

What does belief in God have to do with the National Academy of Sciences or any more than say the National Gardening Association? Is that how you pick your experts? You pick the group where 93% claim no knowledge?

The Christ you describe sounds like a worthy role-model

The Christ he describes believes in God.

Jason

Melanie,

You raise an excellent question which I haven't really discussed yet. Why do I think scientists are qualified to evaluate the truth of religion?

First, I should point out that I don't think scientists are obviously the best experts to evaluate every argument for God's existence. I think historians who study the early history of the Roman Empire are better trained to evaluate the evidence relating to Jesus's life than scientists (although there is a further question about how to evaluate supposed miracles...). My broader point above was that education more generally tends to lead people to be less religious, although it would be especially interesting to see whether historians who study the early Roman Empire became more or less Christian as their knowledge of the period increased.

I would ask you the same question I just asked A. Williams: Do you personally have any beliefs about the observable universe that follow from your religion? That is, do you agree with scientists that the universe is 13.7 billion years old, that life on earth is 4 billion years old and that humans share a common ancestor with primates? Scientists have expertise about these issues.

There are many other issues which science is just beginning to tell us about - the nature of consciousness, the nature of morality and the origin of the universe. Each of these has traditionally been the domain of religion, but science increasingly has something to say about them.

The reason I think these polls of scientists are quite important in determining my views on the matter is because in my view, almost all of the arguments given for God's existence have a big scientific component. I'm sure others would disagree - if so, please tell me which argument(s) scientists would not have something to say about.

Melanie

in my view, almost all of the arguments given for God's existence have a big scientific component.

I don't find God to be dependent upon any argument, scientific or otherwise. If someone wants to make a scientific argument for God, I'm all for science taking a whack at it.

My broader point above was that education more generally tends to lead people to be less religious

If we stick with scientists, for example, then instead of "religious," a large majority of university science professors tend to self-identify as "spiritual." This is in vogue in many populations, even among those not highly educated in the formal academic sense.

Also the religious backgrounds of scientists adds a complication to the story. For example, compared to the general population, scientists reportedly come disproportionately from irreligious backgrounds or backgrounds where a faith tradition was only nominally practiced.

And even if traditional education actually results in a less religious outlook, that doesn't mean religion is "incorrect," whatever that means.

do you agree with scientists that the universe is 13.7 billion years old, that life on earth is 4 billion years old and that humans share a common ancestor with primates?

If that's what scientists believe of late, that's what they believe of late. They're not claiming absolute truth, and their story is as good as saying Satan planted fossils to deceive.

Tim J.

I would say that education as it is understood and practiced *now* (at least in the West) tends to lead people to be less religious. I doubt that most individuals deeply involved in careers in the hard sciences are given more than the most perfunctory introduction to philosophy, theology or ethics, as would have been expected of any serious student in ages past.

When religious institutions had oversight of universities, the level of religious belief among scientists was very high. Now that higher education is controlled mainly by those of a secular or, not uncommonly, anti-religious bent, a university education includes immersion in a materialist world view, regardless of the field of study.

I experienced this in, of all places, art school. To self identify as a Christian was to invite ridicule. After several years of hearing religion being made the butt of jokes, the target of pointed asides (sotto voce) and raised eyebrows, is it any wonder that many emerge faithless at the end of this process? It was a close shave for me. Had I ended up in an academic career (as I very nearly did), I don't know that I would have had the philosophical underpinnings to hold on to, let alone defend, my faith.

This is not at all a matter of being honestly reasoned out of anything as much as it is a matter of peer pressure and politics... if you find things like research fellowships and tenure important to your career, you understand how crucial it is to belong to the Right Set.

Jason
I don't find God to be dependent upon any argument, scientific or otherwise. If someone wants to make a scientific argument for God, I'm all for science taking a whack at it.

I've never quite understood this point. As I just argued in one of the other threads, if your belief in God is not based on an argument at all, on what basis can you say that the God you envision is the true one rather than the God of other people's personal revelations which in many cases - radical Islam to name one - may be quite different from your own.

Also the religious backgrounds of scientists adds a complication to the story. For example, compared to the general population, scientists reportedly come disproportionately from irreligious backgrounds or backgrounds where a faith tradition was only nominally practiced.

This is a good point (I'm actually planning on conducting a study to try to control for this effect). I wonder though - suppose the statistic about the NAS is due to the fact that scientists come disproportionately from irreligious backgrounds. Why is it that irreligious people are more interested in / successful at science than religious people? (This is not a purely rhetorical question; I'd be curious to know what you think).

