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Sean Carroll’s “Ten Considerations” for Naturalists

Carroll-pic

This is the final post in our long series exploring physicist Sean Carroll's new book, The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (Dutton, 2016).

In the book's penultimate chapter, which in my view is the book's strangest, Carroll offers an alternative to the Bible's Ten Commandments, what he calls his "Ten Considerations." They read like a mushy collection of Oprah-isms:

  • Life isn't forever.
  • Desire is built into life.
  • What matters is what matters to people.
  • We can always do better.
  • It pays to listen.
  • There is no natural way to be.
  • It takes all kinds.
  • The universe is in our hands.
  • We can do better than happiness.
  • Reality guides us.

Carroll is clearly a great scientist, but as this section reveals, he's a poor self-help guru. For example, take the strange claim that, "The universe doesn't care about us, but we care about the universe. That's what makes us special, not any immaterial souls or special purpose in the grand cosmic plan" (422).

Read that a couple times. What Carroll apparently believes is that our caring for the universe is what makes us special. Presumably, that implies we can become more special by simply caring more about the universe. Yet why does our significance depend on whether we care about the universe? Carroll offers no reason or support. And what about people who don't care about the universe, such as babies or nihilists or those stuck in despair? Does this mean they aren't special? If Carroll thinks they nevertheless still matter, why? On what basis?

We find similarly strange claims in the "We Can Always Do Better" section. There Carroll says,

"When it comes to valuing, caring, loving, and being good, perfection is even more of a chimera, since there isn't even an objective standard against which to judge our successes. We nevertheless make progress, both at understanding the world and at living within it." (422)

Carroll believes there is no objective standard of success, but he also believe we still make progress. Yet how can that be? How can we progress unless we have a goal or end to which we're progressing? Again, Carroll doesn't say. He just vaguely affirms, "Progress comes, not from new discoveries in an imaginary science of morality, but from being more honest and rigorous with ourselves" (422). That sounds like an objective standard to me. If it's not, then it's just Carroll's personal preference for how humans should behave—a preference that none of use are obliged to accept. Even worse, Carroll offers no guidance on how to determine which actions are more honest and rigorous, or what standards of honesty and rigor he is using. His words may sound nice, but they're ultimately void of substance.

But what's Carroll's purpose here? Why offer these "Ten Considerations"? It seems, here at the end of the book, he's trying to offer some consolation to those who read his previous 48 chapters and developed a sort of existential despair at what poetic naturalism implies. When you stare down a world that is fundamentally devoid of freedom, meaning, morality, and purpose, and you know the only way you can achieve those goods is by constructing them yourself, even when they stand athwart reality, you need some uplifting encouragement just to carry on.

But I'm not sure Carroll, a theoretical physicist, is the best source to provide this. I'm not alone in that assessment. One atheist reviewer, also a scientist, had a similar reaction:

"I just don’t think theoretical physicists have anything useful to tell the average person about meaning and morality, other than that it’s a mistake to search for it in our discoveries about physics....
 
Given that, the best advice to people who come to physicists looking for the meaning of life seems to me to politely tell them that they’re looking in the wrong place and asking the wrong person....[Scientists] should avoid preaching about meaning, morality, and other issues that they know no more about than anyone else."

And that takes us to the book's final chapter. It's a very interesting one because it's the only one in which Carroll gets personal. He shares about his fairly religious upbringing and generally good experiences with God as a child. He confesses, "I loved the mysteries and the doctrine. Going to Sunday school, reading the Bible, trying to figure out what it was all about" (428).

But when his grandmother died unexpectedly when he was ten, the pain shook him. He became a more casual believer. Eventually, once he went off to college at Villanova (a Catholic university) and became an astronomy major, he lost his faith completely.

Interestingly, Carroll says that while his slide from faith to unbelief was gradual, there were two moments that stuck out. The first took place as a young boy. His local Episcopal church made a decision to change small parts of their service. The previous version had too much standing and kneeling, without enough breaks to sit down. So they reduced the up-and-down activity. That confounded the young Carroll:

"I found this to be scandalously heretical. How is it possible that we can just mess around with what happens in the service? Isn't all that decided by God? You mean to tell me that people can just change things around at a whim? I was still a believer, but doubts had been sown."

It's tough to make sense of this. Did the young Carroll really believe that God had divinely ordained when to stand and kneel in his contemporary Episcopal church? I can perhaps understand how a young boy could be confused by this, but wouldn't an older Carroll be able to make simple distinctions between divine revelation and malleable liturgical customs?

The second incident occurred when Carroll heard the song, "The Only Way" from the Emerson, Lake, & Palmer album Tarkus. The song included something Carroll had never heard before: "an unmistakable, in-your-face atheist message" (429). It made him think, for the first time, that it was okay to be a nonbeliever—that it wasn't something he should be ashamed of or keep hidden.

What strikes me about these two events, the most notable experiences in Carroll's journey from God to atheism, is how surprisingly shallow they are. I find it hard to believe that a couple of minor liturgical changes and the lyrics to a progressive rock song were enough to decimate a young man's faith. If that's truly what happened, and I don't doubt it did, then he must have had a very shallow and unsophisticated understanding of God. And he doesn't seem to have moved past that.

As I wrap up this review, I want to emphasize the good points of Carroll's new book. The Big Picture is full of fascinating and invigorating descriptions of how our universe works, from the cosmological down to the sub-atomic. When Carroll stays in his lane and writes on questions of theoretical physics, he's simply masterful.

It's when he veers into theology and philosophy that he runs into problems. Carroll calls to mind the words of a fellow scientist and skeptic, Francis Bacon, who reportedly said, "A little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion."

Carroll's big picture is not big enough. It contains too little philosophy—and bad philosophy at that. Would that he be open to more.

Brandon Vogt

Written by

Brandon Vogt is a bestselling author, blogger, and speaker. He's also the founder of StrangeNotions.com. Brandon has been featured by several media outlets including NPR, CBS, FoxNews, SiriusXM, and EWTN. He converted to Catholicism in 2008, and since then has released several books, including The Church and New Media (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011), Saints and Social Justice (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014), and RETURN (Numinous Books, 2015). He works as the Content Director for Bishop Robert Barron's Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Brandon lives with his wife, Kathleen, and their five children in Central Florida. Follow him at BrandonVogt.com or connect through Twitter at @BrandonVogt.

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  • "Yet why does our significance depend on whether we care about the universe'

    Because it is, apparently, unique in the cosmos. No other part cares about the universe. Like Sagan said: what is amazing about us is that we are the part of the universe that can reflect upon itself that can "care" at all.

    To the extent other parts come to be aware of their existence and care, (aliens, some animals) we find them significant.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xaj407ofjNE

    • The jump from uniqueness to significance is a non sequitur.

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        I agree...but I think Brandon was the one who made that jump in the article. Caroll only talks about being "special" in the short quote in th article, but Brandon switched to talking about significance.

        • So Carroll-'special' ⇏ Brandon-'significance'? It seems a bit hard for me to believe that Carroll-'special' wouldn't mean any such thing, given how I've seen 'special' used in such contexts.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            Could be... Caroll's use of "special" might be ambiguous. I read it as a synonym for "unique" but perhaps he meant "significant."

          • I always look for plausible reasons why someone might have said something. If a physicist comes up to me and suggests that the number e is unique, I will suppose that [s]he means something more than just the fact that there is no other number like e. Occasionally the person really is just randomly spouting a fact, but I find that is much less likely in books like Carroll's.

            I find it curious that many Christians will say that humans are significant because God loves them, while Carroll could easily be saying that humans are significant because they love God the universe.

      • "The jump from uniqueness to significance is a non sequitur."

        Precisely what I was going to add. Even if it was true that we were the only ones that cared about the universe (which hasn't been proven), why should that matter? Why would this uniqueness, in regards to this one curious trait, determine our value?

        • I'm tempted to attribute this to the Canticle for Leibowitz Alasdair MacIntyre suggests has happened to moral philosophy in the first chapter of After Virtue. I think we really need to face up to the fact/​value dichotomy: how it arose, what continues to justify it in the consciousness of many (especially intellectuals), and how it results in incoherence, non sequiturs, and what I call "manipulating the unarticulated background", to riff on (i) MacIntyre's claim that "emotivism entails the obliteration of any genuine distinction between manipulative and non-manipulative social relations" (AV, 23); (ii) Charles Taylor's argument that our conception of 'the good' has pre-conceptual foundations (e.g. in Philosophical Arguments).

  • "Carroll believes there is no objective standard of success, but he also believe we still make progress. Yet how can that be?"

    The progress is subjective. It is progress with respect to our shared, if subjective, values.

    • "The progress is subjective. It is progress with respect to our shared, if subjective, values."

      So you would agree that what Carroll calls "progress" others, maybe most others, would consider "regress"? How can we determine who is right?

      • Sure, maybe. We may not be able to tell who is right. Atheists certainly try, so do theists, do you think anyone has been successful? What can Catholicism demonstrate is an objective goal to progress to and why?

        • "What can Catholicism demonstrate is an objective goal to progress to and why?"

          We progress when we move closer to the purposes for which God has created us, both collectively and individually. That goal is objective since it is independent of any human minds. This seems completely sensible to me.

          • Peter A.

            Those purposes being... ? What?

            I'm not trying to be funny here, but no theist that I have asked thus far has given me a satisfactory response to why something that is (apparently) omniscient, omnipotent, transcendent, eternal and so on, would need (or want) to create anything at all in the first place. Surely we both agree that God, assuming such exists in the manner that most Christians believe, is perfect and without any deficiencies whatsoever, so... why are we here?

            Now some Christian theists (like W. L. Craig, J. P. Moreland) will say, "to have a relationship with", whilst at the same time maintaining without any perceptible recognition of the irony implicit, that God should not be, and cannot be, anthropomorphised. They will argue for the God of the philosophers on one day when it suits their purposes, but on the next will discuss things like the virgin birth, or the divinity of Christ, but there is no theist that I know of who has established the link (I would say, "unbridgeable chasm") that exists between the evidence and reasoning that exists for the deistic God on the one hand, and the Christian one on the other.

            I myself can, and do, accept there is so much more to reality than what people like Carroll maintain, and it is patently clear that such people have an atheistic agenda to promote, because it is so clearly obvious (just examine the actual arguments they make for the naturalistic worldview, they can be easily refuted because they are complete junk). However, having said this I must confess that I see no reason to side with the Christians either, if only because they simply have not made their case. Christianity to me is just one more religion like all the others that claim to be the sole source of truth, and to a (truly) impartial observer, has nothing to offer that the others don't as well. Eternal life? Not interested. Salvation? From what? Ourselves? From who we truly are? No thanks, but no vision of the afterlife that I have thus far come across has the least bit of interest for me, and that seems to be the central perk that Christianity is spruiking to the unconverted.

          • Alec

            I think the Bible puts it perfectly, it's because of his love for us. Sure it may not be satisfactory to you, but it's a legitimate reason.

            And as for your reasons for rejecting Christianity, they're immature. It's not about what we want, as naturally humans are predisposed to sin, and we love it. We don't want God in our lives. But there are consequences to this reckless behaviour, there has to be. It's called Hell.

          • Sample1

            Possibly the most boring thing I've read here. If you are trying to win brains for a god, you're gonna have to spice it up. What do you have that is more boner-lifting than scientific discovery?

            Examples would be great. Please don't say waxy corpses or ampules of blood.

            B-O-R-I-N-G.

            I'll wait. You seem to think you have the goods.

            Mike, moral without Jesus.

          • VicqRuiz

            It may be objective from God's point of view, since he presumably can evaluate all of us on his best-to-worst scale.

            But from the human point of view, clearly theists, Christians, Catholics can have differences of opinion as to whether any given person is moving closer to, or farther away from, God's purposes.

            How would an outside observer differentiate a world in which everyone believed in objective morality, but each had different opinions on what that morality required of him, from a world in which everyone believed morality was subjective?

          • Rob Abney

            "How would an outside observer differentiate a world in which everyone believed in objective morality, but each had different opinions on what that morality required of him, from a world in which everyone believed morality was subjective?"
            That's a great question Vic, the simple answer for Catholics is to follow the Church's teaching when in doubt, but to then try to understand the full rationale that supports the Church's teaching. That makes it objective, if you substitute another authority in place of the Church then you get subjectivity.
            From the outsiders perspective it will only be the ones who follow the Church's teachings consistently that will appear different than the subjective group, we call those people Saints, the rest of us Catholics try to follow the Church's teachings but often fail to do so consistently and look a lot like the subjective group.

          • You have not articulated any goal. You say God has a purpose and you are moving towards it. I am sure those who lit the pyre under Joan of Arc were convinced of the same thing. As were the suicide bombers on 9/11.

            At best you can say that you can be objectively convinced that God exists, and the current theology advanced by your variety of Christianity is correct. This leads basically to following moral intuitions which is exactly what naturalists do. The only distinction would be that you also must try and interpret god's specific commands? But you have no way of objectively interpreting those commands do you?

            History suggests that the interpretation of how to advance Gods purposes changes through time, while God and his message does not. This implies to me that it is subjective.

          • ClayJames

            There is so much to disagree with here, but I have a couple of points about the last three lines.
            History suggest the interpretation of many things changes through time.
            Also, while God doesnt change, where do you get the idea that his message also doesn´t change? If God reveals his message at different points in time, then by definition, the message must change.
            Finally, it doesn´t follow from these two points that the interpretation is subjective any more than it follows that the interpretation of different, changing, even diverging interpretations of real world events mean that those events do not have an objective reality.

          • Red Pacifist

            That still seems rather subjective, sense you cannot prove that
            A) this purpose actually exists
            And
            B) that this purpose is what(ever) you suppose it to be.

            Also, even if you are correct on both accounts, this morality is still based on your God's idea of what morality should be.

  • "How can we progress unless we have a goal or end to which we're progressing?"

