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“The Martian” and Why Each Life Matters

TheMartian

Ridley Scott’s The Martian is a splendidly told tale of survival and pluck, reminiscent of the novel Robinson Crusoe and the films Life of Pi and Castaway. In this case, the hero is Mark Watney, an astronaut on a mission to Mars who is left behind by his crewmates when he is presumed dead after being lost during a devastating storm. Through sheer determination and an extraordinary application of his scientific know-how, Watney manages to survive. For example, realizing that his food supplies would run out long before a rescue mission could ever reach him, he endeavors to produce water and, through some creative fertilizing, grow an impressive crop of potatoes. At another critical juncture in the narrative, as his life hangs in the balance, Watney says, “I’ll just have to science the s*** out of this!”

In time, NASA officials, through a careful observation of surveillance photos, realize that Watney is still alive and they attempt to contact him. Some of the most thrilling and emotionally moving scenes in the film have to do with these initial communications across tens of millions of miles. Eventually, the crew who left him behind discover that he is alive and they contrive, with all of their strength and intelligence, to get him back. The film ends (spoiler alert!), with the now somewhat grizzled Watney back on earth, lecturing a class of prospective astronauts on the indispensability of practical scientific intelligence: “You solve one problem and then another and then another; and if you solve enough of them, you get to come home.” This summary speech communicates what appears to be the central theme of the movie: the beauty and power of the technical knowledge the sciences provide.

But I would like to explore another theme that is implicit throughout the film, namely, the inviolable dignity of the individual human being. The circumstances are certainly unique and Watney himself is undoubtedly an impressive person, but it remains nevertheless strange that people would move heaven and earth, spend millions of dollars, and in the case of the original crew, risk their lives in order to rescue this one man. If a clever, friendly, and exquisitely trained dog had been left behind on Mars, everyone would have felt bad, but no one, I think it’s fair to say, would have endeavored to go back for it. Now why is this the case? Much hinges upon how one answers that question.

The classical Christian tradition, with its roots in the Bible, would argue that there is a qualitative and not merely quantitative difference between human beings and other animals, that a human being is decidedly notsimply an extremely clever ape. Unlike anything else in the material creation, we have been made, the Scriptures hold, according to God’s image and likeness, and this imaging has been construed by most of the masters of the theological tradition as a function of our properly spiritual capacities of mind and will.

With The Martian in mind, let me focus on the first of these. Like other animals, humans can take in the material world through sense experience, and they can hold those images in memory. But unlike any other animal, even the most intelligent, humans can engage in properly abstract thinking. In other words, they can think, not only about this or that particular state of affairs, but about fundamental patterns—what the medieval called “forms”—that make things what they are. The sciences—both theoretical and practical—depend upon and flow from precisely this kind of cogitation. But truly abstract thinking, which goes beyond any particularity grounded in matter, demonstrates that the principle of such reflection is not reducible to matter, that it has an immaterial or spiritual quality. And this implies that the mind or the soul survives the dissolution of the body, that it links us to the dimension of God. Plato showed this in a simple but compelling manner. When the mind entertains an abstract truth, say that 2 + 3 = 5, it has in a very real way left behind the world of shifting impressions and evanescent memories; it has, to use his still haunting metaphor, slipped free of the cave and entered a realm of light. And this explains why the very science so celebrated by The Martian is also the solution to the moral puzzle at the heart of the film. We will go to the ends of the universe to save an endangered person, precisely because we realize, inchoately or otherwise, that there is something uniquely precious about him or her. We know in our bones that in regard to a human being something eternal is at stake.

In the context of what Pope Francis has called our “throwaway culture,” where the individual human being is often treated as a means to an end, or worse, as an embarrassment or an annoyance to be disposed of, this is a lesson worth relearning.

Bishop Robert Barron

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Bishop Robert Barron is Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He is an acclaimed author, speaker, and theologian. He’s America’s first podcasting priest and one of the world’s most innovative teachers of Catholicism. His global, non-profit media ministry called Word On Fire reaches millions of people by utilizing new media to draw people into or back to the Faith. Bishop Barron is also the creator and host of CATHOLICISM, a groundbreaking, 10-part documentary series and study program about the Catholic Faith. He is the author of several books including Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master (Crossroad, 2008); The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path (Orbis, 2002); and Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (Image, 2011). Find more of his writing and videos at WordOnFire.org.

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  • David Hardy

    But I would like to explore another theme that is implicit throughout the film, namely, the inviolable dignity of the individual human being. The circumstances are certainly unique and Watney himself is undoubtedly an impressive person, but it remains nevertheless strange that people would move heaven and earth, spend millions of dollars, and in the case of the original crew, risk their lives in order to rescue this one man. If a clever, friendly, and exquisitely trained dog had been left behind on Mars, everyone would have felt bad, but no one, I think it’s fair to say, would have endeavored to go back for it. Now why is this the case? Much hinges upon how one answers that question.

    I agree with this particular statement, both that it is unlikely they would spend the same amount to save a dog, should one somehow be able to survive long enough for rescue, and that understanding the reason for why this is true is important. Bishop Barron holds that it is some unique quality within humanity that makes human life more valuable, and goes on to point to our ability to think abstractly as evidence of this. I would agree that humans are far and away the best at abstract thinking, but I would question that we are the only ones able to do so. Unfortunately, it is difficult to confirm abstract thinking without advanced language, but some primates, for example, are able to recognize and categories pictures according to type, at a rate faster than what one would expect from randomly putting different pictures together. This example and others like it seems to indicate at least a limited ability to form abstract categories, although certainly not anywhere near to the levels that humans can form abstract ideas.

    However, that seems off the point to me. One does not need to look to our ability to abstract or scripture to understand why humans tend to value human life over non-human life. One need only observe social creatures in general because, in general, social animals tend to primarily gather with and support others of their own species, without necessarily extending this social concern to creatures outside the species. There are certainly exceptions, such as humans and domesticated animals, where one may see both sides showing greater social concern for the other, but this still is not necessarily equal to the concern shown to one's own species (likewise, social concern to those from different groups within one's own species may not receive the same level of concern).

    So, the reason that humans will put more effort into saving other humans in general, especially if those humans are perceived to be part of one's social group, seems to be because our social instinct is primarily directed towards others of our species. Unlike abstraction, this tendency is in no way unique to humans, but is a common feature of social creatures.

    As a final thought, I would ask the following: If a life (human or otherwise) is judged by an observer to be less valuable or worthy of effort, to what extent does that say something about the life being observed as opposed to the observer making the judgment? Much like Bishop Barron's question that I quoted, much hinges on the answer one gives to this question. For myself, I tend to find it says more about the observer, and the assumptions that observer holds about what makes something valuable and worth the effort.

    • ben

      Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

      Who indeed, is the Observer?

      • David Hardy

        In this context, I was referring to the person making a judgment on how much value that person places on other life, and how much effort other life is provided as a result, because from judgment follows action. This action will either be admirable or not admirable, depending on whether the life in question is deemed of value and worthy of admirable efforts. Regardless of the perceived value, though, I find that the quality of the conduct reflects on the person who made the value judgment that justified that conduct.

        However, I appreciate the allusion to God valuing life as an observer: In my experience, people who believe in God tend to infer that God places as much value in non-human life as they have come to (and most often their larger family and church community have come to). I have met people who range from "God only cares about humans and we can do whatever we want to the natural world by virtue of having dominion over it" to "God cares about all of creation, and we must care for it as stewards of the natural world by virtue of having dominion over it". I find more common ground with those towards the steward end of this continuum in regards to the natural world.

        • Mike

          I too feel closer to the folks who believe that all of nature requires respect and care BUT i neverthelss maintain that all of nature only has value in so far as it supports us all on the planet and that if we were to disappear it would lose all practical value.

          • David Hardy

            Then we likely have much common ground in practice and only disagree on the principles underlying that practice.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      t humans are far and away the best at abstract thinking, but I would question that we are the only ones able to do so.

      Then it would be good to provide an example of another, non-human abstract thinker.
      https://thomism.wordpress.com/2008/10/11/what-really-are-uniquely-human-traits/

      it is difficult to confirm abstract thinking without advanced language

      Indeed, without language at all. Are there languages that are not "advanced"?

      some primates ... are able to recognize
      and categories pictures according to type, at a rate faster than what
      one would expect from randomly putting different pictures together.

      Which is kool, but it is not language. They are still manipulating particular, sensible, physical objects. The operations of imagination -- the perception, retention, and manipulation of images, visual or otherwise -- can accomplish a great deal. Especially if one receives a reward for having done so.

      • David Hardy

        Then it would be good to provide an example of another, non-human abstract thinker . . . Which is kool, but it is not language. They are still manipulating particular, sensible, physical objects.

        I was referring to abstract thinking in the study, not language. The two are distinct but related. An abstract thinker need not necessarily think in linguistic terms to think abstractly. The ability to act according to abstract categories suffices. That such a creature cannot convey to us the abstract thoughts it is using is not needed to infer abstract thinking. On a note regarding rewards, rewards might increase persistence, but the creature in question must still have the abilities needed to complete the task. In this case, it was the organization of images into categories, which requires the ability to form abstract categories or succeed through random chance. However, the subjects in the primate study succeeded consistently far more quickly than what would be expected if the images were being put together randomly with no ability to form an abstract category.

        Indeed, without language at all. Are there languages that are not "advanced"?

        Many creatures varies the sounds they make and gesture in a way that communicates messages, primitive though they are compared to the human ability to make sequences of sounds and communicate messages. While human language is, in all cases that I am aware of, very advanced, it does not mean that the vocal and gestural communication of other animals does not fall under the same heading.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          An abstract thinker need not necessarily think in linguistic terms to think abstractly. The ability to act according to abstract categories suffices.

          Because it is what humans do, we tend to project onto animal imagination our own reflection by the intellect. To abstract is to "pull out from." In this case, it means to pull out from concrete particular things universal concepts, such as "dog" from Fido, Rover, and Spot. It is not enough to recognize concrete dogs as dogs. This can be done without any thought whatsoever, using only sensory cues. But to consider "dog" when no dogs are presented to its senses is another matter.

          When a zebra out on the edge of the herd sniffs a lion in the tall grass, he does not say to himself in any fashion, "I had better tell the others." (Nor would you, for that matter.) He simply does what is appropriate for a successful zebra to do under those circumstances. His startled neighbors, startled by what he does whether they sniff lion or not, do likewise. That's part of how they got to be grown-up zebras in the first place. The zebras who are slow to startle have a way of dropping out of the herd early in life. In a moment, the whole herd is in flight, but it cannot be properly said that a zebra has sent a message. It would be more accurate to say that the zebras have caught something from one another.
          -- The Underground Grammarian
          http://www.sourcetext.com/grammarian/less-than-words-can-say/02.htm

          it was the organization of images into categories, which requires the ability to form abstract categories or succeed through random chance. However, the subjects in the primate study succeeded consistently far more quickly than what would be expected if the images were being put together randomly with no ability to form an abstract category.

          Sorting concrete objects into groups based on similarities does not evidence abstraction of universal concepts. It requires only the ability to perceive the objects and recognize them; i.e., imagination, not intellect.

          Many creatures varies the sounds they make and gesture in a way that communicates messages

          But this is not language, let alone abstraction. See the chapter by the Underground Grammarian linked previously. He gives a good account of it.

          People who have merely come up with a word for "wet" can do nothing more than stand around in the rain announcing to each other a sorry fact that needs no announcing. It won't help them, either, to come up with a word for "dry." What they need is a way to think about "dry" even while they are getting wet, a way to relate the two even when only one is present in the world of experience. They need "wet could be dry." That's grammar.

          A collection of names for things in the world, however large, does not make a language. A language is only incidentally in the business of naming things. Its important business is to explore the way in which things are, or perhaps might be, related to one another. Building a shelter takes more than words for "dry" and "cliff." It needs an idea of relationship, the idea of "under." Then it needs another relationship, one that might be understood by something like "dry under made cliff." To that, some designing mind must add not only "tomorrow" but "all tomorrows." "Cliff" names something in the palpable world, and "dry" names not exactly a thing in the world but at least a physical condition. Those other words, however, "made" and "tomorrow" and "all," name nothing in this world. They name some ways in which things can be related to each other.

          Then, too, Walker Percy made a similar point in The Message in the Bottle:

          A symbol does not direct our attention to something else, as a sign does. It does not direct at all. It "means" something else. It somehow comes to contain within itself the thing it means. The word ball is a sign to my dog and a symbol to you. If I say ball to my dog, he will respond like a good Pavlovian organism and look under the sofa and fetch it. But if I say ball to you, you will simply look at me and, if you are patient, finally say, "What about it?" The dog responds to the word by looking for the thing: you conceive the ball through the word ball.

          • David Hardy

            Because it is what humans do, we tend to project onto animal imagination our own reflection by the intellect.

            Anthropomorphizing is always a danger. So is assuming distinction. I do not hold that studies prove animals can think abstractly, only that they may. In addition, I think the question of abstract thinking in animals is beside the point of the value we assign to them as argued in the article. Abstract thinking simply seems to be a unique quality chosen to argue for value, but uniqueness and value are not the same thing.

            But to consider "dog" when no dogs are presented to its senses is another matter.

            And the question is whether we can know this when an animal cannot directly communicate it, by looking to actions that indicate abstract thinking.

            Sorting concrete objects into groups based on similarities does not evidence abstraction of universal concepts.

            You are right, it is not absolute proof, only indicative. Without advanced language like humans, it may be impossible for a creature to communicate about an object without the object there. I am aware of at least one case where a chimpanze was taught a limited vocabulary of sign language and respond in ways that indicated comprehension, but there are also cases where chimpanzees failed to learn sign language, leaving a question of if the result is an anomaly.

            But this is not language, let alone abstraction.

            I agree it is not abstraction to communicate as other animals do. Language, however, is an accepted term for this communication. If you prefer to highlight that human language has qualities that do not appear in the communication of other animals, and so should be treated as distinct, I will agree with that position.

            My primary issue with stated abstraction cannot be indicated if a concrete example is present is because it adds what appears to be an unnecessary condition: That a creature not only be able to think abstractly, but also effectively communicate that abstract concept to humans in a way that is clearly abstract. While that would be the best proof, it is also a very high standard before concluding abstract thinking may be occurring.

    • So, the reason that humans will put more effort into saving other humans in general, especially if those humans are perceived to be part of one's social group, seems to be because our social instinct is primarily directed towards others of our species. Unlike abstraction, this tendency is in no way unique to humans, but is a common feature of social creatures.

      In the various Star Trek series, there is a pretty consistent theme, whereby the humans have the principle "no man left behind", while pretty much all the other races are happy to sacrifice some individuals for the good of the many. It seems that one must employ this comparison, for the millions and millions of dollars spent to rescue Watney could have been spent to save multiple other humans.

      When we spend so much money to save one person, it seems almost necessarily predicated upon the belief that there's actually a way to live, such that truly nobody is left behind. Were this false—were it required always to sacrifice a few for the many—I think the dynamics would change quite a lot. Now, one can cheat one's way out of this by restricting oneself to some social group (you mention this), but to the extent that such restrictions have a tendency to erode away, I say there must be a reason for that, and that evolution and game theory might not be good enough reasons, satisfying enough reasons.

      • David Hardy

        Often, when one says that a reason is not satisfying, the implication is that it is not satisfying to the person making the statement. The ability of humans to cooperate at a large scale is one of the key qualities that has made our species so successful, and was specifically mentioned by Darwin in his writings on evolution. The belief that widespread pro-social behavior runs contrary to evolution is a later misunderstanding the idea. Take away strong pro-social tendencies, and humans would never have come to dominate the planet in the way we have. And humans are not unique in being willing to make sacrifices for others, even sacrificing life for the sake of others. Humans also have many examples of people not intervening to save or help others. I mention this only to again highlight the similarity of the degree of pro-social tendencies in humans in relation to many other creatures.

        • Mods: If the below is too snarky, I can modify it appropriately. Hopefully the tinge of snark merely helps emphasize what I see as a very important point (skip to the bold).

          Often, when one says that a reason is not satisfying, the implication is that it is not satisfying to the person making the statement.

          I think I will nevertheless push for the proper qualification of such statements, from:

               (A) X is the case.
          to
               (B) I idiosyncratically hold that X.

          Now, an alternative would be to consult scholars who have well-surveyed the appropriate domains and probably have representative examples. Without that, how can I possibly trust that (A), unless I can personally verify it? Of course, once (A) is reduced to (B), the motivating power of (B) is lost. Who cares what someone idiosyncratically things, in an online discussion between anonymous people who probably have no plans of becoming friends?

          The ability of humans to cooperate at a large scale is one of the key qualities that has made our species so successful, and was specifically mentioned by Darwin in his writings on evolution.

          Yeah, it's just that stuff like Rwandan Genocide § United States can continue happening, and what you say would still be true. You've presented a very, very low bar, in my book. I think we should be weeping and mourning and engage—the West in its entirety—in systematic repentance for allowing that thing to happen. Instead, I see atheists (and sometimes: theists) offering judgments of genocide in the Bible left and right. It's really quite sad.

          The belief that widespread pro-social behavior runs contrary to evolution is a later misunderstanding the idea.

          Sadly, yep. But there is also the believe that altruism is incompatible with one group mercilessly attacking and taking advantage of another group. Such people need to brush up on their naive game theory:

          • William H. Press and Freeman J. Dyson, Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma contains strategies that dominate any evolutionary opponent
          • Imhof, Fudenberg, and Nowak, Evolutionary cycles of cooperation and defection

          This knife cuts both ways, and it is sharp.

          Take away strong pro-social tendencies, and humans would never have come to dominate the planet in the way we have.

          Sure. But even with these "strong pro-social tendencies", nothing appreciable is being done to stop the forced labor of 1,000,000 persons in Uzbekistan—they're forced to pick cotton. I think they learned that it's pretty economical, from the antebellum South in the United states. Moral progress for the win! Let's ignore the fact that the more power to prevent evil you have, the worse it is that you allow evil to prosper. No, no, no: when the conversation heads in that direction, stop and blame God immediately. Do not pass 'Go', do not collect $200, do not introspect, do not follow the logic. Switch gears and blame God. Always a winning tactic!

          And humans are not unique in being willing to make sacrifices for others, even sacrificing life for the sake of others.

          Sure. People are also very willing to sacrifice others to obtain their own ends. Born, dying, unborn, doesn't matter. The one curious case is Jesus, who chose to die himself instead of force others to die for him (he could have: he could have started an insurrection). And Jesus calls to follow his pattern, and so does Paul:

          The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:16–25)

          I dunno about you, but I find that absolutely fascinating. I realize practice hasn't always lined up with theory, but when does it (always line up)? If one can sift through the noise, what does one see? I don't have a good answer, but I'm pursuing it like a madman.

          • David Hardy

            Hello Luke,

            Honestly, I am not sure how best to respond to your post. While I normally find your responses to be very reasonable and on point, this one seems quite hostile and emotional. As near as I can tell, you have taken my position as insulting, and so I will apologize if it created that impression. Aside from that, I would say that altruism runs side by side with cruelty, and that at a widespread level, that means we see societal examples of altruistic acts to care for people as well as societal acts that use or destroy them. At best, we can try to promote the altruism and reduce the cruelty, but I believe that both are rooted in deep instincts unlikely to ever be fully overcome. However, I am afraid that I will not continue to engage you on this subject, given the intensity of your post and the level of emotion that appears to be behind it. I hope you do not take offense to this, and that you find the good answer you are seeking.

          • As near as I can tell, you have taken my position as insulting, and so I will apologize if it created that impression.

            Nope, not a whiff of insult perceived.

            At best, we can try to promote the altruism and reduce the cruelty, but I believe that both are rooted in deep instincts unlikely to ever be fully overcome.

            But how will we try, and why? Without good answers, I'm afraid that Brandon Vogt's comment seems less terrible:

            BV: But why should the materialist care? If we're all just random, pointless collections of matter, why should the materialist go to great lengths to help a starving child in Africa? What's the purpose?

            However, I am afraid that I will not continue to engage you on this subject, given the intensity of your post and the level of emotion that appears to be behind it.

            Up to you. But I would caution you on using 'emotion' as a cipher for 'irrational'; from neuroscientist/​neurobiologist Antonio Damasio's Descartes' Error (20,000 'citations'):

            When emotion is entirely left out of the reasoning picture, as happens in certain neurological conditions, reason turns out to be even more flawed than when emotion plays bad tricks on our decisions. (xii)

            I can always dial the intensity up and down. :-D

          • David Hardy

            As you have not been offended, I will offer a few points.

            But how will we try, and why?

            Would you ask these questions about the idea of eating or sleeping? What about owning property or possessions? Morality is an instinct which is not necessary for survival, but is nonetheless innate and deeply rooted. For the most part, people are moral because it is natural for them to be so. Environment shapes where that morality is directed (primarily to the in-group, to both in-group and out-group, within a specific subset of the in-group). Genetics and environment help shape the degree to which a person is drawn to moral activity. These points, by the way, apply in the same way to some of the other instincts I mentioned, such as where the desire for property is focused, and how much energy is put into accumulating it.

            Without good answers, I'm afraid that Brandon Vogt's comment seems less terrible

            The issue is that Brandon Vogt's question that you offer, one which I have often heard before, assumes that these questions must be at the foundation of moral behavior: that without answering the questions you raise, morality will somehow be without substance. However, while people will find a how and why in expressing moral behavior, these questions have little to do with the foundation of morality, which is tied to instincts and experiences that go deeper that surface thinking. To put it another way, moral instinct is what causes these questions to feel important to ask in a situation, not something that depends on first answering them. Likewise, there are many possible answers to the questions, and the answers that appeal to the person will also be guided by these factors. One of the most common non-religious reasons is, in some form or another, "I can imagine their suffering, and it bothers me, so I will do what I can."

            I would caution you on using 'emotion' as a cipher for 'irrational'

            I do not, but I veer away from strong levels of emotion (or snark), because in my experience people with them are generally more interested in being heard than hearing, for differing reasons. If that is not the case for you, then I am willing to continue the conversation.

          • Would you ask these questions about the idea of eating or sleeping? What about owning property or possessions? Morality is an instinct which is not necessary for survival, but is nonetheless innate and deeply rooted.

            I'm confused; some semblance of morality is required for humans to survive at a population of 7+ billion. It is statistically required: a few humans can go without it. If too many do, that population will drop drastically.

            For the most part, people are moral because it is natural for them to be so.

            I will agree, if you carefully define "moral", to continually allow things like Rwandan Genocide § United States (notice that I link to a specific section), the forced labor of 1,000,000 human beings in Uzbekistan (so that they can pick cotton), the disaster the West visited on Iraq (it has also messed with Syria and Iran in the past—at least, America surely did), etc. This kind of "moral" is perfectly happy to execute Jesus, if he's a nuisance (as he was!).

            What is important, is not to equivocate between God's morality, which is perfect, and our morality, which maintains order but still allows utterly terrible, utterly abominable things, to happen on a regular, routine basis. N.B. We can talk about what it means for violence to be dropping on a per capita basis, on a fractal scale, if you'd like.

            The issue is that Brandon Vogt's question that you offer, one which I have often heard before, assumes that these questions must be at the foundation of moral behavior: that without answering the questions you raise, morality will somehow be without substance. However, while people will find a how and why in expressing moral behavior, these questions have little to do with the foundation of morality, which is tied to instincts and experiences that go deeper that surface thinking.

            I half agree, and half disagree.

