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October 22, 2007

Comments

SDG

First one to say "Great post, Jimmy!" gets pelted with week-old haggis.

Esau

That Ed Peters is one shrewd fellow!

VERY GOOD POST!

Esau

...certain behaviors will tend to correlate with greater happiness, and others with greater unhappiness.

That' just it --

There are certain individuals who gain greater happiness by bullying others, imposing their will on others, conquering the weak, torturing as well as murdering innocent people, etc.

Following one's feelings and what it is that makes one 'happy' is not, by any means, moral certitude.

JoAnna

Great post, SDG! :) Can't wait for part 2!

chad

Would he have that 'like a louse' feeling if he hadn't been raised in a predominately Judeo-Christian-valued society?

What moral code would materialists have if it were not for the supernaturalists?

And what incentive does anyone have to maintain morality?

Esau

Chad:

Would he have that 'like a louse' feeling if he hadn't been raised in a predominately Judeo-Christian-valued society?

Thank-you for that!

There is also that -- the conditioning that has occured as a result of such a society.

Now, if you were living in another type of society such as that in the Movie Re-Make of The 300; just imagine the 'like a louse' feeling you would experience if you don't kill those who are weaker than you are!

Smoky Mountain Rebel

Great post, Jimmy!

Tim J.

"week-old haggis."

To be truthful, fresh haggis wouldn't be much better.

What Archie seems to be saying is that his feelings are the only basis her has for his morality. Pardon me if I find that troubling.

Are we to allow everyone's morality to be based on their feelings, Archie? (I know he may not be involved on this thread at all, but the question is rhetorical)

People have lots of feelings. The fact that your feelings are - at the moment - better than your philosophy is no argument for your philosophy. Your feeling like a louse (if you were to act like a bully) is a big clue as to the nature of the universe, as your philosophy gives you no basis for feeling any way at all, good or bad, about any act.

Do cheetahs feel bad about running down baby antelope? Why should they? They are strong and fast, and the baby antelope is slower and weak. In the same sense, why should you (from the perspective of your philosophy, not your feelings) feel bad about pushing around some weaker person if it gets you what you want?

Tell me how this, or any other act, can have any moral content that is not illusory. It would be very easy to hold your philosophy and have very different feelings than you do about bullying.

Again, are we to allow everyone's morality to be based on their feelings? How then do we, as a society, go about resolving conflicts? By measuring who feels most strongly about the issue? Doesn't it necessarily come down to the strong over the weak? The majority over the minority? The clever over the more slow of brain? If not, why not?

Why shouldn't the world (according to the materialist view) belong to the strong, the smart, the many? Perhaps you think it already does, but SHOULD it? Are you okay with that?

Tim J.

"Would he have that 'like a louse' feeling if he hadn't been raised in a predominately Judeo-Christian-valued society?"

Maybe. Basic moral tenets (the high points of natural law) are remarkably consistent in those societies that bother to codify them. C.S. Lewis refers to it as the "Tao" in his book "The Abolition of Man", which I highly recommend. Christians didn't invent morality.

It is called "the natural law" for a reason; much of it we don't really need to learn... it's already there. It's not as if we are just born blank slates and learn all our morality from our parents. People don't have to be told that it's wrong to lie, or steal, or beat up people for no reason. We are BORN moral beings.

Parents and society can certainly make a big difference, for good or bad, but they serve to clarify and to reinforce, more than to teach from the "ground up", so to speak.

We need to be reminded, more than taught, of our obligations under the natural moral law.

Esau

Tim J.,

It is called "the natural law" for a reason; much of it we don't really need to learn... it's already there.


I beg to differ --

Even the Greeks, as enlightened as they came to be to the point of becoming the crucible for cilization, had to come to that understanding.

Before then, societies were largely uncilivized and morality was practically unheard of.

The primal senses of the human animal was what dominated him -- not some sense of morality.

Smoky Mountain Born, Raised and Taught

People don't have to be told that it's wrong to lie, or steal, or beat up people for no reason

I'm not sure that's true. Do feral children know these things?

SDG

I'm not sure that's true. Do feral children know these things?

Well, for starters, what would usually be called stealing wouldn't actually be wrong for feral children. And if they are really, truly feral, they wouldn't have speech and thus lying would be inapplicable.

As regards beating people up for no reason, I would only be speculating. I could see it going either way.

Having said that, I'm not sure feral children are the best control case for what is innately human. Cross-cultural comparisons might be another way of looking at it.

Leo

I have the highest respect for atheists who make the ultimate sacrifice for what is right without any hope of reward/punishment - it seems their faith is far greater than mine.