If that's what scientists believe of late, that's what they believe of late. They're not claiming absolute truth, and their story is as good as saying Satan planted fossils to deceive.

I'm not sure I understand your point here. Are you suggesting that modern scientific theories are on no firmer footing than the hypothesis that Satan planted fossils to deceive? I agree with you that both hypotheses result in the same observable consequences, but it seems that the scientific hypotheses are clearly preferable on grounds of simplicity and parsimony (Occam's razor). Surely, in your own life, you believe that the past really does exist and that Satan did not create the world yesterday to make it look as if there was a past?

Jason
This is not at all a matter of being honestly reasoned out of anything as much as it is a matter of peer pressure and politics... if you find things like research fellowships and tenure important to your career, you understand how crucial it is to belong to the Right Set.

Tim J., I agree with you that social pressures are of first order importance in explaining these survey results. Still, this doesn't seem to provide a full explanation. Why is it that scientists ended up being so secular in the first place? Why do pressures among scientists bend towards secularism today rather than the other way around? Also, one could imagine conducting a study that attempted to control for these peer effects (I hope to do so at some point). What would you say if a carefully controlled study showed that the more one learned about science the less likely one was to be religious?

What historical period are you referring to when you say, "When religious institutions had oversight of universities, religious belief among scientists was very high." It's important to note that we're talking about the frequency of religious belief relative to the general population, so even if most scientists were Catholic in 15th century Spain, this doesn't tell us whether learning about science makes one more or less likely to be Catholic. I've never seen a study of the question of the religious beliefs of the academic elite relative to the general populace in any time period before the 20th century - if you know of one, I would find it quite interesting (I realize you weren't necessarily claiming anything more than informed speculation).

Esau

The Christ you describe sounds like a worthy role-model regardless of his divinity

Really?

The guy claimed to be the Son of God?

How can you say that he sounds like a worthy role-model?

IF anything, to the atheist, he should sound more like a mad man than a worthy role-model!

Esau

What would you say if a carefully controlled study showed that the more one learned about science the less likely one was to be religious?


Jason,

I believe you are demonstrating ignorance regarding both History and Science.

There have been many Scientists in history who were in fact Catholic:

SOME CATHOLIC SCIENTISTS

1. Algue, a priest, invented the barocyclonometer, to detect approach of cyclones.

2 Ampere was founder of the science of electrodynamics, and investigator of the laws of electro-magnetism.

3. Becquerel, Antoine Cesar, was the founder of electro-chemistry. Becquerel, Antoine Henri, was the discoverer of radio-activity.

4. Binet, mathematician and astronomer, set forth the principle, "Binet's Theorem." Braille invented the Braille system for the blind.

5. Buffon wrote the first work on natural history. Carrell, Nobel prize winner in medicine and physiology, is renowned for his work in surgical technique.

6. Caesalpinus, a Papal physician, was the first to construct a system of botany. Cassiodorus, a priest, invented the watch.

7. Columbo discovered the pulmonary circulation of the blood. Copernicus, a priest, expounded the Copernican system.

8. Coulomb established the fundamental laws of static electricity. De Chauliac, a Papal physician, was the father of modern surgery and hospitals.

9. De Vico, a priest, discovered six comets. Descartes founded analytical geometry.
Dumas invented a method of ascertaining vapor densities. Endlicher, botanist and historian, established a new system of classifying plants.

10. Eustachius, for whom the Eustachian tube was named, was one of the founders of modern anatomy. Fabricius discovered the valvular system of the veins.

11. Fallopius, for whom the Fallopian tube was named, was an eminent physiologist. Fizeau was the first to determine experimentally the velocity of light.

12. Foucault invented the first practical electric arc lamp; he refuted the corpuscular theory of light; he invented the gyroscope.

13. Fraunhofer was initiator of spectrum analysis; he established laws of diffraction.

14. Fresnel contributed more to the science of optics than any other man.

15. Galilei, a great astronomer, is the father of experimental science.

16. Galvani, one of the pioneers of electricity, was also an anatomist and physiologist. Gioja, father of scientific navigation, invented the mariner's compass.

17. Gramme invented the Gramme dynamo.

18. Guttenberg invented printing.
Herzog discovered a cure for infantile paralysis. Holland invented the first practical sub marine.