            I see our consciousness as attempting to model our subconsciousness. This modeling process can go badly wrong; see Eric Schwitzgebel's 2008 The Unreliability of Naive Introspection and Aquinas on Human Self-Knowledge (excerpt). The consciousness 'curates' the un/subconscious. The un/subconscious is what actually does the things. However, its behavior can be tweaked, especially little bits at the time. The Christian might describe this as the pneuma overriding the sarx.

            So, in the short term, perhaps the model of morality and metaphysics in the consciousness is largely irrelevant. However, what about the long term? Does that stay true, or does the impact of one metaphysics vs. another start to really matter, when you turn the dial from 'years' to 'centuries'? Do you have empirical data on this, one way or another? I think I do. I can present it.

            I do not, but I veer away from strong levels of emotion (or snark), because in my experience people with them are generally more interested in being heard than hearing, for differing reasons. If that is not the case for you, then I am willing to continue the conversation.

            Ahh, I see—excellent reasoning. No, I am desperately interested in trying to solve the problems we face in this century, and I believe the only way to do so is to increase my understanding of how others understand reality, and work with them. I am sure I have some things more correct than they, and they other things more correct than I. Furthermore, I believe God actually designed me to need others, such that things break down if/when I do the stupid things listed in 1 Cor 12:12–31!

          • David Hardy

            I'm confused; some semblance of morality is required for humans to survive at a population of 7+ billion.

            Quite right, I was referring to strictly being necessary for individual survival. It is the reason for our success as a species and necessary for that continued success on a large scale.

            What is important, is not to equivocate between God's morality, which is perfect, and our morality, which maintains order but still allows utterly terrible, utterly abominable things

            Per pretty much all efforts at Theodicy, God's morality allows utterly terrible things, too. Maybe for the greater good of free will, or to bring out a later good, or some other point, but they are still allowed. More to the point, there is no reason to believe that God's morality is anything more than our idealized sense of what perfectly formed and expressed morality would look like.

            So, in the short term, perhaps the model of morality and metaphysics in the consciousness is largely irrelevant.

            I believe that the conscious can alter the expression of morality quite significantly, and is not irrelevant. However, I am not talking about the expression of morality primarily here, but the foundation of morality. To return to an earlier thought, what makes morality something important to consider? What makes a person put enough thought into it to develop a conscious moral framework? From my position, it is that morality is a naturally arising instinct, and this comes prior to reason. Questions of why to be moral are as odd to me as questions of why to follow any other instinct.

            I also think we are discussing at perhaps the wrong level. Our view of morality at this level has many parallels. However, at a different level, I see no reason to believe God exists, and several reasons not to believe God exists, and so my explanation for innate moral tendencies is quite different from yours in this regard. We both seem to largely agree on the innateness and importance of morality, and how this relates to the conscious and unconscious level of the mind. Where we differ is in relation to the role (or lack there of) that God has in these things.

          • Per pretty much all efforts at Theodicy, God's morality allows utterly terrible things, too.

            True, but why did he allow them? Was it because he wanted his creatures to grow up, a process which requires the possibly of failing, and consequences for responsibility shirked? Of course, once I say such things, the conversation immediately shifts to 'natural evil'. Perhaps it won't, this time.

            More to the point, there is no reason to believe that God's morality is anything more than our idealized sense of what perfectly formed and expressed morality would look like.

            What kind of experiment would help us distinguish? One possibility is creating God in your own image, but it probably is only a step in the right direction. My question is whether the destination has a finite number of steps to get to it, or whether an infinite. I'm being coy: I mean to say that perhaps you have raised an unfalsifiable distinction; the choice may have to be philosophical. We are used to this:

                The assumption that any particular kind of fluctuations are arbitrary and lawless relative to all possible contexts, like the similar assumption that there exists an absolute and final determinate law, is therefore evidently not capable of being based on any experimental or theoretical developments arising out of specific scientific problems, but it is instead a purely philosophical assumption. (Causality and Chance in Modern Physics, 44)

            (Author: physicist David Bohm, who probably should have gotten a Nobel Prize for the Aharonov–Bohm effect.)

            I believe that the conscious can alter the expression of morality quite significantly, and is not irrelevant.

            What is your evidence of this "quite significantly"—or at least, your reasoning? My view, based on work such as Christian Smith's Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture, is that people can only really make little tiny pushes. Whenever you see something that looks like a big push, that is because you don't see how it was built up, built towards. It is only when we forget the social context of someone like Kant, that we think that a person can alter history tremendously, all by himself. The one exception to this would be Jesus, son of Joseph.

            What makes a person put enough thought into it to develop a conscious moral framework? From my position, it is that morality is a naturally arising instinct, and this comes prior to reason. Questions of why to be moral are as odd to me as questions of why to follow any other instinct.

            Ahh, I appreciated your response to Clay James. Including that as context, I see no problem with God using gradual processes to build toward what you describe. When I'm looking for excuses not to have kids, I think that the first N years will be pretty boring. What I'm waiting is for enough development to happen such that I can have a rich relationship. Now, of course this is stupid and not how things would play out unless I'm really a terrible person, but the illustration is useful. In a sense, I have to hold out on that rich relationship while my child develops. Only when enough bits are in-place, can it happen. Perhaps God has set up things the same way, between us and him?

            Our view of morality at this level has many parallels. However, at a different level, I see no reason to believe God exists, and several reasons not to believe God exists, and so my explanation for innate moral tendencies is quite different from yours in this regard.

            Well, can a society, as a whole be unjust? If it can, then one would seem to be appealing to something at least somewhat like a Form of Justice. But how does one causally interact with such a Form, to know that 'justice as-implemented' ≠ 'Justice'? Perhaps we cannot know, but only feel, such a thing? I still think this would have issues.

            Another way I've played with in thinking about this is Fitch's Paradox of Knowability, applied to moral knowledge. If you accept some pretty innocent-looking axioms (laid out nicely here), you are forced to accept that all knowable truths are already known. That's a curious result! One way to make it not-problematic is to say that God exists. But I think one has to go further: that God communicates truth to us. Here I will go crazy, and say that I think God communicates possible truth, somewhat like pilot waves do guidance in Bohmian mechanics. This is but a raw intuition, though. I'm more confident about Fitch's paradox. It seems to offer serious problems to the person who thinks [s]he can grasp moral knowledge out of thin air. And if you don't want to call it knowledge, then I think you're forced into emotivism, with the problem Alasdair MacIntyre identifies:

                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)

            Thoughts?

          • David Hardy

            True, but why did he allow them?

            I have yet to hear an answer that seems plausible to me. At best, some explanations make it possible that existing evil and a good God is not necessarily self-contradictory.

            What kind of experiment would help us distinguish?

            Not so much an experiment, but if morality was seen expressed anywhere outside of living, social creatures, it would help to suggest it was not just being generated by us.

            What is your evidence of this "quite significantly"—or at least, your reasoning?

            The efficacy of mental health and related therapies. While not always effective, they do have a number of studies supporting that they are overall effective. These sorts of therapy, at their heart, are a conscious conversation. From that conscious engagement and change, unconscious factors can be re-directed in significant and meaningful ways. People also can have spontaneous conscious realizations that radically alter how they perceive reality and, as a result, how they react to reality. The underlying factors may not change, but how they express does.

            Well, can a society, as a whole be unjust?

            Unless one takes a sort of radical social construction position, yes. For my part, the degree to which the society as a whole engages in anti-social acts, or fails to engage in basic prosocial acts (such as caring for its citizenry), it can be deemed unjust in the same way as a person could be. However, I would also caution against equivocating moral judgements on a society and on an individual, since changing society and changing an individual are substantially different concepts. On substantially different concepts, I am drawing from the paradox you referenced (hopefully I have understood it correctly):

            A. K(φ)->φ. That is, everything known is true.

            I lean towards the view that "the map is not the territory." That is, knowledge of something is fundamentally different from the thing being known, in the same way that a map (knowledge) is fundamentally different from the territory it reflects (reality). At best, I would say that what is known to be true is actually known to usefully reflect reality in some way. It still differs fundamentally from reality, and does not preclude other perspectives on that aspect of reality that are different and yet reflect reality with equal utility. Taking this to morality, the reality is in the genetic predisposition to prosocial behavior. The map is the effort to usefully understand this inclination and its expression, which gives rise to moral systems. However, a moral system is still fundamentally distinct from the genetic inclination to prosocial behavior, and differing moral systems may equally understand this inclination in a useful way.

          • DH: Per pretty much all efforts at Theodicy, God's morality allows utterly terrible things, too.

            LB: True, but why did he allow them? Was it because he wanted his creatures to grow up, a process which requires the possibly of failing, and consequences for responsibility shirked? Of course, once I say such things, the conversation immediately shifts to 'natural evil'. Perhaps it won't, this time.

            DH: I have yet to hear an answer that seems plausible to me.

            Well, suffice it to say that I have yet to see a reason for Rwandan Genocide § United States to exist, which argues against the fact that the West, on [political] average, believes (or acts as if it believes):

                (1) one Westerner life > 1,000 Rwandan lives
                (2) badness of Battle of Mogadishu > 100,000 Rwandan lives

            I think this is a serious, serious problem, for those who claim that their moral faculties are up to the job of judging God. "All that is required for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing." I think this implies a joke or irony: that one can be "good" and stand by while evil festers in plain sight.

            DH: More to the point, there is no reason to believe that God's morality is anything more than our idealized sense of what perfectly formed and expressed morality would look like.

            LB: What kind of experiment would help us distinguish?

            DH: Not so much an experiment, but if morality was seen expressed anywhere outside of living, social creatures, it would help to suggest it was not just being generated by us.

            Ok, instead of 'experiment', how about 'scientific observation'? Could you sketch out what one would do, which if one found something, one could publish in the appropriate peer-reviewed journal?

            The efficacy of mental health and related therapies. While not always effective, they do have a number of studies supporting that they are overall effective.

            Do you have any studies available for me to look at? Also: what is considered 'good enough'? I reference the [seeming?] increasing frequency of mass shootings in the US; they almost always seem attributed to mental illness. I have to wonder whether we are bailing water out of the Titanic.

            For my part, the degree to which the society as a whole engages in anti-social acts, or fails to engage in basic prosocial acts (such as caring for its citizenry), it can be deemed unjust in the same way as a person could be.

            How does one know if the act society is engaged in, is 'anti-social'? There seems to be a potential definitional self-contradiction, here.

            I lean towards the view that "the map is not the territory."

            It's not clear how this matters, when it comes to Fitch's paradox. Would you spell that out?

          • David Hardy

            Well, suffice it to say that I have yet to see a reason for Rwandan Genocide § United States to exist

            Perhaps this one will work:

            All people empathize most with those closest to them in terms of quality and, secondarily, proximity.

            Empathy leads to greater moral responsiveness

            Genocides in other countries are distant in terms of qualities (culture) and proximity (far away).

            Therefore, moral thinking is less likely to be applied in these cases.

            Ok, instead of 'experiment', how about 'scientific observation'?

            Under controlled conditions, a non-social factor (non-social creature or non-living forces) intervenes without human guidance to prevent an immoral act and replicates consistently.

            Do you have any studies available for me to look at? Also: what is
            considered 'good enough'? I reference the [seeming?] increasing
            frequency of mass shootings in the US; they almost always seem
            attributed to mental illness.

            Unless you have free access to peer reviewed journals in the social science field, I am not sure how much you would be willing to pay to see the range of studies supporting the efficacy of therapy -- I assume you would want to read multiple studies in order to ensure the results are replicating. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the most research heavy approach, if that helps.

            As to blaming mental illness, I will say that there is far more politics and stigma than research supporting that position. Most people with serious mental illness diagnoses are no more likely to commit a violent act than people without such diagnoses, and some are significantly less likely, because their disorder leaves them less capable of organizing and executing a major violent event, even if they were inclined to do so. However, since predatory criminal behavior falls into disorders such as Antisocial Personality Disorder, in some ways saying a chronically violent criminal has a mental illness is almost a tautology.

            I think this is a serious, serious problem, for those who claim that their moral faculties are up to the job of judging God.

            In which case, I equally question anyone who judges God to be good as one who judges God to be bad.

            How does one know if the act society is engaged in, is 'anti-social'?

            A society commits genocide on a group. Those involved in the act of genocide are acting in an anti-social way towards the targeted group. Taken together, the society as a whole, by virtue of the combined acts of these members, has committed an anti-social act, although it is not precisely the same as the nature of individual action.

            It's not clear how this matters, when it comes to Fitch's paradox. Would you spell that out?

            The paradox seems to assume knowledge is objective, and I hold it carries subjective, arbitrary and utility based qualities that have more to do with the creature doing the knowing than the thing being known. By that standard, it is not possible to know everything, because inherently you would need to have the unique, knowledge defining characteristics of every other creature. It is not because the truth is unknowable, but because truth itself is a construct shaped in part by the creature constructing it. Therefore, all truth may be known, but it will not necessarily fully reflect what is being known, nor cover everything known by others, nor always manifest the same based on context. If you want to further discuss this, however, I would ask that you re-present the argument in more common language, as I found the article you referenced to be rather unclear in its presentation.

          • Perhaps this one will work:

            Oh, I do think that works. But I think it means we shouldn't think nearly so well of ourselves, morally. You see, we're 100% happy to benefit from lower manufacturing costs abroad, as well as all the other ways that trade is beneficial to the most powerful nations. What we're not willing to do is face the cost that "free trade" like this imposes on those who are less-well-developed. So, we're happy to extract tribute from people as long as we don't see the cost that imposes on them. This has been a human strategy for millennia. See:

            Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say,

            “Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—    for how long?—    and loads himself with pledges!”Will not your debtors suddenly arise,    and those awake who will make you tremble?    Then you will be spoil for them.Because you have plundered many nations,    all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you,for the blood of man and violence to the earth,    to cities and all who dwell in them.

            “Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house,    to set his nest on high,    to be safe from the reach of harm!You have devised shame for your house    by cutting off many peoples;    you have forfeited your life.For the stone will cry out from the wall,    and the beam from the woodwork respond.(Habakkuk 2:6–11)

            The whole thing is great, but notice the "set his nest on high". That literally happens: Beverly Hills. Gated communities are nice these days, but the walls can be ugly. If you have a "nest on high", you have a beautiful vista (beauty is only for the rich, you see).

            For an argument demonstrating the general human pattern of 'tribute imposers' vs. 'tribute producers', see Joshua A. Berman's Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought. He argues that this dichotomy is better than 'slavery', because the 'tribute producers' aren't always slaves. He argues that the OT pushes against this pattern in powerful ways; for example, Deut 17:14–20 constitutes an unprecedented restriction on the rights of the king, as does:

            There turned out to be enormous ethical implications to this proto-individuation. It is very clearly expressed in the dramatic confrontation between King David and the prophet Nathan recounted in the twelfth chapter of the Second Book of Samuel. David had caused the murder of Bathsheba's husband in order to incorporate her in his harem—a perfectly acceptable expression of royal prerogative in terms of oriental conceptions of kingship. After Nathan cleverly leads David to condemn a man who shows no pity in destroying what another man loves, the prophet tells David that he is just such a man—"You are the man." This sentence sovereignly ignores all the communal legitimations of kingship in the ancient Near East. Indeed, it ignores all the social constructions of the self as understood at that time. It passes normative judgment on David the man—a naked man, a man divested of all the trappings of a community, a man alone. I believe that this view of the relation between God and man, and therefore among men, continues to be normative for a Christian understanding of the human condition. (A Far Glory, 99–100)

            Under controlled conditions, a non-social factor (non-social creature or non-living forces) intervenes without human guidance to prevent an immoral act and replicates consistently.

            Hold your horses. Isn't this just another law of nature that one would find? You said "replicates consistently". Haven't you destroyed the distinction between 'moral law' and 'physical law'?

            Unless you have free access to peer reviewed journals in the social science field, I am not sure how much you would be willing to pay to see the range of studies supporting the efficacy of therapy -- I assume you would want to read multiple studies in order to ensure the results are replicating.

            My public library has considerable access, and my wife is a postdoc at a major medical research institution, so I'm probably all set in terms of free paper access. :-)

            As to blaming mental illness, I will say that there is far more politics and stigma than research supporting that position.

            That is my guess, as well. I also suspect that social disintegration plays a role; are you aware of the decline in Americans trusting each other in the US, from 56% in 1968 → 33% in 2014?

            In which case, I equally question anyone who judges God to be good as one who judges God to be bad.

            What are the dynamics of this mode of thinking/​acting?

            A society commits genocide on a group. Those involved in the act of genocide are acting in an anti-social way towards the targeted group. Taken together, the society as a whole, by virtue of the combined acts of these members, has committed an anti-social act, although it is not precisely the same as the nature of individual action.

            Was the execution of Jesus an 'anti-social' act?

            The paradox seems to assume knowledge is objective [...]

            Does it? I'm not quite sure what this even means, to be honest. I might just have to find a mathematician/​logician/​philosopher and ask, though! I'm friends with a math prof at Harvey Mudd, who might have some things to say. However, I'd like to get a bit more out of you, first, if that's ok.

            By that standard, it is not possible to know everything, because inherently you would need to have the unique, knowledge defining characteristics of every other creature.

            Ehhh, my intuition is that Fitch's Paradox allows knowledge to be transmitted from 'knower'-with-more to 'knower'-with-less.

            Enter highly intuitive mode: Or, one might need to bring back the Platonic/​Aristotelian conception of "knowledge as participation", which Ellen T. Charry discusses a bit in her essay "Walking in the Truth: On Knowing God", in But Is It All True?. I'm still trying to understand what 'participation' means in this context; Owen Barfield uses it all over the place in Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry, but it was pretty confusing. Perhaps Charles Taylor's "To Follow a Rule" in Philosophical Arguments will help; I'm still working through it and chewing on it. The idea of 'participation' does seem possibly connected with causal theories of reference in language (see Language and Reality). A causal theory seems absolutely required per Wittgenstein's private language argument. Holy crap thanks for saying what you said, because you just provoked me to put this stuff all together just now. :-D

          • David Hardy

            But I think it means we shouldn't think nearly so well of ourselves, morally.

            Is your position that the actions at a societal level can be used to judge all individuals within the society? Or are you using "we" in the sense of humans in general? If the first, I would question this approach as leading to stereotyping. If the second, I would say that moral judgments at an individual level are far better than moral judgments at a group level -- factors like the diffusion of responsibility and groupthink can make group decisions much less likely to be moral. Therefore, I would still question judging individuals for group level actions absent of also considering each individual.

            Isn't this just another law of nature that one would find? You said
            "replicates consistently". Haven't you destroyed the distinction between
            'moral law' and 'physical law'?

            I have two thoughts on this. First, if an unchanging, morally perfect, all powerful, all knowing God exists, one might expect consistency in moral intervention. However, my second would be to propose an observation: we would have independently verified recordings of observed events similar to those throughout the bible: supposed prophets declaring a particular outcome to be the will of God, highly unlikely natural events occurring in support of that outcome, witnessed by non-believers. Since the rise of recording devices, no miraculous events have been recorded to my knowledge that were not later found to be, or likely be, modified to appear miraculous.

            What are the dynamics of this mode of thinking/​acting?

            Please clarify what you are asking. I am saying those who say we cannot judge the morality of God in regards to evil but then accept our ability to judge that God is morally good are being inconsistent in how they apply this thinking.

            Was the execution of Jesus an 'anti-social' act?

            A difficult question to answer, for two reasons. First, we only have accounts about the reason for the execution from Jesus' followers, whose objectivity is open to question. Second, I view Jesus and his followers as what now might be a called a "new religious movement" -- His teachings broke significantly with the orthodox belief systems of the time, and the movement involved a group of followers surrounding a single or small number of charismatic leaders. Even today, there is a delicate balance in how to respond to these movements. Too much hostility and action against such movements creates persecution against groups that are merely different, but not harmful. On the other hand, some such movements coerce members to remain and can engage in violence against those outside the group. If Jesus' group was more of the first, then I would say the execution was anti-social towards him and his group. If his group was more of the second, then it was not.

            Holy crap thanks for saying what you said, because you just provoked me to put this stuff all together just now.

            You're welcome. You initially said that you wanted more information from me, but then moved to an intuitive consideration of your own. Did you still have things that you wanted to ask me about regarding my view in this area?

          • Is your position that the actions at a societal level can be used to judge all individuals within the society? Or are you using "we" in the sense of humans in general? If the first, I would question this approach as leading to stereotyping. If the second, I would say that moral judgments at an individual level are far better than moral judgments at a group level -- factors like the diffusion of responsibility and groupthink can make group decisions much less likely to be moral. Therefore, I would still question judging individuals for group level actions absent of also considering each individual.

            I think that it is equally important to consider the particular and the universal. Most people seem to prefer to veer toward one of those, to either a naive realism about universals or nominalism. I eschew both, in favor of something more like Colin E. Gunton's 'open transcendentals' (The One, the Three and the Many).

            As to "moral judgments at an individual level are far better than moral judgments at a group level", I'm just not sure I can buy this. A certain portion of the population is actually quite good at thinking at the group level. Howe else could we have huge nation-states and global corporations? We don't need all humans to think at the group level; instead we need trust, something which is eroding in the US: the # of Americans who said they trust each other has dropped precipitously: high in 56% in 1968 → 33% in 2014.

            I will say this, however. I think society as-is, is an enemy to systematizers of certain kinds. Hyper-specialization is what gets you respect, and I think this is because proper systematizers, who work in the moral domain as well as others, are an enemy to institutionalized evil, of the sort you see cataloged in Karl Menninger's Whatever Became of Sin? and William Ryan's Blaming the Victim. I know a sociologist who has uncovered so much dirt on institutional sin (he would not use the word 'sin') that he has been told to back down, multiple times. No, there are people who could do good. They are prevented, by people who do not want to see their own evil exposed: Jn 3:19.

            First, if an unchanging, morally perfect, all powerful, all knowing God exists, one might expect consistency in moral intervention.

            Then all God is, is a bundle of laws of nature. He is not a person. I claim his personhood is more important than the attributes of the "God of the Philosophers", so if one of those things has to go, it's one or more of the attributes. But perhaps your modeling of the attributes is in error.

            However, my second would be to propose an observation: we would have independently verified recordings of observed events similar to those throughout the bible: supposed prophets declaring a particular outcome to be the will of God, highly unlikely natural events occurring in support of that outcome, witnessed by non-believers.

            Sure; the Bible even records magic by non-YHWH-connected beings. See the magicians in Egypt, Balaam, and the king of Moab's blood magic in 2 Kings 3 (vv26–27). The NT warns against giving miracles too much evidential weight: Mt 24:23–25 and Rev 13:11–15. See also:

            LB: This whole thing reminds me of the story of the guy who captured a Leprechaun and forced him to point out where his pot of gold was hidden, in a corn field. The guy told the Leprechaun to swear he wouldn't remove the handkerchief that he had tied on the appropriate corn stalk, and then went off to get a shovel. When he returned, his particular kind of handkerchief was tied to all of the corn stalks.

            Do you see how this might apply? Furthermore, if we take John Loftus' "Religious Diversity Thesis" in The Outsider Test for Faith, I respond by claiming it's false and expected on Christianity.

            Since the rise of recording devices, no miraculous events have been recorded to my knowledge that were not later found to be, or likely be, modified to appear miraculous.