Although it is possible for clever Vulcan-like atheists to derive the Categorical Imperative or rational justification of our sense of Natural Law; I doubt that the majority of humanity can do the same in the absence of any belief in God, reincarnation/afterlife or religious upbringing.

What seems doomed to empirical falsification are attempts to derive ethics from materialist evolutionary mechanisms alone rather than eg Kantain pure reason. If selfish genes could explain true heroism/altruism/generosity/sacrifice then most societies would naturally select for and tend towards sustainable socialist utopias where the mass of ordinary people naturally shared with unrelated strangers and behaved well.

Smoky Mt

Well, for starters, what would usually be called stealing wouldn't actually be wrong for feral children.

Why not?

And if they are really, truly feral, they wouldn't have speech and thus lying would be inapplicable.

So how could the immorality of lying be part of the natural law? According to your statement, you need to speak to lie, yet humans must be taught to speak.


Having said that, I'm not sure feral children are the best control case for what is innately human.

Whether it's the best control case is debatable; I would think it's certainly a control case worthy of analysis.

Cross-cultural comparisons might be another way of looking at it.

Agreed.

Smoky Mt

Well, for starters, what would usually be called stealing wouldn't actually be wrong for feral children.

Why not?

And if they are really, truly feral, they wouldn't have speech and thus lying would be inapplicable.

So how could the immorality of lying be part of the natural law? According to your statement, you need to speak to lie, yet humans must be taught to speak.


Having said that, I'm not sure feral children are the best control case for what is innately human.

Whether it's the best control case is debatable; I would think it's certainly a control case worthy of analysis.

Cross-cultural comparisons might be another way of looking at it.

Agreed.

Smoky Mt

My bad on the double post.

SDG

I have the highest respect for atheists who make the ultimate sacrifice for what is right without any hope of reward/punishment - it seems their faith is far greater than mine.

FWIW, Leo, I'm obviously not an atheist, and I do believe in reward and punishment -- but as I wrote above, right now at this point in my life I find that for me this is so secondary to the sheer fact of God's existence and nature that even if He had chosen to arrange matters so that this life were all there is and death were the end, I really think I could live with that, and still live and die for Him, as long as I knew that His eye was on me and my actions were pleasing to Him.

What my soul truly shrinks from is not above all the prospect of a void of nothingness after death -- that I think I could live with -- but the prospect of a void of meaninglessness and purposelessness, of nothing above and beyond, nothing transcendent, an empty materialist universe of colliding particles and energy and chemical reactions all grinding down to nothing for no reason.

Meaning, not reward, is what I find that my soul most of all thirsts for. As long as there a purpose in my existence, even if it were to please God that I should live and die on this earth only, as long as on this earth I may walk in His presence and in the light of His truth, then there is room for us to live and die as men, not just biochemical accidents.

Of course love longs to be united to and enjoy the Beloved. Ultimately, though, it loves the Beloved above all just for being Itself.

John E

A materialist would have to conclude that ultimately "We evolved it" means atoms and electrons and cosmic goo in some form (that apparently transcend time) evolved a sense of good and bad, right and wrong -- that is, morality. Even if that is only a subjective morality, how is that less ludicrous than believing in God? And if a materialist does not believe that "there is no God" is an objective truth, why do some seem so intent to convince others to believe it? Are they just playing their part in the evolutionary process? If so, why do they believe that the way they are doing it, or doing it at all, is "good" and "right"?

I suspect they do indeed argue that "there is no God" is an objective truth. But even if it were the truth, then we certainly didn't evolve it, as if it were waiting for us to settle the matter (by whatever process by which that takes place) before it finally became true. For if there is ever a time when the matter was not settled, then that would mean there is a time when there was not yet an objective truth about an eternal God. But that's nonsense! A better argument for them would be that we are the ones who are evolving to a point to finally grasp the objective truth about something. Which basically means that if there are objective truths, they are unknowable, for how can we ever know when we have evolved enough? And if there are no objective truths, what compells us to put any sort of behavioral constraints on ourselves, much less others, other than our feelings? Gone is any real meaning of words such as rights or justice or mercy or good or bad or ludicrous or many other such words.

Why would anyone want to live with such an insane worldview? I'm just glad I'm not a materialist, so I don't feel hypocritical using the word insane...or hypocritical.

JohnD

John E,

Nice handle :) And nice comment. I was about to say something regarding the reason-destroying insanity of atheistic materialism, but you beat me to it.

Kreeft's article here ties into this topic well:
http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/conscience.htm

Leo

SDG
the existential meaning/meaninglessness does it for me too. I edited out a clause about some atheists acting sacrificially without having any meaning/purpose independent of themselves or chosen by themselves.