19. Kircher, a priest, made the first definite statement of the germ theory of disease.

20. Laennec invented the stethoscope.

21. Lancist, a Papal physician, was the father of clinical medicine. Latreille was pioneer in entomology.

22. Lavoisier is called Father of Modern Chemistry.

23. Leverrier discovered the planet Neptune.

24. Lully is said to have been the first to employ chemical symbols. Malpighi, a Papal physician, was a botanist, and the father of comparative physiology.

25. Marconi's place in radio is unsurpassed. Mariotte discovered Mariotte's law of gases.

26. Mendel, a monk, first established the laws of heredity, which gave the final blow to the theory of natural selection. Morgagni, founder of modern pathology; made important studies in aneurisms.

27. Muller was the greatest biologist of the 19th century, founder of modern physiology.

28. Pashcal demonstrated practically that a column of air has weight.

29. Pasteur, called the "Father of Bacteriology," and inventor of bio-therapeutics, was the leading scientist of the 19th century.

30. Picard, a priest, was the first to measure accurately a degree of the meridian.

31. Regiomontanus, a Bishop and Papal astronomer; was the father of modern astronomy. Scheiner, a priest, invented the pantograph, and made a telescope that permitted the first systematic investigation of sun spots.

32. Secchi invented the meteorograph. Steensen, a Bishop, was the father of geology.

33. Theodoric, a Bishop, discovered anesthesia in the 13th century. Torricelli invented the barometer.

34. Vesalius was the founder of modern anatomical science. Volta invented the first; complete galvanic battery; the "volt" is named after him.

Other scientists: Agricola, Albertus Magnus, Bacon, Bartholomeus, Bayma, Beccaria, Behalm, Bernard, Biondo, Biot, Bolzano, Borrus, Boscovitch, Bosio, Bourgeois, Branly, Caldani, Cambou, Camel, Cardan, Carnoy, Cassini, Cauchy, Cavaliere, Caxton, Champollion, Chevreul, Clavius, De Rossi, Divisch, Dulong, Dwight, Eckhel, Epee, Fabre, Fabri, Faye, Ferrari, Gassendi, Gay-Lussac, Gordon, Grimaldi, Hauy, Heis, Helmont, Hengler, Heude, Hilgard, Jussieu, Kelly, Lamarck, Laplace, Linacre, Malus, Mersenne, Monge, Muller, Murphy, Murray, Nelston, Nieuwland, Nobili, Nollet, Ortelius, Ozaman, Pelouze, Piazzi, Pitra, Plumier, Pouget, Provancher, Regnault, Riccioli, Sahagun, Santorini, Schwann, Schwarz, Secchi, Semmelweis, Spallanzani, Takamine, Tieffentaller, Toscanelli, Tulasne, Valentine, Vernier, Vieta, Da Vinci, Waldseemuller, Wincklemann, Windle, and a host of others, too many to mention.

Esau

Jason,

Also, you may enjoy this account:

Over a hundred years ago a university student found himself seated in a train by the side of a person who seemed to be well-to do peasant.

He was praying the rosary and moving the beads in his fingers.

"Sir, do you still believe in such outdated things?" asked the student of the old man.

"Yes, I do. Do you not?" asked the man.

The student burst out into a laughter and said, "I do not believe in such silly things. Take my advice. Throw the rosary out through this window, and learn what Science has to say about it."

"Science? I do not understand this science? Perhaps you can explain it to me.", the man said humbly with some tears in his eyes.

The student saw that the man was deeply moved.

So to avoid further hurting the feelings of the man, he said:

"Please give me your address and I will send you some literature to help you on the matter."

The man fumbled in the inside pocket of his coat and gave the boy his visiting card. On glancing at the card, the student, lowered his head in shame and became silent.

On the card he read:

"Louis Pasteur, Director of the Institute of Scientific Research, Paris."

Pasteur, the great French chemist and biologist, regularly said the rosary and was not afraid to exhibit the beads in public.

Michael

"Pasteur, the great French chemist and biologist, regularly said the rosary and was not afraid to exhibit the beads in public."

And science was utterly mute about it.

Esau

Excerpt:

These words are graven above his tomb in the Institut Pasteur.

In his address Pasteur said further "These are the living springs of great thoughts and great actions. Everything grows clear in the reflections from the Infinite".