            That is because the philosophy of naturalism prevents this; see what Karl Popper says:

            Every experimental physicist knows those surprising and inexplicable apparent 'effects' which in his laboratory can perhaps even be reproduced for some time, but which finally disappear without trace. Of course, no physicist would say that in such a case that he had made a scientific discovery (though he might try to rearrange his experiments so as to make the effect reproducible). Indeed the scientifically significant physical effect may be defined as that which can be regularly reproduced by anyone who carries out the appropriate experiment in the way prescribed. No serious physicist would offer for publication, as a scientific discovery, any such 'occult effect', as I propose to call it – one for whose reproduction he could give no instructions. The 'discovery' would be only too soon rejected as chimerical, simply because attempts to test it would lead to negative results. (It follows that any controversy over the question whether events which are in principle unrepeatable and unique ever do occur cannot be decided by science: it would be a metaphysical controversy.) (The Logic of Scientific Discovery, 23-24)

            There are other things to say here, but perhaps we could keep the # of tangents under control? We can always say that certain propositions have 'unknown' truth-values, when we disagree and don't want to pursue them.

            LB: I think this is a serious, serious problem, for those who claim that their moral faculties are up to the job of judging God.

            DH: In which case, I equally question anyone who judges God to be good as one who judges God to be bad.

            LB: What are the dynamics of this mode of thinking/​acting?

            DH: Please clarify what you are asking. I am saying those who say we cannot judge the morality of God in regards to evil but then accept our ability to judge that God is morally good are being inconsistent in how they apply this thinking.

            It seems to me that what this requires is that we be very careful when we try to think in the direction of perfection. Jonathan Pearce picks out some problems in his God cannot be perfect because perfect does not make sense. The commandment against idolatry may slot in here perfectly; I go on about it over here.

            A difficult question to answer, for two reasons. First, we only have accounts about the reason for the execution from Jesus' followers, whose objectivity is open to question.

            I see this objection a lot. It is as if true God-worshipers would be very bad at self-introspection and likely to lie. I realize that you probably don't think God exists, so you have to work with the possibility that they were "just another religion". I simply find it interesting that one's model of philosophical anthropology and metaphysics makes a really big difference, here. :-)

            You're welcome. You initially said that you wanted more information from me, but then moved to an intuitive consideration of your own. Did you still have things that you wanted to ask me about regarding my view in this area?

            I forget the specifics and feel a bit overloaded now in terms of tracing conversations, but you're welcome to just talk about whatever interests you on these or related matters. I do love this stuff!

          • David Hardy

            As to "moral judgments at an individual level are far better than moral
            judgments at a group level", I'm just not sure I can buy this. A certain
            portion of the population is actually quite good at thinking at the
            group level. Howe else could we have huge nation-states and global
            corporations?

            Yes, and many of those nations and corporations utilize tiered hierarchies with leaders and small groups discussing options and clear methods to form decisions. Where these hierarchies and protocols are not established, the decision making is far less effective. Effective group strategies preserve the individual ability of leaders to make effective judgments. Good leaders also take time to connect with individuals in the organization and encourage feedback at a person to person level. Once individual thinking is completely submerged, one sees often impulsive and short-sighted group behavior.

            Then all God is, is a bundle of laws of nature. He is not a person.

            And this justifies God's lack of intervention in some cases while allowing believers to endorse other miraculous interventions. I hold supposed moral exemplars to higher standards. Others prefer to have a lower bar.

            The NT warns against giving miracles too much evidential weight

            Many Christians point to the miracles surrounding Jesus in the Bible as supporting his divinity. Many Jewish adherents range from Jesus being a prophet to being a magic user similar to those in Egypt you mentioned. Without the weight of miracles, does Jesus stand as anything more than a prophet or sorcerer, depending on your inclination?

            That is because the philosophy of naturalism prevents this

            Possibly in a lab. Lots of non-scientists have recording devices and an inclination to record and share unique events.

            It seems to me that what this requires is that we be very careful when we try to think in the direction of perfection.

            I would agree.

            It is as if true God-worshipers would be very bad at self-introspection and likely to lie.

            Not likely to lie, but likely to have a very biased set of assumptions. Look at accounts from members of others groups in modern times that worship their leaders as gods (For example, Aum Shinrikyo, Heaven's Gate, or the followers of A. J. Miller and Vissarion). You will get obviously sincere accounts that paint a picture far different from anyone outside of the group. Without independent accounts, how can we know if Jesus' followers were any more objective?

          • Many Christians point to the miracles surrounding Jesus in the Bible as supporting his divinity. Many Jewish adherents range from Jesus being a prophet to being a magic user similar to those in Egypt you mentioned. Without the weight of miracles, does Jesus stand as anything more than a prophet or sorcerer, depending on your inclination?

            If miracles [edit: simpliciter] were evidence of Jesus' divinity, then might makes right. Might does not make right.

            Possibly in a lab. Lots of non-scientists have recording devices and an inclination to record and share unique events.

            Yep, and stuff like Randal Rauser's podcast Craig Keener on miracles are dismissed. It's funny that you need recording devices, when the ultimate recording device is the human brain. After all, to the extent that the human brain has fundamental errors, it will spread those errors into whatever it does. (If it doesn't, one has to talk about how some chains of causation get mysteriously truncated.)

            Not likely to lie, but likely to have a very biased set of assumptions.

            Ok. I respond with this:

                So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”    Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” (John 8:31–38)

            The truth sets you free from falsehood and biases†. Consider the word 'naive' in the title of Eric Schwitzgebel's 2008 The Unreliability of Naive Introspection.

            † In saying this, I presume a metaphysics where truth, goodness, and beauty are all fundamental. Therefore, to have an ethical stance is not necessarily to be 'biased'.

            Without independent accounts, how can we know if Jesus' followers were any more objective?

            An 'independent' account will not share all the same beliefs. And so, anything it can consciously observe will be limited, per the science at Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness (partial tutorial). The instrument can only detect what it's equipped to detect. Anything it cannot detect, due to its structure, it will claim doesn't exist, if it accepts empiricism, refuses to trust others, etc. I can expand on this point.

          • David Hardy

            If miracles [edit: simpliciter] were evidence of Jesus' divinity, then might makes right. Might does not make right.

            And what is evidence of Jesus' divinity , aside from miraculous events?

            It's funny that you need recording devices, when the ultimate recording device is the human brain.

            Human memory is partially constructed through the meaning given to experience, which can bias it. That is why eye-witness testimony can be so unreliable.

            The truth sets you free from falsehood and biases

            Most people think they have at least part of the truth, and are able to see beyond their biases. In my experience, those most convinced they have the truth and are free from falsehoods and biases are often furthest from these things.

            An 'independent' account will not share all the same beliefs. And so, anything it can consciously observe will be limited

            Your position being that the belief is needed in order to be able to consciously observe the evidence?

          • And what is evidence of Jesus' divinity, aside from miraculous events?

            Surely divinity involves truth, beauty, goodness, and excellence. The three big ones are truth, beauty, and goodness, but I really want to add 'excellence', as well. I have no idea how that addition would have been seen by major figures such as Aquinas, but I'd love to find out.

            Human memory is partially constructed through the meaning given to experience, which can bias it. That is why eye-witness testimony can be so unreliable.

            Yes, this is Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness (partial tutorial). But instruments are no better in a crucial way: they can only detect what they're designed to detect.

            Most people think they have at least part of the truth, and are able to see beyond their biases. In my experience, those most convinced they have the truth and are free from falsehoods and biases are often furthest from these things.

            I would challenge you to switch from 'bulk assay' analysis, where you only look at an average to a 'single molecule' analysis, where you also look at individuals in the population.

            Your position being that the belief is needed in order to be able to consciously observe the evidence?

            Yes, in this way: instruments unable to detect a class of phenomena will never detect an instance of that class. It might be important to differentiate between 'belief' and 'tentative belief', here.

          • David Hardy

            Surely divinity involves truth, beauty, goodness, and excellence.

            If divinity exists, I would agree. However, there are a number of people who show these qualities, and are not considered to be God by anyone. I propose that miracles are treated by believers as implicitly or explicitly necessary but not sufficient in regards to establishing Jesus as divine. That is quite a bit of weight given to them.

            But instruments are no better in a crucial way: they can only detect what they're designed to detect.

            And many purported miracles in the Bible appear to be of a nature that could be detected by the recording instruments we have developed.

            I would challenge you to switch from 'bulk assay' analysis, where you only look at an average to a 'single molecule' analysis, where you also look at individuals in the population.

            It is interesting you assume I have not done so in my position.

            It might be important to differentiate between 'belief' and 'tentative belief', here.

            Many non-believers, myself including, consider our view to be open to challenge and potentially wrong (tentative), which leads me to question the idea that such non-believers are not able to recognize when evidence potentially supports an alternative position.

          • If divinity exists, I would agree.

            Ok. Please pause here, and consider whether one could be conscious of divinity existing, if one doesn't have a sufficiently good concept of divinity. Consult Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness (partial tutorial).

            However, there are a number of people who show these qualities, and are not considered to be God by anyone. I propose that miracles are treated by believers as implicitly or explicitly necessary but not sufficient in regards to establishing Jesus as divine. That is quite a bit of weight given to them.

            I think I'd be down with "necessary but not sufficient". In What's Wrong with Protestant Theology? Tradition vs. Biblical Emphasis, Jon Mark Ruthven points out the importance of:

                 (1) word
                 (2) deed

            Or, because 'deed' can seem weak:

                 (1') speech
                 (2') power

            And what is powerful word/​speech, but a miracle? Now, I realize this is a weird question. My intuition said "no" to it when I first intuitively typed it. However, the more I think, the more I read stuff such as Leibniz's theistic case against Humean miracles, the small miracles theory of counterfactuals (for a critical treatment, see Tomkow.com's The Simple Theory of Counterfactuals), and Bruce Waller's anti-'miracle' stance in Against Moral Responsibility (with miracles, one gets an entirely different kind of 'moral responsibility' than without), the more I think that my question is legit. At this point, I must talk to someone else about it; I think I've reached my limit, in investigating it myself.

            And many purported miracles in the Bible appear to be of a nature that could be detected by the recording instruments we have developed.

            I caution you to respect this, even if you don't agree:

            Every experimental physicist knows those surprising and inexplicable apparent 'effects' which in his laboratory can perhaps even be reproduced for some time, but which finally disappear without trace. Of course, no physicist would say that in such a case that he had made a scientific discovery (though he might try to rearrange his experiments so as to make the effect reproducible). Indeed the scientifically significant physical effect may be defined as that which can be regularly reproduced by anyone who carries out the appropriate experiment in the way prescribed. No serious physicist would offer for publication, as a scientific discovery, any such 'occult effect', as I propose to call it – one for whose reproduction he could give no instructions. The 'discovery' would be only too soon rejected as chimerical, simply because attempts to test it would lead to negative results. (It follows that any controversy over the question whether events which are in principle unrepeatable and unique ever do occur cannot be decided by science: it would be a metaphysical controversy.) (The Logic of Scientific Discovery, 23-24)

            Karl Popper is a well-respected philosopher of scientist. Even if his ideas are wrong, they are worth considering seriously. Not only that, but I think many people agree with the above excerpt.

            It is interesting you assume I have not done so in my position.

            I could have used more protocol-words, to say that it seems like you have not done so. Better? I can always be wrong on such matters. I just don't always use all the protocol words to perfectly qualify what I say—I suppose if I did, one could feed it into an AI program, but...

            Many non-believers, myself including, consider our view to be open to challenge and potentially wrong (tentative), which leads me to question the idea that such non-believers are not able to recognize when evidence potentially supports an alternative position.

            I think you might find this challenged by Grossberg 1999, and perhaps even by comparing and contrasting Bayesian inference with Dempster-Schafer theory (for the latter, see also Ignoring Ignorance is Ignorant). Then, you can see whether cognition is better thought of in the context-free regime suggested by Solomonoff's theory of inductive inference (LW tutorial), or something context-sensitive, where you don't actually have a prior probability for all beliefs from birth. I think that Bayesian vs. Dempster–Schafer hints at this distinction. I can elaborate on this more, too.

          • David Hardy

            Hello Luke,

            I am going to put what you said on hold for a moment, and if you like we can come back to it, to ask a different question, which may help us dialogue more effectively. Feel free not to answer my question if you don't want to. Why do you reference and quote other people so much in your responses?

            That may sound odd, since referencing can point to a wide base of support to an idea, but you often respond to me by quoting other people, with a relatively brief comment connecting the reference to my thoughts and a comment afterward about what you think about the thing you referenced. It almost feels sometimes as if you have found a certain person's ideas interesting, and you are inviting me to share my thoughts about that person, so we can discuss it, using whatever we were discussing as a springboard.

            I have two struggles when I respond to your posts in this format. The first is, if I am not already well-read on the person you are referencing, it would take significant time fully exploring the idea for me to be able to form an intelligent response, which can make an ongoing dialogue difficult in addition to the time demands, and even then it would be a response to that person's ideas more than to you. The second, related to the first, is that I am not having a discussion with the people you are referencing, so they cannot respond to questions or concerns that I might have or be part of a dialogue here.

            To go back to my question, and expand on it, why not put the ideas you are referencing into your own words, specifically framed and limited to suit the dialogue you are engaged in? It would greatly help me to engage you and the ideas you are presenting, and you could still provide a citation if I wanted to learn more.

          • Why do you reference and quote other people so much in your responses?

            They are cheat codes for moving the conversation past where atheist—theist conversations usually peter out, to the "there be dragons" section of the map. I've probably discussed and debated with atheists (mostly athests, not theists) for upwards of 15,000 hours on the internet. I know the well-trod paths. I want to go to new places. I want to break the habit, to break out. I think that referring to extremely well-thought-out systems is a great way to do this. Does this make any sense, or do I need to expand this idea out into multiple paragraphs? (Usually I preemptively do that, but you're trustworthy—you don't employ an "idiot filter" when reading what I say. It is a wonderful reprieve from what, unfortunately, has been my standard experience.) Note that I only started reading this stuff three years ago. Before that, I looked like pretty much any other Christian apologist, although I tried not to rehash the same thing over and over if it turned out to be bad. (So, when I was a creationist, once the moon dust argument got defeated, it stayed dead in my head.)

            It almost feels sometimes as if you have found a certain person's ideas interesting, and you are inviting me to share my thoughts about that person, so we can discuss it, using whatever we were discussing as a springboard.

            Sort of. Honestly though, there is another reason. For some reason, throughout all my life, people have doubted and criticized what I've said. Throwing up excerpts is a great defense mechanism. It may be suboptimal, but emotionally it's a lot less costly for me. But, since you don't use the "idiot filter" to interpret what I say, I can do less of that if you'd like.

            The first is, if I am not already well-read on the person you are referencing, it would take significant time fully exploring the idea for me to be able to form an intelligent response, which can make an ongoing dialogue difficult in addition to the time demands, and even then it would be a response to that person's ideas more than to you.

            How would this requirement not also apply if I paraphrased the thought expressed in the excerpt? It's just that I would have to do all that work, instead of you. I'm open to some sort of effort-sharing program, but I'm a little reticent to do book reports and analyses "for free". Although, you are trustworthy, so I might be up for that, with you. Most people just want to find ways to make me look stupid (it seems to me!—I could be wrong!), and I'm not interested in doing all that work, only to get a response like this. Now, Bob and I went at it for a while. However, you'll see a theme: he wanted to attack apparent chinks in the armor of Christianity: (i) the alleged genocides in the OT; (ii) the word 'faith', as is commonly understood (≠ pistis, ≠ pisteuō). Or rather: that models his behavior exceedingly well. And so, everything which did not aid that goal of his (see also Ja 2:8–13, and note the "fails in one point" bit) was considered irrelevant. Convenient, eh?

            The second, related to the first, is that I am not having a discussion with the people you are referencing, so they cannot respond to questions or concerns that I might have or be part of a dialogue here.

            True, but I can try to pretend to be those people. :-) "Socrates might respond to your question like this: ..."

            To go back to my question, and expand on it, why not put the ideas you are referencing into your own words, specifically framed and limited to suit the dialogue you are engaged in? It would greatly help me to engage you and the ideas you are presenting, and you could still provide a citation if I wanted to learn more.

            Let me know if the above helps, or if you want me to try to answer this question as well. I'm a little... tired, tonight. :-| But thanks for the meta-discussion! This is about the best one I think I've ever had. It's like... you actually want to enhance our discussions! Amazing, really. There are so few who want to do anything other than figure out how the other might be construed as being wrong. Or, this is how my cynical self models things.

          • David Hardy

            I think that referring to extremely well-thought-out systems is a great way to do this. Does this make any sense, or do I need to expand this idea out into multiple paragraphs?

            It does make sense, since referencing the thought system can help bypass arguments or prevent people from saying what your taking about is groundless. I suppose my view might be best expressed as a metaphor: Imagine offering a thought to someone about a topic, and them handing you anything from a peer reviewed journal article to a full book and saying "have you considered this in regards to your idea?" It makes the conversation difficult to continue, unless the short answer is "yes".

            For some reason, throughout all my life, people have doubted and criticized what I've said. Throwing up excerpts is a great defense mechanism. It may be suboptimal, but emotionally it's a lot less costly for me. But, since you don't use the "idiot filter" to interpret what I say, I can do less of that if you'd like.

            I was wondering if that might be the case. In a lot of ways, the references help de-personalize it to an extent, so people can attack the idea, or even the person who created it, but it is not as directed at the person offer the idea. I am glad you are willing to shift gears with me, but I don't want you to engage in a way that leaves you uncomfortable. We are talking on a public forum, so other people might jump in at any moment.

            How would this requirement not also apply if I paraphrased the thought expressed in the excerpt? It's just that I would have to do all that work, instead of you.

            Well, in many ways, having to put it in your own words means you are cutting down the idea to what is needed for the current context. For example, if I was talking to someone and I wanted to reference, say, the confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance, I might be able to just link them to articles researching it. Or, I could say "research in psychology shows that people tend to test beliefs by looking for evidence that may support them rather than disprove them, and then avoid or rationalize evidence that challenge the beliefs they have accepted as true. This means people are prone to forming plausible but false beliefs and then resist changing them even if later evidence arises that challenge those beliefs" That is a lot easier for someone to follow than having to read at least two articles explaining these concepts, the history behind them, and the method and results of research, and then make the connection of how they relate. If they challenge me, I might then link to research for them, or at least give some citations. To put it another way, I know why I am presenting a certain idea in a given conversation, and how I word it can help other people know why I am presenting it, too.

            Most people just want to find ways to make me look stupid (it seems to me!—I could be wrong!)

            With internet discussions, one doesn't get tone, body language and facial expressions. That tends to have at least two negative effects on interactions. First, it is much harder to tell how someone intends something they say. Second, it is easy to forget that one is talking to another person, who may be hurt by what is said, intentional or not. For my part, I do not try to offend anyone and, if I ever do offend you, please let me know so I can address whatever I said and take responsibility for how it came across.

            It's like... you actually want to enhance our discussions! Amazing, really. There are so few who want to do anything other than figure out how the other might be construed as being wrong.

            My primary goal is to test and expand my own beliefs. One of the best ways to do that is to learn about the views of others and why they hold them. Some people come to these sites to proselytize, regardless of their belief system, but I have little interest in convincing others that I am right. I am far more interested in facilitating a greater understanding within dialogue. I know I am responding two days later, but I hope you were able to get some rest.

          • There's a bit of repetition between this comment and my last, but I do it (i) for redundancy; (ii) so I can point to only this comment, in the future.

            It does make sense, since referencing the thought system can help bypass arguments or prevent people from saying what your taking about is groundless.

            This is what has happened to me all my life. Fortunately my father didn't do this, but many, many people did—and still do! However, nowadays I can cite scholars in a number of fields for my claims. Scholarly Shields to 100%!

            I suppose my view might be best expressed as a metaphor: Imagine offering a thought to someone about a topic, and them handing you anything from a peer reviewed journal article to a full book and saying "have you considered this in regards to your idea?" It makes the conversation difficult to continue, unless the short answer is "yes".

            Well, if my interlocutor is willing to dial back the "what you say is groundless" knee-jerk response which seems so common, I can lower my Scholarly Shields. :-P

            I am glad you are willing to shift gears with me, but I don't want you to engage in a way that leaves you uncomfortable. We are talking on a public forum, so other people might jump in at any moment.

            I'll lower the shields with you. Increasingly, I will be able to shred deal with them. The key, I think, is to give something somewhat cryptic, evoke a response that makes me look stupid, and then un-cryptify and let folks judge who looks more stupid. Kind of sneaky, but I think perhaps the best way forward. Actually, Jesus seems to have used this strategy! Hmmm...

            Well, in many ways, having to put it in your own words means you are cutting down the idea to what is needed for the current context.

            Good point. Part of the problem is that sometimes I only intuitively know that the excerpt is relevant, although a lot of that intuition is crystallizing into filled-in-reasoning, these days. Or I should say, the last two days. :-)

            With internet discussions, one doesn't get tone, body language and facial expressions. That tends to have at least two negative effects on interactions. First, it is much harder to tell how someone intends something they say. Second, it is easy to forget that one is talking to another person, who may be hurt by what is said, intentional or not.

            Very true. Growing up, I never learned to read those things, so the internet was remarkably like IRL! I like how you hint that intentionality can be 100% divorced from whether true, ontological hurt is effected. Many people seem to think that lack of intention ought to mean lack of true hurt.

            For my part, I do not try to offend anyone and, if I ever do offend you, please let me know so I can address whatever I said and take responsibility for how it came across.

            Sure, and no worries. I judge people by the majority of their interactions with me, not by one-offs. I wish more would do that with me!

            I am far more interested in facilitating a greater understanding within dialogue.

            Let's do this thing!

          • David Hardy

            Okay, I am going to reference back to our conversation prior to the meta-discussion of how we converse.

            Ok. Please pause here, and consider whether one could be conscious of divinity existing, if one doesn't have a sufficiently good concept of divinity . . . And what is powerful word/​speech, but a miracle? . . . I think you might find this challenged by Grossberg 1999

            I think that all of these can be tied together, along with an elaboration of my comment about how I think that people who are convinced they have the truth are often furthest from it. Although I was not consciously thinking about it, the confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance were good examples, and relate nicely to what I think you were pointing to with the Grossberg article. In short, you are right in the idea that a non-believer is less likely to find evidence for a particular religious belief system, more likely to find evidence supporting their non-belief, and more likely to rationalize evidence for the divine that they are offered.

            Unfortunately, the same is true in reverse for a believer. The believer is more likely to find evidence for his or her belief and avoid or rationalize evidence challenging it. These barriers, while strong, are not so strong to be impossible to overcome, since people do, at times, change their mind. However, in my experience, the degree to which someone is convinced they have the truth is also a measure of the degree to which they will resist any evidence challenging their beliefs.

            Equally relevant for religious beliefs, in my mind, is the danger of the confirmation bias. With the right concept of divinity, as you put it, speech that powerfully impacts a situation could be construed as miraculous. However, it could also be evidence of the power of communication within social animals, with no divine intervention needed. For me, when I look at any purported evidence of religious beliefs, I always ask if that same evidence could equally support a non-religious explanation, to test for confirmation bias. I have yet to find evidence where an equally plausible non-religious explanation exists. For that matter, the same evidence is often equally explainable within alternative religious systems, too.

          • However, in my experience, the degree to which someone is convinced they have the truth is also a measure of the degree to which they will resist any evidence challenging their beliefs.

            Me too. But I have found exceptions!

            Equally relevant for religious beliefs, in my mind, is the danger of the confirmation bias.

            But surely this is just Theory and Observation in Science?

            With the right concept of divinity, as you put it, speech that powerfully impacts a situation could be construed as miraculous. However, it could also be evidence of the power of communication within social animals, with no divine intervention needed.

            Aren't we allowed to reason from effects to causes? Yes, there are a plurality of possibilities for causation, but it has always been that way. The metaphysics of causation is really messed up you know, in philosophy, right now. See, for example, Evan Fales' Divine Intervention: Metaphysical and Epistemological Puzzles.