John E

This topic is right in line with what I'm reading in the Handbook of Christian Apologetics, which was written or co-written by Peter Kreeft. I have listened to many of his free mp3 downloads as well. I'm on the chapter where he outlines many "proofs" for the existence of God, but I have not yet reached the one you referred to. Thanks for the link.

I suppose at some point I will need to read more in depth on the atheists' arguments, but mom says it's best to eat dinner before cotton candy. I suspect that the atheist arguments will have some similar properties to cotton candy as well, except perhaps the sweet taste.

Tim J.

"People don't have to be told that it's wrong to lie, or steal, or beat up people for no reason

I'm not sure that's true. Do feral children know these things?"

Let me put it this way; for the vast majority of people (there are exceptions, but they serve more to prove the rule than not), when we are first told these things, we know instantly and unreflectively that they are true. They hardly need to be demonstrated through reasoned argument, They are the *foundations* of reasoned argument.

A man who doesn't accept that stealing is wrong or that lying is bad can't be reasoned with because he rejects fundamental human dogma.

I'm not saying this is absolute or evenly reliable in every human being (we ARE fallen), but it is generally true that we know a lot about right and wrong without being formally instructed. This is not to diminish our need for revelation at all.

Esau

I'm not sure that's true. Do feral children know these things?"

It doesn't even have to touch on something as ridiculous as the notion of feral children.

There are those primitive societies which, in fact, valued strength and domination over other peoples; where it was deemed acceptable to conquer the weak and dispose of them accordingly.

The idea of Natural Law and the like (more importantly, the idea of Morality) was a notion that is more akin to what later man (e.g., Greeks) learned.

bill912

St. Paul taught the idea of Natural Law. It's either in Romans or 1 Corintians (or both).

Esau

bill912,

St. Paul taught the idea of Natural Law. It's either in Romans or 1 Corintians (or both).

It's quite earlier than that.

As I mentioned, the early Greeks (back in B.C. -- although, at this time, I can't zero in on the date) -- which makes all the more sense why St. Paul would've brought it up considering how he was attempting to convey Christianity to the Greeks of his days.

Jason

I'm a secular, liberal atheist, so I figured my views might add something to this discussion.

I think it's important to distinguish between two issues: 1) Is there a naturalistic explanation for our moral intuitions? and 2) As reflective beings who must decide how to live, are we being arbitrary if we insist on privileging our moral judgments over our other inclinations? (like our sex drive or our desire for self-advancement).

I would answer "yes" and "no" respectively - that is, there is a naturalistic explanation for our moral intuitions and we are not being arbitrary in assigning them the priority and importance that we do - but I think the distinction between 1) and 2) is critical in discussing the moral argument for the existence of God. This is because only point 1) actually relates to God's existence. If there were reason to think that a naturalistic explanation of our moral intuitions was impossible, this would suggest that a supernatural explanation was necessary. However, if there were a naturalistic explanation for our moral intuitions but it was one that made them seem unjustified or on a par with our other emotions and inclinations, then there would be no basis for the inference that a supernatural explanation is necessary. To satisfactorily address 1), it would be necessary to explain why we sometimes *feel* "I don't want to do `x' because it will be painful / unpleasant, but it is the right thing to do", but it would not be necessary to argue further that we were somehow justified in taking this view.

Does everyone agree with me so far?

Jason

Jason

I'm a secular, liberal atheist, so I figured my views might add something to this discussion.

I think it's important to distinguish between two issues: 1) Is there a naturalistic explanation for our moral intuitions? and 2) As reflective beings who must decide how to live, are we being arbitrary if we insist on privileging our moral judgments over our other inclinations? (like our sex drive or our desire for self-advancement).

I would answer "yes" and "no" respectively - that is, there is a naturalistic explanation for our moral intuitions and we are not being arbitrary in assigning them the priority and importance that we do - but I think the distinction between 1) and 2) is critical in discussing the moral argument for the existence of God. This is because only point 1) actually relates to God's existence. If there were reason to think that a naturalistic explanation of our moral intuitions was impossible, this would suggest that a supernatural explanation was necessary. However, if there were a naturalistic explanation for our moral intuitions but it was one that made them seem unjustified or on a par with our other emotions and inclinations, then there would be no basis for the inference that a supernatural explanation is necessary. To satisfactorily address 1), it would be necessary to explain why we sometimes *feel* "I don't want to do `x' because it will be painful / unpleasant, but it is the right thing to do", but it would not be necessary to argue further that we were somehow justified in taking this view.

Does everyone agree with me so far?