Some of his letters to his children breathe profound simple piety. He declared "The more I know, the more nearly is my faith that of the Breton peasant. Could I but know all I would have the faith of a Breton peasant woman."

What he could not above all understand is the failure of scientists to recognize the demonstration of the existence of the Creator that there is in the world around us.

He died with his rosary in his hand, after listening to the life of St. Vincent de Paul which he had asked to have read to him, because he thought that his work like that of St. Vincent would do much to save suffering children.

Mary Kay

Esau, thanks for the list and the anecdote.

On a lighter note, who knew that Jean-Luc Picard had a priest in his ancestry? ;^)

Esau

Esau, thanks for the list and the anecdote.

No prob! Though the formatting screwed up the numbering for the list.


On a lighter note, who knew that Jean-Luc Picard had a priest in his ancestry? ;^)

Concerning Jean-Luc himself, I never could understand if whether he was actually a man of faith or if he was a man much like the character of Dr. Who.

Jason
IF anything, to the atheist, he should sound more like a mad man than a worthy role-model!

I have to say I've always found this trilemma argument completely unconvincing. There are many alternatives: perhaps Jesus never claimed to be the son of God and his followers just distorted his claims or perhaps he said this and meant it in a kind of metaphorical sense (in the same way that many of you might say that you are/want to be imbued with the spirit of God - I wouldn't call you crazy, just wrong). Alternatively, he may have been delusional - some people are delusional about some things, but very wise about others.

I believe you are demonstrating ignorance regarding both History and Science.

Esau, I think you have misunderstood my claim. I did not claim that no scientists are (or were) religious/Catholic! I only claimed that knowing more about science makes one less likely to be Catholic. To assess this claim we would at a minimum have to compare the frequency of belief among scientists with that among the general public (and as other commentators have noted, this still wouldn't control for selection effects).

In addition, I would expect that the relationship is much stronger today than it has been in past eras (and will be even stronger in the future) because scientists continue to obtain better explanations of phenomena whose inexplicability theologians pronounce is proof of a creator.

One scientist is a cute anecdote but 93% of the best scientists in the country is data that warrants an explanation.

Concerning Jean-Luc himself, I never could understand if whether he was actually a man of faith or if he was a man much like the character of Dr. Who.

Surely Jean-Luc is not a man of faith! From an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation:

"Millenia ago, [the alien species featured in this episode] abandoned their belief in the supernatural - now you are asking me to sabotage that achievement - to send them back into the dark ages of superstition and ignorance and fear? NO!!"

Esau

I only claimed that knowing more about science makes one less likely to be Catholic.

Then you have completely neglected my above posts concerning Pasteur and the like, which completely contests your claim here.

Jason
Then you have completely neglected my above posts concerning Pasteur and the like, which completely contests your claim here.

To contest my claim we would need a control group. Pasteur is just a single observation - the larger list of scientists you give is a starting point, but it says nothing about the overall frequency of belief among scientists (since we don't have a comprehensive list of scientists and their beliefs) and it certainly says nothing about the religious beliefs of scientists relative to the general public at the time.

Tim J.

I'm confused... what do polls have to do with science? I thought science was a matter of, you know, experimental confirmation of hypotheses, repeatability, measurable data and the like. I'm sorry, I don't consider sociology to be one of the "hard sciences" and polling data is inherently unreliable.

Philosophical trends - fashions of thought that run this way and that - can't be given any real scientific weight by anyone of a serious mind, can they? Seems to me that consensus has been on the wrong side of the scientific question as often as not. Consensus is not a scientific measure of anything.

What I contest is the idea (which strikes me, at bottom, as highly un-scientific) that we can arrive at the truth by taking polls. Not that long ago, ill health might have been attributed by "most experts" to an imbalance of the bodily humors.

To bastardize Vroomfondel and Majikthise - "You just let the scientists get on with the adding up, and we'll take care of the eternal verities thank you very much.".

Smoky Mountain

I'm confused... what do polls have to do with science? I thought science was a matter of, you know, experimental confirmation of hypotheses, repeatability, measurable data and the like. I'm sorry, I don't consider sociology to be one of the "hard sciences" and polling data is inherently unreliable

Tim -- do you take issue with statistics in general?

Statisticians generally need to operate on a sample of a population rather than the entire population due to its size. Polling, if done scientifically, is a reasonable method used to obtain a sample of data.

Jason was arguing that there is an inverse relationship between religious belief and scientific knowledge. Whether that's true could only be validated by sampling the population.