    We have goals, we just admit they are not goals that are set by some perfect absolute standard. We develop certain inherent values naturally, likely through natural selection. We value our own flourishing, and the company of other flourishing humans, this satisfies inherent, evolved tendencies. These can result in all kinds of goals and we can gauge our progress towards them.

    • What about those Social Darwinists? They valued the same thing that natural selection 'values': the survival of the fittest and the extinction of the weak. Can you empirically demonstrate that these people were acting against their genes? If your answer is "no", then the term "flourishing" seems so vague as to be useless.

      • "the survival of the fittest and the extinction of the weak" isn't the same as differential reproductive success

        • Well, it's a binary approximation. Or are you saying it isn't even that?

      • Doug Shaver

        What about those Social Darwinists?

        They were wrong. They tried to infer social and political ought's from biological is's.

        • I don't see the relevance; why not just make the minor correction away from the idea that their ideas of how to live are somehow rationally true, and just say that they were operating off of their 'inherent values' and 'evolved tendencies'?

          The problem with our 'inherent values' and 'evolved tendencies' is that they are toward tribalism, toward benefiting 'us' to the exclusion of 'them'. This newfangled return to the 'noble savage' is ridiculous. We've actually built something with civilization, and it is an absolutely live question to ask whether that building might be the result of human–divine interaction and cooperation.

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't see the relevance

            Their arguments were invalid. That itself doesn't prove their conclusions were wrong, but when you're forced to use an invalid argument because you can't find a valid one, you're in deep epistemological trouble.

            This newfangled return to the 'noble savage' is ridiculous.

            Of course it is, and I have never defended it.

            We've actually built something with civilization, and it is an absolutely live question to ask whether that building might be the result of human–divine interaction and cooperation.

            I'm not saying you shouldn't ask. I am saying that I have so far seen no good reason to think the answer is yes.

          • Their arguments were invalid.

            Sure, but that's just because you don't think one can get from is to ought. But that means you can't either, so how can you critique the ought which Social Darwinists accepted? If you have no sufficiently powerful critique, then you'd seem to be unable to defend BGA's argument from the criticism of arbitrariness.

          • Doug Shaver

            Sure, but that's just because you don't think one can get from is to ought.

            It's hardly a controversial position. If you think it can be done, show us how.

            But that means you can't either

            I've never said I could.

            so how can you critique the ought which Social Darwinists accepted?

            By basing my ought's on something other than an is.

          • At this point, I don't see how what you're saying in any way undermines my critique of @briangreenadams:disqus' comment. I have no intention of arguing against your views in this thread; at most, you're welcome to try to exegete Brian's views and/or give possible grounds for them. A Social Darwinist can stay a Social Darwinist while making his/her beliefs consistent with a strong fact/​value dichotomy.

          • Doug Shaver

            At this point, I don't see how what you're saying in any way undermines my critique of Brian Green Adams' comment. . . . at most, you're welcome to try to exegete Brian's views and/or give possible grounds for them.

            If I understand you correctly, you are offering social Darwinism as evidence contrary to this statement of his:

            We have goals, we just admit they are not goals that are set by some perfect absolute standard. We develop certain inherent values naturally, likely through natural selection. We value our own flourishing, and the company of other flourishing humans, this satisfies inherent, evolved tendencies. These can result in all kinds of goals and we can gauge our progress towards them.

            If I further understand you correctly, you are defending a position of moral objectivism, i.e. the existence of moral facts, principles, or values that obtain independently of any person's judgment. Insofar as Brian denies that, I do support him.

            A Social Darwinist can stay a Social Darwinist while making his/her beliefs consistent with a strong fact/​value dichotomy.

            As the term is normally used, social Darwinism by definition either denies the dichotomy or at least claims an exception in the case of human social arrangements. A social Darwinist argues: This is how nature is, and therefore this is how society ought to be. If they don't say that, then they are something other than social Darwinists.

          • That was helpful.

            If I further understand you correctly, you are defending a position of moral objectivism [...]

            I didn't mean to rely on such a position. Instead, I want to propose that Social Darwinism is another way that humans can key off of their evolved moral intuitions and come up with an ideal society.

            A social Darwinist argues: This is how nature is, and therefore this is how society ought to be. If they don't say that, then they are something other than social Darwinists.

            If you want to stipulate that, then we can come up with a term which captures everything about Social Darwinism except for that justificatory step. I don't see how such a modification would drastically change the ethos of Social Darwinism.

          • Doug Shaver

            That was helpful.

            Always glad to hear that.

            I want to propose that Social Darwinism is another way that humans can key off of their evolved moral intuitions and come up with an ideal society.

            If it is that, then I would say it’s an instance of a universal tendency. Whatever our evolved intuitions are, I suspect that we all tend to assume that if everyone complied with them, we would achieve an ideal society, or least something as close to it as was possible. I’m not saying I accept that assumption, only that we all tend to make it because it’s an easy one to make.

            then we can come up with a term which captures everything about Social Darwinism except for that justificatory step. I don't see how such a modification would drastically change the ethos of Social Darwinism.

            I think some versions of free-market capitalism capture a big chunk of it, and some of their defenders seem content to argue something along the lines of: Adam Smith said it, I believe it, and that settles it.

            I agree that a conclusion doesn’t change just because you change the argument with which you defend it. But defensibility is the issue, it seems to me: Do the advocates of any ethos like that of social Darwinism have a good argument—or, perhaps more to the point, a better argument than any that is offered by us who disagree with such an ethos? Naturally, I think they don’t. But then, I’ve never debated anyone who actually believes in social Darwinism or any equivalent ethical system.

          • Will

            The problem with our 'inherent values' and 'evolved tendencies' is that they are toward tribalism, toward benefiting 'us' to the exclusion of 'them'.

            To this day, Jews are not supposed to marry non-Jews...the idea comes straight from the Torah. How is this not obvious tribalism? Deut 7

            7 When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you— 2 and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally.[a] Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. 3 Do not intermarry with them.

            Smite them, show them no mercy, and don't intermarry. You were saying?
            As for Christianity, I can quote verses, but think about the obvious fact that the in-group gets into heaven, and the out-group (non-Christians) burn in hell. That's one hell of a tribal in-group, out-group setup. If Judaism/Christianity are from God, than obviously God is perfectly fine with in-group/out-group morality. Matthew 15

            22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

            23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

            24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

            25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

            26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

            27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

            28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

            At least he healed her daughter after calling her a dog. Many of us today are also kind enough to help dogs.

          • To this day, Jews are not supposed to marry non-Jews...the idea comes straight from the Torah. How is this not obvious tribalism?

            You're welcome to demonstrate how this results in damaging 'us' vs. 'them' dynamics. I shall point to the disproportionate number of Nobel Prizes won by Jews and suggest that whatever it is they're doing is benefiting humanity more than whatever it is that non-Jews are doing, on average. Unless perhaps the numerous instances genocides carried out against the Jews have acted as a sort of artificial selection? Anyhow, I look forward to hearing you explain how the harm that comes from this tendency of some(!) Jews outweighs the incredible extent to which they have blessed, and continue to bless, humanity.

          • Will

            Where did I say tribalism is wrong? That was you. My point is that Judaism and Christianity are tribalistic, so if you think there is something wrong with tribalism...

          • Where did I say tribalism is wrong? That was you.

            What I wrote can be construed as a particular kind of tribalism:

            LB: The problem with our 'inherent values' and 'evolved tendencies' is that they are toward tribalism, toward benefiting 'us' to the exclusion of 'them'.

            If it is not obvious to you that some tribalism does great damage to those who are not members of the tribe, then I will not try to convince you otherwise. If it is not obvious to you that the disproportionate number of Nobel Prizes won by Jews constitutes them doing great good to those who are not members of their tribe, I will try not convince you otherwise there, either.

          • Will

            f it is not obvious to you that some tribalism does great damage to those who are not members of the tribe, then I will not try to convince you otherwise. If it is not obvious to you that the disproportionate number of Nobel Prizes won by Jews constitutes them doing great good to those who are not members of their tribe, I will try not convince you otherwise there, either.

            Lol! So it's not obvious to you that if that Jews actually killed off all of the Canaanites it was harmful to them? Your condescension is comical, to say the least ;)
            Isn't it obvious to you that the world has benefited from the inventions of the Nazi's, such as rockets and jet propulsion? Therefore Nazi morality is fine. Seriously?? Lol!

          • Why the sudden course change to 'troll'? My patience for your straw men has run out.

          • Will

            Lol! Your patience has run out? Behave condescending towards me and I'll do so in return. Exactly what you did at outshine the sun. I thought we were playing the flame game from your tone :)
            Personally I have plenty of patience left.

          • Are you William Davis?

          • Will

            None other. Put yourself in my shoes. I mention a passage about killing off the Canaanites, and simply note that avoiding intermarriage continues to this day, and it appeared to me that you assumed I'm anti-jewish and an idiot. Baruch Spinoza and Albert Einstein are both Jews and two of my favorite historical figures. I can certainly be more thorough about why I was offended if you are interested, and don't see why :) I'm quite over it now, I struck back.
            I forgot to ask...do you disagree that banning intermarriage is tribalism? If it is, and it isn't harmful to outsiders (other than someone who falls in love with a Jew), doesn't that mean that we should split tribalism into harmful/non-harmful forms, meaning all tribalism isn't bad? It would follow that the fact that tribalism is in human nature isn't necessarily a bad thing, depending on it's manifestation. That really was my point to begin with, but, of course, we can find both harmful and non-harmful tribalism in the Torah. Hell can be psychological harmful if people at least partly believe it, but we don't have to get into that, or anything else if I'm annoying you.

          • LB: Are you William Davis?

            W: None other.

            In that case, I apologize for engaging you. (You had returned as "William Davis" after deleting your account; I did not realize you had changed to "Will".) My many attempts at productively engaging you have too frequently led to bad places. I have lost hope that I can learn how to better interact with you.

          • Will

            I have lost hope that I can learn how to better interact with you.

            It's been Will for a while. I had fun with our interactions, even when they got testy, but that's just me, and I don't tend to give up easily. Considering everything that went down at Estranged Notions (and for how long), I thought you enjoyed a good fight too. Anyway, have fun, and good luck interacting with other non-theists. They aren't quick to call you on your condescension, even though you often ooze it in your posts.

          • Will

            P.S. Nice to chit chat with you again, even though we were off to a rocky start. Even though I usually disagree with you, the odd angles you use to approach issues are often interesting, even though I might think some of the angles are too odd...

      • Neither I, nor Mr Carrol is advancing Social Darwinism or that we can or should actin in accordance with our genes, whatever that means.

        But yes, when we are speaking in general terms about basic moral values we are going to be vague. What are the specific and fundamental moral values advanced by theists?

        • Oh, I know you aren't advancing Social Darwinism. Instead, I am suggesting that Social Darwinists had (I think some still exist, given the behavior of modern institutions) a different notion of 'progress', a different standard. I really do hope that this standard is in significant conflict with your standard, such as it is. But then the question is: upon what resources can you draw, to win this conflict?

          My objection to your comment is that you write as if your morality is somehow 'natural'. Over at WP: Noble savage, we have: "Jean-Jacques Rousseau, like Shaftesbury, also insisted that man was born with the potential for goodness; and he, too, argued that civilization, with its envy and self-consciousness, has made men bad." What you write is consistent with this. This seems important for your argument, because you are making your de facto standard 'nature'. This can be contrasted with the non-natural standard the Christian necessarily employs, when [s]he calls nature 'fallen'.

          My objection can be fleshed out by considering the many technologically advanced cultures imagined by Star Trek folks, cultures which are not egalitarian, cultures which your average Western intellectual would despise. If these cultures are easily possible—if the development of science and technology can happen alongside the perpetuation of great moral evils—then the development toward the morality you like has a sense of arbitrariness, aka contingency. You then bear the burden of explaining why we should go with your vision of an 'excellent society', over other available visions. What I have tried to explicitly deny you is an appeal to 'nature' as sufficient grounding.

          This is not the time and place to flesh out a comprehensive version of my idea of an 'excellent society', but I can point you to a few thing's I've written up if you're curious: relational sin, judgment, seeing the good.

          • "But then the question is: upon what resources can you draw, to win this conflict?"

            Science and shared human values, empathy.

            "you write as if your morality is somehow 'natural'."

            Sure, I am saying that, fundamentally, my morality is based on certain axiomatic intuitions about human well-being and flourishing. I am a naturalist so I really do not see an issue, I am aware of the naturalistic fallacy and I do not think I am committing that. That would be a different use of "natural".

            "the morality you like has a sense of arbitrariness, aka contingency."

            In a sense this is true, but that sense is: that favouring well-being over suffering is arbitrary. it is in that I cannot justify it with recourse to any self-attesting or necessary standard.

            "You then bear the burden of explaining why we should go with your vision of an 'excellent society', over other available visions."

            I certainly cannot. But by this I mean if you disagree that a society that favours human well-being and flourishing, happiness, is better than one that favours human suffering, fear, anger, shame and sadness, no I have no way of convincing you on any moral question.

            But! for those who do share those values, I can convince you of why social darwinism is wrong, or it is wrong to tell people not to use birth control is immoral or that torture is immoral and so on.

            But what I do not hear ever from theists is what the basis of their morality is, what this objective moral standard is, how they know it is correct and how they apply it. I am quite prepared to admit my morality is subjective. But I just see no alternative.

            What I find particularly concerning with theists, is that they generally seem to agree with my moral values, but then feel they can agree that things like genocide, infanticide, mass murder, torture, sexism, slavery, can be perfectly moral in some circumstances.

          • Science and shared human values, empathy.

            Well, all I can encourage you to do here is to set out rigorous standards of falsifiation, so that you don't end up making a just-so story out of this. I could also point out the decline in Americans trusting each other in the US, from 56% in 1968 → 33% in 2014. Surely empathy would lead to trust? I get that books like Pinker's Better Angels is often taken to suggest that we're on the way to utopia; all I suggest is that rigorous standards of falsification be set up so that it's remotely possible for views like yours to be shown to be wrong/​insufficient.