            For me, when I look at any purported evidence of religious beliefs, I always ask if that same evidence could equally support a non-religious explanation, to test for confirmation bias. I have yet to find evidence where an equally plausible non-religious explanation exists. For that matter, the same evidence is often equally explainable within alternative religious systems, too.

            But surely this is just Underdetermination of Scientific Theory?

          • David Hardy

            I see you chose to continue on the path of linking me to extensive articles. I hope that my reply is on point.

            But surely this is just Theory and Observation in Science?

            As I said, the confirmation bias impacts everyone. However, in science, one can sometimes review the data independently. In religion, often there is nothing but the belief, and data is then assimilated within the context of that belief.

            Aren't we allowed to reason from effects to causes?

            Yes, and I find the reasoning from effects to God as a cause to be highly questionable. Not because it is impossible, but because I see nothing to recommend it, while inferring that God is not the cause seems to me to have more support. I'm not sure if you want to continue on that path, so I will leave it there for now.

            But surely this is just Underdetermination of Scientific Theory?

            All scientific positions are provisional and open to challenge. Those with the most value have predictive power that helps guide decision making. However, even if they are wrong yet still yield accurate predictions for some reason, there is value in them until corrected. Likewise, even if a religion is wrong, I believe it has value if it promotes prosocial behavior and resilience.

          • David Hardy

            Sorry, I accidentally hit post prior to finishing my thought.

            To sum up, I think that the evidence must support a particular position better than alternatives, and I find that religious belief systems are generally able to find a way to explain everything within their framework, but nothing being explained actually supports that religious view more than other frameworks.

            Also...

            I think that Bayesian vs. Dempster–Schafer hints at this distinction. I can elaborate on this more, too.

            I am afraid I do not see the connection, so you may need to elaborate if you want us to discuss it.

          • I am afraid I do not see the connection, so you may need to elaborate if you want us to discuss it.

            Dempster–Schafer doesn't require one to have a prior for some belief until you get evidence for that belief. (But you might also infer a belief so that it is not directly supported by evidence.) Bayesian inference, on the other hand, seems to have no way to 'grow' the number of beliefs in its prior.

          • David Hardy

            I am not sure I understanding the connection. Are you suggesting non-believers may be unable to perceive evidence challenging them, because they are born with a determined belief set that does not allow for incorporating evidence for belief?

  • David Nickol

    We will go to the ends of the universe to save an endangered person, precisely because we realize, inchoately or otherwise, that there is something uniquely precious about him or her. We know in our bones that in regard to a human being something eternal is at stake.

    Alternatively, perhaps we value human lives—to the extent that they do—because we value our own lives and see, in others, people like ourselves.

    But of course situations like having Matt Damon stranded on Mars are rather rare. We may value the life of a person in the spotlight, but what about the lives we don't see? If a child falls down a well, we may witness on television a dramatic and costly rescue attempt. But what about starving children in other countries that we don't see, or children in this country who are undernourished or are not getting adequate medical care?

    But truly abstract thinking, which goes beyond any particularity grounded in matter, demonstrates that the principle of such reflection is not reducible to matter, that it has an immaterial or spiritual quality.

    I personally could have done without yet another argument against materialism and in favor of the existence of a spiritual soul in a piece about The Martian. And suppose the argument is wrong. Suppose human beings don't have spiritual souls. Should we then not care about human lives? Are materialists being inconsistent if they want to rescue a Matt Damon stranded on Mars?

    • "But what about starving children in other countries that we don't see, or children in this country who are undernourished or are not getting adequate medical care?"

      I'm curious why you ask this question. It should go without saying that Catholics care about starving children in third-world countries. No other organization in the world feeds, clothes, and heals more vulnerable people.

      But why should the materialist care? If we're all just random, pointless collections of matter, why should the materialist go to great lengths to help a starving child in Africa? What's the purpose?

      "I personally could have done without yet another argument against materialism and in favor of the existence of a spiritual soul in a piece about The Martian. And suppose the argument is wrong. Suppose human beings don't have spiritual souls. Should we then not care about human lives?"

      Despite your gripe, it seems you missed Bishop Barron's point. He never tries to argue against materialism.

      His point was that The Martian affirms that human beings have unique, infinite value because they were created by, and in the image of, God--not because they have an immaterial, spiritual soul. Our inviolable dignity would still hold regardless of whether we humans were fully material or not.

      "Are materialists being inconsistent if they want to rescue a Matt Damon stranded on Mars?"

      I think they're less inconsistent and more confused. There is no logical contradiction with a materialist caring disproportionately for a stranded human being. But assuming materialism is true, there doesn't seem to be a principled reason why the materialist should care, and certainly no reason to risk dozens of lives and spend millions of dollars for the slight chance of saving him.

      • David Nickol

        I'm curious why you ask this question. It should go without saying that Catholics care about starving children in third-world countries. No other organization in the world feeds, clothes, and heals more vulnerable people.

        And I am curious to know why you seem to have taken my comments as an attack on the Catholic Church. I am certainly aware of the work done by Catholic Charities and CRS, to name only two. I get mail from them all the time!

        My point is that we (the human race—not the Catholic Church) on the one hand will make herculean efforts to save one life (especially when there's media attention), but on the other hand, we ignore suffering on a vast scale (Syrian refugees), and we kill our own kind as if life meant nothing (over 11,000 homicides per year in the US by guns). One life may be so precious that we pull out all the stops to save Matt Damon, but one life is not so precious that we hesitated to drop the atomic bomb on Japan or that we are careful enough not to bomb a Doctors Without Boarders hospital. And we're the good guys!

        The point is that we, as human beings often go to great lengths to save individuals. On the other hand, we often go to great lengths to wipe people out by the thousands.

        • ben

          and we kill our own kind as if life meant nothing

          Odd, you did not mention 70 million abortions in USA, 400 million in China

          but one life is not so precious that we hesitated to drop the atomic bomb on Japan

          39 million abortions in Japan from 1949 to last year, with a current average of 250,000 per annum. Of course, you were not one of the Marines waiting offshore to invade and expecting a million US casualties, not to mention the expected several million japanese casualties. By the way, how many Chinese did the Japanese kill. How many died in Dresden, etc. I suppose you are one of the ones who blame/fault the USA for Pearl Harbor!

          ... bomb a Doctors Without Boarders hospital....

          ...even though the target coords were provided by the Afgan gov't because they were under fire from illegal combatants using the hospital as cover.

          I find your outrage and concern highly selective (and telling).

          According to recent news, it would seem that some (the unborn humans) have more value as parts than as whole.

          • David Nickol

            As I said, I am talking about the human race. Any further atrocities you wish to add to the list will just make my case stronger.

            How many died in Dresden, etc.

            You seem to think the Axis was responsible for the firebombing of Dresden, but of course it was the United States Air Force and the Royal Air Force.

            This is not the place to debate the use of the atomic bomb by the United States, but I will say that I used to try to make arguments similar to yours until I discovered that Eisenhower opposed its use.

            ...even though the target coords were provided by the Afgan gov't because they were under fire from illegal combatants using the hospital as cover.

            Oh, then that makes it okay, I guess.

            I think a pretty good argument could be made that the Jesus of the Gospels advocated pacifism. I would say that there is am honored tradition of pacifism within the Catholic Church, but it is one tradition among many, since "just war" theory is also very much in the Catholic tradition, and that is incompatible with pacifism.

          • Rob Abney

            "I think a pretty good argument could be made that the Jesus of the Gospels advocated pacifism."

            Bishop Barron's DVD series Catholicism gives a great explanation of how Jesus did not practice pacifism but instead practiced non-violent resistance. I can't do justice trying to explain it, but it requires all the commandments from Jesus' teaching on the mount.

            The eight Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3–12 during the Sermon on the Mount.

            Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
            Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted.
            Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth.
            Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled.
            Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy.
            Blessed are the pure in heart: for they will see God.
            Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God.
            Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

          • Lazarus

            Indeed, for me that was a highlight of the series.

          • David Nickol

            What is the difference, especially for a nation, between pacifism and nonviolent resistance?

          • Rob Abney

            Resistance doesn't accept injustice, pacifism has to.

          • David Nickol

            Resistance doesn't accept injustice, pacifism has to.

            So let's say a US ally is invaded and conquered. How does the United States react? How about the first Gulf War. Iraq invaded and occupied Kuwait. The US formed a military coalition and drove them out by force. What would the US have done if committed to a policy of nonviolent resistance?

            In an age of nuclear weapons, what if Russia launched a first strike against the US. Presumably if our policy were nonviolent resistance, we would not retaliate.

          • Rob Abney

            Did I imply that the US practices non-violent resistance? I don't think so.

            It would be a very interesting discussion to hear how that might look in practice. We could only pull it off if everyone was committed to it for the right reason, in my opinion the right reason would be that we believed it to be God's will. The same way that India pulled it off against Great Britain.

          • Michael

            The words of Fr. George Zabelka, chaplain to the men who nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki, seem quite relevant here:

            It seems a "sign" to me that seventeen hundred years of Christian terror and slaughter should arrive at August 9, 1945, when Catholics dropped the A-bomb on top of the largest and first Catholic city in Japan. One would have thought that I, as a Catholic priest, would have spoken out against the atomic bombing of nuns. (Three orders of Catholic sisters were destroyed in Nagasaki that day.) One would have thought that I would have suggested that as a minimal standard of Catholic morality, Catholics shouldn't bomb Catholic children. I didn't.

            I, like the Catholic pilot of the Nagasaki plane, "The Great Artiste," was heir to a Christianity that had for seventeen hundred years engaged in revenge, murder, torture, the pursuit of power, and prerogative violence, all in the name of our Lord.

            I walked through the ruins of Nagasaki right after the war and visited the place where once stood the Urakami Cathedral. I picked up a piece of a censer from the rubble. When I look at it today I pray God forgives us for how we have distorted Christ's teaching and destroyed his world by the distortion of that teaching. I was the Catholic chaplain who was there when this grotesque process that began with Constantine reached its lowest point — so far.

        • Andrew Y.

          we ignore suffering on a vast scale (Syrian refugees), and we kill our own kind as if life meant nothing (over 11,000 homicides per year in the US by guns).

          Perhaps the fact that we as individuals feel somehow obligated to help Syrian refugees and eliminate gun violence despite political resistance only proves Fr. Barron's point.

          The moral corruption of a few individuals isn't really a sufficient argument against the existence of innate morality.

          A more interesting question is what compels the human heart to empathize in the first place? Fr. Barron argues it comes from a universal sense of morality that exists outside of material reality, and is not merely the result of natural processes readily explained by examining social patterns. Which argument do you find more convincing?

        • Mike

          bc imperial japan was EVIL and the doc w/o borders was if i am thinking of the same incident an accident.

          ISIS is EVIL and deserves to be bombed out of existence EVEN IF that means the deaths of thousands of innocent women and children - the same thing that happened to nazi germany imho.

          • David Nickol

            ISIS is EVIL and deserves to be bombed out of existence EVEN IF that means the deaths of thousands of innocent women and children - the same thing that happened to nazi germany imho.

            Do you find that consistent with the teachings of Jesus as found in the Gospels? How so?

          • Mike

            if an eye causes you to sin pluck it out?

            i think that all avenues must be taken first and physical force must be restrained and targetted and held off until the very last minute but as with the nazi i think that some 'groups' are so evil that they deserve justice here and now and that is death.

            btw i know this is an extremely complicated topic.

            i wonder, how many americans would have died and japanese had they not dropped the 2 bombs but instead carried out a ground invasion and if that would have led to a civil war etc.

          • David Nickol

            if an eye causes you to sin pluck it out?

            How in the world can this saying be used to justify violence against others? It is not even taken literally by the Church with regard to one's own body. The Catholic Church does not approve of self-mutilation.

          • Mike

            i know and i agree i was just throwing it out there but as far as i know the church is not a pacifist.

          • Lazarus

            How would you justify that statement ? A just war?

            I know that I am an absolute tree-hugging bunny loving pacifist, but I do struggle to hear Jesus say "That Roman Empire is evil and deserves to be bombed out of existence EVEN IF that means the deaths of thousands of innocent women and children."

          • Mike

            i guess what i am thinking about is an aggressive cancer that will kill you certainly unless you treat it ie kill it via chemo and radiation which will in the process say kill your ability to have kids or grow hair or whatever. What do you do in that situation? BTW praying for a miracle is also always recommended however.

            as far as i know the church did not condemn the alies during ww2 nor the hanging of the guy who was incharge of Auschwitz by the russians.

            btw i am thinking of situations in the extreme but i think isis is in that category.

          • Lazarus

            Ok, I understand what you are saying.

          • Michael

            Was everyone killed in Nagasaki and Hiroshima EVIL also?

          • Mike

            yes of course they were guilty by association don't you know -:) just kidding.

            obv they weren't they were the innocents slaughtered just like my father in law's father who was killed in sicily by an american bomber who strafed the cart that he was on and ended up killing him thinking the ppl on the cart were soldiers.

          • Michael

            We should kill thousands of innocents in order to stop ISIS from killing thousands of innocents?

          • Mike

            no we should avoid killing innocents but kill the bastards. isis is a disease that needs to be eradicated from the globe imho by force ala nazis etc.

      • David Nickol

        But why should the materialist care? If we're all just random, pointless collections of matter, why should the materialist go to great lengths to help a starving child in Africa? What's the purpose?

        First, nobody ever said human beings were random collections of matter.

        Second, when I do what I do to help people less fortunate than I am, I do it largely out of empathy, not because I feel children shouldn't starve because they are created by God, or in God's image, or whatever. I suppose you would argue that I intuit the value of human life without taking the necessary intellectual steps to figure out that the reason I do is that it comes from God. But if somehow one of the atheists here on Strange Notions were to produce an absolutely compelling proof of God's nonexistence, I don't think it would at all change the way I feel about the suffering of innocent human beings.

        • ClayJames

          when I do what I do to help people less fortunate than I am, I do it largely out of empathy

          I don´t think the question is why do you do it, the question being asked is why should you (or anyone else) do it. Why is someone who just cares about his own well being and nothing else doing it wrong given materialism?

          First, nobody ever said human beings were random collections of matter.

          Given naturalism, that is exactly what we are. How can we be anything else?

          • David Nickol

            Do you actually believe you are a random collection of matter? How do you explain the remarkable similarity between two random collections of matter? Why do my brother and I look alike?

          • ClayJames

            Just because we propegate in a similar manner does not mean we are not random. The collection of matter that makes up who we are, is a completely random accurance and is just one of many possible outcomes of arrangement of matter that exists.

            If a quadrillion chimps are in a room hitting keyboards, one is bound to randomly create a program that writes its own programs according to its code, but the existence of those programs and that code are a result of a completely random occurance with no method or conscious decision.

        • neil_pogi

          quote: 'First, nobody ever said human beings were random collections of matter.' -- another vehement denial?

          scientists can't produce a life in the lab even though they have known the chemical compositions or elements of the cell. why they can't? because a 'life force' is lacking, or what some says a 'soul'.. and since atheists don't believe in such entity (soul), therefore, man and other organisms are just made up of 'scumbags of interacting chemicals'

          why atheists always enjoy to include the sufferings, the torments, etc in order to prove that God doesn't exists? the bible is very plain in its teachings why God allowed evil to enter into this universe! one of the 'evil' thing that God has created is death. if there is no death, then, there is no suffering, tormenting, hardships, violence and so on. those are 'prerequisites' to death!

          you can even see in nature that there are preys (good) and predators (evil)- these are actually designed, the preys didn't complain that they are to be killed and later be eaten, and predators know that they will kill and eat those preys! i'd like to hear from atheists what are the explanations of evolution here!

      • Peter

        "Our inviolable dignity would still hold regardless of whether we humans were fully material or not"

        Indeed, even in a materialist universe, this is a good argument for a Creator. Such a universe would be configured to evolve towards the widespread creation of life and, ultimately, consciousness.

        Inasmuch as conscious races, such as ourselves, are capable of comprehending the cosmos, their ability to do so points to the existence of a similar, yet supreme, mind that designed it

        A supreme mind that designs a universe to create minds similar to its own will no doubt cherish those minds, otherwise there would have been no point designing the universe in the first place.

        Even from a materialist point of view, the conscious minds that result from the evolution of the universe are intended by the Creator and cherished by the Creator because they are in the image and likeness of the Creator.

      • George

        "But why should the materialist care?"

        and I can ask this question: Why shouldn't the materialist care?

        • David Nickol

          and I can ask this question: Why shouldn't the materialist care?

          It would seem to be an important part of the mission of Strange Notions to try to convince atheists that they are foolishly inconsistent if they are not amoral.

          • ClayJames

            I wouldn´t say this is accurate. I don´t think a naturalist is foolishly inconsistent if they are moral, but I do think they are inconsistent if they say that people should act according to some moral precepts. Given naturalism, a humanist moral system is just as valid as an egocentric moral system.

          • Doug Shaver

            Given naturalism, a humanist moral system is just as valid as an egocentric moral system.

            Logical consistency is insufficient to establish truth.

          • ClayJames

            In this example, how would you establish truth?

          • Doug Shaver

            In this example, how would you establish truth?

            The truth about what, specifically? You made the claim, in reference to naturalists, "they are inconsistent if they say that people should act according to some moral precepts." Since it's your claim, you need to show us the inconsistency.

          • Mike

            "foolishly inconsistent"

            yes but only intellectually.

          • Doug Shaver

            "foolishly inconsistent"

            yes but only intellectually.

            Not so. I have morals, and they are consistent with my materialism.

          • Mike

            impossible unless they are not really moral but just "optimal operating functions" or something like that.

          • Doug Shaver

            I have morals, and they are consistent with my materialism.

            impossible

            You say so. Now prove it.

          • Mike

            ok, materialism entails eliminative materialism which entails no morality beyond the illusion of right/wrong.

            however i suspect that your personal version of "materialism" is something much less material than you let on and so you accept that matter alone has "emergent properties" and that that enables you to believe that matter alone can explain things like morality. But in that case i maintain you are not actually a strict materialist or if you are you have a notion of materialism that is super charged and which ultimately makes you a dualist imho.

            this series of posts i think makes this situation clear imho:

            http://edwardfeser.blogspot.ca/2013/08/eliminativism-without-truth-part-i.html

          • Doug Shaver

            ok, materialism entails eliminative materialism

            I don't see why.

            however i suspect that your personal version of "materialism" is something much less material than you let on and so you accept that matter alone has "emergent properties" and that that enables you to believe that matter alone can explain things like morality.

            Yes, I accept the existence of emergent properties.

            But in that case i maintain you are not actually a strict materialist or if you are you have a notion of materialism that is super charged and which ultimately makes you a dualist imho.

            When other materialists accuse me of dualism, I will answer to them. For anyone else to judge my orthodoxy as a materialist is like an atheist deciding that either Catholics or Protestants are the real Christians.

          • Mike

            how do you account for "emergent properties" unless matter has potency?

          • Doug Shaver

            how do you account for "emergent properties" unless matter has potency?

            My formal education in the sciences was limited to electronics and basic physics. Informally, I've studied a lot more physics as well as biology, especially evolutionary biology. To answer your question, though, I'd have to know a lot of chemistry, and I know practically none. As far as I can tell, though, materialists who happen be chemists don't seem to think it's a problem.

          • Mike

            so you believe the biology is reducible to chemistry?

          • Doug Shaver

            It depends on what you mean by "reducible," but I think chemistry is sufficient to explain biology. I'm OK calling myself a reductionist.

          • Mike

            ok so then that must mean that we are reducible to chemistry, our thoughts our logic our math our beliefs etc are ultimately reducible to chemistry?

          • David Nickol

            Suppose you are using your new 27-inch iMac with a 5K retina display to look an an excellent image of El Greco's View of Toledo. Does it bother you to know it is "reducible" to pixels and could be represented as a long printout of numerical values? Or for that matter, say you are looking at the painting itself. Does it bother you that you have rods and cones in your eyes that are "reducing" what you see to different color values that must be interpreted by your brain?

          • Mike

            well of course i don't think that that painting IS reducible to those pixels...that's precisely the issue so you're tech speaking begging the q.

            the painting of that scene evokes so much that it is precisely NOT "just" pixels.

            don't let the success of physics which by defn leaves out anything not mathematical fool you into thinking only that which can be mathematized is real.

          • David Nickol

            well of course i don't think that that painting IS reducible to those pixels

            That wasn't the question. The question was whether it bothers you that what you see on your computer screen is "reducible" to pixels.

            the painting of that scene evokes so much that it is precisely NOT "just" pixels.

            But what you see on your computer screen is just pixels. Also, what you see in any art book is just an arrangement of dots, usually of only four colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black).

            Would you deny that what you see is broken down to electrical signals by your eyes and transmitted to your brain along the optic nerve?

          • Mike

            no it doesn't bother me and no i wouldn't deny that it is "broken down" but that's trivial imho as in one sense absolutely everything is apparently "broken down" into the elementary particles.

          • Doug Shaver

            our thoughts our logic our math our beliefs etc are ultimately reducible to chemistry?

            Our thoughts etc. are what we experience when certain kinds of chemistry happen in our brains. To say that our mental experiences are sufficiently explained by chemistry is not to say that they are the same thing as chemistry. That would be eliminative reductionism, which I do not endorse.

          • Mike

            you are not an eliminativist? ok good, imho.

            so which comes first, the particular chemistry or our thoughts? also if all brains are made up of different chemistry how come you and i for ex can agree 100% on some extremely complex math formula or equation when we have diff brain chem?

            btw if thoughts can emerge from matter then matter must have the potency for thoughts which in turn means that matter is almost magical in that carbon can cause thoughts and just be coal.

          • Doug Shaver

            if thoughts can emerge from matter then matter must have the potency for thoughts

            An Aristotelian would say so. I am not an Aristotelian.

          • Mike

            so how do you account for it?

          • Doug Shaver

            so how do you account for it?

            If you asking how I would explain it, I have no idea. But I don't think Aristotle's metaphysics explains anything, either. Saying things like "X has a potency for Y" is just an exercise in creative labeling. You don't explain anything just by sticking a name on it.

          • Mike

            i think that you can't account for change w/o the theory of act and potency but anyway philosophy literature politics justice math etc are ALL just 'labelling' things if you think about it. not everything is physical science...well actually even when we interpret physical science we 'label' thing. i mean what is the law of gravity if not a label?

            anyway thx for the exchange doug.

          • Doug Shaver

            so which comes first, the particular chemistry or our thoughts?

            I suspect they both occur at the same time. There is some experimental data, though, indicating that the chemistry producing a thought occurs before we become aware of the thought.

            also if all brains are made up of different chemistry how come you and i for ex can agree 100% on some extremely complex math formula or equation when we have diff brain chem?

            I don't know what you mean by "different chemistry." Can you be more specific? Suppose you and I are trying to solve the same differential equation, and I get the same answer you get. What are you supposing is different about the chemical processes used by our brains to produce that answer?

          • Mike

            so what 'thinks' the brain which is chemistry or "you"...iow do you exist or are "you" just an 'effect' of chemistry?

            if you emerge from brain chemistry alone then i think that means that you the ego is an illusion and neither you nor me nor anyone actually exists but is just brain chemistry. so you don't believe what you believe bc it is "true' but only bc your brain chem is what it is.

            bc the actual bits of matter are not the same in your brain and my brain and they are not even arranged exactly the same way in fact there are no 2 brains that are even remotely the same. so what accounts for both of us being able to agree on some complex math proof? if the bits are diff and they are arranged differently then how can we both agree? how can the emergence of the same ability be based on vastly different structures at the cell level and atomic level?

            btw remember that the carbon atoms in you are NOT the carbon atoms in me.

          • Doug Shaver

            btw remember that the carbon atoms in you are NOT the carbon atoms in me.