Jason

Esau

bill912, here's a quote from Conkin:

"Natural law theories originated in Greek philosophy. Plato and Aristotle affirmed not only a formal logical order in the world but an inherent purposefulness in all things. Nature stood for both the order and the purpose. Aristotle's universe was one vast congeries of yearnings, of informed objects moving toward their own perfection and, in a sense, trying to imitate the objects above them in a chain of being stretching to a perfect mind which pulls all things toward it. Man, by his intellect, can grasp the formal truth in objects, can understand the structure of the universe. More importantly he can understand himself, grasp his own nature, which is also to perceive his own highest good."7 The natural law of the Greeks and the Founders was one grasped and Understood through the usc of reason.

This Greek concept of natural law was later grafted onto Western Christian thinking by Thomas Aquinas, but it originated outside theology."


And here's one from another source re: Moral Controversies:

"In the end moral virtues -- although excellences in themselves -- have the further aim of establishing eudaimonia or the more pervasive form of personal (intellectual and moral) wellbeing loosely translated as "happiness".

Aquinas and Augustine came to rest their theories on this largely Aristotelian concept of happiness, in developing what became principles of Roman Catholic Natural Law."

Esau

This is because only point 1) actually relates to God's existence.


Jason,

You believe that due to your biased athiestic tendencies.

However, the fact that your (2) states:

"As reflective beings who must decide how to live..."

The fact that we are reflective beings would be declared by Christians such as I to be due to our God, from whom all good things come.

John E

Interesting post on Dr. Who and transcendent moral law

Elijah

The fact, if true, that "Natural law theories originated in Greek philosophy" does not mean that Natural Law originated in Greek philosophy. That would be like saying that dinosaur extinction theories originated in the 1800s and 1900s, therefore dinosaurs are from the 1800s and 1900s.

Jason
The fact that we are reflective beings would be declared by Christians such as I to be due to our God, from whom all good things come.

Esau,

I would consider the "God makes reflection possible" a separate argument from the moral argument.

Could you clarify the particular aspect of reflection that you believe to be inexplicable through naturalistic means? Do you mean the the "Hard problem of consciousness" or do you have something else in mind?

Jason

Esau

Elijah,

The fact, if true, that "Natural law theories originated in Greek philosophy" does not mean that Natural Law originated in Greek philosophy. That would be like saying that dinosaur extinction theories originated in the 1800s and 1900s, therefore dinosaurs are from the 1800s and 1900s.


I would very much appreciate you not putting words in my mouth.

Where is it anywhere in my comments did I even render such an argument?

My point is that such a notion did not come about the moment somebody was born; in fact, it came about later after the dawn of man; which is why I stated in the following format:

"The idea of Natural Law and the like (more importantly, the idea of Morality) was a notion that is more akin to what later man (e.g., Greeks) learned."

I specifically utilized "later man" since such a possibility could be.

However, this does not take away from the fact that such a notion only developed over time.

SDG

Does everyone agree with me so far?

No.

Jason
No.

Heh, alright, perhaps that wording a bit presumptuous ;-). Could you perhaps elaborate on that a bit?

Jason

And by "that wording", I of course meant my own question - I get the sense that "No" is likely an accurate reflection of the views of everyone else here!

Elijah

I certainly didn't meant to put words in your mouth, Esau. I'm only pointing out that there is a difference between the "notion" of natural law being developed and defined and the actual existence of natural law. Things often exist long before humans get around to formulating their precise expression and writing it down.

Esau

I'm only pointing out that there is a difference between the "notion" of natural law being developed and defined and the actual existence of natural law. Things often exist long before humans get around to formulating their precise expression and writing it down.


Elijah,

Very, very good point!

However, that still does not negate the fact that most primitive human societies were violent and, for the most part, held strength and power as integral values of their society to the point of where oppression of the weak was a naturally acceptable and, in some cases, laudable undertaking.

If the concept of morality was something that came natural, then such morals would've been evident even in the most primitive society.

Charles Shurman

If the concept of morality was something that came natural, then such morals would've been evident even in the most primitive society.

Unless it was concealed or naturally evolved.

SDG

Heh, alright, perhaps that wording a bit presumptuous ;-). Could you perhaps elaborate on that a bit?

I'll excuse your presumption if you excuse my brusqueness! :-) As for elaborating, I certainly hope so, but you may have to be patient. Five kids, plus the wife, and three hours of sleep since Sunday morning, multiple discussions on multiple fronts, and various review deadlines. Me plate am full.

FWIW, I'm glad to have your POV here, and I do hope to respond.

David B.

First one to say "Great post, Jimmy!" gets pelted with week-old haggis.

Fresh haggis sounds bad enough. BTW, does the wife know that you are threatening bloggers with her dinner dishes? ;-)

SDG

David B: Just you wait till I get to Suzanne in subsequent posts. :-D

John E

Jason, thanks for your input. Here is my hack response for your consideration.