            Sure, I am saying that, fundamentally, my morality is based on certain axiomatic intuitions about human well-being and flourishing.

            Evolution never cared about the weak, especially in other tribes. But assuredly, you do. This would appear to be an artificial aspect of your morality.

            In a sense this is true, but that sense is: that favouring well-being over suffering is arbitrary. it is in that I cannot justify it with recourse to any self-attesting or necessary standard.

            How many societies could not be characterized as "favouring well-being over suffering"? That's just an incredibly vague statement. It's always a question of who gets to have what stanard of well-being, who has to suffer to provide it, and how all those little interactions go, where you could expend a bit more effort to benefit the other person or save a little effort and benefit yourself more. Succinctly: practice is more complicated than theory. Sometimes, immensely more complicated. Have you visited slaveryfootprint.org? Do any slaves work for you, via the 'glory' that is globalism?

            But what I do not hear ever from theists is what the basis of their morality is, what this objective moral standard is, how they know it is correct and how they apply it. I am quite prepared to admit my morality is subjective. But I just see no alternative.

            I would start by working out what the ontological requirements are for "Might makes right." to be false. Worded differently, what does it take for there to be the following distinction:

                What is the key to the social content of emotivism? It is the fact that emotivism entails the obliteration of any genuine distinction between manipulative and non-manipulative social relations. (After Virtue, 23)

            ?

            What I find particularly concerning with theists, is that they generally seem to agree with my moral values, but then feel they can agree that things like genocide, infanticide, mass murder, torture, sexism, slavery, can be perfectly moral in some circumstances.

            Well, let's put you in the situation of President of the United States when Pearl Harbor was bombed, and let you figure out how the US should act 'morally'. You have one restriction: you hold to "the general belief that all of Japan [is] one vast cottage industry, with a drill press in every home to make war supplies." (To Destroy a City, 264) If you manage to come out unscathed, then we can put you in some more difficult situations. Let's see if you make moral compromises in the hopes of never having to make them again, or if you can always keep your hands and set humans on a good moral trajectory.

            If you have better ways, for comparable situations, which you can empirically demonstrate to be better, then I'm all ears. If not, then I will suppose that you are more interested in ideals than the real world, in such a way that those ideals are powerless to reform the real world. If not, I'll surmise that your understanding of human nature has serious defects. Those defects might not be very detrimental to your day-to-day life, but they might end up perpetuating stuff like The Charitable–Industrial Complex.

          • I will not set out rigorous falsifiable standards, here on evaluating questions of human health, well being and so on. But what we can do is evaluate our moral decisions with respect to human health and well being. These will be subjective assessments, though we can use things like science to evaluate some of the facts that will play into these assessments, such as health outcomes, public safety.

            For example, I can use science to establish things like a vaccine for measles will reduce human death and suffering. I can appeal to people's sense of empathy to recommend that we make such a thing available. I can say, if you value human life and well being as moral goals, witholding such a vaccine is immoral. What can theists do to support their moral positions that is any different?

            No I do not see empathy as leading to trust, rather compassion.

            Evolution has no cares at all and is not the foundation of my morality, rather intuitions that, likely are evolved.

            I have no idea how many societies favour well being over suffering. Those societies and individuals who do not would not share my morality.

            OF course as we are discussing morality in general terms we are going to be vague and generalize. I am happy to tell you how I would approach specific circumstances. Certainly practice of morality is very difficult and complex!

            No I do not hold any slaves. I do purchase products that are likely manufactured by sub-contractors that violate international labour norms. I did successfully campaign on this regard in university days and implemented an ethical purchasing policy at my university. I should only purchase ethically traded goods, and did try for some time. This proved exceedingly difficult, so instead I think we need to reform trade policies in this regard. I could go on, but this would take quite some time.

            Sounds like you have no objective moral standard to articulate and are also just going with your intuitions. Good luck on working out ontological requirements for might making right. In the meantime how do you evaluate moral decisions? How does theism play into this?

            Ok if I were POTUS on Pearl Harbour day, I would work out the moral issues. I do not think my decisions would have been much different. I would hope that I would have been able to have the United States joint the war effort in 1939, and possibly avoided much of the genocide in Poland. Other than that I would not have exploded two nuclear bombs on Japan, and perhaps none on populated areas.

            I am not saying I have a better way. I am saying we all basically apply the same moral analysis to a given problem. In terms of whether to say detonate two nuclear bombs on residential Japan, we evaluate this not in terms of some objective moral standard that theists say exists but never can express. Rather we all assess these questions in terms of human well-being. In that case we have to try and weigh dropping the bombs and killing hundreds of thousands in the hopes of getting a surrender, compared to the loss of life allied and Japanese of a ground assault. These are extremely difficult questions because of the difficulty in predicting outcomes. What really isn't in dispute is what values to apply. Neither of us would be considering anything other than the effect of the course of actin I terms other than huma well being are we? We would never conclude dropping the bombs would save hundreds of thousands of lives be better for human well being generally, but the correct moral outcome is to invade would we? I cannot think of any secular or humanist reason, it is easy to think of theistic reasons (e,g. God has prohibited nuclear weapons as unclean).

            I think you keep trying to get me to express an objective standard by which to ground moral values or assessments. I do not have one. I admit it. But neither do you. You just do not seem to want to admit it. If you have one, articulate it. With as much vagueness or specificity as you like.

          • These will be subjective assessments [...]

            That's not what I got from:

            BGA: We develop certain inherent values naturally, likely through natural selection. We value our own flourishing, and the company of other flourishing humans, this satisfies inherent, evolved tendencies. These can result in all kinds of goals and we can gauge our progress towards them.

            Your use of 'naturally' and 'inherent' seems deeply opposed to 'subjective'. But at this point, I don't know what the above paragraph means other than "we share some similarities". And yet, surely it is supposed to mean more, for you hint at building shared civilization on top of that foundation. Hence my request for increased clarity.

            Sounds like you have no objective moral standard to articulate and are also just going with your intuitions.

            If you'd like, we could dive into just what you mean by this statement. You seem to have an idea of what it would be for me to have an 'objective moral standard'; I would like to probe that. For example, would F = ma be an analogous 'objective' standard, or would it only be 'relatively true'? Can objective morality be approached via successive approximation?

            Good luck on working out ontological requirements for might making right. In the meantime how do you evaluate moral decisions? How does theism play into this?

            One way I evaluate moral decisions is to examine whether I can detect a true distinction between (i) manipulative social relations; (ii) non-manipulative social relations. Emotivism, arguably the dominant meta-ethical view as determined by behavioral analysis (After Virtue 22), obliterates any such distinction. Theism comes into this because it is exceedingly unlikely that there is a workable morality that is not 'made true' by some dominant power, without reality being very carefully designed to permit such a possibility. Consider Game of Thrones, and the frequently posed question of whether true goodness (where people are not manipulated!) could possibly prevail.

            I am not saying I have a better way. I am saying we all basically apply the same moral analysis to a given problem.

            How do you know this "basically... the same"? Via science? Via rigorous logical deduction?

            In terms of whether to say detonate two nuclear bombs on residential Japan, we evaluate this not in terms of some objective moral standard that theists say exists but never can express. Rather we all assess these questions in terms of human well-being.

            So nobody really follows the moral absolute that "slavery is wrong, always, everywhere"? How do you know this?

            What really isn't in dispute is what values to apply.

            Really? Go learn how the smartest people in the world knew that austerity is a terrible way to deal with the kinds of financial crises which swept Europe, and then tell me how austerity actually got imposed, if what you say here is true.

            I think you keep trying to get me to express an objective standard by which to ground moral values or assessments.

            No. I'm just trying to extract claims about reality and human nature which can be empirically tested, which can be true or false, from your words.

          • "Your use of 'naturally' and 'inherent' seems deeply opposed to 'subjective'."

            It is not. One can assess objectively why I have these desires and intuitions, but this does not make them objectively true, it just explains why I have them. If you consider an evolved desire or intuition to be an objective fact then I would agree, my morality is objectively true.

            "You seem to have an idea of what it would be for me to have an 'objective moral standard';"

            No, I don't I do not understand morality to be an objective endeavour. But theists keep claiming there is one, they should be able to articulate it.

            I see nothing ontological in your description of approaching moral decisions, rather it seems entirely epistemological.

            "it is exceedingly unlikely that there is a workable morality that is not 'made true' by some dominant power"
            On what basis do you conclude this?

            "How do you know this "basically... the same"? "

            What else is moral decision making other than weighing the effects of the choice on human well-being? Is there any moral question that does not engage this topic or require such a balancing?

            "So nobody really follows the moral absolute that "slavery is wrong, always, everywhere"? How do you know this?"

            I did not say that... where is that coming from? I do not understand there to be any such thing as moral absolutes. I certainly follow the moral that slavery is always wrong everywhere though, but I recognize this is a tenet I hold to based on moral values I cannot ultimately justify.

            Austerity is an economic tactic not a moral value, those who opposed austerity opposed it based on the moral value that it would be on balance harmful to human flourishing, those that supported it did so on the basis that it would on balance avoid more human suffering that not imposing austerity. The value is the same, it is a disagreement over tactics, or weighing the relative values. Or, are you saying that the smartest people in the world imposed austerity because they knew it would cause more suffering than other measures AND thought it was the moral thing to do?

            "No. I'm just trying to extract claims about reality and human nature
            which can be empirically tested, which can be true or false, from your
            words."

            Well, I do not know how many times I need to explain this, I believe ultimate moral values are subjective, and cannot be empirically tested. We can empirically test whether we have these intuitions, how common they are, but I fully concede that that does not make them objectively true or true goodness.

          • Let's return to what started this all:

            BV: We find similarly strange claims in the "We Can Always Do Better" section. There Carroll says,

            "When it comes to valuing, caring, loving, and being good, perfection is even more of a chimera, since there isn't even an objective standard against which to judge our successes. We nevertheless make progress, both at understanding the world and at living within it." (422)

            Carroll believes there is no objective standard of success, but he also believe we still make progress. Yet how can that be? How can we progress unless we have a goal or end to which we're progressing? Again, Carroll doesn't say.

            BGA: We develop certain inherent values naturally, likely through natural selection. We value our own flourishing, and the company of other flourishing humans, this satisfies inherent, evolved tendencies. These can result in all kinds of goals and we can gauge our progress towards them.

            Do you think @bvogt1:disqus was wrong? Note that human existence has always included a small subset of humans who have managed to get more of what they wanted over some period of time (while they ascended in power). But surely we don't really want to call this 'progress' in the sense that Carroll used?

            Ostensibly, this is why you strove to find some empirical grounding for how to determine 'progress'. You found it in "inherent values", in what empirically promotes "our own flourishing", which is founded in "inherent, evolved tendencies". Ostensibly, this allows for a standard by which to measure progress which is better than merely, "I am personally getting more of what I want." And yet, you now seem to disavow anything better than this:

            BGA: Well, I do not know how many times I need to explain this, I believe ultimate moral values are subjective, and cannot be empirically tested. We can empirically test whether we have these intuitions, how common they are, but I fully concede that that does not make them objectively true or true goodness.

            Perhaps you could re-state, unambiguously, whether you think we can have anything worth calling "progress", given what you've just said, here. After getting clear on this matter, I'd be happy to return to other things which have popped up in our conversation, such as what kind of ontology would be required by ¬"Might makes right."

  • "When you stare down a world that is fundamentally devoid of freedom,
    meaning, morality, and purpose, and you know the only way you can
    achieve those goods is by constructing them yourself, even when they
    stand athwart reality, you need some uplifting encouragement just to carry on."

    Yes! You've got it! (I think this is actually called Existentialism). Stoicism is another approach.

    But of course devoting yourself to theism and Catholicism does not avoid being beset with dark thoughts. Even Catholic saints have this problem as we learned from the last post.

    • Sample1

      Good catch.

      Mike

    • "But of course devoting yourself to theism and Catholicism does not avoid being beset with dark thoughts. Even Catholic saints have this problem as we learned from the last post."

      But Catholicism offers a light at the end of dark tunnels. Atheism, naturalism, and existentialism do not.

      • I would say atheism does not attempt to provide light at the end of dark tunnels. Nor does naturalism.

        Existentialism and secular humanism, actual worldviews may very well.

        But really the best approach to such issues if they are problematic is psychology, not philosophy or religion.

      • Sample1

        This atheist (poetic naturalist) sees that light not unlike a Zippo being offered to light up some crack. No thanks. But I understand that's not your view. Surely you understand it's a huge view of others. How are you going to change those minds? Furthermore, should you?

        Mike, faith and drug free, awesome dog dad...you know the rest.
        Edit done.

  • "Did the young Carroll really believe that God had divinely ordained when
    to stand and kneel in his contemporary Episcopal church?"

    Obviously yes. Why not? God does not deal in subjective standards and interpretations, he has provided an objective standard by which all should be assessed. It is perfectly reasonable to conclude that after several thousand years, churches would have figured this stuff out and it would be unchangeable.

    • Paul Brandon Rimmer

      Exactly. A God who cares to make rules about foreskins is a God who would care to make rules about anything.

      • I think I lack this intuition. Could you spell it out some more?

        • Paul Brandon Rimmer

          I wouldnt know where to start.

        • David Nickol

          I think I lack this intuition. Could you spell it out some more?

          I think the response to that by a liberal Christian would be that God did not actually tell Abraham that he and his people must be circumcised. Indeed, a liberal Christian might say it was unimportant whether or not Abraham really existed.

          It does strike me as odd that God would have "personally" made up all of the rules found in the Old Testament attributed to him. Some are silly. Some are offensive (e.g., menstruating women being "unclean," along with the things they touch). Do we really imagine God being pleased by animal sacrifices and enjoying the smell of burnt animal flesh?