            That would justify my belief that you and I are not the same person, don't you think?

            I'll get to the rest of your post later. I'm a bit pressed for time at the moment.

          • Mike

            ok take your time but i think i know what you'll say.

            thx and thanks for exchange.

          • Doug Shaver

            so what 'thinks' the brain which is chemistry or "you"...iow do you exist or are "you" just an 'effect' of chemistry?

            I don't believe there is any "me" that is separate or distinct from the material of which my body is made.

            iow do you exist or are "you" just an 'effect' of chemistry?

            You seem to think both can't be true. I have found no reason to think so.

            if you emerge from brain chemistry alone then i think that means that you the ego is an illusion and neither you nor me nor anyone actually exists but is just brain chemistry.

            I don't believe that what I am is brain chemistry alone.

            how can the emergence of the same ability be based on vastly different structures at the cell level and atomic level?

            You'll have to be more specific than "vastly different." There is a great deal of similarity in all healthy human brains, and that similarity is sufficient to account for our common abilities. There are also some differences of course, but I'm entitled to regard those differences as irrelevant to the issue we're discussing until someone shows me a good reason to think otherwise.

          • Mike

            ok good, i think.

            are there any aspects of you that are not 100% material?

          • Doug Shaver

            are there any aspects of you that are not 100% material?

            Yes. My mental life as I experience it.

          • Mike

            sound alot like what aristo-thom say about the intellect.

            but if it is not material how could it exist? also if it is no material how could it have evolved from matter alone?

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't know how it happens. So what? Can any theist tell me how God caused the universe to come into existence? No matter what our worldview, there will be questions to which we don't have any answers.

          • Mike

            i hear you but we'd just say that given those features of matter and our 'thought life' that that means that there must be something that put those potentials into the world as they couldn't have come from with in it. i think that that points to something 'outside' the system.

          • Doug Shaver

            You have offered an explanation for something that I can't explain. That doesn't prove your explanation is right, and so it doesn't prove that I'm making a mistake if I don't accept it.

          • neil_pogi

            you have morals because you are a human being, and not evolved from apes

          • Doug Shaver

            you have morals because you are a human being,

            Correct.

            and not evolved from apes

            Incorrect.

          • neil_pogi

            so you admit that.humans have morals, then how about apes?

          • Doug Shaver

            so you admit that.humans have morals

            Yeah, like I admit that the sun rises every day.

            then how about apes?

            I don't think my opinion on that subject is relevant to this discussion.

          • neil_pogi

            even if it's not relevant, the 'fact' that humans evolved from apes, that is according to you!

          • neil_pogi

            atheists do have morals because they are also created beings. accept it or not.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          According to atheist philosophers, like Nietzsche, Rorty, Sartre, et al., there is no reason, not without placing oneself on the slippery slope toward theism.

          According to the Apostle Paul, it is because all people have conscience, and even heathens who do not know the Law are a law unto themselves because the precepts are written on their hearts.

          • Doug Shaver

            According to atheist philosophers, like Nietzsche, Rorty, Sartre, et al., there is no reason,

            Their judgments are not binding on the rest of us atheist philosophers. We can make up our own minds about what we care about.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Sure. Those guys were all baboons anyway. I just always have thought it odd that the rational arguments against the morality of atheists have come from atheists while the insistence that all men have consciences that, properly cultivated, would lead to right behavior, came from a Christian.

          • Doug Shaver

            I just always have thought it odd that the rational arguments against the morality of atheists have come from atheists

            All such arguments that I have seen have been made by Christians. No atheist whose work I have read has agreed with them.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Voltaire, Nietzsche, Sartre, Rorty, Fish.
            http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2010/04/de-moralitate-atheorum.html

          • Doug Shaver

            What about them?

          • Mike

            i think they denied that real morality can exist in principle if atheism is true.

          • Doug Shaver

            i think they denied that real morality can exist in principle if atheism is true.

            Maybe they did, but their denial doesn't make it not so.

          • Mike

            ok.

          • ClayJames

            They are examples of atheist philosophers that have made these arguments that you have only seen from Christians. They also happen to be some of the most prominent atheist philosphers that we have ever had.

          • Doug Shaver

            Very well. Some atheists have made, unbeknownst to me, some arguments that Christians have also made. But the validity of an argument has nothing to do with who makes it. Flawed reasoning does not support its conclusions.

          • ClayJames

            Who said that the validity of an argument has something to do with who makes it?

          • Doug Shaver

            Somebody seemed to think it was relevant that both atheists and Christians were making those arguments.

          • neil_pogi

            Suppose I tell a friend of mine, "atheism teaches X," and then an atheist says to my friend, "No, atheism does not teach X," who do you think my friend ought to believe?

          • Doug Shaver

            If your friend has no other information about atheism, then he should believe the atheist.

          • neil_pogi

            believe in what?

          • Doug Shaver

            You asked, "who do you think my friend ought to believe?" What did you have in mind?

          • neil_pogi

            believe in what?

            that atheism is true?

            prove first that quantum field, atoms, higgs boson, etc have 'awareness' and 'intentions' that they would be able to create a super fine tune universe, and life. as far as i'm concerned, only beings who have some awareness, intentions, consciousness are the only ones who can create!

            while a rock will stay as a rock even after eons of time

      • Doug Shaver

        But why should the materialist care?

        Because it's natural for us to care. We're human beings, and caring about other human beings is part of human nature. We don't need any authority to tell us that we're obligated to care.

        • ClayJames

          So if we are natural predisposed to something then therefore, we should act according to that predisposition? Is this really what you are claiming?

          • Doug Shaver

            Is this really what you are claiming?

            No, it isn't. It is an interpretation of what I'm claiming, and it's bad interpretation.

          • ClayJames

            If you don´t want to have this conversation, that it fine. But simply responding with yes or no does nothing to move the conversation forward.

            You said we should care because it is natural for us to care. How does it follow that because it is natural for us to do something, that therefore we should do something?

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm working on a response, but recent events have greatly reduced the amount of time I can spend at my computer. With a bit of luck this will be only a temporary situation, but in the meantime, please bear with me.

          • Doug Shaver

            You said we should care because it is natural for us to care.

            I was about to deny having said that, but on reviewing the thread, I see I did say it. More specifically, in response to the question, "why should the materialist care?" I replied: "Because it's natural for us to care." OK. I'll have to unpack that. Obviously, it would be illogical to argue without qualification, "We should do X because it is natural for us to do X." But context can provide qualification.

            The context here is Brandon's question, "But why should the materialist care [about starving children]?" And considering the topic of this entire thread, I'm assuming that those starving children are a metonymy for endangered or suffering human beings in general. Implicit in his question is the thesis that materialists have no rationally defensible reason for caring. According to this thesis, materialists may perhaps be commended, by other people who can justify their morality, for their charitable or altruistic behavior, but materialists themselves cannot justify it.

            It is true that morality is not entailed by any principle unique to materialism. But that is not a logical problem, so long as morality is not contradicted by any principle unique to materialism. Christians believe many things that are not entailed by any principle unique to Christianity, and they have good reasons to believe them. But they don't derive those reasons from Christianity itself. To maintain any worldview consistently, nothing is epistemically required except that no two beliefs within that worldview are contradictory.

            As a materialist, I believe that morals, like all other "ought" or "should" questions, are issues of judgement or values, not of fact. We all unavoidably make such judgments, and like anything that is unavoidable, it is irrelevant to ask whether we ought to do it. It makes sense to ask whether I ought to highly value human life, but makes no sense to ask whether I should have an opinion about how much a human life is worth. Absent a cognitive dysfunction, I am going to have some opinion whether I want to or not.

            Homo sapiens is a social species. With rare and irrelevant exceptions, we cannot live in solitude. Each of us must belong to, and interact with, some group of other humans comprising what we call a community or society. Our survival as individuals depends in turn on the survival of that community. In general, if the community dies, its members die unless they then join some other community, voluntarily or otherwise.

            Truly anarchic communities are unviable, and so natural selection had to wire our brains with a tendency to make rules for communal living and to invent various means of enforcing those rules. Furthermore, individuals having a tendency to comply with those rules would have had some survival advantage over those with a tendency toward nonconformity. The word "tendency" is vital to this argument. Natural selection does not need certainty. It can work just fine with probabilities. In the long run and in general, communities with better odds of surviving will be the ones that do survive. And, I think we have good reason to believe that throughout most of human history, compassionate communities had those better odds. Individuals need their communities, but communities need their members, too.

            Now, someone is going to ask: Why should we care about survival in the first place? The answer is that we can't care about anything if we don't survive. If morality is to matter at all, it can only matter to the living. I can do the right thing or the wrong thing, whatever that means and whatever my reason, but I must be alive in order to do either. Likewise for my community. No matter what moral principles it embodies, if my community goes extinct, then so do its principles -- unless some other community embraces them. But, if those principles are the reason for my community's extinction, then those other communities are doomed as well. Some uninvolved observer might judge those principles to represent the best of all possible moral codes, but that judgment would be quite irrelevant to the people who tried to live by them.

          • ClayJames

            I agree with most of what you said here. I don´t think Brandon is saying that it is illogical for naturalists to care about starving children. I think he is simply asking for a reason why they should care, instead of is it logical for them to care. Like you said, it is completely logical for naturalist to care about reducing suffering, but it is also completely logical to care about increasing suffereing, because at its core, there is no unique moral principles that can anchor moral judgements given naturalism.

            You answer Brandon´s question by saying that we should care about Y (reducing suffering) because it helps us accomplish X (survival). Like you said, X is not a grounded principle given naturalism, but you give several reasons why we should want X, which is fine. I can not care about X or care about X without trying to accomplish Y and I would still have a valid moral framework as a naturalist. However, most naturalists that I have spoken to about this issue (several here) say that an egocentric/selfish moral system is not a valid moral framework.

            I have thought about this a lot and If i were a naturalist, I would care about my own survival, happiness and well being above anything else. Sure, that might lead me to make several decisions that benefit society, but I would only do so because they ultimately benefit me. This also means that if there are decisions that bring me more happiness and well being while at the same time bring suffering to someone else, it would be my moral responsability to do so. For example, if killing someone and taking their millions could be done without me suffering any consequences, then based on my selfish moral system, it is my moral responsability to do so. I have no problem accepting your moral system. My problem is that many naturalists think that my moral framework is invalid given naturalism.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            For example, if killing someone and taking their millions could be done
            without me suffering any consequences, then based on my selfish moral
            system, it is my moral responsability to do so.

            I guess we should all be thankful that you are not an atheist then. Have no fear though, as an atheist would find it morally abhorrent to kill my neighbor for his millions.

            My problem is that many naturalists think that my moral framework is invalid given naturalism.

            Well, this is not what you or Brandon claimed originally. First you claimed that naturalism-->moral nihilism. Now you are saying that ethical egotism (different from ethical nihilism) is consistent with naturalism. I see no obvious contradictions between ethical egotism and naturalism, but saying that they are consistent is different from saying that naturalism-->ethical egotism. You have been conflating the two in your posts. I also do not see an obvious inconsistency between ethical egotism and theism.

            My problem is that many naturalists think that my moral framework is invalid given naturalism.

            No, we deny that it follows from naturalism. Just like the axiom of choice does not follow from ZF set theory.

            I have thought about this a lot and If i were a naturalist, I would care about my own survival, happiness and well being above anything else.

            Since you have thought about it a lot; I would expect a little more precision and rigor. A logical conclusion given naturalism is different from being consistent with naturalism. The problem with your argument is that naturalism by itself doesn't tell us much about what someone believes. So it is meaningless as to whether or not ethical nihilism is consistent with naturalism. All of these ethical systems are consistent with the negation of naturalism as well, so, one must find out more about what else a naturalist believes before we really have any sort of philosophy that we can discuss.

          • ClayJames

            Well, this is not what you or Brandon claimed originally. First you claimed that naturalism-->moral nihilism. Now you are saying that ethical egotism (different from ethical nihilism) is consistent with naturalism.

            I have been pretty clear as to what my point is but if you dont want to accept it I have no interest in you telling me what I actually believe when I have clearly stated what that is.

            No, we deny that it follows from naturalism.

            It does follow from naturalism since all moral frameworks are subjective. Therefore, all moral principles follow from naturalism.

            A logical conclusion given naturalism is different from being consistent with naturalism.

            It is both a logical and compatible (synonym for consistent) conclusion. I do appreciate the irony of your comment about rigor when it is followed up by a faulty semantic argument.

            The problem with your argument is that naturalism by itself doesn't tell us much about what someone believes. So it is meaningless as to whether or not ethical nihilism is consistent with naturalism. All of these ethical systems are consistent with the negation of naturalism as well, so, one must find out more about what else a naturalist believes before we really have any sort of philosophy that we can discuss.

            That is why I gave you other beliefs that lead to my consistent moral framework, such as the belief that my own happiness and well being would be my main priority over the well being of other people.

            Where did I say that these ethical systems are not consistent with a negation of naturalism? How did you ever misinterpret that from what I wrote?

            If anything, your emotional reply just goes to prove how uneasy it makes you (and many naturalists) that a selfish moral system is completely compatible with naturalism, and yet, you cant make a successful argument to show it is invalid.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I have been pretty clear as to what my point is but if you dont want to accept it I have no interest in you telling me what I actually believe when I have clearly stated what that is.

            Fair enough. I've followed along and received different impression from reading what you wrote, but I'd rather talk about what you believe rather than what I thought you believed.

            It does follow from naturalism since all moral frameworks are subjective. Therefore, all moral principles follow from naturalism.

            You are using language in an unconventional way here. If I say that A follows from B, I mean that B-->A is true, which also means that the contrapositive ~A-->~B is true. I don't think this is what you mean though.

            As I understand, you mean that all ethical systems are consistent (or logically compatible) with naturalism.

            I'm not really sure what you mean by moral frameworks are subjective. Are you talking about ethical subjectivism? It would seem to me that naturalism is also consistent with ethical realism.

            Or in other words if N is the proposition that naturalism is true and S is the proposition that ethical subjectivism is true, I see no reason to hold that (N AND ~S) is contradictory.

            It is both a logical and compatible (synonym for consistent) conclusion. I do appreciate the irony of your comment about rigor when it is followed up by a faulty semantic argument.

            Sigh.

            That is why I gave you other beliefs that lead to my consistent moral framework, such as the belief that my own happiness and well being would be my main priority over the well being of other people.

            But then you are no longer talking about bare bones naturalism. You have added assumptions. These added assumptions are also consistent with theism and the negation of naturalism, so your argument is uninteresting. You are assuming what you want to show. Sure it is consistent with Naturalism, but so are a lot of other things.

            However, I think if we carefully gathered empirical evidence, we would find that ethical egotism does not promote one's own happiness. This is another discussion.

            Where did I say that these ethical systems are not consistent with a negation of naturalism? How did you ever misinterpret that from what I wrote?

            This is where I become convinced that you do not understand my argument. If proposition P (say ethical nihilism) is consistent with both naturalism and the negation of naturalism than it is really odd for someone to make a big fuss about P being consistent with Naturalism, because you are criticizing the beginnings of a belief system (or philosophy) being consistent with an ethical system that you think is bad, when we cannot begin to speak of ethics because Naturalism by itself underdetermines ethics.

            For instance, I am a physicalist. Are you going to criticize physicalism because it alone doesn't determine whether I am a reductive or non-reductive physicalist? (I am the latter, which is why I think Brandon's original comment is a straw man.)

            Naturalism is consistent with any ethical system. So what? Most Naturalist have added premises and observations that flush out their philosophy. To insinuate that ethical egotism is somehow the logical choice is silly. If it is really the choice you would make upon studying the issues, I would suggest a little reading and perhaps some reflection on your need for a Divine lawgiver in order to act good.

            If anything, your emotional reply just goes to prove how uneasy it makes you (and many naturalists) that a selfish moral system is completely compatible with naturalism, and yet, you cant make a successful argument to show it is invalid.

            Actually, I'm just amused. Why would I make an argument to show that ethical egotism is inconsistent with the belief that there are not supernatural entities or forces (naturalism)? I don't think it is inconsistent. What I do think is that once we add some more framework to naturalism, we will find that ethical egotism is inconsistent with naturalism + added framework. Just like you add framework to your theism. Theism alone doesn't make ethical egotism incorrect, but theism + Christianity does.

          • Doug Shaver

            if there are decisions that bring me more happiness and well being while at the same time bring suffering to someone else, it would be my moral responsability to do so. For example, if killing someone and taking their millions could be done without me suffering any consequences, then based on my selfish moral system, it is my moral responsability to do so.

            Yes, and that would be consistent with naturalism. But it would not be dictated by naturalism.

            many naturalists think that my moral framework is invalid given naturalism.

            They can think that. Naturalism doesn't make anyone smart. As a naturalist, I would judge your moral system not to be invalid, but to be foolish. Your belief that you actually could enhance your own happiness and well being by making other people suffer would be a mistake.

          • ClayJames

            Your belief that you actually could enhance your own happiness and well being by making other people suffer would be a mistake.

            You don´t believe this is the case all the time do you? Like I said, a moral system that is focused on increasing my own happiness and well being would definetly lead me to reduce the suffering of those around me, but this isn´t the case all the time and in all situations.

            In my last response to you, I gave you an example of increasing my happiness and well being by killing someone and taking their millions, assuming that I would not suffer any negative consequences. Why would this be a foolish decision given this moral system that you admit is not invalid?

          • Doug Shaver

            You don´t believe this is the case all the time do you?

            Yes, that is what I believe.

            I gave you an example of increasing my happiness and well being by killing someone and taking their millions, assuming that I would not suffer any negative consequences. Why would this be a foolish decision given this moral system that you admit is not invalid?

            When I say it is valid, I mean only that its conclusion follows from the assumptions on which it is based. I say it is foolish because I disagree with the assumption that your happiness and well being can flourish independently of other people's happiness and well being. If it is morally acceptable for you to increase your material prosperity by killing me, then it must be no less acceptable for me to increase my prosperity by killing you. So, do you want to live in a world where everybody thinks that way?

          • ClayJames

            If increasing my happiness by killing you means that I risk my happiness by you (or someone else) killing me, then we cannot assume that this action would be worht it and therefore, this does not pertain to what I was saying.

            It seems from this response and from your other one (which I will also address here) that you believe it is impossible to be able to increase your overall wellbeing by harming others because our society is built in a way so that cannot happen. But you can´t possible believe that everyone in society is on equal footing and that all ¨evil¨ actions are met with equal but opposite just reactions.

            Do you really believe that everyone who has harmed someone for their own personal benefit has received a just punishment? Do you also believe that there aren´t privileged people that can come to the conclusion that they can harm the weak and disinfranchised without suffereing any consequences? And even if there is a possibility of suffering some consequences, one just needs to conclude that the risk is small enough to not outweigh the potential benefits for this action to not be foolish.

          • Doug Shaver

            If increasing my happiness by killing you means that I risk my happiness by you (or someone else) killing me, then we cannot assume that this action would be worht it and therefore, this does not pertain to what I was saying.

            If we're going to discuss hypothetical situations, then we need to get clear on the pertinent hypotheses. If you meant to propose a scenario in which it was actually the case that you could enhance your happiness and well being by killing someone and taking all his money, then in that scenario, I will admit, I would be the one who was mistaken.

            It seems from this response and from your other one (which I will also address here) that you believe it is impossible to be able to increase your overall wellbeing by harming others because our society is built in a way so that cannot happen.

            Our society is built the way it is because we individuals who comprise that society are built the way are built.

            But you can´t possible believe that everyone in society is on equal footing and that all ¨evil¨ actions are met with equal but opposite just reactions.

            No, I don't believe that, but I don't see why I need to. Let's remember what Churchill said about democracy. A moral code, like any other social institution, does not need to work perfectly in order to be justified. It just has to work better than any alternative.

            Do you also believe that there aren´t privileged people that can come to the conclusion that they can harm the weak and disinfranchised without suffereing any consequences?

            Of course there are such people. But they must think that the only consequences they need concern themselves with are legal consequences.

            And even if there is a possibility of suffering some consequences, one just needs to conclude that the risk is small enough to not outweigh the potential benefits for this action to not be foolish.

            Such a conclusion, in order not to be foolish, needs to be justified. Someone's belief that they won't suffer any consequences doesn't mean they won't suffer any consequences.

          • ClayJames

            If we're going to discuss hypothetical situations, then we need to get
            clear on the pertinent hypotheses. If you meant to propose a scenario in
            which it was actually the case that you could enhance your happiness
            and well being by killing someone and taking all his money, then in that
            scenario, I will admit, I would be the one who was mistaken.

            This is exactly what I am arguing if you include the part about not suffereing consequences (which I think you are implying here).

            No, I don't believe that, but I don't see why I need to. Let's remember
            what Churchill said about democracy. A moral code, like any other social
            institution, does not need to work perfectly in order to be justified.
            It just has to work better than any alternative.

            I actually think my proposed moral code is perfect. It will allow you to increase your happines by being part of society on most instances, but still take advantage of society´s imperfections in a few instances in order to maximize your overall well being.

            Of course there are such people. But they must think that the only
            consequences they need concern themselves with are legal consequences.

            Not at all, they can take into account all kinds of consequences. You would agree there are people who have harmed others for their own self gain and that they did so because they realized that they could get away with it, not just legally, but in every way. If this is true, then they are more than justified to act in this way.

            Such a conclusion, in order not to be foolish, needs to be justified.
            Someone's belief that they won't suffer any consequences doesn't mean
            they won't suffer any consequences.

            But this ¨foolishness test¨ applies to every moral decision, not just in my framework, but in every framework. Someone that attempts to help starving children but actually harms them, would have made a foolish decision.

          • Doug Shaver

            I actually think my proposed moral code is perfect.

            And I think otherwise.

            It will allow you to increase your happines by being part of society on most instances, but still take advantage of society´s imperfections in a few instances in order to maximize your overall well being.

            Only if I'm wrong. And I could be wrong, but you can't prove I'm wrong with an argument that presupposes I'm wrong.

            You would agree there are people who have harmed others for their own self gain and that they did so because they realized that they could get away with it, not just legally, but in every way.

            No, I wouldn't agree. I don't think anybody ever "realized that they could get away with it . . . in every way", because if I don't believe X myself, I don't say that someone realizes X. I say they come to believe X.

            But this ¨foolishness test¨ applies to every moral decision, not just in my framework, but in every framework.

            And therefore what? It's irrelevant? Or is foolishness OK in your moral framework?

            Someone that attempts to help starving children but actually harms them, would have made a foolish decision.

            If an attempt to help someone actually harms them, then it was not a moral action. Good intentions are not sufficient. Charity without wisdom is not real charity.

          • ClayJames

            Only if I'm wrong. And I could be wrong, but you can't prove I'm wrong with an argument that presupposes I'm wrong.

            All I need to show is that there is a better correlation between a moral system built on improving my well being and my actual well being vs a moral prosocial system and my well being. Like I said, there is a very high correlation between doing what is good for the community and my own well being because of how society is built. But that correlation is not as good as just doing what helps my own well being. I am just eliminating the middle man in order to maximize my well being.

            And therefore what? It's irrelevant? Or is foolishness OK in your moral framework?

            Therefore it is not a negative aspect of my moral framework but of all moral thinking. The cons of your consequentalist morality applies to all moral systems, whether they are focused on the society or on the self.

            If an attempt to help someone actually harms them, then it was not a
            moral action. Good intentions are not sufficient. Charity without wisdom
            is not real charity.

            Then again, this says nothing that pertains exclusively to my moral system. It makes no sense to point to these things as problems with my moral system when they are problems with all moral systems, including those that are focused on the society.