I would agree somewhat with your first premise, that there are naturalistic explanations for at least some of our moral intuitions, such as the desire for survival and the avoidance of pain and suffering. But I think to prove your point you would have to say that there is *only* a naturalistic explanation. It would be as if I said that nails in a piece of wood had a hammer explanation. True enough, but that hardly disproves the existence of the carpenter. And in fact it's pretty good evidence that there is or at least was a carpenter. Regardless, I'd be interested to hear how you think a sense of right and wrong could develop from purely natural processes.

If there is no right or wrong, good or bad, then our natural development which caused some of us to believe in God, objective truth and morality, and such is also neither right nor wrong, good nor bad. And what I sense as you trying to convince us of God's non-existence is likely nothing more than you stimulating enjoyable brain chemical interactions with debate, and not what I originally thought, which was that you were trying to lead others into believing what you saw as an objective truth because you felt it was a good or right thing to do.

So according to your view, as the natural processes continue within you that so far cause you to believe in the non-existence of God, I suppose my own natural processes will continue that cause me to believe in the existence of God (and sight-unseen you for that matter) and to pray for you for the grace of faith. For wouldn't you say now that to believe or not believe in a God that doesn't really exist is neither good nor bad, but solely the product of natural processes within us? If so, do you really find it intellectually stimulating to debate about inconsequential matters? But to believe or not believe in a God that truly exists is a much more crucial, and I think as you've found, much more intellectually stimulating matter. Until you finally make that leap of faith to believe in God, you can be assured even now with a materialist view that it would not be wrong to do so.

Jason

Hi John,

I only have a few minutes to respond right now and you raise a number of issues, so I'll give you the abridged version and hopefully we can clear up any ambiguities later on.

But I think to prove your point you would have to say that there is *only* a naturalistic explanation.

I don't see how this is the case. It seems as though we're back to the teapot analogy. The burden of proof is on the theist to provide some reason to believe in the existence of the entity he postulates, which is why we don't believe in everything that is logically possible but unsubstantiated. Now I'm using "some reason" quite liberally here - "some reason" might be an a priori argument like, "the fact that we exist as conscious beings provides evidence of a creator", "the fact that there is something rather than nothing provides evidence of a creator" etc... I of course think these arguments ultimately fail, but at least they are arguments. If none of these arguments succeed then there is no more reason to believe in God than to believe leprechauns.

Thus, the status of my argument is not that a naturalistic explanation precludes a supernatural one, but that it renders a supernatural explanation superfluous. If we had no idea how thunder could come to be from a naturalistic process, we might think it was the echo of the Gods warring in the heavens, but in light of our scientific understanding of thunder, no one would take the existence of thunder as an argument for the existence of God. The same holds for morality.

If there is no right or wrong, good or bad, then our natural development which caused some of us to believe in God, objective truth and morality, and such is also neither right nor wrong, good nor bad.

I don't think accepting a naturalistic origin for our moral judgments undermines their justification in the way that you suggest, and I promise a response to this at some point. But for now, let me just consider how this point relates to my argument above. My point is - suppose that you are right about the consequences of naturalism. Suppose that our moral judgments have a naturalistic origin, this would render them meaningless. All we know about the real world is that we *think* our judgments are meaningful. So this argument that naturalism ultimately undermines these judgments is not really an argument for God's existence because under both theories - the theory that God gave us morality and the theory that morality evolved naturally we might *think* our judgments were meaningful. It just turns out that if you're correct about the consequences of naturalism, we would be mistaken in some deep sense in thinking that our lives have meaning (let me again point out that I don't think this is the case!).

JP

Jason,
A few points, of varying importance.
The burden of proof is on whoever wants to prove something. Of course, theists should want to prove the existence of God, so we'll take that burden. I mention this because I find the idea that there is some logical rule for determining whether a proposition or its negation is somehow inherently the more problematic one to be ludicrous.

The lack of a naturalistic explanation does not necessarily force a supernatural one. We can always just interpret this to mean that there is a natural process which we haven't discovered yet.

All particular moral precepts are bound to have some naturalistic account, because morality for us concerns our natural actions upon a natural world. No one wants to say that "our moral judgments have a naturalistic origin, [so] this would render them meaningless." In a sense, their particular meaning is derived from their roots in nature-- our nature. What renders them meaningless is if they cease to be "moral", i.e. if there is no absolute good to which correct judgments conform, and incorrect judgments do not. which brings me to:

What everyone else on this thread is getting at is this. If you believe there is such a thing as good, then you must admit there can be no naturalistic explanation of it. If you believe there can indeed be a naturalistic explanation, then you must admit that what you are thinking of is not actually good, it is something else. I think a little reflection will show that there is a definite slot in your mind for the concept of 'good', and when you talk about things other than 'good' you can note the difference. If one says, "this definite concept of good developed through the evolutionary processes x, y and z," he indeed has made a passing mention of 'good' but then has explained something other than 'good', namely whatever observed behavior it is that results from processes x, y, and z.