          This just in from the news desk: Pastor allegedly shoots, kills minister during argument over Bible at retirement home. What were they arguing about—whether it was against God's law to wear cotton-polyester blends? Leviticus 19:19:

          Keep my statutes: do not breed any of your domestic animals with others of a different species; do not sow a field of yours with two different kinds of seed; and do not put on a garment woven with two different kinds of thread.

          Personal anecdote: A Jewish woman friend of mind gets spitting mad when she tells about the building she lives in, which has a large number of Jewish tenants. Orthodox Jews are not allowed to operate electrical switches on the Sabbath (I believe it is considered to be lighting a fire) so her building, like many others, has a Shabbat elevator, which stops at every floor, all the way up, and all the way down, all day on the Jewish Sabbath. (Obviously, she is not Orthodox.) An alternative is to have a Shabbos Goy to press the elevator buttons, turn your electric lights off and on, light the stove, and so on. The new Catholic view seems to be that Jewish Law is still binding for Jews. So should we imagine God is looking down from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset to see whether Jews press elevator buttons?

          • It does strike me as odd that God would have "personally" made up all of the rules found in the Old Testament attributed to him. Some are silly. Some are offensive (e.g., menstruating women being "unclean," along with the things they touch). Do we really imagine God being pleased by animal sacrifices and enjoying the smell of burnt animal flesh?

            It seems to me that this criticism could be proffered against any given moral code, by a civilization which has advanced appreciably beyond it. Similarly, the science of 500 years ago is primitive in comparison to the science today. I would also allow for serious regressions on both fronts, in the spirit of A Canticle for Leibowitz and Alasdair MacIntyre's application of it to moral philosophy in the first chapter of After Virtue.

            As to menstruating women being 'unclean', I recently heard that this actually protects them from (i) being required to engage in sex; (ii) being required to do significant housework. If this were accomplished by hijacking a biological 'ick' response, so what?

            This just in from the news desk: Pastor allegedly shoots, kills minister during argument over Bible at retirement home.

            Ok? Am I supposed to somehow take responsibility for this, or put myself in the same class as this? Humans have murdered humans for a great number of reasons.

            A Jewish woman friend of mind gets spitting mad [...] Shabbat elevator [...]

            So... screw pluralism when it causes inconvenience?

            So should we imagine God is looking down from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset to see whether Jews press elevator buttons?

            I personally don't believe YHWH requires this. But Romans 14 explicitly deals with whether people see the Sabbath as special. My test would be this: both the OT and NT hold out conceptions for excellence in character, in being. If allegiance to such regulations helps the person be excellent in that way, and the person wants this kind of excellence, I'm happy to encourage it. If allegiance to such regulations has no such effect, I'll question it on the ground that YHWH wouldn't command things which don't bear fruit. The Christian I would point to some of Jesus' sayings, while the Jew I would point to some of Moses' teachings (e.g. Deut 6:20–25).

          • I recently heard that this actually protects them from (i) being required to engage in sex; (ii) being required to do significant housework.

            I'm wary of a worldview where women are ever required to do either.

            As for Abraham, what would we do today with a man who said a god told him to marry his wife's slave, mutilate his genitals and murder his son?

          • I'm wary of a worldview where women are ever required to do either.

            Well, there are two very different kinds of comparisons you can make:

                 (I) Ancient Israelite society vs. its contemporaries.
                (II) Ancient Israelite society vs. Western society.

            If humans can only make a finite amount of progress per unit time, I suggest that comparisons of type (II) are useless, if not damaging, to encouraging further such progress. Instead, I suggest we should look for schemes where progress can actually be made. I can present ideals all day long, and fail to move humanity an inch toward them.

            As for Abraham, what would we do today with a man who said a god told him to marry his wife's slave, mutilate his genitals and murder his son?

            God told Abraham to marry Hagar? Please cite chapter and verse.

          • If humans can only make a finite amount of progress per unit time

            Humans under the direction of a morally perfect, maximally powerful deity aren't subject to such a distinction

            God told Abraham to marry Hagar?

            My apologies, his wife told him to impregnate her.

            https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis%2016

            The story is far stranger than I remembered

          • Humans under the direction of a morally perfect, maximally powerful deity aren't subject to such a distinction

            You would have to convince me of this.

            JSM: As for Abraham, what would we do today with a man who said a god told him to marry his wife's slave, mutilate his genitals and murder his son?

            First, I'll take the commandment to murder his son. From my research, it seemed not uncommon for people contemporary to Abraham to think that the gods command this. One way for YHWH to counter this would be just to say, "Don't do this thing." But in my experience, mere commandments like that aren't all that effective for humans. Instead, YHWH presented Abraham with about the most dramatic and convincing "Never do this thing!" I can imagine.

            Second, I find using circumcision as a sign of the covenant to be a fascinating matter. I haven't researched it (and it sounds like you haven't either), so I'll match speculation with speculation. I suspect that sex is deeply interwoven with commitment, and that using circumcision as a symbol of covenant membership is therefore an excellent choice. Indeed, the idea seems to be that commitment to God ought to be stronger than commitment to sex. And we all know how dominating the libido instinct can be, regardless of Freud's specifics on the matter. Adding speculation, I would say that YHWH offered an intensification: from the life which comes from sex to the life which comes from civilized society. The idea that God's commands are intended for life is spelled out explicitly in Deut 6:20–25.

            Any time that you want to suggest that there is a higher state of being than the one currently experienced by a society, you have to demote whatever is currently considered to be the best kind of experience. What better way to do that than via circumcision? At least, what better way to do that 2500–3500 years ago?

          • Will

            First, I'll take the commandment to murder his son. From my research, it seemed not uncommon for people contemporary to Abraham to think that the gods command this. One way for YHWH to counter this would be just to say, "Don't do this thing." But in my experience, mere commandments like that aren't all that effective for humans. Instead, YHWH presented Abraham with about the most dramatic and convincing "Never do this thing!" I can imagine.

            So why the ten commandments? Let's say I want my kids to avoid walking into a busy street. Do I tell them to walk into the busy street, and then, right before they step into certain death, say "Nevermind, I was just showing you not to walk into the street." What kind of parent would I be?
            Jews and Christians alike believe that God was testing Abraham to see if he was dedicated enough to sacrifice his son. One could object that an omniscient God wouldn't need to test people (he would already know what they would do), but that's a whole new topic.

          • So why the ten commandments?

            Versus what?

            Let's say I want my kids to avoid walking into a busy street. Do I tell them to walk into the busy street, and then, right before they step into certain death, say "Nevermind, I was just showing you not to walk into the street." What kind of parent would I be?

            If your children grew up in a culture in which it was morally obligatory to regularly walk into busy streets, perhaps something this dramatic would be required. But surely your example works off of something close to tabula rasa, while Abraham was an adult, fully enculturated.

            Jews and Christians alike believe that God was testing Abraham to see if he was dedicated enough to sacrifice his son. One could object that an omniscient God wouldn't need to test people (he would already know what they would do), but that's a whole new topic.

            YHWH could accomplish multiple tasks at once. I suggest looking not at what the testing accomplished from God's perspective, but what it accomplished from Abraham's.

          • You would have to convince me of this.

            It's definitional, but ok- A morally perfect being would only issue morally perfect commands, and being maximally powerful, would be able to relay (and even enforce!) said commands.

          • I never meant to indicate that God couldn't create a world of perfectly obedient robots. In such a world, truth ≡ power and there is no genuine distinction between manipulation and rational convincing. I was presupposing a kind of world where there the possibility for something other than "Might makes right." to obtain. Perhaps that is the source of our disagreement.

          • neil_pogi

            i thought atheists reject the concept of good and evil?

          • David Nickol

            It seems to me that this criticism could be proffered against any given moral code, by a civilization which has advanced appreciably beyond it.

            Of course. But what is supposed to be special about the moral code in the Old Testament is that it was dictated directly by an all-wise, all-knowing God. That kind of code should better stand the test of time, one would think.

            Similarly, the science of 500 years ago is primitive in comparison to the science today.

            But the science of 500 years ago was not divinely revealed. The 613 commandments in the Torah come directly from God. As I said, many are trivial, many are senseless, and some are even offensive.

          • I personally believe that the empirical structure of the universe is infinite and cannot be learned by a finite being in finite time. Similarly, I believe that the moral structure of the universe is infinite, with the same restriction on us learning it. What we are left with is the learning of Ceteris Paribus Laws: laws which apply in a given domain. I've only read some of it, but Robert Nozick's Invariances could probably be construed as a systematic study of what it would mean for all human-knowable truth to take this form. A consequence of this anti-foundationalist stance is that humans simply cannot access, at least in concepts, ultimate reality. N.B. All of this probably applies if reality is merely significantly 'larger' than how we currently conceive it.

            Two more things. First, I want to suggest that the overall attitude of the West is that it has, by and large, figured out "final morality". I think it is this belief, or perhaps taken-for-granted subconscious presupposition, which undergirds the idea that YHWH could have communicated "final morality" in a way humans could not deny.

            Second, I just don't think morality is primarily a matter of knowledge. Instead, I think it involves the whole person—including intellect, affect, and will—and that part of growth is learning to treat others humanely like a soccer player learns to throw a ball. Book learning is but a part, and if the will is not there to be trained: (i) further learning becomes increasingly impossible; (ii) what has been communicated will become increasingly distorted, as it is extended to domains where it is less and less applicable. God teaching is morality is not like getting a Matrix-style download ("I know Kung Fu"). And even The Matrix employed the idea that there is something more than just downloadable knowledge required to be the One.

          • Will

            First, I want to suggest that the overall attitude of the West is that it has, by and large, figured out "final morality". I think it is this belief, or perhaps taken-for-granted subconscious presupposition, which undergirds the idea that YHWH could have communicated "final morality" in a way humans could not deny.

            Every civilization that ever existed thought it had morality just right. It would be surprising if the West were any different.

          • Well, you have a very religious person in front of you who does not believe he has "morality just right". Indeed, I subscribe to the fault lines between good and evil running through persons, instead of between them.

          • Will

            You realize I said civilization, right? Pretty sure you aren't one of those. Perhaps you should read comments more carefully?

          • (1) Then why did you make this comment—where were you going with it?
            (2) Does the historical record actually support your claim that "Every civilization that ever existed thought it had morality just right."?

          • Will

            To prove it was everywhere would be quite a task, but I've read quite a bit from various cultures and the status quo is always a powerful influence. From Seneca in Rome, the sophist in Greece, Hammurabi and his code, Hindu Laws and caste system, they all seem to thing their version is obviously the right one, without much question. Empirically I can point to the status quo bias, which is pretty well documented.

          • Will

            I agree with you here, and even if the structure isn't infinite, even a single current subject is almost impossible for a single person to master. Experts in physics must have a specialization, for example. It it also obvious that new knowledge can be created. The knowledge of how to build a computer didn't exist until we came up with it, and there may be an infinite number of ways to build even binary computing devices, must less other types.

          • VicqRuiz

            The Bible says, "Do not kindle a fire on the Sabbath".

            Everything else in the chain of rules and commentaries that leads to stop-on-each-floor elevators is purely a human creation for which God bears no responsibility.

            Anyone who is so far gone as to define pushing a button which is connected to a hydroelectric plant a hundred miles away as "kindling a fire" should probably show their piety by climbing the stairs.

          • You know, if I were to drop into a group of mathematicians at MIT and suggest to them that some thing they do is ridiculous, they would be entirely within their rights to criticize me for not understanding what it is they're doing, or how they've discovered to get there best. But perhaps I could learn what they consider 'success' and ultimately make good criticisms. Have you tried to learn what such Jews consider 'success', or are you just talking out of your butt?

            P.S. Some Jews (people) are handicapped or too frail to climb stairs, including the many flights of stairs which can exist in densely populated areas. If you argue that they should just get units closer to the ground, I will ask you if that qualifies as discrimination, and if you get mad when a bus has to accommodate someone with a wheelchair.

          • It's great to see you embracing cultural relativity, political correctness

          • You'll have to clarify. Just because the intellectual elite have a tendency to abuse words like 'tolerance' and 'discrimination' does not mean there are not legitimate uses of them which fail to be 'relative' or 'politically correct'.

            Incidentally, I finished reading Howard S. Schwartz's Society Against Itself: Political Correctness and Organizational Self-Destruction a few days ago. I'm not sure what I think about the Freudian aspect, but he did seem to be on to something. If you have suggested reading on cultural relativity and/or political correctness, do please share.

          • VicqRuiz

            If God really cares whether an elderly Jew has to push button "8" to get to his apartment, or whether the elevator automatically stops on the six floors en route, then frankly, God is nuts. This has nothing to do with what Jews consider to be success of failure.

          • This sounds like bigotry. Suppose, for example, that science discovers that maintaining an absolute prohibition against all 'work'† for a day has a significant psychological impact when practiced every Sabbath for years on end. Or have you a priori ruled out such an empirical possibility? That would be 'arrogance'.

            Now, you could always say that the thing that said Jews are trying to do is 'bad'‡ and that you do not want society to support it—at least, if it will cause you even one iota of inconvenience. But then it becomes a political matter, and it will be your inconvenience vs. theirs.

            † Appropriately defined. One possibility is that pressing a button on an elevator doesn't matter, when it comes to producing the "significant psychological impact" I mention.
            ‡ Or "nuts". Note that 'bad' exists along a moral dimension, where as 'nuts' exists along a health dimension. The former could be portrayed as subjective, whereas we have science and doctors to objectively diagnose the latter.

          • David Nickol

            P.S. Some Jews (people) are handicapped or too frail to climb stairs, including the many flights of stairs which can exist in densely populated areas. If you argue that they should just get units closer to the ground, I will ask you if that qualifies as discrimination, and if you get mad when a bus has to accommodate someone with a wheelchair.

            Apparently some prominent rabbis have recently declared Shabbat elevators to be prohibited.

          • Interesting. Parts of this comment apply.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            The new Catholic view seems to be that Jewish Law is still binding for Jews.