That doesn't mean religion is false due to the consensus of scientists. Hardly. But I think establishing the truth or falsehood of the particular hypothesis (that there is an inverse relationship between religious belief and scientific knowledge) via a scientific poll is reasonable.

Still, the result of that study would not necessarily be meaningful, for as you point out, consensus doesn't affect truth.

Esau

I believe Tim J. has a point.

Again and again, Jason seems to be hooked on the fallacious idea that consensus somehow proves the truth of a certain claim -- which, as I have mentioned previously with the use of some past examples, actually is false.

Jason,

What if you were to arrive at a consensus of current Scientists of today who do agree that there is no God -- does that, to you, actually prove that there actually is no God?

Do the consensus of such men actually prove the truth of something when, in fact, time and time before, similar consensus in the past which have turned out wrong multiple times have actually provided proof that such consensus is nothing in the end but the mere opinion of such men?

Just because they are from a collection of informed men doesn't make their judgment any less fallible.

Smoky Mountain

Esau,

I agree with you here:

the fallacious idea that consensus somehow proves the truth of a certain claim

However, there remains the practical matter of belief.

As has been pointed out numerous times, there is very little that we can *know* with any certainty. However, is it not unreasonable to believe things based upon the consensus of a collection of informed men (i.e. experts), keeping in mind the caveat that this "knowledge" is imperfect and could change if future discoveries warrant a change?

How else could we function as rational beings?

Esau

Smoky,

The main point of my comments was how can the consensus of such men (that is, if they were to agree that there is no such thing as a God) actually prove that there is no God?

The difference between a consensus that is determined on the basis of scientific studies and that here is the fact that the former actually extends from an analysis of the data.

However, as regards the latter, this consensus is not based on any substantial data at all unlike the former.

Jason
Still, the result of that study would not necessarily be meaningful, for as you point out, consensus doesn't affect truth.

Consensus does not EFFECT truth, but consensus is a reliable indicator of truth in many circumstances. You and 100 other people you trust are in a warehouse. You are not tall enough to see out the window - they are. You ask them, "Is there a tree outside?" They all say, "Yes." The consensus here does not determine the truth of the matter, but it is your best way for you to arrive at a true belief. I am arguing (not assuming) that a more complex version of this analogy applies to the relationship of the beliefs of scientists to religious truth.

What if you were to arrive at a consensus of current Scientists of today who do agree that there is no God -- does that, to you, actually prove that there actually is no God?

The notion of "proof" as you are using the word is irrelevant here. The question is what it is reasonable to believe. The consensus among scientists that the tilt of the earth on its axis is responsible for seasons makes it reasonable to believe that this is true (and unreasonable to believe otherwise).

I am arguing that the same is true of the near consensus among scientists regarding religion. I agree there is an argument to be had here, but you have not even engaged with my claim - you just keep insisting that consensus is not proof.

Do the consensus of such men actually prove the truth of something when, in fact, time and time before, similar consensus in the past which have turned out wrong multiple times have actually provided proof that such consensus is nothing in the end but the mere opinion of such men?

In a nutshell, my claim is the following. Despite the consensus among scientists, they might be wrong. However, it is far more likely that YOU are wrong than that all of them are wrong. And by "YOU", I don't just mean "Esau". I mean any one of us as an individual.

Jason

Alternatively, we could all just agree that the only real on authority on these matters is Jean-Luc Picard since he has the benefit of a few hundred years of accumulated knowledge that we lack.

Tim J.

"Tim -- do you take issue with statistics in general? "

Well, no, not as far as they go. But polling statistics are notoriously nebulous. Clinical studies? Sure, as long as they are designed well.

My point was that even if a poll of the religious beliefs of scientists was an accurate measure of anything, it could not be less relevant to the truth or falsehood of the beliefs themselves.

If we are to "trust the experts", why should I take the philosophical musings of your average scientist any more seriously than I should take the scientific opinions of your average churchman? I don't call a plumber to fix the wiring in my house.

If you really want to follow this logic, Jason, there is a very broad consensus among religious "experts" (not total consensus, but very broad) that there exists some kind of God or gods, that the universe is an act of special creation, and that there is some sort of afterlife.

This consensus has been around much longer than the Big Bang theory, and has been held by many more people.

So, my experts can beat up your experts. I win. ;-)

Esau

Jason,

You seem to think that consensus amongst such individuals on whatever matter whatsoever provides conclusive proof for almost anything.