Finally, you are right to make mention of the proofs of God's existence, because after all, that's really the only place you can expect to find a proof of God's existence! I am strongly of the opinion that some of the traditional proofs are valid (and haven't made up my mind about the others), but I think it would be off topic to debate them here.

Jason

JP,

The lack of a naturalistic explanation does not necessarily force a supernatural one. We can always just interpret this to mean that there is a natural process which we haven't discovered yet.

I completely agree with you here, and I think this is an extremely important point. When I said "a lack of a naturalistic explanation" above, I did not mean, "a lack of any current explanation" - I meant instead, "Some reason to think that no naturalistic explanation exists or is even possible." For instance, I don't think we currently have a satisfactory explanation of what constitutes consciousness or why the cosmological constant appears to be small and positive, but I think there is good reason to think such explanations are possible.

If you believe there can indeed be a naturalistic explanation, then you must admit that what you are thinking of is not actually good, it is something else. I think a little reflection will show that there is a definite slot in your mind for the concept of 'good', and when you talk about things other than 'good' you can note the difference.

I think you've hit on a key issue in the point I'm trying to make. A little reflection does indeed show that their is a slot in my mind for good. So any naturalistic explanation would have to account for why we have a concept of good that can be contrasted from the merely expedient. "Good" is a multifaceted concept which actually refers to a number of distinct phenomena, so one should not expect a single explanation for everything we call "good", but it's not hard to see the kind of explanation that might capture some of the core ideas. I'll start with arguably the central component of good - why we sometimes feel we should help others rather than help ourselves. One might concoct an evolutionary explanation for why we should have such inclinations from the robustness of tit-for-tat in promoting mutually advantageous cooperation.

Now, you might reply - OK - but why do we then say, "I *should* help that drowning child rather than continue on my way to work"? I think a satisfactory response is simply, creating brains with this kind of feeling was the best way for evolution to actually get us to behave in this way. Alternatively, it might be a byproduct of an adaptation to engage in a particular kind of justification which evolved for some unrelated reason.

Two critical points of clarification: 1) I agree that this theory does nothing to justify our moral intuitions - if a child asks me, "Why should I be good?" it would be ridiculous to answer with an evolutionary explanation of how our moral intuitions came to be. We think on reflection something like, "I am not being arbitrary when I save the drowning child rather than continue to work. I'm not doing what I feel a stronger inclination to do, I'm doing what is right." My point is: we might simply be wrong about this. Maybe you *are* doing what you feel the stronger inclination to do and this further feeling - that it's non-arbitrary - is just evolution's best way of actually getting you to do it. So an argument that "the naturalistic explanation means our moral intuitions are arbitrary and unjustified" is not an argument for God's existence, since in the naturalistic explanation we might still think these intuitions were justified and even have a strong inclination to defend this view in arguments. 2) I don't think the above explanation was at all satisfactory from a scientific standpoint - I was just giving a hint of the kind of explanation one might give.

Elijah

Jason,

I know you said that you didn't have much time to respond to the above posts, but it sounds like you are saying, very politely and eloquently, that there really is no such thing as right and wrong (saving or not saving the drowning child would not be right nor wrong in any meaningful sense) and that an atheist's life really is, or at least probably is, ultimately meaningless.

John E

Now, you might reply - OK - but why do we then say, "I *should* help that drowning child rather than continue on my way to work"? I think a satisfactory response is simply, creating brains with this kind of feeling was the best way for evolution to actually get us to behave in this way.

So we don't have morals, but an evolutionary process does? And what about a person who thinks that there is a very good likelihood that he will also drown by jumping into the water to at least attempt to save the drowning child, but does so anyway? Or a person who purposely takes his own life? We couldn't call either one an evolutionary defect or one more admirable than another because the words "defect" and "admirable" imply a standard of goodness to measure it against.

Sifu Jones

Jason,

Here's the question that ultimately expresses the disparity of your view and the theistic view:

If, on your death bed, you suddenly had the power to destroy the entire universe, including yourself, quickly and painlessly, would you do it? Why or why not?

It seems silly and facetious to ask it, but please give me a chance to prove I'm not trolling, because this is what we're down to now. Once you are dead, why would you desire the continuation of anything that represents you? Of course you might want to have children or leave behind some valuable work for others to remember you, but what if there were no others to remember?

You could claim that evolutionary process has conditioned you to desire your own survival, or to desire some abstract concept (continuation of your own family line, or even of humanity in general) that symbolizes your survival. But you are not a beast, you are a man. For whatever reason you choose to believe in, you have the ability to overcome your evolutionary whims in a way that non-sapient beings do not.