            I'm unaware of that, and it runs completely contrary to Saint Paul. He was sympathetic to Judean Israelite members of the Jesus group who remained faithful to the Mosaic law, and so in Romans 14 he exhorted other Messianists to tolerate and accept them. Nonetheless, he utterly rejected the idea that any Israelite was actually bound to the Mosaic Law.

          • David Nickol

            I'm unaware of that, and it runs completely contrary to Saint Paul.

            Note the document of last year entitled "The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable," which received quite a bit of publicity. I would say it is somewhat controversial, but still a statement from the Vatican. Also note this article about the comments of Benedict XVI of the relationship of Catholics and Jews. An excerpt:

            While the pope does not affirm a theory propounded by some theologians holding that the Jews will be saved independently of Christ, experts say, he does clearly suggest the church should not be targeting Jews for conversion efforts.

            “Israel is in the hands of God, who will save it ‘as a whole’ at the proper time, when the number of Gentiles is full,” the pope writes. The historical duration of this “proper time,” Benedict says, cannot be calculated.

            The attitude of the Catholic Church toward the Jews has changed dramatically since I was in elementary school. There is a book I hope some day to get around to reading titled From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933-1965. Perhaps you can read it first and tell me what it says. :p

          • Arthur Jeffries

            I agree with Benedict that "the church should not be targeting Jews for conversion efforts", but I've never gotten the impression from any of his writings that he regards Jews as bound to the Mosaic law.

            Thank you for reminding me about the document: "The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable." I have not read it again since its release and will reread it, but I cannot recall it stating that the Mosaic Law is binding on Israel. I believe it said that God's covenant promise to save Israel is still in effect or something along those lines. Anyway, I will reread it to refresh my memory. Thanks.

          • Valence

            Paul even goes as far as to rebuke Cephas (thought to be Peter, but I'm not completely convinced) Gal 2

            11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; 12 for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. 13 And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”[c]

            Cephas, according to Paul, was the first person Jesus appeared to, and if he is Peter, he was the first Pope. Paul was rebuking him? How can we be sure Paul was right and not Peter, who was to have the keys to the kingdom

            1 Cor 15
            For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters[c] at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.[d] 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

            The fact that Paul says he appeared to the 12 indicates he did not know about Judas. Perhaps that was invented later?

          • Jonathan Brumley

            Do we really imagine God being pleased by animal sacrifices and enjoying the smell of burnt animal flesh?

            The lecture series "Creation and Covenant" by Dr. Lawrence Feingold at the Association for Hebrew Catholics really sheds some light on this.

            The Mosaic Laws were instituted in the context of ancient covenant rituals practiced amongst tribal people. Animal sacrifice and the blood sprinkling was typical for covenants made between conqueror and conquered people being incorporated into a new tribe. The Mosaic covenant ritual properly signified Yahweh as the new Lord, and sacrifices properly symbolized the Israelites as a people set apart to serve Yahweh in fidelity to the One God. Dietary laws and the animals allowable for sacrifice symbolized a radical change which was anathema to Egyptian customs, in which certain animals were worshipped and other animals eaten.

            Similarly, the New Covenant was instituted in the context of a people already practicing the Mosaic rituals. Yet again, there was a radical change which was anathema to the previous covenant (in this case, Eating and Drinking the flesh of the Son of Man), but the New Covenant carried over sacrificial symbols which had very specific pre-existing meanings to that culture.

            In other words, I think we can understand the specific matter and form of the Covenants as not "pleasing to God", but rather as symbols chosen because of the intense symbolic significance to the people entering into Covenant.

            The Hebrew Scriptures and the new both state that God is not pleased by animal sacrifices (per se), but rather by the contrite heart which participates in such a sacrifice.

          • David Nickol

            In other words, I think we can understand the specific matter and form of the Covenants as not "pleasing to God", but rather as symbols chosen because of the intense symbolic significance to the people entering into Covenant.

            To put it simply (and ridiculously so), whose idea were blood sacrifices? Did God say, "I need to require of them something they will understand, and being primitives, they will understand blood sacrifices"? Or are we to believe that God somehow moved the Israelites to honor and worship him, and being primitives, they did so with blood sacrifices?

            The Hebrew Scriptures and the new both state that God is not pleased by animal sacrifices (per se), but rather by the contrite heart which participates in such a sacrifice.

            I will save you a slew of OT verses about God either appreciating or demanding sacrifices with "pleasing aromas" or "sweet odors." But if I listed them, what would your response be? Animals sacrifices were so central to Judaism that I don't think it's sufficient to say it wasn't really the sacrifices that were important, merely the thought behind them.

          • Jonathan Brumley

            I will save you a slew of OT verses about God either appreciating or demanding sacrifices with "pleasing aromas" or "sweet odors."

            Sure, but there are also verses like Psalm 40:6, Psalm 50:8-15, Prov. 15:8, 21:3, Isa. 1:11-17, Jer. 7:23, Amos 5:21-27, Hos. 6:6 which indicate God's lack of desire or even displeasure with the burnt offerings when not offered from a place of right relationship.

            Or are we to believe that God somehow moved the Israelites to honor and worship him, and being primitives, they did so with blood sacrifices?

            The text seems to portray the rituals and commandments as coming rather directly from God via Moses, but I suppose you could interpret it differently if you take the later books in the Torah not as historical narratives but as books intending to portray divine inspiration for the Mosaic law. Or in a more literal way, you could interpret it as Moses being the source of the details of laws inspired by God but not dictated by God.

            Even if the blood sacrifices are not pleasing, per se, there is certainly a theme of blood sacrifices having salvific value throughout whole story, culminating in the Messianic sacrifice. It certainly portrays God as finding something pleasing about the symbolic value of blood sacrifice, if not the bloody details of it.

          • Will

            As far as I know, the oldest literary documentation of animal sacrifice comes from the Sumerian epic, the epic of Gilgamesh. Here is an excerpt from it's account of the Sumerian flood (keep in mind the EOG is around 1000 years older than the Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible). From page 21

            ‘For six days and six nights the winds blew, torrent and tempest and flood overwhelmed the world, tempest and flood raged together like warring hosts. When the seventh day dawned the storm from the south subsided, the sea grew calm, the, flood was stilled; I looked at the face of the world and there was silence, all mankind was turned to clay. The surface of the sea stretched as flat as a roof-top; I opened a hatch and the light fell on my face. Then I bowed low, I sat down and I wept, the tears streamed down my face, for on every side was the waste of water. I looked for land in vain, but fourteen leagues distant there appeared a mountain, and there the boat grounded; on the mountain of Nisir the boat held fast, she held fast and did not budge. One day she held, and -a second day on the mountain of Nisir she held fast and did not budge. A third day, and a fourth day she held fast on the mountain and did not budge; a fifth day and a sixth day she held fast on the mountain. When the seventh day dawned I loosed a dove and let her go. She flew away, but finding no resting-place she returned. Then I loosed a swallow, and she flew away but finding no resting-place she returned. I loosed a raven, she saw that the waters had retreated, she ate, she flew around, she cawed, and she did not come back. Then I threw everything open to the four winds, I made a sacrifice and poured out a libation on the mountain top. Seven and again seven cauldrons I set up on their stands, I heaped up wood and cane and cedar and myrtle. When the gods smelled the sweet savour, they gathered like flies over the sacrifice. Then, at last, Ishtar also came, she lifted her necklace with the jewels of heaven that once Anu had made to please her. "O you gods here present, by the lapis lazuli round my neck I shall remember these days as I remember the jewels of my throat; these last days I shall not forget. Let all the gods gather round the sacrifice, except Enlil. He shall not approach this offering, for without reflection he brought the flood; he consigned my people to destruction."

            http://www.aina.org/books/eog/eog.pdf

            It's interesting that Enlil, the god that brought the flood, wasn't invited to the sacrifice. It fits into the idea that the writers of the Torah often inverted much older mythology when they were writing, so in the Torah the God that brought the flood was the only God invited to the sacrifice. Where the Sumerians got the idea from is unknown, but perhaps than invented it, or inherited from times before writing existed.
            The Egyptians adopted the idea quite late, as far as I know, and preferred to sacrifice mummified cats, of all things.

            http://www.livescience.com/19631-mummified-kitten-offering.html

          • VicqRuiz

            It seems to me that the underlying concept of God finding things "pleasing" is at odds with the idea of God being unchanging and unchangeable.

            Just as one can't have evil without good against which to measure it, I don't think one can be pleased without the option of being disappointed. Can an unchanging God experience those sensations?

          • Jonathan Brumley

            It seems to me that the underlying concept of God finding things "pleasing" is at odds with the idea of God being unchanging and unchangeable.

            That's right. As the "unmoved mover", God is unaffected and unchanged by what we do. In other words, He doesn't experience sensations in response to events like we do as contingent beings.

            I think to say God is "pleased" is just a poetic way to say that something is good.

          • neil_pogi

            that's how atheists' propagandas work.

            if you want deep bone explanations on that subject, i suggest you go to samuelle bacchiochi webseite or the seventh day adventist website.

            anyway, why atheists believe in the 'evil' stories in the Bible and yet debunked the 'good' ones?

        • Paul Brandon Rimmer

          Luke, I won't be around here very much in the future, just off and on, and it would be nice if possible to stay in touch. I would like at some point to discuss Spinoza's theistic naturalism, and to find out whether your objections to naturalism would work or not (as far as I understand it). And whatever else comes up. If you are interested, you can find me on Facebook and 'friend' me, or just send me an e-mail.

          If I don't hear from you, I hope the conversation here continues to go well and that you have a good time here and both you and the others here learn lots.

          • I really shouldn't be around here very much in the future... I'm honored that you'd want to stay in touch; my email is available on my Disqus profile. Maybe hold off for a few weeks though, as I have a lot on my plate in the near-term.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Thanks!

      • Mike

        carroll wouldn't have made a good jew.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          Seriously, Mike, seriously. Do you know anything about Judaism or are you just stereotyping?

          • neil_pogi

            hwo 'bout you? do you know about jew or judaism?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I'm not an expert, but I have read about Judaism from different perspectives.

          • neil_pogi

            therefore, don't judge jews or judaism from other perspectives until you know all well. that's a common courtesy.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            ???? That's exactly the opposite of what I was doing. Your criticism would be better directed at Mike

          • Mike

            why would i need to be stereotyping?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Because your comment shows zero understanding of the many flavors of Judaism and the different ways different people practice Judaism.

          • Mike

            i actually think that you may harbor stereotypes that you don't know are stereotypes.

        • Paul Brandon Rimmer

          Neither would I. Bacon is far too tasty.

  • David Nickol

    "I just don’t think theoretical physicists have anything useful to tell
    the average person about meaning and morality, other than that it’s a
    mistake to search for it in our discoveries about physics....

    I will leave it to others (at least for now) to judge whether Carroll has said anything of significant importance about "meaning and morality," but I remember being troubled when I read the above in Peter Woit's review. Being a theoretical physicist by profession does not automatically prevent a person from having something valuable to say about meaning and morality any more than being a priest automatically prevented Georges Lemaître from having something to say about theoretical physics. Being an acknowledged expert in one field certainly does not guarantee one has something valuable to say in another field, but it also certainly does not disqualify someone from having something worthwhile to say in a field in which one is not an acknowledged expert. And I think it would be unfair to say that Carroll is just a theoretical physicist. He has spent a great deal of time exploring philosophical issues, and there's no reason he shouldn't be heard on "meaning and morality."

    • I think the argument is that a physicist, qua physicist, is not going to be any better at moral wisdom than a non-physicist.

    • ClayJames

      And yet, when most of the famous atheists in the last 15 years are not philosophers, do not understand philosophy and still rise to prominence because of their philosophical views, I think Brandon makes a very good point.
      A scientist´s philosophical views are not automatically wrong because they are not a philospher. But this scientist´s philosophical views, along with Dawkins, Harris and Krauss, are wrong because they lack any sophisticated understanding of philosophy.

      • David Nickol

        And yet, when most of the famous atheists in the last 15 years are not
        philosophers, do not understand philosophy and still rise to prominence
        because of their philosophical views, I think Brandon makes a very good
        point.

        I was responding to something by Peter Woit, not to Brandon (although Brandon quoted it approvingly).

        I think that Carroll belongs in a different category than Dawkins, Harris, and Krauss. Carroll is much better versed in philosophy than the others.

        • "I think that Carroll belongs in a different category than Dawkins, Harris, and Krauss. Carroll is much better versed in philosophy than the others."

          I'm not sure I would agree. I think he is better versed than those gentlemen, and more importantly he is not nearly as flippant about dismissing philosophy altogether.

          But I still don't think, based on this book anyways, he displays a familiarity with philosophy that goes deeper than what you'd find in your average Philosophy 101 course (though that's still far more than Dawkins and Krauss display.)

      • Will

        Carrol minored in philosophy. Do you have a degree in the field?

        • Ignatius Reilly

          No he's a scientist engineer, which pretty much explains everything

        • ClayJames

          Ironically, I have a scientific degree. As I said in the comment you responded to, I am not saying that you must have a Phd in philosophy to write about philosophy.
          I am simply pointing out that it says a lot about the New Atheist movement that 1) it is almost exclusively led by scientists writing about philosophy and 2) these scientists keep making very basic mistakes in their philosophy.

          • Will

            Carroll isn't a New Atheist, just fyi. Considering the lack of consensus in philosophy, we can conclude most philosophy is in error, or at least incomplete. I'll agree that Dawkins and Harris expound some really bad philosophy, but Brandon hasn't done Carroll's book justice, having read it myself. "The Big Picture" certainly isn't perfect, but it's light years ahead of the God Delusion.

          • ClayJames

            I agree with you regarding Carroll not being a New Atheist and that it is unfair to compare him to Dawkins and Harris. It is dissapointing that he makes similar mistakes in The Big Picture.