          • Doug Shaver

            All I need to show is that there is a better correlation between a moral system built on improving my well being and my actual well being vs a moral prosocial system and my well being.

            OK, but you have not shown that there is a better correlation. You have only asserted that there is one. You and I could sit here for the rest of our lives saying "Yes, there is" and "No, there isn't" without accomplishing anything useful.

            But I can offer an observation. I have never been personally acquainted with, or heard about, a person who lives by the sort of moral code you have proposed and lived a life, all things considered, of the kind I wish I had.

            Someone's belief that they won't suffer any consequences doesn't mean they won't suffer any consequences.

            But this ¨foolishness test¨ applies to every moral decision, not just in my framework, but in every framework.

            And therefore what? It's irrelevant? Or is foolishness OK in your moral framework?

            Therefore it is not a negative aspect of my moral framework but of all moral thinking.

            I'm still not following your logic. Of course people will do foolish things no matter what moral code we judge them by. But my moral code does not say that foolish behavior is acceptable behavior. Does yours?

            The cons of your consequentalist morality applies to all moral systems, whether they are focused on the society or on the self.

            Consequentialism per se does not specify the consequences that make a behavior good or bad. All it does is oppose deontologism, which says that some behaviors are good or bad regardless of their consequences. If you say that whatever benefits you personally is morally acceptable, then you're arguing for a consequentialist morality. All I can say in return is that you've chosen the wrong consequences by which to judge your behavior.

            If an attempt to help someone actually harms them, then it was not a moral action. Good intentions are not sufficient. Charity without wisdom is not real charity.

            Then again, this says nothing that pertains exclusively to my moral system.

            I'm not trying to raise objections that are exclusive to your moral system. I'm explaining why this particular objection that you raise against my moral system is not a valid objection.

          • ClayJames

            OK, but you have not shown that there is a better correlation. You have
            only asserted that there is one. You and I could sit here for the rest
            of our lives saying "Yes, there is" and "No, there isn't" without
            accomplishing anything useful.

            It is a mathematical fact that the correlation between X and X is perfect, therefore, in theory, the best way to maximize my well being is to try to maximize my well being. The correlation between maximizing my well being and doing what is best for society is strong but not perfect, therefore, I should opt for the former. In practice, there will be other factors that will lead people to make foolish decisions (because of a lack of knowledge) and therefore, the correlation in practice will not be perfect. However, the ¨foolish¨ effect hurts any moral system equally so I stand by the claim that if you want to maximize your own well being you should focus on maximizing your own well being, regardless if your actions are better of society or not.

            But I can offer an observation. I have never been personally acquainted
            with, or heard about, a person who lives by the sort of moral code you
            have proposed and lived a life, all things considered, of the kind I
            wish I had.

            Part of being successful living this moral code is not telling people about it might hurt your ability to get away with selfish actions. Also, it is my experience that both theists and naturalist alike treat morality as more than a subjective value judgement. And finally, even if most people don´t live by this code, it doesn´t mean it cannot be succesful or that it maximizes one´s own well being.

            I'm still not following your logic. Of course people will do foolish
            things no matter what moral code we judge them by. But my moral code
            does not say that foolish behavior is acceptable behavior. Does yours?

            No, it doesnt. Maybe I misunderstood you, but it seemed to me that you were saying that one of the disadvantages of my moral system is that people might make foolish decision, decisions where the perceived consequences are not the actual consequences. My response to this was to say that this applies to all moral systems, not just mine.

          • Doug Shaver

            Maybe I misunderstood you, but it seemed to me that you were saying that one of the disadvantages of my moral system is that people might make foolish decision,

            You misunderstood me. I intended to say nothing of the sort.

          • ClayJames

            Sorry about that, thank you for the clarification.

          • Doug Shaver

            It is a mathematical fact that the correlation between X and X is perfect, therefore, in theory, the best way to maximize my well being is to try to maximize my well being.

            Sure, but that was not your original claim.

          • ClayJames

            My original point was that given naturalism, there is nothing invalid about holding a selfish moral system based on improving my own happiness and well being over anything else. My second point is that having a prosocial moral system does not maximize my own happiness and well being.

          • Doug Shaver

            Nobody is claiming that an antisocial moral code is inconsistent with naturalism. My only claim is that if you live your life as though nothing mattered except the satisfaction of your own impulses, you won't get much satisfaction. If you are actually convinced of the contrary, I don't know how to prove you're wrong, but if you can't prove me wrong, either, then we're at an impasse. The lurkers will have to decide for themselves which of us has made the better case.

          • David Nickol

            In my last response to you, I gave you an example of increasing my happiness and well being by killing someone and taking their millions, assuming that I would not suffer any negative consequences. Why would this be a foolish decision given this moral system that you admit is not invalid?

            Why should you, as a Christian, not kill a neighbor and take his millions . . . assuming you would not suffer any negative consequences?

          • ClayJames

            Because killing my neighbor to take his millions is, in and of itself, an immoral thing to do as a Christian and I am trying to behave according to a moral system that is valid given my world view.

          • David Nickol

            Because killing my neighbor to take his millions is, in and of itself, an immoral thing to do as a Christian . . . .

            But why not do it, assuming you would not suffer any negative consequences? What justification can you give for refraining from immoral acts just because you consider them immoral according to your world view, if you are not going to suffer any negative consequences from them?

            Suppose, like the Jews in Old Testament times, you did not believe in an after life. Even if you had a clear idea of what was moral and what was immoral, why would you not act immorally if you could get away with it? (I don't want to oversimplify Jewish thought, but I think they believed, in part, at least, that they would prosper if they obeyed God and would suffer if they didn't.)

            It seems to me that the ultimate answer in some views of theistic morality is that you will be punished if you don't act morally. So ultimately, every good act you do is to avoid punishment.

            If it is wrong to kill your neighbor and take his millions, assuming you suffer no negative consequences, exactly why is it wrong? Because God says so? What difference does it make what God says if there are no practical consequences of disobeying him?

            On the other hand, from a naturalist or materialist point of view, it is very difficult to separate action from consequence. A atheist might argue that we're all in the same boat, and it is impossible to murder your neighbor for his money without damaging the whole human condition in which both you and your neighbor live. If I believe I am an isolated individual and can do anything I want to others without harming myself, then I might murder my neighbor. But if I believe "no man is an island," and if I believe murder harms not just the victim but the whole complex web of society in which I, too, must exist, then I have a reason not to commit murder.

          • ClayJames

            From a Christian point of view, life not ending at the moment of our death drastically changes the game when speaking about moral actions and consequences. It doesnt seem that you are arguing against this since we are both assuming that we would not suffer any negative consequences. However, it is important to note that I am making a differentiation betwen naturalism and Catholicism and therefore, if we are assuming that our moral decisions do not have any consequences, then we are not talking about Catholicism any more. I am also not claiming that naturalism is the only framework that can lead to moral relativism.

            But even in your OT Jew example where we are assuming no negative consequences for ¨evil¨ actions, we can still say that someone is acting immorally in the same way we can say that someone is acting illogically. You are right to say that someone can chose to not even care about what is moral and what is immoral just like someone can chose not to care about what is logical. But it still stands that if you want to be moral, you should do X and not Y and that this morality does not depend on what human minds subjectively determine. I admit that without ultimate consequences (afterlife), the difference between this example and naturalism is not as drastic.

            But if I believe "no man is an island," and if I believe murder harms
            not just the victim but the whole complex web of society in which I,
            too, must exist, then I have a reason not to commit murder.

            Not necessarily. All you would need is to show that this harm is not enough to outweigh the reward. Even if one accepts everything that you have said here, the potential benefit could be more beneficial to me than the harm on society and therefore, my overall level of happiness and well being would increase.

            Like I said to Doug, this selfish moral system is best equiped to maximize my wellbeing (my primary goal) since it will make me respect society in 99% of cases where it benefits me (because I live in a society that is built that way) but take advantage of society in 1% of cases that also benefit me (since societies are not perfect and I can exploit those imperfections). I have still not been given a valid reason why I should not act this way in that 1% of situations.

          • Rob Abney

            I think you have hijacked the Catholic view and called it the atheist view.
            You keep expressing the Catholic view as simply an escape from punishment.
            I'm reading a Scott Hahn book, he describes God's punishment as allowing us to keep sinning, such as an alcoholic who continues to drink. His mercy sometimes looks like punishment, like a tragic accident that convinces the alcoholic to stop drinking/sinning.
            Sin is a separation from God. We are all members of the body of Christ. If one of us sins it affects us all, it pulls us all away from God.

          • David Nickol

            I think you have hijacked the Catholic view and called it the atheist view.

            I don't pretend to know the atheist view, and I don't even think there can be said to be a specifically atheist view of ethics/morality. Also, I don't think that "We're all in this together" is a "Catholic view."

            You keep expressing the Catholic view as simply an escape from punishment.

            I wouldn't say simply. I'd say ultimately. In somewhat the same spirit as many theists here claim that atheists cannot really be moral but only act morally (because their moral ideas are "ungrounded" without an appeal to God), I raise as one possibility the idea that Christian morality is ultimately a matter of avoiding punishment. As a matter of fact, it is part of the Catholic vision of salvation that someone who has only "imperfect contrition" (that is, sorry for his sins because they will result in punishment) can escape hell by (and only by) the sacrament of confession. A virtuous life is not necessary for salvation if there is a priest handy when you are dying and, out of fear, you confess with "imperfect contrition."

            In Catholicism, ultimately all offenses are offenses against God. This seems to me particularly the case when it comes to sexual matters. It is a sin—an intrinsic evil—to use condoms or other forms of birth control, or to engage in homosexual sex, not because of harm done to one's fellow human beings, but because such things violate God's laws. A married couple who love each other dearly and decide mutually to use some form of contraception for their own good and the good of their family are offending God.

            I'm reading a Scott Hahn book, he describes God's punishment as allowing us to keep sinning, such as an alcoholic who continues to drink.

            I hope the alcoholic as sinner is your example, not Scott Hahn's. It is certainly not politically correct to brand alcoholics as sinners, and I think a very solid case can be made that it is not PC because it is really a very bad example. While I would not rule out all personal responsibility in the case of alcoholism, I don't think it is helpful to alcoholics or anyone else to use them as examples of sinners. Any addiction, once a person is in the grips of it, is extremely difficult to break, to the point where "free will" may not even be applicable. The same, I think, may be true of compulsive gambling which—fascinatingly—can be a side effect of anti-Parkinson's drugs.

            I find it interesting how contemporary "apologists" for a punishing God attempt to invent ways for God's punishments not to be punishments at all. The most ingenious one is that the "real" punishment of hell is separation from God, which God does not impose but merely allows. It's not God's fault if people choose to roast in eternal fire and lock the gates of hell from the inside!

            How does the idea of the non-punishing God fit with this gem from Aquinas?

            Wherefore in order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned. [Summa Theologica, Supplement, Question 94, The relations of the saints towards the damned.]

            And do the saints pity the damned? Aquinas: "Therefore the blessed in glory will have no pity on the damned." Do the saints rejoice in the punishment of the damned? Aquinas: "And thus the Divine justice and their own deliverance will be the direct cause of the joy of the blessed: while the punishment of the damned will cause it indirectly."

          • Rob Abney

            David, you seem to be a strong proponent of mercy. You want mercy for the damned, the alcoholics, the contraceptors, and those who engage in homosexual sex. And yet when God offers a gift of mercy in the form of confession to a priest you scoff at it.
            The opportunities that our Merciful God offers for life everlasting in Heaven are more numerous and attainable than the choices which result in privation of that ultimate good. You can attain it by living a virtuous life or you can attain it with a contrite confession or you can do both. But to pursue a life in opposition to Him with a plan for a deathbed confession is risky! (although it worked out for the Count in Michael O'Brien's novel Father Elijah).
            I like your quotes from the Summa but just like picking isolated verses out of the bible it loses some meaning without the greater context.

          • David Nickol

            And yet when God offers a gift of mercy in the form of confession to a priest you scoff at it.

            If I am scoffing at anything, it is the idea that merely being in the right place at the right time can make the difference between eternal bliss and eternal misery. Why should someone who lives an evil life get an eternal "reward" because he fears hell and there is a priest handy to hear his confession at the end of his life, whereas someone who lives the same kind of life is eternally punished because there is no priest available at the time of his death to hear his confession? Remember, I am talking about both men having "imperfect contrition" only—that is, fear of punishment.

            I don't really see why it is "merciful" for God to create a whole race who deserve nothing but hell (because of the sin of our "first parents") and then to provide for some of them to escape eternal torment.

            I like your quotes from the Summa but just like picking isolated verses out of the bible it loses some meaning without the greater context.

            What more context do you need? So that the "saved" will be happy, they will get to witness the suffering of the "damned." The "saints" will apparently be "enlightened" enough in heaven to enjoy their former loved ones roasting in hell. Could we not admit that perhaps Aquinas might simply be wrong, and that no "saint" would ever derive joy from the suffering of another, no matter how wicked? Would you really enjoy seeing the alcoholics, contraceptors, and gay people being tortured for their sins here on earth—maybe, say, branded with a red-hot iron? If not, is it because you are not yet enlightened enough to enjoy watching sinners get punished?

          • Rob Abney

            Where does the Catholic Church teach that the human race was created deserving hell?

            More context is at least to include the preceding sentences but more than that is to understand Thomas' definition of evil and punishment as a privation.

          • David Nickol

            Where does the Catholic Church teach that the human race was created deserving hell?

            This is basically the doctrine of Original Sin. The Catholic Church still cannot bring itself to say anything more than that it may be hoped that infants who die without baptism are saved. Without intervention (that is, without baptism), every human being is in something other than a state of grace.

            It is also taught that nobody deserves to go to heaven or earns his or her salvation.

            More context is at least to include the preceding sentences but more than that is to understand Thomas' definition of evil and punishment as a privation.

            It seems quite plain to me that Aquinas believes the damned literally roast in real fire in hell. I can find nothing in which he says the torments of hell are merely the torments of being eternally separated from God. He quite clearly believes that the damned are inflicted by numerous tortures. For example:

            This is also becoming to Divine justice, that whereas they departed from one by sin, and placed their end in material things which are many and various, so should they be tormented in many ways and from many sources.

            Also, we have the following:

            The disposition of hell will be such as to be adapted to the utmost unhappiness of the damned. Wherefore accordingly both light and darkness are there, in so far as they are most conducive to the unhappiness of the damned.

            If one takes Aquinas as one's authority, then it is impossible to get away from the idea that the damned are not passively suffering from lack of something. They are being actively tortured. And to what end? They cannot repent.

            What is the point purpose of punishment, particularly eternal punishment?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            It seems quite plain to me that Aquinas believes the damned literally roast in real fire in hell.

            How would you reconcile this claim with the following words of Aquinas, taken from the very link you provided?

            It is because fire is most painful, through its abundance of active force, that the name of fire is given to any torment if it be intense.

          • David Nickol

            How would you reconcile this claim with the following words of Aquinas, taken from the very link you provided?

            I would merely point out that if you read Article 5. Whether the fire of hell will be corporeal? you will find that Aquinas answers, yes, it will be. And if you read Article 6. Whether the fire of hell is of the same species as ours? you will find that Aquinas answers, yes, it is. Also note the following:

            However, whatever we may say of the fire that torments the separated souls, we must admit that the fire which will torment the bodies of the damned after the resurrection is corporeal, since one cannot fittingly apply a punishment to a body unless that punishment itself be bodily. Wherefore Gregory (Dial. iv) proves the fire of hell to be corporeal from the very fact that the wicked will be cast thither after the resurrection. Again Augustine,
            as quoted in the text of Sentent. iv, D, 44, clearly admits (De Civ.
            Dei xxi, 10) that the fire by which the bodies are tormented is
            corporeal. And this is the point at issue for the present. We have said elsewhere (70, 3) how the souls of the damned are punished by this corporeal fire.

            Now, just because Thomas Aquinas says something does not mean it is an official teaching of the Church. I would say a solid Catholic position (as stated by John McKenzie in Dictionary of the Bible) is as follows:

            These passages suggest that the apocalyptic imagery of other NT passages is to be taken for what it is, imagery, and not as strictly literal theological affirmation. The great truths of judgment and punishment are firmly retained throughout the NT, and no theological hypothesis can be biblical which reduces the ultimate destiny of righteousness and wickedness to the same thing; the details of the afterlife, however, are not disclosed except in imagery.

            When the Catechism speaks of the fire of hell, it puts "fire" in scare quotes.

          • Alexandra

            >>>"Why should someone who lives an evil life get an eternal "reward" because he fears hell and there is a priest handy to hear his confession at the end of his life, whereas someone who lives the same kind of life is eternally punished because there is no priest available at the time of his death to hear his confession? "

            David, this characterization is incorrect. Perfect contrition may be possible without the sacrament (i.e without a priest.) For more on this, I recommend reading about "perfect contrition" (Catholic). (Also if the first is only confessing out of fear and not remorse, he may not be "rewarded".)

            Edit to add:
            CCC 1452 When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called "perfect" (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible.

          • Rob Abney

            "Why should someone who lives an evil life get an eternal "reward" because he fears hell and there is a priest handy to hear his confession at the end of his life, whereas someone who lives the same kind of life is eternally punished because there is no priest available at the time of his death to hear his confession? Remember, I am talking about both men having "imperfect contrition" only—that is, fear of punishment."

            That is an interesting situation. I can't find a reference to answer it. It could be considered that both men were able to have a priest "handy" but only the "lucky" one was able to change his heart enough to actually utilize the fortunate situation.

            If you were God, how would you resolve the problem?

          • David Nickol

            If you were God, how would you resolve the problem?

            I think that if God allows one bad man to attain eternal bliss because by sheer good luck there is a priest available, and one equally evil man to suffer eternal torment because by sheer bad luck there is no priest available, the God is not just (let alone merciful). I have to conclude things just do not work that way.

          • Rob Abney

            I don't believe one man got lucky. I believe one man found courage to seek a priest and the other continued his selfish ways until the end.
            But its difficult to reason this way with you if we don't agree on some terms. Such as sin, do you believe it is an act that begins a separation from God? And do you believe that habitual sinning becomes a vice, a way of life? And that that vice may look like a pleasuable pursuit when it really is a punishment that keeps one from knowing that they need God?

            Or offer your own theology. So far I can only tell that you are against the Church's teachings about punishment. What is a better explanation?

          • David Nickol

            I don't believe one man got lucky. I believe one man found courage to
            seek a priest and the other continued his selfish ways until the end.

            You can't make up new facts about my hypothetical example!

            So far I can only tell that you are against the Church's teachings about punishment. What is a better explanation?

            I have no objection to the idea of a God who rewards the good and punishes the evil. What I object to is the idea of eternal punishment. And I object to the idea that an all-just God could make a life on earth a pass/fail test for eternal reward and punishment. Earthly life is a very uneven playing field in many respects, two of them being moral and economic. Would you hold all Americans, or all the people on earth, equally responsible for not going to college, finding a good job, and being at least solidly middle class? It's just not in the cards for the vast majority of people.

            Now, of course, you can say that God, being omniscient, all-wise, and all-just may allow a serial killer who dies unrepentant to be saved because he grew up in such a terrible environment that he was destined to become a serial killer. But how much do you want to undercut the idea of free will?

          • Rob Abney

            "Would you hold all Americans, or all the people on earth, equally responsible for not going to college, finding a good job, and being at least solidly middle class? It's just not in the cards for the vast majority of people."

            Those people should have an easier path to heaven, the meek, the poor in spirit.

            The serial killer may be saved by the extraordinary grace of God but the church's teaching is that the more sure way is to live a virtuous life, take advantage of having the sacraments, and die in a state of grace.

            But I think that you are mainly questioning God's justice or at least the Church's teaching of God's justice. Again I ask you, what would your preferred justice be? A life of vice with a light sentence? Or no judgement at all?

          • David Nickol

            But I think that you are mainly questioning God's justice or at least the Church's teaching of God's justice.

            I am not criticizing God (if indeed God exists). I take it as axiomatic that if God exists, he is just. If God exists and is not just, then we are all in much bigger trouble than if no God exist. I don't even want to entertain the possibility of an unjust God. So of course I am questioning the Church's teachings about God, not God himself.

            Again I ask you, what would your preferred justice be? A life of vice with a light sentence? Or no judgement at all?

            I just don't see how a system that uses life on earth as some kind of pass/fail test for one's eternal fate could possibly be just. Some people die without baptism before reaching the age of reason. We don't know what happens to them. Some baptized people die before the age of reason, and they get a free ticket to heaven. Some people are born into solidly Christian families and are raised Christian by good people who love them. Some people are born into broken families, in bad environments, are abused by the people who raise them, and have next to no chance of being "virtuous." The playing field, as I have said before, is nowhere near being level. And also as I have said before, if you take the economic conditions one is born into as somewhat analogous to the "moral" conditions, it is clear that the game is highly rigged in favor of some people and against others.

            I find the whole concept of divine reward or punishment strange. What is the point of punishment, particularly eternal punishment? It seems to me the only legitimate purpose for inflicting pain as punishment is deterrence. Under ideal conditions, the way to deal with someone who is evil is to educate or rehabilitate him. If God is a loving father, why would he ever give up on his children?

          • Rob Abney

            Education and rehabilitation = spreading the gospel and offering the sacraments, you are exactly correct.

          • Alexandra

            (Following my other response.)
            Ok, saw that you are trying to limit it to imperfect contrition. The man without the priest would still have opportunity for perfect contrition. If his actions are only out of fear, has he truly repented?

            It isn't about having the right magic formula in the exact right steps. It's the interior disposition of the soul. Each person does have hope for salvation, no matter what you've done. But you must repent.

          • David Nickol

            It isn't about having the right magic formula in the exact right steps. It's the interior disposition of the soul.

            But it is. A person with imperfect contrition, even if it is only fear of punishment, can be forgiven only by confession and absolution. If two persons are equally vile, and equally fear punishment, the one who has the opportunity to confess before death can be saved, and the one who does not have the opportunity will be damned.

            Now, of course one can always say something such as God is not bound by the "rules," and if he so wishes, he can find a way to save anyone. This is what the Catechism says about those who commit suicide:

            2283 We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.

            But why should we not say, "By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for repentance to everyone who dies in such a way that even the worst sinners will come to their senses and repent"? So what do we need the sacraments or the Church for?

          • Alexandra

            First of all, I think we should have OP's dedicated to "David's Thought Experiments". #1, #2, etc. :)

            The Church has never stated that the man who can't reach the priest is automatically damned. (It's an open question whether attrition can lead to justification). The man who did reach the priest is not automatically saved either. (His confession could be insincere and unrepentant.) If his confession is valid, then we know that man is saved. So in your example, either one could be saved, both, or neither.

            But also in your example, both your men have some form of repentance (imperfect contrition.) Their motivations for repentance are not "perfect" - out of love for God- but it is still repentance, so both being saved is a possibility. If either has "perfect" contrition, then we know they are saved. (Those without any repentance are not saved.) The Church has confirmed examples of salvation without the sacrament - perfect contrition, salutary repentance, and martyrdom. So your man not reaching the priest does not mean he cannot be saved.

            >>>"But why should we not say, "By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for repentance to everyone who dies in such a way that even the worst sinners will come to their senses and repent"? So what do we need the sacraments or the Church for?"

            I would change it to: By ways known to him alone, God provides the opportunity for repentance to everyone who lives in such a way that even the worst sinners can come to their senses and repent; - because I think this to be a truth known through faith.

            Jesus said: "... there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent." (Luke 15:7). That one sinner is not abandoned by God. He gives that sinner (all of us) the sacraments through the Church to breathe grace and life into his soul. They are precious gifts. Those of us who are blessed to receive the sacraments, know the joy and peace and awe of those experiences. And the necessity.