As if -- if they should form a consensus on when the end of the world would be, you would take their consensus on this as Gospel; or perhaps if they were to come to a consensus on who would win the world series (before Boston swept Colorado, that is), you would take whatever consensus they formed there as truth as well by virtue of the fact that they had a consensus on this.

In short, as I have mentioned to Smoky, there's a big difference between the consensus amongst Scientists when it comes to matters of scientific studies vs. on the matter we are faced with here.

The fact of the matter is that the former is based on intimate analysis of the data and it is by substantial data that Scientists come to a confident conclusion on such matters which may be valid and, in the end, true.

However, what substantial data is there that conclusively proves the existence of no God?

Esau

In other words:

There is a limit to the INFALLIBILITY that you are attributing to Scientists here -- they are only experts on matters of scientific phenomenon AND empirical data!

Mind you --

Scientists are NOT omniscient beings -- regardless of any such CONSENSUS!

Esau

Corrigendum:

...they are only experts on matters of KNOWN scientific phenomenon AND empirical data!

Smoky Mountain

Esau,

So -- would you agree that consensus among top physicists regarding the veracity of the Big Bang Theory is a reaonsable reason for the average joe to believe that theory, as long as Average Joe recognizes that the theory is subject to change / deletion if new evidence surfaces?

Jason
Well, no, not as far as they go. But polling statistics are notoriously nebulous. Clinical studies? Sure, as long as they are designed well.

There are of course many methodological issues that must be addressed on a case by case basis. As I and others have noted previously, the fact that 93% of the NAS are atheists or agnostics does not show that science makes people less religious - it might be that less religious people are drawn to science. If you'd like, I could present a sophisticated way to conduct a reliable follow-up study to establish causation.

Even given just the 93% number - this is such a large number that it is unlikely it is wholly due to selection. There seems to be a real effect here.

If we are to "trust the experts", why should I take the philosophical musings of your average scientist any more seriously than I should take the scientific opinions of your average churchman? I don't call a plumber to fix the wiring in my house.

Now we've finally gotten to the heart of the matter - i.e. who are the appropriate experts to judge the truth of religious claims? To answer this question, we need to determine what arguments people give for God's existence.

I would classify them into four types:
1) A priori arguments, like the ontological argument
2) Moral arguments, like the one SDG is making in this series of posts
3) Scientific arguments, like those John E. made in an earlier thread on this topic (how do we explain the observed universe? the appearance of matter and energy?)
4) Historical arguments - arguments that the Gospels provide reliable evidence of miracles or other supernatural events.

The divisions in each case are not perfectly clear-cut - as I've tried to make clear here, I think science might have a lot to say about the origin and nature of our moral judgments.

That caveat aside, I would agree that scientists are not best qualified to make all of these arguments. Philosophers of various sorts might be best qualified to judge 1) and 2) and historians might be best qualified to judge 4) (although I think scientists might have something to say about the probability of miracles, although that too is a contentious topic).

Ideally, to determine the probability that God exists, I would suggest the following procedure:

1) Create an enormous dataset listing detailed biographical information of every person working in any of the above fields
2) Determine how their beliefs about God and about specific questions relating both to God's existence and their field of expertise change as they acquire expertise in their field, controlling for any peer effects (there are ways to do this)
3) Use the results in 2) to evaluate the effect of expertise on people's beliefs about the truth of SPECIFIC ARGUMENTS
4) Use the results in 2) to evaluate the the effect of people's beliefs on their general religious disposition

My hypothesis is: in every one of the fields mentioned above, the more knowledge people acquire, the less likely they are to find the particular arguments related to their field convincing and the less likely they are to believe in God.

Now, the above survey would be practically infeasible, but there are ways of determining what the results would be using sophisticated statistical techniques on less detailed data. Those analyses have not yet been conducted (I'll get back to you in 10 years with the results).

In the mean time, is there anything we can infer about what the results might look like?

I would argue that the virtual absence of religious beliefs among scientists and among academics more generally suggests what we might expect to find (although we cannot determine the magnitude without accounting for selection).

Esau

So -- would you agree that consensus among top physicists regarding the veracity of the Big Bang Theory is a reaonsable reason for the average joe to believe that theory, as long as Average Joe recognizes that the theory is subject to change / deletion if new evidence surfaces?


Smoky,

It depends on whether or not there is substantial data to support such a conclusion.

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