          • Will

            What do think the biggest mistakes are, and why are you so confident they are mistakes? Do you realize that nearly 3/4 of all philosophers in this large poll accept atheism?

            http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2013/04/29/what-do-philosophers-believe/

            It seems an absurd level of arrogance to assume it's just because of philosophic mistakes. Personally, my favorite branches of philosophy are philosophy of mind, and philosophy of science. What are yours? Philosophy is such a big field that you have to specialize.

          • ClayJames

            The basic philosophical mistakes are many and to varying degrees. Sean Carrol makes some, but not nearly as much as Dawkins, Harris and Krauss. SN is full of articles showing these mistakes. Dawkins, who is the most famous atheist of our time, says that his central argument for atheism is to ask ¨Who designed the designer¨. This encapsulates the ignorance of this New Atheist movement.
            Also, you keep confusing what I am saying. New Atheists can have no understanding of philosophy without it meaning that philosophy must necessarily point to theism. I am not saying that all atheists misundertand philosophy.

          • Will

            Ok, but it would be nice if you could point at what you think is the biggest mistake. Brandon's critiques are loaded with mistakes, including confusing determinism for fate. Brandon also fails to correctly convey the context of many statements which makes them look like mistakes erroneously. Again this is why I press for specifics.

  • David Nickol

    They read like a mushy collection of Oprah-isms

    It's one thing to criticize Sean Carroll. But Oprah???

    • I reserved my assessment of Oprah-isms--I merely noted the similarity ;)

  • David Nickol

    I am not sure about Sean Carroll's Ten Considerations, but a wise person I once knew gave me his three laws of life, and I have always thought highly of them:

    1. Always consider the possibility that you could be wrong.
    2. Always treat people who are different from you as if they were better than you.
    3. Never vote Republican.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      Now those are words to live by.

    • Paul Brandon Rimmer

      I would try to follow this but 2 is in tension with 3. ;)

      • Will

        I agree with you, and have voted Republican a time or two when it seemed appropriate. Donald Trump, of course, is beyond just "different" ;)

        • Paul Brandon Rimmer

          "Different", but not in a "superior to me" kind of way. I'm with you. :D

    • VicqRuiz

      .....sigh.......

      The If-You're-An-Atheist-You-Are-Required-To-Also-Be-A-Leftist syndrome is creeping in again, even if partially (I hope) in jest. I abandoned the atheist boards on Patheos (and on a couple of other sites) where this syndrome has become a full blown pandemic.

      • David Nickol

        The If-You're-An-Atheist-You-Are-Required-To-Also-Be-A-Leftist syndrome is creeping in again, even if partially (I hope) in jest.

        First, more than partially in jest.
        Second, I am not an atheist.
        Third, rule three applies equally to theists and atheists.
        Fourth, those not of the left have many alternatives besides the Republican Party.

        • VicqRuiz

          Sorry if I misinterpreted you.

          I'm a libertarian conservative atheist whose lifetime voting record would probably tabulate something like 60% third party, 30% Republican and 10% Democrat.

      • Michael Murray

        This was quite common in the old days on the Richard Dawkins site. At that time there were a number of commenters who came from a right-wing libertarian point of view. Always amusing when they bumped into the ones who thought that somehow atheism = left-wing. That was before the atheism plus fiasco which is I guess what you ran into.

        • VicqRuiz

          Pretty much. I got badly burned at blogs like "Love, Joy, Feminism" which features lots of feminism but a pretty scant serving of the other two.

    • HelloThere777

      Number 1 is just an obvious truism. Number 3 is iffy and just as true as voting for the only other party that matters. Number 2 is one of the worst pieces of advice I've ever heard in my entire life. I'd expect it to come from some soapbox adolescent or an rich twit with no accomplishments other than being famous for being born to the purple and upper-class trash.

  • GCBill

    EDIT: typo fixed :)

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    I have enjoyed and been exasperated in turn by your series, Brandon. I wish life made more time for me to comment in detail, but sadly, I don't have time to say much more than thank you. Thanks for taking the time to write all this up. It is helpful to me and doubtless to many others.

  • neil_pogi

    1. life is not forever - of course life has ending. but how could atheists believe that 'non-living matter became living matter'?

    2. desire is built into life - is non-living things have desire to live? atheists should answer that, especially the author of it.// desire is free will

    3. What matters if what matters to people. - if what matters to people who believe that they come from 'dust', then matters to them. if some people believe they are created by God just matter to them. then no problems at all.

    4. We can always do better.- though advance researches in sciences do good to us, but science also produces evil things such as atom bomb, pesticides, pollution, etc.

    5. It pays to listen. - atheists never listens to proposals of creationists and intelligent designers.. even those proposals are in line with scientific reasonings and logic

    9 . We can do better than happiness. - then atheists must believe in both good and evil

    10. Reality guides us. - science has proven that only 'life comes from life' and atheists are not following that, still insist that it is 'unreal'

    • Jersey McJones

      1. Odd change of subject, but we believe it happened by happenstance.

      2. It appears being alive is requisite for desire. Desire is a prime argument against Free Will.

      3. Okay.

      4. Science doesn't produce good or bad, though it can certainly be used for good or bad, as can religion, politics, money, etc.

      5. Not sure how to respond to this.

      9. You need to understand what is meant by this. Making personal happiness one's prime raison d'etre is or at least can be a bad idea.

      10. You are simply wrong about this. Science has "proved" no such thing. At this point, all theories on the origins of life point to organic happenstance.

      JMJ

      • neil_pogi

        reply to 1. so you believe it happened, but where's your proof?

        reply to 2. that's why you have a desire in order to choose two choices; either free will or not.

        reply 4. so it;s just ok for atheists that science is producing evil things. so why critisizing ISIS if they relentless kill innocent people? why critizising theism if they do no harm to people?

        reply to 6. why? are you sure atheism is the right worldview?

        reply to 9. why atheists are so militant in attacking theists? the fact that atheists don't believe in either good or evil?

        reply to 10. then how come inorganic became organic? 'happenstance' is the latest word in atheistic mythology, afetr 'unguided process' 'chance' ... why atheists are using those phrases? because they have no more scientific explanations to their theories! these phrases are 'hero' to them

        • Jersey McJones

          1. Most people knowledgeable on the subject agree that it was most likely from some happenstance. We do not presume to know exactly what happened, though I suppose one day, via genetic research maybe, we may get a pretty precise answer.

          2. That's silly.

          4. You're kind of meandering a little here. Again, I do not see science, in and of itself, doing bad things. It can be used to do bad. ISIS, for instance, has taken advantage of the Internet to recruit followers. That is not the Internet's fault. As for criticism of Christianity, it is because of the perceived wrong-doings of Christians in the name of their religion, not the religion itself, which is just a mythical belief. Just as ISIS is criticized.for what they do in the name of Islam, but only slovenly, backwards people put the blame squarely on Islam itself.

          6. Atheism is not a worldview.

          9. Are they? That hasn't been my experience. Though a cursory understanding of any Western History whatsoever would surely inform even the proudest Christian that some absolute horrors of militancy have been perpetrated in the name of Christianity. In the old Soviet Union and China and such, there was a very militant atheism imposed by the state, but we have never seen anything like that in the West.

          10. We do not pretend to know what happened. It seems most likely to have been a natural process. That's all we got, pal. Take it or leave it.

          JMJ

          • neil_pogi

            1. of course you have to provide how life originated from non-life. as i've said before, if you slice open a rock, you still can see it's still a rock, no 'SRM', no 'activity' is detected.. it is still a rock.. nothing more. so what happenes to the 'panspermia' hypotheses proposed by one scientist? how about the 'crystal hypotheses' suggested even by a very very bright scientist who earned so many masteral degrees in science? so 'happenstance' is another 'hero' in atheistic philosophy. 'if atheists can not explain it very well, you can use 'happenstance' as the very answer for most theories'

            2. is that all your answer?

            4. again, why critisize ISIS if they slaughter innocent people if atheist's stand on existence of good and evil is just 'illusion'? actually, you are arguing that ISIS is doing evil, right? it's just simple argument and yet you couldn't understand it!

            6. atheism based their beliefs in something that is incompatible with what the science really teaches. 'life only comes from life' -- just one example.

            9. if christianity have done worst evil from the past, today or in the future, you have no rights to say that they are 'evil' because, in the first place, you don't believe in the concept of good and evil? why care?

            10. if all the happenings from the past were 'naturalistic' by origin, you can explain it, but not the typical explanations like 'chance did it' 'blind and unguided process did it' why scientists still are devoting to researches when after thousands of pages of explanations, they always ended up with 'chance did it'.. (how i wish i will win this weekend's lottery because i believe that 'chance' will do it)

          • Jersey McJones

            1. I don't know of any theory of life's origins that points to the inside of a rock. The circumstances at the time, apparently around 4 billion years ago, were very different from today. Just the same, we're talking about very tiny and discreet events 4 billion years ago. I'm sorry no one has been able to reproduce it perfectly for your satisfaction.

            2. You're answer about desire seemed like silly, circular nonsense at best.

            4. I don't believe in evil. I think ISIS is motivated by a variety of severe societal problems in that part of the world and elsewhere. I think what they do is terrible.

            6. I know of no rule that states that life only comes from life. I would never assume that.

            9. I didn't say anything about evil. I care because that is in the best interests of me and my world.

            10. Well, scientists are hard at work looking at the story of life. None of them are throwing up their hands and saying, "Oh, never mind, let's just assume God did it and go home and eat chips and watch Dancing with the Stars."

            JMJ

          • neil_pogi

            1. so the 'i don't know the answer' argument is here to stay, and yet atheists like you are just so arrogant to say they are 'brights'.. they all know anything!!
            remember the mantra, 'the present is the key to the past'? the environment today is much more 'friendlier' than the past. so you can't just say that the process of creating life is much difficult than today's environment. well, atheists say that the origin of life is a natural process and yet all your scientists are not able to produce, even a single cell, out of rock?

            2. why people have desire? if someone is locked only to one's belief, he must have no 'desire' to choose. that's why desire is a part of free will

            4. what made you think that ISIS' activities are 'terrible'? is terrible good or evil?

            6. i know you know it, but refused to accept it.

            9. 'care' is a good norm, it is not evil.

            10. because science can't tell every thing.. that's why i can not wholly subscribe myself to science as 'it knows all'.. science has limitations.

          • Jersey McJones

            1. I don't know why you keep attaching rocks to your argument. The point is that the conditions then are not clear, and life has evolved significantly since then, and actual abiogenesis would be a very tiny, discreet, exceedingly difficult thing to observe.

            2. Free Will is an illusion. Desire is compulsion.

            4. By my sensibilities, constructed as they are, and like most people, I find the behavior of ISIS to be abhorrent. They are destructive, superstitious, violent, misogynistic, and uncivil.

            6. I most certainly do not think that all life must come from other life. That would be a broad and simplistic assumption. I can't imagine assuming such a simpleminded thing.

            9. It's relative. My notion of good or care may be very different from yours, and probably is.

            10. Well, the origins of life would certainly be something science would be interested in. I wouldn't be surprised to see a rather definitive answer at some point. The study of genetics would seem to me to probably hold the key.

            JMJ

          • neil_pogi

            1. because rocks are plenty on this planetand rocks are the main component of this planet.. so how a rock evolve into a something living? so you don't know the conditions then of early earth.. but you know life somehow evolved even thought you don't know how it evolved? based on blind faith is the answer.

            2.why illusion, you never explained! desire is either compulsory or not.

            4. then they're just characteristics of evil.

            6. then tell me how non-life become life?

            9. relative comes from objective. without objective, there is no relative. if i say the rose is the most 'beautiful' flower, but you say it's not... the word 'beautiful' is the objective, and the debate whether that rose is the most beautiful or not is relative.

            10. how many years you want for science to discover how life originated by means of naturalistic process? i give you 'infinity'

          • Jersey McJones

            1. I am man enough to admit when I don't know something. My knowledge is not a Mad Lib where I just fill in the blanks with "God" or "Jesus" or "Metaphysics." I do know that life arising from natural processes makes sense to me, though the precise processes and circumstances may not be known. I would never just assume some magical power did it.

            2. The choices you make in life are a projection of your condition. You are not even aware of why you make the vast majority of the choices you will ever make, and you are barely aware of even a tiny fraction of all the possible choices. Desire is compulsion.

            4. If you say so. I do not believe in evil. As far as I'm concerned, it is just another simile for "bad."

            6. I wasn't there. I don't know. I think we will know one day, however. It's just a matter of forensics.

            9. More circular silliness. Good and bad are adjectives, Neil, and highly subjective.

            10. I do not ask any such thing of you. We may never know for certain. But I think we will, I'd say within a hundred years or so.

            JMJ

          • neil_pogi

            1. just an analogy: if eiffel tower can't be explained by natural processes, therefore it can be explained that it is constructed by 'intelligent' beings (man). it's all there is! the explanation is complete! so you say that it is a natural process, and yet failed to explain it. if you know that it is a natural process, then you must stop saying the 'i don't know' statement. explain it well.

            2. poor people, if they want to get rich, become rich. that's his choice. that's a desire!

            4. if you do not believe in evil, then you can easily take one's life as long as you like it. nobody will interrupt you, even the court of law.

            6. therefore atheists are not in position, whatever, to declare that all their theories are true!

            9. how did you know? again, no explanation is heard from you. all you did is: 'More circular silliness. Good and bad are adjectives, Neil, and highly subjective.'

            10. that's what i'm expecting. well i even give infinite time for it

          • Jersey McJones

            1. The only reason you know the Eiffel Tower was made by man is because nothing in nature outside the hands of man is comparable. There are lots of things running around out there like us. Trillions. All of it made of similar substances arranged differently and obviously interrelated. You do not know where we come from. Neither do I. We can only speculate. My speculation would be natural processes. Looking around me, it seems clear.

            2. If you did not know you had that choice, you wouldn't make it. The desire to have things is a natural compulsion common in a variety of animals.

            4. No. I live by laws and ethics. Those have been informed by morality, of course, but morality sometimes veers far off the course of liberty and civility.