            Edit: Added words.

          • Doug Shaver

            I have thought about this a lot and If i were a naturalist, I would care about my own survival, happiness and well being above anything else. Sure, that might lead me to make several decisions that benefit society, but I would only do so because they ultimately benefit me.

            In other words, the right thing to do would also be the smart thing to do. Socrates said the same thing, in different words. His interlocutor thought he was being foolishly naive. Many people still do.

          • ClayJames

            But the opposite is also true. The right and smart thing to do in some instances is to cause others suffering to improve my own happiness and well being.

          • Doug Shaver

            The right and smart thing to do in some instances is to cause others suffering to improve my own happiness and well being.

            I doubt that, but you're welcome to suggest a possible instance of that sort.

          • George

            I don't think that's what he's claiming.

            If you want an explanation, Doug has given one. You may argue against it, but the explanation is not a proscription. We must all be careful to not shift our goalposts.

          • ClayJames

            Where has he given me an explanation of why it is the case that we should care because it is natural for us to care?

        • neil_pogi

          since you believe that humans evolved from apes, then how the 'ape in you' became morally inclined?

          • Doug Shaver

            It's a long story.

          • neil_pogi

            so another excuse from evolutionists, that's why they can't explain how apes evolved into human.

            then who or what were the descendants of apes?

          • Doug Shaver

            Call it an excuse if you like. Your question would require a book-length response, and I'm sure the administrators of this forum won't tolerate my attempting to post it here. If you actually want an answer, though, the information is readily available to anyone who will invest in the time to find it.

          • neil_pogi

            i can't help but wonder, why an ardent atheist like you can't even dare to explain (even in simple explanation) the how's of evolution, the why's of evolution.. can you cite even one similarity between an ape and a human? can an ape even draw a square or a rectangle? write poem? they are just basics. just face the fact that you have no scientific explanation as to how ape 'evolved' into a human. you just claim human evolved from ape. how about ape? what's his descendant?

          • Doug Shaver

            i can't help but wonder . . . .

            I can do nothing about what you can or cannot help wondering about.

          • neil_pogi

            because you can't explain how an ape 'evolved' into human.

          • Doug Shaver

            When you've learned some algebra, I'll explain everything you want to know about calculus.

          • neil_pogi

            why not just explain it?

          • David Nickol

            why not just explain it?

            If you want to learn algebra and calculus, either take courses or draw up a program for self-study. If you want to learn about evolution, do the same. Don't expect people here to provide you with high school or college level courses in anything. I think a number of books have been recommended to you, but you will not read them. Don't expect people to write books for you in the comments sections of web sites. You clearly aren't interested in learning anything about evolution. You just want to repeat your same questions over and over.

            By the way, humans did not evolve from apes. Modern-day apes and humans evolved from common ancestors.

            I am sure than many people who comment here will be more than happy to answer any questions you have that you cannot find answers to yourself. But finding answers yourself requires reading recommended books or consulting basic sources of information. You do not seem willing to do that.

          • neil_pogi

            quote: ' humans did not evolve from apes. Modern-day apes and humans evolved from common ancestors.' -- so what were the common ancestors of them?

            a LUCA evolved from non-living matter, and if this LUCA is a single-celled organism, what would it looked like? so, your PhD evolutionists have told you that it was a what? an algae? a slime? then, are they sure about it? have they observed them 'billions' of years ago? you believe that because of blind faith and not on science. nobody has observed what's the cause of the origin of life, so you have no authority to say or declare that life started from a single cell organism. that's assumption, conjectures and imagination. why should i read them? read the 'just so' and 'make believe' stories that they concocted out of their wild imaginations?

          • Michael Murray

            You can look up the common ancestor of any two living things here

            http://www.timetree.org/

            For the particular case of humans and chimps look here

            http://www.timetree.org/search/pairwise/human/chimpanzee

            Most studies suggest a common ancestor about 6 million years ago. More information here

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimpanzee%E2%80%93human_last_common_ancestor

          • neil_pogi

            are those links can be observed thru lab experiments?

            millions of year have been tackled here in those studies.. millions of years were not observed therefore they are just nonsense

          • Michael Murray

            Yes. Read the webpage.

          • neil_pogi

            then prepare to pair a panthera and lagomorpha today! and i'll wait for months what would be the outcome

          • Michael Murray

            You didn't say you wanted to mate the animals you said "lab experiments". There are lots of lab experiments you can do. My understanding these are based on sequencing DNA and comparing that. Lots of article links on that site. Why not read one of them ?

            You admitted yourself some time back that it isn't necessary to observe everything. You really need to give up on that line.

            Anyway I'm done. The last word is yours. Guess it will be "pop".

          • neil_pogi

            does comparing DNA of animal with another animal prove that both of them came from a 'common ancestor'? nobody has seen what is the original DNA of the LUCA (if there is)?

            so you are thinking that 'mating' is not one type of lab experiments?

            actually im about to read your links, but when i encountered reading 'million years'.. i stopped reading, why? because million years are not observed, they were just speculations, assumptions!

          • neil_pogi

            quote: 'You admitted yourself some time back that it isn't necessary to observe everything.' -- did i say it?

            evolution requires massive time in order for one organism to evolve into another. but they were not observed even in shorter period of time. why micro-evolution can be observed directly and macro is not? it's because macro is impossible! (a dinosaur into a tweety bird)

            another loser!

          • neil_pogi

            then why make it short? a little shorter would be nice!

          • Doug Shaver

            a little shorter would be nice!

            I'm sure it would, but it can't be done. If I tried, it would be like trying to explain double integration to someone who doesn't even know how to solve a quadratic equation.

          • neil_pogi

            too many excuses!

            if you can't explain it in simple ways, how much more the detailed one

      • Doug Shaver

        But why should the materialist care? If we're all just random, pointless collections of matter,

        Materialism does not assert that we are "all just random, pointless collections of matter." That would be a caricature of materialism.

        • ClayJames

          Actually, it does. Sure, you can bring other belief systems into the mix, but materialism asserts exactly that. Could you talk about how this is not the case?

          • Doug Shaver

            Could you talk about how this is not the case?

            I can talk about how someone who accepts a belief system is better qualified to tell others what it says than someone who rejects that belief system. I have never been a Catholic. Suppose I tell a friend of mine, "Catholicism teaches X," and then a Catholic says to my friend, "No, Catholicism does not teach X." Whom do you think my friend ought to believe?

          • ClayJames

            I am asking you, a materialist, to explain to me something about your materialism. I accept that I may be wrong, which is why I am asking you. I found your response somewhat bizarre, since I am doing exactly what you are accusing me of not doing.

          • Doug Shaver

            Materialism does not assert that we are "all just random, pointless collections of matter." That would be a caricature of materialism.

            but materialism asserts exactly that. Could you talk about how this is not the case?

            Materialism asserts that everything that exists is some combination of matter and energy, and since matter and energy are interchangeable, i.e. just different kinds of the same thing, it suffices to say that according to materialism, everything that exists is made of matter.

            Materialism, so defined, asserts nothing about whether everything, or anything in particular, is random or pointless. Randomness or pointlessness, when they occur, can be inferred from observations, but they cannot be deduced from materialism itself. At least, I have never heard of, and cannot myself think of, any way to deduce them from materialism. Of course, the mere fact that I cannot do it does not prove that it cannot be done, but lots of people have told me it can be done but failed to show me how. I think their failure on top of my own gives me good reason to doubt it.

          • ClayJames

            By materialism, I don´t just mean that matter is all there is , because as you said, you can still hold this without the randomness or lack of purpose. I am also adding the belief that everything that exists today (the different arrangements of matter if you will) is the result of a random process with no intended purpose (ie. pointless). If you hold both of these beliefs (which I am defining as materialism), then I think you would have to agree we are just random, pointless (read: with no purpose) collections of matter.

            Could you expand on your version of materialism that is not random and without purpouse? I am asking because most materialists also hold the second belief I attribute to them and I would be eager to know your version of materialism that doesnt.

          • Doug Shaver

            By materialism, I don´t just mean that matter is all there is . . . . I am also adding the belief that everything that exists today (the different arrangements of matter if you will) is the result of a random process with no intended purpose (ie. pointless).

            Then you are defining materialism idiosyncratically. By your definition, I am actually not a materialist. But when I claim to be a materialist, I am not using your definition. I am using the definition accepted by other people who call themselves materialists. I have yet to find an authoritative reference work, either dictionary or encyclopedia, that includes anything about randomness or purposelessness in its definition.

            most materialists also hold the second belief I attribute to them

            That has not been my observation. But even if it were so, if an atheist were to say, "Most Christians hold belief X, therefore Christianity asserts X," I think you'd have a problem with that argument, wouldn't you?

          • ClayJames

            But even if it were so, if an atheist were to say, "Most Christians hold
            belief X, therefore Christianity asserts X," I think you'd have a
            problem with that argument, wouldn't you?

            As long as they are clear that not all Christians hold that belief and are clear about what concept of Christianity they are talking about, I would not have a problem. However, I think your point is very sound and I should have been more clear about what type of naturalist I was talking about, especially since I was responding to your use of the word ¨naturalist¨.

          • Doug Shaver

            As long as they are clear that not all Christians hold that belief and are clear about what concept of Christianity they are talking about, I would not have a problem.

            What if their concept of Christianity was wrong? You wouldn't overlook it just because they expressed that concept clearly, would you?

      • But why should the materialist care? If we're all just random, pointless collections of matter, why should the materialist go to great lengths to help a starving child in Africa? What's the purpose?

        Have you ever asked these questions of friends of yours who are atheists? I can see them being extremely offended, but also not offended at all. I'm just curious to what extent you've field-tested this line of questioning, especially in the way you've done it. They seem... possibly extremely incendiary.

        For my own part, I would merely ask if the atheist has anything other than emotivism to go on, after the pattern of Alasdair MacIntyre. I am always amused when I hear that there are multiple objective moral philosophies and ethical theories from which I am free to choose. To take this one step further, when someone says The Basis for Morality is Empathy, I immediately ask about the Platonic Form of 'Empathy': how do we know it, how do we move toward it, and how do we detect when we're erring from it? There is also the major concern John Hare raises in The Moral Gap: there can be a psychological chasm between knowing and doing. One can even start wondering if the bigger the chasm, the less the 'knowing' is an accurate model of the part of the brain that leads to 'doing'.

        Both of these approaches point in the same direction, but it's much harder for someone to legitimately take offense when one is working off of After Virtue, a book with 18,000 'citations'.

        • ClayJames

          I think the feeling of being offended comes from the disconnect between how they believe one should act and the logical conclusion that one ought not act that way.

          A moral system focused completely on my own wellbeing, even at the expense of others, is completely coherent with a naturalistic view of the world and yet, many naturalists will claim that I would be acting immorally.

          • I'm confused. There is good reason to think that humans are social animals, and thus live for the group, not the individual. AFAIK, there is still sufficient legitimacy to Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, where genes employ groups as carriers, not individuals. Courtesy of Michael Murray, we have:

            Kenneth W. Daniels: An experiment by Wechkin and Masserman in 1964 provides another demonstration that ours is not the only species with the capacity for self-deprivation in the interest of others.

            They found that rhesus monkeys refuse to pull a chain that delivers food to themselves if doing so shocks a companion. One monkey stopped pulling for five days, and another one for twelve days after witnessing shock delivery to a companion. These monkeys were literally starving themselves to avoid inflicting pain upon another. Such sacrifice relates to the tight social system and emotional linkage among these macaques (de Waal 2006, 29).

            Now, there is a still a Christian response to this; I would center that response around Mt 5:43–48, Jn 13:34–35, Jn 17:20–23. But the criticism here is that of shattering the walls and eliminating the hostility between groups (Eph 2:11–22, anyone?), not some rank hedonistic individualism. And once you make it about groups, then Christians themselves can be targeted for nasty in-group behavior. And yet, the way Brandon Vogt framed the matter, the Christian is the good guy and the atheist, the evil (because selfish) guy.

            P.S. As pushback against game theory showing that cooperation is better based on the iterated prisoner's dilemma (e.g. Robert Axelrod's The Evolution of Cooperation), I suggest reading William H. Press and Freeman J. Dyson, Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma contains strategies that dominate any evolutionary opponent, as well as Imhof, Fudenberg, and Nowak, Evolutionary cycles of cooperation and defection. This has provoked me to request Anthony O'Hear's Beyond Evolution: Human Nature and the Limits of Evolutionary Explanation from my library.

          • ClayJames

            Two problems with evolutionary altruistic values:

            1. Altruistic behavior that benefit the group are only followed by most animals because they benefit the self. This definetly does not follow for many people and many situations and we are smart enough to know that. For example, there are situations where people can chose to steal, kill and take advantage of the group for their own self interests and be in a privilaged situation where they will not face reprecussions.

            2. Just because it is natural for us to do X, it does not follow that we should do X. True, it is beneficial for most of us in society to take care of the group so that we can take care of ourselves, but there is no reason that we should do this.

            If I were an atheist, I would base my moral system on my own well-being and happiness. This would entail treating others around me well so that they treat me well, but this is all done so that it benefits me. I wouldn´t try to help those that have no conection to me (ie. the hungry in africa, victims of natural disasters across the world or even those in my community who have no effect on my life) and I would have no problem bringing harm to others for my own self gain, assuming that bringing about that harm doesn´t affect me. Empathetic and altruistic values are byproducts of the evolutionary process, but like other such byproducts, we are smart enough to discard them as we see fit. I think many atheist would have a problem with the above but this moral system is completely consistent with naturalism. In 100 years, everyone I know and care about will be dead and I would prefer to enjoy my short life on earth instead of shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic.

          • 1. Altruistic behavior that benefit the group are only followed by most animals because they benefit the self.

            But is this true? How do you know it's true? Do worker bees voluntarily die so that they will benefit the self? I've seen atheists poke holes in this claim of yours, and the holes don't seem to be fill-able. Perhaps you know of a systematic treatment of your claim, here?

            2. Just because it is natural for us to do X, it does not follow that we should do X.

            Agreed. But if it is natural for us to do X, then it is nevertheless a reason for us to do X, even if it's not a good reason. If it is natural to be a social animal, then it could easily be wrong to say that one is just acting for one's own good. It's not at all clear to me that the scientific theory of evolution entails anything like psychological egoism. What it does seem to entail is groups competing against each other, in contrast to Mt 5:43–48, Jn 13:34–35, Jn 17:20–23.

            If I were an atheist, I would base my moral system on my own well-being and happiness.

            And why do you trust your imagination to give reasonable answers to "If I were an atheist"? The only way I know to test such an imagination is to try to well-model atheists, and see if they fit the model well. Have you done anything like this?

            I wouldn´t try to help those that have no conection to me (ie. the hungry in africa, victims of natural disasters across the world or even those in my community who have no effect on my life) and I would have no problem bringing harm to others for my own self gain, assuming that bringing about that harm doesn´t affect me.

            How do you explain the many atheists who falsify this model? How do you explain the horrible things that Christian missionaries have done in "bringing aid"? The facts on the ground seem a lot muddier than your presentation, with all its probable implications.

            In 100 years, everyone I know and care about will be dead and I would prefer to enjoy my short life on earth instead of shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic.

            One common atheist response: "Then it is good that you are a Christian. You seem to need the crutch to not be a huge dick!" :-p (Note: I am a Christian, non-denominational Protestant all my life.)

          • ClayJames

            But is this true? How do you know it's true? Do worker bees voluntarily
            die so that they will benefit the self? I've seen atheists poke holes in
            this claim of yours, and the holes don't seem to be fill-able. Perhaps
            you know of a systematic treatment of your claim, here?

            There are exceptions, which is why I made reference to ¨most¨ animals, but even if this wasnt the case it doesn´t matter because it does not follow that because we are naturally inclined to do X, we should do X. This leads to the second point:

            Agreed. But if it is natural for us to do X, then it is nevertheless a
            reason for us to do X, even if it's not a good reason. If it is natural
            to be a social animal, then it could easily be wrong to say that
            one is just acting for one's own good. It's not at all clear to me that
            the scientific theory of evolution entails anything like psychological egoism.

            It doesn´t matter what the scientific theory of evolution entails unless you say that we should act according to this theory. Even if we are social animals, how can it be wrong to act for one´s own good? You still have not given me a good reason for why I have to let evolutionary theory influence my morality. How do you bridge that IS/OUGHT gap?

            And why do you trust your imagination to give reasonable answers to "If I
            were an atheist"? The only way I know to test such an imagination is to
            try to well-model atheists, and see if they fit the model well. Have
            you done anything like this?

            Its has nothing to do with my imagination. It has to do with the logical conclusions that are perfectly rational to hold given naturalism and the goals that I would have given that framework. There are many atheists that fit this model. I actually think most don´t and I believe they would have a problem with my conclusions without being able to logically refute them because given naturalism, they are not wrong.

            How do you explain the many atheists who falsify this model? How do you
            explain the horrible things that Christian missionaries have done in
            "bringing aid"? The facts on the ground seem a lot muddier than your
            presentation, with all its probable implications.

            I am not aware of an atheist that has falsified this selfish moral framework. Most atheists do not subscribe to this because they feel empathy and act as if this altruistic moral framework is more than just fashionable. Christian missionaries doing horrible things have nothing to do with what I am saying. Given Christianity, I can believe that these missionaries are acting immorally and that they are wrong if they do not agree. I am not saying that Christians are more moral than atheists. My point is that given naturalism, there is no moral framework that one ought to follow.

            One common atheist response: "Then it is good that you are a
            Christian. You seem to need the crutch to not be a huge dick!" :-p
            (Note: I am a Christian, non-denominational Protestant all my life.)

            I know you are a Christian and I appreciate you playing devil´s advocate. That response is not a refutation of my atheistic moral framework, at the most it is an ad hominem.

          • It doesn´t matter what the scientific theory of evolution entails unless you say that we should act according to this theory. Even if we are social animals, how can it be wrong to act for one´s own good? You still have not given me a good reason for why I have to let evolutionary theory influence my morality. How do you bridge that IS/OUGHT gap?

            I am well aware of isought. But what is under contention here is the assumption that atheists will operate only for their own good. I am questioning that assumption. I am questioning that atheists would naturally operate only for their own good. I don't need to get into what they ought to do, only what they do do.

            Its has nothing to do with my imagination. It has to do with the logical conclusions that are perfectly rational to hold given naturalism and the goals that I would have given that framework. There are many atheists that fit this model. I actually think most don´t and I believe they would have a problem with my conclusions without being able to logically refute them because given naturalism, they are not wrong.

            I think you trust too much in your "logical conclusions that are perfectly rational to hold". I prefer to work off of actual atheists, than models in my mind which may be horribly, horribly wrong. Now, you are welcome to say that those who claim to be 'atheist', who do not "fit this model", are crypto-theists, or at least e.g. invalidly purloining presuppositions from Christianity. If you believe this, though, please state it explicitly. Otherwise, there are outliers to your model and you've minimized them if not ignored them.

            I am not aware of an atheist that has falsified this selfish moral framework. Most atheists do not subscribe to this because they feel empathy and act as if this altruistic moral framework is more than just fashionable.

            Wait, how is this not a falsification? Or perhaps: are you aware that strict psychological egoism is in principle unfalsifiable? One can always rationalize an apparently altruistic act as actually self-interested.

            Christian missionaries doing horrible things have nothing to do with what I am saying.

            Oh but it does, because we care about the mismatch between rhetoric and action.

            My point is that given naturalism, there is no moral framework that one ought to follow.

            I might agree with that, and yet, this does not support the idea that what you would do—

            CJ: If I were an atheist, I would base my moral system on my own well-being and happiness.

            —is what all consistent atheists would do. And yet, Brandon's questions—

            BV: But why should the materialist care? If we're all just random, pointless collections of matter, why should the materialist go to great lengths to help a starving child in Africa? What's the purpose?

            —strongly implies that this holds for all atheists, and not merely some.

            That response is not a refutation of my atheistic moral framework, at the most it is an ad hominem.

            Never did I intend to so-refute. Apparently, you have grossly misunderstood me.

          • ClayJames

            But what is under contention here is the assumption that atheists will operate only for their own good. I am questioning that assumption. I am questioning that atheists would naturally operate only for their own good. I don't need to get into what they ought to do, only what they do do.

            I think you have misread my point because I have never said this. The question here is not what atheists will do, but what they ought to or ought not do. My only point is that my selfish moral framework is completely consistent with naturalism.

            I think you trust too much in your "logical conclusions that are perfectly rational to hold". I prefer to work off of actual atheists,
            than models in my mind which may be horribly, horribly wrong. Now, you
            are welcome to say that those who claim to be 'atheist', who do not "fit
            this model", are crypto-theists, or at least e.g. invalidly purloining
            presuppositions from Christianity. If you believe this, though, please
            state it explicitly. Otherwise, there are outliers to your model and
            you've minimized them if not ignored them.

            Once again, I am not talking about what actual atheists do. You are misinterpreting my point. My point has to do with what is a logical conclusion given naturalism. There may be other logical conclusions and atheists may act in different ways, but this has nothing to do with my point.

            Oh but it does, because we care about the mismatch between rhetoric and action.

            I don´t care about this (at least not here). Read above, I am not arguing anything like this.

            strongly implies that this holds for all atheists, and not merely some.

            This does not follow at all. He is simply asking them to ground their morality in something, which they can do but which will make my grounding of my selfish morality on something else completely valid.

          • David Nickol

            The question here is not what atheists will do, but what they ought to or ought not do. My only point is that my selfish moral framework is completely consistent with naturalism.

            I thought it was basically the point of theists (especially here on Strange Notions) that for atheism, there can be no ought and there can be no "moral framework." So how can you invent a possible morality for atheists?

            Then-Cardinal Ratzinger said some interesting things about the "self" in regard to original sin:

            Finding an answer to this requires nothing less than trying to understand the human person better. It must once again be stressed that no human being is closed in upon himself or herself and that no one can live of or for himself or herself alone. We receive our life not only at the moment of birth but every day from without—from others who are not ourselves but who nonetheless somehow pertain to us. Human beings have their selves not only in themselves but also outside of themselves: they live in those whom they love and in those who love them and to whom they are 'present.' Human beings are relational, and they possess their lives—themselves—only by way of relationship. I alone am not myself, but only in and with you am I myself. To be truly a human being means to be related in love, to be of and for.

            It seems to me that this view is as reasonable for atheists as it is for theists, and for those who hold it, there is good reason to think of behavior calculated solely on the basis of utter selfishness to be self defeating.

          • ClayJames

            I thought it was basically the point of theists (especially here on Strange Notions) that for atheism, there can be no ought and there can be no "moral framework." So how can you invent a possible morality for atheists?

            That is the point I am trying to make, that there can be no ought when it comes to morality. Therefore, my own selfish moral systems is just as valid as any other moral system. Luke is the one trying to argue that in atheism there is an ought that follows from our evolutionary development.

            It seems to me that this view is as reasonable for atheists as it is for
            theists, and for those who hold it, there is good reason to think of
            behavior calculated solely on the basis of utter selfishness to be self
            defeating.

            How is behavior calculated solely on the basic of selfishness self defeating? In regards to the quote you gave, for it to really have anything to say about what we ought to do, you would have to make some assumptions that are not atheistic and that I think Cardinal Ratzinger is making. For example, the following quote from a naturalistic standpoint, at the most, tries to determine how we ought to act based on who we are (presumibly, how we have evolved).

            I alone am not myself, but only in and with you am I myself. To be truly a human being means to be related in love, to be of and for.