According to evolutionary principle (and obviously I'm using those terms very loosely here, but they suffice), a dog fights to the death to defend its pups for one of two reasons: either it doesn't have a concept of death and so can't anticipate it, or it does have a concept of death but is conditioned by evolution to preserve the life of the young rather than its own.

It must be noted here that evolution is not "smart". The truly atheistic viewpoint must be that evolution is just a single "positive" result amongst billions of "negative" results throughout the universe and for all time. Without divine intervention, the success of evolution must invariably be an accident of nature.

So we are all accidents of nature, existing accidentally. Existence has no meaning other than what we give it which, since we are accidents of nature, makes our applications of meaning to the concept of existence ALSO accidents.

In logical fact, with no God the existence of nature itself is non-essential: the universe is an accident, the workings of evolution are an accident, our existence is an accident, our attempts to apply meaning to that existence is an accident, and there is therefore no substantially essential thing, anywhere, ever.

For the true atheist, our actions and beliefs have no meaning at all; what we interpret as meaning really isn't. In fact, meaning itself is an empty term. And in fact, all terms are empty, divested of anything other than what we put into them. And since what we put into them is simply the result of a long process of existential accidentals, then we get right back to "we are nothing".

I'm sorry to belabor the point, but I'm trying very hard to avoid giving you the opportunity to come back with the atheist version of blind faith -- the argument that, regardless of by what scientific, god-less process our desires to do "good" and avoid "evil" come from, we should obey them.

I find the atheist's appeal "but I don't have the power to end the world, so it's a moot point" to be logically weak. Likewise, the assertion to obey society's arbitrary definitions of good and evil for no other reason than fear of punishment, or obedience to the promptings of some cosmic accident.

The fact is, if there is no God, then there is no reason to avoid doing what others call evil, if you can get away with it, and if you would derive more pleasure than pain from it. To (graphically) continue SDG's point, you may not derive any pleasure, either physical, mental, or emotional, from raping toddlers, but other people might, and they may do it without all those unnecessary evolutionarily-inspired negative "feelings".

Why should we stop them from fulfilling their desires? The child has no rights. The parents have no rights. Rights only matter if existence matters, and it doesn't. Would you really tell me that the only reason for me to preserve the child is because it makes me feel good, or because I could get a reward out of it?

I hope that you have another answer that doesn't devolve into:

1) Evolution demands it.

2) It makes me feel good.

3) Rights and morals (and other people) have no meaning, but we should respect them anyway (which is basically #1).

4)Society happens to exist and I happen to like it, so despite its accidental nature we should defend it anyway (a combination of #1 and #2).

And so to finally address the question of destroying the universe: if your answer is "neither choice really matters", you are at least a consistent, true atheist. Don't let your evolutionary-created "guilt" stop you from maintaining that logical consistency -- shout it out loud! We're all worthless, and nothing we do matters.

If it doesn't make you happy to say that, it doesn't matter. Because happiness is an accident.

Willis

Sifu,

The most important question is whether or not something is true, not whether it brings happiness or meaning to our lives. To say that atheism makes life meaningless does not make it any less true.

John E

Willis, I agree. However, is getting at the truth the most important thing, period? Or is it most important because we have a sense that it will ultimately bring to our lives more happiness and meaning? If the atheist view is correct, then nothing really matters. Why not live in an imaginary world for the short time we're here? It would be neither good nor bad to do so.

Willis

Sorry John, I didn’t mean to say that I think that atheism is true, but it definitely sounded like that in the post. All I am saying is that saying God has to exist to give meaning and comfort to our lives is the wrong approach to take because it plays right into the atheist's allegation that religion is only for comfort.

The naturalist explanation seems like it might be an attempt to explain why we might *feel* like we have moral obligations, but not that morality actually exists. Indeed, if I can explain my conscience as just another survival instinct it gives me all the more incentive to ignore it.

Jason

A few quick comments - I'll reply in more detail to SDGs new post on this issue.

Elijah and John E - what I mean to be saying (although judging by the responses I may not be doing so very clearly), is that *if* the materialist worldview meant that life were meaningless (which I don't think it does!), that still wouldn't mean that the materialist worldview was wrong because the evolutionary explanation can still explain why we would mistakenly think it was meaningful.

I'll try to explain in the next thread (as I keep promising to do) why I don't think a materialist explanation would in fact make our lives any less meaningful or undermine the priority we give to moral reasons.

Sifu - you also seem to be arguing that the materialist worldview implies that life is meaningless (correct me if I've misunderstood your point). I'll try to answer your questions in the next thread in connection with that argument. But again, I don't see how this engages with my claim here that even if your argument is right, that might just be the way the world is.