            6. We're not saying any theory is true. It's a theory.

            9. I don't understand you're response.

            10. Okay. I get the feeling genetics will give us some pretty answers in the near future. Magical God Power will not be the answer.

            JMJ

          • neil_pogi

            1.i wonder why the eiffel tower needs a 'creator' in order for it to be built. it's material is composed mainly on natural elements and it is non-living thing, and yet you believe so well that a life, a human being, and other living things came out of natural processes. you never explain how it is created thru natural processes. conjecture is not allowed in scientific world

            2. again, desire is part of free will

            4. i wonder where the laws originated. if you insist that laws come from a rock, from a nono-living matter, then explain it (pls no more 'make believe' stories)

            6. therefore, the theory, perhaps i may call it, the hypothesis of evolution is false!

            9. you did not explain why there is no ojective truth

            10. therefore atheism is dead. you will look for answers in the future? that's what atheism is...

  • Jersey McJones

    Well, Mr. Vogt, it seems to me you are pretty much just nitpicking here. Surely, you can grasp his point about "caring" about the universe. Certainly, you can understand the subjectivity of ceremony as a metaphor for the subjectivity of belief systems in general perceived by a child. None of this should be beyond you.

    JMJ

    • Indeed, these nits are not the sort of interpretation anyone who was reading charitably would see in the text, so they come off as pointless.

  • I'm curious about one of the considerations: "We can do better than happiness." Did he propose some alternative? It's hard to come up with plausible alternatives.

  • Peter

    Carroll is clearly a great scientist

    What did he discover?

    • Michael Murray

      You have to decide what Brandon means here by great. Presumably not "Feynman great" or "Nobel Prize great". My guess is something more like a top physicist with an excellent publication record. If you want to judge that you can have a look here

      https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/research/annotated-publications/

      and get a list of his publications or CV.

      EDIT: Changed my own opinion after looking more closely at his CV :-)

      • Peter

        Then Carroll is clearly a great scientific writer.

        • neil_pogi

          his writings are based mostly on assumptions rather than facts!

          • Michael Murray

            So perhaps you can outline briefly the flaws in these

            http://arxiv.org/a/carroll_s_1.html

          • neil_pogi

            so how are we going to do with these link you provided?

            even if most scientists, particularly those individuals devote their entire lives in physics, agree with carrolls' viewpoints (or rather his 'please believe my researches, they have passed the scrutinies of science'), they are just garbage IF those are not incompatible with what sciences would tell us. for example, the 'fine tuning' elements of the universe, he is assuming that there must be 'many universes' that must exist besides our own, which is, not even proven, either by physics laws or natural laws. he said that 'each universe might have its own sets of physics laws.' how i wish that God lives in one of carroll's universe because the physics law might/can detect the presence of God!!

            if carroll is there observing the birth of the universe, i would believe him all my heart and soul,. but he is not there to observe it.

            if carroll is there to observe how the quantum fields, bosons, etc do their works while the universe is in the process of creation, i would believe him all my heart and soul,, but he is not there to observe it.

          • Michael Murray

            So I guess that is a "no".

    • Michael Murray

      Carroll's wikipedia page has a short summary of his research

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sean_M._Carroll

  • Peter

    "A little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion."

    I can understand why Carroll's shallow philosophy did not lead him to God, but Francis Bacon's saying is mirrored in another way by a later great scientist:

    "Little science takes you away from God, but more of it takes you to him"
    Louis Pasteur:

    Carroll can be excused for being shallow in his philosophy but he is not shallow in his science. More of it, so he claims, takes him away from God. So is the quote wrong? No it is not. More science has indeed taken Carroll to his god but Carroll's god is naturalism. Carroll believes that God and naturalism are two mutually exclusive things; the espousal of one implies the rejection the other. But that is not the case.

    The Catholic is perfectly happy with a naturalistic world where God does not necessarily conjure it into existence like a cosmic sorcerer or concoct it like a celestial alchemist, and looks forward with confidence to deeper discoveries into the mechanics of creation.

    Carroll's naturalism is an effective response to the creationist view of the world, particularly the claim that God magicked the big bang into existence. As far as Catholicism is concerned, however, his naturalism is complementary and not contradictory.

    • VicqRuiz

      That's a very deist-sounding post, Peter.

      Does every Christian get to decide for himself about the degree to which God takes a role in the affairs of the natural cosmos??

      • Peter

        I start from the belief that nothing in science can contradict Catholic doctrine. Creationism is subject to falsification by science and therefore cannot be Catholic doctrine. Creationists who stubbornly maintain their position despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, while at the same time proclaiming themselves to be Catholics, risk bringing the Church into ridicule.

        • Will

          Evolution contradicts 2 first parents, for starters.

          • Peter

            Why can't the first parents have evolved?

          • More specifically, there weren't *two.*

          • Will

            For evolution to work, species population must be much larger than 2, and it takes many generations.

          • Alexandra

            Yes. That is theoretically possible. "Evolution" occurs over numerous generations of a population, but it doesn't preclude a starting population of two.

        • I start from the belief that nothing in science can contradict Catholic doctrine.

          That strikes me as not so much going off the rails, but rather starting off the rails. If any such contradiction exists, then your starting point precludes you from ever discovering the truth.

          Do you think it's wise to start with assumptions that might cut you off from the truth?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            It's not an assumption. It's a deduction from two tautological statements:

            1. General revelations of truth (e.g. Natural Laws that have been discovered, etc) have to be true (otherwise they would not be revelations of truth).
            2. Specific revelations of truth (e.g. the deliverances of mystical encounters, etc) have to be true (otherwise they would not be revelations of truth).

            Even if you think that the set of all specific revelations of truth is the empty set, it's still the case that both of those two statements are tautologically correct. Taken together, they imply that general revelation of truth and specific revelation of truth cannot contradict.

          • You changed "science" to "general revelations of truth" and "Catholic doctrine" to "specific revelations of truth". Obviously I don't believe that either of those changes is synonymous or relevant.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, fair enough. There are a few more hairs that I want to split, but I don't think it would lead us anywhere special. Thanks for the response.

        • VicqRuiz

          Could the miracle at Fatima, or the healings at Lourdes, be falsified by science?

          • Arthur Jeffries

            Neither of those are part of Catholic doctrine.

  • Peter

    The universe doesn't care about us, but we care about the universe. That's what makes us special

    What if the universe is configured to produce teeming billions of sentient races who care about the universe? Then the universe itself must be special in spawning countless conscious minds that care about it. But to a conscious mind, caring about the universe is the same as seeking out its origins, in other words, seeking out its maker. The universe is special in that it produces countless conscious minds who seek out their maker. That then would appear to be its purpose, the reason why it exists. And if the universe exists to produce us, it must care about us.

    • But to a conscious mind, caring about the universe is the same as seeking out its origins, in other words, seeking out its maker.

      That just looks like two leaps of logic in one sentence. I care about lots of parts of the universe, but I've spent zero time seeking out its origins myself. And those people who do research the origins of the universe don't find any reason to assume a maker.

      • Peter

        What does caring about the universe mean if not wondering about its workings and origins? In seeking out the universe's origin, we are seeking the cause that brought it, and ultimately us, into existence. That cause is our maker.

  • VicqRuiz

    simple distinctions between divine revelation and malleable liturgical customs?

    Brandon,

    In the light of your comment above, perhaps you could interpret this essay for me:

    "The Rosary is Not Optional"
    http://www.catholictradition.org/Mary/fatima26.htm

    • bdlaacmm

      VicqRuiz,

      Keep in mind that the Catholic Church says over and over and over again that NO message coming from private revelation is binding on the faithful. Such revelations can indeed be edifying and they can lead to great devotion - but they are never compulsory.

      Fatima counts as private revelation.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    What strikes me about these two events, the most notable experiences in
    Carroll's journey from God to atheism, is how surprisingly shallow they
    are. I find it hard to believe that a couple of minor liturgical changes
    and the lyrics to a progressive rock song were enough to decimate a
    young man's faith. If that's truly what happened, and I don't doubt it
    did, then he must have had a very shallow and unsophisticated
    understanding of God.

    As someone who, like Caroll, also had a gradual slide from belief to unbelief, I think Vogt is misreading this quite a bit.

    When the transition is gradual, there are no big faith-shattering events that "decimate a young man's faith." It's a slow process of many small things that over the course of years that eventually add up as your faith fades away. Most of these things are small and unmemorable, but a few slightly larger (but still small) events might stick out.

    It's like the phrase "death by a thousand paper cuts." Every cut is shallow. It doesn't make sense to look at the two slightly deeper paper cuts and say "'Gee, he must have been a real wimp if those two paper cuts killed him!"

    Vogt errs by reading the two events Caroll lists as if they were the knock-out blows to his faith, when there were likely no knock-out blows. Just a thousand small jabs.

    • What you say seems quite consistent with Brandon's charge that Carroll's faith was probably "very shallow and unsophisticated". The premise seems to be that losing a deep, sophisticated faith would present with more than just paper cuts. Perhaps that premise is false, but I would want to be convinced of that.

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        Not sure why we should assume that premise as true... A deep faith can only be lost by big blows? It can't be lost gradually (basically: fade from a deep faith, to a lukewarm faith, to no faith) as someone discovers various things they see as problems?

        Either way, I was more struck by the the part where he says the two events "decimated a young man's faith." I highly doubt that Carroll left church one day saying "We're standing now instead of kneeling?? My faith is decimated! There is no god!" That's describing a sudden loss of faith when that's not what happened.

        • Oh, I think you're right that @bvogt1:disqus is in danger of seeing two paper cuts as if they are sword thrusts. If Carroll didn't make explicit that they were but exemplars, I'd assign some culpability to him as well.

          When it comes to how deep faith is lost, I think that calls out for scientific and theological study. I could see it going either way. It would also be interesting to try to understand what kinds of 'deep faith' are particularly resistant to mere erosion. For example, I have certain beliefs about the universe having 'mind-dependent properties' (properties exceedingly unlikely to obtain on known naturalistic mechanisms) upon which I am considering building my future life. If I am wrong, a good deal of what I build will be on a rotten foundation. The collapse of that foundation would seem to be necessarily shocking—a sword thrust, not a paper cut.

  • Mike

    i've really enjoyed this Brandon, well done. Now i hope Carroll writes an entry for Strange notions in response or at least on how he personally views more 'robust' faith systems today.

  • bdlaacmm

    Interesting. My brother claims to be an atheist, and says what caused him to lose faith in the Catholicism we were raised in was when we were allowed to eat meat on Fridays. (Yes, that's how old I am.)

    • Mike

      maybe his entire faith really was based on a simplistic understanding of religion. if so that was honestly 100% the fault of the church not him. too bad though as lots of ppl seem to have been raised on that kind of wishy washy style.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        Have you read his book, Mike?

        • Mike

          "maybe"

          • Ignatius Reilly

            You still made an insinuation about Carrol's knowledge of religion, an insinuation that you have not supported with evidence. Trying to use maybe as an out is really rather childish. Would you consider it appropriate if I opined, maybe most Catholics stay believers because they only have a simplistic understanding of philosophy and science?

            Using maybe doesn't take away the insinuation.

          • Mike

            well his reasoning in his book seems amateurish so that's why i said maybe. he seems to have a very thin idea of religion in mind when he criticizes it. like he's more interested in dismissing it than engaging it.

    • ClayJames

      But clearly you see that the jump between ¨we actually can eat meat on Fridays¨ to ¨there is no god¨ has to come from a lack of understanding of basic logic.

      • David Nickol

        But clearly you see that the jump between ¨we actually can eat meat on Fridays¨ to ¨there is no god¨ has to come from a lack of understanding of basic logic.

        Religious faith, it seems to me, is very deeply connected with external ritual and practices. When you teach someone that they will go to hell if they eat meat on Friday, and you change the rule, you pull the rug out from under a part of what tied them to their religious faith. It had been part of Catholic identity to abstain from meat on Fridays. When you teach people that it's so great the Mass is in Latin, because it never changes, and it is the same everywhere in the world, and then you start having Masses in English, you have pulled another rug out from under them.

        Ritual and habit are deeply important to the human psyche. People who had been hearing Mass in Latin all their lives, with the choir singing in Latin as well, suddenly found themselves at "folk masses" or even "clown masses." When I first came to New York City, I remember going into Saint Patrick's Cathedral and hearing a priest saying Mass in English in a thick Bronx or Brooklyn accent. It sounded terrible.

        I remember it seemed to me a very good idea in the 1960s to "modernize." But things that had seemed "holy" or "sacred" in Latin seemed mundane in English. A lot of people were very upset, and who can blame them? I was mostly drifted away by then, and I rather scoffed at people who were upset by the changes. I accepted the rationale for them and thought that "believing" Catholics should, too. But I remember one of my sisters saying she cried the first time they instituted the "kiss of peace" at Mass. The one thing you did not do at Mass for the past few hundred years was turn to your left and right and say "hello" or shake hands with your pew mates.

        And of course some people—very serious and well educated adults—actually broke away from the Church and got excommunicated for not accepting the changes. What kind of example was that for little Sean Carroll? And the fight continues. Also, who outside the Catholic Church can understand the big deal over whether the priest is on one side of the alter facing the people, or on the other side facing the same way as the congregation? Who cares? Answer: A lot of people care passionately. (I have a suggestion. Mass in the round.)

        So often it isn't about logic, nor should anyone expect it to be. It is about how you feel, and what practice you become accustomed to. It is what has become routine to you, not in a boring way, but in a way that something becomes part of your life.

        Where did all the nuns go? Where did all the priests go? Presumably these were spiritually mature individuals. I graduated from a Christian Brothers high school in 1965, and over the next few years we heard of one after another of our teachers (brothers) leaving the order. If it wasn't aggiornamento, what was it?