            But this once again leads to the question: why should we act according to your evolutionary development?

          • The question here is not what atheists will do, but what they ought to or ought not do.

            Wait a second. If what they do is pretty humanistic, then what's the problem? It's like you want an Absolute Standard for them to adhere to, but what if they do a better job taking care of humans without that Absolute Standard, than does the possessor of the Absolute Standard?

            My only point is that my selfish moral framework is completely consistent with naturalism.

            Ok, but a group-oriented moral framework is also completely consistent with naturalism. Or do you disagree?

            My point has to do with what is a logical conclusion given naturalism. There may be other logical conclusions and atheists may act in different ways, but this has nothing to do with my point.

            Woah, what? If there are logical conclusions which lead to humanism, then the atheist would seem to be on pretty good ground.

            I don´t care about this (at least not here). Read above, I am not arguing anything like this.

            I'm afraid that I do care about this. Perhaps we will have to agree to disagree, here. Oh, and I think God cares about it, too: see Rom 2:17–24, emphasis on v24, noting who is being described.

            He is simply asking them to ground their morality in something, which they can do but which will make my grounding of my selfish morality on something else completely valid.

            Yes, you get an insane pluralism. But how do you fault those who end up at 'humanism', among all the pluralists?

          • ClayJames

            Wait a second. If what they do is pretty humanistic, then what's
            the problem? It's like you want an Absolute Standard for them to adhere
            to, but what if they do a better job taking care of humans without that
            Absolute Standard, than does the possessor of the Absolute Standard?

            How did you get the ridiculous idea that I want them to adhere to an absolute standard? You keep misrepresenting what I said and I don´t know how I can be more clear.

            Ok, but a group-oriented moral framework is also completely consistent with naturalism. Or do you disagree?

            Right, my pont is that ANY moral framework is consistent with naturalism and therefore, one that is focused on the community is just as valid as one that is focused on bringing about pain and suffering.

            Woah, what? If there are logical conclusions which lead to humanism, then the atheist would seem to be on pretty good ground.

            I have agreed with this 4 times now and I dont know why you are surprised. The point is that other moral frameworks, such as a selfish egotistical one, is just as valid and logical given naturalism.

            Yes, you get an insane pluralism. But how do you fault those who end up at 'humanism', among all the pluralists?

            For the fifth time, I am not. You keep completely missing the point.

          • How did you get the ridiculous idea that I want them to adhere to an absolute standard? You keep misrepresenting what I said and I don´t know how I can be more clear.

            My apologies, but I'm trying to see how what you said disagrees what what I said. Let's go back to where you entered the conversation:

            CJ: [1] I think the feeling of being offended comes from the disconnect between how they believe one should act and the logical conclusion that one ought not act that way.

            [2] A moral system focused completely on my own wellbeing, even at the expense of others, is completely coherent with a naturalistic view of the world and yet, many naturalists will claim that I would be acting immorally.

            [1] You've not shown that this "disconnect" necessarily exists. In order to show this, you would have to disagree with yourself:

            CJ: My point has to do with what is a logical conclusion given naturalism. There may be other logical conclusions and atheists may act in different ways, but this has nothing to do with my point.

            For that "disconnect" to exist necessarily, you would need the instead of a, with no second sentence.

            [2] That is because "a moral system focused completely on my own wellbeing" is not the only logical system available to atheists. This, you admitted just now:

            CJ: Right, my pont is that ANY moral framework is consistent with naturalism and therefore, one that is focused on the community is just as valid as one that is focused on bringing about pain and suffering.

            I have agreed with this 4 times now and I dont know why you are surprised. The point is that other moral frameworks, such as a selfish egotistical one, is just as valid and logical given naturalism.

            I don't know a single atheist who has disagreed with this. There are also selfish and egotistical ways that Christians act. So it's not clear that calling oneself 'Christian' does jack squat. But I don't see how you can possibly say [1], given this. You claim there is a "disconnect"; where? What there is, is pluralism.

            For the fifth time, I am not. You keep completely missing the point.

            Well, perhaps this comment will help you explain what you really meant by [1] and [2], because I really got the wrong message, and I will bet you, I would wager money, that others would get the wrong message, too, based on the words you chose. This is especially the case because if there really are "other moral frameworks" available to atheists which are "just as valid and logical given naturalism", then the following can easily appear offensive to atheists:

            BV: But why should the materialist care? If we're all just random, pointless collections of matter, why should the materialist go to great lengths to help a starving child in Africa? What's the purpose?

            Offensive, for good reasons.

          • ClayJames

            Luke, we are not getting anywhere and I don´t have the time to keep correcting your interpretation of what I wrote but Ill give this one last go. Your conclusion that for the disconnect to exist, I would have to change the ¨a¨ to a ¨the¨ does not follow because I am not claiming that atheists are illogical in holding a moral framework based on altriusm.

            I am just claiming that an egotistical moral framework is just as valid and logical given atheism. Turning around and then saying that Christians can be egotistical has nothing to do with the point at hand and I have clarified this point several times now. Like you said, moral pluralism is the valid conclusion, which is exactly my point. And for the record, there are many atheists who disagree with this thinking. Look up Sam Harris (http://www.amazon.com/The-Moral-Landscape-Science-Determine/dp/143917122X).

            Finally, Brandon´s comment should not be offensive and it is a very good question. The materialist can care for anything he wants whether that is helping a starving child or hurting a starving child. Hurting and helping that child have the same moral value which is completely determined by the person doing the action. The question, which I phrased in a similar way, is if I am basing my morality on my own happiness and well being (sometimes at the expense of others), why should I help a starving child in Africa? As a Christian, I can answer that question. As a naturalist, this has no valid answer since my subjective moral framework and some other person´s are equally valid given naturalism. You agree with this. There are atheists that disagree with this and they are wrong to do so.

          • David Hardy

            I am just claiming that an egotistical moral framework is just as valid and logical given atheism . . . The question, which I phrased in a similar way, is if I am basing my
            morality on my own happiness and well being (sometimes at the expense of
            others), why should I help a starving child in Africa? As a Christian, I
            can answer that question. As a naturalist, this has no valid answer
            since my subjective moral framework and some other person´s are equally
            valid given naturalism.

            Hello Clay, I thought I would add a few thoughts on this.

            1. Modern naturalism does not hold that morality is based on personal happiness and well-being. Modern naturalism holds that morality is an instinct that developed because it is useful to genetic propagation. Putting others' happiness and well being ahead of one's own has many cases of being useful for genetic propagation -- even if is results in individual death, that death can be in an effort that saves a larger number of other people. Caring for others helps the community be more resilient to negative events. Morality is a set of instincts the can override self-focused instincts.

            2. A subjective moral framework does not have to accept other moral frameworks, just because they are all subjective. Morality is an instinct towards a certain purpose -- prosocial behavior. Where a framework is deemed to not support this purpose, it can be treated as less valid than one that does. I think most people have met at least a person or two whose "moral framework" is nothing but a justification to engage in selfish and even anti-social behavior. This is not a valid moral framework. It is a rationalization based on a lack of any developed moral inclinations. These frameworks are less valid because they clearly are not rooted in moral instincts.

            On the other hand, there are many valid moral frameworks that would differ on how much aid should be sent to foreign countries as opposed to investing at home (to use your example). To sum up, you are right that naturalism indicates that there are multiple valid moral frameworks. You are wrong if you then generalize this to say that all proposed moral frameworks (specifically selfish and egotistical frameworks) must be taken as equally valid in this worldview.

          • ClayJames

            I agree with most of what you said except the following:

            Morality is an instinct towards a certain purpose -- prosocial behavior.
            Where a framework is deemed to not support this purpose, it can be
            treated as less valid than one that does. I think most people have met
            at least a person or two whose "moral framework" is nothing but a
            justification to engage in selfish and even anti-social behavior. This
            is not a valid moral framework. It is a rationalization based on a lack
            of any developed moral inclinations. These frameworks are less valid
            because they clearly are not rooted in moral instincts.

            Morality, at its core, is a distinction between right vs wrong, of propper decisions, intentions and actions that one ought to follow vs those that should not be followed. Thats it. Yes, this is all done with a certain purpose in mind, but this purpose does not have to do with promoting prosocial behavior. So I see no reason that given naturalism, one ought to have a moral framework with the purpose of promoting prosocial behavior.

            You then argue that anti-social behavior is not valid because it is not rooted in moral instincts. My question is why should I act according to moral instincts that are a byproduct of the evolutionary process? How do you bridge the gap between ¨we evolved this way¨ to ¨we should act according to how we evolved¨. I see no justification for this given naturalism. I am a conscious creature, that choses not to act according to evolutionary primed behavior and given naturalism, I see no reason why I can´t put my own self interests, desires and happiness over the group´s.

            I still have not been given a reason why, given naturalism, a moral framework built on maximizing my own happiness and well being is invalid.

          • David Hardy

            Morality, at its core, is a distinction between right vs wrong, of propper decisions, intentions and actions that one ought to follow vs those that should not be followed.

            Proper and right to what end? That is always the implied next step. Laughing is the proper and right response to a good joke, and shows approval. A greeting is a proper and right way to welcome someone. Proper and right are always in relation to a certain context and purpose.

            So I see no reason that given naturalism, one ought to have a moral framework with the purpose of promoting prosocial behavior. You then argue that anti-social behavior is not valid because it is not rooted in moral instincts. My question is why should I act according to moral instincts that are a byproduct of the evolutionary process?

            There is my point. You can choose not to do so, but then your framework is no longer validly a moral framework. It is a framework based in something else. As a counterpoint, why should you act according to any instincts arising from evolution? Why eat, or own property, or socialize with others at all? Certainly, anorexics, ascetics, and hermits think there is little good reason for any of these things. Have you wrestled with the idea that you need more that natural instinct to justify them?

            I still have not been given a reason why, given naturalism, a moral framework built on maximizing my own happiness and well being is invalid.

            It depends on if being prosocial makes you happy. If not, you have a framework, but it is not really a moral one. It may be a hedonistic framework, but they are different, and naturalism does not force us to speak of morality as if it is meaningless and anything can be deemed to be moral thinking or behavior. The common theme of all widely held moral frameworks is how behave towards others (prosocial behavior).

            EDIT: Removed an unnecessary word in the last sentence.

          • ClayJames

            It seems like you argument is purely a semantic one. A hedonistic framework is still a moral framework because like morality, it reflects how own ought to act. Saying that a hedonistic framework is not moral, is only a result of you loading the word ¨moral¨with a meaning that it does not need to have. Morality, does not in and of itself, imply prosocial behavior. This is just wrong.

            About our natural insticts, I don´t eat, own property or socialize because it is a byproduct of the evolutionary process. Similarly, I don´t feel like I must need to be polygomous simply because it is a natural instinct and an evolutionary byproduct. Just because something ¨ is a natural instict¨ is not a reason why we ought to do it. You can certainly do so if you like, but there is no logical way that you can conclude that my framework is not moral simply because it is goes against natural instict.

          • David Hardy

            A hedonistic framework is still a moral framework because like morality, it reflects how own ought to act.

            You believe hedonism can arise out of moral thinking? Could you expand on that?

          • ClayJames

            How can it not? Morality is just a set of principles that make a distinction between good and bad behavior and given naturalism, it is completely subjective. Therefore, if it is subjective, one can easily determine that the ¨right¨ is their own pleasure and the ¨wrong¨ is their own pain. The arguments that you have given against this is to first, redefine morality to mean something that it does not mean (prosocial behavior = good) and secondly, claim that we ought to behave in accordance to how we have evolved. The first reason is invalid and there is no reason to believe the second one is true.

          • David Hardy

            Morality is just a set of principles that make a distinction between
            good and bad behavior and given naturalism, it is completely subjective.

            Subjective does not mean open to any definition. Thought and emotion are both subjective, and many people confuse the two (For example, saying "I feel trapped" or "I feel like it's hopeless", which contain a belief/thought underlying the emotion, but is often treated purely as an emotion), but that does not make a thought an emotion or an emotion a thought. Moral thinking has been studied and certain characteristics are found in all major moral systems across all cultures, one of which is that morality is fundamentally concerned with social relationships. A person can claim pure hedonism as their morality, but they are then defining a belief system as moral that is inconsistent with all widely held moral systems, indicating that it is not actually based in moral thinking. That holds true regardless of whether you believe those other moral systems evolved or derive from some objective force.

          • ClayJames

            A person can claim pure hedonism as their morality, but they are then
            defining a belief system as moral that is inconsistent with all widely
            held moral systems, indicating that it is not actually based in moral
            thinking.

            That doesnt follow. My hedonistic morality would be at odds with most widely held moral systems, but it does not follow from that that it is not based on moral thinking.

          • David Hardy

            As you prefer, but you are defining moral thinking in a way at odds with all moral systems and with research on morality.

          • I am just claiming that an egotistical moral framework is just as valid and logical given atheism.

            I never disagreed with this. Why are you trying so hard to argue a point which I do not dispute?

            Turning around and then saying that Christians can be egotistical has nothing to do with the point at hand and I have clarified this point several times now.

            Whose point? Yours, or mine? Recall that you jumped into a conversation I was having with someone else. It seems like you're trying to completely control this conversation; I don't think that is fair.

            Finally, Brandon´s comment should not be offensive and it is a very good question.

            Who are you to say what ought, and ought not, be offensive to someone? How do you know that you are right or wrong to know what the line of demarcation is, here? What tests do you run, what reasoning do you go through? I'm very interested in this, because I know quite a few atheists who are indeed offended by Brandon's argument. What's a key reason they are offended? Because:

                 (1) pluralism is implied to infect the atheist
                 (2) but the Christian is allegedly immune from e.g. egotism

            Actually, it's not clear that Brandon thought that pluralism infects the atheist; one possible interpretation is that the atheist really ought to be egotistical. He never clarified, so we just don't know. Now, I believe that it is right to be offended when such ambiguity exists, and is not clarified. Such ambiguity can be quite hurtful.

            The question, which I phrased in a similar way, is if I am basing my morality on my own happiness and well being (sometimes at the expense of others), why should I help a starving child in Africa? As a Christian, I can answer that question. As a naturalist, this has no valid answer since my subjective moral framework and some other person´s are equally valid given naturalism.

            I understand that you can offer answers where you say the atheist cannot. I might even believe this. But are they only words, or also power? Recall 2 Tim 3:1–5, especially the end. If there is real power, and it is in any way empirically visible (it should be: Mt 5:43–48, Jn 13:34–35, Jn 17:20–23), then the Christian is right to speak in a superior manner (having good reasons is superior to having no good reasons). But if there is no real power, if it is all hot air, then I think the atheist is right to be offended. Make sense?

          • George

            "why should I help a starving child in Africa?"

            if there's no transcendant rule saying you must help starving children, that doesn't mean there is a transcendant rule telling you not to help.

            moving on to: "As a Christian, I can answer that question."

            God tells you to do it? God tells you to love others, to not be wealthy (or at least not horde wealth)? And there are, ultimately speaking, positive rewards (if that word is problematic, we can use 'consequences' instead) for the person that helps others as god says so? I don't believe any catholic has told me god wants people to be greedy jerks while also loving Him.

            So, in Christianity, the things one Ought To Do, lead to believers getting something out of it. Unless you can show me that the system we live under means that serving God, believing in God, and doing everything God commands leads to a fate of ultimate suffering, ultimate loss, for eternity, with no mental, spiritual or physical respite of any amount.

    • neil_pogi

      quote; 'But what about starving children in other countries that we don't see, or children in this country who are undernourished or are not getting adequate medical care?' -- maybe that must be the time atheists will put hospitals, and not just be so noisy all around 'blaming' the God of the Bible

    • Mike

      "Are materialists being inconsistent if they want to rescue a Matt Damon stranded on Mars?"

      no they just can't justify it w/o appealing to notions they are not entitled to imho.

      • Doug Shaver

        "Are materialists being inconsistent if they want to rescue a Matt Damon stranded on Mars?"

        no they just can't justify it w/o appealing to notions they are not entitled to imho.

        For example?

    • Doug Shaver

      Are materialists being inconsistent if they want to rescue a Matt Damon stranded on Mars?

      I don't see one shred of inconsistency. No principle of materialism implies that human beings must regard other human beings as not worth rescuing even at great risk to themselves.

  • David Nickol

    If it had been Ben Affleck instead of Matt Damon, they probably wouldn't have rescued him.

    • VicqRuiz

      There's your winner right there. Might as well close down the thread, Brandon.

      • neil_pogi

        feel yourself a winner? maybe you read my comment above

    • neil_pogi

      but that's ben affleck's role. they are just actors. do you think in real life, he will rescue one man stranded on mars? i don't think so!

      if that happens on earth, well, i would say that he will rescue matt

    • Mike

      although affleck is imho fantastic in Surviving Christmas.

    • George

      He's batman. He'd have figured out a way to save himself.

  • Peter

    In the real world, would the lives of a space crew be risked in order to return and save one man?

    • Michael Murray

      Have you read the book ? The crew make the decision to do this themselves after the senior NASA administration decide it is too risky.

      It's a fun read if you are a bit nerdy. I liked it.

      • Peter

        Even less likely in the real world then.

        • Michael Murray

          I'm not sure what you mean by that ? I think it was unrealistic as it involved a significant diversion by the returning crew and a significant extension of their trip and I doubt that, in the real world, the mission would have the resources to allow that to occur. But it was a story. The sandstorm that started the whole thing was not realistic either.

          • Peter

            But we're talking about human responses here, and it is the human responses that are not realistic.

          • Michael Murray

            My point is that the human responses were probably never a realistic option. You can't choose to go back and rescue your lost crew member if it's not a physical possibility.

          • Peter

            In the film it was a possibility, but the responses were still unrealistic.

          • Doug Shaver

            but the responses were still unrealistic.

            That is your judgment of human nature. Not all of the rest of us are so cynical.

  • neil_pogi

    life matters.
    why atheists are trying to 'save' theists from believing in a god? in what kind of god they believe in? a cruel god, or a very loving god? most likely, the former.

    if they believe the cruel god does exists, they believe in eternal hell. i don't know why they love hell? inasmuch as heaven? they said that heaven is just a fantasy, and yet believe wholeheartedly that hell exists. cherry-pickers.

  • Doug Shaver

    We will go to the ends of the universe to save an endangered person, precisely because we realize, inchoately or otherwise, that there is something uniquely precious about him or her.

    Realization implies knowledge. I don't agree that we know anything of the sort. But we don't need to know it. It suffices that we feel it strongly enough to act accordingly.

  • Alekosescu

    People will go and rescue other people just because some have what we've called empathy. That's it.

  • neil_pogi

    in this movie, matt damon is able to survive by growing some veggies and he can even produce water. and when NASA is able to find out that he is still alive, then why NASA didn't even think of 'colonizing' mars?

  • David Nickol

    I wonder if it is not the case that the theists who think only theism supports morality are actually relying on their belief that good people will be eternally rewarded and bad people will be eternally punished. In practice, theists seem capable of behavior that is just as appalling as atheists. Since everyone has free will, everyone—theist and atheist alike—can choose to be just as evil as they like. In the eyes of many theists, then, there is really no reason to be moral than to be evil, aside from the fear of punishment. If "[w]e know in our bones that in regard to a human being something eternal is at stake," why should that make us any more likely to value a human life and save someone in a terrible situation while risking our own life? Ultimately, theistic morality doesn't really require people to value the things that God has allegedly made "good." It's all ultimately a matter of doing the right thing so as to avoid hell.

    The above is written assuming it is true that there can be no "objective" morality for atheists. I doubt that, in reality, it is true, so the above is somewhat hypothetical. But in any case, I do wonder if somehow Catholics found out that there was no afterlife, or that there will be an afterlife but everyone will be saved, what kinds of arguments they would make about morality. If God doesn't punish the wicked and reward the good, why be good?

    • Rob Abney

      I've often heard from non-believers that the real reason to do good is due to feeling empathy. The next level above empathy would be self-sacrifice for the good of another.
      Both of these actions can occur without a regard for God, although when rightly ordered they occur to reverence God.

    • Lazarus

      Hours of fun for the whole family can be had by inviting the proponent of true objective morality to name an example.

      Oh there are attempts, some better than others, but ultimately they are all quite unconvincing in my view. For the theist, I believe, there is a better argument.

      • Doug Shaver

        Hours of fun for the whole family can be had by inviting the proponent of true objective morality to name an example.

        Oh there are attempts, some better than others, but ultimately they are all quite unconvincing in my view.

        Then you agree that there is no such thing as objective morality?

        • Lazarus

          I agree. I used to regard it as a pretty decent argument, but my reading of some Christian authors that I respect made me see that it never really delivers on its initial promise.

          • Rob Abney

            Would you mind referencing some of those Christian authors please?

          • Lazarus

            Hi Rob

            On my way to work, but you can start with Richard Swinburne, who is a very senior, respected apologist. He deals with this in "The Existence of God".

    • Doug Shaver

      I see no reason to think there is an objective morality, but I also see no reason to think there can't be one. It could exist, and if it does exist, then it exists whether or not there is a god. And if it exists, then I see no reason to doubt that we could find a nontheistic reason to believe it exists.

      • Lazarus

        I would think, as a Catholic, that one can argue and accept that God is objective morality. For practical purposes, and as an apologetic tool however, there can in my view not be any objective morality in any meaningful sense. An individual, a group may find and live that morality that one day we will acknowledge as being objective. But to argue that this objective morality is available to us qua objective morality is a bridge too far. If that was possible, in the correct sense of "objective", we would be compelled to accept it. Or, as an easy debate settler - name an example of such objective morality.

        • Doug Shaver

          Before I found this forum, most of what I knew about Christian thinking came from Protestants, so I'm not up to speed on whether or in what ways Catholics might think differently. It has been my understanding not that God is objective morality but that he created objective morality. Christians who think this way typically argue that objective morality could not exist if there is no God, and if that is the case then atheists cannot rationally believe in objective morality.

          If God is the creator of all that exists other than himself, then obviously if he did not exist, then nothing else would exist, either. But I see no grounds for singling out objective morality for special treatment when using this argument. Those apologists who fault atheists who believe in objective morality seem to be arguing, in effect, "You might possibly be justified in thinking the material universe could exist without God, but there is no possibility you could justify belief in objective morality without assuming God's existence."

          • Lazarus

            Yes, I think William Lane Craig argues for that, but I think it is an unsound argument.

        • Rob Abney

          Why would be compelled to accept objective morality if it existed? What does accepting moral objectivity look like? Does it only mean adhering to it or could it mean an external measurement?
          I'll try an example: it is objectively immoral to reward cowardice; so courage is objectively moral.

          • Lazarus

            We shouldn't be so compelled, in my view.

          • Rob Abney

            I don't understand, why should we not be so compelled?

          • Lazarus

            Even assuming objective morality exists, and that is knowable, should free will not remain?

          • Rob Abney

            I don't see an either/or situation. You have free will to adhere to the objective morality or to not adhere to it. Objective morality is an external measure that tells us what we ought to do not what we have to do.

          • Lazarus

            My apologies, Rob, this discussion deserves book length replies ;)
            I am under the gun at the moment, so time is a challenge at the moment.

            Can you name any examples of objective morality? Truly objective, to be followed in all instances, at all times by all people? Or is morality situational?

          • Rob Abney

            No problem. The way I understand objective morality is as something to measure against. It seems like you are defining it as the way that someone must behave/act.
            So objective morality is not situational but always present even though we frequently fail in our attempt to measure up to it.

            I suggested that courage is an objective moral behavior. There is not a situation where courage is not the correct objective behavior. I think you are saying that if courage is an objective moral behavior then we would always act courageously but we don't so it's not objective. Is that how you are seeing it?