I would agree with Willis that I am trying to argue about what's true, not why we have reason to behave in one way or another. For that latter argument, on to the next thread.

Jason

A few quick comments - I'll reply in more detail to SDGs new post on this issue.

Elijah and John E - what I mean to be saying (although judging by the responses I may not be doing so very clearly), is that *if* the materialist worldview meant that life were meaningless (which I don't think it does!), that still wouldn't mean that the materialist worldview was wrong because the evolutionary explanation can still explain why we would mistakenly think it was meaningful.

I'll try to explain in the next thread (as I keep promising to do) why I don't think a materialist explanation would in fact make our lives any less meaningful or undermine the priority we give to moral reasons.

Sifu - you also seem to be arguing that the materialist worldview implies that life is meaningless (correct me if I've misunderstood your point). I'll try to answer your questions in the next thread in connection with that argument. But again, I don't see how this engages with my claim here that even if your argument is right, that might just be the way the world is.

I would agree with Willis that I am trying to argue about what's true, not why we have reason to behave in one way or another. For that latter argument, on to the next thread.

Mary

The most important question is whether or not something is true, not whether it brings happiness or meaning to our lives. To say that atheism makes life meaningless does not make it any less true.

Except that we evolve to fit our environment. We require trace amounts of all sorts of elements: molybdenum, selenium, manganese. Existing elements -- no one requires non-existium.

We have eyes to see because light exists, we have ears to hear because sound exists, we do not have organ to sense energy forms that don't exist.

If the universe really is meaningless, how is that we crave meaning? It's as extraordinary as expecting sight in a universe without light.

John E

Willis I understood you. All I'm saying is that if God doesn't exist and we are essentially the product of natural processes, then nothing is objectively good or bad, because those words themselves are only a result of natural processes at work within each individual. So if good and bad are essentially what the natural processes at work in us have caused them to be, if I say it's not important to discover the objective truth or that there are no objective truths at all, or any such nonsense I choose to believe (even my reason is a product of natural processes) then no one can with any meaningfulness say it's good or bad or better or worse than anything else.

No one can even objectively say it's bad if I believe contrary to nature or my own reason. There is no objective good or bad. And an atheist can't claim that my belief in God is objectively good or bad either. The most he can say is that his sense of good and bad that were caused by natural processes at work within him seem to be different than the natural processes at work in me that caused my sense of good and bad.

In reality there are objective truths, but we could never know them with any certainty. And "good" and "bad" are just labels that may or may not have anything to do with the truth, depending on how natural processes have created that definition in us individually. Indeed no word or concept would have any objective meaning, and we could only be thankful that natural processes have for the most part worked similarly within the vast majority of us to give the illusion of being able to grasp objective truths. So the best we could do is have the illusion that we know objective truths, that is, reality.

Now that sounds like a teapot to me.

silly new atheists

those silly new atheists are anti people. they are nerds who turned to science because they had no people skills to begin with. not only are they anti god they are anti people.

think of those mathematicians with high iq's and all they can think about is math and science. they have their little slide rulers in their penpockets and they have hair out to here...and have buck teeth.

ok

just watch beauty and the geek and you'll see what i mean.

atheists are nerds

these are the nerds who invented computers and the internet....they are the one's who lurk in chat rooms seeking ways to prey on children and infiltrate your computer at home....and to spy on you...becuase they are too chicken and unskilled and possibly psycho to have a normal face to face adult and non invasive conversation.

stepford atheist

atheists are nerds who want to recreate the world in their image. nerdsville. think of stepford wives. these are the guys that want to control people with little remote control cell phones...to a nerd, a beautiful robot is easier to get than a beautiful human woman....but i think robots are high maintenance....when you get right down to it.

atheistic control freaks

stepford atheists want to be god is their problem. they have serious control issues when it comes to people. see they can't stand things that they can't control. things like oh...women and god. someone should write a book for them....

how to understand women....freud. another nerd, wrote a book about women...it has blank pages.

how to understand god.....
well at least if they want to understand god they at least have the bible.

nerds like computers and other little remote control gadgety things because they can't control women...hence their desire to deny his existence.

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.

apologetic anti atheist poster

anti atheist poster says
sowwy
i did not know

just so you know each of my comments were separate thoughts. i did not think of them all at once...they just continue after i have already posted. and i feel it is relevent to the convo to add them. sorry

also i apologize for not using a consistent name. i did not know about that rule. i just found it more helpful to use a theme title for each post so that my comments had a direction. sorry

i will try to do better next time

SDG

No sweat. Carry on.

Smoky Mountain

No sweat. Carry on.

Or not.

The comments to this entry are closed.

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