        • ClayJames

          ¨Religious faith, it seems to me, is very deeply connected with external ritual and practices. When you teach someone that they will go to hell if they eat meat on Friday, and you change the rule, you pull the rug out from under a part of what tied them to their religious faith. It had been part of Catholic identity to abstain from meat on Fridays. When you teach people that it's so great the Mass is in Latin, because it never changes, and it is the same everywhere in the world, and then you start having Masses in English, you have pulled another rug out from under them.¨

          I don´t agree with this at all. What you are describing above definetly happens, depending on how these rituals and rules were taught, but you make it sound like it is necessary and that is where I disagree. You can teach someone about rituals, practices and rules in a way (imo, in the correct way) so that the rug is not pulled out from under them when they are changed and it affects their religious faith.

          ¨So often it isn't about logic, nor should anyone expect it to be. It is about how you feel, and what practice you become accustomed to. It is what has become routine to you, not in a boring way, but in a way that something becomes part of your life. ¨
          Are you saying that what you feel should permit someone to make illogical conclusions?

          • David Nickol

            Are you saying that what you feel should permit someone to make illogical conclusions?

            Not illogical. Just not logical. Faith, trust, and love are not logical, but neither are they illogical.

          • ClayJames

            I guess I just don´t get what you are trying to say. Yes, the things you described do happen and are not rare. Where I disagree is that these feelings that stem from changes should necessarily cause a problem because of the very nature of religious faith. I think that a lot of the reactions that you describe above are a result of our parents, religious leaders and educators who are tasked with teaching our children to think critically, failing to correctly do their job.

          • David Nickol

            I am trying to say that religion must engage the whole person. It can't be purely assenting to a body of doctrine. That is why, in the Catholic Church, sacraments are "outward signs." It's why there is communal worship in (as far as I know) every religion. It is why most Christian churches have at least some of the following: music/singing, icons, statues, stained-glass windows, candles, incense, processions, holy days, formal prayers, kneeling, bowing, and saints. It is why, in the Catholic Church, when there is Eucharistic adoration, the consecrated host is put in an ornate gold monstrance instead of a simple plastic box.

            I think all people, or maybe just almost all people, need these things. They become deeply meaningful at a gut level, and changing them is going to be very, very difficult, even for good reasons. And all of these things are, in a sense, art that has stood the test of time. It is a tall task to replace that kind of art with "modern" art that is its equal, especially when this is done by committee.

    • David Nickol

      Don't you think the Church lost many formerly faithful Catholics when Mass began to be said in English rather than Latin?

      I remember a Catholic co-worker, upset because of the relaxing of Friday abstinence, saying, "We're becoming just like the Protestants!"

  • ClayJames

    Can someone explain how Carroll can say that ¨There is no natural way to be¨ but also say the following:

    It pays to listen.
    We can always do better.
    What matters is what matters to people.
    Desire is built into life.
    Reality guides us.
    We can do better than happiness.
    The universe is in our hands.
    It takes all kinds.

    • All those things allow you to "choose your own identity". There being a "natural way to be" is antithetical to this.

      • ClayJames

        So all of those things are optional but ¨there is no natural way to be¨ is not? And if someone choses that what matters is what matter to them and not other people, Carroll would be ok with this since after all, there is no natural way to be?

        • Oh, "there is no natural way to be" is part of the international intellectual elite's Nicene Creed of political correctness. If you were expecting rationality on this matter, I have nothing to give you. However, I can provide a sociological description of one group in said elite, a group which could easily be representative of the whole:

          Sociology’s deeper sacred project is more fully and accurately described as follows. American sociology as a collective enterprise is at heart committed to the visionary project of realizing the emancipation, equality, and moral affirmation of all human beings as autonomous, self-directing, individual agents (who should be) out to live their lives as they personally so desire, by constructing their own favored identities, entering and exiting relationships as they choose, and equally enjoying the gratification of experiential, material, and bodily pleasures. (The Sacred Project of American Sociology, 7–8)

  • David Nickol

    Ten More Considerations

    The answer to, "I only have one item. Can I get in line in front of you?" is NO.

    Tip at least 20% unless the service is bad or the food is inedible.

    Shut up about how bad Coke is for you. It's delicious.

    "Spilling your guts is exactly as attractive as it sounds." (Fran Liebowitz)

    No matter how many dictionaries may cave, nuclear is pronounced NOO-klee-er, never NOOK-ya-ler.

    Whatever you go out of your way to do for your health, scientists will declare to be ineffective or harmful in a study soon to be reported on in The New York Times.

    Avoid all persons wearing heavy winter coats on hot summer days.

    I'll be thrilled to read your poems (when they've been published in The New Yorker).

    "Anyone who says money can't buy happiness doesn't know where to shop." (Eunice Wentworth "Lovey" Howell)

    Never vote Republican.

    • No matter how many dictionaries may cave, nuclear is pronounced NOO-klee-er, never NOOK-ya-ler.

      Kiefer Sutherland really let me down when he used the terrible pronunciation in 24. Jack Bauer was so awesome, except for that one little bit. You made me look up what Sutherland has done recently and the 2011 film Melancholia looks interesting. "The US National Society of Film Critics selected Melancholia as the best picture of 2011 and named Kirsten Dunst best actress."

  • I agree that physicists trying to do philosophy is a bad idea. This often happens when people go outside their fields. Even so, I wouldn't call his ten considerations "mushy Oprah-isms". As for Bacon, an atheist could easily say the opposite. It's merely an assertion either way.

    Edit: The issue of changing ritual isn't always so petty. Aren't many Catholics still upset about those changes Vatican II enacted? Recently there was also the whole "facing liturgical east" when praying issue. So why is it surprising to learn this might trouble a young Episcopalian?

  • David Nickol

    But when his grandmother died unexpectedly when he was ten, the pain shook him. He became a more casual believer. Eventually, once he went off to college at Villanova (a Catholic university) and became an astronomy major, he lost his faith completely.
    Interestingly, Carroll says that while his slide from faith to unbelief was gradual, there were two moments that stuck out. . . .

    This may be a minor point in the overall scheme of things, but I just finished reading the pertinent chapter, and Carroll does not say what is related above regarding his grandmother's death. I'll just quote him (p. 428):

    My family and I were regular churchgoers while I was growing up. It was probably my grandmother's influence that enforced the weekly discipline. . . .
    We stopped going to church after my grandmother died when I was ten. I remained the kind of casual believer you find in many American households. My transformation to naturalism wasn't dramatic or life-shaking; it just kind of crept up on me. It was a smooth phase transition, not a sudden one.

    Carroll does not say his grandmother died unexpectedly, or that the pain shook him, nor does he imply that his grandmother's death had anything to do with his loss of faith.

    Given that Carroll says his drift into naturalism was a "smooth phase transition," I think it is a mistake to overestimate and overinterpret the two moments he relates as ones that "stood out."

  • David Nickol

    Carroll makes it clear that his Ten Considerations are not an attempt to replace the Ten Commandments. He doesn't like the idea of commandments at all.

    However, since the Ten Commandments have been alluded to, let me repeat something I have said a number of times. I don't think the Ten Commandments are, in and of themselves, particularly remarkable or useful. (Note that when Jesus was asked to name the two greatest commandments, he didn't choose any from the Decalogue.) It is a widespread Christian practice to read all kinds of things into the Ten Commandments that are alleged to be there implicitly, thus making them out to be an impressive and practically exhaustive list of moral principles, but I find that unconvincing. The Ten Commandments do not rule out racism, sexism, or slavery. They do not rule out war—understandably, since the Israelites were a warrior people. They do not even rule out unjust war, and I think it can be argued that the Israelites were "unjust warriors."

    I have often said I could come up with a better set of commandments, but nobody has ever challenged me to put up or shut up. However, I am not going to make the same boast again, because I have a feeling that someone this time will take me up on it.

    • neil_pogi

      quote: 'He doesn't like the idea of commandments at all.' - so carroll is against the moral law introduced by God to ancient jews? or just because those precepts are well identified with christianity/theists?

    • neil_pogi

      quote; '(Note that when Jesus was asked to name the two greatest commandments, he didn't choose any from the Decalogue.) -- you are very wrong with that, Jesus did approve that all the ten commands are moral codes. if you analyze the first 1 to 4 commands, these laws are for man's obligation to God, and the rest 5- 10 belong to man's obligations/ duties to fellow human beings.

      • Doug Shaver

        Jesus did approve that all the ten commands are moral codes.

        That does not contradict what David said. Jesus did, according to the stories, tell people to keep all the commandments, but in saying that, he did not answer the question of which is the greatest commandment.

        • neil_pogi

          'if you love me, keep my commandments' J.C.

          • Doug Shaver

            When the lawyer asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment, that was not his answer.

          • neil_pogi

            'love your neighbor as yourself' J.C.

            He answered, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" -- Luke 10:27

            the first 1 - 4 of the commandments are man's obligation to God, and the other 5 - 10 is man's obligation to fellow man.. J.C. just shortcut it.

          • Doug Shaver

            the first 1 - 4 of the commandments are man's obligation to God, and the other 5 - 10 is man's obligation to fellow man..

            That is your interpretation. It is arguably a reasonable interpretation, but it's still an interpretation.

            J.C. just shortcut it.

            He didn't say so. He was actually just quoting Jewish scripture: Deut. 6:5 in the one instance, Lev. 19:18 in the other.

          • neil_pogi

            without love you can never fulfill the 10 commands.

          • Doug Shaver

            without love you can never fulfill the 10 commands.

            The lawyer's question was not "What is necessary in order to fulfill the commandments?"

          • neil_pogi

            love

  • Since we've had several articles now from a theist's point of view on Sean Carroll's recent popular work, I think a wonderful choice of the next article for us to consider and discuss would be Why (Almost All) Cosmologists are Atheists by Sean Carroll, since it's so perfectly topical, a good length, and it would be indisputably fair and charitable to present the much-criticized author's own perspective here unfiltered.

    • Peter

      To my mind, Carroll's best argument against God is found in Ch 4:

      But to me a more pointed observation is the existence of "generations" of elementary particles. All of the ordinary matter in the universe seems to be made out of two types of quarks (up and down) and two types of leptons (electrons and electron neutrinos), as well as the various force-carrying particles. But this pattern of quarks and leptons is repeated threefold: the up and down quarks are joined by four more types, just as the electron and its neutrino are joined by two electron-type particles and two more neutrinos. As far as life is concerned, these particles are completely superfluous. All of the processes we observe in the everyday workings of the universe would go on in essentially the same way if those particles didn't exist. Why do the constituents of nature exhibit this pointless duplication, if the laws of nature were constructed with life in mind?

      EDIT: Well, it appears that Carroll is wrong. We exist because there is more matter than antimatter in the universe. The four extra quarks and four extra leptons are instrumental through their decay in creating and maintaining this asymmetry. The laws of nature were indeed constructed for the purpose of creating life. It looks like the universe does have a purpose and, as such, is ordained by God.

    • Doug Shaver

      I think a wonderful choice of the next article for us to consider and discuss would be Why (Almost All) Cosmologists are Atheists by Sean Carroll

      Sounds good to me.

  • Craig Roberts

    "....[Scientists] should avoid preaching about meaning, morality, and other issues that they know no more about than anyone else."

    But isn't the reason that people are looking to scientists for satisfying answers to questions deeper than they can handle is that the philosophers, gurus, and priests have failed to provide them?

    • Valence

      This, from someone (Brandon) who isn't a scientist or a philosopher, who has created a site for preaching about meaning, morality, and other issues. Everyone is entitled to their views and their approach, and should be perfectly free to put them in a book. I almost look at this as an attack on free speech? Scientists aren't allowed to talk about meaning?

      • Craig Roberts

        Good point. And his conclusion ("too little philosophy") makes no sense. There are plenty of atheist philosophers. As a Christian and a Catholic shouldn't he be recommending theologians and priests?

  • Craig Roberts

    I don't think that the conclusion (bad philosophy reveals religious errors) makes any sense. Why do Christian apologists (especially Catholics) want to appeal to philosophy anyway? There are plenty of atheist philosophers. The underlying assumption is that good philosophy will lead to faith. This is clearly false as any survey of 'philosophers' will attest. If Aristotle was pagan, what makes anybody think that 'good philosophy' is a gateway to faith?

  • Red Pacifist

    I find your objections to this work remarkably uninsightful. For one thing, the statement "The universe doesn't care about us, but we care about the universe..." doesn't really imply our concern for the universe raises our 'specialness,' so to speak, in gradient. Most animals just conform to the environment; no animal makes the environment conform to it the way humans do.

    Landscaping? Art? Controlled conditions? Construction? Those are pretty human inventions. And basically no adult really doesn't care about the universe. Usually, people fall into despair because the universe isn't the way they want it to be, meaning that they do care, and even nihilists tend to try and make some difference in the world, even if they recognize some ultimate meaninglessness and futility to it.

    There's a little bit of speech wherein you talk about Carrol's lack of a belief in subjective morality, and how that supposedly doesn't line up with his claim that morality exists. That's simply a false objection, because objectivity does not define existence. Morality is like beauty; not everyone can agree completely what is beautiful or moral, but there are general, overarching themes to both that apply accross most people.

    Carrol's statement about honesty and rigor was probably not an objective standard; it appears to be a method of achieving subjective standards. And if you need someone else to tell you what is honest, then you have a very serious self-deception problem. Honesty is just consistancy between what you say, do, believe, etc.

    You guys kinda talk about morality as if Carrol somehow isn't qualified to speak about it. That's a little unfair though, considering that morality is just a part of the human experience. You can't be technically qualified to talk about morals, not in a sincere and human sense. Knowledge of morality comes from reflection and contemplation; anyone who does that should be spared a few minutes with the mic, a reasonable opportunity to share their conclusions.

    You kinda get on Carrol for having small and shallow turning points in his religious views. You're right-- they are small, but that's not really a problem. Atheism is mostly a journey of the mind; physical and emotional events don't really have that much to do with it. Anyway, it usually is the little things that affect people in deep and profound ways.